How serious a heresy is universalism?

I have called universalism “the most attractive heresy.”  For a lover of God’s love, universal salvation might seem to be necessary.  (I guarantee you that some neo-fundamentalist will take that sentence out of context and attribute it to me without acknowledging what follows.)

However, I’m not a universalist.  On the other hand, I’d rather be a universalist than a true Calvinist (i.e., a five point Calvinist who believes in double predestination). 

Someone once asked me whether I would still worship God if somehow I became convinced the Calvinist view of God is correct.  I had to say no.  Sheer power is not worthy of worship.  Only power controlled by love is worthy of worship.

If somehow I became convinced that universalism is correct, would I still worship God.  Yes, but….

I would have to wonder how a God of love can enjoy love from creatures that is not given freely.  Of course, someone might argue that, in the end, every creature will freely offer love to God and be saved (e.g., Moltmann).  I would just call that optimism.  There’s no way to believe that true other than a leap of optimistic hope.

Everyone harbors some heresy in his or her heart and mind.  The only question is–how serious are the heresies one holds?  Of course, nobody thinks they harbor any heresies (in the sense of theologically incorrect beliefs).

I agree with Swiss theologian Emil Brunner (and others) that universalism is heresy.  It is unbiblical and illogical.  However, that does not mean a person who holds it is not a Christian.  I have never met a Christian who was one hundred percent theologically correct.  Scratch hard enough and you’ll always find some heresy beneath the surface (if not on the surface).  That’s true for me as much as for anyone else.  If I thought I held no heresies, I’d think I had already arrived at the fullness of truth–something even the apostle Paul did not claim.

I think universalism is a minor heresy SO LONG AS it does not interfere with evangelism.  (See my earlier post here about why universalism should NOT interfere with evangelism.)  I also evaluate the seriousness of universalism by its context–viz., why does the person affirm it?  If universalism is evidence of a denial of God’s wrath and/or human sinfulness, then it is much more serious.  Barth’s universalism (yes, I believe Karl Barth was a universalist and I’ll post a message here about why later) did not arise out of those denials which is why he didn’t like the appellation “universalist.”  The term is usually associated with liberal theology.  In that case, as part of an overall liberal/modernist theology, I consider it very serious indeed.

Strictly historically speaking, any universalism is heresy–according to all major branches of Christianity.  The Catholic church allows hope for universal salvation but not confident affirmation of it.  But, of course, as Luther demonstrated, all branches of Christianity can be wrong.  That is why I reject paleo-orthodoxy and any appeal to absolute authority of tradition.  Tradition gets a vote but never a veto.  The Bible trumps tradition.

When universalism is believed on biblical grounds (as in The Evangelical Universalist by Gregory McDonald–a pseudonym), it is much less serious than when it is believed as part of a liberal theology that denies the wrath of God and the sinfulness of all human beings (except Jesus Christ, of course).

(Sidebar regarding neo-fundamentalism: A neo-fundamentalism is someone who will take what I have written here and claim I have affirmed universalism or at least given aid and comfort to heretics.  A neo-fundamentalist, like a straightforward fundamentalist, is a person who cannot distinguish between non-absolute condemnation of error and error itself.  Count on it.  Some probably Southern Baptist heresy-hunting neo-fundamentalist will pick up on this blog post and spread it around as “proof” that Roger Olson harbors sympathies with universalism.  That is, however, evidence of either a weak mind or ill will.)

So, what is my final word on universalism?  I don’t have a “final word” on it because “it” is not all that clear.  What kind of universalism?  Based on what?  I consider all positive affirmations of universal salvation that include denial of everlasting hell heretical.  But not all are equally bad or condemnable.  Some are based on confusion.  Some are based on liberal theology.  Some (e.g., Karl Barth’s) are based on the logic of God’s love and electing grace (viz., “Jesus is victor!”).  All are wrong, but not all are equally bad.

Let me be clear.  (This is necessary because of the power of neo-fundamentalists within evangelicalism today!)  I am not a universalist nor do I sympathize with universalism.  I am simply trying to get people to consider the possibility that not all versions of universalism are on the same level of error.  There is egregious error and there is simple error.  One kind of universalism (based on denial of God’s wrath and human sinfulness) is egregious error.  Another kind (based on confusion about God’s love requiring his overriding free will) is simple error.  I hope I don’t hold any egregious errors, but I’m sure I hold some simple errors.  I am open to having those pointed out to me.

  • http://charlesredfern.com/ Chuck Redfern

    Only one qualm: I’m not sure that those who believe in “double predestination” are necessarily “true” Calvinists — especially if we define Calvinism as synonymous with “Reformed.” As I understand it, Bucer did not. Nor did Richard Baxter. “True” Calvinism is actually broader in scope and is not limited to Calvin himself. One of the many problems with the current Neo-Reformed movement is that it doesn’t do justice to historic Reformed thinking. It plants the flag on the Synod of Dort (which, in my view, was rigged)and won’t budge from there.

    I hastily add that I do not consider myself Reformed or Calvinist. I’m just trying to understand it.

    And, by the way, this is a very good and helpful post. Thanks.

    • rogereolson

      I distinguish between “Reformed” and “Calvinist.” All Calvinists are Reformed; not all Reformed are Calvinists. After all, there were Reformed theologians (such as Bucer) during Calvin’s lifetime and some of them were more notable than Calvin himself and disagreed with him on important issues. There are many Reformed folks who do not agree with all five points of Calvinism. Whether one can be truly Calvinist and disagree with double predestination is debatable.

      • http://charlesredfern.com/ Chuck Redfern

        Which Reformed theologians, aside from Bucer, are you thinking of? I need education.

        • rogereolson

          Most notably Zwingli’s successor at Zurich Heinrich Bullinger.

          • http://charlesredfern.com Chuck Redfern

            Thanks

      • http://www.effectualgrace.com John Samson

        Roger,

        I was an Arminian for 20 years before becoming reformed in my understanding, but even as an Arminian, I believed God had an elect people – that not all were elect – and that He knew before time began who the elect were.. and that some were going to hell (and God knew that before time began).. and that Scriptures actually say this… so if one group is predestined for heaven, others are not.. therefore it is impossible for predestination NOT to be double.

        What am I missing? Do you deny that God knows the identity of those who will be in hell and that He has always known this?

        • rogereolson

          Have you read my book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities? I explain it all there. You say you were an Arminian for 20 years. No doubt you thought you were an Arminian, but not everyone who thinks he or she is an Arminian truly understands or follows classical Arminian theology. In brief, election is corporate and predestination is conditional.

          • http://www.effectualgrace.com John Samson

            Roger,

            I have not read your book, just a few of your posts on your blog. I was certainly a synergist, whether or not I was an Arminian as you define the term, I dont know.

            However, you did not answer my question. Perhaps I should ask it this way.. even in my former understanding as a synergist, believing God’s election of certain individuals was based on His foreknowledge of what He knew people would do and decisions they would make (which I now believe to be an erroneous view and which I believe to be your view), God would still know the identity of the elect and the non elect (those who would not believe) from before time began. God would know ahead of time, that some people, despite all of His trying, wooing and drawing, would never come to faith in Christ, and He always had this knowledge. Yes or No, Roger?

            If you say “NO” – then Houston we have a problem – you would be denying the exhaustive knowledge of God, His divine omniscience. And seeing you use the heresy word a lot, I think that is heresy. It denies the orthodox Christian view of God’s omniscience.

            If you say “YES” – then isn’t that double predestination?

            I await your answer with interest sir.

          • rogereolson

            I did respond; you seem to have failed to understand my response. The Arminian view is that our undetermined decisions and actions determine what God foreknows. Now, if you ask me to explain that, I can’t. But that doesn’t greatly bother me. Every theology has points of belief it cannot fully explain because we’re talking about transcendent realities. Even Calvinism! (And every Calvinist thinker I know admits that.) As to whether open theism is heresy–I don’t believe so. Not every theologoumenon that questions traditional belief is heresy. I hope you will read Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and my forthcoming book Against Calvinism.

          • http://www.effectualgrace.com John Samson

            Roger,

            Was this a response to my earlier question? I was not certain this was so, but it seems that way. Obviously, I did not feel you answered my specific question with either a “yes” or a “no” – even if you were to give further explanation.

            I am surprised you do not think Open Theism is not heresy. The God of the Bible knows the end from the beginning which is why we have so much of the Bible as predictive prophecy. God even prophesied what would happen, but when, and even the names of people yet to be born to carry those things out (Cyrus in Isaiah comes to mind). Open Theism denies God knows the future. The fact that you skirt with or are in some way open to this idea alarms me greatly. Even as a synergist, I would not go to that extreme. It is rank heresy and totally unorthodox doctrine. The God of Scripture certainly does know all things; past, present and future.

            Sir, I would politely but firmly suggest to you that IF, as it seems is the case, your theological system does not allow for God to know the identity of the elect and non-elect before the foundation of the world – its a theory in tremendous and radical internal crisis, no matter what your upcoming book may say. I do not wish to appear unkind sir, but if you are not able to affirm God’s exhaustive knowledge of the future, I cannot see how it could even be classed as a “Christian” book. Certainly, if this idea is inherent in your theological system, I cannot see how the wider community (outside your own friends and followers on the blog) would not class your upcoming work as outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy.

          • rogereolson

            Thank you for giving me this opportunity to illustrate something I’ve been decrying here for a long time–the too common tendency among especially contemporary Calvinists to attribute beliefs to people that those people do not hold just because they (the Calvinists) think the beliefs are the “good and necessary consequences” of what they (the non-Calvinists) do believe. It’s sure evidence of either weak-minded reading or ill will or both. I have never affirmed open theism; I have said over and over again in every way possible I am a classical Arminian and, with all classical Arminians, believe God knows the future exhaustively and infallibly. Nothing I said in response to you even hinted otherwise. How you got from anything I said to the idea that I deny God’s absolute foreknowledge is beyond me. But, it doesn’t surprise me because this is exactly the problem among evangelicals today–neo-fundamentalists accusing fellow evangelicals of heresy without real support. You’ve simply invented the idea that I do not believe God knows the future in the traditional sense out of whole cloth and not out of anything I said.

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  • Matt W

    Your post seems to imply that some heresies are more serious than others. Would you say that the weight of a heresy depends on how seriously it gives a person a defective view of God?

    Universalism is not as serious because it appeals to the revealed characteristics of God’s love – whereas Arianism is more serious because it does not affirm Jesus as God (thus giving a very defective view about the truth of who God is).

    • rogereolson

      Right.

    • Ravi Holy

      I am a universalist (of the Moltmann/Barth variety)and appreciate the generosity of your analysis, Roger. But I’m interested in Matt W’s comment above. He suggests that ‘the weight of a heresy depends on how seriously it gives a person a defective view of God’. Well, that is precisley why I’m a universalist! The eternal torment view of hell makes God out to be a monster (as many evangelicals now accept, in the UK at least). Annihilationism is better but still imagines our God destroying a large percentage of those he has created (as much as 90% in some theologies!). And then you have the CS Lewis ‘The doors of hell are locked from the inside view’ which is now promoted by Tom (NT) Wright (another theologian I greatly admire). This is better still and I feel about this as Roger does about universalism: it’s not fundamentally offensive; it doesn’t portray god as mad, violent or evil and in fact it even admits of the possibility of eventual universal in that if the door is truly locked only from the inside, it could in theory be unlocked at any time; Lewis/Wright get round this by suggesting that we eventually lose the ability to choose, becoming subhuman, another word (like annihilation) which has unfortunate nazi connotations for me…

      But that aside, this ‘soft’ view of hell is virtually indistinguishable from Rob Bell’s ‘soft’ universalism: God wants to save all but, given free will, some may perpetually refuse to be saved (even though they have nothing to gain and everything to lose by so doing). I wouldn’t disspute that that is possible but it doesn’t seem very likely to me and ultimately I have more faith in God’s ability to woo (not coerce) all souls to him than I do in humanity’s sinful nature. Roger calls this optimism to which my response is, surely optimism is better than cosmic pessimism? Hope is a biblical virtue and as Gregory Mcdonald/Robin Parry says so eloquently in the concluding salvo of his book, which view offers a better picture of God: the one in which the saviour of the world has to accept at best a 90% success rate, possibly a paltry 10% (and we’re talking human beings here not just numbers) or the universalist one in which all are saved and God is totally victorious AND manages to achieve this victory without EVER violating anyone’s free will?! That’s how awesome my God is. What about yours?

      • rogereolson

        As I understand it, universalism is confident belief, not mere hope, that all will eventually be saved. It is the confident belief that I reject as unfounded, not the hope.

        • Ravi Holy

          This seems an odd and rather semantic/pedantic distinction (no offence!) But at what point does hope become confident enough to be too confident for you…?! I believe and trust in God. I hope to be resurrected (we talk of The Christian Hope) and I am as confident that God will be merciful to all as I am that he will be merciful to me…

  • http://www.barrybiblicalnotes.com Barry Applewhite

    I don’t think I have ever considered the idea that a heresy could be more or less serious depending on the context from which it emerges. Thank you for that thought!

    As usual, your thinking involves a lot more grace than that displayed by your opponents. As the lyrics from the Kingston Trio say: “When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?”

    -Barry

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  • Shane Pennington

    Roger,

    You affirm that universalism is heresy. You also affirm that you would rather be a universalist than a “true” Calvinist. So are you implying that true Calvinism is heresy or just that you prefer heresy to true Calvinism?

    • rogereolson

      In short, the latter (but not egregious heresy).

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Thank you, Roger, for your intelligent post.

    Might I play Devil’s Advocate for a second just to see how far this line of arguing can be taken?

    Original Sin: Rejecting the doctrine of OS is error according to Orthodox teaching. To reject the teaching because of Biblical reasoning (Ez 18 – “the one who sins shall die”) is less bad than for rejecting OS because of some sense of “justice” about it that one might have. This, in turn, is less bad than one who rejects OS because it doesn’t fit their philosophy of Individualism. Sound about right?

    Would the same hold true for Capital Punishment? Bigotry? Slavery? Having women as teachers?

    While we could dissect them on the theological cutting floor, such issues strike pretty close to home for many. For them, I would think that there is too much at stake in the end results to worry about the nuances of how one arrives at the errors.

    These seem to be different because they more directly affect how we treat people. Who gets offended (or hurt) when another disbelieves OS or the literalness of hell? … But I’m not so sure that ought be a rhetorical question.

    If bad behavior flows from bad belief, wouldn’t God be most interested in the actual belief itself (the end result) rather than on the motivation? What might you suppose would be bad behavior that results from a belief in Christian Universalism? How, in turn, might someone be hurt by that?

    (I’m sorry about those who misuse your words and have you say things that you’re not saying. In any case, I do appreciate the extra clarity so I can be sure I understand what you are saying.)

    • rogereolson

      Let’s take the virgin birth (or, more correctly, the virginal conception) of Jesus Christ. All denials of it count as heresy. Wolfhart Pannenberg, with whom I studied, denied it because Paul never mentions it. Emil Brunner denied it for the same reason. Others, however, deny it because they don’t believe it possible–i.e., they don’t believe in miracles at all. There seems to be a difference between those two denials. Simply to look at the denial without looking behind it to the why is shallow thinking, in my opinion. I would probably not have studied with a theologian who denied the virgin birth because he didn’t believe in miracles. While I don’t excuse Pannenberg’s denial of the virgin birth or trivialize it, I consider it less pernicious overall than denial of the possibility of miracles.

  • Devon Mobley

    I don’t think we can talk about wrongness and heresy in terms of degrees. It’s one way or theother and the Word is clear about Univeralism and the Sovereignty of God (especially in salvation). And honestly, I think a Sovereign God is more worthy of worship than this gives. We don’t define love or goodness, but God is both, AND He is Sovereign. So, even if sheer power isn’t worthy of worship, sheer power with infinite goodness is, and that’s what God is. If He wasn’t sovereign we’d be talking about sin right now and not God.

    Finally, I agree heretics aren’t necessarily not brothers. I don’t know who is to persevere by faith into eternity, so anyone who is a Believer, but has it wrong, is still my brother. I will treat Rob Bell with love next time I see him.

    • http://www.eric-michael.com EricM

      Which should be easy since he isn’t a universalist…

      • http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com Jason Pratt

        Well, technically he is, but he thinks he isn’t (for much the same reason the Big Three Bs of 20th century systematic theology also didn’t: Balthasar, Barth and Bulgakov.)

        This leads to confusion. I wrote a summary analysis as one of the admins and guest authors for the Evangelical Universalist forum, which can be found here: http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=1889

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  • K Gray

    I thought heresy was a categorical term like “true” or “false” in the spiritual sense. Where does the idea of ranking heresies as serious or minor originate – is there a Biblical basis? What criteria do you use for categorization? Is it the potential for damage or destruction, and how is that assessed?

    Serious question: are there any forensic studies on the destructive potential and actual destructive effects (that can be seen) of universalism through the ages? (This is not to concede that visible destructive effects are all there may be; the provocation of God can’t really be measured).

    • rogereolson

      That’s black and white thinking that I associate with fundamentalism (although perhaps it is not unique to fundamentalists and there are areas where I would agree that something is either black or white–i.e., right or wrong). For example, what counts as heresy in one church system may not be heresy in another one. If heresy is defined as theological incorrectness, then surely there are degrees of it. Only in a system with an authoritative magisterium would heresy be absolutely black and white (and even there it may not always be so). I know of no such studies.

      • K Gray

        I was actually thinking of the popular argument that no sin is worse to God than others, that all sin is sin — an argument usually made AGAINST so-called fundamentalists when they speak of homosexuality, abortion etc. This led me to wonder (as others here do) about the basis for categorizing heresies by degree. I simply did not know the origin of that idea.

        • http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com Jason Pratt

          I think Roger’s argument (and I agree with this) is that theological error per se is not in itself a sin, although sin often does lead to theological error.

          Technical heresy is only a mistake, and the mistake may be of several categories.

          The sin of heresy is the abuse of truth for personal convenience. In that sense, I would be a heretic in the judgment of God if I preached pure orthodoxy but did so for my own advancement. (St. Paul had something to say about this in one of his epistles, where he complained about people preaching the gospel only in order to compete with him–he rejoiced that the gospel was being preached in any case, but rebutted those people for preaching the truth out of wrong motives.)

          • Dan Vincent

            Technical heresy? Sin of heresy? Good grief, all of these comments are beginning to sound like a meeting of Rabbis/Pharisees. Mincing words and definitions. “Heresy” is simply the departure from the commonly accepted norm. Actually, it is an unfortunate word, since so many people automatically apply a negative connotation to it. Heresy is not in and of itself bad – Luther was a heretic. Jesus was even a heretic. It’s a word that is derived from a contrast with tradition. “Apostasy” is the word many posters really need to be using, since that’s what they really mean.

            Is “Universalism” apostasy? This depends on your definition of that word. I don’t like the word because it encompasses a large swath of ideas, some very disparate.

