The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Sorting Through the Varieties of Universalism

A question.

Does anyone know of a good listing (with descriptions) of the various universalist positions? Here on the Forum or elsewhere? I see so many labels flying around–this sort of universalism vs. that sort of universalism–I’m wondering if there is anything like a consensus list.

I haven’t seen one, Richard. Like pretty much everything else in the world, there appears to be more of a continuum than neatly boxed categories. Nevertheless, it would be helpful, I think.

If that’s the case (we’ll see if anyone else points us to something) I was wondering about making such a list. Which would involve sorting through all the major theological distinctives. One major distinction I’ve seen is pluralistic universalism vs. Christocentric universalism. My question is if that’s the main distinction and if there is need to make any more? For example, when we say “evangelical universalism” do we mean “Christocentric universalism”? Questions like that.

Switching gears, it seems that much of the diversity comes less from “universalism” than about the role and function of hell. Labels like conditionalism or annihilationism are getting at that. And maybe that’s where the all labels come from, different descriptions of hell being mixed in with different visions of UR.

i guess two obvious “schools of thought” would be “purgatorial” universalism vs “ultra” universalism.
i fall a bit closer to “ultra” as for me, the hell texts were so firmly dealt with before i ever came to universalism that i find it a real struggle to put them back into my theology. i came via annihilationism, though, so it’s a bit inconsistent, as they deal with those texts by saying they are fatal in consequence, and therefore valid…but not ECT.
however, i believe that such testing doesn’t need to occur after death…God can stretch a final moment out as long as He likes, and who’s to say the actual approach to death isn’t bad enough for those that “deserve” it (actually we all do, by some viewpoints!).

i’m also less EU than UR…as evangelicalism has become something i am generally allergic to (no offence to EU’s here, you are lovely. this is something that i personally have to grapple with due to my upbringing in north american christianity and varius brushes with the “toronto blessing” (though to be fair, we had that going on long before toronto made it famous! not sure that’s a good thing, though :laughing: )).

Well obviously the site is devoted to Christocentric (or Christian) universalism instead of pluralistic universalism. (I suppose someone could be Christian in various ways while still believing all or anyway more than one religion to be equally true, so maybe “Christocentric” universalism would be better as a distinction.)

After that, a big category distinction would be universalists who expect at least some punishment from God post-mortem (purgatorial universalism being a handy term for that concept) and universalists who don’t expect punishment from God post-mortem (ultra-universalism being a handy term for that. Each term is nifty and not derogatory, too. :slight_smile: ) Ultra-u’s could still expect some punishment of sinners by God before death–I’ve seen at least one or two examples of that here on the forum in the past–but in my experience most don’t expect any further punishment from God (after the crucifixion or after the fall of the Temple), or don’t expect any punishment from God at all ever (for anyone other than Christ, or not for Him either.) So some ultra-universalists are more ultra than others. :mrgreen:

Relatedly, not all purga-u’s quite agree on how purgatory works. Some of us regard it as a threatened real possibility but not as a certainty; others as a prophetic certainty for some people but not for others; others of us regard it as being true (in this or that way) for everyone (I tend to go this route: everyone is salted by the unquenchable fire of Gehenna, but it’s only a punishment to those who aren’t cooperating with the Fire yet). I’ve seen purga-u’s who regard it as being variably intense (which is also my position), and others who regard it as being invariably intense. I’ve seen those (myself included) who regard it as being variably long-lasting depending on the person’s attitude to what’s going on; and others who cipher out distinctions and even exact year counts as to how long various types of sinners will be in the lake of fire. (Stonehouse is a notorious example of that; although he was influential in many ways, his system was not adopted in any surviving subsequent work.)

Cutting across both basic types of Christian universalist are questions of pretty much every other kind of theological topic!

1.) Patrology, Christology and Pneumatology: is orthodox trinitarian theism true, or some other theism; and if some other theism, how do the Son and the Spirit relate to the Father? (The creators of the site intended to focus on ortho-trin, and they’ve chosen guest authors and admins who are usually consonant with that, compared to Tentmaker for example which tends to trend more unitarian.)

2.) Free will vs. determinism, in various degrees and combinations.

3.) Atonement theory: is penal substitutionary atonement true, or some variety of it, or some other atonement theory, or theories?

4.) Eschatology: is preterism true, and if so to what extent, or to what extent is the kingdom of God still on the way and how will God act to bring it about (and if so in what stages of progression if any)?

5.) Bibliology: is the canon opened or closed? Protestant or Catholic canon? Eastern Syrian or Western Syrian canon? What kind or kinds of inspiration do the scriptures have? Is inspiration still active today in an authoritative way or ways (and if so, what relation does that authority have to the scriptures)? How historically accurate are the scriptures? How spiritually accurate are the scriptures?! (i.e. could a writer be promoting a false spiritual idea that we ought to reject and if so on what grounds? Not to be confused with the observation that various characters in narrative, whether parabolic or historical, sometimes get the wrong idea about things!–but then, what if those characters are meant to be authoritative themselves in some way? Do all authors and/or authoritative characters in scripture have what amounts to papal infallibility, and if so what does that involve?)

6.) Ecclesiology: what kind of shape should “the church” have? What kind of authority structure if any? No church groups per se? Strong ecclesial authorities? Papal or multiple top authorities? Variant degrees or combinations thereof? How best should worship proceed?–for everyone in the ecclesia and/or for specific groups and/or for individuals? Should there be creeds to profess?

I’ve personally seen examples of each of those positions (in various combinations) among Christian universalists; and in theory I think purga- and ultra-universalists could each hold any of those options, even though in practice there are sometimes majorities. (Most ultra-u’s in my experience are preteristic to some strong extent for example, which makes sense since the two concepts tend to more easily fit logically together.)

God knows I wouldn’t want to be the one trying to come up with labels for all the variations… :laughing: :sunglasses:

Thorough and detailed, as always! :slight_smile:

Well I’d like to add Non-violent Christ purgatorial Universalism to the list (although this cuts across categories it is distinct category embracing Julian of Norwich, William Law, very influential on GMac and Maurice, Peace Church Traditions and the Girardians.

I like it, Dick! :smiley:
Now we need a catchy acronym…. Hmmmm……NVCPurgaU? (Sounds like a university) NVCUP?…. (No, sounds like a sporting trophy) We might be using this a lot around here so it’s worth some thought. :wink:

Steve, well an acronym would be good. I’m not sure which one would be best. But I know Richard is very suspect as a ‘whatever we want to call it’ universalist from his posts - like the one on the Cherem texts. I dunno trajectories in the OT, reinterpretation of holocaust in line with the mystics and the inner purifying fire (which is either wrath or love) very iffy butty.

Of well I’d also put Origen and Gregory of Nyssa broadly in this category. And I reckon Erasmus is very suspect - but he played his cards close to this chest. :laughing:

It requires a booth of honour I think. :slight_smile: