Dean Johnson Ministries


Varieties of Universalism*

Origen, one of the early church theologians was one of the strongest advocates of  the doctrine of  apokatastasis.
This was the belief that the wicked suffer an internal anguish because of their separation from God. Its purpose was for purification, and the punishment would have an end when all was restored. This was in contrast to the more severe doctrine of eternal punishment. Through the centuries, this apokatastisis (or restoration of all things) has been the most popular theory of universal salvation.

However, there have been several varieties and theories of universal salvation.

1. Universal Conversion:

All people will be successfully evangelized and come to repentance and faith in Christ. This is often envisioned as a future event or harvest, sometimes during the millenium.

2. Universal Opportunity:

This is the belief that every person is given the opportunity during their lifetime to respond to God. All men whether they hear the gospel of Jesus Christ or not will have the opportunity to respond to general revelation,
(Psalm 19, Romans 1). According to this view, those who are saved through this general revelation are like the Athenians who worshipped the unknown God, (Acts 17:23).

3. Universal Explicit Opportunity:

This is the belief that everyone will have an opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel either in this life or in the one to come.

4. Universal Atonement:

This is the belief that Jesus died to save all humankind. None of these beliefs by themselves necessarily lead to absolute universalism. However, all of these theories, when construed together with additional assumptions can lead to a universal salvation.

5. Universal Reconciliation:

The death of Christ on the cross accomplished the reconciliation of all humankind to God. Separation between man and God is an illusion existing only in the mind of man. Man needs to be told that he has been reconciled and saved. " All things are of God who has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ", (2 Corinthians 5:18).

In accord with this view is the revelation of the Oneness of the all. A universal oneness recognizes that separation from God is impossible, and that nothing can separate us, or anyone from God, or his love.
A variation on this posits that the enmity is not just on man's side, but was also on God's side, and the reconciliation is two way. The cross, therefore deals with God's anger toward man as well as man's enmity toward God. This is typically an evangelical view of reconciliation, but is also adopted by some Universalists.  

6. Universal Pardon:

This view suggests that God will repent or relent on the threatened eternal punishment, and in the end forgive. He will impute faith and righteousness to all humankind. The story of Jonah gives an example of God choosing to forgive even though punishment was promised.

7. Universal Restoration:
Again, this is the view of Origen, and apparently much of the early church. Generally, after a period of punishment, creation is restored to its intended state. After purification and punishment man is restored to fellowship with the Creator.

Most Universalists use a combination of these theories together with some supporting assumptions to arrive at a Universal Salvation. Others mix them all together to come up with a comprehensive Inclusive and  Universalist theology.

I tend to fit into the latter category. While primarily a believer in Universal Restoration in the sense that punishment after death is allowed for, I also believe in Universal Conversion. This differentiates me from those who might believe in any purgatorial function of punishment. Though accepting the role of punishment as correction to bring the unbeliever to the place of submission, I tend not to think of this punishment as a process of purification, but rather of discipline. "For the moment (the sons of men) are intoxicated. When they shake off their wine, then they will repent," Thomas 28. Restoration comes with faith in Christ and conversion.

With the Arminians and mild Calvinists I view the death of Christ as for all humankind.

However, rather than seeing Christ's death as merely providing an opportunity to accept Christ, I see the power of the resurrection as effective in bringing all into subjection.
I believe in a Universal Explicit Opportunity being presented to all humankind to accept Christ. This allows for conversion after death. This is an assumption that is accepted
as strongly suggested within scripture, even if not explicitly stated, (1 Peter 3:19, 4:6, Revelation 22:17).  
That Universal Reconciliation is presented within scripture seems undeniable. How I understand this reconciliation is not dogmatic. Within the New Testament, I tend to see the alienation and enmity as being primarily on the side of man, rather than on the side of God. Man is the one who needs to be reconciled to God. However, I understand and have regard for those who see the the cross as pacifying and reconciling an angry God to man as well. This is reasonable. However, while recognizing God's hatred of sin, I certainly do not see God as being so bitter and angry, that he could consign anyone to unending torments.

Such a reconciliation of all things, provides the way to Heaven for all to come in, opening the door for a Universal Pardon. God having justified the ungodly in this way is attractive. Some universalists see this pardon as unilaterally bestowed by God with or without a response from man. This is an accomplished reality in the mind of God. Despite the unconditional nature of this New Covenant, I tend to see God as working a positive response within man as a necessary part to the fulfillment of God's purposes.

This change of mind, becomes a revelation within the mind of the believer of the oneness that already exists with God within all creation.
As to the theory of  Universal Opportunity for salvation, through general revelation, I am less convinced, but attempt to keep an open mind. Creation does testify of a creator. However, the scriptures are clear that no one comes to God except through Christ. Nevertheless, it does seem that the gentiles now have access to God by prayer through the Christ Spirit whether they know Christ or not. (Ephesians 2:18, Acts 10:1-4). The wall of partition is torn down.

All men live and move and have their being in Christ (Acts 17:23). He is all, and in all, (Colossians 3:11). To know God is eternal life, (John 17:3). Access to God is certainly one vital aspect of our salvation. In what sense this access to God can be considered to be salvation for the God fearing is ambiguous. However, What this does do is allow for is a more inclusive attitude toward our fellow man. They are certainly not excluded by God. Will not the Judge of all the earth do right? Surely, we can do the same.

And will not Christ, and our Father, continue to reach out with an unfailing love till all is reconciled one to another, and with himself? Let us be like him.

* "The Extent of Salvation" from Christian Theology by Millard J. Erikson. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids House, 1985. Pages 1015-1022.




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