Hell Under Fire Book Review – Chapter 8 – Universalism: Will Everyone Ultimately Be Saved? Part 2

 

 

I am going to bite off a couple more sections of this chapter today. The next sections we will look at are Motivations and Variety.

 

 

Packer begins his Motivations section with the following statement:

 

 

Most universalists (granted, not all) concede that universalism is not clearly taught in the Bible; what then is the warrant for the universalist confidence? It seems plain that the deepest motivation in their minds has always been revolt against mainstream belief in endless punishment in hell for some people.”

 

 

And what lies at the base of this motivation to “revolt against mainstream belief in endless punishment for some people?” A few paragraphs later, after listing many prominent people who believe in universal salvation, he makes the following statement:

 

Rejecting all thought of an endless hell for some is prompted partly, to be sure, by direct compassion for one’s fellow humans, but mainly by the thought that inflicting eternal punishment is unworthy of God, since it would negate his love. This is apparent throughout the story scholars tell of medievals and some individual Anabaptists in the sixteenth century…to find a way of seeing all religions as one and of affirming salvation through them all. This vision of God’s loving nature and purpose has been the constant motivational taproot, the control belief that shapes everything else to itself.”

 

 

Packer makes such a sweeping statement that “most universalists concede that universalism is not clearly taught in the Bible,” that I hardly know where to begin. If he is saying that most, if asked, if they were 100% sure that we know for an absolute fact that the Bible teaches universal salvation, I would probably agree with him. However, let’s put a statement like that in some perspective. If you asked Christians today whether the Bible translation they used was 100% accurate, given that we don’t have the actual original writings of the apostles and others who wrote the Bible, would most say they are 100% sure that what they hold in their hands on Sunday morning is absolutely the God-breathed, Holy Spirit-inspired Word? My guess, and by guess I mean the evidence I have from personally asking questions like this for the better part of 20 years as a Christian, pastor, and Bible teacher and leader, and receiving answers to questions like this, is that most would say, “No, I am not 100% sure that the Bible (version, translation) I hold in my hand on Sunday morning is 100% the God-breathed Word given to the apostles and other writers.”

 

 

So what is the weight of such a sweeping statement by Packer? Zilch! Anyone can make sweeping statements about anything and appear accurate. You see, it is just like journalism, especially news reporting. You never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to, and you frame your question to get the desired answer. From my vantage point, it is hard and dangerous to ask the motivational question of someone from history who has long since lived and died. In writing, unless one specifically makes statements as to their motivation, we can only wildly guess what their motivation is, especially hundreds, if not thousands, of years later. The Bible even state that only God knows a person’s heart. All we can go by is what is stated in their writing and comment on that. So my caution to you, the reader, is be wary of authors who state motivations of others from history. Seek for yourself the information to either support or deny those assumptions of motivation.

 

With that said, I believe, from the many volumes I have read from universalists in history, that the deepest motivation is not for the repeal of endless punishment as it is FOR the salvation of all of those whom God has created. And, in studying all the biblical statements made that clearly state the restoration of all that has been created, especially humankind, past, present, and future, it is clear to me that the biblical writers (Paul specifically!) made more out of the mercy, grace, lovingkindness, and beneficence of the Father than they ever made out of an ECT in a place called hell. The problem, and I know this from personal experience, is that it is much easier for us to focus on the negative than to focus on the positive. And, given much of what passes itself off as preaching today, the negative is what is typically put forth.

 

Example: In much of the preaching I have listened to for the last 20 years, the sermon starts out with positive affirmations of benign (harmless, kind, innocuous) things. The sermon (and many Bible study teachings) will talk about the “The three things every parent should know about raising healthy, God-loving children.” It will state these three things from biblical texts showing how great it is for kids to obey their parents and the joy of a household in unity. And it will tend to uplift the hearers for 15 minutes to one half an hour. Then, the end comes, and typically, what many in Protestantism call, the altar call or appeal happens. In that appeal comes, more often than not, some sort of fear tactic to exhort the hearers to repent. And, more often than not, the appeal has in it, whether implied or stated, some statement that if you don’t turn from your sinful ways you will go to an ECT in hell. Now, I know this is very general, but it is frequent in many reformed churches and except for the very liberal churches who don’t really uphold the Bible as God’s truth, it is heard in many Arminian churches as well (Methodist, Wesleyan, Assemblies of God, Churches of Christ, Pentecostal, etc. mainline denominations that are not reformed, though many of these are very liberal today!).

