Packer: The Problem Of Universalism Today (1969)


I’ve begun reading the material Joe gave me (Packer-TheProblemOfUniversalismToday(1969).pdf (539 KB)). On the 2nd page:

Some forms may “rob it of its evangelistic thrust”, but so do some forms of Calvinism :unamused: Furthermore, I feel more “evangelistic” motivation now, than ever before in my Christian life.

Again, note how Christ is given the title “Saviour”, without actually saving everyone, even tho the “universal need” is there. If Christ was given the title “King” without ruling over everyone, that would be odd.


Calvinism is a much more problematic from a mission perspective than
Evangelical Universalism

2 Cor 5:14-19 is a great passage that shows
mission is part of God’s plan that is “reconciling the world to himself”.


A position that has, in fact, become increasingly popular among non-universalists… :wink: (Moreso among Arms than Calvs–quite understandably so, since Calvinists strongly stress the sovereignty of God in their soteriological explanations.)

‘He isn’t actually ruling over those hopelessly damned people. That would be horrible! No, they are sequestered away from him in some pocket-dimension somewhere, just like they wanted, sort-of. Or annihilated out of existence altogether.’

I certainly understand the moral attraction of that move–I was a proponent of it myself for a few years at least, largely (I’m sure) because I thought Lewis made such a good case for something like it.

One of my first blumps toward universalism, though, was my realization one day that this position, in its various forms, was making a hash of the Biblical testimony of the kingship of God (Father and Son both, OT and NT testimony both) over even rebels against Him. The Calvs (and some Arms) have a better case in this regard, I decided, than those who think the kingship of God will be effectively rescinded one way or another.


I’ve now attached a scanned (thanks Joe) copy of Packer’s article.


This article did more, I think, to bolster the case for EU. Packer says EU is a problem because it’s got momentum, has strong appeal, by the 20th centtury was established as an “undoubtedly respectable position”, lists a long list of people present/past that were/are universalists, and admits there are several passages that sound universalistic (though he denies them in context and doesn’t take the time to refute them). He even asserts that the social gospel has gone “hand in hand” with universalist theology, as many universalists have been socialists. If this means they were concerned in this life with caring for others this is extremely flattering! What a compliment!

Summary of a few of the reasons for not believing EU, according to Packer:

  1. He says Origin was condemned for his universalism. But was that really what he was first condemned for? Was Gregory of Nyssa condemned also for the same thing?
    2.“aion” really does mean endless
    3.Evangelism is undermined (Calvinism it seems is worse on this count, as some already have suggested.)
  2. Jesus Christ is the person most responsible for the doctrine of an endless hell and Gehenna is just that. He says “Let us note the fact that there is no scripture for the form of second probation theory.” (Bob Wilson will have something to say to that. :sunglasses: ) He asks how God could have made endless punishment any clearer.
  3. We should never assure others of second chances. EU discourages the decisiveness of our decision in this life.
  4. We must “understand God’s justice as a function and activity of his love” Unlike EU, he disagrees love is the center and must have the last word. He asks if the bible teaches, anywhere, “the doctrines of justice and love are identical?”
  5. Something about EU believing in the “awakening of faith” that I’ve never heard of.
  6. The wrath of God is retributive.
  7. Final punishment is “God’s glorious justice and something for which…we should praise him.”

He rejects EU as a “very great evil”, even that it is “calculated to ruin souls.” Some strong language.

Packer seems to miss that EU takes judgement seriously by inferring that we can’t agree with the past prayers of many saints that without Christ people are lost. And says we have less incentive to share God with people. But isn’t the truth that we believe people are lost without Christ, that he is the Way for a messed up world, and are eager to share Him with a sense of urgency. What can I say? We see very differently and do not agree on the above things. I see in scripture that justice is in line with God’s love and love is at the center. I thought the article, for someone that in many ways seems to understand EU, did not make a very impressive case. The paper seems more like a sketch of ideas, without the details, and is probably why I find it mostly uninformative and nothing new.


Packer’s reason #3 is very interesting, that UR results in a 1) a lessening of emphasis on evangelism, 2) a lessening on pushing people to make a decision for Christ and 3) a greater emphasis on the social gospel – actually loving your neighbor in deed as opposed to just words. “Other ways of loving your neighbor here in this life may now be considered as perhaps more important than seeking to win him to Christ. And it is no accident that keenness on the social gospel, so-called, and universalist theology, have hone hand in hand, viz. G. Muller wrote, ‘almost all leading religious socialists have appeared as universalists in their theology’.”

This is what is happening in my own life. As a result of UR I am becoming more concerned with how I actually live, how I actually treat my neighbor and the man on the street, than I am with trying to convince them to follow Jesus. I’m glad to share my faith in Jesus, glad to share the good news of God’s love, glad to share with all that I consider them brothers and sisters in my family, the family of God; but I feel no need to push them or threaten them to change. I trust the good news of God’s love for us all to draw people to repentance.

On the other hand, I’ve personally come under much greater conviction as to how I live my life because I’ve not only come to accept UR, but I’ve also come to understand that Judgment is based on works, that God rewards and punishes us all as He sees fit to accomplish His good in us. To me, faith in Christ is a gift, a “talent” for which I am responsible. It’s not something I can take pride in myself because of, but something that humbles me and for which I am to be a responsible steward of as evidenced by how I treat others.

So UR leads believers to be more socially responsible! It’s lead me to be more loving and respectful of others. It’s lead me to have a greater compassion for the poor and oppressed. And it’s resulted in me having a greater faith in Christ for not only my salvation, but the salvation of others. It’s even resulted in me living a holier life.

Packer goes on to say concerning missionary activity, — “In evangelical history there have been repeated movements of the Spirit, movements of missionary and evangelistic advance which have had at their heart earnest prayer offered by many good Christian souls, prayer that was made in terms of the belief that without Christ men and women were lost. This is not a question now of how they preached; it is a question of how they prayed. Were they right to pray that way? Such prayer was, literally, the powerhouse of the evangelical awakening in the eighteenth century and many spiritual movements since. Was it off the beam? - Unistructed prayer? - Foolish and stupid prayer? Or did it reflect a true insight into how things were?”

Of course, in this statement Packer is a using a fallacy in logic, just because the result of something is percieved as “good” does not verify the veracity of the assumption. It also does not take into consideration that URs are also very passionate about people coming to faith in Christ, and that we too believe that people without Christ are “lost”. It’s just that we have faith in the power of the Gospel to ultimately bring salvation to all people. We also understand that the present reality of this evil age (Gal.1.3-4) does not cancel the future hope of salvation for all.

Also prayer for the salvation of others is never “foolish” or “stupid”. Though of course, the UR prays with faith, trusting God to accomplish the salvation of all whether in this life or the life to come. The tradtionalist prays with little faith, because they do not trust in God to save others. In fact, they trust that God will not save most of humanity. So their prayers for the salvation of others are not based in the bright light of faith, but only in a dim hope. I pray with much more faith for the salvation of others today, than I ever did as a traditionalist.


Do you agree with Paul that to become a “child” of God it requires faith? I ask this because you had mentioned that you tell unbelievers that they are “brothers and sisters in my family, the family of God”.


Of course I agree with Paul; to which scripture do you speak of specifically? Recognizing others as children of God is based upon us all being created in the image of God which was an idiom that speaks of familial relationship. My son carries my “image”. And he is my son whether our relationship is alive at the present or not. There are many people, my brothers and sisters, who are separated from me and Our Father by doubt and unbelief. Does this lack of faith on their part in any way lessen the reality that they are my brothers and sisters? From my perspective - of course not. From their perspective - usually it does. In fact, some of my brothers and sisters in Christ who believe in Christ, follow and love Jesus do not consider me a brother because of their exclusive beliefs.

In order for unbelievers to be reconciled into relationship with our Father must they put their faith in Him? Of course they must. And thus I pray “OUR Father in heaven…” In Christ in Heaven we are all restored to Our Father, seated with Christ in heavenly places. But in the present evil age, many of us are separated from Our Father and from us.

In the present evil age many of our brothers and sisters are cut off from the love of OUR Father, from relationship with us, from the benefits of living in the Family; they are under the bondage of sin and death, slaves of unrighteousness - a present hellish reality! And thus I pray “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven!” If they are not saved and in right relationship with God in heaven, then this prayer for the eternal reality to become a present reality is useless. If we believe that a person’s salvation is dependent upon their good sense, wisdom, right desires to know God, etc. then our faith is in man and not in God, faith in man’s ability to choose right and not in God’s ability to save us though we make wrong choices.

So yes, in order for one to embrace the eternal kingdom of God in the present, one must have faith and repent from unbelief and sin. I believe that salvation is about getting the kingdom of heaven into us today, not about us getting into heaven some day in the sweet-bye-and-bye! Today is the day of salvation!


“I believe that salvation is about getting the kingdom of heaven into us today, not about us getting into heaven some day in the sweet-bye-and-bye! Today is the day of salvation!”

Then why is the theological virtue hope so important to Paul? He always looks forward to what lies ahead as well as the present, so he would differ from you in embracing both the present and the future!


I don’t know how applicable this is, but I was struck this morning with the verse from 1 John 4:17 that says, " This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus."

It would seem like the purpose of this life is about living out the kingdom, today,by living like Jesus and is what it means to be saved, now, or there is no hope, confidence, at judgement later. Sherman’s emphasis on the now is relevant because it is what gives us hope for later.


I too look forward to the day when my loved ones come to know the Lord. I look forward to the day when the knowledge of the Lord covers the earth like the waters cover the seas. I pray and work in faith that love does not fail, that one day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord! Hope is temporal, we hope for what we do not yet have. Faith is confidence, trust in what is and what shall be. Not all know the Lord but I hope that some day soon they will; and it is my faith in Jesus’ promise that if He was lifted up, He’d draw all of humanity to himself that empowers this hope. If I believed that Jesus failed to save most of humanity, then I’d be virtually hopeless that anyone could be saved.

So like Paul, the theological virtue of hope is important to me as well. It is the faith that God is in Jesus reconciling all of creation to himself that is the foundation for us participating in this ministry of reconciliation! I believe that love never fails, so I do not give up loving others, hopeing for their reconciliation with me and our Father. In Rom. 11 it was Paul’s faith in the sovereignty of God that gave him great hope for the reconcilation, ultimate salvation, of all of his loved ones, all of Israel - though at that moment most were very hardened towards God.


I would love for Talbott to write 2 small essays similar to Packer’s. One he would call the Problem of Calvinism and the other the Problem of Arminianism.

I realize he’s got his book, but smaller compressed essays are easier for people to read.


Sorry to jump off track here, but I’m puzzled by your quote: “If you’re not cheating…then you’re not trying!” - Jim Rome
What does that mean? Cheating at what?


“I believe that salvation is about a) getting the kingdom of heaven into us today, not about us b)getting into heaven some day in the sweet-bye-and-bye! Today is the day of salvation!”

This seems to contradict what you later wrote. It seems that it would be more accurate to say that the salvation involves both a) and b) vs. opposing the two.


A friend on my fb today said she was convinced some people never get it, never change. I expressed I was still holding out a bit more hope. It dawned on me that to hold out hope for others is to hold out hope for myself. I am no different. If God can do a work in my heart, he can do a work in theirs too. There is an increased sense of forgiveness and mercy, at least for me, that has come as a result of realizing that all are loved by God and he is faithful to them, as he is to me.


:laughing: I’ve often wondered that, but have been to shy to ask!

Exactly, if only all Christians would say this about everyone :sunglasses:


Yes, you are correct, it does involve both a) and b). I suppose that my emphasis on a) is because for many years of my life salvation was all about b). And in many evangelical churches salvation is all about b), so in order to help people think about the present reality of kingdom of God, I emphasize a). Also, I’m continuing to mull over the implications of what Paul calls “the present evil age” Gal.1.3-4. It is from this “present evil age” that Jesus came to save us. In the present people are cut off from the life of God, under the bondage of sin and death, under oppression of evil influences (spiritual, cultural, relational, physical, mental, etc.), slaves of unrighteousness. Even the Law, though it is good, only highlights the evil in which we are bound. It is this “present evil age” from which the Lord saves us. We taste the first-fruits of that salvation today, but such will not be fully realized until the full appearing of our Lord, or we die and are with Him fully.



Where is the evidence for this, does anyone know what he is referring to? As far as I know, it’s still unfortunately a minority, hardly “pervasive” or “rapidly advancing throughout” :confused:


I agree with Packer that Christianity

and his next two paragraphs which explain why.

Well apart from saying that Jesus & Paul first broached it :slight_smile: , I’m fairly sure, from what Talbott and Robin have written (particularly in ‘All Shall Be Well’), that it’s more complex than just “Universalism and teaching it, was condemned”.

I would say it’s the Bible’s claim is momentous.

He would say the same thing about his teaching.

I would say that it would indeed be a failure, but by God’s own standards, because He has revealed that He wants to & will reconcile everything.

I agree, I think it would improve pastoral care in many ways, not only when people loose non-believing friends/family but because of it’s clearer notion of God’s love & plans.

I disagree, and that’s not my experience, although even with the “urgency”, we must remember it’s God primarily at work, that love is patient and that love is essential & connected to evangelism (John 13:35).


I agree prayer is important, however, God’s grace is essential. I wouldn’t call it “foolish” or “stupid”, but probably misguided. I also think that the revivals would’ve been even greater, if the Gospel wasn’t reduced by ECT. Having said that, I do believe many people will be “lost” for a time, and that it’s worth remembering that in our prayer.

So much for ‘love thy enemy’ :frowning: And also Cor/Rev speaks about how love is even more important than having ‘perfect’ knowledge or doctrine.

:open_mouth: I think EU has a clearer and more consistent morality, one where what God asks us to do (e.g. love our enemies), He does Himself! Also, from my experience, and the testimonies of a number of other people on the forum, EU is the complete opposite of “spiritually deadening”.

We aren’t denying people will die, but that people won’t end up in ECT. I sure someone here can expand on why this is not a fair comparison :confused:

I wish this was the case! Also if God has put this desire into everyone’s “hearts”, why are you rejecting and going against your conscience?

I would suggest it “uncomfortable” to your conscience because it’s not true and the Spirit is trying to tell you that!

Rather than see it as ‘succumbing to temptation’, you should see that it doesn’t sit well with peoples’ conscience and fit with the actual living/loving as a Christian should.

Yes, and in the next sentence you admit that’s what modern exponents argue :unamused: