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The Destructive Teaching of Hypothetical Universalism
by Bob Higby

Many professed Calvinists see no harm in the doctrine that Christ potentially saved all humankind through his atoning work. The number of popular theologians and pastors holding to an Amyraldian position is as high or higher than it has ever been. The salaried Calvinist teachers of the land reverence these celebrities with extremely unholy laud, while never preaching Bible predestination to the lost and rarely preaching it to their own congregations. Of course, no high-grace Calvinist will ever be quoted publicly by these men. Yet week after week, they laud popular evan-jelly-fish teachers from the pulpit and put their books on table display in the lobby. This is happening almost universally in churches that profess to be 100% Reformed in doctrine!

I, for one, am never convinced that an interest in hypothetical universalism is the fruit of Spirit-filled Bible study. The paradox hermeneutic used to support it is the same as that used to bolster free-will Pelagianism, Roman Catholicism, Lutheran sacramentalism, Wesleyan Arminianism, and gospel (Barthian) universalism. The exceptional and idomatic verses in scripture are quoted and dissected in such a way as to cast doubt upon aspects of the core gospel of the New Testament. Since I am convinced that all desire to cast disrepute on the apostolic kerygma is wicked, I believe that promoters of these teachings are searching the scriptures (like the Pharisees of old) to prove that the presuppositions they want to believe are true.

The motive behind Calvinistic hypothetical universalism has always been ecumenical. Roger Nicole admitted this in a Ph.D. dissertation on Amyraut written at Harvard in 1966. If the perceived 'harshness' of Calvinism could be tempered with a sense of God's universal love and grace, Amyraut reasoned, then a basis for ecumenical worship and mutual acceptance would exist between Calvinists, Arminians, Lutherans, and Catholics.

Some who don't want to go 'all the way' with 4-point Calvinism have often asked, "What is wrong with at least proposing that Christ's atonement is sufficient for all humankind?" Well, where does the Bible ever argue in this terminology? If God purposed to save a specific people through Christ's atoning sacrifice, why are we posing 'what if' questions to try and potentially extend the atonement to others: "What if God purposed to save everyone-the atonement is sufficient to achieve this, right?" Ironically, in the Western theology of Anselm, the fact that God is bound to honor his own justice is what prevents him from saving all persons! Some must be passed over to honor the law. The bottom line is, if Christ's atonement is sufficient to save every person, then God in the end sends billions of redeemable people to hell. Such a paradox does not bid well for perceiving Christ as the wisdom of God in his eternal and glorious purposes.

If the doctrine of God's exclusive purpose of atonement toward his elect is in any way compromised, the stage is set to compromise more and more:

  1. The blessed assurance of salvation to the individual elect soul will suffer, since God is proposed to exercise a measure of redemptive love and grace to the non-elect also. How does a Christian know that his sense of God's acceptance is not 'common assurance' proceeding from 'common grace' purchased by a 'common atonement'? He doesn't, if the position is followed through to its logical end. Unless God's immutable and exclusive grace toward an elect people in Christ is grasped in faith, assurance is watered-down and cannot survive forever.
     
  2. The confidence of the immutability of God's character and purposes in the plan of salvation will suffer. In the pernicious doctrine of common grace, God cherishes and loves emotionally the reprobate for a time, earnestly desiring their salvation. But because the law will not allow him to save them, his emotions change at some point when great sin is committed. God's anger then burns hot, he condemns and kills them, and the justice of the law is carried out in their everlasting torture in hell. Of course, the same scenario is true in reverse with the damnable doctrine of common wrath-God emotionally hates his people for a time because of original sin and only later turns his emotions to love them and extend his grace for eternity.

In the end, according to the Schaff-Herzog encylopedia, it appears that Amyraut came to see the folly and irrationality of his entire position and renounced it. But those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it--OVER AND OVER AND OVER. Why not learn from the example of Amyraut himself and avoid going down that road ever again? I believe that if we learn from the Holy Spirit and study the Bible with a hermeneutic based purely on the gospel of grace, we will.

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