This is an incomplete and unedited version of “Chapter 7: This is not Universalism” from the book I’m writing on judgment.
Could the Universalists be correct?
It’s highly doubtful. It far overstretches 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, but I’m generally referring to those who would consider themselves Christians, but who believe that ultimately all mankind will be saved and live eternally with their Maker, rather than their being a judgment that would result in either eternal torment(the traditional view), or eternal death(the non-traditional view which I hold and promote) for those who rejected the knowledge of God in this earthly life.
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 a few years ago, because I didn’t think it warranted much of a response. But a couple years ago, I came across a book by Julie Ferwerda entitled Raising Hell. And it was such a well-written and well thought out promotion of Universalism (the doctrine that eventually all people will be saved), that if I had not already researched this subject extensively, I may have jumped on the bandwagon with her myself, not being a person afraid to challenge tradition, and one certainly hoping in 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 statements and position, since hers is the most recent work I’ve read on the matter, and one that I think may 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 a saved Christian who believes that it is only by Christ’ death and resurrection that any can be saved. I don’t believe she is a heretic, at least not in the sense of being a person set out to destroy the work or Word of God. Nevertheless, I believe she’s wrong in her ultimate conclusion that everyone will eventually be saved from death, however you define death. There is a theme that runs through the entire bible, and it’s the necessity of faith. It is what God grants in some measure to all, and it is 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, 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 something that 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 God 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. And then I’ll give a challenge to Universalists to consider. If you’re a Universalist, and are 100% convinced you are right, then go with your heart. But if you believe there’s even a small chance you’re wrong, I’m going to demonstrate why it’s a doctrine to stop promoting.
Julie Ferwerda begins her defense of Universal Salvation by analysis of three parables in Luke chapter 15 that she sees as a series. They are the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. 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 traditional idea and widely accepted “fact” 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.
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’ 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.
Next, after personal testimony on how she left her belief in hell, Ferwerda begins, somewhat flippantly it seemed, naming all of the classes or types or people who are going to end up in hell, if “hell truly exists” (p.30 of 278), and “if we are to literally and consistently apply all the passages in our Bibles” (p.30 of 278), 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? 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(and this website), 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 so many 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. Bell claims that those “in hell” can at any time confess Christ and be taken out of judgment.
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 and each other, 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?, 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 drops in the bucket of 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’s 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 that’s where we’ll be for all eternity, regardless of our actions now, our ministries, etc, then what are we doing? Nothing of any ultimate value. 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 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 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 who will place their faith in Him. He is building a family of faith. This ultimate will over-rides 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, buy 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 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 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, timewise, 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 so much time on this matter of faith? Because it is of eternal importance. God is growing a family of faith, 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.
She claims that the Greek word pistis that is being translated as “proof” is a mistranslation, and that it should rather be translated as “belief” or “faith”. 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 is used, but she doesn’t look at 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 that there is 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 Abegnego. These were three Jews 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’s statement is:
“Why [weren’t they harmed], one might ask? I believe it’s because the threat of the fearsome, destructive fire-destiny devised by men is not real.”
This is an odd take on hell because these three Jews were faithful 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. These three’s survival through fire is the picture of salvation. And she fails to mention that the men who cast Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fire were killed themselves while doing it, the fire was so hot. She tries to ward off comment on this fact by including a footnote that states that this statement of the captors’ death is not in the Septuagint. 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. She makes her point like this:
“[Most Christians] read about the woman riding on the beast, the red dragon with seven heads, the harlot sitting on many waters, and people standing on the sea of glass mixed with fire, and they all say, “Oh, obviously those are symbolic.” But as soon as they get to the lake of fire, aack! “That’s totally literal!””
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 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 of death. And while I certainly reject the traditional notion that it is a place where the lost will be able to exist and suffer for eternity, I can’t deny that it is “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). She 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.”
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? Do they just 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 any way, even though you denied me in faith. But first you have to go through this punishment”? Seems 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.
**In the finished book, I’ll go through quite a few more of the proof texts that Universalists use in defeneding their postion**
Conclusion to Proof Texts section:
If there were 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 must be seriously questioned. The same thing applies to the traditional hell and immortality doctrine. It’s built on too few verses that conflict with the major statement on judgment in Scripture, and we’ll see the more logical interpretation of those verses in Chapter ?(not sure which chapter that will number out as, yet).
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. “Restoring all things” can certainly mean that all evil and rejection of God will be eliminated, which would mean eliminating those who are rejecting them (not annexing them to another part of His universe to suffer intensely for all eternity, by the way. That would interfere with “restoring all things”). It’s also possible that part of “restoring all things” is simply a return to biblical truth. It was actually Jesus who said that a last days Elijah would come and “restore all things”, and in Malachi 4:5 we can read “Behold I send you Elijah the prophet before the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” Some scholars argue that this was completely fulfilled in John the Baptist, and Jesus did in fact call Him Elijah. But Jesus, after the death of John, also referred to another, in future tense, who would come and “restore all things.” And one pastor who teaches on this explained that at the time Jesus was saying this, the disciples didn’t yet understand that they were only seeing the first coming of Messiah. They didn’t yet have a concept of His second coming. But apparently, both “comings” are preceded by an Elijah forerunner, who is treated similarly to how Jesus will be. John the Baptist, who carried the spirit of Elijah, was killed, and then Jesus was as well. The next advent of the spirit of Elijah will likely play out quite differently, as will Jesus’ second coming. While that pastor (who I believe has found some fascinating truth) believes the last days “Elijah forerunner” will be a single individual, I’m not 100% convinced of that. This is drifting a little away from my anti-Universalist argument, but since this all revolves around the “restore all things” passage that Universalists use, I’m going to go ahead and address it briefly. I’m thinking about the passage where God promised that in the last days, He would pour out His Spirit “on all flesh”. And I’m thinking of other passages that seem to be hinting at a last days revival. And I’ve always heard it taught that revivals don’t come from discovering something new, but rather from re-discovering something old. It seems that the truth of God in Scripture is the highest and most valuable discovery we can make, and I’d like to believe that it is some combination of rediscovering truth about God from His Word, and His pouring out of His Spirit that will lead to this last days revival. I looked up the meaning of the name “Elijah” to see if it might offer any support to my theory that the “last days Elijah” isn’t necessarily an individual, but rather more of a “return to truth movement”, and here’s what I found: The Strong’s Concordance simply has its meaning as “God of Jehovah”. But Strong’s notes that it is a combination of two Hebrew words, El which means strength, mighty, Almighty, and power, and then secondly yaw or Jah which Strong’s says is contracted from yeh-ho-vaw’ which means “self existent” or “eternal”. So Elijah’s name literally means “the strength of the self existent, eternal God”. Well, in these last days, we all have access to that. His Spirit is available to all. And His truth is available to all. I found something else interesting. Going on that theory of the importance of “first mentions” that I hear Beth Moore and others often teach, I looked up the first time Elijah appears in Scripture and in that place, and also five other verses, it calls him “the Tishbite”. So out of curiosity, I looked up the Strong’s definition of Tishbite, and found that the word doesn’t appear in any other place in Scripture except these six times where it relates to Elijah. The Strong’s definition says “Patrial from an unused word meaning recourse”. I basically understood what the word recourse meant, but for a dictionary definition I went to Webster’s and the two primary definitions are “a turning to someone or something for help or protection” and “a source of help or strength”. So this name/phrase “Elijah the Tishbite”, as he is referred to six times in Scripture could literally be taken to mean “The strength and power of the eternal God as a source of help as we turn to Him for protection”. Might sound like a stretch, but all of that is actually wrapped up in the meanings of these words. And are we in a day and age where we could use His strength as a source of help right now? Absolutely. And Jesus said that this person (or what is represented in this person’s name) would come in the last days and “restore all things.” I’m not going to argue strongly that there isn’t an individual who will be this “Elijah forerunner”, a person, who as John the Baptist announced Jesus’ first coming, will announce the soon second coming of Christ. Maybe that will happen, and I think that would be amazing. But I’m also thinking about when Jesus said that it was beneficial for the disciples if he went away, because then the Comforter could come. While the Spirit was bound up in Jesus, He wasn’t available to the masses. Remember (in Matthew 16:15-17) when Jesus asked the disciples who they say He is, and Peter said “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”? Jesus didn’t follow that up with “The Spirit living inside of you revealed that to you”. No, he said that the Father revealed that to Peter. The Holy Spirit couldn’t come in and take up residence in individuals until Jesus had gone away, and now billions can have that same Spirit. I think similarly, that while the Elijah spirit rested on one person, John the Baptist, at Jesus’ first coming, it is available to as many as will receive it in these last days. Elijah was a healer, a truth bringer, and one who challenged people to determine who was really God. What seemed to be dead, he laid over and prayed for, and it came back to life. And on Mount Carmel, he demonstrated that there is only one true God. I really hope that this Elijah spirit takes hold of the Church (or that the Church takes hold of the available Elijah spirit), because in every way we seem to be the Laodicean church who thinks it is alive, but is actually dead. I can’t help but think that our false teachings of an unmerciful God (a false God, in my estimation) over the centuries have helped to destroy the mission of the Church. But the other side of that coin is that I can’t help but think that a return to truth on the matter might help bring it back to life. I hope that the truths I’ve been discovering and writing about over the last decade plus will play some role in helping people return to truth and grasp onto that healing spirit of Elijah. I can only speak for myself, but when I realized the truth of final judgment, that it was in fact final, but also merciful, in that it does not involve the eternal torment of those who failed to find or accept God’s grace, it was the biggest relief of my life…not because I worried I was “going to hell” personally, but because it demonstrated such a more merciful God than what I’d been taught. I fell in love with God again. And isn’t that what this life is about?
