Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Universalism? (with respect to salvation)

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Strict universalism of salvation (i.e. everybody will be saved, nobody will go to hell) is incompatible with Christianity, since it denies the freedom of the individual to reject salvation - and yet we see people rejecting salvation all about us, as the norm of modern society.

But there is a big, and seemingly un-settle-able, distinction among Christians relating to the framework for salvation.

Is salvation the default; or damnation? In other words, are people saved 'automatically' except when they deliberately reject salvation; or are they damned unless they accept Christianity?

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(In fact, there may not - on close examination - be such a gulf between these views; at least in quantitative or proportional terms of 'how many' are saved or damned. Nonetheless, in the usual brief and stark way that such matters are discussed, it makes a big difference which is adopted.)

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It is not adequate to say that these things cannot be known for sure - that it is God who judges not us... and so on; because although absolutely correct in a strict sense, it is necessary to order our lives here and now, and that cannot be done without some estimate of the way things are set-up: including the basic way in which salvation works.

In practice, we must have answers to these questions even if they are not definite. Not least we need to have answers in order to have an attitude to our loved ones and the natural and indeed necessary concern for the likely fate of their souls.

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How this question is answered will obviously depend upon how Christians use evidence, and what evidence they use (including what priority they allocate to evidence).

This cuts very deep, because the answer depends upon what we think Jesus did, what he accomplished for us - in other words, our basic situation with respect to salvation is mostly a consequence of how this situation was set-up by the work of Jesus.  

And that is partly a matter of what specific things he said and did, and partly the general tone or spirit of the New Testament, and whether what we get from it corresponds to default salvation (unless salvation is rejected) - or to default damnation (unless Christ and His teachings, plus or minus His church) are embraced.

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My own position is that we were saved by Christ unless we choose to reject it, and this is the Good News of the Gospels; but that in practice (so far as we can see in the world around us) many people would and actually do reject salvation.

Salvation was made easy for us, it was made the default state; yet nonetheless it looks very much as if many, many people will reject it; indeed it looks as if most people will reject it - since they will not be willing to accept the conditions of salvation.

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Thus a position which is perhaps regarded by many Christians as being very close-to universalism (hence very hopeful), may end up in practice pessimistic - at least in the world as it is now.

Qualitative near-universalism is compatible with a quantitative estimate that - in practice - but few will be saved and a majority, maybe a large majority, will reject salvation hence choose indirectly to 'go to hell'. 

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Note: I believe that the choice of salvation or damnation is a real and autonomous choice, but like other such choices is susceptible of influence - especially from Love. I believe that the Love of a Christian for others makes it more likely that those others will choose salvation. And indeed, that this is perhaps our major work in this mortal life.