If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person is a book that is sheer joy to read and experience. It turns traditional orthodox theology, be it Reformation, Pre-Reformation, Post-Reformation, Orthodox on its ear and is perhaps the best contemporary exposition of Universalism in today’s world.
The authors write this book with one voice, though they are two different people. Why can they write with one voice? They can write with one voice because their life experiences have led them to the same joyous conclusion: God’s grace is so extravagant, so beautiful and powerful that it will leave no person behind. Philip Gulley is a Quaker minister, writer, husband and father. He is the bestselling author of Front Porch Tales: Warm Hearted Stories of Family, Faith, Laughter and Love; Hometown Tales: Recollections of Kindness, Peace, and Joy; For Everything a Season: Simple Musings on Living Well; Home to Harmony; Just Shy of Harmony; Christmas in Harmony and Signs and Wonders. He lives in Danville, Indiana.
James Mulholland, author of Praying Like Jesus: The Lord’s Prayer in a Culture of Prosperity, is a theologian with ecumenical experience in the American Baptist and United Methodist denominations. He presently pastors a Quaker meeting. He lives in Indianapolis where he is involved in a wide variety of social ministries.
Philip and James describe the journey of faith and lack of belief that led them from a version of God’s grace that many hold but they found wanting; wanting because their experiences led them to believe that God is speaking still and that voice affirms that God’s grace is always sufficient; that there is nothing more powerful than God’s grace here or hereafter. Some of the roots of their struggle was with the Bible and certain attitudes about the Bible which they found incredible:
“Though the defenders of Biblical inerrancy are adamant that God has spoken, they grow nervous when it’s suggested God continues to speak. They become frightened when someone implies God might say something different from their closely guarded interpretations of Scripture. I once shared this need to protect the Bible. Now I realize that suggesting God continues to speak doesn’t lessen the value of the Bible but instead reclaims one of its central tenets: God speaks fresh words.” (p. 37)
Universalism in an ancient and honorable teaching of the Christian religion. (It became a heresy after the triumph of power backed and Empire brokered orthodoxy gained the upper hand. Remember a heretic is someone who thinks for him/herself) Universalism’s origins can be traced directly to Scripture. Appendix 1, “Universalist Themes and Verses in Scripture”, provides a quick glance at a number of references from both Hebrew and Christian Scripture. In Appendix 2, “A Short History of Universalism”, there is a list of references from the earliest of the Church Fathers down to the Reformation and the current day. They came to understand that traditional teachings concerning God’s grace generally fall into these modes of thought and belief:
“God’s grace was usually limited and qualified. God would be gracious: if I accepted Jesus as my Savior. God would be gracious, if I was baptized the right way. God would be gracious if I attended the right church. God would be gracious, if I prayed the right prayer. God would be gracious, if I obeyed the right set of rules. God would be gracious, if I got it right.” (p. 104)
Now that the gracious road of God’s love became clear, other things fell into place. The entire story of salvation needs to be re-examined in the light of the fact of God’s grace being the most beautiful and powerful force in the Universe. But if God is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow, what does that say about the extension of God’s love to all people in all places and at all times and what does that have to say about some of the traditional theological positions concerning Jesus and particularly the idea of Jesus as a blood sacrifice for sin? This is where this leads:
“Forgiveness doesn’t rely on sacrifice, blood or the payment of debt. Forgiveness has always been the choice of God. God was as gracious prior to the cross as God was after the cross. The death of Jesus didn’t enable God to forgive, nor did it change God’s mind about us. God has never sought our destruction, but our completion. Jesus wasn’t born to die. He came to teach us how to live. Jesus didn’t die to appease an angry God. He came to proclaim a God of love.” (pages 134-135)
This book proclaims a beautiful God whose grace is more powerful than any evil we know or can imagine. This is a message desperately needed in our time when so much of Christianity is about exclusion, damnation, lakes of hellfire consuming those who don’t believe what the preacher believes. This is alike a refreshing wind and rain over an earth scorched by religious zealots whose message is delivered by flame-throwers of misery rather than the gentle voice of the one who says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 KJV)