Wednesday, February 1, 2006

The Third Way

There are two main schools of thought in Christianity today when it comes to salvation (who gets in and who's left out).  Those are Calvinism (largely identified by its predetermination doctrine) and Arminianism (largely known by its free will doctrine).  While you might have not heard these terms, many churches fall into one of these two categories.  But, I think many individuals tend to mix their beliefs.  You'll see later it doesn't have to be an all or nothing proposition. One thing these two camps agree on is that God is going to condemn a significant portion of humanity to eternal torment.  Where they differ is the method of how we escape this fate.  Frankly, I think both have it right on some very major points and both have it wrong on the most important point there is. 

Interestingly enough both views can be backed up by scripture (as we shall see shortly).  So, Bible believing Christians can honestly be Calvinists or Arminians and have "proof" to support their views.  But, the two views have conflicting beliefs that could not possibly both be true.
Mostly, the two camps get along pretty well because they do agree on one thing. Some of us (those who are Christians) are going to heaven and the rest of us (non-Christians) ain't gonna make it.  Ironically, many Calvinists think most Arminians are going to hell because they are not part of the "elect".  While Arminians think most Calvinist are going to hell because they don't understand their salvation is conditional and therefore, they are in danger of losing it.

Well, there is a third way.  It's called Universalism and it too can make its case, from the Bible.  What's fascinating is that even though Universalism can agree with the major tenets from both Calvinism and Arminianism, it's called a heresy by many in both camps.  This for the simple reason that Universalism rejects the notion that God is either too weak (the Arminian POV) or not loving enough (the Calvinist POV) to save all of mankind.

What I'd like to do is explore both Calvinism and Arminianism and give scriptural "support" for at least some of the doctrines of both.  We'll talk about what Universalism has in common with each and where we differ with both. As I said earlier, prima facie cases can be made for both Calvinism and Arminianism even though both couldn't possibly be true.  A very strong case can also be made for Universalism.  No matter which camp you're in, there are Bible verses that, when lifted out of context, will conflict with your POV.   I believe, careful exegesis of the conflicting passages that we (Universalists) are left with resolves those conflicts better than either Calvinists or Arminians can resolve their conflicting passages. I'll say it again, strict Calvinists and strict Aminians cannot possibly both be right.  One or the other may be right. But, both cannot be right.
Calvinists are famous for a five letter acronym- TULIP. So, I'll use this as the basis for our discussion.  TULIP stands for:

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

In other words, man is so wicked that everything he does is marred by sin.  He (on his own), can only choose evil. Jesus' blood was only shed for the "elect" that God has pre-chosen and those people cannot resist God's grace.  They have no choice but to be "saved".  Meanwhile, those not chosen cannot even accept God's grace and have no choice but to be condemned.

Arminians, in contrast believe that humans are not irretrievably evil and (in a way I honestly don't understand) God's grace allows any of us to choose good (or to choose salvation or redemption).  I don't believe the words salvation and redemption should be used interchangeably.  But, I think most people do use them that way.  Humans have the free will to choose God or reject Him. Jesus' blood was shed for all.  But, only those who choose Him have the blood applied to them and are therefore redeemed.  God's grace is not irresistible and even though He wishes all to be saved, He does not override "free will" and will allow some to choose eternal damnation.  Lastly, there is no eternal security of salvation (before death anyway).  We are free, at any time (before death), to reject God and lose our salvation.

In a chart, here are the three views laid out side-by-side.



Foundation laid by


Foundation laid by

      (according to Brian)



Total Depravity - Human
beings are so affected by the negative consequences of original sin
that they are incapable of being righteous, and are always and
unchangeably sinful; human freedom is totally enslaved by sin so we can
only choose evil.

Deprivation - Human
beings are sinful and without God, incapable (deprived) on their own of
being righteous; however, they are not irredeemably sinful and can be
transformed by God’s grace; God's prevenient grace restores to humanity
the freedom of will.
think the Arminians are closer to the truth on this one. Human beings
are sinful and incapable of righteous apart  from God.  But,
we're incapable of anything apart from God.  So what is that
really saying?  I think the point is we are made the way were
intended to be made (Romans 8:18)



Unconditional Election -
Since human beings cannot choose for themselves, God by His eternal
decree has chosen or elected some to be counted as righteous, without
any conditions being placed on that election.

Conditional Election -
God has chosen that all humanity be righteous by His grace, yet has
called us to respond to that grace by exercising our God-restored human
freedom as a condition of fulfilling election.
believe both what the Calvinists believe and what the Arminians
believe.  God has by His Eternal decree chosen or elected who will
be righteous.  He does not leave it up to human will. He has
chosen that all humanity be righteous by His grace (and His grace ONLY-
not our works OR our faith).



- The
effects of the Atonement, by which God forgave sinful humanity, are
limited only to those whom He has chosen.

Unlimited Atonement - The
effects of the Atonement are freely available to all those whom He has
chosen, which includes all humanity, "whosoever will."
Gotta go with the Arminians on this
one.  Jesus' atonement is available (and applied) to the whole
human race.  Not only whosever will, but whosoever God will (all).



 - The grace that God extends to
human beings to effect
their election cannot be refused, since it has been decreed by God.

Resistible Grace - God’s
grace is free and offered without merit; however, human beings have
been granted freedom by God and can refuse His grace.
Hey, we found a good point about
Calvinism ;-)  The grace that God extends to human beings to
effect their election is Irresistible.  It's not a gift we can
refuse.   It's a done deal.



of the Saints

- Since God has decreed the elect, and they cannot resist grace, they
are unconditionally and eternally secure in that election.

Assurance and Security -
There is security in God’s grace that allows assurance of
salvation, but that security is in relation to continued faithfulness;
we can still defiantly reject God.
Sure, we can reject God (at least for a
time).  We can even refuse to accept the fact that He has already
completed the work for us and there's nothing we can do to undo it (or
add to it).  But, we cannot affect our redemption one way or the
other.  Salvation, renewing of our minds, repentance are up to
us.  But our redemption cannot be found or lost.  It's
secured in God.  He and Jesus worked it out with out asking us



Support for the Calvinism and Arminianism

The major issues between Calvinism, Arminianism and Universalism center around three points:

  1. Does God desire to save all of mankind?
  2. Is God capable of saving all of mankind?
  3. Will all of mankind be saved?

Total Depravity:
The doctrine of total depravity basically says that man is so marred by sin that he cannot choose good- especially salvation. While it's not as bad as the name suggest (it doesn't mean that people can never do ANYTHING good), it means that sin has so infected us that we are incapable of being good on our own.

The doctrine of Total Depravity is supported by scriptures about man's character.  Again, these are not my interpretations of these scriptures, but Calvinists':

  • Man’s heart is evil (Mark 7:21-23)
  • Man's Heat is sick (Jer. 17:9)
  • Man is a slave to sin (Rom. 6:20)
  • Man does not seek God (Rom. 3:10-12).
  • Man cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14)
  • Man is at enmity with God (Eph. 2:15)
  • Man is a child of wrath, by nature (Eph. 2:3)

So, the Calvinist position is that man is so totally evil and/or lost that he cannot possibly choose or even desire God.  The only way that man can be saved is for God to predestine his salvation.

  • The Calvinists also add that we are "born again" not by our own will but by God's will.  We have nothing to do with our salvation because we are totally incapable. (John 1:12-13)
  • God grants that we believe (Phil. 1:29)
  • Faith is the work of God (John 6:28-29)
  • God appoints people to believe (Acts 13:48)
  • God predestines (Eph. 1:1-11; Rom. 8:29; 9:9-23)
Contrasted with this doctrine, the Arminians believe that man is at least (somehow) capable of responding to God's offer of grace. This is important from their POV because while they agree with the Calvinists' that man is evil on his own, they do acknowledge the ability to respond to God's call.  This gives man just enough "will" to be able to participate in his own salvation.  Therefore, man can either accept or reject God and face the consequences of his decision.

Scriptures that support the Arminian view that man is at least capable of responding to God's call (which is to everyone).

  • God created man with a free will so that he may choose to accept or reject God. “[God] will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” I Tim. 2:4. “Give
    diligence to make your calling and election sure . . .” II Pet. 1:10a.
  • Christ died for all. He was not willing that any should perish (II Pet. 3:9). He will save any repenting sinner who comes to Him through faith in His finished work at Calvary.
  • Man can and must respond to Christ’s call to salvation before he can be saved. He must
    • Hear God’s call–”Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Rom.

    • Believe in Christ–”Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
      Acts 16:31.

    • Seek–”Seek ye the Lord while he may be found . . .” Isa. 55:6.

    • Call–”Call ye upon him while he is near.” Isa. 55:6.

    • Repent–”Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out . . .”
      Acts 3:19.

    • Confess–”If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus . . . thou shalt be saved.”
      Rom. 10:9.
  • We can never earn salvation by any works we can do.
  • Salvation by God’s grace is a free gift, but man chooses to accept it or to reject it.
    “The goodness of God leadeth [not forceth] thee to repentance.” Romans
  • Satan planned the fall of man, but he needed man’s help to do it. God plans and provides
    for salvation, but He must have man’s will and cooperation to carry it out.
Unconditional Election

Calvinists believe that God does not base His election on anything He sees in the individual.  This makes sense, in the Calvinist framework since none is worthy of salvation or even capable of responding and God chooses whom He will save before we've drawn a breath. 

  • God chooses the elect according to His will only.  God does not consider the person's merits. (Eph. 1:4-8; Rom. 9:11)
  • God does not look into the future to see who would pick Him.
  • Just as some are elected into salvation, others are not (Rom. 9:15, 21)
Arminians believe that since salvation is man's choice, it is also man's choice as to whether he holds on to that salvation or not.  Arminians say that Satan is trying to lull us into a false sense of security withe Unconditional Election doctrine and that they teach a day-by-day walk with God as of the ultimate importance.

  • “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.” Rom. 8:13.
  • God, who cannot tolerate sin before salvation, certainly will not
    tolerate it after a person becomes saved. “If ye continue in my word,
    then are ye my disciples indeed.” Jn. 8:31

Limited Atonement

Probably Calvinism's most detested doctrine (by non-Calvinists of course) is the concept of Limited Atonement. This doctrine states that Jesus died only for the elect. Though Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all, it is not beneficial to all.  Jesus only atoned for the sins of a select few.  The rest of mankind was not covered by His sacrifice.   Jesus only bore the sins of the elect.
  • Matt. 26:28, "for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out
    for many for forgiveness of sins."
  • Jesus died for the sheep (not the goats, per Matt. 25:32-33); John 10:11,15 “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep...15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep." Matt. 25:32-33, “And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and
    the goats on the left."
  • Jesus in prayer interceded for the ones given Him, not those of the
    entire world; John 17:9, "I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world,
    but of those whom Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine;" Isaiah 53:12 which is a prophecy of Jesus’ crucifixion where he would bore the sins of many (not all)
Arminians on the other hand, point out that the Bible clearly states that Jesus died for all.  The Bible says God so loved the world (not just the Christian).  If the person denies Jesus' atonement, it will not be applied to him. But, Jesus' atonement was not only sufficient for all but, intended for all.

  Scriptures used to support an unlimited
atonement are as follows:

  • John 1:29, "The next day he *saw Jesus coming to him, and *said,
    “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"
  • John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten
    Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal
  • John 4:42, "and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because
    of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and
    know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”
  • 1 Tim. 4:10, "For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have
    fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men,
    especially of believers."
  • 1 John 2:2, "and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not
    for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."
  • 1 John 4:14, "And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world." 
  • "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who
    will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). "Who (speaking of Christ) gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" (1 Timothy 2:6). "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if
    one died for all, then were all dead" (2 Corinthians 5:14).
  • "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to very creature" (Mark 16:15).
  • "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
  • "And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent" (Acts 17:30)
  • "Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life (Romans 5:18)."
  • "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Hebrews 2:9).
Irresistible Grace

Calvinists believe in two types of gospel calls.  For the predestined, when God calls his elect into salvation, they cannot resist.  This is called the internal call. God (deceitfully, IMO) offers to all people the gospel message. This is referred to as the external call. The external call cannot be heeded (except by the elect).  But, the internal call cannot be resisted. This call suposedly brings them to repentance and regeneration whereby they willingly (?) and freely (?) come to God. Some of the verses used in support of this teaching are:
  • Romans 9:16 where it says that "it is not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God who has mercy"
  • Philippians 2:12-13 where God is said to be the one working salvation in the individual
  • John 6:28-29 where faith is declared to be the work of God
  • Acts 13:48 where God appoints people to believe
  • John 1:12-13 where being born again is not by man’s will, but by God’s.
Arminians of course believe that God's call can be resisted.  They cite the tons of scripture in the Bible where God tell us to choose. 

  • Stephen's charge to his persecutors was, "You always resist the Holy Spirit!" (Acts 7:51). 
  • Paul said, "I do not frustrate the grace of God" (Gal. 2:21)
  • Hebrews 10:29, warns us about,  "doing despite the Spirit of grace."
  • Jesus said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chicks under her wings, and ye would not!"  (Matt. 23:37.)
Perseverance of the Saints
Calvinism teaches you you cannot lose your salvation. Because the Father elected, the Son  redeemed, and the Holy Spirit applied salvation, the elect are eternally secure.

Some of the verses for this position are:

  • John 10:27-28 where Jesus said His sheep will never perish
  • John 6:47 where salvation is described as everlasting life
  • Romans 8:1 where it is said we have passed out of judgment
  • 1 Corinthians 10:13 where God promises to never let us be tempted beyond what we can handle
  • Phil. 1:6 where God is the one being faithful to perfect us until the day of Jesus’ return

Arminianism, OTOH, because it teaches that we choose to be "saved" contends that we can also choose to be "unsaved".  Since salvation is of our own doing, salvation can be lost.  This, to me, is one of the most reprehensible things about Arminianism.

The Third Way

What Calvinism and Arminianism have in common other than the fact that Jesus' death can save some, is the fact that some will be Eternally Consciously Tormented.   Because they both really begin with this conclusion, they must twist the clear teachings of scripture to support their views.  Interestingly enough, they are almost diametrically opposed except for this bottom line.  So, they are left teaching doctrines that are in conflict to scripture because as you follow their logic down, you have to come to the conclusion of Eternal Torment.

Universalism accepts the proposition from the Calvinists that God is in control of our salvation.  A responsible and loving God (parent and Creator) would never leave such an important decision in the hands of frail human beings.  It would be like us allowing our children to make life and death decisions before they were fully mature.  Universalists also believe that God is sovreign and that all things will be reconciled to Him.  Christian Universalists believe that all things (as the Bible says) will be subject to Christ, including every will and death and Hell.  Universalists believe that God's grace is indeed irresistible.  And we believe that man cannot lose his redemption because man does not participate in his redemption.   So, I can go along with Unconditional Election, Irresistible Grace and Perserverance of the Saints (hey, three out of five ain't bad).  But, the Arminians have it right when it comes to Limited Atonement- atonement is NOT limited.  Jesus died for the sins of the entire world, while we were yet enemies.  We are saved through no action of our own (including the action of believing).  Believing does lead to salvation- a metanoia, a renewing of the mind, the ability to see the Kingdom of God, etc., etc. But, believing does not ensure our redemption. That was worked out by God and is God is not dependent on us to provide it nor does He allow us to accept or reject it.

So, Universalists can get behind many of the teachings of Calvinists and Arminians even while being horrified at some of the teachings of each and particularly at their bottom line- which is that either God is too weak to save all (Arminians) or God is selective in His love (Calvinists).  What we Universalists are left with is the teachings in the Bible that would, on the surface, seem to teach that God will either allow some to go to Eternal Torment or actively be involved in sending them there.  This article is already way longer than I intended.  So, I'll leave that for another time.  Let me just close with this.

The papers I've read in support of Calvinism and Arminianism are the worst (or best depending on how you view it) examples of proof-texting I think I've ever seen.  Each side plucks its favorite verses from the immediate context and the overarching context of the Bible.  The Bible must be read, as much as possible, as a whole.  I cringe  when I hear people plucking examples from Paul's letters that are trying to make exactly the OPPOSITE point the person citing them is making.  Paul's letters most definitely support Universalism, when read in context.  But preachers constantly pick out a word here, a verse there and a paragraph from another place and string them together to make their points.  It would be like taking the paragraphs in this post that support Calvinism and saying I'm a Calvinist.  Clearly, I am not.

Universalism is based on a view of God that He is a loving, responsible, caring Creator who has enough power and wisdom to accomplish His will.  His will, which is clearly stated in the Bible, is saving ALL of mankind.  How can we be so blind as to not see this?


Anonymous said...

I can't say that I got it figured all out, I have some questions myself. But, some clear passages simply don't mix well with universal salvation. It's a nice idea, but I don't see it happening. And I did put some thought into this, I really did give it a fair chance.

I don't believe in ECT, I believe in complete destruction of the damned, body and soul.

So, what is my problem with universal salvation?

First, it denies the eternal sin. And this sin is not figuratively unforgivable, it's the one thing God will not forgive, ever.

After we sin willfully - basically, fully aware aware of what you're doing, and continue doing so with great defiance. Or get lazy in your spiritual growth - such sins will simply not be covered by Christ's blood. Why? Because he would need to die all over again to cover those sins, and this will not happen. He died once, that's it, no do overs. Even in the animal sacrificial system, the sacrifices covered all previous sins when you sacrificed them. If you'd sin more afterwards, you'd need to bring sacrifices once again to cover this new sins.

Ross S Marshall said...

Oh, child???? Please read this 40 years of research and be open to reconsider...
Look, just read this and you will "understand" the truth....
Here is another resource: My professor and I composed a 500 page (technical, for advanced students of theological biblical universalism) bible commentary on Universal ultimate reconciliation of all. See amazon under my name or "THE ALL MANKIND BIBLE COMMENTARY". by Ross S Marshall, and Dr. George F Howe.