Presentation on theme: " Evangelical Universalism: Oxymoron? Robin Parry."— Presentation transcript:
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 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? 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? 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 “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 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 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 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 “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 “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 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 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
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) 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 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 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 is consistent with Bebbington’s quadrilateral: Biblicism Crucicentrism Conversionism Activism
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”?