By Gary Amirault, Tentmaker Ministries
It is quite possible the sales of a single title aimed at scaring Hell into people has outsold all the titles teaching universal salvation through Jesus Christ combined (biblical or Christian universalism). A book such as World Aflame by Billy Graham, Left Behind by Timothy LaHaye (estimated sales of 65 million), or The Late, Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey (estimate sales of 28 million) has probably outsold all the books teaching universal salvation combined that have been published in the last two centuries.
As long as authors make sure there is a permanent place of eternal separation between Christians and the likes of Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson, Stalin, Pohl Pot, Mao ZeDong, then they may present a pretty liberal and loving view of God and still have a successful book. But to publish material for the Christian market that there is no Hell or that it will ultimately be empty ,at this stage of the game will not work — at least not if one wants to make money. And we will see that money is the game when it comes to the Christian publishing industry.
William P. Young came close to crashing the gates of Hell with The Shack (16 million copies). Close, but no cigar. While the book clearly portrays God much more loving than does traditional Christianity, Young and his editors clearly stated they were not universalists. They do not believe all mankind has been redeemed by the Cross of Christ. They, along with Rob Bell (Love Wins), believe God must leave the doors to Hell open forever because love cannot force itself upon anyone. Free will demands there is always a hell, according to those who have been promoting a new, sanitized version of Hell that the traditional church leaders like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, the Catholic Popes, Ignatius, Wesley, etc knew nothing about. In the last few decades Hell has gotten a huge facelift and makeover by ministers and Christian publishing. The modern Evangelical/Protestant/Catholic Hell is just a vast nebulous place of eternal separation from God. No more pitch forks, literal bodies with literal fire and brimstone with worms and snakes crawling through eye sockets and flesh peeling off only to be put back on again. And the average Christian pew-warmer has not even noticed this subtle reinventing of Hell.
Free Will: God’s Gift, Curse, Myth or Illusion?
Do you find it strange that the instrument God uses to determine whether a soul will be able to spend eternity with Him is also the instrument which will cause most of mankind to experience eternal tortures which human beings would be incapable of inflicting upon each other even if they wanted to? Professional torturers can only maintain their cruelty towards their victims for a short period of time before they must take a break. Yet for the joy of having a new creatures love Him out of their own “free will,” God will endure watching the majority of the children He created to suffer endlessly. According to William P. Young, Rob Bell, their editors and publishers and the majority of the Christian publishing industry, God, who is all powerful, all-knowing, wise, whose mercy supposedly never comes to an end and who wrath, according to the Bible DOES come to an end, has tied His own hands and must helplessly watch billions upon billions of human beings be endlessly tortured. What an utter failure! It is like God creating a hundred billion human beings over thousands of years subjecting them to all sorts of ignorance and cruelty, putting them through some kind of boot camp or obstacle course and whoever makes the right decisions at the right time and “endures to the end” deserve to be loved by Him forever while the greatest majority of them get consigned to an eternal land-fill. But since they are eternal beings, they must live with their defects forever. Since God doesn’t like defects, imperfect beings He won’t visit them in their burning land-fill He must have purposed from the very beginning of time. One must be insane to have such a wicked view of God. And I believe that is the condition of much of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. They are truly insane. I thank God He has shown me that He will deliver all of us out of our insanity and restore all of us to a sound mind and a pure heart.
Universalism Doesn’t Sell
Books that present what I call “The Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ,” that God the Father of us all, will redeem all mankind, have received very little to no promotion and typically have no marketing budgets. The books are often self-published. You will not find them on the shelves of your local Christian book store. You will have to “come out of her” to find resources that help you discover the God who is able to fulfill His promises, word and oath. He says His arm is NOT too short to save.
A classic among books that teach biblical or Christian universalism is Restitution of All (1867) by Andrew Jukes. Concordant Publishing Concern has been publishing it since the 1980’s. According to Jim Coram, who heads up Concordant Publishing, they have sold about 3,000 copies. Another classic book on biblical universalism is Christ Triumphant (1890) which they also have sold for many years. They’ve sold about 2,000 copies. A book the Concordant Publishing Concern has printed since the 1930’s authored by the founder of the Concern, A.E. Knoch, is All in All. It has sold 4,000 copies since the 1930’s.
Thomas Talbott, author The Inescapable Love of God made his book available through a print-on-demand publisher in 1999. Talbott is a retired philosophy professor at Williamette College. The book has sold less than 5,000 copies. I probably have almost a hundred titles of books published in the last 20 years on the subject of Christian universalism. In sales volume, they amount to almost nothing when compared to traditional Christian books on Hell.
There are some small success stories among books that touch the touchy subject of universal salvation. Brian McLaren’s book The Last Word and the Word After That sold about 20,000 copies according to him. For the most part, however, most books touching the subject of universalism from a biblical, Christian point of view, so far, do not sell very well because of lack of distribution, marketing, financing and because of fear, intimidation and ignorance. I probably have in my library nearly a hundred titles on universalism published in the last twenty years. There is scarcely a parishioner or pastor in my town who would be familiar with any of the titles.
Sometimes, if the author conceals the message of universalism beneath a larger more popular subject, they might be able to get away with introducing universalism to an unsuspecting audience and have sales success. For example, Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Priest, sprinkled some universalism amongst his titles such as Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality. Richard writes and speaks much on contemplative prayer, mysticism, spiritual awakening, consciousness transformation. There is a wider audience for that subject than for universalism. His books are published by small Catholic publishers like Crossroad Book and St. Anthony Messenger Press.
Robert L. Short (deceased) was somewhat successful in promoting biblical universalism through cartoon characters. Few people know that Charles Schultz, creator of the Peanuts cartoon products, believed in universal salvation. Robert L. Short, a Presbyterian minister was a good friend of Charles Schultz. Many fans of Peanuts do not realize Charles Schultz put a lot of biblical messages into his cartoon series. Mr. Short brought out some of these themes in several books including The Gospel According to Peanuts, Short Meditations, and The Gospel According to Dogs. The message of universalism was clearing portrayed in Short’s The Gospel According to Dogs and Short Meditations. Robert L. Short also pointed out in The Parables of Dr. Seuss (WJK Press) that Dr. Seuss (Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel) also believed in biblical universalism. A quote from The Parables of Dr. Seuss:
“Must our happiness be the result of others being so unhappy and our remembering how unhappy they are? Well, what’s the point of ‘hell’ in the New Testament, especially after all we know through Christ about God’s final salvation of ALL people? First of all, hell is in the New Testament to describe the present predicament of people who don’t know how lucky they are; and second, it’s there to remind us one more time how lucky we are: God could have been some other kind of God, like the terrible God who creates the trap and creates people with the strong tendency to go into the trap, and then leaves them there like ‘something someone forgot.’ And, mind you, Duckie, there are plenty of religious groups, including many that call themselves “Christian,” that believe just that! God could have been the kind of God who could easily decide to send you to hell for all eternity! And we have no right to take God’s choice in the matter for granted. Nevertheless, the God of Jesus didn’t choose to be this kind of God. For through Christ we know that in Christ:
“…the complete being of God, by God’s own choice, came to dwell. Through Him God chose to reconcile the whole universe to himself, making peace through the shedding of his blood upon the cross — to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, through him alone. (Col. 1:19-20, NEB)
“So just remember to remember, Duckie, how lucky you are! You and everyone else with you! Has anyone ever told you this — how lucky you are? Well, they should, because this is ‘the message of the truth, the good news of your salvation’ (Eph. 1:13, NEB). And telling people this is not an optional for Christians, something they can do or not do as they please: ‘For it was his will that we, who already enjoyed the hope of Christ, should cause his glory to be praised’ (Eph. 1:12 NEB, variant reading).
“And this is really news; it’s not anything we can just wishfully think up and tell ourselves. Like all that’s really new, it’s not anything we just naturally know; here fore, it must always come from the outside-in. Everyone needs to be told this news.
“And it’s always good news too, not just partially good, or good for some people but not for others. This is why the gospel, the message itself, the good news as it’s addressed to all people, will always sound exactly like this: ‘Did I tell you how lucky you are?'” (From The Parables of Dr. Seuss by Robert L. Short, pps. 89, 90, Westminister John Knox Press, copyright 2008)