Can I first say well done for adopting your sincere approach and genuine questioning: As you say, it is right to question these things, particularly if you find you’re beginning to cease aligning with what has been mainstream Christian thought throughout church history.
And let me also so that I deeply believe the discussions on this topic (in particular) should always be given accompanied by a sincere sadness of spirit (if not weeping, at least a broken heart) as we contemplate God’s sentence on the unrepentant. And so in this regard I genuinely ask for God’s forgiveness and mercy as I approach this topic with a far from adequate godliness, remembering Christ who wept over Jerusalem and Paul who could have entertained the notion of being accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of his people.
Re: Where do you find a “in this life” restriction in the Bible on the possibility of God’s mercy?
Throughout the NT but three quick examples for the sake of brevity:
Matthew 12:32. Whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven “either in this age or in the age to come.” The context is people’s response in the present life. The second reference to the age to come thereafter keeps this text from being ambiguous. All sins will be forgiven men except this one sin; in other words, this is the sin that condemns people to hell: despising the Holy Spirit. This is unforgivable because, as God has no other Son to offer for our sins if he be rejected, God has no other Spirit to make Christ’s work effectual to us if the Holy Spirit is despised.
Hebrews 6:2ff. It is impossible to bring back to repentance those who have fallen away after once being enlightened in this life, because they are crucifying Christ a second time. Although of course this verse does not apply directly to your ‘average Joe’ who simply continues in unbelief in this life up until his death, it does apply indirectly to all as a clear warning of the consequence of rejection in this life leaving no possibility for future repentance or mercy thereafter.
2 Thessalonians 1:8. Those who do not know God or obey the gospel, at Christ’s coming (which is at a discrete finite time-event) will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction. The following reference to being shut out from the presence of the Lord unavoidably must go together with the notion of eternal punishment, so that this sentence is irreversible.
In the NT all descriptions of judgment – whether ‘fire’, ‘punishment’, ‘destruction’, or ‘judgement’ – are described as eternal and so irreversible.
Re: An example of Universalism distorting other doctrines:
Please note that I realise that universalism is very diverse with as many different varieties as people writing about it. So this of course makes it difficult to give examples that are specifically true in all instances. While I’d want my criticism to take into account the complexities, the examples below are generalisations.
Two quick examples for now: (If all have the hope of eternal life both before and beyond death, then --)
1.The biblical doctrine of sin is leaked of its full gravity: instead of sins against an infinitely holy and glorious God being infinitely evil and so deserving eternal punishment, sin is less serious because regardless of the greatness of God sins against him are committed by finite and ignorant people and do not deserve the punishment that God in his justice has promised to deliver.
And rather than people being inescapably sinful except for the mercy of God to give them repentance and faith by his grace alone, so that those in hell continually refuse to acknowledge God and so deserve continual punishment, instead every person has the ability to turn to God and will do so if pressed hard enough, even if it requires preliminary torture in hell to cause them to change their minds.
Consequently God’s justice cannot demand eternal punishment because that would be ‘unjust’, because the sins of every person in this view do actually come to an end. Punishment, rather than God’s spirit, causes people in hell to eventually stop sinning. And where they stop sinning, God’s punishment must stop. By default then at that moment they must be admitted into eternal life by God.
2.The biblical doctrine of eternal punishment (Heb 6:2) is gutted: rather than it paralleling ‘eternal’ life (as in Mt 25:46), which all agree to be truly everlasting, ‘eternal punishment’ adopts a nullified definition of “eternal” (no longer actually meaning ‘everlasting’ as eternal life does) together with a demoted definition of “punishment” (no longer referring to deserved and ‘final’ justice without mercy, but instead it actually becomes another form of mercy because it serves to actually ‘discipline’ people in order to teach them and so cause them to repent).
Re: 'Many Calvinists don’t accept many passages on face value’
Agreed: Already reaffirmed that point in previous comments related to Infant Baptism.
Re: 1Timothy 4:10b, “God, who is the Saviour of all people”
Don’t make too much of ‘anthropos’, which may even be translated as ‘husband’ depending on context. From the little Greek I know, and checking back with my Gk-Eng dictionary anyway, ‘anthropos’ means when plural: People; mankind, humanity; husband; son; servant.
The verse just reads “all men,” similar to the way for example that Acts 2:17 speaks of “all flesh” receiving the outpouring of the Spirit, not at all meaning all flesh ‘on the planet’.
God is of course also elsewhere referred to as the Judge of ‘all’ and the Father of ‘all’, but in those situations we would not dare to conclude from those references alone a Universal ‘judgment’ on all nor a Universal ‘adoption’ of all. Only when we look at these texts with a broad view within their context, as we need to with all texts, including 1 Tim 4:10, do we keep ourselves from speculating about them from isolation. We see from the broader context what is intended by the reference to “all” and “saviour” (and “judge” and “father” of all):
There was only ever one Saviour for all Israel in the context of Israel’s history. The Prophets of Old declared that. But this fact did not result at that time in ‘salvation’ for all Israel, because the people of which God was Saviour rejected him as their Saviour. And the permanent destruction of the 10 northern Israel tribes by the Assyrians, only leaving Judah behind, is a grim picture (albeit on the temporary stage of his kingdom as revealed in Israel as nation) of the irreversibility of God’s final judgment when it falls.
That is the context and language that the New Testament picks up. This is why Paul adds the reference, “the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe” because they are the ones of whom he is not only their only possibility of finding a Saviour, but also the ones of whom he does in the end give salvation.
It may be, in my view, quite impossible from some of these references ALONE to know definitively which of several possible meanings of the word “all” is in view (whether it means ‘every instance without exclusion’ or ‘all categories/types without exclusion’ – two example of different meanings of the use of ‘all’).
We need to start with verses that we can be 100% clear about, and work back from there to allow those to set the context for others that may on face-value be read in multiple ways.
For example the “all flesh” in Acts 2:17 can’t be read as meaning every single individual in existence without exception will receive baptism in the Spirit. Firstly we bring to this text a context that helps us see that it is immediately restricted to a subset: God’s people. And within that, Israel were excluded by default (‘no-one will see the KOG unless he is born again’) and included only when/if they believed, as did Peter himself. And of those who believed, then in context “all” without distinction were to be recipients. However, judging by in the immediate context of the reference itself, it seems that “all types” of people was most likely the type of use that is view: ‘all’ meaning women as well as men, young as well as old, servants as well as free, all types of people in this new age will have the Spirit.
Re: 'How has Universalism had its origin in our history whereas somehow Calvinism hasn’t?'
Both do. You know of course about the origins of Calvinism as a Reformed system of Theology, and I agree that unfortunately it can and is often used to interpret the Bible, rather than coming to it in order to comprehend it in its own, and endeavouring to strip away those ideas that we bring to it in the first place.
And I assume you understand the origins of the doctrinal system that has emerged through history that is now Universalism. Until recently only a small minority have held to Universalism. I’m aware of Origen’s view which was later condemned at the 553AD Council. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Arnobius of Sicca and his defence in 300ish. And of course then came Aquinas’ views. By my reading, Universalism only emerged ‘seriously’ in the English world in the late 1800s and then into evangelical theology in the late 1900s, but now has very recently been defended in detail. Before that it was only a very small minority of writers, to my knowledge. And these views go against the very widely held views of the majority of writers & scholars throughout history.
My question, then to you, is that if you had never read CS Lewis in the first place, much less the recent big defence you discovered 10 years and that you read only 6 months ago, would you honestly think that you would have arrived at these new beliefs, just by: 1, reading the Bible alone, and 2, getting it to bare on your thinking so as to, 3, continually revise your own understanding into conformity with it by, 4, a continual process of stripping away your own false understandings that come from natural presuppositions that we all unavoidably bring to the bible, which effecting our comprehension of it?
That’s why we need to take serious care to bring our presuppositions to the Bible in order for them to be stripped away, rather than allow them to sit over the Bible and change our reading of it, and so ‘interpret’ it for us; whether Calvinism or anything else. In fact, it is not our business to ‘interpret’ the Bible; our job is to ‘comprehend’ the Bible’s own self-interpretation of itself.
Re: Not understanding what I meant reference back to my original 3 categories in my article.
What don’t you understand? The original article talks about: 1, Questionable Christians, 2, False Teachers, and, 3, Disobedient but true Christians. A sincere Evangelical Universalist (as you’ve described yourself) who is otherwise living as a Christian in fruitful obedience (as I believe you are from your description) does not fit into any one of these three categories unless of course you begin teaching Universalism, which I believe would begin opening you up to the charge of ‘false’ teaching.