Does GCI teach universalism?

Grace Communion International (GCI) teaches that God, in and through Jesus Christ, has reconciled all people to himself---forgiving them and including them in his love and life. Is this a doctrine of universalism? Dr. Gary Deddo, President of Grace Communion Seminary, answers below.

Rembrandt's "Return of the Prodigal Son" (public domain)

It's about a personal relationship!

To understand how and why GCI's doctrine of salvation is not universalism, it's important to note that GCI views salvation as involving a personal relationship between two subjects--God and humans. Though both subjects must be accounted for, the primary one (and the source of the saving relationship) is the triune God who acts toward humans on the basis of grace. This understanding aligns with many passages of Scripture, including these: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16, ESV); “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19, ESV); "[Jesus Christ is] the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, ESV); “[The Father] has made [Jesus] Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36, ESV); "[Jesus] died for all” (2 Cor. 5:15); "[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). 

The objective aspect of salvation

As noted above, the Bible declares Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of all humanity. It also declares that God, being forgiving, has reconciled all humanity to himself in and through Jesus who is the “one mediator” between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5). Some theologians refer to these astounding all-encompassing truths as pertaining to the objective aspect of salvation---a reality that has been determined already, in Christ, from the side of God. Understanding this aspect of salvation involves understanding who the triune God is and what God, by grace, has already done for all people---those God created according to his image. This objective, real truth is where GCI's doctrine of salvation begins.

The subjective aspect of salvation

GCI then accounts for the fact that the New Testament does not stop with the declaration of the objective aspect of salvation. Scripture teaches that the objective truth and reality of Jesus being in his own person Lord and Savior, the new head (Adam) of all humanity, calls for a particular and total response to the objective, relational reality. The New Testament refers often (particularly in the book of Acts) to this response as receiving, which involves repentance and faith.

The biblical teaching is that since salvation is the free gift of grace of right and eternal relationship with God through Jesus and in the power of the Spirit, no individual will fully benefit from that gift of saving relationship unless they receive it---an acceptance indicated by repentance and faith (trust) in who God is and what God has done through Jesus. That is why in 2 Cor. 5:18-20 the apostle Paul first declares that God, through Christ, has (already) reconciled the world to himself---this is the objective aspect of salvation. Then, on the basis of that finished work, Paul invites people to “be reconciled” to God---this is the subjective aspect of salvation. This invitation to "be reconciled" is indicated in many ways throughout the New Testament, though perhaps most simply in the book of Hebrews:
For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. (Hebrews 4:2)

Warnings against refusing salvation

If a person absolutely rejects God's free gift in Jesus---the gift of forgiveness, reconciliation-atonement, salvation---then that person does not “have” the gift---and so (in the subjective/personal sense of salvation, and in that sense alone) is not "saved." They will not experience the benefits that come with the gift.

In many verses, the New Testament calls for a personal, receptive response to the proclamation of the objective truth of the gospel of grace. This call make no sense if the response called for has no consequences. There are also many statements given (including ones from Jesus himself) warning of possible eternal consequences for refusing to receive forgiveness, for refusing to repent of sin/evil, for rejecting Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and for rejecting the testimony to Jesus given by the apostles and messengers sent by Jesus. These warnings make no sense if there is absolutely no possibility that the noted consequences will ever occur (as claimed by universalism). It should be noted, however, that the issuance of warnings is not an indication of rejection, hatred, or ill will from God. God’s warnings are generated by the same love as are his saving acts. God warns in no uncertain terms because he wants the hearers to not experience the potential consequences of unbelief and unrepentance.

The strength of the warnings that God gives is proportional to the strength of his love. Moreover, God’s love is not of an absolute causal type---it is not an impersonal, person-overriding force, though God's love is not weak. God's love is powerfully persuasive by his Word and Spirit, even if not absolutely coercive. The warnings God issues are part of his loving persuasion. To dismiss his warnings as inconsequential is a mistake, one that actually weakens our grasp of God's love for us and his opposition to sin/evil, which, in the end, will be no more.

Our subjective response does not alter the objective reality

Though it takes God's warnings seriously, GCI does not say that a person's rejection and unbelief somehow negates who Jesus is (the Lord and Savior of all humanity), or somehow undoes what Jesus has objectively done for that person. Their rejection does not and it cannot condition or make God into something that he is not. It cannot undo what God has done for that person (and for all humanity) in Christ. Jesus who remains Lord and Savior of all, has the gift of salvation for all---a gift that comes from his forgiving, reconciling heart, mind and will. [For a post on the related topics of postmortem evangelism and postmortem conversion, click here.]

Though no person can take this objective truth and reality away (no one has that power), Scripture does say that individuals may somehow be able to deny the truth and reality of who Jesus is, and due to that denial reap the consequences. Note how the apostle Peter warns about this:
There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them---bringing swift destruction on themselves. (2 Peter 2:1)
Note that these deniers are people who have been “bought” by Jesus. Their denial of Jesus cannot undo the objective reality established in the heart and mind of God and accomplished already through Jesus. True, there are consequences, even severe ones, for denying the Lord (and for blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, Mark 3:28-30). But these consequences do not take away from Jesus his Lordship and Saviorhood. One may go against the "grain" of reality (and get splinters as a result) but going against the grain of reality does not and cannot change the grain of that reality.

Perhaps another illustration of the objective and subjective aspects of salvation will help. If someone has actually wronged me, I can desire the relationship to be made right, and I can offer forgiveness. I could even compensate for the wrong done to me, and in that sense make a kind of atonement. If so, I am reconciled to the one who offended me. But since it is a relationship that was broken and needs to be healed, it makes a difference as to whether or not the person receives the forgiveness that I have granted. If that person refuses my offer of forgiveness, and denies that any wrong was done, then the consequence will be that the relationship itself will not be restored and the benefits of right relationship will not be experienced. However, the rejection of forgiveness and my offer of reconciliation does not mean that I must withdraw my forgiveness and even my desire to have the relationship restored. It may remain there forever, even if it is never made use of. I remain reconciled and forgiving.

Though forgiveness and desire for reconciliation (when coming from a true heart and mind) remains forever, because we are not God, when someone rejects our forgiveness, we are tempted to change our minds and hearts and no longer want reconciliation, desiring instead eternal alienation---determined never to forgive. Such an attitude reflects our fallen human nature, not the nature of God. Understanding the weakness of our nature, Jesus instructs us to forgive "seventy times seven" (Matt. 18:21-22, KJV). But with God, there is no end to his forgiveness. He never withdraws it, even when it is rejected.

The gospel truth is this: God is like Jesus, all the way down. As Jesus said, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9, ESV). To know Jesus is to know all of God. God is Savior, not just Jesus. Unlike us, God is not tempted to be in two minds---forgiving and unforgiving, desiring then refusing to desire that all might be saved. God remains true to himself even when some deny the truth and reality of who he is and what he has done for all.


Based on the declarations of Scripture, GCI affirms that God has reconciled himself to all people with no exceptions---Jesus died for all, God has forgiven all through Christ, and Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of all. However, GCI does not affirm that all people are personally (subjectively) reconciled to God, that all have received God’s forgiveness, that all have acknowledged that Jesus is their Lord and Savior. Nor does GCI affirm that all will necessarily receive the free gift of their salvation and so enter into the eternal kingdom of God. Given the clear and consistent warnings of eternal consequences for unrepentance and unbelief, and having no direct biblical teaching that all will necessarily receive the gift of salvation, GCI does not teach a doctrine of universalism (the idea that all are saved already, or that all, in the end, will necessarily be saved).

What GCI does teach is the truth of who God is, as revealed in Jesus Christ, and the reality of all that God, in and through Jesus, has objectively accomplished for all humanity---a truth and reality that calls for a personal response of repentance and faith in God, by which all the benefits of salvation are personally received and accepted. GCI thus affirms both the objective and subjective aspects of salvation as a relationship that is mediated by Jesus Christ. GCI also affirms that all who receive and accept the salvation that is theirs in Christ are enabled to do so only by the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit, who ministers on the basis of the completed earthly ministry of Jesus, the Lord and Savior of all. In all its aspects, salvation is a work of grace, received by faith alone in Jesus Christ.
For another post on universalism with extensive quotes from Thomas F. Torrance, click here.
For an article explaining what GCI means in declaring that "all are included," click here.