Conference Elective "Responding to the New [E] Universalism"


Thanks for clarifying. I agree that Jesus and the Gospel is of primary importance & therefore we should focus on them. That was one of the reasons I recently borrowed John Dickson’s Promoting the Gospel from dad, so once I’ve read that, I might need to revise what I’m going to say here :smiley:

I’m guessing most orthodox descriptions of the Gospel I would agree with, however I’ll try to describe it off the top of my head for you (I’m not sure how helpful my answer was the other night after the 5 hours of conference!).

Most simply the Gospel is the good news from God. However, I believe it can be unpacked in a number of ways:

  1. it’s good news about what God has done in the past:
    a) in predestining us
    b) in creating a good creation in relationship to Himself
    c) His perseverance with humanity throughout the OT
    d) His promises/covenants to them
    e) His gift of the Spirit so that we can slowly regenerate & learn to obey Him

  2. it’s good news particularly about Christ because:
    a) through Him our relationship was restored
    b) through Him the curse of Adam was broken
    c) through Him death was defeated
    d) through Him we receive forgiveness
    e) through Him we see the loving Father

  3. it’s good news about the future:
    a) we receive everlasting life in the intimate, sustaining presence of God
    b) judgement will occur, justice will happen - all things will be put right
    c) there will be the kind of peace currently only found within the Trinity
    d) there will be no more sadness, no more sin, no more rebellion
    e) God will finally receive the loving praise & honor He deserves

The more I dwell upon it the more things I can think of, but hopefully that’s enough for now to ease your concern.


I can’t find anywhere where Robin says that there’s no pure retribution? In fact on the same page as above

, Parry"]Divine judgments in the present age are usually [not always!] seen as reformative and educative (Heb 12:5-11; Tit 2:11-12; Rev 3:19; 1 Cor 11:29-32), though they are occasionally destructive (Acts 5:1-11).

  1. some (many?) EUs do hold PSA.

  2. PSA hasn’t been & still isn’t the only view of the Cross and the atonement - for example, obviously Eastern Orthodoxy doesn’t think “profound damage” has been done & they still can “make sense” of the cross - they’d probably think PSA has done “profound damage”.

  3. I’m still trying to figure out what’s true/false regarding PSA, so I won’t comment further on this for now.

  4. Very tentatively there are a few passages (eg. Heb 2:10, 5:9, 7:28) that might suggest Jesus gained something from His suffering - although that opens a can of worms!

  5. Could we say, “Jesus’ punishment was unique for a number of reasons (e.g. undeserved, unresisted, non-educative, non-restorative), therefore we shouldn’t apply it to anyone else because everyone deserves it, resists it, and is educated/restored by it” or “Sure, it can be purely retributive for awhile but because God is loving no one ever stays in purely retributive punishment.”?


I think thinking about how we deserve God’s wrath is helpful in that it should keep us humble, bring us to repentance, compel us to seek God’s help, & praise Him for His grace. However I think it should make us see that we need fixing and they need fixing, that ECT wouldn’t solve anything.

I think the idea that “maybe we’re too close” doesn’t work at all, because God is far closer to everyone than we are, and also cares far more for them than we do.


Personally I’ve never understood, even before I was a Universalist, how anyone - me, my folks, the guy down the road or Charlie Manson - could possibly “deserve ECT”. The traditional Anselmian explanation - any sin against an infinite God deserves infinite punishment - is a logically fallacious joke, in my opinion. It’s the emperor’s new clothes of damnation theology.

And the minute you discount *that *explanation, you’ve got a nigh on impossible task on your hands in trying to explain just *why *exactly we human beings, born in original sin, or with a sin nature, or whatever you want to call it, and utterly powerless to save ourselves, as the Bible avers, ‘deserve ECT’. This is the simple argument of the atheist, and I for one have never heard a good reponse to it - which is, I guess, one reason why coming to accept the truth of EU was such an empowering and liberating experience for me. At last, I thought, I can stop trying to force myself to believe something my heart, mind and soul all tell me isn’t true. :smiley:




I think none of us deserve God’s love (do we deserve anyone’s love? e.g. I don’t deserve my wife’s love, although I’m very grateful for it) and therefore in one sense we should be surprised by His love and that we don’t end up annihilated or in ECT. However, I don’t think ECT is glorifying to God (it would contain sinners thwarting His will forever!), nor I do think ECT is compatible with the revelation that God is the loving Father, nor do I see how ECT achieves any uniquely good purpose (He can demonstrate His power, justice, etc. without it) or solves anything for anyone (it’s utterly hopeless & pointless).


The main purpose of the book wasn’t to criticise Calvinism, much less Calvin. When Robin deals with Calvinism, does he misrepresent them? He could’ve easily have quoted Calvin, but what difference would that have made? (Who we trust theologically is circular i.e. in the same way Fred would want to be careful endorsing the theologians Robin quotes, I’d be want to be careful endorsing Calvin!)

Part of the problem for people like Fred is that TEU doesn’t sound like it was written by a Calvinist - it’s not quoting Calvin or even using his vocabulary (e.g. TEU doesn’t explicitly mention “bondage of the will”, “regeneration”, “depravity”, “confessions/catechisms”). That doesn’t worry me, but given these people see Calvin as almost as important as St. Paul, I can understand why they’re upset. Also I think the assumption is that if you don’t mention the above explicitly, you must be denying them. This is unfortunate because whilst we don’t always go quite as far as Calvin, nevertheless we do affirm most of these things. For example, I think this is a discussion of the bondage of the will:

, Parry"]The universalist could easily believe that sin so corrupts humans that nobody would or could accept the gospel without divine assistance. Indeed, that is what I do believe. … It also has to be said that arguably some theologians overplay human hostility to God. Humanity was made for relationship with God and cannot be complete apart from such a relationship. The spiritual longing this creates is a hunger for the true God even if sin stops us from seeing this clearly. Within all people there is a latent awareness of and hunger for God.
In hindsight I probably should’ve given Fred The One Purpose of God by the Dutch Reformed pastor Jan Bonda, as he quotes Calvin, etc.


Wow, Alex, that’s really interesting! Thanks for taking the time to write all that out. I think it’d have been hard to sit through all of that and not want to give a defense. His thoughts and responses to Parry’s book seem very normal and not at all the final word on where he’ll be after he processes it a bit more. It is interesting to think about what he says as I can be so far removed I no longer can even remember having these questions, though I’m sure I did.

Here’s a few of my initial thoughts to some of the things he said.

  1. We need a more nuanced view of the love of God? He recognizes that his view doesn’t square well with the one most of us know. I appreciate that he is affirming our view of the love of God is different. He is right on that we have a high view of the love of God and what glorifies Him, to reconcile all things. Paul doesn’t have a problem with destruction because he understands the purpose is to have mercy.

  2. Regeneration takes a re-education of the will? Could some of the difference in understanding be semantics?

  3. This guy is sharp! He realizes some of the ideas go against his PSA. It does do profound damage to his view of the cross. His view no longer makes sense of the cross, but he assumes it’s the only way to understand the cross? I’d say, based on what he says toward the end, that he’s overwhelmed with the amount of re-thinking of things he’d have to do to consider all these ideas. His opinion is these ideas are better left couched because they rock the boat too much, create problems for Christians that will think it’s too difficult to grasp all this stuff. It’s almost as if he thinks we can just shove this stuff to the back of our minds, pretend it never happened! :confused: (Edit: It’s great that he shows such openness to even addressing his thoughts of the book in this seminar and sees a need to respond, as you mention later, to the questions presented by the culture. He wants to stick to understanding the text. You can’t go wrong there. And, he wants to stick to the good news. Neither of these are in opposition to EU so it looks like you, Alex, are sitting pretty. :slight_smile: )

  4. Can’t judgement be decisive in that it does exactly what it is designed to do, restore people? In order to be decisive, it has to be endless torment? Seems like he is just asserting, again, what he is comfortable with, the view he has always had.

  5. We do believe in hell, just not his version of it. Again, if we don’t have his version, then nothing makes sense? I don’t see a whole lot of explanation for this, other than that it’s because it makes the most sense to him and is what he has always believed. He says we miss the glory of God. It’s hard not to feel the same about his view that misses God accomplishing reconciling all things.

I completely agree with him that this could totally change the way we read our bible - for the good, of course! :wink: It seems like this is what bothers him the most. It shakes up too much of what he has traditionally understood. Who can blame him? It really, really does. For me, it felt like the rug was being pulled out from underneath me.


