Roger E. Olson on the “minor heresy” of universalism

I think universalism is a minor heresy SO LONG AS it does not interfere with evangelism. (See my earlier post here about why universalism should NOT interfere with evangelism.) I also evaluate the seriousness of universalism by its context–viz., why does the person affirm it? If universalism is evidence of a denial of God’s wrath and/or human sinfulness, then it is much more serious. Barth’s universalism (yes, I believe Karl Barth was a universalist and I’ll post a message here about why later) did not arise out of those denials which is why he didn’t like the appellation “universalist.” The term is usually associated with liberal theology. In that case, as part of an overall liberal/modernist theology, I consider it very serious indeed.

How serious a heresy is universalism? | Roger E. Olson.

I’m against universalism. Universalism is, in my opinion, if there is such a thing as heresy, is the very definition of the word. Why? Because in universalism which teaches that all will be saved, the point of teaching, growing, and reaching people – the very point of the Cross becomes muted to a dangerously low level, empowering the myth that all religions, like all people, are created equal.

I cannot call it a minor heresy, really, because it, in my opinion, dismisses the Cross of Christ and forces God into an action which He has no control over.

But, I recommend the article.

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14 Replies to “Roger E. Olson on the “minor heresy” of universalism”

  1. Since your “related links” plugin gives a less related link, here is my comment on the same Olson post. While I don’t accept the optimistic “all will believe in the end” kind of universalism, I don’t agree that it “dismisses the Cross of Christ”. If it “forces” God to do anything, it is only to do what he promised – to save everyone who believes.

    1. Ugh….

      Universalism takes away the need for the Cross, or a life led for Christ, or the suffering, etc….

      Universalism forces God to saved everyone, whether or not they believe.

      1. Joel, you misunderstand universalism of the kind I describe, according to which the love of God is so attractive that eventually, when people see it for what it is, they all freely choose to believe. I don’t agree with this. This is of course what Rob Bell is accused of. If you don’t understand the distinction between this and God forcing everyone to be saved, that seriously undermines your response to Bell and to Galli.

        1. Peter, perhaps your tone is different in person, but on line, it is rather, well….

          I understand the distinction, but I appreciate the fact that you think you need to constantly school me in such things.

          You misunderstand the universalism of which I speak, of which many liberals see. In my opinion, it undermines the Cross of Christ – all religions are the same, as I said in this article. Further, I don’t like the idea that at some point, everyone will get a second choice. I think that this too undermines the salvation moment of the Cross.

          1. Joel, sorry if my tone sounded inappropriate, but you did seem to be making an elementary error. I wouldn’t have complained if you had written “The universalism of which I speak forces God to saved everyone, whether or not they believe.” But you implied, incorrectly, that this is true of every kind of universalism.

            While I see no clear biblical basis for the idea that people will get a second chance, I don’t understand why it might undermine “the salvation moment of the Cross”. Since no one currently alive chose to believe at the time of the cross, I don’t see what difference it makes concerning the cross if they believe before or after death.

  2. I also believe that universalism lowers the tone of the cross. It argues for a cross less Christianity, which is a loveless Christianity.

    Personally I believe that Scripture gives weight towards an anihilistic perspective…

    1. Craig, I agree with you, and the late John Stott, in favouring annihilationism for those who ultimately refuse God’s offer of salvation.

      But I insist that it is completely unfair to some important forms of universalism to call them “crossless”. Have you studied the work of Moltmann? He has (from my rather limited understanding) a very high view of the cross, in terms of effecting universal reconciliation, which leads him to universalism. I don’t agree with him but I have a lot of respect for his position.

  3. “Christ is the Rock by which and on which the church is founded. And thus it is overcome by no traces of maddened people. Therefore the heretics are not to be heard who assure themselves that there is to be an earthly reign of one thousand years; who think, that is to say, on the same wavelength with Cerinthus. For the kingdom of Christ is now eternal in the saints, although the glory of the saints shall be made known after the resurrection.”

    — Victorinus of Petovium, Commentary on the Apocalypse, 16.

  4. Joel, some universalists would point to scripture that says that Christ’s death was powerful enough to save all people. The late Ernest Martin was powerful on this point.

    Personally, I think it is a bit silly to have a strong opinion on the afterlife, of which no human has ever produced any evidence. Not to mention that it is a misnomer to speak of the “biblical view” of the afterlife, since the concept developed so much during the period that the bible was written (and afterwards) that it contains a host of conflicting opinions.

    What’s more, because so little detail is said about hell in the bible, what we do think is created by taking snippets out of context. For example, the parable of Lazarus is interpreted as a literal story, or Revelaton’s apocalyptic tome filled with symbolic code words to an ancient people is turned into a history of the future.

  5. Joel:

    Arguably the idea that God condemns to eternal punishment also denies the power of the cross (i.e. Christ’s death is not strong enough to effect universal salvation) and binds God to a mechanical course of action (i.e. God *must* punish those who do not believe).

    I think that responsible theology must recognize the possibility of universal salvation. In the end, however, I am not a universalist for one reason: I affirm the sovereignty of God.

    God may choose to save or condemn whom God chooses. For this reason, I cling to the cross and find assurance of God’s love. It is this assurance (and not the threat of hell) that, I believe, rightly compels Christians to mission.

  6. The point of teaching, growing, and reaching others does not become muted or silenced or irrelevant if one believes in universalism. The cross of Christ is also not dismissed as pointless if one believes in universalism. I believe in universalism because of Christ, not in spite of Christ. The Good News is not that some are saved while others are not saved. The Good News is that all are reconciled to God in the end. After all, if God has victory over death by putting death to death, then the victory is indeed God’s and everyone gains life. However, if even some are lost and are doomed to eternal torture, then death is not put to death and God has no victory. So, yes, I believe all have already been saved because of Jesus’ death on the cross. However, the original bible teaches that for those who are not doers of the Law, they will endure temporary punishment, not eternal. So, before spending eternity with God, those who are goats (read Matthew chapter 25), experience correctional punishment for not following Jesus. For not “believing in Jesus”. You see, as I see it, the original meaning and intent of “believing in Jesus” was simple. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day and time had their teachings on what a person must do to gain life and justification with God. Jesus, however, did not agree with them. Thus, people were faced with the choice of who to “believe in”: the religious leaders or Jesus. Therefore, if you don’t believe in what Jesus said actually saves a person, then you, from my point of view, are not “believing in Jesus” in the true sense and meaning of that phrase. The phrase, “believe in Jesus” has lost its true meaning over time due to the bible having lost its original form content over time.

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