This essay is a rebuttal to an article written by Matt Slick. Mr. Slick is “the President and Founder” of Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM). Mr. Slick and I met long ago at a conference near Dallas. It was a brief meeting. I was at the conference because I believed in what he was working to accomplish. My mentor introduced me to the discussion forums at Mr. Slick’s website (CARM.org). I truly believed it was a calling to defend precepts of Christianity as I understood them.
Mr. Slick is passionate and strident regarding his set of basic Christian doctrines. He is unafraid to defend what he believes. His profile at the CARM website suggests a man busy evangelizing the truth as he understands it.1 He is a prolific writer and he supports other Christian writers at CARM. Subjects cover a wide range of Christian doctrines and precepts. Mr. Slick has established himself as expert in Christian Apologetics. I am convinced Mr. Slick is a believing, faithful man striving to glorify our Father.
Mr. Slick is a Calvinist. He claims the mantle and defends Calvin’s theology in many arenas. He has prepared instructional course materials advocating Calvinism.2 It is more likely than not Mr. Slick’s apologetic efforts are biased to favor Calvinist doctrines.
His answer to the question, “Can a Christian Be a Universalist?” demonstrates his bias to Calvinism. Mr. Slick explains Calvinism’s authority and its precepts. As a Calvinist he teaches a doctrine of “Limited Atonement.” Take the time to read Mr. Slick’s explanation of the doctrine.3 Mr. Slick writes, “Jesus died only for the elect. Though Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all, it was not efficacious for all. Jesus only bore the sins of the elect.”
CARM hosts multiple discussion forums. The discussions range from apologetics to Christadelphianism, to Jehovah’s Witnesses, to Word of Faith and much more. Universal Reconciliation, however, is conspicuous by its absence in the long list of topics.4 Men press their respective theologies and doctrinal positions with intent to convince, convert and win arguments. The advocates of either side of any debate doubtless believes the Holy Spirit would change their opponents view.
Many of the Christian doctrines I claimed as my own I learned from Mr. Slick by way of his website. He was not a mentor, but he authored numerous articles defending his understanding of Christian faith. The resources there taught me much about what is good doctrine and what is not. I learned Bible study skills at CARM. Study at the CARM website provided a new vocabulary; hermeneutics, apologetics, heresy, blasphemy, literal, figurative, context and straw-man.
At CARM I found articles reinforcing my personal attachment to all things Calvin. It was important in my spiritual growth to accept and to believe the Calvinist doctrine of “limited atonement.” Sermons were given by me preaching the election of some and the condemnation of others. Sermons were given extolling the grace of God that we were chosen. There was a sermon or two judging others rejected and consigned to eternal conscious torment.
[Shameless plug: Read my conversion story.]
I have abandoned the doctrine of “limited atonement” that Mr. Slick defends. My conversion came while studying the doctrine of universal reconciliation. Much of the resource material I used in that study was posted at Gary Amirault’s website, Tentmaker.org.
Mr. Amirault, now deceased, posted an article in which Mr. Slick is the subject.5 Mr. Amirault’s general complaint was his perception of Mr. Slick’s lack of fairness administering the CARM discussion forums. According to Mr. Amirault, Mr. Slick would not tolerate advocates of universal reconciliation. Mr. Slick administers the rules of the discussion forums and Mr. Slick writes the rules. Mr. Amirault called out Mr. Slick regarding the false doctrine of “limited atonement.” Mr. Amirault complains Mr. Slick banned many advocates of universal reconciliation because of their defense of their belief. Mr. Slick’s doctrine of “limited atonement” was challenged and according to Mr. Amirault Mr. Slick would not abide it. There is currently not a forum at CARM dedicated to discussion regarding universal reconciliation, but there are many forums for nearly all else. Mr. Slick does post articles advancing his studied opinion regarding universal reconciliation. He erringly calls it “universalism.”
Because I respect Mr. Slick I wanted to know what his position on the doctrine of universal reconciliation is. Mr. Slick rightfully wants to protect his work and the credibility of CARM. He defines how his work can be used. 6 I think it is fair and I will endeavor to honor the restrictions he places on his work. “Fair use” allows me to quote Mr. Slick’s article “Can a Christian Be a Universalist?” 7
Mr. Slick Sets the Argument
Mr. Slick writes to answer the question, “Is it possible for a Christian to be a Universalist?” He concedes it is “…possible.”
In order to fairly answer the question it is necessary to know what it is to be Christian. I will defer to Mr. Slick’s definition. He writes, “So, what is a Christian is more accurately answered by saying that a Christian is someone who has trusted in the atoning sacrifice of Christ to remove the guilt of our sins, who also believes in and follows Jesus, who was God in flesh, second person of the Trinity, who is prayed to, worshiped, and called God.” 8
Mr. Slick offers a kind of formula to be Christian. First, a person must believe Christ Jesus died “to remove guilt” of sin. Second and simultaneously, a person “believes in and follows Jesus.” Mr. Slick adds that a person must believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. If Mr. Slick’s formula is the measure count me Christian. By the way I believe in “impartial grace.” I believe God has reconciled all to Himself through Christ’s obedience to death on a cross. Under these conditions the answer to the original question, “Can a Christian be a Universalist?,” is concretely, “Yes.”
Using the formula Mr. Slick advocates consider the numbers of persons who would fail the test.
Hinduism is a major religion of the world. Luke Wayne writes at the CARM website, “Hindus and Christians do not worship the same God. There is no meaningful correlation between the God of the Bible and any of the millions of Hindu gods, nor can God be identified with Brahman, the ultimate, divine essence of the universe in Hindu thought. They are not only different in name, but also in their core characteristics.” 9 Hindus are not Christian.
Islam is a major religion of the world. The CARM website defines Islam. “Muhammad taught that there is one God, no Trinity, Jesus was not crucified, and that good works are needed for salvation.” 10 There are many articles discussing the theologies, practices and origination of Islam on the CARM website. However, followers of Islam are not Christian.
Mr. Slick informs the curious researcher that Buddhism is not Christian. From CARM we read about Buddhism, “Not only does Buddhism differ from Christianity on individual claims such as who or what is God or what happens to us when we die but also Buddhism and Christianity present entirely different views of the world that touch on every subject of importance.” 11
Mr. Slick also discusses Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Roman Catholicism. Mr. Slick asks and answers, “’Is Mormonism Christian?’ Are Mormons Christian? The answer is simple. No.” 12 Mr. Slick publishes and encourages the use of a “Warning Tract” to dissuade others away from Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as Mormonism. 13 Mr. Slick cites the Jehovah Witness’ belief that Jesus is a created angel. Mr. Slick informs us that Roman Catholicism is not the same as Christianity. 14 Roman Catholicism promotes “…Mary (and the saints) to the level of God-like capabilities.” Further, Mr. Slick reports Roman Catholicism teaches salvation through works. Applying Mr. Slick’s formula Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Roman Catholics are not Christian. Mr. Slick’s formula disqualifies them.
It is Mr. Slick’s assertion that universalists are possibly Christian, but so many others are certainly not. Mr. Slick’s theology teaches Christ’s ability to save the world is limited to a few. As it happens Mr. Slick counts himself fortunate to have been chosen and rests easy among the few.
Mr. Slick Defines Universalism
Universal reconciliation is a valid and provable Christian doctrine. People advocating universal reconciliation are advocating “impartial grace.” Advocates of universal reconciliation preach the same Gospel of Christ Jesus Mr. Slick preaches.
Universalism and universal reconciliation are not synonymous. Universalism’s advocates may believe in the doctrine of “impartial grace,” but they also preach as doctrine “all roads lead to Christ.” Universalism in the strictest sense teaches any person can find salvation in Christ Jesus through any religion. Islamists, Buddhists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, men with no religion, and all others will be saved. Every person will be drawn to Christ who died for all.
Advocates of universal reconciliation preach salvation is only through Christ Jesus. Advocates of “impartial grace” believe in Christ Jesus. “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Jesus creates all things. He subjects all to His Father and in turn His Father declares Him King of Kings. We believe with all our hearts and with reason our King died for the sin of the world. We believe our King has reconciled mankind to the Father. We believe God is love. We do not believe in eternal conscious torment and we cannot fathom the doctrine of “limited atonement.”
Advocates for the doctrine of “impartial grace” are not universalists. It is unfair to ignore the distinctions between universal reconciliation and universalism. Just as Calvinism is distinct from Arminianism, so too, are “impartial grace” and universalism.
Mr. Slick acknowledges the distinction and writes, “Not all forms of universalism are the same, though all are in error.” He categorizes universalism in three distinct groups. The first, Christian universalism, is the closest descriptor for advocates of universal reconciliation (“impartial grace”). He writes the advocate for universal reconciliation “erringly states that salvation can occur after death.”
Mr. Slick “erringly states” the doctrine of “impartial grace.” The doctrine of universal reconciliation preaches the same Gospel preached by Mr. Slick. Persons who believe Christ Jesus is their Savior are saved now. Those who do not believe now will. It is God’s Holy Word that tells us “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Christ Jesus is Lord.” Every unbeliever will repent and all men will be reconciled to the Father. We do not teach any person is saved by Christ after they die. We do teach the Father will by His “impartial grace” reconcile all men to Himself.
Mr. Slick acknowledges advocates of “impartial grace” might be Christian. He writes, “I find nothing in Scripture that requires believing in eternal damnation in order to be a true Christian.” However, Mr. Slick is adamantly opposed to “Christian Universalism.” 15 He writes, “’Christian Universalism’ really isn’t Christian and it is meshed with many other unorthodox and erroneous teachings. This belief system should be avoided.”
Mr. Slick briefly describes the other categories of universalism. Both are more similar than not. One brand of universalism suggests the unbelieving rebel will be punished, but eventually reconciled to the Lord. The other Mr. Slick calls “Unitarian Universalism.” This is the “all roads lead to salvation” theology discussed earlier.
For the sake of understanding I advocate “impartial grace” and I would be properly labeled a Christian universalist. The Holy Spirit of our God would not let me avoid it as Mr. Slick recommends I should.
Let’s Talk Ignorance
Mr. Slick provides a scenario and asks if the subject of it is saved. A man lives a long life and he does not heed Christ’s call. He chooses to live a reprobate’s life. This man believes every person ever created goes to heaven. On his deathbed he confesses his sin, repents and trusts Christ’s Gospel. He still retains his belief that all eventually go to heaven. Mr. Slick’s hypothetical now dead man died without having “repented of the error of universalism.” Is this man saved?
I ask, “Why are we asking the question?” Christ Jesus died to atone for the sin of the world. I dare say He died for sin committed in ignorance. Mr. Slick concurs, “Would anyone condemn a person to eternal fire for simply believing that everyone will be saved? I cannot see that as being the case.”
God does not punish ignorance in Mr. Slick’s hypothetical. It should not be a stretch to declare God does not punish sin committed in ignorance by anyone. God’s love is impartial. He has no favorites. His mercy is grace upon grace. God is “impartial grace.”
Mr. Slick’s use of the term ignorance requires parsing. Ignorance is not a callous label he attaches. Ignorance is a state of understanding and knowledge. The hypothetical man did not know his sin and could not repent for what he did not know. What the hypothetical man did not know could not be attributed to him as unrepented sin, but is forgiven sin just the same. Mr. Slick concedes the hypothetical universalist is saved without regard to unrepented sin.
Why would God not extend His grace and mercy to every person who did not know? There is nothing to glean from His Holy Word to remotely suggest God’s love ends. His essence is love, grace and mercy.
Julie Ferwerda provides a better hypothetical scenario that is true of many, many people. Mrs. Ferwerda is the author of “Raising Hell: Christianity’s Most Controversial Doctrine Put Under Fire.” 16 She writes about a young Hindu girl born in India.
If you’re still not convinced that there are some big problems with our traditional salvation theology, contrast your life and upbringing to that of an orphan girl living on the streets of India, far, far away from the West. This child, one of 80 million like her on the streets, was abandoned on a city sidewalk before she had a chance to learn much of anything about survival, let alone matters of any deity. Every day is a battle to survive by stealing food, figuring out which adults want to help her and which ones want to use her body or sell her for money, and figuring out where she is going to safely sleep next.
Add to that, since she was born into the lowest caste (social strata), most of the people she sees every day think she is under a curse from the gods for the way she lived a previous life, so they feel justified and even honored for abusing her. Even if she did somehow, by a stroke of good luck, get the chance to be taken in by an unusually caring family, she would likely be taught the religion of Hinduism, and that she must spend the rest of her life trying to appease the anger of 330 million gods. The chance of meeting anyone who has ever heard about Jesus would be nearly impossible, as there are still many hundreds of thousand of communities in India today that know nothing about Jesus or even the “hell version of the gospel.” Even if she did happen to encounter the message, what are the chances, with all that baggage, that she would care enough (or be able) to hear? What good is “Jesus saving her from her sins,” when all she cares about is where she’s going to get her next meal?
If this hypothetical girl dies and is ignorant of her sin does our Father condemn her? If so, for what? Using Mr. Slick’s formula this young child is not saved. But, will God forgive the sin committed in ignorance? It is Mr. Slick’s dilemma to prove God will judge this young girl guilty and consign her to eternal conscious torment. The advocate for “impartial grace” preaches she is reconciled already.
Mr. Slick advocates the doctrine of original sin. He rightly believes and preaches that Adam sinned in the Garden. The consequence of Adam’s disobedience is imputed to all persons created by God in their mother’s wombs. Mr. Slick writes, “Original sin is not a physical corruption, but a moral and spiritual corruption with the result of death to us all. It could be compared to the Reformed Doctrine of Total Depravity which states that sin has touched all parts of what a person is: heart, mind, soul, will, thoughts, desires, etc.” 17 This doctrine insists the young Hindu girl would be punished eternally simply because she was created with a sin nature. She would die ignorant of the sin she committed.
Consider the number of births in the world. Christians believe our Father knits us together in the wombs of our mothers. Each newborn is created by God. This doctrine teaches God weaves into His creation the sin nature of Adam. Some He knits together for heaven and the majority He knits for eternal conscious torment.
Mr. Slick is kind to judge the hypothetical Christian universalist as possibly saved. That same kindness, if he is consistent in his doctrine, cannot be extended to the young Hindu girl. His kindness is not applied to Islamists, Buddhists, Mormons, Roman Catholics, et al., because they did not know Mr. Slick’s formula for salvation. Even though these whom God created are ignorant, they are condemned. Mr. Slick’s doctrine of “limited atonement” does not account for ignorance because all are born condemned. Ignorance does not matter. The formula does.
Mr. Slick’s Essentials of Christian Faith
It’s important to refocus on Mr. Slick’s question, “Can a Christian be a universalist?” He insists every Christian must understand and confess certain essentials of Christianity. According to Mr. Slick there are five essentials. He writes in this article, “The essential doctrines are essential because the Bible says they are.” Ignoring or denying one or more of these five disqualifies a person as Christian. According to Mr. Slick, “These are doctrinal truths that the Scriptures declare to be essential.” 18 These doctrinal truths are essential because each defines a necessary action on the part of the believer. Failing to act leads to a disciplining consequence including physical death.
Mr. Slick uses the first essential doctrine, the Deity of Christ, as an example. He cites John 8:24 (I have added v.23 for context).
He said to them, “You are from beneath. I am from above. You are of this world. I am not of this world. I said therefore to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:23-24, WEB)
Mr. Slick writes, “This is an essential doctrine because it has a penalty of damnation for denying it.”
I do not interpret these verses to mean that. Christ Jesus is being challenged by the Pharisees. He responds to their questions and allegations forcefully. He knows them and He is charging them. In the end the Pharisees move to arrest Him, but He is hidden from them.
Christ Jesus says the charges against them will lead them to die in their sins. Their legalism prevented them from seeing the Truth standing before them. Christ Jesus does not issue a “penalty of damnation” upon them. They will physically die without repenting of their sin. They, like so many others, are ignorant.
It might be traditionally sound hermeneutics to determine these words to the Pharisees apply to all who have ever been created. What we can say for certain is that Jesus is charging the Pharisees. Mr. Slick’s doctrine dictates a standard of belief is required for salvation. The doctrine applies to all people. Believe for salvation, there is condemnation to “hell” for unbelief. It is a universal standard. The standard of belief is applied to all people ever created; believe or be condemned. The same universal application to all people must apply in the following verse.
And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. (John 12:32, WEB)
I advocate “impartial grace.” All men will be drawn to Him. He means what He says. I think it more essential to believe these words precisely as He said them.
I do not agree with Mr. Slick’s rationale, but I do agree salvation requires my belief that Christ Jesus is the Son of the Father. He says He and the Father are one. Christ Jesus is God in flesh. He set aside His glory for a little while to walk among men. He was obedient to death on a cross. He was buried and rose again. He walked among men and eventually ascended to Heaven. He sits at the right-hand of the Father on the Throne of God. We are His Kingdom now!
I have accepted Mr. Slick’s label as being a “Christian universalist.” Therefore, I can say I am a follower of Christ; a Christian.
The second essential Mr. Slick defines is “Salvation by Grace.” Every advocate of universal reconciliation will likely agree with this essential. I advocate “impartial grace.” Salvation is a gift. Salvation is awarded because it is God’s will that all be saved. God is always love. He is good. He defines good. His gift is good. His gift is mercy. His gift is grace upon grace. His Judgment is Christ Jesus Who came to die for the sin of the world.
My advocacy for “impartial grace” does not exclude me from the ranks of Christianity.
The third essential of Christianity cited by Mr. Slick is a belief in the resurrection of Christ. He was lifted up on a cross. He died persecuted and hated. His last words are, “It is finished.” His body was taken from the cross and ritually prepared for burial. He was placed in a tomb and a stone was rolled in place to block it. The stone was sealed. Three days later He rose from the tomb. Peter, John and Mary testify to His presence alive before them. The Disciples saw Him risen from the grave, then about 500 others. Paul was the last to see the Christ on the road to Damascus. After 40 days He stood before the Disciples and ascended into Heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father on the Throne of God.
I confess this is true. The Spirit of Christ is alive in me today. I know He is risen!
Mr. Slick’s fourth essential is a belief in the Gospel of Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus is real and His history is real. His Gospel has been discussed in the previous essentials.
The last essential of Christian faith is monotheism. Mr. Slick and I share the doctrine of the Trinity. God is distinctly three persons in perfect harmony and absolute agreement with each other. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are the Trinity. This is Mr. Slick’s defined essential. We agree on the doctrine, but I am not sure it should be an essential to Christian faith.
This essential leads to the exclusion of many who truly discount the Trinity. They believe Jesus died for the sin of the world. They believe His Gospel. They are convinced He is God, but not God always. Mr. Slick’s essential, nevertheless disqualifies them. As for me, I believe and I am, therefore, a Christian defined by Mr. Slick’s formula.
If Mr. Slick and I were in a room together I have little doubt he would welcome me as a brother in Christ. He would know I am a believer. He would know I advocate “impartial grace.” Mr. Slick writes, “Though I consider universalism to be a false belief, I cannot automatically pronounce condemnation upon a person who acknowledges the essentials of the Christian faith and also affirms universal salvation. I don’t because I don’t see the scriptures doing it. Would I consider someone who holds to both the essentials and universalism to be inconsistent and confused? Absolutely! Should they repent? Yes! Does it mean he is unsaved? I can’t say it does.”
I am saved. I am a “Christian universalist.” I accept Mr. Slick’s defined five essentials of Christian faith as my own. I have much to repent, but my belief in “impartial grace” is not one of them. I am not confused, but thoroughly convinced the doctrine of “limited atonement” ascribed to by Mr. Slick is in error and the doctrine of universal reconciliation is true.
Mr. Slick concedes aside from these five essentials people can hold flawed or even false doctrines. Their salvation is not at risk, however. He calls those of us who disagree with his definitions confused or poorly taught. He writes, “People can be saved in varying degrees of theological error. There are regenerated people who do not understand predestination, don’t accept election, don’t understand federal headship, are clueless about imputation, Christ’s eternal priesthood, covenant, etc., yet they are regenerated. They simply haven’t learned those doctrinal truths yet.”
Mr. Slick would probably agree that I am Christian. Not every advocate of “impartial grace” would be though. He writes, “Now, am I saying that all Universalists can be Christian? Not at all. Do I defend universalism? No. Do I think that universalism is a serious problem that undermines the gospel? Yes, I do. But, I can see scenarios where a universalist can be a Christian (deathbed conversion, ignorance due to lack of proper teaching, etc.), and I believe that it is possible to be saved in confusion and error, including the confusion and error of universalism.”
Advocates of “impartial grace” are as committed to their respective Christian walks as Calvinists like Mr. Slick are committed to theirs. Advocates of “impartial grace” should be welcomed by Calvinists fully. We should be embraced as brothers and sisters. But, we are not. The doctrine of “impartial grace” is shunned as being false and those of advocating it are poorly educated or uninformed.
Mr. Slick developed a grid defining essential and non-essential doctrines of Christian faith.19 Universalism is placed on the grid as a doctrine suffering “liberal interpretation problems.” Mr. Slick defines these problems as potentially “Christian heresies.” He writes, “These do not contradict the essentials but do contradict non-essential teachings. Generally, those who hold to these positions should be avoided and urged to repent.” And, he provides a link to the article this rebuttal addresses.
Mr. Slick and I should be unified in Christ. We should be reaching out to edify each other. Our Christ is worth our effort to share the Gospel in unity. At the very least, we should be able find fellowship and not impugn the character of the other. I pray we will.
The Answer: Can a Christian Be a Universalist?
Yes. In the end all will be reconciled to Him.
2 Slick, Matt. “The Five Points of Calvinism.” Publication date unknown. https://www.slideserve.com/kesia/the-five-points-of-calvinism. Date viewed: March 15, 2019.
5 Amirault, Gary. “CARM, C.A.R.M., Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry – A Christian Apologetics Site: A Proof for Universalism.” Publication date: ca. 2007. https://www.tentmaker.org/articles/CARM.htm. Date viewed: March 15, 2019.
9 Wayne, Luke. “Do Christians and HindusWorship the Same God?” Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. https://carm.org/do-christians-and-hindus-really-worship-the-same-god. Date viewed: March 17, 2019.
14 Slick, Matt. “Are Roman Catholicism and Christianity the Same Thing?” Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. https://carm.org/catholic/is-catholicism-christian. Date viewed: March 17, 2019.
16 Ferwerda, Julie. “Raising Hell: Christianity’s most controversial doctrine put under fire.” Vagabond Group. 2011. http://www.raisinghellbook.com/files/2014/04/Raising-Hell-Complimentary.pdf. Date viewed: March 19,2019.