Thoughts : Progressive Christianity (Theology) : Predestination, Universalism and Justification?

For many years I was Reformed in my thinking – including Predestination. I was mostly a 4-point Calvinist. For the past 2 years or so (2002 – 2003), I have been moving away from Reformed theology and becoming more open to alternative views in many areas of theology – as one would tell reading the above. Here I’ll mention some thoughts on the Reformed view of Predestination and Justification that troubles me.

Firstly, for the Reformed view of Predestination, I’m beginning to find it too neat and logically formulated. I think in wanting to be clear in our theological beliefs, we tend to be reductionistic. We overlook the nuances of the Bible in formulating our theology. And I think that’s the great weakness of the Reformed view of Predestination and perhaps we could say of most theological views. For example, the dominant evangelical (Reformed) view of the atonement is basically influenced by Anselm. It’s one-sided and tends to neglect other perspectives. This is the great danger in doing theology – especially Systematic Theology. But going back to Predestination, the arguments are as follows. In Adam, we’ve all sinned and also inherited a sin nature that’s prone to sin. When we were born, we were already sinners – we were born sinners, in other words. Unconditional Election is about how God, before the foundation of the world, chooses certain ones to save them. His decision is purely one of grace and is not based on anything we do or will do. It is thus unconditional in nature. God’s unconditional election is meant to be gracious as eventhough he doesn’t choose all to give faith to, He chooses some. And the fact He chooses some is a gracious act because noone deserves to be chosen but all deserve hell! So choosing to save some is He being gracious. We should be awed at why He even bothered to choose to save some and not allow all to go to hell. Because, if He allowed all to go to hell and not save even one, He would be just as all deserve hell. For Him to not choose some does not mean He’s bad and unfair to them. No, He’s just for they deserve hell. For Him to choose some to be saved means He’s gracious to them for they don’t deserve salvation but He gives it to them.

I have a simple problem with this. It may be true that in such a case as described above, God is not being unfair by choosing some and not others. But then, don’t the others who are not chosen go to hell because of what they didn’t do? Reformed theology asserts that the others who go to hell deserve hell because they sin and therefore deserve hell. It is all their just deserts. But, we have to ask a very important question, “What made them sin in the first place?” Reformed theology says that all were born sinners. It was nothing they did themselves but since Adam, we’ve all sinned and inherited a sin nature because of Adam’s fall. What this implies is that some people were born into this earth as sinners – not of their doing – and go to hell for sinning – which again is not of their doing as they were born as sinners! So while Reformed theology may be right in pointing out that the unchosen ones go to hell because of their sin and God doesn’t have an obligation to save them and their going to hell is just, taking into account the fact that all are born sinners (not of their doing, but Adam’s), the Reformed way of seeing things can still be criticized as believing in a God that creates some (who will be born sinners) and judging them to hell because of sin that they were in actual fact not responsible for as they did not have a choice but to inherit a sinful nature because of Adam’s sin! In the end, such a view of God cannot be said to be just and gracious as God, in such a view, would condemn some for something they were not really responsible for in the first place! I prefer to see those who get saved in a more Universalistic way: All who are born after Adam have sinned in Adam and inherited a sin nature because of Adam’s sin. And all these same people will be saved and made alive by Christ:

For as in Adam all die. So also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22)

Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous (Romans 5:18-19)

To me, the Universalistic view – based on the above passages – makes sense and seems biblical. In the Reformed view, we’re condemning some to hell who sinned. But these people sinned not because of themselves, but because of Adam’s sin. Universalism takes the above passages seriously and believes that, yes, all sin because of Adam. But all will be made alive because of Christ!

As concerns Justification, very few Christians know that the common evangelical view of Justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (or more simply the belief that if we trust that Jesus died for our sins we’ll be saved) is an understanding of Scriptures that came about only since the 16th Century Reformation. That is, from quite soon after the early Church period (at least from the time of Augustine around the late 4th Century) till before the Reformation came about, everyone believed that the way to get saved was not just through faith alone. That is, the Christian church during this period of about 1100 years believed that one had to have more than merely faith to be saved, but also needed to be good or do “works” to a certain extent.

