Talk of Universalism

Talk of Universalism December 29, 2009

At Jesus Creed, Scot has been working through recent book on universalism.  Richard Beck, whose posts I universally love, has joined in at Experimental Theology; the money quote from him:

3. Missional Concerns Over the Soteriological/Eschatological Disjoint

Many people in the church see salvation as a binary, you are either saved or lost. Christians then fetishize this status, obsessing over who, at Judgment Day, will be saved or lost. This causes the Christian community to become otherworldly in its focus, ignoring the cosmic (e.g., social, political, ecological) and developmental (i.e., sanctification) aspects of salvation. This becomes a missional problem in the church, where people just look to “get saved,” eschatologically speaking. But it is hard to fault people for this fetish if they are seeing thing correctly, that there will be a non-reversible binary judgement at the end of all things. In short, as much as missional church leaders want to instill the notion that salvation is this-worldly as well as other-worldly they will fail, for clear psychological reasons, unless they undermine the classic doctrine of hell. Leave the classical teaching of hell intact (overtly or by trying to ignore it) and you’ll compromise your missional effort. Like it or not, hell and mission are intimately related. Worries over hell (which can’t be helped if you leave the doctrine intact) will import otherworldliness into the mission of the church.

via Experimental Theology: Universalism: A Summary Defense.

While I surely have leanings in this direction, universalism is not a theological topic on which I have spent much time reflecting.  I do surely agree with Richard when he writes,

I reject Calvinism because I find the doctrine of election to be loathsome. I don’t find God worthy of worship, praise or service if he created people with the intention of torturing most of them forever. True, such actions would demonstrate his sovereignty and “justice” but it is hard to see those actions as loving and praise-worthy. Also, I don’t see how Calvinism allows for a dynamic and interactive relationship between God and humanity. We end up being mere puppets and playthings.

So I think I’ll spend some time thinking and writing about these ideas in 2010.

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  • Jo Ann W. Goodson

    I do not believe in a firey hell. What I do think is that at the end time if some of us are separated from God for what ever reason that would/will be hell for anyone. We would not need a firey place, it would be inside of us. I cannot imagine being apart from God and God’s love. Though through very difficult times I might wonder if God is really with me, deep inside I am certain that God is always with me.

  • i’m needing to do some reflecting here as well, Tony. But i must say that when folks come to me for answers at my church on election vs. free will i point that the bible shows evidence of both in some sort and that we should work more at embracing the beautiful mysteries of God rather than spending too much time trying to figure them out.
    my mantra, “God is mystery, embrace it!”

  • I’m Catholic. Kathlikos, the word Iraenus used to describe the Church, means Universal in Greek.

    I believe in a hell separate from God. I believe that place would be firey pain. But I also believe in purgatory, which is also firey pain as our misconceptions are stripped away to make us perfect enough to be in God, and in God’s love.

    Being proven WRONG- that’s the fire for the ego. Whether that be because in our sin we choose to be apart from God in Hell, or in our imperfection choose our own way to God ignoring the advice of the Saints, in the end, we will be proven wrong.

    In The Great Divorce, CS Lewis imagined purgatory as a bus trip from hell to heaven. Those who chose to, could stay in heaven. The rest returned to hell. That bus trip is our chance to be proven wrong, yet still make it to heaven.

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  • Rapture theology and binary salvation has never “stuck” with me. My reason for being a Christian has nothing to do with this. It feels too close to the dualistic classical Gnosticism which asserts that the goal of our existence is to extract the gnostic sparks trapped in bodies so that they can return to their true spiritual home. Yuck!

    By focusing on salvation we are steered away from the real work of God: the redemption of Creation. Jesus taught us to pray “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven” not “Thy will be done after we all blow this pop-joint and go to heaven.”

    I am not a Christian so that I may be saved from the Great Tribulation and live for all eternity with my Lord in heaven. Not important. I am a Christian so that I may work hand-in-hand with my Creator this day and every day to bring a little bit of heaven down to Earth. That is the work of redemption. Nothing else really matters to me, really.

    If the Second Coming happens before I die, will I be caught up in the clouds to welcome him? You bet I will! But it will be to run to him and welcome him back to Earth to live with us here — in much the same way as the brothers in Acts 28:14-16 ran all the way out to Thee Taverns to greet Paul and escort him back to Rome. The thrill and joy will come from the Apantesis — the Greek word which immediately follows the 1 Thess verse which serves as the primary proof-text for the rapture.

  • Nathan Williams

    It seems to me that Beck is making some false assumptions. If I read him right he seems to assume that a fear of the historical understanding of hell is what motivates people to pursue salvation and attain heaven. The other assumption he is making is that the historical doctrine of heaven is another spiritual realm outside of earth and thus counterproductive to the missional life of the Church here in this world. Jesus did speak about hell often mostly in connection with religious people but sometimes non religious people. He did talk about it in a way that was scary, but the scary aspect of Hell in the teachings of Jesus is missing out on knowing the Master. The fear is always the fear of being alone cast out of the community and away from the Master. When Jesus spoke of heaven it was of heaven come to earth. The Kingdom is among you, the regeneration. He did not speak of a spiritual realm to escape to like in Gnosticism or medieval theology. The orthodox understanding of the doctrine of heaven is the source of missional thought. Heaven and missional thought are not opposed to one another. In my opinion any way.

  • Both Universalism and Calvinism seem to answer the wrong question. They are both fixated on “who” is saved, but don’t they both make the same old assumptions about “what” might be saved? Both theological camps are drenched in the substance dualism of Descartes.

    My question to both groups is…

    What is it that you think could exist after the death of your brain?

    I think it is disingenuous for either group to ignore this dependence on Descartes’ mistakes in biology and metaphysics. Why isn’t this topic ever discussed in Evangelical circles?

  • Mike- that substance dualism existed LONG before Descartes, in fact, I’d say it’s inherent in all of the semetic and aryan mythologies, including Zorasticism, Sufiism, the Egyptian pantheon, Judaism, Islam, and of course, Christianity itself.

    I don’t think you can separate out belief in a soul from these religions. The assumption of “what” might be saved goes WAY beyond Descartes and dualism, it is in fact primal to all of western civilization.

    If you’re searching for a physical what, I think you are asking the wrong question; but I think a postmodern science has the answer in a new duality: The hardware of what you are dies, but the software survives, if only in the memory of your loved ones. If God is love, and God loves you, the you live on in God’s memory.

  • TJ: Crucial issue for the reasons you point out and more. Glad you’re taking it on.

  • Bradley Richardson

    I know two things there is a God, and I am not him. I think that in recent years the organized church has become the modern day equivilent of the pharisees and money changers. They would rather point their fingers; make little pegs holes to fit salvation for people, than expound the goodness of God. I tend to believe there is a hell; that is personal and just away from God. Whether or not people are there for all eternity remains to be seen. I just can’t believe that a loving God would continue to punish people in an old testament fashion after he changed the game with the new testament. What happened to the people that died before Jesus was born.

  • Ted,

    For sure it goes back to at least Plato, but Descartes is the one who figured out how to make dualism popular on this side of the modern enlightenment. He drew it up in charts with experiments on human bodies and provided a way for modern people to hang onto it. Descartes is how modernity came to embrace substance dualism, and as you suggested, it is now a core part of modern western civilization. Even our cartoon characters have “souls” that go “up” when they get killed. But does that make it right or even helpful?

    My point is not who invented the idea, my main point is that dualism is now part of our narrative and modern Christianity has refused to deconstruct this narrative. Without foundational certainty of dualism, neither slant on Evangelical theology (calvinism or universalism) makes any sense.

    My second point is that it disingenuous when someone implies these question of consciousness are somehow settled and that being Christian must mean being certain about Descartes’ (or Plato’s or Aristotle’s) conclusions. Just read the comments here and notice the wholesale acceptance of substance dualism, yet it still is a huge question in brain science right now and by all measures substance dualism is the least viable and least supported answer.

    Your hardware/software analogy may be a bit more Aristotelian with a little bit of 20th century imagery, but postmodern thinking is not about applying a more up to date metaphor. Post-modernity has more to do with questioning our own metaphors and deconstructing the assumptions and foundations underneath our theologies (as I’ve suggested to do with substance dualism). We should realize that any theological answer we present could only work in light of the narratives (frameworks) that we take for granted in our assumptions.

  • Given that explanation, Mike, I’d have to say that post modernism has exceeded mere deconstruction and has proceeded to embrace outright violent destruction of myth and cherished belief, without offering anything of value to take it’s place.

    Unless post-modernity returns us to orthopraxy and orthodoxy, it is just setting up a materialistic monopoly on truth, no better than the modern enlightenment before it.

    Questioning our metaphor is one thing- throwing out the baby with the bathwater is something entirely different.

  • It seems to me that for exemple the Salvation Armyat the beginning had a strong belief in hell and was able to do some social work as well?
    In french it was once said “Soupe, savon, salut”, which was the motto: “Soup, soap, saved”. I think the Salvation Army has now removed that mottu.
    As far as I’m aware in Switzerland we had some strong revival (with preaching about hell) in the late 19th which led to the creation of some great organisation like the Red Cross or hospital and so on.
    I wonder if the preaching of getting saved back then was more holistic, or was it the same but people responded differently? Is there any link with our consumerism culture?

  • Ted,

    Deconstruction of underlying narratives can certainly feel like violent destruction, especially when those narratives are “cherished beliefs”. I think that is why so many people react harshly against it and come here to bash Tony on the mere suggestion of the slightest deconstruction.

    Would you do me a favor and reconsider your statement:

    “Unless post-modernity returns us to orthopraxy and orthodoxy, it is just setting up a materialistic monopoly on truth, no better than the modern enlightenment before it.”

    In the same breath, you said we must have “right” practice (orthopraxy) and “right” teaching (orthodoxy). Then you criticized the notion of a “monopoly on truth”. Do you see the irony???? Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy are by definition a monopoly on truth. A single (monopolistic) RIGHT practice and a single RIGHT teaching.

    What I hear you saying is that there should be no monopoly on truth except in the “truth” of substance dualism, which you personally hold as a cherish belief, even though it has not been a universally accepted belief among historical theologians and is not a confirmed scientific theory or a consensus theological position even today. You may very well mean something different, but that is what I’m hearing in your statement. I hope you’ll reconsider or at least agree to see the irony.

    Help me understand your analogy. Who gets the monopoly on drawing the line between baby and water? By using the baby/water analogy, did you mean to imply that the baby (the central core “fundamental”) of Christianity is our absolute certainty in Cartesian body/soul dualism?

  • The doctrine of heaven and hell is vital to the Christian faith. Paul understandably argued that if there’s no resurrection, then Christians are running in vain. (I think that those of you who raise the problem of dualism must first demonstrate that this is a problem, at least more so than monism! Frankly, I don’t see the problem.)

    However, rejection of black and white binary salvation shouldn’t push us into universalism. Although there are numerous verses that cite an ultimate binary outcome, these do not discount the other verses that present a more nuanced portrait of heaven and hell:

    • MUCH OF THE LANGUAGE OF HELL SEEMS TO BE FIGURATIVE: Hell is portrayed as both fiery (Matthew 13:42) and “outer darkness” (Matthew 22:13).

    • HEAVEN ALSO SEEMS TO ENTAIL MUCH NUANCE: Nations will be “saved” at the end and come to worship in Jerusalem (Rev. 21, 22; Zech. 14).

    • WE WILL BE JUDGED ACCORDING TO WHAT WE DESERVE: Luke 12:48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

    There are many other qualifying teachings. It seems very possible that humans will actually choose their ultimate destinations (John 3:17-20). Those who have hated the light in this life, will continue to hate and run from it in the next. So let’s not be too quick to discount the Biblical assertion of God’s goodness and justice even in light of the final judgment.

  • Mike- I think I might be hitting you from a completely different viewpoint. You see “confirmed scientific theory” and “consensus theological position” as a mark of truth. But I’ve already identified myself in this discussion as a Catholic. That means I’ve got a firm faith in a reality that science is a part of, but not the whole of, that consensus is good, but not a hallmark of truth (during the Arian heresy it was the consensus that Jesus was not God, but was a creature like you or I; and yet that was not allowed to stand at the Council of Nicea).

    Furthermore, I can point to a lot of places where deconstruction of OTHER traditional beliefs than Christianity has brought about nothing but destruction- one of the key ones being what happened when modern “scientific” agriculture came up against the “Pagan” water temples of Bali, and came very close to causing a major environmental disaster, which was only restored once the traditional offerings and rituals were back in place.

    It’s my view that religions, like cultures and species, evolve to fit their environment; we disrupt them only at our peril.

    The thing you’re missing in your critique of dualism is the fact that dualism in Universalism *works* as a theological system. Has worked for thousands of years. Predates Christianity by a good deal, perhaps even predates civilization itself. It’s not something that was merely made up overnight by Aristotle, Plato, or Descartes; it EVOLVED into it’s place in our western belief system. As such, by questioning such a basic without offering something else that works better in it’s place, you’re saying “I’m smarter than the previous 2 million years of trial-and-error wisdom taught by our species”.

    At least Calvin, in his arrogance of knowing the mind of God and assuming election rather than free will, still offered a system that works. Maybe not as well as universalism, in which mankind is still free to sin and God is a rational being who treats us as rational beings, but in it’s own way it works.

    But throw out body/soul dualism, and you’ve basically thrown away *all of western theology*. None of it works without something that continues to exist after death.

    In fact, given the predisposition of eastern religions and even animism to the concept of reincarnation, which also would fail to work without body/soul dualism, you’re effectively stating in your deconstruction that you are engaging in objectivity; that if it cannot be proven in an objective laboratory, it does not exist.

    And that, sir, is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. One might as well be an atheist at that point, believing in nothing more than what can be accomplished in this life.

  • Michael Bartley

    Tony and others

    It seems to me that it would be wise to ask what is the different scopes of universalism. That is to say, is all universalism the same. Are there differences between what Unitarian Universalist say and a trintarian view of Universalism. Furthermore, a banal rejection of the doctrine of election based upon your feelings seems to be to be both immature and theologically sloppy. How is it that election plays into God’s design.

    Let me suggest that you read a wonderful little book written by Leslie Newbigin entitled, “The Gospel in a Pluralist Soceity.” Particularly read chapter seven, “The Logic of Election.” As I have read this post and the response to this post I have thought, wow, someone needs to take a few basic theology courses. Universalism is not the question you are really struggling with, it is the nature of salvation itself and its working out in the political sphere of life.

  • FrSean

    The theology of the high middle ages and the theology of the Protestant Reformation sought to answer a single solitary question: “How do I keep my hiney outta Hell?” People in England prior to the reformation were required by law to receive the Eucharist once a year. They worried they’d receive unworthily and damn themselves. Baptism was wrenched away from being a communal sacrament performed at the great vigil of Easter in the ancient church and became a private sacrament performed as soon as a child was born to keep them from Hell.
    By the way the question that we seek to answer these days is (in Protestant terms “How do I experience God?” or in more catholic terms, “How do I experience the Divine life?” Hell was once a motivating factor, but became a secondary factor in Western theology after Vatican II. The reforms of the council begin with the underlying theology that we are never in a place of not being loved by God.

    I would contend that our notions of Hell are formed by Dante’s Inferno rather than the scriptures. For example what is referred to as Hell in Mark’s Gospel is a literal place – Gehenna – a place where trash was taken and burned. The pericope I’m referring to has Jesus say that it’s better to pluck out your eye or cut off your hand than burn in the fires of Gehenna.

    I say these things to say that I think the great emergence is driven not by fire insurance as was the Christianity of the last 1000 years, but of experience of God. Karl Rahner famously said that in the future Christian people would be mystics or nothing at all.

    The most that I can say is that salvation is in God’s hands. Paul speaks of the salvation of the church and not of individuals. I’ve stepped away from my upbringing that asserted that the impotant part of being a Christian was praying the sinners prayer to get the divine get out of Hell free card. Evangelical Protestants have been the last to shed a Hell centered theology and it’s time to do so. Folks it’s about knowing God not fire insurance.

    So far as universalism we know that Christ is a perfect and sufficient sacrifice from the letter to the Hebrews and that he’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. If there is universal salvation, it is only through God accomplishing it through the death and resurrection of Christ.


  • sean

    three books are important for understanding calvinism (at least if you don’t want a cartoon, which is what you get with most of the “new reformed” and sophomoric criticisms of reformed thought): Calvin’s “Bondage and Liberation of the Will,” where he trudges through Augustine’s works (as well as the writings of other fathers) to show his continuity with Augustine, Todd Billings, “Calvin, Participation, and the Gift” (a dissertation written under Sarah Coakley against Radical Orthodoxy and other readings of Calvin as non-participatory), and (having established that one ought to read Calvin through Augustine and not vice versa), David Aers “Salvation and Sin” explains Augustine on salvation and sin, and then Thomas Bradwardine (the supposedly Augustinian, closest to the caricature of Calvin or Augustine), William Ockham (the definitely Pelagian), William Langland (the true Augustinian), and Julian of Norwich, all of it peppered with brilliant readings of Augustine and Aquinas.

    Of course Calvin’s doctrine of double predestination is completely morally unacceptable in every way (like Augustine’s), but of course you don’t need that doctrine to have Calvinism, and if you understand Augustine on God, you won’t have to make stupid criticisms about lack of dynamism in relationship or the cliche (and just as boring) objection that Augustine makes us puppets. (These seem to me just as boring as most of your readers’ responses to your views on homosexuality–not even worth thinking about, much less reading). Interesting and informed objections to Calvinism (or Augustinianism), however, are more than welcome.

  • sean

    i didn’t read my comment carefully enough before i posted it, and I didn’t mean to come across sounding so harsh. i apologize, and didn’t mean to imply any hostility, etc.

  • “So I think I’ll spend some time thinking and writing about these ideas in 2010”

    Excellent, I think this is a very important topic for the church to look at.

  • Andrew

    I haven’t read through all the responses here, but just wanted to say that I agree with Jo Ann. Hell doesn’t have to be Dante’s place of “firey eternal torment”. While in seminary I was introduced to a paper by John Stott which looked into annihalationism as a possibility. While I have never been able to find this paper since it is a subject that I have spent much time pondering and reviewing in light of the scriptures and, in particular, Jesus’ teachings on the afterlife.

    To this point I have to say that I don’t see anything in scripture that easily discredits this take on things. Jesus talks a lot about the destruction and death when talking about those who reject the Father’s plan for salvation. Total, eternal seperation from God via complete destruction, rather than an eternity in suffering and torment at the hands of a loving God?!?

    While universalism is attractive I think it is difficult to stretch Jesus own words far enough to make it a viable option.

    • Andrew, look at pages 353ff of Stott’s biography, A Global Ministry. He first mentioned his tentative support for it in a little book called Essentials:

      “I find the concept [of eternal conscious punishment in hell] intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterising their feelings or cracking under the strain. But our emotions are a fluctuating, unreliable guide to truth and must not be exalted to the place of supreme authority in determining it. As a committed Evangelical, my question must be — and is — not what does my heart tell me, but what does God’s word say?”(pp. 314-315)

  • Jo Ann W. Goodson

    Andrew, thanks for agreeing with me. I simply cannot conceive of a God that is all Love placing anyone in a fiery hell whether a physical place or within us. For me it is my choice while on earth to live my life following Jesus and believing in a loving God or not. If I follow my calling and heart, when I die I think I will be eternally with God, where that will be no one knows. If at the end of earthly life God does separate us based on our love or lack of loving others, we go a separate way from others, then it is up to God. None of us knows whether what the bible speaks of on this is true or not. Only God knows and we are simply guessing. It is all “concepts” not so called absolute truth concerning heaven and hell.

  • thanks for sharing. I’m reposting this article at my blog. That’s a great introduction to Universalism. I like that he does even pretend to have the full weight of scripture behind his view (or any view) and yet presents why it could make the most sense

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  • FrSean

    You mentioned “the full weight of scripture”. I think the scriptural understanding of Hell is infrequent and tenuous at best. Scripture more often looks like a dialectic to me speaking with hints of universalism and hints of the salvation of the elect making it ambiguous. On the other hand as I mentioned in my previous comment, tradition has high doctrine of Hell and fear, and people compelled to follow a God they would otherwise not follow urged on by Dante’s vivid images. I can’t imagine the Jesus we get to know in the Gospels sending people to Hell. We say of Jesus that he is the most of God that we know. There is SOME scriptural conversation about Hell, but I would argue that much of our understanding of Hell comes from the world in front of the text. The author is wise to single out Calvin, but there are many others fueled by the populous imagination. To really discern this one through would be to undertake a thorough study of scripture and church history to unwind how we got to the high doctrine of Hell we’ve inheirited which doesn’t seem to be working in this age where science is influential and people don’t buy a three tiered universe. I think our doctrine of Hell must become tertiary because to lead with it sends post-moderns running the other direction.

  • “As a committed Evangelical, my question must be — and is — not what does my heart tell me, but what does God’s word say?”

    I’ll admit that I stand with universalism in direct opposition to that statement. It has become clear to me over the years that the bible can support almost any take that tickles your fancy, so most debates come down to merely who is the more skilled with scripture fencing.

    Stott presents a false dichotomy there which is common… we go on feeling OR the bible. However, I think our own reason is invalualble. Hebrews says, “we all had human fathers who disciplined us as they thought best, but God discipines us for our good…. that we may share in his holiness”. Aside from scripture and feeling, I think it is reasonable to think that God is a good Father, and that a good Father engages in instructive, not vindictive, discipline. He has a positive goal in mind when he disciplines.

    Whether we believe in an eternal hell or not speaks highly as to how we view God. I believe hell worked wonders on a superstitious people who reacted to fear, but it runs contrary to every parent who has an unconditional love for their child. As a parent, it is an easy thing for me to see the difference – a God who is flighty with his choices and is satisfied that the majority of his children are tortured forever, or a Father of prodigals who eagerly waits for his children to come home.

  • Andrew:
    I pointed out Katholikos, Catholic, above as the ultimate form of universalism. And aside from the Metropolitian Ethnic Orthodox forms of Catholicism, it’s pretty true: Vatican II described Catholicism as a “meta culture” in which “local cultures and traditions” can be made to fit Christianity (Nostra Aetate).

    To that end, I put forth another Catholic concept- the idea of the Pope in relationship to Scripture the same way the Supreme Court of the United States is in relationship to the Constitution- subordinate to, but also the final word on interpretation.

    Thus, I should point out for your consideration, at least as a fellow Christian Scholar, what our recently deceased Pope, John Paul the Great, had to say close to the end of his life when considering Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory.
    The press made this out to be way more than it was- but I think it’s a set of definitions that fits comfortably both into the “dualism of Descartes” and “postmodernist deconstruction” of the concept.

    This is also my favorite teaching from the man who sat in the See of Peter for most of my young life. I’m old enough to remember both Paul VI and the rather aborted (and possibly assassinated) papacy of John Paul I; and I see Benedict XVI currently struggling to fill the shoes left by his predecessor in new and novel ways (the joint declaration on justification with the Lutherans, the reaching out to conservative Anglicans in forming for them a new hierarchy), but in my mind, John Paul The Great will always be the Pope of my generation of Catholics.

  • Frsean,
    I think you may have misunderstood my meaning. I was agreeing with the post. I do think scriptural support for a literal furnace is astonishingly slim. I was just saying I appreciate that beck doesn’t pretend you can’t make a case any other way, that’s all

  • Universalism: Some Christian Considerations:

    1. If our lives entail no eternal consequences, then life seems pointless, apart from having a good time. It’s like a teacher giving all her students an “A+” regardless of their performance and even whether or not they came to class.

    2. All the major religions recognize that there will be eternal consequences for our inhumanity, suggesting that God has written this truth into all our hearts (Romans 1:32). Perhaps they’re there for a good reason.

    3. There is no adequate rationale for moral living or for seeking God without eternal consequences. It makes more sense to get whatever we can out of life if we’re all going to the same eternal home (1 Cor. 15:19).

    4. If God is so benign and doesn’t want to see any suffer eternally, why doesn’t He model life on earth in accordance with His final heavenly plan? Why the discontinuity? If pain is so disagreeable to Him there, why not also here? If God has rejected the idea of eternal judgment, why has He not also ruled against the occurrence of disease, warfare, and tsunamis? Instead, continuity would suggest that we will also have to endure consequences in the next life.

    5. A universalistic God has little interest in justice and victimization if He refuses to do anything about them. Such a God would be an offense to our own sense of and demand for justice.

    6. Universalism communicates the wrong message—our behavior doesn’t matter and God doesn’t care. Why then should we? Life would become brutal and unlivable if we tried to model ourselves after such a God.

    7. If we are created in the image of God and therefore have a powerful sense of justice and retribution, shouldn’t we also expect that God would have the same mind-set? If God lacked such punitive concerns, then our preoccupation with law and punitive sanctions would be something displeasing to God. Therefore, if we truly believe in a universalistic God, we should try to model our society after Him and rid ourselves of courts, prisons, fines, and even failing grades.

    8. We need suffering and consequences to become the compassionate, humble, and understanding people God wants us to be. Evidently, consequences for sin are not alien to God’s plan.

    9. Knowing that there are eternal consequences serves as a deterrent against crime and also a motivation to seek God (Acts 17:27).

    10. Knowing that God will eventually right the wrongs that are done gives us the emotional freedom to love others by committing our concerns and longings for ultimate justice to God. We therefore can devote ourselves to love, knowing that God will justly punish. Without experiencing radical victimization, we Westerners have become quite comfortable and fail to appreciate the fact that the imposition of justice brings psychological closure, which enables us to move on.

    11. A God concerned about eternal consequences proclaims that somehow, justice and mercy must coexist. Take a good look at universalism. It provides the affluent, self-indulgent, myopic West with the ultimate in designer gods, one who would tell us, “Live as you like. Far be it from me to interfere with your fulfillments and pleasures. It’ll all be wonderful in the end, however you live.” This fabrication dumps justice in favor of our immediate comforts. How convenient!

    12. The concept of a God-of-justice guards against an entitlement mentality. “Public assistance” is granted as an entitlement—those who receive it are “entitled” to it. Consequently, it damages almost all who touch it. Instead of gratefulness, the recipients become convinced that they deserve it. Universalism conveys the wrong and damaging idea that we are entitled to God’s love. We are no more entitled to God’s love than my cat is entitled to a yearly excursion to the French Riviera. God doesn’t love us because we deserve it, but because He wants to love us.

  • Jo Ann W. Goodson

    To Daniel Mann, I disagree with you completely. The consequence would be life without God’s presence. For me that would be punishment enough. We do not need threats to make us live a moral life as Jesus taught us. What we need to know is that every person born is a child of God, special and unique. Because of God’s great love for us and tender care for us we choose to follow Jesus and our reward is life forever with God. Folks have been beat over the head long enough with the threat of hell. As I stated before Hell for me is not a firey place that we are going to. We are to enable them to know love on this earth now and want to continue in the “forever” life with God.

  • Ted Seeber

    Daniel Mann:
    Catholicism *is* the original universalism Christianity, and you can’t say we don’t have guilt and consequences in our economy of sin. Yes, we were criticized by the reformers for “Selling indulgences”- but even a plenary indulgence *REQUIRES* an outward sign of repentance.

  • Jo Ann,

    Although you disagree with me, I can’t figure out why. I never mentioned one word about the NATURE of the final punishment – whether “fire-filled,” a place of torment or merely separation from God. In fact, as I had written before (response #14), I think that Scripture gives us many indications that the final judgment will be quite nuanced. I even tend to think that God’s ways will prove so incredibly gracious and just that “every knee will bow and every tongue confess” such without argument.

  • Daniel,
    I think you hold a common misunderstanding of universalism. Primarily it is an assumption of no consequences. Nothing could be further from the truth. I would simply qualify that all of God’s consequences are that of a loving Father as opposed to a vindictive judge. They are for our good and with purpose – that we may share in his holiness. I welcome the disciplines of God because they are for my good. I love God because He is good. To put it in another context, I think my relationship with my wife would become extremely rocky if I only sought her company based on punishments I would get if I didn’t.

  • Andrew,

    I certainly respect your perspective and find a lot of validity in it – “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James) – but I don’t think that your insights necessarily negate the need for punishment, whether proactive or passive.

  • Jo Ann W. Goodson

    Punishment by whom? If you are referring to legal punishment for killing someone, etc. yes they should be punished for that crime. Any crime should be legally punished. However, we are discussing God’s punishment. That being the case I think the only punishment that a loving God would “dish out” is sending us away from God’s self. As I stated before, that is as severe punishment as you could possibly have. That is worse than a fiery hell place to go and spend the rest of your life. Do not take things soooo literally. Look more for what Jesus teachings tell us. Only the old testament calls for and eye for an eye. Forgiveness is the way of Jesus. Even in the case of a legal crime and a person is sent to prison, from a Christian point of view they can repent and be with God eternally. No eternal punishment !!!!

  • Jo Ann,

    Once again, I agree with much that you are writing. You say that people can repent and then live eternally. Of course, I agree, but how many people repent of their sins?

    You state that “the only punishment that a loving God would “dish out” is sending us away from God’s self… that is as severe punishment as you could possibly have.” Perhaps you’re right, but eternally, this would still be a “hell!” (However, I’m more inclined to think that even if God acts proactively in this regards, it will be a mutual thing. If we can’t endure His light and truth in this life, we will certainly flee from it in the next: Isaiah 33:14-15 “Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire [God]? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning? He who walks righteously and speaks what is right…”)

    You also assume that forgiveness is just the reality of the OT while wrath belongs to the OT. However, I think you’ll find that there is a profound level of continuity between the two. For instance, Hebrews reads:

    “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:26-29).

  • ABOUT HELL: I think that there is a more fundamental and important consideration for those of us who love Christ and cherish our life in Him. We want assurance that He indeed loves us thoroughly, unequivocally, and permanently (Eph. 3:17-20). Understandably, we want to know that we’re married to One who is the quintessence of love and compassion and doesn’t have a menacing side. We want to be assured that He isn’t Jack-the-Ripper.

    However, we encounter various verses about His wrath and eternal punishment and are deeply troubled by this tension or dissonance. We struggle painfully to reconcile this other revelation with the God we think we know and have become comfortable.

    I’m not claiming that I have the ultimate solution that resolves all the tension, but I think we make a big mistake when we create a user-friendly Jesus by rejecting the troubling verses and deciding that He is actually preaching universalism. Instead, we might have to live with some degree of tension. Abraham did when God tested him by directing him to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering on Mt. Moriah (Gen. 22). We also must deal with Mt. Moriah. Will we reject the Word of God because it’s offensive, or will we continue to struggle for wisdom as we live with the tension? I think that this is the essential question that confronts us throughout the course of our sometimes-uncomfortable relationship with our Savior.

  • Daniel,

    I think you’ve anchored most of your analysis of sin and consequence on one flawed observation. You assumed there are no real consequences to sin, therefore, we must need an eternal spiritual consequence after we die. I disagree. Human religions label certain actions as “sins” precisely because of their real world consequences. If murder and adultery did not create pain in individual lives and destroy harmony in societies, then no religion would have ever declared them to be “sinful”. Through observation, the wise authors of our sacred texts labeled certain actions as sins because of their real consequences, not the other way around. You got it backwards. We avoid sin because we acknowledge these observations and recognize the wisdom in avoiding them. We don’t do it because “big angry God said it was bad and will punish us”.

    A child avoids touching a hot stove because daddy said so, but eventually we hope that child matures and recognizes why daddy said not to touch the hot stove. If an adult avoids hot stoves only because daddy once said not to, that person might have all sorts of paranoia and psychological problems around the kitchen. I think that is exactly what happens in literalistic religions. Religions are filled with people trying to avoid sin out of a feeling of guilt and paranoia rather than a mature rational recognition of the actual consequences of those actions. The behavior of religious fundamentalists struggling with this paranoia is similar in nature to the way schizophrenia patients struggle to cope with reality and are unable to rationally measure the consequences of human actions. That paranoia is what leads people to become suicide bombers, lead deadly crusades, and fear gay marriage.

  • Mike L.

    You maintain that either sin has its consequences here or in the next world. Why not both places?

    Although my life isn’t characterized by avoiding sin because of fear, guilt or shame – it’s a joyful thing to serve my God – yet I think that these feelings are necessary. They’re God’s gifts to maintain human society. They keep the lid on the trash.

  • Ted Seeber

    One of the biggest concepts I struggle with in the reality of free will, is that it contains the freedom to do evil.

    I believe our place as Christians in the scheme of things is to mitigate that evil.

    Having said that, an RCIA director once described hell to me in this way: God gives us the choice to be for him or against him. But he can’t give us that choice forever. Eventually, reluctantly, tearfully, he must let go eternally of those who choose to run away from him. It isn’t his choice to send anybody to hell- it is our own choice to go there.

  • Jo Ann W. Goodson

    I love my bible and love to read and study it but I do not use scripture as “proof text” and do not like others using it as well. It is a real turn off. We are not to take the scriptures as literal, so why the use of verses to beat someone over their head. I to struggle with some verses as anyone else. It is in the struggle that we come to understand the meaning. What is important is that we “get” the meaning. The meaning to each of us may be different but still very valid. Our thinking and pondering about God is just that, concepts. None of us can prove the validity of any of these verses meanings until God explains them later, if God does ever. Our experiences and the experiences of others have proved whether, in action, some verses are valid for us. As you stated, yes there are always consequences to our actions. That cannot be avoided in this life and we must live with that. However, forgiveness brings peace to our lives once again after forgiveness. You, Daniel, are so very hard on yourself and others. You appear to have a list in your head that states, this is wrong and this is right. You like to label people either they are right or wrong, they are going to heaven or not. Well, in my opinion it is up to God to judge and not us. All of us sin everyday of our lives and we cannot escape that, we can only try not to sin. God is love and Grace !!!! Experiencing God now is not going to kill us burn us. However, it will give us more of the capacity to love and show empathy to even a killer. Yes, the killer may be in prison because of their actions but as my dear friend who is chaplain to prisoners will tell you they are worth saving and many are. They are serving their time but they look forward to joining us in heaven. My friend loves more than any person I know. You need to talk with him about hell and let him tell you about the hell we make our fellow humans live in because WE do not forgive. I simply say I beg to disagree with some of what you have presented as fact in the bible. God is still speaking and that changes the way I think about scripture.

  • Jo Ann,

    Evidently, I pushed your buttons (and I pray that I didn’t do this needlessly), but I’d like to point out that it’s you who are judging me: “You appear to have a list in your head that states, this is wrong and this is right. You like to label people either they are right or wrong, they are going to heaven or not.”

    Isn’t it you, Jo Ann, who are labeling me? What did I say that deserves this attack? You think that I am dogmatic. Perhaps so, but if you reread what you have written, you will see that you are equally dogmatic, but perhaps in a different way.

    You claim that you are repelled by “proof-texting,” but aren’t there verses that instruct or comfort you? Would it be wrong for you to point these passages out to others?

  • Jo Ann W. Goodson

    I deeply apologize if I have offended you. It was my intention to simply state my beliefs that God is a God of love, grace and mercy and not a vengeful one. It is not my place to judge you and I have not, simply restated what you wrote. You are right when you say that there are verses that comfort me and also challenge me. However, I do say to folks; there are verses that have given me comfort, would you like for me to share some with you. That is far different from trying to make or stress a point and give a verse, out of context, that appears to reinforce your point of view. Forgive me if my words have offended you in any way. Keep up your good work.

  • Wow. That was a lot of commenting to trudge through. This is a hot topic. Tony, I look forward to your developing thoughts on Universalism in its varied forms, it is something that has piqued my curiosity over the past couple years.

  • In the meantime, I will peruse the posts on Scot McKnight’s blog that you so graciously provided us via the “Jesus Creed” link above.

    For those of you who missed it, it takes us to the place where you can find all of Scot’s recent posts regarding Universalism, so you can read up on what Scot has already been blogged on this subject in the meantime. Nice.

  • Tony,

    Christians with any regard for the Bible have to have some doctrine of election, qualified though it may be. There is simply no way to exegete around it, though I’d be interested to see you try.

    Further, as you should know: Calvinism doesn’t = puppetry, or at least it doesn’t have to. Instead, in it’s healthy manifestations, it seeks to propose the mystery of a world where God’s sovereignty coexists with human agency.

    I appreciate the provocations.


  • Jo Ann,

    Thanks for your apology!

  • JoanieD

    I read the book, The Evangelical Universalist, by Robin Parry (pseudonym: Gregory MacDonald) that Scot McKnight is blogging about. I also commented over at Scot’s blog.

    One thing that Robin does near the end of his book is to give a link to a lot of quotations by Pope John Paul II indicating that the pope believed and taught a Christian Universalism. The link is at:

    For anyone just getting into this whole Universalism idea: be aware that Christian Universalism is NOT the same as Pluralism and is not Unitarian Universalism. Pluralism says that all religions lead to God. Christian Universalism says that it is only through Jesus Christ that we are saved from sin and evil. I am definitely an inclusivist (people who are not Christian can be “saved” by Jesus because they are truly seeking to do the will of God and have not had the chance to hear the Gospel about Jesus) and I am likely a hopeful Christian Universalist and I even lean toward what Robin says he is…a hopeful dogmatic Christian Universalist.

    In the end, God will be “all in all.” It just a disagreement as to whether the evil and evil creatures are annihilated or tormented forever or are reconciled to God. God’s love seeks out his lost sheep until he finds each one. Personally, I like to think about that.

  • JoanieD,

    You wrote: “I am definitely an inclusivist (people who are not Christian can be “saved” by Jesus because they are truly seeking to do the will of God and have not had the chance to hear the Gospel about Jesus).”

    Here’s one problem with this Christian universalistic perspective. It strikes against the very foundation of the Gospel. It over-values human merit while devaluing the grace of Christ. It claims that some are deserving of grace because “they are truly seeking to do the will of God,” whereas the Gospel asserts that none of us are worthy of anything coming from God (Romans 3:10-18; Luke 17:10), nor do we seek Him on our own (John 6:37). This universalism suggests that somehow we can be good enough so that God owes us.

    Instead, salvation is always characterized as a gift granted, not because we deserve it but because God has mercy on us (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:3-5). Besides, this gift is granted in conjunction with faith.

    I too would like to believe that God is going to be far more gracious that He has explicitly indicated. However, it would be presumptuous of us to say that God will give us something He hasn’t explicitly promised. Although I might hope that Fred will grant his employees an end-of-year bonus, it would be hubris to inform my co-workers that this bonus is a done-deal. In fact, by expecting this bonus, Fred’s employees might be encouraged to live in a financially irresponsible way.

  • Daniel,
    But at the end of the day, we can justify any position we like using scripture. You quote that which justifies a position that makes sense to you. Others quote contrary scripture which justifies the position that makes sense for them. In the end, I think the positions we reflect from scripture say a lot more about us then they do about God.

  • JoanieD

    Daniel, I was talking about both Christian Universalism and Inclusivism in my post and they are not the same thing. To read more about Inclusivism and why we can be Christian and have an inclusivist understanding, read:

    Notice just before his Conclusion about some of the “famous” Christians who have had an inclusivist theology.

    And no…Christian Univeralism is not at all about us deserving anything. It is totally about the death and resurrection of Jesus and God drawing all human beings to Himself.

  • JoanieD
    N.T. Wright talks about hell in this short video and at the end he says he wishes he could believe in Universalism, but thinks the decisions we make now are too important for him to be able to do that. I respect him a lot and love his books and his not being a Christian Universalist and C.S. Lewis not being one made me want to be very careful in considering whether Christian Universalism is possible. Yet, in the end, I still think it is possible but if it is not, then I believe God will annihilate evil from the universe, not allowing the tormenting forever of the souls of human beings. There are also reasons to believe that could be the way God handles things. We won’t know until it’s all over!

  • Ted Seeber

    JoanieD- Have you read CS Lewis’ _The Great Divorce_? That’s what convinced me he WAS a Universalist- and I love his updated imagery in that book with Heaven as the City of Light, Hell/Hades as the Country of Darkness and Isolation, and Purgatory as a bus trip that people in Hell can take to visit Heaven and perhaps even stay there.

    The worst, never get on the bus- but that’s because they are afraid of the light. Some of the others, get on the bus, but find Heaven to painful to stay, but may take many bus trips and eventually get used to it. Those who were meant to be in Heaven to begin with- always stay, and for them, Hell was merely a part of purgatory to begin with.

  • JoanieD

    Ted, no, I haven’t read read The Great Divorce, but I should put it on my list of things to read. I think it is near impossible for our minds to conceive of eternity/heaven/hell so folks like Lewis and others portray it metaphorically. I have to say, though, that reading what you write that Lewis does with the heaven/purgatory/ hell thing doesn’t seem to appeal to me, but maybe if I read the whole book, it will make more “sense.” And it’s interesting that with him being an Anglican that he even dealt with purgatory.

    Maybe you are correct and he is a Christian Universalist, but I was thinking he was not. I think there may be some folks who ARE Christian Universalist, but they don’t want to come right out and say it because of what some other Christians will think of them, not understanding how they can come to that belief.

  • Rev. Michael R. Bartley

    I keep getting these emails saying that something new has been posted on Tony Jone’s blog about Universalism. However, as I read the comments what I notice is that nothing new is being said. That is the binary language of christian conversation concerning salvation and damnation is at the center of all the comments that I have read.

    Let me say up front that I expect that the basic reason for this is because we do not begin with an understanding of God when we talk about salvation or damnation but we begin with classic liberal humanism. That is to say, we begin with ourselves. Salvation and damnation are about us in the way that we tell the story.

    However, if we will take a moment and notice the biblical narrative both punishment and reward are not rooted in us but in God’s good intention for creation. It is for this reason the Jewish scholars do not walk with Augustine in his neurotic reading of Genesis 1-3. Jewish scholars understand that punishment is a natural part of a relationship but is not the end of a relationship.

    I explain to my students that punishment is real– isolation from God happens– however, punishment is not the final word. Throughout the entirety of the scripture God ultimatum is met by God’s grace and there is a balancing of the two.

    Think of it this way, “I love going to movies.” However, I hate going to movies in the middle of the day. After two or three hours in the dark theater returning to the light of day is painful to the eyes. Sometimes it takes minutes to adjust and at other times my headache follows me into the evening. Light and darkness do not mix easily. Scripture is filled with images where the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. However, the darkness does not disappear– in the tension light is known because of darkness.

    Punishment/ hell if you like– is the gift of living in the darkness wherein the light begins to penetrate and open up. The promise of scripture is that a day is coming when all will be light.

    What is the purpose of living in the light now– relatedness. The pain of darkness is real, the isolation from God is real. Even when we stand in the midst of God’s light our own darkness can restrain us from witnessing to that light. However, the good news of the gospel is that the darkness does not overcome the light.

    The binary problem of heaven and hell is only a problem when we begin with ourselves. When we being with God the binary problem becomes a unitary witness to God’s intention to redeem his/her creation.

  • Andrew H.,

    Although you’re right that people can interpret Scripture in various ways, this doesn’t mean that all of these interpretations are legitimate. We can also interpret the “60” mph speed limit sign in various ways – as suggestions, as a ball-park figure, as a warning that only pertains to teenagers. However, these varying viewpoints do not dismiss the possibility that there is a correct interpretation.


    Thanks for the links. I’ll check into them.

  • Ted Seeber

    At one time there was ONE correct interpretation of Scripture, ONE tradition, ONE hierarchy, ONE religion.

    But the Reformation attempted to do away with all of that. The logical conclusion of the Five Solas is not universalism, but anarchy- ANYTHING you choose to believe, ANY interpretation of scripture, ANY individual revelation, is correct.

  • Michael Bartley

    Binary conversations die hard for some of us. Ted: show me anywhere in history where this unitary existence of the church took place. As early as Acts the church is not ONE! The hagiography that is required to come up with a unitary reading of Scripture, Tradition, etc. is simply misplaced.

    While I am convinced that the Reformation was not a completely good idea, you cannot with historical honesty say that it was the introduction of division within the body.


  • Ted Seeber

    Michael- you’re right that the Reformation was not the introduction of division in the Body. It was in fact the 9th such division that was considered legitimate.

    But yes- before the schism between East and West, from the time of Christ there had been ONE Church- Upon this Rock of Peter’s Faith, I shall build my Church (singular). Oh, there were heresies, but all Christians agreed on a SINGLE hierarchy of episcopate- Apostles, Patriarchs, Elders (Bishops, Episkopate), Priests, Deacons, Laity. They had pretty much copied this from the structures they already knew in the Jewish temples, slightly different names, but same basic hierarchy.

    Even a majority of the Laity falling into heresy (Arianism) didn’t fracture this unity.

    The first crack was between East and West on the makeup of the trinity. But even that kept the structure up to the Metropolitan Patriarchs; it simply divorced some metropolitians away from others, and did away with the First Among Equals status of the Metropolitan of Rome. The people still had an authority to turn to for the “one true interpretation”- their local ethnic metropolitan.

    The Reformation brought in something new- the idea that *any* interpretation of scripture, by *anybody* right down to the laity, was equal to any other. There can be no heresy under the five solas; only disagreements in interpretation.

    So you’re right that the Reformation was not the first crack. But it was the final legitimization of anarchy in Christianity, and it has taken us 500 years to realize the extent of the damage (well, there is a rumor that Martin Luther himself repented- but I’ve never been able to verify that).

  • Michael Bartley


    I am usually somewhat uncomfortable posting and talking to people I don’t know in the blog world (I guess that means I am old) because so much can be misunderstood and innuendo and sarcasm are so hard to interpret. Let me say upfront. I am a United Methodist Clergy person (44 years of age). I studied at Duke University Divinity School under Dr. Stanley Hauerwas and Geoffrey Wainwright. For the past fifteen years I have been Executive Director of the Wesley Foundation at Oklahoma State and professor/ lecturer in various different field of philosophy, theology and student development.

    Now having introduced myself, let us see if we can dance. If we unitary position you only mean official breaks I am comfortable saying in a very tertiary way that you are correct. However, as I have learned, history is always told from the perspective of the victor. That is to say, the very existence of Arianism, gnosticism etc. . . witnesses to an exist reality wherein history only speaks in the voice of the victor. However, a church made up of only the victor’s story is very problematic because it doesn’t account for the death, murder and sin that it was involved in as she attempt to purify herself. This is the primary problem with modern American protestantism and much of global catholicism– purity requires horrendous evils at the cost of unitary visions.

    Your line of argument reminds me of a work entitled “At the Origins of Modern Atheism.” I think it is interesting to suggest that historic Christianity was unitary– Cyprian– De Lapsis– would not follow this line.

    What I think is faulty in this line is to believe that the global hierarchy existed in the form knowledgeable to the entire world. Some years ago I was living in small villages in Nicaragua. It was during their civil war. I lived with a particular group of Natives who had never voted, been to Manila or heard of Daniel Ortega. I will never forget when the military first came into our village. They were smart enough to know not to come bringing words form the government. They brought food.

    I suspect in our need to have a unitary history we have created a view of the Ancient Church which is simply historically unfaithful. Unfaithful, not because it is a lie, but unfaithful because it doesn’t allow for the witness of the grand diversity of human voices. This is a lesson I learn from Howard Zinn.

    Anarachy– Paul writes that Christ is the Ana-archy of all other archy’s. Put simply Christ is the power that stands against all other powers claiming to be power other than his grace. Let me suggest that one of the problems with this fear of pluralism is precisely that totalitarian, even benevolent Christian totalitarianism, doesn’t take seriously those it has disenfranchised from histories story.


  • Ted Seeber

    Michael- I’m simply a lay Catholic, but an intelligent one. The ONLY reason I’m still Catholic is because I believe in unity- one deposit of faith, from one Jesus Christ, the one Holy and Apostolic Church of the creed.

    Yes, I’d agree that I exhibit a fear of pluralism. But more, it’s a fear of failure.

    I go with the winners in history precisely because they ARE winners- theology, like everything else, is affected by evolution and survival of the fittest. That which most promotes human life from conception until natural death, is what I’m interested in following.

    The disenfranchised, to paraphrase the duality of the Didache- are disenfranchised because they were discovered to be the way of death, not because they were never seriously considered.

    God is not a democracy- and neither is religion. But God is universal- and shows up in many religions. That is mainly due to finite human beings contemplating the infinite. But it is also due to sin, and the wish to sin so badly that one is willing to change the rules rather than admit to them.

