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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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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”?