The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Q&A with Derek Flood- author of "Healing the Gospel"

Hi Andrew,

Well there are two separate questions here. One is whether sin is best understood as crime or sickness. Peter says it should be both.

I make the case in the book that viewing sin strictly from a legal lens has led to a profoundly deficient understanding of sin that in fact trivializes the problem and offers no real cure, and in fact adds to the hurt. It is a view of sin that is out of step with everything we have learned over the last century about mental health, and out of step with the NT.

Peter completely ignores all that, and simply makes the unsubstantiated claim that there is no problem with viewing sin as crime. But there is in fact a huge problem. If I get a speeding ticket, that works pretty well at deterring me from speeding. So in cases like this, it seems to work fine. But our prison system has an enormously high rate of repeat offenders, and an alarming amount of people in prison are mentally ill or addicts. What we are increasingly finding is that punitive measure do not lead to their reform, they make them worse. In contrast, restorative programs have had great success and reducing violence in prison and to bringing about actual rehabilitation (no repeat offenses). In addition to that, restorative programs also help the victims of crime to heal. Punitive programs do nothing to restore victims.

We also need to be clear that Peter does not think that retributive justice should have have the function of restoring (or deterring for that matter). He thinks that the purpose should be to inflict hurt for hurt. When he says retribution, he really means it. We need to keep that in mind when he speaks about the “vertical aspect” that is allegedly missing in my book. What is missing is the idea that God must punish sin, and that God cannot simply heal it. In other words, in his view, even if God could heal us and make us loving, good, and holy in Christ that, Peter thinks that would not be enough. Even if God could mend the hurt done by our sin to ourselves and others, that would not be enough. God (according to Peter) demands blood, demands hurt. I think that is a view of God that is completely out of step with the New Testament, and deeply troubling.

In contrast, I would argue that God is not the one with the problem, we are. That’s why God comes to us, while we were yet sinners, while we were God’s enemies, and first loved us. There is a vertical focus, but that focus is not us-up-to-God, it is God-down-to-us. Jesus continually draws our attention to how we treat others as a reflection of how we love God. “As you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me” Jesus tells us. When David says in Psalm 51 “Against you only, Lord, have I sinned” he is saying the same thing as Jesus. As the king he had thought that he could do whatever he wanted, and so he raped Bathsheba, and then had her husband killed. But now David has realized that in sinning against these powerless subjects of his, he had in fact sinned against the king of kings. The point here is not to say that God doesn’t care about what David has done to that poor couple, and instead wanted to have all the attention. The whole point is that God wants us to care about the least, to care about each other. Vertical sin is inseparably connected to horizontal sin.

So if by a vertical focus we mean the notion that God is somehow “offended,” and needs to be mollified by us—that God can’t love us until “satisfied” by violent punishment, then yes I do reject that idea. God is not some insecure monarch demanding his pound of flesh. God is the one who comes to us in Jesus, seeking reconciliation. God is not the one with the problem, we are. God does not need to be changed, we do. God does not need to be turned around (repenting), we do.

If however a vertical focus means that we need to center our lives around God revealed in Christ, then this is in fact something I discuss at great length in the book. I see it as absolutely essential because it is through living with Jesus as our bottom line, as our Lord, and indeed as our friend in an intimate and growing relationship that we learn to love others just as Christ did. This is the “antidote to idolatry” Peter is looking for, found in a loving and transformative relationship with God. That vertical relationship with God naturally flows into our horizontal relationships with others because when we have truly experienced what it is like to be unconditionally loved by God, not based on our goodness, but based on God’s goodness, how can we help but want to treat others with that same grace and mercy we have known? This is not a heaven-ward focus, because a focus on God in Christ calls us not to look up, but to look down to the least. That’s where we find Christ.

So I do have a clear “vertical focus” in the book, but it is one focused on a loving and good God showing us enemy love and grace, rather than on an angry God demanding punishment in order to be mollified. That sounds more like a primitive volcano god to me, and not like God revealed in Christ.

Hi Gene,

I would note a couple things:

First, this is Matthew’s version of Jesus. Matthews gospel is much harsher with more of a violent apocalyptic than all the other Gospel writers. So what we have is not so much Jesus in transition as Matthew in transition. To put it differently, he is writing for a Second Temple Jewish audience who have assumed the legitimacy of violence. Yet even here we see that the intent is to begin there and move away from that and towards a message of radical forgiveness.

Second, is the fact that Jesus is not a “teacher” in the sense of someone who clearly explains concepts to people in a didactic fashion. That is why we see his audiences constantly being baffled by what he says. Jesus provokes, challenges, pulls the rug out from under people. That is his style of “teaching.” So we see that Jesus begins where his audience is at–which is often with the assumption that we should kill bad people in the name of God, that we should condemn and cast out the sick and disabled because they are under God’s curse. Jesus begins there, and then moves people away from that view with both his parables and his actions. Both of which are often intended to provoke and to shock.

So I do not think it is correct to see Jesus as advocating violent divine retribution. I think that is where his audience begins, but not where Jesus wants them to end up.

I would say that Paul understood this as a natural consequence of their behavior: Have an affair and it will destroy your marriage. Not as an externally inflicted punishment, but as the natural consequence. I do not think at all that Paul saw that as good (i.e. that it had a positive restorative function). Perhaps it can, but Paul’s focus is on how it is a negative consequence that we want to avoid. Further he distinguishes from what is the natural consequence of our actions (the “wage”) and what is God’s action of justice, which is clearly restorative.

I guess I would need you to be more specific with what you mean exactly by that, but initially I find it problematic to say that because it would imply to me that we should then inflict harm and suffering on people in order to “restore” them. This is something Augustine did. He had people beaten, he took away their property, and so on. This eventually lead to people being regularly tortured and killed in the name of “curing them.” There is a long and bloody history of what is called “the myth of redemptive violence.” I am very aware of that painful history, and so all sorts of red flags go off for me when I hear the idea of redemptive punishment. I’m sure this is not what you intended to propose, but I am simply stating that this is historically where this has lead in the past. So I am holding up a big sign that reads “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” I think we need to look at the history of redemptive punishment, recognize how profoundly hurtful it has been, and look for a better way.


Awesome answer.

So to start the ball rolling after our downtime, let me throw out something:

One of the major themes of the book is looking at how our doctrines translate into actions. How they impact our ability to trust in a loving God, and how they impact how we treat each other. A big theme here is the inherent violence in our popular understanding of “justice,” and the proposal to replace this violent understanding of justice with restorative justice.

Along those lines, I wanted to bring up the issue of how these ideas might intersect with folks from a universalist perspective. Specifically I’d like to make an argument against pairing together universalism with a belief in redemptive violence.

Many universalists have adopted the view that Hell is restorative. So instead of having the view that it is eternal punishment, or that is is annihilation, the view is that it is redemptive suffering… more or less the same as the Catholic idea of purgatory.

Of the 3 above choices, I can see why universalists would be drawn to this last one. The concern I have is the notion of “redemptive suffering” which Walter Wink has called the “myth of redemptive violence” and the consequences that embracing this can have on how we treat others. Specifically, looking at history, and especially church history, we can see that this idea of redemptive punishment has been behind a lot of violence. It was the logic of why prisoners were tortured in the inquisition, it was the reason children were severely beaten for centuries, it was the reason for inhumane treatment of prisoners, and on and on.

I hope we can all agree that this practice is abusive, and should not be something we should do. Perhaps God can, but we cannot. So for example a sovereign God might allow some tragedy to happen in my life, and from that I may have a major turn around. That is very different from me causing that tragedy in your life “for your own good.”

That is an extremely important point that we humans should not try and harm someone else, should not terrorize or violate them “for their own good.” Maybe that seems like a no-brainer, but this was precisely how people have thought for centuries, and many still do.

But let’s push this a bit further: Do we really think that God causes hurricanes to wipe out cities or gives people cancer? Do we even think that God purposely “allows” someone to get cancer. I think it would be pretty hard to trust a Father who would “allow” their child to be hurt.

So what I would like to propose is that Hell is not “redemptive” and neither is any other kind of pain or suffering. Pain is bad. Suffering sucks. Cancer is evil. God does not do evil. God does not inflict suffering. What God does is God works in the middle of that pain, turning “what was evil into good.”

Hell is the sucky rotten reality of our own hurt and hurtfulness, and Jesus is in there with us working to overcome all that in love.

So now we have an understanding where we do not need to affirm that God would do something that would be evil for us to do. In other words, the character and way of God is a model for our behavior.


Just got home and my copy has arrived. :smiley: Will tuck in later tonight.

Speaking as one of the big-gun purgatorial universalists on the site:

1.) I agree that we ought to be restrictive when it comes to major punishments, and even if due to social circumstances we believe we have to inflict them we should do so as mercifully as possible. I may be in favor of the death sentence in various cases, but I’m not in favor of death by torture. Relatedly, though, it would be better to institute a system of restitutionary justice where the criminal is expected to do good for those whom he (or she) has wronged. As a practical matter this becomes very difficult to implement, moreso than merely punitive systems (do your time, pay your debt to “society” in the abstract, then go your way or be buried). But there are scriptural precedents for it. Even the OT laws, harsh by our standards, were very progressive for their times and circumstances; not least because there were numerous safety factors built in (and built upon them later) to help prevent maximum penalties from being adjured. Yet the maximum penalties were still there, and still really viable (not merely theoretically so): for fallen human nature, at least, the stick has to be real or there will be a lack of respect.

2.) On the other hand–and this is something I find myself having to stress with some frequency to both non-purgatorial universalists and non-universalists whose systems divorce God from being actively involved in the fate of sinners (this is one of my main criticisms of JP Holding’s soteriology which I’ve been commenting extensively on recently)–***[size=150]any[/size]*** infliction of an unwanted condition by God, amounts to God inflicting suffering!

The suffering may be light or may be severe to any degree, but it’s still suffering. We may agree that God does not do what would be evil for us to do, but insofar as He opposes evil at all in any practically effective way, those who do evil will suffer as a result. Someone may love their sins because of corrupted psycho-physical wiring (so to speak), but healing that problem still involves inflicting an inconvenience directly opposed (to some real degree) to the person’s current preferences. That’s an infliction of suffering just as real as keeping sinners hopelessly alive in some inconvenient condition (no matter how relatively light that inconvenience may seem), or just as real as intentionally withdrawing active upkeep of a sinner’s existence so that the person is hopelessly annihilated. If God sits someone down for a stern talking-to (which is what I hope and expect most post-mortem retribution will amount to, aside from healing corrupted natures), that’s an infliction of suffering by God. If someone in their sin does something with an inconvenient result of its own, and God chooses to let that result occur to inconvenience the person, then that’s still an infliction of suffering by God. God may not have wrath in Him, but if He goes out to war against those who go out to war against Him, He is still inflicting suffering by burning up their thorns and thistles with which they try to wage war–even if they themselves (metaphorically and/or literally speaking in whatever degree) aren’t burned in passing, or by trying to hold onto the thorns and thistles, they wanted and intended to use those thorns and thistles which God has now forcibly denied them!

There wouldn’t be much point to God being reckoned with transgressors, either, if those transgressors had not transgressed against God and were suffering as a result. Different rabbis even outside Christianity picked up and applied both concepts from OT scripture, that the Messiah (or even YHWH!) shares suffering inflicted by YHWH on Israel for her sins, and that the Messiah (or even YHWH!) suffers Himself due to sin by Israel against YHWH: God (and/or His highest appointed representative) voluntarily suffers with victims and with the guilty.

