Note – I wrote this originally back in 2011. Some may take offence at the usage of ‘suicide’ in the title, but I stand by that word choice. You can see my engagement with issues of suicide in the ethical sense by clicking on the relevant tag at the bottom of this post.
I believe a universalistic approach to Christianity is flawed. By this, I mean a Christianity that teaches implicitly or explicitly that ever person is saved, however that ‘saved’ is understood. For a myriad of reasons. Biblical, Jesus-centred, rational, historical, traditional and so on. But one thing represents above all else the problem (or, if you prefer different language, the threat) of Universalism, is that it potentially represents the suicide of Christian theology.
Think about it.
Just for a moment.
Christianity, whether you like it or not, is a bit like entering a marvellous library, where the truth is both obvious and hidden, simple and legion, and hundreds of people study all day long to learn it. It is found in relationship yet deepened through commitment. It is not enough to say ‘God is Love’, or ‘God is Holy’, or ‘God is Just’, or ‘God is Sovereign’ – all of these are true, because they all describe but part of the magnificence of God.
Universalism, then, is a doctrine, which if held and believed by the church in its fullness (and whilst it has been present throughout Church History, it is unfair to say that it has been part of orthodoxy, or even that it has been seen as valid), threatens the very vitality of the church. If we accept universalism (simply put, the notion that everyone is saved by Jesus, or just generally that everyone is saved) – then everything else – doctrine, missions, morals etc – are effectively pointless.
For if everyone is saved, what is the point of mission? Why should we bother to go out into the world and preach the good news to everyone – if the good news is reduced to ‘what happens anyway’? Mission started the Church, mission sustains the church, for the Church is a missionary organisation. Without mission, we must ignore many of Jesus’ direct commands, the witness of the apostles, and humbly condemn as pointless the endeavors of countless saints throughout the years all over the world.
For if everyone is saved, what is the point of theology and doctrine? Of expounding doctrines of sin and Grace, the character of God, of mining the scriptures to see what God would have us do? Doctrines that pertain to an exclusivist Christianity, indeed doctrines pertaining to the person and work of Christ – are pointless. Which ultimately means throwing out Christianity. Which may well be what you would want to do. But Jesus loves the Church, he died for it, the Church is his Bride. So if you Love Jesus, then, in some way, you have to love the Church. And the stones that build it. The Doctrines that define and sustain it.
For if everyone is saved, what is the point of morals? We read in Romans that now we are saved then we must surely aim not to sin, to start on a life of sanctification. And, in my own experience (generally speaking), those holding to a universalistic or pluralistic version of Christianity seem rather happier to allow sin in their own lives and the lives of others. It is far easier to do things when there are no eternal consequences, rather than allow Jesus to wash away your sins, cleansing you, and then walking with you by the power of the Holy Spirit as you seek to become like him. Morals are pointless if everyone is saved.
Finally, and this may come across as contradictory, Universalism denies free will. As a Calvinist, I believe God knows who is saved and who is not, I am still in the process of working out to what extent he is active in this. I err towards God graciously and lovingly saving many. But I believe that the Bible makes it clear not all are saved. And that our choices in this lifetime are of incredible importance. A good friend of mine once said ‘Hell is a perfectly legitimate choice and result of human free will’. From the Christian perspective that ‘free will’ is important or real, I agree. If all are saved – what about those who do not want to be? We cannot know the future, by and large (in this case we cannot know the future decisions of anyone), and so it is arrogant to ignore Jesus’ own words about consistency, letting yeses be yeses and so on.
I love the Church. I love Jesus. I love God’s word the Bible. I love my Heavenly Father. I love – gratefully – the chance to live in the power of the Holy Spirit. But universalism is a real threat.
Just think about it.
More recently (I’ve not change the substance of the above post!) I’ve reviewed a few books that attempt to make a Christian case for universalism, and related issues.
- David Bentley Hart, That All Shall be Saved.