Is it universalism?

Some people misunderstand Trinitarian theology and assign to it the label of “universalism.” But this is not accurate, for this theology upholds what Scripture says, namely, that though God, in Christ, has reconciled all humans to himself, he will never force any person to embrace that reconciliation. To do so would remove from them an important God-given gift, namely their freedom to choose (and thus to say “no” to God’s “YES” to them in Jesus).

God wants sons and daughters, not zombies who lack the freedom to think and to choose without coercion to love their heavenly Father.

Trinitarian theologian T. F. Torrance is on record for rejecting universalism because he sees in Scripture that, in the end, some people will believe while others will not. We can’t fully explain why this is; but neither can we fully explain the presence of evil in a world under God’s sovereign control (see An Introduction to Torrance Theology, by Elmer Colyer, p.54).


Thom Friedrich said…
I have had conversations with Christian friends who lean toward a Calvinistic understanding of salvation who have basically said that, because of predestination, some have no choice but to accept the salvation God grants them. They don't word it quite like that, but this is basically what they believe. After all, they say, God knows what choices we will make, so he knows who will choose it and who will not. To those who will not choose it, salvation is not even an option. Of course, this flies in the face of a Trinitarian understanding of salvation, which tells us that salvation is freely offered to all.

I, for one, take great delight in telling people that God's gift of salvation sits before them waiting to be unwrapped so that the grace it brings may shine into and through their lives. Praise God!
Ted Johnston said…
Calvinism and Universalism share a common flaw - they both discount the truth that God has given to each human real freedom. And that freedom includes the ability (and possibility) of saying either "yes" or "no" to God's "Yes" to them in Christ.

Universalism denies this freedom by saying that all are (or will be) saved, no matter what.

Calvinism denies this freedom by saying that all the elect (and only the elect) will be saved, no matter what. And all the non-elect (the damned) will be damned, no matter what.

Both Calvinism and Universalism diminish the stunning truth that God, in Christ, has included us all in a real relationship with him - a relationship that includes the exercise of our real (God-given) freedom.

What God seeks is our love. And love can never be coerced. God wants our hearts, not our mere presence with him in some sort of Zombie-like fashion.

Thus God, himself, precludes the idea of Universalism and it's counterpart, Calvinism.
Pastor Paul said…
Salvation, redemption, reconciliation, adoption and inclusion into the life of God are not left up to humans to choose. These are not conditional based upon mans acceptance or belief.

These are announcements of what God wanted to do, did, does, and will do in Jesus Christ. Salvation is a DECLARATION for all, not a reward for doing anything. It is true for all.

The ONLY thing that makes this all a personal reality for EVERY human being is to BELIEVE it and thereby live in it now and forever.

Apparently, some will not and continue to live in "hell" which theoretically could last forever.

Since Universal Reconciliation is a reality for ALL humans, hopefully all will come to see it and believe it in time.

Paul Kurts
Madison, AL
Anonymous said…
Thanks Ted for pointing out the common flaw of both Calvinism and Universalism. Your words are very helpful to me in this matter.


J. Richard Parker
Ted Johnston said…
Hi Paul,

I agree in large part with your summation. The only thing I'd add is a word of caution concerning characterizing salvation with the word "declaration." I see a potential danger here of truncating the biblical idea of salvation and thus losing its fullness as what it is, namely a *relationship* rather than a mere event or declaration.

I know you are not intending a truncation, but are (admirably) seeking to uphold the truth that salvation is in Jesus alone, through God's grace alone. Indeed, this truth must be carefully upheld.

As you note (and I fully agree), all humanity, quite apart from any works or personal merit of its own has been "adopted" and thus made to be God's dearly loved children.

All (without exception) are included, accepted, reconciled, forgiven and loved. And in that sense, all are saved. And all this is of grace alone in Christ alone.

But these children of God are, in the Spirit's sovereign timing for each one, bid and enabled to hear and then invited to accept, and in accepting personally and actively participate, in their true identity in Christ.

This acceptance and active personal participation involves biblical repentance, faith and commitment to pick up one's cross and follow Jesus as his disciple.

This personal action is not the *cause* of salvation, but it does make this salvation both personal and in that sense *personally realized.*

And even this is God's gift to the person, though not one that is forced on them. Indeed, God will never force acceptance on anyone. Indeed, Scripture indicates that some will refuse, and in that sense, not experience the benefit of the salvation that is theirs in Christ.

With this in mind, Capon speaks of the citizens of hell, like the citizens of heaven, as being forgiven sinners. Both have have been forgiven because of Jesus' work and God's declaration on their behalf. But the citizens of hell refuse to accept what has been offered, namely a loving and reciprocal relationship with God. This refusal places them in that "place" (condition) of alienation from God known in its ultimate sense as *hell.*

That some would refuse, is, I suppose, the ultimate tragic irony - they are intentionally refusing what is their actual and true identify as a dearly loved child of God.

Why would God not force a person's acceptance? Certainly he could, but he will not because he seeks a relationship of mutual love, not a relationship that is forced or coerced and thus no relationship at all.

In this way, a Trinitarian, Christ-centered Theology upholds both God's sovereignty and human freedom/choice in its view of salvation, which, in its ultimate sense, is an on-going relationship of mutual love between God and his children.
Pastor Paul said…
Thanks, Ted, your comments are right on and I appreciate your broader view.

I may not be able to always express it as well as I should, but It is GOOD and I like it!