In the study of Universalism, the contrast with the Arminian and Calvinist positions is ever present. Just for context I will briefly belabor a well explored point.
Arminianism presents a God of supreme love that desires all but cannot save all due to the power of free will.
The Calvinist presents a God of Supreme power that is able to save all He has chosen in spite of free will but whose love does not extend to all.
These two coexist in a general peace treaty whereby they are both dominant world powers who consider the other mistaken but not so much heretical. However there will always be strident members who still fight a hot war declaring the other to be full on heretical, but this seems the exception.
Terry Ivy explores the peace treaty here.
However theres seems to be an open hostility that unifies both camps in agreement and that is that Universalism is heresy.
But there is a strange and undeniable contradiction here. Universalism, I would assert, cannot be a heresy to either of these camps without each declaring the other to be heresy as well. For the only part of Universalism that each objects to is that which the other asserts.
Universalism agrees with the Calvinists that if God wills a man to be saved, Gods will is irresistible. That is the one assertion Arminians cannot abide. Free will is stronger than Gods will to the Arminian.
Yet Universalism agrees with Arminianism in that Gods will is for all to be saved and His love is not limited to a select few. This is the assertion that Calvinist cannot abide.
For a Calvinist to refrain from calling a 100% Arminian a heretic while calling the 50% Arminian (Universalist) a heretic is incoherent.
For the Arminian to refrain from calling a 100% Calvinist a heretic and yet consider a 50% Calvinist (Universalist) a heretic is likewise incoherent.
How can Arminians call Calvinist brother and Calvinist like wise accept in fellowship an Arminian and yet both stand unaccepting of the Universalist? The answer is clear.
The only people they will call brother are those who will insist that some will burn in the torments of hell forever. This is their unifying principle. Whereas the unifying principle by which any Universalist would be willing to call the other two camps brethren is the agreement on the salvation of God expressed in Christ alone. We are unified in Christ, not in hell. Nowhere in history has the duration of hell ever risen to the status of a creedal doctrine by which to denounce a movement as heresy.
How can the worst aspect of Universalism be the fact that it unifies the best parts of the opposing two into one?
Calvinism is orange and Arminianism is green. They cannot agree. Combined they turn a dull brown, but if you take the red part of Calvinism and combine it with the blue part of Arminianism you have beautiful violet. This is Universalism. The red is that Gods will is sovereign and the blue is that he wills all to be saved. All thats left over is the one yellow. This yellow is the idea that some must burn forever. This is the one thing they share that Universalism cannot abide. This is the opposite of violet and combined it again becomes brown.
But can the duration of hells judgement be set on par with Christs supremacy which in fact unifies all three? Consider that the dominant creeds go only as far as to say Christ shall return to judge the quick and the dead. With this Evangelical Universalists fully concur. The Athanasian Creed alone goes so far as to end with this statement.
And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.
This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.
This creed was not without controversy in that it came last of all and much later, was never approved by any authoritative council and is at this time considered by leading scholars a pseudo epigraphy.
All that aside, would any fair minded Christian be willing to call a person damned who agrees with every single tenant of every single creed except for this last excerpt in the suspicious Athanasian Creed?
If so, how then would one explain the damnation of such names as Hannah Whitehall Smith whose work is still widely celebrated and published in the Evangelical world albeit redacted for the omission of universalist statements?
Would you add to those in hell the great liberator of men Abraham Lincoln who confessed Christ and universal salvation?
It is not as though Universalism has denied Christ as God in the flesh or his sinless life and all sufficient sacrifice nor his resurrection from the dead. Universalism affirms all these.
Yet according to the Athanasian Creed, could we imagine that at the judgement seat Christ looks upon the atheist and the murderers and the vilest of despots and with them grouped together the gentle orthodox Universalists for their denial of hell as everlasting? It would seem the Athanasian Creed has added a new enemy to the enemies of Christ which never was on the Apostles or early fathers enemies list.
We would do well to consider Christs acceptance of the woman at the well and the Syro-Phoenician whose doctrine was largely askew but whose faith was saving and justifying. But then they were not justified by a creed, they were justified by the Christ. It was faith in Him when presented with Him that saved them.
So then the Arminians and the Calvinist should not call Universalists heretics anymore than we should call them heretics. And they should extend the tolerance and fellowship of the faith to us as much as we would them.
For I would assert that in our confession their opposing faiths are unified and altogether perfected.