is argued that if God's redeeming purpose is universal in scope, why
should we any longer accept Christianity's
arrogant claim to be the one true religion?
by John M. Brentnall
From time to time the question is asked as to how many shall be saved.
Shall all, regardless of their creed, worship, character and life-style?
is this glorious privilege reserved for only some? The current claim
God gathers up all creation into His loving purpose should make us
reconsider the question. For it is argued that if God's redeeming purpose
is universal in scope, why should we any longer accept Christianity's
arrogant claim to be the one true religion? Since there are many windows
onto God', why should we continue to support Christian evangelization
the nations? As we are all 'going to heaven', why may not each of us
there in his own way, and leave others to go there in theirs? Such
universalistic claims voiced by religious pluralists call for a Reformed
In general, we may identify four kinds of universalism. Three of them
false, while only the fourth is true.
John Hick, the author of such 'give-away' titles as God and the Universe
Faith, and God Has Many Names, argues that as there is only one
God, who is
accessible to all religions, the universe of faiths must not focus
particular religion, even Christianity with its superior credentials,
on God Himself.
To some, this view may sound very plausible. Yet clearly Hick can
such a conclusion only by mis-reading Holy Scripture, removing
distinctive tenet of the Christian Faith and rejecting the unique
Christ. Is it not expressly written that Holy Scripture was written
believed (John 20.31), that Biblical Christianity should regulate
faith and conduct (John 5.39; Eccles 12.13), and that Christ
is the only
Mediator between God and men, and therefore the only way to God
(1 Tim 2.5;
Acts 4.12; John 14.6)? On this ground alone Radical Universalism
is to be
Under the influence of the Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin, Vatican
II and the
papal encyclical Redemptor Hominis affirm that non- [Roman]
religions reflect 'a ray of that Truth which enlightens all
men', and that
since Christ redeems mankind by virtue of His incarnation,
all men shall
ultimately be saved. Karl Rahner and Hans Kung adopt a similar
stressing like de Chardin the cosmic centrality of Christ.
Such avowed Protestants as Karl Barth and William Barclay
universalism, one on the grounds that all are condemned
in Christ's death
but accepted in His resurrection, the other on the basis
of the alleged
universal Fatherhood of God and the universal scope of
the Love of God in
Suffice to say that Holy Scripture expressly teaches the
salvation of only
the elect (Eph 1; Rom 9), and clearly implies that few
will be saved (Luke
13.23-24; Isa 1.9). Along with Radical Universalism we
reject Liberal Universalism.
Recently some writers who profess to believe in the inspiration
authority of Scripture and to uphold the uniqueness
and finality of Christ
have popularized a brand of Evangelical Universalism
that is more Arminian
than Arminius. Clark Pinnock, in A Wideness in God's
Mercy, and John
Sanders, in No Other Name, are typical. Pinnock claims
Biblical pagan saints' (eg Jethro, Rahab and Cornelius)
salvation through their own religions. For his part
Sanders believes that
the unevangelized may benefit from Christ's saving
work without even
hearing of it.
What shall we say to these things?
1] Firstly, Paul clearly states that faith cometh
by hearing, and hearing
by the Word of God', and that while whosoever
shall call upon the name of
the Lord shall be saved', yet 'How then shall
they call on Him in whom they
have not believed? and how shall they believe
in Him of whom they have not
heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
and how shall they
preach except they be sent?' (Rom 10.17,13-15).
2] Secondly, Peter expressly says of Christ:
'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).
3] Lastly, our Lord Himself authoritatively
claims: I am the way, the
truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the
Father but by me.' (John 14.6).
It is therefore impossible to be saved without
hearing the Gospel,
receiving Christ as the only Mediator and
going to God only by Him.
At root this Evangelical Universalism is
no better than its Radical and
Liberal counterparts, and should be rejected
as much as them.
4. BIBLICAL UNIVERSALISM.
In contrast to these erroneous forms of universalism,
the Bible teaches a
true universalism. It repeatedly states
that God's saving purpose is
universal in scope in that the 'elect
from every nation' are embraced by
it. As Geerhardus Vos says in his Biblical
Theology, even the particularism
of the Old Testament merely serves and
leads up to the universalism of the
Hence John 3.16, both misunderstood and
misapplied by Arminians, refers to
the truth that God's love for our corrupt
world (and not merely for the
Jews) is so great that He is willing
to save whoever believes on Christ
from any and every part of it.
This too is why the apostles went at
their Lord's command to 'the uttermost
parts of the earth', preaching the
Gospel of redeeming grace to all
exception, both Jew and Gentile,
rich and poor, old and young. (Acts
Matt 28.19-20; Rom 10.12-13; 11:11-25).
Finally, when all the redeemed are
assembled around the throne of
of the Lamb, they shall have been
gathered, not from this or that
particular country, but 'out of
every kindred and tongue and people
nation.' (Rev. 5.9).
Here is a universalism that is
thoroughly Biblical. It embraces
all who are
sovereignly chosen by God the
Father, lovingly redeemed by
God the Son,
effectually called and sanctified
by God the Spirit, graciously
believe on the Lord Jesus Christ
for salvation, invincibly made
receive Him, freelyjustified
and adopted into God's family
kept firmly by His power till
their sanctification is completed,
joyfully welcomed into glory
They shall be brought with gladness
And mirth on every side
Into the palace of the King,
And there they shall abide.
(Psalm 45.15. Metrical Version.)
This is a universalism that
leaves nothing to the vagaries
misplaced optimism of religious
dreamers, or the 'free-will'
of man, but
which secures the salvation
of God's chosen with absolute
it be ours!
John M. Brentnall
'Peace and Truth' 2002:3, the magazine of the Sovereign
Grace Union www.sgu.org.uk