 

In other words, the hearer hears essentially that God is loving, BUT He is also just. And perpetuated every week is this notion that God is divided against Himself. He wants to be all-loving, but He just can’t be because there are just so many darned sinful people out there committing sin that it is all He can do to bring His justice to bear in their lives. And, at some future time, He will really bring the hammer down on them and consign most of all the people He created in His image to an ECT in hell. Boy, if God could just be loving all the time, how great would that be?!! But unfortunately, He has to deal with sin, in a way that appears to us to be anything but loving, so that His holiness will be vindicated. Well, instead of that, how about this? God shows His love through His justice, through refinement of some in a place that will rehabilitate all those who go there, so they are persuaded in their own minds through “tough love,” that God is all-loving and will have all His image-bearers to love Him and worship before Him forever.

 

That is the message that I see in the Bible, not one that Packer puts forth (motivation to do away with hell and motivation to see all religions legitimized as Christian, essentially what Packer is saying). However, an author must guide his readers to where he wants them to go and so, Packer does this very thing. In other words, as I see it, he sets up a straw man (using sweeping generalizations) and then knocks them down.

 

Have people, who believe in the eventual salvation of all mankind had varying motivations and beliefs about what the Bible says on a wide range of doctrines? Yes! Have “historic, orthodox Christians” who believe in the eventual salvation of a few and the eventual damnation of the many, have varying beliefs about what the Bible says on a wide range of doctrines? Yes! So where does that leave us? It leaves us with the idea that ALL of Christianity is not monolithic (undiversified, mainly the same). It also leaves us, I believe, with much of Christianity striving to separate itself, from itself, and in essence calling everyone who does not believe exactly the way they do as unbelievers.

 

 

If you think I am just blowing smoke, try reaching a true unity between Reformed Baptists and Methodists, for example. By and large, the only thing they would ever do together, in unity, is give a thirsty man a free bottle of water! They would not normally be seen in Bible study together! Could you imagine? Anyway, my point is, to end this section, that Packer’s wide-ranging statements of motivation just are not very helpful. They make universalists out to be monolithic, all believing that one can do anything he/she wants to do because in the end everyone will be saved. Until I have time to post on that topic (how sin does mater, God does deal with it, we should all be concerned about it, etc.), I will just say that anyone who thinks that is what Christian or Evangelical universalists believe, is just dead wrong! See this blog’s pages on what we believe and what we are about.

 

The next section, I think, will help substantiate what I have just mentioned, that those who believe in universal salvation are diverse and wide-ranging. In Packer’s section on Variety, he states,

 

 

Motivationally, then, universalists are at one, but not in substantive theology.”

 

Well, a breath of fresh air here, but, I still stand by what I said earlier, that motivationally universalists, as he calls them, are not at one either! Do universalists hold some of the same beliefs? Yes. Are they sometimes motivated by the same things. Yes. Should their motivations be defined monolithically? NO!

 

He quotes Richard Bauckham. Bauckham says, “Only the belief that all men will ultimately be saved is common to all universalists. The rationale for that belief and the total theological context in which it belongs vary considerably.” To me, Bauckham seems to be saying exactly what I just got through saying. Universalism necessitates, at a basic level, that one believe in the final salvation of all people. But, the rationale (and motivations!) for that belief varies considerably!

 

 

Packer next explains that there are dogmatic universalists (like J. A. T. Robinson, and Nels Ferre) who believe in universal salvation as certainty. Others (like Karl Barth, Emil Brunner and others) think of universal salvation as a theological (biblical) possibility, but one cannot be certain. These types are labeled as “hopeful universalists.” He said that some believe that this life is not the only opportunity for a person to be saved and that many will go to a place of chastening (hell) for a long or short period of time (I would use the biblical term aion, meaning an age), but eventually be saved from that “hell.”

 

To show the reader the childishness that passes itself off as solid biblical teaching from icons of the Christian faith today, Packer quotes R. C. Sproul saying, “A prevailing notion is that all we have to do to enter the kingdom of God is to die. God is viewed as being so “loving” that he really doesn’t care too much if we don’t keep his law. The law is there to guide us, but if we stumble and fall, our celestial grandfather will surely wink and say, “Boys will be boys.””

 

WOW! What a mis-characterization and misrepresentation of Christian universalism, to the point that I think he should issue an apology. How childish of this well-known and well-thought of pastor, author, and theologian! Shame on you, Mr. Sproul! You, of all people, should know better! Maybe I will have to post on that topic sooner, rather than later (self, take a mental note, post on how Christian universalists believe that sin is serious and God is not winking and nodding at any sin!)

 

Packer mentions that most universalists affirm, from Philippians 2:9-11 that all will come and worship God.

