The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Pre-existence: the missing piece to the Universalist puzzle

I can well understand someone reading the word ‘pre-existence’ in this title and immediately passing this post by. ‘Whatever problems Universalism may have,’ so the thought would run ‘the silly idea of pre-existence certainly can’t make things more clear.’

This group, if there is any group alive today, knows that just because a view seems heterodox to mainline Christianity, doesn’t mean it has a poor case going for it. I think there is good reason to believe that some form of pre-existence is true. I also think that pre-existence solves many of the recurrent philosophical problems of Universalism.

For instance, one such problem is this: if we have free will, how can God guarantee that all will be saved? If it takes a movement of will that God cannot necessitate, doesn’t it follow that God cannot necessarily save all souls?

A second theological problems that pre-existence solves is this: if God is omnipotent, and if He can guarantee ultimate salvation, why is there any evil in the world now? Jerry Walls, probably the most prominent Arminian defender of Hell today, sees the only possible reason for God allowing evil to be creaturely freedom. But if that freedom is something that He can eventually necessitate when he saves all souls, why doesn’t He just necessitate it now, before all the evil takes place? Why wait for the murderer to kill 20 or 30 people; why not compel him after his first murder; why not after his first murderous thought?

A third theological problem that pre-existence solves is the problem of reconciling God’s foreknowledge and creaturely free will. This area of theology has seen a tremendous amount of diversity in the last 30 years. Speculations range from one end of the spectrum (God being completely ignorant of future free choices) to the other (God has determined all future free choices). The problem is, if we are truly free, how does God know what we will do before we do it? And if He *doesn’t *know, how could He have made predictions about future events? Indeed how could He have guaranteed ‘before the foundation of the world’ that Christ would even be crucified?

These, then, are the three main problems that pre-existence solves: a) how God can guarantee that all are saved; b) why God allows evil; and c) the reconciliation of God’s foreknowledge and creaturely freedom.

I’m going to post below an article that actually argues for the conclusion that pre-existence makes best sense from a philosophical, theological, and Scriptural point of view. And it answers *b *and *c *above. Point a I will address in a following post.
II PRE.docx (60.8 KB)

Well, my interest is piqued! :slight_smile:

It would help if I uploaded the file! :laughing:

Should be there now.

Very insightful thoughts, thank you Chris! :slight_smile:

The way I think about total, libertarian free will and compatibility with the idea of eventual universal reconciliation is with the theological concept of molinism, which argues they are completely compatible without any limitation of free will. This is championed by William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga, and discussed in the Evangelical Universalist by Robin Parry (see ). It argues the following:

  1. God has foreknowledge of our actions. Yet Him knowing what we will do doesn’t equate to Him causing it, just as us knowing that the earth is rotating today doesn’t imply we are the cause of said rotation. We were and continue to be free to act otherwise; God simple has an incredible degree of knowledge, even about our free actions.

  2. More than just foreknowledge, He has ‘middle knowledge’. This is the knowledge of what a given free creature would choose were they placed in a given situation. Again, this is not the same as us being determined to do something (it is a free choice that God has knowledge of) as knowledge is not the same as cause.

  3. In relation to UR, this means God knows exactly what set of circumstances a given human being must be placed in, in order for him or her to freely choose life with Jesus Christ. Again, I emphasise this choice is free, not caused by God or any external factors. God’s middle knowledge in (2) allows Him to be able to know what situation a given creature.

  4. God could, in theory, create a world where every single free creature is placed in circumstances in which they will freely choose Him eventually, even if after death or post-judgement. This may be a long and complex process for some, but He can ensure it comes to be for every person by simply giving them the circumstances He knows they need.

  5. Thus, without restricting our freedom, God in theory is able to create a universe where all creatures eventually choose Him, simply by being incredibly clever (as we know He is!) about circumstances to make them so favourable that He knows (via middle knowledge) that everyone will freely choose Him. They are not compelled, or coerced - they make free, informed choices.

I find this a powerful answer to the apparent contradiction, without restricting creaturely freedom or God’s knowledge :slight_smile: Thank you for your thoughts again!

Confident Christian,

Thanks for your post and encouragement! My view on pre-existence is functionally equivalent to Molinism. That is, I too believe God has middle knowledge, and think this enables Him to ‘orchestrate’ or ‘guarantee’ without ‘determining’.

The reason I am not a Molinist, however, is because of the grounding objection. How can God know what we will do before we do it if we in no sense exist to be known? But - if pre-existence is true, we have an answer to this objection.

I deal, by the way, with Molinism in the article I posted (along with Open Theism and Calvinism). If you’d like you could download it and control F Molinism to see what I have to say in more detail.

The point of the universe is the glorification of the grace of God ultimately in the expression in the suffering and death of Christ for sinners. These wonders of glory are the riches we inherit when the eyes of our hearts are opened to see His glory in it’s fullness and then be transformed by it. The Bible says that all things were created for Him. This means that the whole universe serves to glorify Christ. The praise of the transforming glory of God’s grace in the death for sinners is the ultimate goal of everything. Moreover, this glory has been there since the beginning. Christ was slain from the foundation of the world. All past, present, and future events are eternally “present” to God for He exists in a timeless eternal now. At the cross we see the worst evil in human history being permitted by God for good, justifiable reasons. Those in faith union with Christ are crucified with Christ and baptized with Christ and resurrected to new life. God’s wrath is removed from their vision (along with their rebellion) so that they can see and feel the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This is one way Christ has mercy on sinners but it isn’t the only way. Because He died for all He will have mercy on all. Just not in the same way. Those in the lake of fire are punished and purified as they are baptized in the lake of fire. The die to the old self and are resurrected to new life. All sin and sinful desires are removed from their hearts. They will freely choose what they want but because all sin and sinful desires are remove from their hearts they will always want to love God and others. They will be like God in that it will be impossible for them to sin. Likewise for the bride (firstfruits) who are confirmed in grace. All sin and sinful desires will be gone from their hearts. The will still make choices and freely choose what they want. But they will always choose love of God and each other because sin is purified and washed away. This is the essence of true freedom.

As you probably know, the Mormons do believe in preexistence. But they have their own take on Christianity.

Hi Chris - that essay is a lot to take in and process all at once. May I ask for some clarity on a couple of things as I go along in my reading?
You wrote:

  1. (quoting CSL) : “That thing is Freedom: the gift whereby ye most resemble your Maker and are yourselves parts of eternal reality.”

  2. “Here Lewis places our freedom – that is, our power of being, our actus purus analogous to God’s own actus purus – beyond time itself and in ‘eternal reality’.”

As to (1) - I have not read every single thing CSL wrote, but I have read quite a bit of it, and that quote feels a bit off-key to me. I would think that we most resemble our Maker not by simply having freedom, but by exercising it in loving obedience; and I think CSL would agree, though I am not an expert. Could you or perhaps [tag]JasonPratt[/tag] chime in on that?

As a follow-up: why do you think CSL says above that Freedom is the gift… whereby we are “parts of eternal reality?”
Perhaps this will clear up as I read further.

As to (2) - you are saying, if I understand you, that freedom is ‘our power of being’. I think that freedom is a part of our being, but not THE power of our being. Doesn’t our Maker sustain us in Being?

Thanks. I will continue reading your essay on this fascinating subject.

Lewis is referring to the distinction between intentional action and unintentional reaction, the former being the freedom to volunteer inputs into the system beyond what the system itself would naturally produce. His theistic argument from reason involved recognizing on one hand that we necessarily presume we have such freedom for rational action, and on the other hand that we do not derive this freedom from an ultimately reactive reality nor from ourselves: consequently we should conclude supernaturalistic theism is true and deny that naturalistic atheism is true. (He refined this argument somewhat in response to criticism from the Catholic philosopher Anscombe, and presented the refined version in the 2nd edition of Miracles: A Preliminary Study in 1960, many years after The Great Divorce; but he may already have the revision in mind for TGD since that happened at the Socratic Club soon after MaPS was first published. I’m somewhat oversimplifying his argument for convenience; the revised version of the argument runs on a logical formality that’s hard to briefly explain, although I accept several versions of the argument. I also note that Lewis forgot to double-check the formal weakness the other way around, to see if it deducts theism out of the option list – having deducted atheism out he concluded theism by dichotomy, but strictly speaking he should have tested both options.)

Lewis doesn’t mean we exist prior to Nature, and his position does not necessarily imply this; he means our ability to rationally act is a direct spiritual gift from the father of spirits, Who is Himself eternal reality, the Most Real Reality, the independent ground of all reality. We act supernaturally in relation to Nature, although not in utter independence from Nature.

Lewis reconciles God’s foreknowledge with creaturely freedom, not because rationally free creatures exist extratemporally, but because God exists extra-temporally, immediately knowing by directly active experience all instances of any created system of space-time. Whether any rationally free creatures exist extratemporally or to what extents an extratemporal creature could exist, is beside that point. (I agree with Lewis on this.)

Thus as Lewis famously argued, no one thinks a person is less free to act because God presently sees the action they are choosing ‘now’; the same is true in regard to future actions.

I have always argued that Christian universalism at minimum means God persistently acts toward saving all sinners from sin. (Or rather that’s theistic universal salvation, but would be included in varieties of theistic universalism, including with uniquely Christian details if X-variety of Christianity is true.) That doesn’t mean in itself that God necessarily succeeds; a never-ending stalemate could theoretically be possible. That was in fact what I originally expected to find.

That qualification is not the same as denying that God can guarantee successful universal salvation, though. It becomes a question of God’s competency and/or a question of whether God reveals final success from an omniscient perspective. The latter is a question of publicly available (i.e. scriptural) revelation (not counting private assurances if any), and that’s an exegetical argument. As to the former, I often quip (paraphrasing Lewis from The Problem of Pain on a similar topic the other way around!) that it doesn’t take a specially robust faith to bet on God instead of the sinner being victorious. :wink: People are free to play against the Chessmaster (reffing Lewis again); people are not free to play more competently than the Chessmaster. Take that bishop if you insist, but He moves here, and here, and it is mate in three moves.

So I hardly need pre-existence of souls to grant either or both types of assurance about God’s persistence for all being ultimately victorious. I’m even doubtful pre-existence adds anything to the assurance – my assurance that God will save pre-existent rebel angels is not even slightly based on them being pre-existent to our own natural system, for example – but I would want to read Chris’ article before commenting on particulars there. :slight_smile:

If by pre-existence Chris isn’t talking about temporal pre-existence of souls, but only about our ontological dependence on God in a relationship superior to our dependence upon the natural system we live in, then I might have no objections, arguing much the same thing myself. But such ontological intimacy is not something missing from my universalist puzzle. :wink:


Thanks for the questions.

In response, I will say that a) I don’t think Lewis is ultimately coherent when he says we exist ‘in eternal reality’. You’ll get to my reasons throughout the paper; and b) I think you’re making a distinction here between the power that holds us in being (God), and an additional power, given by God, that allows us to ‘give ourselves’, so to speak, back to Him and others. Is that what you’re trying to do? If so, I would agree with you. :smiley:

Yeah - this is what I argue is ultimately incoherent on Lewis’ system: i.e. to have an eternal ‘now’ composed of an infinite number of temporally present ‘nows’ is incoherent. See the article for further argument in this vein. :ugeek:

(A short argument would be, however, something like this: according to this dual picture of reality (an eternal present composed of the temporally past, present, and future) where does our freedom exist? If in both realities, which one has logical priority? If the eternal present, then our free choices are true before we make them. If the temporal reality is logically prior, then God cannot know our choices before we make them.)

Agreed. It’s the concept of temporal pre-existence that is exercising me.

Chris - (I’ve typed ‘Christ’ instead of ‘Chris’ a few times now, I hope I’ve caught the typos in time :slight_smile:) - is it temporal pre-existence that you are advocating?


No. Technically speaking I don’t think ‘pre-temporal’ existence is something possible for created beings. I do, a few times, use the phrase ‘pre-temporal’ or 'extra-‘temporal’ loosely. By these phrases I simply mean ‘pre-mortal’ or ‘before the current time in which we inhabit our bodies.’ (I define what I mean by pre-mortal early in the article.)

Great questions. Shows how much you are grappling with this topic. It took me a while to see the issue clearly myself, especially since I had been saturated in the popular incoherent idea of God existing in an eternal now AND of His creation simultaneously interacting with Him while being in time themselves.

“At the heart of Christian teaching lie two apparently self-contradictory theses: a) all humans, without exception, have either committed moral wrong, or will once they reach a certain stage of moral development and b) no human is ever forced or determined to sin. In other words, it seems true both that all humans are free and that they will all certainly exercise their freedom in a sinful way.”

Are you putting aside, for the sake of the argument, that Christian teaching known as ‘TULIP’? I think that their question at this point would be: “Why do you say the ‘heart’ of Christian teaching is as you say? We believe that ‘in Adams’ fall, we sinned all” so that in fact we are not free; our wills are in bondage, and thus your argument presents a false dichotomy?"

Chris - I’m not a tulipian (I just made that up) but how would you answer them?
I’m not quibbling, btw, but just clarifying as I go along; I think your essay is worth some close reading. :smiley:

Another great question.

Being quite aware of TULIP and Calvinism, I would respond by saying the concept that ‘we all sinned in Adam’ is meaningless without providing a means by which we could actually sin in him. I have never yet found an answer to this question on the Calvinist scheme: how could we “sin” in Adam if we did not even exist? Indeed I won’t ever find an answer to that question, because their use of the word “sin” renders our self evident and normal understanding of it meaningless. It is a manifest contradiction to say another person “sinned” on behalf of someone else, for a sin is just that individual process of the will choosing wrongly. With no will, there is no sin. Pre-existence, however, provides a rational way to understand Romans 5 that does not destroy our God given moral intuitions.

