This is the second post of four discussing my talkback with filmmaker Kevin Miller after a viewing of Hellbound?.
As I mentioned in Part 1, I am cross-posting these from my blog as I work back through some of the Q&A Kevin and I hosted, the queries we fielded about UR.
This post is about universal reconciliation in Christ and the atonement.
One of the biggest misconceptions about evangelical universalism is that it dismisses the atonement. Specifically, Kevin and I were asked, “If everyone gets to heaven then what’s the point of Jesus dying on the cross?”
This question is really strange because so many people think it’s a legitimate criticism when, in fact, it is one of the most easily answered objections to universal reconciliation in Christ. It’s so easily answered that I wonder if the people raising the question have taken two seconds to think about it.
To be sure, I don’t want to criticize someone who has just encountered this conversation for the first time. Many young people are just getting introduced to these topics and discussions. So most haven’t really taken the time to think it through.
*But pastors with graduate degrees don’t get a pass on this! *They should know better. So let me be clear. Any pastor who makes the claim “universal reconciliation in Christ negates the cross” is either 1) being thoughtless (I edited here my harsher descriptions) or 2) willfully attempting to mislead people.
Because this is really very simple and rudimentary.
To show this, let us just assume that penal substitutionary atonement is true. Let’s just assume the most conservative view of the atonement.
In this view God is both a God of grace and a God of justice. And in order to satisfy God’s justice God demands the punishment of sinners, their very lives. But being a God of love God takes on this punishment, Christ substitutes himself in our place taking on the just punishment that we deserve. And in this way both God’s love and justice are reconciled in God’s extension of grace to a sinful humanity.
Let’s assume all that is true. The basic idea is this. The atonement is necessary because God cannot forgive humanity without the just punishment of sin being meted out. Basically, God’s extension of grace requires an atonement. Jesus provides that atonement. Thus all humanity can be forgiven by God.
Now, just take a second to ponder all that and ask yourself, how does any of that affect universal reconciliation in Christ?
Answer: it doesn’t affect it at all, not one whit.
And why is that? Because if the atonement is necessary for God to forgive humanity then it is necessary no matter if it was one or one million people being saved. If the atonement is necessary then it is necessary. The numbers of people being saved is irrelevant. The number being saved many be few or many. One person or every person who has ever lived. But the math has nothing to do with the necessity of the atonement.
Because the atonement, commonly understood, has nothing to do with the number of the saved but with the inner life of God, the means to reconcile justice and love. The atonement, commonly understood, is about that tension in the heart of God and has nothing to do with the number of the saved/elect.
In short, whenever you hear a pastor raise the issue of the cross in relation to universal reconciliation in Christ you’ve got either a competence or a dishonesty problem on your hands.
Because this is really very, very simple.
Theologically, this isn’t 1 + 1 = 2, but it’s pretty close.