The Question Never Asked
Truth, when it’s found, has the nature of dispelling ambiguities, of eliminating tensions. Harmony, unity, accord, agreement, conformity, etc. are derivatives of truth. The closer we get to the truth of a subject, the more intense our clarity of understanding becomes. Ambiguity dissolves.
The salvation of all, if it is true, should be able to solve tensions in traditional views of salvation. As long as the dialog surrounding the salvation of all is confined to popular hermeneutics or interpretive standards, truth will not win the day. Seems to me (on theology boards anyway) that the proponents of universalism have only succeeded in supplying a competing third view of salvation using the same expositional format Calvinists and Arminians use, e.g., present passages which support that view, and build a case accordingly. Nothing wrong with this per se, but if this structure doesn’t erase tensions (and it has failed to do so between Calvinist and Arminian theology for over 400 years now), what is gained?
The problem as I see it is thus;
- The salvation of all by Christ Jesus’ atonement begins (as do most or all spiritual/moral concepts in the Bible) in the literal, but moves to the allegorical for substantiation.
- Most of modern Christianity generally has low regard for allegory and many will not entertain allegorical or esoteric clarification which goes beyond orthodoxy. (Meaning “orthodox” in the 'general not formal sense.)
As to #1, I don’t expect anyone to take my word; if the thread develops, I’ll present a case in support of this.
As to #2, suggesting that the salvation of all can be proven allegorically is immediately dismissed by most opponents with various levels of disdain. Most non-universalists refuse to discuss this possibility further. Even those who engage in discussion usually only do so briefly, then revert to the same arguments as other traditionalists: (You’re changing God’s plain, literal word by making up meaning that isn’t there!; The context of Scripture clearly refutes your ideas!; God intends only one meaning in His inspired author’s words, only those in league with Satan would try to change the pure word of Scripture, etc.) Even most Christian universalists back quietly out of the discussion at this point and go back to arguing in the same literalist vein as traditionalists. This is understandable, since most universalists, including me, come from a traditional Christian background. We’re trained, many of us from youth, to argue from ‘within the system’.
The bigger problem is, I’ve never once heard anyone on theology boards, universalist or traditionalist, ask the truly pertinent question:
“What criteria can we use to determine whether an allegorical Bible interpretation might be true?”
Never. Not once. Most simply accept that allegory is ‘spiritualizing’ and make believe, or carries little or no weight in arguments. There’s no reason to ask how it might actually be tested to see if it’s true because it’s already clear God’s word is being manipulated to say what the allegorist wants it to say. As is typical of most religious discussion, objective truth is not really very important. What’s important is that my truth finds warrant in my mind.
The proper answer to the question is really simple: Any allegorical method should be able to pass the same objective criteria of truth as any other interpretation of the Bible.
The real rub is that tradition has long ago stopped using truth criteria to test the validity of its own doctrines. Calvinists don’t care about the passages which suggest the human will has a role in salvation, and Arminians don’t care that the Bible lists many passages on salvation which point up God’s sovereignty. Now bring in a competing soteriology, universalism, and it will invariably be judged false, not by any objective truth criteria, but by whatever the doctrine happens to be of the non-universalist opponent of the moment. All can’t be saved because the Bible (MY DOCTRINE) says that some are not saved. Those passages you use to show that all will be saved are taken out of context (NOT PROPERLY MODIFIED BY MY DOCTRINE) so they are not valid.
Obviously, the problem is that in the eyes of most traditionalists—at least 98% of those who debate on message boards—their doctrine is to them the same as truth. Therefore, doctrine is the proper standard by which to judge universalism. This is circular—your view can’t be right because it contradicts mine, and mine is true.
Allegory should be able to withstand the same truth tests as the literal, e.g., congruity, harmony, non-contradiction, coherency, etc.
Example: In every passage in which salvation is referenced or alluded to in the Bible in a comparison between two classes of individuals (saved and unsaved) or states of affairs, popular literal interpretive structure maintains the meaning of these verses as applicable to classes of individuals.
Tensions are resolved when it’s understood that God superimposes meaning over and above the authors’ intended meaning (violating a fundamental tenet of evangelical hermeneutics), the truth of which is then found in allegorical structure.
The Universalist contends that all are saved. The traditionalist points to any number of passages which seem to refute the idea: For example, Mat 7:13-14, Luke 13:23-27, Mat 25:32-46, Mat 13:24-30, etc. These tensions are erased in the proper allegorical structure. Metaphorically, sheep and goats, wheat and tares, narrow and wide gate represent conditions found *within each individual *or, in the case of verses like Mat 7:13-14, conditions which allude to distinct classes of individuals. Narrow and wide gate reference these states and the paths each leads to…e.g., evil components are directed to the wide gate [destruction] and good find the narrow gate [life]. Hence the mystery of inner regeneration or sanctification is metaphorically revealed, where bad is destroyed eternally [eternality takes the form of permanence of evil’s eviction from the soul of each person] from the essence of an individual. In keeping with the death and resurrection principle of core Christianity, good is reborn in place of the destroyed evil (metaphorically represented in the Bible by the OT references to the ‘bringing forth of offspring’).
When God’s judgment in Scripture is transferred from the individual to components within each individual, tensions dissolve in the Universalist position and now arise in traditional doctrine. How can God destroy, separate from Himself or condemn an individual in which some good exists? God can never destroy good, which is in harmony with His own essence. Evil stands in total opposition to God’s essence and nature and must be destroyed.
The question remains, can this allegorical model pass the tests of truth? I believe so, with flying colors. The separation of evil from good is harmoniously, congruously present in both Testaments, is coherent in that it simultaneously satisfies both Godly justice and wrath in the form of destruction and rebirth, resolving tensions imposed by the idea that different classes apply to individual human beings. Notice that both eternal hell and annihilation are laid to rest by what I might call ‘allegorical transference’: when the destruction the annihilationist demands is moved from individual to components of the individual, annihilation becomes merely a tool of God (part of the regenerational process) used in the salvation of every soul.