By the way, Edward Beecher wrote a tome on this particular issue called The Conflict of the Ages which can be found online. But the response above is enough to answer the question you raise, I believe.

And I do not mind the questions at all! Ask away. :smiley:

With due respect to my Calvinist friends - I agree with your assessment re Original Sin as presented by them. I got here via Calvinism, btw.

As salvation is described in 2 Cor 4 …For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

This dawn is awakened through Christ crucified(Col. 1:16-20) in each and eventually all and is inevitable because all the paths of chaos lead to futility and no human is capable of eternal resistance, the love of God being so superior and demonstrated so clearly in this one great event from which all other events spring…this one act of wisdom and humility that breaks every heart- sooner or later.

In my opinion it is not an issue of Gods omnipotence versus man’s freedom, so much as it is understanding the inevitable and overwhelming beauty of sacrificial love that will break through every veil- eventually.

“If I be lifted up from the earth I will drall all men unto me” and “Behold I am making all things new” are the Alpha and the Omega.

I think God saw this from the beginning and in order to bring us to Himself** as friends in understanding and communion**, He allowed us to suffer chaos, to chose it and revel in it, to be broken by the emptiness of it, and now is gathering each heart as it breaks and even the hardest will break eventually because of the inevitable superiority of love.

“I dwell in the high and holy place and with the one who has a broken and a contrite heart.”

The breaking occurs in the LOF(imo) because there, as the heat of the refiner increases, and the light that shines out of darkness erupts, the secrets of the heart are revealed and each individual there will see themselves through the eyes that are as flames of fire, “for all things are open to the eyes of Him with which we have to do”.

Aparently it is a painful process on some level, and I dont doubt it, as the refiner’s fire has caused me some serious pain at times to break me and open me up, but I do not think the lake of fire forces people to become righteous. I think that God is Rock and Water and Wind and Light and Fire and all of these natural elements express facets of how He has so set the cosmos so that one aspect or another will win out over our rebellion.

He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ 29 Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man Acts 17

because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse Ro 1

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Heb 4

As far as pre-existence, the way I see it is God created Adam from the dust and breathed into it and then he became a living soul. Perhaps that breath is a sparkle of the diadem of the I AM in each soul, perhaps that part could be said to have pre-existed, but I don’t think so, beyond the idea of an infinite God shaing a little piece of His own infinite being(I AM That I Am) with each soul, and thus our uniqueness is an expression of Him, but I dont see how pre-existence has a tremendous impact on the philosophical or theological conundrums of Universalists, because I believe, properly understood, the salvation of all, or UR, or UUR- is in itself the ultimate key to unlock the matrix of the scriptures and “bring it all home”, Alpha to Omega.

To know that God always intended to save all, and to save them all from themselves through the glory of Christ crucified, gives a broad enough context for all the other parts to fall in place, leaving a few fuzzy places around the edges to keep us humble :slight_smile:

I should clarify. While God is timeless and can see all events equally vividly His experience of time is unique and very different than ours. He can exist in a timeless “now” and still be within time. This is because He’s not merely timeless. He is Lord over time but immanent within time. It’s the testimony of scripture that He is temporal but not merely temporal. He is in time but also transcends time in such a way to have existence outside it. He is BOTH inside and outside of the temporal box. He is neither confined by the box neither can it keep Him out. This may do away with libertarian free will but the Bible doesn’t teach libertarian free will. In his book “Hope Beyond Hell” the Christian Universalist, Gerry Beauchmin, has a section that is completely true. He believes in the complete sovereignty of God and denies “free will”. This is what I believe. God is completely sovereign but the paradox is that man is responsible. pp. 39-40

Hi Chris - That was a good essay, that really needs to be longer to give you the space to expand some of the key ideas. I’m going to re-read it shortly. as per my usual irritating practice, I have a couple of questions.

  1. In your view, are we fully human beings if our souls have not been incarnated? Are you espousing that idea?

  2. If our pre-mortal (but not pre-existing??) state is a realm where our souls can love and rebel, it must follow that there are choices in that state, from which again it must follow that there is ‘distance’ between the presence of God and the soul, enough distance to allow for circumstances, for options, for temptations, and for fellowship. If those conjectures of mine are even close to being true, then we are building up a world before this world, a ‘spiritual world’ perhaps, but one where the eyes of our soul are opened and beholding situations and presences and choices.

I’m aware that this is not the only way to read your essay; just wanted your comments before I move on to another reading.

The most logical way to square “pre-existence” with “universalism” would be “reincarnation” – not exactly a foreign concept in 2T Judaism given certain implications raised by Jn 9:2.