Sometimes all doctrinal concepts that stand against a mainline tradition can be carelessly lumped together.  Conditionalism and Universalism both portray God as far more merciful than tradition would have us believe.  But make no mistake — This is not Universalism that I’m putting forward in this book.  But could the universalists be correct?  It’s highly doubtful.  It far over-stretches what logically works with many scriptures and themes in Scripture.  But the truth is, it’s at least remotely possible, at least some versions of it, so we’ll take a look at it.  What I’m calling “Universalism” goes by different names such as Universal Salvation, Universal Reconciliation, and Christian Universalism (CU), among others.  I’m referring to those who would consider themselves Christians, but who believe that ultimately all mankind will be saved and live eternally with their Maker, even those who rejected Christ in this life, rather than there being a judgment which would result in either eternal torment (the traditional view), or eternal death and loss of being (the non-traditional view I hold and promote).

This wasn’t a topic I initially planned on addressing in this book – not more than a brief mention anyway, even after reading Rob Bell’s Love Wins that promoted a version of the doctrine several years ago.  I didn’t think his arguments warranted much of a response.  But a couple years after I read Bell’s book, I came across another Universalism-promoting book by Julie Ferwerda entitled Raising Hell.  And it was such a well-written and well thought out attempt, that if I had not already researched this subject extensively, I might have jumped on the bandwagon with her myself, being a person seeking an alternative to the traditional view of judgment, and one certainly hoping to find a more merciful God than what tradition has given us.  However, at the end of the day, I find that she didn’t address many Scriptures that would negate her claims.  And I think she stretched too far in other places, such as suggesting that there’s really no concept of eternity in Scripture, at least not in relation to judgment.

Although Universalism isn’t new, and while some of what I’ll address in this brief chapter will be the general teachings of this doctrine, I’ll focus as much on some of Ferwerda’s specific positions, since hers is the most recent work I’ve read on the matter, and one that I’m concerned could sway many people.  I don’t know Ferwerda personally, and I’ve only read one of her books.  But based on what I’m reading, my belief is that she’s probably a saved Christian who believes that it’s only by Christ’ death and resurrection that any can be saved.  I don’t believe she’s a heretic, at least not in the sense of being a person setting out to intentionally destroy the work or Word of God.  Nevertheless, I believe she’s wrong in her ultimate conclusion that everyone will eventually be saved from eternal judgment, however you want to define it.

There’s a theme that runs through the entire Bible, and it’s the necessity of faith.  It’s what God grants in some measure to all, and it’s what He requires the exercise of in order to be made right with Him.  There is no thematic evidence in Scripture that all people will be saved.  Just the opposite.  Jesus said that most would go down the broad road that leads to destruction, and watching the faithless and rebellious go down, is something one can do in almost every book of the Bible.

There are a handful of verses that, if not considered in light of all Scripture, and if taken out of the context they were given in, can be surface-interpreted to mean that all people will ultimately be saved.  And these verses, combined with a strong desire to reject the unmerciful traditional view of a God who would torment billions of souls for all eternity, are the basis for Universalism.  But just as the traditional doctrine of eternal suffering is based on too little Scripture, and those verses taken out of context or misunderstood, so too is the other extreme, represented by the doctrine of Universal Salvation.  If we would accept that God is merciful in that His grace extends to all, and in that those who reject it will not be saved, but at the same time will not be made to suffer into eternity, we wouldn’t need to hyper-extend into a doctrine which negates God’s requirement of faith for salvation.

Most likely the truth on judgment is somewhere in the middle ground.  It’s in between those who believe that a loving God can bring billions into existence, with the full foreknowledge that they would reject Him, with that rejection resulting in an eternity of suffering in a literal or non-literal lake of fire, and then those who believe God would still save those who rejected Him in faithlessness and instead loved this world.  God is merciful, yes.  But it is only by faith that we can please Him according to Scripture.  Does this mean He won’t save some that don’t please Him?  Arguments can, have, and will be made for the potential salvation of some who didn’t know better, and who never received a full revelation of Christ. And there definitely seems to be a theme in Scripture that personal responsibility is in proportion to personal revelation, but that goes beyond what I want to address here.  I’ll touch on it briefly at the end of the chapter.  But for those who outright reject the revelation that God gives them…Will they be saved?  I think we would find little evidence for this, and much evidence that those who reject God will in turn be rejected.

