Our understanding of salvation depends on which of the following two assumptions we work with: (a) all persons are outside of Christ (i.e., “lost,” “condemned”) except those whom the Bible expressly declares will be saved (Thus, Rom. 1:18–3:20 and parallel passages become the starting point—prolegomenon—for structuring the doctrine of salvation); or (b) all persons are elect in Christ (i.e., “saved,” “justified”) except those whom the Bible expressly declares will be finally lost.
Throughout the centuries, the first premise has dominated Christian thinking. The biblical doctrine of original sin—the belief that all persons, except Jesus Christ, are children of wrath by nature, inclined to do evil, and deserving of eternal death—led many to the conclusion that all persons are outside of Christ except those whom the Bible expressly declares will be saved.
This perspective continued because its only challenge came from absolute universalists (those who teach that all persons will be saved). The church instinctively knew that such was not the overall message of Scripture, and summarily rejected that teaching (and rightly so).
Absolute universalism cannot be an option for those who acknowledge the authority of Scripture. However, in our dismissal of universalism, we have closed our eyes to the fact that many verses in the Bible speak of salvation in terms of all persons. These universalistic texts cannot be so easily ignored. Failure to acknowledge them hinders our ability to understand the good news. And yet, how do we reconcile God’s judgment with texts that imply universal salvation?
A New Starting Point
Three facts help resolve that problem: (1) ...1
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