The question of whether the Christian message, properly understood, teaches that all human souls will ultimately be saved is being raised with new force in our generation. During the first 1,500 years of Christian history, the answer given to this question was almost without exception in the negative. While Origen (185–254) tried to defend a form of universalism, he never attracted any significant following in Christian theology. Following the Reformation, Protestantism adhered to the historic position in this respect, and the major lines of Reformation theology did, until two generations ago, agree. (There was founded, about 1750, a small universalist sect, but it has never been significant in American church life.)

By the turn of the present century, however, there had been set in motion theological currents which called the doctrine of eternal punishment of the finally impenitent into question. Several factors contributed to this movement. The liberal-modernist tradition emphasized “the infinite worth of the individual personality” to a point which made the assertion of universal salvation a logical step. Added to this was the tendency of this tradition to regard the Scriptures dealing with the end of the world and the final judgment as conceptions belonging to an earlier (and outworn) world-view. Thus such events as the coming of Christ and the final judgment came, to the theological liberal, to have purely symbolic significance.

Another factor which has led some to call into question the doctrine of the final and eternal punishment of the impenitent has been the growing sensitivity to human suffering. The advent of such horrors as are symbolized by the names of such places as Dachau, Buchenwald, and ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Tags:
Issue: