Great post Glenn.
For now I’ll just make three quick comments.
One, the triangle illustration rocks! Love it. So helpful. It locates both the issues and how the different views relate given their stand on the issues. Great tool that!
Second, there’s some ambiguity regarding the understanding of terms used by theologians and missiologists (I was a missionary for many years) regarding the fate of the unsaved. Glenn takes “exclusivism” to refer to “those who believe that God will not save everybody” and who limit the scope of God’s love. I’ve been out of this particular discussion for some time, but when I was in it the term “exclusivism” was used on different levels to refer to the ‘origin’ or ‘ground’ of salvation, that is, how salvation is ‘provided’ for. And exclusivists where those who argued that salvation is provided for ‘exclusively’ through the person and work of Jesus. It was also used by some (perhaps unhelpfully) to refer to how the salvation that only Christ provides is ‘mediated’, and exclusivists were those who insisted that salvation is mediated ‘exclusively’ through placing faith in the historical Jesus as the object of one’s faith. The salvation that only Jesus provides is only mediated or offered—in terms of faith’s content and object—through the historical Jesus. I think the latter point eventually came to be referred to as “restrictivism,” which said the experience of the salvation that only Jesus provides is restricted to those who hear the gospel, believe in Jesus, etc.
But in either case, “exclusivism” didn’t entail the belief that “God will not save everybody.” Yes, in point of fact, most exclusivists aren’t universalists and so don’t think that eventually all are saved. But it doesn’t follow that one can’t be a universalist and an exclusivist (i.e., believe that salvation is both provided for exclusively in Christ and mediated exclusively through [or restricted to] a critical information mass regarding Jesus, and that eventually all we apprehend the necessary truth about themselves and Christ and so choose).
**Lastly, what if we move the immortality question away FROM properties which inhere in human nature per se TO God’s choice to will the continued existence of some entity or not. I mean, there’s no question that immortality is conditional, even if universalism or ECT (eternal conscious torment) is true, since the continued existence of any created entity is conditioned upon God’s sustaining presence. I’m a universalist, but I don’t think human beings are ‘inherently’ immortal if that means God has irrevocably installed in human beings a kind of mechanism for enduring existence. I rather think that created entities continue to exist (or not) depending upon God’s creative presence willing their continued existence. This moves the immortality question away FROM properties which inhere in human nature per se TO God’s choice to will the continued existence of some entity or not.
My point is that (for me) annihilation becomes possible only if I can imagine a scenario in which God would no longer ‘will’ the continued existence of a human being. And the only scenario in which I can imagine God’s no longer willing the continued existence of a rational creature is that in which a creature irrevocably solidifies into evil so that there literally is no longer any possibility of Godward movement. IF that is an achievable state (and it’s debatable I know), then I’d agree God would annihilate such persons. In fact, their reaching such a state would essentially constitute their ceasing to exist. But personally I don’t think such irrevocable solidification is a possible state of affairs, which was my point here:
Basically, so long as God (as love) is present in his sustaining activity, the possibility of Godward movement remains. God constitutes this possibility. God presence IS the offer of Godward movement. No created entity can will itself out of that sustaining relationship, out of that offer. It’s asymmetrical. Only God can sever it. And so long as God’s presence in sustaining us continues, we are invited to move toward God. It’s not a quality inherent in human nature (in the Platonic sense). To exist at all as created-rational being is to exist as invited by sustaining presence of the free and creative God. So to exist is to have a future with God. So when it comes to annihilation, I ask why would God will to no longer sustain in existence creatures who nevertheless have a future with him? Why would a God of love do that? Wouldn’t a God of love continue to pursue us so long as there was any possibility of winning us?