Monday, February 4, 2013

Barna, Universalism And Pluralism, What Americans Believe

This was posted a while back, so I'm a little late on this. Thanks to David Kinnaman, this is going to be a fun little exercise. I will post the relevant sections with some of my own commentary. I may ignore the section on Pluralism and Christian perspective, as my focus is more on the generation aspect of this topic.
Broadly defined, universalism is the belief that all human beings will be saved after death. On balance, Americans leaned toward exclusive rather than inclusive views. For example, 43% agreed and 54% disagreed with the statement, “It doesn’t matter what religious faith you follow because they all teach the same lessons.”
I think already there is an issue here. On the one hand, it makes sense that Americans would prefer more exclusive views on such religious matters. On the final hand, however, I would disagree with how the question seemed to be framed. Most of the Universalists I know don't think all religious faiths teach the same lesson, so I'm not convinced the question is properly placed. But this is a minor quibble.
Interestingly, younger born again Christians stand in stark contrast to their peers, being much less open to inclusive or universalist views of eternity. Still, while they are holding firm on many matters of orthodoxy, young Christians also expressed less certainty than previous generations did about what will happen to them, personally, when they die.
Instead, this is where the heart of the issue lies. This explains the rise of the Emergent Church movement and the rising tide of neo-evangelicalism. Uncertainty is a big part of my generation, and this is something we seem to actually cherish. In many ways, I agree. Uncertainty drives me towards research and contemplation, so in most ways I'm with them.

I'll list a few examples. Peter Enns, Fuller Theological Seminary, Annihilationism, Inerrancy. All of this is driven by a younger generation (and some within the previous generation) that is simply not convinced that the traditions of old figured it all out. In many ways, this is exciting. We're seeing new theological ground being mined and stronger exegesis in regards to how we treat the texts.

So, universalism and all of these other topics aren't driven necessarily by a desire for tolerance. In many ways, I think it is the opposite. Evangelicalism is built upon questioning such things. To question them is to be truly biblicist.




  1. I like this. I've found a similar experience in slowly tending towards an openness to a Universal theology, partly through a mix of Calvinism and Barth, and partly through an apparent emphasis of mercy over justice that I see more and more in scripture.

    I would clarify this though, and say that the "traditions of old" don't need to be revised or rejected, but should be seen as part of a wider scope for understanding, simply because I feel more affinity to Augustine than Barth!

    1. I think much of what Barth says is compatible with universalism. In fact, I'm inclined to think he was a universalist. :)