            Another thing to consider is that to make a statement (as did a previous poster) that Universalism (whatever the definition) is clearly against the Word, is a little anti-intellectual to say the least. Obviously, a Christian, who holds the Bible as the inspired Word of God, believes his brand o Universalism to be fully in aligned with the scriptures. And this is where, as we all are having our disagreements, we should agree to address a higher plane of commonality. A higher aspect of our understanding of God. That being, God is Love, and the Divine Law (his character) is summarized in two statements by Jesus (acknowledged as being God incarnate): Love God with our whole being, and love our neighbor as ourself. If we can agree on that as being our common thread, then we can hold the rest as simple disagreements, but not judging them to have a bearing on a person’s ultimate fate.

          • rogereolson

            It is true that “heresy” is only meaningful within a context of agreed upon orthodoxy. It is, in other words, an indexical term. “Apostasy,” on the other hand, means loss of one’s status as a Christian (at least within a Christian context). The charge of heresy does not automatically have any bearing on a person’s ultimate fate. (That would depend on the ecclesiastical context.) The charge of apostasy may. When Christians of different confessional commitments discuss among themselves whether something is heresy, they must be assuming some normative tradition which would probably be whatever they have in common such as the Great Tradition of teaching of the church fathers and reformers. Unless they belong to a common denomination, however, the charge does not carry any weight in terms of consequences.

    • raoul

      Universalism is largely responsible for your religious freedom here in the USA. The Quakers promoted the heresy of the “Inner Light” and gave up slavery, stopped beating their children, and established public education and humane prisons.

      John Calvin had 34 women murdered for “witchcraft” and beheaded his enemies. Luther was a hateful anti-semite who advocated genocide. The Puritans executed four Quakers who stood up to their evil laws which then caused such outrage that the King intervened to revoke the Massachusetts charter and establish religious toleration.

      Damage done by Universalists? Hardly. Your very religious freedom was gained by the martyrdom of Universalists.

      • rogereolson

        Are you assuming that Quakers were (in those times past) universalists? I’m not aware of that. What is your evidence? The “inner light” doctrine of George Fox and other early Friends was something more akin to prevenient grace than universal salvation (as I have understood it).

        • raoul

          I’ll leave it to John Woolman to explain. “There is a Principle which is pure, placed in the human Mind, which in different Places and Ages hath had different Names; it is, however, pure, and proceeds from God. It is deep, and inward, confined to no Forms of Religion, nor excluded from any, where the Heart stands in perfect Sincerity. In whomsoever this takes Root and grows, of what Nation soever, they become Brethren.”
          John Woolman is the Quaker who pricked the conscience of N. Carolina Quakers and prompted them to renounce slavery long before Abolition became a movement in the North. Of course, Abolition is another “universalist” heresy that became a defining standard for liberty in this nation.

          • rogereolson

            The key phrase is “In whomsoever this takes Root and grows.” Woolman’s statement expresses prevenient grace very well. It doesn’t imply universal salvation.

    • http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com Jason Pratt

      {{Serious question: are there any forensic studies on the destructive potential and actual destructive effects (that can be seen) of universalism through the ages?}}

      If any such studies exist, they haven’t been deployed against me by anyone in the past ten years. {wry g}

      And depending on the kind of universalism, I would actually agree about expecting it to be damaging or even destructive! (Keeping in mind that any truth can be abused by sinful and/or insane minds.)

      If I thought a trinitarian Christian universalism was inherently damaging or destructive, though, I wouldn’t believe it.

  • raoul

    This is all conditional as to whether the Bible is man’s word or God’s word. The obvious conclusion is that the opportunity for heresy is so rife within Biblical hermeneutics, that the Holy Scriptures are solely a product of men.
    A true omniscient God would leave no room for interpretation.

  • CarolJean

    It’s good to know that all heretics are not going straight to hell. ;)

  • http://jaredcburt.wordpress.com Jared

    Dr. Olson,

    Your blog is often thought-provoking and I am thankful for it. So I mean no disrespect in this response. In fact, this is more of a question than a statement…

    I find it remarkable that if you found the Calvinistic understanding of God to be more accurate, you would not worship him. What is it about Calvinism that makes God evil? I say “evil” because that seems to be a hidden premise. After all, I don’t think you would confess God as good, perfect, and holy and then still refuse to offer worship? You do say, “Sheer power is not worthy of worship. Only power controlled by love is worthy of worship.” So, given Calvinism, your opinion is that God is unloving and corrupt in his use of power? Of course, I understand this is not the main point in this blog so you do not take time to develop this point further (perhaps it is the subject of another blog I am unaware of).

    It just seems to me that we are incredibly finite in our understanding of God and reality in general (Isa 55.9). He has revealed what we need to know for salvation. A sincere Calvinist (or Armenian!) is simply attempting to understand this revelation in order to know God truly. So maybe (rather definitely) there is something we don’t know. Calvinism could be correct and God’s love could still be even more profound than any of us have ever realized.

    Again, I am thankful for your blog and your ever-challenging remarks.

    Respectfully,

    • rogereolson

      May I simply refer you to my forthcoming book Against Calvinism? There I address these issues thoroughly. It will be published by Zondervan in October, so you don’t have long to wait! I should say (and do in the book) that it is CONSISTENT Calvinism I reject. Fortunately, most Calvinists are not consistent. They argue, for example, that God loves even the non-elect. I cannot see how that is consistent with double predestination. When rigorous Calvinists try to resolve this problem I see them coming down more on the side of God’s power and might and glory than God’s love. What I mean, then, is IF I were somehow convinced that the God of consistent Calvinism (who does not really love all people) is correct I would not be able to worship that God (who really wants many people to go to hell for his glory).

      • http://www.effectualgrace.com John Samson

        a simple question Roger: Did God know the identity of both the elect and non elect before the foundation of the world?

        If you answer “no”

        then Houston, we have a problem… you deny the orthodox Christian view of God and His omniscience, denying He has exhaustive knowledge of the future. If you want to talk heresy, then that is heresy.

        if you answer “yes”

        then what is that except double predestination?

        • rogereolson

          In your judgment, by your best lights, that would be heresy. I disagree. As to your second question–the traditional non-Calvinist answer (going back to the Greek church fathers) is that God knows because it will happen; his knowing does not cause it to happen.

          • http://lovewon.com Tony Hiscox

            Both Of You (John and Roger) can provide scriptural proofs for your belief system as can I for mine (universal reconciliation) but to hold your positions you must deny other scripture – which support the other view (or water it down) what you should both study is the words which have been translated in the English Bible from Scripture to support “Everlasting Torment” – The universalist can hold his view because he knows that the word translated everlasting is actually a time period and that torment is actually from the word meaning chasten (check your Youngs or strongs concordances guys) (and is translated as such in some versions of English bibles – add to this the problem with our understanding of the words Shoel (which in the KJV is half the time translated Hell when applied to the wicked” and half the time translated “grave” when applied to the righteous – (I’m not making this up) – scripture says God IS the saviour of all men especially believers 1 Tim 4 v 10 – yes there are an elect chosen folk by God – but God loves all and will save all Ultimately – we do choose Roger but we don’t have free-will if we did then how could we pray believing “Thy will be done on earth…” but in fact when we do, we align our thinking with God’s – we all will be saved by grace through faith check out acts 17 v 30-31 see what I mean  – Scripture teaches “For even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified.” 1 cor 15 v22 and goes on to set out the how until we read in 28 “Now, whenever all may be subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also shall be subjected to Him Who subjects all to Him, that God may be All in all.)” – now please explain to me how god can be All in ALL if are part of the ALL are excluded somewhere? Before you answer read the verses in the middle to show that none are excluded in Luke 2 10 & 11 we read “And the messenger said to them(the shepherds) “Fear not, for lo! I am Bringing you an evangel of great joy which will be for the entire people, for today was brought forth to you a saviour, who is Christ, the Lord, in the city of David” both of you guys – the Good news is for the entire people – but there is a time for all to be saved – Jesus spoke to the masses in Parables “All these things Jesus speaks in parables to the throngs, and apart from a parable He spoke nothing to them,” Matt 13:34 He later explained the Parables to the disciples (using more parables) Paul said later that these things where intended to be a mystery (what things) Gods plan to save all – however through scripture you can see it is God’s plan and God is Powerful enough to have his plan (John would agree with that) and Loving enough to want all saved (Roger would agree with that) – now I don’t know if either of you are ready to carefully study those words I told you where the problem (and there are others) but isn’t it time to agree that all scripture is important and that twisted doctrine puts any in the same camp as unbelievers

          • rogereolson

            I especially disagree with that last rhetorical question. No, twisted doctrine doesn’t put people in the same camp as unbelievers–at least not automatically. If that were true, there would be many more in the churches who are in the camp of unbelievers than in the camp of believers. Your question strikes me as fundamentalist–which is rather odd for a universalist (although I do know of some fundamentalist universalists!).

