Is the ELCA universalists [sic]? was a question I was asked on twitter last weekend. And the answer I tweeted back was “no, but its fairly easy to misinterpret our theology in such a fashion, Braaten explains it well here http://tinyurl.com/2g3durv ”
In hindsight, not knowing the fellow asking the question, sending him to a book by a high powered theologian such as Dr Braaten may or may not have been the right way to answer such a question. Most certainly, while doing so was expeditious and correct, it was not by any means stepping up to the plate personally. As a result, here would have been a more appropriate answer, albeit being its far too long to fit within 140 characters…
The answer is no, we are not universalists. However, in the eyes of many US evangelicals, we might appear to be. The reason is that many US evangelicals hold to a model of the destiny of the unevangelized called exclusivism or restrictivism. It is the narrowest model, and pretty goes much narrower than just “No one comes to the Father but through me“. It holds to the belief that only those who actively respond in faith to the explicit preaching of the Gospel are saved…. but in practice, few actually hold to such a hard core restrictivism, especially when it concerns children or the unborn. A couple common workarounds are the age of accountability, and/or a re-definition of original sin in other than a view of total depravity from conception… such that children and or the unborn are saved, even if they have never heard the Gospel explicitly preached. Ultimately, it would be correct to say that the ELCA does not ascribe to restrictivism.
Going to the other extreme is a view held by some unitarian universalists, which states that all are saved, and that Christ has nothing to do with such. As a result, it would be correct to say that the ELCA does not ascribe to the views of the above unitarian universalists either.
Rather, my view, which is close to the ELCA’s, is that its in God’s hands, and His grace is huge, we know He desires that all be saved. Scripture leans towards universalism, that God’s work in Christ was done for all, yet we must also be aware of God’s judgment. We hold to a universal hope that all will be saved through the grace and love of Christ… but ultimately, we do not know. We do not put absolutes around God and put Him in a box to our liking, whether it be restrictivism on the one hand, or universal salvation for all apart from Christ on the other.
For further reference:
What we believe from the ELCA website
******** added at 12:05PM CDT 19 August 2010 ********
One thing I forgot to add last night was a reference to the first edition of the ELCA’s Lutheran Study Bible. There was a lot of fuss over Dr Priebe’s commentary on the great commission being it came across as a type of universalism. Its well worth reading the background on the commentary from Dr Priebe It makes a whole lot of sense, and no it is not universalism.