Well I apologize for that detour from the main topic of this chapter, but it seemed to fit in. Let’s get back to addressing Universalism…
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. It’s stated very plainly, and there’s never a hint in those passages that there is restoration after this decimation. (on this website, you can find those verse analyses just to your right under the heading “Traditionalist Prood Texts”, and the ones from Jude will specifically address the above statement.)
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 had 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?” Well, you already know my answer to 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 not God 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(90% sure that was Paul). 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 and will be saved.
Further, it is 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, not having 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? Well, best I can tell, the criteria is that they do not 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 you’re 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 to 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” to us about who God is. What is 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 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.
I also however do not believe that 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’s 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 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 that 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 some believe that in various times in history that God did not reveal Himself, and that the people who were not 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 is 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. 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, that He has made provision. Ultimately my point is, there are a number of ways to interpret Scripture that do not 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 is not available.
By the same token, if a person is involved in that same religion that denies that there is only one God, and they are being impressed that it is 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 will be saved. But I’ve gone a little off topic. All of that was just to say that there are certainly 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 that in Scripture, as the Universalists do.
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 is 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 conclusion that “God must save anyone, or else He is unjust”.
Ferwerda makes much of those who God “hid” truth from in parables. She essentially says that if she’s wrong, then we have literal proof that Jesus rejoiced that God was sending many to an eternal hell. 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. So it’s somewhat of a “straw man” argument, when the one result you’re arguing could happen isn’t even the biblical reality. 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.
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 that 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, unless we deny God’s knowledge of future events and omnipotence, as some new factions of “Christianity” are doing. We’ll dig into the traditional verses in chapter ??(not sure which chapter that will be yet) and find other more biblical ways to understand them that don’t violate other Scripture(on this website, that’s what is contained under the heading “Traditionalist Proof Texts” to your right). 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 that is highly important to Scripture, because 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 who forsake this life and run in faith after 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 universal takes on this matter of judgment, either none of us is 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 I believe 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 the strong prompting from God to forgive the murderer. Ferwerda is using this as evidence that God wouldn’t ask us to do something(forgive one that didn’t ask for forgiveness) that He doesn’t also do. 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 it happens to be of critical importance to come to faith in God 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. 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. As earthly parents, we are a dim likeness of the heavenly father. We just can’t 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 either. I have a friend who loves his children dearly and has provided faithfully, yet when one of his children was going in a rebellious direction for an extended period of time, his statement to me was “Scott, I’ve had it. I’m ready to just let them go”. He didn’t “want” to let them go. He “desired” and prayed for his child to repent from rebellion and return. But the child in that situation had free will, as God has granted all people. And they were making their choice. The bible also states that God grants a measure of faith to all people. And we can exercise that faith toward him, or toward something or someone else. That’s the freedom we’ve been given. It’s been said to death, but God didn’t create a race of robots.
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 summary of what I use the generalizing term “Calvinism” for, in case I haven’t stated it clearly elsewhere, or the reader isn’t already familiar with the doctrine: Essentially, it’s the belief that we do not have free will, and that God pre-destined 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 depression more than once. Because scholarly, “respectable” people who write lots of “Christian” books are teaching such things, and because there are a couple of bible passages that 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 going to get back to you on that. I’m going to write a lengthy explanation…” ….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 in to 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. Thankfully, there are wonderful scriptural defenses against Calvinism, and other ways to comprehend its proof texts. I’ve heard many in my seeking, and I’ve found many on my own, in prayer and study, and I’ve thought about addressing the matter in book form, as well. 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. (yes, I lower-cased that on purpose, because I don’t think she has found the real God, at least not doctrinally. I’m not claiming she isn’t saved. She does maintain that it is only because of Christ’ death and resurrection that any can be saved. And since she believes this, I suppose that means she, by faith, believes it. But while she has this correct, she’s teaching that people who don’t believe this will also be saved, and it’s that god that I believe is a false 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”. 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.
Ferwerda mocks those who believe in free will. And I don’t know the exact name of the fallacy that she uses, but in effect, she makes it sound like those who believe that we have the free will to make a decision for the one true God, must also believe that 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 to the gospel. But what I’ve found is that this only seems to happen in cases where the person or people group has already rejected Him. He clearly uses those who are not righteous for His purposes, just as He uses those who do believe, trust, and hope in Him for His purposes also. 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.
The remainder of this unedited chapter is mostly random thoughts and notes, so I’m going to cut it off here for now. I hope this at least demonstrated some of the weaknesses of the Universalist position that all humanity will one day be saved. That idea is a serious hindrance to spreading the gospel of Christ. And I hope this chapter summary also served to inform anyone who may have thought that I was promoting Universalism, that I’m doing no such thing.