It’s a tempting custom to make resolutions in the new year, but it’s also worth reviewing past changes. Sometimes improvements creep up on you, or you make changes without regard to the calendar and yet they stick with making a big fuss about resolutions. With this in mind, I’ve been thinking about how my views have changed over the years.
I’ve become more cautious about charges of “antinomianism.”
In the early days of Universalism, figures like John Wesley gave the name antinomianism to those people who did not believe in an endless hell, including James Relly, who was John Murray’s pastor in London and whose book inspired the study group that would become the first Universalist church in America at Gloucester, Massachusetts. Universalists hated the name, as it was an accusation that they – and we – reject the divine law, of which eternal punishment is a part. You get a sense that the accusation was still fresh when the 1803 convention at Winchester, New Hampshire approved the profession which included “believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practice good works.” It’s an assertion that Universalists keep the law.
But there is a streak of lawlessness within Universalism. For as long as Universalists have been organized, there has been a discomfort or rejection of conformity, and with it a toleration of ideas and habits, some of which are plainly screwball. To tell the truth, I like some of the places that toleration has taken us, and I wouldn’t want it to go away. But I recognize that it can go too far, can create experiences that undercut Universalism, and that some experiments are failures. Universalism can’t stretch so far to incorporate anything and everything, and shouldn’t try. It’s not wrong to live in the mainstream.
The doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t seem strange
Decades ago, I saw myself as a garden-variety vaguely-Humanist Unitarian because that was the norm in the church where I was a member. After that, I was a Unitarian Christian in the orbit of William Ellery Channing. Even when I became a Universalist Christian, the doctrine of the Trinity seemed obscure, illogical and unbiblical. I held this opinion throughout college and seminary, and let my opinions be known.
There’s not another doctrine I would defend on so plainly, literal biblical terms, which bothered me. Also, what’s the point of affirming the unity of Christians while dismissing the foundational view of the nature of God, and of Jesus Christ. The moral problem of a subordinate Christ dying at the behest of the Father troubled me. When I learned that there were Universalists in fellowship in the Unitarian Universalist Association. it seemed less strange to revisit the doctrine of the Trinity. It was wrestling with Catherine LaCungna’s God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (1991) that led me to accept the Trinity as a living doctrine and Jesus Christ as God and Savior.
So, I’ve taken a latitudinarian stance. I think there are sincere Christians who keep a Unitarian Christology; I was there myself. But the idea that Ballou somehow decided the “unitarian question” among Universalists is both historically and theologically spurious.
I want to be careful to understand what the hereafter does and doesn’t include.
To be plain: the unknowable hereafter hadn’t interested me all that much. But that’s hardly true for many, if not most, Christians. Our final destination is the only reward some people will ever get, and so it’s cruel to dismiss it as if it’s unnecessary, quaint or misleading. Perhaps, too, it’s because I’m well into middle age now and this life doesn’t seem to flow so effortlessly into the future. But it’s the attention of technologists and billionaires that got my attention; Google “singularity” if you want to dig into it. The prospect of extending our natural lives by imposing our consciousness into computer hardware — assuming such a thing would be true consciousness or in any meaningful way human — shows that the wonder about what happens to us after we die is as deep as ever. So I wonder, what does it mean to be human? And what elements of our humanity are dependent on our bodies. Does the soul exist apart distinct apart from our physical selves? Or what if the billionaires’ goal is essentially correct? I talk myself into one thing, then another. The difference is that these questions are important to me, and the tentative answers shape my behavior today.
I don’t expect everyone – or anyone – to agree with the conclusions I’ve come up with, and I can’t say that I won’t change my opinions later. But I think it’s important to review our inherited assumption and casual impressions.
How has your faith changed?
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(The Rev.) Scott Wells