Why Universalism isn’t a Christian Position

Robby BradfordChristianity, first assembly, First Assembly of God Lafayette, heaven, hell, New Testament, Rob Bell, salvation, sin, theology, universalism9 Comments

Here is #24 of 31 Questions in 31 Days! To learn more about this 31 Day series, just search “31 Questions” in the search bar above or click here! 

Q #24:  Won’t God really save everyone in the end?

A:  The idea expressed in the question above that Christians have asked for about as long as there has been a Church.  It’s called Universalism.

It’s the idea that no matter how people respond to Christ in this life, everyone will ultimately receive salvation.  I find it is a question many Christians are asking, particularly younger believers.  

Here are my central objections to it:

  1. Universalism twists scripture and ignores its plain meaning to make its case. Over and over in the Bible, and particularly in the New Testament, warnings about hell and eternal condemnation abound.  The only way to defend the idea of universalism is to ignore passages like John 3:18–“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” 
  2. Universalism is warm and comforting, but guts the significance of Christ’s coming and dying on the cross.  I am sure for some universalists, they imagine that the cross is made even more glorious when you think its blessings will ultimately be extended to all human beings.  However, if faith in this life is not a prerequisite to salvation in the next life, one must ask why Christ would come and why the word of God should ever be spread, if it is God’s plan to save everyone in the end anyway. Jesus made it plain that few make it into life; broad is the way that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).
  3. Universalism strips justice from the biblical story.  Beyond the fact that universalism would mean that sinners are not punished for their sins, universalism seems also to imply necessarily that the most heinous crimes are dealt with by forgiving and never through the punishment of hell.  Without the real possibility of hell, one begins to ask if any sin will ever truly face punishment.
  4. Universalism trivializes sin and the holiness of God.  The human choice to sin creates hostility between us and God (Romans 1:18).  God is angry about our sins because we thwart his reason for making us in the first place.  Universalism seems to see God’s love as trumping his wrath.  This approach to salvation–that it’s just a matter of God melting our hearts with love in the next life–undercuts the starting point of the gospel.  The place we start is that sin has created an impassable chasm between God and people.  God has poured his wrath out on his Son, and those finding their place in him through faith are delivered from wrath and enter into peace (Ephesians 2:13).  
Next Sunday at First Assembly Community Ministries, we will be changing the regular format for our service to accommodate questions from the congregation!  I can’t wait.  Join us there on Sunday, February 1 for a morning of discovery on what we call Q Sunday for two unique services 9 and 11 AM.

9 Comments on “Why Universalism isn’t a Christian Position”

  1. Anonymous

    universalism makes God irrelevant after the crucifixion because if all are destined to Heaven, then there is no need to obey or believe. It makes man alone the ruler of his life, because no rule can cause him eternal punishment. It allows men to define their own notions of "good" and "evil," which they will do to fit their selfish desires. Most tragically, it inevitably leads those who believe in it right into the Hell they refuse to believe in, because their false freedom and their selfish desires lead them into the sin that separates them from the God they think they know (but do not) and the Heaven they expect but will never reach.

  2. Spencer

    Hi, Robby,

    Here is my disclaimer: I haven't had a chance to read Rob Bell's book yet, as of right now my wife is reading our copy. However, I was really excited to see him pose such a provocative question and, ultimately, to create a broader dialogue surrounding love, God, hell, among many other topics. While there have been different reactions to the book, all of positive, negative, interested, and dis-interested, it is important that those of us who pose our critiques of Rob Bell have actually read the book in full. Moreover, that we have listened to him talk about the book and its purpose (my wife has said that in a number of interviews Rob Bell outright says "I am not a universalist"). Only after I have digested his words and thoughts, and hopefully gained a full understanding of his perspective, can I honestly critique Rob Bell, remembering to be critical; meaning, pulling out what I agree with and, conversely, what I disagree with. Herein is where fruitful dialogue occurs and we truly gain a better understanding of our own faith and experience. In my opinion, it's important that I not close down the "question" before I have tried to honestly approach the question from different perspectives since we know from experience that the Bible contains many. Maybe that is why I like Karl Barth and his constant focus on a dialectic theology, i.e., bringing to light seemingly contradictory statements (in scripture, theology, and beyond) and allowing them to speak to one another without having to cancel the other out.

    That being said, I did an internship with a church last year and one of the most influential statements I heard in a sermon was, "sermons should not end conversations…they should start them." I love that because it is an invitation for all to participate in theology; to feel safe bringing our diverse perspectives to the conversation without the fear of being overlooked and minimized. Realize, I am still talking about Christianity as a whole. I recently read a great book by Dr. Harvey Cox called The Future of Faith in which he says, "sibling rivalry is the worst kind." How true this is. Many, many perspectives abound in global Christianity (just look up the list of denominations and persuasions) which is a great thing but, unfortunately, the church (in my experience) has been focused on trying to prove the other wrong for the sake of self-righteousness. I've met a lot of wonderful people with stark differences in theology (even doctrine) and many of these "different" people have impacted my journey in tremendous and positive ways. Thanks be to God.

    I'll leave you with a link to an excerpt from my favorite theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, written out by a blogger. Here he (Moltmann) does a wonderful job explaining some of the issues that are in the background of our questions surrounding hell, the atonement, love while working to shed some light on the potential complexity of the issue(s) while remaining in faith.

    http://cruciality.wordpress.com/2006/03/06/the-logic-of-hell-by-jurgen-moltmann/

  3. Robby Bradford

    hi spencer–i hope you get back to this blog and read my conversation with you. i suspect i know you, but i am not sure.

    first of all i have seen a number of interviews where bell says, "i am not a universalist". if he did, he would certainly be ending his presence as a leader in american evangelicalism. after claiming he's not a universalist,
    he then relates why he thinks it's a really attractive idea. i have enjoyed bell's ability to raise questions and think they have some usefulness, but find his use of scripture sometimes rather irresponsible and his selection of heroes in christian theological history more than a little disturbing. bell is a powerful rhetorician against the straw man, but anyone can be.

    nonetheless, my blog was not a response to rob bell's book, but to the idea of universalism which is on the minds of many of my friends and on the minds of many in my congregation.

    i agree with you that all kinds of people have all kinds of ideas and that christianity is represented by a wide spectrum of ideas, but that does not mean that all perspectives are correct, useful or healthy.

    i am a pastor, and i lead people with real life problems. i believe that in so many ways the realm of theoretical discourse that bell has chosen is attractive mainly to those jaded with white american evangelicalism, but is profoundly unhelpful to the real issues people face and their choices about what to believe and how that impacts their futures.

    people don't need christian conversations that postulate a number of attractive speculations, they need Jesus Christ, spencer. the church, thank God, is far more than a seminary class on theological perspectives. it is the living body of Christ that has a responsibility to present and proclaim the Good News, no matter how unpalatable it may be.

    thanks for your thoughts, but i would humbly ask you to reconsider the openness with which you approach so many of the ideas which are captivating large sectors of today's church.

  4. Reader John

    I will take no offense if it proves that this blog is moderated, and my comment blocked, but it bears noting that not all Christianity has as its starting point "an impassable chasm between God and people," or puts the wrath of God in so central a position. There is a YouTube video titled "Love Wins – An Orthodox View," which I cannot figure out how to link here, which describes an alternate, very historic view quite well.
    This view, by the way, does not lead to universalism since it lies with man's free will to reject God, and the Church has taught down through the millennia that there's no repentance after death.

  5. Robby Bradford

    Hi Reader John–thanks so much for your comments and the suggested link. I found it and listened intently.

    I disagree with you that Christianity does not start with an impassable chasm between God and man. I believe the wrath of God is central in the gospel, as it is where Paul begins his own rendering of the gospel in Romans 1:18.

    I agree there is no repentance after death, but as I imagine you know, many have come to question this in our own time.

    By the way, this is a a moderated blog, but I appreciate your graciously entrance to the conversation.

  6. Anonymous

    Scripture says "that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" Could you explain how we might refute a Universalist when he or she uses this as a proof text for ultimate reconciliation. Thanks.

  7. Robby Bradford

    Hi Anonymous–I think the first thing we could point to in this discussion is the fact that bowing the knee and confessing is not the same as coming to salvation. This statement from Philippians speaks about final outcomes. It doesn't say or imply that everyone will enter heaven. Furthermore, there are many other places in scripture, including the passages found at the end of the book of Revelation that clearly relate the final and eternal state of those who go to the Lake of Fire.

    I hope this helps your thinking about this issue. Thanks for the feedback!

  8. Anonymous

    Universalism twists scripture and ignores its plain meaning to make its case.

    I don't believe the universalist view twists scripture. It simply uses different passages to support its view, just like you are doing when you quote scripture to support your view.

    Universalism is warm and comforting, but guts the significance of Christ's coming and dying on the cross.

    I don't believe that universalism means that Christ death was not needed, but that it was all-encompassing in it's nature. If Christ didn't die, then we would ALL be doomed to existing apart from God. Doesn't it downplay the power of the cross if only a few of us are able to be saved?

    Universalism strips justice from the biblical story.

    This is also a false statement. Most universalists do not believe that there is no punishment for sin. They simply believe that there will also be reconciliation for those that are punished. Also, if eternal conscience torment is God's way of administering justice for finite decisions(or one finite decision as you are arguing) then how just is that? It is enormously worse than any punishment humans could ever come up with….

    Universalism trivializes sin and the holiness of God.

    Again, I don't believe this is true either, because universalism does not assume no punishment for sin. The impassable chasm was bridged for all people through Jesus. I do believe that we have to choose it, but it is already made possible through Jesus.

    Lastly, universalism can be and is a Christian position, because being a Christian has little to do with which doctrine you believe about Hell. Following Jesus is the point of Christianity. Even if universalism is a wrong view, how bad is it if it allows more people to be attracted to the kingdom of God? Is Christianity a set of doctrines about how to accept Jesus in the correct way, or simply about accepting Jesus?

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