≡ Menu

13 Problems with Universalism

The controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s upcoming book has reignited the discussion about hell, charging him with possibly being a Universalist. This post is not about Rob Bell, but the (alleged) belief that has put him in the hot seat (pun intended… figuratively). Universalism teaches that Jesus died for all people and that all people will eventually be saved.  It also teaches that if someone rejects Christ in this life, they can accept Him in the next one, no matter how immoral, evil, or anti-Christ they were.

On the surface, Universalism sounds like a very nice position to hold. No one goes to hell. Love wins. Happy ending. However, Universalism has problems. Here’s thirteen that come to mind.

  • Universalism is not Just.  If evil is not judged, then how is Justice served? If someone does not want to go to heaven, is it just to make them? Do Satan, Adolf Hitler and Mother Theresa deserve the same future? Or do Universalists deny Justice?
  • Universalism violates individual free will. C.S. Lewis said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ And those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done’ All that are in Hell, choose it.” If hell is for those who choose it, then by saving everyone God violates our free will.
  • Universalism soft pedals, reinterprets, and/or denies the basic teachings of Jesus about hell. Jesus spoke about hell more than any other figure in the Bible. Example: “…so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 12:40-42 NIV). Or, “Then he (the Son of Man) will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels'” (Matt. 25:41 NIV). And many other verses.
  • Universalism soft pedals, reinterprets, and/or denies the basic teachings of Scripture about hell. Debate usually targets words and concepts employed in Hebrew and in Greek. Nevertheless, the New Testament is adamant about a Final Judgment where “the dead were judged according to what they had done” (Rev. 20:12) and some are thrown into a “lake of fire” where “they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (vs. 10).  (See The Importance of Hell by Tim Keller for a good summary of these last two points.)
  • Universalism eliminates the need to accept Christ. Even though Jesus cited the need for people to believe in Him, if everyone gets saved, why bother? Universalists ultimately believe there is no need for a person to follow Christ. Even blasphemy cannot damn someone, so why bow to the Nazarene?
  • Universalism is deterministic. If salvation is universal and automatic, then ultimately there is no free will. Your eternity is “determined” whether you like it or not. (It’s no accident that Eastern religions that teach there is no hell, also teach that there is no free will.)
  • Universalism distorts the love of God. Love without justice is not true love, it is permissiveness. Peter Kreeft writes, “Hell is due more to love than justice. Love created free persons who could choose hell… The fires of hell are made of the love of God.”
  • Universalism strips the Gospel of its power. If everyone goes to heaven, exactly what is the Good News of the Gospel and why do people need it? Better News (at least from the Universalist’s perspective) is that you don’t need the Good News to be saved.
  • Universalism can give someone a false sense of security. If you’re going to be saved no matter what, there is no need for accountability, repentance, faith, or moral effort of any sort. You are eternally untouchable and have nothing to fear. Love wins, so why worry?
  • Universalism can have eternal, irreversible ramifications for its adherents if it is not true. Similar to Pascal’s Wager, I am better off living as if Universalism WAS NOT true and being proved wrong, than living as if Universalism WAS true, and being proved wrong. In the first count I will still be saved, in the second count I will not.
  • Universalism leads to religious and moral indifference. If everyone gets saved no matter how they act, then why act morally, why perform good deeds, why strive to be just or compassionate? The Universalist’s motto could be, “Do what thou wilt.”
  • Universalism undermines the uniqueness of Christianity. If everyone goes to heaven, then the road is NOT narrow, like Christ taught (Matt. 7:13-14). Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Scientologists, Satanists, even Atheists, will all be saved. So what compelling reason is there for Christianity?
  • Universalism eliminates the need for evangelism. If everyone goes to heaven, then Christians should apologize to the world and bring all our missionaries home. What is the purpose of turning someone from paganism, mysticism, satanism, or cannibalism, if love wins?

C.S. Lewis said he never met anyone who had a lively belief in heaven who didn’t also have a lively belief in hell. “If a game is to be taken seriously,” he wrote, “it must be possible to lose it.”

If love wins, someone must lose. If not, then the Game is fixed.

Your thoughts?

Email this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on Reddit
{ 39 comments… add one }
  • randy streu March 9, 2011, 6:32 AM

    Well done, and this is exactly right! It’s not a new heresy, but it’s certainly one that’s been gaining momentum as of late; my guess is it’s a knee-jerk reaction to the Scriptural stance on issues like gay marriage. But I could be wrong.

    The scriptural foundations for the arguments here can’t be denied, though for the Universalist, the infallibility of Scripture is necessarily questioned as well.

    In any event, thank you for posting this.

  • Chad Holtz March 9, 2011, 7:16 AM

    I’m sorry, but I find more problems with the problems you raise than the problems themselves.

    The concerns you raise are common ones, however. Sadly, they get perpetuated.

    One of the big ones you raise is about living right or evangelism. I address this question here: http://chadholtz.net/2008/12/14/why-evangelize/

    I do not serve and honor my wife because I fear divorce. If you are married I trust you do not, either. I serve and honor her out of love and because it is my duty to do so. I serve and honor my Lord Jesus because he first loved me. I live according to his purposes for me out of love – not fear. Several of your “problems” above reduce salvation and ethical living to a mere matter of eternal destiny. Following Jesus just because he is your ticket out of hell is not, I would argue, a good reason to follow Jesus (nor is it biblical).

    Universalism actually ignites the power of the Gospel! The Gospel IS Good News not just POTENTIALLY, but irrevocably. God, acting in Jesus Christ, has done something cosmic and extraordinary (and scandalous!) that brings people to their knees when we realize the full magnitude of this grace.

    Judgment will happen. This is where justice is served. We do not know what this judgement will look like but it is something all of creation is longing to see happen for it is the day when God puts all things back to rights. It’s a shame to see so many people arguing that heaven will not be heaven if “those” people get to be there. We sound like the vineyard workers who were there all day and got paid the same wage as those who entered the last hour. I’ll rejoice if God redeems the likes of Hitler – why wouldn’t you? As always, grace scandalizes us. It’s “foolishness” to we Gentiles.

    For people who argue for Scriptural literalism, where is “free will” defended in the Bible? I’m a Wesleyan and believe we have free will to make choices here, to reject Christ or not, but this does not mean it is some trump card we can use against God’s will. This does not mean anyone will go kicking and screaming into heaven, but that just maybe, once all the obstacles to grace are removed (sin and death) just maybe all knees will bow and tongues confess that Jesus is Lord.

    Also, regarding the literalism of hell, how many of you pluck out your eyes when they cause you to sin? That “command” is in the same passage as one about the “reality” of hell. Why is one real and the other just a figure of speech?

    Just a few thoughts about these problems. It’s never as black and white as it may seem.


    • Mike Duran March 9, 2011, 7:27 AM

      Thanks for commenting. Chad. I actually read your piece before I wrote this, linked from Mike Morrel’s FB post. While I totally agree with the motivations to love and serve, if everyone will be saved, it just doesn’t wash. There is no compelling reason to love my wife or God if we are destined to live in eternal bliss. I agree that “Judgment will happen.” But if the jails are eternally emptied, what does a season in the Gulag matter? Once again, I appreciate your thoughts. Grace and peace back at you!

      • Matt August 22, 2014, 9:40 AM

        There is no compelling reason to love your wife or God if we are destined to live in eternal bliss? Really? The agape love God has for us IS eternal bliss. Our marriage is to be the analogy to our relationship with Christ. We would save our own child from a mosquito bite if the mosquito landed on her arm, yet we think because those whose hearts are hardened to Christ experience “aionios kolasis”, we think this is “not enough”. And we say it must be so. Aionios (pertaining to an age) kolasis (remedial punishment) is enough to witness to others. We think that those who reject Christ in this life must face “eternal punishment” in order to be just. I think we should fear for those who face God with a hardened heart, because God’s love would be the gehenna (hell of fire) they face. God’s justice is Hitler still being shown love, even when we use him as the poster boy for evil. Using Hitler (assuming his heart remained hard) as an example gives us a glimpse into what grace REALLY is. For God to reveal His love to even those who murdered Jesus, now facing THAT with a hard heart would be hellish. The minute agape love fails due to any condition is the moment it is no longer agape love. My two cents.

      • tara June 2, 2015, 11:47 PM

        While I sadly agree that there is no biblically sound argument against an eternal hell, I find it even sadder that you admit to having “no compelling reason” to love without the threat of eternal punishment for not doing so. Or have I misunderstood?

    • E. Stephen Burnett March 9, 2011, 7:34 AM

      To that I would only add a paraphrase to (deist) Benjamin Franklin’s response to Thomas Paine in a letter: that just because you may be comfortable on the religious foundations built by others, and able to subsist without accepting that religion yourself, doesn’t mean others will be so inclined. To assume we can simply get rid of a Biblical truth such as Hell, and everyone else can carry on in society just fine without it — assumption: everyone else thinks just like me! — seems a bit self-centered.

      Another persisting assumption: that Christians only behave because they’re afraid of Hell. Some may wrongly think this, but it’s not so, and I’ve pointed that out to you before, Chad. A Biblical Christian is grateful to the God Who not only actively saved all His people from a just yet terrible fate, but had an incredible plan, from the dawn of time, to reveal His mercy and keep His holy nature.

      Thus, to continue acting as if anyone who disagrees with universalism (or quasi-universalism) is simply out there shaking, trembling and not really knowing that God is Love, after already being told that your perspective is limited (perhaps self-limited), seems disingenuous.

      • MELANIE GREENWOOD November 1, 2016, 1:24 AM

        Thus, to continue acting as if anyone who disagrees with universalism (or quasi-universalism) is simply out there shaking, trembling and not really knowing that God is Love, after already being told that your perspective is limited (perhaps self-limited), seems disingenuous.

        I agree with you. I have known many hell-believing Christians who truly did act out of love for God and people (as Jesus commands us) not from fear of punishment. I would hope I was one of them before my Universalist awakening. However, the author of the original post actually said that fear of hell is a major motivating force behind Christian morality, so I think we’re justified in challenging him on that point. I wouldn’t have brought up “perfect love drives out fear” if he hadn’t said “if you’re saved, why bother.”

  • Tim George March 9, 2011, 7:28 AM

    The only thing that surprises me about Rob Bell’s universalism is that so many Evangelicals are seemingly surprised by it. The Emergent Church movement has long been impatient with the constraints of orthodoxy.

  • E. Stephen Burnett March 9, 2011, 7:29 AM

    I’m a Wesleyan and believe we have free will to make choices here, to reject Christ or not, but this does not mean it is some trump card we can use against God’s will.

    And I also believe in free will, though recognize that God is freer than His human creations who without Him remain dead in sin (Ephesians 2). The free-will argument for Hell is thus true, though partial, because nowhere in the Bible are we told that God ultimately, secretly, desires to and thus will save all people. An understanding that helps here is the Biblical revealed will of God versus the “hidden” will of God — which man cannot and should not arrogantly claim to know apart from His own revelation. And His revelation tells us that some will be in Hell for eternity — the same language used to describe those who will dwell on the New Heavens and New Earth forever and ever.

    Also, regarding the literalism of hell, how many of you pluck out your eyes when they cause you to sin? That “command” is in the same passage as one about the “reality” of hell. Why is one real and the other just a figure of speech?

    This seems a shallow understanding of Jesus’ hyperbole. When He said it would be better to pluck out one’s eye than to use it to sin, the reality was actually far worse than His figure of speech. Only if you hear His teachings (including the Sermon on the Mount) as do-this-and-that-style moralism to fit into a System — rather than reminders of how bad man’s condition really is because of our sinful hearts — will a person interpret what He said in like manner to the above.

    Christ’s talk of fire, brimstone and neverending thirst may indeed be metaphorical. But why in the world would we presumptuously assume that means the reality of Hell is not as bad as all that?

    • MELANIE GREENWOOD November 1, 2016, 1:32 AM

      I’m not sure I’m understanding you. Are you saying there’s no Bible teaching that God wants everyone to be saved? Universalists are certainly not claiming that this desire of God is a secret. It’s right there in black and white, as in the scriptures below. Or did I misunderstand?

      I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. -1 Timothy 2:1-4 NIV

      The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. -2 Peter 3:9 NIV

  • rain March 9, 2011, 8:01 AM

    I am not a universalist per se and have always held close the traditionally understood doctrines regarding hell. I must admit that the recent online drama has ignited a desire to study and re-examine my long-held beliefs and for this, at least, I am thankful. I believe that truth will stand and that God knows our hearts. I have ordered Bell’s book as well as “Surprised by Hope”, a recommendation from someone who wanted to believe the universalist theory but could not reconcile it with Scripture. I look forward to both yet regardless of everything we’ve seen, my suspicion is that Bell will align himself closer to traditional thinking than not.

    A thought about free will: I used to be a staunch defender of free will and do believe we have partial free will. However the truth remains that none of us willed to be born. If our first birth were completely out of our control / will, why would our second, arguably MORE important birth, be completely determined by us? (“You did not choose Me but I chose you” comes to mind.) I am NOT a calvinist and do believe we have partial free will. But no longer do I believe in full free will.

    • mike duran March 9, 2011, 10:59 AM

      Much like you, I am not a Calvinist and do not believe we have complete free will. As long as God remains sovereign, He can override my will whenever He chooses. Yet the fact that God is not willing for any to perish, and yet some do, seems to suggest that in His sovereignty, He sometimess chooses to let my choices stand. Even if that means not being with Him. Forever. I appreciate your thoughts, rain.

      • Rebecca LuElla Miller March 14, 2011, 11:59 AM

        Great answer, Mike.

      • gorgo September 10, 2011, 5:33 PM

        I’m anti-universalist and anti-Calvinist. I guess that makes me as free-will as they come (although I’m absolutely convinced of the believer’s eternal security in Christ [I reject Calvinistic perseverance, it’s not the same thing]).

        We can and do have free will, else God simply could not justly reward or condemn us for our choices. Yet neither His sovereignty nor His plans are threatened or diminished in the slightest by our free will. The God of the Bible is so absolutely sovereign that even though man is free to accept or reject His will, no choice – individually or collectively – can thwart whatever designs He has determined to bring to pass.

  • Trey Lyon March 9, 2011, 8:17 AM

    I confess, we’ve not met–in fact, I “friended” you off the recommendation of a former member of our church and kindred artist/writer spirit. I appreciate that you’re trying to bring your perspective to the table and I would like to say I respect what your saying and why you’re saying it, but I’d like to suggest there are some flaws (or at least ripostes) with each of your arguments. For the record, I’m something of an optimistic universalist–I’m not certain of it, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if that were the case.

    “Universalism is not Just.” That’s all down to how one defines “just”. If you mean it strictly as Paul does–justification, propitiation, etc–then Paul (and a bulk of other Scriptures actually make precisely the opposite case. Christ’s death is atoning sacrifice not for some sins, but for all–mine, yours, Peter’s, Hitler’s–the whole lot. It also means as the Calvinists say that Christ’s atonement is limited for the Elect–or even those that might “choose” Jesus. That logic makes God unjust–because Jesus’ blood couldn’t cover everybody–then why make a partial sacrifice–or why would the author of Hebrews say “one sacrifice for all” ?If one does not understand propitiating sacrifice in this way then you have to do some slippery hermeneutics to talk confession, sin and absolution.

    “Universalism violates individual free will.” That’s an old debate, but I’m going to assume by you using it, you’re espousing an Arminian perspective which is fine, but it’s a slippery slope in this argument because it suggests that all eternity is subject to an individuals free will while here on Earth–but what of eternity? Is there another chance? If the soul/mind/body or spirit continues to exists to comprehend and engage eternity (positively or negatively) then can one no longer express individual will? Wouldn’t that give over to collective consciousness and presence and the death of individual will?

    “Universalism soft-pedals or re-interprets Jesus’ teachings/Scripture on hell” There’s several problems here, but the easiest way to tackle it is to decide whether one is speaking of a cohesive idea of hell throughout Scripture–which is a fine belief but it is an assumption. To think that the “depths” of the Hebrew Bible–Sheol–are the same as Hell (where the Psalmist says YHWH will still find him, incidentally) is highly problematic. Moreover, to think that Jesus–who speaks of Gehenna–the trash heap–means the same thing as Paul or John in Revelation–well, that’s quite a jump. I am fully aware many Christians (some in my own church) hold this belief, but in view of the history of the formation of the canon I cannot in any way affirm it. It also necessitates the belief that Revelation is in fact a predictive text, which, given it’s allusions to Caesar Worship and persecution under Emperors Nero and Domitian, is an incredibly tenuous position.

    “Universalism eliminates the need to follow Christ.” This is a place where, despite your disclaimer, folks are really missing the boat of what Bell is saying. The only Christians I know who feel this way are people who aren’t universalists to some degree. Following Christ means abundant, flowing, beautiful life here and now, as well as in eternity. To miss out on the beauty, mystery and story of this life is to, in a way, live in a hell of our own choosing. If everyone is “saved” from hell, then I still am compelled to tell people about Jesus because it changed my life, not because it gave me fire insurance. Marketing hell is a TERRIBLE approach to evangelism and nowhere close to what Jesus preached. Jesus used the imagery of hell as precautionary–normally pointed to the religious elite. And while I’m at it, the verse you quote from Matthew 25 is the only time Jesus talks about judgment–and it has NOTHING to do with praying prayers, joining churches and professions of faith–it is all on how you treat the least of these–which means Gandhi is probably ahead of all of us.

    “Universalism distorts the love of God” Does it? Is this parental love? “Strict discipline” as I’ve heard some call it? Then where is the change to turn it around–when is it right or moral for anyone to indefinitely cut someone off that they love–even when they try to make amends? That’s in no way love–it’s stubbornness–affection–lust even–but it is not love. It’s temporary and fleeting–love can be earned and lost–that’s not any definition of love I want, nor one worth sharing.

    “Universalism strips the gospel of it’s power” and “Eliminates the need for evangelism.” This is the same point as eliminating the need to share Christ.

    The remaining points are really three:

    Pascal’s Wager:
    This logic is a bet–a wager–not discipleship, not “come follow and if it doesn’t work out, no loss, right?” It is clever in a discussion or debate but it is lousy evangelism–it’s a trick, a bait-and switch–selling faith like life insurance (“Sure you might not need it, but then again you might….”)

    Moral Indifference:
    This logic assumes that humans cannot/will not exercise good of their own accord. Karen Armstrong and the Charter for Compassion (an interfaith conglomerate) have heralded a 2010 study that shows in cultures with no perceptible faith, morality is equal to or exceeds that of theistic cultures. This argument, though a go-to debate point for conservative religious critics, has been exposed as incorrect.

    Christian peculiarity:
    This requires a very peculiar hermeneutic–one that has been constructed and reinforced by the institutional church, but one that may well be mis-reading Jesus. John 14:6 famously is where Jesus claims to be “the Way, the Truth and the Life” and that “no one gets to the Father except through” him. The Christian Universalist affirms this verse above all others. Christ is gate-keeper–so why couldn’t/wouldn’t Christ allow all to enter if Christ so chooses? Let’s be honest here–none of us hold any criteria, power or sway to say who God would or would not let into the Kingdom of God. All else is speculation. Moreover, when Jesus says “If I be lifted up I will draw all people unto myself”–the task and the decision is not ours to make–it is God’s and God’s alone.

    Mike, I don’t bear you any ill will, nor do I think this is ill-conceived or presented–I just think it’s a bit of a hodge-podge of Christian thought presented as a fully articulated and coherent argument and it’s just not that simple. In fairness, it’s not any easier on the other side of the issue where I’m sitting, but I think it’s worth saying that the argument isn’t strengthened by 13 points–it’s actually weakened. Using Tim Keller and C.S. Lewis and talking about free will is like talking about the West Coast Offense vs. the Option–it’s two totally different philosophies that are ultimately incompatible with one another.

    I don’t mean to be in any way combative, but I think it’s worth saying that the other side has strong intellectual arguments as well and it’s not as simple as this post makes it sound.

    Thanks for bringing the conversation and I look forward to where we go from here!

    • mike duran March 9, 2011, 3:18 PM

      Trey, I appreciate the tone and extent of your comments. You characterized this post as a “a hodge-podge of Christian thought presented as a fully articulated and coherent argument.” I believe you are wrong on one count — this is not a “fully articulated argument” (although it may in fact be a hodge-podge and incoherent). It is a blog post written by a pretty average Christian who enjoys thinking about theology and is concerned about what he feels is a slow drift toward relativism in Christendom. I believe the resurgence in Universalism is one evidence of this.

      I don’t believe the belief that there is no hell sends people there. However, the belief that there is no hell could be part of the deception / self-deception that greases ones slide. For this reason, there is infinitely more potential damage done by the person who preaches “no hell” than one who preaches hell. From my experience, those who argue for Universalism do so from some nexus outside Scripture. There’s reasons why the doctrine of hell is one of the first to be questione and jettisoned. That reason is usually not because of an absence of Scriptural support. Thanks so much for your comment!

  • Johne Cook March 9, 2011, 8:48 AM

    Timely post, Mike. Thanks!

  • Jill March 9, 2011, 9:52 AM

    The problem arises from our de facto belief that the human soul is eternal. If the human soul is eternal, it must either dwell in eternal bliss or eternal torture. For many people, myself included, the idea of eternal torment is unjust. I can’t reconcile it with what I know of God. The universalist attempts to reconcile this same problem by claiming that all will be saved and live for eternity in bliss.

    However, nowhere in the Bible does it say that the human soul is eternal. It isn’t a Hebrew belief, nor is it a Christian belief. The Bible teaches that eternal life is a gift from God through his son Jesus Christ. The Bible conversely teaches that the wages of sin is death–not eternal torment. The passage in Revelations you quote, 20:10, says that the devil, the beast, and the false prophet will be tormented day and night forever and ever. It would be a great leap to claim that all unbelievers also receive this same fate, especially if you continue to read this passage, where it says in v 14 that “This is the second death, the lake of fire.” In order to come to believe in the doctrine of eternal torment, the Christian must redefine death, which is foolish. Are we going to redefine death by some misconstrued belief about the human soul that is taught nowhere in scripture?

    As far as I can tell–and God forgive me if I’m wrong–God offers eternal life to those who follow Jesus, and death–in hell–for those who don’t.

    • Ronald Slyderink April 6, 2016, 9:46 PM

      I agree with you, I have been led to that understanding – from Scripture, all of it.

  • Neil Larkins March 9, 2011, 10:11 AM

    Perhaps my take is for another discussion, but I feel the problem here is largely due to a lack of understanding of exactly what salvation is.
    My understanding is that Christ did indeed die for all sins for all people for all time — having shed his blood once to accomplish this. But having paid the price for our sins, resulting in our forgiveness, is not salvation. It is just the first step. Since we are born into sin, thus born with a sinful nature with our spirit dead to God, the necessary action to take – and the only action we can take that is acceptable to God – is to believe what Christ has said about Himself, that He is the resurrection and the live and receive His resurrected, eternal life as a replacement for our own dead life. It’s not that we just accept that He has forgiven us before we even knew we had sinned, or even before we existed, we must accept His life as our life. It is at this point that, according to Jesus, we enter into eternity, eternal life – even though we still have a viable physical body and thus become children of God, brothers with Christ. When the final judgement takes place, there will be only one question asked by God, and that is, What did you do with my Son, Jesus? If we accepted His word that He is who He says He is, His atoning sacrifice for our sins and received His life for our life, then we are allowed entry into Heaven.

  • Patrick Todoroff March 9, 2011, 4:40 PM

    Love and Grace have different dynamics.

    God’s Love stems from His nature. He loves all people. The offer of Grace stems from His love and is available to all. It is a transaction, however. It must be received. The faith that saves is a faith that acts.

    All the points you raise are evident in Scripture. Hell, Accountability, Judgment are not some bizarre medieval caricatures designed to enforce institutional authority. They are clear in Scripture.

    Who said “we’ve reached a point in our society where the first duty of intelligent men is to re-state the obvious.” ?

  • Barb Riley April 16, 2012, 5:58 AM

    Thanks for the referral to this post, Mike. Your first two points are something I’ve studied out, and have still arrived at a different conclusion about hell than you. There is nothing just or loving about infinite punishment for a finite crime. I believe in justice, I believe in love, and I believe Love (God) will judge justly. So, IMO, your first point—and subsequent points extracted from it—do not accurately state the belief of all universalists.

    Secondly, in search of answers for this monstrous doctrine of hell that never sat quite right with me, I took on the task of reading the Bible cover-to-cover and studying the Greek and Hebrew for three years in a row, during which time I kept a document of all the verses that debunk the notion of free will. While I adore C.S. Lewis and his many beautifully written books about faith, after working through my own studies, I have to listen to what the still small voice has said to my heart, and not what others (theologians, scholars, etc.) have come to say about the power of God’s love drawing us to Him.


    “Hell is due more to love than justice….The fires of hell are made from the love of God.”

    Unless you (and/or the person you quoted above) are referring to the symbolic use of God’s fire purifying His children… wow. Just wow. I respectfully disagree.

    • tara June 3, 2015, 12:43 AM

      I think it may be a mistake to think our sins are finite crimes. One could argue that to sin against an infinitely good Being (i.e. God) is infinitely bad. James 2:10 says if we keep the whole law, but stumble in one point, we are guilty of all. And even the best of us has stumbled in quite a few points, wouldn’t you say? That means that even the best of us is as much in need of a savior as Hitler. It only took one disobedient act to separate humanity from God. You say we don’t deserve eternal hell for finite crimes. Alright. Do you think we deserve to hang on a cross until dead from inadequate oxygen intake for “small sins”? Because that was the punishment that Christ endured on our behalf. And that’s not even going into the spiritual aspect of what He suffered-something else had to have been going on that people couldn’t see, for Him to ask, “why have you forsaken me?”. My point here, is that Christ’s death on the cross is far and away more severe than what we would ever sentence ourselves to for any one of our own sins. This should be sufficient to make us question whether God’s definition of a finite crime isn’t just a bit different than ours. If we had no choice in the matter, I might agree with you. But the fact is, God moved Heaven and Earth to give us an escape. I suggest we all take it. If we don’t, then we can’t call God unjust or unloving for what happens next.

  • Julie Ferwerda April 16, 2012, 3:40 PM

    Hey Mike, you make some great points here, but I challenge you to read my latest book to see if I might have some compelling perspectives on universalism to add to the argument. The book is entitled, “Raising Hell: Christianity’s Most Controversial Doctrine Put Under Fire” (www.raisinghellbook.com). There are some really logical answers to your objections, especially when you read the Bible through the right lenses (Hebrew). Like you, I used to dis universalism, but when I studied it out to try to disprove it, I found some really enlightening perspectives.

    • Mike Duran April 16, 2012, 3:50 PM

      Julie, thanks for writing. Your book looks intriguing. I might be interested in reviewing it. But let me ask you: Are you a universalist?

