Is everyone really going to Heaven? That’s what Universalism teaches. Maybe. Sort of. It’s probably what “Universalists” believe. But is that really what Universalism teaches? It’s not unlike the question of what Christians believe as opposed to what Christ actually taught.
There’s a new book out that examines this question. It’s called the Devil’s Redemption, written by Michael J. McClymond. It’s two volumes. It’s over 1,000 pages. Not cheap to buy. And not easy to read. For instance, here’s just the first paragraph from Appendix G:
Types of Christian Universalism
In the universalists’ house there are many dwelling places. Christian universalists today might not be aware of the full variety of viewpoints—the universalisms—that have taken shape over the last two millennia, many of which still exist today. When anyone speaks of Christian universalism, a first question ought to be, what sort of Christian universalism? What follows below is a brief attempt at a taxonomy. There have been a couple of earlier efforts—by Robin Parry and Laurence Blanchard—to map out different forms of universalism. While Parry focuses on universalism of a decidedly Christian sort, Blanchard’s typology includes not only Christocentric but also plurocentric forms of universalism. In the typology of Christian universalism offered here, I have only briefly touched on plurocentric (or interreligious) universalism, which is not a major focus in this study and which raises a different set of theological questions than those treated here.2 Certain early modern figures (e.g., Pico della Mirandola) seem to be on the cusp that separates Christian universalism from plurocentric universalism. More recent universalist authors generally seem to be either clearly Christocentric (e.g., Jürgen Moltmann) or else definitely plurocentric (e.g., John Hick). Gnostic-esoteric universalists include some who have self-identified as Christian, even though they may be regarded as marginal or heterodox according to earlier or later standards of Christian orthodoxy. For these universalists, it is the nature of the human soul or self that largely dictates the doctrine of universal salvation. In the words of the early twentieth-century Christian mystic Sadhu Sundar Singh: “If this divine spark or element cannot be destroyed, then we can never be hopeless for any sinner.… And even though many wander and go astray[,] in the end, they will return to Him in Whose image they have been created; for this is their final destination.… Since God has created man for His own fellowship, therefore he cannot remain eternally separate from Him.” Gnostic-esoteric thinkers conceive the soul, spirit, or inmost human self as having an inherent kinship with God, and in some cases one might say a quasi-divine status. McClymond, M. J. (2018). The Devil’s Redemption: A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism (Vol. 1 & 2, pp. 1127–1128). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: A division of Baker Publishing Group.
Yes – that’s just one paragraph out of more than 1,000 pages. Clearly, this book isn’t for the faint of heart.
And yet, this is a life or death decision. Not for this life – but for the next one. Eternity. A person who believes in Universalism is betting their eternal soul on an expectation that everyone really is going to Heaven.
Whether or not this is even a realistic expectation based on Universalism itself is open to debate. In a recent interview with Christianity Today, McClymond said this:
How do you understand the term universalism?
In theological usage, universalism is the doctrine that all human beings—and perhaps all intelligent or volitional beings—will come to final salvation and spend an eternity with heaven in God. This is a theory about a final outcome, and it leaves open the way that this outcome might be attained. One reason my book is so lengthy is that there have been many different kinds of arguments for universal salvation over the last 1,800 years. At certain points, these arguments conflict with one another, so that if someone claims to be a universalist, you might ask: “What sort of universalist are you?”
One division is between the belief that everyone goes immediately to heaven at the moment of death (called “ultra-universalism”) and the belief that many or most people first undergo postmortem suffering (a view I call “purgationism”). This issue was fiercely debated in America during the 19th century, and universalists have never been able to resolve it.
One line that should raise some serious issues for someone who “believes” in Universalism is this one:
At certain points, these arguments conflict with one another, so that if someone claims to be a universalist, you might ask: “What sort of universalist are you?”
At least with Christianity, while there are differences and outright conflicts in some areas, the basics – like Salvation through the death of Jesus – aren’t open to debate. C.S. Lewis has a great book about that – Mere Christianity. But the conflicts in Universalism can be quite basic. The fact that some issues can’t seem to be resolved seems like cause for great concern to me.
Universalism – Is everyone really going to Heaven?
Why does this even matter? If you’re like me, you probably know at least some people who believe in Universalism. If not actually attending a Universalist church – then at least claiming to believe that God will save everyone. Between Rob Bell and Oprah, it’s a concept that many people are at least a little bit familiar with. And they like it. After all, no rules. No requirements. Just be born – live any kind of life – and go to Heaven.
But – is it real? Is there any basis for it at all?
Another group of people that tend to hope this is true are those whose relatives, ancestors and friends weren’t Christian. They don’t want to believe loved ones who have died aren’t in Heaven. And if they can convince themselves that everyone goes to Heaven – then they’ll all see each other again, in “Heaven”.
The issues that exist, although never probably considered, are things like what is “Heaven”? Who created that Heaven? What’s the basis for even believing this? Etc. You can read about similar issues in Our Thoughts and Prayers Go Out ….
And so while trying to find a reason that those who have passed away aren’t in Hell – are we also condemning ourselves to Hell when following the path of Universalism? The evidence appears to say yes. The evidence appears to say that Universalism is wishful thinking. And if it’s not from God – then there’s only one other possible source. The devil.
I know people in both categories – some that go to a Universalist church. Some that want to believe in it because they have friends / relatives / ancestors that were something other than Christian. My fear is that by going down the Universalist path, they have strayed from Jesus’ path.
The Narrow Door
Lk 13:22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’
“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’
Lk 13:26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’
Lk 13:27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’
Lk 13:28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”
Conclusion – Is everyone really going to Heaven?
Universalism relies on God. At least some flavors of it do. Maybe all. That’s something I’ll learn as I read the book. From there, the Bible is God’s Word. It teaches that Jesus is the Son of God. Also that Jesus came to earth to save us. And while it’s convenient and nice to say that Jesus’ death was to save everyone no matter what – that just doesn’t line up with anything He actually said.
The passage above is just one of so many things Jesus said that point to the Universalist thought as being wrong.
The problem is – just as any Universalist who may be reading this is probably thinking – I’ve got it wrong.
As I said, knowing the Bible, there’s nothing to point to Universalism. Nothing that points to any way of salvation for someone who rejects Jesus in this life.
However, what I don’t know is exactly what the various flavors of Universalism teach. The only way to really be able to put forth a convincing “argument” against it, is to understand where that thinking comes from. To understand the holes in it. The misconceptions. The misinterpretations.
And so – just as I did with Islam, it appears to be time to learn about Universalism. As Jesus said,
The Children of Abraham
Jn 8:31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Jn 8:33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
Jn 8:34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.’”
Jn 8:39 “Abraham is our father,” they answered.
“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the things your own father does.”
“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”
The Children of the Devil
Jn 8:42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”
Even the Jewish people who rejected Jesus were told by Him that they were children of the Devil. They were off that narrow path. How much further are Universalists off the narrow path Jesus spoke of?
If you’re a Christian and have friends with the mindset of everyone really is going to Heaven – this is something you should care about. Maybe it will give you a way to talk to them.
If you have that mindset of everyone really is going to Heaven, this is for you as well. I care about you too. Even though I don’t have a clue who you are. Don’t know anything about you. But you are created by God. And so, I should, must, and do care about you.
Don’t know how long this will take. I did get the book. As you saw – it’s not trivial. But it’s something worth learning. If you’d like to keep up with what I learn, please sign up for emails as new items are published here, using the subscription box towards the top right of the page.
I’d like to close with today’s verse of the day that I received in an email from Biblegateway:
Ro 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
image by JanBaby