  • I have to acknowledge at the outset that I just do not see room for a Universalist view of salvation if the starting point for our soteriology is in fact scripture. I think one of the most compelling New Testament arguments in opposition to the re-surfacing popularity of universalism within mainstream Christianity is Matthew 25:31 -46. Jesus speaks of separating the sheep from the goats. The truth is, and we all know it, that what Jesus did for us on the cross demands a response, a choice. We must either choose to receive the gift of grace that saves and restores us to our full humanity and positions us once again in intimate relationship with God or we deny it (both our need for it and the efficacy of Jesus’ saving work on the cross). Please don’t waste your time bothering with considering universalism in any form. It is not biblical and is at best wishful thinking theology. Further, universalism is equally guilty of making the church lazy in answering the call of Christ in the Great Commission as extreme forms of Calvinism. Both make us slow in answering the call because, if the universalists are right and everybody gets in then why bother with evangelism and if the Calvinists are right and God pre-ordains who gets in why bother as well.

    I addressed this issue in January 2010 more extenseively on my blog: I’d welcome any comments and would be glad to engage in dialogue with anyone on this topic.

    Eli Dorman

  • I think a key element in this misunderstanding is due to a belief that God is vindictive. Even amongst Christians who would proclaim God’s unconditional love, there is usually a follow up of some kind of conditional “but”. Yes God loves you… but….

    Christians get dizzy trying to balance a loving God with one that needs to vent wrath. I think this is often the case of people who truly have experienced the love of God, but were taught that he has this wrathful side that needs to be satiated. They know their experience to be real, yet they have a contrary belief about God that they have not been allowed to question.

    This perception of God forces us back to a conditional love; and since that is what we see “God” modeling, that is the love we give as Christians. It is a hobbled love that is always looking to protect the interests of the self, and therefore can never begin to move toward the goal of truly loving your neighbor – let alone an enemy.

    So then, what does one do with holiness and justice? First I have to ask: Is God in service to these attributes? or are these the attributes that are part and parcel of a God whose very nature is love?

    Often, Christians will state these attributes as if they were conditions that God had to creatively satisfy…. so since someone has to be punished, God punished Jesus. This kind of theology binds the Creator of the universe and makes the loving attribute of forgiveness pointless. God does not forgive anyone, he just takes out his wrath on Jesus. It would be like if I forgave my wife but then slapped my kids -because someone has to pay for the offense against me.

    I think the answer to all of this lies in the metaphor Jesus gives to God – Our Father in Heaven. God reacts as a Father. It is not that Univeralism abandons any thoughts of discipline and justice, rather it assumes that discipline and justice are redemptive rather than vindictive. As the book of Hebrews says “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” There is a point to discipline, it is for our betterment…. God is not balancing the scales to keep some part of himself from going postal.

    My children need never fear me. I correct, train, and discipline them so they will grow up to be responsible and loving human beings. My desire for this is not driven by a need in me, but by a love for them. God’s desire for right behavior and justice flows out of a love for his creation, not a frustration over imperfection. Universalism recognizes that God ALWAYS trusts, ALWAYS hopes, ALWAYS perseveres, and NEVER fails.

    My Christian Universalism is not opposed to justice and holiness. I see them as the outgrowth of a loving Father who desires his children to grow into a loving people… and I believe God has the patience to see his will come to fruition.

  • Jo Ann W. Goodson

    Andrew, I really like your comments. God is all “Love” and “Loving”. God is “ABBA”. In my opinion, everyone in this world is a Child of God. Do we as a family disown our children simply because they do not believe as we do. As for me, I have taught my family what I believe and what they believe is up to them, as adults. God’s kin-dom is here on earth now not just in the future. As one person responded with there use to be only one “book” and intimated that all “truth” was contained therein and we should get back to that. There is still a book, my bible, that I love, read and study. However, for me it is not the only book that God has inspired. My bible is not my idol. It was written by men inspired by God, human men whose hand was not held and manipulated by God. It contains many errors and uses stories not necessarily factual to prove a point. For me, God is still speaking and men and women are sharing their thoughts inspired by God that contains ”new news” hot off the skillet. For me I read the old and new news from God. For me, it is up to each individual to interpret the bible for themselves. That is one of our freedoms that we have fought for and I for one do not want to give it up. These words are my words, thoughts and beliefs based on my studying of the bible and other good books as well as my experiences of God, not something dictated by God.

  • Eli, Universalism does NOT argue that there is not a need to separate the sheep from the goats. Universalism merely argues that *BOTH* the sheep and the goats are given their choice, and are judged by their choice. The goats are offered salvation, but *CHOOSE* not to take it, rather than they don’t exist at all, or worse yet on the opposite side, they’re never offered salvation to begin with.

    Andrew is absolutely correct; justice is as much a part of the unconditional love of God as mercy is. Both are needed.

  • Jo Ann W. Goodson

    Ted Seeber, I think you are absolutely correct in my opinion in both cases. Thanks !!!

  • Calvinism, Arminianism, or Christian Biblical Universalism

    Which view of salvation is true?

    Two good expositions specifically answering that question!



  • Doug Groothuis

    This essay is filled with false dichotomies. The Kingdom of God engages earthly history and eternity: final judgment, the New Heavens and New Earth. We care about all of life because God calls us to tend and develop the creation and to implement the Great Commission, discipling the nations as Christ taught us (Matthew 28:18-20).

    Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). That means that some are lost and need to be redeemed: justified, sanctified, and glorified. There is a great either/or, which one cannot dissolve by negative language about “binary” divisions and fetishes. Attending to matters of history and eternity is what the Lord Jesus Christ calls us to do. There will be a great separation of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). Our works will reveal our faith, and these works concern matters of social betterment: serving the imprisoned and poor. As we do this, we serve Jesus himself, who will one day come and to judge and to redeem what has been saved through his life, death, and resurrection.

    I find no compelling argument in Mr. Jones’ essay–only empty cliches. Great Christians throughout history have kept heaven in mind as they work to bring shalom to the earth.

    • Seriously, Doug, you may be the bloviator. This post is 90% me quoting and linking to another person’s blog. Do you not understand that?

  • John Byrne

    Yes, Tony, you quote others and then say you have “leanings” in that direction. Since you didn’t disagree with the quotes and you hinted that you might agree what are the rest of us to conclude?

  • Doug Groothuis


    You say you “universally love” the posts by Beck. What am I too conclude? If you do not agree, please let me know, and I will direct my comments to what you disagree with.

    By the way, I never called you a “bloviator,” so you are sinking to the ad hominem fallacy.

  • An interesting idea that I’ve heard recently that opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking, is Hell as Mercy instead of Punishment.

    The reasoning closely follows John Paul II’s view of Heaven and Hell as States of Mind rather than Places; and the idea that for the habitual sinner who has turned their entire life and purpose over to sin; it is Heaven that would be Eternal Fire and Damnation. That sin and God are so incredibly incompatible; that God sadly created Hell for a state of mind apart from Him, not to punish, but to allow the sinner eternal life apart from Him.

    Which leads us directly to the question in Matthew 19: So who then can be saved? But that’s what Purgatory, in a truly Katolikos (universal salvation is at the center of Catholicism) system is for- to give us some time after Death to burn away the impurities.

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