Salvation in Scripture
Packer begins this section by saying that universalists affirm salvation in its fullest sense, then he defines what salvation is:
“Salvation, in Scripture as in life, is the process, or outcome, of being saved; that is, being rescued from jeopardy and misery, preserved and kept safe from evil and disaster, protected against hostile forces, and thus firmly established in a state of security. The Bible focuses throughout on God as the One who saves, and on needy humans as beneficiaries of his saving action.”
Packer says that “the master theme of the New Testament is God’s work and gift of spiritual, eternal salvation through Jesus Christ the Lord, a work whereby guilty, vile, and helpless humans are delivered from sin, God’s wrath, death, and hell.”
He further states that:
“This Christian salvation has three tenses – past, present, and future. Believers have been saved from sin’s penalty, are being saved from its power, and will one day be saved from its presence, for when we are glorified there will be no sin either in us or in our environment…and is mediated through, a personal relation that constitutes its very heart, namely: (1) faith-and-love fellowship with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, in adoring gratitude for what has been given so far and in expectant hope for more to come; and (2) a relation supernaturally created and sustained in the present by the Holy Spirit, one that it seems will last forever.”
I can agree with Packer in his definition above. God is the One who saves and mankind is needy in many regards, but especially in regard to salvation. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot make ourselves sinless and worthy of God’s love, protection, etc. I will take a bit of exception to what Packer calls, “the master theme of the New Testament.” I believe this is the master theme of the whole Bible and I will use slightly different language to describe it, namely, God’s reconciliation restoration of all things to Himself.
Further, I can agree with his assessment of the salvation in the past, present, and future. Where I believe we do differ is when and where this salvation can and does take place.
Universalists and Salvation
At first glance I was excited to see this section come up. My excitement waned a bit as I read through it. He asks the question at the outset, “Do universalists really understand salvation in these terms?” He then goes on to label three different types of universalism; secular salvationism, postmortem salvationism, and pluralist salvationism.
Secular salvationism is that belief which says that “the destination everyone will share after he or she has died is not conceived in a way that includes the elements in the biblical gift of salvation as stated above.” It is similar to the Hollywood fantasy that in the end everyone will die into happiness, though not necessarily through the biblical mandate of belief in Jesus Christ.
Clearly, this is an unbiblical view, especially in relation to what was shared above. I agree with Packer that secular salvationism is not accurate from a biblical standpoint.
I will take the next two out of sequence. I want to discuss briefly pluralist salvation. Pluralism refers to “a range and variety of thoughts, beliefs, ideals, convictions, hypotheses, and points of vie on a subject, or of cultural and religious life-patterns and value-systems overlapping or in parallel,” and that every one of these is valid and enriches us all. In pluralism, Jesus Christ is just one of many great religious leaders, all equals, who have been used by God to teach people the way of salvation. Therefore, salvation can be found equally in Buddhism, Brahmanism, Hinduism, and any other religion or religious experience because God uses them all to draw people to himself.
This, too, I believe is in serious error. I believe that Christ and His early followers affected the whole world with their teachings and beliefs. Therefore, I believe that all religions, in one way or another, share some traits with Christianity, if for no other reason than they were affected by Christ’s teachings throughout history or the fact that everyone is an image-bearer of God and in similar ways resonates with each other due to this fact. However, I do not believe that each individual belief held by every world religion is helpful or necessary or right (true) in bringing people to salvation. I think, as the Bible clearly states, there is one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ. I believe that He is revealed as fully as necessary in the Bible. I believe that belief in anyone or anything but Jesus Christ (and the Father and Spirit) will not lead you to salvation. There is salvation in no other name and that at the name of Christ, eventually everyone will be brought to true worship of the One True God, the God of the Bible, and His Son Jesus Christ through whom we (everyone) will be saved. Therefore, I, too, reject pluralist salvationism.
That leaves postmortem salvationism, and I purposely left this for last in this section. Postmortem, meaning, after death, salvationism states that “God will deal savingly with all who, for whatever reason, left this world without faith in Christ.” God will carry out, what some have called, eschatological evangelization, meaning, basically end-time evangelism. This entails confronting those who died without Christ, after their death, with their sin and continuing to do so until everyone succumbs to belief in Jesus. How this takes place varies depending on which universalists you talk to. But, the bottom line is that somehow, someway, after death, those who died without Christ will come to faith in Him and enjoy salvation forever. Packer says those who believe in this view “work with a fully Christian idea of salvation.” But, this is the concern for him. Packer believes that the opportunity for salvation ends at death and that peoples’ fates are sealed at the moment of death. I would classify myself as in this view, believing that somehow, though not shown the details scripturally, that God will reconcile ALL people to Himself and restore them to fellowship with Him, just as the Bible tells (shows) us (see 1 Cor 15:22-28, Col 1:15-20, Rev. 20-21 for some example texts, some of many, by the way!). I believe 1 Peter 3:19-20 gives us some insight into how (or that) this takes place.
I will be writing more on this subject after this book review is completed. By the way, this book review has become somewhat cumbersome in the respect that it seems like I keep saying many of the same things over and over again. Oh well, I guess that is the nature of the error as I see it. I am looking forward to finishing this WHOLE review and moving on to other, and probably more meaningful, things, but I do desire to finish what I have started. So with that, let me continue.
Looking over the chapter, I think it would be good to stop here. The next section is about seven pages long and does not divide up real well so I will keep it as a whole. It may be a fairly short review, though, since it is dealing once again with the meaning of eternal punishment, ground which we have more than covered in the past sections and chapters. We shall see. Until then, God’s richest blessings to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.