When I became a Christian in 1974 when I was 20 years old. I had been living in a hippie life style for several years, but I had a hunger for spiritual things. I had looked into various forms of metaphysics, shamanism, and various slants on eastern religion like transcendental meditation. I used drugs more in the form of metaphysical exploration than just for partying, and it was the combination of drugs and spiritual exploration that brought me to the edge of madness. I was rescued by a supernatural revelation of Jesus Christ crucified that came upon me after having prayed, out of desperation and a sense that I was sliding into a bottomless abyss, "God, whoever you are and whatever you are, please show me."
He showed Himself to me in Christ upon the cross, and showed me that I must follow Him. I began to read the bible, which I had not been previously exposed to, and the Holy Spirit began to teach me, and repair my nearly broken mind as the Word of God instilled foundations where there had been only shifting sand.
By the time I began to go to church, I had some working knowledge of the word. What I had may have been bare bones, but it was the pure milk of the word and constructed in me by the Holy Spirit. As I began to run into church doctrine, the questions raised in my mind caused me no little cause for concern, because having at least moderate natural intelligence and not being by nature a "joiner" or "follower", I often found myself asking questions that ended up being answered by, "You just have to believe it", or, "Don't question God", or "You need to trust men who are further along in the Lord and have studied the word of God" as if I hadn't, because I had not been thru their schools.
But I was young, I was zealous, I was musician, and found that I was able to communicate my faith well, so I soon found myself teaching the teenage Sunday school in the Nazarene church down the street from the same house that was party central in the suburb of Detroit where I came of age. I had also been set free from a pretty serious drug habit. I was an item of curiosity.
However, I was also adventurous, intellectually and spiritually curious, and I began to go to different meetings. I went to a Catholic charismatic group with a couple from our Nazarene fellowship and I began to attend a coffee house ministry made up of a lot of young saved hippies like myself. I began to be exposed to a lot of different teaching, from conservative fundamentalist doctrine to Charismatic and Pentecostal doctrine and I saw a lot of wonderful things during a time in the early 70's where the "Jesus movement" among young people and the charismatic movement among denominational churches was probably at it's peak.
All during this time I was getting more opportunity to share my faith in these places. I began to teach and preach. I was doing anti-drug programs in schools and teaching Bible studies in prisons and juvenile detention facilities and I was bumping into more and more ministers and the doctrinal positions of their respective organizations.
I did not let the doctrinal stuff ruin me at first, I was just concerned with helping people get free in the same way I had been freed, and to see them healed in their minds and hearts as I had been. Having come from that communal hippie mind-set, I was looking for a more communal experience of Christ, something similar to what I read about in the book of Acts...."and they were all as one heart and soul....and they had all things in common."
I never really found it, but I attempted to start it on my own, first with a half-way house for some of the young people that had been saved in the street ministry and prison ministry I had been engaged in, and later with a church that grew out of that. We saw many young people converted and delivered and healed, but I was not yet mature enough to lead such endeavors, and stumbled through many of the traps of the novice minister.
One of those traps was that I was becoming increasingly focused on theology and the failures of Christian organizations, and increasingly(but wrongly) sure of my insights into the word of God. I was developing much of my doctrinal framework based on things I had studied or had been exposed to, and some in reaction to things I had been told were written in stone, that I could not find affirmed in the Bible. I was caught between the desire to find a place of acceptance and ministry and the desire to have "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth".
I had developed a talent for exegesis, but it took years for me to see that a flaw in ones core perceptions could skew all that they accumulated in their perspective. It took me even more years to realize that I had become personally invested in my views and that although I was loathe to admit it to myself, I was getting tired of paying the price of changing those views.
Ever since my first experience in that Nazarene church, I found that certain questions would bring a negative response in the form of a reluctance to openly discuss them. Though I was typically youthful, probably not always tactful or diplomatic and often a bit relentless in my pursuit of the resolution to these questions, I have to say looking back that I wish I had met someone like I am now back then. It might have saved me a lot of heartache.
Oh well, God has His plan for each of us. I give Him the glory for guiding me through something like Homer's Odessey and allowing me to wash up, with nothing in hand but most of my personal delusions shattered, upon these barren shores, where I found my Savior awaiting me with a fish on the fire and His word in my ear, "John, do you agape me?"
At the age of 24, I had been teaching young adult Bible study in an Assembly of God church and also occasionally preaching the Wednesday night service. I was being groomed for the assistant pastor position there, but after surveying classes at their Bible college in Lakeland, Fla., I felt uncomfortable with what I felt was an atmosphere of indoctrination and some of their teachings, especially those about the gifts of the Spirit, did not line up(for me) with what I understood from Paul in the scriptures. I was asking questions and asserting certain things(having learned to be a bit more tactful by now) as I saw them and rather than receiving discussion in return, I was getting the "company line" in a repetitive insistence. I had become familiar with this kind of interaction among Christian leaders and I had no respect for it, so I left.
When I was first presented with universal reconciliation I was a young elder in a house church of maybe 50 saints in Denver, Colorado. It was a small church but the pastor was plugged into a lot of the developing streams in independent Charismatic churches. Folks like John Wimber, Bill Britton, Bob Mumford, Norman Grubb, George Warnock, Deverne Fromke, Charles Schmitt- those names may mean nothing to you but they were well known in the late 70's and early 80's- all published authors who had started churches and movements within that independent charismatic paradigm.
I had always had a problem with the teaching of eternal torment as it was usually presented. It was during my time in Denver that I was presented, in brief, the doctrine of ultimate universal reconciliation, as it was called then. I had seen a lot of things, and heard a lot of doctrinal perspectives during my time in Denver, and UR was the straw that broke this camel's back. I felt like I needed to go somewhere and sort it all out. I was, by then, newly married with a child on the way. So I took a job with some friends in a small mid-western town, and left the ministry. My purpose here is not to tell the story of my life however :o). So I will begin to fast forward.
In those early years of beginning a family I started a business, and had another child, and I was no longer focusing on ministry altho I remained in fellowship and stayed in the word. I read Andrew Jukes, "The Restitution of All Things", and I settled into a gray understanding somewhere between UR and ED.
In my heart I still hid an ambition to be a career pastor/teacher and looking back, I believe that the fear of being branded "heretic" among my peers caused be to be reluctant to just come down firmly on UR, which I was intellectually and emotionally disposed to do, but there was also another factor.
Juke's book was complex and I had some difficulty absorbing it, and I had no background or serious study in the languages of antiquity. So, I continued to fellowship in small churches and minister with my music periodically but I was mainly involved in trying to keep my family together. I put the doctrinal dilemma on the back burner.
Fast-forward 20 years and I am in New York and I am having fellowship in a small church as a member and a substitute teacher when the pastor was out of town. My children were nearly grown and I was recently divorced. Altho the church was primarily annihilation/ED, I was having discussions with the pastor and a few of the brothers there about UR and my leaning in that direction. For some reason, at that time I decided I could no longer hover between the two positions and that I would have to study and pray until I had a full understanding. When my youngest moved out to be on his own, I took a sabbatical. I lived at my brothers house in the mountains of western North Carolina and I was free for six months to spend as much time as I could muster in the word and in prayer.
I had seen the UR paradigm presented in Ephesians 1, Colossians 1, Romans 8 and 11, 1 Corinthians 15 since my first exposure to them and I felt it was unbreakable, but I did not have an answer for all the objections and I felt that I must, so I began to read Jukes again and had by now become competent with interlinears and lexicons and Greek and Hebrew dictionaries. But most importantly, the Holy Spirit began to show me that the salvation of all was a part of the foundation doctrines of Hebrews 6- mainly the foundations of "the resurrection of the dead" and "eternal judgment"- and how this was indispensable in understanding the whole creation from beginning to end. As the Holy Spirit began to allow me to see this as a part of the super structure of the Logos, I found myself sharing it confidently with my friends and past associates, and a fair number received it. I passed out a few copies of "Hope Beyond Hell" which I highly recommend.
God had changed my core perceptions and He had stripped me of my religious ambitions. I realized that universal reconciliation is the pure milk of the word, meaning that all of the time I had spent thinking myself a master of the word I had been unable to go on into maturity in my understanding. In order to be mature in the word of God one must understand the heart of the I AM from whom the Logos proceeds in its clearest form as Jesus Christ crucified, the propitiation for our sins,"and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world"(1 Jn 2). Finally, fully permeated by the divine nature of God, revealed in all His fulness in Christ crucified, the whole gospel not only reconciling all men, but reconciling all the scripture in our understanding of all the "whys" in the wisdom of God, "For so it pleased the Father to make all the fullness dwell in Him and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself by the blood of His cross, whether things in earth or things in heaven"(Col 1).
For me, coming to this understanding was an integral part of the whole journey of my life until now, and I rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, who is making all things subject to Jesus Christ enthroned on high until every adversary is subject, and death is abolished, and God becomes all in all(1 Cor 15).
I can no longer here the words, "If I be lifted up I will draw all men unto me"(Jn 12) and not rejoice in the words taken at their face value.
I can not see Jesus exalted to the right hand of God without seeing the Alpha and Omega, and hearing Him in Rev 21, at the end of the book,
"... he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful."
I am no longer concerned or intimidated by any other view... and I consider the salvation of all to be the only gospel, the true "full gospel", never in its wholeness or maturity until as the "good news"(euaggelion) of God's "good will"(eudokia) which He purposed in Himself -the gathering together into one of all things in Christ, whether things in heaven of things in earth(Eph 1).
What a cause for rejoicing, and the peace and resolution of mind this has been for me since the time I became assured of it.
I encourage anyone caught in the middle to seek until you are resolved, one way or the other, altho I assure you that the salvation of all IS the truth.
Good News at last. :o)