Patristic Universalism 

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Violates Free will 

Another objection to universalism is that it violates a person’s freewill if everyone—no matter what their beliefs—is forced to accept Christ as their savior. 

 Ludlow, in summarizing the classic view, states that to most people, freedom is a necessary component for salvation since it's commonly believed that some act on the part of the believer is required for salvation and that this 'act' must be accomplished freely. To be honest, I’ve never understood this line of reasoning that a loving God who protects us from Satan and most of all ourselves is a bad thing because it violates our freedom. As I’ve often said, if God wants to drag me to heaven kicking and screaming, I’m okay with that. But this violation of freewill is still a problem for some people. Pinnock,for example, argues that while God may desire the salvation of all, what if someone does not want to be saved? God will not force that person to accept Him and therefore hell is proof of how seriously God takes our freewill. First of all, I would reject the argument that there are people who don’t want to be saved. Yes, there are people in this world who might think they don’t want salvation but when push comes to shove, everyone, no matter who they are, wants to be saved…even if they don’t yet realize it themselves. And if we want to be saved then we freely chose Christ. It is through this knowledge of what we need that we choose God over Satan; it is not forced. Theologians who can imagine someone choosing hell over God have no concept of what hell is like. 

Several years ago I was watching a video where three theologians were debating the purpose and duration of hell and was quite shocked when the traditional theologian stated that people were in hell because they chose to be there.  This is the sort of theological gymnastics many people perform to get God off the hook for sending people to an eternal torture chamber. Their claim is, “God didn’t send them to hell, they sent themselves there!” This is an argument I have used many times in the past and it convinced me God was not the cruel, heartless beast my theology suggested He was. God wasn’t sending people to hell; people were sending themselves there! But looking back on it now, I’m surprised that two questions never entered my mind: (1) why would anyone choose hell over heaven? (2) Even if someone—through misinformation or otherwise—did choose hell, how could God sit idly by and allow them to go there? If the options are eternal life with God or eternal torture with Satan, the choice seems quite obvious. Secondly, I reject the idea that we have the kind of freewill Pinnock speaks of that has more power to destroy than Christ has to save. According to Bock, God loves us so much He allows us to suffer the consequences of our actions and that can be sad. What’s “sad” is believing that standing by while someone destroys themselves is an act of love. What parent would stand by and “love” their child “so much” they would let them get behind the wheel of a car when they’ve had too much to drink? According to Geisler, the Bible teaches that God will never “act coercively” to force someone to love Him. I know the argument that God wants to save people but won’t force Himself on anyone to accomplish that salvation sounds nice and seems for many to wrap things up in a nice tidy bow, but theologians are missing the point. The question is not “Will God force people to love Him?” The question is, “Would   God save people that don’t love Him?” I believe God will save people even if they don’t love Him for a couple of reasons. 

 First, as a parent, my child might not “love” me because of a strained relationship or other such factors but I would still pull my sleeping child out of our burning house. Saving my child at that point is not about my child’s love for me, it’s about my love for my child. Christ’s atoning work on the cross has absolutely nothing to do with our love for Him but everything to do with His love for us.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10 – NIV)

For more about this topic, see Chapter 7, Patristic Universalism, by David Burnfield