Universalism: Is Christ the only Way? By Ken Eckerty
Many people I talk to who have questions concerning the specific beliefs of Savior-of-All.com are under the misconception that we teach salvation apart from faith in Christ. This confusion certainly has nothing to do with the content of the information found on the website for it is clear by the numerous articles and hundreds of verses quoted that we most certainly believe that the only way to the Father is by Jesus Christ. Many who label Savior-of-All.com (and other sites like it) a cult, have not read any of our articles and really do not know what we believe. Some are truly confused and are simply asking for clarification, and it is for them that this article is being written. For most, however, they are not interested in clarification, but their only motive for writing us is to condemn us. Sadly, this is an indictment on the Church, not because she is misinformed, but because while she accuses and condemns, she lifts not one finger to do the necessary reading to be fully informed. She is unwilling to study the scriptures for herself, choosing instead to believe what is taught in her Sunday Schools and out of her pulpits. How can I say this? Simple: because those who accuse and condemn us do not take the time to read even one article to determine if their assumption that we reject Christ is valid. When asked if they would do so, they quickly disappear; though, not before seeing fit to provide a “loving” exhortation for us to repent. Even for the sincere inquisitor, they seem to have no interest in taking the time to read for themselves, but would rather be spoon-fed the answers. I would love to take the time to personally answer question after question from each who writes me, but I simply do not have the time; which is why I have written several articles (and provided many more from other writers) to make these answers available to seekers. But just like the rich young ruler who was not willing to do the things asked by Jesus, many Christians are not willing to do the things that are necessary to seek and find the truth.
It seems that we coming to a time in our history where men are becoming more and more discontent with traditional orthodoxy – no doubt the reason why books like Carlton Pearson’s “The Doctrine of Inclusion” and Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” is challenging orthodox teaching on the final destiny of mankind. Certainly there is much confusion as to what “universalism” really is. Clearly, there are many in the Church who do not understand the difference between humanistic universalism and the truth of universal reconciliation, and so with more and more Christians becoming “curious” as to what is being taught by men like Rob Bell, we must seize the opportunity to present them with answers that speak the truth and in doing so, combat the narrow-mindedness and false accusations they will hear from their leaders.
In this short article, I will examine the humanist form of “Universalism,” the “Wider Mercy Salvation” doctrine,” and the two offshoots of universalism taught by Carlton Pearson (“The Doctrine of Inclusion) and Rob Bell as outlined in “Love Wins.” I will try and explain why I think they are bringing confusion to the Church and keeping people from embracing the truth of “Universal Reconciliation.”
Unitarianism (Unitarian Universalism)
Unitarian Universalism (U.U.), while having a Christian history, has for the most part become a secular, humanistic movement accepting all creeds and personal belief systems. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Atheists, etc., are all accepted into the congregation whereby tolerance and love toward one another is promoted while dogma is rejected. Services are generally held on Sundays typically in buildings very much like those in Christian denominations. Singing of hymns, testimonies, monetary giving, and sermons are usually all a part of the experience. Unitarians put an emphasis on the humanitarian nature of man and the promotion of faith and spirituality – though, not as Christians have come to understand faith and spirituality. The Bible is generally neither promoted nor rejected and the people are encouraged to worship whichever god they choose in a “spirit of tolerance.” Having attending a few of these services myself, I would describe the UU’s as a humanistic religion that promotes the advancement of goodwill and peace. Many consider themselves philanthropists who involve themselves in their local community trying to build a better society. While they promote a sort of spirituality, they would reject any dogma that specifies a way that one must be saved. Here is the statement of beliefs of a UU center in my town:
Whether it’s an issue of vital community interest or a seminar that explores your particular spiritual quest, you can find your place here. While each member would probably express his or her beliefs a bit differently, the following are just some of the things many of our members believe:
· We believe that we’re a part of Life, and owe something back to the world for the gift of life.
· We believe that almost all religions are saying that we are precious people who need to treat everybody else as though they are precious, too.
· We believe that we are supposed to live in such a way that, when we look back on our lives, we can be proud, and can make those we care about proud.
· We believe that truth, justice and compassion are requirements for living.
· We believe that love is better than hatred, understanding is better than prejudice, and that if there is ever to be a better world, people of widely differing beliefs will have to help each other build it.
· We believe that, down deep, all people of goodwill hold these same beliefs and that every individual should feel encouraged to develop a fulfilling philosophy of life.
Many of these principles are good things: truth, justice, compassion, and love. One can hardly argue with compassion and love. However, there is no one standard that determines what is truth and justice. It is up to each individual as to the way he or she should live. This is made clear in their mission statement:
With historical roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition, our liberal religion keeps an open mind to the spiritual questions people have asked for centuries. We are a “non-creedal” congregation, which means that we seek religious truth through personal experience, conscience and reason – not from any book or religious authority.
So the Bible, or any religious book for that matter, is rejected as having any authority over the members of the congregation and each person’s conscience and reason provides his or her own religious truth. Christian orthodoxy has long considered Unitarian Universalism a secular organization at best and a cult at worst. The secular and humanistic nature of Unitarian Universalism is a big reason why Christians will not even consider the idea of “the salvation of all” – no matter how true. Any mention of the word “universalism” or “universalist” brings up red flags and many Christians cannot get beyond these terms for fear of being pulled into cultic teaching. Those of us who understand the true extent of Christ’s death and resurrection (universal reconciliation) should be careful in labeling ourselves “universalists” because this word is so closely linked to Unitarianism. Savior-of-all.com rejects Unitarian Universalism and declares its inclusive nature apart from the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ as a false teaching. While we applaud certain principles of U.U. such as the promotion of love, we cannot embrace this religion in any way in as much as they reject Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation.
As more and more people become uncomfortable with the traditional idea of “hell,” new modern movements are springing up which put more of an emphasis on God’s mercy rather than His judgment. One of those teachings has been informally named “the wider mercy salvation” doctrine. It seems to have been derived by an interview with Billy Graham in 1997 by Robert Schuller. This teaching is interesting in that those who believe it embrace most points of traditional Christianity but seemingly allow certain individuals to bypass confession and belief in Christ as a requirement for heaven. The following is an excerpt from Robert Schuller’s interview of evangelist Billy Graham on the “Hour of Power”, May 31, 1997:
Schuller: Tell me, what do you think is the future of Christianity?
Billy Graham: Well, Christianity and being a true believer—you know, I think there’s the Body of Christ. This comes from all the Christian groups around the world, outside the Christian groups. I think everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the Body of Christ. And I don’t think that we’re going to see a great sweeping revival, that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time. I think James answered that, the Apostle James in the first council in Jerusalem, when he said that God’s purpose for this age is to call out a people for His name. And that’s what God is doing today, He’s calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in heaven.
Schuller: What, what I hear you saying that it’s possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they’ve been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you’re saying?
Graham: Yes, it is, because I believe that. I’ve met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations, that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, and never heard of Jesus, but they’ve believed in their hearts that there was a God, and they’ve tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived.
Schuller: [R. S. trips over his tongue for a moment, his face beaming, then says] I’m so thrilled to hear you say this. There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.
Graham: There is. There definitely is.
Now I’m fairly certain that Billy Graham would not consider his belief system as unorthodox, but it seems that he and Robert Schuller are teaching something which has not been traditionally and historically taught by most Christians. I believe that Mr. Graham is uncomfortable condemning a “good” Muslim or Buddhist to hell, so it appears that he goes beyond Scripture to help ease his conscience that a loving God could torture “good” men forever. Here are a few verses that contradict those who believe that something or someone other than Christ can bring salvation:
Peter, speaking of Jesus: Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
Jesus, speaking of Himself: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)
Paul, speaking to believers: That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (Rom. 10:9)
Mr. Graham teaches that, under the right circumstances, simply recognizing a “need” for “something” or having a belief in a higher power is enough for salvation. This is clearly not what the Scriptures teach.
And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. (Acts 16:30-32)
The Scriptures do not teach that all you have to do is believe in “something.” Salvation is by the name of Jesus Christ – only! Not Buddha. Not Mohammad. Not your own human works (Eph. 2:8-9). There is no other name other than the name of Jesus Christ whereby man can be saved!
Clearly Mr. Graham has a conflict in his heart concerning the awful doctrine of never-ending punishment. The average Christian, even though they believe the doctrine in their head, really do not embrace the doctrine in their heart, or at the very least, do not speak of it publicly. It is an awful doctrine. To promote the idea that the very God they profess loves all men with an eternal love, and yet will torture most with everlasting pain with no chance to receive His mercy is a very hard to pill to swallow even for a Christian who professes to believe this doctrine with all their heart. The doctrine of eternal hell is a much easier pill to swallow when administered to an atheist, a murderer, a child rapist, or someone like Adolph Hitler who murdered millions of people. The difficulty for men like Billy Graham (who I believe has a compassionate heart) is to see the kind old woman, the teenager killed in a car accident, or the good and honest Muslim who for whatever reason, have not professed Christ in this life, suffer endless, conscious pain in hell. So out of this conflict, they go beyond the clear teaching of the Scriptures concerning how a man is saved and seem to add to the Word of God something that is not there. While I may be misunderstanding what Billy Graham actually teaches, I am not the only one. Even Dr. John MacArthur, considered by many in orthodoxy to be one of the best expositors of the Word of God, speaks out against Mr. Graham’s statements as being dangerous and unscriptural.
While there seems to be more of an emphasis on the mercy of God rather than His judgment, the “Wideness” doctrine DOES NOT teach that all men will one day be saved. Mr. Graham has preached on everlasting punishment and has warned people about it in his sermons. And just as the doctrine of “eternal” hell is unscriptural, he drifts even further from the truth if he is teaching variance to the scriptural requirement that belief in Christ ALONE is sufficient for salvation
NOTE: I want to be careful NOT to say that salvation must be according to man-made methodologies, i.e. repeating a “sinner’s prayer,” making confession at an “altar call,” or some other “approved” manner that satisfies us that a person has “done it the right way.” I think it is clear from the New Testament that a man cannot be saved apart from Jesus Christ and His finished work. However, the work of salvation done in the heart of an individual is very personal and how God chooses to reveal Christ to a man is His concern. Our concern is to proclaim the victory of the Lord (through the death and resurrection of Christ) and allow God to do His work in the lives of those who hear the message. As Paul says, “some sow, others reap, but it is God who gives the increase.”
Carlton Pearson – “The Doctrine of Inclusion”
Carlton Pearson, a former minister of the Higher Dimensions Evangelistic Center in Tulsa, Ok, and who once had one of the most watched TV programs on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, is quoted as having had an “epiphany from God” and received what he calls “The Doctrine of Inclusion.” Quoting from his book, “God is not a Christian, nor a Jew, Muslim, Hindu” here is his belief in a nutshell:
The idea of an eternal hell stems largely from the mistranslation of the Greek word “aion,” which actually means “age,” as in a defined span of time, such as the Iron Age. If there is any spiritual destination of pain and suffering (and this remains doubtful), it is at most a temporary place of learning and expiation of one’s ill deeds, where one may become purified, gain wisdom, and repent (rethink) for the acts of life—overcoming that false perception of separation from God and becoming one with God and man. Eventually everyone is paroled. (“God is Not a Christian:” chap. 2, pg. 158-159)
Pearson clearly believes that all men will one day make their peace with God. He does indeed translate aion correctly and understands that punishment is “for learning” and not for “eternal” retribution. However, it must be noted that while he believes Christ’s death and resurrection made this inclusion possible, he is also rather obscure on who this Christ is.
We read in Scripture that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, and that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. Most Christians have taken this literally. They insist that we have to somehow believe that Jesus was the Son of God in order to obtain salvation. Here’s another way to interpret that passage: the begotten son is a metaphor for the begotten or forgotten self or soul—namely, you. You and all of us are begotten of God. When you believe in and embrace the principle and reality of Christ consciousness—the truth that you are a transcendent child of God who has no need for further salvation, except perhaps from the clogs and blogs of your mind—it liberates you and makes you both a free person and a free spirit. (chap. 10, pg. 460-461)
He continues on who “Jesus” is:
…does it matter if Jesus called Christ was a divine being? We have seen the speculations of films like The DaVinci Code and the news cycles filled up with stories about the James ossuary and how they “debunk” the historical Jesus. But does it really matter? Would the importance of Christ the Person, Principle, and Consciousness be any less if Jesus had been as the Muslims see Him: a prophet and a great visionary, but mortal? Does Jesus have to be the Son of God to be a son of God? I would argue that it does not matter. If Jesus came to earth as a man, inspired by and connected to God as few have been, to share with humanity the truth of the Christ Principle and bring us back into conscious oneness with the Creator, how could it matter one way or another whether He was resurrected from the dead or was a diving being Himself? (chap. 8, pg. 409-410)
Reading through his recent book, “God Is Not a Christian,” I can’t help to be struck by his continual use of “new age” terminology such as “Christ-consciousness,” “metaphysical,” and “enlightenment.” He seems to be embracing many of the principles of Eastern religion and philosophy rather than embracing the Christ of the Scriptures.
…I know and love the Scriptures and teach and live by many of them in principle. They are valuable sources of wisdom and have inspired and enhanced my faith. But I no longer believe that they are inerrant sources of truth, as I once did. Truth resides within each of us. (preface, pg. 45)
So while Pearson rejects the idea of “eternal” hell, his obscurity on who Christ is, how one is saved, and his subjective view of the authority of the Scriptures should cause any true believer in Christ to be wary of this type of “universalism.” While he likens his “Doctrine of Inclusion” with “universal reconciliation,” it is not. I am reminded of the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Cor. 11:4:
For [you seem readily to endure it] if a man comes and preaches another Jesus than the One we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the [Spirit] you [once] received or a different gospel from the one you [then] received and welcomed; you tolerate [all that] well enough! (Amplified Version)
Rob Bell (“Love Wins”)
Rob Bell is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and has recently written a book titled “Love Wins.” This book is causing quite a controversy both in the media and the Church as of this writing and I felt it was needful to discuss his views in the light of our discussion on Universalism.
Does Rob Bell teach universal salvation as both his critics and supporters claim? Well, interestingly, he never really answers that question.
Will everybody be saved, or will some perish apart from God forever because of their choices? Those are questions, or more accurately those are tensions we are free to leave fully intact. We don’t need to resolve them or answer them because we can’t, and so we simply respect them, creating space for the freedom that love requires. (“Love Wins,” chap. 4, pg. 126)
Mr. Bell feels he cannot answer the question as to whether God will save all of mankind. Reading the book, I get the sense that he really wants to believe it, but for whatever reason, cannot come to that ultimate conclusion. He certainly has no problem in making the case against the doctrine of eternal punishment. He quite accurately translates the Greek phrase aion kolazo in Matthew 25:46 as age-lasting pruning or correction rather than eternal punishment as taught by orthodoxy. He takes up quite a bit of space listing many passages showing God’s heart to restore His creation, many of the same ones we quote on Savior-of-All.com.
But as he cannot answer the question as to the salvation of all, he also cannot answer the question on whether men will stay in “hell” forever:
Now back to the original question: “Does God get what God wants?” is a good question, an interesting question, an important question that gives us much to discuss. But there’s a better question, one we can answer….It’s not “Does God get what God wants?” but “Do we get what we want?” And the answer to that is a resounding, affirming, sure, and positive yes. Yes, we get what we want. God is that loving. (chap. 4, pg. 127, 128)
He continues further:
…If we want hell, if we want heaven, they are ours. That’s how love works. It can’t be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins. (chap 4, pg. 129-130)
When I first heard of the title of his book, I assumed what he meant by “Love Wins” was that God’s love would ultimately triumph and bring all men into a saving relationship with Himself through Christ, but that’s not at all what he means. “Love Wins,” according to Rob Bell, is that the love of God will save those who want to be saved, and allow those to continue in “hell” if they want to remain in “hell.” God’s love, according to Bell, cannot infringe upon the “free will” of man even to the point of allowing men to continue separated from God forever – if that’s what they want. This teaching is eerily similar to that of C.S. Lewis. In fact, before I even started reading Bell’s book, I wondered why he recommended C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce for further reading on “hell.” Here is a quote from Lewis from that book:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'
There it is. Just like C.S. Lewis, Rob Bell believes that it is possible for men to remain in “hell” in a rebellious state against God, continuing to refuse His love simply because of his own “free will.” There are many scriptural problems with this teaching that I have addressed thoroughly in my article, Does Man Have Free Will? Savior-of-All.com does not believe man can ultimately win by exalting his will over God’s which is where we believe Rob Bell falls short. If it is God’s will that “all men be saved” (2 Tim. 2:4), and all men eventually are not saved, whether it be because of God’s own sovereignty (Calvinism) or man’s own free will (Arminianism), then God’s love does not win because God sent His own Son to save only a portion of humanity. If one sinner is left in “hell”, then God has failed to accomplish His will –which can never happen!
So now that we have established that Bell is neither sure of how many will be saved or how many will remain in “hell” forever, what does he believe one must do to be saved? Here is where he is a bit vague.
John remembers Jesus saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This is as wide and expansive a claim as a person can make. What he doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him. (chap. 6, pg. 165-166)
He goes on:
And then there is an exclusivity on the other side of inclusivity. This kind insists that Jesus is the way, but holds tightly to the assumption that the all-embracing, saving love of this particular Jesus the Christ will of course include all sorts of unexpected people from across the cultural spectrum. As soon as the door is opened to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland, many Christians become very uneasy, saying that then Jesus doesn’t matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter what you believe, and so forth. (chap. 6, pg. 166-167)
What exactly does Bell mean when he says that those coming to the Father might not know they are coming through Him? Is he implying that one can come to the Father without necessarily receiving Christ? What does he mean when he says that Christ’s love will be open to Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists? His statements are quite ambiguous and seem to be implying that God will accept someone who doesn’t necessarily receive the Christ of the Scriptures. Perhaps I am misunderstanding what he is saying, but one of the problems with Mr. Bell’s book is that it seems to be written in a way that asks more questions than provides answers, and many of the answers he does provide are either unclear or lack confidence.
Rob Bell’s understanding of God’s intention to restore all creation using punishment only as a means to accomplish that restoration is something that we can heartily say “Amen!” Unlike both traditional Christianity and the “Wideness” doctrine that limits salvation to this side of the grave, “Love Wins” allows the power of God to save men after they die (this we applaud). However, to be clear, Rob Bell is not a Christian Universalist, even though I think he really wants to be. Regrettably, he believes that man can ultimately usurp his own will over the will of God and this we believe is clearly NOT taught in the Scriptures. We also question his teaching on the manner in which he believes a man is saved. Only Rob Bell knows what he means as quoted above and we hope he clarifies his position on this. Some would say “Love Wins” is a step in the right direction, but we feel it falls short of the fullness of the Truth.
Also called “Universal Salvation,” “The Greater Hope,” and “Christian Universalism, this is the doctrine that teaches that all men will ultimately be saved—either in this age or the ages to come—and that this salvation comes about by grace through faith in Jesus Christ ALONE! We believe that there is not a man, woman, or child who has lived or who will ever live that will be lost forever. This is the only view that believes in the total victory of the Cross and the only view that best harmonizes God’s love with His judgment (see The Work of the Cross). While each of the views we have discussed either dabble in universalism or promote alternative methods of salvation, the view espoused by Savior-of-All.com and taught by the holy Scriptures provides no doubt as to the salvation of all mankind through the Person and Work of our Lord Jesus Christ. While we believe that most men in this CURRENT age will die yet in their sins separated from the Father, we understand the hope of the Resurrection, not as an event designed to prepare men for eternal hell, but to provide hope that through judgment, all men will come to an end of themselves and thus be ready to hear and receive the good news of Jesus Christ. Despite what our opponents will say, we believe in a future judgment for all men, but understand this punishment to be temporary (see God's Perfect Judgment). We believe that God’s grace will continue to be made manifest in the ages to come (Eph. 2:7), and that when the ages are complete, all will be reconciled in Christ, and God will be all in all (Col. 1:20; 1 Cor. 15:22-28).
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, while there is certainly confusion over the many terms used to describe both Biblical and non-Biblical universalism, the primary reason for the failure of the average Christian to investigate the subject more thoroughly is because of a lack of faith. You see, they do not have the eyes of faith to be able to see beyond what their own eyes tell them, namely, that most men die without having received the gift of Christ. To the orthodox Christian, there are no more 2nd chances. To others, like Rob Bell, God gives men a 2nd chance, but man can have the final say. To us who believe in the “Greater Hope,” we see Christ as not only having the power to save beyond the grave, but will actually carry it out…for ALL men! We are not moved by what we see, but by our faith—our faith in “what is impossible for men, all things are possible for God.” Though we believe it by faith, we can strongly defend our faith using the Scriptures. This website is filled with passage after passage, verse after verse explaining why the Scriptures declare that Jesus Christ will win each and every last lost sheep. It is a truth that we joyfully proclaim and one we would be willing to die for.
This is why it is so frustrating for us when men will not even consider the truth because of a misunderstanding of terms. Something so simple that can prevent something so beautiful from being opened and experienced. But we know, that despite all the reasons we can give for why someone will not receive the truth, ultimately it is God who must open the eyes of the blind…and we know, in due season, that He will!
Come Lord Jesus, Come!