Alex, most people, here, haven’t read The Evangelical Universalist. There are no seminars on this topic. Did you have something to do with this person reading the book and preparing this seminar? I wouldn’t be surprised if Tasmania and Australia become full of people with hope in EU because of your passion and devotion to asking the questions. :slight_smile:


Great work, Special Agent Smith. Your gracious, patient dialogue with the presbyterian church leaders is bearing fruit. If I can just pick up on the point above. I just read an interesting article by James Gould in the Anglican Theological Review (91.3) which argues that God’s saving grace is unearned but NOT undeserved. It is a well written article which engages intelligently with Calvinism and evangelical universalism. Here’s a quote:

I agree with you that Bonda may be an easier book for Calvinists to read, as he uses their jargon, even though they will find his conclusions uncomfortable.


I’m delighted to hear you found it really interesting. It was hard when people had objections that I felt I could’ve answered, and particularly painful when Fred some made incorrect statements about EUs (I assume they were misunderstandings so I will email him to attempt to set the record books straight - although the frustration is now two dozen other people have some wrong ideas about EU & obviously there no easy way to fix that). I certainly pray Fred continues to process it, however he’s very heavily invested in Calvinism, so it would probably require Carson to convert and write a book supporting EU :wink:

I certainly think that’s a large part of the issue here.

I’ve known him since primary school & he’s always been bright. I agree that it was good of him to read TEU & discuss it to some degree, although I’m not sure how I feel about being in his crosshairs… (It can “damage” PSA, although it doesn’t have too)

I’m still thinking this one through - I also know Robin’s written about it somewhere, I just haven’t found it yet!

He did offer some explanation on a whiteboard - but if anything, I think this point actually supports EU. i.e. the reason the Bible doesn’t paint heaven & hell as equals is because hell won’t always exist. No matter how nice a non-EU paints the New Creation, it won’t be in utopia if there’s a pit of “nuclear waste” in the backyard - with the continuous sound of screaming loved ones and the stench of burning flesh coming from it :confused:

I should hope that everyone on this forum has read at least TEU, if not that and Talbott’s The Inescapable Love of God :stuck_out_tongue: I used to have a lot to do with Fred, he was one of my best friends for about 20 years, sadly not so much since I became an EU :frowning: I certainly hope that EU takes off in Tasmania and Australia, as I think it would remove some obstacles to Christianity, be more God honoring (not saying you have to be an EU to be God honoring - it’s just I think EU is closer to the truth & therefore more honoring), and fill Christians with more joy.


:laughing: I hope it’s bearing some good fruit rather than turning the entire inter-church network against me.

Interesting… I agree that we absolutely need salvation but I don’t understand why that would imply that we deserve it? :confused: Do you have a URL for the article?

I’m thinking about lending it to one of the Reformed pastors but I’m a little nervous as I’ve only read a few pages of it so don’t know if there’s anything in it I’d disagree with.


I’ve written to James Gould asking for a link or pdf for the article (have copied you in on my email to him). The alternative is to get a copy of the journal from ATR but that costs 15$ plus postage.
Basically, if I’ve understood James’ argument correctly, it is that God, by creating us in such a way that “salvation is necessary for our ultimate completion as spiritual beings” has voluntarily taken on the obligation to make that salvation available to us. As an analogy, he talks about the obligations we take on when we bring our own children into the world. We are not talking about clay pots here. Towards the end of the article he briefly evaluates the universalist implications of his argument and comes out as a hopeful universalist, but not convinced based on Jerry Walls’ definition of these terms.


Hi Drew (good to hear your cyber voice :smiley: ), hi Alex

I composed a new thread post on this very subject offlinet this morning and posted it up without realising you had already started to discuss it here. Perhaps you might want to join in there …




Sorry to take to so long to post on this Alex, but how exciting that some Christians are brave enough to even really approach the issue, even if they stand in opposition. Hat’s off to Fred.

I agree that Paul does not have trouble with some being made for destruction because for Paul that’s not eternal hell fire. Instead he argues in Romans 9-11 that those who were hardened (Esau) were hardened that they too might receive mercy.

Regarding God punishing to correct - see Lev 26. If we say God was working in the midst of our rebellion preparing us and drawing us, then are we implying we require no regeneration? I don’t think so. To argue otherwise would mean when we become regenerated we continue in our rebellion against God – this is not reformed theology. Part of our repentance is our learning that we’re in the wrong – that is education. And repentance happens because of regeneration which allows us to accept grace. Fred has simply set up a false dichotomy – either it’s educative or it’s regenerative – logically it can be both.

Fred is confusing to say the least regarding his connection that our realization for divine mercy is in contradiction to penal substitutionary atonement. Even if God’s wrath is corrective (again see Lev 26) that doesn’t mean that Jesus can’t absorb that. Simply because Jesus didn’t need correcting, doesn’t mean he can’t absorb someone’s wrath. It seems to me Fred thus must conclude that God’s wrath CAN NEVER BE CORRECTIVE.

On point 4 –To argue otherwise is to say God loves us but doesn’t value us and that would be unbiblical. We have worth but not because we perform (for we’re unrighteous) but because he is full of love. The extent of the punishment Talbott and Parry have raised is really an objection to the reformed false understanding of justice – to balance the scales.

Judgment day is decisive but it doesn’t mean God is restricted from acting. If God should choose to have mercy to those he’s consigned to hell, he can and according to Paul in Romans 9 – not one Calvinist can complain and call God a liar. Calvinists would be forced to commit to their misunderstanding of the mystery of how God could consign someone to eternal hell and yet still reserve the right to save them from that very infinite hell – he’s God and he has mercy on whom he pleases WHEN HE PLEASES.

On election and free-will- I tend to think they’re both true. God has elected mankind (Adam/Christ) and will see it through but he’s also working in and through our choices just as he did with Joesph’s brothers selling him into slavery.

I’ll stop there although I’m with Fred on D.


Alex, I meant that most people in the U.S.A haven’t read TEU or The Inescapeable Love of God. (I’m reading through Talbott’s book again and appreciating it as much as the first time.) For this reason, there aren’t many, if any, seminars going on of this kind. I think it’s so impressive that they even had a seminar, even as I am critical of some of their conclusions. Very sad about Fred being one of your best friends for 20 years and no much since you came to believe in EU. :frowning: My belief in EU has also been a stumbling block in my relationship with a few of my former close friends. For the ones I have left, I’m trying to be discerning about what I say. I’ve decided to try and come in the back door. :wink:


I think this just goes to show how very difficult it truly is to overcome our presuppositions, prejudices and traditions in order to see the truth: Our plausibility structure in other words, as discussed in Josh Walter’s post here in his current series on universalism and its lack of acceptance: … grace.html


Thanks, although don’t worry about it if it’s going to cost anything.

Thanks for the clarification. I’ll respond on Johnny’s new thread :slight_smile:

No probs - good point about them being courageous in tackling EU, not because we’re scary but because it’s easier to ignore than to engage/confront.

Thanks for pointing out Lev 26, it uses full-on language but makes a strong point. I agree that we need both regeneration & re-education.

In his defense it’s possible my notes/summary aren’t clear enough. However, I agree that it’s perfectly possible for Jesus to “take in on the chin” without it correcting anything about Him.

I agree that our primary worth comes from being the objects of God’s love.

Good point.

I agree.

How would you answer, “Why didn’t Jesus talk about UR?”

Ah, that makes more sense :stuck_out_tongue: I started reading TILoG again but stopped once I heard the 2nd edition was in the pipeline i.e. I’ll read that once it’s out (it will probably be next year now, as Talbott keeps getting distracted speaking at conferences & the like :wink:). Hopefully more will read the books now Hellbound is creating more awareness of the issues & authors. I think (hope!) I’m learning to be patient and more sensitive in my discussions.

I agree.


I’m awfully busy on other projects, so…

Just wanted y’all to know I was following along in lurky mode. :slight_smile:



Jesus never talked about every knee bowing and every tongue confessing either but that’s hardly evidence that he didn’t believe it. We build these things from other sources. There’s no proof Jesus spoke of the rapture. But perhaps the most important one is that Jesus never explicitly states that we are saved by grace and not by works. If anything he tends to endorse that our behavior matters - don’t forgive and you won’t be forgiven. But we know we’re saved by grace because God spoke through Paul. And so Paul also demonstrates and reveals God’s masterful way of dealing with the lost - he hardens that they will turn and repent.

But most important to me is the notion that we are loved even while we are his enemies. That God so loved the worthless means we can count on him saving us - “for if while were were God’s enemies he reconciled us to himself through the death of his son, then how much more having been reconciled shall we be saved.” - I believe he reconciled ALL (Col 1) to himself. And if those reconciled while they were enemies, how much more shall they be saved?


Great reply Gene - I’ll use that when replying to Fred :slight_smile: