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    illustration of people walking in the subways of a city

    Everyone Belongs to God

    The hope of the world does not rest on our ability to recruit others into a religion.

    By Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

    May 23, 2024
    • Clay Marshall

      Great article, hopeful and encouraging. I always feel life when I hear of others having the hope that we all belong to the Father. Many NT scriptures are becoming better understood that it is the faith “of” Christ more than our faith “in” Christ. It’s all a gift of love from the Father to us all.


      Thank you, I teach international studies, religious/cultural interactions, with an emphasis on insurgency. Its complicated- but your writing is direct, clear, appropriate and supportive, This one - I will print and put on my desk to remember that there are leaders in the Christian community that speak truth, not only to power, but to the rest of us. (Pauletta Otis)

    • Sheila Petre

      Re the 2015 comment, I hope he is arguing for universalism. Salvation is available to all, yes, and must be received by faith, yes. Only those who believe and call on the name of the Lord will be saved. The question then becomes: How many will call on His Name? And the answer, prophesied in Isaiah, and reiterated in Romans and Philippians, is: Every knee will bow (note where those knees will be found) and every tongue will confess. The thought fills me with awe. Behold, He is the Lord, the God of all flesh, and nothing is too hard for Him. Thanks for the article and the offer of the e-book.


      Excellent article! I am eager to add my small voice to those whose view has Jesus at its center, the Lord as our only priority. Thanks for Plough Quarterly.

    • Mike N

      It's hard to tell if the author is arguing for univeralism. "Everyone belongs to God" in the sense that he's the Lord over all creation, but that doesn't mean that all are saved. Salvation is available to all, but the Bible is clear that it must be received by faith. Evangelism and discipleship are both central to Christ's Great Commission. The fact that we've often failed miserably at discipleship doesn't negate the importance of evangelism.

    This is the foreword to Everyone Belongs to God.

    In every age, God’s people need prophets to help us see beyond our blind spots – to expand our vision of what God is about.

    Jeremiah was a prophet. To a people in exile, caught between the false hope that their God would destroy Babylon and the despair of thinking God had forgotten them, Jeremiah proclaimed a new vision. The old images of God’s faithfulness would no longer suffice. Yes, their God had saved humanity in an ark and washed away the wicked in a great flood. Yes, their God had brought them out of Egypt, drowning Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea.

    But a salvation that requires someone else’s destruction is too small a salvation, Jeremiah proclaimed. To a people in exile, he wrote, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:7).

    You will not be saved apart from your neighbors, the prophet says. Everyone belongs to God. Or, to quote another of the biblical prophets:

    It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to restore the survivors of Israel;
    I will give you as a light to the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6, NRSV)

    Jesus came preaching peace to all people. But he got into the most trouble for showing the religious insiders how the people they counted out often understood the advent of God’s reign better than they did. Take Luke 4. For his first sermon in his own hometown, Jesus took a text from Isaiah, the prophet. And when he said that the great day of Jubilee had arrived for God’s people, everyone rejoiced.

    But when he pointed out that a Syrian soldier and a Gentile woman had more faith than anyone else in their day, the hometown crowd tried to throw him off a cliff.

    Your gospel is too small, Jesus said. But no one wants the prophet to speak so directly to them.

    Better to celebrate that the scripture is fulfilled in our hearing than to grapple with the ways God’s Word forces us to expand our imagination.

    But expand we must. At least, that’s what the prophets tell us.

    illustration of people walking in the streets and subways of a city

    Eric Drooker, X-Ray Manhattan. Used by permission.

    The text of Everyone Belongs to God is over a century old, but it contains the words of a prophet who was ahead of his time. At the beginning of the so-called “Christian Century,” when science and progress seemed to be bringing Christendom to its full height of glory, Christoph Blumhardt heard a word that cut through his cultural formation and easy assumptions: Everyone belongs to God.

    Cultural captivity is, of course, a far cry from exile, but the long march of Christendom, as we now see more clearly, took God’s people as far from the Promised Land as Nebuchad­nezzar’s forces ever did. As in the Babylonian captivity, we face a dual temptation.

    On the one hand, there are those who say, “All you’ve got to do is believe.” God is greater than the forces of secularism and materialism, atheism and individualism. Yes, Western Christianity is compromised. But the pure in heart – those who really believe – can be saved right here, right now. All you have to do is bow your head and say this simple prayer. . . .

    On the other hand, the cynics point out, the Good Book became the Bad Book in so much of the Western missionary enterprise. We over-evangelized the world too lightly, exporting cultural hegemony along with the faith, doing more harm than good. Christendom has failed, they say, and so it is best to leave the name of Christ behind. Do good, for goodness’ sake. At the very least, try to do no harm.

    In the midst of this crisis, I hear Blumhardt’s words for twenty-first-century Christians in the same vein as Jeremiah’s to seventh-century-BC Israel: “The Risen One wants to draw people to himself, and so propaganda for a particular confession of faith or church is no concern of his. You must stand up and represent the gospel of the kingdom that shines for all people, no matter who they are.”

    We cannot give up on the missionary enterprise because we have misunderstood and abused it. Instead, Blumhardt insists, we must reclaim the heart of Christian mission.

    Our gospel has been too small. It is, indeed, too small a thing to think that the hope of the world rests in our ability to recruit others into a religion which has too often made us morally worse.

    To confess that the hope of the world is Jesus Christ is to open ourselves to a kingdom beyond our control – beyond our imagination, even. It is to embrace the revolutionary notion that everyone belongs to God.

    Though Bonhoeffer had not yet introduced the term when Blumhardt wrote these letters, it was in the midst of his own confrontation with the crisis of Western Christianity that he wrote of “religionless Christianity.” Bonhoeffer had so little time to explore what this term meant, even less how one might practice it in the world.

    But this volume fills some of that void. For it, we can all be grateful. Take and read the words of a prophet for our time.

    Contributed By JonathanWilsonHartgrove Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

    Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove lives at the Rutba House, a Christian community and house of hospitality in Durham, North Carolina.

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