      • Julie Ferwerda April 17, 2012, 10:08 AM

        Would my answer make a difference in whether you read the book or not? Maybe you just need to read it regardless and see if there might be any new perspectives you could glean. I will tell you that I can guarantee it’s not quite like anything you’ve ever read before. Be sure to check out the Amazon reviews–most are positive. If you agree to review it, I’ll send you a complimentary copy.

        • Mike Duran April 18, 2012, 5:15 AM

          Julie, whether or not you are a universalist WOULD make a difference to me. However, after thinking about it, I’ll take you up on your offer.

          • Julie Ferwerda April 23, 2012, 11:47 PM

            Send me your mailing address. As to the question of being a universalist, I really don’t like to be labeled or pigeonholed because you know as well as anyone that any label you apply to anything (or anyone) has 1001 different meanings to as many people. Sorry I didn’t reply sooner. I didn’t see your reply. Send me an email. 🙂

  • Skadi meic Beorh May 5, 2012, 1:38 PM

    “The fires of hell are made of the love of God.”

    –Peter Kreeft

    Couldn’t be better said.

  • Collin Crull January 30, 2013, 11:50 PM


    I am only 18, so I may lack some life experience compared to y’all. That said.. I have mixed feelings on this. However, I feel like God is trying to lead me to the truth. Being raised in the Church of Christ, I have obviously had the very ‘traditional’ hell and salvation teachings pounded through my skull.

    I would first like to say that above all, regardless of any different viewpoints here, we would all agree the God is: perfectly GOOD, perfectly JUST, and perfectly MERCIFUL.

    I believe we should all study and understand the scripture to the best of our abilities.
    I personally cannot reconcile, based on the beauty of God’s love I’ve seen (through my mission work I might add.. just to state right off the bat I don’t believe Christians have any excuse not to spread Gods love far and wide) … based on that LOVE, I do not find it possible that God would let his children he loves spend an ETERNITY in torment, regardless of the finite amount of sin they committed.

    Now to address scripture.

    I would like to start by saying, I DO believe that ALL will be judged, and have to be punished for their sins. And correct me if I am wrong, but Christ died so that whoever believes in him would be free of sin, and when God looks at the believers, he sees NO sin just as Jesus was sinless. So to say that the idea that nonbelievers not spending an eternity in hell is somehow an excuse for people to not follow Christ is illogical.
    … I do believe they will be punished for their sins, while believers will not. Though I do not believe this punishment has to be, by any sort of necessity, eternal.

    If you look at a verse like Matthew 25:41, Jesus says “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” … The only thing I see eternal about this verse is the fire. Not the amount of time anybody would spend there.

    Revelations 20:10 was used as an example, however is was out of context, like somebody stated above. The devil and his minions will spend eternity in hell, as that is their wish and practically their duty.

    If you look at Isaiah 45: 23-24 “By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.’” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.

    I believe these verses ABSOLUTELY put to rest any idea that some people will not at some point confess their loyalty to God. And I will reiterate, I am not saying that nonbelievers will not be punished. However, I am saying that regardless of their punishment, or any time they spend apart from God’s holy presence, that, in accordance with those verses in Isaiah, that ALL people will submit to God one way or another. (If you refute my understanding of this verse, please explain)

    So, in God’s perfect love and mercy, He must, in accordance with his nature, at some point, bring every tongue that says “In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength” into his presence.

    Also, in regards to the idea that if you don’t believe in an eternal hell that there’s no reason to live like Jesus, or to show others to live like Jesus.. I think that choosing to not live a Christ-like life has an IMMEDIATE effect on the lives we live here on earth. People who live in darkness never get to experience true happiness or Christ-like love and peace. As Christians we should spread the GREAT news so that people can live happily and peacefully AND so that they can be washed blameless, and not have to deal with whatever punishment God has in store for the dirty ones.

    I don’t believe any of the things I have said negate the fact that belief in JESUS CHRIST is the sole way in which we are saved.
    I believe the Bible says all will freely choose this when all is said and done.

    That’s all…
    Rest assured I will not stop studying and searching to know God more and more(:
    If the beliefs I have stated are error, I’m sure God will lead me to the truth eventually.


  • JohnZimmerman September 10, 2013, 4:44 PM

    I object to every objection raised here, but just wanted to reply to a few:

    As I understand, Universalists have various beliefs about judgment, but usually don’t deny it will occur.

    Universalism does not violate free will by sending everyone to heaven in the end. The idea is that every human would willingly choose heaven when clearly presented with the options. That includes Hitler.

    Universalism leads to religious and moral indifference? I would be amazed if you truly believed that fear of eternal hell or annihilation is the only true motivator for leading a moral and/or religious life.

    Also I wanted to raise an objection I have to Universalism: I hear Universalists saying that it would be impossible for an all-loving God to send some people to hell. If post-mortem torment limits God’s love, doesn’t torment in this life limit it too? It can not be said that pain we feel in this life is judgment for sins. Some babies are born with diseases that give them excruciating pain for a short while before they die (they did not have a chance to sin, and they suffered). So, I think Universalists have to account for gratuitous earthly suffering before claiming their beliefs allow for a God that does not want humans to suffer.

  • Paul David September 21, 2014, 3:54 AM

    I have a question. Do Universalists also believe that Satan and the demons will eventually receive adequate justice and then enter into loving relationship with the Lord Jesus? I ask it because it seems that the Lord who is Love would have no lesser love for His angelic creatures than He has for human beings, and His mercy should be expected to extend to every entity from the beginning of creation if Universalism is true.

    God’s judgment would then be clearly “corrective” rather than “retributive” in every case. Statements in scripture and spiritual intuition seem to oppose any hope for the Devil’s repentance, and seem to explicitly indicate eternal torment at least, for him and his cohorts. Satan’s rebellious nature seems eternally incorrigible.

    Now, if ANY created beings at all will be subject to eternal torment, then this reality of eternal judgment must be somehow included in one’s apprehension of God’s loving nature, mustn’t it? How much should it matter whether the being is human or spiritual, since, ostensibly, God’s love must embrace every one of His creatures, at last. Does God love angels less than He loves humans? Why should only humans receive absolute absolution?

    We agree that the spirit beings, angels and demons, were not subject to death as humans are. Yet, they have shown full capacity for sinful choices and have introduced and perpetrated sin throughout the entire history of the created world, and could be expected to do so as long as the world endured in its present form. So I sincerely question whether any amount of corrective punishment would cause Satan to repent and turn in adoring love to the Savior; and there is not a whit of suggestion in scripture toward that expectation, is there? The open issue is whether the Lake of Fire is eternal torment or annihilation for Satan and his demons (and whoever else might arrive there).

    Finally, I ask whether there are also humans with the same disposition of incorrigible rebellion regardless of how much “corrective” discipline they might receive in the Universalist’s Hell which could just as well be named “Purgatory”.

    The problem of evil is profound. Introducing its eventuality into creation involved a cost-benefit we have yet to appreciate. Human beings are made in the image of God, who Himself is eternal; we are spirit, soul and body. When God said “Let there be…” He wasn’t kidding. He may choose to say “Let there NOT be…” I don’t think He will say it to Satan, the primordial sinner. He may not also say it to any or all who follow in Satan’s footsteps.

    The question of eternal punishment devolves upon the question of what we are according to God’s definition, not upon speculations about how merciful He is or isn’t. Allowing evil and suffering into His universe in the first place is the primordial conundrum. Everything else follows upon that one enigma.

  • Chris Saayman March 29, 2015, 5:51 AM

    For those who want to do some further study on this subject I would recommend three books: The inescapable love of God by Thomas Talbott; Flames of love by Heath Bradley and The Evangelical Universalist by Gregory MacDonald (Robin Parry).

  • JaredMithrandir June 3, 2015, 4:03 AM

    I disagree with Universalism, but also with how Christians usually object to it.

    I’m really sick of the “God would be a Bad Judge if he sent no one to Hell” argument. Because Biblical Sotelrogy DOES make him a bad Judge. We’re allowed to have the Judges son by our Defense attorney and take the punishment for our Sins for us.

    For you second argument, when did we Canonize that Neo-Pagan heretic C.S. Lewis as a Prophet of God?

    Also as a defender of Eternal Security, there are verses taken to be about Hell that I know really out. Mainly the Outer Darkness in Matthew.

    Most Christians universalize do believe your fate is different depending on if you accept Jesus. That argument comes down to the etymology of the Greek word translated “Eternal” and what is depicted in Revelation 2-22.

    I have a post on Universlaism on my blog if you want to check it out. It’s one of the post linked to on the Eternal Security page.

  • Bryce December 18, 2015, 9:44 PM

    1. Universalism does not say there is no judgement. The common confusion is that too many people can only think of judgement being “eternal”, when in fact most justice here on earth is not eternal, but rather is done to fit the crime and teach a lesson; it is purgative.

    2. Universalism does not violate free will in the strictest sense, nor does that even truly matter. People still have a choice, but since when has Man’s will overruled God’s will? Did God ever say for Pharaoh’s will to be done? Did He ever say for Nebuchadnezzar’s will to be done? God chose to save all of mankind as a parent would save his child. He would not place His children at risk of being lost forever as a parent would not place his child in a freeway with the risk of being hit by hundreds of cars.

    3. Paul often explains how the “old man” must be cast out and destroyed (Romans 6:6), if not on the cross, then in the fires of judgment. Whenever Jesus talks about damnation, he never actually uses the word “eternal” as you and I understand it, but rather the Greek word “aeonial” which means “age-during” (as shown in Young’s Literal Version of the Bible). The “age” that Jesus speaks of is the period of time in that God is trying to redeem humanity. Some people would say that this usage of the word “aeonial” also means that there is no “eternal life” along with “eternal punishment” as shown in Matthew 25:46, but other verses such as Hebrews 7:16 and Luke 20:36 talk about immortality in Christ. The word used in Hebrews 7:16 is not “aeonial”, but “akatalutos” which means literally “indissoluble”. This is the true word for “eternal” in our sense of the word, and it is NEVER used to describe punishment, only life in Christ.

    4. Again, refer to above. And as an added point: if “for ever” means “eternity”, then what does “for ever and ever” mean?

    5. Universalism does not eliminate the need for Christ, but rather means that some will come to Christ sooner than others. Not everyone was killed by Adam immediately through his sin, yet all will eventually die, so not everyone will be saved immediately through Christ, yet all will eventually be saved.

    6. Refer to number 2.

    7. Universalism fulfills the love of God. In fact, without it, God’s character doesn’t make sense. He would not love His creation only to torment it eternally or annihilate it. If God loves His creation and hates evil, He would not allow evil to exist perpetually and shrink away from it, He would overcome the evil with His powerful love. It is often said by atheists that “Every soul in Hell is a shining example to God that He failed.” And what a true statement that would be if universalism were false!

    8. The purpose of the gospel is not to acquire converts, but to spread God’s Kingdom. If hearing the gospel and believing it was the only way to be with God, then the vast majority of mankind would not be saved, so God did not send His Son to save the world (John 3:17), but only a few. To say that this is necessary is actually distorting the gospel either by saying that God did not come to save the world or that He failed in doing so.

    9. This is a fair point, and the Early Church leaders feared this as well. They did not like the idea that weak-willed people would take this good news as a “free pass to sin”. But I bet you won’t make the same claim about Luther and his “by faith alone” doctrine! The same fear was brought up against “faith alone” when it was first brought up, and people did abuse such doctrines. But what part of the Bible has not been abused and distorted by human beings against each other? This is not a valid argument against the doctrine itself, only against human nature.

    10. It is true, if there really is an eternal hell, then many people who don’t become Christians because of universalism will be lost. But it is never considered how many people turn away from Christ BECAUSE of the idea of eternal hell! The idea of a place of eternal torment is shocking to the human conscience. How can this God love us and throw us in the fire? The reason for this moral objection is obvious… it isn’t true, the God of the Bible would not do such things to His own beloved creation.

    11. See point 9.

    12. This point brings up the point of Christians being a “royal priesthood”. Those who die in Christ shall “rise first” and become priests to Christ, who is High Priest. This is the only interpretation of these verses that doesn’t allow for contradiction. Those who think this means there can only be a few people ultimately saved are simply ignoring other verses that say that “all are saved”.

    13. This does not eliminate the need for evangelism. Not only has our Lord commanded us to spread the good news and make disciples (love the Lord your God with all your mind, heart, and strength), but it is simply morally correct to do so (love one’s neighbor as yourself). The only thing this eliminates is the “believe or burn in Hell” part of the evangelism, something poisonous that rightly needs to go away.

  • JaredMithrandir December 21, 2015, 9:43 AM

    I’ve become a Universalitst recently. Bryce’s points are valid.

    I do not believe everyone will have the same fate in eternity, only those who Belive din Jesus in his Life have the opportunity to be Co-Rulers. So no it doesn’t make following Jesus meaningless.

  • MELANIE GREENWOOD November 1, 2016, 1:06 AM

    Seems like the author, while raising very good points, is mixing up Christian Universalism with Unitarian Universalsm. Unitarian Universalism is an “all roads lead to Rome” approach. Christian Universalism does teach that Christ is the only way to God, and teaches salvation by grace through faith. What are we saved from if not Hell? We are saved from physical death with no hope of resurrection. The Bible says the wages of sin is death, not hell, and that Christ is the first resurrection, to be followed by believers (who return with Him to earth during the second coming), then the rest of humanity is raised.

    Also of note: going to some other plane called heaven isn’t really a Biblical concept; Christ and the Apostles taught the eternal Kingdom of God as existing on Earth after humanity is raised from the dead. Even if you believe in Hell you can accept that one.

    Christian Universalists DO believe that there is an after-death punishment for sin, we just don’t think it lasts forever. The ancient Jews of Christ’s time had a concept of temporary punishment for evil-doers after death. The idea of eternal damnation has its roots in pagan Zoroastrianism and, though a minority belief in early Christianity, was only widely taught starting around the year 400, right around the time that church and state merged and, coincidentally, when the “Holy” Roman Emperors needed a new way to control their subjects.

    Now onto the Justice question. No, Mother Theresa and Hitler do not have the same fate. For dramatic sinners, like Hitler, post-death punishment may last a very, very long time, but like a good parent, God our Father (who commands us to love our enemies just as He does) designs punishment to cleanse and restore, not to destroy. God is not so weak that even the worst of humanity cannot be redeemed. It’s worth noting that many of the Greek words translated “for ever and ever” are actually better translated as “for ages upon ages” and the Greek word for fire (“pur”) is the root of our English word “purify.”

    On the Lake of Fire: Revelation is a tricky book to interpret in the best of times, but why do we take the Lake of Fire literally when most Christians don’t think there’s actually going to be a dragon with 7 heads or an actual, physical Whore of Babylon?

    We should also be cautious about our teaching on free will. I believe it exists, but the concept is not taught as unequivocally in Scripture as the author seems to think, unless he’s ready to label all Calvinists heretics (they, btw, compose 30-40% of all self-identified Christians in the United States and Europe).

  • Doubting Thomas December 9, 2017, 4:20 AM

    I could just picture a heaven full of incredibly proud souls, discussing amongst each other… wow… so few of us here, but we’re here because WE made that DECISION for Christ… oh yah, and ENDURED TILL THE END… what percentage of humanity did God say he REALLY wanted to save: 100? 60? 30? 1? and if it was 100, what percentage did He succeed in saving? looks like the devil seems to get to keep 99% of what he’s stolen… all those demons in hell and the lake of fire are having a party torturing Satan’s immense treasures, the folks thrown there… some as young as 7, because their parents forgot to make sure they repented before sundown but didn’t drown them to keep them forgiven of past sins… the world fails to appreciate Andrea Yates’s act of love to prove she cared for the welfare of her 5 kids’s souls… that’s the caricatured psychedelic bad trip universe that logically follows man-centred religion of any kind: being forced to conclude that Satan does one thing better that God Almighty Himself, who created him: “MAKE DISCIPLES”!
    Does fire have equal power over what is cast into it? if so, power to do what? “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power…” but in man-centred religion seems more like the second death hath no power to change the damned, so now we can confidently say the wicked are like fully refined precious metals and stones, the REAL ultimate perfection. I believe there IS a lake of fire awaiting, and many more souls will experience its inner workings there than anyone could dream. Also, remember the accounts of free will in action starring Job, Nebuchadnezzar, Jonah, and even Jesus Himself!
    In a fallen creation where even the greatest minds merely see through a glass darkly, I can only be more certain of what is not, than what is.

Leave a Comment