It's great to read your posts so far. Thanks for sharing. You are almost exactly where I was about 12 years ago, and it has been an interesting ride since. My wife and I were youth group leaders at our church, and the events of 9/11 really shook us to the core...me in particular. I couldn't get it out of my mind how so many brave firefighters marched up those stairs of the towers, facing almost certain death, while encouraging others to hurry down to safety. Many died and by evangelical standards, a safe estimate would be that 10-20% of them would be headed for eternal hell. Something finally snapped for me, and I hoped and literally prayed that there was some other explanation that didn't involve eternal torment for such selfless people because those guys weren't the right kind of Christians or not Christians at all.
As I hit the web in search of an alternative to ET, it didn't take long before I hit upon Tentmaker.org. I couldn't stop reading and studying. At first I thought there was no way it could be true. Gradually I came to believe there was no way it couldn't be true. Many have tried to convince me otherwise in the subsequent 12 or so years, but I just can't see it the old way any more.
In any case it has been an interesting journey, and I have by no means arrived. I still have so much to learn, and I am still getting (figuratively speaking) beat up pretty good from time to time.
In any case, I can really relate to where you are right now, and I certainly can't say how exactly things will go for you. Your Dad sounds like a great man, and he will likely be a very good one to study with and essentially sharpen your arguments. My Dad was very similar in belief to how your Dad seems to be. I think my Dad really, really wanted to believe it, but he was just too old and had way too much invested in his community to risk the ostracizing that would likely come his way. He also wasn't totally convinced, and perhaps too close to seeing the Lord to risk it being wrong so late in life, if you know what I mean.
I thought you might find an email my pastor at the time sent me after we had discussed the concept a couple times. I think it will help you anticipate where people will be coming from, although it sounds like you have a pretty good idea of how it will be already. My wife and I knew we had to level with him and a few others since we were youth group leaders. We didn't feel right (sad as it is to say) sharing the truth with the teens that Jesus really is the Savior of All, especially those who believe, when their parents were pretty well invested in their version of the Good News that comes with a strong eternal hell kicker. Here is what he shared with me. I hope it helps. Sorry, this is all pretty long:
Dated August 2, 2002...
I spent some time on the website, tentmakers.org, and have done a fair bit of thinking about our conversation last Wednesday. I found the website to be interesting, but I found myself unconvinced. I have tried to put down in words some of the significant reasons why I think the universalistic position is wrong. Let me start with some of the "big picture" reasons why I think we need to reject this idea.
1. Why have we come so far and so long in Christianity without universalism becoming mainstream, either in America or in other parts of the world? One of the articles hinted at the idea that the early church was universalistic in its teaching. I did not really find any evidence to support this claim. My experience has shown me that you can pretty much prove any point you like by finding a so called "church father" to quote, so that does not go far in proving anything to me. But let��s assume that it was the position of the early church. Why would they change such a basic and significant doctrine? I could almost understand going from a belief in an eternal hell toward a universalistic position but I can not fathom why anyone would decide to go the other way. If the church started out universalistic, why would they make their message more difficult for people to believe and make Christianity more exclusive than Christ and the early apostles taught it to be? Also, if universalism is true, we have to assume that God wants it to be taught. Where are the large churches teaching a belief in the Bible and salvation exclusively through Christ that also teach universalism? I am unaware of a single one and certainly there could not be more than a handful. It seems impossible for me to believe that God would allow this to go on for almost two thousand years.
2. I cannot think of a single biblical passage that explicitly teaches that people are punished for a finite period of time and then come to salvation in Christ. The Bible verses that are used to support universalism are almost exclusively one or two verses here and there. There is no body of teaching in any gospel or epistle that explicitly teaches universalism. One of the articles took non-universalists to task for believing in an eternal hell that God would speak so little about. He called it unbelievable that hell could be real and eternal and God would speak of it so little in the Bible. I disagree that God speaks of it so little. There are clearly times when God has hell in mind when the specific word is never mentioned. In any case, the same argument is true if universalism is true. In my opinion, such a significant doctrine would have to be taught and it is not.
3. I believe that universalism does not pass the "desert island test". If a person knew nothing about the Bible or about God and found a copy of the Bible washed on the beach, picked it up and began to read it, he would not discover a universalist doctrine. There are too many references to judgment, two different groups of people receiving different outcomes, etc... to believe in universalism. I preface my next sentence by saying that I do not want to insult you, but I think that universalism does not come out of the scriptures but rather is read into the scriptures. You mentioned that after 9/11 you thought of the firemen that went into the World Trade Center. Is it not possible that you allowed an emotional response to cause you to be looking for something in the Scriptures that is not truly there? I think that if you reread the New Testament, especially the gospels, you would see that universalism is inconsistent with the body of truth revealed to us. For example, in Matthew 7 Jesus talks about the way to life being narrow and few are those who find it. In Matthew 13 Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and tares. It seems obvious that these two groups of people have different destinations. In Matthew 25 Jesus talks about separating the sheep and the goats. Again, we have two classes of people. In Luke 16 we have the story of Abraham and Lazarus. There is also such a sense of urgency and importance in receiving and following Christian teachings. Does universalistic thought really make sense when Jesus says that whoever keeps his life will lose it but whoever loses it for Christ��s sake will find it? People can argue over the words used and what they mean but if universalism is correct, I don��t think Jesus would have said it at all.
4. In regard to specific verses I find the universalistic argument too tied to small groups of verses. I also believe that though the universalistic argument sounds convincing, the evidence for taking the same verses in an orthodox Christian manner is compelling as well. For example, the argument is made that aionion should be translated "age" when making reference to hell or punishment. But the very same word is used in translating an eternal heaven or an eternal God. One of the articles made the point that the meaning of an adjective is defined by its object. That is an interesting point but it assumes something that is not normative for the text. There is an apples to apples comparison intended in a verse like Matthew 25:46. Why should we assume that the word "aionion" has a different meaning? There are many times where this word or a derivative of it refers to eternal life or an eternal God. We talked about Philippians 2:10-11 a little bit. Perhaps it is instructive that every person will call Jesus "Lord" but not "Savior"? Also, Isaiah 45 does not in any way to me seem to teach universalism. If it was to teach that, why not be more explicit?
My sincere suggestion is to sit down and read through the gospels again, perhaps using a harmony of the gospels so that you are not rereading material. I will gladly loan mine to you. I know that you understand the seriousness of believing in a universalistic position. In my opinion it will have negative consequences for you and your family. I applaud your desire to seek the truth from the Scriptures. I also know that you know that you are disagreeing with practically every Bible-believing Christian at this time. Perhaps you are right and all of them are wrong, but the evidence in numbers should be taken and given a lot of weight. I hope that as you continue to study this topic you will change your mind. I am still open to any additional evidence or articles that you would like me to read.
Pastor (Name withheld)
P.S. One website that I found with an anti-universalistic position was www.carm.org
which stands for Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.