What we’ll do in this chapter is first see why the universalist doctrine almost works.  We’ll take a look at some of the proof texts that universalists are relying on.  Then we’ll see where it breaks down.  Sometimes we’ll be looking at things Ferwerda specifically stated, since she, in my opinion, has made the best modern attempt at defending Universalism.  But may I give a challenge to universalists to consider?  If you’re a universalist, and are 100% convinced you are right, then go with your heart, I suppose.  But if you believe there’s even a small chance you’re wrong, can you see how potentially dangerous it is to tell people that all souls will be saved one day, no matter the decisions they made in regard to the Lord?  Wouldn’t many who are feeling the pull of God on their hearts more likely take the path of least resistance and remain in unbelief if they’ve been made to believe there are no permanent consequences for faithlessness?

Julie Ferwerda begins her defense of Universal Salvation by analysis of three parables in Luke chapter 15 which she considers to be a series.[i]  They are the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son.  If I understand her correctly, she maintains that the fact that the sheep couldn’t “find” itself, but that the shepherd went looking for it is evidence that all mankind will be saved — same for the lost coin.  And she sees the father’s waiting and watching, even while the prodigal was in rebellion, as evidence of the same.  I love these parables, but simply can’t come away with the same conclusion.  A shepherd looking for the lost one is a picture of what God does.  He seeks the lost.  And the prodigal came to the end of himself, and repented.  He had to take this action in order to be restored.  Ferwerda seems to see the prodigal as one who went into judgment after this life, but then saw the error of his ways, and essentially “left Hell,” so to speak.  The traditional view of Hell and universal immortality is partially to blame here.  The widely accepted traditional idea that a human soul is able to survive the second death in the Lake of Fire is the foundation for the universalist error that one could then exit such a judgment, and by their own will.  And indeed Ferwerda believes there is some form of judgment after this life but that a soul can repent and confess and be saved from it.  Sounds very Catholic/Purgatory-like to me.

These parables were a response to some Pharisees and scribes griping that Jesus receives and eats with “sinners.”  In the middle of telling these parables, Jesus stated that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over many who need no repentance.  It seems that He was condemning the pharisees, in their arrogance, not seeing themselves as needy.  And it also seems that he was or had recently been in the act of “eating with sinners,” the very thing that prompted the parables, and so Jesus was doing what the parables teach.  He was seeking the lost.  And people were in turn repenting and following him – now – in this life.  There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that this is about something that can happen after this first earthly life.  And the best evidence may be Jesus’s very statement about the rejoicing in heaven over those who realize their need, because he contrasts these with those who don’t see themselves as needing salvation.  Who, in the Lake of Fire, (were it possible to survive it) would not see their need to then repent?  It just doesn’t work.  These parables are not about exiting final judgment to enter eternity.  They’re about God seeking us out to save us from final judgment in the first place.

Next, after personal testimony on how she left her traditional belief in Hell, Ferwerda began, somewhat flippantly it seemed, naming all of the classes or types or people who are going to end up in Hell, if the place truly exists, and if Scripture is to be interpreted literally[ii], as if Scripture doesn’t maintain salvation is offered to all, of any class and type.  And I sense that she is using this growing number of peoples as an evidence that this simply couldn’t be, at least not if their end will be eternal torment.  But concerning the sheer numbers of those who will face final judgment, is this not exactly what Jesus predicted when He said that wide is the gate and broad the road that leads to destruction and many there will be who take that path?  She names off the wise and learned, the Jews, the Gentiles, the Calvinists, the Armenians, among others.  Even just naming the Jews and Gentiles essentially included everyone.  As I’ve made clear throughout this volume, I of course reject the doctrine of eternal conscious torment.  But I completely accept Scripture’s statement on final punishment, in that it ends with destruction.  And what she seems unable to accept (the idea that such a large majority are headed for final judgment) is exactly what Jesus said.  The road is broad and the gate wide that leads to destruction, and many are going down that road.  And He went on to state that few are on the narrow path that leads to life.

Rob Bell, Julie Ferwerda, and many other universalist writers and teachers do not deny that there is some time of judgment for those who rejected God in this life.  This is one reason why I say their doctrine almost works.  In Love Wins Bell seems to imply that those in Hell can at any time confess Christ and be taken out of judgment.  It’s up to them — our human freedom is not stifled (except temporarily) by being cast into Hell.

Universalist Proof Texts

In John 12:32 Jesus said that when He would be lifted up, He would draw all men to Himself.  And universalists go on to point out that the Greek word being translated as “draw” in this verse can actually mean “drag.”  They use this as evidence to demonstrate that He will pull people “from Hell” at some point.  If God is not trying to grow a family of faithful followers who love Him, as Scripture seems to indicate, but is rather ultimately saving everyone, this leaves me to wonder what the last 2000 years have been about, and why be missional in sharing the gospel?  And why choose God in this life?  Ferwerda makes attempts at demonstrating that these still have value, but I remain unconvinced. If our choices in faith or faithlessness have no ultimate consequences regarding whether we gain eternal life or not, then I don’t see the point. Even a lengthy earthly life in pain, or lengthy time of trial and testing after this life are less than nothing compared to timeless eternity.

