The Evangelical Universalist Forum

2009 Glenn and Tom dialogue -- gallery comments

Actually, auggy b-d, since I find myself thinking about both subjects a lot, I find there are lots of places of intersection!

Consider the question asked by purists: WHY do we play?

Answer, to WIN the game! The games beauty, or intrigue, or athleticism play only secondary roles. Which then means of course that winning is not even conceivable unless there are ALSO —

— Losers.

And I’ve never ever in my life heard anyone brag “We’re Number TWO!!!” – even if they are still ahead of the other 30 NFL teams (for example) #2 = Loser.

And being a “winner” or a “loser” carries profound baggage with it; ideas of superiority, and domination, and inflated worth – all of which deftly and subtly lend to arrogance and pride.

Yet this is precisely the mindset ingrained into entire cultures – and is easily embraced by traditional articulations of Christianity. Winners get saved to paradise; losers get annihilated or burn in hell forever. So it’s as if winning has no meaning unless there are losers against which they can be contrasted!

Imagine the absurdity of the championship game, say maybe the Superbowl, and “my team” beats your’s 100 to nil. Except at the awards ceremony, not just the losing team joins with the winners on their elevated platform to receive the trophy but so too do all the other 30 teams that didn’t even MAKE it to this big game!

Yet that seems to me precisely the absurdity we Universalists embrace when we hold that with God in control, everyone is a winner. This seems the very absurdity that Jesus was embracing as the workers hired just before quittin’ time ALSO received the full days wage!

Now realistically, I shudder to think how my football team, or my business for that matter, would “perform” on the field if they lived and worked this ethos.

It’s a more perplexing problem than we often admit and, in many ways I think, is at the heart of our fellow Christians rejection of Universalism.

I’m also thinking that this dichotomy is playing a role (perhaps unconsciously) in Dr G P’s assertion that true love really does have “winners & losers.”

Just musing here…


You are correct in drawing out such a strong analogy. Often we see sportsmanship and it means SO much to us for some odd reason. A linebacker takes out the running back with a punishing blow and the RB gets hurt. The LB lends a hand to help him up and when we all see that our hearts for some reason break because it is the good of God in man. Chritian theology has us pinned with threats of blasphemy or heresy that a man is only saved if he says the sinners prayer and if he treats others wrong well, he’ll get in but by the skin of his teeth.

I disagree scripture seems to say you won’t get in by being evil to others. It is imperative that we re-think our theology concerning the Love of God and I can’t thank Thomas, Gregory, Bob Wilson, Joel Green for helping me with that. Had Bob not read Talbott’s work I never would have come to the Jedi.

Interesting note about lucas…Yoda constantly stated “Forever will it dominate you” (regarding the darkside). But in the end He gets saved :slight_smile: If others are talking sports, then I’ll talk Star Wars :slight_smile: Sort of like the Adam and Eve Question on eternal life.


Same here; great comment!

Football (and other sports) to the back burner for a moment since I note Tom’s latest contribution.

I continue to be amazed at Tom’s insight and ability to cut through the underbrush and focus in on the question.
I felt Dr G P’s last post veered off on a kind of tangent; and Tom brings it back to center.

(Bless you Tom, and your wife too in her battle…)

Lets guess that somehow Tom and Dr G P agree to disagree here; ie it really is possible to love someone, wish the best for them, yet “best” for some must be annihilation.

Where does it go from there?

The limits of freedom is my guess. Which should lead to a discussion of how freedom and love are related/connected.


Woot! New material in the discussion to chew on!

Although I think on the balance Glenn has had the better of the discussion so far (largely due to some sloppiness in Tom’s original approach, in a couple of ways), I’ve been somewhat expecting that to shift around once Tom tightened down on his presentation.

And I think Tom is now tightening down on his presentation. And, as I (at least somewhat) expected, Glenn’s having a harder time answering it now:

Both of Glenn’s quotes of Tom are accurate as far as they go, but I don’t think Glenn quoted him far enough.

Actually, it isn’t at all clear to me that person A can love person B while willing intentionally a good for them that is less than the best for them. Or, maybe that’s understandable for the love of a fallen human, but that’s because we’re operating not only under natural limitations but also in some personal discontinuity from God (at least from our side of that relationship).

But be that as it may, if Glenn is going to call attention to an ostensible shift, he ought to be accurate as to the syllogistic claim involved: a person (A) can love person (B) only if (A) is prepared to act in (B)'s best interest.

Is Glenn really prepared to say that to do “good” to some person (in love to that person no less!) is not to act toward the fulfillment of that person’s best interest!? Granted, there may be some debate as to what constitutes ‘the best interest’ for a particular person, along with whether a proposed ‘best interest’ is even possible to work toward fulfilling (and if not whether that is conditionally or absolutely impossible). But those qualifications are very different from stating that, to give an actually scriptural example applied in an early Peanuts strip by Charles Schultz, Charlie Brown and Linus are sufficiently loving Snoopy by walking by him while he’s shivering in the rain and brightly telling him, “Be of good cheer!” “Yes, be of good cheer!”–and then leaving him alone to shiver in the rain.

It might be arguable in a technical sense that they are loving Snoopy by only advising him to be of good cheer while doing nothing more to help him; but is this really the extent of sufficient love that we are taught to accept and apply as Christians!?? If the priest and the levite pray for the ambushed man as they pass him by on the right, is that the illustration of being a good neighbor that Christ intended for His answer to the challenge?!

(It might be answered that Christ Himself passed by various people without doing everything conceivable to help them–even the ones He healed! But universalists, at least, do expect God to fulfill love and justice to all people later if not sooner: a concept of delayed fulfillment hardly foreign to scriptural authors holding to their faith in various adversities and waiting in expectation for salvation, teaching and expecting us to do and to expect the same salvation from own adversities, if not before our death then sometime eventually in the Day of the Lord to come.)

[Note: at this point the forum server temporarily went on the blink, preventing me from reading further for a while. It’s back up now, and fortunately I saved the text of my comment, but I don’t have time at the moment to finish reading Glenn’s entry. I hope to comment further later today when I get around to it. I do want to qualify here that he may address my concerns later in his post, so don’t take this critique too strongly yet.]

So, now that I can come back to commenting on Glenn’s new entry: aside from my prior criticism, I would reply that from a perspective of trinitarian theism, God’s own self-existence (i.e. love, which God essentially is) isn’t “the kind of thing that can come in degrees”. Our love (and our conditional existence), maybe; but we’re supposed to be talking about God’s love when discussing the intention and results of God’s condemnation.

However, while I don’t recommend leaving that topic aside either, I’ll be curious to see what Tom makes of Glenn’s willingness to proceed “on the agreement that love involves willing what is good and not bad for the one you love”. The last time I saw an annihilationist (not Glenn) trying to apply this to annihilation, he ended up having to ‘speculate’ (his own term) that the annihilated person continues existing (‘apart from God’) after the annihilation; so that God would thus not be found to be unloving to the (not really but really but not really) annihilated person.

I’ll be curious to see whether Glenn will go with some variation of the idea that annihilating some sinners is somehow “in their best interests”; or whether he’ll go with the idea that God of course isn’t acting in their best interests (because He doesn’t have to do so but does act according to some other standard in that case), thus actually agreeing with what he parenthetically calls “Talbott’s view” that annihilating them (or otherwise hopelessly punishing them) is not in their best interests. (I’ve seen some indications that Glenn might go either way.)

Glenn’s appeal to the contrast between fearing human enemies and fearing God, has been discussed at least twice on this forum already (including here, most recently); and of course relies on a reading of the Greek behind “everlasting” that most of us will recognize as being debatable as to proper translation for various reasons.

