Friday, 18 September 2009

Damned Universalism?

Romans 5:18Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.

"Universalism" is the idea that all people are saved irregardless of their religion, beviour, lifestyle, or even their response to the Gospel. This is because, they claim, the Bible teaches that Christ died for all mankind and that His death has sufficiently atoned for the sins of all mankind. The idea of "hell" is repulsive to Universalists. How, they argue, could a good/loving/forgiving God send anyone to hell to be tortured for eternity in damnable flames for simply not adopting a set of man-made beliefs? The best a person can do to please God, is to be (in the words of now President, Obama) "true to your own values", or as anoher Universalist put it: "live sincerely". Thus, Universalism naturally leads to moral and religious relativism.

But perhaps you're wondering about those Bible passages that speak both of the need to respond to the Gospel, God's commitment to judge the world, and the many predictive statements about only a few accepting God's offer of salvation? And I am too! Amazingly, Universalists often respond by dismissing these Bible passages as "later additions to the New Testament by Constantinian Church of 312AD".

This is a bewildering response for those who understand how the New Testament Canon (recognition of those writings divinely inspired by God) occured.

My major assignment during my undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies was about the formation of the New Testament Canon and its subsequent transmission (how it was copied) and translations down through the centuries. I discovered that the 27 books of the New Testament were completed by no later than 70AD (not 300AD!).

There is growing evidence that the Canon of the New Testament was widely recognised by the early second century. To claim that it was the Roman Catholic Church that manipulated the New Testament for its own controlling ends and then invented the Canon of the New Testament so that only those books they wanted in the Bible became the Canon is just not supported by the historical evidence- despite what Dan Brown's DaVinci Code and Angels & Demons asserts!!!

First of all, the Canon was recognised before Emperor Constantine came on the scene. In fact, it was on the basis of a recognised New Testament Canon during the 2nd Century that many Christians were martyred for not giving up their copies of the New Testament. (Google "Traditores" and you can read all about this period).

Secondly, it was not until the Council of Trent around 1550 that the Roman Catholic Church officially recognised the 27 books of the New Testament! This occured so late because there was no need to do so since the New Testament Canon was so obvious from the earliest moments of Chruch history. It appears that the Holy Spirit oversaw the formation of the Canon as well the original inspiration of the text itself.

But Universalists are forced to deny the authority of Scripture and dismiss its claims that all people must turn to Christ in repentance and faith - because the New Testament clearly does not teach Universalism. Even the few verses which they curiously appeal to, when read in context, do not say what they think they say. For example, Romans 5:18 says that Christ died for "all". Taken on its own, this verse seems to be saying that all people are automatically saved by virtue of Christ's death. But, if we read on to the next verse, we learn what is meant by "all" -
Romans 5:19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many [not "all"] will be made righteous.

One of those leading the charge against orthodox Christianity, the Bible, and the validity of the Church, is Professor Bart Erhman of the University of Northern Carolina. He has attacked the Bible and Christianity in books, lectures and TV appearances. He claims that the Bible contains over 5,000 textual errors. On closer examination, this claim is found to be without merit as most of these "errors" are very minor spelling differences which have no bearing on the content of the text.

Prof. Erhman also claims that the Bible is full of contradictions. He claims that one of the biggest contradictions is found in Genesis 1 compared to Genesis 2. But upon examination of these two texts, there is no contradiction at all. Genesis 1 is about the overview of creation while Genesis 2 focusses on God planting the Garden of Eden (see my video response to this attack by Prof. Ehrman).

Professor Ehrman also dismisses the New Testament's Gospel message as cruel and hardly representative of a kind, forgiving and loving God. How could this God of the Bible condemn innocent, deceased newborn babies to hell? Surely, this makes God sound harsh, ridiculous, and vindictive. Or, what about the natives who live in extremely isolated mountainous jungles who have never heard about God, let alone the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Firstly, there is a compelling case to be made from Scripture that God certainly does not automatically condemn newborn babies to Hell. But in any case, the Biblical picture of God is that He is infinitely just and only ever does what is right. Secondly, according to Romans 1 and 2 no one is without excuse when it comes to the existence and requirements of God. Based on Romans 2, God has given every person enough light to know what is right and wrong and to seek God.
Romans 2:12-15If you sin without knowing what you’re doing, God takes that into account. But if you sin knowing full well what you’re doing, that’s a different story entirely. When outsiders who have never heard of God’s law follow it more or less by instinct, they confirm its truth by their obedience. They show that God’s law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within them that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong. [The Message]

I read one theologian's summary of Universalism's claims where he said that an after-life where everybody went to Heaven, nobody went to Hell, was emotionally very appealing. The only slight problem he had in accepting this view was: the Bible. The Bible, he reminded his readers, simply does not teach Universalism. On the contrary, the Bible presents that Christ has made a way for people to be saved from their sins and the eternal punishment it brings, if they will respond to God's offer by accepting His forgiveness. This is done by calling upon His name (Romans 10:9). As Paul the apostle told the Athenians, it is possible to call upon the Lord because God has put within each one of us a desire to know Him-
Acts 17:24-27 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,

Don Richardson is a Missiologist (he studies the work and history of missions). He has written many books about how God had revealed Himself to people and cultures before missionaries arrived with the Gospel. In his ground-breaking book, Eternity In Their Hearts, he gives example after example which show that God had revealed many aspects of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to cultures in preparation for the arrival of missionaries. He shows how many of these cultures actively sought the Lord and instantly recognised the truth of the Missionaries' Gospel when they heard it.

So how does God deal with people who have not yet had an opportunity to hear and receive the Gospel? Paul told the Athenians that God overlooks ignorance and will judge people based on the light of His revelation that they had received-
Acts 17:30-31 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

But we shouldn't be romantic about what this means. Mankind is so selfish that it takes a miracle for this self-worship to be overcome in a human heart. Mankind, in our most natural state, fundamentally hates God.
John 3:19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. John 3:20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

John 15:18“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.

It's hard to miss this point when reading Paul's Epistle to the Romans: we are all sinners who love our sin and hate God and despise His laws. The opening chapter of Romans makes this abundantly clear and the rest of the Epistle explores this problem and God's gracious solution. If we understand that God has reached out to His "enemies" -
Romans 5:10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

In what sounds like almost vulgar language at first, is the assessment by Hank Hannegraaf (President of the Christian Research Institute) of the claims of Universalism. He sums up the "God of Universalism" as "the worst possible cosmic rapist". A rapist imposes himself upon a hapless victim. For God to save those who do not want to be saved, would be to act like a rapist and impose His will upon them by divine force. Although Universalism's goal is make God sound more loving and forgiving, it actually unwittingly does the opposite!

CS Lewis once said that for many people their statement on earth to God is one of defiance- "My will be done", will hear God respond to them on Judgment Day- "Thy will be done". God will then do for them the most loving thing anyone can do for another and validate their free will, and thus give them what they want: to be banished from God for eternity.

As Christians this should leave us bewildered as to why anyone would willingly reject the Most Beautiful Being In The Universe. But this is largely because we have had our "eyes" opened, our stoney hearts replaced with hearts of flesh, and our darkened depraved minds washed and renewed to purity. When we ponder what has had to happen to us in order for us to become Christians, we soon realise that we are saved because God has been extremely gracious to us. Understanding the grace of God as undeserved favour from God cancels out the demand many make upon God that if He is going to be gracious to some, He sould be gracious toward all. But this is illogical. It completely misunderstands grace not to mention justice.

Rather than thinking that all people have been saved by default of the Cross of Christ, the clear testimony of Scripture is that most people hate God and His laws and even His offer of salvation. They, therefore, brashly reject God's unique offer of salvation and have the temerity to tell God that they will be saved regardless of what God requires of them. But the New Testament reveals to us that salvation requires acceptance, leads to a Christ-like character, and we take this formed character with us into eternity. This is why it is an act of love to share the Gospel with others so that they can have the opportunity to turn from idolatry to the Living God and develop a character changing relationship with Christ that will bless them for eternity.
Rev. 20:15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.



  1. Andrew,
    I rean across this recently and just thought you should know, there are many Universalists which hold that the world will only be saved by faith in Jesus.

    Read Gregory Macdonald's "The Evangelical Universalist" or Thomas Talbott's "The Inescapable Love of God".

    They actually make a serious case for Universalism fromt he whole of scripture.



  2. It is however difficult to be a Christian Universalist who believes that people are only saved through an active, personally appropriated faith in Christ. Some cofguse Annihilationism with Universalism. Romans 5 uses expressions such as "the many" (not "all") who will be saved and verse 17 in particular states that only those who "receive" the grace of God shall be saved. When Scripture is taken as a whole, it becomes clear that even though Universalism might be emotionally appealing it is not exegetically appealing.