Universalism: Should Christians Say Everyone Will Be Saved?

Recently I was asked to justify using Christian sources to justify or deny the possibility of Universalism. Here is brief summary of some of my thoughts on on the topic using the language and instruments of the Christian tradition.

Christians should boldly proclaim that all human beings will ultimately be saved to be in heaven with God.
First and foremost, Christians should proclaim that humans will ultimately be saved because when the Christian God wills that something should happen, it happens. This is both the hope Christians waiting for the return and ultimate reign of Christ, and the hope of Christians who die before its arrival. This is not only the mystery of faith, but the greatest challenge of faith; namely, that when we think we know what God will do (save or damn), God answers our proposition with a question. Yet, be not mistaken, even though Barth would have one assume that God’s saving will is not discernible in the world around us or in Scripture, the character of the God who saves is unchanging.
Second, Christians can proclaim that humans will ultimately be saved because both Scripture and tradition afford this interpretation. Over the centuries, church fathers have affirmed universalism despite its lack of popularity. Scripture, the principle article of tradition, also affords readers and communities with the possibility of universalism both in its passages and its overarching narrative. After all, the dominant narrative of the God of the Hebrews, and that of the power revealed by the resurrected Christ, is one of ingathering. Specifically, a gathering which accepts in the midst of difference and comes to the rescue of those who have rejected God even in the face of a possible future rejection.
Finally, Christians should proclaim the ultimate salvation of all because the logic of eternal damnation for sins which occur on while yet on earth seems problematic. It is problematic primarily because God is love. It then follows that if God is love, then love would not seek to do harm. Furthermore, as 1 Corinthians 13 points out “love never ends”(1 Cor. 13:8). In this way, and by this eternal accountability of character in Scripture, one should assume that all will be saved by the God who ingathers and loves eternally.

What about you? Agree? Disagree?

Joshua

9 thoughts on “Universalism: Should Christians Say Everyone Will Be Saved?

  1. I tend not to agree with universalism because I don’t see the human spirit to be eternal by nature. I believe the gift of eternal life is given to some, and the others will just cease to exist when they die.

    If I did believe in the eternity if every single human soul on earth, then I would agree with universalism, for the same reasons you have pointed out.

  2. Nuno, you bring up a very interesting point.

    So would you say that you believe that some people fall out of existence all together; that is out of the collective memory of those who are living, and that others who have died materially live on so long as they are remembered? Or do you mean they just cease to exist?

    In other words, are you saying that you are an annihilationist or something different altogether?

    JC

  3. I would say I am an annihilationist. I believe that a human soul is not immortal unless it is given eternal life as a gift from God.

  4. One possibility that might protect both divine sovereignty and human agency, would be that rejection of God is a real possibility (accompanied by judgment and estrangement), but that all rejections made within our temporal limitations must be understood as rejections made by a diseased, or at least an uninformed, will. As the argument goes that no psychologically healthy person would commit suicide, no spiritually healthy person would choose separation from the God of creation. Thus, when all creatures are made whole, they will turn to God. This protects the idea of freedom of the will, acknowledges God’s universal love and redemption, and can provide much-needed pastoral care. It does carry the risk of implying that what is done within this time and place does not matter, but that is mitigated by the fact that human beings seek both health and knowledge. If union with God is what the healthy soul desires when it comes to know God, then human beings can be inspired to seek that health even within the constraints of time and space.

    (Way to put those reading responses to use!)

  5. saw this on ben’s blog; i would say univeralism is pretty popular now. we want there to be no judgment or damnation. but i wonder how much of this desire can be attributed to being part of the privileged white, western world. there’s no real longing for justice because we are not oppressed here. but for the persecuted church in the 2/3 world, who see the face of evil, i think the thought of universal salvation might make them throw up a little bit in the mouth.

  6. First, let me say, Joshua, that I think it’s a riot that you found a use for one of those weekly assignments from systematics!
    Second, but not unrelated, this was the week of IAM’s class in which I pretty much parted company with the curriculum, and eventually with systematics altogether. For the record, my yes or no answer to “Will all persons eventually be saved?” was no — which totally threw the prof. He didn’t follow my reasoning, which I thought was pretty plain.
    Not every person needs to be saved. Many do; I did… not like he means it, or like Christians mean it; not from eternal damnation or annihilation, and not to reward or eternal life with God. In that sense, I don’t think anyone needs it. But I once was lost and now am found. Many people, even most of my immediate family, never had that experience.
    How odd it is, that the non-Christian can testify personally, first-hand, to the truth of resurrection. During our class discussion on atonement and justification, I learned that I was the only one in my small group who had actually had a conversion experience.
    I am not addressing the question at hand, because I am unable; it is based on premises that we do not share. I have watched with wonder as the mainstream church moves steadily toward an unspoken universalism, and I have heard several renowned Candler profs admit to it privately. Ultimately, though, both words in the tag ‘Unitarian Universalist’ mean something substantially different in our camp from what they do in yours. I’d love to say more… We’ll have to finally have that coffee 🙂

  7. Danny-

    Interesting point that you made. (It was a while ago now.) I think its worth revisiting.

    I’m not sure that it follows that because one is privileged that one would imagine an even more than compassionate kind of eternality than others. I mean, didn’t even Jesus say “love your enemies”? And what about the writings of Paul, they seem pretty egalitarian and inclusive to me. Neither of them were all that privileged, right?

    Furthermore, I would argue that the majority of the people I know who wholeheartedly reject the possibility of universalism (your are right Lynn, the tag shouldn’t have included ‘unitarian’) tend to see themselves as a minority voice. You know, a voice that is being oppressed or frowned upon by consumer culture or threatened by emerging theo-political dynamics.

    So, while I am willing to say that yes, differences between Christians in the two contexts you mention are real, on principle, I wonder if the dynamics that really matter are the ones shaped by something that Lynn mentions; namely, what are people in need of salvation from (literally)? The answer to that question ought to be one of the guiding moral and ethical sources of inspiration for Christians in every context.

    Lynn-
    Thanks for your call on the use of Unitarian (as not the only kind of universalism). In fact, I was reminded again the other day about a book called “The Evangelical Universalist” (http://evangelicaluniversalist.blogspot.com/_ Pretty good read that I recommend to all of my friends who want to say that Universalism is simply a Biblical impossibility. The author quite simply shows this not to be the case.

    Thanks again for the banter. This is a conversation that continues to embattle and enliven much conversation throughout the world, even as we speak.

    Joshua

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