The problem of Universalism is complex on the one hand, yet childishly simple at its core. It is convenient because a person can get the most benefit out of the least commitment with this belief. It requires little thought, little action, and serves as an escape clause to anyone who doesn’t want to address important religious implications in their lives. This simplistic non-thought that the average Universalist employs is complex to understand and difficult to overcome. In my opinion it is the most significant and practical Apologetic challenge for Christians.
Several issues exist in the mind of the average Universalist. Even though there are intellectual Universalists, who have considered the implications and have made a more academic choice to hold to this belief, it is of my opinion that they originally came to the idea of Universalism through these very same issues, and that the basic onset of their beliefs was born out of the very same simplistic non-thought of the average Universalist thinker.
The average Universalist thinker has a false understanding about the righteousness of God. It is difficult even for believers to truly grasp this concept, so for non-believers this is nearly impossible. At the heart of this is an egocentric attitude, where the person believes themself to be better than God or to know what is right more than God. They cannot grasp something beyond their understanding, and so they bring down their concept of God into a form which they can understand. And having done this, they have stripped God of a necessary righteousness which transcends our understanding.
God’s righteousness is greater than anyone can fathom. He deserves not only the benefit of the doubt, but also a higher respect than most people give him. His righteousness is greater than our greatest concept of righteousness. There is no room for an egocentric mindset, because we have no right to try and strip God of his righteousness just because we can’t fully grasp what that means.
Yet at the same time there is an innate sense that God has some form of righteousness, resulting in the average Universalists trying to rationalize their own ego with this internal conflict. Related to this idea of rationalization is the problem of evil. A truly righteous God should not abide by or endure evil. A truly righteous God would destroy evil and establish righteousness. This is the mindset of the average Universalist. What is left is a concept of a not-fully righteous God, who conforms to the standard of righteousness espoused by the individual, and a mindset that cannot fathom that a God with even some measure of righteousness would endure evil. So the Universalists posits that God will bring all people to heaven.
A second issue within Universalism is a lack of personal accountability and understanding about human depravity. We live in a society that does not feel that any person should be held accountable for their actions. Excuses are the norm instead. People do things without considering the consequences and they get upset if someone tries to hold them accountable. This society in some sense has lost its moral center, in that the wrongness of an action is not always acknowledge by the offender.
At the same time that we’ve lost a sense of accountability, we’ve also gained an unhealthy sense of entitlement. People think they are owed certain things in life, to which they are not. They think they deserve to have the biggest and best of what this world offers. People try to live above their financial means, and then expect the government to take care of them when their irresponsible actions crumble around them. There is a great sense of expecting more from life, but at the same time not wanting to be held accountable for what they do. It is laziness at its core.
This plays into Universalism because people don’t think they should be held accountable for their wrong deeds. Sin is a dirty word, because many people think sin is subjective. They don’t want to be told they what they are doing is wrong. As a result, they think it is unfair that they be punished for something they do not deem wrong. They refuse to be held accountable before God. Through Universalism, they are not required to be accountable. They also think they are entitled to all the benefits of Heaven and of the joys of following God. They think they deserve everything that a committed Christian gets. So they do not want to be held accountable for their sins, yet they think they are entitled to Heaven.
Somewhat related to the previous issue, is the issue of works salvation and the doctrine of hell. So many people think that if they do enough good works then God will honor that and let them go to Heaven. There is a sense of unfairness that God would send a good person to hell. So society has created a doctrine that all good people go to Heaven and that all bad people go to hell. They also feel that God has no right to judge them for their bad works, because as has been stated above, they do not think they should be held accountable for their sins. So not only is God’s plan of salvation through faith alone challenged, but his right to judge the good as well as the bad people is unacceptable.
The result of this is a person who thinks that they can be “good enough” for Heaven and that God will overlook their sins. Eternal punishment is not for good people and is only reserved for the wicked. But the problem with this is that these same people have a relative view of sin. They do not understand the righteousness of God, so they refuse to be held accountable for their sins. They have a sense of entitlement, so they expect to receive heaven just for being “good enough.”
To get to the heart of all of these matters is rather complicated and emotionally driven. An understanding of justice, righteousness, sin, and accountability needs to be built, and often times there may be little foundation on which to build such ideas. Much prayer, thought, and council must go into something like this, especially when approaching a friend or family member who subscribes to the “good enough” branch of Universalism.
Universalism implies some form of deism. You cannot believe that all people will go to Heaven unless you have some concept of God and Heaven. Apologeticly, this precludes the Naturalist view that there is not God. So I would begin my Apologetic by moving into historical proofs and Biblical teachings to establish that the God of the Bible is the true God. Of all the religions in the world, Christianity is the only one that is coherent and comprehensive in all aspects of life. It answers sufficiently all of life’s ultimate questions, and does so in a way no other religion can. The truths of the Bible have stood longer than any other religion. Historical documents show that Jesus existed and that he was crucified. The eternal proof of the criterion of embarrassment is strong evidence that the disciples told the truth about Jesus’s resurrection. Of all the religions in all the world, Christianity is the only one that works and that can hold up to the intense scrutiny of skeptics. As such, it is most likely that the God of Christianity is the one true God.
Of course, many people with a form of a Universalist belief may have already come this far and may claim to be Christians. They might already believe in God, they just refuse to believe in what the Bible teaches about God. This may simply be a lack of understanding about Biblical instruction. There can be no substitute for proper discipleship, and Christians should emphasize discipleship more than is currently done. Biblical understanding and instruction is the next step in working with someone who has a Universalist view of God.
We must teach them who we are in relation to God. We are God’s creation and not his equal. He created us for his glory and not for his amusement. We were created perfect and blameless, as God is perfect and blameless. But mankind sinned. The Bible says, “We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” It doesn’t matter how good we are, we can never be good enough. We can never be perfect and blameless. And we must recognize that we are accountable for this. We have to take this matter into our own hands and not depend on what others tell us to believe. Each person has sinned, and each person must be accountable for their own sin and responsible for their own beliefs.
Compared to eternity, our life here on Earth is insignificant. God has created us to be eternal, and so we shall be eternal. Our souls will live on eternally as they were created to. But if they have not been redeemed, if they have not been covered by the sacrifice of Jesus, then they will exist in a place eternally separated from God. This is the place that we call hell. Each person has a choice and must be accountable. Each person must make the decision to either pursue God or to reject God. The decision cannot be avoided, no matter how hard we try. Eternality and the fate of our souls is much more important than any trivial matter that may occur on this Earth. We should emphasize that importance. If the soul is that important, then the matters of the soul should be important to each individual. Salvation of the soul is free to all, but the consequences of rejecting God are real.
Universalist ideas are very dangerous and are fraught with emotional attachment. They undermine God’s righteousness, destroy personal accountability, and create a sense of entitlement. They make people think they can be good enough for God and that God will overlook petty sins. The result is a world where everyone will go to heaven. But everyone will not go to heaven. God is more righteous than we could ever understand. We will be held accountable for our sins. We are not entitled to heaven. We are his creation and he has the right to judge us. No person could ever be good enough to measure up to God’s standard of righteousness. But God loves us enough to give us a solution to this dilemma. All we need to do is understand it, and accept it the solution. That solution is faith in Jesus Christ.