Is Universalism Possible? An Arminian Perspective

There has been a great deal of hoopla over the possibility that Rob Bell might be a universalist (See here and here). Much of the criticism against Bell has come from those of the Calvinist persuasion.  Given the source of criticisms, it is worthwhile to note that hell is necessary for different reasons for Arminians and Calvinists.

A belief in universalism requires an amalgamation of Arminian and Calvinist belief(1). First, it requires that God genuinely wants to save everyone (Arminianism).  If God doesn’t want everyone to be saved, universalism can’t be true.   Second, it requires that God “make” people believe (Calvinism).  If God doesn’t irresistibly change hearts, universalism can’t be true.

For the Calvinist, hell is necessary to display God’s wrath. Jesus bore the curse of God’s wrath for the elect, but not for the reprobate.  Thus, hell is needed for God to express his wrath against the sin of those for whom Jesus did not atone.

Arminians believe that God’s wrath was fully manifested at the cross. Hell is not necessary in that sense.  Jesus’ sacrifice was intended for everyone, and it is of benefit for everyone who believes.  For Arminians, hell would become unnecessary if everyone believed (for humanity, not fallen angels).

For the Arminian, hell is for those who reject the sacrifice of Jesus.  Those who reject Jesus do it by their own choice, not because of a lack of grace from God.   C.S. Lewis once wrote, 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.’(2)

For the Arminian, God does not want to or need to damn anyone.  Hell is necessary because of the nature of the way that God created us with free will. God doesn’t work coercively to make us believe, because to do so (in Wesley’s words) would destroy the very nature which He has given us.(3)

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1Universalism could also be true if God permits sin in heaven and/or what Jesus taught on hell was inaccurate. I don’t consider either a viable option.
2C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce.
3John Wesley, Predestination Calmly Considered.

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7 Comments

Filed under Hell, Universalism

7 responses to “Is Universalism Possible? An Arminian Perspective

  1. Ted Voigt

    nice post, kevin.

    I would only add that a few of my nazarene friends have commented to me, (speaking of their own personal thoughts and not of any real doctrine as far as I know) that they hope in the end as one final act of wrath against satan and evil, Christ would “break in” to “hell” and redeem all humanity there as well. What are your thoughts on that?

  2. Hi Ted, thanks for the comment.

    It would be interesting to hear that view fleshed out further, but with your short description, I have my doubts. I think hell is relational separation from God, and people in hell want to be apart from God. It seems unlikely that He could change that desire without some sort of coercion.

    I do think something similar to what you describe happened after Christ’s death and resurrection. He conquered hell, satan, death, and evil. There are also passages that allude that he may have redeemed the righteous dead from Hades at that time.

  3. slw

    Good analysis. A universalist is nothing but a Calvinistic who decided to take the John 3:16 (and a few other verses) seriously. ;-)

  4. Kevin wrote: “Those who reject Jesus do it by their own choice, not because of a lack of grace from God.”

    So you mean at the end of the day it is man’s choice that is the final arbiter of Salvation. Is that it, Kevin?

    • What if God has decreed that we choose?

      A.W. Tozer wrote: “Here is my view: God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, “What doest thou?” Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.”

  5. Nicely done, Kevin. I was going to reply with the content in your footnote…maybe you should blend those in. They’re right on target!

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