Universalism Is In The air

Roger Olson posts on this subject here. I think he is right.

In my reading I smell this coming our way in Evangelicalism. As the Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory takes hit after hit, the violence in the Old Testament is described not as God’s will but the Israelites’ understanding (wrongly) of God’s will, and pacifism finds a firmer place it is only a matter of time until universalism becomes an option among those who describe themselves as Evangelical.

This is different than Annihilationism, which teaches that those who do not believe are extinguished. This has been broached by such figures as John Stott and Phillip Hughes, the latter who was one of my New Testament profs in seminary. This is a rejection of eternal conscious torment, clearly outside of orthodox opinion on the final state though it has existed on the margins.

But some have asserted the belief that in the end all will be saved as God reconciles to himself all things. Usually Origen, early church father, is pointed to as a source of the church’s rumination on the possibility. For this reason, among a few others, he has not been sainted by the RC church. George MacDonald,(d.1905) the fantasy writer, came to this conclusion and lost his parish and ordination over it. The mystics, immersed in the love of God, which is one of the characteristics of the mystics, have toyed with the idea, unable to imagine that God’s eternal wrath against sin will be the last word and unable to imagine that the love of God will not be the final power. Mystics, though welcome in the church, have always found that the church builds a fence around them for the watching. They are notoriously uninterested in doctrine and exhibit a distrust of words to capture final realities.

I don’t think Universalism will become a movement within Evangelicalism but some who call themselves Evangelicals will make a case for it, if only hypothetically and sympathetic to it. To assert it would mean a loss of a job for Evangelical academics and loss of pulpit for Evangelical pulpits. But it will be whispered and written about without the energy of rejection.

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