          • http://lovewon.com Tony Hiscox

            The point I’m making Roger, is that Believers must believe scripture, or else what makes them Believers? – we all WILL believe because every knee shall bow every tongue confess Jesus is Lord and he is not willing that any perish – believing Jesus Died to save you but denying God’s Love or Power put’s a person in an unusual place because it changes the God that person believes in. The Jesus they believe in – Jesus said he did what he saw his father doing – Jesus Loved everyone and told the disciples when he was asked what’s the greatest commandment “love God and love your neighbour (all those you encounter)” all unbelievers (today) will ultimately believe – but not all those who claim to be “The Lords” believe at “the Judgement” which is why scripture says that he’ll say “I didn’t know you” – If we preach Both You Roger and John do, then we must preach all scripture as true and if all scripture is True then the choice verses that you both use to defend your position are true (great) the problem is if you both are right – John about God’s Power and you (Roger) about God’s Love then God can’t fail to have his Will (which is what I believe) so then you must examine the proofs that many most or a any at all people will suffer “Eternal Torment” Greek kolasin aionion. most Bible translators have Picked and Chosen how to translate the word Aion, Aionion, but Young, Rotherham Knock(CLT) and others agree the only word that always fits all uses of the same word is Age or Ages, Aion has an English equivalent it’s called “Eon” Jonah was in the Belly of the Fish for the Aion (but that Aeon was only 3 days) the point is that if Aeon is a Time period then the punishment or otherwise is also for a time period and what about the Punishment “Torment” is from the greek word meaning “Chasten” and why shouldn’t a loving father Chasten for a time his unruly child? – isn’t that what even us earthly loving fathers do (?) when I studied the word Aion I found that Greek literature had a word “Makraion” which means LONG EON – but if Aion already meant “forever” or Eternal or everlasting how could that be made longer (?)

          • rogereolson

            There were Christian believers before there was a Christian Bible. My primary belief, with the apostles and earliest Christians, is in Jesus Christ as the true revelation of God. I believe in the Bible because I believe in Jesus, not the other way around. That means, then, that Jesus is the criterion of interpretation of the Bible. Simply to say one “must believe the Bible” is inadequate. Many people claim to “believe the Bible” but disagree strongly on its meaning. And, nobody’s belief about the Bible or its meaning is the Bible itself.

  • Andrew

    Roger,

    It sounds as if you reject any form of Evangelical Universalism that is affirming the certainty of the reconciliation of all. However you don’t seem to see a problem with reasonably hoping that most if not all will eventually be saved (i.e. Balthasar, Bell, etc.)

    Is this accurate?

    • rogereolson

      I certainly hope for it, but I do not have confidence in it. Rather, I think Scripture indicates otherwise. Therefore, my hope is more of a wish. I hope God has a secret plan to assure universal salvation in the end–that is, the harrowing of hell. I see no way to reconcile that hope with revelation, however. Therefore, it remains a wish that somehow it could be that I and most other Christians have misunderstood revelation. On that particular point, however, I don’t think that is the case.

      • Daniel W

        The first Anabaptists came to the conclusion that the very vast majority of other Christians misunderstood biblical teaching on baptism. A similar statement could be made about the early champions of the Reformation.

  • http://www.theologoholic.wordpress.com J Smith

    Serious or not, is universalism heresy at all? That’s not rhetorical—I’m asking as a matter of historical fact, has universalism been deposed by an ecumenical council? Or how do we define heresy otherwise? It’s one thing to be wrong, it’s quite another to be a heretic. I’m not sure that we really have a way after Protestantism to define new doctrines as heresy (i.e. doctrines which have not already been deposed by the first 7 ecumenical councils).

    • rogereolson

      You raise great questions about the very meaning of the word “heresy.” I hope to address these (and others) in a future post here. Stay tuned.

  • http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com Rev Andrew Tweedy

    Interesting stuff Roger. I’m glad you will be addressing the meaning of heresy. I think it gets thrown out far too readily these days, and almost exclusively by Reformed and other conservative evangelical christians. Even if the term seems technically correct, from inside their bubble, it is loaded with bad history, as you know.
    I was a conservative evangelical until a few years ago but now I’m open/emergent and have become a convinced evangelical universalist. I believe this form of universalism to be far more biblical and properly evangelical than the conventional teaching on hell. But I’m not going to call anyone a heretic for disagreeing with me either!

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  • Bobby Q Rigsby

    Yes — I like the post: serious, unafraid to state opinion/conviction, yet humble enough to realize you do not contain all truths. Helpful/refreshing attitude! Thanks! Also with a hint that, should you find some time in the future that you are wrong, and Universalists are right, you’d be OK with that. Like your point about taking evangelism seriously too. As a Universalist I can’t see how one who believes in Universalism doesn’t see it as an imperative. My evangelism might look a wee bit different from yours however; hope that’s OK. My emphasis is on the fact of belonging; behavior (maybe seen as turning away from sin) as following from the belonging rather than leading to it. God as smiling Father cheering me on in the big race, rather than stern and scowling judge ready to pounce on my misdeeds. That kind of thing. Universalism doesn’t lead to fewer expectations of us by God, but more.

    At any rate, believing as you do that some actually do “choose” to be lost (or choose the fires of hell) I’ve got serious questions that follow. For example, what exactly does God accomplish by hell? ieWhat does Hell solve? Merely a place to dispose of the bodies?
    Further, how can God be said to be “all in all” — how can He be pictured as so wondrously Victorious — if in the end He leaves some to this fate of hell? Seems a tepid victory at best. Certainly not on the scale scripture seems to suggest.

    Lastly, what manner of “freedom” can be said to exist if it acts in such self destructive ways?? Sounds more like bondage to me; exactly the sort of bondage from which our Christ came to free us! Certainly it’s not really an informed freedom; and if badly informed, not really free. Also, it’s a “choice” that’s delusional; for what sane person would choose hell forever? Hard for me to see that God is under any obligation to respect or honor that kind of freedom. Rather, that is the sort of thing from which He came, in the person of Christ, to liberate us.

    What we share I think however is the conviction that however it turns out, we can trust God to do the right and honorable thing. It will be open and transparent. AND it will serve as further basis to praise Him from here on, forever! (Rather looking forward to that myself!!!)

    BLESSINGS!

  • http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com Jason Pratt

    {{Strictly historically speaking, any universalism is heresy–according to all major branches of Christianity.}}

    Neither the trinitarian Church of the East (which was massively huge and hugely evangelical in its day, moreso than Eastern and Western Catholicism put together), nor the Eastern Orthodox, consider universalism to necessarily be a heresy. It’s classified as a respected theological opinion; individuals can hold it privately and professionals can argue in favor of it, so long as they don’t claim it to be the official teaching of the Church. If I recall correctly, the same is true for the surviving (so-called) one-nature trinitarian congregations, Coptic, Ethiopian and Armenian.

    It’s only in Western Christianity that universalism has been more-or-less consistently anathematized. The EOx are still a major branch, although the other two Eastern ancient varieties have severely declined (mainly thanks to being overrun by the Mongols and/or Muslims.)

    • rogereolson

      I have talked with Eastern Orthodox theologians about this matter. I studied historical theology under an EO theologian and have known many since then very well. For years I invited EO priests and theologians into my classes (when I taught subjects that made that relevant and helpful). I never could get them all to agree about whether universal salvation is a heresy. Some said yes; some said no. Those who said no pointed to Gregory of Nyssa. Those who said yes pointed to the fact that he was never named a doctor or teacher of the church for that reason. Those who said yes pointed to Constantinople 2 and the condemnation of Origen. Those who said no pointed to the fact that that council was somewhat ambiguous about all forms of universalism. So, I don’t think the issue is clear. I have heard there exists an authoritative list of heresies read in all EO churches annually. It would be good to examine it for this.

      • http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com Jason Pratt

        Yes, although after quite a bit of research I haven’t been able to find a text of it online (yet).

        The situation you described fits what I mentioned, though: if there was an officially dogmatic position within the EOx on this, there wouldn’t be debate about it. (Or much less of one; cf the Roman Catholic debate which is much more limited since Popes have officially declared on it already.)

        • rogereolson

          Or perhaps the debate continues within EO circles simply because the very concept of “universalism” is unclear. Does it extend to the devil and demons? Or is it applicable only to human beings? Unfortunately, people think they already know what is meant by “universalism” when, in fact, the concept is ambiguous.

          • http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com Jason Pratt

            No doubt that, too. Or, if not the concept (God persists in saving all sinners from sin–which seems pretty straightforward to me anyway ;) ), the details are variable and that leads to ambiguity about what is being proposed for acceptance or rejection.

            A college student emailed me last year for a report on the “religion” of “universalism”. That took quite a few pages of detailing various options! (Many of which I reject, such as any non-Christian version of universalism.)

    • http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com Jason Pratt

      Incidentally, the Ethiopic, Coptic, Syrian and Armenian “one nature” trinitarian churches (though they actually affirm two natures of Christ) are officially known as the Oriental Orthodox, not to be confused with the “two nature” Church of the East, nor the Eastern Orthodox–all of whom are trinitarian, ancient, affirmers of the early Creeds and ecumenical councils, and all of whom have “east” in their name. {wry g}

  • http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com Jason Pratt

    Roger: {{I am not a universalist nor do I sympathize with universalism.}}

    Well… it does seem like you sympathize with us to some extent, especially if we are being orthodox trinitarian Christian in our universalism.

    We agree on the scope of God’s salvation of sinners from sin (and as far as I can tell you agree with us on the activity of God in that scope–i.e. that God doesn’t just sit back behind an open door and wait for anyone to come in, but goes out after the lost. On the other hand, you may not agree with the scope either, if you omit rebel angels from the scope.)

    What we disagree on is the persistence of God’s salvation from sin. We believe God (in all three Persons) never gives up acting to save any sinner from sin (even rebel angels).

    On the other hand, many of us sympathize with you in your concern about merely forcing people to convert. We agree, love wouldn’t merely do that. However, there are other factors also involved, such as the affirmation that no entity continues existing without active upkeep by God. At the end of the day, God “forces” people to do quite a few things, even while allowing room for creatures to make their own contributive choices in other regards. (Or else we aren’t even talking about supernaturalistic theism anymore, much moreso ortho-trin!)

    As an administrator and guest author (along with Robin Parry aka “Gregory MacDonald” and Thomas Talbott) at the Evangelical Universalist forum, I can say that any of us would be glad to dialogue with you on these matters, whether there or here (or in post exchanges perhaps in both places).

    • rogereolson

      When I say I don’t sympathize with universalism, that doesn’t mean I don’t sympathize with universalists! :)

      • http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com Jason Pratt

        Having bowed in appreciate at that: this may highlight an interesting point.

        I don’t have any problem saying I sympathize with Calvinistic and Arminianistic soteriologies (with their broad characteristics and some particulars of their varieties–whether Protestant or not), as well as with Calv and Arm Christians (whether Protestant or not). I think both theological systems have real distinctive strengths and valid concerns, against each other and even against what they understand to be my position (much moreso against universalism variants I myself reject! {g})

        As a developmental issue this isn’t surprising, as I come from the Southern Baptist Convention, where authors on either side are respected (if rather fractiously so sometimes); and as a matter of personal history I came to universalism from considering each side to have some important and worthwhile points.

        But relatedly, it also isn’t surprising because in effect Christian universalism combines Calvinism and Arminianism together in a fashion similar to how trinitarian theism combines modalistic and unitarian theologies. We agree with modalists that the Son, Jesus Christ, is God Most High; we agree with unitarians that the Son, Jesus Christ, is personally distinct in relation to the Father. We also agree with both that there is only one God Most High, and with their concerns about avoiding polytheism or cosmological di/tri-theism. We tend to agree with them on their critiques against each other, too!

        Despite my sympathies with their theological positions, though, I am trinitarian and not some kind of modalist or unitarian.

        Similarly, I should think an Arminian ought at least to be able to sympathize with universalism (as a broad system group, and maybe in some particulars of varieties) regarding the scope of God’s salvation in Christ: we share that emphasis as a hugely important and true doctrine. While a Calvinist ought at least to be able to sympathize with universalism regarding the persistence of God’s salvation in Christ: we share that emphasis as a hugely important and true doctrine (in a fashion distinct from Arminian varieties of God’s persistence to save sinners from sin.)

        Of course, it could be rightly replied that it’s impossible to sympathize with a system but rather with persons. {g} But since persons systemize what we think we’ve discovered of the truth (not to say invented), I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to analogize out like that.

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  • http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com Jason Pratt

    Roger (“I especially disagree with that last rhetorical question” etc. from August 8, 2011) was replying to Tony Hiscox, by the way. (The nesting function of the comment software is broken. It took me a while to figure out, so I thought I would share for future readers. :D )

  • http://theologyinpencil.com Matt Parkins

    Enjoyed the read and am getting into your blog. Thanks for the posts.

    One question that seems unanswered in relation to Universalism is why would God draw the line for “repentance & belief” at the point of our death? Why would he no longer accept it when we face him? It seems a bit arbitrary. The only biblical support I can find for it is very weak and it appears to be very advantageous for churches to believe this in order to propagate their existence – it looks a touch suspicious.

    I can’t really find much in the way of biblical support and can find no support from the realm of logic. Help?

  • http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47 Keith DeRose

    Thanks for the very nice post.

    I’m not seeing what grounds you might have for your pessimism on all freely loving God. I take it we’re allowing (at least for the sake of argument) the possibility of turning to God after death. (Otherwise, the matter is closed, since we know many do not turn to God prior to death.) But in that case, why be pessimistic? Is it that, from what we know in this life, some are firmly established in their direction, and it’s one of moving away from God? But we also know, from even this relatively very brief life, that God has turned around (freely, presumably) even some of the hardest cases. And He has as much time as He needs. And He can be *extremely* resourceful. Even when dealing with free creatures, with an obstinate streak, why bet against Him? I put it this way in the section on “Free Will and Universalism” in my little on-line defense of universalism:

    While it is true that some are heading in the completely wrong direction, and give no sign that, left to their own devices, they will do anything but accelerate their progress in that wrong direction, they will not be left to their own devices. There are actual instances in this life of breathtakingly dramatic turn-arounds, and God does intervene to bring people around in this life (without violating their freedom, according to the fervent exclusivist). So once we jettison that disastrous and quite unsupported view that death is the end of one’s chances, there’s no reason to doubt that such divine activities will continue in the life to come, nor that they will (eventually, at least) be successful in yielding free acceptance.

    At least *I’m* not seeing good grounds for pessimism here.

  • http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47 Keith DeRose

    This is interesting: “As I understand it, universalism is confident belief, not mere hope, that all will eventually be saved. It is the confident belief that I reject as unfounded, not the hope.”

    Then I wouldn’t count as a universalist. I accept that all will be saved, but am far from confident in the matter. (In the post I link to below, I express considerable hesitancy even in saying that I *believe* that all will be saved.) I think our terminology should not rule out the possibility that universalism could be held (by “universalists”) in an uncertain matter. (Don’t want to build it into our very terminology that all universalists are dogmatic creeps!) If you accept that all will be saved, then, even if you’re not confident in that acceptance, I think you should be counted as a universalist. And so I count myself. I go into some of these issues in this old post: http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47/GOTT-6-06-06.htm

  • Paul Richard Strange, Sr.

    One of the biggest rhetorical drawbacks, I think, to the thinking of Christians who reject predestination, whether they are Arminians defending universal atonement without universal salvation, or Christians defending universal salvation which seems to make non-sense of why believing the Gospel matters more than rejecting the Gospel, is what was said earlier.

    The tone of anti-Calvinistic Christians is that they have no problem deciding that we, the sinful creatures, are in our rights to condemn the Creator, Redeemer, and Ruler….if His will includes ordaining some to life and not others. His Worth is dependent upon my sinful human vote?

    Now, having said that, I do agree that universalism is not as horrible a heresy as many others, when it is affirmed that the saving death of Jesus Christ is 0ur salvation, that there is no other Name given among men whereby we must be saved, and that the Scriptures are God-breathed truth, in spite of the fact that our ability to fully agree on its proper interpretation is self-evident.

    PAUL RICHARD STRANGE, SR.
    dadprs@hotmail.com
    Waxahachie Texas

    • rogereolson

      Let me correct that. We ARMINIANS NEVER CONDEMN GOD FOR ANYTHING! We condemn the false god who would unconditionally elect some fallen humans to heaven leaving others whom he could save to hell “for his glory” IF HE EXISTED. We don’t think such a God exists, so we are NOT CONDEMNING GOD! Let’s get that straight! I am most emphatic about that. It’s simply calumny to accuse Arminians of “condemning God….” False, vicious nonsense! (Sorry, you pushed one of my buttons! :)

  • Layne Wallace

    Dr. Olsen
    I’ve been reading Karl Barth over the last few weeks (which led me to this post) and think he is really on to something with Jesus as the subject and object of God’s election. The electing God and the elected Son seems to “work.” I am not sure it is tantamount to universalism, although I think he is close.

    In reflecting on your conversation with John, I still find it stunning that many “tulip-ians” (not sure even Calvin was into TULIP) cannot make a distinct between predestination and calvin’s idea of the divine decree. It is not so much predestination that many believers disagree with. It is the idea of the God who would create people for the express purpose of damning them. Predestination is a Biblical concept, but damning most of humanity just because it glorifies God makes God into a monster.
    Grace and Peace
    Layne

    • rogereolson

      Here it would be helpful to draw a distinction between supra- and infralapsarian Calvinists. Supralapsarians do believe that. Infralapsarians don’t. (“That” is “the idea of the God who would create people for the express purpose of damning them.”) I have often said if I could be a universalist like Barth I could be a Calvinist. It’s a bit of an overstatement, but it points to the main issue–God’s goodness.

      • Layne Wallace

        Dr. Olson,
        I am wondering something. Do you think there is any way of modifying Barth’s election schema in order to prevent it from lapsing into universalism–or at least being open to that charge?

        In reading him over the last few days, I like his thoughts on election very much, but am stuck by the how often he opens himself up to the charge of universalism. It is like he misses no opportunity to be attached to it. Even in his chapter on the elect and the rejected he keeps using language of Jesus overcoming the rejection of the godless.

        That said, I think his solution to the mystery of election is excellent.

        By the way, what do you think of his estimation of the remonstrants? I think I know the answer already, but am curious.

        • rogereolson

          I don’t remember what Barth said about the Remonstrants, but I’m sure it wasn’t good. :) Barth was very Reformed theologically. He even called his view of election “purified supralapsarianism.” The only sense I can make of Barth’s doctrine of election is universalism. It’s embedded in the logic of his doctrine of election; I don’t see any way to escape it EXCEPT via something akin to Arminianism–which he won’t do because that (to him) gives humans too much credit and control. Brunner is closer to Arminianism, although he also did not embrace the label or whole system. He seemed to embrace a paradoxical single predestination but he said that God won’t save anyone without their willing acceptance of his election of them. There’s a strong hint (and maybe more) of what I call “evangelical synergism” in Brunner and I think that comes from his underlying Pietism.

          • Layne Wallace

            Dr. Olson,
            I just got your text “Against Calvinism,” and am enjoying it very much. I am reflecting on Daane’s theology of election that you cite. “… unconditional election of Jesus Christ…(125)”
            I am wondering how different is that from Barth? To me he sounds similar. Is Daane open to the same charge of universalism?

            Thanks
            Layne

          • rogereolson

            I didn’t find anything in Daane’s book (or other things I’ve read by him) that indicates universalism. I don’t think he would have been allowed to teach at Fuller in the 1950s and 1960s if he were a universalist. However, the influence of Barth on him is strong. Even stronger, however, is the influence of his teacher and mentor G. C. Berkouwer (who agreed with Barth on many things but criticized him for his apparent universalism). I wish I knew more about Daane. The only other thing I’ve found by him is an essay entitled “Can a man bless God?” in God and the Good edited by Clifton Orlebeke and Lewis Smedes. It’s brilliant and goes against traditional theism, taking the biblical narrative more seriously than philosophy.

  • Dr. David T. Crews

    Dr. Olson:
    May I say how much I have enjoyed all your books! I have read and studied them all with great interest over the years. My theological spectrum has swung from Arminian to more Reformed over the years. Interestingly enough, I find many sincere, serious students of the Scripture who become quite anxious if they cannot neatly classify themeselves categorically between these theological poles. The peace I have made with God, theologically speaking, has been accepting the understanding that it is not meant for us to perfectly grasp exactly all spiritual truth this side of glory. I find great joy in “giving myself” the permission to not feel I am spiritual if I am a cross between various theological perspectives. In the end what matters, in my humble opinion, is what, as stewards of the manifold grace of God in gospel of Jesus Christ, we have actually “done” with the truth God has entrusted us with. We can debate the finer points of theology all day and night long, but God is more concerned with praxis than pontificating everything we feel a need to be absolutely sure about. A wise man once told me, “it’s not the things in the Scriptures that I don’t understand which bother me, but it’s the things I do. I already know too much and do too little with all that the Lord has graciously given me.”

    Point well taken.

    Aren’t you glad God does not expect us to understand His mysteries with crystal clear clarity, but come to Him as humble, seeking, children aware of our great intellectual limitations?

    I am.

    Grace & peace to you Dr. Olson!

    • SoM

      I believe in the total victory of salvation, and if believing that all mankind is saved is to categorize me as part of the heresy club, sign me up!

      My question to all Calvinists, Armenians or in any way a hell believer is this. Does the thought of going to hell motivate you to worship God, or is it His unfailing love?

      Peace and blessings to all who have an ear to hear.

      • rogereolson

        The two cannot be separated. Hell is an expression of God’s love for those who do not want to spend eternity in his presence.

        • SoM

          How can eternal torture be an expression of God’s love?

          • rogereolson

            Only if it is what the person prefers–as C. S. Lewis so well described in The Great Divorce. We’ve discussed that many times here.

          • SoM

            Who preferes eternal torture? I think you are making up excuses for your view of who you think God is.

          • rogereolson

            Why do some people prefer to be drug addicted and totally miserable even though their “high” makes them feel good? On one level they are absolutely, horribly miserable. Anyone in their right mind can see that. But when offered treatment many turn it down. They prefer their misery to being free and whole and healthy again. Such is a good analogy to hell. Now you haven’t yet explained Jesus’ many warnings about hell. Do you consider them empty threats or what?

          • SoM

            Why do people choose to be drug addicts? Walk a mile in their shoes first to find the answer to that silly question. But now that you asked, I didn’t ask to be born, let alone a sinner. I; like all men was born a sinner like it or not because of Adam’s disobedience, but because of Christ’s obedience, I; like all men have been made justified (Rom 5:18-19). I find it funny how eagerly you believe in the universal fall of man, but sadly, you fail to see the universal victory of the cross.
            As for the warnings from Christ. He who came only to minister the lost sheep of Israel knew of the coming judgement and wrath of God our Father on Israel, but did not know the hour. His parable in Luke 16 about the rich man (Jew) and Lazarus (gentile), was also a warning that the blessings given to the Jews that made them spiritually rich would end and eventually be given to the gentiles. The symbolic use of “Gehenna” was known to the Pharisees as their bodies would burn and rot like common criminals as prophesised by Christ, Instead of being buried in Hebron. The prophecy is also spoken by Isaiah and Daniel as the end of the daily sacrifice. John the Baptist also warned Israel to repent. Allow me to bring scripture into its spiritual meaning instead of taking it literally. Matt 3:10 The ax (The occupation of Judea by Rome) is already (Time John lived) at the root (Israel) of the trees (Jews as written in Isaiah 60:21), and every tree that does not produce good fruit (repent and except Christ) will be cut down (killed) and thrown into the fire (Gehenna, meaning God’ wrath on the flesh). Matt 24:3 you will find the disciples asking Christ when the end of the age will be, and He describes how horrible the siege of Jerusalem will be like, and prophecy was fulfilled 70AD with the second destruction of the temple also known in Revelations as the second death.

          • rogereolson

            Well, you have completely misunderstood me and I cannot allow you to continue to misrepresent my views on my own blog. In the future I will not post your comments if you do that. I have always insisted on the universal victory of the cross. How you can think otherwise is beyond me; you obviously don’t read my posts here regularly.

          • SoM

            I admit, I have only read this blog, but it was the accusation of heresy for my belief that required me only to read this blog. It has been estimated that there have been about 160 billion people who have lived and died from Adam until the present. It has also been estimated that only about 5 billion of these people have been believers in Jesus Christ. If God starts out with 160
            billion people and loses 155 billion of them to eternal torture, how can you insist on the universal victory of the cross if you still continue to believe in the eternal conscious torment theology? I know why and I don’t blame you. You held this belief probably since you first became a Christian, and it is hard to change old ways. What you need to do is commit suicide, I don’t mean killing yourself, you need a spiritual suicide to reboot and start all over again if you are ever to be saved from your institutional beliefs given to you by man’s church. If you have already come to the belief of Universal salvation, how can I not notice it on your blog if you have shown no joy in your words. After all, isn’t the good news great? If you don’t want to post my comments, I understand and I am fine with that, as it is you I am trying to help. I am not one to censorship the spirit of truth when we try to seek it or discuss it.

          • rogereolson

            Well, you obviously don’t know me or anything about me. I am often accused of being a closet liberal (theologically) because of my willingness to reconsider and even discard traditional doctrinal formulations. I am also often accused of being fundamentalist because I insist on respecting the Great Tradition of Christian teaching and am averse to rushing headlong into doctrinal revision just because it seems “necessary” culturally or philosophically. Jumping ahead and leaving out many steps here…. A main reason I reject universalism is that, like Calvinism, it violates free will which I regard as indispensable to personal relationship. To guarantee the salvation of all God would have to coerce people to “love” him which would be no love at all. I am an inclusivist as I have explained many times here–which is hardly an “institutional belief given to me by man’s church.” In fact, I would say that universalism is probably the default view of the vast majority of American Christians which does nothing to ameliorate its heretical status. When I label it “heresy” I am simply being descriptive. It is, in the history of Christianity (nearly all branches) a heresy. That’s not why I reject it, though. (Although I do take that seriously.) Ultimately I reject it because it is inconsistent with the whole idea of a personal relationship with God which must be freely accepted and not imposed.

          • SoM

            Friend, I don’t need to know you personally, your belief is enough. Another problem you have is your view on free will as taught in the church. Philip. 2:9-11 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: [10] That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; [11] And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. So is every knee forced to bend, or is it freely done?
            1) 1Tim 2:4 God will have all to be saved. (KJV) Can His will be thwarted?
            2) 1Tim 2:4 God desires all to come to the knowledge of truth Will His desire come to pass?
            3) 1Tim 2:6 Salvation of all is testified in due time Are we judging God before due time?
            4) Jn 12:47 Jesus came to save all Will He succeed?
            5) Eph 1:11 God works all after the counsel of His will Can your will overcome His?
            6) Jn 4:42 Jesus is Savior of the world Can He be Savior of all without saving all?
            7) 1Jn 4:14 Jesus is Savior of the world Why don’t we believe it?
            8) Jn 12:32 Jesus will draw all mankind unto Himself To roast or to love?
            9) Col 1:16 By Him all were created Will He lose a part of His creation?
            10) Rm 5:15-21 In Adam all condemned, in Christ all live The same all?

            I have a very interesting question now to ask you in regards to your belief of free will. It appears that the church believes that mans will is sovereign over God’s will, so I ask you this. Which of the three gives more glory to God’s love, and mercy?
            A) Can God save all but will not?
            B) Does God want to save all but cannot?
            C) Can God save all and will?

            I only ask that the last question be answered, but you are more than welcome to answer them all. I like to help even the best of theologians by using questions to see the spirit of truth. Like I said before, I only wish to help you.

          • rogereolson

            How condescending of you. No church I know about believes man’s will is “sovereign over God’s will.” God is sovereign over his own sovereignty.

          • SoM

            Condescending? I don’t think so. 1Tim 2: 3 for this is ideal and welcome in the sight of our Saviour, God,
            4 Who wills that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth. Concordant Version.
            It is God’s will and desire to save all mankind, and God who is righteous will get what he desires just as the wicked will get what they fear most (death) Proverbs 10:24. So if God wants to save all mankind, why is He dependant on man’s free will to save them? If Christ is our saviour, why does He need our permission to save us? This is what I mean when I say that the church unknowingly believes that Man’s will is sovereign over God’s will.
            1Tim 4: 9 This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. 10 That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.
            11 Command and teach these things.
            But the church does not accept this, nor does it command and teach this. Friend, I have asked you many questions and only few have been answered with almost no agreement, what does that say to me about a theologian? The church has created an image of God similar to the golden object in Dan 3:1-6. Is loving a Father who will save all mankind wrong?

          • rogereolson

            You don’t leave any room for dialogue with your assumptions and insulting comparisons. To answer your final question–no. But, as I have said (you accuse me of not answering your questions, but you’re just not listening), a relationship without genuine consent is not a loving relationship. Forced salvation would be a condition, not a relationship.

    • Faith

      Amen to “Aren’t you glad God does not expect us to understand His mysteries with crystal clear clarity, but come to Him as humble, seeking, children aware of our great intellectual limitations?”

  • Matteo Masiello

    I thank God everyday that heresy is irrelevant today and the last gasps of a dying entity, namely, organized religion. I can’t wait until Christianity is dead and people can really and truly followers of Jesus.

    • rogereolson

      Well, you certainly haven’t escaped the concept of heresy. You’ve simply broadened it to include all of Christianity. I argue there is no escaping the concept whether you use the term or not. Everyone has something that is to them anathema.

  • SoM

    To the calvinist. If Hell is real and you are a Calvinist, were you “responsible” for getting into heaven? Then why do you take the responsibility for those going to Hell away from God and put it on those you say are going to Hell? Is God “sovereign” only over the “elect?”

    To the arminian. If Hell is real and universalism is a heresy, why is it that those who believe God loves all and will save all find it easier to love all people than those who believe most people are going to Hell? (Think this through very carefully.)

    To the theologian. It has been said that Christ spoke more about hell (Gehenna) than He did heaven as warnings. But looking at Acts 20:27, Paul tells us that he taught us all what God wants us to know, so please explain why he never warned the gentiles about the hell (Gehenna)?

    • rogereolson

      As to question 1: Most Calvinists will deny that getting into heaven is “their responsibility.” As to question 2: You assume what you conclude which is a logical fallacy. Prove that non-universalists have a harder time loving all people than universalists. As to question 3: We do not have in the Book of Acts or even in Paul’s letters everything that he taught (“the whole purpose of God”). Acts 20:27 does not support your assumption that he never warned the gentiles about hell.

      • SoM

        1, I get that.

        2, If a hell believer believes that God believes those in hell get what they deserve, then they must also believe that those in hell get what they deserve, therefor they have no love or compassion for sinners, if they say otherwise, I leave that to God to know if it is truth or not.

        3, Acts 20:27For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole (will, councel, plan, purpose) of God.
        I like the NLT the best “for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know.” To say that we do not have everything that Paul taught makes scripture incomplete. So are you assuming that Paul warned the gentiles about Gehenna, and that letter has not been found?

        • rogereolson

          Paul is not the only apostle or inspired author of holy Scripture. If Jesus warned about it, it’s true even if Paul didn’t. Are you preferring Paul over Jesus?

          • SoM

            You see, that is your problem there. 1st of all, Christ came to minister to the Jews, not the gentiles. His warning to the Jews was the warning of the coming judgment and wrath on Israel with the symbolic use of Gehenna, as prophesized by Isaiah, Daniel, John the Baptist, and Paul. This prophecy was fullfilled 70AD with the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. A self-proclaimed theologian asking me if I am preferring Paul over Jesus creates great concerns for me, but not for myself, but for those who believe your teachings. Our teacher is the Holy Spirit in us, and it was Paul who brought the great news of salvation for all to the gentiles, he taught us love and how to love, but he never taught us about Gehenna let alone hell. If hell truly exists, I am more than positive that God would of want us to be warned of it by Paul. To suppose that God would bring beings into existence for both His purpose and pleasure who He knew in advance without mercy would be infinite losers by that existence, is to charge him a hypocrite with the utmost malignity. The Holy Book of the living God suffers more from its exponents today than from its opponents.

          • rogereolson

            You meant “would have” (rather than “would of”), right?

          • Kyle Fields

            Hi, I would like to ask you about your views on hell. I myself am not a Universalist, but I am seriously contemplating whether hell exists. (I may find myself an Annihilationist.) What I am struggling with, however, is why a Just and Loving God (in CAPS for a reason) would punish unrepentant creatures of his creation with eternal torture. What would this accomplish? I can say with no doubt about it, with 100% certainty, that I would rather go to hell then believe in the Calvinist god; however, the more I think about it, the more I believe that if God were to send people to hell, he wouldn’t be all that different from the Calvinist god. SOM hit the nail on the head when he said this: “It motivates Christians to worship God only to avoid going to hell (Dan 3:1-6), not because of His unfailing love.” SOM was quite harsh when he said that your interpretations of Jesus’ words may do more harm than good, but his second sentence was far from “nonsense”.

            Here are some thoughts from an atheist responding to a quote taken from the late comedian George Carlin (who was ranting against God): On the one hand you will hear Christians state that God loves you with an EVERLASTING LOVE. That God’s love is different because, unlike everyone else, His love is UNCONDITIONAL. But if you do not subscribe to certain particular beliefs (which vary from Christian group to Christian group) God will subject you to suffering beyond imagination for eternity. So which is it? Unconditional love? Or love with the biggest condition the universe has ever seen?

            Calvinism is garbage because free will is, pretty much, taken out of the equation. Calvinism, whether it likes it or not, no matter how they spin it, puts the responsibility of sin on God, not man. Unfortunately, with the traditional view of heaven and hell, free will seems to be accompanied by the ultimate ultimatum. This in my opinion detracts from God’s Grace and Love. This is how someone that I play Xbox Live with put it (who happens to be an atheist): it is a huge turn off to worship a God when you have two options. 1, Worship him and receive unconditional love for eternity, or 2, reject him and receive eternal punishment for eternity. To him it was an ultimatum, not love. Here is an analogy If your eschatology is that of the Futurist camp. I am sure that the anti-Christ will use this sort of tactic. Those that accept him and worship him, them he will bless and love. Those that reject him and choose the real Living God, those he will torture and kill. We know that this guy will be evil. At least the people he tortures, no matter how bad he tortures them, will die. I am sure that if he was God and had the power, he would subject people that rejected him to eternal torture. Would we expect our Just and Gracious God to do the same? I think not.

            Wouldn’t the banishment of unsaved individuals from the New Jerusalem be enough, knowing that no matter what you did from that point onward, you could not go through those 12 gates? Knowing that the light emanating from the N.J. is something you could never experience. This sounds like punishment enough.

            However, all of this may be wishful thinking by me, but I believe it is completely reasonable. Eternal punishment isn’t fair, and it isn’t justice.

          • Roger Olson

            A major problem here is dealing with folk religion versus serious (historical-theological) Christian theology. Serious Christian theologians have been all over the place about hell. There are traditions about hell but no consensus (among traditional Christians) other than that hell exists (or will exist). I do not think of hell as punishment so much as a place those who reject God choose over heaven. I strongly suggest you read The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis. It is the best book about hell I know of.

          • Kyle Fields

            Thank you for the book suggestion. I may buy it or check it out from my library.

            Sure, some people may in fact choose hell over heaven because they believe that God’s offer of Grace and Love is an ultimatum. To say that hell is a destination of people who make a choice to reject God doesn’t account for the fact that hell may exist, and that a God who claims to be Just and Merciful created it. When you get down to brass tax, God is the one who sentences people to hell because He is the one who set the condition on who goes, and hell is punishment.

            In my opinion, the concept of hell actually detracts from the Gospel. Many people I have come across would have no problem with God if it were not for hell (and some things in the OT).

            Like SOM, I am starting to see all of Jesus’ warnings about fire and whatnot in the N.T. as warnings directed at the Jews about the coming judgment of 70 A.D. I have been doing mental gymnastics on this issue for awhile now.

          • Roger Olson

            Read C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. It will revolutionize your thinking about hell.

          • Kyle Fields

            I can do that. Once I am done I will let you know what I thought of the book.

          • SoM

            Your interpretations of Christ’s words are not only inaccurate, but dangerous. It motivates Christians to worship God only to avoid going to hell (Dan 3:1-6), not because of His unfailing love.

          • rogereolson

            Nonsense.

  • http://jdhollowayiii.blogspot.com/ John Daniel Holloway

    I say at least universalists believe in something that God wants.
    He does want all to be saved.

    I would say Calvinism is the more injurious heresy, by far.

  • Matthew Duhamel

    By leap of “optimistic hope” you mean faith, right?

    It’s strange to hear a Christian say that a belief is unbelievable because it requires faith.

    • rogereolson

      That’s a caricature of what I said. Faith is more than a “leap of optimistic hope.” What I meant (which should be obvious) is that, in my opinion, universalism has no other foundation than optimistic hope.

  • Faith

    Hi Roger, My views are exactly like yours concerning this topic of universalism. I believe my views are basically like your concerning salvation as well since I too believe that God gives men a free will and that He does not force men to love Him.

    I was discussing this topic (universalism) on another site and the person who has this blogsite quoted the following scripture as his proof texts for believing in universalism:

    1. COR 3:13-15 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

    Romans 5:18-19 Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon ALL MEN to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon ALL MEN unto justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

    2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that ALL should come to repentance.
    John 1:29 Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

    1 TIM 4:10 For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe

    Genesis 12:3 I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you ALL the families of the earth shall be blessed

    1 John 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world

    1 COR 15:21-16 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ SHALL ALL be made alive. 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.

    John 12:32 If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw ALL peoples to myself!!!!

    Phil 2:10-11 That at the name of Jesus EVERY knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that EVERY tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

    1 TIM 2:3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;4 Who will have ALL MEN to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;6 Who gave himself a ransom FOR ALL, to be testified in due time.

    2 COR 5:18-19 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling THE WORLD unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

    Psalm 136:1-XX O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endures forever, O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endures for ever. 3 O give thanks to the Lord
    of lords: for his mercy endures for ever……

    Micah 7:19 He does not retain His anger forever, Because He DELIGHTS in mercy. 19 He will again have compassion on us, And will subdue our iniquities.

    Psalm 30:5 For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning.

    Gen 18:17 – And the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, 18 since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and ALL the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?

    REV 5:13 And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:
    “Blessing and honor and glory and power
    Be to Him who sits on the throne,
    And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”[

    Gen 22:16 – By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son— 17 blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed ALL the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

    GEN 26:4 And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed ALL the nations of the earth shall be blessed

    Romans 11:32 For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on ALL.

    Genesis 28:14 Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed ALL the families of the earth shall be blessed.

    1 COR 15:54-57 “Death is swallowed up in victory.”55 “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Ephesians 1 – In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, 9 having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one ALL THINGS in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.

    Proverbs 16:29 Its EVERY decision is from the Lord

    Lamentations 3:31-32 For the Lord will not cast off forever. 32 Though He causes grief, Yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies

    Romans 9:18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.

    Rev 1:17-18 Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. 18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

    Romans 10:15 How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace Who bring glad tidings of good things!”

    Numbers 23:9 God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?

    Isaiah 46:11 Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.

    Psalm 66:3-5 “How awesome are Your works!
    Through the greatness of Your power
    Your enemies shall submit themselves to You.
    ALL the earth shall worship You
    And sing praises to You;
    They shall sing praises to Your name

    Revelation 21:22-25 But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. 24 And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it 25 Its gates shall not be shut at all by day

    Isaiah 60:11 Therefore your gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day or night, That men may bring to you the wealth of the Gentiles

    Ezekiel 36:22-23 Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. 23 And I will sanctify My great name

    Psalm 23:1-2 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures

    COLOSSIANS 1:19-20 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

    REV 21:5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me,“Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

    Those are the 37 verses he gave to defend his viewpoint. I do not want to get tossed about by every wind of doctrine and I’ve steadfastly seen the bible in the same light you do, but my question is that this man does give some fairly convincing verses, yet they do not line up with so many other areas of the bible which to me are teaching about free will….so do you believe that verse such as these are more-less taken out of context to defend his own view point?

    (But please beware since even though the man was a former CEO and does know how to speak intelligently and kindly at times, he is also very passionate on this issue and even refers to people like you and me who believe in free will and who believe that Jesus taught about hell clearly as “dogs”, “carnal”, “antichrist”, “in darkness” etc. I have tried to converse with him logically and it is not the easiest thing to do. Thanks for sharing your excellent posts and God bless you richly.

    • rogereolson

      He sounds like someone I would prefer, in principle, to avoid. (I deleted his web site from your message because I don’t like to encourage people to access such people.) Simply put, those “universalist” passages have a simple explanation from an Arminian point of view. By his life, death and resurrection Jesus Christ reconciled God to the world and the world to God, but personal salvation requires personal acceptance of that reconciliation. Hell is where people who refuse to be reconciled, as God is already reconciled to them, choose to go. It is, as C. S. Lewis wrote, God’s painful refuge where the door is locked on the inside. Also, classical Arminianism teaches that Christ’s death on the cross set aside the guilt of original sin for everyone; people are therefore only guilty and condemnable for their personal rejection of God, not for their inherited sin. This is why when someone asks me if I’m a universalist I insist on knowing what they mean. Yes, of course I’m a universalist if that only means that Christ died for all and that his atoning death is for everyone. But I’m not one if it means people aren’t free to reject God’s reconciled heart of love toward them.

  • Mr. Universalist

    Some questions? If God is the giver of faith, can He not simply give faith to all, so all believe? If the death of Jesus satisfied the Wrath of God, is that Death not enough to save a sinner like Paul of Tarsus who killed Christians, or someone like Hitler who killed jews? is your definition of hell eternal concious punishment or simply the destruction that happened in 70 ad which the apostles called “the wrath of God”? Free will? what if God gives people the will (desire) to will His will? what makes God more glorious a few saved or all saved? What if God gives people the faith to believe which the Bible calls the Faith of God? Colossians 1: to reconcile All to Himself. Does All means all humanity or just some of humanity? You better have some good explanations for this questions.

    • rogereolson

      I’d “better have?” Really? Why? Because you say so. Excuse me, but this is my blog. As for answering your questions, the best I can do is suggest you read The Logic of Hell by Jerry L. Walls. Then read The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis.

  • Mark Krul

    Roger, as a former student of theology (with my humble BTH) I am trying to write up a response for a church that I belong to which is part of a little known communion of churches called the Evangelical Orthodox Church because they’ve become enamoured with a book by Mark T. Chamberlain & Thomas Allen. It seems to me that many heresies start with a persons wishful thinking outside of scripture and then bits and pieces of God’s word are framed to lend authority to that wishful thinking. After having my head spin with all the scripture references and the re-defining of word meanings, and the reliance on vagueness as a positive proof…I sat back and came to a simple obvious conclusion. The conclusion,outside of scripture was ,that if God was going to override people’s freewill in Hell, because He is merciful and loving…wouldn’t He be able to do this BEFORE the need for tormenting corrective punishment. How come universalists don’t believe that, It would make God EVEN MORE merciful . I’d love to hear what you think of my observation!

    • rogereolson

      Without reading the book it’s difficult for me to respond. But first, before attempting to respond (“shooting in the dark”), let me say that I am familiar with the Evangelical Orthodox Church although I THOUGHT it was now canonically connected to the Antiochian Orthodox Church of America. Did some remnant group remain outside canonical Orthodoxy? I knew Peter Gillquist (as an acquaintance and he spoke to my classes whenever he was in town). Now, to address your question. I assume that the book you are reading (and those who agree) believe “hell” is really a kind of purgatory and that eventually everyone will choose to leave it. Does the book say explicitly that God will override their free will and force them to repent and believe or that God will keep on trying to persuade them until they all repent and believe freely? That is what Origen and Gregory of Nyssa and probably Maximus the Confessor believed. And it is what Jurgen Moltmann believes. So, for them, “hell” is simply a bit more opportunity to repent and believe and be saved. They just think that eventually everyone will take that opportunity.

      • Mark Krul

        Hi, Roger and thank you for your helpful reply. In regards to your questions, yes, a remnant of E.O.C. churches did not go Antiochian. This has allowed them to be active in missions in Rawanda and Burundi. And yes, this rather thin poorly written book on universalism seems to advocate a type of purgatorial experience. The main red flag for me was this quote early in the book, “If human reason isn’t competent to decide for sure whether certain acts said to come from God are evil and cruel, then it is equally incompetent to decide whether other acts of His are just and merciful. What I mean is, if I can’t base my beliefs about whether God is good ,kind, just, and compassionate on my inner sense of right and wrong, then what can I base them on?” I think I already know what a Christian would say to that…I just threw it in there for you.

    • Randy Walterman

      Roger, Thank you for opening up this discussion. I am a universalist who apologizes for the stridency of some other universalists. I also see, however, that many of the responses against a universalist message betray a shallow understanding of what we really believe. This is not a casual doctrinal diversion for me. I was recently fired from an associate pastor position I held for 21 years for the heresy of believing that love wins and that hell has a purpose beyond meaningless torment. There are for me so many questions that my old orthodox belief system just could not answer. First, how can God not get what He wants? If He is willing that all be saved, what could possibly deny Him that desire? Second, isn’t all parental punishment for the purpose of changing the free will of their child to choose rightly? Parents don’t discipline their children to force their free will, but to perfect that free will to make correct, mature choices. Stubborn, rebellious children face a more painful road to obedience. Lastly, if God will not “force” anyone, then why would Paul write that every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord? Thast actually is a quote from Isaiah that goes on to say that all will also say “In the Lord I have righteousness” . At the very least a universalist understanding requires a serious response from those who believe that hell is endless and meaningless and that the Good Shepherd loses most of the sheep.

    • Randy Walterman

      Mark, universalists do not believe that God is going to override anyone’s free will. Free will is a gift from God. But do you really not believe that God has the power to bring an individual to freely choose Him? After all, how did YOU ever choose Him? When you were dead in sin, you had no ability to choose Him until you were convicted and drawn by the Spirit. Universalists just believe that what took God a period of time in YOUR life, He can accomplish in ANY life, given the extended time and the severe judgment available in the age to come.

      • rogereolson

        I think we need to make a distinction between real universalism, which affirms with certainty that all will be saved, and a univeralism of hope (von Balthasar) that hopes for universal salvation but does not think it can be affirmed with certainty.

      • lemmingspotter

        Hi Roger…I think you might want to read an article by James A. Fowler entitled “Universalism: Forms and Fallacies. In this article the many forms of universalism are briefly explained, and when it comes to the “God is Love” variety the author explains in some detail how this perverts ; theology,anthropology,hamartiology,Christology,soteriology and eschatology…whew thats’ pretty much everything I guess!!!

  • Stephen John

    There is no validity to it no matter what degree, as it’s all wishful thinking. Who dictates Truth, God or man? There is nothing to imply Universal salvation said by Christ, although it could depend on how one defines Eternity. Is it eternity in regard to how man perceives it or the Father? Did not Christ say “I never Knew you”? does he say anything about those individuals being saved at a latter time? Why would God save someone who rejects Him? Can we assume we know what happens after death rightfully and with confidence, for if so, there’s no point in being saved in the first place when we can do anything we want in this life. “For truly I tell, they’ve had their reward”. Perhaps in a ltter sense they will be saved from Eternal damnation and cease to exist altogether, this redefines being saved, it’s all relative then. But again, there is too many perhapses, maybe’s and if’s, and sounds more like men seeking being loved by men more than Respecting God.

  • Stephen John

    If I don’t think about it too much or at all, it sounds almost like a boat load of fallacy from the mouth of Satan himself. For even the Elect will be deceived. Yeah, those branches that are not of the vine will whither and die and be thrown in the fire and burned. I am the vine you are the branches. Was Jesus a liar? Sounds like a no brainer to me.

    • rogereolson

      So what if you do think about it?

  • newenglandsun

    It’s interesting, I have Evangelical family members that just don’t get that universalism is philosophically deteriorating to God’s love. They totally dig the universalist idea it seems and will claim Rob Bell as their universalist hero (despite the fact that he’s not even a universalist and gives as further references non-universalists such as C.S. Lewis!).


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