Will all be saved?

[Updated 8/27/2019]

Do Grace Communion Seminary and Grace Communion International (sponsors of this blog) teach a doctrine of universalism? The answer is no---both are in agreement with the teaching on this topic from Trinitarian theologian Thomas F. (TF) Torrance who notes that, "Whether all men will as a matter of fact be saved or not, in the nature of the case, cannot be known" (Scottish Journal of Theology 2 [1949] 310-18, quoted in In the End, God, by John A.T. Robinson, Wipf and Stock: 2011, p. 148). Torrance offers two reasons for this assertion: 1) The irrational mystery of evil. 2) The truth that God gives each person the freedom to say "no" to him---potentially forever. Both reasons must be seen in the light of the deeper truth of God's election, which, in Torrance's view 
TF Torrance
expresses the universal action of God's grace in such a way that, far from dissolving the personal elements of choice and decision, it establishes them. Election means nothing more and nothing less than the complete action of God's eternal love, that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life." It is the eternal decision of God who will not be without us entering time as grace, choosing us and appropriating us for himself, and who will not let us go. Election is the love of God enacted and inserted into history in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so that in the strictest sense Jesus Christ is the election of God...
The great fact of the gospel then is this: that God has actually chosen us in Jesus Christ in spite of our sin, and that in the death of Christ that election has become a fait accompli [accomplished fact]. It means too that God has chosen all men, in as much as Christ died for all men, and because that is once and for all no one can ever elude the election of his love....Every man's being is bound up for ever with the one and indivisible act of God's love in Jesus Christ (Robinson, pp.148-150).
This is true for all people - whether they accept their inclusion (election) in Christ, or reject it. Thus people in heaven are included, as are people in hell. What then is the difference? Those in heaven embrace their inclusion, while those in hell reject it.

But how could a person who is included in God's life (which means that they are accepted, forgiven and loved), reject that life, and thus consign themselves to hell? Again, Torrance cites both human freedom and the irrational nature of evil (the "mystery of iniquity"). As he notes, "to choose our own way [in rejecting God] and yet in that choice still be chosen by God would be hell" (Robinson, p151). Reflecting on this irrational, inexplicable reality of hell, Torrance wonders...
Can we imagine anything more appalling than that a man should use the very power that God gives him to choose...should choose to depart from God, and yet be unable to depart, because in spite of all he is still grasped by God in an act of eternal love that will not let him go? The choice by God's love - once and for all enacted in the cross of Jesus  - holds that man in being in spite of the fact that he chooses the very contradiction of love and life and being... Love will not let him go. Even when a man has made his bed in hell God's hand of love will continue to grasp him there. To choose finally and forever - unfathomable mystery of iniquity - to say "No" to Jesus is to be held in a hell of one's own choosing and making. It is not God who makes hell, for hell is the contradiction of all that is of God (Robinson, p.151). 
And so, for Torrance, hell is a real possibility, and that possibility cancels out any doctrine of universalism.


jLogrono said…
A simple statement... "...God so loved the world..." and yet the ardent, determined, unstoppable, unbending, single-minded, unbending love of God is almost beyond comprehension. To Him be the glory for allowing some child-like minds to understand!!!
Ted Johnston said…
There is a related video of a PBS program at http://video.pbs.org/video/2047528824#
Anonymous said…
I think Hell is good news, as are all aspects of the gospel. It's the good news that God is not the Borg, will not force us to become something we're not, to believe something we don't want to believe, to love Someone we don't want to love. Hell is not God's revenge on those who don't believe; it's the condition of not believing.

I look forward to the discussion of Hell having a redemptive purpose. Fascinating subject!
Ted Johnston said…
One of our readers sent me the following comment concerning the topic of hell:

Christian History magazine recently published a special issue titled "THE HISTORY OF HELL: A BRIEF SURVEY AND RESOURCE GUIDE. The work is well planned, researched and produced, and it is substantial, balanced and clear.

The issue opens with boxed descriptions of the three most common views of hell among Christians, distinguishing the various elements of each without greatly favoring or disfavoring any.

Next comes a brief history of the doctrine of hell, beginning with the first generation of writers following the apostolic fathers and moving through the centuries with brief summaries related to important spokespersons.

