Thomas Talbott’s Gauntlet

Thomas Talbott’s Gauntlet July 5, 2011

Thomas Talbott, perhaps America’s most well-known Christian universalist, has laid down three observations that, when combined, are — so he contends — incompatible. One of them must be wrong.

In the book, Universal Salvation?: The Current Debate, edited by Robin Parry (aka, Gregory Macdonald) and Christopher Partridge, Talbott’s ideas are both presented — by Talbott — and then subjected to scrutiny by those who agree and disagree. But here are his three observations:

1. God’s redemptive love extends to all human sinners equally in the sense that he sincerely wills or desires the redemption of each one of them.

2. Because no one can finally defeat God’s redemptive love or resist it forever, God will triumph in the end and successfully accomplish the redemption of everyone whose redemption he sincerely wills or desires.

3. Some human sinners will never be redeemed but will instead be separated from God forever.

First, a question: Do you believe all three are possible to hold together logically? Yes or no, why or why not?

Talbott contends one cannot believe all three. He contends Calvinists don’t believe #1, Arminians don’t believe #2. He contends that Universalists believe #1 and #2 but not #3, but can’t understand that if they believe what Arminians do believe (#1) and what the Calvinists do believe (#2), how can they be heretics for denying #3? (Jerry Walls, in my estimation, takes this apart in his response in this book, but that is not my point here.)

Second, an observation. For Talbott to believe #2, he must believe (1) that not all humans in this life do believe and that, therefore, (2) some humans come to faith or are redeemed after death. This, to me, is why Marshall’s argument in this book is so vital: if the anchor for this kind of Christian universalism in redemption after death, prove from Scripture that there is redemption after physical death.

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  • It’s not logically possible for all three propositions to be held together. 2 and 3 are mutually exclusive, providing that “everyone whose redemption he sincerely wills or desires” (2) is ALL people (1). If no one can say “no” to God’s grace forever (2) then hell will be eventually emptied (must exclude 3).

  • p.s. “Universal Salvation: the current debate” is great book for those looking to get a little more informed on this stuff after the hub-bub with Love Wins.

    Question: Are there any passages in the Bible that forclose all possibility of post-mortem redemption? I’d want to flip the burden of proof off of the universalist and, at a minimum, plead agnosticism on this point if there are not texts that forclose all possibility of post-mortem salvation.

  • BarryH

    Prove from Scripture that there ISN’T redemption after physical death.

  • I think I had BarryH’s (#3) reaction.

    When was the last time anything was “prove[d] from Scripture,” save in proof-texts, many of which contradict one another? Or is Scot suddenly an old school inerrantist?

    Now, if you’re demanding Scriptural evidence, that’s something else. But still, it seems to be based in the old conservative reflex of insisting that something must be represented somewhere in Scripture before it’s accepted (e.g. evolution). One must remember that Talbott is a philosopher, not a sola scriptura fundamentalist. The theories of a philosopher, like the hope of most non-inerrantist believers, may begin within Scripture and frequently submit to its influence, but they do not require Scriptural “proof” — or jackalopes, either!

  • Scot McKnight

    Barry H and Steve,

    Fair enough pushback, though you’re slurring me by suggesting such an approach is old school. In fact, it is but that may be the wisdom of the view and not the inflexibility of some curmudgeon.

    Here’s the big point: if the Bible is God’s revelation, and if God’s revelation at least concerns our redemption as the/a central theme in that revelation, then one would think God would reveal to us a clear message on what it takes and the conditions, including temporal ones, for us to respond.

    The logic works the other way: if someone wants to believe in universalism, prove it from Scripture as the Protestant principle teaches. If someone wants to believe in endless second chances, prove it from Scripture.

    What I’ve observed is a philosophical or theological argument, derived from a (usually undefined) perception of what “God’s love” means. But the Bible we read reveals a loving God who punishes and who warns of a punishment of fire that lasts forever and ever. So, one must at least ask, if the endless chance is grounded in the kind of love the loving God of the Bible reveals.

  • rjs

    Scot,

    I don’t think that scripture provides much ground for universalism. Judgment is real and actions have consequences.

    But this whole discussion is distorted by philosophical and theological arguments turned into logical (almost mathematical) equations accompanied by proof-texting.

    #1 is a truth that becomes part of this discussion because of a theological or philosophical assertion about “God’s Love”.

    #2 is a theological assertion based on assumptions about God’s sovereignty and omnipotence. I think this is a deeply flawed statement because it assumes things about God’s necessary action in light of his being – but we can’t know this, and the scriptural evidence seems contrary to the statement.

  • Robin

    I agree that the three cannot be held, logically, simultaneously. I also do not believe that God is bound by feeble human rules of logic. I would say that he is bound, in a way, by the truth he has revealed in scripture, but not by our logic.

    If God’s logic and plan exceeds what we have been able to formulate, it is still his perogative to behave outside our boundaries for him.

    That said, I can only believe and live out my belief in ways which are both faithful to a plain reading of scripture and consistent with feeble human logic. Universalism appears to contradict biblical revelation on too many points. Believing those three propositions simultaneously seems illogical to me, so I am left with Calvinism as the option that does the least combined violence to scripture and logic.

