INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY
I am going to give a pretty lengthy description of how I came to understand and conclude these things based on my experiences in life. But I want to try to give a brief introduction first, so you have some idea where I am going with this before you read the whole thing.
So I maintain that there is a lot of fine print associated with the gospel of Jesus Christ that many who become Christians don’t learn about upfront but instead over time they learn these things that can be very worrisome and distressing.
I believe that a key factor in this is that there are many different belief systems and denominations within Christianity and that most difficulties arise from dogmatic teachings on things that are clearly debatable and can have widely differing yet legitimate interpretations so no one can really know for sure who is right, even those who think, claim, and preach that they are right. And a common theme is that God is a pretty angry God toward sin and even though He may not want to do this, His perfectly good and righteous nature forces Him to place some of His creatures in a chamber of unending torture known as hell, if they don’t come around to seeing things His way during their short time on this earth before they die. It took me a long time but eventually I started to see that some pretty major doctrines are not as clear cut as you might have originally been lead to believe, causing the whole house of cards to come tumbling down. So I have come to the conclusion that to teach something as absolutely true, especially when it has very harsh ramifications, when you really cannot know for sure if you are correct, is one of the worst sins.
I have also come to the conclusion that Christian Universalism, the belief that God will ultimately save all through Jesus Christ, makes the most sense to me.
So the typical gospel I was raised under goes something like this. We are all sinners and are headed to hell, but God sent his Son Jesus Christ to die for your sins so that you could be saved from hell, but you need to accept (believe, trust) Jesus Christ to be saved. If you don’t do this before you die, then you will go to hell forever. There are no second chances.
If you end up believing, here is some of the fine print you might eventually come across. Calvinists teach that God predestines many to hell. What if you were predestined by God to hell? There is such a thing as an unpardonable sin taught in the Bible which is quite debatable exactly what it is, but what if you had already committed this before trying to be saved by faith in Christ? Some will say that you can be too far gone into sin to be saved, like Judas Iscariot, who they say couldn’t have been saved even if he wanted to be. Some will say that there are other things that are important and necessary for salvation besides faith in Christ, such as water baptism, but others say that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, and if you add anything to faith in Christ then you are not saved. And then there are many areas of disagreement among Bible believing Christians where some feel that holding certain views are really contradicting the bedrock of their faith in God and Jesus Christ. Here we have young earth creationists, old earth creationists, and believe it or not even today we have a revival of flat earth creationism. And there are those who reject evolution as a lie from the Devil, and those who accept evolution as a part of how God created. Some believe in once saved always saved, and others believe that you can lose your salvation. For some Satan, demons, and Satanism, figure prominently in their view of evil, and others not so much. For some Bible prophecy being fulfilled even today and in the future is a major part of their faith, but others not so much. Some put the modern state of Israel on a pedestal believing it is God’s regathering of His chosen people as prophesied in the Bible, whereas other do not think that this is the case at all.
Many preachers are a lot like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, scaring people with the prospect of unending torture by God in hell and they are the messengers of God to warn you and instruct you how to avoid such a horrible fate. But can anyone know for sure that this horrible message is true in every way? Perhaps the preacher should confess that he is not absolutely sure of what he is preaching. What if the word “unending” is the key word where the message is not correct. What if hell is a place of serious but finite punishment from God for the purpose of correction and ultimate salvation with God? For those who end up believing the preacher’s threatening message, the preacher’s power and authority over them is certainly made very strong.
So this concludes the introduction. Next will be a more lengthy discussion to explain how I came to these views. After that I will make an attempt to give the gospel with my own Fine Print.
WHY THE FINE PRINT OF THE GOSPEL IS SO IMPORTANT
Most people at some point in their lives have experienced having been convinced to buy into something and then later when they learn more, what I am calling the fine print, they have buyer’s remorse, wishing they had not been so hasty in making the decision to buy. Sometimes they can reverse the process, other times not.
When people have been through an experience such as this hopefully they learn to not be as hasty in the future and make sure they carefully read and understand the fine print, and perhaps sleep on it at least, and/or consult friends or other trusted sources of information, before making a hasty decision that they may end up regretting.
The seriousness or gravity of the decision certainly is a key factor. Picking a barber to go to for a haircut may deserve some careful consideration but the ramifications of making a poorly considered choice likely will not be of major consequence. But if you are going to need some surgery where the risks are high and you have the time to carefully select a surgeon, then giving this decision very careful attention is certainly in order. And another factor would be the factor of urgency. If you have been seriously injured in a car accident and have been treated by paramedics and you are being rushed to a hospital for further emergency treatment, then your time and opportunity for decisions may by necessity be quite limited.
So I want to examine the giving of the Gospel of Salvation through Jesus Christ (the sales pitch) so as to convince the recipient to make a decision to buy the product, to buy into it, to believe and be Saved, within the context of the other sorts of decisions I have described above.
So I need to give at least a bare bones description of what the typical gospel presentation might be like, if nothing else to at least have something as a starting point for the sake of discussion. So here goes. We are all sinners and are headed to hell, but God sent his Son Jesus Christ to die for your sins so that you could be saved from hell, but you need to accept (believe, trust) Jesus Christ to be saved. If you don’t do this before you die, then you will go to hell forever. There are no second chances.
Now you will notice a couple of things about the nature of the sales pitch of the gospel. It is very serious, more serious than brain surgery, but also there is a certain urgency to it, because if you don’t decide to buy it right then and there, and you should die before you have a chance to make that decision, you could end up going to hell forever.
And often the above giving of the gospel will add a suggested prayer you can say to God if you want to be saved, the so called sinner’s prayer, where you basically agree that you are a sinner, and you believe in Jesus Christ and want to be saved. And you are told that if you said such a prayer to God, and really meant it, that God will have saved you. Depending on the situation, like if it were a Billy Graham crusade, you might be asked to come forward to show your act of commitment to Jesus Christ.
Anyway, the above is basically the kind of gospel I grew up under. I don’t recall my parents ever spelling it out like this to me, but I heard it enough in our church and when we visited other churches and also when we actually went to a Billy Graham crusade, to get the basic message. I recall responding positively to the gospel on numerous occasions, usually in silent prayer to God. But my earliest recollection of God and Jesus are from when I was about five years old. I don’t recall having heard the gospel at that young age, but I do recall having a children’s Bible with a painting of Jesus on the cover with a bunch of children all around Him. I do recall I had a positive attitude toward God. My parents’ taught me that when you die you go to heaven. I believed that, but my only concern was would there be toys in heaven? I don’t recall hearing anything about hell at that age, and I am glad for that.
So when I was a senior in high school with a troubled life and searching for God, a friend of mine said I should talk to his mom. So she introduced me to a type of Bible teaching that was of the same basic theological background as the church I had been raised in, except that the Bible teacher (pastor) had a very dogmatic militaristic style and he really emphasized going to an unending hell if you didn’t believe, and many people all over the world followed his teaching by listening to his Bible sermons on reel to reel audio tapes. So I ended up becoming a gung ho follower of this guy’s teaching. I swallowed everything, hook, line, and sinker. He taught “the truth” and I now knew “the truth.” I was so thankful to have found “the truth.” So while listening to his tapes, the first time I heard him give the gospel, I said the suggested prayer silently to God just to make sure I was saved in case I had not been saved before.
So let’s examine a little about what is going on here with this sort of scenario. You have an authority figure, a pastor or an evangelist, or perhaps it’s an ordinary believer sharing verses from the Bible and what they have learned from their pastor or evangelist, and of course you have the authority of God, from the Word of God, the Bible, which is the ultimate source that is being relied upon for the information that is being shared as the sales pitch of the gospel and how very serious a matter it is, and how very urgent it is as well to make a decision to believe before it is too late.
So suppose you are one who has responded positively to such a gospel sales pitch, as I did, and as many people do. You end up feeling tremendous relief that when you die you are not going to go to hell but instead you are going to go to heaven. You are grateful to God, Jesus Christ, the person who shared the gospel with you and convinced you to believe, and you look forward to moving forward and learning more about the truth of God and sharing your faith with others so they also can go to heaven when they die rather than hell.
So I want to use another example to compare to the above scenario to help us understand it from a very much human psychological standpoint. Suppose instead of the gospel, you had a friend who had become a distributor for some sort of multi-level marketing product, and they were showing you how they have made so much money, or those above them who got them to sign up had done very well and made a lot of money, and how there was very much the prospect of becoming independently wealthy by becoming a distributor for this multi-level marketing product so that you wouldn’t have to live the rest of your life as a wage slave, and you could spend more time raising and helping your family and doing all of the things that you ever wanted to do in your life. So you get carried away with all the positive prospects and sign up without looking into it very much, because there is really very little downside risk, but a lot of upside potential. The worst that could happen is that you become a distributor for a really good product that you are going to want to purchase and consume as a family anyway, but you will get a better deal on it because you are a distributor, and getting others to sign up under you will be a piece of cake, once people see how well you are doing, and how great the products are etc. Many people have been through this sort of thing, myself included, and have signed up, but never really made a success of it like you were originally sold on it and thought you would.
Well the gospel has a lot in common with the above multi-level marketing scenario. I have to credit the author and skeptic Michael Shermer as the source of this idea that witnessing for Jesus Christ by Christians (spreading the gospel far and wide) is kind of like multi-level marketing with Bibles.
Both have the same sort of sales pitch. The upside and downside of buying into the product differ in degree, but they both have the similarity of inducing a hasty decision to buy the product. For the gospel you have been told that you might end up going to hell forever if you don’t buy the product, and to buy the product is very simple. All you have to do is say a simple prayer to God and you are in, safe and sound forever,
Realize also, that if it were a friend, or neighbor, or stranger coming to your door, or a stranger street evangelist giving you the gospel and trying to get you to believe, it would be kind of like if any of these people were trying to get you to decide to have brain surgery like they have had done to themselves by a particular brain surgeon who they can personally testify to their abilities and the excellent results and you better decide to have it done right away before it is too late. How ridiculous this would be. So how ridiculous it also is when the gospel is given in the same way. How presumptuous and rude these people are. But of course they are justified in this approach because of the tremendous seriousness and gravity of the issue. People could go to hell forever if you don’t get the gospel to them.
Anyway, back to the scenario of the person who just became saved by saying the sinner’s prayer to God. So now you know the truth and how easy it is to be saved so you want to go tell everyone else about it so they all can be saved too.
But eventually you might start getting some of the fine print. And you might find that the fine print is actually different from different Christians. And you might discover some of the fine print by reading the Bible for yourself. I can only share how some of this ended up becoming apparent to me. So after learning more from the reel to reel tape Bible teacher, I learned that the tiniest bit of faith in Jesus Christ secures eternal salvation. This was very comforting. I thought, I must have actually been saved as a young boy then, because I certainly did believe. But when I shared this insight I had gained from the teachings with my friend’s mother, she told me that the teacher has since taught that if you invite Christ into your heart you are not saved. So I thought back to the way I heard the gospel back when I was a kid and I did seem to remember something about inviting Christ into your heart. So maybe when I was a kid there was something wrong about the way that I got saved so that I really wasn’t saved back then after all. But then what about now? I remembered that when I had re-affirmed my faith in Jesus Christ in prayer to God based on the direction of the reel to reel tape Bible teacher, I had just followed exactly his suggested prayer, which I recalled had three verbs in it, trust, believe, and receive. And I thought the word receive sounded like it could have a similar meaning to invite, so I thought, what if again I had not done it correctly, so perhaps even now I wasn’t saved.
So this got me off on the whole thing about doubting my salvation, which I have since learned is not all that uncommon.
But now let me just fast forward to where I am now looking back on everything I have learned since then that I would consider some of the fine print of the gospel that it would be better to share ahead of time to prospective converts in my view, instead of having this all be stuff they will learn unexpectedly over time, and often causing a lot of distress.
First of all, I have learned that most Bible teachers, pastors, evangelists, ordinary believers, preaching the gospel are simply spreading what they were taught by others, be it in seminary, or in church. They for the most part have not studied things for themselves and come to their own independent conclusions. And often times their seminaries and churches have statements of faith that they need to affirm just to be accepted to go to the school or to be considered in good standing at the church where they go.
And a really key point that took me many years to even find out that this was a legitimate option for a Biblically based belief system, was that there is a form of Christian theology known as Universalism that is traced back to some of the earliest church fathers in the early centuries after Christ, where it is believed that all will ultimately be saved through Jesus Christ.
Thomas Talbott, author of the book “The Inescapable Love of God” explains three types of Christian theologies, Augustinianism (aka Calvinism), Arminianism, and Universalism. Calvinism says that God is able to accomplish all that He wills, and it is His will that only some be saved, so that all others will go to hell forever. Arminianism says that it is God’s will that all be saved, but God is not able to accomplish all that He wills, because man’s will supersedes God’s will in this case, so many will go to hell forever. Universalism says that it is God’s will that all be saved, and that God is able to accomplish all that He wills, so that no one will be lost, that is, go to hell forever. Christian Universalism does not say that there is no hell, only that it is a place of correction of finite duration, so that all will ultimately be saved by God and welcomed into heaven.
Now it turns out you can find various scriptures in the Bible that appear to support any of the three theological systems described above. Those who support any one of the three views will seek to harmonize with their view the scriptures that don’t seem to agree with it and will perhaps bring in other arguments from logic, philosophy, and common sense to help support their view. Biblical interpretation is not an exact science as many would like to have you believe. I have come to be a supporter of the Universalism viewpoint. But I don’t have to prove it to be true (something no one could possibly do anyway) to make my point, and that is that Bible teachers and evangelists who preach the “turn or burn” gospel, threatening a never ending hell to those who do not believe, are committing the sin of claiming to be certain of something that they can’t possibly be certain of, if they are honest, well read, educated students of the Bible, theology, and history.
The Universalism viewpoint solves many theological problems. The other viewpoints have countless problems.
Before I started learning about Universalism a little over 10 years ago, I did not even know that there was such a form of Christian theology known as Universalism. I had heard of Calvinism and Arminianism but I did not even know which of these two viewpoints was taught as the truth by the church where I was raised or by my reel to reel tape Bible teacher. I guess I had gotten the impression that in either case, hell lasted forever, and that was really all that mattered, so there was no need to dig deeper.
So now I am going to list all of the sorts of things I heard or learned from Bible teaching and my own Bible reading through the years, before I came into looking into Universalism, that tended towards promoting doubt in one’s salvation.
So you will hear that God saves sinners, and that no sin is too great in order to be able to be saved by God. The Apostle Paul of the New Testament referred to himself as the worst sinner because he persecuted the church. But I eventually heard the Bible teacher I was listening to say that Judas Iscariot had rejected Jesus Christ so much that there was no possible way that he could be saved, that he was too far gone to be saved. So to me, this raises the question, how does anybody who has ended up trying to be saved by believing in Jesus Christ know whether or not they might have been too far gone to be saved before they tried to be saved by believing in Jesus Christ? And another question would be how great of a savior from sin is Jesus Christ if some can be too far gone to be saved by Him?
If one eventually learns what Calvinism is, that essentially God predestines some to hell, how does one who has tried to be saved by believing in Jesus Christ know whether or not God has already predestined them to hell?
And then there are all sorts of nitpicking about just what is necessary for salvation. Some go through the Bible and find every possible verse they can related to salvation and then come up with a lengthy list of all the things you need to do, such as repent, believe, trust, accept, receive, be baptized, and on and on. And this really becomes quite confusing. And then there will be those who say salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone, and they may go on to say that if you try to add anything to that you are not saved. So if you were at a Billy Graham crusade and you thought that you had to go forward to be saved and you did go forward, then you are really not saved. I am sorry, but I just happen by my God given nature to have a very logical and mathematical approach to things along with a tendency to be obsessive compulsive, so I can’t help but examine these things very carefully to see if they make sense and whether those who say these things are consistent. So I had heard the same Bible teacher who taught that you are not saved if you add anything to faith in Christ, also say that you are not saved until you tell God the Father that you are believing in Jesus Christ. So I then observed over listening to many Bible teaching lessons of his on tape that at the end when he would give the gospel, sometimes he would suggest that the individual pray silently to God that they are believing in Jesus Christ, and other times he would not say anything beyond just quoting some verses from the Bible related to believing in Jesus Christ for salvation. Is this because he really doesn’t know what the right way is, so he is hedging his bets and at least he will be right 50 % of the time? And what if one thinks that saying the prayer is necessary for salvation? Isn’t that possibly adding something to faith alone in Christ alone?
Then you might hear others say that believing is not enough. The Bible says that even the demons believe and shudder. Some will say that if you believe just to avoid going to hell, you are not saved. Somehow this does not show the commitment to Christ necessary for salvation according to some. Some will say that just because you said the sinner’s prayer that doesn’t mean you are saved. Having said the sinner’s prayer is not a valid fire (hell) insurance policy.
Some believe in once saved always saved and others believe that you can lose your salvation. So if a believer goes off heavily into sin, some will say he probably did not truly have saving faith when he believed, so he was never saved to begin with. Or others will say he has lost his salvation. Then others might say he is still likely saved, but he is living as an unbeliever, and God is disciplining him, and if he does not come back to God he will die a horrible death as a final punishment from God, because God is not able to punish him once he dies, because he is a believer.
Then you have the whole question of the unpardonable sin. What exactly is it, and how do you know whether or not you might have committed it?
There is a principle in law that if you are induced to enter into an agreement where there was some deception or fraud involved, it voids the agreement.
Does this have any bearing upon those who hear the gospel and then believe, that is, enter into the agreement, while not fully understanding everything and possibly basing their decision on some false information that was contained within the sales pitch?
What about those who reject the gospel because of some false information contained within its presentation or sales pitch?
There are people who have lived lives of terrible sin and eventually came to salvation through Jesus Christ. So they have their testimonies. But there are also people who lived as committed believers in God and Jesus Christ who eventually came to turn against it and repudiate it, some becoming agnostics, some atheists, some finding their place in less dogmatic forms of Christianity, and some other faiths or religions. These people also have their testimonies.
There is also the sense in which one who becomes a believer in Jesus Christ by believing the “turn or burn” gospel, whereby they were threatened with unending hell if they did not believe, has been a victim of a sort of mind control, and perhaps even a sort of trauma based mind control. (Dr. Boyd Purcell’s groundbreaking books “Spiritual Terrorism” and “Christianity without Insanity” while probably not specifically using the terms “mind control” or “trauma based mind control,” these concepts are certainly included in principle within his work and at his web site at christianitywithoutinsanity.com)
They were informed that if they did not do a sort of mental ritual, the sinner’s prayer, that they were at risk of being tortured forever by God in hell. So they did the ritual, so now they are safe, but they have also entered into an agreement with God (at least so they think) and have also consented to have a sort of psychological mind trick played on them, the ramifications of which they really do not fully understand, nor was much of anything explained to them before scaring them into entering into the agreement. I will make you an offer you can’t refuse. And of course there are many who find the threatening of this gospel offensive and soundly reject it on that basis.
I finally came to realize that the only way I could be confident in my own salvation was to realize that God will ultimately save all. So there is nothing I could have done or can do to screw it up. God will be victorious over sin on my behalf and on behalf of the entire human race and it doesn’t depend on me or anybody else. This could be elaborated on much more, but I just want to mention one scripture. Ephesians 2:8,9 “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” So if I were a Calvinist who believed that I was saved, then it seems to me that I could certainly feel that I am pretty special to God, after all He chose to save me, while many others He chose not to save. On this basis it would seem I would have something to boast about, how special I am to God. On the other hand, suppose I were an Arminianist who believed that I was saved, then it seems that I could credit myself that it was because I was so smart to make the right decision to believe, that I am saved. So I also would have something to boast about. Only the Universalist who knows that all will ultimately be saved by God has nothing at all to possibly boast about.
SO WITH ALL THIS IN MIND I GIVE THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST WITH THE FINE PRINT
Man has a tendency toward sin, doing wrong things, failure, and misery. Man can and has done good things also, but his negative tendency toward sin and failure is still there. Christians believe that God sent His Son Jesus Christ to the world to turn the tables on man’s sin problem, to be man’s savior. Jesus Christ is God’s revelation of Himself to mankind by becoming Himself a human being like us and living among us, and also dying under an unjust death sentence of crucifixion, but through the power of God subsequently being resurrected, raised from the dead to live forever as man’s victorious savior from sin. Christians follow Jesus Christ by faith in order to be victorious over sin in this life and for the promise of eternal life, living with God forever.
Beyond what I just described above, Christians vary all over the map in terms of how they give the gospel, and how they say man came to be, and also came to be a sinner, and what is necessary for salvation, and what the negative consequences might be for not following Jesus in faith. A very large portion of evangelical Christians give the gospel by threatening people with never ending hell if they do not believe before they die. This certainly has the effect of scaring a lot of people into making a hasty decision to believe, but it also turns a lot of people off as well. Whether threatening unending hell is a part of the true gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ is really an open question regardless of what many think. A key word here might be “unending.” Sin can have very negative consequences leading to much suffering in this life and also very possibly beyond this life as well, but whether God has in store for a portion of humanity an unending torture chamber called hell, this really is a very problematic position that many take but which has many legitimate and convincing arguments against it.
So I would counsel one considering the gospel of Jesus Christ to seek and learn and ask questions and go to God in prayer, and try to make as fully an informed decision as possible.
I realize that it does not always work like this in real life, because often people are in a state of crisis when they reach out to God for help, and they become very susceptible to making hasty decisions, and due to the urgency do not have the luxury of having all their questions answered or having 100 % accurate information.
So if there is urgency involved and you feel you want to go to God with a decision based on what you now know, then by all means go to God in prayer and express your faith and urgency. God seeks us out, draws us to Himself, and takes us as we come. Certainly do not think that you have to determine for sure what the absolute truth is on any or all of these things in order to make a decision.
Take the example of the salvation of the Apostle Paul, who was formerly Saul of Tarsus, a devout Israelite who was persecuting Christians even to the point of death, and how Jesus Christ himself appeared to him on the trail to Damascus and blinded him and spoke to him, and took him through an extreme crisis, and how he eventually took the name Paul instead of Saul, and became a renowned preacher of the gospel of Christ and a major writer of the New Testament scriptures.