The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Scot McKnight on Justice requiring ECT

I just finished Scot McKnight’s “Kingdom of God” class at Regent, Vancouver. Being an ‘Anabaptist’ on kingdom ethics, he said, Jesus rejected Moses’ Law of an “eye for an eye,” believing that retribution isn’t always required, and forgiveness can be valuable. The next day on the kingdom’s eschatological separation, he argued that this is Eternal Concious Torment because “justice requires the full punishment of proportionate retribution.” He cited the cry of the oppressed for such justice, illustrating that we couldn’t feel satisfied if Hitler escaped justice.

Inviting questions, I said, “I hear you argue that ‘justice requires full retributory punishment.’ That sounds like Moses’ logic of ‘an eye for an eye.’ But I though you argued that Jesus opposed that!” He said, "Wow, you have just deconstructed me. He hesitated and it appeared to me that he had never reflected on the glaring conflict between his two assertions. He began to review that Jesus bore sin’s punishment so that those who embraced him need not receive justice, but that those who reject his provision still must. I said, “But what if Biblical ‘justice’ means ‘making things right.’ That would mean it could only be truly satisfied by bringing people to actually be righteous.” I believe McKnight has elsewhere acknowledged this as a Biblical concept of righteousness (dikaios), and I perceived him to say “yes,” as if that would be the desireable outcome or defintion, “But… that would require universalism.”

Then the focus became not the original question of justice’s meaning, but why one would reject universalism. His main response was that “affirming universalism would only be possible if one were a Calvinist.” He clearly meant human freedom would assure the possibility that some may reject salvation, because he added, “unless that guy in Oregon is right… what’s his name.” I said, you’re referring to Thomas Talbott. He said, “yes.” He then said, “I hope the next question will not be this difficult.” My impression was that even bringing up Talbott as a possible alternative, showed that he sensed that Talbott had made quite a case for God being able to enlighten and bring everyone to ackknowledge the truth without coercion.

The other obvious basis of his rejection of universalism is his sense that ‘eternal hell’ is Biblical. He argued that all such texts could refer to annihilationism, except the two in Revelation about torment. But he cited Don Carson’s rebuke of a liberal ‘Marcionite’ who said the N.T. God was not the violent O.T. God, telling him, “Jesus spoke more of hell and ECT than anyone else” (apparently assuminging there that Jesus’ Gehenna was Not annihilation?). So when another student asked if Gehenna meant the Jerusalem garbage dump, he said that he had written this in his James’ commentary, but now realizes that maybe this was a much later invention of the rabbis. But he argued that what is decisive, is that first century Jews had come to see Hinnom Valley as a symbol of endless torment in the afterlife, such that they would know this is what Jesus meant."

He did not acknowledge that there were apparently a variety of views on the afterlife among first century Jews, nor question that Jesus wouldn’t necessarily have endorsed the Pharisee’s conception of this. He seemed unaware of Jerzak’s argument that Jesus more likely would have assumed the Bible’s tradition in Jeremiah, where being thrown into Hinnom Valley meant a historical event at the hand of enemy armies. Indeed, we had earlier clashed when he argued against George Ladd and John Bright’s view that “kingdom” is a reign or rule, and that Jesus never defines it as the church. McKnight (later citing Bruce Waltke) claimed Jews expected a land and people, and thus the kingdom means the “same” as the church. I asked, if Jesus’ definition of the kingdom proved violently unpopular and seems to reverse many Jewish expectations, why must we assume that he conformed to what they expected. He replied that unless there is some continuity for their understanding, then Jesus would not have communicated effectively with them.

I concluded that he wanted rightly to affirm a crucial place for the church and that a lot of these distinction were semantic (all scholars see a close connection between the kingdom and the church who are to reflect God’s rule, while agreeing that the two are “not identical”). But it reinforced my perception on Jesus’ use of Gehenna, that traditionalists like Mcknight selectively assume that Jesus endorsed Jewish conceptions, when it bolsters a conclusion that they want to defend. And I think that if even an ‘Anabaptist’ melds Jesus into Jewish expectations, it shows how deeply entrenched traditional views of ECT are.

Yet, McKnight referenced a great theologian’s comment that every Christian should be hoping that universalism is true, commenting that it seems like we indeed should love others to the extent of hoping that they will all be saved. My deepest impression was that even an evangelical as unusually well-read and conversant with universalism as McKnight, does not seem to have yet thought through the coherence of his assumptions, as in his conflicted conceptions of justice. But being a hopeful personality, I sense that he continues to sincerely try to grapple with these issues.

This is the highlight of my day Bob! Great report, great questions!

He used the “affirming universalism would only be possible if one were a Calvinist.” earlier this year when I was discussing something on his blog - I did try to explain why many disagree with him… :slight_smile:

I’m glad he’s still at least discussing the topic reasonably, hopefully what you said sinks in!

Hi Bob, thanks for sharing this interaction with McKnight! The connection between UR and justice is a powerful one. We did a post on an Acts 29 pastor who gave a sermon on how “justice” is essentially the same word as “righteousness” and that it literally means “right-useness.” He challenged the church to see all perpetrators of evil as needing to be restored back to their original design not “paid back” for their deeds. He said while we love to GET justice God was in the business of DOING justice. Therefore prison/punitive punishment was simply bringing consequences to bear but did not satisfy true Biblical justice. But he did not receive the insightful questions that would have “deconstructed” his traditional view of ECT(!) Too bad you weren’t there :slight_smile: … versalism/

We also did a post on McKnight --here are some of his quotes from his book The Jesus Creed: … e-justice/

Here are a few more by McKnight from our post “Things Theologians Say But Aren’t Supposed to Mean:” … d-to-mean/

The prison ministry work of the late Charles Colson is also tremendously insightful here. He wrote “Justice That Restores.”

Looks like these guys are doing a pretty good job of deconstructing themselves!

I always love that one… like where do folk by making this statement get off assuming they have more love in their heart for man than God has for man, go figure!? :unamused:

On Jesus Creed Scott asked concerning biblical evidence for post-mortem repentance/salvation. I gave a succint list and no one addressed it. Well, Scott did say something along the lines that, yes these are the types of passages we need to discuss. It was interesting that no one picked up the discussion.

I participated in several threads related to UR, but haven’t in several months.


Thanks for the great quotes from McKnight’s Jesus’ Creed. You have confirmed my strong sense that I’ve heard this recognition from him, and by not objecting to my proposed alternative definition of justice, he was signaling that he knew that such restoration is more Biblical and certainly true to the spirit of Jesus. I think his impressive admission that his argument was “deconstructed” means that at some level he knew that without much thought he had used a contrary understanding of justice in order to make sense of his difficult belief that God discards those with the wrong response. I fear that it confirms my impression that most of evangelicalism has not grasped how radically Jesus defined love as seeking the spiritual welfare of the other, even the enemy. I keep hearing a defense of desiring the worst for them because they deserve it. But if we say that we should hope those especially sinful won’t escape full ‘justice,’ it seems to redefine Jesus as coming for the (relatively) righteous. Instead, I see his goal as seeing us become more righteous.

Well said, Bob (and Philip)! A very interesting report…

I think we can be hopeful that the holistic message of the gospel is beginning to resonate in the hearts of those like McKnight as they are facing the wider Body which together support and teach UR. We make the assertion that it has always been the majority view of the Church. All the parts of the Story have been proclaimed, just not in the same location (since the early church). You place a Calvinist, an Arminian and all the other wonderful brothers and sisters who reflect aspects of the Story like missional and restorative justice etc., together and you’ve got the paradigm of universal restoration(!) I believe God is uniting His Body to reflect one amazing Gospel.

I’ve said on occasion that it’s like living in a world where the unitarians and modalists managed to divide up Christendom between themselves after the 4th century, and trinitarians became a minority. The theological differences aren’t the same (so to speak), but if ortho-trin is true the truth would still have been passed down in such a situation with different sides rightly holding and protecting part of it.

(Or if nominal deists had managed to split most of the world religious scene with pantheism: God’s transcendence and God’s immanence would have both been preserved as doctrines, except by sides that denied the other as wrong instead of both being correct and so different from each other alone.)

Phillip, do you have a reference for that quote?

It isn’t from the Unspokens (or Hope of the Gospel) I think, and I doubt it’s from Miracles of Our Lord (although I haven’t listened to that in a while since my tape for it broke). One of the non-fantasy novels?

Updated to add: wait, found it, it’s in Lilith, toward the end of chapter 30.

(I picked up the complete works of MacD on Kindle a while back, and searched for annihilation. :slight_smile: )