Critical review of "The Evangelical Universalist" - Part 4


My friend (although he is passionately anti-EU) Joe (you’ve probably come across things from him before that I’ve commented on) has read the The Evangelical Universalist twice (he is an intense person in everything he does :slight_smile: ) and has posted an in depth, critical review on his blog :neutral_face:

Part 4 - The reconciliation of all things to God: Universalism and the theology of Colossians


When I split the topic it stuffed up the ordering so I’ve had to delete your post and quote it here instead.

Thanks heaps Bob! It was a relief to see your post this morning :slight_smile:


I posted this under this section of his review:

I am a conservative, evangelical Christian (42 years) who has been looking at evangelical universalism for a while now. There are so many verses in the bible to deal with, as well as many major themes, theological concepts, God’s revelation of His own character, and scriptural patterns that ignoring it became impossible to me. Colossians chapter one has been poorly dealt with by evangelicals, to say the least. The commentaries that I have read have been embarrassing in their treatment. It typically comes to this in a nutshell, “Now it looks like it teaches universalism, but since we know that there is no universalism in the faith, it can’t be what Paul meant. All things clearly doesn’t mean all things.” It is telling that so many feel it necessary to point out that it seems like it teaches universalism.

In Colossians, Jesus is supreme in “all things”. “All things” happen to mean “all things” in this text – it simply can’t be read any other way. Jesus reconciled (or is reconciling)“all things”. It is the same “all things” that has been spoken about several times in chapter 1. This reconciliation is through the blood on the cross and it makes peace. The words “reconcile” “blood” and “peace” add up to mean a reconciliation that is salvific.

For the time being, I’m just going to deal with the human aspect of “all things”. For we must agree that all humans are part of the “all things” of Colossians chpt. 1. Also, Paul tells us what the nature of that reconciliation is in the next few verses with peace, blood, and cross. Just in case we aren’t sure what type of reconciliation is being talked about, Paul says so very specifically when he says this:

“And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach–if indeed you continue in the faith firmly”

He tells us that the reconciliation takes an “alienated”, “hostile” and “engaged in evil deeds” person and makes them “holy and blameless and beyond reproach”. I think we can be fairly safe in saying that Paul was talking about salvation here. Especially since he goes on to describe them as being “in the faith”.

Now, you show me just one person who is eternally in hell (notice I didn’t say there wouldn’t be people in hell - hell is very real) and I’ll show you a person who has not been reconciled in the way that Paul is speaking. God is not at peace with everyone yet, as far as I can see, but according to Colossians, He will be, otherwise Paul wouldn’t have used “all” in a way that clearly meant all. There is no context that Paul is speaking in here where he allows a reconciled person to be hostile toward God for eternity for we see them being reconciled via Christ.

No matter how inconvenient it may be to our traditional theology, Paul makes very clear, straightforward, unambiguous statements about the salvation of everyone. It is simply there and every explanation I have heard to date against it has been done completely despite the clear teaching of the text. We are not letting the scripture speak for itself. We evangelicals seem to want it both ways. When speaking with JW’s we claim that the “all things” is “all things”, not “all other things” as they teach in their NWT version of the bible. We say scripture is clear and means what it says. Then, when we run into texts that are contrary to our theology, we suddenly change the rules and start interpreting the scriptures like JW’s. We need to let scripture interpret scripture, not matter how inconvenient it may be. It’s time to take another look at hell and the hell texts and see what we may have been getting wrong and how it is dishonoring to God as he has revealed himself.


Thanks Chris! :smiley:


I’ve reposted twice now as it keeps disappearing on his comment section. The third time I divided into 2 parts. Lets see if it stays this time.


Joe, thanks for your responses!

A. You deny 1:20’s “reconcile” can be salvific since it’s past tense, and we see some, like Satan, still lack “peace & perfection.” But DO we see already “the god of this world” as in your sense ‘reconciled’ (“disarmed” etc 2:15) as he yet will be? Isn’t insisting 1:20’s victory be apparent now as problematic for your definition as for the standard definition?

B. You repeat: God can’t save all because (1) He “triumphs” over them, and (2) 1:20 has no ‘evidence’ of their salvation. On #1, I argued that the Opposite is Biblical: no one can be saved who’s not subjected to Christ as Head! Spiritual ‘warfare’ need not be unredemptive. I PTL for his “triumph” in us. #2 seems circular: Why isn’t the burden of “evidence” on those who deny the normal salvific meaning in “the blood of the cross reconciled All”?

C. You assert: Final universal ‘worship’ means those who remain in rebellion (forced to sing praises?). But that contradicts the consistent Biblical “worship” in Spirit that God’s glory seeks and deserves.

Footnote: You previously redefined ‘reconcile’ as limited to Genesis 1’s ‘division’ between good and evil. That seems to (1) water down and twist the word’s etymological meaning, and (2) Unbiblically limit Jesus to restoring the original creation’s tension and chaos. The original ‘good’ that you say ‘reconciliation’ restores had Satan loose to wreak havoc! And arguing: Since even David did not classsically reconcile his enemies, Jesus can’t, also turns the Testaments upside down. Hebrews says the point of the New is to make the old obsolete. Indeed, Jesus’ approach to his enemies is very different from David, who as a man of war is not even allowed to build God’s House. So limiting Jesus full victory to the Old Covenant’s debacle seems to me diminishing and unBiblical.


Joe said this to me:

***Hi Bob (cc Chris)

You asked re. Col 1:20: “Why does this count against salvific reconciliation?”

Reason 1:

Because it has already happened (Col 1:20 is past tense). Therefore, if reconciliation is salvific then all things must now be saved to God. But clearly unbelievers and evil spirits are not now saved to God. The Bible says they’re not. Therefore the universal reconciliation must describe something different. It cannot be salvific.

MacDonald tries to get around this enormously astronomical problem with his reading by almost sneaking around it. He does this by discussing “realised eschatology” (p. 50-52) and bringing up 1:20 in that context and just in passing.

But he totally misunderstands that by admitting that he puts Col 1:20 in this class alongside those things that he calls ‘realised eschatology’, he has therefore confessed to an interpretation, by consequence of consistency, that must maintain that in fact right now everything in heaven and on earth has a right standing before God (salvific peace from justification). And so he (unknowingly?) stands himself on the horrible ground of believing in an interpretation that has God right now crediting Satan with the perfection of Christ!!! This is contrary to Scripture, to say the very least.

Reason 2: (Why reconciliation in Col 1:20 is not salvific cont.)
Because the evidence contradicts the notion that this reconciliation is universally salvific. As reconciliation does not need to be salvific, therefore universal salvific reconciliation is an assumption. Though there is evidence that it is salvific for some, there is also evidence that it is not salvific for others. Within Colossians there is no evidence that it is salvific for the “rulers and authorities” or “unbelievers”, but what there is in Colossians regarding them is evidence that the reconciliation of “rulers and authorities” is very unsalvific: rather than them being saved, he triumphs over them. In addition, external to Colossians, Paul certainly gives evidence, as do other NT authors, that the evil “spiritual powers in the heavenly realm” will not be saved. And in addition again, there is consistently a complete absence of any external direct positive evidence that evil spirits will be saved, here or anywhere in the Bible.

Chris, also I should add the following paragraph to the above:

“The peace effected by the death of Christ may be freely accepted or it may be imposed willy-nilly. This reconciliation of the universe includes what would otherwise be distinguished as pacification. The principalities and powers whose conquest is described in Col. 2:15 are certainly not depicted as gladly surrendering to divine grace but as being compelled to submit to a power which they are unable to resist. Everything in the universe has been subjected to Christ even as everything was created for him. By his reconciling work “the host of the high ones on high” (Isa 24:21) and sinful human beings on earth have been decisively subdued to the will of God and ultimately they can but subserve his purpose, whether they please or not. It is the Father’s good pleasure that all “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” shall unite to bow the knee at Jesus’ name and to acknowledge him as Lord (Phil. 2:10-11).”

(F. F. Bruce commentary on Colossians (Eerdmans))


I’m thinking about replying with this, but I haven’t made up my mind:

Since others here have addressed your point about Paul’s reconciliation (being NOT about salvation since it was past tense) I’m going to refrain from comment, because I think my argument still stands quite strong since I am only saying what the scripture is really clearly saying. I do want to point out that I think you have been making a mistake that Jehovah’s Witnesses often make, and that is saying that a verse says “such and such” a thing because the obvious thing that is does say doesn’t fit your theology.

I debated a JW years ago and we were discussing John 20:28, where Thomas says, “My Lord and my God!” to Jesus. The JW’s often argued that although Jesus was called theos (god) in John 1:1, he was never called “ho theos” (the god)with the definite article, which they say is reserved only for Jehovah. In John 20:28 you know that Jesus was called literally “the lord of me and the god of me”, he was called “ho theos” by Thomas. The JW told me that even though it seemed like Jesus was being called God, Thomas was actually looking to heaven when he said, “my god”, therefore he addressed Jesus as lord and the father as god. Of course there is no evidence that he did this, especially since the text said that Thomas explicitly said it to Jesus.

My point is that the obvious was being overlooked because it didn’t fit his theology. He then appealed to other verses in the bible, like John 17:3 where the father is called the “only true god”. He told me that Jesus obviously could not have been “god” since other scriptures clearly show him not to be. This is what you are doing with this passage, Joe. I believe that if the passage were defending the historical, mainline position that you would say that the wording (reconciliation, blood, peace, cross, faith) was crystal clear and was clearly talking about salvation, because it is. This is not my opinion, it is what the text is saying in its own words. I’m not accusing you of being dishonest, I just have learned that we wear theological glasses when we read the bible, which cause us to miss things that run contrary to what we think is true. Everybody does and I’m no different. My only advantage here is that I come from a tradition of 40+ years of being a conservative evangelical, but after months of study I’m seeing the scriptures through 2 sets of glasses - conservative evangelical/conservative universalist, instead of just one. Since I haven’t fully resolved my position on this, I can look at both sets of glasses from the outside for the first time.

As much as we would like to believe that we let the scriptures speak for themselves, we are all guilty of interpreting them because they happen to be composed of words that require it. As much as we think that we are the ones that are being true to the text, our theological glasses affect our opinions about it.


What do you folks think, is it too aggressive or does it seem too be arrogant to post?


It seems perfectly friendly and reasonable to me.


For information: Joe has responded to Chris and I on his own site that he will be too busy for at least six weeks to offer the responses that he would like. I hope that then he will be able to engage the arguments we presented. But I observe that I have found exceptions very rare when I’ve presented a Biblical case to those who have proclaimed and published traditional views. Repeatedly they regretfully express that they’ve run out of time to engage Biblical rationales (a rare exception here, albeit a non-traditional universalist, is Aaron, who extensively clarified views on which he and I differed). Since I tend to respond when I believe my view is most Biblical, and not to give the last word to a view I truly contest, I’m left skeptical by how often traditionalists often cut off the dialog, or just say that though their view doesn’t seem reasonably defensible, that in effect should not count against just believing it because it is the dominant tradition.


It’s really weird, Bob, looking at his argument. He believes he is being more “biblical” and that he is the one “letting the text speak for itself” and yet he is staring at a few verses that have these words in common (reconcile, blood, peace, cross, faith); where Paul is explicitly speaking of salvation, and he is saying that salvation is NOT there. It’s just very weird. Saying that since the passage is past tense it can’t be about salvation just ignores so much of the scripture.


See below


I understand your frustration. Why can’t they commit to 5 minutes a day? Or 5 every other day? It makes me suspicious.
How do ECTers believe that the cross will be involved in ECT? Doesn’t the COlossians verse speak of the cross as the agent of reconciliation? I want to hear how they indeed handle this, just as I need to hear universalists deal with aionios…


I’m fairly certain Joe will continue for my sake. Also given he has read the book twice now, he will probably want to post the other 4 or 5 parts of his review!

He was recently promoted to CEO of his company and his wife is pregnant with their 4th, so he is legitimately busy.

It’s another matter if he will change his mind about EU anytime soon. I certainly hope and pray he will, not only for his sake but as it would be a great challenge to my church (as my ministers have huge respect for Joe)!


Joe seems up to the challenge, though I don’t see anything coming of it. He is so entrenched in his view that he can’t even see that he is breaking his own rules of interpretation to maintain that view. As a result he is taking the square peg of Colossians 1 and is trying to force it into a round hole of his theology.