Chris Tilling expresses an understandable longing that universalism might, after all, be an option for Christian belief.
I used to think that exclusivist was the only option, and anything else, compromise. Now exclusivist makes little sense to me, not because of this or that verse of scripture alone, but because of life, the smile of a baby, the groan of an old man, the death of a precious Hindi old lady who’s served her family all her life, and other bigger issues such as what the death of Christ and his resurrection says of God’s character, why he would create only to send most to hell, why the sending of Christ would seem to damn more to hell than save for eternal life, why God is love if most experience anything but love and forgiveness, why God won’t forgive most as we are commanded to in the scriptures, why God would be so interested in the contents of our minds (our doctrinal beliefs) as central to salvation etc.
Reading this, I began to think that Scripture should perhaps be allowed a say on this question. Chris, obviously thought so too, for he adds that, despite his temptations to go universalist, he cannot justify it exegetically.
Universalists tend to base their alleged biblical support on three groups of texts:-
1. Those which seem to teach that the cross ensured universal salvation, 2 Cor 5:19; Col 1:20ff; Tit 2:11; Heb 2:9; 1 Jn 2:2.
2. Those which seem to teach that God intends universal salvation, 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9.
3. Those which seem to teach universal salvation explicitly, Acts 3:21; Jn 12:32; Rom 5:18-19; 1 Cor 15:22-28; Phil 2:9-11; Eph 1:10.
All of these texts, however, admit of a contrary, and more justifiable interpretation. Moreover, a number of them fall in contexts where universalism is definitely excluded as an option: Acts 3:21 w Acts 3:23; Phil 2:9 w Phil 3:19; Jn 12:32 w Jn 5:29.
Universalistic theologies fail to do justice to the biblical teaching that faith in Christ is an essential condition for salvation. See Jn 3:18; 8:24; Rom 4:5. ‘The cross is sufficient for all, but efficient only for those who will…make the necessary response of repentance and faith…The cross without faith is like a vaccine without a syringe.’ (Michael Griffiths) The Bible insists that whereas Christ bore God’s wrath for our sin, those who do not believe are still under wrath, Rom 2:5-9; 2 Thess 1:7-9.