Today, almost all evangelicals would tell you that to be saved, we need to only believe that Jesus died for our sins. To add more than faith as a requirement for salvation is to believe in a false gospel. That is, those who view the way to Salvation the way Christians during the 1100 years of pre-Reformation time viewed the way to Salvation (that is, through faith and works) would not be saved for they would be believing in a false gospel! The implication of all of this is that few, if any, during those 1200 years would have been saved! Now, that’s a big claim!

But of course it’s a bit too much to claim that all people who believed in the pre-Reformation view of how to be saved would go to hell. Certainly, that’s a bit harsh right? And so even Evangelicals who think the pre-Reformation gospel is false and who believe that those who believe it now will go to hell – even these Evangelicals are unwilling to outrightly condemn all of these pre-Reformation ‘Christians’ to hell.

The truth is, few Evangelicals will talk about all this. While they will claim that the pre-Reformation gospel was false and that those who believe in it now will not be saved, they are unwilling to face up to its implication that all the Christians during those 1100 years were thus believing in a false gospel and were thus not saved.

My point in mentioning all this isn’t to debate who’s right or wrong or who’s going to heaven or hell. Through all this, I wish to make the point that many Evangelicals are not shy to dogmatically put forth a view, yet are not willing to face up to their implications because they themselves very often would not accept the implications of their view. As concerning the doctrine of Justification, almost all Evangelicals would claim a Reformation view of Justification, would dogmatically claim that Protestants have the right view and that those who believe in Christ alone for salvation would be saved, while those who add works (like the Roman Catholics) would not be saved. Yet, they seldom speak of the implication of their dogmatic views that 1100 years of Christians would most probably be going to hell. They don’t do so because it’s horrifying to think such is the case. Therefore, in a sense, these people contradict themselves.

Personally, I don’t believe that the Reformation and Protestant view of justification is totally right and the Roman Catholic view and the view for 1100 years totally wrong. Because I’m not willing to accept that God would allow such a situation to occur! If so, those saved are basically the relative few who benefit from the accidents of time and geography. And that’s a horrible thought! If I’ve learnt anything from what I have described in the above few paragraphs, it’s that we need to be less dogmatic in our beliefs and humble in our claims. For if we’re not careful, we may be promoting something which have horrifying and unacceptable implications – just as since the Reformation Protestants have been prone to do in their claims of having a true view of the gospel and Justification. As for my views on justification, I think the Reformation view of Justification is closer to the truth than the Roman Catholic view. But I don’t think we’ve got it all right either. Recent controversies concerning “Lordship Salvation” prove how difficult it is to interpret the bible in this area. Bible Truth is more nuance and complex than we think. Many bible passages seem to speak about the role of works and many others seem to speak of the role of faith alone. I find that those who believe that ‘faith alone’ is the way to Salvation normally try to explain away the many passages that speak of the importance of works. And those who constantly talk about works, ignore the many Scriptures which speak of ‘faith alone’ being the way. While there may indeed be one way to reconcile both types of Scriptures and make things simpler and more straightforward, I think things are more complex. At least, I’ve not yet encountered and been satisfied with a theological formulation of Salvation that takes both works and faith into account. Of course, that’s not to say there isn’t one. But in the end, if I were to err, I’d prefer to err on the side of grace.

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3 Comments

  1. Perhaps reformation theology allows for grace just fine. Christ did die “once for all” and the evidences of God and His grace toward man are all around us, so men who wind up in hell are without excuse, “all are called but few are chosen.” The fact that God chooses some is completely aside from any idea of his not being fare to those who by no fault of their own are born into sin and die in the same state. After all, we don’t know what “chosen” even means???

    We should not assume that the difference between called and chosen is the difference between preffered and left out. ??? I trust that God is just and that His process of choosing and not choosing is also just. I have to admit though that this idea is easier for me to hold to since I am chosen.

  2. Dear Still haven’t found,
    An interesting post! I too have wrestled with some of the things you’ve talked about here. And yes, the Reformed (and probably most of the Evangelical) view has some holes in it, with regard to original sin. I think the universalistic view is necessary to get it all to add up, to make sense.

    I might be of help on the issue of faith and works as conditions of salvation. While there are indeed many scriptures that tie works to salvation, there do not appear to be any of these in the writings of the apostle Paul, at least none that cannot be reconciled to the “faith only” viewpoint.

    I think we are forced to meet head-on, that most unpopular word among so many Evangelicals today, Dispensationalism. By recognizing that the Apostle to the Gentiles (Paul), is in fact the primary source of guidance for the church today, and by adopting his distinctive teaching concerning faith without works, I think we are on the right track. Then, if we go further and latch on to the universalistic concept of the atonement, the track becomes a world smoother.

    Shalom, Brother Stumblefoot

  3. Justification by faith is an immovable pillar of Christian salvation, as is unconditional election. Neither were invented by the reformers. They merely rediscovered the truth as preserved in the NT, which was lost to Christendom for over 1,100 years, thanks to the “faithful” administration of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). More importantly, true to Solomon’s sayings nothing is new under heaven. Neither Unconditional-Election nor Justification by faith are new constructs of the NT, but are wholly based on the primary doctrines of God in choosing Abraham. Isaac and Jacob, while rejecting Esau while he was in the womb, and Passover feast given to Moses by God on Israel’s exit from Egypt, where the latter was accounted as collateral damage! Take offense at God if you will!

    In the NT, Paul calls us to celebrate Christ our Passover without the leaven of sins. Christ is the Passover Lamb, the perfect sacrifice, the acceptable propitiation for the sins of the WHOLE world. Even those of the OT who had not known him are justified by his blood. His death on the cross and his shed blood are more than enough for God to pardon ALL the sins of every man since the beginning of time, conditional upon their faith in his sacrifice. Nothing more is needed for justification. And I f that is enough for God, who can say otherwise?

    To try and add to the cross of Christ and his precious blood, with man’s filthy rags, is to imply that He is not good enough. I cannot think of a better way to insult the Son of God.

    Justification requires no work. Indeed none can add to it. But anyone who is truly saved will show evidence by fruitfulness and will live for Christ alone. For a tree is know by its fruits. Good works do not purchase justification or salvation, but salvation bear the fruits if good works.

    But Justification is not ultimate salvation. Just like a man once pardoned in the cour, only to repeat the same offense and then denied pardon. In other words, Justification can be lost. I call it cosmetic salvation. It is just a covering. For one to be ultimately saved, without avenue for losing it, he MUST be born again of God and of the Spirit. Yet strictly speaking, in justification there is no rebirth or regeneration.

    Man may open his mouth and confess Christ. And God has promised to declare pardon upon them. But he is NOT obliged to regenerate all. Only the Elects will be regenerated. Therefore the Sheep and goats parable.

    Whether or not anyone in RCC were saved for those dark 1100 years is not pertinent to the immovable doctrines of Christ. Different standards of judgement apply to people in Different economies of faith. Notwithstanding, this is not without precedence. Is it not true, that the whole world was destroyed, sparing only Noah and his family in the flood, which God saw fit to send to the demonic and rebellious world?

    Jer: 29 In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the childrens teeth are set on edge.
    30 But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.

    Lastly, wrt to original sin. Adam was created. But his children were procreated. The latter are one with the former. When ADAM sinned, they ALL involuntarily participated in the act. Therefore are all guilty. Yet no one will go to hell because of this. For God does not impute their involuntary sin to them. Notwithstanding, because if the inherited sin nature, every man sins. And are responsible for their own deeds, deserving judgment.

    In truth, based on the criteria that one must be born of the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God, NONE of ADAM’s children will make it. But the elects will be regenerated, be born of God and dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

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