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 Evangelical Universalism: Oxymoron? Robin Parry.

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Presentation on theme: " Evangelical Universalism: Oxymoron? Robin Parry."— Presentation transcript:

1  Evangelical Universalism: Oxymoron? Robin Parry

2 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

3 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

4 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?

5 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”

6 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

7 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 )

8 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

9 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)

10 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)

11 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

12 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 (Origen ism ) was declared anathema by the church, not universalism per se

13 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.

14 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

15 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?

16 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)

17 EU and Bebbington’s Quadrilateral  EU is consistent with Bebbington’s quadrilateral:  Biblicism  Crucicentrism  Conversionism  Activism

18 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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