Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

A Case For Christian Universalism (From A Non-Universalist)

Christian universalism is a solidly biblical and reasonable belief.

When I was in high school I took a debate class because I was overly opinionated and loved to argue. One day the teacher flipped the tables on me after picking a debate topic: he made us switch sides and debate the opposite position than what we had signed up to do.

The reason for the exercise, he explained, was that the best way to truly understand our own position is to dig deep into an alternative position. This also helps us understand that those with an alternative position aren’t just ignorant fools, but probably have some really good points.

Over the course of time I have written extensively on the issue of hell. While I do not believe in the dominant evangelical position on hell (eternal conscious torment), it is also true that I do not currently affirm the position of Christian Universalism. Instead, I have maintained my position on annihilationism, which is the belief that those who refuse to be reconciled to God die a second death, and it’s as if they never existed in the first place.

However, this does not mean that Christian Universalism has a weak case. In a tribute to my 10th grade debate teacher, allow me to make my best case for Christian Universalism being true– and why my own position might be wrong.

1. Many of the earliest Christians held the position of Christian Universalism.

Now, just because many early Christians held the position of universalism doesn’t mean it’s true. However, it does point to the fact that this is not some off-the-wall idea that only later, liberal Christians came up with. The fact that it was not unpopular with the patristics and in pre-Constantinian Christianity, shows that there is a historical basis for this position that goes back to the earliest days of Christianity.

Again, this is not proof the position is true, but certainly it’s is proof the concept is not at odds with historic Christianity.

2. The Bible teaches that universal salvation is what God wants.

There’s the famous question from Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins: Does God get what God wants?

Unarguably, the Bible says that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) We also see in 1 Timothy 2:4 that God “desires all people to be saved.” Thus, we know that God wants everyone who has ever lived to be saved in the end.

If God is truly all-powerful, one can make a compelling argument that God can and does get what he wants in the end.

3. Jesus seemed to hint at universal salvation.

When Jesus predicted his death he said that he was about to drive the “ruler of this world out” (Satan) and that as a result, he would “draw all people to himself.” (John 12:32).

I think the visual contained in this passage is interesting: Jesus refers to Satan and says that his death will cast him out and deprive him of power. He then refers to humanity and says he will “ἑλκύσω” them to himself, which literally means to drag off. So, Jesus seemed to argue that he was about to defeat evil and “drag off” all of humanity– free from the clutches of Satan.

Furthermore, in John 3 Jesus claims he did not come to condemn the world but to “save the world.” Notice he doesn’t say save the “elect” or save a few, but claims he is on a mission to save the entire world. If universalism is untrue, one could argue Jesus failed in his mission and didn’t save the whole world at all.

Also, as I pointed out the other day, the Bible teaches that Jesus paid for the sins of the “whole world” (1 John 2:2), and that he paid the ransom for “all” people (1 Timothy 2:3-6). If universalism is untrue, this means that Jesus paid the price of redemption for everyone, but that some are still endlessly punished for sins that were already paid for. This sounds like a case of “double jeopardy” to me and doesn’t quite make sense.

4. Biblical passages repeatedly use the word “all.”

The key word in the above passages, and so many others, is all. We repeatedly see it used– and if universal salvation is untrue, Jesus and the biblical authors seem to be in error by saying “all” people. We’ve already seen that God desires “all” to be saved and that Jesus claimed he was going to drag off “all” people to himself. There are still others that use this language:

1 Corinthians 15:22 says that “all” will be made alive in Christ.

Colossians 1:19-20 says that through the sacrifice of Jesus, “all” things on earth and in heaven have been reconciled back to him.

In these cases, the match always goes to the universalists, because their position takes the text at face value, allowing “all” to mean literally “all.” Those who do not hold to the universalist position are forced to either argue that “all” really means “just some” or to divert attention back to verses where the stronger case goes to positions other than universalism.

Point being: the strongest and most logical case is that “all” actually means “all.”

5. Universalism makes more sense of hell & God’s loving character.

I think most people reject universalism before hearing the full case because they are aware that the Bible does in fact, quite clearly describe some sort of consequences in the afterlife for refusing to be reconciled to God in this life. They mistakenly believe that being a Christian universalist means that one rejects the concept of hell or some sort of divine punishment. This in fact, is totally untrue.

One of the advantages of universalism is that it can affirm passages that seem to speak about punishment in the afterlife, and it can affirm them in a way that better reflects the love and character of God. In universalism one can argue compellingly that the intent and outcome of God’s discipline is restoration of relationship, instead of endless punishment or permanent separation. It’s a difference of restorative justice instead of simply punitive justice– and that difference better reflects the character of God which is loving and always inviting reconciliation.

The three major positions on hell would look like this:

ETC position: hells is torment and it goes on forever. It is an endless punishment.

Annihilationist position: hell is a place where the soul goes and dies. It is a time limited, but permanent punishment.

Universalist: hell has elements of appropriate punishment and correction, with the goal of producing a change of heart and repentance. It is a restorative punishment that lasts as long as needed, whether that’s one day or a million years. This position is most consistent with a loving parent who corrects and disciplines, but does so not out of vengeance– but to to encourage a change of heart and behavior.

The Bible also describes heaven as a place where the gates are “never shut” which is also a compelling argument that perhaps, the number in heaven will constantly be growing in eternity as people repent and are reconciled to God.

Thus, in the universalist position we see not an angry God torturing people endlessly in hell with no hope, or who gives up and executes everyone, but a loving God who continues to guide, correct, invite repentance and restoration, and who will continue loving and inviting for billions of years if necessary, until all finally do come to repentance and are saved.

And the Bible once again hints that this will be how the story will end: it says that “Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.” If we know that’s the will of God, the desire of God, and the goal of God, would it not make sense that ultimately God convinces everyone to confess Jesus as Lord?

Christian universalism is not the same thing as an “anything goes” religion where we can all believe what we want, do what we want, and all end up in the same place at the same time.

Instead, it is a belief in the power of Jesus to atone for the sins of the entire world. It is a belief that Jesus truly has reconciled all things and all people to himself. It’s a belief that God’s loving nature is so endless, that even those who stubbornly refuse to be reconciled in this life will still find themselves pursued by God’s love and invited to have a change of heart, until every last one of them turns back to God– and hell is empty.

The case for universalism is not weak or some liberal nonsense, but actually fits God’s character and the biblical narrative quite convincingly.

Universalism is a solidly Christian belief, with solid reasons and solid biblical support.

True, I’m not a universalist, but now that I’ve argued the case for them, I’m rethinking that.

Thanks, Mr. Finnegan.

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Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

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  • Okay look, it’s not that I don’t dig what you are saying (particularly as contrasted with the whole “you’re going to hell” mentality), but here’s my thing:

    If God was just going to reconcile everyone, then what was the point of condemning us to begin with? What was the point of even making a hell? Why did Jesus talk about hell? What about the “fallen Angels?” Do they get to be reconciled also? If not, why the inconsistency? Does God make decisions so arbitrarily?

    If God was able to forgive us at all no matter our faith or lack thereof, then why the whole crucifixion (a.k.a., human sacrifice) thing? It was obviously not necessary, yes? (This applies even without universalism, as Jesus explicitly forgave people while he was alive.)

    Honestly, biblical literalism makes no sense under any paradigm, but being “saved from eternal damnation” is the centerpiece of Christianity. If you take away the condemnation, then what is the point? To be “Christlike?” Well, that seems to me to be a goal, not a religion. But I ask these questions sincerely and would like to know what others think about this.

  • When Jesus said forgive them Father they know not what they do I think he left it up to God to forgive. But then again we don’t know if Jesus said this, or maybe he asked God to please forgive them… A request in other words. As far as universalism is concerned I rather believe all are saved and that Jesus meant that all means all. I just feel better about Jesus and God and everything thinking this way. But nobody really knows for sure!! The only thing I know today is that I have a daily reprieve from alcoholism and other addictions because I turned my life and will over to a higher power and I imagined him to be a loving God. I was one of the lucky ones to find a transforming power that keeps me sober and clean on this side of the grave!! To keep me worrying about anybody else I just imagine that all are saved. Otherwise I might start drinking again if I stop start worrying about anybody else not making it to heaven. Sending people to hell of unending eternal torment!! That not speak well of a loving God does it it? I have had some Taste of hell with the addictions I’ve experienced. I would not wish that on my worst enemy!! God’s got to be a better man than I am!
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bb98ddce1b8389aafbfbc0cf8f8eef624ac63dccf37677404f5706a212d6fe4d.jpg !!

