Sunday, February 04, 2007

Universalism and the Death of the Gospel

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 2 Timothy 4:3,4

Having lived in Europe now for 21 years, and having seen the result of what Theological Universalism has done to the Church and to the belief of thousands, even millions of people, I am horrified that Universalism is rearing its ugly head in writings of people who might call themselves Evangelicals. As I have observed the visible church in Europe, I have seen that among many professors, pastors and lay people, the dominant thought about the Doctrine of Salvation is that the Grace of God did not need the death of Christ to bring reconciliation between God and people. Rather, Gods’ loving Grace is universal is scope and application. In its scope, there is nothing that God’s grace cannot over come and in it’s application, there is no one to whom God’s saving Grace will not be applied. They say that when all is said and done, “every knee will bow and every tongues confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

This thinking has permeated the church is Europe with the result of the emptying of it seats and decimating it’s influence. People no longer see the Church as the place where the “good news” is announced and practiced. The church is no longer needed for one to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.” No… it is said glibly, “God will forgive… that’s his job.”

Nevertheless, Universalism is not compatible with the Gospel that Jesus himself came to announce and this is evidenced by the how people have left the church and left following Christ. Thankfully, the “faith once given” still brings people to belief and discipleship of Christ. The true message has that power. J.I Packer once said good theology works. Universalism is an example of the converse, bad theology that does not work. It has been a disaster for any church that has embraced it. The European church “stands” as primary evidence of the deficiency of the teaching of Universalism. American Unitarian/Universalism is it’s second. And so-called “Trinitarian Universalism” as embraced by many theologically liberal churches in North America is the deciding vote. In embracing it, they have lost their Gospel and continue to see an exodus of people, shrinking membership and fewer and fewer people answering Jesus’ call to “come follow me.” Universalism has been the death of the Gospel.

Universalism is “another Gospel”, the type of which Paul the apostle warns against in his letter to the Galatians. Even though it is experiencing renewed discussion among those calling themselves “evangelical”, and among “emergent” circles, it is not new. The early church examined the idea of universal salvation and rejected it. Origen, was a proponent and was ultimately judged has a heretic. In 544 A.D. the Fifth Ecumenical Council condemned universalism as heresy. The great theologian Augustine in his “Enchiridion” championed the defense that for grace to be applied, faith was required.

In spite of the Scriptures’ overwhelming emphasis on the need for faith to be pleasing to God, faith that brings personal relationship, there are those who seem to do Jeffersonian exegesis and cut out the parts of the inspired scriptures that they don’t like. While Universalism may be, “an exegetical possibility”, only a partial and selective reading of scripture to lead to the conclusion of Universalism. When doing exegesis, one does catalogue the possible meanings of the reading of a text. But then good exegesis seeks to see how the various readings come together in support of God’s intended and inspired meaning. While there are texts in the Bible that when read in isolation, might point to universal salvation, the overall reading of the scriptures does not leave us that possibility. Citing God’s universal love for the world (John 3:16) and his desire that “all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” as biblical evidence for universal salvation, insults the intelligence of anyone taking to time to combine good exegesis with the theological doctrines of God’s love, grace and justice. The Scriptures, read in their totality, when speaking of the Judgment, never explicitly, implicitly or otherwise give a hint of an idea that God will give people the option to have faith and accept his salvation after death. Rather, it is what we do in life for which we are held accountable and judged.

It seems to be in vogue today to say that C.S. Lewis supported Universalism. But in fact he himself said the opposite. “When a reader asked why Lewis disagreed with George MacDonald on universalism, Lewis answered, “I parted company from MacDonald on that point because a higher authority — the Dominical utterances themselves — seemed to me irreconcilable with universalism.”(1) Lewis’ reading of the scriptures led him to believe that, “All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.” (1)

I have at times said that I would love to be a Universalist, that is, if Jesus’ teachings in the Bible left me that option. They don’t. And as Ivo Meyer, (a Catholic priest and spiritual guide at John XXIII Catholic Parish in Geneva Switzerland, now with the Lord, but who I had the honor of knowing) once said to me, “No faith, no grace.”

In writing this, I do not want to be harsh. But I fear in speaking directly, one may think that I am. But my heart’s desire is for everyone to have the joy of knowing Christ and being known by him. Like God I want “ all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:4) Universalism is not that truth and will not lead to the truth. But the Lord has given us freedom to follow him or not. And God loves everyone so much that he not going take away that choice.

In the “Great Divorce”, C.S.Lewis’ amazing story on the reality of Hell, he says…

“There are only two kinds of people in the end:
those that say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’
and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’

(1) Beyond Mere Christianity: What Shall we make of C.S. Lewis

Internet references.

Labels: , ,


At 9:43 AM, Blogger Alan said...

Not harsh, but a well-informed discussion. Do you think there are links with what Don Carson calls "The Banishment of the Lake of Fire"? or with the current downplaying (denial even) of certain aspects of the atonement?

At 6:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cannot but wonder what churches in Europe you have discovered such rampant universalism. I have lived in London, East Sussex and now live in a small town in The Midlands and in none of the churches I have visited, especially Evangelical churches, whether Anglican or Free, have I found universalism preached. I have found either Arminianism or Calvinism preached but nothing approaching universalism. Whether in London, Brighton or here in Mansfield I have found no instances of it. I suppose it may exist in parts of The Anglican liberal wing but not in the Evangelical or Anglo Catholic wings. ?

At 6:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder where you have found this tendency towards Universalism. Have you counted the UK? If so I wonder where for I've lived in London, The South Coast, and now live in The Midlands and all I have ever found in both Anglican Evangelical or Free Evangelical is Arminianism or Calvinism and sometimes a position which might be thought to fall between the two.

At 6:52 PM, Blogger Paul Luedtke said...

Universalism is found throughout the Protestant churches Europe. Yes it is mostly found in the what is called the "liberal" wings. It is certainly found in the liberal wings of Anglicanism. And it is this, in my view, that is one of the reasons why those churches with theological liberal leanings have little life.

I think that you're right that, up until now, it is the churches who are "evangelical" or holding to the Gospel through a high view of scripture that have resisted this current. But the point of my blog was to call attention to "evangelical universalism" which is being toyed with in the evangelical wings.

Thanks for your comment. Paul

At 6:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you reconcile what the Bible says about predestination and and free will? What do you think and agree/disagree with in terms of
Arminianism or Calvinism?

At 4:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi. I am a universalist, but not what you said about not accepting the true gospel and just believing everyone goes to heaven because hell is way too much for anyone. I do believe in the gospel with all my heart. But I believe we should reason about this and reason with what the reality of such hell would be like. I have lived with schizophrenia for 6 years. It made me feel I wanted to die all through those years. I reasoned: burning, which is much more painful than this, and ETERNALLY! Can you think of that coming real for most of the people in history just because Adam and Eve made that mistake? Is free will more important than being abandoned complete with eternal pain unbearable. Would a loving papa God allow that? I mean why did He make us for the chance (and now the reality you believe in)of the billions of human beings who are not just dust that don't feel anything while burning in hell, but really DO FEEL it! I do fear God and that is why I layed down and pour out my heart to him about this continually and now I am a universalist fully on this hell issue. I do believe God is really and loving papa and he knows how to take care of everyone, leaving out letting them burn. I do know that God is painful to the extent that we cannot comprehend when he see us sin, but is he not before anything loving, compassionate, gracious? Didn't he feel all the pain of the world including the cost of redemption from sin on the Cross because he loved us THAT MUCH? I know what the Bible says...but what if there is some other motivation behind...really what God intended...when reason, experienced, knowledge of God, and some Scripture verses oppose it as I believe? If you are interested in the Scripture verses I said, I studied these and tried to figure out what they really said while praying. It's here>>

At 6:43 PM, Blogger rodgertutt said...

Calvinism, Arminianism, or Christian Biblical Universalism

Which view of salvation is true?

Two good expositions specifically answering that question!



At 1:05 AM, Blogger Beacon2Light said...

well done! Thank you for this. I am blogging my way through Rob Bell's book, chapter-by-chapter, and I have heard from more than one source the excuse, "Well, C.S. Lewis was a universalist." And the inference is you couldn't possibly have a problem with C.S. Lewis so therefore you shouldn't with Bell. If you could do some more on that, I would be most grateful.

I was even wondering what we should consider Lewis. I think that categorically, he would be more of a Christian philospher while Bell is a pastor and amateur/aspiring theologian. If I am right on that, I think Bell would receive the greater accountability. What do you think?

At 6:02 PM, Blogger Paul Luedtke said...

Rob Bell is a young pastor and has done some really good things. I read Velvet Elvis and for the most part like it. There's few things I can't agree with, but nothing heretical. I have not read his most recent book as it just came out. But I hope that he has not crossed the line into universalism. He does deserve a fair hearing though.

At 9:34 PM, Blogger haela said...

Excellent. Thank you.Have you read the book Eternity in Their Hearts by Don Richardson? I would like to know what your perspective or opinion is .

At 9:34 PM, Blogger haela said...

Excellent. Thank you.Have you read the book Eternity in Their Hearts by Don Richardson? I would like to know what your perspective or opinion is .

At 11:44 PM, Blogger Paul Luedtke said...

haela, I'm sorry, I've only flipped through the pages of the book. But I don't doubt his thesis. I'm sure that the Lord finds ways to communicate to people through his creation so that we'll find belief in the most far flung places.


Post a Comment

<< Home