Is Christian Universalism Pluralism?

Is Christian Universalism a form of pluralism?  This is an assumption many Christians make because of misconceptions that have arisen around the term, says Kevin Miller in a recent blog post on his Hellbound site.  Often I have found that what people are rejecting is not what I am saying or meaning at all.  Below is a delineation of the views one may hold to within the label “universalist.”   There is one subset that could be defined as “pluralists” which would be those who believe that, “the way” has many roads to the same end.  These people would say that ‘God’ is happy to let us all define and choose to “live our own  truth.”

But true Christian Universalists desire to be called “Christian” because they have come to see that the great I AM who created the universe is the same God who was “in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” on the cross.  A Christian universalist believes what other Christians believe in terms of the historical creeds but differ only in their interpretation of the scope and magnitude of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  They believe all will be “saved by grace through faith” in Jesus Christ only.  All will see Him and love Him and bow and confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  While the Calvinists and Arminians are split on whether God wants to save all or can save all, the Christian Universalist believes that both are true!   They embrace that God is both desiring to save all and is also able to do all that He desires!

Here is the entry of Kevin Miller’s discussion on the confusion over Christian universalism as pluralism.  Observe how easy it is to dismiss Christian Universalism simply on the grounds that we do not understand it.

A new study by Lifeway Research demonstrates how easily the discussion over universalism can become confused if we don’t define our terms properly.

For the study, Protestant pastors were asked to agree or disagree with the following statement: “If a person is sincerely seeking God, he/she can obtain eternal life through religions other than Christianity.” Not surprisingly, 84% of pastors disagreed with the statement. (They didn’t bother to mention how many pastors they actually surveyed.)

In their commentary, Lifeway says that the view that people can find salvation through religions other than [Christianity], “… is generally called ‘universalism’ or ‘pluralism’ (though technically not the same thing, they are often used interchangeably and relate to one another). So, based on this data, Protestant pastors are overwhelmingly not pluralist/universalist.”

This statement is somewhat frustrating, because right after admitting that “universalism” and “pluralism” should not be used interchangeably, Lifeway uses them as synonyms in the very next sentence! So perhaps a bit of disambiguation is in order.

As Robin Parry and Christopher Partridge point out in the introduction to their excellent book Universal Salvation?  The Current Debate, we can identify a typology of “universalisms,” at least one of which may actually be a synonym for pluralism. But Christian universalists rarely hold to such a belief. A brief summary of Parry and Partridge’s typology:

Multiracial universalism: In this sense, virtually all Christians can be considered universalists (except perhaps neo-Nazis) in that they believe the Gospel is for every kind of person, no matter their race or gender.

Arminian universalism: This is the belief that God desires to save all people, but that some people choose to opt out of his salvation plan. This should be contrasted with Calvinist or Reformed thinking, which holds the view that God only desires to save the elect.

Strong universalisms: This is actually a sub-family of views within the universalist camp. Like Arminian universalists, strong universalists believe that God wills the salvation of all. However, they are also convinced that God will actually be able pull it off. The point of disagreement arises over how God will do this. Hence, we find non-Christian versions of strong universalism arising within other religions. We also find pluralist universalism, which is the belief that all religions are different roads to the same destination. (This view is closest to the one rejected by the Protestant pastors in the survey.

Christian universalisms: Parry and Partridge include this family of views under the label “Strong universalisms,” but I thought I’d separate them out here to avoid further confusion. This is a family of views that is united around the idea that all people will ultimately be reconciled to God through Christ. They are most definitely not pluralists. But that’s typically where the agreement ends. Christian universalists are dialoguing about a number key questions, such as…

– Is universal salvation something Christians can reasonably hope for, or is it something of which we can be certain?

– Do the “hell texts” in the Bible explain merely a possible destiny or the real but temporary fate of the damned?

– Is universalism a possible Christian position among others or is it the only authentically Christian position?

– Is the New Testament consistently universalist or does it hold multiple views in tension?

– Must someone have conscious faith in Christ to be saved?

– Do humans have indeterministic freedom or not? In other words, what role does the will play in salvation?

– Is God’s punishment to be understood in retributive or restorative terms?

– Is God free not to love and save all, or, constrained by the very nature of his being, is God bound to love and save all?

And this doesn’t even begin to touch upon the many exegetical discussions regarding how certain passages of the Bible are to be interpreted.

So what does the Lifeway study actually show us? For one thing, it reveals that people are still pretty confused about what Christian universalism actually is, the diversity of views that fall under that umbrella, and the ongoing conversation that is happening among Christian universalists regarding the questions outlined above.

However, the study also reveals a significant divergence between pastors and lay people in terms of their views on this topic, with lay people far more open to the idea that salvation might be found through other religions. They also found a positive correlation between education and pluralist beliefs, with more educated pastors leaning toward pluralism.

But hopefully you can see, these findings really have nothing to do with what pastors and lay people believe about Christian universalism, because as far as I can tell, that topic wasn’t even part of the survey.

Please explore this website using the correct lens of Biblical or Christian Universalism which is:  faith in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ as the only redemption of mankind, the only means to reverse the curse and make “all things new.”

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Madeline Renteria October 16, 2012 at 10:15 am

I believe in The idea that we are all saved through worship and belief in God and Jesus but also that there are many ways to worship them and to find eternal peace. So… I have a few questions I need answers to…
What if I believe in Christian Universalism Pluralism?
Is that a real religion?
Does this religion embrace the concept that we can worship through meditation and nature?

admin October 16, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Welcome Madeline! Thanks for your comment and questions.

I am a bit confused as you state that you believe that all are saved through Christ (Biblical or Christian universalism) and then you state also that you believe in “Christian universalism pluralism.” I guess I would have to say that I do not believe there is such a thing. If you are a Christian then you are not a pluralist. A true pluralist does not regard Christ as unique in His position as Savior of the World. A pluralist believes that all ways of relating to God are valid and will bring life/salvation/”heaven.” A pluralist would not see Christ’s work on the cross as essential for all or the only way in which the curse is reversed and this world has any hope of redemption and restoration.

Christ said that they that worship Him must worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4). The Bible also says that there is a way that seems right to people but the end is the way of death. So there is one way that we were meant to live and that is in relationship with the Father, Son and Spirit of God, the Creator of the universe. But while all roads do not lead to the Truth, Christian universalism says that Christ will travel down any and every road to find ALL His lost sheep. So there is ONE way and it is Jesus Christ but He has made provision for all to find that way: “At the name of Jesus EVERY knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2) “Behold, I am making ALL things new.” (Rev 21:5)

How we go about worshipping God and living our lives before Him must be in alignment with His heart that is love which is revealed in His word through the Living Word, Christ.

Your question about using meditation or nature in which to worship Him depends upon what you mean. All truth is God’s truth and so nothing that is truly good is separate from Him. Using an awareness and study of God’s creation/nature as a means to evoke worship is of course a wonderful thing. But worshipping the creation as if it is God (a religion of pantheism) is of course not a good thing (Rom 1).

Meditating on the word and on who God is in Christ and all that He is and has done for us is Biblical meditation. On the other hand emptying your mind while repeating a mantra to another god in order to “meditate” is opposite to the Biblical sense of “renewing of your mind” through the truth of God’s word (Rom 12:1).

That being said I have benefitted from the methods and relaxation of Yoga but I do not acknowledge the deities/Energy they focus on. But rather I actively position my thoughts on Christ and being still to “know that He is God.” In the same way that Paul in Acts 17 commends the spirituality of the pagan Athenians and even quotes their prophets and poets when he found them in alignment with the one true God we can find some truth in all religions. But they are just pointers to the ONE TRUTH found in Jesus Christ. In Acts 17 Paul fills in their perception of the “unknown god” with the rest of the Story of God, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Hope that helps. Feel free to ask for further clarification if needed. Have a blessed day!

Grace and peace…

Thomas April 4, 2016 at 5:19 am

thanks for showing me the difference between pluralism and universalism!

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