Varieties of Universalism
(1) Universal Reconciliation (The View of some Barthians – followers of Karl Barth): Maintains that Christ’s death accomplished its purpose of reconciling all mankind to God. Whatever separation exists between man and the benefits of God’s grace is subjective in nature, existing only in man’s mind. Reconciliation is an accomplished fact.
(2) Universal Pardon (The View of C.H. Dodd): Maintains that God, being loving, will not hold unswervingly to the conditions he has laid down. Though threatening eternal punishment he will in the end relent and forgive everyone. God will treat all persons as if they had believed.
(3) Universal Restoration (The View of Origen): At some point in the future all things will be restored to their original and intended state. Full salvation may be preceded by cycles of reincarnation or by some purgatorial period at the beginning of the life hereafter.
(4) The Doctrine of a Second Chance: The work of Christ is sufficient to secure the salvation of the elect, but salvation is effectually secured by the means of faith (Romans 10:10-13, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”). All people, even those who have heard and rejected, will be confronted with the claims of Christ in the life to come. Everyone given such an opportunity will of course accept it.
(5) Universal Temporal Blessings: The natural benefits of the world are also enjoyed by everyone. These benefits include sunshine, rain, good health, etc., and are a result of God’s common grace. These things are given from God because of his character.
Arguments For and Against Universalism
(1a. For) It is ridiculous to think that a living, all-powerful, and sovereign God could create a system whereby a portion of mankind (the epitome of his creation) would be condemned to everlasting punishment.
(1b. Against) God will not do anything that contradicts any of his attributes. hence in order to harmonize his perfect love and perfect justice, he devised the biblically explained system of redemption. We must accept the biblical record, not our own finite reasoning.
(2a. For) To condemn the unsaved to everlasting punishment as a result of a relatively short life span on earth is unjust.
(2b. Against) God is the final standard of justice, not man.
(3a. For) If an all-powerful sovereign God desires all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” and 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”), then surely all are saved.
(3b. Against) The Timothy and Peter passages in their context refer to all kinds of people and to “all” the elect in their contexts. Although God desires salvation for all mankind (specifically the elect) a person must respond to God’s offer of salvation and many do not (John 5:40, “yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” & Matthew 7:14, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
(4a. For) Christ’s death has acquitted all mankind of their condemnation before God, just as Adam brought the entire human race into sin (Romans 5:18, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” & 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”
(4b. Against) The context of both of these passages clearly shows that the benefits of Christ’s death are for those “in Christ,” just as the penalties of Adam’s sin are for those “in Adam.”
(5a. For) The theme of the New Testament is the of God’s sovereign love. If his love is sovereign, it must be completely victorious. To say that God’s love is not adequate to secure the salvation of all mankind in the end presumes a finite God.
(5b. Against) Agreed, God has infinite love, but he also has justice and holiness. He has already devised a plan consistent with all his infinite attributes. It is up to man to accept God’s plan, instead of devising his own plan and calling God unjust if he does not accept it.
(6a. For) Christ paid the penalty of sin on behalf of all mankind (Hebrews 2:9, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”), and legally, if such as adequate substitution is made and accepted, it is unjust for the creditor to require the original payment also.
(6b. Against) The substitutionary death of Christ was sufficient for the salvation of all (efficient only for the elect); however, each person must believe in order for it to be effectual on his behalf (2 Corinthians 5:19-20, “that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”).
(7a. For) God’s all-encompassing attribute is love. His judgment is only a temporary measure to reform unrepentant persons, and hence is itself motivated by love. Ultimately all people will be reformed, whether in this life or in the after-life, and hence ultimately all will be saved.
(7b. Against) Scripture never refers to the abode of unbelievers after death as a place of reformation. It is always referred to as a place of destruction and punishment (Matthew 25:46, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” & John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”). The only reference to any encounter of Christ with unbelievers after their death is 1 Peter 3:19, and this passage is applicable only to unbelievers in Noah’s day.
(8a. For) Ultimately all mankind will believe, whether in this life or the hereafter (Philippians 2:10-11, “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” & 1 Peter 3:19-20, “in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.”).
(8b. Against) Contextually both of these passages do not prove the point from the context. The words of Jesus indicate clearly that some go to eternal life and others go to eternal punishment. Matthew 7:21-23,“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ & John 3:18, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” & Matthew 25:46, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” In this passage from Matthew the word for eternal is aionos, meaning “relating to the final order of things which will not pass away.”
(9a. For) Many will not believe in this life, but the after-life offers a second chance.
(9b. Against) The constant scriptural references to “saving faith” clearly indicate that some will NOT believe (John 1:11-12, “[Jesus] He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,”; & John 20:31, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
(10a. For) Warnings of lostness are merely hypothetical and constitute one of the ways in which God secures the universal salvation of all mankind.
(10b. Against) Christ and the apostles were constantly warning people of God’s wrath and judgment on sin and urgently calling them to repentance. Hence, if universalism is true, Christ and the apostles were either ignorant or grossly deceptive. Other Scriptures points to the punishment of the non-elect (Romans 9:22, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.” & 2 Thessalonians 1:9, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” & Revelation 21:8, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Some of the material above adapted from H. Wayne House, Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.