Glenn is certainly welcome to explain how the most immediate context of Tom’s reference (“For all have been shut up into stubbornness, so that God may have mercy to all.”) contrasts the “all” of the second clause to “Israel only”. But it looks to me as though applying that contrast as “For all (in contrast to Israel only) have been shut up into stubbornness, so that God may have mercy to all (in contrast to Israel only)” isn’t going to go very far against the idea that God wills the salvation for all people (in contrast to, for example, Israel only). :wink:

But maybe Glenn meant that the “whole context” of Romans 11 indicates that this verse should be interpreted along the lines of “For all (Israel only, not the Gentiles too) have been shut up into stubbornness, so that God may show mercy to all (not Israel only).” I’m doubtful the “whole context” of Romans 11 (not to say the whole context of Romans, period) points to such an interpretation, but perhaps he thinks a case can be made. (Whereas, I would certainly agree that the “whole context” of Romans 11 leads to the reult I previously mentioned–but then, “all” would after all mean “all” there. :wink: )

I suggest that if we think we’ve discovered a rule, but then we think we find a laundry list of exceptions, we might be mistaken in thinking we had discovered a rule–or we might be mistaken in thinking we had found exceptions. And it might make a principle difference, how central the rule we think we’ve discovered is to the coherency of the theology we otherwise profess to be true: the consequence being that if we suspect we are mistaken about the rule, but its importance to the coherency of the theology holds, then we should reconsider whether the more fundamental theological position is true. But if we’re exceedingly sure the more fundamental theological position is true, then we’re back to checking whether the apparent laundry list of exceptions are really exceptions after all. (Or, alternately, we may have to conclude that the data doesn’t provide a coherent system of belief after all in any direction.)

This is aside from noting that Tom could have provided more apparently specific examples than he chose to reference, too. Just as Glenn could have provided more apparently broad examples for his position. Had that happened instead, with Glenn trying to thus establish the overarching principle, how far would he be prepared to countenance the existence of apparent specific testimony as a counter that he was probably mistaken in thinking he had discovered a rule?

Context cuts in a lot of different ways, potentially and actually. Which is why I keep rescinding back to a purportedly shared overarching theology: if we agree (do we??) that trinitarian theism is metaphysically sound (and superior to alternatives), and that moreover its doctrinal set is testified to by special revelation, then why not proceed accordingly thereby?–checking which subsidary options (and soteriology must be subsidary to the ontological characteristics of God, whatever they are) are coherent with those overarching principles, or even derive directly (and exclusively?) as a corollary to those principles, and which options are incoherent with those principles.

Good assessment, Jason.

One of these days, I’ve got to get around to reading your full argument for trinitarian theism. I think I’ll understand some of your comments much better if I do. (The other reason is that I’m also highly interested in the reasoning behind why you think that trin-theism provides the strongest theistic arrangement for universalism.)

I’m not sure my full argument is actually available anywhere yet! :laughing: There are dozens and dozens of topics to consider.

I’m slowly (verrrrrrryyyy slowly) working my way through those topics in (what I hope anyway!) is a logically progressing fashion, over in my BSM series. But I’m a very long ways yet from arriving even at theism (much moreso supernatural theism, much moreso ortho-trin.)

I do try to put a lot of the congruent principles in my comments, though.

(Also, I have a thread on the topic with a lot of discussion about why I think ortho-trin is important for universalism here.)

It seems like one could make a case that annihilating someone is in their best interest. It would need to be along the lines of ‘mercy killing’ or euthanasia. Or perhaps removing life support would be more accurate. Or maybe more like an unviable fetus that never enters into life. I wonder what Glenn would say to those ideas.

I find myself disagreeing with Glenn’s definitions of what it means to love God and love our neighbor when he writes:

No, I don’t think that ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ means to regard each other as equals. I would say it has nothing to do with position–and Jesus makes it clear that there is position in the kingdom–but it’s an injunction to love as much as we are able in our current imperfect state. In other words, there should be no limit to the amount of love we bear to others, and our willingness to take action on that love.

I also would not say that loving God is equivalent to ‘worshiping’ (depending on one’s definition of worship), or making declarations about God, or even serving God. Though our love may well result in those things, it is also possible to perform those things without love.


Great reply from Tom again, btw!

He didn’t go quite the direction I was expecting in replying to the “destroy body and soul in hades”–but his direction is certainly complementary with the contextual analyses I would have appealed to! Also, I don’t think I noticed those details before, myself!–cool! :smiley:

Still, while that observation of the breadth of meaning is potentially important, context should be adduced, too. Overlapping for the win! :laughing:

I’m thankful to Glenn for engaging a tough audience. But I fear that he asserts the Reformer’s view that God chooses not to love, transform, or rescue people from damnation (except with some specfic exceptions). The interesting alternative that those God determines not to so love would be annihilated, instead of given continued suffering, seems less perverse. But I can’t see how it helps with the real problem: affirming the kind of character that would exalt a concept of a God who refuses to truly love many of his enemies, His blind and lost offspring!

This position sounds like the partiality and condemnation toward sinners held by the religionists that Jesus scorned. I hope Glenn explains that I am hearing him wrong, and can meaningfully affirm that “God is love.” But for me, concluding that the Bible only offers the (false?) “impression that God intends what is best for people,” or in light of a hidden decree refuses to love all impartially, seems a severe price for God-lovers to pay.

Agreed. On both points. :slight_smile:

Yeah, for a while I was hoping he’d at least go the route exemplified by Lewis, where even if there is eternal conscious torment, or even annihilation, God is still acting to love the condemned as much as He possibly can. But his last exchange particularly seems to be setting up for a position of ‘God doesn’t really love those people. Not them. They’re, y’know, sinners! Not like… … … uh… like the people He saves. Like me or whoever.’

I think Auggy has mentioned before that, despite accusing universalists of working on the presumption that people can’t really be so bad that God would hopelessly condemn them (and I’ve admittedly seen universalists go that route), there is sometimes evidence of those same non-universalists acting on that exact same presumption instead–even Calvinists who of all people one would have thought would think otherwise: God shows mercy to these people BECAUSE they aren’t as ‘evil’ as those other people but are ‘better’ people instead.

I have an increasing suspicion we’ll see Glenn making this appeal, at least tacitly, as he goes along.

Glenn brings new clarity to where he and Talbott differ, but reinforces my fears of Nov. 28. He appears to assume that if a person does anything beneficent, it is reasonable to say that he is a “loving” person. Thus it would follow that a parent who gave his child a meal, and then slaughtered him, would “love” him. In saying that the Bible insists that “if my child rejects my Lord,” then he can NOT remain in my love, he evidences a different meaning for an enduring “love” than would be apparent to many. It reminds me of the posted John Piper article on Calvinism declaring that if he finds that God did not choose to make his children among the elect, he would praise God. Many would choke on that rationale. It seems obvious that if nothing intrinsically kept God from seeking what is “best” for everyone, then to claim that he loves them even if he chooses to instead obliterate them, is contrary to the reasonable use of language.

Glenn asserts that God does not “genuinely desire” the best for some people, and has NOT “chosen to eternally save” them, but “withdraws Himself” based on nothing in their character or wickedness. YETif God allows them any percent of beneficense, such as rain, then it would be “lacking in rationale” to say that God is less than “loving.” This strikes me as biazarrely rejecting the shared mode of thinking that most human beings would find persuasive. If a human father never “genuinely desired” to rescue his children from annihilation, who would think we need more “rationale” to doubt that he loves them?

This rejection of normal thinking, logic, and definitions makes it wise for Glenn to then emphasize that his conclusion hangs solely on the overwhelming certainty of his exegetical interpretation of revelation about annihilation (“the evidence for annihilationism is as strong as the claim that God intends to save anyone at all”). And that offers the promise of a fascinating dialogue

Glenn wrote:

Frankly, I find this statement ridiculous. God’s love is anything but a ‘passive force’–it is active, as shown by Christ, who is the visual revelation of God to us, always doing what the Father does. “God demonstrates his own love towards us in that Christ died for us.”

It is incoherent to conclude that because God loves everyone his love is therefore a “passive force.”

To bring it down to earth: I have 6 kids. I love each of them enough to be highly opposed to the idea of any one of them ceasing to exist. I love them all equally, in a sense–I would not say I love any one of them more than any other. At the same time, my love towards them expresses differently because they are individuals. They each need my love in different ways.


I may be wrong about this but I struggle with Glenns inductive approach. He seems to reason that rather than starting with the love of God, he starts with the actions of God.



We all have our starting points and Glenn’s rendering of God’s actions are as subjective as Tom’s on God’s character. Romans 9 is premium on this point. For Calvinists, God hardens people unto hatred. For Tom God hardens to have mercy. For Glenn, God destroys Sodom which proves he does not love them. For Tom God restores Sodom which proves he does love them. So Glenn interprets God’s actions as an act of hatred, Tom interprets God’s action as being consistent with loving them. If Tom were to assume that God’s action of Esau is unto hatred then he obviously finds this to be very much at odds (contradiction) with God wanting all men to come to a knowledge of the truth and unto repentance. So Glenn’s approach to God’s action of desiring all men to be saved is obliterated by his rendering of how he preceives what God does (which very well may be wrong).

I hardly think that there is some technique that can bring anyone to objective grounds for interpreting scripture. We all see things from a certain perspective. The real connundrum is making it all work together. And God loving his enemies and showing favoritism is a hard sell for people of reason.

Just to be clear, Glenn said afterward that he didn’t accept this.

But I agree (I haven’t gotten around to commenting on this round yet), Glenn seems to be under the impression that if God’s love is active instead of passive then there must be a distinction of a non-universalistic sort (instead of a distinction of a universalistic sort–a sort like the one you mentioned, Sonia, in regard to your own children) between God’s love for John Lost and God’s love for Mary Saved.

Without going into a more in-depth commentary at this time, I will point out that I still don’t see any substantial connection between Glenn’s position and orthodox trinitarian theism; and I think that this is making a difference once again in how he goes about considering the issue in principle. Including in his reticence about interpreting data (where multiple interpretations may be grammatically and exegetically possible–as I think he has admitted is sometimes the case) according to some overarching principle.

Which I think he can be demonstrated to be doing anyway, his reticence about doing so notwithstanding. :wink:

But at this point it might be easier to show this by going to the exegesis. My strategic concern, from Tom’s side, is whether he has prepared enough ground to do so.

Anyway, more in-depth comments later, I hope. :slight_smile:

Thanks for helping clarify my post–I wasn’t very clear. What I was trying to object to was his reasoning that if God loves everyone ‘equally’ the necessary result would be that God’s love is reduced to a passive force.


It will be interesting to see how Glenn’s exegesis comes into this. His case apparently rests on it, because I cannot find anything ultimately compelling in his arguments so far.

I going to keep silent on this board and just watch this discussion take place! I love stuff like this!

Sorry all for my passionate posts and quick judgments on people.

It is this discussion (the Dialogue) which why I originally came here!

Let me just be blunt and say that I’m a wee bit disappointed in the direction this discussion has taken. It seems inevitable that we will disagree on details of all sorts of things. But it seems ever clearer that the fundamental disagreement here is on the very basic definition of “LOVE” itself!!

If anything is allowed God under the rubric of “love” then isn’t it obvious that love means nothing? A word that can mean everything means, instead, nothing.

If anything and everything simply gets swept under this great shroud of “love” then why even bother discussing it?

Of course I realize that the majority of Christian theology does define God’s love in ways that allow Him to excuse ECT. (or less often, annihilation) So we have an idea of love which, at the same time, is to motivate the giving of a cup of water to the thirsty, yet ALSO motivates ECT??? Sorry, but to me that is self-evidently absurd.

Which means, and this is why I find myself chagrined at this discussion, what we are seeing here means the discussion is almost over. Yet Bob Wilson enthuses that, once this dilemma is dispensed with, there is

I really hope you are right Bob. But if they get into the textual analysis and their underlying definition of what motivates/animates God’s actions (ie Love) differs so fundamentally, I’m not sure how they get anywhere meaningful.

What am I missing??