  • I’m a purgatorial universalist, and there’s some nitty-gritty here that’s important to mention.

    First, “all means all” is not a strong argument for universal reconciliation, because there are a number of passages where “pan” is limited and qualified by the context. I think when my PUR brethren utter this chestnut they’re walking right into a trap. A better one is “full inclusion means full inclusion” or “pleroma means pleroma”; Romans ch. 11 is the best demonstration of God’s universal plan of inclusion, as a theodicean “upshot” that concludes Romans ch. 9.

    Second, “salvation” is a tricky word; in general, under PUR, “salvation” is still “salvation from punishment” or “salvation from apololos/perishing/ruination/lostness,” and is not universal. This is also why 2 Peter 3:9 is not good evidence of PUR; the context of 2 Peter 3 makes it clear that some will “perish” in this way, despite what God wants. “God not getting what he wants” is resolved in the typical theodicean way: Circumstantial incommensurability among interests within a manifold interest set. The difference under PUR is that, in the eschaton, there are no longer any plausible circumstances — like the flow of natural history — that could confound God’s interest in reconciliation. You rightly mentioned Romans 14:10b-11. At that point, history is hogtied, and invalid are the postbiblical speculations of endless rebellious incorrigibility. Out of the “perishing,” a thing of value can be rescued from the dross of destruction; and we know that’s what God would prefer, because He told us His character.

    As you know, there’s a “soterios” for every kind of trouble, whether looming punishment, or sin, or earthly threats, or the sad state of unreconciliation. Everybody will be rescued from enmity with God. Salvation in that sense is universal. But because of the confusion at play, it’s better to call it universal reconciliation. With a purgatorial view of hell, it’s purgatorial universal reconciliation.

    Another important piece of the PUR case is that it adheres to the Biblical view of justice: sedeq & mispat. Biblical justice doesn’t give infinite penalty for sins against an infinitely glorious God (God’s loftiness actually makes our sins less grave, we’re told), and Biblical justice doesn’t give capital punishment as a one-size-fits-all T-shirt for every sin (in fact, a deadly response is several times contrasted against sedeq & mispat); the wages of sin is physical death insofar as expulsion from the Tree of Life left us to our natural fate.

    Google stanrock hell faq for a deeper study into the hot questions pertaining to PUR.

  • George MacDonald was a universalist, I’m given to understand, and had difficulty holding a pulpit because of his views. One reason why he turned (thankfully) to producing his fairy tales and fiction. C.S. Lewis respected MacDonald highly – I have a small book of quotes from MacDonald’s works collected by Lewis. “The Great Divorce”, a kind of universalist primer in my view was one of the threads that I pulled that undid my former views. Good company, there.

  • There are people who will not accept God for whatever reason. They will refuse to accept Him and live by His laws even after being shown the error of their position. What then happens to these people? They may have ticket to the Kingdom but have no intention of entering. There has to be a plan to deal with this unfortunate situation. That is the purpose of the second death.

    Let’s ask why the fallen angels are not covered by the sacrifice of Christ? If all men are covered certainly all angels could be covered. It is clear where Satan and his angels are going and it’s not into the Kingdom. If angels can be prohibited then so can man.

    • In my humble opinion one can speculate till doomsday but what’s really going to happen is going to be a great surprise!! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5839651169fcb42379a954a29f26caae2a82910f76112c8693f9dc40f1179d22.jpg

      Romans chapter 2
      13 for the hearers of the law are not righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be declared righteous.

      14 So, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, instinctively do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law.

      15 they show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences confirm this. Their competing thoughts will either accuse or excuse them

    • There are people who will not accept God for whatever reason.

      Does God only love those who love Him? Is He so petty?
      If we believe that “God is love”, then He loves us ALL. In His love He will never reject anyone.
      But!
      How could an unrepentant sinner bear to go into the presence of Love?
      “Hell” is not of God’s making. The unrepentant sinner creates his own Hell, of separation from Love. That separation will persist until the sinner repents, and clears his own conscience to the point that going into the presence of Love is not only bearable, but a joy.

      (Oh, and… excellent article!!)

    • The first will be last. Father does still want to save His first children. He mourns the loss of His Morning Star. He mourned with His tears during the flood. A shame more people never notice Father’s broken heart.

    • Bob, everyone will come to repentance, when God shows them their sin and convicts them. And once that happens, God will take them on to faith in Jesus Christ and in what he did for them, on the cross. 🙂

  • Can you explain where in God’s Word that after the great white throne judgement, all those sentenced there will be forgiven n come out to live with everyone else .Revelation 20:7 Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. 9 They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. 10 The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

    The Great White Throne Judgment
    11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

    • Revelation was written as allegory, not prophecy. John was writing about the Roman occupation and hopeful liberation of his people.

    • “They were judged each according to their works,” and then the Judge judged in our place, the sinful one comes and says that “They are Mine” I have redeemed them, for all have sinned and none are worthy.
      The question is is everyone in the Book of Life, or a few?

      I don’t think that you have quite got your head round the idea that the Just will walk by faith and the idea of the Atonement.

    • Immediately following 20:15 comes:

      21:1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
      2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
      3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of
      God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his
      people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
      4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no
      more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more
      pain: for the former things are passed away.
      Apart from the problem of the whole book being a complicated allegory which you are taking to literally, death and the underworld go into the lake of fire first (so the lae of fire destroys hell, it can’t actually *be* hell) and the new heaven and new earth comes after sinners pass into the lake of fire, and the book says when it comes there will be no more death or sorrow, which is kind of incompatible with the sinners remaining in the lake fo fire forever.
      In 21:8 there is again a reference ot sinners having their part in the lake of fire, but this is a recapitulation of 20:15.
      In 22:14 the book says that those who sin will be barred from entry to the city and remain outside it, which, if you are taking this iiterally, must mean that they are now no longer in the lake of fire. It is also in the present tense, so refers to those still sinners.
      If you dont overdo the literalism there is nothing in the rest of these
      chapters that is incompatible with the lake of fire being a purification
      of sinners from their sin, from their sin, and sinners being excluded
      from the city only whilst they remain sinners, not permenantly.

  • I read the blog post with growing discomfort…Annihilationism strikes me as just horrible. My father, may he rest in peace, was a committed atheist and died that way. He had many faults but I have immense compassion for all that he suffered and all that made him what he was. Does God love him less than I do? Does God want to kill him a second time because he never believed in God? If I have to subscribe to some doctrine of eternal punishment or annihilation in order to be deemed a Christian than count me out. I’ll join my Dad in Hell I guess. I have attended many liberal Christian churches over the years and have heard many compassionate sermons from compassionate preachers so I thought that there was some spectrum of belief among “Christians” such that God loves all, alive or dead but perhaps I was mistaken..

    • Ann, your Dad is going to be just fine, for God/Jesus Christ is love and they’ve already seen to that. 🙂 So, you will see him again and everything will be just fine and that for all of us, from Adam on down! 🙂

    • It is the current belief that ignorance of the truth of Gods love is a way to salvation for atheists. Thus salvation is possible for all religions and non. There are many reasons why people are atheist. For example people who had had bad experiences with the religion they were brought up in. Or people who just see no reason to believe. Many gay people profess atheism and a hatred of God because of their perceived rejection which they have have learnt from misguided or evil people.
      I personally think God is above revenge which would be the case if Hitler had to endure for every hurt that he caused. And thus God punishes only for the purpose of teaching. God created the world and so the prodigal son was punished by God through his abandonment in preference for freedom. But then he realized that he was better off accepting the love of the Father and so he was able to make a choice. The Father did not punish him further because it was mission accomplished. However if he had hated his Father and desired that freedom though harsh was better than returning to the Father, would the Father then force him to come back against his free will? In reality if annihilationism is the case, it is only for those who willfully and knowingly reject the truth of God. I visualize such people as being unloving such as extremists whose families are for their physical needs only. I have heard some people say that they are content with the idea of eternal nothing but feel sure that they only say this because they do not know how much God loves them and what he has planned for them.

      God is the greatest of love and since you loved your father then God must love him more. Your love and that of others who loved him is your fathers salvation.

    • Thankfully, what other people deem you doesn’t matter in God’s eyes. He’s revealed to us through Jesus what he desires of us. There’s certainly a spectrum of belief on this issue, as Mr. Corey notes above. The only thing I’m certain of is that no one on earth has it perfectly figured out. Humility, regardless of what you believe and who you think is wrong, is key.

  • For those interested in knowing more about the biblical case for Christian universalism, I can’t recommend a book more highly than The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbott (written by an evangelical no less) …

  • So happy to see you moving toward UR, Ben Corey. It is such a better reflection of the character of God than annhilationism and infinitely better than ECT. As you can clearly see the case for UR, what is holding you back?

  • Dittoing VisionaryJax, yeah you made a great case, didn’t you convince yourself? 🙂
    This of yours is one key for me:
    “If universalism is untrue, this means that Jesus paid the price of redemption for everyone, but that some are still endlessly punished for sins that were already paid for. This sounds like a case of “double jeopardy” to me and doesn’t quite make sense.”
    Yes, anything God would condemn us for, even the sin/flaw/mis-take of unbelief, Jesus already paid for!

    The original thing that threw the whole idea of heaven and hell into a tailspin for me is when i learned about the unity of opposites, and realized that a life of actions, along with “belief in” all exist on a gradual scale, they are a matter of DEGREE, and can’t really be divided in “half” or on any one dividing line.

  • I couldn’t help thinking about God’s respect for our own decisions, that we must (on some level) make our own choice to respond to His love and forgiveness — the late Father Robert Capon wrote something on this subject that has stuck in my mind for many years as a pastor:

    “Nobody goes to hell because he had a rotten track record in the world — any more than anyone goes to heaven because he had a good one . . . . Both heaven and hell are populated entirely and only by forgiven sinners. Hell is just a courtesy for those who insist they want no part of forgiveness.”

    • THAT…I LIKE !!
      Not accepting forgiveness (for yourself, first of all) is saying you know more than God!
      God says…you are forgiven…because you forgive!
      So fatigued with the tiresome idolatrousness of orthodox religion and all of their mumbo-jumbo…
      That is indeed the embodiment of Satan…

    • I can go along with that to a point, but it hinges on what and when ‘hell’ is.

      I personally think we make far too much of free will in general though. If you have not read it, Thomas Talbott’s “The Inescapable Love of God” does a very good job of explaining how God can save all in spite of free will (whatever level of that we actually have).

      Ah, I see you’ve heard of it. Another excellent one is The Evangelical Universalist.

  • Ben, I agree with your conclusion that “Universalism is a solidly Christian belief, with solid reasons and solid biblical support.” I do so only under what I perceive as the present condition of Christian beliefs. I see that the majority of Christians serve their church driven by their animal instinct to survive. Christ’s biblical teachings, in word and by His example, do not suggest doing for others that one’s self might survive.

    My conclusion is that if we simply don’t have the attitude of omnipresent love to intentionally be most constructive and productive for each of Man and God, of which we each here are of both in kind and image, so that Man and God might survive constructively and productively for all alive today, and eternally, then a final death of being forgotten and knowing nothing “actually fits God’s character and the biblical narrative” most “convincingly.” I can accept any finality of judgment from our God of shared love, life or death, as long as I know I did the best I could to get this opportunity for my budding awareness to consistent consequences derived from my responsibility to choice to be constructive for all. I choose to do because I love all others as I do myself. If I am deemed by God or Man to be destructive in my efforts then I choose to die. I choose the authority of God over the authority of Man to determine whether I live or die without end, as did Jesus, my Messiah.

  • Thanks for this analysis. I’m hopeful that all will be reconciled to God in the end, though I suppose there are those who in the next life, as in this one, will continue to turn their back on God for various reasons. But I’ll bet it’ll be a small group, like Lewis surmised, stuck in a room with a door locked from the inside.

  • “Christian universalism is not the same thing as an “anything goes”
    religion where we can all believe what we want, do what we want, and all
    end up in the same place at the same time.”

    How is it NOT the same thing?

    • Universalism holds that all will be saved. Christian Universalism holds that all will be saved thru Christ.

  • Universalism? Hmmm?

    Yep, somethings are hard to be understood.

    I tried believing that at one time too. Sure sounds nice.
    Everyone’s going to receive the gift of eternal life, be with Jesus.
    Whether they want that gift or NOT.
    It’s just a matter of when.

    Of course I had to leave out a few scriptures…
    Or twist a few, to believe everyone is okay.

    Seems, in the Bible, there’s a lot of separating going on. Yes?

    Wheat and Tares? Sheep and Goats? Children of God and Children of Satan?
    He that has the Son has life and he that has NOT the Son of God has NOT life?

    And, If everyone is going to be okay? Be with Jesus?
    Then, didn’t Jesus play a cruel joke on **His Disciples?**

    Seems Jesus told His disciples TO GO into ALL the world, teaching what He, Jesus, taught them. And so they did. And they got died dead, martyred, tortured, for speaking in His name. If everyone is going to be alright, in the same place, be with Jesus? Then Jesus could have told His boys to pick up a full wine skin at the local liquor store, go sit down by the Sea of Galilee and have a good time, because, everyone, they that believe, they that do NOT believe, will be just fine. Eventually. But He didn’t.

    Jesus told His disciples to go into all the world and preach Jesus as God, Savior, healer, the way, the truth, and the life. The ONLY way to the Father, The ONLY way to God. The ONLY blood that will now cleanse you of your sin. They did, and they died because of their faith in Jesus, and wanting to obey Him.

    So if ALL the worlds religions are worshipping the same God? If they’re ALL okay? And if ALL the atheists are okay? And ALL will have eternal life and be with Jesus?

    Then didn’t The Disciples of Jesus “Deny self,” “Forsake ALL,” – In VAIN.
    Leave houses, brethren, sisters, father, mother, wife, children, lands, – In VAIN.

    Die, get martyred, get tortured…

    In VAIN.

    Now that would be a cruel joke. Yes?

    • There is soooo much to wrong with this post, it would take me a week to unpack it. Have you ever considered there are other ways to read scripture? Who is your goto authority for scriptural interpretation, your pastor? What are their credentials, bible college? This is why there is growing number of NONES!

    • You mean like when Jesus engaged samaritans and pagans in the gospels.

      He seemed to have less of a problem with their beliefs than you do.

      Of course plenty of people have been martyred in vain.

      Muslims…Hindus. …socialists…nazis….atheists

      In fact it was a privilege and many early Christians deliberately provoked the authorities to become martyrs.

      Heck it wasn’t that long ago that I’d be martyred as a heretic by people like yourself..

      Your club is a sad lonely one.

      BTW the gospel of John is an anti-semitic text but your Jesus won’t like me saying that.

  • One would need to demonstrate the proposition to be more than mythological fantasy before the question would be relevant at all.

  • There is no case to be made for ‘universalism’ because it is simply not true to think that all are going to have life again in the future if they don’t exercise faith in Jesus.

  • Universalism is the best position morally for each person. And it is the best position morally for God.

    In Calvinism and Arminianism God brings people into existence that He knows will suffer and be in torment for eternity ( or be annihilated ).

    Not everyone would see being annihilated as a punishment.

  • No it isn’t and no one who pays and serious attention to the Scripture even directly from Jesus mouth accordingt to Scripture would know better than to believe that lie.

    If you aren’t following Jesus and you know of him you will not be seeing life after this one. That is a guarantee. See John 3:16-20; john 5 starting around verse 18 and John 6:28 to the end of chapter.

    Please let me know if you think Jesus, the Savior who is the Son of God, is saying everyone will be saved even if they don’t listen to him.

  • Ben, given that you currently reject universalism, it would be interesting to see your own response to the 5 points you make in its favour.

    My own, very short response is as follows:

    1. The fact that some early Christian leaders appear to have accepted some form of universalism doesnt mean much in the end, given that a significant number rejected it as false. I would surmise the majority of Christian leaders and thinkers today accept the substitutionary atonement view of the death of Jesus, yet many if not most ‘progressives’ seem to reject it as the truth.

    2. I think there is a misunderstanding of ‘all powerful’. For example, regarding the people of Jerusalem, Jesus said “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

    It seems God was unable to do what He wanted in this instance because the people refused. It seems to me that is what repentance is about, it is a human being changing their mind about the evil they commit. But God does not ‘force’ it, regardless of His ‘all powerfulness’.

    3. I wouldnt assume ‘world’ means ‘every single human being who has ever lived’. The problem with quoting a very small number of verses is that it fails to take in the full picture. I would suggest the whole emphasis of Jesus and His apostles was the ‘requirement’ to follow/believe in Him. We should therefore understand other words in that context.

    ‘Notice he doesn’t say save the “elect” or save a few’ – except of course He certainly seems to imply that when talking about His sheep, and indeed He uses ‘elect’ elsewhere. Again its about trying to see the whole picture.

    As Ive said before, I tend to accept both election and free-will. I dont think the tension between those will ever be resolved by ‘logical’ argument. But then as Spock said ‘Logic is the ‘beginning’ of wisdom, not the end’.

    4. Re ‘all’ similar to ‘world’ above.

    5. Re hell and God’s character, I can see the argument but it seems those who advocate universalism are making God in their own image, rather than as revealed. Again, the big picture.

    In summary, I can certainly understand why some want to believe the concept, but I just cant justify it from the whole of Scripture. Every indication is that the actions and decisions we make in this life really do have meaningful and eternal consequences, I see no evidence of a ‘2nd chance’ after death (‘After death, judgement’). I dont think real life is like the ending of ‘Lost’. But I also believe that the Lord is merciful and full of grace. So His decision and judgement will be good and right.

    • “Every indication is that the actions and decisions we make in this life really do have meaningful and eternal consequences”
      “Eternal” and “meaningful” aren’t synonyms: universalists have no quibble with judgement, see Ben’s point 5 above.
      There are a lot of indications of a “second chance” after death in the Bible.
      First example: Jesus refers to the place of judgement as “Gehenna” , which is in Jewish thought not a place of permanent punishment at all, but where the wicked go for a temporary period of punishment / purification before entering into the life to come.
      http://www.jewfaq.org/m/olamhaba.htm
      Second example:
      In Matthew 5:25-26 about coming to terns with creditors and in 18:21-35 in the parable if the unforgiving debtor where Jesus talks about punishment he talks about being imprisoned not for ever but until the last penny of debt is paid.
      Third example:
      In Phillipians 2:10 it says every knee under the earth shall bow to Jesus, which means the dead in hell, too, will turn to Jesus, and in 1 Peter 3:18-20 it is said Jesus preached to the unbelievers in hell, and in 1 Peter 4:6 the good news is proclaimed to the dead, which would be rather pointless if they are barred from repenting and believing.
      In Ephesians 4:8-10 Paul says Christ captured the captives when he descended to the “lower parts of the earth”: if this means only the earth, not the place of the dead, who are the captives, and if it is referring at it appears to be the underworld, who are these ” captives ” if not sinners being rescued by Christ who are they?
      Finally, in Revelation 31:1-5 it says all tears and pain will be wiped away immediately following the sinners being consigned to the lake of fire, which are only compatible if they are freed, and in Revelation 22:15 the wrongdoers are described as being outside the city so they can’t be in the lake of fire still.
      None of these are proofs (although I would say Jesus’s use of “Gehenna” takes some explaining) and other texts hint the other eay but to say there is no evidence in the Bible at all is not correct.

  • — Universalism makes more sense of hell & God’s loving character.
    I echo the sentiment entirely!

    Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. — Acts 3:19-21 KJV

  • Oh this is superb stuff, Ben. It is a mark of your integrity that you can discuss a theological position, that is not one you would claim to own, with such balance. Thank you 🙂

  • Thank you for that. As a European Presbyterian and a paid up Barthian I am going to have a slight disagreement with you.
    First of all let’s get rid of the question of hell. If you have the rejected and you believe that the soul has the potential to last for ever, there has to be some way of treating the rejected. Speculation of just what these terms are are pretty much a waste of time. If you are preaching a salvation idea of an escape from hell, then like the Missioner in Joyce’s portrait of an artist as a young man hell needs to be hot and dark. however as the people of faith will not experience it there is little point in dwelling on it.
    What is more important is the question of the elected and the rejected. Yes it is the will of God that all will be saved. that has transmuted into the universalist that all will be saved.
    However lets go back to Aristotelian Logic 101, where all means all of a class, while some may mean all, it also means not necessarily all. Therefor the idea that some are saved can mean any number in the range of 1 to everyone. Of course historically the elect have been seen as a small number, who are different from their neighbours. Thus many Evangelicals see themselves as the saved in a community of unsaved. Whether that is a biblical point of view is moot.
    So what happens if your “some” instead of being a small number means all but one. Universalism is out as there is someone who is among that class of the Rejected, or the elected for damnation. Therefore your argument for Universalism is almost right, but not totally right.
    Then turn to your Bible and look up John 17:12. “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.” so you have got one who is doomed to destruction, so not only is he elected to be rejected, he is going to be destroyed, so you have some idea that the afterlife for the rejected is annihilated.
    Thus it is that we can be almost universalists (and at the same time High Calvinists).

  • Books from BLC:

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