I sympathize with the problems in trusting a Father who would “allow” their child to be hurt, but your own proposal still involves God allowing His children to not only hurt themselves in their sins but to hurt each other in their sins (completely aside from the question of God allowing them to hurt Himself in their sins!) Otherwise sinners would never be inconvenienced at all, ever; and if I am not supposed to trust a Father who would “allow” his child to be hurt, then I only have to recall EVERY SINGLE UNFAIR SUFFERING I HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED OR KNOWN ABOUT (whether really or only apparently unfair) to be just as fatally solvent in trusting the Father.

Maybe this comes from spending many years as a Christian apologist, but that’s a big factor in lack of trust in God already for unbelievers. If we cannot offer anything better than that principle lack of trust due to any kind of allowance of suffering, then frankly I recommend becoming at least agnostics, maybe atheists, and even maybe anti-theists.

Personally I prefer knowing that God Most High, the One authoritatively responsible for setting up and maintaining conditions where people suffer, doesn’t inflict those conditions from on high but shares them with us as a promise and evidence of His ultimately benevolent intentions toward us. The judge Who inflicts our inconveniences (whatever those are) for our sins, is also our Paraclete who stands with us and even suffers our penalties with us. The judge who arbitrates between us and those we have sinned against, also stands with our victims sharing their victimization, just as He shares our unjust victimizations with us. We have no appeal and we have every possible hope.

But our sin doesn’t have any hope at all. God is going to inflict against our sin, sooner or later (or sooner and later), one way or another (or in a bunch of ways). Insofar as we insist on holding to our sins we’re going to be that much more inconvenienced by the infliction but we’re going to be, and already are, inconvenienced anyway by God in action regarding our sins!

If I, who fondles my sin, am going to be inconvenienced on God’s authority and (in various ways) by God’s active choices against my sin in any case (which must be true if God opposes sin in any practical way), I had better damned well hope that salvation from my sin, and the achievement of justice for all, is God’s goal for the inconvenience!

Otherwise it’s ECT or anni. Which are at least as inconvenient to my currently fondling of sin, and so to my current personal preferences (to some degree), as salvation from sin. :wink:

But my point, in summary, is that even salvation from sin, in whatever fashions, must be an inconvenience, and thus an infliction of suffering, by God. We may hope it will not be more than a minor inconvenience, but it will still be an inconvenience, and logically moreso insofar as we insist in holding to our sins.

To which I could add more comments regarding violent imagery claimed of God (and by God, at least by report) in the scriptures, in opposition against sin: even accounting for Ancient Near Middle Eastern hyperbole and possible (even likely) misunderstanding by messengers, those are still warnings and outright predictions (and reports) of God’s opposition to sin and to sinners. Inconvenience, at least authoritatively allowed by God, due to our sins, is a past, present and future reality (even if not the ultimate end of our reality). And most of those statements, by far, are not merely about God allowing inconvenience, but about God inflicting inconvenience.

And, from a purely self-critical perspective, I do not have much trouble expecting that for at least some people, that infliction has been, is, and will be, inconveniently extreme for various reasons–primarily having to do with people insisting on holding to their sins. Being baptized in God’s consuming fire sounds great to a Christian charismatic. Not so much to someone holding onto adultery and murder and pride in his heart.

Being salted by the unquenchable fire, to such a person, sounds frightfully hellish and affrontive to their personal self-worth.

And for very good reason.

Good thoughts, Derek and Jason. Just one comment in passing;

I may be off base here, but I think that there is a stick that’s real without necessarily forcing post-mortem punishment; and that is simply, “do not be deceived, for God is not mocked, a man reaps what he sows”. My question is, why would God put that in there if there wasn’t a question about the reality/ necessity of post mortem “zorching”? It would seem to be a strong indicator that our punishment for sin is contained within the consequences of the sin itself, and not inflicted by God directly.

As to Derek’s question about God causing evil (Great book, by the way; I’m about 3/4 through); “causing” appears to be a tricky word, even in passages such as Isaiah 45 (which I’m learning myself). I do think that it carries more of the sense that God uses evil to accomplish his good purposes, though he may not actually be causing or doing the evil directly. He does at the very least seem to claim responsibility for it in the sense that He is using it to effect a greater good. This sovereignty stuff is tricky business!

Thanks Derek for throwing this out. I was going to do so myself if someone else didn’t.

If Jesus of Nazareth is the definitive revelation of the true character of God then God is a healer and not an afflictor. “For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.” Lam. 3:33 Your book “The Healing of the Gospel” is a much needed antidote for the affliction of retributive justice that has overshadowed the healing and liberating truth of the Gospel of Jesus the Healer. The healing Gospel has been suppressed and diluted with retributive notions to such an extent that it bears little resemblance to the Gospel of Jesus the Healer.

In the first century B.C.E. the expectation of the coming of the messiah of YHWH was at fever pitch. One of the common expectations of the liberating messiah was that he would be a military leader who would overthrow, through the violence of battle, the oppressive gentile powers, namely Rome, and subject all the nations to the Torah and rule of God. Jesus never presented himself as a military messiah using violence and bringing down retributive justice on those who opposed (rebel sinners) the Kingdom of God; to the contrary, he was the polar opposite of that.

So why did many Jews, mainly the poor, sick, outcasts (sinners) and oppressed, begin to see him as a type of messiah figure. Because he healed them, he fed them, he brought them life and a new vision of the truth of God by demonstrating to them that God was not against them but forever for them and with them.

The way he died was not just a demonstration of that in the most graphic and visible way. It is the revelation of the true nature and character of God that nothing before in the biblical narrative could demonstrates with such stark clarity and radical newness. It is more than just another event, as often portrayed in Christian theology. in the so-called plan of salvation–albeit a significant one. It is a singularity event on par with the creation of the universe in the first moment of the Big Bang. It is not at all an act of retribution or a justification for violence, it is the resounding No, against violence and retribution. It is an act of creation, new creation that brings the Life of God to all the godless and godforsaken. God in Jesus subjected himself to the almighty power of death at the hands of the violent death-dealing minons (the political and religous authorties) who serve that power. The death of Jesus brought Emmanuel to the place of all the countless victims of the power of death–even to the long lost dead and extinct.

The resurrection of Jesus is much more than the rising of one man from the grave. It is the precursor for the universal resurrection (new birth/creation) of all things across all the time and space of the universe. It is no mere spiritual “resurrection” of enlightenment. It is the new birth, of all things directly from the Life of Abba, Father.

Resurrection is another aspect of the Gospel that needs to be healed. Philosophical dualism has imprinted the meme of an “after life” of going to heaven or hell deeply into Christian thought. Resurrection is not just another theory of the “after life.” It is the supreme healing event of the universe. It is the negation of death. It is healing taken to the nth degree undoing all the injustices, violence and death of the past and freeing the creation to be filled with the full living presence of YHWH and the Lamb bringing the creation to its fulfillment–and then life really and truly begins.

If YHWH does not remember our sins (for they are erased, blotted out, the slate wiped clean) then that perception of the cosmic observer of all space and time will transform all of reality in the cosmic Jubilee and all sin past, present and future becomes an impossibility. The former things have passed, “Behold, I make all things new.” All have been healed/resurrected, all have been made free and are no longer under the bondage of sin and the coercive power of death.
The tsadeq and dikaiosune (equitableness) of God will fill the ever expanding creation to overflowing. It is audacious; it unbelievable; it is beyond our wildest hopes; it is impossible; it is the madness of the God who freely gives all that He is to all that there is and makes the impossible possible by making all things new. Not by an act of coercive power or retribution but by emptying Himself completely into the creation.