(Php 2:9)  For this reason, God also lifts Him up above (highly exalts Him; elevates Him over) and by grace gives to Him (graces on Him) the Name — the one over and above every name! —

(Php 2:10)  to the end that within The Name: Jesus! (or: in the name of or: belonging to Jesus), EVERY KNEE —  of the men upon the heavens (of those belonging to the super-heavens) and of the men existing upon the earth and of the men dwelling down under the ground (or: pertaining to subterranean ones) — may bend (should bow) in worship or prayer,

(Php 2:11)  and EVERY TONGUE may speak out the same thing (should openly agree, confess and acclaim) that Jesus Christ [is] Lord [= Yahweh?] — into [the] glory of Father God (or: unto Father God’s reputation)!  (Jonathan Mitchell New Testament Translation)

He states that some back up this belief by believing that God will persuade people against their will by wearing them down over time to believe in Him. Packer says that those who believe this way do not mean it as God brainwashing people, but Packer says that is the way it sounds.

 

I believe in the sovereignty of God and I believe that God is all-powerful and able to accomplish all that He wills. And because of that, I think that God’s love is all-persuading and that however it comes to pass, which we do not know from the Bible nor fully understand, that God ‘s love is powerful enough to melt even the most-hardened of hearts. And that melting (for some in this life, for others in the pain of hell) will melt all hearts and all hearts will then be re-molded into God-exalting hearts, God-loving hearts, the way God initially created us to be.

 

 

Packer wraps up this section by surveying the variety of universalisms:

(1)the various universalisms are corollaries or spin-offs of other beliefs about God and/or man and, that (2) universalism in all its forms is a human wish seeking a divine warrant. What holds universalists together is a shared sense of embarrassment, indeed outrage, at the thought of a loving God ever excluding anyone from final happiness, rather than any common mind as to what that happiness includes and how today’s unbelievers worldwide will reach it…Do any of the speculations we have reviewed, marginal as they are to the main flow of Christianity over two thousand years, strike us as having the ring of truth?” (emphasis mine!)

 

Again, WOW! What statements to make! To me, this a lion’s share of hubris on Packer’s part. A shared sense of embarrassment because we believe God’s love will rule man’s hearts? Seriously, Mr. Packer? I am in no way embarrassed over my Father in heaven who loves more than you can possibly conceive, sir! To mock your brothers and sisters in Christ who hold to a biblical view that was held by many of our earliest teachers of the faith I would not call “marginal” or “speculations.” The earliest believers in the faith followed closely after these men (like Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and many others) who taught universal salvation and now the best you have to offer us is basically, “Might is right, I have more who believe in eternal hell than you have that believe in ultimate salvation of all. Therefore, my beliefs must be true!” SAD, sir!

 

The ring of truth? Yes sir, there is the ring of truth in ultimate salvation and there is much biblical support for it. Hundreds of verses spread from cover-to-cover that explain God’s ultimate reconciliation and restoration of all things. For the reader, I would again, refer you to excellent resources such as Tentmaker Ministries by Gary Amirault, and others like him for balance in understanding what the Bible says about universal salvation.

 

 

I will end this part of the review here. Has Packer “proven” anything by what has been stated? I see a host of assumptions based on majority power, but very little even-handedness in his assertions, and even less biblical support for what he says. Let me know what you think

 

 

In Christ,

 

Craig

 

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2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, God's Love, Hell, Mercy, Universal salvation

2 responses to “Hell Under Fire Book Review – Chapter 8 – Universalism: Will Everyone Ultimately Be Saved? Part 2

  1. No, Packer is definitely unjust in what he says about universalists. Everyone’s motivation and understanding is different and we come from different backgrounds. There is also a huge difference between Christian Universalists and Universalists who believe all faiths lead the same place as he lumps us all in with.

  2. Nicole,
    I agree with your comment. You see how the mainstream Christian leaders obfuscate the issues. They are really no better than the Pharisees in mixing truth and error. They are similar to the cults they rail against in the same respect. They confuse categories and set up “straw man armies” and then mow them down. And while mowing them down they keep turning to their disciples (avid followers, students, etc) and say, “Trust me because I have many initials behind my name and have a position of authority granted by a body somewhere. I would never lie to you.” Though, at times, well-meaning, they miss the truth.

    I don’t remember what website I got the article from, but you can Google it if interested. At the same time I was doing this latest review I was reading an article by my former professor of evangelism at SBTS, Timothy Beougher (pronounced “booker”) called “Are All Doomed to Be Saved? The Rise of Modern Universalism.” This is the sad “scholarship” I sat under at SBTS and the kind that is heralded by many Christians as some of the best there is. Take snippets from 97 sources and impress with your endnotes. Include any professor or Christian author of note and quote them, and then miraculously, by the sheer weight of their credentials, you can “win” any argument. That article made Packer’s info look harmless in comparison! The article was truly sad because of the egregiousness of the claims and quotes. As you said, Christian universalists do not believe all religions are the same and that ALL universalists believe the same things. I have found, from these pseudo-intellectuals, that it is easier to win an argument, or appear to win an argument, when you lump all of your opponents into the same batch. That way there is only one target to take out and everyone will be disparaged in the group by the fringes of that group. Keep the faith and great to hear your car is fixed! I am a former mechanic myself!

    Craig

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