The Evangelical Universalist Forum

In a nutshell, universalism has...?


I appreciate your attempt to summarize, and each point should be discussed (and often has been on the forum). On your leading point, I’m skeptical that most universal salvation passages are “loosely” stated. When classic texts like Colossians 1 or Romans 5 appear to define and promise God’s “reconciliation” in Christ as effective for everyone in creation, or use the future tense to declare that “all persons” will be made righteous, it seems to me to be as ‘unloose’ as virtually any other texts used for any other asserted doctrines. My bias is that loose generalizations about the nature of these texts can never substitute for careful discussion and debate of their language and grammar. Can you present the actual case as to how such texts are actually “vague”?

I could have a bash

A) it isn’t vague at all. One example is in Romans where the same “all” that die in Adam are the same “all” that are raised in Christ. The context is clear it is talking about salvation. Really, a plain reading makes far more sense than the gymnastics people have to do to make it exclude anyone.
B) actually the burden of proof is on those that want to force “aionios” to mean “eternal”. Quite simply, it doesn’t meant anything like “eternal” as we understand the concept.
C) this one is what convinced me. God never just destroys. God restores afterwards. Throughout the OT you have so many instances of God’s wrath displayed in fury followed by the promise of resurrection. And peace. In some of the darkest bits, we see God being presented as one that does not cast aside to the age…that His mercy lasts much longer than His anger.

I’m curious about universalism so I really hope this kicks off into a bigger discussion…

a] Didn’t greek orthodox theology say something about hell being a horrible experience of the unrepentant sinner of God actually saving everyone? The idea was that God technically does save everyone, but those who haven’t accepted him on earth experience it in a completely hostile way; that, in other words is their “hell”. I guess you could call it “Universal Reckoning:astonished: And I don’t know if it is true or not. But I can’t see why Universal Reconciliation is necessarily a better alternative.

b] what about “eternal life” or the “eternal” nature of God? It looks like one could go either way with “ainos” in light of such passages. And this isn’t even to mention that many Conditional Immortalists would, for instance, take “eternal destruction” as a finite, but prolonged period of punishment that eventually leads to death. In fact there were a number of jews at the time who had that as a sort of concept of hell; prolonged punishment, but eventual destruction of the soul.

c] “jacob have i loved, essau have i hated”?


It’s good you want to discuss it! even if you decide against it, you’ll be better off for having thought it through, IMO :slight_smile:

This is an interesting way of looking at it, certainly…but it still involves God “failing” somehow. we are told that God is love, and we’re told that love never fails…so this to me seems hard to swallow, unless it’s a temporary condition.

edited to add:
this seems logically implausible to me: the concept that God would engineer things so that His salvation would become something abhorrent to an eternity to those that reject, or that He’d allow it to happen forever based on an over-emphasis on free-will (like CS Lewis with the dwarves in The Last Battle “the dwarves are for the dwarves”, as they sat in a dark room of their own making, though he doesn’t SAY this is forever, it just is left that way). surely love looks like love? it can be severe, but love ultimately heals, or else it is not love at all, but hate (as we humans know it). no, God is a Person and not a machine that depends on input. He can moderate His presence. He can woo. He speaks with a quiet voice after the storm has passed and is totally persuasive. the idea of God’s presence being a punishment to the wicked forever makes no sense to me. He wounds, but He binds up.
He slays, but He raises up.

yes, this is a common objection raised.
if i word it slightly differently…we are told by use of the word aionios that God lasts to the age, that life in God lasts to the age, and that punishment for sin lasts to an age.
“to an age” is descriptive, and clarifies the noun it applies to (God, life, punishment). however, the punishment from the pattern of the Bible is for a time and a purpose (“so that they may know that I am the Lord”, for example), and if we take what Jeremiah and the Psalmist said seriously, we know God’s anger only lasts as long as it needs to.
we also know from Isaiah that His ways are not our ways, and the context of that statement is God showing mercy that is unexpected by man’s standards…despite the fact that phrase is used to defend the image of a wrathful God, it actually means totally the opposite, and gives us a hint that His anger is NOT like our anger.

why does God and the Life He offers get to be eternal? because we’re told that He never dies…so we can say God is long-lasting, and we can say punishment is long-lasting…but we know from the pattern of Scripture that punishment is for a season…but if God never dies, and He offers life unending to His people…then by virtue of that fact, they are both age enduring (aionios) and never ending by virtue of their being no death.

i hope i explained that well, it may be a bit rambling…basically something can be long-lasting but have an end (God’s wrath at sin, potentially) and something can be long-lasting AND immortal (God…life in God).

this is a meaty one…what happened to Esau? him and Jacob were reconciled in one of the most heart-warming parts of the Old Testament. i LOVE that example…clearly God does not hate as we do either :slight_smile:

Hello Blue and welcome to the forum.
I look forward to getting to know you and look forward to discussing UR with you. In response to your 3 introductory comments, I think:

a) There are a few passages that strongly affirm UR and there are many passages that “loosely” affirm UR (like the ones you referenced). To me, Rom.5:18, 1 Cor.15:22, and Col.1:20 are the most compelling, though I find John 12:32, Rom.11:32, Eph.1:8-10, 2 Cor.5:19, and Paul’s quote of Isa.25 in Phil.2:10-11 all also very compelling based on their literary context.

b) Concerning the word “aionios”, like most words it has multiple meanings and nuances, and I find Jesus’ qualitative definition of aionian life as being knowing God to be most helpful. It’s usually used as a qualitative word, not quantitative, not “temporal” but “eternal”, not “physical” but “spiritual”. It is a word “loosely” translated as “eternal”. There are other Greek words that specifically mean “endless” (especially aidos if I remember correctly); if the concept of “endlessness” was intended to be communicated, such specific wording would have been used instead of the non-specific use of aionios. And I don’t see how understanding that aionios is qualitative instead of quantitative is a “radical re-definition of salvation”.

c) God uses fire to destroy and to purify and deliver. In fact, when one purifies something the impurities are destroyed, removed by fire. Focusing on the “destruction” side of the coin does not nullify the “purification” side of the coin. I especially appreciate Lam. 3:31-33:
31 For men are not cast off
by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to the children of men.

The punishment of evil flows out of God love, justice, and mercy. The fire of God’s presence burns the hell out of us! When we are delivered from evil by judgment we shall all worship God and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess the Jesus is Lord! And we find that Jesus truly is the savior of all, especially we who believe!

It’s a BIG topic (as you recognize) with lots of data to sift through, and a lot of the data has more angles than immediately apparent. And that’s only the scriptural side; the metaphysical side is relatively less extensive but still has a lot of points and angles to sift through.

That’s why arguments for it can and do get lengthy.

Trying to summarize the positions on various points often leads to oversimplification.

For example: “Eon doesn’t always mean forever, I SAID EON DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN FOREVER WHY ARE YOU STILL TRYING TO BASE HOPELESS PUNISHMENT ON THAT!” :wink: would be fairly reasonably answered by, “Isn’t betting an entire, hitherto radical re-definition of salvation in large part on whether “aion/ian” or whatever might not refer to “eternity” sort of just jumping the gun? Maybe its true. But there seems a great potential for error in that assumption, so I don’t see why one should assume it.”

So if you already have an answer against a merely quick summary on the terminology question for eon, then why would you ask for (or even want) a merely quick summary on the terminology question for eon?

The quick answer is: detailed context analysis tells us whether a form of ‘eon’ refers to something actually everlasting or not on a case by case basis. It isn’t merely (and shouldn’t be) an “assumption”.

For example, the term {aidios} is only used twice in the NT; and in one case refers to something that by extended context we know cannot be endless (the imprisonment of rebel angels and humans in hades – the rebel angels are released to cause trouble later, and the humans are resurrected even though impenitent later). Whereas both examples of {aidios} in the NT could involve the term being a-idios (invisible, very similar to hades, unseen) instead of ai-dios (high brightness, a term metaphorically describing God’s unique eternality).

So even though outside the New Testament {aidios} typically refers to unending continuation, it demonstrably doesn’t always mean that in the NT texts.

And that’s a term with only two occurrences. Working out what eon and all its cognates mean on a case-by-case basis takes much longer.

