My favorite universalist passage is Romans 5:18. (Originally, my favorite one was I Corinthians 15:22, and I was then pleased to learn that that had also apparently been the favorite universalist passage of Abraham Lincoln. But I was putting it over Romans 5:18 because I was mistakenly thinking that Romans 5:19 severely curtailed the power of Romans 5:18. For this mistake, and why it’s a mistake, see my quick discussion of Romans 5:18 in section 2 of “Universalism and the Bible“.) Among the nice features of Romans 5:18, I’ll here quickly note just one. A decent percentage of the “refutations” of universalism I encounter make this move: They claim that while all will indeed be made alive in Christ, this life will turn out to be a bad deal for many, because they will be made and kept alive in order to face judgment and eternal torment! Now I think that (among its other problems) this move is based on an extremely bleak, excessively narrow, and wholly implausible understanding of Paul’s use in such contexts of the likes “alive” / “life” (and correlatively of the likes of “die”), especially as they occur in phrases that talk about such things as being made alive in Christ. (But any port in a storm, I suppose.) So perhaps I just shouldn’t even worry about such maneuvers. But it is nice, given the potential worries many apparently have here, that Romans 5:18 throws in that bit about “acquittal”, saying Christ’s act “leads to *acquittal* and life for all men.”
But what about that “leads to”? It’s long seemed to me the most likely escapes here would focus on the “leads to”, rather than the “all” of this passage. (Why I take a dim view of at least the most prominent forms of attempted escape that focus on the “all” is explained in my previous post here.) Maybe this passage just describes how all people are led, or what possibilities are opened to them, while leaving it open that some won’t follow this leading or actualize the relevant possibility?
But that’s not how such claims work….
(Well, in English. I have some inquiries in about potential differences between the English and the Greek here. For now I’ll note that those who resist a unversalist reading of this passage tend not to do so based on alleged difference between the English and the Greek, but rather tend to think their reasons apply to the standard English translations as well.) This can be tested in a variety of conversational situations, but I’ll give just one here. Based on it, it should be easy to construct more on your own. (It’s kinda interesting trying out various slightly different formulations to discern which ones will fly in situations like the one below.)
So, for instance, suppose you’re advertising a job training program. Suppose your program has enjoyed great placement success: that almost all of those who have gone through and graduated from your program have subsequently landed high paying jobs, and that they got those jobs because of your program. And suppose that those few who haven’t landed high-paying jobs didn’t fail to get a high-paying job due to any failure of leadership on your program’s part: One, say, didn’t even try to get a job after finishing, because she inherited a large sum of money right before graduating from your program and didn’t need to work. And the only other exception never intended to seek a high-paying job: This graduate knew all along he was going to stick with his low-paying job because he loves it so much, but was going through your program just to see what it was like. (Note how, to give non-universalist readings their best hope of succeeding, we consider situations in which the universal statements have very few exceptions. Most non-universalist Christians don’t think there are just odd exceptions here or there to everyone being saved; indeed some seem to think the vast majority of humankind is / will be damned. They of course will often face an even greater challenge in making sense of these passages.)
What can you honestly say about how successful your program has been? Well, there are a lot of very strong statements you’re in a position to make. But, I submit, here’s one thing you can’t say (although there are many little tweaks you can make to it to render it something you can honestly claim): “Our program leads to high-paying jobs for all our graduates.”