Thursday, 7 April 2011

Annihilationism, inclusivism and universalism

I have read a range of blog posts in the last month dealing with these concepts. While they have dealt with them moderately well, I think there has been some lack of clarity, especially by those who do not hold to these positions. It does not help when people compare the number of inhabitants of heaven and hell without considering who, if anyone, goes there.

Universalism is widely thought to be a heretical position. It is the position that God will eventually save all men. All people will eventually respond to God's grace at some stage and end up in heaven. Such a position often allows for post-mortem salvation. People will still get to respond to the gospel after death when the evidence for God is more compelling.

Universalism is seen by some as a heretical Arminian position. While I concede that some non-Calvinists may hold to Universalism, it is not a logical conclusion of Arminianism. Arminians hold that men retain the ability to reject God; that God could force all men to eventually love and follow him is inconsistent with such belief. I would think that a Calvinist could logically hold to Universalism in that he thinks that God can save anyone and turn his will accordingly. That said, I do not wish to imply that Calvinists do subscribe to universalism. There may be some, but secondary Calvinist belief teaches that God gains glory in his wrath against evil which implies some men are in hell.

Annihilationism is the teaching that hell is not eternal. God will send men to hell. Those who reject Christ do not inherit heaven. While people are judged and sent to hell, they are destroyed there, their souls are not eternal. This is not a position that relates to the Calvinist Arminian debate, either side can be an annihilationist. While both annihilationism and universalism end up with people only populating heaven they are hardly similar positions. Hell is empty because no one goes there is markedly different from Hell being empty because the people there are destroyed.

Inclusivism is the belief that people can go to heaven without hearing the gospel. It has considerable variation and one needs to understand which position is advocated rather than condemn all variants as incorrect. Even if each position is ultimately incorrect, they may be wrong for different reasons.

Inclusivism is not a road to universalism. Of course universalists are inclusive by definition: if all end up in heaven and not all respond to God before death, then people outside Christendom must be included. But inclusivism does not imply universalism. Many inclusivists think that men will be damned, moreso, they can be annihilationists.

Universalism, annihilationism, and inclusivism all speak to different questions. One to the universality of heaven's occupants, one to the duration of hell, and one to the nature of salvation. The reason for conflation may be because they are somewhat related. Universalists could be thought to be annihillationists as there is no need for hell, but that is an inappropriate designation. Universalists are inclusivists by nature, but because the converse is not true this is an unhelpful designation.


  1. Nicely delineated, sir. :)

    Are you an Armenian? ;)

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Wow. Your theology posts are so well thought out. It's rare to see a Christian blog that talks terminology so clearly as you do. I'm tempted to say your exegetical positions are the best I've seen explicated. Do you do/accept guest posts?

  4. Thanks Stripe. Did I misspell Arminian? Or is that a real question?

    I am non-Calvinist. I think Arminian aptly describes my current thinking.

    Patricia, perhaps. Though you comment is generic enough I am uncertain if it was written by a person or a bot. And your profile is blocked.

  5. Ah, I'm sorry. I see how it could look like that, I guess I was kind of flabbergasted by your eloquence. I'd just been reading some other Christian blogs that were not nearly so thoughtful, more gun-toting than theological. I swear I'm a real person though! Also, it's not that I have a blocked profile, it's probably just that I haven't put anything in it yet.
    I feel like I've rambled enough in your comments, so if you'd like to talk more, my email is patwalling86 at gmail dot com.

  6. That's fine. Your profile is private ("blocked" to me). That is fine. I just meant that limited my assessment of your reality. :) If I had been convinced you weren't a person I wouldn't have replied.

    If you write something you can email me it and I will consider it.


  7. Good explanations. I agree that universalism is more a logical conclusion of Calvinism, rather than Arminianism.

  8. Thank Kevin.

    Yes, though I have not read a Calvinist who is or has become a universalist, thus I mustn't suggest they are.

  9. Well done. I take very minor issue to this statement, though:

    Arminians hold that men retain the ability to reject God; that God could force all men to eventually love and follow him is inconsistent with such belief.

    Someone might believe that God could force all men to do, feel, or believe whatever He pleases but that He has chosen not to do so. Therefore men retain the ability to choose or reject God, while God retains the ability to force men to accept him. I'm not overly conversant with Arminianism or Calvinism, so this could just be a misunderstanding on my part.

    From your descriptions here, I'd call myself an Annihilationist-leaning Inclusivist, but definitely not a Universalist. Someday I hope to have the time to study heaven and hell. In the meantime, I'll have to settle for leaning.

  10. Thanks jay.

    Someone might believe that God could force all men to do, feel, or believe whatever He pleases which would be more Calvinist but that He has chosen not to do so. which would be more Arminian Therefore men retain the ability to choose or reject God, Again Arminian while God retains the ability to force men to accept him. Calvinist

    Though note that Arminians think that God can force, it is just that such forcing is inconsistent with real love which they insist must have a voluntary component.

    I tend to Inclusivism. I think Universalism is unbiblical. I am (traditionally) a non-annihilationist, though have not studied this in depth.

  11. Bethyada,

    I tried to email you an article I wrote at bethyada at gmail, and I haven't heard back.. Did you see it, has it gone through?


  12. Hi Patricia.


    A little busy currently. Will try and attend to it soon.



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