What is the evidence for and against Christian universalism in the bible?
Hi @dilane85 can you define your terms? Are you referring to the entire church of Christian Universalism or only the idea that comes from it, universal reconciliation, the concept that all people will one day be reconciled to God?
I’d love to answer your questions, I just want to make sure I understand what you are asking.
I’m interpreting this as universalism in the sense that “all paths lead to God,” which is not only unsupported by the Bible but openly rejected. Jesus Himself says in John 14:6 that no one comes to the Father except through Him. Acts 4:12 states that, “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” There are many other instances in Scripture that I can’t think of off the top of my head, but those are two that directly refute universalism!
@dilane85 Great question The main argument for universalism is related to God’s sovereignty and love and their implications.
- the New Testament says that all things will be made new - the whole creation - some interpret this to mean all people will be saved
- because God is both sovereign and love, He will surely restore all people to Himself, even if He has to do so after death
- God is love and desires that all people repent
- Jesus is clear that there will be those who are turned away from God’s Kingdom on the day of Judgment in many of His parables
- it is appointed once for man to die and then the judgment (Hebrews 9:27)
- we see examples in Scripture of people who God gives over to their own sin - Romans 1 also notes that when people persist in evil behavior God may give them over to their own evil desires
N. T. Wright’s article below provides a much fuller discussion of this issue if you wish to read it, as does Steve Gregg’s book. Christ grant you wisdom
Article from N. T. Wright
Biblical ‘universalism’, therefore, consists in this, that in Christ God has revealed the one way of salvation for all men alike, irrespective of race, sex, colour or status. This biblical ‘universalism’ (unlike the other sort) gives the strongest motives for evangelism, namely, the love of God and of men. (This itself is evidence that we are thinking biblically here.) This view specifically excludes the other sort of ‘universalism’, because scripture and experience alike tell us that many do miss the one way of salvation which God has provided. This is a sad fact, and the present writer in no ways enjoys recording it, any more than Paul in Romans 9–11 looked with pleasure on his kinsmen’s fate. Yet it cannot be ignored if we wish either to remain true to scripture or really to love our fellow men.
Steve Gregg’s Book
Steve Gregg’s book on Hell discusses arguments for a universalist position.
I didn’t realise there was a church of Christian Universalism. So I believe I mean the latter - which is part of the doctrine of Christian Universalism.
In fact looking on the Christian Universalism website I find it hard to identify what exactly they believe in!
Thank you @SeanO. What is your position on the issue? I have recently finished reading Erasing Hell by Francis Chan which was berry eye opening for me.
@dilane85 Thanks for asking Personally, I lean towards the view that is often called conditionalism. In short, this view states that those who reject God will first be judged and then will cease to exist, experiencing the second death.
Since you enjoyed Erasing Hell, you may find it interesting to read some resources from its coauthor, Preston Sprinkle. Since writing that book, he has changed his views to lean towards annihilation. I enjoy his podcast “Theology in the Raw”. Below are some links that I think you will find meaningful.
Thanks again @SeanO. Fascinating stuff. I will have a look. But I guess the question at the back of my mind is - does all this really matter. As in whether I am an annihilationist or believe in everlasting punishment, how does believing in one or another affect my daily evangelism and living out my faith? Surely the most important aspect of Christianity is to love God, love my neighbour and proclaim the good news?
@dilane85 Good question I think what you are feeling is the difference between essential doctrines and non-essential doctrines. All doctrine matters. What we believe about how God addresses the problem of sin in the end can impact our view of God and therefore matters deeply. However, it does not matter as much as the most central doctrines: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. You may find the below article helpful.
Levels of Doctrine
Not all doctrine is equally important. Some beliefs are at the very center of our Christian faith and to deny them is to deny Christ. Other beliefs are important to how we practice our faith and are therefore the cause of disagreement between many denominations, but these beliefs do not place us outside of Christ. Still other doctrines, such as eschatology, are difficult even for very learned and godly people to understand clearly and are therefore a matter of opinion.
The below article offers a fuller explanation of levels of doctrine and gives a helpful summary list of 4 levels of doctrine.
- absolutes define the core beliefs of the Christian faith;
- convictions , while not core beliefs, may have significant impact on the health and effectiveness of the church;
- opinions are less-clear issues that generally are not worth dividing over; and
- questions are currently unsettled issues.
Where an issue falls within these categories should be determined by weighing the cumulative force of at least seven considerations:
- biblical clarity;
- relevance to the character of God;
- relevance to the essence of the gospel;
- biblical frequency and significance (how often in Scripture it is taught, and what weight Scripture places upon it);
- effect on other doctrines;
- consensus among Christians (past and present); and
- effect on personal and church life.
A very good answer to the question of " does it really matter whether I am an annihilationist ? " is provided in the last 120 seconds of Ravi’s broadcast for this Sunday .
Ravi is very enlightening as usual on this subject .
God Bless+ Mike
Can you provide a link to the podcast?
Are Ravi’s Sunday morning broadcasts available on this website ?
I would be amazed if they were not , however being new to the site I have not explored it enough to find out.
I will investigate it further and see if I can find the link here.
Thank You & God Bless + Mike
Mike, you should be able to paste the link here from wherever you found the recording. I do not know exactly what you listened to. If you can give me an exact title of the web page or podcast I probably can find it myself. Thank you for following up!
I’ve listened to Ravi’s Sunday morning broadcasts on my local Christian radio station for the last 20 years at least .
That is where I first found him .
Do you know is the same sermon given to all the radio stations in the country to broadcast or do they all pick and choose whichever one they want ? TY Mike
I do not know, but your station probably has a web site that I can look up. What is the station?
@ConsecratedLife it would be very helpful to know what Ravi has to say on this issue. Do you remember when this episode was aired and what the name of the station is?
Lots of food for thought. Thank you @SeanO for your clear explanation and references. Any idea how old the article by NT Wright is? I can’t seem to find a date for it.
@dilane85 Sure thing I think prior to 2011, since a blog post references it at that time, but other than that can’t say…
This in an interesting topic.
Apparently the original question has devolved into 3 subtopics: 1) Universalism, 2) the doctrine of Hell, 3) The importance 9f doctrines.
Let’s try to briefly tackle one at the time, starting from the latest one, which is the most generic one.
Is every doctrine important? The answer is yes! It is. However, is there room for disagreement? The answer is “sometimes there is.”
The key question to ask about each doctrine is if that particular one is a precondition for salvation.
For example, does Jesus need to be both fully God and fully man in other to be able to provide the means of salvation for humanity. The answer is an unequivocal YES!
Does hell need to be a literal lake of fire? The answer is a qualified no. Why? Because the point of hell is eternal separation from God, i.e. eternal consequence for eternal decisions.
So, every doctrine is important, however not every doctrine calls for universal consensus. In some cases there is latitude for interpretation.
About the doctrine of hell. I’ve already touch on it earlier. As long as your theology allows for an unavoidable Biblical conclusion of eternal consequence, you can either be a literalist, a methaporicalist, or an annihilationist and properly sustain a Biblical faith.
If you are curious about this topic, I would suggest reading Zondervan’s “Four Views on Hell.” As a starting point to compare each doctrine. You can find it on https://www.amazon.com/dp/B010R9L4BC/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_LT5fFbPQB0S5K
Also, here is a very brief and power answer by Ravi and Vince Vitale: https://youtu.be/zb5fEK99BIk
Now onto Universalism. Presented as the idea of a “universal future reconciliation with God.” That would be a clear example of a “good idea” that leads away from the Biblical truth.
The fact is that Universalism presented in such a way is an attempt by theologians to “make God look better.” Such attemp ends up presenting a completely different God. It focuses only on Hus loving aspect (in my opinion poorly defining love) and forges every other aspect of God, such as His justice and holiness.
In a nutshell, truth is that Jesus’s sacrifice is enough for all to be saved, but not all are going to benefit from that salvation, only those who confess His name in this world.
John 1:12-13 and 3:1-13 are only a couple of verses that present this true.
@jonasbun Thank you for your very insightful response!
In speaking to universalist recently, he talks about reading the bible forwards rather than read it backwards. Have you heard of this before?
I don’t really get this but he seems to think reading it ‘forwards’ is to read it in the context of the mindset, culture, place, worldview of the person in that time.
I felt I did do this anyway rather than pick a verse and interpret it out of context.
For example, he asked me how I can reconcile Romans 8:38 - nothing can separate us from the love of God… and claims this is in favour of universalism but I believe Paul was writing to believers that were being persecuted? He then said I was reading the bible literally. I think there are instances were we do read it literally but other times it is figurative?
Would be interested to know your thoughts on this.