Quick answer: no they aren’t vague when looked at really quickly. :wink:

Slightly less quick answer: the phrases you mentioned could refer to something other than universal salvation based on local or extended contexts; which is why non-universalists (not unreasonably) don’t think they testify to universal salvation; and which is why universalists shouldn’t appeal to them really quickly as though that settles the matter but should examine the contexts and details at least as thoroughly as non-universalists do and more thoroughly if possible and relevant. But then so much for any answer in a nutshell.

Your first sentence is only a reply to ultra-universalists who deny any wrath or punishment from God post-mortem, and the quick answer to that is some of those still believe God acts in wrath and punishment before (and even to the) death, which a lot of those Biblical references certainly refer to. The quicker answer to your first question is that purgatorial universalists (like myself) have no problem with God being zorchy toward impenitent sinners into the eons of the eons.

The quick answer to your second sentence is that we don’t (or shouldn’t) quickly assume the afterlife punishment must be corrective, which is why we study the details and contexts to draw an informed conclusion on the topic. But then so much for any answer in a nutshell.

If God actually saves the unrepentant sinner from his sins, who experiences the salvation in a hostile way, then the sinner eventually repents and is reconciled to God.

So the quick answer is that Universal Reconciliation is necessarily a better alternative than Universal Reckoning if God is actually reconciling everyone; but if God isn’t actually reconciling everyone then Universal Reconciliation would be a false way to describe it, and Universal Reckoning (i.e. judgment) would be better.

The quick answer is that this sort of thing is why there shouldn’t be quick answers to this sort of thing. :wink:

The quick answer is that Paul is quoting one of the prophets talking about how God is going to make Israel instead of Edom the prime nation in the world, even though both nations have been horribly sinful and both nations are going to be destroyed to death. Edom is restored later as prophesied elsewhere, but Israel will be restored first and in authority (and not due to Israel’s own righteousness but due to God’s gracious choice.)

The Jacob/Esau story in Genesis behind this (Edom being the nation descended from Esau), involves Isaac blessing Esau in Jacob even though Jacob will be the inheritor; and Esau and Jacob eventually reconciling with each other in one of the most beautiful and famous stories of the Bible. So Esau isn’t hopelessly punished, no moreso than Jacob/Israel is (who acted like a satan to Esau in order to get the inheritance blessing from Isaac).

I guess the bottom line is that I’m terrified of spending eternity in hell (as I am not a Christian, though was raised as one), and of others going there, I’m looking for a loophole and universalism just seems like a “maybe” rather than a “don’t worry”.

Why should I accept it as more than an educated guess?

You shouldn’t just accept it, Blue. It seems to me that finding the Truth is a lifelong pursuit.

The idea that all will be saved is ultimately a statement about who God is – Can He really be described as “love”? Who does He love? What does that love entail? Does He seek and save all the lost or only some? Will He be unsuccessful in His desire to save? What is He saving people from?

May I ask – if you are not a Christian, why do you fear Hell? Is that just a leftover from your childhood upbringing, or is it part of what you currently believe?


Yes, it is leftover from childhood. I was raised a Christian but never really “felt” or “believed” it. I just went through the motions and didn’t think about it too much because I was terrified of Hell. It still lingers.

And the universalism issue just comes down to Pascal’s Wager: christians should proceed as if universalism is just speculation (albeit well informed), because it is not worth the risk of being wrong. That probably even goes for Annihilationists as well.


What can you say? What do you think about all of this? In your view based on experience is ultimate terror compatible with love? Is being terrified compatible with trust? Is it an inspiration for universal compassion?

What do you think of the different varieties of Eternal Conscious Torment on offer? Would you be happier with the softer variety – that if we create or own hell by turning away from God and God respects this and leaves us shut up in or egocentricity? Or would you prefer a version that argues that God creates most people specifically to torment them of eternity at which both we and God will laugh if we happen to be among the elect?

Should we choose our faith in terms of which one provides the surest insurance policy against hell? Are any versions of Christianity or other religions such as Islam that posit eternal torment in some of their varieties more coherent, more reasonable, more compassionate because they teach a strong doctrine of hell? Do they enable us to live more abundantly?

Can you think of any examples from your own experience or from history where a strong belief in hell has had a terrible and distorting effect on how people acted towards their fellow human beings? How would you guard against this?

Is safety from eternal damnation the heart of faith? Is it the essence of Love? Can we have any faith without risk?

What does it mean to affirm that God is Love and true Love casts out fear?

Thinking back to the times you have loved deeply - can you describe what happened in a nutshell?

What canst thou say?



Hi Blue,

I’m not sure what exactly you mean by this. I prefer to proceed as if universalism is true, because I’m personally convinced that it is – that God loves all and will save all.

What does it mean to proceed as if universalism is just speculation? What do you mean when you speak of “the risk of being wrong”?


Thanks all for the replies.

Basically, one can make claims from intuition. One can claim to ‘just know’ this or that belief is true by faith. But any Christian would be justified in rejecting such a person’s view unless the Bible itself could demonstrate what they say. Not hint at it, not make it a definately “maybe”. Not even a “more likely than not”. Of course 100 Percent certainty is a pretty hopeless expection in these matters, but one needs to strive very hard for “beyond reasonable doubt” on a subject like eternal hell verses remedial hell.

And if you can’t do a good enough job at that (whatever that is), then risking the eternal fate of people’s souls by spreading universalism would be a bad idea. You can’t fight probability. Its just common sense! So you’d have to go about your affairs as if universalism is just a theory. A good one perhaps, but too far from proof to be treated as truth.

I suppose this matter needs to be pushed more to front-and-center than most issues in Christianity today. If you think about it, its probably the most important issue ever.

I just don’t see why any of you would take the risk of preaching universalism. What if you’re wrong? You can’t afford to be.

It seems to me like you are just trying to hedge your bets. That you are not convinced enough to actually live a christian life but you want the benefits of slipping in the back way through universalism without making an effort yourself. I’m not inclined to encourage you in that way. You need to understand that universalism doesn’t mean that there is no judgment at all. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We all bear a responsibility to Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary and the righteousness of God and there is no getting around that. I would rather face God’s judgments now while I live than bear them in the Lake of Fire. Better to be a mature fully formed ‘huios’ son of God with the mind of Christ than not. “You gotta serve somebody”. :mrgreen:

Hmm … I guess I don’t think I’m putting anyone’s eternal fate at risk. Perhaps that’s partly a result of coming from a Calvinist background. I have always believed that God is the author and finisher of our faith. It is God who changes hearts of stone to hearts of flesh and causes people to turn to Him. If anyone didn’t get saved, it was because God chose not to save them.

Now I am convinced that God does intend to save everyone, and that He will.

But even apart from the Calvinist ideas, I don’t see how universalism is an idea that would cause people to be in danger.

I don’t believe or tell others that this means it’s okay for us all to go out and live selfishly because we know it will eventually turn out fine. The Bible is clear that we will all be called to account for what we do and say, and justice will be done. The gospel Jesus preached is: “Repent! The kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Universalism does not change this. Paul’s version of this is: “He is now calling all people to repent for he has set a day when he will judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed.”

The call is to all men to turn to God.

Universalism is the faith that God really does love all and is committed to the restoration and reconciliation of all. It does not endanger anyone’s faith.

As you have probably experienced yourself, fear of everlasting hell does not necessarily produce faith in God – I’m not sure it can. Speaking for myself, that fear was a hindrance, not a help.


Hi Blue Raja (great handle, by the way :smiley: )

Your posts bring to mind the story about WC Fields, an avowed atheist who was apparently caught reading the Bible by a friend who visited him in hospital when he was dying (after a life of alcoholic indulgence). When the friend asked him what he was doing he replied, “checking for loopholes”. :laughing:

In a nutshell, UR to me is encapsulated in two very simple, very short and oh so very true Biblical statements (as pointed out by James earlier) - 1 John 4:8 and 1 Corinthians 13:8: " … God is love; … love never fails".

Now many ‘traditional’ Christians do not accept UR because they believe the Bible doesn’t teach it. They’re wrong. The Bible quite patently does teach that all people will ultimately be reconciled to God. The trouble is it also appears to teach things that contradict that view. I say appears, because careful study shows that such interpretations are highly dubious at best, usually relying on dodgy translations.

For me, the Bible is just a book. A special book, sure. But a book written by flawed, sinful human beings. And as such it is full of the error to which we are all prone. (And incidentally, nowhere does the Bible claim itself to be literally true, or even true at all.) Yes the Bible points us to God - or more importantly to Jesus, who is God - but just as much so, if not more, does our God-given conscience point us to God.

And my conscience is unequivocal: God, if he exists at all, cannot be less merciful and loving than I am. In fact, he cannot be less loving and merciful than the most merciful and loving human being who has ever existed. And since plenty of human beings - including lots of us here - are Universalists, God must be one too :slight_smile: .

I was an orthodox, ECT Christian for many years before I became a Universalist. And for all that time I knew in my heart that something at the heart of my theology stank very badly indeed. And the only way I could keep that smell out of my nostrils was by putting a peg on my nose - deliberately ignoring the stink, in effect. It is impossible - impossible to truly and honestly believe that God is love and love never fails, at the same time as believing that he will condemn unrepentant sinners to eternal torment in hell. Anyone who says otherwise is either deluded, a liar or very wicked indeed.



Hi Blue Raja –

Hope all is well. I’d add a similar take on this to dear Johnny’s. The trouble is, as I see it, is that avoidance of hell is actually not the cornerstone of the Gospel nor the scope of the biblical message – that’s not just intuition at all (you are talking here about the sort of intuition that a gambler has when he places a bet). My balance of Christian faith is – I hope –the result of honest reflection on the Bible, on experience, on the lives of those who were great lovers of Christ and bore good fruits, on history etc. I’ve never seen it as a matter of hedging bets even when I was terrified of hell (as I truly was when I was a younger bloke).

If the Gospel of Christ can really be reduced to hedging bets about Hell then I start to see it as being a bit like a Game of Monopoly. I know that those parts of Christianity who do emphasise avoidance of hell as central, and also emphasise the vital importance of being doctrinally correct to avoid hell split into smaller and smaller sects over smaller and smaller points of doctrine, And who can blame them given the centrality they give to eternal hell in their teaching. So you could redesign the Monopoly board, taking away the London locations and replacing these with the name of various sects in sectarian Christianity. You’d have to invest in various different doctrinal options as you went along. Bet the wrong throw of the dice would send you to straight to hell rather than to jail. Well that would be a poor and very silly gospel. Indeed Pascal was a very intelligent man, a devout man, a peculiar man and a great (and alarming) masochist. I think he took a wrong turn by inventing his ‘wager’ argument – there must be better metaphors for the serious business of having to choose in life and to make deep and lasting choices too.

I Christ our Hen :slight_smile:


I should clarify what I insinuated about Pascal - he of the wager, and a brilliant mathematician who probably did much to invent the science for probabilistic statistics and designed a primitive computer. He was a Jansenist - a very severe sect within French Catholicism beloved of the French aristocracy (pre-Revolution) with a theology similar in some respects to sectarian Calvinism.

I don’t think his wager gave him much peace. He used to wear a spiked belt the wrong way round next to his flesh and if he started to enjoy his food he would give it a bash to mortify himself. He also used to sit on a seat with low spikes on it and if anyone came to see him and he started to enjoy a conversation he’d press his bottom down on the spikes. So - brilliant man as he was (and he was also a brilliant satirist against the Jesuits) it seems to me that probably his belief in hell was not a liberation for him. Even within ECT versions of Christianity surely Grace rather than Hell must be the staring point of any healthy theology.

Egads, poor Pascal :astonished:

I agree that the whole point of Christianity was not supposed to be a “ticket out of hell”! the fact it has turned into that for many, or at least is the starting point for what eventually evolves into a relationship with God, is a sad thing. When did we turn from He shall save us from our sins to He shall save us from a place quite like some Pagan afterlives, full of misery…
Isn’t there enough hell in our sins for that to be enough?

as to preaching universalism…if i “preach” (using words), i would simply say the same thing i always would have said…God loves you, Jesus died for you. the key difference is now i don’t have to edge around the bit i’m embarassed about: the bit that makes NO SENSE AT ALL: Hell. Now i can just preach love that was willing to die, with no hidden threats. my message, where i feel called to give one in a verbal sense (which is rarely, as most in England have an understanding and would reject such preaching out of hand) is now far more consistent.

To be fair to Pascal, the popular notion of the Wager isn’t what he meant by the Wager. :wink:

What he meant was that if a person had looked over everything and the evidence was, to that person, so finely balanced that they couldn’t make a decision one way or another on the evidence, then they should make a decision based on pragmatism: if it’s true or false which way would be less risky and/or more beneficial to me? To be as safe as possible I should bet that way.

He didn’t mean that we should make a conservatively safe bet no matter what we thought of the evidence.

The popular notion of the Wager has some practical application, too, but that wasn’t what Pascal was talking about. The last three Roman Catholic Popes, seem to have been convinced that Christian universalism was probably (or even certainly) true, BUT it was better to conservatively bet for safety in case it wasn’t.

This is distinct from what was called “the doctrine of reserve” back in the early Patristic days, when theologians and bishops who privately and among themselves thought Christian universalism was true (not all of them did), preached and wrote in language that would sound like hopeless punishment was coming to some sinners, because they thought uneducated people would misunderstand the meaning of Christian universalism and think they could just go around sinning however they wanted without consequence to themselves.

To which I’d say the solution is to make clear in preaching that impenitent sin is going to be punished into the eons of the eons for however long the person insists on holding to it, and that God cannot be fooled by insincere repentance.

Which is why I make sure to do that. :slight_smile: I can’t outright prevent people from misunderstanding me, but no one ever got the idea from me that there was no wrath of God coming to sinners.

Anyway, Blue:

Anyone who wants to believe universalism in order to escape punishment, never got that from me, and (I would say) has the wrong attitude toward God’s salvation even if they converted to Christianity. I don’t recommend anyone come to believe universalism without intense study on the matter anyway (I could say the same about becoming a Christian at all), and no one could come to universalism from the direction I recommend without having first come to accept that what we primarily need saving from is our sins.

Now, if it’s a question of gnostic belief, which set of doctrines among all sets will save us, then we’re ultimately screwed anyway even if we get the right set, because a god (or even a God) who judged on that basis has no intrinsic interest in promoting fair-togetherness between people. At best we’d be talking about an intellectual tyrant.

If some kind of gnosticism isn’t true (even an ‘orthodox’ Christian gnosticism, which ought to be against gnosticism, insert irony as appropriate :wink: ), how am I risking people’s souls by preaching that God acts continually and competently toward saving all sinners from sin until He gets it done?

If I’m wrong about “all people”, then the people God never intended to save were hopelessly damned already, and were never going to be anything other than hopelessly damned; whereas the people God intended to save were never going to be threatened in the long run by anything I did anyway. So I’m certainly not putting anyone at risk of final perdition either way in that case.

If I’m wrong about “continually acting”, then even Christians are at risk of final perdition regardless of what I preach, and regardless of how ‘Christian’ they may be at any point before death. The only relatively safe path is for people to try to be as ethically good as possible, to convince God to not change His mind about them (or to convince Him to try saving them in the first place!?) And I preach that people ought to repent of their sins and commit to doing what is ethically good (following the basis of goodness which would be true if trinitarian theism is true). So they’re as safe as they’re going to be in any case.

If I’m wrong about God being competent to save a sinner from sin, then the problem isn’t with me at all, but with God and/or whichever sinner is stronger than God. But then in the long run we’re all probably screwed anyway.

Back when I debated TFan a couple of years ago, I ended it with an evangelical appeal instead of summarizing my arguments (since I’d already been doing those for 3 hours). So here’s what I say when I’m making a relatively quick evangelical appeal to non-Christians. (TFan did, too, much more briefly, and in an Arminianistic fashion, which I thought was really funny since he’s a Calvinist, but I appreciated his effort anyway. :slight_smile: )

:blush: Yes I was being a touch unfair there Jason (at least about what he meant by Wager). Pascal was also a very peppery satirist - he’ll have to forgive me because all satire is unfair. And Blue should forgive me too - because both of us are making caricatures here :sunglasses:

That’s a wonderful broadcast Jason - you’ve have a really kind and strong voice. :smiley: