Functional Universalism: Do We Really Believe What We’re Saying?

The Rob Bell controversy has yielded several important lessons, but David Platt offers one of the best in a new video on the dangers of functional universalism in the Christian church (as opposed to intellectual universalism).

Using Northern India as an example — a country comprised mostly of Hindus, Muslisms, and Buddhists —  Platt challenges us to consider whether we really believe that the 597 million non-Christians therein are really going to hell. By asking whether we really believe it, he means to ask whether we are really doing something about it. 

Watch the video here (HT):

For Platt, the distinction between the intellectual issue and the functional one is as follows (though there can certainly be plenty of overlap):

If we believe that everyone is going to be ok in the end — if we embrace universalism, however it is cloaked — then we’re free to live our lives however we want, to sit back as easygoing Christians in comfortable churches. Because in the end, all of these masses are going to be ok. They’re going to be fine.

However, if we believe that people around around us — 597 million people in Northern India, 6,000+ people groups who have never even heard the Gospel — if we believe that they are going to an eternal hell without Christ, then we don’t have time to play games with our lives. We don’t have time to play games in the church. We have a mission that demands radical urgency.

In the past, I have taken issue with Platt’s version of “radical urgency” on matters of actual application (see here and here), but at the root, and as expressed among my disagreements, I retain a deep appreciation for the fundamental heart alignment that Platt continues to encourage us toward.

On this, he is spot on:

Intellectual universalism is dangerous — thinking that in the end everyone is going to be ok. But functional universalism is worse — living like in the end everyone is going to be ok. So let’s fight them both.

In our lives, Platt concludes, such a fight means sacrificing everything for the sake of the Gospel, whether it be “our possessions, our plans, our dreams, our safety, our security, [or,] if necessary, our own lives.”

Platt calls this “radical abandonment” in his book. On this blog, I call it “radical individualism.” Whatever we call it, let’s actually do what we say, shall we?

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  • Remnant Culture

    If hell is real, why don't we act like it? @plattdavid says functional universalism is worse than the intellectual kind.

  • Humberto Vadillo

    RT @RemnantCulture: If hell is real, why don't we act like it? @plattdavid says functional universalism is worse than the intellectual kind.

  • Reyjacobs

    Fact is that exclusivist religions only work in a vaccum. When you actually have reasonable intelligent people around, nice and honest people, good people, who do not share your religious views (and are therefore going to burn for all eternity in hell according to your religious views) then you do eventually in your heart of hearts stop believing those unjust and barbaric views yourself unless you harden yourself into a cold inhuman monster in a worthless attempt to hold on to you Satanic condemnation of the innocent. If God is just or merciful or both, why would he send these good people to burn forever and ever and ever and ever and ever just because they don’t believe in one silly supposedly historic even which sounds exactly like a myth or comic-book story and which has no real but only imagined and fake evidence for it? This you ask yourself whether you will admit it or not. And the difference between the inhuman monster and the human being is that when self-confronted by this question the human being sees how horrible his religion makes God out to be, and loosens up and stops being a fundamentalist nut, whereas the inhuman monster buckles down on his fundamentalism and spews forth venemous fits of condemnation against everyone who disagrees with him. He ramps up his rhetoric even to condemn more of his co-religionists over small issues. He becomes more and more disgruntles the more he finds any small disagreement, and of course the more he himself realizes that his religion is blasphemy that makes God out to be Satan himself, the more he claims to believe it and the more loudly he proclaims it (to hide his internal doubts, nay his internal knowledge that his religion is a lie invented by bullies and not revealed by God).