The Evangelical Universalist Forum

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

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]

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

God “does not interfere directly with the created world” does not make prayer useless. See 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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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.

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;))

The idea that God wills everything, evil included, is not original to me. Generally speaking, Calvinists affirm it. Some people see Calvinism and universalism as very much opposites, but on the contrary they have a great deal in common, see e.g.

I’m no native English speaker, I meant determined, but the other word seems to mean the same?

SimonK, alternatively, please consider reading



from Richard Murray’s ebook, God vs. Evil.

I would also offer this overarching principle for verses which suggest God is not completely good: the Bible is only part of a progressive revelation.

Theologian C.S. Cowles maintains that,

“In progressive revelation what we see is … reflective of the human mediators’ growing understanding of his [God’s] character, will, and gracious saving purposes in Scripture. Isaiah, for instance, saw into the mind and heart of God more clearly than Moses when he virtually dismisses the whole sacrificial system that Moses believed to have been instituted by God, instructions that are given in great detail in Exodus and Leviticus. In contradistinction to Israel’s entire temple-cult and priestly system, Isaiah asserts that God does not require ‘burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals,’ and that he took ‘no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.’ What the prophet sees anticipates the dramatically clearer revelation of God fleshed out in Jesus: namely, that God is not impressed by outward ritual but rather inward holiness of heart and life (see Isa. 1:11-18).”

(From “Scriptural Inerrancy? Behold, I Show You A More Excellent Way” by Professor C.S. Cowles.)

And here is a brother in New Zealand, Paul Ellis, who is also thinking along the same lines, also for your consideration:

Is God the Author of Evil?

It doesn’t. But I shouldn’t have called you on this, Sven, for I suspected that your first language wasn’t English. Sorry about that.

Hi @Hermano, I agree with C. S. Cowles about “progressive revelation”. I’m not a scriptural inerrantist. I see all religious traditions as being humanity’s progressive (and often very flawed) attempts to understand God on the one hand, and God’s progressive revelation of himself on the other. That said, while there is genuine revelation in every religious tradition, I don’t think all relgious traditions are equal. Obviously, different religions teach different things, and they can’t all be right, so some must be closer to the truth than others. For example, there is a lot of good and truth in Buddhism, but Buddhism is fundamentally mistaken in its non-theistic outlook, and in that way the Buddhist religious tradition is a lot further from the truth than theistic traditions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I also believe that, while the history of Christianity clearly demonstrates its myriad flaws, Christianity does have one special advantage which all other religious traditions lack, which is the person and life/death/resurrection of Jesus.

My background is Roman Catholic, and so I have a lot of awareness of Catholic-Protestant debates about the role of scripture – sola scriptura, etc. To some extent, but not completely, I sympathise with the Catholic/Orthodox position on this. In my view, scripture is just part of tradition – a very important part of it, no doubt, but still just a part – and so to put scripture and tradition as contraries is mistaken. On the other hand, I think the Catholic approach to tradition is at times overly inflexible – e.g. the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 says that the wicked are punished eternally in hell, so they are, end of discussion. That is ignoring other (older) parts of the tradition that teach the opposite, such as the doctrine of apocatastasis taught by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and others. So, my approach to all parts of the tradition, both scriptural and extra-scriptural, is to judge them against my own reason and conscience. Of course, my reason and my conscience may well be flawed, but all I can do is try my best to remain open to the possibility of those flaws existing, and be willing to remedy them if I can identify them.

So, I didn’t start with Isaiah 45:7, and read in there that God “create[s] evil”, and then build my theology on that biblical interpretation. On the contrary, I started with philosophy. I started with trying to make sense philosophically of issues such as the existence of God, the objectivity of morality, the relationship between mind and matter, the problem of evil, free will vs. determinism, divine omnipotence and sovereignty, etc. And, based on my philosophical explorations of these topics, I have reached certain conclusions. I looked at the major religious traditions of the world (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism), and out of them all I found the Christian tradition gave the best agreement with my philosophical conclusions. And then I looked at the history of Christian theology, and found thinkers (in particular Calvinists) who agree with some of these conclusions, even as I and them see other issues very differently (e.g. Calvinists believe in eternal damnation, I am a universalist). And then I looked at relevant Bible passages, and saw how they can be interpreted in ways consistent with these conclusions.

Now, you are proposing alternative ways of interpreting those Bible passages. And, of course, you are right, there are other ways of interpreting them. The Bible has always been open to many competing interpretations, throughout Christian history. But, why should I adopt your interpretations instead? I don’t see a good reason here for me to change my mind.

Fundamentally, I think, you and I are starting from different philosophical presuppositions, and we each prefer those Bible interpretations which accord with our own presuppositions. Awareness that there are other ways of reading the Bible doesn’t give me any reason not to prefer those readings which best accord with my philosophical beliefs.

Good analysis, Simon. It’s interesting that in Roman Catholicism…It wasn’t until Vatican II and post-Vatican II…that the Roman Catholic church, adopted a solid approach on Inclusivism (1,2,3,4)…and also allowed for Hope with universalism.

Well, anyway…Roman Catholic priest Richard Rohr…talks about both Christianity and occasionally the Wisdom (Mindfulness, Yoga (1, 2), Zen, Red Road, Golden Key) traditions. Personally, I think:

That we need to look at

to have a proper lens, to understand Holy Scripture. Unfortunately, the reformers really didn’t examine this, as they created their various theologies. That’s not to say, they didn’t read the church fathers - they did. They just thought, they could do better. Much akin to some folks here… thinking they can do better better than, the church fathers and reformers combined.

And while we reject the contributions, of other faith traditions…I think there is merit, in elements of them. For example, Buddhist Mindfulness and Zen, along with Indian yoga…has much to contribute, to contemplation and meditation…as long as we remove the philosophical and religious elements…much like the field of psychology, did with Buddhist Mindfulness.

And while Israel was in Old Testament times…how was God revealing himself, to those in the Americas - and elsewhere?

And the Native American medicine and holy people…along with groups like the Bruno Groening Circle of Friends and Sukyo Mahikari, can teach us about spiritual healing.

None of this takes away, from the central message of Christianity…which for me, I find it best expressed within Orthodoxy.

It’s too bad that it sometimes takes a lifetime and a generous sprinkling of humility before we arrive at that conclusion.


SimonK, all very well said! Although you didn’t comment on the chapter from Richard Murray’s book, or Paul Ellis’s article.

I was an Arminian for many years; but I became increasingly ill, over a long period of time. I also became depressed, and eventually I began to struggle with suicidal thoughts, which led to great fear, because my legalistic doctrine said that suicide was a sin (murder) for which I could not seek forgiveness in this life. And so I thought would be toast if I did it, which burdened me further, because of my fear of hell.

In my agony, God got my attention back onto my loving Savior, instead of doctrine. He reminded me of a Christian author I had much enjoyed, George MacDonald (The Princess and the Goblin, Wee Sir Gibbie, et al), and that he was an evangelical universalist.

Via the internet, I was also led (I believe) to more teachings on grace, from, for example, Joseph Prince of Singapore.

So, to answer your question, I felt I was being led forth in peace (Is. 55:12), by the Spirit of truth (Jn. 16:13); and isn’t peace a good indicator of truth?

Dear Hermano: Many moons ago I heard the voice of God breaking into my life. He spoke 6 words I had never read or considered. Fear: spell it with a capital F. I walked in the light of those words for years only to read the Consuming Fire by George MacDonald written nearly 100 years prior. Yes, he wrote what my poor frame saw in the last page of the Unspoken Sermon. G.M. is simply one of the finest vessels of the Living God.

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Thank you. I lack the time and patience to read all of Richard Murray’s book, but I did skim read it. About his bracket, I understand where he is coming from, but I sort of avoided commenting on it at first, because it is a controversial topic. Some passages in the Old Testament are dare I say just plain awful – my favourite example is Lev 21:9. Reading that passage makes me think of Muath Al-Kasasbeh, the Jordanian pilot whom ISIS burned to death in a cage. The idea of burning a woman to death is just utterly horrific. And, there is historical record of this verse being carried out, to a woman called Imarta bat Tali (see Sanhedrin 52b in the Babylonian Talmud).

At one point, I got very angry about these passages. I went so far as to think those passages come not from God but from the Devil (“Satanic inspiration” instead of “Divine inspiration”). But, then I began to worry that my anger (and maybe it is an entirely righteous anger) was estranging me from the Christian tradition (and more broadly the Judaeo-Christian/Abrahamic traditions), and that despite that tradition’s myriad flaws there is still a lot of good in it, and this estrangement was separating me from that good. So, I have been trying to calm down a bit.

How do most people deal with these passages? Well, mostly, people just ignore them and pretend they aren’t there. And, I’ve kind of mostly gone back to doing that myself. I guess Murray’s bracket is a possible solution. I see it has some advantages. The biggest problem in my view, is it just seems kind of arbitrary. (Then again, he might accuse my own views of being arbitrary.)

I’ve seen other solutions. For example, Randal Rauser argues (I hope I am expressing his views accurately!) that God inspires the Bible as an editor rather than an author, so the selection of texts is divinely inspired but God doesn’t necessarily endorse all the texts he chose to include (just like the editor of a volume of academic papers might not agree with everything said by all the papers they choose to include.) I think he also suggests that God is like a novelist, and just like a novelist doesn’t necessarily endorse all their characters say in the novel, in the same way God the author doesn’t necessarily endorse everything the character “God” in the Bible says. I’m not sure what I should make of his position.

At the moment, my own thoughts could be described as “citationalism” – the authority of a part of the Bible is proportional to how often it is actually cited. So a verse like John 3:16, which is cited constantly, has more authority than a verse like Lev 21:9 which is rarely discussed, and the degree of inspiration is proportional to the degree of authority. One can construct variants on “citationalism”, such as “weighted citationalism” (in which citations in certain documents have greater weight – citations by a Church Father count for more than citations by some random guy with a blog.) One can construct tradition-specific versions of “weighted citationalism” – a Catholic might give more weight to citations in papal encyclicals, a Protestant might give more weight to citations by the Reformers, etc. For churches that have a lectionary – Catholic, Eastern, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, etc – another variant might be “lectionarism”, in which verses read in the lectionary have more authority than those excluded (lex orandi, lex credendi).

Since I believe in meticulous providence, I believe that every word ever spoken is spoken by God’s decree, so in that sense all texts ever written are inspired and willed by God in every last word–even Mein Kampf, the Communist Manifesto, Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion”, Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible, the United States Code, the telephone directory, the Oxford English Dictionary, pornographic magazines. However, some texts are an expression, not just of his decretive will, but also of his preceptive will. All those texts I mentioned do a poor job of expressing his preceptive will, and hence are largely lacking in inspiration in that sense.

Applying that, it seems that Leviticus 21:9 is inspired by God in the decretive but not preceptive sense – whereas 1 John 4:8 is inspired by God in both senses. If Imarta bat Tali was burned to death, then that was commanded by God, not preceptively, only decretively – not as something good in itself, but as a necessary evil to the greater good. And those who burned her to death, even if they mistakenly thought they were doing God’s preceptive will, nonetheless were not – and as they burnt her with fire, so must they be burnt by the fires of hell – but the fires of hell with which they will be burnt are not some new and different fire from that in which they burnt Imarta bat Tali, but the very same flames. As she suffered, those who inflicted suffering on her must suffer, in precisely the same suffering. But, I also believe, that as we go to hell for our own sins, Christ descended into hell, not for his own sins, but for the sins of all – Christ freely volunteered to receive all that hell shall ever offer. As they burn, Christ burns with them. That is the immensity of Christ’s solidarity with all persons.

I can relate to some of what you are saying. I too have often struggled in the past with suicidal thoughts, although thankfully in the last 6 months or so they have been rare. I think one of the things that has kept me from acting on them, has been fear of divine judgement; also, now that I am a father, I just couldn’t do that to my children.

Is peace a good indicator of truth? A Buddhist or a Hindu finds peace in meditation – does that mean that Buddhism or Hinduism are true? A Sufi mystic finds peace in meditating on the prophet Muhammad – does that mean Islam is true? A Chabadnik finds peace meditating on the Rebbe – does that mean Schneerson is indeed the Moshiach? I have even had an atheist once tell me that he found peace in the idea of death as everlasting oblivion (and some of Algernon Swinburne’s poems convey the same idea, see e.g. The Garden of Proserpine) – does that mean it is true that death is everlasting oblivion? People find peace in all sorts of contradictory ideas, they all give some people peace but they can’t all be true.