Evangelical Universalism: Oxymoron? Robin Parry S Can an evangelical be a universalist? S Universalists say that God will save all people S Historically almost all evangelicals have denied this and evangelical statements of faith seek to exclude it S Surely “evangelical universalism” is an oxymoron! S My claim: Evangelical opposition to universalism is contingent and not an entailment of evangelical commitment What is “evangelical” universalism? S Aside from affirming orthodox Christian faith and holding a high view of Scripture an EU holds two beliefs: EU1 and EU2 S EU1: “in the end, God will reconcile all people to himself through Christ’s atoning work” S EU2: “EU1 is a biblical belief” S 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? S Most evangelicals think that the Bible contradicts universalism S But universalists believe that their view is biblical S 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 S If it does not then it can be tolerated as an evangelical-compatible error (like Calvinism ) S So does universalism entail a denial of key evangelical belief ? 1. Universalism undermines the seriousness of sin S “It does not matter what we do because God will save us all anyway” S EU has a strong view of human sin S But a high view of grace S “Where sin abounds grace abounds all the more” 2. Universalism undermines divine justice and wrath S 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”) S EU seeks to have a biblical, Christ-shaped understanding of God’s love S EU does not ignore divine justice nor divine wrath and punishment S EU arguably has a more theologically satisfying understanding of the divine nature as holy love 3. Universalism undermines hell S The “hell” of universalists “ain’t a bad place to be” (the same objection is made to annihilationists) S If hell is only fearful if it maximally horrible then this objection stands . . . S But that something is not maximally horrible does not mean that it is not very horrible and to be avoided S (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 S Universalism says that “all roads lead to God—Christ is only a way to the Father but not the way” S EU maintains that Christ is the only way to the Father and that salvation is only through union with Christ S EU can be inclusivist or exclusivist 5. Universalism undermines the importance of faith in Christ S “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 S If one is an exclusivist EU then faith in Christ is a necessary condition for salvation S 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 S “Why proclaim the gospel to people if they will be saved anyway?” Universalism undermines evangelism S The gospel is God’s means for saving people—so we proclaim it (cf. Calvinism) S Arminian universalists do have fear of hell as a motivation for evangelism (hell is more of a motivation for them than for the Calvinist) S 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 S Universalism is often linked with Unitarianism: one heresy often leads to another S The link is partial: Trinitarian Universalism is older and longer-lasting S The link is historically contingent: nothing about universalism entails Unitarianism 8. Universalism was declared a “anathema” by the Church S Universalism was declared heresy by an ecumenical church council so universalists are “unorthodox” and hence “unevangelical” S Only a specific version of universalism (Origenism) was declared anathema by the church, not universalism per se 9. Historically evangelicalism has rejected universalism S True (almost) S But I claim that this rejection is contingent and not necessary so on its own it is not decisive S Evangelicalism is a living tradition with capacity for healthy development S Which central evangelical beliefs do “evangelical” universalists deny? S 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) S Baptist—revivalist preacher in USA S Came to believe in “universal restoration” S Founded Universalist Baptist Church in Philadelphia and another in London S Remained evangelical in his theology of Trinity, atonement, Bible, evangelism, etc. S Remained active in gospel-preaching EU grows from common evangelical conviction S Arminian: God loves all people, wants to save all people, and sent Christ to die for all people to achieve this goal S Calvinist: God will achieve all his purposes in salvation; all for whom Christ died will be saved S Both A and C are evangelical so are EUs unevangelical for holding both belief-sets? S A & C combined entail universalism . . . S . . . or must evangelicals believe that either (a) cannot save all, or (b) does not want to save all? EU grows from the evangel S Our eschatology must be grounded in God’s revelation in Christ S At Calvary we see hell (which turns out to be neither annihilation nor eternal torment) S In the resurrection we see new creation S In the resurrection of the Second Adam, all humanity has already been saved S 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 S EU is consistent with Bebbington’s quadrilateral: S Biblicism S Crucicentrism S Conversionism S Activism Evangelical Universalism S Creedal orthodoxy and high view of Scripture S Christocentric S Trinitarian S Evangel-focused S Missional S Biblically rooted S My Question: What else does one have to be to count as “evangelical”?