I am not a convinced universalist. Yet. Both times I have read the books of Gulley and Mulholland I have been brought a step closer, though. Let me also say, though, that I do not believe in hell in the traditional sense at all. I understand the uses of the term in the biblical narrative (Gehenna, etc.), and I reject the idea of an ever-burning place of torment as uncharacteristic of the Jesus I know and the God I serve. Having adopted this position, the question for me becomes, annihilation or restoration? Gulley and Mulholland have chosen restoration as their answer.
If God is Love is the sequel to If Grace is True, in which the authors first posited their ideas on universalism. In If God is Love, they look at the practical implications of this view in the lives of its adherents. To me, the Christian Universalist has two attributes: 1) She is a heretic, and 2) She is an outstandingly good person who reflects the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
This book is about the lifestyle of grace which believing in God's effectual love for all people brings into the life of the universalist. It's not about being wishy-washy and just buying everything that comes down the highway. It is about having convictions and opinions, but still holding forth the love and compassion of Christ to those of differing ideologies.
The two chapters on "Gracious Christianity" and "Gracious Politics" were worth the whole price of the book all by themselves. The description of the gracious Church harmonizes wonderfully with the inner symphony playing in my heart. "No one will arrive in heaven perfected - we will all need transformation. The Church, offering a foretaste of heaven, should be a place where people come to be accepted, loved, healed, and restored." The authors go on to describe the gracious Church as "a Church in which all men and women are expected to take their spiritual journey seriously, where each person's contribution is valued and where there is space for all to learn and grow. A gracious Church is a place to ask questions, explore new ideas, admit our struggles, and seek assistance."
The chapter on gracious politics humbled me. "To follow Jesus is to be political," say the authors, but, "Dualism, with it's division between the righteous and the unrighteous, offers a pattern too easily transferred to politics." We must learn to listen and not to demonize those we do not understand politically.
The authors are not afraid of being seen as fully fallible human beings with much growing to do. They are also not in the least afraid to tackle the most divisive and controversial social and religious issues (such as war, abortion, homosexuality, and the death penalty), always with the point of view which comes with accepting God's boundless mercy and grace to all people.
Like I said, I am not a convinced universalist yet. I'd honestly like to be. This book, along with If Grace is True, are both catalysts that are causing me to re-think my positions, re-study my Bible, and most importantly, re-commune with my Creator. Should I ever be convinced to step over that soteriological line, it will be on a basis somewhat more Christocentric then is presented in this book. But this book is certainly a push in that direction.
Dr. Mike Kear