Is the proposition that all will ultimately be reconciled to God in Christ compatible with human free will? This is the question that Bilbo asked in response to my interview with universalist Eric Reitan. Hopefully Eric will be able to drop in and offer his perspective on this important question, but in the interim I’ll offer my own two cents here.
First, there clearly is no problem for those who adhere to a compatibilist view of free will (i.e. one where free will can be determined) because God can simply determine the will of every person at the most opportune time to become fully conformed to his will by providing them with the appropriate desires and virtues. So the tension that Bilbo senses arises only with incompatibilist (libertarian) accounts of freedom according to which free actions cannot be determined by causes external to the free individual.
But what is the problem here exactly? The claim of the libertarian universalist is this:
“Eventually, everyone will freely repent and be reconciled to God in Christ.”
Is there any latent contradiction in this claim? No. If there is no contradiction in one person freely repenting, then there is no contradiction in all people freely repenting.
So then what is the problem? I take it the problem is that it seems implausible that everyone should eventually freely repent given that some people are so unremittingly hostile toward God and the gospel. The reasoning might go like this:
(1) “It seems very unlikely that everyone will freely repent and be reconciled to God in Christ.”
(2) “Therefore, it probably is false that everyone will freely repent and be reconciled to God in Christ.”
And so our question is whether (1) provides a good reason to accept (2). That depends on a couple factors. First, we must ask how reliable we can expect our intuitions about such matters to be. My own speculation is: not very. Consider this famous commercial from the 1980s:
If Life Cereal can win over Mikey, don’t be too surprised if God manages to win over every fallen human person. So it seems to me that personal incredulity is not a good reason to think the human species in toto cannot be reconciled to God.
This brings me to the second point. Most Christian universalists take the position they do at least in part because they believe the universal reconciliation of all things (and all people) is taught in scripture. And if a Christian believes that scripture teaches God will do x, then that Christian ought to believe God will do x, even if the Christian cannot see at present how God will accomplish x.