The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Credit/Blame for Salvation vs. Grace

Hi Richard

Hope all is well with you.
I agree that perhaps this question might seem rather minor, but it’s bothering me – and has for a while.

Have been rummaging through your site a bit (and wow; you’ve written about lots of things there!!) and found this, from 10-13-2011 titled Universalism, Grace and the Bondage of the Will.

It’s good stuff. And shows so nicely how, yet again, Universalism manages to make sense of the aspects of Arminianism/Calvinism that don’t make sense. For me at least… Being raised Arminian for the most part, as are most of those I interact with, it seems that eternal lostness largely boils down to “free will” in their minds.

So it is then that Salvation becomes, for the Arminian, a matter of choice and choosing. As a Universalist however, I see this as a chink in the armor/point of attack in the matter. For choosing and choice surely must be “works” it seems to me. No, they say, choice is not “a work”. Romans 9:16 they are sure I’ve taken “out of context” and leave that text alone.

Then comes this however – and here’s how you put it in this brief essay:

And I agree, this is a very compelling point. However, (and this is where I drift away from the point you were making) I’d like to make an observation and ask a related question.

If the obvious answer is that I can’t be praised for my choice (and I think it is obvious) then it should logically be equally obvious that neither should I be blamed for my choice.

But that then becomes very awkward doesn’t it? I’ve become (having heard it from the dawn of my time) indoctrinated that it IS “my fault”, that I AM to “blame” and that I AM responsible! So confusion (and having it both ways) on this point becomes almost inevitable doesn’t it?

Therefore, with this as set up, I’d like to ask you what your ideas are on the notion of “blame”. Does this word/concept even belong in the conversation any more in light of our shared belief in Universalism? Can we equate blame with condemnation? – something the bible says explicitly God does not do? Is “blame talk” simply a vestige of our fallen ways of thinking? – God preferring talk of healing and solving and forgiving and recreating and redeeming and so on.


I think this is where the example of Adam comes in. Created perfect, walking with God, living a sinless life - until that day that he chose to be with Eve rather than God. He knowingly took of the fruit to share her fate. We would have fared no better had it been us. We also have had numerous opportunities NOT to sin but have chosen instead to sin even when the truth would have made no real (percieved) difference.
It is God that draws us near to his Son, He is the Author and finisher of our faith, and No ONE comes to the Father except through Christ.
IMO, we have no freewill and the simple fact that eventually, all will be reconciled to God by HIS will (which puny man or the devil himself cannot thwart) Some in this life, some after death, but all ultimately.
As clay pots we are not to question why some are chosen now and the rest are chosen later because we know that not even death can seperate anyone from the love of God and our fair, just loving, merciful God will “make it right” regardless of who we are.

Isn’t that the call of Christianity, to wish ourselves accursed from God that others might be saved? To give up ourselves, even our most precious affection for life - to be like him who became sin that we might live.

Because of my abstract view of the Garden of Eden, I’ve asked this question: Is it sinful for Paul to wish himself cut off from Christ to save others if in fact we’re commanded to love God above all (hate our mothers and fathers)? I don’t think so.

First, so sorry it took so long to respond. It’s been a crazy spring semester.

To your question…

First, I’ve written so much about issues like this over the years I don’t know if I’m working from a settled and coherent view on this topic or if I’ve simply got a lot of ideas that don’t really hang together. All that to say, I can’t guarantee that what I’m about to say makes any sense or that it agrees with anything I’ve written in the past.

But my current hunch about blame is this: praise and blame are about causality. I’m blamed when I am proximately responsible for something bad and praised when I am proximately responsible for doing something good. This much seems obvious and non-controversial. The issues in Christian theology don’t seem preoccupied with this sort of praise or blame. That is, Christian theology recognizes that people do good and bad things and that, insofar as they are responsible for these good and bad things, they are praised and blamed. There are many examples from the bible of this sort of praise and blame.

The critical issue is, then, less about praise and blame than about credit. If I do a good thing do I get credit for that in the eyes of God? Well, what do we mean by that? I certainly believe God praises us when we do good. The issue goes to if our good work somehow compels God to reward us, that our good works would have some power over God, that God would have to submit in some way in the face of our goodness. That notion is decisively rejected in Christian thinking.

Do our good deeds have some sort of power over God? I think that is the critical issue. And I think something similar can be said about blame. Surely God blames us for things we do bad. But do those sins compel God to punish us? I don’t think so. As the bible repeatedly attests: God is not a man and does not treat us as our sins deserve. True, God judges and punishes. But God is in no way compelled to do so and can, if God wants, not punish or stop punishing.

And I think that goes to a lot of the confusion in Christianity, this notion that God must, is compelled, to punish. And that God cannot, ever, relent in that punishment. But this is just an inversion of the issue of good works and credit. If good works have no power over God–do not compel God to reward us–then neither do bad works compel God to punish, let alone punish eternally.

I don’t know if I’ve answered your question. The point I’m making is that praise and blame seem straightforward. The deeper issue is if good and bad deeds have any power over God. Most evangelical Christians believe that good works have no power over God but that bad works do. That is, good works don’t compel God to reward you but bad works compel God to punish you. That asymmetry goes to the root of the problem with a lot of evangelical theology. Basically, that it’s heretical.

Oh yes – very helpful.
It’s a distinction that has vaguely been in mind, but you’ve shone the light of clarity upon it for me. Thanks.

Often the Romans text “The wages of sin is Death” has been quoted to support God’s obligation to punish as if God is beholden to, or compelled by this law to punish. Except Phillips (I think it is) translates this as “SIN pays it’s wage; that wage is Death” which puts a different emphasis on the matter!

God’s only “obligation” then, if we can put it so crudely, is to act upon His lovingkindness; of which, a necessary (sadly so) component is punishment as vehicle of restoration. Not punitive punishment for it’s own sake.

Thanks again Richard!