Is Christian Universalism a Slippery Slope?

When Christians are first introduced to the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation (UR), they are usually caught off guard. Since it challenges part of the foundation of the Atonement, as they know it, many are defensive of the Christianity that they have come to know. Since Scripture states that the wages of sin is death and that the second death is the Lake of Fire, many believe that Jesus came to save us from an all too real lake of burning sulfur; one, in which, people are tormented day and night — forever and ever. Therefore, when someone denies the doctrine of Endless Conscious Torment (ECT), Christians tend to either ignore the naysayers or they valiantly defend their doctrinal convictions.

When I started to doubt this doctrine, I was approached by several Christians, on many occasions, who felt like they were being led by the Spirit to tell me that I was stepping onto a very slippery slope and to warn me that I was in danger of backsliding. At first, I felt alarmed. Was I sliding down a frictionless slope toward heresy? It surely felt like it, at the time. I kept telling myself that I couldn’t accept CU regardless of how much it comforted my soul. It was heresy and I would not become a heretic.

However, as time went on, I realized that I needed to look into what actually makes heresy heretical. Did CU deny some essential truth of the Christian faith? Did it deny the exclusivity of Jesus? It must have—since it denied the reality of that from which Christ came to save us. He did come to save us from ECT, right? Is that not the death about which Scripture so frequently speaks? . . . Is it?

At the time, I was questioning so much of what I was brought up to believe. How far back had I slid? Had I crossed the threshold of no return? Could I escape this slippery slope of death? Just how close was I to the fiery pit that I was questioning?

Eventually, I began to realize that I was not backsliding at all, but following biblical instruction. Scripture commands us to “test all things” and to “hold onto what is good and true.” Was I following and trusting in a carnal, earthly kind of reasoning? Is there even such a thing? On the contrary, I decided to accept God’s invitation: to come and reason with him; rather than to blindly trust in what I was told is good and true.

Growing up, I was often reminded to beware of false teachers and to avoid strange theology, which sounds like great advice. Even though I was instructed to avoid false teachers, I was never taught how to identify them or their teachings. The company with which I surrounded myself identified strange doctrine as that which is unfamiliar or “unorthodox”; they assumed that one of the first steps onto a slippery slope included a willingness to entertain unorthodox ideas.

Backsliding definitely sounds like something we all should avoid, but what exactly is it that constitutes backsliding? Is questioning orthodoxy one of the criteria? Is it spiritually unhealthy to question the purpose of hell or any other particular concept? Does possessing great hope in the ultimate reconciliation of all things, which is a biblical concept, make one backslidden? Consider what Jeremiah had to say about this subject:

“’Your own wickedness will correct you, And your backslidings will rebuke you. Know therefore and see that it is an evil and bitter thing—that you have forsaken the LORD your God. And the fear of Me is not in you,’ Says the Lord GOD of hosts.”‭‭ —Jeremiah‬ ‭2:19‬

Firstly, where is the wickedness in questioning orthodoxy? Where is it in the doctrine of UR? I am not referring to the supposed wickedness in denying what many see as the “clear” teaching of Scripture. When the Bible speaks of wickedness, it always pertains to moral misdeeds, which leads to spiritual error. Questioning the validity of orthodoxy is anything but spiritual error because Scripture calls us to test such things.

Secondly, how are those who question orthodoxy forsaking the LORD? It seems to me that church authorities are the ones who feel forsaken. They are the ones fighting opposition, refusing to allow there be be diversity among their lambs. We who are committed to testing all things are not forsaking the LORD. If anything, we are trying to escape religious oppression so that we may walk toward a less distorted image of Christ. 

Finally, is the fear of the LORD necessarily in anyone who believes in a particular doctrine of postmortem judgement? What is the fear of the LORD, exactly? We know that it is the beginning of wisdom; but what is a fear of the LORD that gives birth to wisdom? Does it spring up from a fear of ECT — if not for ourselves, then for the uncommitted?

Why do so many Christians believe that God desires so many broken souls to be enslaved and manipulated by such a fear? I cannot believe that it is so, not any longer. I have come to believe that the fear of the LORD is not a trepidation of postmortem possibilities, but a holy reverence toward he who formed our delicate souls. We who possess this great hope in UR are no more void of a fear of the LORD than are those who believe in ECT or Conditional Immortality.

The fear of the LORD may affect our understanding of postmortem judgement, but it does not constitute it. Given the criteria Jeremiah provided for being backslidden, one cannot say that questioning orthodoxy has anything to do with it. If anything, our desire to test theology, whether it is strange or not, reinforces our reverence toward God. As a Christian who believes so strongly in the cross, I cannot imagine a scenario beyond one in which Jesus succeeds in drawing everyone to himself. He is a God who keeps his promises, after all.

At the end of the day, if believing in UR places me on a slippery slope, I am sure that I will enjoy the ride! Christian Universalism is anything but heretical because it is built on a solid foundation — the unfailing love of God. The fear of the LORD may be the beginning of wisdom, but love is undoubtedly its end.

What do you think about “slippery slopes”? What does it mean to be backsliden? Share your thoughts below.

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10 thoughts on “Is Christian Universalism a Slippery Slope?

  1. Good stuff Charles. One thing I’ve found is that most arrive at a type of universalism because of a revelation of the true nature of God revealed through Jesus.

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    • I’m all for revelation, as long as it is not self-contradictory, and carries with it some sort of objective authority. Someone’s “personal” revelation would not qualify. For those who accept the inspiration of scripture, it alone is sufficient for revealing to us all that is necessary for faith and our walk with God. Why anyone would so eagerly grasp at any lone individuals “new and better” (more appealing i fear to be the case) revelation in contrast or contradiction to the Bible indicates something far more sinister. Whether intentionally or not, many people are busy making a god after their own image. In other words, they want a god constrained and limited by their concepts and desires. If this god seems to be “unfair” (o’ the arrogance), then redefine him in order to make him (or her) more attractive to the mind of the flesh. When i often point out that God is beyond our understanding i get the typical response “oh, you guys always fall back to that verse”!! They don’t seem aware of how arrogant they are, and with what hubris they exercise. They actually seem offended by the suggestion that there are things about God that we humans just don’t grasp, don’t understand. In other words, they won’t accept a god who doesn’t “fit” with their concept of what a good or fair god would be like. They seem unwilling to exercise a little faith and believe that, God being just and righteous by nature, He couldn’t possibly think or do something “wrong”, “unfair” (by His definition), or “unright”. If He decides that those who reject Him are deserving of eternal torment, this can’t possibly be an example of being unfair, God being incapable or such actions.
      However, because we can’t wrap our minds around a loving God doing such a thing, we begin the process of ignoring vast droves of scriptures relating to His nature. Or, we begin to redefine the meanings of words, or we make up new doctrines to match up with our own personal preferences.
      As i have stated previously, i have no axe to grind on this issue. If God decides to save everyone, so be it. He is, after all, is He not, God? Whatever He decides is good. It is righteous, It is just. WHATEVER He decides, however unattractive such decisions may appear to us. He doesn’t need our help. He doesn’t need our opinions. He does not seek such things.
      If you think that heaven will eventually be a place where Hitler will teach sunday school lessons to messianic Jews, or that Ted Bundy will teach cooking classes to his many victims, well, enjoy your dreams. So please get my point. WHATEVER GOD DECIDES TO DO IS RIGHT. If you think eternal torment is an unfair or improper decision, may i politely inform you that the real problem here is YOU, not God. You trust God only so far, only as long as He adheres to YOUR concepts of fairness and justice. This is not the true God, just a man-made construct. An idol. Or as Paul would say, a demon. May i invite you to join the ranks of those who trust Him absolutely, without questioning His motives or decisions. Join those who accept what scripture reveals about Him. I’m sure you would say you do, but you accomplish this by redefining His nature, sub-dividing His qualities or nature in order to achieve your goal of constructing a more attractive or appealing deity. Think of the arrogance in the statement “well, if God is actually like such and such, then that’s not a God i can embrace, nor worship.” REALLY? R-e-a-l-l-y??
      I appreciate your compassion and desire for everyone to find eternal bliss, or at least annihilation rather than eternal torment. Just don’t mistake your mind and wisdom for God’s mind and wisdom. He asks us to trust Him, not restrict Him. To love Him with all our being, not to hedge our bets by adding to or subtracting what we desire or find emotionally objectionable.

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  3. Your thoughts, though no doubt sincerely expressed, are nothing new. Your point of view has been extrapolated throughout the history of the church by various theologians and scholars, from both “orthodoxy” and obvious heresy. Your statement that everything must be “built upon”, so to speak, the “love of God”, sounds great, but has no scriptural basis. Granted, God’s love is spoken of often, but so is God’s righteousness and coming judgement. There is no scripture that says that everything about God MUST be understood through the lens of His love. To do so would be do ignore voluminous scriptures that speak of His holiness, righteousness, anger, judgement etc. Christ speaks of hell directly more than any biblical individual. Strange emphasis from one building His teaching (which He says is His Father’s teaching) supposedly on love.
    I certainly understand the difficulty. No one wants to believe someone has to suffer eternally, even the most evil. Then again, try as we might, we have little to no understanding of what is meant by God’s holiness and His hatred of sin, or what violations of His Law actually mean or their seriousness. We might say we do, but really, we don’t. Everything we think we know is clouded by sin and is imperfect at best. I would suggest that the truer nature of the slippery slope you speak of is our sudden belief that we know impeccably what God would or would not do, even beyond what little scripture teaches. Usually those who question God’s will and motives in scripture find themselves speechless (Job, for example) and under discipline. I find that the safest (considering my sinful nature) conclusions to reach are those that accord with scripture. If hell was only temporary, there appears to be an utter dearth of any scriptures telling us so. Eternal usually means eternal. Arguing from love is just playing one aspect of God’s nature against the others. Nor are there scriptures that clearly and literally teach us that hell is really just annihilation. There are contrasts, however, between what the believer and non-believer experience, i.e., just as the believer experiences eternal life so the non-believer experiences eternal separation from God. If this separation is not eternal, then logically eternal life with God is not eternal.
    There is much in scripture i do not fully grasp. To try to understand it, however, through my comprehension, emotions, judgement, etc. will invariably lead to heresy, unintentional though it may be. And this, from my 40+ years of experience and study, is the very basis of heresy: people trying to conform God to their own ability to understand or to their comfort level with said teachings. What you and i think and whether we approve of teachings about God is irrelevant. As you seem to imply, does it conform to scripture is the real question. And in all my studies of this specific topic, those who have and do agree with your reasoning do a barely adequate job of exegeting God’s love and a terrible job of expounding on His righteousness and judgement.
    You may end up being right. If you are, you and the few in orthodox christianity who agree with you have managed to perform a miracle. You have gone against the consensus of 2000 years of the church, which claims also to be based on scripture, and have managed to see what so few have seen (though many who claim such enlightenment have done so only in the last few decades). Again, not impossible, but always unlikely. Trust me, if you are right, i won’t be disappointed at all. God can do whatever He wants without our permission and without our understanding. His ways are not ours, nor are His thoughts. Blessings

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    • Chuck, You state Gods love is spoken of often, but so is His righteousness and coming Judgement, also that we don’t have any reason to think everything about God need be viewed through the lens of His Love.

      I think we do error when we view God’s love as somehow opposed or separate from His righteousness, His judgements, anger etc. A little thought will reveal Love to be all encompassing; the other attributes being subordinate or perhaps better expressed are as a result of His love and fulfill the same purposes. God is Love, not merely loving at times. For eg He may be angry at times but this is because of His love, you would not expect to say God is always angry and sometimes He may be loving; it makes no sense.
      Jesus may have spoken often of hell and that study alone can be revealing but He also very frequently spoke of His Father. To suggest a dichotomy of God’s character introduces some type of schizophrenic Father who one time is offering His mercy, another is withdrawing it in anger, another time demanding righteousness and at a turn offering His own righteousness etc. An earthly father who behaved in this manner we would consider to need psychological help.

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      • Thanks for your comments. I believe you make a common error here, a category error or mistake. Analogies can be helpful in illustrating truth, but we go to far when we assume an earthly father-son relationship can accurately and fully explain the heavenly Father-Son relationship. That God would need psychological help is obviously neither true nor possible, thus your conclusion is rendered nonsensical. It begs for a better analogy or perhaps even better, none at all. Again i see the myopic focus on God’s love, as if this one quality, if you will, must predominate any and all others. We are also told that God is Spirit. Should we then insist that this quality must predominate all others? There is no scriptural reason for this insistence that “love” must rule. We are told that God is many things…love, Spirit, righteous, wrathful….etc. Who decides which, if any, predominate. Love, i fear, only does so because we humans find it “attractive, comforting, etc.”, or perhaps we focus on it because we fear it not being predominate.
        There will be no way, in this life, that we will be able to comprehend the fullness of God. Anyone who isolates an individual quality or essence of God for the purpose of dominance over all others is illustrating little more than personal preference.
        Certainly we see God “being” many different qualities at many different times. This does not necessarily indicate that any of those qualities are dominant over all the others. It merely points out our inability to comprehend God in all His fullness. The schizophrenia is in our understanding, NOT God’s behavior. Trying to restrain God from being more than we can understand, or approve of, is indicative of our pride, our unwillingness to accept the inevitable; we do not and cannot understand God in His fullness. What seems contradictory to us is often spoken of God, sometimes within the same verse or passage, i.e. love, compassion, mercy, etc. contrasted with wrath, judgment. Obviously the inspired writers saw no inherent problem with this, or if they did, they didn’t write about it.
        One thing Jesus spoke of more than any other person in the bible story was hell. If one will just allow the words to speak for themselves, it becomes, however painful or hard to accept, that hell is real, and it is eternal. All the hand wringing and textual gymnastics in the world do not change this fact. And those words are coming from the ONE who embodies God’s love in the flesh, among other qualities.
        Personally, the only reason i believe hell is eternal is because the Word says so. However much i may wish it were different, it isn’t. Now if it turns out God actually does annihilate those who reject Him, fine. Hopefully, i have no dog in that hunt. It’s not like i look forward to sitting in a viewing booth, watching people suffer. I wonder, however, if those who virtually “demand” that God do so, or perhaps save everyone eventually, have given serious thought to what sin is, what it infects, and it’s consequences throughout history. Even more so, have they given any thought, any prolonged meditation on what the quality of “holiness” is, and God’s refusal to “look upon sin”? As mysterious as that may seem (I mean, doesn’t God “see” everything?), it’s just one of so many things about God beyond our ability to understand. And the main reason for that is that we are not God. Not even remotely close. Not even an “atom” in the universe of His being, so to speak. If however, God does save everyone eventually (after, as some suggest, torturing unbelievers with His love until they “give up” and accept it), then why did Christ die? And who for? Not everyone, despite the attempts to isolate words such as “all” or “the world” while ignoring both context and the full teaching of biblical atonement.
        As i have stated before, if the “eternal” in eternal torment doesn’t really mean eternal (as in for all time), then perhaps the “eternal” in eternal life doesn’t mean forever either. Right? On what basis you would reject the one and accept the other? Certainly not according to the definition of the word. Certainly not scripture, for achieving correct biblical understanding is not a mathematical formula, as in 5 “loves” are more than 2 “wraths”. Scripture does not contradict itself (our understanding certainly does), when properly understood. Nor does God. May i suggest to you and others reading this that your focus be more on understanding, or accepting that you can’t understand, God in His fullness, and less on finding a God that you, intellectually and emotionally, can “live with”, a god that tickles the ears and eases the conscience. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. May i suggest that where there is no fear (awe, humility), there is either no wisdom, real wisdom, or that whatever wisdom one might think they have is built on a false foundation, cracking bricks mortared with pride. Thanks for sharing.

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