Evangelical universalism oxymoron
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Evangelical Universalism: Oxymoron?. Robin Parry. Can an evangelical be a universalist?. Universalists say that God will save all people Historically almost all evangelicals have denied this and evangelical statements of faith seek to exclude it

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Evangelical universalism oxymoron

Evangelical Universalism:Oxymoron?

Robin Parry


Can an evangelical be a universalist

Can an evangelical be a universalist?

  • Universalists say that God will save all people

  • Historically almost all evangelicals have denied this and evangelical statements of faith seek to exclude it

  • Surely “evangelical universalism” is an oxymoron!

  • My claim: Evangelical opposition to universalism is contingent and not an entailment of evangelical commitment


What is evangelical universalism

What is “evangelical” universalism?

  • Aside from affirming orthodox Christian faith and holding a high view of Scripture an EU holds two beliefs: EU1 and EU2

  • EU1: “in the end, God will reconcile all people to himself through Christ’s atoning work”

  • EU2: “EU1 is a biblical belief”

  • My version maintains most of the normal evangelical beliefs, with two adjustments: (a) a belief that people can be redeemed from hell, and (b) a belief that, in the end, all will be redeemed from hell


Why think universalism is essentially unevangelical

Why think universalism is essentially unevangelical?

  • Most evangelicals think that the Bible contradicts universalism

  • But universalists believe that their view is biblical

  • Even if they are mistaken their mistake would only exclude them from evangelicalism if it involved them affirming something incompatible with a central evangelical beliefs

  • If it does not then it can be tolerated as an evangelical-compatible error (like Calvinism )

  • So does universalism entail a denial of key evangelical belief?


1 universalism undermines the seriousness of sin

1. Universalism undermines the seriousness of sin

  • “It does not matter what we do because God will save us all anyway”

  • EU has a strong view of human sin

  • But a high view of grace

  • “Where sin abounds grace abounds all the more”


2 universalism undermines divine justice and wrath

2. Universalism undermines divine justice and wrath

  • Universalists sentimentalize God’s love and ignore God’s justice and wrath (“it’s God’s job to forgive us; he is too nice to damn anyone”)

  • EU seeks to have a biblical, Christ-shaped understanding of God’s love

  • EU does not ignore divine justice nor divine wrath and punishment

  • EU arguably has a more theologically satisfying understanding of the divine nature as holy love


3 universalism undermines hell

3. Universalism undermines hell

  • The “hell” of universalists “ain’t a bad place to be” (the same objection is made to annihilationists)

  • If hell is only fearful if it maximally horrible then this objection stands . . .

  • But that something is not maximally horrible does not mean that it is not very horrible and to be avoided

  • (as an aside, the ECT vision of hell is riddled with problems so EU’s failure to affirm ECT is perhaps a strength)


4 universalism undermines christ s role in salvation

4. Universalism undermines Christ’s role in salvation

  • Universalism says that “all roads lead to God—Christ is only a way to the Father but not the way”

  • EU maintains that Christ is the only way to the Father and that salvation is only through union with Christ

  • EU can be inclusivist or exclusivist


5 universalism undermines the importance of faith in christ

5. Universalism undermines the importance of faith in Christ

  • “Christ will save us all so it does not matter whether we believe in him or not”—the significance the NT attaches to faith is undermined

  • If one is an exclusivist EU then faith in Christ is a necessary condition for salvation

  • If one is an inclusivist EU then faith in Christ is relativised (though Christ’s role is not) but not unimportant (NOTE: the inclusivism, not the universalism, is the issue)


6 universalism undermines evangelism

6. Universalism undermines evangelism

  • “Why proclaim the gospel to people if they will be saved anyway?” Universalism undermines evangelism

  • The gospel is God’s means for saving people—so we proclaim it (cf. Calvinism)

  • Arminian universalists do have fear of hell as a motivation for evangelism (hell is more of a motivation for them than for the Calvinist)

  • Fear of hell is not the only motive for gospel-proclamation (indeed universalism adds its own motivations)


7 universalism undermines the doctrine of the trinity

7. Universalism undermines the doctrine of the Trinity

  • Universalism is often linked with Unitarianism: one heresy often leads to another

  • The link is partial: Trinitarian Universalism is older and longer-lasting

  • The link is historically contingent: nothing about universalism entails Unitarianism


8 universalism was declared a anathema by the church

8. Universalism was declared a “anathema” by the Church

  • Universalism was declared heresy by an ecumenical church council so universalists are “unorthodox” and hence “unevangelical”

  • Only a specific version of universalism (Origenism) was declared anathema by the church, not universalism per se


9 historically evangelicalism has rejected universalism

9. Historically evangelicalism has rejected universalism

  • True (almost)

  • But I claim that this rejection is contingent and not necessary so on its own it is not decisive

  • Evangelicalism is a living tradition with capacity for healthy development

  • Which central evangelical beliefs do “evangelical” universalists deny?

  • EU arises from evangelical convictions: the saving will of God, the redeeming power of the Christ’s atonement, the efficacious work of the Spirit, a belief that in the end Christ triumphs, etc.


Elhanan winchester 1751 1797

Elhanan Winchester (1751–1797)

  • Baptist—revivalist preacher in USA

  • Came to believe in “universal restoration”

  • Founded Universalist Baptist Church in Philadelphia and another in London

  • Remained evangelical in his theology of Trinity, atonement, Bible, evangelism, etc.

  • Remained active in gospel-preaching


Eu grows from common evangelical conviction

EU grows from common evangelical conviction

  • Arminian: God loves all people, wants to save all people, and sent Christ to die for all people to achieve this goal

  • Calvinist: God will achieve all his purposes in salvation; all for whom Christ died will be saved

  • Both A and C are evangelical so are EUs unevangelical for holding both belief-sets?

  • A & C combined entail universalism . . .

  • . . . or must evangelicals believe that either (a) cannot save all, or (b) does not want to save all?


Eu grows from the evangel

EU grows from the evangel

  • Our eschatology must be grounded in God’s revelation in Christ

  • At Calvary we see hell (which turns out to be neither annihilation nor eternal torment)

  • In the resurrection we see new creation

  • In the resurrection of the Second Adam, all humanity has already been saved

  • The eschaton—end of the story—is already revealed in Christ (this is why I am not just a “hopeful” universalist)


Eu and bebbington s quadrilateral

EU and Bebbington’s Quadrilateral

  • EU is consistent with Bebbington’s quadrilateral:

  • Biblicism

  • Crucicentrism

  • Conversionism

  • Activism


Evangelical universalism

Evangelical Universalism

  • Creedal orthodoxy and high view of Scripture

  • Christocentric

  • Trinitarian

  • Evangel-focused

  • Missional

  • Biblically rooted

  • My Question: What else does one have to be to count as “evangelical”?


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