The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Radio Discussion on "The Evangelical Universalist"

On Sat 17th October Premier Radio broadcast a discussion on “The Evangelical Universalist”. I was in discussion with Laurence Blanchard on Justin Brierly’s radio show “Unbelievable”:

Laurence is a pastor from California. His PhD was on universalism and it will be published by Paternoster next year. He is a good Christian brother and one of few traditionalist theologians who really understands universalism.

The discussion is a good ‘issue-opening’ one. Of course, Laurence and I would warn anyone who wanted to listen to it that the requirements of the radio format meant that we had to skip through subjects fairly fast. As a result sometimes I had the last word on a topic and sometimes Laurence did. Much as we’d both have loved the chance to pursue these lines of thought more rigorously that would have been inappropriate. So don’t expect the debate to settle anything.

I would like to honour Laurence for defending the traditional view of Hell in an unwavering yet very gracious way. I hope that this discussion models how Christians can disagree in love.

Hi Robin/ Gregory

This was frustrating for me to listen to… not because I merely disagree with Laurence, but because he repeatedly misunderstood and misstated your arguments. He claims to have read your book, but he doesn’t appear to have understood much of it. His replies seemed to be generic reiterations of common anti-EU arguments, rather than engaging the substance of your book.

**Example: ** He mentioned Jesus’ discussion on “eternal fire” of “hell” (aionios fire of gehenna) AS IF you overlooked it. He did not address your discussion of “aionios” or “gehenna” (e.g. Jesus himself suggested that aionios gehenna purifies people).

There were several examples like this.

I should not be frustrated; it’s just that I’ve encountered this so many times that I think I need a break from these “debates” (which, IME, involve damnationists misunderstanding EUs 90% of the time)

Do you often feel frustrated by the quality of debate on these issues?

  • Pat


I felt differently about it. Laurence has read the book and knows what I (and others) say about Greek words for ‘eternal’ etc. But we both went into the discussion aware that most of the audience was not aware of such discussions and so we decided to start from the bottom up.

If time had permitted we would have got to around to discussing those issues but you cannot do everything in a single discussion. So we both viewed it as a discussion-starter rather than an attempt to be a debate clincher.

Viewed in that light I thought it worked well.



Hi again Robin, you could be right. I hope so. I genuinely hope that I just need to take a break from these debates. In my personal experience, people almost always misunderstand the actual EU perspective and then they criticize me based on those misunderstandings.

For example, I wrote a couple of essays for a future book project (go to I posted two parts, including an explicit discussion on hell and “eternal” punishment. Instead of reading it, many people simply dismissed my work by telling me “the Bible teaches eternal hell!! Here’s proof. Read Matt. 25:46!”

At first I did not mind, but instead was glad that people read some of my work. However, as time went on, I encountered the same objections by people who were supposed to have read my work. Many people stopped reading my work half way through and then raised objections that I had already discussed.

I guess the sheer amount of that type of response has left me a tad bit cynical about the quality of debate.

Laurence seems like a very nice guy and easy to get along with, so I don’t mean to come down hard on him. And maybe I reacted prematurely based on too little info.


  • Pat

Hi Gregory,

I also felt some of what Pat felt (above) but your explanation helps.

I’m just wondering if Laurence’ forthcoming book will bring anything new to the discussion. For example, you clearly explained that the Nations entering the New Jerusalem couldn’t be “the Church” – because the Church is taken from out of the nations (Rev 5:9 + 7:9) – see TEU page116 !

Not to mention that it’s “Kings and Nations” the two categories who are enemies of Christ all through the book of Revelation!!

And yet Laurence simply repeated the idea that the Nations entering the New Jerusalem must be the Church.

But, I suppose, if we must avoid the universalist overtones here, we just have to keep repeating this. The only alternative, I suppose, is to follow Glasson who says John the Divine has retained “words not entirely appropriate to this new setting”. But not everyone is willing to say that about a Biblical text.

Anyway, I’m preaching to the converted here! Got to go. Thanks.

Strictly speaking, of course, he’s entirely correct; he isn’t wrong to claim this. I agree, he isn’t going far enough in considering the context; but whether it is necessary to apply the extended context of the kings of the nations from the rest of RevJohn (always villains elsewhere, and last seen being rather harshly shepherded by Christ in chp 19 in a scene with direct callbacks to the 23rd Psalm) to the kings of the nations in the final chapter, is more debatable than whether the kings of the nations in the final chapter must in some sense be part of the Church.

Not much more debatable, maybe :mrgreen: But still more debatable.

I think the programme was good and that most listeners, ie people not already engaged with discussion boards like this, would miss the kind of details we are discussing here. The most important thing is that the subject was introduced clearly and with a polite, respectful discussion between two committed and sincere theologians. There was none of the vitriol and mudslinging which has characterised other recent debates amongst christians. Many more people will now join the debate and do some of their own thinking and praying about these things. This is the best outcome we could expect from a radio show and we should all be very grateful to Premier Radio and the presenter (whose name I’ve forgotten) as well as to Robin and Laurence.

Gregory, Jason, RevDrew,

RevDrew, thanks for your input. Yes, that’s the bottom line for me too, and what Gregory was saying.
I was just thinking ahead to Laurence forthcoming book and wondering about its approach, based on his dialogue with Gregory. But in the end, I’m glad their conversation was so gracious.

Jason, thank you for your words too. I’m interested in what you said, but need clarification. Do you mean that the Kings and the Nations of this Age become part of “the Church” in the Age to Come when they leave the lake of fire and enter the New Jerusalem? I sure we could say that. But I was talking about the claim that the Kings and Nations entering the New Jerusalem in the Age to Come must be the same as the Christian Church of this Age.

May be I’ve missed something.
re Ps 23, I remember you explaining this with Gregory, Kevin and Justin over at Jason Clark’s site, so I must go back and read that again. Thank you!

I know. He’s inferring from the surrounding context (which is pretty obvious) that the kings of the nations going into the New Jerusalem must be part of the Church in the Age to come; he’s extrapolating backward (without immediate ground, and without consideration of the role played by people described by that term elsewhere in RevJohn) to claim that they must be part of the Church of this Age.

My point was only that we shouldn’t say he has no ground for considering them to be part of the Church (period), because obviously they must be part of the Church in the Age to come. To that extent we should agree that they are part of the Church (period).

It might be interesting to do a term-study on how “kings of the earth” is used as a description in the OT, on which RevJohn is clearly heavily based. My impression is that even in eschatological prophecy, the term refers to authorities outside Israel (or outside the Church as we would put it); the eschatological point in the OT being that even those authorities will come to know and worship God in the Age to Come.

We tend to think of that as applying to us Gentiles, fulfilled by the expansion of Judaism into Christianity. Which is true, too. But the point of the scope seems wider: that these kings (even in the OT) weren’t part of Israel until the coming Day of the Lord, which though already starting is still to come. (Another one of the common already/not-yet themes of the NT, and sometimes the OT, too.)

Jason said: My point was only that we shouldn’t say he has no ground for considering them to be part of the Church (period).

Thanks for that Jason. I’ve got it now.

Does anyone have this on MP3 or Real or QT? I cant seem to get to it.


Have you tried going to the “Unbelievable?” main page, and scrolling down to the full list of prior programs?

Currently, Gregory/Robin’s on the very bottom, and will soon go to page 2 of the list. But I had no problem clicking on that and hearing the show start up. Whereas, trying to access the hexidec address directly didn’t seem to work for me either. (I mean copy-pasting it.)

If that works, I’ll probably replace the original hexadec address with these instructions. I suspect it may be impossible to access it directly with a webrowser without going through the site first. (I’ve double-checked, the link address is still the same. But when I click on the link from the site page, it brings up a whole new page with radio-playing functions on it.)

I’ve been meaning to comment on some of Lawrence’s points for a while; and since I’m now catching up on other back posts (and hopped over here to help people connect to the radio broadcast), maybe this is the best time to do the catchup! :laughing:

(Though I still have a number of other threads to catchup on, mostly to do with preterism, tribulation, and whether any further punishment/wrath of God has been “pretermitted” after the cross and/or after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70CE. After which, it’ll be time to catch up on threads I’ve already caught up on recently which have had some subsequent activity. :mrgreen: Woot!–PROGRESS IS BEING OCCURRED!! But slowly.)

So: we all know (or should know) how Gregory, and most other universalists for that matter (myself included, by and large), interpret Colossians where God reconciles all things to Himself in heaven and on earth, making peace through the blood of the cross. (For ease of reference, I’ll call “Gregory” Robin here on out, though.)

Robin mentions Colossians 1, first as an example of one place with well-known surface indications (at least) of universalism; and then proceeds with some exegesis on it. Unfortunately, the radio window for the site doesn’t have a timer, so I can’t tell readers exactly where to find it; but it starts about 1/3 of the way through.

Lawrence is asked next to comment on how he understands Colossians 1, and he goes into some detail on that. I will try to report his reply, for consideration, as closely as possible (though smoothing over vocal pauses, thinking-reptitions, etc.)

Realizing that, in effect, Lawrence’s reply amounts to, ‘Duh, it would have to be demons, too, and He can’t be saving them!’, Justin (the interviewer) asks Robin that surely by “all things” he doesn’t mean demons, too, does he? Robin’s answer is (“tentatively”) that it depends on what the demons and the devils are; but offers some speculation on how God might save Satan if Satan is a personal spirit. (Robin doesn’t come down firmly one way or another on whether these are rebel personal spirits, btw. Obviously if rebel spiritual creatures don’t exist, or if they don’t exist as persons, then the question of saving them is mooted one way or another.) The notion that Robin presents, is that God saves Lucifer by destroying Satan, linking this to St. Paul’s proclamation that the old man in being saved has died and passed away resulting in a new creation. (Destruction per se isn’t mentioned in this portion of the text, but obviously it comes up elsewhere, including in Pauline epistles.) Lawrence interjects an agreement that if Satan is going to be saved, he’d have to be changed and transformed, being born again, just like any other person. (“If I were going to be a universalist, that would be the track I’d have to take. We’d have to go the whole route, for me.”)

The interview then goes on to some other topics after the commercial break. I may discuss some of them later, but for now I want to look at this particular reply.

(Well, actually I need to go eat supper. :mrgreen: So I may just post this up for others to consider and comment on, and come back to it later tonight or, more likely, tomorrow afternoon.)

So!–having now eaten supper (and, um, slept; and eaten breakfast; and attended church & Sunday School; and eaten lunch; and gotten back to the office… :mrgreen: )

Some points as they occur to me:

1.) My main reply to Lawrence’s commentary was (at the time I was first hearing it) and would be: well, yeah, exactly! I agree! So… why isn’t this universalism again? :laughing:

And that’s an important question to consider; because obviously Lawrence thought his commentary excluded universalism being true. (“So I wouldn’t read that text in terms of universal salvation.”)

2.) The principalities and powers are being disarmed and made a public spectacle of, in a triumph procession (similar, one supposes, to a Roman triumph procession). This is obviously a punishment of some sort. But this is only a problem if universalism necessarily and only involved salvation from punishment. There are plenty of places (OT and NT both) where imagery of this quality is used in regard to sinners whom God nevertheless is saving and restoring fellowship with. Indeed, it’s very close to the metaphorical imagery behind the famous finale to the 23rd Psalm, where “surely goodness and mercy will X me for all the days of my soul/life.” ‘Follow’ is almost a mistranslation; the term is very much stronger than that in Hebrew. We might say “hound”; but in the OT it’s typically the term for pursuing to overthrow, as a king would pursue a rebellious army to throw them down. Many people are not aware (and maybe would prefer not!) that when we pray the 23rd Psalm, and apply that promise to ourselves, we’re basically asking God to do exactly for us what Lawrence is referring to concerning the rebel cosmic powers in Col 2!

Or again, from the 51st Psalm, “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice! …] You do not want a sacrifice or I would give it; you are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart!” (vv. 8, 16-17) The latter two verses are part of a normal liturgy for most Christians (those of us who have a regular liturgy); but it is talking about God triumphing over us in our sin.

Lawrence in short is (rightly or wrongly) importing in a notion here, that God will despise the broken and humbled hearts of the powers and principalities He is triumphing over. Which is more than a little peculiar, because that verse (2:15) (and I can hardly stress this enough) IMMEDIATELY continues a sentence about our salvation from sin by means of the cross. He deals graciously with all our offenses, erasing the handwriting of the decrees against us, which was hostile to us, and has taken it (that handwriting of the decrees against us) away out of the midst, nailing it to the cross, stripping off the sovereignties and authorities–with boldness He makes a show of them, triumphing over them in it.

Notice how the phrase “stripping off the sovereignties and authorities” (or “the principalities and powers” as the terms are also translated) is actually part of the preceding sentence. We are being saved on the same ground that they are being humbled. The humility of the powers may not quite be complete–not in their own hearts yet–in this “scene”, but that is the sole distinction between them and we who are circumcised, buried and raised again in Christ. (In Whom we are complete, Who is the Head of every sovereignty and authority! That was only a few verses back. Just as we are complete in Him, He is also their ‘federal Head’ as theologians like to put it–which implies their own forthcoming completeness in Him at least!)

3.) Lawrence is well aware that the verses (including in chp 2) are about “bringing peace to this universe again”; “bringing back everything into reconciliation with himself”; “heaven (!!) has been brought back into a divinely created determined order.” By context Lawrence shows he isn’t thinking about God Himself being disordered and rebellious, but about rebel heavenly beings.

4.) So how is it that these rebel heavenly beings have been reconciled to God (a term which always means our salvation, as he surely must be aware) along with all the universe; these heavenly beings have been brought back into a divinely created determined order; these heavenly beings have been returned to cosmic peace; these heavenly spiritual enemies have been conquered so that they are now back into reconciliation, i.e. atonement, with Christ Himself which results in peace to this universe again–

–and yet somehow this doesn’t involve the salvation of those rebel heavenly beings, too!?

No, they aren’t being saved from punishment, but so what? That only counts against universalism if punishment is necessarily hopeless; but we know from many other scriptures that God’s punishment is not necessarily hopeless.

Lawrence actually agrees that the triumph of Christ (and, implicitly, Christ’s punishment of the rebel powers) brings the rebel powers back into peace with God Himself. Yet somehow this must not mean they are saved from sin! How are they now (or now to be) at peace with God, yet still rebel sinners (in their hearts if not in their freedom to affect events)?

Lawrence will have to construe things in such a way that intransigent sinners, still in rebellion against God, are nevertheless to be considered at peace with God again and in harmony with God again.

Fortunately, not my problem. I’m a universalist. :mrgreen:

(Note that in principle, it doesn’t really matter whether the principalities and powers are personal spirits or not; though I think they’re supposed to be, since the underlying terms are actually that of personal rulers. For any non-universalistic theology, some sinners must either still exist in rebellion against God or else be wiped out of existence altogether, while also being brought back into fellowship and peace with God and with other persons and with God’s whole creation. Or else, the testimony from Colossians has to be rejected or strongly re-construed in some other way.)

To be fair, Lawrence may think he knows how some personal entity can be in hopeless continual rebellion against God (at least in their souls) while also being at peace and union with God; but wasn’t in a position to explain how this happens, during the brief time of this interview. I’ll be curious to see if he addresses the subject in his book this year! :smiley: (Maybe we’ll get to have him as a guest in protracted dialogue with Robin?)

Meanwhile, on some other topics from the radio show:

5.) As usual, the Mark 9 Gehenna statements are referenced without finishing out with verses 49-50. Well, yeah, including Jesus’ explanation for the purpose of Gehenna would kind of blow the thesis, I guess. :mrgreen:

I’m always deeply amused when this happens; also when (as Lawrence does) the proponent prefaces this with some variation of “We have to go back to what Jesus said on the topic.” Okey-doke! Jesus said… more than up to v.48 on the topic.

Then I remember how much trouble ignoring (or even outright rewriting!) those final verses has caused in Christendom throughout history; and I am rather less amused.

“So as I look at these sorts of things,” Lawrence continues, specifically referring to the Mark 9 verses he just stopped short with, “what I want to do as a good Biblical exegete, is I want to fit [Lawrence’s emphasis] everything into my theology and the doctrines that I would embrace. So, in reading a text in isolation, and then not being able to embrace everything else, leads to an eisegesis rather than an exegesis of the Bible.” Uh huh. The unintentional irony is inexpressibly thick here… :unamused: I mean, people who quote GosMatt on this, at least have the excuse of not having the Markan finale right there immediately at hand where they don’t even have to look up contexts from similar sayings elsewhere.

(In Lawrence’s defense, Robin, in his somewhat extensive reply, doesn’t say something like, “so then go on to verses 49 and 50.” So Lawrence doesn’t have an opportunity to reply to that. In Robin’s defense, he does reply along the line of: yeah, and the wider exegetical contexts do indicate salvation through and after punishment.)

6.) I’m a little fuzzy on where the hope for the tormented is being mentioned, immediately following the description of their torment in Rev 14. (Robin, did you have something particularly in mind there?)

7.) Lawrence rather misses the point (made pretty well by Robin, though it could have been made in even more detail) about how the exact same phrase “kings of the earth” is used to describe those entering into the never-closed gates of the New Jerusalem. He never seems to realize that the same phrase is being used; he talks about them being from among the nations instead. (Which is true enough, of course.) I can see better now why Tam was so frustrated with that. :wink:

8.) I did think Lawrence did a very good job probing at various tenuous portions of Robin’s position. :slight_smile: (I could go into more detail about that, but I’d rather let people listen to him do so himself. :smiley: )

Lawrence’s book isn’t available yet for pre-order from Amazon (US nor UK either one.) But I hope Robin will let us know when it’s ready for order! (Especially since, after all, Paternoster will be publishing it in the UK. :mrgreen: )


:laughing: :laughing:

What’s even funnier, is that I think there was an unrelated Dalek joke at the beginning of the webcast! (Justin talks about how Robin had been quoted in an earlier show in “Dalek” form–altering his voice around to protect his identity at the time.)

Jason wrote:

**7.) Lawrence rather misses the point (made pretty well by Robin, though it could have been made in even more detail) about how the exact same phrase “kings of the earth” is used to describe those entering into the never-closed gates of the New Jerusalem. He never seems to realize that the same phrase is being used; he talks about them being from among the nations instead. (Which is true enough, of course.) I can see better now why Tam was so frustrated with that. :wink: **

Thanks for your understanding, Jason :slight_smile: