Calvinism Leads to Universalism

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Gods Love Wins
Oct 26, 2019
Gods Love Wins

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Okay, maybe Calvinism doesn’t lead to universalism inexorably–as if every Calvinist must become a universalist.  However, many leading universalist theologians are/were Reformed and believed that their Calvinist concepts of God’s sovereignty eventually compelled them to embrace universalism….Schleiermacher, Barth.

Barth saw rightly that the inner logic of Calvinism must lead to unversalism IF it takes seriously love as God’s nature.

The only way for a Calvinist to avoid universalism is to make God a moral monster who condemns people he could save to hell for his own glory. Once you see, however, that hell is totally unnecessary because the cross was a sufficient revelation of God’s justice, hell becomes not only superfluous but utterly unjust.

I have sometimes said that IF I could be a universalist I could be a Calvinist.  Well, I would still have the problem of human responsibility. But my point is that I don’t care about free will except insofar as it is necessary to explain why a God of love allows some people to perish eternally. If I could believe that God saves everyone unconditionally, which is what I think Barth believed, I could be a Calvinist.  One reason I cannot be a Calvinist is because being one would require me to jettison all the biblical material about hell because I would find no point in even being a Christian if the God of Christianity were a moral monster.  — Roger Olson, Baptist minister and seminary professor

(Excerpt from Roger Olson’s post, Calvinism Leads to Universalism)

These are strong words by Olson.  As an Arminian believer in the free-will of man he represents roughly 70% of evangelicalism (Barna). Is Olson actually saying that his Reformed brothers and sisters worship a moral monster?  Did you digest what he said?

“The only way for a Calvinist to avoid universalism is to make God a moral monster who condemns people he could save, for his own glory.”

I had been a five-point Calvinist for over 30 years. But as I wrote in another post I had a very difficult time being consistent. Most of the time I sounded like an Arminian. Trying to remain consistent with the 3rd point, Limited Atonement, continually challenged my redeemed instincts and intuition. It did not square with the sense of justice God had written on my heart. So mostly I had to live in tension. That tension or contradiction which we Calvinists were called to live in was renamed and called, “a great mystery.”

How did I cope?  Much of the time, not very well. I was heavy-laden and burdened for the billions who were doomed to never see the light of redemption but rather writhe in their sin and punishment for all eternity. The logical implications I can now admit did indeed make God a “moral monster” as Olson put it. Up to this point I couldn’t entertain such thoughts for I did not believe I had any alternative and to consciously process the implications leading to questioning the doctrine might just “damn” me. As Matt Chandler states in his latest book, The Explicit Gospel, hell is our punishment for “belittling God’s name” and a major way he says we belittle His name is by questioning God’s ethic of an eternal hell. Now that puts a sincere Calvinist in quite a Catch 22 to prevent themselves from ever examining the doctrine…!

Remarkably the human psyche can become very resourceful in order to survive within “cognitive dissonance.” Sometimes I made up things that God could possibly do in order to remain “just” (e.g., perhaps the “unsaved” are not really real and we are living within a world of cosmic props to create the contrast of good and evil). I read countless books on apologetics trying to find answers to my nagging uneasiness. Many times I accepted very UNbiblical explanations for an eternal hell, such as C. S. Lewis’ surmise that “the door of hell is locked from the inside” as we announce to God: “MY will be done, remaining successful rebels to the end.”  Or, N. T. Wright’s depiction of those in eternal hell as devolving into subhuman, even animal-like entities.

But sometimes I would come to reason that fundamentally God must be good or we could not ourselves, a product of that God, conceive of the concept of goodness or love. I knew that “the stream could not flow higher than its Source” meaning we could not possess a higher sense of goodness and justice than our Creator. Many times I could leave it at that and trust that somehow I will determine God will be good in the end. But these are simply coping methods and do not “give a reason for the hope within us.” They give us neither reason nor hope beyond our own little personal world of flailing assurance. But I believe God wants us to be able to give them a hope that, while the journey of life may bring many mysteries through our pain and suffering, God’s ultimate purpose, the End, the Point, the Logos is good. Our hope must be in the fact that God is good and therefore His His goal is “making all things new.”

Here is what I think the fundamental question we are asking and remarkably it is the very foundation of the Judeo-Christian faith: the idea that “God is one.” This appears to be the searingly diagnostic question: Is God ONE or is He TWO? Does He have one purpose or two?  Does His justice have one purpose or two? Is He divided between a justice that on the one hand somehow loves and redeems yet on the other, one that must punish sinners eternally (ironically by causing sinners to commit infinitely more sin)?  We wonder: Is He perhaps really two and not one? And as Peter Hiett has pointed out, that perception is the number one thing that undermines trust–to perceive that the one you are trusting is not of one mind towards you but rather two. Children of alcoholics deal with this terror of the “split-personality” all the time.

So I believe Olson is on to the deficiencies, even as some have called the “dark side of Calvinism,” and the only answer is for the Calvinist to also embrace the heart of Arminianism–that God loves ALL His creation and longs to redeem it!

One of the many signposts indicating how the evangelical Church as a whole is tracking with a Christian universalism worldview is this irreconcilable tension between Arminians and Calvinists. And what we are trying to reveal at is how at their core they are not contradictory but in fact they are complementary leading to the complete vision of The Story of God that makes “everything sad come untrue.”

I will go a step further and say that now that the internet has brought them in close proximity (since till now they have refused to worship with one another) they will soon have to admit their inability to survive without the other. In order for the Calvinist to avoid sounding like a heartless human being who worships a “God who is a moral monster” they must borrow the Arminian language of the universal love and atonement of Christ. In order for the Arminian to protect himself from the obvious accusation that their God really can’t guarantee anything by Christ’s sacrifice, they can be heard speaking of God’s sovereignty and how He is in charge of the world. They also become “practical Calvinists” on their knees as they invoke His Spirit to save their loved ones and friends with His “unfailing love and grace”

It’s a conundrum I hope we are beginning to see is impossible to reconcile except by embracing the heart of each: The God who DESIRES all to be redeemed and restored is the same God who is ABLE to orchestrate its fulfillment through His Divine Romance of irresistible love and grace!

Next we will explore the idea of Divine Romance as stunningly displayed through the story of Israel in the prophets and through Christ and the Church in the New Testament.

Providing a safe venue for the Body of Christ to explore the hope, desire, and inkling that the redemptive love of God in Christ may be bigger and more powerful than we've been allowed to believe. The purpose of God's Love Wins is to reveal how the Body of Christ together has always supported the Story of God's complete and final victory over sin, death and evil. We affirm foundational doctrines of both the Reformed (Calvinism) and the Arminian (Free-will) perspectives and embrace the truths contained in the historical creeds.