My book has mentioned other authors and their books. Friends have also asked me to read additional books to challenge my understanding. Each of the authors below has attempted to consistently and systematically answer questions about Christian salvation. The variation of conclusions is surprising and even disturbing. Read the books below (index) to learn more about the thoughts of others and of course compare them to the Bible. If you do read each book below you will see that many authors conclude that Christ will save all mankind, though each reason from their tradition. How could it be otherwise? Because of this there is still quite a range of understanding even among those that happily conclude that God saves all. Hopefully the happiness is not ruined by these differences! I have addressed some of the differences in my article, Yes, but Even Harder Questions.
Conventionally book writers should not write reviews of similarly themed books. The review and conclusion should be left to the audience. So please consider the notes below an introduction to books you may not be familiar with and an encouragement to read them yourself.
My memory is largely untrustworthy, but it is possible that this is my second time reading many of the books below. The thought occurred that a friend recommended some of these books in the past and that while reading these authors I prayed that one day, when I became a more mature Christian, that I might write my own defense of Christ's victory. I certainly have not been faithful to maintain a consistent position through the decades, and worse I have been quite hypocritical. However, I mention these things so that I can give thanks and confess... to God be the glory.
C. S. Lewis wrote Mere Christianity, the most popular Christian view today worldwide. He says on page 52, "God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having." Lewis is the modern champion of Arminian salvation and orthodoxy, that God loves all mankind, but his "love" respects man's free will to reject Christ and as a result to be damned by God for all eternity. So that is one view of God's love. My article, Other Theologians, offers further review of Lewis.
J. I. Packer wrote Knowing God. Packer's excellently worded volume is one of the top books that have shaped present day evangelical thought. Packer's position is classic Calvinism and he has won many to this way of thinking through his book on salvation theology. The best part about the book, however, is that strictly speaking it is not a theology book in the sense you might imagine. Instead it is simply a book about 'knowing God' and the life changes that can be expected when one does know God. I am greatly encouraged every time I read the book... except for one point. Packer writes that God certainly does not love all mankind. He follows the traditional explanations that Christ died for all mankind, but only those also specially chosen by God's grace to be born again will place faith in Christ and be finally saved. The remainder are then instead eternally damned by God's wrath. Packer makes no mention of the eonian nature of punishment in Hades thus a haunting question remains. Can one who thinks that God does not deeply love all mankind truly know God?
James Boice wrote The Doctrines of Grace, a solid defense of Calvinistic salvation. He says on page 125, "If Jesus died for all the sins of all men, unbelief included, then all are saved, which the Bible denies. If he died for all the sins of all men, unbelief excluded, then he did not die for the sins of anybody and all must be condemned. There is no other position, save that he died for the sins of the elect people only." Though Calvinism is not as popular as Arminianism it is a strongly held and defended orthodoxy. Calvinism concludes that God only loves a subset of mankind and his love is guaranteed to win these chosen to salvation while the majority are damned by God for all eternity. So that is another view of God's love. My article, Other Theologians, offers further review.
Charles Spurgeon wrote All of Grace. Spurgeon, called the Prince of Preachers, is one of the most respected Calvinists in history. He won many to repentance saying, "Meet me in Heaven!" I would easily recommend the book, yet it is not without fault. He seems to undermine grace on page 131 saying, "The Lord does... produce new birth in all who believe," but instead only those who are born again can believe in the first place, I John 5:1. Yet he also says, "I will go as far as Martin Luther, in that strong assertion of his, where he says, 'If any man doth ascribe aught of salvation, even the very least, to the free-will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright.'" Yet sadly Spurgeon did not understand the temporal nature of punishment and that even the redeemed, if unbelieving, are punished in Hades, 2 Peter 2:1-2. But the redeemed, even if punished in Hades, will never suffer in the Lake of Fire, so his warning to escape wrath can only result in adding human conditions to God's unconditional love.
Rob Bell wrote Love Wins, an alternate explanation of the gospel. The desire to write my book was born after reading his book. His supposed claim that all mankind is finally saved created a national stir that prompted me to investigate his ideas to compare with my own. The spoiler is that his book is hardly definitive that all mankind is saved, but instead he thinks the saved can still choose to sin and leave God in Heaven. That is yet another view of God's love and power (or lack of power) to transform. Sadly Bell's book also lacks the precision that one might hope for in a theological treatise. My article, 'Love Wins' by Rob Bell, offers further review.
Larry Dixon wrote Farewell, Rob Bell to refute Love Wins. On page 14 Dixon says, "These [Bell's] statements imply that believing the gospel has no transactional effect upon the sinner, that belief is immaterial to the reality of being in the Father's love." Dixon understands Bell to say that faith does not activate or help to deposit Jesus' payment for our sin into our account. Bell understands that Jesus' payment is applied by God before we believe. Christians then are those people who believe in what God has already done for them, meanwhile the sins of unbelievers are also paid. Dixon sees this as a heretical error because he believes that "faith" plays a "transactional" role in applying Jesus' work to each individual. My article, Three Rebuttals, offers further review.
Michael Wittmer wrote Christ Alone to refute Love Wins. On page 12 Wittmer explains that "...evangelicals hold that faith is an open hand, a passive receiving of God's precious gift to anyone who accepts it." Wittmer and Bell also appear to have different definitions of "faith." Unfortunately, Wittmer did not more clearly distinguish the difference between "faith" that is trust in the finished work of Christ already applied to our account versus "faith" that is the condition to activate salvation. The language of "passive receiving" needs further explanation. Wittmer is apparently from the Calvinist camp, but he sounds Arminian at times. My article, Three Rebuttals, offers further review.
Mark Galli wrote God Wins to refute Love Wins. Galli says, "Universalists quote many other passages with the word 'all' in them, but in context, most of those really mean 'all Israel', or 'all kinds of people' or 'both Jews and Gentiles' will be saved. One example is found in Romans: 'God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so that he could have mercy on everyone' (Romans 11:32). Paul has been discussing the place of Jews and Gentiles in the scheme of salvation, so clearly the 'all' here means both Jews and Gentiles - not all within each group." Galli's treatment of this important verse is too brief. The grand conclusion of grace theology deserves serious commentary. My article, Three Rebuttals, offers further review.
Steve Gregg of The Narrow Path, wrote All You Want to Know About Hell. Gregg presents an equitable description of three Christian views of Hell that have been held throughout history. Gregg does not endorse a particular view because he has not taken a position yet himself. Thus one might hope that his analysis is more balanced as a result. The three views of Hell explained in his volume are the traditional view that Hell is eternal punishment for the unbelieving, the conditional view that Hell is temporary with human immortality being conditioned upon faith, also known as annihilationism, and the restorationist view that Hell is temporary with the guaranteed posthumous salvation of unbelieving mankind, also known as Christian Universalism. The big surprise for today's evangelical is that all three of these views co-existed in Christian thought for the first 5 centuries! Gregg cites that of the six major schools of theology in the early centuries of the church four were restorationist, one was conditional immortality, and the last school at Rome adopted the present traditional view while anathematizing the restorationists.
Dr. Heleen Keizer wrote Life Time Entirety to explain the meaning of the Greek word "aion." Her 315 page PhD dissertation shows that the Greek word "aion" originally denotes "life time," "duration," or "complete life," but not "eternal." This understanding is foundational for those believing that grace is victorious even for the unbelieving. Curiously Dr. Keizer completed her research and dissertation without prior knowledge of John Wesley Hanson's research. You can read her 315 page dissertation online or an abstract of her conclusions on my website. My article, Forever is not Forever? You Gotta Be Kidding Me!, offers further review.
Ilaria Ramelli and David Konstan wrote Terms for Eternity: Aionios and Aidios in Classical and Christian Texts. This highly technical volume quotes hundreds of sources from classical literature, the Septuagint, early church fathers, and church fathers after Origen to determine the meaning and usage of Aionios and Aidios. They conclude that Aidios nearly always means eternal in the absolute sense. Aidios is used twice in the Bible: Romans 1:20 concerning God and Jude 6 concerning the bonds with fallen angels. Aionios, however, has a range of meanings including, "life," "age," "generation," and "eon." Aionios can also mean "eternal," but only when God is the subject. Ramelli and Konstan concur with Keizer and Hanson and conclude saying, "Needless to say, the ethical implications of this question are profound."
John Wesley Hanson wrote The Greek Word AION - AIONIOS Translated Everlasting - Eternal in the Holy Bible Shown to Denote Limited Duration. His classic work planted a seed of thought that gave birth to my optimistic understanding that Jesus is the savior of all mankind. I do not agree with Hanson's interpretation of every Scripture, particularly Matthew 25. Yet, Hanson cleared the way to understand that grace is completely apart from human condition and God does in fact truly love all mankind. This classic work is available for free from the U.S. Library of Congress website and also from my own website. My article, Forever is not Forever? You Gotta Be Kidding Me!, offers further review.
Gerry Beauchemin wrote Hope Beyond Hell. He offers four corrections to traditional Hell theology: the meanings of "aion," "gehenna," and "apollumi," and the error of free will. On page 82, he happily agrees with the Calvinists that God always accomplishes his sovereign will to save his chosen people and he also agrees with Arminians who believe that God loves all mankind. Like me he has added these two simple facts into the awesome news that Jesus is the savior of all mankind and thus there must be Hope Beyond Hell which he proves with Scripture. On page 165 he boldly says, "The only way I [or you] can be truly assured I will be saved is if I believe that God saves all [mankind]." I totally agree! Otherwise your "faith" is built on something other than grace. Beauchemin is a courageous defender of truth versus tradition.
Ernst Stroeter, a United Methodist pastor, wrote The Gospel of God's Reconciliation of All in Christ. He is no weak, liberal, wishful thinker with disregard for Scripture. He offers solid exegesis of Colossians 1:15-20 and the cross of Jesus Christ as proof of God's love for mankind. He says on page 168, "we must discard the pious illusion that there is safety for us because we became believers - that we are safe because of something we did. We must shed the belief of a personal, solitary faith and learn to rest in a different way in the redeeming grace for all humankind." He defends the cross like no other and was persecuted for it. Stroeter does speculate further than I prefer about the salvation of fallen angels and also about eons before Genesis 1:3 and after Revelation 22:21.
Thomas Allin wrote Christ Triumphant, The Larger Hope Asserted. He argues for the final victory of Christ with Scripture, Christian reason, and the testimony of early and later church fathers. He highlights Romans 11:32 and countless other Scripture. He reasons that a god who merely offers love till the point of death followed by eternal damnation, if unbelieving, is not the gracious God of the Bible. He cites Origen, Clement, Gregory, Jerome, and many others as well as church creeds, hymns, and liturgies. Allin insists that God will salt all mankind with fire and condemn the unbeliever to Hades. However, because "aion" is temporal these judgments are for purification, not damnation, 1 Peter 4:6. He concludes, "God shall be all in all!" - Amen!
Robin Parry wrote The Evangelical Universalist under the pseudonym Gregory MacDonald. Parry reasons carefully as he questions traditional Hell theology. He notes that Calvinism and Arminianism are each reasonable at points, but also unreasonable. They cannot both be true and one is not preferred alone. That is why Christians are so divided over this point! Parry says on page 23, "To my mind, Christian reason seems to lead either to Calvinist universalism, or away from Calvinism." So true! Also Parry and Beauchemin both agree with Hanson, that the "aion" of the Lake of Fire is only an age of punishment for unbelievers. Yet I still think a better explanation is that the "aion" of Hades is temporary punishment for unbelievers, but the Lake of Fire is for The Ages of The Ages, yet only for fallen angels. I highly recommend Parry.
Thomas Talbott wrote The Inescapable Love of God. Part I & II are the most readable well stated defense of Christ as Savior of all that I have reviewed. Read it! One would have to turn off all reason and reliance on Scripture to deny his proofs. Part III, however, is more difficult to follow. He argues against a retributivist God, but he should clarify that God's holiness would hypothetically demand the eternal banishment of even the least blemished sinner... were it not for Christ. Thus the believing worship Christ for his sacrifice which now demands our salvation and transformation. This high bar is our guarantee that the redeemed will not bring even our least blemish into glory. Talbott concludes saying Christian faith is the logical wager between hope and despair. Though Christian hope is not a wager, but instead repentance from hypocrisy to confess Christ as our savior and the savior of all mankind.
A. E. Knoch wrote All In All. Knoch's volume proposes a very interesting model of redemptive history with 5 distinct eons between eternity past and eternity future. I plan to study this further. Knoch's understanding of eon, eon of eons, and the eons of the eons supported his conclusion that all mankind will be finally saved. Knoch also played a key role in the compilation of the Concordant Bible. This Bible translates "aion" as "eon" and also consistently translates every Greek word with only one English word to help the reader observe the Holy Spirit's word choices. Knoch has much to contribute to this discussion, but unfortunately he also muddies the waters. His "eonian" theory is tied into the most dogmatic dispensational system I have ever seen. Knoch also parted ways with orthodoxy concerning the Trinity and the deity of Christ. Too bad. More can be learned about Knoch at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolph_Ernst_Knoch.
G. Campbell Morgan wrote God's Methods with Man, including a chart of the history of redemption. Those with a dispensational flair will be encouraged, while the remainder will be challenged. He makes critical observations of history's "aions." Morgan strongly states on page 135 that, "Names entered in the [Book of Life] are found there only by virtue of the atoning blood of Jesus Christ." This is the good news since Christ died for all mankind (+1)! He also notes that 1 Corinthians 2:7-10 says that the mystery of God's love for ALL mankind is only revealed to the church. God loves ALL, but only the church believes it (+1)! Yet somehow he also concludes that man's will can finally resist grace (-1) and oddly that there is an inner church within the church (-1). Some of Rob Bell's thoughts parallel this book. (Score: 0) My own redemptive history chart can be found in my article, Eschatology is the Study of Future Good News!
Kalen Fristad wrote Destined for Salvation, God's Promise to Save Everyone. Fristad argues for the salvation of all mankind with similar reasons as other evangelicals including that "aion" means age or a temporal duration, that man does not have free will to effect God's unconditional love, and that God's judgment, even in Hades, are loving acts toward his unrepentant people. On page 44 Fristad, in the gentlest way, boldly calls belief in free will idolatry! He also provides useful chapters on the history of Christian Universalism and strategies for sharing the good news without fear. Fristad does fail to protect the inspiration of Scripture suggesting that Luke 16:19-31 is a parable and that OT Scripture was influenced by the writer's wrong cultural views of God. However, the OT Scripture was God breathed! I recommend the book with caveats.
Stephen Campana wrote The Calvinist Universalist. He says on page 149, "...the consistent Calvinist will either embrace universal salvation or reject Calvinist election." He also considers my own conclusion that the Lake of Fire is not designed for mankind, but for fallen angels. Like me, he also asserts that mankind's fallen nature was ordained by God, NOT man's supposed free will. He proposes mankind was created with a sinful nature, while I propose that God subjected his sinless creation to vanity after the proclamation of 'very good', but before the rebellion of Satan and mankind. Though we agree that sin entered the world because God ordained our fallen natures which now lust to be god. Campana could more careful when describing God's sovereign and prescriptive will. Saying that God "wanted" Adam to sin does not best describe God's motives. Instead God "ordained" the existence of sin, to create the opportunity to demonstrate his grace, forgiving and leading us away from sin. While I may not agree with all Campana's arguments, he emphasizes an essential component in the defense of universal salvation, the necessity for faith to be reasonable.
John Robinson wrote In the End, GOD, A Study of the Christian Doctrine of Last Things. Robinson offends epistemology and inspiration so gravely with the invention of eschatological myth that many will throw the book away after Chapter 5, if they get that far. I nearly did myself! Yet he makes key points in chapters "The Resurrection of the Body," "The End of the Lord,", and "All in All." He is accused of arrogance by Trevor Hart for asserting that God must save all mankind because of Christ. On that point I join Robinson! Yet Robinson missed the eonian nature of Hades and instead violates inspiration to explain Scripture. Thomas Torrance also condemns Robinson for saying the gospel includes the mythological reality of eternal damnation for the unbeliever. Yet Torrance is self-condemned saying the mystery of sin requires the damnation of unbelievers though their sins are atoned! My review continues in my article, The Good, Bad, and Ugly of John Robinson.
Hosea Ballou wrote Ancient History of Universalism. Very interesting! Today an overwhelming majority of Christians understand hope in the universal salvation of mankind to be heretical. However, this forgotten book, originally published in 1885, documents the history of Universalism from the Apostles to the Fifth General Council in 553 A.D.. Read the volume and you will be surprised to learn that many Christians held that Jesus would finally reconcile his entire creation to himself. In fact Universalism prospered until condemned by Catholic politics in 553 A.D. Origen and other early church fathers were strong voices that Christ would be "all in all" even saving Satan!
Thomas Whittemore wrote The Modern History of Universalism. The most surprising fact in this volume is the ample and consistent witness to Christ as savior of all mankind throughout nearly all of church history. Adherents included Calvinists, Arminians, churchmen, dissenters, Catholics, protestants, Anabaptists, Baptists, Europeans, Americans, and Internationals. Whittenmore suggests that the greatest irony of the Reformation is that many protestants rejected Catholic purgatorial Hell only to embrace it again. Also a hilarious conversation is recorded between John Murray and an objector on pages 323-324 that is worth the price of the book. Murray is the Father of American Universalism. The book concludes with important theological distinctions between various Universalists.
Randy Alcorn wrote Heaven. He rejects universal salvation siding with Arminians that "free choice" gains us Heaven. He agrees that the present Paradise and Hell are temporary. He also agrees that the Hebrew "olam" can mean finite duration. He uses Colossians 1:20 to assert the complete restoration of all things such as plants, animals, rocks, and stars. He even asserts the final salvation of the unborn and children because "God in his... special love for children covers them with Christ's blood," page 355. If only his excitement for complete reconciliation would include unbelievers. If "olam" can mean finite then the Greek "aion" can also mean a finite time in Hell. Alcorn should trust that just like the unborn, "God in his special love covered all mankind with Christ's blood." As an aside check out page 352 for speculation about sex in Heaven!
Bill Saxton wrote Daniel's Prophecies of Covenant Change. Saxton does not address the scope of mankind's salvation. However, he does give thorough treatment to Daniel's prophecies that relate to my proposed understanding of Daniel 12:1-4, Matthew 24-25, and Revelation. Eschatology is not my strength and so I would be glad take a wide path around these debated and divisive subjects in order to simply enjoy brotherhood trusting God with unanswered questions. Yet the grace of Christ draws me, and hopefully you as well, to search deeply into the prophesied future of mankind's redemption. Saxton does not propose a definite answer to the timing of the resurrection and judgment forecast in Daniel 12:2, but instead a possible dual meaning. Daniel 12 follows closely after Chapter 11 which he understands to detail the life of 1st century King Herod. Yet Daniel 12:1-4 also appears to speak about resurrection and final judgment. Thus Saxton has not answered all my remaining questions, but he does inspire me to strive to perfect my understanding of mankind's redemption with Biblical proofs.
Sharon Baker wrote Razing Hell and is accused of Universalism. Yet, she says that people can reject Christ and chose annihilation in the Lake of Fire. She inconsistently says we are forgiven before we repent, but we must receive forgiveness to avoid condemnation. She rejects the idea that Christ's death was needed to propitiate God's wrath because that would make God evil and retributive. Since the Bible does portray God as wrathful, she concludes that these ideas are not inspired, but instead human error. Baker believes that since "aion" is temporal, unbelievers will get a second chance after Hell, kind of like Arminianism X 2. Her book discredits inspiration and of course "chance" salvation, whether first or second, denies the power of God's grace in raising the dead.
William Shed wrote The Doctrine of Endless Punishment, with historical, Biblical, and rational arguments. Shed speaks well against annihilationism and Hell as mere suffering in this life. Yet he says on page 95, "the most dangerous [form of Universalism], is that which concedes the force of the Biblical and rational arguments respecting the guilt of sin, and its intrinsic desert of everlasting punishment, but contends that redemption from it through the vicarious atonement of Christ is extended into the next world." My view exactly! Shed says there are only two "aions," the present and the next. What about the Jewish age, the church age, and the New Heavens and Earth? Shed says if we agree mankind has free will then it is proved that eternal punishment is required for unbelievers. Excellent logic, but a bad premise! He also implies that we are saved or damned by our penitence or lack thereof! Mr. Shed, where is the grace?
John Rice wrote Predestined for Hell? He was a well-known evangelist and founder of Sword of the Lord publishing. Rice vehemently opposed orthodox Calvinism, yet he labeled himself a Calvinist because he believed in the P of T.U.L.I.P., the perseverance of the saints. Yet he rejected the L, limited atonement. Curiously Rice also staunchly defends free will as the reason that any individual is saved, which is classic Arminianism. There is so much misunderstanding about these things and Dr. Rice's book simply adds to the confusion. My own thesis makes it clear that I have both a strong agreement and a strong disagreement with Dr. Rice. I wonder what he would say about the optimistic idea that Jesus really is the savior of all mankind, though unbelieving humans are punished in Hades, but not the Lake of Fire?
Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle wrote erasing hell. They wrote a book of concern about modern day evangelicals who have effectively erased the warnings about Hell from their gospel. Chan does well to remind us of the need to warn the unbelieving about the punishment waiting for those who reject the grace of Christ. Yet he also disagrees with those who would hope for any kind of universal salvation of mankind. Curiously at the end of his book, Chan confesses that he cannot definitively say that Hell is eternal. I agree that a gospel that does not warn the unbeliever about punishment in Hell is not the gospel. Yet I also wonder what Chan and Sprinkle would think about the idea that unbelievers are punished in Hades, yet safely extracted out in Revelation 20:13-14?
I, Jeff Martin, wrote Optimism Out of Control. Like many above I have defended God's victorious grace in the final salvation of all mankind with Biblical arguments concerning 1) God's free will to save mankind, 2) mankind's lack of free will to save ourselves, 3) the meaning of "aion", 4) the temporal nature of afterlife punishment, 5) and Christ's atonement of all mankind as the Second Adam and new federal head of all humanity. These arguments are nothing new. My additional contributions to the discussion include the observation that Hades and the Lake of Fire do not the serve the same purpose. Unbelieving man is punished temporally in Hades, while the Lake of Fire is prepared to damn only Satan and his angels for The Ages of The Ages. I also observed the "Hosea Strategy" which is essential for a consistent Biblical hermeneutic. Jesus followed the example of Hosea as well as followed his own counsel in Proverbs to speak foolishness to the fool, calling his stubborn lost sheep, "not my sheep."
Book review anchor index: