Once at a Bible study meeting, the leader said that all God’s human creatures are children of God. I interjected that the Bible does not say that everyone is a child – a “son”- of God. Later, over tea, one member of the the Bible study said that I needed to show more Christian love. I’m not sure whether she was referring to the timing or the content of my interjection. If to the timing, what do you want from me; wait for tea to tick the man off – on such a crucial matter? Not on your universalist nelly! I couldn’t wait for ”sharing time” at such a travesty of biblical truth. What love is this, you ask? Not shmaltz, for certain.
In Christian theology, two kinds of universal salvation are proposed. The first kind states that every human being will be reconciled to God, no matter what their beliefs or non-beliefs or their (im)moral behaviour. This was the belief of Carlo Carretto. Carretto was the leader of the Italian post-World War II youth movement known as Catholic Action. In 1954, He resigned from that position and joined the Little Brothers of Jesus at their novitiate in the Sahara desert. The Little Brothers of Jesus movement was inspired by the life and writings of Charles de Foucauld. (See Universalism, Love, and the Mystical Desertion of the Gospel).
The second kind is described in one of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, “Nostra Aetate,” the Declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions proclaimed by Pope Paul VI, October, 1965. Nostra Aetate rejects the papal (infallible) bulls of previous centuries by stating that salvation can be attained in other religions if adherents remain faithful to their beliefs and follow universal moral values.
The Roman Catholic catechism states “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day” (pp. 242, 243).” In such a view all who acknowledge a creator are “sons”of God. And Buddhists? Them too are members of God’s family. But, hang on, they don’t believe in a a creator. Well maybe not of the Mosaic kind. In the end they must surely hold – unlike the latest beautiful physics theory – that something can’t come from nothing. So Richard Dawkins’ kind of mysticism, and others like him, for example, Lawrence Krauss is beyond the pale: “Why you can’t see the extraordinary beauty of the idea that life started from nothing?”
Peter Kreeft, the Catholic philosopher and apologist, in his “Ecumenical Jihad,” sounds the modern Cathslamic call: “We can and should investigate and learn from the wisdom in other religions” (Peter Kreeft Ecumenical Jihad p.79). “Allah is not another God…we worship the same God”(Peter Kreeft Ecumenical Jihad p.30). “The same God! The very same God we worship in Christ is the God the Jews-and the Muslims-worship.” (Ibid. p. 160). (See The influence of Universalism on society and the church).
Here is a description of the modern kind of evangelicalism contrasted with the biblical view of what it means to be a “son of God”:
” So, says Adoniram Judson Gordon, the most dangerous theology in circulation among us to-day is an evangelicalism which keeps most of the phrases of orthodoxy, and yet is utterly void of the vital substance thereof. ‘Atonement! Yes, indeed,’ says this other gospel. ‘ Jesus Christ is the martyr-man of the race, one in whom the enthusiasm of humanity kindled to such intensity that it consumed the heart from which it proceeded, giving the most splendid example of self-sacrifice which the world has ever seen. Not that in his death he bore the curse of a violated law! Such an idea spoils the poetry and pathos of his martyrdom, needlessly embarrassing it with the theology of substitution and vicarious satisfaction for human guilt, thereby keeping alive the old “offense of the cross.” Divinity of Christ! Yes; with all the heart let it be believed; and since by his incarnation Christ became our kinsman according to the flesh, let us rejoice in “the essential divinity of human nature” also.’ Thus, whereas in a former generation the contention was for bringing Christ down to the level of our common humanity, now it is for lifting up our common to the level of Christ. And so is brought in that most deadly doctrine of broad Christianity, that ‘all men by nature are sons of God,’ a doctrine proclaimed among us with such alluring eloquence that thousands of uninstructed souls imagine they hear the ring of the true gospel coin in what is really only the prolonged resonance of an old Pelagian heresy.
” We fully affirm that this doctrine is not only contradicted by all Scripture, but disproved by all human experience. ‘ As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Here is sonship to God, but it is predicated solely on the ground of the new birth, the solemn necessity of which, as announced by our Lord, bears witness to the depravity, not to the divinity, of human nature. Can we brave it out with God, still maintaining in the face of explicit humanity Scripture that without repentance and without regeneration . . . men are the children of God? Such a doctrine Milton rightly traces not to Christ, but to the prince of fallen angels, whom he makes to say: ‘ The son of God I am, or was, And if I was I am; relation stands, All men are sons of God.’
(Adoniram Judson Gordon, a biography with letters and illustrative extracts drawn from unpublished or uncollected sermons and addresses. New York, Revell, 1898).
Here is Gordon’s Milton quotation in a fuller context. The Tempter (that is what “Satan” means) addresses the Son of God, Jesus the Christ:
Thenceforth I thought thee worth my nearer view
And narrower Scrutiny, that I might learn
In what degree or meaning thou art call’d
The Son of God, which bears no single sence;
The Son of God I also am, or was,
And if I was, I am; relation stands;
All men are Sons of God; yet thee I thought
In some respect far higher so declar’d.
So, grant the Tempter his due, for he “thought in some respect” that Christ’s Sonship stood above the sonship of ordinary men. The devils believe, and tremble.
When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” (Matthew 8:28-29).
I am reminded of James White’s rubric opening to his “Radio Free Damascus” podcast, where a Muslim apologist rattles: “You don’t read your Bible properly.… God’s got sons by the tons.”
I return to the sheepy (and often sheepish) “sons of God.“ (As Rabelais would have said: “Revenons à nos moutons1 See Note 1).” I continue with Adoniram Judson Gordon. He asks: “Are we all God’s children, or only Christians? And answers: “The Bible is clear that all people are God’s creation (Colossians 1:16), and that God loves the entire world (John 3:16), but only those who are born again are children of God (John 1:12; 11:52; Romans 8:16; 1 John 3:1-10).”
(I would question whether “God so loved the world” means the “entire” world, that is, everyone without exception. I would go along with the “limited atonement” view that “world” means “without distinction” and not “without exception.” I leave the matter there).
“In Scripture, the lost are never referred to as children of God. Ephesians 2:3 tells us that before we were saved we were “by nature objects of wrath.” YET YOU SAY GOD LOVES THE “ENTIRE” WORLD) Romans 9:8 says that “it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” Instead of being born as God’s children, we are born in sin, which separates us from God and aligns us with Satan as God’s enemy (James 4:4; 1 John 3:8). Jesus said, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me” (John 8:42). Then a few verses later in John 8:44, Jesus told the Pharisees that they “belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.” The fact that those who are not saved are not children of God is also seen in 1 John 3:10: “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.”
Here is an excerpt from Charles Spurgeon’s sermon “Sons of God. His text is:
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God; and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”—Romans 8:16, 17.
“We are the children of God.” And here I am met upon the very threshhold by the opposition of certain modern theologians, who hold that sonship is not the special and peculiar privilege of believers. The newly discovered negative theology, which, I fear, has done some damage to the Baptist denomination, and a very large amount of injury to the Independent body—the new heresy is to a large degree, founded upon the fiction of the Universal Fatherhood of God. The old divines, the Puritans, the Reformers, are now in these last days, to be superseded by men whose teaching flatly contradicts all that we have received of our forefathers. Our old ministers have all represented God as being to his people a father, to the rest of the world a judge. This is styled by our new philosophers as old cumbersome scheme of theology, and it is proposed that it be swept away—a proposition which will never be carried out, while the earth remaineth, or while God endureth. But, at any rate, certain knight-errants have set themselves to do battle with windmills, and really believe that they shall actually destroy from the face of the earth that which is a fundamental and abiding distinction, without which the Scriptures are not to be understood. We are told by modern false prophets, that God in everything acts to all men as a father, even when he cast them into the lake of fire, and send upon them all the plagues that are written in his book. All these terrible things in righteousness, the awful proofs of holy vengeance in the judge of all the earth, and successfully neutralized in their arousing effect, by being quietly written among the loving acts and words of the Universal Father. It is dreamed that this is an age when men do not need to be thundered at; when everybody is become so tender-hearted that there is no need for the sword to be held “in terrorum” over mortals; but that everything is to be conducted now in a new and refined manner; God the Universal Father, and all men universal sons. Now I must confess there is something very pretty about this theory, something so fascinating that I do not wonder that some of the ablest minds have been wooed and won by it. I, for my part, take only one objection to it, which is that it is perfectly untrue and utterly unfounded, having not the lightest shadow of a pretense of being proved by the Word of God. Scripture everywhere represents the chosen people of the Lord, under their visible character of believers, penitents, and spiritual men, as being “the children of God,” and to none but such is that holy title given. It speaks of the regenerate, of a special class me as having a claim to be God’s children. Now, as there is nothing like Scripture, let me read you a few texts, Romans viii. 14.—”As many are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Surely no one is so daring as to say, that all men are led by the Spirit of God; yet may it readily enough be inferred from our text, that those who are not led by the Spirit of God are not the sons of God, but that they and they alone who are led, guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit, are the sons of God. A passage from Galatians iii. 26.—”For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus,” declaring as it seems to me, and rightly enough, that all believers, all who have faith in Christ are the children of God, and that they become actually and manifestly so by faith in Christ Jesus, and implying that those who have no faith in Christ Jesus, are not God’s sons, and that any pretense which they could make to that relationship would be but arrogance and presumption. And hear ye this, John i. 12.—”To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.” How could they have been the sons of God before, for “to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name, who were born not of blood,”—then they were not make the sons of God by mere creation—”nor of the will of the flesh,” that is to say, not by any efforts of their own “but of God.” If any text can be more conclusive than this against universal sonship, I must confess I know of none, and unless these words mean nothing at all, they do mean just this, that believers are the sons of God and none besides.”
Ecumenical Jihad, ecumenical Shmeehad.
1 A French phrase that means literally ‘Let us return to our sheep’, which has been used for hundreds of years in English to mean, ‘Let’s get back to the subject’. It comes from the French comedy /La Farce de Maistre Pierre Pathelin/; or /l’ Avocat Pathelin/ (/c./ 1460), in which a woollen draper accuses a shepherd, Aignelet, of cruelty to his sheep. In telling his story, the draper continually digresses from the subject in order to discredit the defendant’s attorney, Pierre Pathelin. The judge has to interrupt him continuously by saying, ‘Mais, mon ami, revenons à nos moutons’. The phrase was frequently quoted by Rabelais (/c/. 1495-1553) and has a facetious equivalent among some English speakers, when asking someone to keep to the subject, in ‘Let’s return to our muttons’. The saying was popularised in Marcel Pagnol’s Topaze. (See here).