To those of you who have been asking about the rest of the Modern Day Heresy notes, I have returned with session 4. Thanks for waiting so patiently as life has been quite hectic as of late and I wanted to make sure I put this together in a way that does justice to the weightiness of the topic. You may notice I have added some additional notes and thoughts that were not touched on during the class session and I have highlighted these sections for your reference.
Original Class Date: 24 March 2013
A Brief Disclaimer
Firstly, if you are a non-Christian, you will most likely be offended by this post. It is not my intention to offend you, but the nature of the material is offensive. Secondly, if you are a Christian, this may offend you and it shouldn’t, as Jesus said we are blessed when we are not offended by him (Matthew 11:6). The debate regarding universalism is a very contentious one. Outside of Christian circles there will be a lot of push back and disagreement. I believe that while some Christian’s have given themselves to universalist teachings, the majority hold to orthodox Christian belief on the matter. Therefore, it is the belief of this author that we, believers, must stand with Jesus and humbly hold to what Scripture says. The point of this is not to win arguments or to condemn those who do not believe, but to resent the facts as the Bible lays out and do our best to get out of the way so that they must do business with Jesus instead of us.
Introduction to Universalism
The idea of universalism is becoming very popular these days. Many teachers and scholars attest to it, and even some prominent Christian pastors preach it. Much of my study on this topic comes from the book Erasing Hell by Pastor Francis Chan and experiences I have had in my own life. As with most of these posts, unless otherwise noted, I am using the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible.
What is Universalism?
The root of the word is universal which is defined as “of, affecting, or done by all people or things in the world or in a particular group; applicable to all cases.” In regards to Christian theology Universalism is the idea that all people will eventually be saved from their sin and reconciled to God regardless of where their faith lies. A synonymous term could be Universal Salvation. Famous universalist proponents include the early Church leader Origen (158 – 254 AD), Elhanan Winchester (1751 – 1797), Hannah Whitall Smith (1832 – 1911), Thomas Talbott, Gregory MacDonald, Rob Bell, and Jay Bakker.
“…for over 1,600 years hardly any major theologian argued that everyone would be saved. This all began to change in the 1800’s… Today there are a growing number of confessing Christians who reflect in one way or another the views of Origen on matters of salvation and the afterlife.” -Chan, 17
Is Universalism a Good or Bad Thing?
At first, from a fleshly human mindset, it sounds good. In fact it sounds wonderful! “It’s okay if you never repent, you’ll be fine because God will make sure you get your J-Train boarding pass sooner or later and you’ll be at peace with Him for all eternity. Missed the train? Don’t worry, it’ll be back around in a bit.” That’s how the theory of universalism plays out in my mind. It’s kind of like the DC Metro system. Even if you miss your train, there’ll be another one around in a few minutes to take you to the same destination. It sounds great, but it’s not biblical. As we develop this I want you to understand my reasons for saying this as well as why I believe that universalism is, in and of itself, a very dangerous doctrine to teach.
- The bible does not clearly teach the idea of universal salvation. We will examine this further in a bit.
- It presents a false gospel wherein Jesus is not central, and if he is central as in some forms, it ultimately denies his sovereign lordship.
- It reduces the magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice.
- It endangers the eternal lives of billions of people.
Common Universalist Views and Arguments
“At the heart of this perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most ‘depraved sinners’ will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God.” -Bell, 107
The trouble with using the label Universalist in a practical way is that it is not a Christian-specific term. Christians and non-Christians can hold this position by simply not believing there is such a place as Hell. We can stretch this to a belief in a type of Hell that is not congruent with the Scriptural definition of Hell.
- Non-Christian Universalism or Pluralism: Jesus is one of many ways to God/heaven/the divine.
- Hopeful Universalism: Christ is the only way to the Father, but there is hope that God will save everyone. (I am not necessarily comfortable with referring to these individuals as heretics, though I have heard others do so.)
- Dogmatic Universalism: The next step beyond hopeful universalism where it is believed and taught that God indeed will save EVERYONE.
Due to the nature of this subject it should be understood that I am only referring to Christian dogmatic universalism.
So all of this information begs the question: Is universalism biblical? Below are a few verses that are used to support the claim that all dogs go to heaven (figuratively speaking). Below the verses will be notes and other references regarding the subject to see them in context.
- Philippians 2:9-11 – 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
- The idea here is that in time everyone, even those who are dead (under the earth) will confess Jesus as Lord and be saved.
- Philippians 1:27-28 – 27 Only let your manner of life be worthy[a] of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.
- There is a clear distinction in the chapter just before the claim that all will be saved that some will be saved and others destroyed.
- Philippians 3:18-21 – 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
- People who reject Jesus and his invitation for salvation are making them him their enemy. They’ve chosen sides and are living a life of rebellion against God along with Satan (which translates as Adversary).
- 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 – 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
- The idea here seems to be one of federal headship. Just as we are all born with a sin nature due to Adam’s failure, we are all granted a new nature by Christ’s victory.
- The key to understanding who is referred to here by the word all is found in the next four verses:
- 1 Corinthians 15:23-26 – 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
- “In Christ, all shall be made alive” should be understood as all who belong to Jesus, not everybody everywhere from every time. This is made clear in verses 25 and 26 where Paul explains that Jesus will put under his feat (that is he will walk over and destroy) his enemies (coming back to Philippians 3).
- 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 – 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
- We find here what I would have said was the most compelling verse in the entire bible on the topic of universal salvation, however having already read other passages from this same author (Paul) and seeing the straight forward deceleration of what is to come for those who apart from Christ, we can reasonably infer that this again refers exclusively to believing Christians.
- The world is a broad term which could mean everybody, everywhere, from every time, however in light of the other passages we have already read it is more likely that the world is an ambiguous generalization much like the use of the word man in reference to humanity at large.
- The big idea of this passage should be Christ and not the world because had the world had something to do with the reconciliation to God the death of Jesus would have not been necessary, therefore misinterpreting this passage by focusing on the what instead of the who results in a false gospel that removes Jesus from the seat of preeminence.
- Colossians 1:19-20 – 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
- Again we see the idea of God reconciling the world (that is, all things) to himself and again to be good students of the Scriptures (as with any other form of critical analysis) we need to remember the context. As with Corinthians and Philippians, the book of Colossians is written by Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit therefore the other statements regarding the fate of believers and non-believers stand for this passage as well.
- I would also consider Genesis 3:17 in which the God judges Adam’s sin and declares that the earth is cursed, much as we are, by virtue of the federal headship of Adam, the man who was supposed to steward and care for his family, the earth, and all of the animals. Just a passing thought, don’t take it and run with it unless the Lord reveals something to you.
Don’t let this topic be one of abstract ideas and memorization. The folly of many is to separate doctrine from reality, and that is when you end up with institutions like the Westboro Baptist Church. These are real people, not just the other side of an argument. As with most of these topics it is very easy to discuss this in terms of vague generalization instead of facing the reality that many people we love and enjoy believe this. We get this from the system of politics, cynicism, and philosophy which truly is searching the depths of our depraved minds. Hell is not a topic or an idea; it’s a very real, and a very serious place, and many people, even some we may be close to are going there. It is for this reason that it is necessary to engage the Universalist theology of a number of western churches. It’s a false teaching leading to a false sense of security and an apathy toward evangelism. It’s something that the world accepts because it’s in line with the lie that many leaders of the New Spirituality (i.e. New Age) and Neo-Pagan religions attest to, that is, antithesis to Scripture.