The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Restricted Free Will and Conditional Universalism

My biblical theology Conditional Futurism briefly discusses imagery of postmortem evangelism in 1 Peter and imagery of postmortem conversions in Revelation. I also support that the biblical imagery teaches about the reality of postmortem conversions. Beyond that book, I believe that postmortem conversions will eventually result in universalism, which means that every human will eventually enjoy the gift of salvation. Some critics object to my conclusion of universalism. For example, some object to the conclusions of my biblical research about postmortem conversions. Others object that the concept of universalism is impossible because universalism implies that God would violate human free will while God would never do that. This brief piece focuses on objections to genuine free will and universalism.

Theologian Roger Olson in his 2015 blog post “Universalism Is ‘In the Air’…” says that universalists are soft-hearted Calvinists while Arminians are immune to universalism. Olson’s generalization derives from the contrasting Calvinist and Arminian views of free will and saving grace. For example, Calvinism teaches the doctrine of irresistible grace, which means that humans cannot resist God’s gracious gift of faith and salvation. I want to emphasize that irresistible grace implies that humans immediately accept salvation when God offers salvation and that momentary resistance to God’s offer is impossible. Alternatively, Arminianism teaches the doctrine of prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is resistible grace that enables humans to accept faith in God and the gift of salvation.

Calvinism is typically associated with theological determinism. Theological determinism means that God meticulously determines every detail in the universe such as the greatest human joys, the foremost human horrors, and trivial events such as the formation of dust bunnies. Some adherents of theological determinism believe that free will is compatible with determinism, which is called classical compatibilist free will or soft determinism. Other theological determinists reject the existence of free will, which is called hard determinism.

In contrast to Calvinism, Arminianism is associated with traditional incompatibilism, which means that free will exists while free will is incompatible with determinism. For example, Arminianism teaches that humans can possibly resist God’s loving gift of saving grace. Arminianism also implies partial determinism and concomitant partial indeterminism.

The strongest form of incompatibilism is what I call unrestricted free will. Examples include Cartesian free will. The concept of unrestricted free will supposes that human will lacks the slightest constraint and that humans perpetually possess the power of contrary choice while no possible human action is literally irresistible. For instance, no human could possibly face a literally irresistible enticement.

Weak forms of incompatibilism are what I call restricted free will. Examples include Peter van Inwagen’s model of free will. Restricted free will means that a human sometimes possesses the power of contrary choice. For instance, a human can sometimes act contrary to what they do and sometimes face a literally irresistible enticement for a particular course of action.

Consider two examples of restricted free will. First, a woman faces nothing except three mutually exclusive courses of action that she supposes are equally beneficial. In this case, she would freely choose among the three alternatives. In the second example, she faces multiple courses of action and she delights in one possibility while she utterly disdains all other possibilities. The only delightful course of action is literally irresistible while she would never choose any other option.

I want to further illustrate these examples in an imaginary multiverse with an indefinite number of alternate histories. In the first example, the woman faces the same three mutually exclusive courses of action that she supposes are equally beneficial. In the second example, the same woman with the same past faces the same circumstance an indefinite number of times. This circumstance that is repeated an indefinite number of times results in three different alternate histories because the woman could freely choose among the three options. In the second example, she faces multiple courses of action and she delights in one possibility while she utterly disdains all other possibilities. In this multiverse, the same woman with the same past faces the same circumstance an indefinite number of times and always chooses the same delightful option. The option is irresistible regardless of how many times that she faces the same circumstance.

I add that a model might reject both hard determinism and the existence of free will. I categorize such models and hard determinism together into what I call unfree will.

I defined unrestricted free will, restricted free will, compatibilist free will, and unfree will to preface my explanation for how these categories impact the possibility of what I call conditional universalism. Also, the concept of conditional universalism at first glance looks like an oxymoron, but let me explain. Conditional universalism means that every human will eventually enjoy Christ’s gift of salvation while the gift of salvation is nonetheless conditional. For example, Hebrews 11:6 emphasizes the vital importance of faith and says that all who approach God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Mere awareness of God saves nobody, but people are saved by God’s gracious gift through the condition of faith. This condition applies to experiencing salvation in life or afterlife. Also, the concept of universalism is meaningless if some people forever rebel against God and likewise never reconcile with God.

Consider God’s love and ministry to humans: Romans 5:8 says that God’s love is demonstrated by Jesus Christ dying for the salvation of sinful people; 2 Peter 3:9 says that God wants to save all people; as previously mentioned, 1 Peter and Revelation indicate imagery of postmortem lost people facing opportunities for salvation. Assuming the reality of (1) God desiring to save everybody and (2) postmortem offers of salvation, then one might conclude that God would eventually make an enticingly irresistible offer of salvation to afterlife holdouts if God could make irresistible offers. Among the four categories of human free will that I discussed, unrestricted free will is the only category that is incompatible with irresistible offers. That case leaves room for the hope of universalism while God cannot ensure universalism. However, restricted free will, compatibilist free will, and unfree will are compatible with irresistible offers. These models of free will are logically consistent with conditional universalism.

I believe in restricted free will and identify that my theology is modified Arminianism. For example, I believe that resistible prevenient grace is the general rule and God wants everybody to convert within the realm of resistible grace. This helps the development of human agency. However, I also believe that God never ceases to reach out to humans regardless of death. Moreover, God’s love would eventually reveal an irresistible offer to any recalcitrant afterlife holdout. This ensures the glorious universal reconciliation. Marvelous benefits include believers reuniting with loved ones who passed away lost and all archenemies making peace with each other.

Copyright © 2015 James Edward Goetz

Originally published 3/23/2015:

Love Never Fails.

It still surprises me that the idea that God will eventually win every soul through the superior agency of love seems illogical to so many. Jesus said, “If I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all men unto me”. Pretty straight forward, and at least evidence that He believed His sacrifice and the love behind it would eventually win all.

Why should it not make sense that God’s love will eventually pierce every heart,

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. Col 1:19-23

For** God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all**. Romans 11:31

But until that victory of love is the banner raised by the adversary who finally bends the knee before the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ- the condition is appolumi…lost, ruined, destroyed.

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

So it is with every adversary, over whom the Spirit will hover, until the word is heard and light shines, the Day is born, the veil torn away.

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing…For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. 2 Cor 4:3-6

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. 1 Cor 15:22-28

God will not force every knee to bow, but the glory of the love of Christ crucified will tear down every stronghold and fortress that exalts itself against the true knowledge of God, and draw all the prisoners into the Day.

For , “every knee shall bow, whether in heaven or on eatrh or under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father, to whom be the glory forever.”

I tend to find when dealing with these kind of issues that I need to define the extremes as this often gives some clarity to the mind. One one side we have clavanistic determinism and on the other free will as defined by Arminianism. So in extremiss a God who is shown to hate a considerable portion of his creation for which he is wholly responsible compared with a God who loves all but is powerless to overcome his creations free will for which he is also wholly responsible. Neither position is truly endorsed by scripture (the whole council of God if you will) as scriptures exist which appear to contradict either view being a true understanding of the state of the matter. A paradox a paradox a most unfortunate paradox (sorry I was overcome with a Gilbert and Sulvan moment there). Anyway, one can of course try to find some middle ground but my feeling is that this will prove to be a swamp. So being a bit simple minded I find myself falling back on the words of Jesus my Lord who said with man it is impossible but with God all things are possible. So I believe, I believe that all parts of the puzzle will fit together and that all by all means, means all, and that it will all come out right and the eternal 7th day will dawn for us all!

It is indeed a conundrum that some people think that free will would necessarily result in some going to everlasting Hell:

“Could free will result in 50 billion people going to Hell?”

“Could free will result in 5 billion people going to Hell?”

“Could free will result in 500 million people going to Hell?”

“Could free will result in 1 million people going to Hell?”

“Could free will result in 100,000 people going to Hell?”

“Could free will result in zero people going to Hell?”
“No way! Some people HAVE to go to Hell, or it wouldn’t be free will!”


When this happens, pin them down. Ask them for a precise number of the MINIMUM number of people that can go to Hell and still have free will: “OK, so your number isn’t zero. How about 1? Could just a single person go to Hell? No? How about 2?” I guarantee you that they won’t give you a number, and will claim that it is impossible to nail it down to an exact number. Precisely! Therefore zero is a valid possibility.

I like the logic Geoffery. Sounds like “blowin in the wind” what will take until they know too many people have died? The hinge though is not the argument in the end but to be like a little chid and trust in the nature of God which we see most clearly in Jesus.
Is there a good one like the above for the Calvinist position?

I would say the majority of Christian Universalists would not affirm that no one goes to hell (or will be in that state. “Hell” may not be a place but a state). Rather they affirm that no one stays there (or will be in that state) forever. Those are two quite different propositions.

The fact that the second woman always chooses “the same delightful option” is descriptive of free will choice. She isn’t FORCED to make that choice. She WANTS to make it, which is the essence of free will. But either of the other choices is possible for her. Sometimes people do choose a less delightful option than that which they desire.

Circumstances do not determine our actions. WE determine our actions.

Update, Roger Olson got back to me and said that he believes in restricted free will and calls it “situated free will,” which is the standard view of Arminianism going back to Jacob Arminius. He also mentions this in two of his books. But traditional Arminianism nonetheless rejects the existence offers that are eventually irresistible. I will handle this nuance in my next article.

Also, thank you everybody for the comments :slight_smile: