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Arminianism and Calvinism Lead to Universalism

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“In constructing a Theodicy, Universalism has adopted some of the fundamental postulates of Calvinism. To a certain extent the premises of both theologies are the same, while they fundamentally disagree in their conclusions. Universalism has flourished, partly because of the utterances of Calvinism. If the Calvinistic doctrine of omnipotence be true, Universalism is the legitimate conclusion.” Fisk Harris, Arminian

“Of course if this proposal is true then Universalism seems to follow.” (the proposal being an argument against Arminianism) Randal Rauser, Arminian

Interesting. Two eminent Arminian theologians, one arguing that the premises of Calvinism lead to Universalism, and the other arguing that the premises of Arminianism lead to Universalism. Could they both be right? Let’s start with Fisk.

Chapter 3 of his book Calvinism: Contrary to God’s Word and Man’s Moral Nature, is titled “CALVINISM AN ALLY OF UNIVERSALISM”.

He introduces the section by stating:
“In constructing a Theodicy, Universalism has adopted some of the fundamental postulates of Calvinism. To a certain extent the premises of both theologies are the same, while they fundamentally disagree in their conclusions. Universalism has flourished, partly because of the utterances of Calvinism. If the Calvinistic doctrine of omnipotence be true, Universalism is the legitimate conclusion.”

Agreement with Regard to God’s Power

He then goes on to note that Calvinism and Universalism agree about two things: God’s power and the good uses of sin and denial of freedom. With regard to point one, he quotes a number of Universalist authors to show the strong Calvinistic bent in their thinking:

"It is important to observe the language of this statement--that God is omnipotent, not only in the natural world, but also in the moral and spiritual world. It is as easy for him to create and govern a soul, as to create and govern a sun or a planet. And it requires no more effort on his part to discipline and save a moral being, according to the laws of his moral nature, than it requires to control the solar systems, according to the material laws impressed upon them at the time of their creation.” (Thomas Thayer)

"It is not casting any disagreeable reflections on the Almighty to say he determined all things for good; and to believe that he superintends all the affairs of the universe, not excepting sin, is a million times more to the honor of God than to believe he can not, or he does not when he can." (Hosea Ballou)

"The question, therefore, comes to this, Is it impossible for God to convert and save all men? But in what sense can this be considered as impossible? Is it inconsistent with the nature of the human mind, and with the freedom and accountability of man? Such a supposition is a priori incredible; because God made the minds of men as well as their bodies--made them free, accountable agents--and it is not likely that he would give existence to a being which it was impossible for him to control. Besides is it not a fact that God does control the minds of men, of all men, in perfect consistency with their freedom and accountability? . . . But are not all minds constituted essentially alike? And if it is possible for God to convert one sinner . . . , why not two? why not as many as he pleases? why not all?" (Dr. Enoch Pond)

Agreement with Regard to the Good Uses of Sin

With regard to the second point of agreement, the good uses of sin, Fisk offers the following quotes:

"If there had been no error or sin in the world, we should have known nothing of Jesus the Christ, that loftiest exhibiion of perfected humanity, that single bright star in the mingled firmament of earth and heaven, whose light was never dimmed.... And of God, also, if there were no sin, we should lose sight of half the glory of his character, and of the beautiful and tender relations which he sustains to us." Our author also quotes from President Edwards to the effect that, all things considered, it is best that sin should exist. (Dr. Thayer)

"What in a limited sense we may justly call sin or evil, in an unlimited sense is justly called good." (Ballou)

"He does all things after the counsel of his own will. Of course when he made man and gave him the power which he possesses, he did everything according to his own will. It will avail nothing to say man is a moral agent; for why should God give him an agency which would defeat his own will? This would be planning against himself. Nothing is more evident than that an expected result of a voluntary act proves that it was desired." (Skinner)

Fisk concludes by noting:

These extracts will suffice to show the exact position of Universalism concerning the omnipotence of God, the remains of sin for the manifestation of his glory, and the doctrine of necessity in human actions. "Thus the sinful actions of men, being only the legitimate effect of causes which proceed from the author of all good, are not, as has so often been supposed, an evil of incalculable malignity; they are only a seeming evil; they are evil only to our limited and darkened understandings: they are evil only to those who can not trace out all the tendencies of things, or foresee their final issue."

With these quotes I believe Fisk shows that Calvinism and Universalism are indeed in perfect agreement about God’s power to save and about the uses of sin. From these facts, it follows that Fisk is absolutely correct in stating “. . . If the Calvinistic doctrine of omnipotence be true, Universalism is the legitimate conclusion.”

Arminianism Leads to Universalism

Fisk’s answer to Calvinism is not Universalism; it is Arminianism. I would suggest, however, that Arminianism leads to Universalism just as surely as Calvinism. As proof, I will offer the utterances, not of a Universalist, but of an eminent Arminian theologian (who is also a hopeful Universalist).

Randal Rauser writes: “At one point I expressed my dissatisfaction with libertarian appeals to free will as explanations for hell . . . Why wouldn’t God simply override an individual’s free will at the points where they would otherwise rebel . . .?” (Randal Rauser, “Free will, hell, and reasonable appeals to emotion“)

He then proceeds to explain why there exists no valid objections to such an override, concluding by saying that from his arguments “universalism seems to follow.” He does qualify the statement a bit, but it seems a rather weak qualification, and one that is at odds with his entire argument.

At any rate, my point is this: All of the premises of both Calvinism and Arminianism lead inescapably to Universalism. Of course if God superintends every thing in the Universe, including the motions of the human will, and is the efficient cause of all things, including sin, then justice demands Universal Salvation; hence the logical extension of Calvinism is Universalism. It is equally certain that if God desires that all men be saved, provided for that salvation, and works in us to will and do of His good pleasure, then all men will become saved; hence the logical extension of Arminianism is Universalism.

Would anyone really argue with these assertions if not for an antecedent belief in eternal torment that forces them to choose between Calvinism and Arminianism? Of course not. That’s because both systems revolve around premises which demand different conclusions than the ones usually drawn. That’s because they have both built their premises on the wrong conclusion--hell. They both built their theologies upside down. Only by amending their conclusion will they ever be able to harmonize it with their premises. Until then, both Calvinism and Arminianism will continue to flourish as the only available options, and both will continue to lead inescapably toward Universalism.

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