Ultimately, this life, our decisions for or against God, and anything of lesser importance are of no ultimate consequence and have no bearing whatsoever on our eternal state, if the universalist doctrine is correct.  If Christ’ being lifted up (which was a reference to His death on the cross) was the thing that literally saved/dragged every soul to Him, and if with Him is where we’ll be for all eternity, regardless of our actions, thoughts, and pursuits now, our ministries, etc., then just what are we doing?  Nothing of any ultimate value, I would think.

Back in Chapter Five I mentioned Robert Jeffress’s thought that if Hell isn’t eternal torment, it takes some of the urgency out of witnessing.  Best I could tell, he was saying that as an argument against Conditionalism, not Universalism.  While that logic doesn’t apply well in relation to conditionalist ideas, since the consequences for faithlessness are still quite dire in the conditionalist model, it actually applies very well to Universalism.  What exactly is the point of witnessing to anyone, if all will be saved regardless?  And according to some universalists who still believe there is a place of burning torment, they maintain that those who go there don’t have to be there any longer than they want to be.  After physical death, when the faithless ones find themselves in a raging inferno, all they have to do is humbly admit they were wrong to not believe, and they’re free to go.  If that were how it works, I’d say most would stay there about .1 seconds, and that would then lead me to the question: Why create that place?  But that’s not what Scripture teaches.  There would not be the call to faith throughout Scripture if it were not critically important, and if all wrongs of faithlessness were correctable after this life.

It’s far more likely that the verse is making it clear that salvation would be available to “all men,” and that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth would be working on the hearts of “all men,” pushing, pulling, dragging, whatever it takes.  The Lord isn’t willing that any should perish, and therefore He has gone to monumental lengths to demonstrate His love toward us.  But that level of His will is over-ridden by the requirement of placing faith in Him to be saved.  Again, to take it as the universalists do would negate hundreds of verses, and actually make all forms of ministry, outreach, or any attempts at living for Christ of no ultimate value, if everyone’s end is the same, regardless of how we believed or lived in this life.

Scripture tells us that God isn’t willing that any should perish.  Universalists go on to claim that God’s will cannot be thwarted, so, it is reasoned that ultimately none must perish. But it is clear from Scripture, that “God’s will” is often thwarted, leaving mankind in detrimental circumstances. God can “will” that Cain do right and be accepted. But when Cain followed up his first disobedience with the murder of his brother, God can (and did) banish him from his presence. This doesn’t mean that he wanted him to kill Abel. God can “will” that mankind spread out over the whole earth, but when we congregated to build the tower of Babel, God can (and did) come down and confuse languages so that we were forced to spread out. I could literally go on and on with examples of God’s will thwarted. So God can certainly be willing that none perish, and so make a provision in Christ by which we will not perish, yet when we reject the provision, there are dire consequences.

God has an ultimate will to save all those, and only those, who will place their faith in Him.  He is building a family of faith. This ultimate will overrides his general will that none perish.  Jesus did not say that one day he would tell some who mistakenly believed they had been doing His work: “Depart from me, I never knew you…oh, but hey, I’ll catch up with you on the other side of your correction in the Lake of Fire.”  No, that last part isn’t actually in Scripture.

In her book, Ferwerda creates a typical conversation between her and an orthodox Christian[iii] where she “wins” the argument by ultimately quoting James 2:13 which states that “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”  This is a great example of how universalists, like traditionalist Christians (as relates to eternal conscious suffering), pluck verses out of context and use them as proof texts to back their views. She didn’t mention the previous sentence in the verse that stated that judgment would be unmerciful to those not showing mercy.  And apparently she fails to see in the following verse that James is ultimately teaching on faith, and that faith without works is dead.  Why is teaching on faith so important if faith in this life isn’t even necessary for eternal salvation?  Compared to eternity, time-wise, this life is less than a grain of sand in comparison to every beach on earth.  Why are James, and God, through James, and so many writers of Scripture spending all this time on the matter of faith?   Because it is of eternal importance.  God is growing a faith family, and these who prevail in faith are those who will spend eternity with God.

Let’s look at another text that Ferwerda believes states that salvation will be given to all. It’s Acts 17:30-31.

“Truly, then, God overlooking the times of ignorance, now strictly commands all men everywhere to repent, because He set a day in which “He is going to judge the habitable world in righteousness,” by a Man whom He appointed; having given proof to all by raising Him from the dead.” (LITV)

She claims that the Greek word pistis that’s being translated as “proof” is a mistranslation.[iv]  Strong’s concordance gives several ways to translate it, such as “persuasion,” “moral conviction,” etc.  And the King James version translates it as “assurance.”  Ferwerda points out that the word pistis is often translated as “faith” and “belief” in other places where it’s used, but she doesn’t seem to recognize the context and statement of this verse.  It blatantly states that God “strictly commands all men everywhere to repent” because He “is going to judge the habitable world.”  Why the strong warning to repent, if the actual point of the verse is to give assurance that everyone is going to be saved?  It just doesn’t work.  The last part of verse 31 is stating that it is the raising of Christ from the dead that gives us the “grounds for” faith and belief – the “assurance” that the promises of God are real and true.  But His resurrection doesn’t automatically save everyone.  Only those who act in faith on the “persuasion” that His resurrection was in fact substitutionary on our parts for saving us from the penalty for sin.

Ferwerda believes there’s a verse in the Old Testament book of Daniel that prefigured a false teaching about Hell.  I found this to be one of the more odd arguments in her book.  You may be familiar with the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.  These were three Jewish young men who were exiled to Babylon during one of Israel’s rebellions, yet they remained faithful to God, refusing to bow down to the image that Nebuchadnezzar had erected.  Because of this refusal, they were cast into the fiery furnace that had been heated up seven times hotter than normal, just for them.  But they were unharmed.  Ferwerda seems to believe that these men in a fire, yet not being burned by it, is a metaphorical prophecy that one day there would be a false doctrine about Hell, but just as these men were unharmed, so will any who might have been in danger of Hell, by traditional standards, be ultimately unharmed…since it’s not even real.

This is an odd take on Hell because these three Jews were faithful to God and not even in danger of His judgment.  Ferwerda using these as a foreshadowing that no one will ultimately be in danger of fiery judgment is to ignore the very thing that set them apart to begin with — their faithfulness to God.  The claim of Scripture is that the faithful will be saved from the second death that happens when the lost are cast into the Lake of Fire, and if anything was foreshadowed here it’s the salvation and survival of these three men because of their faith.  Notable too is that Ferwerda attempts to disregard the fact that the men who cast Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego into the fire were themselves killed while doing it because the fire was so hot.  Her method for avoiding this was to include a footnote claiming that the captors’ death is not in the Septuagint version.  But the Septuagint is a Greek translation of the original Hebrew Scriptures.  If those who translated it left something out, that’s no evidence that it didn’t happen.  It was still in the original Hebrew.

Ferwerda voices her concerns about the Lake of Fire being interpreted as something literal, when so much of the book of Revelation is figurative.  Her point is fair enough. But with the likely correlation between the Lake of Fire and what Jesus called the “eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels,” to me it sounds like this is a real thing that has been or will be literally prepared.  And even if it isn’t, the Bible states what it is.  It is the second death.  The first death is the death of the body, and the second is that of the whole person: the soul and whatever manifestation of body that God gives to stand judgment in.  And whether the Lake of Fire is a literal lake of fire, or is symbolic for something beyond our comprehension, perhaps something extra-dimensional even, it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that it is stated to be the place and/or process of final death and destruction.  And while I reject the traditional notion that it’s a place where the lost will be able to exist and suffer for eternity, I can’t deny that it’s real in some form, and appears to be much more than some sort of correctional or refining fire.  And yes, there are those sorts of terms in Scripture, and we Christians are told that we will endure “fiery darts” and “fiery trials,” and certainly, these are not literally fiery darts (although some Christian martyrs of other ages did literally endure fiery trials).  Ferwerda makes much of the fact that fire in Scripture can be for purifying and refining.  But I’m just gonna put it in kindergarten language: Fire burns stuff up.  We know this from experience, and from Scripture, such as Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed by fire, and this being said to be a foreshadowing of the final end of the lost.  Fire is God’s means of destroying those who reject him.  Consider John 5:24.  Jesus says:

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (italics for emphasis — ESV)

The logical conclusion is that if one will not hear His word and believe, they will not gain eternal life, they will be condemned, and they will not cross over, but rather stay on a course with death.

Jesus said that blaspheming the Holy Spirit would not be forgivable.  What do universalists do with this unpardonable sin?  Do they simply say “Well, unforgivable at the time of judgment, but of course, later, all will be overlooked”?  I just don’t see it.  Furthermore, If Christ’ suffering death atoned for the sins of all, regardless of whether active faith is placed in Him, then why do those who are ultimately saved still have to suffer any time of judgment, as many universalists believe they will?  What’s the purpose?  Is God saying, “Well, you failed to put your trust in me, and I’m going to save you anyway, even though you denied me in faith. But first you have to go through this punishment”?  Seems that either Christ took their punishment or He didn’t.  They don’t both need to suffer.  What the Bible teaches instead is that either we’re going to suffer the eternal punishment of death, for sins uncovered, or we’re accepting Christ’ death on the cross as our covering from God’s ultimate wrath.

To be fair, there are more verses that universalists believe add to their theory than the ones I’ve addressed.  But I don’t want this chapter to turn into a stand-alone book.  I hope that answering the sampling I chose demonstrated the issues with trying to bend these verses to mean something they don’t.  And truthfully, there’s not that many more.  If there were just hundreds and hundreds of verses like these few that have been used to create the universalist doctrine, and only a handful of other statements that made it sound like judgment was final, then I, and I’m sure most Christians, would accept this as truth.  But that’s just not the case.  And when a handful of verses can be surface-interpreted to mean something, but if that something is in direct opposition to too much other Scripture, it needs to be questioned.  The same thing applies to the traditional Hell and immortality doctrine.  Both are built on too few verses that conflict with the major statement on judgment in Scripture.

Nevertheless, there’s a big part of me that hopes I’m wrong and universalists like Ferwerda are correct.  It’s no problem to me if at the end of all of this, God relents on final judgment and saves us all.  But then, I’m not a Holy God with righteous requirements who has stated consistently that it is only by faith that I can be pleased.  I’m just a sinner who needs God’s grace and mercy.  So, what I want is of no consequence.  And I’m just never going to get beyond Jesus telling us that there will come a time when He says to many: “Depart from me. I never knew you.”  God stating that He will send one to “restore all things” is simply not the same thing as Him saying that ultimately he will save every soul He ever created.  He so blatantly stated just the opposite in many places as we’ve already looked at.

I wrote this book to demonstrate that God is more merciful than traditional Christianity has led us to believe.  I have that one thing in common with the universalists. But they take it far beyond what Scripture will allow. Not only does their doctrine deny the permanence of all the warnings of coming judgment, Universalism negates all of the foreshadowing of judgment, such as Noah and his small group of faithful being saved from the destruction that fell on the many, and Lot being saved out of Sodom before destruction fell on it. The Bible is so consistent on this. But it has no significance outside of the events themselves if all are ultimately saved. We know these stories do have significance however because we have two other books of the Bible claiming that the utter decimation of Sodom and Gomorrah were a picture of what will ultimately happen to unbelievers, and that “as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man.”  It’s stated very plainly, and there’s never a hint in those passages that there is restoration after this decimation.

Who then can be saved?

The universalist doctrine is tempting to latch onto because, were it true, it would help answer some difficult questions about who can be saved.  One question that many have asked is: “What about those who were never reached with the gospel?  How can it be fair that they should suffer for all eternity just because God put the great commission in human hands, and then human missions attempts failed those unreached people?”  The reader already knows my answer to at least part of that question.  No one is going to suffer for all eternity, even those who reject Christ, much less those who never even heard the name.  But can these who never received the details of the gospel be saved?  The universalist answer is simple: Yes, everyone is going to be saved eventually.

My answer is a little more complicated – first, because I’m still not omniscient and can’t claim absolute knowledge.  But here’s a few things to consider: Rahab, the non-Jew, pre-Christ-era harlot made the New Testament list commonly called the “Hall of Faith,” found in the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews.  And she likely knew very little of God, and likely nothing of a promise of a Messiah.  She acted in faith on the little she knew, and she is counted among the faithful according to the writer of Hebrews.  For that matter, none of the Old Testament faithful, Jew or non-Jew, had much of the details of what exactly Christ would one day do.  The gospel is called a mystery.  Yet many were faithful to what they knew of God, and will be saved.

Further, it’s almost universally accepted among Christians that children who have died in the womb, very young children who pass away, and those of any age who die without the mental capacity to grasp the concepts of the gospel and salvation, are going to be saved.  And we give those in these categories “a pass” so to speak.  And I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t.  I’m in agreement.  But I’m only asking: Why are we giving them a pass?  Best I can tell, the criteria is that they don’t know any better.  So how is a person who likewise doesn’t know better, any more responsible, simply because they’ve grown to be an older child or an adult?  I know what some readers are thinking – “Age of Accountability.”  But let’s be reasonable.  It’s knowledge and revelation that makes us accountable…not time and date.

We’re responsible to act in faith on what we know of the one true God.  The one difference is that an older child, or an adult, even one who hasn’t heard the full gospel, has begun getting some revelation of God.  I believe that God is always (and always has been) attempting to draw all mankind to Himself.  Paul asks in Romans 10:14 how one can believe without a preacher.  He goes on to claim in verse 18 that all have heard “the preaching” as he makes reference to Psalm 19 which states that the creation itself is the first “preacher” telling us who God is.  What’s generally taught is that if we respond in faith to the little revelation we have, God will send more revelation, ultimately sending full revelation of Christ, which can be accepted or rejected.  Others believe that a response in faith to whatever you know of God will produce salvation.  I’m not going to act like I know the absolute answer.  But I do believe that one or the other of these is true, because God isn’t willing that any should perish.

However I don’t believe we can put our faith in just anything, and therefore be saved “by faith.” When God stated that it is only by faith that we can please Him, I don’t think He meant faith, just for the sake of faith. It’s been stated often that it takes more “faith” to be an atheist these days, with all of the evidence of a creator. But God isn’t going to save a person who lives and dies as a faithful atheist. Scripture is clear enough on this. So it’s not just faith, but faith in what we know of God, the real God…not some false version or concept of God.

I believe God is moving on all people. And if He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and if He isn’t willing that any should perish, as Scripture tells us, then I’m forced to believe that in whatever way, He is making Himself known to everyone, on some level, in a way that if they respond in faith, it will either save them, or bring further revelation which they will be able to respond to in faith and be saved.  The only other possibility, if in fact God is not willing that any should perish, is if He truly did look over the “times of ignorance.”  Something like this is stated a couple of times in Scripture, and there are different interpretations of what it means; some believe that in various times in history God did not reveal Himself, and that the people who weren’t exposed to knowledge of God were used by God for a particular role in history. And the thinking would be that this is not their fault, but was God’s plan, so we would take the couple of verses in Scripture that seem to say that these will be overlooked, and trust that God knows what He’s doing.

Would He save these who had zero knowledge of Him, if in fact anyone has ever existed who had zero knowledge of Him? First, it’s difficult to believe that any have existed in this state, with creation screaming that there’s a Creator.  But ultimately, I’ve got to admit that His ways are higher than my ways, that I’m not God, and that I’m just going to trust that since He isn’t willing that any should perish, He has made provision.  In the end, my point is this: There are a number of ways to interpret Scripture that don’t violate it, yet do not maintain that God is rejecting people who lacked revelation. We don’t need to resort to Universalism to be able to handle this question.

If someone grows up in a country that has kept Christianity out, and they are going about the motions of their religion, let’s say for instance, a religion that believes in multiple gods, but are then impressed that “this is wrong,” and there must only be one God, and they respond to these promptings in the best way they can in their position, it’s hard for me to believe that this isn’t faith in action, even if a full revelation of Christ isn’t available.

By the same token, if a person is involved in that same religion that denies the one true living God of Scripture, and they’re being impressed that it’s wrong, presumably by the Holy Spirit, yet they reject those promptings to perhaps challenge tradition, etc., and simply continue on, it’s impossible for me to believe they’ll be saved.  But I’ve gone a little off topic.  All of that was just to say that there are ways to understand that God is merciful in our various levels of revelation that we’ll receive, depending on where we live, when we live, etc.  So the real question is less about how God could save one who appears to have not received the full gospel (With God, all things are possible), but more like “Will God save those who reject the revelation He gives and never seek deeper or repent from faithless living in this life?”  And I just don’t see the affirmative ‘yes’ answer to this question in Scripture that the universalists see.

Ultimately, let’s not get hung up on questions about “what happens to the aborigine who never got the gospel?” since it’s just as likely that none have ever existed that didn’t receive at least some revelation of the one true God that they could either respond to in faith and be saved, or respond to in faith, and be granted further revelation that could lead to saving faith.  But please do not think I’m negating the importance of outreach and missions.  God wants people to know Him as fully as possible in this life.  I don’t believe He’s content with partial revelation.  But because He has given the commission of spreading the gospel to a bunch of sinners who fail miserably at this most of the time, it’s difficult for me to believe that He automatically outright rejects those who do not get the full gospel of Christ.

Well, I don’t claim authority on this matter of who can be saved. I have some questions of my own. I only went on a little there to demonstrate that there are plenty of ways to be at peace with God on the matter, without resorting to the false conclusion that “God must save everyone, or else He is unjust.”

Ferwerda makes much of those from whom God “hid” truth in parables.  She seems to imply that if she’s wrong about her universalist position and everyone one day being eternally saved, that we have literal proof that Jesus rejoiced that God was sending many to an eternal Hell.[v]  My first issue with this is that she juxtaposes all of her positions against what I already believe is a wrong position in the idea of eternal conscious torment, and she completely ignored the conditionalist position except for a single end note that acknowledged that Conditionalism maintains that death is eternal.  But secondly, everywhere in Scripture where I see God hardening someone or hiding information from someone, the someone had already hardened themselves to God first, and the hardening has a purpose.  It’s not random or unmerciful.  We saw a great example of that with Pharaoh and the Exodus back in Chapter 1.

When it’s all said and done, any individual, group, or sect can take Bible verses and turn them to what they believe — or want to believe.  And I’ve certainly been accused of this over the course of this discovery, and the writing out of this book, and I’m sure more opposition is headed my way.  But I’m asking the reader to seek which interpretation is the most biblically linear, the most logical, and most lines up with the nature and character of God, as revealed in Scripture.

The traditionalist can take a handful of verses and turn them to mean that the lost will suffer consciously for all eternity, even though doing so violates many other concepts, forces the redefinition of common terms and ideas, and contorts possibly the most consistent theme in Scripture, painting a picture of a very unmerciful God.  The universalists, at the other extreme, have taken another small handful of verses and created a god that would negate all the emphasis on the importance of faith, another theme which is highly important to Scripture, because Universalism would tell us that ultimately it doesn’t matter if you demonstrated faith in this life or not — You will be saved, and with the Lord for all eternity.  It sounds good, but ultimately it raises more questions than it answers, and it’s overly hopeful, beyond what Scripture allows.

The answer is in the middle ground.  God is a righteous judge, and at the same time a Merciful Father.  His grace extends to all, but His salvation belongs only to those who accept the gift.  There are wonderful blessings awaiting those whose faith is in Him.  And there is judgment and death awaiting those who reject the moving and prompting of the Holy Spirit on their hearts and minds.

We all have our explanations of the verses that we use to forward our beliefs. But we can’t all be correct.  Of the traditional, conditional, and universalist takes on this matter of judgment, either none of us are correct, or one of us is correct.  At least two of us are wrong.  But if asking “Why do I believe what I believe?” is an important question, and it is, then the answer to that question being sound and solid is even more important.  And I don’t find the traditionalist or universalist defenses of their positions sound and solid.  Let’s rather ask, “Does why I believe what I believe make the most Scriptural sense, in light of all the evidence?”

In Raising Hell, Ferwerda recounts the story of a man named Kent whose family was murdered, but who felt strongly that God was telling him to forgive.[vi]  Ferwerda is using this as evidence that God wouldn’t ask us to do something that He doesn’t also do (forgive one that didn’t ask for forgiveness).  She seems to ignore that this prompting of God could more likely have been to demonstrate God’s love so that the murderer would come to faith in Him (because coming by faith to God happens to be of critical importance in this life, as Scripture makes clear), and she only sees it as something that proves her points.

Universalist proponents, and Julie Ferwerda is no exception, have a very one-sided way of viewing things. They see all people as “God’s children” when clearly the Bible states that we all begin as enemies of God, capable of being adopted as sons and daughters of the King through faith.  She however believes that we as parents, who love our children unconditionally, are the ultimate evidence that God will not destroy those who reject Him.  The way I’d view it, I can love a rebellious child all I want, but if they’ve left me and will not return, we don’t have a relationship…end of story.

And I can’t state fervently enough that the Bible makes it clear that we are counted as righteous, only by faith in God.  This is where the comparison between us as parents, and God as the “parent” of all people sort of breaks down.  We don’t require “faith” in us (at least not in any sense like God requires) to have a relationship with us.  We’re not “blood relatives” until we’ve put ourselves under the blood of Christ.  All people are not God’s children.

As earthly parents, we are a dim likeness of the heavenly father.  We just can’t metaphorically equate every aspect of our parenthood directly with God’s Fatherhood and come to the conclusion that because we are commanded to love our children, and all people for that matter, God will not ultimately reject those who reject Him.  It just doesn’t work.  And her theory that no loving parent would ever let their child go doesn’t match up with reality.

I wouldn’t be shocked to find out many universalists are “Calvinist rejects.”  Or it might be more correctly stated that they are those who for their soul’s sake, were forced to reject Calvinism.  Just a quick two-sentence reminder/summary of what I use the generalizing term “Calvinism” for, in case the reader missed or forgot what I wrote in Chapter 1 about the doctrine: Essentially, it’s the belief that we do not have free will, and that God predestined most of His human creation for eternal conscious punishment because He chose not to give them the ability to respond to the Holy Spirit.  It’s a sickening doctrine, and it took me into the depths of despair more than once before I dug into it and found the logical problems with it, and some great answers to it.  Prior to my research in that area, because scholarly, “respectable” people who write lots of “Christian” books are teaching such things, and because there are a couple of Bible passages that on the surface seem to support the concept, for a time there, I was feeling forced to accept it, and the unmerciful God that it creates was more than I could bear.