If God is working in the middle of evil suffering (hell) to redeem people why would we not say God works in the middle of hell (evil suffering) to redeem people?

This presents a sort of caricature of Evangelical Universalists, that is we would proclaim “Evil saves”. I don’t think anyone on the board believes that. We don’t proclaim Hell saves, we see it in the sense that God brings about a form of suffering in us because we need it.

I however would say that the propositions are too simple. I’m not certain that all suffering is evil. As Jason points out, if suffering is evil, then punishment all together is evil – for its purpose is to inflict some form of suffering. Therefore parents are not allowed to punish but must be like God allowing the child to suffer for what they’ve done by some natural means. I asked this very question to you Derek at the Rebel God blog. I asked if you place your child on time out and you responded, that’s hardly torture – but it does cause suffering doesn’t it? Is Derek evil for introducing some unnatural consequence upon his child? I doubt it.

My main concern is that the premise: All suffering is evil is incorrect. This is the why I have difficulty embracing this proposition.

Sometimes, I believe God does even cause the suffering in us in order to produce better character by some means. As Paul writes in Romans, it was God who hardened the Pharaoh to disobey his very command and thus punishes him. But I believe Paul is explaining that God did so to bring about mercy. The ends justify the means. Of course how extensive are the means is always a gray area. As Jason and I are both pointing out, if you deny it’s gray, then you cannot support punishment (causing suffering) of any type – for its all evil.

I’ve argued that retribution can be a good thing, such as charging a fine for speeding. This is to inflict some sort of loss or suffering to the offender. But its overall intention is not to make money but to keep the public safe. Thus retribution – where someone must pay for the damage done – makes sense. My difficulty is that you seem to paint it as synonymous with VIOLENCE. And that is a plain fallacy.

So I remain unconvinced that all punishment is abusive or all suffering is evil. Heak, I’m one who believes we should lie in order to save Jews from Nazis (Rahab), I simply hold we desecrate the command and yet remain blameless – and if Jesus can do that, so can God.


Forgive me for sounding so arrogant. When I said “it sounds like a caricature” I didn’t mean to make it sound like you were attacking anyone who holds that position. I sounded defensive of EU and I didn’t mean to come off so poorly. Again sorry for that.

Thank you again for your taking time and I need to re-read my posts before I hit “post”.

Paul in Galatians 6:7-8 indeed follows that up by saying that the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, yet the one who sows to the spirit (or to the Spirit) shall from the Spirit reap eonian life.

However, Paul was also well aware that doers of injustice seemed to live and to die well–certainly this is a common complaint among OT prophets and patriarchs!–and taught the bodily resurrection of the unjust to judgment. I certainly wouldn’t try to pit Gal 6:7 against 1 Cor 15:25 or 2 Thess 1:6-10, or many many other such scriptures indicating that God directly and authoritatively punishes, whether now or later, before and after His coming, also before and after the general resurrection. Or is Paul supposed to be the one miraculously inflicting whole-ruination on the Stepmom-Sleeping Guy of 1 Cor (apparently to the death, but certainly to major unwanted inconvenience, although with hope and expectation of salvation in the day of the Lord to come), yet Christ/YHWH is not inflicting whole-ruination (same term) on doers of injustice in the same Day of the Lord to come described by Paul in 2 Thess (citing at least two sections of OT prophecy on the same topic)?

As you say, God does at the very least claim authoritative responsibility even for evils which afflict people. Whether He is using an otherwise naturally produced effect to a greater good, God authorizes that the effect shall indeed follow and affect, and self-sacrificially keeps the effect (and the effectual cause(s)) in existence for whatever duration even if the immediate causation is natural reactions and/or actions of derivative agents. If God insists upon authoritative responsibility even for such things–a responsibility entirely consonant with supernaturalistic theism distinct from polytheism and/or atheism (or even from most pantheisms)–then I strongly doubt we have grounds for disassociating God’s active responsibility from events more directly represented as afflictions: if the lesser and more subtle, then also the greater and more obviously stated.

Hmm, yes. I can also see that God disciplines those He loves, and since He loves everyone, then it has to happen sooner or later. The trickiest part is that it’s often hard to tell (on this side of the dark glass, anyway) if it’s strictly “discipline” for its own sake, or if it’s just stuff happening that God is using to perfect us and demonstrate His power in bringing about good (such as in the case of Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery for an ordained purpose).

Let me add in relation to Auggy’s comments: I don’t regard Christian ultra-universalists as being necessarily not Evangelical Universalists, just like I don’t regard Christian purgatorial universalists as being necessarily EU (even though more EUs seem to be currently purga-u than ultra-u.)

So I don’t regard Derek as speaking necessarily against evangelical Christian universalism. Ultra-universalists can have a high view of Judeo-Christian scripture (even higher than mine :wink: ), and a concern for preaching the good news of salvation from sin by God through Jesus Christ alone. I’m even willing to acknowledge non-trinitarian Christians as evangelical, so long as they’re dogmatically unitarian (not the doctrineless so-called unitarians) or non-pantheistic Incarnational modalists with a clear concern for holding to primitive Christianity for sake of accurate representation of God in the world and proper objects of worship. We may have major theistic differences in our Christologies and/or Pneumatologies, which logically prevent us from worshiping in communion per se (since our objects of worship won’t exactly line up), but we’re still monotheists calling for fidelity to God Most High through loyalty to the King Messiah of Judaism, the man Jesus of Nazareth, in historic appreciation of the struggles of Israel into whose promises we all (even Israel herself) are grafted.

Nor am I much (or usually even at all) concerned with ultra-universalism from an ethical standpoint; I don’t regard it as some kind of moral aberration which must be rejected and from which we need rescuing (so long as the ultra-universalism involves salvation from our sins).

I only disagree with ultra-universalism as a question of accuracy as to facts in God’s characteristics and relationship to His creatures; and even then I don’t typically disagree as to the characteristics and relationships presented–I just don’t think enough are being presented. :slight_smile:

Mel, quite so. :slight_smile:

This is related to an interesting thing that I’m learning in looking into different forms of universalism, a popular version of which lately seems to be varying forms of Pantelism. Pantelism is interesting because, while it is essentially an extension of Preterism, it is by definition effectively a version of Christian Universalism that is decidedly evangelical, as well as fully preterist.
This is the angle on the gospel being promoted in a book I’m currently reviewing, “The hour we least expected”, as well as Ivan A. Rogers’ “Dropping Hell and Embracing Grace:…” which I have also recently read, and plan to do a review on once I’m done with THWLE.


Thanks, I’m glad we can continue the dialogue from the break at 9-20. I agree that Jesus’ way, absorbing evil, challenges assumptions that inflicting violence is redemptive. Yet Jesus/Paul assert that God throws some into painful ‘fire’ (e.g. 2 Th 1:8f; Mt 13:48f). So (9/20) you rightly say that they might mean “negative destruction” that is bad behavior’s “natural consequences.” Yet you add, Paul did “not at all see that as positive or redemptive”! But I wonder if that could imply that God is more brutal than even your violent opponents think?

For in such an order, doesn’t God allow this built-in correlation with consequences that feel so painfully punishing? Wouldn’t insisting that there is no “postive” purpose in such pain then be perverse? In judgment, I suspect that a loving God would only permit such awful consequences as 'natural, ’ if God indeed secures some redemptive value in them. What am I missing here**?**

Grace be with you,

Whew, lots of stuff here!

Catherine, hope you enjoy the book!

DaveF, really good stuff, amen!

Let me throw out a clarification just to make sure we are speaking about the same thing. I suspect we may be talking past one another a bit:

Let’s be clear on our terms: When I speak of inflicting suffering, I am referring to things like torture or abuse. Abuse and “inconvenience” are clearly not the same thing. So if a parent tells their child that they can’t watch any more TV tonight, then that child might find that inconvenient, but they would not have cause to notify Child Protective Services and have their parents arrested for child abuse.

So if all one means by “consuming fire” is the uncomfortable experience of being confronted with love, then I guess I am in your camp too. I have no problem at all with that.

My concern is in the idea of inflicting harm and suffering for the alleged good of a person. Again, I am defining this as causing a person to feel violated and terrorized, and not simply an unpleasant experience, in other words I am talking about behavior that mental health professionals would classify as “abusive” in the strict technical sense of the term.

I’m concerned that we don’t advocate for that practice ourselves, and that we don’t imply that God does this either.

I notice that you say that you imagine God having a stern talk with people, along with healing their hearts. If that is all that is meant, then I have zero objection. I’m only speaking against the Dante-esque vision of tormented souls being prodded with molten iron pokers as a form of “purgation”.

There is of course more that could be said, but I just wanted to clarify that point to make sure we are talking about the same thing.


Yes, as I was saying to Jason above, I agree that not all punitive consequence is evil (I have also discussed this with you at length on my blog as you know).

The question is: what is the consequence for the person? If the result is that the person undergoes psychological trauma so that we would classify this today as abusive, then that is specifically what I am speaking about. That is obviously not what happens when a person gets a speeding ticket :slight_smile:

To bring this home: We are speaking of the atonement, and the question is whether the crucifixion can be considered a fulfillment of retributive justice. As I have understood it, some universalism make the case that punishment is restorative.

Now if we want to apply that to the cross, we need to look at what really happened there: Christ was brutally tortured, humiliated, and killed. That would absolutely be a traumatizing experience.

I’m suggesting that the crucifixion was not the fulfillment of punitive justice in any sense. I do think that God in a scandalous and wonderful way was able to make that cross in to the place of salvation, but not because what the Romans were doing was good or right.

I think that is where the rubber hits the road with all of this.

Let me also stress that most of the time those whom I dialog with are not universalists, but traditional evangelicals (which is my own background, and more specifically charismatic). So my apologies if I mischaracterize anyone’s position here. Please feel free to correct me when I do, and I look forward to learning from all the diverse perspective you folks have. What I most appreciate is the common focus I see on grace. I can’t say how good that is to see!

Thanks for those clarifications, Derek.
I’m about 3/4 of the way through your book, and one of the things I appreciate about it is that I could hand it to some “forward-thinking”, but non-universalist pastors and teachers, and I know some of them at least would “get it”. So I think it’s an important work partly in the sense that it could very well be a “stepping stone” book in the universalist/ non-universalist dialogue. It doesn’t appear to be overtly pro-universalism, but there are ideas in there that clearly point strongly in that direction.

Excellent points and ones I think most here agree with. I believe most here are not penal substitutionists. Again, I think our disagreement on what is the definition of “suffering” is a small one. My tendency is to agree with your point regarding our (mankinds) inability to control our anger.

I was going to raise the point that the book is truly about the atonement in relation to violence. And I for one am one in your corner. I don’t see Jesus’ death as God’s punishment (in any sense) upon Jesus. For similar reasons I’ve already stated in our disagreements, I do think there are some premises that penal substitution get right, such as “God is angry with the wicked”. That makes sense to me since love, according to Paul, is slow to anger, but it does get angry - and only because he loves us. His anger is never “violent” or “destructive” but rather is (as Talbott puts it) severe and restorative. So while I understand that PS gets some premises right, they are far too literal and draw an illogical conclusion that God is punishing an innocent man.

And let me also say what I’m exploring: The notion of the trajectory of the N.T. is a point that I believe has a lot of merit. As I’ve listened to you on the Beyond the box podcast and read your blog (and emails), I think there is a great truth to this point.

Blessings to you Derek.