Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Terminology Tuesday: Universalism

Universalism: The belief that all persons will eventually be saved and thus that no one will be eternally lost. Some universalists hold that all will be saved because of the work of Christ, but some deny the unique deity of Christ and necessity of his work for salvation in favor of a pluralistic view that sees the world's religions as equally valid. Universalism should not be confused with the view that it is possible that some who do not have conscious faith in Christ in this life may be saved. It also should be distinguished from annihilationism, which holds that those who are eternally lost cease to exist altogether.1

1. C.Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), p. 119.


Mike Gantt said...

There is a completely biblical case for everyone going to heaven. It exalts Christ above all, and gives hope to believing Christians who genuinely care for the lost.

This hope does not mean that we forsake righteousness. Nor does it mean that we escape judgment - any of us. On the contrary, we are all judged in this earth and we are judged when we go to heaven. If you love Jesus and live for Him you will do well in both places.

The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven can be found at http://wp.me/PNthc-i6

David Parker said...


Great timing on this post, given the Rob Bell controversy and all the blogging about universalism going round. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Re: Bell (whom I have not read): Here's Boyd's thoughts on the matter -- http://www.gregboyd.org/blog/

Ex N1hilo said...

Daniel 12:2 (ESV) And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

You can't wish hell away.

Ex N1hilo said...

The verse I posted was from the KJV, not the ESV. Sorry for the misattribution.

failedatheist said...

'There is a completely biblical case for everyone going to heaven. It exalts Christ above all, and gives hope to believing Christians who genuinely care for the lost'

Nah there isn't.

Anonymous said...

What of God's Promise in Isaiah 45 which Paul quotes in Romans 14? Do those verses say "some" or "a few" or "not many"? Are not the words used - "bow" and "confess" - acts of willing submission?

(I don't deny the reality of judgment, either. That is the means by which God corrects what is wrong.)


Nick Potts said...

I'm with David on this, great timing Brian!

Also, there is no Biblical case for Universalism. I'm not trying to say this as an act of debate, but the thing we must see is, "is there Biblical evidence that people will be in everlasting judgment?" The answer is a clear and resounding YES! Now, this does not mean that God is not glorified in all of this, He is glorified in His mercy toward those who believe, and He is glorified in His justice toward those who do not believe. John 3:16-18 clearly states that we are condemned if we do not believe and are saved if we do believe....but through it all, God is glorified.

as for Greg Boyd's thoughts on it, though, I like his apologetics, I am not a fan of his open theism.

Anonymous said...

Great scripture!

May I ask: Is Jesus going "to save the world" as we're clearly told in John 3:17, among other places?

I say: Yes! (He is and will be doing it through teaching and judgment.)

And notice what is doesn't say; it doesn't say "save [some of] the world [particularly those who can stop sinning long enough to "choose" Jesus]". (If God didn't give us faith, we'd not have it.)

Personally speaking, I hold on to God's promise that every knee will bow to Him and that everyone will confess, "Jesus is Lord". (And it will be done to the glory, not the shame, of His God and Father. [Philippians 2:11])

Does that make me a "universalist"? Well, I don't want all the other baggage that people associate with it (as seen in the definition above).

By the way, it is interesting, Nick, that you use the word "everlasting" to describe the punishment. In our modern age, does that usage really preserve its original meaning?

If I may add, the thing that always confused me the most about the teaching of "eternal torment / punishment" is that it entails that humans have some sort of inherent immortality. If such a concept were true, then Paul sought to put on something he already had (1 Corinthians 15:54). (Immortality is a gift.)

NOTE: I'm not trying to argue, just throwing these things out there since God's intent in sending His Son, Jesus, and His purpose in creating humanity are pretty important.

Grace and peace.


Anonymous said...

Only with an incredibly selective reading of scripture can one arrive at the conclusion that every person will be saved. I could list so many verses that would be made meaningless by universalism. Like.... the great white throne judgement.... the dividing of sheep from goats.. the whole parable of separating the wheat from the chaff (if universalism is true there is ONLY wheat, no chaff.... the parable of the seed sewn among weeds (if universalism is true, there are only successful seeds, none are choked out or plucked up) ... "But if they do not believe, they are condemned already...

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

(John 3:36 ESV)

When the Bible says in John that Christ came into the world that the world *might* be saved through Him, it's a conditional. Christ's blood atoned universally (Yes, Calvinism is false doctrine) and made salvation open to the whole world. But those who refuse it (and the majority will) will not be saved. God doesn't force anyone into heaven, and for a lot of people that's what it would take.

Unknown said...

I'll throw in my two cents in here as well. Can we honestly say that a person like Christopher Hitchens who wrote, "God is not Great and how Religion Poisons Everything", would he honestly want a sphere of existence that is permeated with the glory of God himself and other Christians? I can't imagine that any atheist worth his/her salt would. Such a place would be incredible nauseating to them. It would be like a pretty air conditioned hell. Sure they escaped eternal torment from that other place, but, in their view its not much of an improvement.

If God and Christians poison everything in the view of atheists I simply can't imagine them really wanting to be in heaven even with the veil pulled back see these spiritual realities. If there is no heart transformation here and now I can't see God shoving them in.

Nicolas said...

Just to add support to the truth of evangelical universalism in the Bible, and especially in response to Kanbei85:

In the original Greek New Testament, the tradition has missed the significance of all the verbs in the present continuous tense. For example, Rom 1 : 18 says that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing (present continuous), but to us who are being saved(present continuous), it is the power of God.”

In other words, what is being described is an on-going process. But the traditions of men continually describe this on-going process as if it were a final result -- there will definitely be those who will (future tense) be saved, and those who definitely will (future tense) be damned. But the Greek is “present continuous”, indicating a work in progress, not yet finished.

Once you become aware of this, you start to see it again and again: eg
Mat 7:13-14 many who are entering/few who are finding,
II Cor 5:19 God in Christ reconciling the world to himself,
Rev 21:5 “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Kanbei85 includes Jhn 3:36 “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” where the present tense “remains” (better “is remaining”) again points to “ongoing process”.
In other words, the text is saying that as long as a person is unsaved, the wrath of God is remaining on them, but when they become saved, they find that they have eternal life”

So, the Bible is not telling us that any souls will definitely be punished for ever, only that punishment is indeed part of the process. Eternal (aionios) punishment is the punishment given out in the age (aion) to come. The word aionios (eternal) tells us what kind it is, not how long it will last.

With Christian Greetings.

Unknown said...

@ Nicholas

The idea that Scripture speaks to "being saved" (a process) it therefore follows that all will be saved (universalism) is a non-sequitur. I could be misunderstanding your position so if I am please clarify. Or are you making the case that the unrighteous dead are simply annihilated?

Also, as to the last paragraph in your post wouldn't this logic also apply to the Christian believer but only with regard to rewards? Applied to the believer it would be "eternal life isn't an eternal existence of blissfulness in the presence of God but merely an ongoing process in this life. Eternal life isn't a result it's only a part of an ongoing process."

If the above is true there is no "salvation" in any meaning sense for either the believer or non-believer. Only annihilation for both since both salvation and justice only have consequences in this life.

Nicolas said...

Thank you, Neal, for your question. It’s always good to be challenged to think again, and to re-state your case. I’m asking the tradition to do that, so it’s perfectly fair that the tradition asks me to do the same! In any case, my little article (above) did leave a lot of loose strings hanging.

re the process of “being saved” -- I hope and believe that this process will come to an end when all souls are saved. God desires that all be saved, so I’m praying for that day when every knee will bow to the Glory of God the Father. This is every knee bowing before the Fatherhood of God (not the wrath of God), and all to His Glory!

You’re right, I’m not annihilationist, although that position has great evangelical credentials: eg there’s John Stott, Clark Pinnock, I Howard Marshall, John Wenham, and FF Bruce, just to name a few.

So I believe that the ongoing process of “perishing” and “being saved” goes on into the “age to come” and on through the judgment and punishment of the unrepentant.
It goes on until God’s loving mercy in Christ has “drawn all men to myself” as Jesus said.

Does the “process” end and “eternity” begin at different times for different individuals?
I guess that is the implication of what I’m saying.

So, yes, the process will end in a final result. My point was that many NT verses which are treated as “final result” verses, are in fact ongoing “process” verses.

Jhn 3:36 is a good example: it’s mid-way in the ongoing process, but the tradition (wrongly) tells us that it is God’s final settlement.

Also worth mentioning Rev 21:5. God himself says: “Behold I am making all things new”. He actually says this after the wicked have been sent to the Lake of Fire. And then at Rev 21: 24ff we see people from the Lake of Fire coming in through the ever-open gates of the New Jerusalem -- the formerly wicked Kings of the earth and their nations (eg Rev 18:3) have repented, and are now saved. As Rev 22:14 says, they have washed their robes, eaten the leaves for the healing of the nations (Rev 22:2) and entered the city. Both in this age, and in the age to come, the spirit and the Bride are saying “Come”. And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev 22:17). Behold, God is indeed making (present continuous) all things new!

Christian Greetings, and hope this is more clear than my first attempt!

Unknown said...

@ Nicholas

Thank you for your kind tone and thoughtful response. It very refreshing to see such politeness on an internet board. I thought about typing out another response but instead have decided to provide a link to a debate between William Lane Craig and Raymond Bradley on the topic of Hell vs. Universalism.

The link is all audio even though it's from YouTube. I hope you find the discussion edifying.


Nicolas said...

Thank you for that, Neal.
I enjoy listening more than reading, so I look forward to hearing it.
I leaving for a week away right now, but will listen when I get back, and leave a response. Again, Thank you!

Nicolas said...

Hi Neal,

Thanks again for that link, and I just finished listening to it.

I see that it’s between William Lane Craig (WLC) and an atheist, William Bradley (WB). Also it was recorded back in 1994.

Both of them read the Bible in fairly much the same way, with one believing the truth of that way of reading the Bible, and the other rejecting it. I myself don’t read the Bible that way, and therefore I feel that both of them are wrong!

I think the conversation has moved on since 1994 in so many ways.

I think the best book on this is Gregory MacDonald’s “The Evangelical Universalist” now in its 2nd Edition. Both chapter 1 and Appendix 1 are a response to William Lane Craig.

I took notes on the debate, so if there are any specific bits you’d like to discuss, I would be happy to share with you, and exchange views with you.


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