I’ve found many people on Calvinist forums who have felt the same way, but who have yet to reject it, and now that I’ve educated myself more about it, I’ve peppered them with questions that should bring their belief into serious question.  Generally, the response I get is “I’m gonna to get back to you on that.  I’ll write a lengthy explanation that…”  Well I’m still waiting for those responses.  Bottom line: Selective mercy isn’t merciful.  I’m just gonna say it.  And if I’m wrong, then I’ll answer to God for it one day.  But I’ll never fathom how some can believe God is merciful when they also believe that He brings us all into existence as sinners, none of us able to ask for life or existence, then sets a requirement of faith in Him for salvation from judgment for our sin, but only gives the ability to respond by faith to the relative few.  That’s quite monstrous to ask the impossible, and then when unavoidable failure happens, to then punish with the most detrimental of punishments — to suffer consciously, not for a billion years only, but for timeless eternity.

Thankfully, there are wonderful scriptural defenses against Calvinism, and other ways to comprehend its proof texts, and we only touched on a few of those back in Chapter 1.  But Ferwerda, it seems, was never able to get beyond some of the concepts that comprise the Calvinist doctrine.  She seems to scoff at those who believe we have free will to choose for or against God.  So in turn, she just dumps the “eternal” part of judgment, and in that way, finds a merciful God.

Ferwerda, in defending the idea that we have nothing to do with initiating our salvation goes to the exodus from Egypt, and God stating that He would bring them out.  She points out that they had absolutely nothing to do with this, and believes this is a picture of all of us having nothing to do with our “rescue.”[vii]  There’s some problems with this. First, the Bible states clearly in Exodus 3:7 that the people who had become enslaved in Egypt were crying out to God for deliverance.  So they were certainly seeing their need, and calling out to the only One who could do anything about it.

But secondly, although God brought them all out, most of them ultimately proved to be faithless, and perished in the desert.  And then, when you take in this last fact, you see that more likely this symbolizes what those of us who believe in free will would claim, which is that God of course makes the first move in deliverance.  None could be saved if first He had not offered Christ’ sacrifice to us, and secondly if He did not endow us all with a measure of faith to be able to believe in Him.  But then we can exercise this God-given faith toward God, or put our hope in other things such as our own “goodness” or the pursuit of the riches of this life, etc.  And the exodus and later results are a perfect picture of this.  God heard their cry and saw their need, and made the first saving move.  But He required faith and trust to enter into the Promised Land, and ultimately most forfeited it, just as Jesus stated of all mankind, that “many” would go down the broad road that leads to destruction, and that “few” would take the narrow path that leads to life.

Free Will

Ferwerda seems to mock those who believe in free will.  And her method is to imply those who think we have the free will to make a decision for the one true God, must also believe we have free will over every aspect of our lives.  Clearly we don’t.  There are multiple forces, good and evil, that are constantly infringing on our will – not to mention multiple places in Scripture that indicate that God steps in whenever He so chooses, to direct humanity.  And yes…he even hardens some people toward what would otherwise appear to be His will that they do or believe.  But we already noted that this only seems to happen in cases where the person or people group has already rejected Him.  But believing we have the free will to make a faith decision for or against the Lord, is different from believing that God is hands-off or that we have perfect control over all aspects of our lives.

God clearly uses those who are unrighteous for His purposes, just as He uses those who do believe, trust, and hope in Him for His purposes as well. But none of this convinces me in the least that He is not intentionally growing a family of faith, and that the members of this family become members by their own free will. I’m not denying obvious Scriptures that indicate that no one seeks after God in the natural and that it is only by divine intervention that anyone seeks after Him. But we do this with the faith that He has granted us. He draws all men. Some will respond and some won’t. It likewise doesn’t infringe on His sovereignty for us to have free will because He sovereignly determined to give us the ability to reject or accept Him. And by His omniscience, His foreknowledge of every single future human decision, He can, and does, play all of that into His own moves. And His purposes cannot be thwarted because His purpose is to save those who will by faith receive Him. If that’s one person, or one billion people, His purpose is fulfilled.

In Ferwerda’s version of Universalism, she seems to accept the Calvinistic position of Sovereign Election, but then rejects the idea that those not elected in this first life will actually be lost, rather seeing them needing further correction in the Lake of Fire which she believes is figurative for a purifying learning process.[viii]

As I’ve done in most every other chapter in this book, I’ve pulled much of the original material out for the sake of space.  There’s certainly much more that can be said in addressing the issues within Universalism.  But I hope this at least demonstrated some of the weaknesses of the universalist doctrine that all humanity will one day be saved. This idea is a serious hindrance to spreading the gospel of Christ, with an accompanying warning of potential judgment.

 

[i] Ferwerda, Raising Hell, 14

[ii] Ibid., p.30

[iii] Ibid., p.74

[iv] Ibid., p.35

[v] Ibid., p.28

[vi] Ibid., p.73

[vii] Ibid., p.208

[viii] Ibid., p.64

Copyright © 2018 by Scott McAliley

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