There are moods in theology just as there are in culture. The pressure from the dominant culture upon the church is to find a way, any way, to re-interpret the scriptures so as to make soteriology (The doctrines of salvation) less exclusive.
John Hick created the new standards for religious pluralism by arguing for the move away from a needlessly “christ-centered” theology to a more moderate “god-centered” theology. There has been a move in Evangelical Christianity to follow suit.
Karl Rahner posited something a little less ambitious, arguing that though Christianity (of the Roman Catholic denomination) is the true religion sincerity and good works within the context of other religions is sufficient for God’s purposes soteriologically speaking. While Protestant orthodoxy has always taught “justification by grace alone through faith alone apart from the merit of works”, the new theology, especially as adopted by the Emergent church movement and Christian Liberalism seems to favor a ‘Justification by works alone, apart from faith’. Assent to certain beliefs or intellectual content is thought to be merely incidental.
Unitarianism (not simply the variety that denies the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity) is willing to argue for the veracity of all religions which makes it equally comfortable with any of them or none of them.
The most offensive teaching of traditional Christian Theology, to those in these revisionist movements, seems to be the doctrine of endless punishment, or more properly, the doctrine that God would ever punish anyone at all. The accusation is that there is some kind of inherent personality defect in any god that might have the capacity for Justice, or anger over sin, or “punishment”.
Of course nothing is being said here that has not been said before about Christian thought or religion in general. Religious syncretism was the norm in the first and second centuries AD. But none of this has ever been mistaken for Christian thought. The Scriptures being the source and center of Christian faith and practice, this kind of thinking has always been understood to be irreconcilable with an orthodox Christianity. Not only has it been condemned again and again by the historical church but the Christian laity have had an easy enough time seeing something very different in the words Jesus and the Apostles. There seems to be very little that would lead anyone to find universalism in the scriptures in any obvious way. This is why so many find them so offensive.
At the end of the day, we read the scriptures the same way we read any other book. We use the text to interpret the text. It builds theme upon theme; idea upon idea. These alternatives to traditional orthodox Christianity seem lacking in both the weight of the necessary internal evidence to support their claims and in coherence as a worldview supposedly Christian.
Christopher Neiswonger and Doug Eaton.