I believe this is about to be broadcast live at thegospelcoalition.org/conferences/2011-media
I’ve been praying for Don Carson this morning, so let’s see what he’s got to say.
I believe this is about to be broadcast live at thegospelcoalition.org/conferences/2011-media
Rob Bell's Love Wins
Well I listened to it all and made some notes. Carson made one or two good points which gave me food for thought but overall I was very disappointed with him. Apart from some general points about what some universalists believe, he did not engage at all with the kind of universalism which is discussed on this forum. He made a number of cheap and easy criticisms which anybody here could easily refute. Having said at the start that it was not just about Rob Bell, Love Wins was the only book he made specific points against. Some of his main points against universalism seemed pretty confused and biblically unconvincing and he even made the odd wild accusation of blasphemy.
e.g. 1. His main point seemed to be that the Bible describes the love of God in many different ways - providential, intratrinitarian, yearning, particularising, conditional - and what universalists (meaning Rob Bell) have done is absolutised one of these, God’s yearning love. This according to Carson is horrible exegesis and diminishes the doctrine of God.
e.g. 2. He asserted that in doctrinal history universalism is a late distortion which started with 19th century liberalism. He dismissed Origen as not belonging to the Christian Tradition any more than Arius or the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The following Q&A panel was a complete farce, with Kevin DeYoung teeing up the questions that each panel member wanted to answer. Some of their answers were really weak and self-defeating but nobody questioned them.
If a transcript becomes available, maybe we can start a discussion thread.
Thanks Rev; I couldn’t listen to the live broadcast, so I hope a transcript (or recording?) is posted up somewhere eventually. (The Gospel Coalition guys themselves would be the most likely candidates for doing so, I guess.)
I recall them saying they would take questions from the audience. You don’t mention this. Did that happen? Or if not, is there any indication the broadcast ended before the session had ended?
No Jason, no Qs from the audience as such. On the programme it said you could tweet questions in. Kevin DeYoung asked the Qs of the other panel members and seemed to be reading one or two of them from his cellphone. I can see downloads are posted for some of the talks - including the later morning session - but I can’t see any links or downloads for the universalism session yet. The whole session was broadcast, including KDY’s closing prayer for any who might be wavering or going soft on this issue to get some backbone and resist this terrible heresy. Honestly…
Thanks heaps for keeping us updated on this, and I hope there’s a transcript, although I’m extremely disappointed that after all the fuss and accusations they didn’t even have a fair discussion on the matter. I guess I should’ve guessed that Carson would just be pushing the fractured view of love he pushes in his books. I hope people see through it.
More positively, Robin has been invited to be on a panel on universalism at ETS in November!
OK here’s the mp3 of Don Carson’s talk. It ends before the panel Q&A. tgc-audio.s3.amazonaws.com/2011-conference/sessioncarson_lovewins.mp3
Here’s a separate mp3 of the Q&A tgc-audio.s3.amazonaws.com/2011-conference/sessionpanel_lovewins.mp3
And here is Jonathan Parnell’s summary of the whole session. desiringgod.org/blog/posts/god-abounding-in-love-punishing-the-guilty
I moved the above posts over here as I suspect people hadn’t noticed them where they were.
That’s really not going to help the discussion
I’m working on a full transcript. Should finish it tonight.
Thanks, you’re a legend
A friend of mine sent me the link to Carson’s talk, so I listened to it, and thought I’d share my response:
Well, it’s a nice theological-sounding talk which defends his religion. Biblically, though, it definitely leaves me dissatisfied…
Generally speaking, it’s difficult for me to take seriously an argument that seems to go, “this must be false because it threatens my delicately-balanced system of religious beliefs.” He also seems to equate “wrath” (or “wroth,” as he says) to “eternal torment in hell.” I mean, what’s with the title—“Grace abounding in love and punishing the guilty”? Every evangelical universalist (EU) (“evangelical” means they base their universalism on the Bible) believes that. But the Bible’s also clear that “punishment” is to the end of repenting. For example, Ps 66:10-12, Jer. 32:37-39, Zep. 3:8-9, 1Ti. 1:19b-20, 1Co. 5:4-5, Pr. 3:11-12, Heb 12:5-11, Ps. 119:67, 71, Ps. 107:10-13, 119:75, Job 5:17-18. God’s wrath MUST have a loving purpose—he is not two-sided. Speaking of love, where did he get his 5 senses of “love” used in the Bible? Those are misleading, unnecessary, and ultimately false. The only one that is consistent with the witness of the Bible is the “Intratrinitarian” love or whatever. The only thing that keeps him from seeing this (and why he’s forced to squeeze the biblical statements on love into these 5 artificial categories) is his presupposition that the only way to view God’s wrath is that people MUST remain in hell forever. But the Bible teaches that Jesus has died for all people (2 Cor 5:14, among many many others) making us sinless in God’s sight (2 Cor 5:21), so the only way for God to view us is through his perfect love that sees us all as we could be in Christ. So, let me briefly explain how intratrinitarian love fits each of his categories.
1 Rain falling on the just and unjust (Matt 5:43-48)—because of Jesus’ work, God truly loves all, even his enemies. Therefore, we have to do the same thing, loving all regardless of what their attitude toward us may be. If God just kinda vaguely loved his enemies, NO ONE would be saved, because Jesus would never have come and taken our sin and died for us. That’s the intratrinitarian love at its best!
3 yearning, inviting, passionate way (as in Hosea) – this is the expression of intratrinitarian love toward those who haven’t yet repented / turned towards him.
4 particularizing way—electing some, and refusing others (as in Deut 7 & 10, Eph 1)—But why does he elect some? To be the firstfruits that guarantee the full harvest (Romans 11:25-32, 36). Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated—so that “the fullness of the Gentiles comes in” then “all Israel will be saved”–THAT’S God’s promise and goal.
5 conditioned by our obedience – covenantal or familial sense. No, not “conditioned,” but obedience opens us to experience that love. It’s not a totally different kind of love, but our response to his intratrinitarian love puts us in the trajectory of his covenant blessings.
Specific questions or concerns I have about what he said:
Where did he get his 5 (or so) points about what universalists believe? I haven’t heard of any EU who says that “everyone in the world is savingly loved by God and is already reconciled to God” (Carson’s point #1). Point #2 is false, because he substitutes “God” for “Christ.” It should be, “People of other religions will find their way to CHRIST eventually,” which then of course leads to God. #3 is wrong, because EUs believe what the Bible says about all people being shut up in sin, all having sinned through Adam, etc. He seems to want to argue against a New-Age-type liberal pluralism instead of dealing with the biblical evidence for EU.
About the atonement: he says the point to having “models of atonement” is to integrate them and not choose just one—but then he chooses just the penal substitution model! So the rule doesn’t apply to him, I guess. Also, the idea that you “can’t see the spectacular love of God until you see His spectacular wrath” smacks of a dualistic heresy, that you need to enshrine the results of evil (that is, sin and death) in hell forever in order to appreciate God’s love. Really? Does God need sin and death to exist forever? What about all the places in the Bible which talk about his ending death?
The “Christian tradition” is NOT the “Western tradition,” or else there’d be NO Christian tradition. Does he think Jesus, Paul, Augustine, et al were Europeans or Americans? And then, to say Origen wasn’t Christian because he was a heretic (including, in Carson’s mind, being a universalist) is circular reasoning. If all universalists are heretics because of their universalism, and heretics aren’t part of the Christian tradition, then of course you’ll never find universalism in the Christian tradition! Very tidy, Dr Carson. Origen was a bishop in the church, for crying out loud–how is that not part of the Christian tradition?
FINALLY he addresses some “universalist” passages, but disappointingly spends just a few minutes throwing unsupported assertions at them before dismissing them.
–2 Cor 5:18 (really, should be 19): he says, “‘world’ means everyone without distinction, not exception” –therefore, salvation extends to Jews and Greeks. I wish there were ANY MENTION of Jews and Gentiles in chapters 4, 5, or 6! This has nothing to do with the discussion in 2 Cor 5. (I’m actually doing a study that goes in-depth to this chapter to see what’s really being taught here—I’ll probably end up posting that on facebook in a couple weeks). Neither is there anything about anger or wrath. I really get the feeling he’s grasping at straws to worm out of the clear meaning of this passage.
–Rom 5:18: he says the point of this is drawing the distinction between “two humanities” – one in Adam, one in Christ. Um, again, NO, it clearly says that whoever died in Adam is made alive in Christ. One group of people, wrecked by Adam, healed by Christ—not two groups.
–John 12:32: Again, there is NOTHING in the passage about that would lead one to think that Jesus is just saying that Gentiles will somehow eventually come to him, as well. In fact, verse 31 clearly says that judgment coming on the earth has to do with the prince of the world being driven out, which would then clear the way for “all men” to come to Jesus. Plus, he didn’t address the fact that the Greek word for “draw” is more literally “drag.” This whole situation is like grasping at non-existent straws or something.
–I don’t really think the parable of the Prodigal son teaches explicit universalism, so I won’t argue with him here.
–Rev 21:5 (Which actually says ‘He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true,”’ which by itself is a pretty strong statement for universal reconciliation): he starts talking about the fact that the “gates of Jerusalem are never shut”. I guess he means verse 25. Interestingly, the verse right before that says that the “kings of the nations” (exact same phrase describes those who drank of Babylon’s adulteries and who made war against the Rider on the white horse in the previous chapters) bring their splendor into the city. So there are in fact people whose names were NOT written in the Lamb’s book of life who do get to enter the city somehow. Hardly a clear passage to support or disprove EU.
–Parable of the rich man and Lazarus: apparently, it’s okay to cite the fact that Abraham sees a large chasm between him and the rich man, but we can totally ignore the fact that the poor man got to “Abraham’s bosom” (avoiding eternal torment in hell, apparently) with absolutely NO faith in Christ? IF we want to use this parable to teach literal doctrine, we MUST BE consistent and note that faith in Christ is NOT necessary to avoid eternal torment. In fact, it’s not even important. Now, I’ll agree that there is nothing in the Bible which specifically says that people in hell will ever repent, or will want to. This is actually one of the big problems with Christian universalism. But then he says about people in hell, “They never want to stop being ‘God’ themselves.” There is nothing in the Bible to support this, either! We have to figure out a biblical way to get from God sentencing people to eternal punishment/discipline, and then to all people worshiping Jesus (Phil 2:9-11), God being all in all (1 Cor 15:28), all things being from, through and to God (Rom 11:36), etc.
Which leads to one of the most ironic things about his talk: his plea not to diminish or demean the sacrifice of Christ. But the fact that Jesus fails in his mission (to save the world) DOES NOT demean Christ’s sacrifice? If Dr Carson believes that God’s wrath remains on some people forever, then Jesus DID NOT actually satisfy the wrath of God—but this doesn’t demean Christ’s sacrifice? I mean, did Jesus deal with God’s wrath, or not? Either we’re all guilty and we all must be punished (eternally or not—God knows what’s just), OR Christ died for all, and therefore all died. OR, I just remembered perhaps another option, Christ has to spend eternity in hell to satisfy God’s wrath (if eternal punishment is what we deserve).
Here are some additional quotes I ran across today that may or may not have to do with this:
“The problem here is that the cross of Christ — on the penal substitutionary view of atonement— perfectly displays God’s justice and mercy. So, in fact, God can perfectly display the glory of his justice and wrath in creation (on the cross) without the need to send anyone to hell…
Now, I may be mistaken but it seems to me that the only hope of making a doctrine of penal substitution plausible is to make a case for some kind of strong ontological union between Christ and human sinners. Christ is ontologically identified with sinners in some strongly realist sense (the details of which I will leave to others). So when Christ suffers in our place he is not innocent. He may have been sinless but, through union with sinners, he “became sin for us.” So I would imagine that the suffering of Christ must have “the right kind of [ontological] connection”… or penal substitution would not work at all. So why is the cross not sufficient?”
So yeah, his talk leaves me with a lot of questions, and if that’s the best that a smart Bible-teaching professor can come up with to argue against EU, then I’m thinking the case against EU is pretty weak indeed.
Blessings to you, bro!
Carson’s gone too far by calling Bell blasphemous. Too far.
Here’s a pdf of my transcript of Don Carson’s talk. I hope to do the same for the Q&A panel mp3 in the next couple of days. Enjoy!
Don Carson Grace abounding in love and punishing the guilty 14 April 2011 TGC.pdf (85.3 KB)
Brilliant post NealF. I spotted some of the same weaknesses in Don Carson’s argument and more. Well said my friend!
Actually its not just Bell who is accused of blasphemy, I think most of us are in there too…
Here’s what Don said word for word:
*I have to say this, to my mind its the most painful part of this business. The handling of the
atonement itself inmost discussions of universalists is deeply manipulative. And I say it with
respect, I say it with brokenness … but it is blasphemous. You just have to say it. You simply
cannot talk about the cross in such slighting, denunciatory, cheapening, belittling ways.
I’m calling my lawyer!
“The king won the war, and even his enemies defected to his side!”
“HOW DARE YOU SPEAK ILL OF THE KING! THAT’S TREASON! YOU TRAITOR!”
It is great to have the leading Evangelicals of our time having to critiquing Universalism.
People will see how weak the arguments are against it.
I feel like I’m living through ground-hog day. As I had these exact arguments
with my former pastor, before I resigned from membership of my former church.
It feels like my own personal journey is now being played out on a much larger scale.
My Pastor kept using the same argument, saying that Christ’s saving work is nullified
by believing that where sin abounds, grace super-abounds.
But you only see the weakness of the arguments if the person is actually arguing against Evangelical Universalism, which most folks aren’t doing! I keep seeing them put out liberal universalism and then knock it down while all the Christians say AMEN! It’s really frustrating.
Thank you revdrew!
I agree much of the time orthodox Christians use the classic straw-man of arguing against inclusive universalism rather than exclusive universalism or CU.
How’s this for a novel idea, if they want to understand the position, ask one of the clearer defenders of EU (e.g. Talbott, Parry, DeRose or Pratt) to explain it?! At least half the people on this site could have explained it to them. I’m delighted they felt the need to address it, but so many points miss the mark because they’re shooting at the wrong target!
I agree Alex, but it seems they don’t want to understand the position. What I think they want is to ensure none of their own followers DARE to stray off message. I could say more but I’m trying hard to be restrained and charitable. The Q&A transcript should be completed tonight.