The Evangelical Universalist Forum vs "ultimate reconciliation"

Thanks, Jason. Very thorough, well-thought out and structured response - to the Got Questions reaction to Rob Bell. I do know their site is filled with pastoral volunteers, who side with their particular flavor of Protestant Christian theology. And they are good at times, for providing initial input - to forum discussions (i.e. chiefly Biblical interpretation) - that come up here. I too wish they would identify their author/authors, for a particular Q and A response.

Yeah, I’ve appreciated some of the site’s work before. This one was overly sloppy. Legitimate opposition is one thing. Pretending the opposition hasn’t even considered the critiques already, when they demonstrably have, is something else. Outright misrepresenting the opposition for moral rebuke against them, is itself morally damnable.

Given the weird focus on Socinus, which with the mention of Heraclitus whiffs of Dr. McClymond’s attempts at repainting trinitarian Christian universalists as only Gnostics and/or Arians, I’m inclined to summon [tag]Sobornost[/tag] for an opinon. :sunglasses:

Hi Jason 

I wonder what the reference is for Socinius here? I’ve never seen this argument associated with him - and it cannot be from him because he was not a universalist. The Socinians were Unitarians . Chapter V of Walker’s ‘Decline of Hell’ deals with the early Socinians - and Walker is still the standard authority about the questioning of damnation in the early modern period. What Socinius and the early Socinians actually believed about eschatology is unclear from the earliest evidence. Some of this evidence even suggests that Socinius believed in eternal damnation - or at least did not seem to deny it. The reason for this lack of clarity is certainly that they were anxious not to cause offence and provoke unnecessary persecution as refugees in Holland - and probably also that there was variety in their beliefs at this time.

One Socinian belief in the seventeenth century was that the soul dies with the body and both are resurrected on judgement day. This is the doctrine of ‘soul sleep’. However, they departed from the usual soul sleep doctrine by stating that only the righteous will be raised. The wicked will remain ‘annihilated’. They did not question the justice of God in annihilating the wicked; rather they argued against the justice of eternal torment as a penalty for finite sins. Another version of Socianian eschatology was that the wicked will also be raised from soul sleep and then punished with the severity and duration that is calibrated as the penalty for their finite sins; and then they will be annihilated.

Yes I think I can see a conspiracy theory and an effort to ‘smear by association’ in these writers - and it is similar in form if not in detail to the one in Dr McClymond’s initial lecture (although, to be fair, his recent review of Illaria Ramelli is a lot better than his lecture). They seem to be trying insinuate that Rob Bell and other universalists are somehow all the heirs of Arius (echoes of Dr McClymond’s theory that universalist are all heirs of the Gnostics). I remember that in her char with Robin Parry Illaria Ramelli stated that Gregory of Nyssa upheld Apokatastasis against the Arian heretics who taught that Christ is to be subordinated to God the Father at the end of the age, and thus distorted the doctrine for the Trinity in the eyes of the Orthodox Fathers For Gregory the submission of Christ to the Father refers to the submission of the mystical body of Christ, of all humanity, to God (against the subordinationism of the Arians). Thus Gregory argues that Christ does not submit to God because he is less than God; he submits to God as our representative (an incarnational mystery). Gregory’s arguments against the Arians are an example of a universalist Father upholding Trinitarian orthodoxy against heretics (heretics who were also not universalists).

Regarding the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus – I didn’t know that he was the first to use ‘apocatastasis’ (if this is true) I do know that he was the first to use the idea of ‘Logos’ – but by the time John used this term John meant something rather different than Heraclitus. Word change in meaning over several hundred years and in different cultural contexts; that’s true for ‘Logos’ and for ‘apocatastasis’ too.

Just one commentary here. I like the site Got Questions. Particularly for how they provide input for discussion, on Biblical representational questions raised here. But they do endorse a form of restrictivism. At least the site does. I can’t say the same for all the pastoral volunteers, answering other scriptural questions. Checking the site, reminds me of the old saying:

You can find different positions explored in Those Who Have Never Heard: A Survey of the Major Positions. It’s by a Mormon academic, but limits the positions to traditional Christianity.

