The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Rick Wade's paper against universalism, addresses Talbott, Parry

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.probe.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/UNIVERSALISM.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwjSmbXwl8zjAhWQdN8KHdC9DH44ChAWMAV6BAgGEAE&usg=AOvVaw0ezN6lewIK5R8rR5QdBkux

What are your thoughts on his case against universalism? Not that I could ever think eternal torment could be justified, but he makes some good arguments.

I just read the summary where he was talking about preaching the gospel. For me I wouldn’t guarantee universalism because annihilation is clearly a possibility too or a mix of the two, but I would simply say salvation after death is possible for an unbeliever. I agree that outright preaching universalism is not something an unbeliever is capable of processing in a manner which can help him at the stage of maturity he is in.

I loved Wade’s calm tone, and broad review of classic anti-EU arguments, though I see nothing new in it. I found his theological arguments against EU rested on much debated assumptions. E.g. he asserts that penal substitution shows God can practice sheer retribution, but many interpret the atonement differently (cf my ppr on Wright’s book). He says God practices BOTH justice and love (which no one contests) and simply seems to smuggle in the assumption that they must be mutually exclusive when he asks why justice can’t be primary (but IF I assumed they contradict, I could ask just as well ask why love couldn’t be primary).

Similarly on EU texts, he nicely outlines our take, but offers the common rebuttals. On the “all” texts, he says all need not modify persons (but groups etc), yet ignores Rom. 5’s explicit subject of anthropoi and the parallel with the universality of the all in Adam; similarly he doesn’t engage Talbott’s interpretation of Rom. 9-11’s logic, nor the case there that “destruction” of outsiders is not final. He also repeats the old canard that aionios in Matt. 25 must both refer to duration, but I don’t see why.

I suppose the question here about “good arguments” is to focus on which ones he offers are found to be most convincing. I have no doubt e.g. that one can indeed find texts that portray an attitude of sheer retribution. And I personally find the Bible to be a diverse book that says many things that are far from clear, and there is no doubt that one can make nice cases for a variety of views on many issues. Thus which ideas and texts we find to be pivotal may depend on more than our objective ability to decipher how to interpret or harmonize every text. For me, its progression toward love as an ultimate value for our existence tips the scale toward reading it as a narrative than moves in a universalizing direction.

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A mixture of the two is what this author envisions. Although he prefers the term " Universal Restoration" instead of “universalism”…because of all the excess baggage, the second term conveys:

Is Hell Eternal Punishment, Eternal Death or Disciplinary Restoration?

So, the question for me - is this. Contemporary Old Catholic Church mystic Tiffany Snow… envisions some as becoming part of the energy, of the new earth. And Anglican bishop and New Testament scholar, NT Wright - envisions some becoming what I deem P-zombies. So if folks continue to exist, in some form…but are not consciously aware, of their existence - is this TRULY annihilation? And if I undertook these as “possibilities”…this is in keeping with RC, EO and EC theology and church teaching on “eternal existence”.

Yes, I agree with that. And even if it did refer to duration, it need not necessarily refer to the same duration. For example, there is a precedent for using aionios to mean both “not eternal” and “eternal” in the same verse, as claimed by Universalists for Matthew 25:46. In the Old Testament, Habakkuk 3:6 analogously mentions eternal to refer to the hills, which are decidedly not really eternal, and to God, who is eternal. Both uses of the word eternal in this verse are translated from aionios in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament.

“When he stops, the earth shakes.
When he looks, the nations tremble.
He shatters the everlasting mountains
and levels the eternal hills.
He is the Eternal One!”

Regarding judgment, we begin by noting that God does indeed, at times, administer retributive justice.Retribution is seen in Isaiah 3:11 where God says that what the wicked “have dealt out shall be done to him.” Consider, too, God’s judgment against the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites (Deut. 20:16-17). Where do we see any indication of judgment as restorative and colored by love for those being punished? When the angel of the Lord struck down 185,000 men in the camp of the Assyrians (2 Kings 19:34, 35), how was that a demonstration of love for them? There is no mention of restoration.

Regarding the gates to the New Jerusalem never being shut, Universalists point out that Revelation 22:15 indicates that those outside who are lost can come in. It’s just as plausible to interpret this section as meaning that not all the redeemed live inside the city, or that, if they do, they are free to come and go. “Outside” doesn’t necessarily mean simply outside spatially but can also mean those not included in the circle or group (cf. Mk. 4:11; 1 Cor. 5:12f; Col. 4:5; 1 Thess. 4:12). The wall around the city marks a boundary between those who may enter and those “outside”. Those who are able to enter the city are those whose robes are washed (Rev. 22:14) and whose names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life (21:27). No promise is given that a person’s name can be entered after death.

Thus, those who are punished by God are those who have rejected Him and have broken His righteous law. That is what one should measure eternal punishment by, not by the number or magnitude of individual sins. It isn’t a simple payback for offenses committed.
Universalists believe that the sufferings of hell will be sufficient to show people the error of their ways and bring about repentance and faith. In Scripture we see examples where suffering produces repentanceand where it doesn’t, or where it does temporarily—until the suffering is over, that is. For the Israelites in the desert, it produced grumbling and resentment. Later, in the days of the judges, suffering brought repentance, but a repentance that was temporary. In Revelation 9:20, we see where people who probably experienced the judgment of the four angels (in v.15) but didn’t die continued in their sin. In chapter 16, after the fifth angel poured out his bowl of judgment, “people gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds” (vv. 10-11). When the seventh angel poured out judgment including giant hailstones weighing about one hundred pounds each, the people cursed God; they did not repent (16:21). Universalists might speculate that a few thousand years of that would probably produce true repentance, but that would be mere speculation. There is no reason from the book of Revelation to reasonably hope for it.

Paul’s main point in Romans, with respect to the issue at hand, is that salvation is not just for Jews but for all people. Sin came to all men through Adam, and now salvation comes to all men—both Jews and Gentiles—through Christ. In chapter 1, Paul claims that all people know God exists, that everyone is bound by sin, and that God judges, here by giving people over to the consequences of their sin.

The one who does well will gain eternal life; the one who obeys unrighteousness will face wrath and fury (vv. 7, 8). I’ll return to this later, but for now will just note that there is no clear teaching in Scripture that in the eschaton people will be saved (postmortem salvation) or even that saving grace will be offered (postmortem evangelization) and certainly not after God’s judgment is revealed.

In Matthew chapter 7, we read this severe warning from Jesus: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (7:21-23). There is no mention of a second chance later.

@davo and @JasonPratt what do you think of Wade’s arguments?

The trouble with many Universalist proponents and then their anti-Universalist protagonists is they argue from their either/or perspectives. The reality is… there are scriptural contexts where punishment is retributive, and contexts where punishment is restorative — that’s the reality of the bible and to deny it is just dumb or dishonest.

Yes, and as Parry suggests, judgment may sometimes even carry tones of both retribution and restoration.

The ‘reality of the bible’ - those are good words as far as they go, but they don’t necessarily go that far, in that any one of us must choose how much weight to give to those particular ‘realities’ - there is much in the OT especially that we would be silly to construe as normative for us, no matter how important to that culture.
It is also apparent, at least to my ego, that there has been progress in revelation; Christ came to illuminate ‘life and immortality’ - a big change over OT thought in the main. For them, retribution and revenge were ‘holy’, in their minds at least, and they projected that same feeling onto God himself. It seems very clear.
The ‘text’ is nothing without con-text, as has been pointed out abundantly on this forum. If one wants to rely entirely on one’s focus on the text, not taking into account progress in revelation, or genre, or literary approach, but just saying ‘the bible says that God is a chicken’ because he
’ hides us under his wings’ - that’s what the text says!! - one could be missing the boat.
It is legitimate to choose to understand the Old in light of the New, and not equate them as to authority or insight. I have no ‘text’ that says that in so many words, but I think it is a sound judgment anyway.

Yep for sure… and for me that would be the weight of scriptural evidence.

Too true… and the same can likewise be said of the NT.

Yes… Jesus came to illuminate what Israel in the main had lost sight of, i.e., God, aka ‘life and immortality’.

When RW quotes Robin Parry out of context, to claim that RP himself acknowledges “that his interpretations do not have very strong foundations”, then I have to say I have a pretty good idea what to expect from RW’s 2012 article. {eyeroll}

But I’ll take a stab at it anyway, per request.

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Rather than an overview of his whole article, which I’ll try to get around to later, this is a limited reply to quotes from the article provided by Qaz. As such, keep in mind the limitations, especially in favor of both myself and Rick Wade (hereafter RW).

RW: {{Regarding judgment, we begin by noting that God does indeed, at times, administer retributive justice. Retribution is seen in Isaiah 3:11 where God says that what the wicked “have dealt out shall be done to him.”}}

My reply is that Isaiah 3:11 is part of a larger single block of prophecy which demonstrates well enough the Biblical concept of retribution: those people slain in Isaiah 2 and 3 (somewhat comically in Isaiah 2) come back later to petition the righteous ones who survived the coming of YHWH, to accept them as servants, whereupon the righteous survivors accept them, reconciling with them, and God cleans those who didn’t survive His coming, from the blood of their sins (murder being the example), with the spirit of fire and of burning (i.e. with the Holy Spirit).

So God does indeed administer retributive justice – in the classical sense of bringing rebels back into loyal tribute to Him; and as it happens, that prophecy is an example of it. RW doesn’t mean re-tributive justice, though; he only means hopeless punishment, and thinks this prophecy is an example of that.

It’s also an example of how a lot of his article amounts to context dueling. It’s understandable that he wouldn’t reference context in an article, but he should at least anticipate replies from the context. And I somewhat doubt he anticipated any contextual reply here: the prophecy unmistakably speaks of repentant sinners being led by God back into loyalty. Had he noticed that, he (surely?) wouldn’t have simply dismissed it as irrelevant to his claim! Much less do I think he had Paul’s reference to this prophecy, from 2 Thess 1, in view, where Paul describes the punished ones as coming to positively honor-value the justice of their eonian whole-ruination from God, where at the very least it is indisputable that Paul uses a verb for destruction which he elsewhere, in regard to the same coming Day of the Lord at 1 Cor 5, clearly regards as hopeful, not hopeless, punishment.

So a lot of reply to RW’s paper would be, in practice, a systematic theology of salvation and punishment from God, based on the grammar and contexts of the verses he’s referencing, within the framework (at least in my case) of trinitarian Christian theism. Some of his positions I would dispute against as a trinitarian theologian first and foremost. Not too surprisingly, in my experience, his paper doesn’t bother with such theological grounding at all, settling (where he talks about theology at all) for a more basic theism. (And, I would argue, not even that sometimes! I realize he isn’t lapsing about that on purpose.)

RW: {{Where do we see any indication of judgment as restorative and colored by love for those being punished?}}

Well, there was some in that Isaiah prophecy! But by much the same token, I could ask, where in Deuteronomy 20, or 2 Kings 19, do we find even the slightest hint of the resurrection of the evil or even of the good? There’s no mention of that either, although that’s hardly irrelevant to the overall topic! Anything about the Messiah in those chapters? Nope, but also highly relevant to the Christian universalist case. Ah, well, we shall have to throw over all belief in the Messiah and in the resurrection of the good and the evil, as well as the doctrine of the Trinity, which also isn’t found in those chapters. No, no, it’s no use claiming that the scriptures may testify about those things elsewhere! Why won’t RW just reject the lack of what he’s referencing here?! Isn’t that the Biblical thing to do for our theology according to the scriptures?!

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RW: {{Regarding the gates to the New Jerusalem never being shut, Universalists point out that Revelation 22:15 indicates that those outside who are lost can come in. It’s just as plausible to interpret this section as meaning that not all the redeemed live inside the city, or that, if they do, they are free to come and go.}}

It is a little bizarre that RW makes this appeal, and goes on to affirm that those who are able to enter the city are those whose robes are washed and whose names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life, but then neglects to mention the very obvious immediate context that it is those outside who are fondling their sins who are exhorted by those in the city (coming out for this purpose apparently) to wash their robes and slake their thirst in the freely given water, and so obtain permission to enter the city. But maybe he accounts for that in a portion Qaz didn’t quote. (I’m just working on the portions Qaz was troubled by, presumably why Qaz quoted those portions.) By deduction, those who in this very scene are exhorted to repent and enter, must have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life; and the description matches those outside in the lake of fire; which happens after the general resurrection of the good and the evil; so unless RW is denying that the resurrection of the good and the evil happens after death, then by implication there is just the promise he denies: “that a person’s name can be entered after death”. He ought to be aware of contextual arguments here anyway, if he’s going to address the appeal by Christian universalists.

But, ah, after all, there was no mention of the resurrection of the evil, or even of the good, at Deut 20 or 2 Kings (moreso in the prophecy block of Isaiah 3, although he doesn’t bother to talk about it there), so we must not appeal to such things I suppose even if they have contextual importance to what he’s trying to criticize.

RW: {{Universalists believe that the sufferings of hell will be sufficient to show people the error of their ways and bring about repentance and faith. In Scripture we see examples where suffering produces repentanceand where it doesn’t, or where it does temporarily—until the suffering is over, that is.}}

What this has to do with Christian universalist arguments that the scriptures, such as Rev 22, point to punishment producing repentance and not fake or temporary or no repentance at all, must be left to RW’s imagination. No one anywhere disputes that particular punishments don’t always lead a sinner to repent; just as Christian universalists do not dispute that “those who are punished by God are those who have rejected Him and have broken His righteous law” (or those of us who agree with RW that God does punish sinners anyway.) Moreover, those of us who affirm divine disciplinary action, tend to agree fully that the number or magnitude of individual sins is irrelevant to duration (though per Christ, at least, they are relevant to intensity of the punishments, where some receive only a few stripes at the return of the Lord – compared to rebel chief servants of God who are cut into pieces!) What matters for duration, is whether the sinners keeps fondling their sins and refusing to let go of the thorns and thistles with which they try to go to war against God (but only end up hurting themselves).

If RW isn’t going to actually address Christian universalist scriptural arguments from RevJohn (and elsewhere!) about reasonably hoping, and even expecting, God’s disciplinary action to eventually prevail upon the sinner, even if that takes eons of eons for some sinners, then I have no interest in bringing up such examples for him to ignore. It isn’t like he doesn’t have opportunity to address them rather than waving them off as mere “speculation”.

RW: {{Paul’s main point in Romans, with respect to the issue at hand, is that salvation is not just for Jews but for all people. Sin came to all men through Adam, and now salvation comes to all men – both Jews and Gentiles – through Christ.}}

By which salvation all shall be made alive. That’s also Paul’s point in Rom 5. Oversimplifying the data as a rebuttal doesn’t actually address the argument. So, is Paul’s main point that where grace exceeds sin hyperexceeds, because not as God’s grace is the sin, thus while all have fallen in Adam the grace of God shall only save some? – or is Paul’s main point that where sin exceeds God’s saving grace hyperexceeds, for not as the sin is the grace? I don’t think Paul is hiding the ball about this! (Though RW might be.)

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RW: {{There is no mention of a second chance later [in GosMatt 7].}}

Also no mention of a resurrection of the good and the evil. Ah, well, so much for that doctrine. No no, don’t go looking for it elsewhere! – why can’t RW just simply not believe what Jesus doesn’t say here? Tsk tsk, very speculative of him.

But, as I like to reply (a little quippishly), in regard to GosMatt 7 (not even counting its contextual references), when it comes to considering why Jesus is zorching His own servants whom He has divinely empowered there, and comparing doctrines about them:

Any preacher or teacher might of course be a ravening wolf inside, even a Christian universalist. But as a matter of principle, are universalists the ones who are saying that God’s tree will ultimately produce bad figs? (Matt 7:16-18) Are universalists the ones who are acting in such a way that ultimately some sinners will never come to do the will of the Father in the heavens? (Matt 7:21) Are universalists the ones who claim our Father in the heavens gives worse gifts than evil fathers on earth ever would? (Matt 7:9-11) Are universalists the ones who teach against the idea of all people coming to do unto others as they would have people do unto them? (Matt 7:12) Is it the universalists who deny that those outside who keep on asking and keep on knocking will eventually be given entrance, and so who teach that those thrown outside might as well not even bother knocking in the first place because they will never be let in? (Matt 7:7-8, 23)

Those who are ravening wolves inside are certainly merciless to others, and admittedly a Christian universalist might be merciless to others this way inside; but does this refusal to have mercy on others describe Christian universalism in principle, and so all Christian universalists necessarily?

Granted, not everyone who is empowered by Christ to work miracles and even exorcisms will be acknowledged by Christ as His followers, even if they know to give Him the double-Lord title reserved only for God Most High in the Old Testament. But when Jesus withered the tree going into the city during His last week of earthly ministry, was He denouncing those who trust in God and try to cooperate with Him in bringing all the beasts of the field and of the forest into the Temple to eat? – or those who, considering themselves the elite chosen of God, had taken over the Court of the Gentiles, preventing any fruit from growing there?

Who, then, being thrown outside, are the ones being judged by the standard of their judgment (Matt 7:1-2)? Those who are merciful even to those who are thrown outside? Or those who are unmerciful?

“Love your enemies,” Jesus says in Luke’s report of the same incident (Luke 6:35-38) “and do good, and lend, not despairing at all of receiving nothing in return, and your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High! – for He Himself is kind to the ungrateful and to the evil ones. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Now do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; release and you will be released. Give and it will be given to you, a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap! For by your standard of measure, will it be measured to you in return!”

RW could try replying by reference nearby to Jesus’ warning about the small gate and the narrow way, for “many shall enter by the broad path and the wide gate that leads to destruction” – but Jesus has a strong rebuke ready (in GosLuke 13:22-30 where He affirms the same idea) for anyone who thinks this means only a few are being saved after all instead of many entering into the kingdom from all quarters of the compass!

There may not be anything specifically about post-mortem repentance and salvation here in GosMatt 7, but in principle the Christian universalists are the ones most on the side of Jesus in His critique warnings here.

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I can and will provisionally allow the possibility that Rick Wade has better arguments and rebuttals than these fripperies in his paper, which Qaz hasn’t quoted yet; but based on a quick scan of my own through his paper, I shall register a strenuous doubt about that being true.

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Lo. It begins. JRP vs Rick Wade vs Christian universalism