The second part lists and briefly describes major books on the topic, with emphasis on recent publications, including "The Fire That Consumes" and "Two Views of Hell."

The writers say, concerning "The Fire that Consumes":

"A widely praised and influential book arguing that the traditional view of hell as eternal conscious torment is unbiblical; and defending the conditionalist view."

It is a formidable job to produce a resource on a topic with such emotional content, a topic already defined by an enormous body of literature. It is even more difficult to do so accurately while working under a time deadline. Yet this is what the diligent folks at Christian History have done. And, while the magazine issue is not perfect, we owe its creators a major debt of gratitude. For a pdf file containing the entire magazine issue, go to http://go.netatlantic.com/t/25058226/72635011/209785/0/
solasis said…
I'm a little shocked by the seemed acceptance as mainstream of Rob Bell's book. Although rejecting the accusation from many that he is a universalist, the old saying that if he walks like a duck and talks like a duck, then he IS a duck! The idea that hell is reversible is heresy according to scripture and the idea that all will be saved is likewise heresy. You must ignore end time scriptural prophesy. This is akin to some saying that Judas was saved and that he killed himself because he was guilt-ridden. None of the gospel writers attribute repentance to him, on the contrary, Jesus said he was of his father the devil. Brannon Howse, Dave Hunt, and many other Christian "watchtowers" have written extensively on Rob's apostate teachings and beliefs. I would recommend taking the time to investigate this further than drinking the koolaid Rob Bell is serving.
Ted Johnston said…
I do think there is good reason to be cautious in accepting any one person's teaching (including Rob Bell's).

Because Rob has not written a careful, systematic defense of the positions he only hints at in "Love Wins", it's hard to say what one would agree or disagree with.

That being said, he does hint at certain positions that have a long history in Christian thought. At times, some of those ideas might have been labeled "heresy" while at other times they might have been accepted as orthodox.

What I urge is that acceptance or rejection of any specific doctrinal position be based on a careful analysis of the biblical data, and a good understanding of the historic, orthodox teaching of the Christian church on that particular doctrine.

Frankly, some popular positions espoused by contemporary Christian teachers are out of step with what has been taught historically.

So let's keep the conversation going, and do so with respect, avoiding unhelpful labels.
Anonymous said…

I have read a good book written by Mr. Bell, and found his ideas in the video above, to be well-focused on the heart of why we bother with the search for God. Some will cringe at this first sentance, but each one of us must struggle with our understanding of reality. What is truth? Be very careful of who you assume to be firmly on the narrow path.

I believe that God has been leading me into a deeper understanding of who he is throughout my life. I grew up in the WWCG, accepted the changes to our doctrines, and left to join a local Evangelical church. However, discontent grew in my mind, as I began to see fear as the grounds for anyone staying the course. Since I'd continued to read the GCI publications, I continued to find hope that God, and his message to humanity, are indeed 'good news'. Recently, I have begun to attend the nearest GCI congregation. Unfortunately, this has ended poorly. Last Sunday we had to listen to a recorded message about how Trinitarian theology is nothing special, and "The Shack" is the doctrine of demons.

Well, God isn't going to force anyone to believe anything, but I think we all need to step back and take a good look at what we have been made to believe. I had to struggle with the fear of casting aside my fear of God. It may be the beginning of wisdom, but it won't empower you to obey him. You must be able to love him.

God asks us to forgive our brother seventy times seven, and to love our enemies. How could he not live up to his own standards? Wouldn't a loving God avoid a situation where billions of hapless souls would end up having to be tortured for eternity? If our beliefs don't square with logic, couldn't there be something wrong with them?

A note of warning: If you're going to follow your search for truth, be prepared to go it alone more than once. What is truth worth to you? You may lose your friends, you may lose your church, but you may gain a hope, a real friend who is worth so much more.
Ted Johnston said…
Dear anonymous,

I'm sorry you had a bad experience with a GCI congregation.

Trinitarian theology is a big deal for GCI as a denomination because it effectively and accurately points us to our triune God, who IS a very BIG deal.

Also, we do not consider The Shack to convey doctrines of demons. We view it as an *allegory* that helpfully points us to the reality of our triune God who includes all humanity in his love and life (he meets us all at our "shack").

If you'd like to contact me personally, I'd be happy to assist you in any way I can. My email address is ted.johnston@gci.org

Len Joson said…
Hello Ted,

Can you please discuss the last paragraph on "Can people get out of hell?" I'm interested to know more. Thanks.
Anonymous said…
From Sellappan (GCI, Malaysia)

Just some thoughts on hell:

1) Incarnation includes ALL people. All are dead and raised in Christ. Those in hell are spiritually dead, not physically.

2) God's love never ends (1 Cor 13). It pursues even to those in hell. There is no 'times up' or 'dead line' in God's judgement. They can still change their mind about God and themselves and get out of hell! Living in hell longer is just unnecessary suffering.

3) The cities of refuge mentioned in (Exo 21, Num 35, Deu 19)is like hell. Once the High Priest dies, the manslayer can return to freedom. So when a sinner in hell realizes that Jesus had died for him, he can move from hell to heaven. (But he can choose to remain in hell if he wants to.)

4) Only human beings (especially the religious ones) put a limit on God's love and grace. That is heresy!

Growing in grace...
Michael Assured said…
For many years, as a former member of WCG, I believed that the wicked (those who did not trust in Christ) would become like ashes under the feet of the righteous.
Does GCI hold that, or a similar, view now?
Does Trinitarian Incarnational Theology allow for an annihilationist perspective?
Ted Johnston said…
Here is the relevant section from GCI's statement of beliefs: "God judges all humans through Jesus Christ as those who belong to God through him. Therefore, all humans are, in spite of themselves, loved, forgiven, and included in Jesus Christ, who is their Lord and Savior. God’s love will never cease or diminish even for those who, denying the reality of who they are in him, refuse his love and consign themselves to hell; they will not enjoy the fruit of his salvation but rather will experience his love as wrath. God disciplines those he loves so that they will return to him and live; he stands at the door and knocks, urging them to open the door to his everlasting love. God’s judgment in Christ means the ultimate end of evil and the renewal of the earth and all creation." Thought this statement does not explicitly address it, it implies that God's plan is not to annihilate those in hell. That being said, this question gets into the realm of speculation, for Scripture is not explicit as to the details of existence in hell, the new heaven/earth and the intermediate state. Therefore, GCI does not have specific, detailed positions concerning such details.
Michael Assured said…
Hi Ted,
Thanks for your very quick (same day) response to my question of 12/12/2011. I was very pleasantly surprised.

With regards to your response: If I omit the quote from GCI's Statement of Beliefs (without disregarding it), I understand you to be saying that the statement "implies that God's plan is not to annihilate those in hell."

In light of that implication, I have two questions:

1. What, then, do you understand the PURPOSE of hell to be?

2. Assuming that hell is not a place, do you understand hell to be a state or condition that will last forever?
Ted Johnston said…
As noted earlier, GCI does not have a "thus saith the Lord" position on this question, because like many such issues involving the future (eschatology) we have very little detail given us in Scripture. Most of what is said about the future is simply given in order to cause us to trust in the God, who secures the future; not to know the details.

Those who embrace the idea of annihilationism are trusting God to be merciful to people who reject his salvation, in order that they not suffer for eternity.

Those who believe that God has, in Christ, granted all humans immortality, trust God to still deal with people who reject him (and thus are in hell) with the same concern and care he extended them on the cross. How will that concern and care play out over time? We are not given to know. However, we can trust God to be always who he is - a God of love and grace who deeply loves his children, including those who are rejecting him. Is it possible that hell would have a redemptive value in the lives of these rebellious children? Perhaps. In that regard, it is intriguing to note Revelation 22:12-17 where the gates in to the city (representing being with God in a new heaven and new earth) remain open to those who are outside the city (representing hell).

Again, we can't speak with specificity and certainty about these matters. However, we can trust God!
Michael Assured said…
Hi Ted,

I am beginning to believe more and more that ALL will be saved because I believe God is both all-loving and all-powerful. In other words, I believe that:
1) because God is all-loving, He desires (some say wills) that ALL people be saved and
2) because God is all-powerful, He is able to save ALL people.
Hence my belief that God will save ALL people.

Because, as you say (and I agree), we can't speak with specificity and certainty about matters of eschatology, I am quite prepared to be just a hopeful universalist.

Having said that, however, I should like to give ask another question after I make a brief statement of belief.

Although I strongly reject the idea of a limited atonement, I agree with the Calvinist doctrine of "total depravity".

As a result, I do not believe that anyone can trust in Christ UNLESS AND UNTIL God gives him/her the faith to do so. I believe that also applies to the "rebellious" people who end up in hell.

So here's MY CONCLUSION: Given that God knows that no one can accept/receive Christ unless He (God) enables that person to do so (John 6:44) ... and given that the faith to trust in Christ is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9) ... isn't it reasonable to believe that God will eventually give that faith to ALL persons WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT FOR EACH(1 Corinthians 15:23), thereby proving that Jesus Christ is indeed the Saviour of the whole world (including those who consign themselves to hell)??

Long question, I know, but I trust you see my point.
Ted Johnston said…
Dear mykalmit,

I appreciate your reasoning here. I certainly agree that the faith to believe is a gift to us from God. Indeed, it is the faith of Jesus that we are given to share in through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, it is our understanding that the Holy Spirit will at some point, grant this gift (through enlightenment) to each human being. When and how, we are not given to know. However, we do know that we (the church) is called to co-minister with the Spirit in reaching out to people to share with them the truth of the gospel and to invite them to believe.

About the only thing I might quibble with in your presentation, is to note that God enabling our belief is not the same thing as our believing. In other words, God gives a gift of understanding, but he does not force anyone to accept what they have come to understand. Thus we do not accept the idea of universal salvation (and indeed, Scripture seems to suggest that some will never believe - though again my words of caution about eschatology).

I'm now entering into the realm of speculation, but it seems (and as noted before, Scripture seems to hint at the possibility) that some people in hell, might change their minds (repent) and decide to embrace what they formally understood, yet rejected. I'm hopeful that some (many? all?) will, but I have no way to know, because God leaves that an open question. He does so because love never coerces, it only invites. And thus the possibility that some might use their God-given freedom to reject God's love eternally.
Michael Assured said…
Hi Ted,

Thanks for your quick response (which I am coming to expect ... and really appreciate).

As far as your response is concerned, I realize that it is very hard to discuss a topic like this without drifting into areas of speculation because God has not given us a lot of specifics. I realize, however, that while we look through a glass dimly, for now, there is coming a time when all will be revealed. Until then, I continue to hope ... and in the meantime I shall continue to enjoy blogs like this one.

Thanks again for your help.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

F Y I :
You know me by my Google name, mykalmit, but my given name is Michael Mitchell and as I said in my first post, I am a former member of WCG. What I did not say, however, is that I am also a graduate of AC (class of '86) and a former pastor of WCG (at one time pastoring four congregations here in Jamaica, where I still reside).

I stopped attending WCG in 2000, not because of the changes or the new understanding and teaching, but because of church politics.

At the time, I never thought I would ever attend a church service with WCG members again. However, when I heard that Joe Tkach and Mike Feazell were coming to Jamaica for a convention, I felt I should attend. To cut a long story short, I attended the convention for 3 of the 4 days ... and I am glad I did.

Not only was I able to hear, firsthand, messages by Joe Tkach and Mike Feazell, but I was able to meet with both of them, as well as Greg Williams. Indeed, it was as a result of a chat that I had with Greg at lunch, that I decided to search the GCI website more closely. I was actually looking for some camp material on the GenMin site when I came across this blog.

One reason I found it easy to attend was that even though I have not been attending at WCG, I never really left WCG. I have visited the WCG website often over the past years and I have benefited greatly. Many of GCI's ministries (like GenMin, CMM, MinDev, etc.), its media productions (like Speaking of Life and You're Included), as well as many of its articles, have been very helpful to me as I have been on my own personal odyssey.

I am saying all this because I have been impressed by what I see happening in the GCI fellowship and, even though I have not been a part of it, I continue to be excited by the transformation and am proud to have been associated with that church (even if I have had some problems with some persons ... and they with me).

In closing, let me say that I have been very impressed by this Surprising God blog and the Trinitarian Worship blog, as well as the GenMin website. In fact, I have been so impressed by this Surprising God blog that I bookmarked it as one of my favourite sites. So don't be surprised if you hear from me from time to time.

Until then, take care ... and keep up the good work.

Michael M
Anonymous said…
Even those of us who believe do not know the unlimited extent of the power and will of God. It helps so much, as with Thomas to be totally openminded especially about things we are unaware of or could not think about.
We are immensly limited in our human limitations to understand everything that God is, nor shall we know until resurrection.
Why then should we or do we seek to use our limited human understanding to decipher all the things that God is. Is it all necessary?
Rejoice in the fact that simplicity of faith is the only hurdle to jump, after all its a tiny hurdle.

(Apologies, I have'nt figured out how to register my name here yet..Will do so as soon as. Will be bizarebazaar or similar :-) Tom)
Michael Assured said…
Hi Ted,

Although I think I have already embraced the concept of universal reconciliation, as contained in Trinitarian Theology, I am still trying to wrap my mind around the implications of the reconciliation that comes as a result of being included in Christ at the time of His death.

If I am to accurately explain this Theology to others, I need to get some answers to a few questions.

Before I ask the questions, however, let me frame them by saying that ... I believe I have already been reconciled to God ... I believe I have been justified by God ... and I believe I have been saved by God. I believe all these because I believe in atoning power of Jesus Christ's sacrifice.

So here are my questions, which are really part of one lager question:
Given that I was reconciled to God at the time Jesus Christ died ...
a) Was I also saved at that same time?
b) Was I justified at that same time?
c) When was I born again?
d) When did I receive the Holy Spirit and spiritual gift(s)?

I ask these questions, NOT as one of the "all" that Christ died for, BUT as one who is "trusting in" Christ alone for salvation.

As always, your help will be greatly appreciated.

Michael M
Ted Johnston said…
Hi Michael,
Thanks for your important and thought-provoking questions. I'll give a brief answer to each - embedded in a quote from your post (my responses are preceded by asterisks.

Given that I was reconciled to God at the time Jesus Christ died ...
a) Was I also saved at that same time?

**Paul speaks of salvation as a past, present and future event. This is a reminder that salvation is more than a mere transaction, but an enduring relationship. We are saved by and in Christ. And so we can say that Christ saved us in his death and resurrection (past), he saved us when we became aware of and embraced what he had done and who he is for us (present) and he will save us (to the uttermost) in the consummation of all things which will mean our glorification (future). Because salvation is about a relationship, it is something that grows - but as it does, the work is that of Jesus for us and in us. It's all of Christ (and his grace) but includes all of us.

b) Was I justified at that same time?

* The Bible uses various metaphors (including justification) to speak or our salvation. I find these various aspects of salvation to be like the many facets of a beautiful gem - to see and appreciate the gem, we must see each facet; and no facet tells the whole story. Like salvation (of which it is a facet) justification has past, present and future aspects. By being in Christ, we are "accepted in the beloved" - we share in his standing with the Father. Scripture often focuses the way we embrace (receive) this justification which is our in Christ, when we come to believe. But our belief is not what justifies us - that is what Jesus has done, being who he is (our representative and substitute).

c) When was I born again?
*Same basic answer here. In one sense, we were born again when Jesus rose from the dead (in his resurrection, humanity was reborn). In another sense, I was reborn when I first saw Jesus for who he is - the Spirit opened my eyes to see who I am in Christ and all things became new. And in another sense, the fullness of my new birth (now hidden in Christ) will be revealed at the resurrection.

d) When did I receive the Holy Spirit and spiritual gift(s)?

* Jesus, in his humanity, as our representative was full of the Spirit from conception and then gifted by the Spirit for ministry from his baptism forward. The Spirit was then poured out on all flesh at Pentecost. As the Spirit then opens our eyes to see (one person at a time in his good timing) we are filled with the Spirit in a fresh way and the Spirit grants to those who believe certain gifts that we might share in particular ways in the ongoing ministry of Jesus.

*As you see, my answers to each question follow a similar thread, for indeed all the issues you raise pertain to what has happened, what is happening and what will happen to all humanity in and through Jesus, the God-man who is our salvation. All are included in Jesus' work (for his work is for all). But those who through the power of the Spirit believe (trust in this Jesus), receive his work on behalf of all in a particular, personal way, and are empowered by the Spirit to join with Jesus in what he is doing to help all people everywhere receive and thus personally experience the salvation he is for them.
Unknown said…
If God is "all loving" how can He write "Jacob I loved, Esau I hated"? God "is" Love, right? Does love possess hate? It seems to be a paradox, because God, being Love, can't include hate, that is, how could He "love" hate? It would be against His nature. Yet His word says that what comes from the mouth comes from the heart. So, is then hate in God's heart, since He spoke "Esau I hated?" This one really hurts my head, so if anyone can help sort it out I thank you.
Ted Johnston said…
In Romans 9:13, Paul is quoting Malachi 1:2-3 which uses the Hebrew idiom "hate" meaning "loves less" not "despises" or some other meaning as we would understand "hate" in our current usage. Moreover, Paul is speaking in this section of Romans not about how God views individual people but how he views nations--Jacob here is a reference to Israel and Esau to the Edomites. This has to do with how God called and worked with nations, it is not about his view toward individual people.
SteveO said…
Dear Anonymous,

You said, "A note of warning: If you're going to follow your search for truth, be prepared to go it alone more than once." Oh man! That was like a dagger to my heart. I'm still reeling.

I've gone down that path. As an AC alumni I've been transformed from "Joe Ambassador of Armstrongism" to a full fledged New Covenant and "mostly orthodox" Christian. ;-) While I have a wonderful family and church family, there have been many times when I have felt alone because others didn't care about the truths that mattered to me.

I read "The Shack" before it became famous and had some great dialog with the author and his staff as they shared the history of how the book came to be. I got "Love Wins" on the day it was released and observed the adverse reaction of those more interested in defending their man made denominational borders than they were in being fair minded towards sincere truth seekers. I applaud the courage of GCI in its transformation, I only wish others in the "mainstream" were so brave.

At first I thought the GCI stance on "Love Wins" was less than brave, understandable given that the path to orthodoxy was so hard fought. But now I see the wisdom of it. I appreciate the ethic that one should not be so dogmatic about things where Scripture leaves room-- and hope! I really like the thought behind the phrase, "Incarnational Trinitarian Theology." After a long absence from GCI I just stumbled across this web page today. (And it was really good to see the video explanation from brother Joe.)

To corroborate your statement, here's a brief word about my experience with the lonely path. I was ordained an elder in WCG after the "changes" but before the GCI name change. Then I moved to far away lands void of a local GCI presence so I found a very small nondenominational Bible church family, and weirdly enough, they also ordained me as an elder. I suspect this may have been the Lord's plan for me all along, I'm still exploring this frontier thinking the Lord would like to extend the courageous spirit of GCI throughout the greater Body. I hesitate to throw out that "elder" title, the most important and meaningful title to me is "brother." Be that as it may, along with that other title comes the occasional opportunity to humbly teach before the congregation.

I truly weep for those tormented by the doctrine of eternal torment at the hands of a vengeful, unloving God bent on destruction. The Cosmic Cook, the Terminator who never terminates his torture is unfathomable. Some of those I weep for are in my own church family. Some are very close friends and brethren in the greater Body. And some actually like the doctrine where others get what's coming to them. Sigh...

While I take liberty in my teaching, and I'm known to push the edge with good spirited provocation, I confess that I too have exercised discretion. This type of transformation rarely comes all at once, I know because I lived it. So I try to be a light within the church, I try to be a voice of hope and encouragement, I lift my brothers and sisters up to the Holy Spirit knowing His gentle voice which comes along side is so much more effective than my voice in their face. Alas, He is also much more patient than I, so I'm in this lonely existence where some of my closest brothers in sisters are out there in cyberspace, (friends like you Brother Anonymous), good folks whom I've never actually met face to face. While I look forward to the day when I will finally find that close friend and brother in my neighborhood who thinks like me, I focus on my Elder, my Friend, and my Brother Jesus, and I try to think like Him. In the meantime there is one thing about which I can be very dogmatic...


-Steve Orr
Unknown said…
Hell is final... When you are tossed into the lake of fire, that is it... Hell is FOREVER!!!!
Unknown said…
Ted, I realize this entry is years old! I'm working my way through (on can never say just READ with this kind of work) Torrance's "The Mediation of Christ". Just wanted to let you know that this entry helped me understand him better. Thanks!
Ted Johnston said…
Glad to be of help Joshua!