The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Explaining how the Trinity leads to Universalism (to a 10yo?

Jason to make sure I actually grasp the basic concepts first, please explain how the Trinity leads to Universalism, as if you were talking to a 10 year old. For example, you’re only “allowed” to use the space of this composer box (i.e. 15 lines by my count). Once I’m confident I understand the basics, I’ll let you flesh it out some more :mrgreen:

Other people please feel free to comment/clarify, but I’m particularly interested in understanding Jason’s reasoning, so that I can try to explain it to Luke.

Yeesh, wouldn’t this require explaining the Trinity to a 10yo first???

(Crap… only 13 lines left… I mean 11! :mrgreen: Okay rebooting the count…)

The one single thing which causes all things to exist, and to keep on existing, is an active love between persons. Not a feeling, not an opinion or even only a thought, but an always ongoing chosen action.

With us, two or three persons gathered together are two or three things living inside something that isn’t us. But God is three persons as one single personal thing Who doesn’t live inside or under or next to anything else. One of those Persons is God always causing Himself to exist; we call that Person the Father. And another Person is God always caused by God to exist; we call that Person the Son. And that’s always the first and foremost action of God: to actively live for always.

But this always-living is always a choice to love one another, in fair togetherness. The Father loves the Son and gives everything to the Son. The Son always chooses to love the Father, submitting Himself to the Father rather than going apart from the Father, and gives back everything to the Father. And the first thing the Father and the Son are always giving to one another, beyond giving Themselves to each other, is also a Person of God, the Holy Spirit. That’s why we say that the Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and also the Spirit of the Son; and that’s why we say the Spirit is a different Person from the Father or the Son while still being one God with them. (That’s also why most of us say the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, not only from the Father.)

That’s the Trinity in 14 lines, not counting paragraph breaks, for a 10 year old. :slight_smile: We haven’t gotten to creation or ethics yet, much less to salvation from sin. But if there are disagreements here, there are going to be related disagreements later, and those disagreements will have a bearing on differing soteriologies (logics of salvation).

Part 2: Creation

The Father and the Son are not only giving themselves to one another for always, but they are already always giving another Person Who is God to each other (the Holy Spirit). While they don’t have to give more to each other, if they choose to do so they will have to give what is not God to each other. But nothing exists above or beside them that is not God. So they have to create what is not God if they choose to give something not God to each other.

The Son already always chooses to submit to the Father in love. In order for God to create what is not God, the Son chooses to submit Himself in a different way. God thus acts in a way different from always living in a self-generating way. God also now acts in a not-self-generating way, while still acting in a self-generating way. The Son is still faithful to the Father yet acts to sacrifice Himself in a way different from the way the Son is always sacrificing Himself in submitting to the Father.

God sacrifices His own action, in a way, so that something not-God will also exist. First that’s a system of not-God nature. It isn’t a person (or not yet anyway), but it provides a place for not-God persons to live. Then, as the Father always gives life to the Son, and the Son always submits His life to the Father, so that God may always live, the Father and the Son, by means of the Spirit they are always giving to one another, raise parts of Nature to life.

And they give some of those living not-God parts of Nature the gift of a spirit. And that’s how persons are created, like you and me, who aren’t God.

(Creation in 14-1/2 lines, not counting paragraph breaks. :smiley: Ethics next.)

Part 3: Ethics

God, the Father and the Son and the Spirit all three Persons of one God together, loves little not-God persons like us into existence. We’re real children created by God in His love to give persons to one another: the Persons of God give us to each other, and give each other to us (in somewhat different ways). God also expects us to give ourselves personally to each other, and to give God to each other, in various ways. But always in actively personal love to one another.

God Himself, the one single God, is a love of Persons for one another in fair togetherness with each other. That’s how God always keeps living at all, and because God lives that’s how anything not-God exists at all. God could choose not to love: the Father could choose not to love the Son, or the Son could choose to not love the Father, but if that happened God and everything else would not exist, including what we call our past or present or future.

We can be absolutely sure God will never act against fulfilling fair-togetherness between persons, because we are here now to even talk about it! But if we choose to act as God never chooses–if we choose to act against fulfilling fair-togetherness between persons–then we are acting against the source of all existence, including our own.

That’s what we call sin. And that’s why when we act that way toward other persons, even when they aren’t God, we are also acting that way toward God. Even the littlest action of that sort, against fulfilling fair-togetherness between persons, would cause us to stop existing–if we were God, or if God allowed us to stop existing as a result of our choice to sin.

But just as we live by the freely given love of God to us, we continue to live after sinning by the freely given love of God to us–even when we have abused the grace of God.

That is because, unlike us, God is uniquely and originally and always good: God is love; God is fair-togetherness between Persons. God always chooses to act to fulfill fair-togetherness between persons. That’s why God exists at all, and why we exist at all, and why we keep on existing even when we sin.

And that’s ethics, in 18-2/3 lines (not counting paragraph breaks). Sorry, but it gets increasingly complex as more details are added. :slight_smile:

And now we’re in a position to talk about basic soteriology from a fundamentally trinitarian perspective, instead of only from a supernaturalistic theism perspective (much less from something less than supernaturalistic theism, whether atheism or naturalistic theism.)

Part 4: Justice

God is always just because the Persons of God are always just, and not unjust, to one another. God always acts to fulfill fair-togetherness (which is a word in the Bible we usually translate ‘righteousness’ or ‘justice’) between persons. When persons act toward fulfilling non-fair-togetherness between persons, we call that un-righteousness or in-justice. And that’s sin.

When we’re good, God acts justly toward us because He loves us; and when we’re evil, God acts justly toward us because He loves us. What God ultimately is, in His own self-existence, makes a big difference in how God chooses to act toward us, because He will not act toward us in a way that also acts against His own self-existence: the way we act against God, our Creator and Sustainer, when we sin!

So when we sin, what can we expect God to do toward us? We can expect God to keep on acting toward fulfilling fair-togetherness with us as persons–which is what we didn’t do when we sinned. We were unjust instead.

But God will be just toward us. How?

By choosing to let us stop existing? That would permanently prevent God from even trying to fulfill fair-togetherness with us as persons.

So God keeps us in existence as persons. Without acting to lead us to stop sinning? Then God would also not be even trying to fulfill fair-togetherness with us as persons.

So God acts in such a way so that we will stop sinning. By treating us a puppets or giving us a reboot or in some way just flatly making us behave in a ‘good’ way? Then God would not even be trying to fulfill fair-togetherness with us as persons.

By teaching us in various ways about righteousness? Yes. But what if we refuse to listen and learn and repent?

Then God may have to teach us in other ways. Even a light action of this sort, like a stern talking-to, would be at least a little ‘uncomfortable’ to us. It would still be a punishment. And if we keep on refusing to learn and repent, then God may see that He has to make it hotter for us.

Will God refuse to even give us the ability, much moreso the knowledge, to repent of our sin and be good children? Then God would not even be trying to fulfill fair-togetherness with us as persons.

Will God ever stop trying to lead us to repent of our sin and be good children? Then God would stop even trying to fulfill fair-togetherness with us as persons.

That means as long as we refuse to repent, God will keep on punishing us. It might even go on for ever and ever. But not because God has stopped acting to save us from our sins; and not because God never acted to save us from our sins.

Should we bet on the sinner to always be stalemating God, though? Or should we bet on God to eventually win?

God is omnipotent and omniscient and omnipresent, and those are all reasons to bet on God, not the sinner.

And if God specially reveals He will one day be totally victorious in leading all sinners back to righteousness with Him, then that’s a reason to bet on God, not the sinner, too.

But even if He didn’t reveal that, or even if He revealed that despite having all power and all wisdom He will never succeed in saving some sinners from sin, we can still trust God to keep at it forever.

Because love and positive justice is Who God essentially always is.

If the Trinity is true.

(And that’s the double-length grand finale. :slight_smile: Except that I haven’t talked about how we can expect God to go about leading us into righteousness and to trust Him for our salvation and what God may be expected to do to pay for allowing us to sin, so as to fulfill all righteousness. That would involve a chosen people and the Incarnation and the Passion and the Resurrection and the Second Coming etc.)

:laughing: :laughing:

There you have it, Alex … 15 lines … Jason style! :wink:


Hey Jason,

What does Robin Parry think of your theory?

Brilliant Jason! I’m still going to have to re-read it to make sure I’ve got it straight, then I’ll put it into my own words and you can tell me if I’ve understood it correctly :smiley:

Luke I’ve asked Robin, but he is out of the office at the moment…

I realise this will miss some of the details (& where you address anticipated questions) but am I on track?
]God is three persons as one single personal thing/]
]The ongoing, chosen action of love causes all things to exist & keeps all things existing/]
]Within the Trinity there is unified community, giving, being given and submitting/]
]In order to love/give more, God creates/]
]We would cease to exist now if God ever ceased to love us/]
]God expects us to love/give, like He does, but when we don’t we’re acting against the source of all existence/]
]Unlike us, God is uniquely and originally and always good: God is love; God is fair-togetherness between Persons. God always chooses to act to fulfill fair-togetherness between persons. That’s why God exists at all, and why we exist at all, and why we keep on existing even when we sin/]
]God always acts to bring about fair-togetherness between persons everywhere, but by means which don’t violate His own fair-togetherness or ours/]
]We can bet on God succeeding because He reveals He will and only He is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent!/]

No corrections, but some quick notes:

Okay, quick by my standards… :mrgreen:

1.) I didn’t want to call God a “thing” (although like Lewis I agree it’s better to use that term than risk talking about a vague conceptual semi/non-existence). But I couldn’t think of a way to put it more properly and also short. :slight_smile:

2.) While a version of this argument might also work with the notion that God does not actively keep Himself in existence by fulfilling fair-togetherness between Persons (the violation against which is sin for anyone), I think the argument is stronger if God is acknowledged to be intrinsically self-begetting and self-begotten. Not only statically existing in some fashion that happens to be called ‘begetting’ and ‘begotten’ persons for no clear reason other than the scriptures say so. :wink: One of the points here is that scriptural revelation aims in the direction of what’s called ‘positive aseity’, positively active self-generating everlasting existence, as the root (and roof!) of reality. Whereas Christian theology has often borrowed heavily from classical Greek concepts emphasizing the merely static self-existence of final reality (whether divine or otherwise). I know as a result many theologians won’t like positive aseity because we’ve been trained not to like it and to think in terms of Platonism or Aristotelianism instead (with the metaphysical justification that everlasting active self-existence is supposed to be somehow intrinsically self-contradictory whereas an ultimately in-active ‘God’ is somehow not. :wink: )

3.) One of the points I established early and meant to come back to (but was already running long :wink: ) is that all creation must be a gift between the Persons of God to one another. A theology where this gift ultimately fails may be possible but will always be conceptually weaker than a theology where this gift does not ultimately fail. (This is a point Calvinists have been historically perceptive and vocal about–although then they have to come up with reasons for why ultimate non-righteousness should be a proper gift for the Persons of the (quite literally) substantially righteous Trinity to give one another in order to “glorify” each other.)

4.) While this position is widely accepted by Christian (and even other theistic) theologians, I hope I clarified enough the qualifier (also typically accepted) that God is not metaphysically required to create. (God is metaphysically required to exist as God instead of existing as not-God; that’s a tautology of what it means to be foundational existence itself. God requires, and so there are requirements even to being God, so to speak, one of which is that if God requires then it is required that God requires. AAAHHHH!!! :mrgreen: )

5.) In two different ways. First, if God ceased to act toward fulfilling fair-togetherness with us, then the Trinity would be acting against the fundamental unity of God’s self-begetting and self-begotten (and proceeding) existence. God would poof Himself out of existence as well as us (now, then and later). Second, supposing for purposes of argument that it was even possible for the Trinity to act to fulfill non-fair-togetherness with a person (ceasing to love the person for example)–or supposing it was even possible for God to exist as a non-actively-self-existent entity, which would not be trinitarian theism–if supernaturalistic theism is still true then it’s conceptually difficult (at least) to imagine God hating something into dependent existence. Dependent existence is graciously granted by God at all on a continuing basis until when-if-ever God decides otherwise, which seems like some kind of active love even if God is not intrinsically active love in His own fundamental self-existence.

6.) This is closely related to why trinitarian theism has uniquely massive advantages, compared to any other theology or philosophy, as a ground of objective ethics. Any not-God person is only relatively ethical in relation to God Who is an eternally coherent interpersonal relationship. None of us can be that, even if we all teamed up together. (Although idealistic attempts to do so are arguably the closest humans can come to being an objectively ethical standard ourselves.)

7.) I start crying with joy and praising God in my heart whenever I have an opportunity to write this sort of thing, btw. :slight_smile:

8.) And there’s the trinitarian conceptual constraint in a nutshell for any soteriology proposal. (There are some other things, too, like not proposing sinners or anyone else comes to exist independently of God or dependently on someone/something other than God. But those, although important, are auxiliary.)

9.) I don’t principly insist on revelation necessarily coming out that way, of course. I originally expected a universalistic version of ECT, for example. (I think I would be extremely confused if revelation indicated literal and permanent annihilation, though: that just doesn’t fit into a coherent trinitarian theology.)

It’s been a while since we talked about it. He was lukewarm.

{rimshot!} :mrgreen:

He didn’t have specific critiques of it, but it’s a way of approaching the topic that isn’t usual in the field–and frankly even trinitarian specialists often have trouble keeping track of the logical unity of trinitarian theology. :frowning: Historically they’ve been more interested in asserting it as fact and pointing out how it solves (and/or can be derived from) various scriptural issues. As a general rule trinitarian theologians tend to consider the logical unity of ortho-trin as a doctrinal set in itself to be either unthinkable by the mind of man or else not to have any logical unity at all even in principle (much less discoverable in practice).

So it isn’t surprising if someone who hasn’t done an indepth study of the topic (which is most people even when they’re nominally specialists on the topic) responds with a meh at its deployment, even when the result is something they’d otherwise agree with. It takes time, and a certain continual topical focus, to assess everything involved pro or con; and people’s plates are already pretty full with whatever works for them already. :slight_smile:

In the past, in short, his attitude toward it has been approximately the same as mine toward intelligent design theories based on the nuts and bolts of evolutionary theory or the anthropic principle. It’s interesting and hugely relevant but I really don’t consider myself even moderately close to having a thorough opinion on it, and I don’t think I need it for my purposes anyway, and who has the time?–I have things to be doing and learning that are already on my plate elsewhere.

That was a while ago, though. I’d be curious what his opinion is today, especially since he recently helped edit Eric Reitan’s book which, supposedly, will approach universalism from the standpoint of metaphysical analysis. (On the other hand, I have a hard time believing he does so from an ultimately ortho-trin direction!–Eric is not exactly the poster-boy for trinitarianism. :wink: )

Hi all,

I am on holiday at the moment so did a quick skim-read of the discussion so far. Here is my “off the cuff” comment.

  1. I am thrilled to see that the issue of Trinity and universalism is seen as one worth having.

  2. The link between Trinity and universalism is not immediately clear. Most trinitarians are not universalists and many universalists are not trinitarian.

(a) one can presumably believe in universal salvation without being a trinitarian. Clearly many do, so if there is an argument for the logical inconsistency of universalism and non-trinitarianism I’d be interested to hear it.

(b) one can presumably be a trinitarian and a non-universalist — at least, as already mentioned, many people are. Now it may well be that there is an argument that takes one from trinitarian theology to universalism — I am certainly sympathetic to the possibility — but if there is, the move would not be simple and obvious (or, one presumes, it would be more mainstream amongst orthodox Christians).

  1. For me — along with mainstream, orthodox Christianity — the Trinity is the heart of Christian faith so whether or not it entails universalism, it is critical. (As an aside, if you want to read an AMAZINGLY GOOD intro to trinitarian theology written for non-theologians then check our Michael Reeves’ forthcoming book, “The Good God: Enjoying Father, Son, and Spirit.” Paternoster, forthcoming. It is a wonderful book. Not sure when it’ll be out.)

  2. I think that I can see how trinitarian theology would lead to universalism and my route would not be unlike Jason’s. But I’d need to think about it a lot more carefully before venturing a clearer statement. (And I would wsh to add that the route would not be an undenialble one that all reasonable trinitarian would have to concede . . . it would simply be suggestive.)

All the best,



Thanks for sharing your general outlook on this! FWIW, you emphasize the realities that have most stood out to me in evaluating the question of the Trinity’s relation to universalism.

And what IS that “single personal thing”? If this “thing” is personal, doesn’t that add up to four Persons? Or is the “personal thing” impersonal? For decades, I have found Trinitarianism as it is explained incoherent — and now this “personal thing” adds to the incoherence.

At any rate, as a non-Trinitarian (as well as a non-Modalist and a non-Arian) I didn’t think my thoughts would fit into this thread. However, I wanted to say that in my view the same loving interchange and fellowship takes place between the Father and the Son, as Jason expressed as taking place within “The Trinity”.

My understanding is that the Father begat the Son at the beginning of time (or “before all ages” as the early Christians put it). The early Christians right up to the council of Nicea believed in the generation (or “begetting”) of the Son as a single act of the Father. Even the early Trinitarians understood this begetting as a single act. The idea of an “eternal begetting” did not come out until late Trinitarians invented it.

Because the begetting of the Son occurred at the beginning of time, then contra Arius, there was never a time at which the Son did not exist. The Son of God is deity, and is just as divine as the Father, and worthy of worship. The Son always did what the Father told Him here on earth, and since, while on earth, he was born as a complete human being, divesting Himself of all His divine attributes, retaining only His identity, He could not in Himself, perform any miracles while He lived on earth as a human being. However, the Father performed a number of miracles through Him.

He was in complete harmony with His Father (also called “His God” in some passages). He was “the only begotten God” (John 1:18 in the earliest manuscripts). Yet, I must also agree with our Lord’s own words when He addressed His Father, saying that lasting life is trusting in the Father whom Jesus called “The Only True God” as well as in the Son whom He sent.

I subscribe to this relatively simple explanation brought forward by first and second century Christians. It makes sense and its acceptance doesn’t require us to believe in any logical contradictions.

When I talk to myself, I am the speaker, the listener, and the conversation. Self-consciousness is trinitarian. I (Father) relate (Spirit) to myself (Son). A person is trinitarian. A rock is unitarian. The moment I stop relating to myself, I lose consciousness and become just so much meat. I cease to exist as a person. This inner relationship must be loving, the continual dynamic of self giving to self, or again, I would cease to exist as a person.

So; am I three people, or one person that talks to himself? :mrgreen:

Seriously though, I don’t think we have three centers of consciousness that we could identify as three separate persons in one; I’m not sure that analogy works.

Hi Jason,

Just wanted to share a few thoughts while I’m chewing on what you’ve written.

It’s still unclear to me how a multi-personal God makes UR a more likely outcome than a unipersonal God. According to my view, God is said to be “love” because his nature is such that he has always loved (willed/intended the best interests of) every finite being he has ever purposed to bring into existence. To me, it’s no more likely that a unipersonal God would ever cease to love those he purposes to create than it would be for a multi-personal God to “poof” itself (or themselves?) out of existence. I’m not sure why the same character/disposition that leads the members of a multi-personal God to love each other as well as every human being cannot be present in a unipersonal God.

Also, I’m not sure how a commitment to fulfill fair-togetherness with all finite beings necessarily follows from the fact that a multi-personal God has always acted to fulfill fair-togetherness between itself. Couldn’t a Calvinist object that God’s commitment to fulfilling fair-togetherness simply be confined to Godself and need not be understood as necessarily extending to every finite being that God chooses to bring into existence? If all three members of the Trinity were united in their desire and purpose to bring into existence a certain number of non-elect “reprobate” beings whom they wanted to be eternally miserable, then wouldn’t they still be fulfilling fair-togetherness between themselves even if this fair-togetherness wasn’t extended to certain finite beings?

And perhaps you’ve answered this and I just missed it, but why do you think the Persons of God always act to fulfill fair-togetherness between themselves? Why, for instance, does the Father always act to fulfill fair-togetherness with the Son? I know you’ve said that they would cease to exist if they stopped choosing to love each other, but is this the reason why you think they always choose to love? Is it simply a matter of self-preservation, or is there some other reason?

Do you believe there are certain circumstances which God could bring about which would guarantee our choosing to yield to him in loving obedience? That is, do you think God knows exactly what it would take to ensure an individual’s yielding himself to God in loving obedience? And if so, do you think God’s bringing about these circumstances would be a violation of our personhood?

Alex, thank you so much for asking this question. I can’t wait to have conversations with my twin boys about this stuff! Of course, it’ll have to wait about ten years, as they aren’t even born yet–still have a bout 5 more weeks to go… :mrgreen:

Jason, thank YOU so much for attempting to answer :smiley: Alex’s question, as your “brief” responses have been one of the most spiritually edifying things I’ve read recently.

This is one of the most exciting things to me about being involved in cross-cultural ministry: stepping outside my own cultural theological assumptions and hearing what an African, or Arab, or Asian, etc, believer has to say about theology. Although it may be biblical, it’s new to my experience, so there’s always something for me to learn, simply because of their different cultural assumptions. Anyway, that’s a good distinction, Jason.

AAAAAHHHH myself! I just realized this is the point to Anselm’s ontological argument! Right? :open_mouth: I could be wrong, it’s been a while since I’ve read Anselm… :blush:

Good point!

Me too! (or read it) Actually, it reminds me of the first time I read Anselm’s meditation on the Trinity, the Proslogion–I fell to my knees in worship.

I do think you’re on the right track with showing the inevitability of universalism from starting with ortho-trin, Jason. I also agree that many “Trinitarians” haven’t completely thought through (or even really tried to understand) the implications of trinitarianism…

Thanks heaps everyone who has participated in this thread. I think it’s an excellent example of the kind of round-the-table discussions I want to see Christians have, with different angles being expressed in a friendly manner :sunglasses:

Thanks Jason in particular for going along with the approach I suggested. I think the baby steps, then me trying to summarise them, then you expanding on the summary points worked really well, as I was actually able to keep up with you (well almost :wink: ).

Thanks Robin for commenting, even whilst on holiday!

Thanks Luke for encouraging me to ask Jason.

I don’t think Dad’s analogy is a perfect fit, however, I do think it’s interesting and that there’s some truth to it, after all we are made in God’s image…

So, Robin is still lukewarm. :smiley:

Obviously I agree that the logical connections are not at all obvious–otherwise there would have been (and would now be) many more ortho-trin universalists. I’m the first person I have ever heard of who has formulated the argument in detail, although I do know a few universalists who got there by roughly the same route. (They just hadn’t written hundreds and hundreds of pages of analysis before getting there this way. :slight_smile: )

While I have argued elsewhere (and will most likely do so below again :wink: ) that I wouldn’t be nearly so sure universalism is true if I was a sheer monotheist, I don’t have any problem agreeing that non-universalists can be trinitarian and vice versa (since obviously this happens pretty frequently), and that they can be rational to do so.

I don’t agree that trinitarians can be validly reasonable to be non-universalist (or to be not universalist of this trinitarian sort anyway–there are poor arguments for universalism that anyone can be valid against); but I don’t consider persons to necessarily need validity to be rational act-ers. Rational people can make mistakes, too, without ceasing to be rational people reasoning responsibly and respectably on the topic.

Obviously Robin and I disagree on whether a properly detailed and valid argument from ortho-trin to universalism could only at most suggest universalism. I have no idea why he’s so certain as to emphasize that mere suggestiveness (so to speak); but I can surely agree with a prudent refusal to commit to it being deductively certain before studying it in-depth.

I’m very grateful for him looking it over!–and as noted, I am also curious as to comparisons with EricR’s work.

(I would be curious to see Tom Talbott look over it again, too; he was also lukewarm on it last time we spoke about it, but that’s been several years ago over on Victor’s DangIdea site.)