Now that I found the world of Universalist Christians outside the Unitarian Universalist Association, I’m having to come to terms with the other theologies and ecclesiologies they have. Some are squarely catholic, a few mainliners or mystics, though most are evangelical or possibly charismatic. Some things that are valuable to me are not valuable to them, and vice versa. Among the things that many of these other Universalists appreciate that I don’t is apologetics.
Apologetics is an approach to theology that defends Christian theological propositions through reasoning and argument, with the goal of refuting opponents or convincing potential converts. If you went back a hundred and fifty or more years, mainline, denominational Universalists relied on apologetics, and particularly the public theological debate, to defend their positions and attract new members, so it could be a part of my inherited tradition. But it died by the 1920s and I’m not looking for it to return.
The problem with apologetics is that once people make up their minds it’s hard to convince them to change. Universalism is counter-cultural, and therefore suspect. If people suspect you, they’ll also suspect you’re trying to deceive them. Perversely, the more clever you are, the less effective you become. As for those Universalists of old, I think too many of them liked the fight more than being right, or being right more than being joyful in God. That’s no way to live.
An apologetic tact is also difficult for Universalists (then and now) because of our numbers. We’ve never been numerous, and so it’s been important to overcome differences, including serious differences, in order to have a critical mass to form congregations to share in common work. The question of whether or not there would be future punishment (the so-called Restorationist Controversy) led to a split, but I think it healed from organizations being too small as much from changing opinions among Universalists. And life’s too short to get caught up in the mechanics of God’s activity when it’s impossible to prove any of it.
I take the tack that Universalism is the kind of Christianity that most people would imagine God would want for us. It’s implausibility is really a reflection on the world we live in, not a reflection of the God who made us. Perhaps that’s what gives it a perverse moral strength, even while those who get sniffy claim that would allow its believers get away with anything. Do you think I ignore the goodness shown me? I didn’t earn that. Universalism isn’t for the haughty.
I’ve been a Universalist long enough to let its truth guide my decisions. I think it’s made me less fearful and perhaps kinder. I’m less impressed by political appeals that lift up the United States over other countries, for instance. That — with the clear profession of faith, not seeking contention — is how I hope to promote the faith. Let your behavior and mode of living be your argument.
[Typos cleaned up from the original.]