Universalism is an Interesting Study From a Systematic point of view.

By Eric Landstrom

Calvinism: Both five point Calvinists and Arminians who have spent time thinking and reflecting upon their beliefs as well as the "opposing position" know that you cannot mix the two systems together, they are incompatible. Thus the modified Calvinist, or the Arminian that accepts any point of Calvinism is seriously handicapped into an illogical system of belief that is bound to blow up in their face at some point.

Calvinism itself is a fully thought out logical system. One cannot logically affirm one point without logically affirming all five points because all five points intrinsically dovetail together­hence the Modified Calvinist is not consistent in his/her thinking because he/she believes a logical inconsistency. Both Calvinists and Arminians who know their theology agree upon this idea.

But here is the problem: If it is proven that limited atonement is an error, then this is sufficient to bring dogmatic Calvinism to its knees and ought to bring about a radical rethink of the Calvinist position and the Calvinist's views regarding his/her entire belief system. Therefore the Calvinist faced with the fact that the atonement is unlimited either rejects all of Calvinism, or keeps the other four points and affirms universalism, it is logical to do this because the atonement is viewed as penal. If penal, atonement can only be designed for those for whom Christ was punished, the elect only, so limited; or, it is universal and all are saved. Thus, penal atonement is necessarily restricted or unlimited in its offer to those for whom Christ was punished within orthodox Calvinism.

Further, if the Calvinist adopts an unlimited atonement, there is a way to justify evil that systematized reformed theology has always had difficulty with answering. No longer is the Calvinist in need of justifying evil, positing the worst worlds/best way defense or other arguments that attempt to justify evil. On the surface the problem of evil is seemingly dispensed with because now there is an ultimate reconciliation down the road.

For the Calvinist who "converts" to universalism, universalism instantly gets an individual that knows the Bible, but then this same individual, this new convert, facing a decision of either reflecting upon, defining and defending their new position regarding salvation in the after life (which is speculative at best and contrary to much Scripture). This, or ignoring that issue, choosing to go on the attack of something that certainly must be wrong from a universalist standpoint, the idea of an eternal conscious hell. Faced with these two choices, the new convert almost certainly attacks the doctrine of a literal and eternal conscious hell for the wicked. Thus the universalist, from a reformed position, never considers how the wicked will or even can be saved in the after life. This person then pursues a protracted argument over what ought to be a secondary issue­that of an eternal conscious hell­rather than the real issue, which is how salvation that is by divine grace through faith alone, can even come to fruition when there can be no faith before the Lord whom has fully revealed Himself in the after life, the great age to come, as the One who incomparably is. Neither does this universalist try to uncover how the reprobate, condemned to separation from God in the lake of fire, has his sin removed and enters fellowship with the Lord in heaven. For this individual, this leaves a great a gapping whole within the theology of universalism itself. As Don Hewey noted; the salvation for all of mankind would require several things that scripture no one shows:

1) one must show that the blood of Jesus was for all flesh AND all spirit. This contradicts Hebrews 2:10-26, Romans 8:3, Genesis 3:15 and so many others.

2) the unjust would be resurrected not once, but TWICE and also judged twice. This contradicts Daniel 12:2, John 5:29, Acts 24:15 and several others. Resurrection is only used in the singular, not plural.

3) believing in Christ after judgment is not faith. For faith is the substance of things hoped for and things that are not seen. The very essence of faith is mocked.

4) Infinite punishment is also paralleled by hell being bottomless and without boundary. Why is hell so large? [1]

Arminianism: The first thing I note about universalism is that it doesn't even faze or dent good Arminian theology. Many of its arguments simply are not valid from the Arminian position. It is my opinion that the intriguing arguments that universalism does offer from Scripture don't hold up well against Arminians because they were formed by people with a Calvinist mind-set who have rejected limited atonement and replaced it with an unlimited atonement. Because of this, the Arminian can employ a gaggle of defenses or polemics by simply swapping out the word "Calvinist" with "universalist."

Though universalism doesn't faze good Arminian theology, it does pose a tremendous threat to those Arminians who have gone past the veil of orthodoxy and adopted the Openness position. Openness posits that God, while perfectly knowing the past and the present, doesn't perfectly know the future, hence God's sovereignty is redefined. Thus God "takes risks" to save his beloved and never ceases trying to do so because He never knows with perfect clarity how things shall pan out.

Every reformed theologian has called Openness heretical. But of particular relevance is the article by Thomas Oden, a Methodist (Wesleyan/Arminian) scholar who has become famous in recent years because of his turn from old-line liberalism to evangelicalism (Oden is the foremost Arminian theologian alive today in my opinion).

From an article from the BAPTIST GENERAL CONFERENCE, entitled, Thomas Oden's Charge of Heresy Concerning the Denial of God's Foreknowledge, by John Piper dated April 8, 1998:

Oden knows theological liberalism and how a group gets there. Oden's comments are all the more significant for two other reasons. Oden is not a Calvinist. This is significant because the question of whether Greg Boyd's view is orthodox has been deflected by some, as if it were an intramural tiff between Calvinists and Arminians, which it isn't. Here is what Thomas Oden said of the view that Boyd (and Clark Pinnock and others) teaches and writes:

If "reformists" insist on keeping the boundaries of heresy open, however, then they must be resisted with charity. The fantasy that God is ignorant of the future is a heresy that must be rejected on scriptural grounds ("I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come"; Isa. 46:10a; cf. Job 28; Ps. 90; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1), as it has been in the history of the exegesis of relevant passages. This issue was thoroughly discussed by patristic exegetes as early as Origen's Against Celsus. Keeping the boundaries of faith undefined is a demonic temptation that evangelicals within the mainline have learned all too well and have been burned by all too painfully. (Thomas Oden, The Real Reformers and the Traditionalists, Christianity Today, Feb. 9, 1998, p. 46. emphasis added)

There is no point in equivocating here about the degree to which the future is known. In this context in CT, with Clark Pinnock involved, and the issue of the "openness of God" on the front burner, the reader is not left in the dark as to what Thomas Oden is referring to. He is referring to the very kind of doctrine that is being taught at Bethel College and defended in three books from Greg Boyd (Letters From a Skeptic, God at War, and Trinity and Process, with another volume promised, Satan and the Problem of Evil).

In other words, a leading non-Calvinist evangelical theologian who is not marginal or alarmist or fundamentalistic or narrow calls this view "heresy." He does so not in a huff behind closed doors, but calmly and with charity in a mainstream evangelical publication. This is very significant.

If an Arminian accepts the heresy of Openness, believing that God changes His mind; a God who reacts to unforeseen circumstances; a God who is constantly working to save and correct His own; if this is the case; and this same Arminian is also open to the idea that God shall never stop working to redeem all of fallen mankind; then universalism can become a viable option. This mindset typically hinges upon the very idea of Openness itself, and not upon universalism. Thus the current battlefield against this error of understanding as fought in colleges, seminaries, and churches is upon the very sovereignty of God and in the defense of the Lord's traditional placement as being outside of time and creation, though transcending it.

Conclusion: While universalism is a considerable threat to good solid Calvinism, it is not directly a threat as of yet to Arminian theology. However, the Openness position, if widely adopted by Arminians, can open the door broadly to the threat and adoption of universalism by those whom would have never considered it as a viable option. For the most part, the theologians and apologists, be they of the reformed tradition, or of an Arminian persuasion, are well aware of this threat and are moving quickly to amend their creeds, confessions, and doctrinal positions to shore their defenses against this error.

[1] For more information regarding the theological difficulties of universalism, explore this web site. [BACK]

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