The strange case of Dr. Universalist and Mr. Reformed
by Steve Douglas
December 13th, 2010 | 21 Comments
Synchronicity in the blogosphere can be almost spooky.
I was sitting in the library working on my dissertation a few days ago when an interesting thought occurred to me out of the blue. I floated it among some of my friends something like this:
If the universalist is right, everyone will be reconciled to God in the end. To many believers, universalism is a dangerous doctrine because they fear that evangelism will suffer, and so if universalism turns out to be wrong, more people will perish as a result of their having been lulled into a false sense of security. But the Reformed should have no bone with universalists: if the Calvinist is right, God’s people will go to heaven regardless. It is only those who reject unconditional election and irresistible grace who should find universalism to be a threat.
Although this statement leaves untouched the question of the universalist’s and the Calvinist’s precise beliefs about evangelism as a Christian responsibility, the general consensus was that this is fairly airtight reasoning. In part I offered it as an attempt to show a huge class of universalism’s most vocal critics (the Reformed) that their core reasoning bore more affinities with universalism than they might care to admit. But my main point was that, despite the common belief that universalism is not merely a harmless false belief but one which poses a severe practical problem, i.e. it supposedly encourages a tapering off of evangelism, this is in fact only a valid fear if one believes that God is not sovereign over salvation. It is only the non-Calvinist who needs be wary of any pragmatic ill effects (as opposed to biblical or theological problems) of universalism.
In discussion with my friends, I came to realize that I, as someone who shamelessly flirts with universalism and shamelessly casts aspersion on many of the hideous conclusions of Reformed soteriology, fall equally-but-inversely under my own critique. I realized that if Ido indeed entertain the possibility of universalism, I could not maintain an unequivocal objection to at least one of the petals of T.U.L.I.P.: irresistible grace.
My friend Drew Smith then pointed me to a post written the day before, in which Roger Olson pointed out how universalism typically relies upon one of the same presuppositions underlying the so-called “doctrines of grace”, viz. that God will have His way in the end — they merely differ on the character of God and His way (although this is a dramatic difference). Olson objects to both views on the same basis: the free will objection to universalism and Calvinism, the problem of God somehow overriding human wills in order to force Himself upon us.
Drew also pointed out a post from last month by Eric Reitan, an excerpt from his upcoming book on universalism dealing specifically with the objection to universalism from free will. Well, it just so happened that the heretic universalist Joel Watts pointed out another blog post published today voicing the free will objection to universalism/Calvinism, which was also defended by Rod of Alexandria, who memorably characterizes universalism as “predestination with a smile on its face.” Interestingly, as evidence for the validity of the thought I had in the library, I’d like to note that all of the above-cited objectors to universalism are non-Calvinist, Wesleyan-leaning Christians.
But of course I was unaware of all of this when I was sitting in the library on Friday, and was already preparing to blog on the topic. Almost makes me think that this is all a part of some great divine plan set in order before the foundations of the world…almost.
I have a few thoughts on the free will objection, which I don’t find particularly persuasive, but I won’t really go into it here. For a start, however, be sure to read Eric Reitan’s post, and this from me/MacDonald as well. What are your thoughts?