Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Universalism?

Universalism is the teaching that every human being will be saved. Christian universalism holds that because God is love and Christ has died for all people, hell will be empty and all will go to heaven. But is universalism Biblical? Universalists will point to Scriptures such as Romans 5:12-21. Here, Paul teaches that Jesus has dealt with the sin of the first Adam that brought death to all. Jesus, the Last Adam brings salvation to all.
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Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. (Romans 5:18)
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Is Paul teaching universalism in this passage? Not if we bear the context in mind. The free gift of justification referred to in Romans 5:18 is appropriated by faith in Christ:
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Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1 & 2)
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Those who do not believe in Christ remain under God's wrath and judgement,
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But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God (Romans 2:5)
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In another passage oft quoted by universalists Paul writes,
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For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:21 & 22)
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But does this mean that Paul thinks that every single person is going to to made alive in Christ and enter the glories of God's kingdom? Not according to Paul's teaching earlier in the epistle:
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Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
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Once again, only those who have experienced salvation in Christ will inherit the kingdom of God.
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Universalism is based on a deeply flawed theological method. Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:21 & 21 are taken as "proof texts" for universalism without regard for their context within Paul's letters. These texts are then allowed to screen out all the Biblical teaching about hell, the wrath of God and the resurrection of condemnation and judgement. But we must never allow one aspect of Biblical teaching to obliterate another.
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If the same method was applied to the doctrine of the Trinity, the result would be disastrous. Either we would end up with Unitarianism, where the Bible's teaching of the oneness of God is made to obliterate the material that reveals him as three Persons. Or we would be left with Tritheism, where the three divine Persons are emphasised at the expense of the oneness of God. In Orthodox theology the Bible's witness to the oneness of God is qualified by the complementary witness to the three Persons, in terms of the historic doctrine of the Trinity.
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Paul's teaching that faith in Christ appropriates justification must qualify his statement that "the free gift came to all men". Paul does not envisage that those who have never believed will be justified and enjoy eternal life. That is why his preaching was so urgent and passionate. He knew that apart from Christ, human beings are heading for a lost eternity.
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For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. (1 Thessalonians 5:9 & 10).
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To obtain salvation through the Jesus Christ, we must believe in him and confess that he is the risen Lord,
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if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:9)
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Universalism robs the Christian hope of its epistemological basis in the saving knowlege of Christ. There will be atheists, agnostics, and people of other faiths in heaven. Former atheists etc who came to believe in Jesus Christ in this life before it was too late. I, for one thank God for that!

25 comments:

Bro. Bartleby said...

Have you ever wondered, "What is God's faith?" Or, is it possible for God to have 'faith?' If we humans consider it an act of great courage to have faith in things unknown, what does that say about God's gift to humans -- freewill? Does freewill for humans require God to have faith? I wonder.
Shalom,
Bro. Bartleby

Exiled Preacher said...

I don't know what 'God's faith' might be. But according to the NT, we are not saved by God believing for us. We are saved through God graciously giving us faith to appropriate salvation in Christ(Ephesians 2:8).

God does not need to have faith in the sense that the future is unknown to him. The future will happen just as he planned, as the One who 'works all things in accordance with the counsel of his own will'.

God's sovereignty and man's responsibility is another one of those theological issues where we need to hold to both sets of Biblical testimony, rather than let the one obliterate the other.

May I quote the Baptist 1689 Confesion?

God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree. [3:1]

Bro. Bartleby said...

I wonder too, why many folks of today wonder not? All the apostles wondered much, with Jesus recalibrating their faith compasses at every wrong turn of these wondering diciples. And you cite a confession, no doubt written by wise folks who sought God's council before ever setting pen to parchment, yet to even consider putting your deepest beliefs to paper requires much wondering before the act. Each of the authors of the Bible wondered much before God set them on their course, for wondering is a gift from God, that which no other creature does. To wonder opens the door for God to enter and reveal.

Exiled Preacher said...

bro bartleby

I think that wondering is a very good thing too.

Keith DeRose said...

Is Paul teaching universalism in this passage [Rom 5:18]?

It sure reads like it!

Not if we bear the context in mind. The free gift of justification referred to in Romans 5:18 is appropriated by faith in Christ:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1 & 2)


But the universalist -- at least this universalist -- agrees that justification is by faith, and so sees nothing here to jeopardize the universalistic implication of Rom 5:18. Yes, salvation is only by faith in Jesus Christ. But, the universalist adds (at least this is what I hold), all will eventually have such faith.

(See my http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47/univ.htm )

Keith DeRose said...

But does this [1 Corinthians 15:22] mean that Paul thinks that every single person is going to to made alive in Christ and enter the glories of God's kingdom?

It sure reads like it!

Not according to Paul's teaching earlier in the epistle:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)


Of course, people who have in the past committed such acts will be in heaven -- note that Paul mentions that some of his readers had been in that boat in the past. Heaven will not contain those who continue in their sinful ways, nor those who committed sinful acts and have not been forgiven them. The universalist agrees! -- Or at least this universalist does. I just add that eventually at least, all will have their sins forgiven, and will lead redeemed lives. So, again, I don't see anything in this bit of context to jeopardize the universalist implications of the verse in question.

Keith DeRose said...

To obtain salvation through the Jesus Christ, we must believe in him and confess that he is the risen Lord,
if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:9)


Again, this universalist, for one, agrees. I just add that eventually all will confess and believe. Indeed, wrt to the confession part, the Bible pretty much tells us outright that all will so confess (Philippians 2:11, for instance): every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord.

On these passage, see section 7 of my on-line paper (URL given two comments above).

Keith DeRose said...

I often wonder about exactly this line:

Universalism is based on a deeply flawed theological method. Romans 5:21-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:21 & 21 are taken as "proof texts" for universalism without regard for their context within Paul's letters. These texts are then allowed to screen out all the Biblical teaching about hell, the wrath of God and the resurrection of condemnation and judgement. But we must never allow one aspect of Biblical teaching to obliterate another.

In particular, I wonder why those who accuse universalists of proof-texting don't see themselves as doing the same. So, why isn't your use of Romans 5:1 & 2 and of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 objectionable "proof-texting"? And why don't you turn your methodological advise around and read Romans 5:1-2 in the "context" of Rom 5:18 and I Cor 6:9-11 in the "context" of I Cor 15:22, and arrive at universalist understanding? For my part, I try for a reading that takes seriously both Rom 5:1-2 and Rom 5:18. It isn't hard to do. Everyone is saved through Christ, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, salvation is only through faith. Why should the natural understanding of either passage give way to the other? They can both be straightforwardly true, if everyone will come to have saving faith. Likewise for the I Cor passages.

So, I'm all for understanding passages in context. It's just that the elements of context proposed don't seem -- at least to me -- to really jeopardize the fairly clear universalist tendencies of the passage in question.

Exiled Preacher said...

Keith Derose,

Thanks for your comments on my post.

My problem with universalism remains that the Romans 5 & 1 Corinthians 15 passages are used out of context to screen out what the Bible says about judgement, hell and the wrath of God.

How do you explain 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, where Paul says clearly that those who do not know God and obey the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ will be punished with everlasting destruction? People who die without a saving knowledge of Christ are lost forever. Why does Paul use such language if he really expects everyone to obey the gospel of Christ in the end? Is he scare mongering? Why would he do that?

How do you explain Revelation 20:11-15, where, after the general resurrection and the day of judgement, those not found in the Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire? Is John having some kind of sick joke at our expense? Why write in such a way in in fact everyone is written in the Book of Life?

As the passage I quoted in my post from 1 Corinthians 6 shows, the vilest sinners can be converted and saved from a lost eternity. But those who die in unbelief are lost for ever. The New Testament holds out no post-mortem hope of salvation. Can you show me a single text in the NT that demonstrates that sinners can be saved by faith in Christ after they die?

Jesus offered no such hope to the "rich man" who died in his sin in Luke 17:19-31. "It is appointed for men once to die and after death, the judgement" Hebrews 9:27.

To preach universalism is to preach "peace, peace where there is no peace" as did the false prophets of Jeremiah's day. It is to lull people into a false sense of security. Why should the sinner repent and believe the gospel if they are going to be saved "by default" anyway?

We need to warn unrepentant sinners to "Flee from the wrath to come!" It is our business to plead with human beings to be reconciled to God through Christ before it is too late.

Yours,

Guy Davies

Keith DeRose said...

My problem with universalism remains that the Romans 5 & 1 Corinthians 15 passages are used out of context to screen out what the Bible says about judgement, hell and the wrath of God.

I don't try to screen out what the Bible says about judgement, hell, and the wrath of God. But I also don't use judgement, etc. passages to screen off the likes of Rom 5:18 and I Cor 15:22. For as a wise man (I am being sincere) once said, we "must never allow one aspect of Biblical teaching to obliterate another." So I try to make sense of all the relevant passages. That all will be made alive in Christ is compatible with the reality of judgement, punishment, etc. -- so long as the punishment is not eternal. So the likes of II Thessalonians 1:9 is the focus of much of my attention -- see sections 9&10 of my on-line paper. (I also discuss the parable of the rich man & Lazarus in the paper: We think alike, at least wrt which passages we think are important.) So, interested parites should see the on-line paper, and I shouldn't try to reproduce it here. But here's a shortened version...

How can we believe both the likes of Rom 5:18 and II Thes 1:9? Must one yield to (be obliterated by the "context" set by) the other? The key to resolving the apparent conflict w/o giving up either is that the Greek word that is usually translated as "eternal" in the Thes passage, while it can mean "eternal," doesn't always mean something that implies endless duration. Indeed, not only can it mean something that doesn't imply endless duration, it actually is so used by Paul himself -- right in Romans itself, in fact! (See Rom 16:25-26.) So the conflict is only apparent. Good news: You don't have to screen off the likes of Rom 5:18 anymore.

But for the longer version, see:
http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47/univ.htm

Peace,
Keith

Keith DeRose said...

Good news: You don't have to screen off the likes of Rom 5:18 anymore.

OK: I know that's a bit fast. (OK: more than a bit.) You have lots of stuff you're rightly worried about, and I certainly wouldn't expect anyone to overturn so much just upon reading what I've written here -- or even upon reading what I've written in my (still quite short) on-line paper. But I do at least attempt to address a lot of the passages you bring up. They were the very things that worried me. So, consider it just something to think about....

Peace,
Keith

Exiled Preacher said...

Keith Derose,

I notice that you have yet to find any reference to post-death salvation in the New Testament. I'm still waiting....
but not holding my breath.

I don't screen out Romans 5:18. But I note that Paul qualifies what he says in that verse in Romans 5: 1 & 2. We receive the free gift of justification by faith in Christ. We can only believe in him and be justified before we die. After death, those who have not believed Christ will be condemned.

As I said earlier, universalism preaches, "Peace, peace" where there is no peace.

Keith DeRose said...

I notice that you have yet to find any reference to post-death salvation in the New Testament. I'm still waiting....
but not holding my breath.


On post-death salvation, see sect. 6 of the on-line paper. Right: Don't hold your breath for direct scriptural support for further chances. But also don't hold your breath on any support for the disasterous (and surprising: Who would have thought God's ability to save would be limited by anything so puny -- to God, anyways -- as death) doctrine of no further chances. Anyway, it's in sect. 6 that I look at the alleged scriptural cases for both sides of this issue, finding them both quite powerless.

"Screen out" and "proof-text" seem to be terms you use asummetrically. You don't accept what 5:18's plain sense would seem to be b/c you think 5:1-2 somehow counts against that, but this somehow isn't a case of "screening out." I accept both 5:18 and 5:1-2 quite straightforwardly & I *am* screening out.

Keith DeRose said...

Oops: asymmetrically

pilgrim said...

Keith wirtes-
"(and surprising: Who would have thought God's ability to save would be limited by anything so puny -- to God, anyways -- as death)"

This is missing the point--of course God is not limited by death, but that is not the issue whetehr death can limit God, but whta has God said?

Has God placed a limit on us?--Well several--including death.

Death is the last enemy, and Jesus defeated it--but does that mean God can't set limits?
Does that mean God can't limit us?

No.

Death limits us un terms of many things--including salvation.
And nowhere in these coments or in the post is it suggested that death limits God--except for your question.

Keith DeRose said...

Pilgrim: Speaking for myself, if it were my limits that were in question, then I'd have been sunk. I couldn't save myself. Hopefully, it's only God's power that's relevant here. And if God could save me, then it would be surprising (at least to me) if He couldn't save someone else, even if they've died. If it's not God's power, but His willingness, to save that ends at our death, I would also find that surprising. He would save me, despite everything, but not someone else, just because they've died? Well, anything's possible, I suppose, but all I'm saying is that it would be surprising. Again, at least to me. But you're right that the point here is what God has said. Whatever I might or might not happen to find surprising is of little importance -- though I did think it worth mentioning -- compared with what God has said on the issue. On that, again, it's section 6 of my on-line paper that's the relevant one.

As for preaching "Peace, peace" where there is no peace (this is no longer in response to Pilgrim):
I assure you, you have me all wrong here. I, for one, see the warfare. I do not preach that there is now universal peace -- and I hope there's nothing I have said that would indicate I believe in current universal peace, for I certainly do not. My claim concerns the future: There will be peace after every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord.

pilgrim said...

The important point I was making has to do with God's decree.

GOd is stronger than death, and it can not stop Him, but He decrees in Scripture that salvation is this side of death, not after.

Luke 16 fixes the rich man's status, and his concern is to reach his brothers before they die.

Whetehr you hold this to a parable or an actual account the point i the same. WHile parables use figurative language--that language conveys a literal truth.We have the information here in this life to show Jesus is the Messiah--there is no hint of a second chance and it indictaes after death it is too late.

Also Hebrews 9:27-28 indicates strongly there is no second chance-
"27And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him."

That's for starters.

Exiled Preacher said...

Thanks for your comments, Pilgrim. You make some good points. God is not limited by death. But he has limited his offer of salvation to this life.

Keith DeRose said...

Pilgrim: Regarding Hebrews 9:27 ("And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment..."), I don't know what to say beyond what I've already said in my on-line paper: I simply and straightforwardly accept this verse. How often will each of us die? I don't see what would be pressuring me here to give any answer other than "once." And does judgment come after that? Yes! As I'm at great pains to stress in my on-line paper, the universalist need not, and this universalist does not, deny the reality of judgment. You also include the next verse (28), but I simply and straightforwardly accept that verse, too. Maybe if there were something in this passage about what the content of some of the judgments will be, I could see how this passage might start to pressure one to screen out the likes of Rom 5:18, I Cor 15:22, and Col. 1:20. But not as it is.

On the parable of the rich man & Lazarus: Most who use this appeal to the words of Father Abraham (again, see sect. 6 of my on-line paper for a brief discussion). You instead appeal to the rich man's concern for his brothers. That is interestingly different. But with my views, I find that concern perfectly understandable. Again, as I'm at great pains to stress, I believe in the reality of judgment. And as I emphasize (see esp. Appendix A of my on-line paper), one needn't think that anyone will suffer everlasting torment to be concerned about the judgment that might/will be issued against them.

Exiled Preacher said...

Keith Derose,

You may find this difficult to believe, but I have looked at your oft-referred to thesis and I don't find your arguments convincing.

To me the Biblical teaching is really quite clear. Those who believe in Christ in this life will enjoy eternal resurrection glory. Those who do not believe in him will be raised to eternal condemnation. With that in mind, the Church should do her utmost to make Christ known to all people.

Keith DeRose said...

You may find this difficult to believe, but I have looked at your oft-referred to thesis and I don't find your arguments convincing. To me the Biblical teaching is really quite clear.

OK: We will have to "agree to disagree" on this matter, for at least all the passages you speak of here are things I already accept. We may at least be able to take from this exchange a better idea of why those on the other side believe as they do.

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quakerboy said...

God is love...period. God is sovereign...period. The only logical conclusion one can get from these statements is that, in the end, God will save everyone.

A god who would create, then endlessly torment even one soul is not a god that I would want as a neighbor much less an object of worship.

"EVERY knee shall bow and EVERY tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord."

A former 5-point Calvinist,
Craig

Yakimaniac said...

I have been reading a lot of universalist blogs and trying to figure them out so I did a Google search and found this site. The discussion has been very helpful but I don't find here any mention of the character of God. I believe God is love and he does not want anyone to perish but he is also just and cannot tolerate or excuse sin. I am wondering how the universalist can believe in an unjust God? If God is truely just then how can anyone be saved? The Bible does not allow us the luxury of believing that God is only love to the exclusion of any of the rest of his attributes. Sin demands a penalty and the sentence of death will be carried out, absent a saving faith in Jesus Christ, or God is not God.

Anonymous said...

Yakimaniac said,
"I believe God is love and he does not want anyone to perish but he is also just and cannot tolerate or excuse sin. I am wondering how the universalist can believe in an unjust God?"

I find that the "Christian Universalist," or "Evangelical Universalist," position is the only one that takes all of God's attributes seriously. As you say, "God is love," and I would add, "His lovingkindness is everlasting."

But God is also Just. The Christian Universalist, at least as I understand it, believes that Hell is the lovingkindness of God in it's most severe form. God loves us too much to allow us to remain as we are and if it takes eons upon eons of a burning punishment to bring us to willingly trust Him, then He will let it burn us...until we bow our knee to Him and confess with our mouth, that Jesus is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father.

Hell, to the Christian Universalist, has a greater purpose than mere punishment for punishment's sake. It's corrective punishment.

In the mean time, those of us who have hearts that are already bowing to Him should be calling everyone we come into contact with, out of their sin and to the only One who can save them.

With you all, in Him,

John