In the last post I dealt with inclusionism, but left off with some flaws. Those flaws are generally what Universalists point out. So what is universalism? Universalism is just like inclusionism in that there are multiple beliefs within it, but it teaches that people ultimately are saved. This can range from ultimate reconciliation (that even though people will spend time in Hell, they will be reconciled to God at some point) to a pure denial of Heaven (everyone is saved because salvation takes place in the now).
One of the most popular forms of universalism is the belief that everyone will simply end up in Heaven in some way. They state that all of this takes place through Christ, even if people follow other religions. This differentiates universalism from pluralism, pluralism teaching that the salvation mechanism is available through other religions; in universalism that mechanism is only available through Christ, but it’s forced upon everyone.
The Scriptural justification for universalism comes from our modern understanding of “all,” so there are actually multiple passages in the Bible that would indicate a Universalist justification if “all” truly means “all.” Universalists turn to John 3:35 where we’re told that all things belong to Christ, and then turn to similar Scriptures. They then argue that because God is love, how could He ever send someone to Hell? After all, forcing someone to live in misery for all of eternity just doesn’t seem loving to us.
Another form of universalism is the belief in ultimate reconciliation. This belief teaches that embracing Christ is truly the only way to Heaven, but that even those in Hell will have the chance to repent. They argue that they will eventually be won over by God’s love. Such a view has become talked about since Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins came out a few days ago. Such a belief seems to satisfy both camps; God’s judgment is satisfied and God’s love is satisfied. It seems like a “middle way” approach when it comes to exclusionism vs. universalism.
But even beyond these approaches there are more. Another one is that there is no afterlife, so all of salvation occurs in the now. I won’t get into too much detail because I plan on covering it in my next post, but the belief essentially argues that this is our only life, there is no Heaven or Hell, so salvation must occur now (generally in the form of liberation from some oppressor).
Potential problems with universalism:
The most obvious problem with universalism is it potentially offers an antithesis to love. Consider this – if you watch a kid beat up another kid, and you see the parent console both without punishing the offender and the offender shows no sign of remorse, would you say that parent really loves the children equally? The answer to any rational person would be no. It is obvious that the parent favors one child over the other.
So to the popular forms of universalism, we are led to believe that if an invading soldier is committing genocide in a town, hacks a woman to death in front of her children, and then dies while turning to the other children to kill them, that he automatically ends up in Heaven next to his victim? How is that loving? The answer is quite simple; it’s not. So the idea of God never sending anyone to hell because it would contradict His love is self-refuting because it requires us to deny God as a loving God.
But for those who believe in ultimate reconciliation, the genocidal soldier would end up in Hell, for a time. This would seem to satisfy the requirement of justice, but it does bring up another problem. The problem with ultimate reconciliation (and a problem I’ll address in my review of Rob Bell’s book) is it gives us no reason not to live like Hell right now. Why not be hedonists in this current life? It allows for the best of both worlds in the most literalist sense; I can live for myself now, endure some time in Hell, repent while I’m there, and turn back to Christ and be fine. What I do in this life ultimately doesn’t matter.
So I can have as many sexual partners as I want, do as many drugs as I want, or cheat as many people as I want. If I acquire millions and only spend a fraction of that helping the poor so I can feel good about myself, it doesn’t really matter. While God might shake His finger at me, I’ll have all of eternity to take time repenting. Some might say, “Well it’s about a relationship with Christ,” and I would agree up to a point; but if that relationship is inevitable, why not live like Hell today?
Furthermore, the idea of universalism eradicates any free will humans have. If God’s love is simply a type of borg to which we will inevitably be assimilated, then what do my choices matter? If the end result is the same regardless of my choices, then my choices don’t matter.
But of the three views listed, all are dependent upon there actually being an afterlife. If there isn’t an afterlife, then obviously all three are wrong and salvation can only occur on earth. We will look at that viewpoint in the next post.