  • Scot,

    If we went with a definition of love… something like, “to desire and act for another’s highest good” and we put that up against “punishment of fire that lasts forever and ever”… We have to ask, does love (as defined above) punish in fire forever? Wouldn’t love eventually act to redeem or at least extinguish another’s suffering?

  • Jason Lee

    I see no reason (or compelling scriptural evidence) to accept #2 as stated.

  • Tom

    Two issues, #2 and 3 could be held at the same time if you think that before someone is cast away, they lose the part of them that makes them human. The idea is that once we lose the spark of God that is placed within each of us, we cease to be fully human.
    I don’t think that turning the tables and having those in opposition give textual support is a bad idea. If your going to call someone a heretic and attack them, you should have good reason and be able to show it. I have read many arguments that are well thought out but none that argue well enough to say “so long” to the Universalists. It has been too easy to place a label on people and just dismiss them.

  • I didn’t mean to slur you, but to point out my surprise by your approach.

    if the Bible is God’s revelation

    I suppose that’s one place things are breaking down a bit. Without special revelation, I don’t know how it can be maintained that the Bible is itself, cover to cover, God’s self-revelation. Insights, yes; an exhaustive curriculum of the plan of salvation, no. The NT authors seemed to believe that it was Jesus who was God’s revelation in the most appreciable sense, a revelation so complete that many points of (OT) Scripture were to be set aside in his favor (“fulfillment” is the euphemistic way of saying that). On the other hand, if we view the Bible as a compendium of different witnesses’ testimonies to their own understandings of God, and recognize that there are differences – tension, even – between different authors’ comprehension of Him, it becomes less likely that we can expect an encyclopedia providing us with all the possible ins and outs of any doctrine.

    But the Bible we read reveals a loving God…

    There we go again, speaking of the Bible as an integral, divinely empowered unit “revealing” something about God in a systematic, authoritative way. This just seems to be something of an unrealistic expectation. Do you believe that God ordered the genocide of the Canaanites? What is revealed in Scripture is the understanding of the biblical authors, beliefs that are sometimes light years away from one another.

    …who punishes and who warns of a punishment of fire that lasts forever and ever. So, one must at least ask, if the endless chance is grounded in the kind of love the loving God of the Bible reveals.

    If you’re looking for consensus, here’s a few points that the biblical authors seem to have held: God is good, He is loving to His own (although who “His own” were varies depending on the author), and that He reserves the right for judgment. There is no crystal clear consensus about whether His goodness is only valid and appreciable insofar as His “in-crowd” goes, or whether the judgment exercised by God is retributive or restorative. The concepts of restorative punishment and remedial justice are birthed within Scripture, and it seems only right to reserve it for God in the future, post-mortem if necessary.

    Indeed, Scot, the concept of an afterlife is hardly “taught” in Scripture, at least not until quite late. In the earliest writings it’s not present (even occasionally disavowed!), and then in later passages it’s simply assumed by the writer. Most scholars believe that the idea developed as vindication for God’s goodness and justice, which was assumed in many places to have consisted of this-worldly divine favor by way of prosperity and health, in the light of the common misfortunes of the righteous, many of whom went to their graves unblessed and uncared for. Universalism is similarly a going beyond the text in the interests of upholding God’s goodness and justice, with certain assumptions from the text impelling and guiding it.

  • Wm

    Having not been raised ‘pre-biased’ – otherwise known as ‘churched’, I come to these types of discussions quite differently.

    If a faith in God had to be based on the ‘logic’ of Scripture, I would never have believed. I came to faith based on a supernatural intervention in my life that confirmed what I later discovered in the bible, that God simply ‘is’. “I Am”, he reveals.

    Thus, my 3 observations are as follows:
    1. if God ‘is’, then God must love
    2. if God loves, then God must be fair
    3. if God loves and is fair, neither death, nor life,..nor things present, nor thing to come, nor powers,..nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God – who ‘is’.

  • I’m guessing you mean JERRY Walls not ANDREW Walls?

  • Scot McKnight

    Kurt, I’m working on the meaning of love as you evidently are, and I’m doing my best to sustain a biblical understanding of love by examining how the God of the Bible acts and assuming that those actions are loving. If we operate on that basis, as this book I’m reading and blogging about is designed to do, then I wonder if we need to see judgment as somehow within the orbit of God’s love. I’m unpersuaded that “fire” is a concrete reality but a metaphor of judgment, and so part of your question — so it appears to me — assumes fire is a reality and not a metaphor of judgment.

    Do you think God can punish everlastingly and be loving in doing so? The author who said God is love (John) is the same author (acc to tradition anyway) who saw eternal punishment as one of the acts of that God. This is what I think we need to struggle with.

  • Joe Canner

    Scot #5 & #14: Since the challenge here was to prove universal salvation or redemption after death using Scripture, can you give us a rundown of the Scriptural case for the notion that human beings will experience everlasting punishment?

  • Scot McKnight

    Joe,

    Although it has now become the “sophisticated default” to say the word “aionion” really only means “pertaining to the Age to Come” and not “everlastingness,” which contradicts the very essence of the Age to Come, which is endless kingdom, I’m sticking with the best linguistic studies that aionion (say in Matthew 25:31-46) means endlessness, but the one text that seems to me to be incontrovertible, not the least of which reasons because it is an act of God, is Revelation 20:10, with 20:13-15, where there is an endless Lake of Fire.

    v. 10: And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

    vv. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

    Key to me as I struggle with these texts is that this is an act of God, and not just the choice of humans. The author of this text implicates God in this kind of judgment. And this lake of sulphur/fire (same thing I believe) is endless.

  • Scot,

    I think it’s important to make a clear distinction between God’s temporal judgments and ETERNAL judgements. God killing someone and God punishing someone eternally are two VERY different things, and I think that has to kept close as we’re surveying the scriptures and working a ‘definition of love’

    Ultimately, I think, you have to find a ‘center point’ for the revelation of God and what love looks like. For me, it’s Jesus and in particular, it’s Jesus on the cross declaring “Father forgive them…” My anchor point isn’t the Canaanite genocides or the judgment passages of Revelation. Locating a center point isn’t a reason to overlook passages or tensions brought on by them, it’s just a way of organizing your hermeneutic.

    It doesn’t really matter, that much, whether the fire is literal or metaphoric. I also think it’s metaphoric.

    It’s not at all clear to me that Revelation teaches unending punishment. As I’m sure you know, the Greek “aionios” is hotly debated in this conversation. If you haven’t already, read Robin Parry’s “The Evangelical Universalist” and Edward Fudge’s “The Fire that Consumes” Both authors offer treatments of “aionios” that don’t equate to unending punishment.

    Thanks for the response. Blessings.

  • If life is like a vapor, isn’t part of the question behind the question whether or not God would reject someone forever who dies at age 12+1 day (for all you ‘age of accountability’ fans)because they failed in their brief life to respond to an invitation to “follow Jesus”? In that they may or may not have heard that invitation that may or may not have been accompanied with so much baggage as to have made the image of Christ obscured?

    These are questions I don’t think the Scripture is trying to answer. There is an understanding or wisdom that has to be applied to the text we have and the image of God in Jesus that has been revealed to us and not just the text alone to answer questions that go beyond the scope of the Text.

    I think statement #2 is very dodgy and the author needs to reform the statement if it’s really going to be a logical proposition.

  • I think it is possible to hold all 3 with some distinctions. I’m not saying I believe this, but am looking at it. Here are my thoughts:

    #1 -Agree. He died for the world (cosmos) and thus extends his grace to all, though allows for freewill by all to embrace this grace or reject it.

    #2 -No one is stronger than God, and their freewill cannot overpower God’s will or desire. God wins in the end, but I believe that by giving us freewill, this means that either he is reconciled to all who believe in Him or has to righteously give them what they want in judgment that separates them from God. He desires all to be saved, so this is tough.

    #3 -God has given us freewill and we can have separation from God if we want it. The never is the tough part as this point can’t be true if #2 is.

    Does God pursue us after death? Well Peter talks about Jesus preaching the Gospel to the souls in hades from Noah’s day (thousands of years before Jesus walked the earth meaning they were dead). The scriptures show that Sodom and Ghommorah will have a better judgement than the cities in the Galilee that rejected Jesus when he was bodily there. It even talks about those cities being restored. The 3000 lost at Sinai when the law were given were redeemed when the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost (3000 added to their number). Pentecost was a remembrance of Sinai. So God restores that which is long gone…will it happen for everyone? I’m not sure the scripture clearly answers that. I know with God it’s possible. I hope for that. If hell is a refining fire, is it possible? Is a 1000 years in hell enough to melt a hardened heart so that at the great judgement every knee will bow and tongue confess Jesus is Lord? No one can say Jesus is Lord without the Holy Spirit according to the scriptures, so how is it they can utter this in the end? When death and hades (the grave) give up their dead before being thrown into the lake of fire in Revelation, does this giving up mean that whatever judgement souls who rejected Jesus experienced was enough to turn their heart to bend the knee and confess him and thus be saved?

    These are hard questions. I don’t believe universalism is right, but am ok with God being big enough to pursue us all as He sees fit. Will continue to search the scriptures. All I know for sure, is that it is only through Christ alone and His shed blood on the cross and His resurrection.

  • …It’s also curious to me when commentators of Revelation are quick to treat it as Apocalyptic genre and with metaphoric goggles, yet are dogmatic about the “eternal judgement” passages as if we stepped away from the genre of the book. The hundred pound hail stones, every island being removed and city of God are metaphoric word pictures, but the hell texts are to be taken LITERALLY!?…

  • Christopher

    Redemption after judgment – Revelation 22:2 – God heals the nations. The nations that were drunk with the wine of the harlot. The nations in 22:2 is not a reference to those saved out of the nations throughout the book of Revelation.

  • BradK

    Kurt, that is a very good point. And if one does take the Revelation 20 passages so literally, what does one do with other passages like “punishment of eternal fire” for Sodom and Gomorrah as in Jude 7 or burning pitch that “shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up forever” for Edom in Isaiah 34:8-10?

  • Joe Canner

    Scot #16: Thanks, that’s a good starting point. I’m not qualified to weigh in on the meaning of aionion (although verses like John 17:3 do make me wonder about the appropriate understanding of the word), but I will say that Rev. 20:13-14 (as contrasted with 20:10) sound like they could just as well support annihilation. I’m not a big fan of annihilationism, but I think the ambiguity in Rev. 20 should give us reason not to be too dogmatic. (This, incidentally, seems to be where Frances Chan lands, according to the book review someone here at Patheos wrote.)

    Just to stir the pot a little, I would also note that Rev. 20:12 seems to support judgment according to works, which makes me all the more cautious about how this section is to be interpreted.

    I also resonate with previous comments that question how we can take some parts of Revelation figuratively and suddenly jump to a literal rendering in the last 3 chapters.

  • Do you believe all three are possible to hold together logically?

    No, not logically. Not if God’s ‘will and desire’ are defined on Talbott’s terms.

  • Good point about Jude, BradK. If you weigh Jude’s picture of the irrevocable, final destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah against Jesus’ recorded statement about the incomplete and not merciless nature of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction (“it will be more tolerable for them”), what do you come away with?

    Talbott and Parry are not saying there aren’t eternal consequences to judgement, but only that the consequences themselves are meant to bring about something for the sufferers other than mere ashes and some unaccountable satisfaction on God’s part.

  • Scot McKnight

    Steve, et al, I agree that annihilationism satisfies all the data when it comes to the word “aionion.” Eternally extinguished and eternally suffering are not the same, but both are irremedial and require no speculation that, after death, further redemption occurs.

  • Whether or not one agrees with Talbott here, his argument is quite brilliant on multiple levels:

    (A) For those who want to argue that universalism is just “philosophy and theology but not Scripture” as some have stated above, they will have to admit that either (1) or (2) above are just “”philosophy and theology but not Scripture,” since universalism is just the conjunction of (1) and (2). But since Calvinists and Arminians both believe that at least one of those tenets are Scriptural, they would have to reject as un-Scriptural (and not merely mistaken) either (1) or (2) in order to reject universalism. In other words, universalism comes out being only un-Scriptural to the extent that either Arminianism or Calvinism is. But, neo-Calvinists aside, it seems ecumenical bad form to state unequivocally that one or the other of these theological positions is clearly un-Scriptural. And so the same must be said for universalism, which is simply the conjunction of the two.

    (B) I don’t think Marshall’s criticism works for Talbott’s argument, because–at least from what’s presented above–all Talbott is arguing is that universalism isn’t obviously more “heretical” than either Calvinism or Arminianism. So, to say “prove your view from Scripture” is asking Talbott to make the stronger claim that his view is TRUE. But to simply argue that it isn’t clearly heretical, all he has to argue is that it isn’t clearly ruled out by Scripture, which thus puts the burden of proof back onto Marshall and others will more traditional views. But even given Scot’s discussion of some of the biblical terminology above, it seems like a high order to definitively rule out postmortem salvation, and the universalist can argue (as Keith DeRose does in fact argue) that post-mortem salvation is simply a necessary entailment of other Scriptural teachings, namely, (a) that not everyone is saved in this life and (b) that–according to a universalist reading–everyone is ultimately saved. The “proof” for post-mortem salvation is thus an indirect though necessary entailment of other biblical teachings rather than an explicit biblical teaching itself. And that seems to be the best kind of biblical “proof” we can provide for a lot of theological positions that also aren’t explicitly spelled out in Scripture.

  • Scot McKnight

    DC Cramer, not sure that is all Talbott is arguing. He’s not just arguing it’s not heretical, but that it is true. Marshall ignores the heresy point of Talbott.

    Or, the universal salvation reading of Talbott overreaches what the NT means it speaks of universal reconciliation.

    Look, the universalist view almost by necessity argues for post-mortem redemption and free will and choice, et al. To me, and Talbott plugs into the biblical game in his stuff, this means proving from Scripture that there is post mortem redemption, and that’s the challenge I offer.

    Two more points now:

    1. Why do not more appeal to 1 Peter 3? Do you know?
    2. There has to be more explanation of other alternatives if there is no evidence for post mortem redemption and choice. The universal sounding texts, when taken in context of non-universal teachings, might then be better explained in non-universal ways. But I don’t see as many attempts to explain the evidence in other ways.

    And I do acknowledge that non-biblical inferences are going to be at work in theologizing, but one of this magnitude outstrips most arguments I’ve seen.

  • Scot,

    Good points. Of course Talbott believes and argues that it is true. In fact, if I remember correctly he believes it is necessarily (not merely contingently) true, given what we know about God. As a philosopher, I think Talbott would be OK saying that his argument for universalism is a combination of philosophical/logical, theological, and biblical reasoning, rather than just drawn from Scripture alone. I’m not sure he can be faulted on that point, since philosophers tend to use philosophy to argue their points.

    But I still think the specific point about Calvinism, Arminianism, and universalism is a strong one. If universalism is merely the conjunction of the strongest points of Calvinism and Arminianism, and both Calvinists and Arminians believe their views are true, biblical, and non-heretical, then might there not be a bit more sympathy for universalism? Indeed, universalism could conceivably be seen as a way of getting Calvinists and Arminians to come to some agreement: salvation is monergistic (Calvinism), but God desires it for all (Arminianism); therefore, God monergistically saves everyone (universalism). (Though I suspect their actual agreement will continue to be that universalism is wrong.)

    Have you seen Keith DeRose’s “Universalism and the Bible” (http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47/univ.htm )? DeRose himself admits that it is quite rough, as he too is a philosopher who simply put this together for a Bible study group. But, interestingly, DeRose is strongly exclusivist (believing one must confess that Jesus is Lord to be saved) and universalist (believing that ultimately all will confess Jesus is Lord). So, he too is led to affirm postmortem salvation through the back door rather than as an explicit biblical teaching.

    As to your question about 1 Peter 3, DeRose argues (somewhere, though perhaps not in the article I just linked) that that passage simply has too many hermeneutical issues to be used as support for postmortem salvation. So, while he is personally inclined to read it as support for postmortem salvation, he admits that it would seem strained to actually use it as biblical evidence in an argument for that view. In general, he tends to be a careful thinker and writer on this issue, though he would never claim to be a biblical scholar.

    Regarding your second question, I think DeRose and Talbott would argue that the universalist passages taken in context shed light on the rest of the biblical authors’ arguments in such a way that the context itself isn’t as non-universalists as is often assumed. So, it isn’t as though they are “proof-texting” these verses as much as they are reinterpreting the entire argument of, say, Paul in Romans. They would argue that the non-universalist sounding verses are “proof-texted” by non-universalists and that if one doesn’t already assume that the punishments described are everlasting, the logic of Paul’s argument holds together quite well in a universalist way. Also, DeRose makes a big deal of the word “all,” arguing that to read it any way other than “all without exception” is a misreading.

  • Or, how ’bout you prove from scripture that God us powerless to save one after physical death. If you can’t prove that, one reasonable belief is that God’s will for salvation of every human being persists until God comes up against an insurmountable circumstance.

  • Christy, I don’t think the question is what God is capable of doing. The question is whether or not Scripture presents death as God’s own designated “insurmountable circumstance” (better called his “final judgment”).

  • A solution is in premise 1 which is based on God’s desires. It says, “God’s redemptive love extends to all human sinners equally in the sense that he sincerely wills or desires the redemption of each one of them.”

    True, but God may also desire other states of affairs *more* which would make fulfilling his desire in premise 1 problematic.

    For example God may desire (a) the end of all rebellion in his world, (b) to always respect the freedom of human beings, and (c) for all human beings to make their free choices prior to their death.

    The combination of these 3 desires (or others we might sight) would be logically incompatible with the desire in premise 1, and therefore God would have to choose between his own competing desires and as such he may opt for desires (a), (b) and (c) over those in premise 1.

  • Patrick

    If anyone believes #2, how would they explain Satan, Caiaphas, 30 AD sanheddrin, etc.?

    Concerning universalism, it seems clear there is to be a separation of believers and unbelievers at least post Christ via the judgment of The Son.

    What that separation ends up being isn’t perfectly clear, I think it will be a sad existence myself.

    The idea of post death conversion I think is precluded by Christ repeatedly explaining to His opponents they will “die in their sins” if they do not believe He is Messiah.

    His parable about Lazarus and the rich man indicate physical death is the closed door.

    His view of Him being given judgment authority over the resurrected dead who are judged “contemptously” per Daniel is a little info. Is that the final judgment re-presented in Revelation’s “great white throne”?

    How about Revelation’s apocalyptic view of the city of God and those outside who are assigned many of the various sinful trends of mankind? I always assumed that was the unbelieving resurrected humanity?? Maybe not.

  • Jane

    Is there any contribution to be made to a universalist position regarding post-mortem salvation by examining the biblical incidents of the power that God demonstrated to act in spite of or beyond the earthly grave? When evil did its worst to kill God’s Son, the grave did not prevent God from continuing to be at work. That was the most stupendous example with an outcome that resulted in eternal life, but there are other biblical instances of God’s power reaching into earthly, human death/graves (e.g. Lazarus). Might this ‘possibility’ of God’s continuing capacity to be at work, postmortem, be a way to maintain hope in a salvation for all that will be by way of a just, eventual reconciliation of all hearts/souls (since there is all of eternity in which for that to be achieved)?

  • Jan Ingar

    Scot @16:

    I don’t find Reveletations 20 that straigh-forward, there are some parts that are hard to understand. It says that “the beast” shall be tormented day and night forever and ever. If the beast is poetic language for a power structure/polical system, how exactly can God torment something abstract as that? Or Hades for that instance?

    Another thing that has always puzzled me is that the text specifies that the devil (and the beast and the false prophet) shall experience eternal torment, but it says only that the names that are not written in the book of live are trown in the lake of fire, nothing more. Have there ever been a annihilist tradition that believes that humans are extinguished, but satan and his demons gets eternal torment and suffering?

    Thanks!

  • DRT

    Scot, didn’t Jesus give us another perspective

    Mark 3:28-30
    28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

    30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”

    I have taken this to mean that if you don’t believe god as revealed in the bible and in other people then that is forgivable. But if you don’t believe god as revealed within you, yourself, then you have no hope.

  • Patrick

    God is love. Therefore this precludes Him punishing anyone.

    I think that ignores His other virtues.

    The unbelieving human who dies is resurrected, faces a righteous judgment and is sentenced to separation from God ( i.e. “depart from Me, I never knew you”).

    However, that same person is not tortured sadistically as the literal “hellfire” or “lake of fire” would lead us to believe.

    In the OT, fire is used as a euphemism for refining and judgment. I am not good with verse locations, but, there are verses warning of the judgment on Jerusalem where “unquenchable fire” will destroy Jerusalem.

    It didn’t happen literally that way though, so we now know beyond any doubt “unquenchable fire” = final judgment and not literal fire in the OT apocalyptic genre.

    Sheoul is not defined at all in the MT, just “netherworld”. No punishment is taught, very little on that place or thing honestly.

    To the NT, we see all kinds of “Jesus” proclamations about hell, fiery punishment for the lost, lake of fire in Revelation, etc. Apocalyptic for sure, He speaks that way almost all the time about all subjects ( see John 1:51)

    Since Jesus fulfills the Torah, prophecies and types of the OT, it seems reasonable to me to think He is simply speaking like the Jewish prophets who went before Him did.

    IMO, there is 0 chance of a “fiery hell”. Jesus was predicted to speak in Parabolic language in Isaiah, Matthew in chapter 13 explains He hardly spoke w/o parabolic genre, late in John the disciples flipped when He finally said something directly.

    Lost people get what they wanted/worshipped is what “hell” is, IMO. I suspect myself it is getting very intimately familiar with Satan’s type of rule w/o God’s restraint. That was there call.

    Is it not Biblically sound to see idolatry as worship of Satan?

    God doesn’t punish them, His righteous judgment allows them to have what their free will chose.

    I wrote this as a dogmatic stance, I am amenable to anything the Bible teaches, this is just how I currently do my own Bible logic.

    There is no teaching on temporary sadness after death for the lost that I ever heard of.

    I do have questions about the pre Christ unbeliever simply because Paul made that comment in Athens that , “heretofore God has winked at unbelief”.

  • This is a good, thoughtful discussion. Thank you, Scot, for sparking it.

    I have just a couple of points I’d like to add. First, a few of the commenters here are leary of “putting God in a logical box,” so to speak–that is, of saying that God cannot do something just because our standards of logic call it impossible. While there is an admirable humility expressed in these sentiments, there is also a high cost. Consider: If we do away with the principle of noncontradiction in relation to God, then it being true that some are eternally separated from God does not preclude God from guaranteeing that those very same individuals who are eternally separated ALSO enjoy the beatific vision and the joys of loving union with God for all eternity. And if this is right, we just have to stop talking about matters of doctrine altogether.

    My second point piggy-backs on the first. Assuming we are to take logical consistency seriously in relation to God (the cost of not doing so being that strict allegiance to a doctrine of eternal damnation no longer rules out endorsing universal salvation or any other contrary doctrine), then we have to wrestle seriously with what Scot calls “Talbott’s Gauntlet.” And Talbott, being a very careful philosopher, has been very careful in how He words 1-3. 1 & 2 together imply the negation of 3. If, as Talbott maintains, there is scriptural support for all of 1-3, this means that there is scriptural support for a set of propositions that cannot all be true if we take logic seriously (as we must implicitly do if we are in the business of discussing doctrine at all).

    But to say there is scriptural support for three inconsistent propositions is not to say that Scripture is inconsistent on this point, since Scripture is not a philosophical treatise in which the authors deliberately pursued philosophical precision in their word choices, etc. It IS to say, however, that there is reason to embrace each of 1-3 based on respectful and sincere (if debatable) interpretation of the texts. But since all three cannot be true, we must make a decision about which to jettison. Talbott’s main point here is to ask why, if this is so, Calvinism (which jettisons 1) and Arminianism (which jettisons 2) are treated as orthodox Christian options while universalism (which jettisons 3) is not. THAT is the key challenge posed by his “gauntlet.”

    Of course, you can challenge whether there is comparable scriptural reason to support each of 1-3. My own view is that the scriptural reasons to support 3 are weaker than the reasons to support 1 & 2, since there are so many passages in Paul that admit most naturally of a universalist reading while the “hell texts” *can* be interpreted as promising a merely *finite* hell (and that doing so does less violence to the hell texts than is done to Paul’s universalist texts when read as endorsing limited slavation). Keith DeRose, Talbott, Robin Parry, as well as John Kronen and I in our forthcoming book, all make the case for this in different ways.

    The most plausible response for the opponent of universalism, I think, is to follow the line sketched out by jeff cook in comment 32: Argue that Talbott’s #1 should be qualified by competing desires which are more pressing than God’s desire to save all, and that #2 should likewise be qualified (so that it no longer speaks of “the redemption of everyone whose redeption he sincerely wills or desires” but rather “the redemption of all those (a) whose redemption he sincerely wills or desire and (b) whose redemption would not result in the thwarting of a desire more pressing than his desire for their salvation”).

    As worded, 1 & 2 logically preclude 3. But as modified in accord with jeff cook’s strategy, they don’t. The question is whether there is as much reason, based on a holistic engagement with Scripture and orthodox church teachings, to believe the MODIFIED variants of 1 & 2 as there is to believe 1 & 2 as originally articulated by Talbott. My own view is no, but I doubt I could cull my thinking down to blog-comment size.

  • One of my main differences with Talbott (my fellow universalist) is that his focus on this inconsistent triad emphasizes what we might call the “indirect” case for universalism — the case from 1 and 2, basically, from God having both the will and the power to save all people. I think the “direct” case is much stronger. (So that’s what I go with in my on-line defense of universalism linked to above in comment #29.)

    In earlier work (including his fine book, THE INESCAPABLE LOVE OF GOD), Talbott had a weaker version of 2, which I’ll here label ‘2W’:

    2W. It is within God’s power to achieve his redemptive purposes for the world.

    The problem with this was that it was so weak that the the claims in his triad were not really inconsistent. It is possible that God does not achieve some purpose He has, even though He has the power to achieve it, because circumstances can make Him choose between achieving that purpose and some other purpose of His (like, for one example, respecting human free will). And it really was a big problem that the triad wasn’t really inconsistent, because it made this question very pressing for someone who, like Talbott, was proposing to give up one of the three (#3, in Talbott’s case) on the basis of the other two: If there’s such good support for all three of them, and they’re mutually consistent, why not accept all three?

    So it’s interesting to see (I wasn’t aware of this before reading this post) that Talbott beefed 2 up in THE CURRENT DEBATE so that now the three claims really are inconsistent. (I see he says in a footnote in TCD that his formulation there is “more precise” than it was in earlier work.)

    There are also other ways of beefing up 2W to make the triad inconsistent. But the problem with all of them, including Talbott’s own, is that this question is very pressing: Why not deny 2, but instead of *just* denying it, put 2W in its place and accept all of 1, 2W, and 3? Are there really such good grounds for accepting the stronger 2 rather than just accepting 2W?

  • To quickly follow up on D.C. Cramer’s nice comments #27 & #29: D.C. is right: I accept chances (for salvation) after death, not because of any direct teaching of that possibility, but because of the direct teaching of universalism & of the support for what I call “strong exclusivism” (that one must accept Christ to be saved). As I put it in my on-line defense:

    ****
    Still, as I admitted earlier, the case for the opposing doctrine of further chances, based on the I Peter passages, is also inconclusive. But I never intended to use the I Peter passages as part of my positive support for universalism. My universalism is founded on passages like the ones we looked at in section 2. I find them far more forceful in their support for universalism than anything I’ve ever seen adduced in support of anti-universalism. But some will disagree, and claim that a powerful case for anti-universalism can be mounted from strong exclusivism, together with the very plausible observation that some never accept Christ in this life. I have merely been pointing out that that line of thought supports anti-universalism only insofar as the doctrine of no further chances can be established. And, as we’ve seen, that’s not very far at all. Certainly nothing even approaching the power of the universalist passages. If, on top of all that, there actually were — against my own best judgment about the matter — some significant positive support for the doctrine of further chances to be gleaned from the I Peter passages, that would be argumentative over-kill.

    Do I, then, believe in further chances after death? Yes, but not because of anything to be found in I Peter. My belief in further chances is rather grounded in my beliefs that (a) there are fairly strong grounds for universalism provided by the likes of the passages in section 2, (b) there are fairly strong grounds for strong exclusivism in passages we haven’t looked at here, (c) the only way (at least the only way that I can see) to reconcile universalism with strong exclusivism is if there are further chances, and (d) there’s next to nothing in the way of good reasons for denying that there are further chances. Thus, though there’s perhaps not much of a direct case that can be made for further chances from the likes of the I Peter passages, in light of (d), the indirect case for further chances provided by (a)-(c) proves decisive. I stress, then, that my belief in universalism is not based on my belief in further chances; rather, it’s the other way around.
    ****

    As for attempts to explain away the universalist passages (asked about in comment #28): There have been many such attempts. I don’t think any of them work well. Many of the most common focus on the word “all” in the universalist passages. (In fact, in some circles it’s become the “sophisticated default” to hold that “all” doesn’t mean all.) I address some of the most common ways of explaining away the universalist passages in this fairly recent blog entry:
    http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/archives/2011/03/all.html
    (some of the discussion in the comments is worthwhile, too)

  • scotmcknight

    Thanks Keith. I’m mostly away from access today as we are tourists in NYC but appreciate your clarifications and conversation.

  • I was off-line for several days when this was posted, so please pardon my late reply.

    I agree with Talbot that the three points cannot be held together logically. I discribe the difference between Calvinism, Arminianism, and Reconciliationism (Universal Reconciliation, UR, Christian Universalism) differently, using the following 4 statements showing that I believe UR to be the most “Biblical”. Most people will readily admit that each of the following statements has several scriptures that “at face value” affirm such:

    1) God sovereignly elects, chooses whom to save and when to save them.
    2) God savingly loves all humanity.
    3) God mercifully saves all humanity.
    4) God righteously judges all humanity and punishes evil.

    Calvinists affirm 1 & 4, but cannot affirm 2 & 3 because they believe that God’s punishment of evil results in some certainly being lost, not saved.

    Arminianists affirm 2 & 3, but cannot and do not affirm 1 & 3 because they believe that God’s punishment of evil results in some certainly being lost, not saved.

    Reconciliationists affirm 1, 2, 3, & 4 (accepting the most passages at face value), and they can do so because they believe God’s judgement of humans and punishment of sin to be remedial, for our good.

  • Concerning evidence for post-mortem repentance and salvation consider:

    1) Jonah died in rebellion to God, and in Sheol (KJV Hell) in the anquish of his soul, repented, turned to God, and God saved him, brought him back to life, and even gave him a second chance at his calling.

    2) Paul in 1 Cor. 15 speaks affirmatively of “baptism for the dead”.

    3) Peter speaks of Jesus preaching to the spirits in prison, those who died rejecting the salvation of God through the ministry of Noah, resulting in them being judged according to the flesh but living in the Spirit, 1 Pet. 4:6.

    4) Jesus, especially Matthew, warned the Pharisees of Gehenna, using one of their theological metaphors of post-mortem punishment to denounce their values, beliefs, and practices. Shammai, president of the Sanhedrin until 30 A.D. taught that most people suffered and were purified in Gehenna before ascending to Ga Eden, Paradise, Abraham’s bosom. Jesus, in Mk.9.49 seems to affirm that all shall face the fire of Gehenna for purification.

    5) I find Revelation’s Lake of Fire interesting in that before the LoF, the nations and kings are anti-Christ; but after the Lof, the nations and kings are worshipping God and paying Him homage.

    6) Modern day testimonies of people who have died, experienced hell, cried out to God and were saved, some even seeing heaven before being brought back to life.

    Scripture is primarily about this life, repentance and salvation in this life, praying and seeking the establishment of the kingdom of heaven on earth. But there is evidence of repentance and salvation in the age to come. And logically, for Jesus to truly be savior of all humanity (1 Tim.4.10), post mortem salvation is logically necessary.

    Also, when asked concerning the fate of those who never received an opportunity to accept Jesus in this life, most evangelicals today will affirm that they believe that such people recieve some kind of chance after they die or while they are dying. And they affirm this because it just doesn’t seem right for God to condemn to Hell most of humanity considering they never even had an opportunity to respond to Him in faith in this life.

    And when debating UR with traditionalists, I don’t know how many times someone asks me, “Well, what about Hitler, will he be saved?” I use to answer them directly, but now in reply I simply say, “I’ll answer that if you in turn will answer me concerning the fate of the 600,000 Jews whom Hitler killed, will they suffer the same fate as Hitler for they too did not accept Christ in this life?”

    I believe, one day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, joyfully proclaim, Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God!

  • Interest query. I think the three statements are LOGICALLY consistent; Universalism is a coherent belief system. But, I think on true (Arminian) premises, it is metaphysically impossible and unjustified.

    On Evangelical Wesleyan/Classical Arminian premises, God might love all people in this fundamental saving sense (#1), but God’s love can be “distinct” or “emphasised” not with respect to degree (like in a Calvinist electing/general sense) but rather in “expression” or “emphasis” or “experience.” God’s elect people (= believers united to Christ and persevering) have a special recognition and experience of God’s love, in that they *really are* joined to Christ and therefore *really do* share in all the covenantal promises of redemption and forgiveness of sins and peace with God; ETC.

    With respect to (#2), that’s precisely what resistible prevenient grace and free will combat, so that’s not right metaphysically.

    And (#3) is implied to be true by a negation of (#2) even despite (#1), but this is perfectly consistent with God’s will, if we believe it has a twofold signification (antecedent/consequent).

    So original query… Yes they’re logically consistent. But because they do not *actually* hold together metaphysically, therefore the reject (#3) (=Universalism) implies some kind of fundamental misunderstanding of God and sin, and every other related thing, which impinges on holiness and reverence for God and the “exceeding sinfulness of sin” (to quote J. C. Ryle). I think it is in these kinds of fundamental misunderstandings of God’s nature or being which constitute heresies (ergo, christological and trinitarian heresies, or the heresy of God’s being the author of sin, or the heresy of salvation by works, ETC.).