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


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.


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.


Meditation and contemplation paths…like those found in the Light ( 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and Wisdom (Mindfulness, Yoga (1, 2), Zen, Red Road, Golden Key) traditions - can be adapted to the Christian faith.

So why not have, BOTH meditation and the Christian faith?


I have no problem with meditation in itself. My point is simply, that if a person does a particular religious variant of meditation, and finds some benefit from it, it is likely to make them think that the particular religion in question is true – but, someone else doing a meditation associated with a different religion will conclude that different religion is true instead – and they can’t all be right because they teach completely opposite things.

Of course, there are historically Christian forms of meditation (e.g. Eastern Orthodox hesychasm); and, possibly, one can take non-Christian forms of meditation and adapt them to a Christian context – although attempts to do the later are inevitably going to result in some controversy. I don’t think all forms of non-Christian meditation come across easily to Christianity. For example, when I dabbled in Tibetan Buddhism, I was taught to do this meditation in which one visualises the 16th Karmapa (Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, late head of the Karma Kagyu school) sitting in front of you, sending beams of coloured light into you, and each colour light cleanses you of some form of impurity or difficulty. I don’t think meditating on a late Tibetan Lama is really appropriate for Christians. Now, maybe you could try replacing the Karmapa with Jesus – but, I wonder if that isn’t just mangling both traditions.


Most of the links I shared, in my previous post - actually incorporates the appropriate Christian adaptation. I prefer meditations that focus on silence and/or light. Therefore, you stay away from things like mediating on a saint (or holy person), mantras, chants, etc.

for example:

For your info, the Tau Center in Wheaton, Illinois USA…is run by Franciscan nuns…And they regularly host mediation programs - like Mindfulness - for the general public.

And here’s what I said, to an EO priest via email

It was very educational and informative, to be informed about the Great lent history. I look at the disciple of the long fasts…similar to the movie Fighting With My Family. Where they have some female models and cheerleaders, try out for TV wrestling. But the training is like going, through a Marine boot camp. Really! You do it, because you see the end goal. And that’s what keeps folks going, until the end

Yes, I can do the fast. It’s not easy. I do like meat, even if it’s in smaller portions than what the average American eats. And it would probably be a no-brainer…if I lived in an environment, where they have many vegetarian restaurants. And I went through a phase of my life…where I experimented with a vegetarian diet, for health reasons.

As an aside, I do have the Lutheran baptismal documentation. I can turn that over to you when the time is appropriate
While I do see theological differences, between the RC and EO churches…and I side with the Orthodox, where there are differences…I do call the RC church a “church with grace”, as the OCA site labels some Orthodox folks view of it. God wants to draw people to Christ…even though the mechanism (RC church), might have some theological flaws. As do the Protestant churches. And perhaps even other faith traditions….as this excellent Greek Orthodox Church article, alludes to at An Orthodox Christian View of Non-Christian Religions. Of course, IMHO…the Orthodox way is the best.

P.S. My mom - now deceased at 92.5 years old…and born with the gift of prophesy…was a big Cubs fan and a fan of “professional” wrestling.


The words ‘Christian adaptation’ are intriguing. As is this:

Those are not Randy’s words btw, just a quote from his post above.
I know from personal experience that yoga, mindfulness, vipassana Zen - can bring a sense of awareness and calmness of mind. In my experience, those things come at a cost, however.
To avoid suffering, a Buddhist (in general; there are all kinds of Buddhists) must let go of all attachments, and sitting meditation is one of the aids to that end, as are the koans, the slogans etc. The ‘all’ in ‘all attachments’ is meticulous: even the things, ideas, people we love are attachments that can cause suffering. A moment’s thought will show that.
Mindfulness is a useful tool but I have found it unable to deal with the deep existential feelings we have and which trouble us. Yoga, especially the final movements that bring such a sense of release and relief, goes too far when it claims those sensations are ‘God’.
Yes I do know there will be a ‘fog’ of opinions on these practices, this is my two cents.

One other thought - do these other practices, and that includes the Red Road, vipassana, yoga, others - and I’m not dissing them! Just asking - do they ‘adapt’ Christianity to their practice, or is it Christianity that must be pulled apart and plugged in as a module to their existing beliefs? In other words, do they take the core teachings of Jesus Christ into their worldview? That he is the savior of the world, and is to be worshiped above all else? How can a pagan belief adapt the utterly deconstructing truth about Jesus (that is, false worldviews are shattered by the truth that is in Jesus, and a new reality, a new worldview comes to be) and still retain its paganism?

These and other questions come to mind when I hear of a practice that seems to honor Christ but in fact just takes Christian terminology and applies it to what it already believes.

I eagerly await the schooling that will no doubt be coming my way. :sunglasses:


There is only one thing that I have found and observed to help in this area: Letting go. Not caring about it anymore. Accepting that we know nothing, ultimately. If there is some truth to know that is important, we will learn it just going through life. If we don’t learn it, it wasn’t necessary, IMO.

This “striving” for answers and the need for an explanation is a trap, and one that robs us of life. Personal anecdote: Once I accepted that I don’t need to have a purpose, most of my anxiety vanished. People tell you that you need to have a higher calling. That isn’t true, you only need that if you believe you need that. It is a self fulfilling prophecy. Find what you enjoy, try to make the world a better place and enjoy the life that was given to you. Think Ecclesiastes.


Yes. Well, I’m not the only one…exploring the connection between Christianity and things like Native American spirituality, Zen, Mindfulness, Yoga, etc.

Actually, it’s clergy and monastics, in the Roman Catholic Church…that have done that since Vatican II. There has been a parade, of such famous folks. Folks like:

Blending Catholicism and Yoga


And even folks, like Fr. Richard Rohr:

And these and other methods of contemplation…are available to the general public, at the Tau Center in Wheaton…which is run by a group, of Franciscan nuns. And nobody from the Catholic hierarchy, told them to stop their offerings.

And the church of the East, has their own set of practices - with things like hesychasm.

And my take on Native American spirituality, is that it has been around for centuries. And when God was speaking with Israel…he was also communicating with other nations (i.e. North and South America)…via the Native American ways. That is my understanding.

Things like mindfulness have been divorced from their Buddhist settings…and incorporated into the field of psychology.

So I’m not doing anything:

  • That Roman Catholic clergy haven’t done, since Vatican II

  • Or psychology hasn’t done. Which is science, mind you!

  • Or hasn’t been around, since the beginning of time - with the Native Americans.

  • Or you can find the counterpart, in the church of the East

Enough said for now!

But anyway, I follow the path - of silence and light. So you can label it, how you will. Zen, Mindfulness, Red Road, Yoga, hesychasm, etc. It probably crosses all those boundaries. As well as that, of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant (with folks like George Fox and Jacob Boehme) mysticism.

“Oh I see,” said the blind man as he picked up his hammer and saw.


Randy, I’ve always admired your willingness to go ‘outside the box’ and you’ve helped me to see some deficiencies in my worldview. In an earlier life I studied and practiced some of the things I mentioned - just to say, I was being honest about ‘not dissing, just asking’.
I know that many thoughtful people explore these alternative paths.

I did ask a few questions in my post that I hopefully will get answers to, since I don’t know the answers.


Dave. The goal of Eastern Orthodoxy, of which I am a prospect - is Theosis. And the Eastern Orthodox understanding is that God has both - an essence and energies. And we tap into, the energies of God - for spiritual growth.

Now, this doesn’t take away from…a belief in Christ, as formulated in the historical creeds.

And there are things I’ve discovered, from other traditions…to help give Theosis a push.

Like an out of print book, by a Native American medicine man:

Where the goal of life, is to generate light.

Or the yogic practice of

Which meditates on spiritual light and talks about yogic transmission.

Or The Japanese modality of

That talks about transmitting the light, for purification and healing.

I follow the EO path of Theosis. But I believe others outside of Christianity, have also discovered - how to tap into God’s energies.

So imagine I’m on a train track. And I’m in a push cart. But now and then, someone comes along - and gives me a push. It will help me to get, to my destination faster.

You have to answer your own questions. But this is my direction - and take - on this subject.

Just follow the directions! :wink:



Ok, I will not push the button.
Still, it would be interesting at some time to discuss the questions I had above.


I’ll answer your questions:

One other thought - do these other practices, and that includes the Red Road, vipassana, yoga, others - and I’m not dissing them! Just asking - do they ‘adapt’ Christianity to their practice, or is it Christianity that must be pulled apart and plugged in as a module to their existing beliefs? In other words, do they take the core teachings of Jesus Christ into their worldview? That he is the savior of the world, and is to be worshiped above all else?

I have friends who are Roman Catholic

  • and belong to the Bruno Groening Circle of Friends.

  • and practice mindfulness

  • and practice Suyko Mahikari.

  • and practice the Native American Sweatlodge.

  • and practice Johrei.

For them (and for me), Christ is still the savior of the world. But these other things help in concentration, healing, etc. Think of the movement Jews for Jesus. The Jewish converts embrace Christian beliefs, but they still find value - in their Jewish identity.

That he is the savior of the world and is to be worshiped above all else?

Yes, Christians practicing things like Zen, yoga, Red Road ways, etc. have no issue with Christ - as the chief object of worship (along with the other members, of the Trinity). Although “Trinity” for some here, is a loaded statement.