The Evangelical Universalist Forum

How does a universalist avoid the classic slide into unitarianism/pluralism?


#1

Howdy Everybody:grinning::grinning:… its been awhile since I’ve posted, but I remember a few years ago when I did and everybody was very gracious and candid in their answers.

Anyway, I find myself flirting with some form of deism/pluralism the more convinced I am that God will save everyone. For I can’t reconcile why God would leave so many millions (billions) in ignorance of Christ’s Good News. Obviously, part of this our fault (where the Christ and the Word have been revealed, most are exclusivists) but some of this is God’s fault as well. There are huge geographic and historical swaths where the Good News (or revelation of Christ) never reaches, so people don’t even have a chance to interpret (or misinterpret) it. This seems a big problem with the universalist assumption that God WANTS everybody to know that Jesus loves them.

Now, I don’t think that all religions are on a par, and to my lights, Christianity (esp universalist Christianity) is the best game in town, with the exception of perhaps Tom Paine’s Theo-philanthropy (which just assumed God, a moral code, and the conviction that an omnibenevolent God would never endlessly punish people in the next world). To me, Paine’s is a simpler, and therefore “better” scheme for God to adopt (although Christianity is certainly poignant with the Incarnation), because there are less ways it can malfunction due to lack of evangelism, human misinterpretation, geographic/historical universality, etc. Nevertheless, I cannot help getting back to the justice question: why would a God that wants to save everybody mire us in ignorance as to his love?

I also am disturbed by the historical trajectory of universalism. There was a boom of universalism in the 18th-19th century I’m sure you’re all aware of. But then look, by the early 20th century, the Universalist Church had joined forces with the Unitarian Church to the point where evangelical Christian universalism was just subsumed. But it seems the logical conclusion of universalism… if you believe God will save everybody, regardless of what religion, then the “Christian” part of that equation becomes, though poignant, superfluous.

So… please help me to keep my faith in Jesus;), because I am in fear of jettisoning Christianity for something “easier” like benevolent deism. Do any of you struggle with this temptation to pluralism/unitarianism? What keeps you from it? How do you answer the theological justice question of God’s allowing EU, if true, to be not pervasive?

Thanks for considering


#2

I am convinced, too:

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” Mt. 13:33.

But…

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3.

But…

-The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Cor 4:4.

-This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. John 3:19.

I believe things will get better after the god of this age, Satan, is finally evicted.


#3

[quote=“Prince_Myshkin, post:1, topic:13956”]
the more convinced I am that God will save everyone.
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Yep that is universalism… Now you need to know how to deal with the baggage of it.


#4

I don’t think the “Christian” part is superfluous. In this life, the main hope, the only hope for this sad fallen world is Christianity. The problem is that most of us do not behave as we should, in obedience to Jesus’ commands. We do not evangelise as we ought, we do not live as we should.

I am amazed that God should ever have loved me and that He still loves me. I profess to follow his instructions about how to live but fall short of the mark time and again. Do I really love those who despitefully use me? I confess I often do not. I could add more, but I hope I’ve made my point.

And if God is willing to save a sinner like me, why would He not save all others? We are all - that’s ALL - to stand before the judgment seat of Christ and receive just recompense for how we have lived during this short, uncertain earthly life and pilgrimage.


#5

God wants people to be loving, giving, self-sacrificing, doing what is best for others. In other words, He wants all people to be righteous.Since not all people are righteous, He will continue to work with them as a whole, both in this life and in the next—until ALL come under His authority and become the kind of people that He wants ALL to become. That is my version of “universalism”— though I avoid the “universalist” label in order not to be identified with that large block of people who think that all people are acceptable to God just as they are—whether they live righteously or not. I prefer to call myself a “reconciliationist”—one who believes that of their own free will ALL will ultimately be reconciled to God when they come under His authority.


#6

Hi all! thanks for your replies.

I understand that we believe that all people are eventually going to be reconciled to God (through Christ). What I am currently struggling with is why God would, having unconditional love for everybody (unlike let’s say the Calvinist god who only loves the Elect few), would leave entire portions of the world ignorant of that Good News. At least we have Bibles and can rightly/wrongly interpret them to find universalism, but why, if God loves everybody, would He not reveal Himself to EVERYBODY (i.e. at least saw to it that everybody had His Word so that they’d have a chance of finding the Good News in this life, instead of leaving millions, even billions, in other religions)?

For instance, somebody like William Lane Craig (who is a Molinist), argues that the unevangelized are precisely those who, in any possible world or state-of-affairs, would never come to accept Christ; therefore, God didn’t feel it necessary to have those people evangelized - he foreknew those people would reject Him anyway. Of course, nobody at this website believes this - we believe that nobody, as Craig argues, is “transworld depraved” - that everybody will eventually be reconciled to God through Christ.

So, given our belief in God’s intention for everybody to be reconciled to Him through Christ, why do we find a world where millions, even billions of people (especially if you count all recorded history) never heard of this (i.e. lived in times and places where Christianity wasn’t preached)? What possible reason would God have to keep this a secret if God is, in fact, a universally loving God?


#7

Thanks for that post Dave, And I can see the perplexity, but you kind of nailed it on the head. He may have revieled himself if we look ‘OUT SIDE’ the main ways of looking at God, religion and Christ.

That (your struggle) was my continual problem and I have been able to work through it.

Good luck.


#8

People live this short life for 70-120 years, depending upon their health. But God has all eternity to correct them. He will never give up on anyone, and they will not be able to hold out forever. If they could, they would be as powerful as God in that respect.


#9

I believe in determinism.

God wants and has determinated to save all men, but each in their order, not all men are determinated to be saved in this age, so it was not neccessary that to all men the gospel was taught.


#10

Hello @Prince_Myshkin – I too think about these issues, this is what I think:

Why does God allow so much of humanity to be ignorant of the religious truth? For, whatever one thinks the religious truth if – whether it be Christianity or Deism, Universalism or Eternal Damnationism, etc – it is clear that most of humanity is ignorant of that truth, and an omnipotent God surely could have done far more than he has to help people arrive at the truth.

I think this is just another aspect of the problem of evil. Why does God permit (or even cause, if you believe in meticulous providence as I do) so much evil? And ignorance is just a type of evil, often far from the worst type, although sometimes religious ignorance and delusion leads people to do horrible things, and even merely secular ignorance can have horrific consequences (e.g. children dying from curable diseases because the cure hasn’t been discovered yet.)

My answer: God loves us as the particular people which we are. The particular people which we are could not exist in a perfect world – in a perfect world, other people would exist instead, people living enviable lives, but none of them could be us. Therefore, loving us, desiring that we exist, God must create the imperfect world necessary to our existence. Therefore God wills both good and evil, both knowledge and ignorance – but the first he wills as an end-in-itself, as good-in-itself; the second he wills as a mere means to an end, an evil necessary to the greater good.

So this is why, whatever the truth may be, so few people believe it. God will lead people to the truth in the end – both individually (in the afterlife if not in this life), and the entire world (at the eschaton) – but for now, he wills ignorance to be widespread for the sake of the billions whom he loves who could not exist without that ignorance.

Another reason: God loves beauty, and cultural diversity is beautiful, therefore God loves cultural diversity. But, an important part of cultural diversity is religious diversity, therefore God loves religious diversity too. But religious diversity requires religious ignorance and religious error, because the many religions are just too different in their numerous teachings for all of them to be right about everything. At the same time, God loves truth, and wants humanity to know the religious truth. So, God creates a world with both truth and error, but in which truth finally (not yet) triumphs over error. At a personal level, if that triumph is not completed in this life, it will be in the next; at a universal level, that triumph will be completed at the eschaton.

As far as Deism versus Christianity goes, here are my thoughts: I used to think I could be a spiritual do-it-yourselfer, work out the truth for myself and follow my own path, make it up as I go along, etc. What I found out, was I was missing out on a whole lot of things. A sense of community, a link to a tradition which reaches back centuries/millenia, a check on my own sinful tendencies which can lead to spiritual delusion, etc. In practice, Deism doesn’t give me much of this. Working within an existing spiritual tradition can give me all that. For me personally, Christianity is the best option both from a position of philosophical principle and also from a position of pragmatism (my local area has over a dozen different Christian churches to choose from, zero organised Deism).

I think Deism is overly negative about prayer (maybe not all deists, but very many of them.) If we keep on praying for self-improvement, will not our prayer be answered, at least a little? (Even an atheist can see how such a prayer could work.) If I share my worries with God – of course, God already knows them, and cares about them, and he will do whatever is necessary for the greatest good, which might involve keeping me from the thing I worry yet also might not – the point of that is not to change God in any way, but simply to strengthen my own belief that God exists and knows and cares and will always bring about the greatest possible good (even if I cannot see in detail how some particular evil is necessary for that), and to mentally link those beliefs to my specific worries.

I have thought a lot about the central story of Christianity – that Jesus was in some special way God (I think we all have something of the divine in us, but Jesus was divine in a way in which you and I are not), that Jesus died and descended into hell in order to atone for the sins of all humanity, that having completed his atoning work he rose triumphantly from the dead – and I think that story has real meaning in the context of my own philosophical presuppositions, and no other major religion (not Judaism nor Islam nor Hinduism nor Buddhism) can give me anything approaching that.


#11

Hi, Simon. You do realize what Deism is really saying, right?

Deism (/ˈdiːɪzəm/ DEE-iz-əm [1][2] or /ˈdeɪ.ɪzəm/ DAY-iz-əm ; derived from Latindeus” meaning “god”) is a philosophical belief that posits that God exists as an uncaused First Cause ultimately responsible for the creation of the universe, but does not interfere directly with the created world. Equivalently, deism can also be defined as the view which posits God’s existence as the cause of all things, and admits its perfection (and usually the existence of natural law and Providence) but rejects divine revelation or direct intervention of God in the universe by miracles. It also rejects revelation as a source of religious knowledge and asserts that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of a single creator or absolute principle of the universe.[3][4][5]


#12

Hello. Yes, I know what “Deism” means.

God “does not interfere directly with the created world” does not make prayer useless. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer and look in particular at the “Educational approach”, “Rationalist approach”, and “Experiential approach” – none of which require an “interventionist” God per se.

The other problem I have with Deism, which I didn’t mention, is precisely this point – that God “does not interfere directly with the created world”. I think Deism assumes a prescriptive notion of the laws of nature – as if laws of nature are some thing that really exists out there, that God created, and then leaves alone – which I think is a very early modern (even pre-modern) understanding of them. I think the laws of nature are purely descriptive. They are just patterns or regularities that exist in whatever events actually occur; they are not something that exists beyond those events somehow causing or controlling them. If we understand miracles as “violations of the law of nature” (an understanding I believe to be faulty), then miracles are impossible, because no event could ever violate the laws of nature. Whatever actually occurs obeys the laws of nature by definition, and any “violations” are just evidence of our own imperfect understanding of the laws of nature, not “violations” at all.

Instead, I believe in meticulous providence. Every event that ever occurs is God’s will. So, the Deist claim that God “sets up the universe” and then “leaves it alone” makes no sense. Deism claims God doesn’t “intervene”, but there is no clear definition of what counts as “intervention”, and I think we are better giving up on the idea that “intervention” can be distinguished from “non-intervention”. Everything that every happens is divine intervention. When we expand the scope of “divine intervention” to include everything that ever occurs, it can no longer do what Deists want it to do.


#13

Yes, I did think you knew - what Deism was saying. I’m not sure about everyone here, however. But I do observe things. Like you know a bit about what, the Eastern Orthodox REALLY believe…as well as the Roman Catholics. And a bit about philosophy. So you probably have, some academic background, schooling or training - right?

Anyway, I have been a friend for decades…of a Middle Eastern homeopath. He’s also married to a Muslim wife. So I have been well informed, about what both homeopathy and Islam teaches. But he’s also a Deist. There are REALLY people out there, that embrace Deism.

And as an aside…while I embrace ancient healing disciplines, like homeopathy, Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine…and spiritual healing and prayer…I also avail myself, as to what modern medicine - has to offer.


#14

I have a bachelor’s degree in computer science. But, I actually started out doing a combined degree in both philosophy and computer science. I dropped out of philosophy degree – I was struggling with mental health issues and found studying philosophy (at the time) was making them worse. So I decided just to focus on the practical stuff, the money-making stuff. But I’ve always been really interested in philosophy (and religion and theology and other such topics), and I have always spent a lot of my time reading about them and thinking about them. I would like to go back to university and finish my philosophy degree some day – when my children are grown up, maybe.


#15

My former neighbor’s husband and his friends…majored in both computer science and philosophy, at Wheaton College. Like you, they loved philosophy…but computer science paid the bills.


#16

So it might seem. I appreciate where you’re coming from, because we all feel the terrible pain around us, and question why it is so. And certainly this verse alone doesn’t satisfy:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1:20.

But I see this world as a big, time-bound classroom, from which everyone will eventually graduate together, at the same time, into eternity (1 Cor. 15:22-28). This will happen when the last person in the lake of fire, outside the city whose gates are never shut, comes in to take the free living water being offered there (Rev. 21:25; 22: 14-15, 17).

To will evil is to be evil, and I don’t think God is evil. He has already disallowed all evil through the victory of Jesus, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).

However, the Church must ‘not neglect its so great a salvation’ (Heb. 2:3), but enforce Christ’s victory. We have the keys of the kingdom (Mt. 16:19): binding and casting out evil, and loosing truth and blessings. Like the woman in the parable about the kingdom (Mt. 13:33), we must take the leaven and mix it into the flour until it is completely spread through it.

We must stand against letting ourselves and our neighbors be defrauded and victimized by an already defeated and disarmed devil (Col. 2:13-15, Heb. 2:14). We must not give power back to Satan through legalism.

As to the question of God’s sovereignty, whereas God is all-powerful, He chose to give choice to both angels and men. By doing so, God allowed us to have some control… by giving up some of His control.

Hence, God is not in control of everything; otherwise men and angels would not actually have any genuine choice.

In a previous comment, I discussed why I disagree with you on this idea that everything that happens is God’s will, and quote John Piper’s misguided bedtime story to his daughter Talitha, to help make my point.


#17

In regards to prayer, I have pretty much came to the same conclusion as Robert M. Price in his “The Retreat of Radical Prayer”.

The Retreat of Radical Prayer

I think prayer is largely a psychological coping mechanism. I pray, but I don’t know if anyone is actually there, or if it really does anything. I’d be lying to myself and others to suggest that I know I am being heard and that it makes a difference. But… I am hopeful. Still, Prices’ explanation is what it seems to me.


#18

Did you mean, “God…has determined to save all men”?
I didn’t even know “determinated” was a word until I looked it up just now. It means, “having exact and discernible limits or form.”


#19

I think to will evil as an end in itself is evil. By contrast, to will evil as a means to a truly greater good is not evil. (Of course, sometimes people will evil as a means to what they think is a greater good but in fact isn’t, and clearly that is evil, even though they mistakenly think it is good.) I say God wills evil, not as an end in itself, but merely as a means to a greater good.

Isaiah 45:7 (KJV) says “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” Of course, people will argue about whether “evil” is the best translation for the Hebrew, how the verse should be interpreted, how to harmonise that verse with other seemingly contrary verses, etc. But I believe one can reasonably interpret scripture in such a way as to be compatible with my position.

You appear to believe in incompatibilist free will. I don’t. I believe in compatibilist free will and theological determinism.


#20

I think it is interesting, SimonK, that you think that God “wills” evil (as a means-to-an-end). Haha, I guess why not, especially if we are partly evil, and we are “Imago Dei”. :wink:

The philosopher William Lane Craig argues that God could make His existence unmistakable, but that still wouldn’t guarantee that we’d enter into to loving relationship with God (as many might still resent a “brazen” God). And he cites the waywardness of Israel in the OT as an example of this. However, while knowledge of God might not be a sufficient condition for loving God, it surely is a _necessary _one. If universalism is true, I would think God would want people to know it right now, but maybe we’re not ready for it. (Origen evidently thought universalism should be a “secret” - what do people here think about that?)

I think my biggest problem is that since I’ve leaned toward universalism; I’ve grown very impatient with God. I used to think it was my job to be a martyr or endure myriad temptations to test my faith. But if God really loves all of us, unconditionally, I’m tired of playing cat and mouse with God:) (Maybe this just means i’m spiritually immature;))