It explores the positions of:

Postmortem Evangelism
Universal Opportunity before Death
What struck me as interesting, looking at the author chart - is this. Each of these positions has a scriptural basis and can be argued for - based upon scripture alone. And Got Questions site would only endorse restrictivism - from my understanding of their answers. They also wouldn’t endorse any alternative popular positions to hell, which I label metaphorical, annihilation, conditional immortality and P-Zombie (some type of self-imposed exile). I feel if you lock yourself into restrictivism, literal hell descrptions and ECT - without exploring other theological options - it limits one’s perspectives. It’s almost like confusing 9-11 with 7-11. :smiley:

Dr. T’s notions work even better when grounded more explicitly in trinitarian theology. :slight_smile: (Not that he’s being un-trinitarian; far from it. I just prefer to get to soteriology from there as a logical consequence.)

Not gonna lie, I laughed several times reading that report! :laughing: Thanks muchly. :sunglasses:

His arguments are pretty standard, nothing special in themselves (and not even as detailed as some critics).

What he’s notorious for, is trying to convince people that universalism isn’t Christian but Gnostic, and that even putatively trinitarian Christian universalists are, at best, ignorantly pulling from a Gnostic pantheism.

We have an extensive thread (or maybe two or three) around here somewhere, including with Dr. McClymond as a guest discussing his arguments and criticisms with us.

Here’s the original thread I think: Michael McClymond on Universalism

Here’s a parallel thread more specifically on his critiques of Dr. Ramelli: Michael McClymond vs Dr. Ramelli on patristics

Here’s another parallel thread on his critiques of Dr. Talbott: Dr. Talbott replies to Dr. McClymond

There is a TON of (mostly :wink: ) good reading on those threads, Qaz, especially by Sobornost in the first two. :slight_smile:

The thing about Gnostics supposedly being universalists is…odd.

What little I’ve read of the Gnostic scriptures, they were most certainly NOT universalists. They believed their little circle would attain salvation, but the great mass of mankind was just too stupid to warrant salvation. I’ve never come across a single passage written by a Gnostic that sounded universalistic. Admittedly, I haven’t made a thorough study of Gnosticism, but you’d think I would have ran across at least a single universalistic passage from the Gnostics.

It’s been a while, since I have read about Gnosticism - in the Theosophical Society library in Wheaton, Illinois (USA). They for the most part, taught a form of Esotericism. Much like the Mormons, with their aspect of temple rituals. But let’s look at this chapter 7 entitled Universalism., in which the author talks about 3 Gnostic sects:

The Basilidians

The Carpocratians

The Valentinians

Having listed and quoted from the text, let me add this. The Gnostics did not teach universalism, as we understand it. All because they did not teach Christianity, as we understand it. They taught some form of esoteric philosophy. And no :exclamation: I do not endorse any form of esotericsm. But I have spent my share of time studying Esoteric philosophy, along with traditional Western and Eastern philosophy,

Hi Qaz and all -

Yes Dr McClymond’s main argument is historical concerning linking universalism and Gnosticism .

When Dr Mike gave the lecture he based his contention that universalism grew out of Gnosticism on nineteenth century sources – including American Universalist ones such as J.W. Hanson . Hanson (quoted by Randy) does not give any sources for his description of Gnostic beliefs. They probably come from sources such as the “Impartial History of the Church and of Heresy,” (1700) by the Lutheran Pietist and esotericist Gottfried Arnold which are not based in historical sources but a more of a reflection of beliefs then current in Pietist and Esoteric circles that were then read back into the ancient Gnostics

Gnostics studies have progressed rapidly in the twentieth century with the discovery of a host of new sources – chiefly the Nag Hammadi texts. The vast majority of these suggest that the Gnostics were elitist and far from being Universalists assumed that the cast majority of human beings actually lacked either a spirit or a soul that could attain salvation through Gnosis because they were merely material beings; and that the division of humanity between those who could be saved by gnosis and those who could not was predetermined. This as far as I can see is made very clear in Valentian texts such as the ‘Hypostasis of the Archons’. Even an important new essay from one of the Princeton scholars of Gnosticism –chapter 9 of Michael Allen’s ‘Rethinking Gnosticism’ - cited recently and approvingly by Dr McClymond in his scholarly review of Illaria Ramelli’s Apocatastasis only suggest that not all Gnostics were strict determinists; some employed similar arguments to moderate Calvinists about the necessity to convert others and the possibility of losing salvation. And as Dr Ramelli points out Origen who gave the Church the first systematic account of Universal Salvation was an opponent of Gnosticism. But I look forward to following the future debate :slight_smile:

Let me raise a question here. Did gnostics believe in reincarnation? According to this newspaper piece Do Gnostics believe in reincarnation?, it says this:

In the Wiki article Reincarnation, it says this:

If Gnostics - like theosophists - generally believe in reincarnation, then they endorse a form of universalism. Much like Hindus, Buddhists or Sikhs would. So if most are not clever enough to figure out the esoteric path and achieve salvation, enlightenment, esoteric understanding, etc - in this life - then they get other shots at it. It’'s just not universalim, as we understand it, in historical and traditional theological and philosophical thinking.

I’ve come to distrust secondary sources. I’d need some references to primary texts before I could be convinced that Gnostics were universalists. :slight_smile:

Wiki does provide references to primary scholarly sources. If they don’t, then Wiki usually puts a reminder at the top. It makes it obvious, the article authors, need to clean up their act. And the Wiki article on reincarnation, did have footnote references, right in the quote I’ve provided.

We really need to first define our terms - as I usually recommend we do first. So we need both an online dictionary definition of “Gnosticism” and “Universalism.” :smiley: Here are the definitions, from the online dictionaries:

So think of it this way. Universalism is the mechanical rabbit, in a greyhound race. The greyhounds are the Gnostics. And reincarnation is the track the dogs run around, to catch the mechanical rabbit. :laughing:

I doubt you’ll find them… the whole Gnostic basis is release/escape/salvation via “knowledge” – secret or special knowledge etc.

Randy, I don’t mean to come across as particular, but by “primary sources” in this context I mean:

A. ancient writings of the Gnostics themselves, and/or
B. ancient refutations of Gnosticism

I have seen too much nonsense senselessly repeated as “the assured results of modern scholarship” to trust it. I need to see quotes from the ancient texts, in context.

Further, I don’t see how a belief in reincarnation necessitates a belief that everyone will come out right in the end. It is conceivable that reincarnation in various imperfect states could be endless.


Hi Qaz :slight_smile: – Mike McCymond, unlike the author of the OP , is a genuine scholar and a widely read one; so he’s always worth listening to (although his major study has been the writings of Jonathan Edwards and he is not a scholar of the Early Church or of Gnosticism). He hasn’t yet published his book against Universalism. I think I was being fair to him concerning his lecture that was placed on Youtube. His argument in this is a piece of scatter gun polemic but the underlying theme is that Universalism was derived from Gnosticism in the Early church and has resurfaced in history due to later influences that can be broadly termed as ‘Gnostic’ (he majors on the influence of the esotericism Jacob Boehme and his followers as the primary influence on modern universalism – which is another very contentious assertion). There was also a far more alarming subtext to the lecture about modern universalism being associated with magical rites, satanic visitations via female prophets, and the undermining of social order through violent revolution (which was the reason we spent a long time trying to understand his lecture and to refutie it –Jason did the Patristic, I did the early modern stuff, and Arelnite did the modern theologians). I think in the end we all kind of enjoyed ourselves too :smiley:

However, I’m sure when his book does come out it will far more nuanced than the lecture. I hope so because Mike is not a twit and his recent review of Illaria Ramelli’s book makes a few good points without rancour and polemic.

That’s’ a fair point about the ‘so what?’ if the Gnostics were Universalists. You are not a Universalist because you have been influenced by Gnostics but because you reading of the Bible today persuades you that universal salvation is true. I guess Mike would say that you have read the Bible with the eyes of a tradition of interpretation that has earlier roots (he as a Calvinist does the same thing of course).

No I’m not a published author. At one point when I was researching the reasons behind the suppression of Cramner’s 42nd Article that condemned universalism some here suggested to me that I should write a book about this. I thought that when I had time, I might do (and I think you may have seen references to this). However, the more I found out over a period of three years the more I changed my mind about this issue. So I’ve shelved that one 

Hi Geoffrey, Randy and Davo :slight_smile:

Here is what the Valentinian Gospel of Truth has to say of the hyllicals/somatics – these are the people whose existence is purely bodily and have no spiritual nature that can be rescued by awakening to its spiritual origins-

‘’Indeed, how is one to hear, if his name has not been called? For he who is ignorant until the end is a creature of oblivion, and he will vanish along with it. If not, how is it that these miserable ones have no name, (that) they do not have the call?’’

So in this scheme when all that is spiritual is restored to its divine origins the restoration does not include all people – because many people do not have a soul or spirit that can be restored. When I read the Nag Hammadi texts in translation this seemed to be a general Gnostic perspective with minor variations – that’s all I can say.

Regarding reincarnation and Gnosticism – I haven’t looked at that in any detail. The little I’ve read suggest that those Gnostics who did believe in some form of reincarnation regarded it with horror because the whole point of the Gnostic journey was to escape from bondage to the evil prison that is the physical world. (The religions the East that teach reincarnation – at least at a popular level – often see reincarnation as an opportunity for progress). I do know that the Manichean Gnostics believed in reincarnation but they did not believe in universal salvation – in the end the light god of Manichaeism would be tragically unable to release all humans from the physical world before it was burnt up.

Hi Jason :slight_smile: -I thought you’d appreciate the stuff about Socinius :smiley:

It’s like this, Geoffrey.

I am familiar with Gnosticism and reincarnation, from my studies of esoteric philosophy. I had ample time to read over the years, different sources from the Theosophical Society library in Wheaton, Illinois. They probably have the biggest collection of esoteric philosophical resources (in both their USA and Indian libraries), next to the Vatican.

I believe the source from the Examiner article I’ve mentioned, does quote from original Gnostic texts. I trust the scholars and historians know what they are saying, based upon the discovered texts found to date. Or the fact that known Gnostic names, also taught reincarnation. I’m sure many of the texts are probably digitized. So if we have the backgrounds of the scholars and historians, we can read either the original or digitized text copies, and form our own conclusions. For me, I prefer to see what the majority of scholars and historians **agree **upon.

Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and Theosophists, believe in a perfected state - which everyone will one day reach. And so do those who profess to be Gnostic experts, that have spoken at the Theosophical Society lecture series.

But this doesn’t make either Gnosticism or reincarnation right, according to orthodox Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or Protestant theology. I don’t believe that embracing some form of esoteric philosophy, makes life’s outlook any better than embracing some form of traditional Western or Eastern philosophy.

Then again, we do have people who believe in a flat earth (i.e. Flat Earth Society). Despite what contemporary and historical scientists, along with modern technology, presents as evidence. But I’m sure I could make friends with a member - despite our differences of opinion :exclamation: :laughing:

The many climatology related scientists who do not agree with the “scientific consensus” by sociologists, archaeologsts, astrophysicists, biologists, and climatologists, on significant human made climate change (much less on human-caused global warming – and note that the ‘consensus’ has subtly changed on that term in recent years in order to get more consensus), are not on par with the Flat Earth Society members, by the way.

Which is completely aside from the importance of regulating fossil fuel usage. But that’s another discussion.

Modern Gnostics have a tendency to ignore or radically reinterpret what the ancient Gnostics were writing about, in my experience. Modern Gnosticism may be universalistic – I don’t know about that, although culturally it seems likely – but modern Gnostics are also typically eglatarian and non-elitist, which ancient Gnostics were very much not. Be that as it may.

The reference to Bardaisan on Wikipedia (or its source rather) is somewhat misleading, though probably not intentionally so. The condemnation of Bardaisan among the patristic authorities is fairly late and based largely on a very early condemnation of someone with a similar name who probably wasn’t Bardaisan and whose ideas do not match up well with legitimate early information from Bar and his immediate disciples; combined with later sects whose doctrines again don’t match up with what the original guy was talking about. He might have converted from an early Gnosticism – that’s plausible but hard to tell from surviving sources – but he earned his early fame as a proto-orthodox Christian teacher who opposed the Gnosticism of his day, and who (with his friend the orthodox teacher and scholar Julius Africanus) helped lay the groundwork for the eventual conversion of Agbar (the first Christian king) and, later, Emperor Philip the Arab. There’s a good chance he’s also the unnamed beloved Syrian philosopher who helped convert Clement of Alexandria (and who sent him to Alexandria where he got involved with the Didaskelion). Dr. Ramelli wrote an exhaustive study of all available primary sources on the topic several years ago, most of which study I’ve read (and which she abbreviated for summary in her Tome on patristic universalism).

Let’s put universalism aside, for the moment. And focus on just these questions:

Did any of the ancient Gnostics - identified by known scholars and historians - also teach reincarnation?
Do any of the known Gnostic texts - identified by known scholars and historians - also contain passages that indicate reincarnation? For example,see the newspaper piece Do Gnostics believe in reincarnation?
And here is the most important question. If the about 2 questions are answered in the affirmative, then is reincarnation an element of Gnosticism? Or is it another philosophical element, known Gnostic writers picked up - perhaps from Eastern travels or travelers - and incorporated into Gnostic texts and teachings?

It is possible that the last question or set of points is true. In which case, I’ll wait until more historical documents are discovered. Or until scholars and historians, have a more definitive consensus.

And even if ancient Gnostics held unto some type of universalist outlook…regardless if it’s an additional element from Eastern sources…it’s far different from canonized scriptural sources, used to argue for universalism…or historical church fathers, who held universalistic viewpoints.

Exactly so. My general impression of the Nag Hammadi documents is that they were sexist and elitist. There is a reason why Gnosticism appealed to a minority, and why Catholicism appealed to the masses. The latter is the “nice” one (contra fluffy magazine articles to the contrary).

A few reasons why I am gravely suspicious of “scholarly consensus”:

  1. It is the “scholarly consensus” that by the time of Christ’s Incarnation, Jews used the word “Gehenna” to refer to eschatological unpleasantness. This is blatantly false. I’ve asked (both politely and otherwise :wink: ) umpteen people in various contexts for one single pre-A. D. 30 reference to Gehenna in that sense, and everyone has come up zero. There is no ambiguity here. The “scholarly consensus” on this is (at best) preposterously wrong or (at worst) vilely dishonest.

  2. The “scholarly consensus” on the Bible is that it teaches everlasting Hell. I can only wonder how it is that so many scholars apparently can’t read. I’ll go so far as to say that this very web forum is a glorious counterpoint to the “scholarly consensus”.

  3. The “scholarly consensus” is that the Eastern Orthodox Church does NOT teach universalism, but rather that those who are everlastingly damned are tormented by the fires of God’s love. Again, this nonsense leaves me aghast. I have studied nearly 2,000 pages of Orthodox liturgies. I have attended many, many Orthodox liturgies. Two things are monumentally clear: The Orthodox Church in her liturgies abundantly proclaims the truth of universalism. As for the notion that God’s love is the tormenting fire of Hell, I have NEVER seen or heard such an idea mentioned even once by the Orthodox liturgies. Not once.

I don’t know how it is in other fields, but when it comes to the study of Christianity, when I hear the words “scholarly consensus” I unavoidably mentally translate that into “a bunch of people almost certainly wrong, and probably diametrically, 180 degrees off from the truth”. Alas, but there we are.

The members of the Flat Earth Society, would fully agree with that statement. :laughing:

Actually, I side with the “radicals”. In other words, I don’t side with those who argue for ECT and restrictivism/exclusivism. I side more with those who argue for universalism, annihilation, conditional immortality, inclusivism, P-Zombie and postmortem opportunities for salvation, Old Earth/ Big Bang /Evolution - with God leading everything, and expanding the Holy Fools tradition - to all branches of Christianity. They might not agree with each other, but they rock the theological status quo.

And I do read what the status quo has to say. Like the Protestant Got Questions site. Or the Protestant Patheos, with articles like Pastors Endorsing Trump Have Cheapened their Prophetic Voice.

And qaz does have an interesting question. Why Eastern Orthodoxy over Roman Catholicism, or some flavor of Protestantism? And which aspect of Eastern Orthodoxy (i.e. Russian, Greek, etc.)? One Russian orthodox priest once told me, that he thought Russian Orthodoxy is the most mystical.

Actually, if they have a Western rite version of Eastern Orthodoxy, that incorporated the Anglican rite - I might jump on the bandwagon. :smiley: