James K.A. Smith Post on The New Universalism


I came across James K.A. Smith’s response to what he is terming “the new universalism” on his blog today and thought I’d post the link here for your viewing. He is a professor of philosophy at Calvin College in Michigan and an interesting thinker as he melds Reformed theology with Pentecostal thought. I’m assuming he would lump Robin Parry, Thomas Talbott, and Nik Ansell under his umbrella of “new universalism.” Here’s the link:


I’ve also responded to him in my own posts that which I would love feedback on:



I didn’t find his tone overly denigrating, but at the same time I don’t think he went deep enough into the hermeneutical issues surrounding universalism. He seems out of hand to dismiss all universalists exegesis as forcing a particular framework onto Scripture; he fails to note the ever growing amount of exegesis in support of universalism that are derived from particularly good exegesis.

What are you guys thoughts on his post and my response?


I thought your responses were good, especially regarding 2 areas:

  1. the overall issue of hermeneutic: which passages are allowed to frame our understanding of other (apparently contradictory) passages?
  2. the issue of tradition: our theological forerunners were, in the end, HUMAN, and if we could never effectively challenge tradition, we’d still be purchasing indulgences!

Well played, sir. :sunglasses:


Ditto! :slight_smile:

(Don’t really have time this afternoon for more commentary, but I’ve been out of pocket last week so I wanted to at least register a thumb. :smiley: )


Jamie wasn’t condemning and judgmental, and that’s a relief.

Couple comments.

First, I don’t think evangelical universalists are as unmotivated by the ‘text’ of Scripture as Jamie thinks. You can hardly get that from reading Robin’s EU. It really wrestles with the text and WANTS to be grounded in the text.

Second, Jamie assumes part of what’s being debated. He asks, “Are these hopes and imaginings sufficiently warranted to overturn the received, orthodox doctrines concerning final judgment and eternal damnation? Are these sufficient to overturn the narrative thrust of Scripture and the clearer reading of biblical passages that suggest otherwise?”

But is ECT really the true THRUST of the Scripture and is it really the CLEARER READING? Isn’t that what’s at stake in the debate?

Third, Jamie asks if the hope that UR is true is “sufficient for me to set aside centuries of the church’s theological reflection on these matters?”

I don’t think so at all. Just include those Orthodox fathers and saints whose reflection through the years establishes the minority opinion of UR.

And he asks, “Is my chronological snobbery warranted? Just how do I think my hopes and imaginings are somehow more faithful and merciful and just than the generations upon generations of my forebears in the Christian faith? (I’ll confess to being a kind of theological Burkean: it’s very hard for me to imagine that I am smarter or better than Augustine or John Calvin or Jonathan Edwards. I’m not generally given to whiggish theology.)”

Wow, three determinists! Ouch. Which do I choose? I either think I’m smarter than Augustine and Edwards or smarter than Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Maximus. I’m a snob either way? True, if you JUST count heads, the ECTers have it. But Jamie either doesn’t know universalists have some very smart and uncondemned support in the Fathers and beloved Saints (recognized as such by the SAME tradition Jamie doesn’t want to snub) or he think minor traditions are no traditions at all.



Quite weak, no real discussion of the whether it is true or not.

Takes a common track that I’ve found with evangelicals is that
they’d rather discuss your motivations for wanting to
believe in universalism (e.g. is it because your Dad
is an unbeliever?) rather than what the bible teaches or the
theology of the issue.

He starts heading towards a hopeful universalist, then
states that it is as vain a hope as wishing he was married to his
wife for all eternity.

But we should praise God that this issue is being discussed
openly, as it is the average church goer will see the
weakness of the case for ECT.


I don’t know about him, but I intend to be ‘married’ to my wife for eternity whether marriage exists or not. >.>

Or at least replace it with a monogamous equivalent that is of “Heaven-culture”. I don’t think God is so ridiculously utilitarian that “marriage” is merely for the “making of babies and the preventing of lusts so a man and woman can do the Kingdom’s job without sin in their life”.

But then, its a bit like the whole issue with “will my pet be in Heaven?” - some people are “Biblically cruel” when they demand the answer be “no”. Same it is with Universalism. A strong case can be made for many “vain hopes” yet there are some who seem intent on supporting only the negative trend Gospel for the sake of piety.