There are three main schools of thought in Western Christianity: Calvinism, Arminianism & Universalism.
Calvinism – Calvinists emphasise the sovereignty of God. God is the Almighty; he’s all powerful, in control of everything and what he wills will be done. God predestines or pre-determines what is going to happen in our lives. The idea of predestination in Calvinism extends to what is known as “double predestination”. God chooses who will be saved and be in heaven with him. Therefore, God not only knows who is going to hell, but also predestines those people to hell on purpose. Jesus’ death on the cross only applies to the elect (those predestined to be saved), not to the reprobate (those predestined to damnation). This is a very commonly held, traditional belief in the American Church. It is not as common amongst Australian Christians, but it still exists here. In fact I had a Calvinist Bible College lecturer over the summer. I have a huge respect for Calvinism because its understanding of the sovereignty and predestination of God is very Biblical.
Arminianism – Most of the Australian Church tends to be more Arminian than Calvinist and Arminianism is strong in America as well. Arminians emphasise free will. Human beings were created with the capacity to choose to follow God, or not. Human beings are held responsible for all of their actions–God is not culpable–and if they wind up in hell, it’s their own fault. Jesus’ death on the cross was for the salvation of the entire world because God loves us. But if we reject salvation during our lifetime on this earth, there is nothing God can do about it. Arminians tend not to believe that God sends people to hell, but that people choose to go to hell by disobeying him and doing as they please. Some Arminians believe that God is the one punishing people in hell, but these days a lot more Arminians will say that hell is separation from God i.e. that God is not present there at all, and therefore people in hell are anguished because they regret their choices and are tormented by the devil and his angels / demons. I have a great deal of respect for Arminianism because I grew up in it. I agree that human beings have a will and I believe that Jesus’ death applies to everyone. I also commend the Arminian emphasis on the love of God and his ardent desire to save us.
Universalism – In my opinion, Universalism takes the best of Calvinism–the sovereignty and predestination of God–and the best of Arminianism–free will, salvation available to all and the love of God–and combines them. God is love and desires to save the entire world through Jesus. But human beings have a will and rebel against God, sometimes even rejecting him (or their concept of him) for their entire earthly lives. Yet, God is sovereign over salvation and has predestined all to be saved, so even though he works within the construct of the human will, God’s will is more powerful and he will save everyone in the end.
One of the most notable differences between Universalist Christians and Arminian & Calvinist Christians, is the belief in salvation after death. There are no verses in the Bible that indicate that our earthly life is the cut-off point for salvation. Hebrews 9:27 says “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgement.” Yes I still believe that, but this verse does not say that there can be no salvation after judgement. In fact, 1 Peter 4:6 says “the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead.” The only reason to preach the gospel to the dead … is to save them.
There are different types of Universalists just like there are different denominations of Arminians & Calvinists. Some Universalists are Preterists and believe that judgement day has already happened and there is no futuristic judgement day. Some Universalists have rejected the Bible and simply follow their hearts. Some Universalists believe that God is the universe and that after death, human beings become part of the God-universe. Some Universalists are more monotheistic or even atheistic than Trinitarian, others believe that all roads lead to God and Jesus is not the only way. Some Universalists don’t believe the cross was necessary, others don’t believe in sin, many are unsure whether the devil and demons exist.
I love and respect my Universalist brothers and sisters who have different beliefs to me, just as I love and respect my Calvinist & Arminian brothers and sisters. But I want to let you know that there is a Christian-Universalism that is arising today that is very Biblical, absolutely Trinitarian and Christocentric. This means that we hold to the inspiration of Scripture, we believe that God is triune and that Jesus is the only way to the Father. I personally believe in a futuristic judgement day and I believe in hell when it is defined as the refiner’s fire. I still believe in the power of prayer, I’ve been baptised in water and spirit, I take communion, I worship like a Pentecostal, and I personally have no qualms with the concepts of sin, the devil, angels and demons.
I do, however, reject “penal substitutionary atonement” which means I do not believe that Jesus’ death was a punishment. And I reject traditional doctrines of hell, which interestingly are as much disputed as any other doctrine: some believe hell is eternal conscious torment, some of those believe God is responsible for the torture, others blame the devil, some believe hell is eternal separation from God, others believe hell is annihilation–complete and final death.
I fully accept and embrace as supreme, the doctrine of the love of God. God is love. God’s mercy is his love. God’s justice is his love. God’s judgement is his love. God’s wrath is his love. God’s hellfire is his love.
This year I intend to write much more about my beliefs as a Universalist-Christian. I want to compose a systematic theology that I hope will be helpful to Christians who are transitioning from Calvinism & Arminianism to Universalism. I understand that there are over 7 billion people on planet earth and that we all believe differently. What I believe is not exceptional, it’s just another set of beliefs. But I am compelled to share it because I have seen how much influence one person’s theology can have–for better or worse. Calvin and Luther changed the course of Church history during the reformation. Maybe some of what they believed was helpful to others and maybe some of it was not. But if they hadn’t said it, I would never have become who I am today. If God wills it, I pray I will have the same kind of ripple effect on the world and play my part just as they did–for better or worse.
If you have any burning questions right now, please message me privately or email firstname.lastname@example.org