Trinitarian Christianity leads to Universalism? (Or not?)


This is a sister thread to another one I started in the “Discussion Negative” category, for purposes of allowing proponents of one or another kind of Calvinistic or Arminianistic soteriology (broadly speaking, whether Protestant or non-Protestant) to attempt to show that their soteriology follows logically from the doctrinal set of trinitarian theism. (Click here to go to the start of that other thread.)

It’s possible that we need a whole distinct subcategory, here in “Philosophical”, on this topic of what soteriology (if any) follows logically from trinitarian theism–or from any other doctrinal set, for that matter. (We have some dogmatic unitarian Christian members, for example–in distinction from the popular non/anti-dogmatic group known as “Unitarian Universalists”–and I don’t want to exclude them from making similar attempts if they care to try. The UUs wouldn’t bother to try logically doing anything with a doctrinal set. :wink: )

I talk about this topic so much already on our forum (and off it) that I didn’t want to swamp a thread set up for other kinds of Christians to make the same attempt, by doing so myself. But naturally the question has come up over there from one of our new members, Luke, who if I recall correctly is an ordained Anglican minister. (Please correct that if I’ve mis-remembered, Luke…!) Why does Jason think trinitarian theism leads logically to some kind of universalism as a corollary?

So I’ve started up this sister thread to “lick this calf again” (as we say here in West Tennessee. :mrgreen: ) But rather than going over it in my usual eyeglazing amount of detail (like here for example–where readers are entirely welcome to add questions, comments, critiques, etc.), I’m going to try to stick to following up on Luke’s comments and questions to me in the prior linked thread, as briefly as feasibly possible.

Keeping in mind that “briefly” means I can’t possibly cover every important related topic at once. EVEN THOUGH I VERRRRRRY MUCH WANT TO! AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!


What Persuaded You?
Trinitarian Christianity leads to... Calv? Kath? (Arm? {g})
Explaining how the Trinity leads to Universalism (to a 10yo?

Righty then. Let’s go back and look at that first comment (if I have the correct one in mind–if not, please point to the correct one instead!)

This is something of an incidental question, but how many times have you seen a Calvinistic theologian explaining, for example, how God’s omniscience and omnipotence logically leads to God’s election and diselection of sinners, and to God’s successful persistence in saving elected sinners (especially over against Arm insistence that despite God’s omni-capabilities somehow God won’t be able to save some people from sin even though He supposedly intends and acts to save all sinners); and then warned that Calv theologian that he shouldn’t be too hasty in collapsing doctrines back into the Godhead? (On the ground that explaining how X doctrines lead to Y doctrine instead of Z doctrine somehow counts as making doctrine equivalent to God??? I think I can safely say, especially as a hyper-doctrinaire, that I am the last person I can think of who would ever claim that a doctrine was equivalent to God. Which is why I regularly denounce the concept of gnosticism, salvation by doctrinal acceptance, as a doctrinal heresy. Be that as it may. :slight_smile: )

I’m asking this because, even though I would disagree with the Calv theologian on the result there, I cannot imagine doing so by anything like that kind of reply. I would say the Calv theologian has got some things right, but isn’t including enough doctrines of God in his set to arrive at the right answer yet, effectively only working from mere supernaturalistic theism at most instead of trinitarian theism.

The complaint that someone isn’t including enough doctrines of God in their theological reasoning yet, by the way, seems to be similar to the ground of your other remark in that comment (where for some reason you didn’t actually answer either of the questions I asked in the paragraph you quoted, but went off on some other tangents–but as it happens it’s a handy answer for my current purpose anyway :slight_smile: ):

Where to start on this… (I have a 12 or 13 page doc of notes written up replying to this and some other comments in that thread, but since brevity’s sake was requested I won’t inflict it. :smiley: I may slightly tweak my reply questions below tomorrow morning when I get back to my office where that doc is, since I can’t recall exactly what I said now and might have said it a bit better there. :wink: UPDATED TO ADD: no update needed. :smiley: )

1.) If ‘God = love’ is a true but incomplete statement, then why did you present as a correction (or an addition?) something that in itself doesn’t even necessarily amount to theism? “Being itself”, so far as it goes and without further analysis and qualification (and detail, such as reading in a personal declaration from “being itself”!) could be atheism instead. Indeed with no further details and qualification it would be atheism instead!

You say ‘God = love’ is not complete enough (which for whatever reason doesn’t consider all the highly detailed things I’ve ever written about how many doctrines are involved in such a simple statement, namely the doctrinal set of trinitarian theism, including yes the doctrine that God is “being itself”); and instead you provide a statement involving much, much, much less.

Doesn’t that seem at least a little strange to you?

2.) But okay if you want to go with “God is essentially being”, let’s go with that.

I’ll assume you mean something like “basic being” or “foundational being” or “being itself” by “being”, and that “being itself” is supernaturalistic as the substantially different ground of our evident system of Nature (and so avoid getting into a discussion of naturalism vs. supernaturalism. Though neither position is necessarily implied from the claim that “God is essentially being itself”.)

Do you mean “being itself” is essentially non-personal or essentially personal? (The former would be atheism with at best some kind of emergent panpsychism, not theism, and you’re talking about a personal “I” so I’m going to guess you mean the latter. But let me know if I’ve guessed wrong and you really mean that being itself is essentially non-personal!–yet you still call this avowedly non-personal foundational being God. Like the Early and Middle Stoics, for example.)

If the latter, do you mean “being itself” is essentially only a single person or essentially multi-personal? (The former would be some kind of sheer monotheism, like Islam, or non-Christian Judalism, or in terms of Christian variants an Arian or neo-Arianism or at best a modalism. And you ought to know how all of those will take the declaration “I AM” by itself from Exodus, not even counting the Shema declaration. :wink: The latter, on the other hand, could be one of several things. If you mean the latter, I have other questions to follow.)


I fail to see that Tritarianism either leads to Universalism or leads away from it.


I haven’t gotten anywhere near it in this thread, yet, of course.

But the author you’re currently quoting in your signature thought it did, Paidion!–though he wasn’t systematic about it. Not surprising; he distrusted theological systemization, so it wasn’t his thing, though he did show some talent for it. (He seems to have distrusted it as a reaction to Calvinist theological systemizations.)

Systemization was the thing of his student Lewis afterward, though; and it was from both of their (somewhat different) contributions that I got most of my first clues about where trinitarianism leads and how it gets there.


I actually agree that Orthodox Trinitarian theism entails UR, but there are some tricky and controversial arguments that go into this which not all Trinitarians share but which I think make best sense of Trinitarian theism.

If one explicates the Trinitarian relations in terms of interpersonal love (God is love) and then also posits divine aseity (God is full and interpersonal love apart from any world he might create AND he’s free not to create), I think one can argue from these two fundamental truths the eventual reconciliation of all things, or to put it negatively, one can argue the impossibility of the permanent loss of any sentient creature (created freely and loved unconditionally and infinitely by God).



I’d be interested in your version Jason, but basically what I do is argue that if God is perfect benevolence, and if perfect benevolence would not risk the permanent loss of a single sentient being , and if God creates freely, then it follows that no sentient being shall be irrevocably lost. It’s that simple. If God has created (and he has), and if he’s done so freely (and we think he has), and if God is love, then we can conclude that in creating God did not risk the permanent loss of any sentient creatures. Granted, I’m supposing that perfect and free benevolence would not risk the permanent loss of a creature’s well-being (and that’s a controversial claim even among those who agree that God is, essentially, love). But you end up with no options, for both ETC and annihilationism argue that God tolerates the irrevocable loss of sentient creatures.

Actually, this isn’t far from how St. Gregory (and even Maximus at his most consistent) viewed it; and Maximus was interested in ‘how’ God as love precludes the irrevocable loss of any sentient creature, cf. his doctrine of the uncreated logoi of created things.



Hi Jason,

I am indeed an Anglican priest, but it doesn’t help me much.

Is it saying too little to say I agree that we need to walk a middle path between the two dangers of reading too much of our doctrine into God and not having enough of God in our doctrine?

  1. Sorry Jason, I don’t understand your critique of my response to the “God=love” statement.

  2. God is indeed personal, but I wouldn’t want to go much beyond Moses’ record in Exodus. I’d take “being” as a straight dictionary definition of presence and reality.

I’m still unclear if your defending the statement that God is essentially love and if you are how representative of universalism that is. I think what universalists mean, is that God’s primary characteristic is love, which is closer to the mark but still in error because God has several primary characteristics, so the real argument should be doesn’t reprobation go against one of God’s primary characteristics which is love. A good and valid question.

Clearly more needs to be said about God then that he is essentially being. God has characteristics and reveals himself to us in salvation as a Trinity. The Trinity as I understand it is a doctrine of unity and distinction. One God - three persons, although not persons in the exactly the same way we think of persons, but named divine distinctions of the Godhead with different roles, sharing nonetheless the unity of God. I am looking forward to reading how you think universalism is necessary because of the Trinity. If it is, which I don’t think it is, it would only be because of an argument from God’s revealed words and actions.


Hi Luke,

I wish I had more time to put into catching up on the conversations between you and Jason. I’ve only glanced from a distance and it all always looks good!

Let me offer a few quick thoughts about God and love, not particularly organized.

I’d want to argue that God is essentially love. I think this best expresses the Orthodox view and makes for the best fit for the various claims we want to make about God’s attributes. However, the claim that ‘God is Love’ can end up supporting somewhat contrary claims for the simple reason that there are different understandings of ‘love’ among us. So just saying “God is love” doesn’t end the conversation, it begins it.

As I understand it, God is essentially love in the sense that God’s being/existence is constituted in/by an act of love (as opposed to an act of forgiveness or judgment or wrath or revelation to the world, etc.). So the question becomes what does this act of love amount to? I don’t mind going with your definition and saying God is essentially ‘being’, but I define ‘being’ per se as ‘being as communion’ (as does Fr. Zizioulas following the Cappadocians), and that is what trinitarianism gets us. ‘Exisence’ (or ‘being’) is in its most fundamental-ontological truth an act of love. In the case of God we’re just positing an essentially relational ontology that views God’s ‘being’ as irreducibly hypostatic in which Father, Son, and Spirit have their being in the affirming and realization of one another’s identity in-relationship-to each other. What does this act of affirmation and personal realization mean? It means ‘love’, viz., an act that affirms the value and worth of another and achieves the enjoyment of its own well-being in the well-being of another (in interpersonal terms).

So for me, to affirm the personal nature of another is to love that other. I love when I act in ways that affirm and promote the personal worth and value of others. Hence, the enjoyment of one’s fullest well-being is the enjoyment of personal or hypostatic being. In God’s case this obtains necessarily (trinitarianly); it just is the divine aseity—the unsurpassable aesthetic pleasure of divine personal existence. This IS the beauty and goodness that is God. In our case it’s derived existence—we have to ‘become’ by grace what God is by nature—essentially loving.

If this (or something very close to it) is true, then it follows that this grounding of personal value and the will to affirm the personal well-being of others qualifies all God’s actions with respect to sentient creatures other than God. To say God is love (so far as the world is concerned) is just to say God always acts in relationship to other sentient beings in this manner. God’s acts relative to the world flow from the essential love that God is; hence, all other divine acts and attributes become the differentiated truth of love in relationship to the world. Thus, judgement and wrath are simply manifestations of divine love in relationship to particular attitudes adopted by the world. This is why I would argue in trinitarian terms that divine judgement is necessarily remedial (or loving), for ‘remedial’ betokens the well-being of another and the ultimate purpose of judgement. What other sort of judgment could love propose?

That’s all pretty choppy and thrown together, but it pretty much expresses the understanding of God = Love that I hold to.




I am so happy that you brought this topic up and look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

And Tom;

I just loved your thoughts and have long believed that our existence is intimately related to the very nature of God Himself and therefore to be “lost” would mean that God then must have ceased to exist.

I’ve been thinking about this these past few weeks as I prepared to teach a lesson in our church study time (what you all call “Sunday School”) about “relationships”. We believe that God is a personal being; and further, that God – in His essence and nature – is relational. At minimum, the idea of being a “person” includes self-consciousness and self-determinacy.

Anyway, the notion of Trinity is of course difficult (esp for Jews and Muslims) and can be shrouded in mystery and can bend ones mind big time. The best way then, in my opinion anyway, to begin to make sense of the Trinity is that it is relational in it’s foundations and essence. Each person acting for the mutual benefit of the other, in joy and completeness.

That we are also relational beings is, I’m convinced, what it means to have the image of God within us. We are, in ways undetectable to us now perhaps, the product, the offspring, the children, of this relational reality that is God. This relational love creates; and sustains. And we see this creative aspect of relationship in human marriage whose love creates more “relaters”. It’s the ultimate positive feedback system.

So God is the personal manifestation of this relational love which creates and sustains and no I have no idea exactly “how” that works. But it certainly fits the Christian ways of speaking about God and His power to create. A power which, I’m convinced, is necessarily relational.

Now I really do think that a huge barrier to accepting Universalism as God’s eventual accomplishment is our projection onto God of relational dynamics that are in truth our own dysfunctional ones. For example, even though I am relational, I find all kinds of reasons to NOT have relationships with various people. If someone is perceived to be against me, or has hurt me, or I am unable to trust them, I am not going to culture and foster relationship with them.

But that’s not God’s method or modus at all! He pursues and seeks relationship with even the worst of sinners; those most guilty of hurting Him. That’s the story of the bible as told through the eyes of God as relater. Why on earth does He do that? - unless it is in His very nature and essence. Further, why would He ever stop doing it? – which in essence is what being “lost” would entail. So the very same relational aspects of God that leads Him to create and sustain in the first place are the exact same aspects which make Universalism inevitable. Thus the “choice” to be lost (ECT or annihilation) is simply not a viable one at all given this relational (trinitarian) quality of God. Just as we didn’t chose to come into existence, so also we can’t chose to go out of existence. It simply does not cohere with God’s relational realities as the source of our existence in the first place.

Well I’m sure it can be said a lot better and I’m eager to read more of the thoughts you 2 gentlemen will bring!!!



I’m glad we’ve spent time on the “God is love” statement and would like to take a moment to recap my position, as the thread becomes complicated with multiple tangents and different lines of argument. (I’ll leave it to the moderators to untangle the discussion!)

I know I’m one of the few non-universalists on the forum and I while I firmly believe the position I’m rearticulating here, I’m not saying it to be belligerent or antagonistic!

Universalism may (although I personally don’t believe so) have legitimate arguments based on the revealed actions and words of God but it can’t remain within the circle of orthodox theology if “God is love” is taken as the fundamental ontological definition of God.

CS Lewis says in Mere Christianity that:

Turning a characteristic of God, in this case love, into his defining fundamental description, not only confuses a characteristic with an essential description it fundamentally changes Christianity’s central claim about God. The basic starting point is the Trinity, we can’t and shouldn’t attempt to be reductionist past that point. I felt I may have overstepped the mark earlier by talking about God as being before talking about God as Trinity. (Although given all that love is indeed one of God’s primary characteristics.) Gregory of Nazianzen is correct when he says:

There aren’t three monotheistic religions, Christianity’s first and central definition of God is a paradox, the Trinity. TGB Now briefly so I don’t overstep my own desire to have short posts, I’m only familiar with Zizioulas in the work of others, I like his emphasis on the persons of the Trinity but would be suspect of his subtle Monarchism, sometimes a trait of the Orthodox East.


Thank you for the comments and clarification, Luke. Great to be in conversation with you. I love your avatar by the way! As you can see, I’ve found your avatar’s brother!

Luke: Universalism may (although I personally don’t believe so) have legitimate arguments based on the revealed actions and words of God but it can’t remain within the circle of orthodox theology if “God is love” is taken as the fundamental ontological definition of God.

Tom: Help me understand why this is the case, because I don’t see the explanation in your post. It sounds like you’re saying the belief that God is love (in an essential sense) is more grievous to Orthodoxy than is the belief that all shall be saved. I’m having a hard time seeing that position entailed in any Orthodox Creed or position, especially in light of the explicit statement by John that God is love. One has to interpret John in context, yes, but where has Orthodoxy ruled out the ‘essential love’ interpretation?

Luke: CS Lewis says in Mere Christianity that: “All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that ‘God is love’. But they seem not to notice that the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, he was not love.”

Tom: I totally agree. This sounds more like an argument for seeing God as essentially loving because essentially tri-hypostatic than otherwise. Love DOES require personal relations (as does the perfection of personal relations entail love), and God is the perfection of personal relations. What Lewis is challenging is the naming of God as ‘love’ without conceding what such a thing implies about God (namely, that God is essentially a trinity of personal relations).

Luke: Turning a characteristic of God, in this case love, into his defining fundamental description, not only confuses a characteristic with an essential description…

Tom: IF (that is, if) love were only another characterisic of God along side other characteristics of God, then yes, you’d be right. We’d be making a mistake in elevating love over the other attributes. But the question is, Is love just another characteristic of God?

Luke: …it fundamentally changes Christianity’s central claim about God. The basic starting point is the Trinity, we can’t and shouldn’t attempt to be reductionist past that point.

Tom: Christianity’s central claim about God is a bare claim that God is triune with no further explication? That seems a bit over-restrictive. And is it even meaningful? Surely the Fathers did more to explicate the divine relations than anyone, and as far as I can tell did so in terms of mutual love. Indeed, some modern Eastern theologians (Yanneras) explicate those relations even in terms of ‘eros’ (viz., God’s being is essentially erotic or ecstatic in the sense that the divine persons constitute their identity in an unsurpassable longing for one another such that each is eternally fulfilling and fulfilled in this exchange). The consummate fullness of pleasure and beauty * is an unsurpassable aesthetic satisfaction which is the divine being itself, though we can never say (and shouldn’g over-speculate as to) ‘how’ this occurs. So I want to heed the Fathers’ warning regarding the limitations of language when attributing anything to God. The divine essence is, strictly speaking, unknowable in any direct sense. No one can sit inside of God and observe his workings from the inside. We just don’t have that kind of access. And in spite of the fact that human being bears the image of divine being, the latter still transcends the former. So I’m all for a good dose of apophaticism. There’s always more to God than God reveals or which our true propositions can say. But though God is always ‘more’ than he reveals himself to be, he cannot be ‘other’ than he reveals himself to be, else no revelation exists.

And I don’t mind qualifying my own understanding of “God is love” (understood essentially). I do not mean to reduce God absolutely to the truth of this (or any) proposition or to suggest that in saying “God is essentially love” we have captured the divine essence in a bottle and said all there is to say about God essentially. But this qualification doesn’t forbid the sort of ‘fundamental’ understanding of God that we express when we say that the various attributes of God are just the differentiated truth of love, or that there is no higher concept by which we can conceive of the triune God than that of ‘loving relations’, all else being an explication of love.

So I agree, Christianity’s fundamental claim about God is that God is triune. But I don’t feel at all that I’m walking away from this fundamental claim (or reducing it to something more fundamental than thee relations themselves) when I say these triune relations are essentially loving and that all other descriptions of God which his actions and words may warrant are each in themselves nothing other than this same love at work under another name.

Luke: I felt I may have overstepped the mark earlier by talking about God as being before talking about God as Trinity.

Tom: You ask about Fr. Zizioulas below, but let me mention him here. For Zizioulas to speak about God as “triune” and to speak about God as “being” per se is the same thing, hence the title of his book Being as Communion. Pavel Florensky (Russian Orthodox) in his book A Metaphysics of Love makes the same claim: the existence of a solitary entity with no relations is a metaphysical impossibility. To exist at all is to be in some relation. That’s how one can speak of God’s ‘being’ and ‘relatedness’ (i.e., the Trinity) as one and the same. The question is how ‘love’ figures into this. Given apophaticism I have to admit that my claim that “God is love” isn’t a direct apprehension of the essence of God. I haven’t stood on the inside of God and observed this. Like everybody else, I’m limited to God’s words and actions. But given those words and actions, I think the conclusion that ‘God is love’ (i.e., that these triune personal relations are the instantiation of perfect benevolence) is as safe a claim as any I can make about God.

Luke: I’m only familiar with Zizioulas in the work of others, I like his emphasis on the persons of the Trinity but would be suspect of his subtle Monarchism, sometimes a trait of the Orthodox East.

Tom: I’m smiling because Zizy’s monarchism is anything but subtle! He’s openly passionate about it, and it’s a huge deal in the East. But I think the concern about it is warranted, and some Eastern Orthodox (like Aristotle Papanikolau in Being with God: Trinity, Apophaticism, and Divine-Human Communion, great book!) recognize the dangers of an unqualified monarchism and have smoothed it out a bit (which I think is good). But I do believe there’s a priority (as ‘cause’ or ‘fount’ of divinity, call it what you will) which is unique to the Father who grounds the unity of essence. Personally I really like the way Jonathan Edwards works this out, but that’s a whole other discussion!



And in another related thread (EU: A most frustrating “argument” vs U.R.), Jason wrote:

Being both a unitarian and one who sees the Johannine declaration “God is love” as being theologically consistent with this position, I naturally take issue with the above expressed views that John’s statement presupposes a multi-personal God. So while it’s certainly not my intention to hijack this thread, I did want to say just a few things in response! :slight_smile:

In the context in which God is declared to be “love” it would appear that John is using the title “God” not to refer to a plurality of persons but rather to the Father (which is exactly what one would expect if John was unitarian). Similarly, in John 4:21-24 and 1 John 1:5-7 God is said to be “spirit” and “light,” respectively, and in both contexts it would seem that the title “God” refers exclusively to the Father rather than to a plurality of persons. See, for example, 1 John 1:1-3, where John refers to “the Father” and “his Son Jesus Christ.” In v. 5, where God is said to be “light,” he goes on to speak of Jesus as “his Son.” Throughout this epistle (as well as in his gospel), whenever John refers to “God” he is almost certainly referring to the Father alone, and not to a plurality of persons who, together, share this singular divine title.

Moreover, in this context John is not even talking about the love between the Father and the Son; instead, John’s declaration is made in view of God’s gracious disposition toward his estranged human creatures, which was manifested most fully in history by his sending his Son “so that we might live through him” (v. 9). Nothing else seems to be meant by the expression “God is love” than that the disposition of the Father toward the human race is that of perfect benevolence. So even assuming God to be a plurality of persons, the statement “God is love” is relative to how the Father relates to us, not to how he relates to other supposed divine persons with whom he is in community. Even if God was a multi-personal being - and John believed this to be so (although, as a unitarian, I see no evidence that he did) - it is God’s disposition toward humanity that is in view, and which is the occasion for John’s initial declaration that “God is love.”

While it may be objected that the Father cannot be described as being “love” unless he has always been in a relationship with another self-existent person, I just don’t see why this should be assumed. Could not John have referred to the Father as “love” simply because he has a perfectly benevolent disposition toward the human race? Couldn’t the Father be “love” simply because his nature is such that he necessarily loves (and perfectly so) every personal being he creates? It’s simply not the case that the Father be eternally related to any personal being in order to be described in this way by John. Again, the context suggests that John is speaking of what God is by nature in relation to human beings, and not how God may be thought of or described apart from the world into which he sent his Son. But since the statement “God is love” is not to be understood literally anyway, I don’t see how it would be at all strange or incoherent to think of a unipersonal God as being “love” even before there were any entities in existence to whom he could manifest his perfectly benevolent disposition in a loving act (e.g., in sending his Son to die on our behalf so that we can “live through him”).

So based on these considerations I do not find the statement “God is love” as being at all theologically inconsistent with a unitarian position, or as requiring one to believe that God has eternally existed as a community of two or more persons. This is not to say, of course, that Trinitarian Christianity doesn’t “lead to universalism.” It very well may (and based on what Jason has said, it would seem that a pretty compelling case can be made for this). At the same time, I can sympathize with those who might argue that the love between the members of the Trinity should be understood as an exclusive expression of love which, like the love between a husband and a wife, would be inappropriate to share with those outside of this eternally-existent relationship. But this would not at all entail that God doesn’t love all created persons in such a way that would be appropriate for the Creator-creature relationship. The love that the Father has for the Son would not be expressed or shared in the same way as the Father’s love for sinful, estranged beings, but it would still be love nonetheless.


I guess I’m being slightly hard to pin down because I don’t want to deny that one of God’s primary characteristics is love. But yes although it’s hard to rank heresy, not affirming the Trinity places you outside Christianity. However you may say “God is love” and still believe the Trinity and simply be misguided. But one of the troubles with the assertion that ‘God is love’ is that wrongly elevates the unity of God over the distinctions of God. Besides which Augustine’s model from De Trinitate of the Father as the lover, the Son as the beloved and the Spirit as the love that exists between them is only a model (which he acknowledges) and one that starts to look to much like Sabellianism (one God, three masks) is used to often. Furthermore it’s also misleading to pull the statement “God is love” from Scripture but not “God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29) or “God is just” (2 Th 1:6) for example.

I agree that when speaking at the level of ousia (the level of being) when can talk about the primary characteristics of God, but where in systematic or historical theology is a single characteristic held up as the defining aspect of being? this seems to me to confuse physis (the level of attributes) with ousia. (For example an attribute of humans is humanity and an attribute of God is divinity, both of which are shared by the Son.)

A further general comment, I think DA Carson is right, we have to think about love in five categories because Scripture seems to use the word in four different ways: … ement.html

So to say “God is love” begs the question, which type of love?


I don’t see why all of the above cannot be understood as different expressions of a love that is the same in essence. God is “love,” not “different types of love.” This perfect divine love could be manifested and experienced in different ways depending on the circumstances and relationship without ceasing to be what it is in essence. God’s love is manifested differently toward believers than it is toward unbelievers, but this doesn’t mean he ascribes less worth and value to unbelievers, or has no intention of promoting their best interest.


Luke, you didn’t tell me what you think of my new avatar. :sunglasses:



With Aaron, I have to view the diverse divine loves that Carson separates as the differentiated truth of a single divine disposition to value and pursue the well-being of all things. Unless Carson wants to posit some ontological divide between these, I think we have to view them as all expressing a single fundamental disposition.

I appreciate Carson’s ingenuity though. As a monergist/Calvinist, he believes God did unconditionally and efficaciously decree the eternal conscious torment of (it’s safe to say) the vast majority of human beings. So he can’t concede that God is love in the essential sense that God equally and unconditionally loves all human beings and equally wills their well-being in union with himself (whatever he might mean by “trinitarian love”). So he’s got to divide things up to account for how one and the same God can love the elect and not love (or whatever one would call it) those who are not elect.

I find his whole division impossible. If we posit the essential intra-trinitarian love (that Carson begins with), a love that defines the very personal being of God, wouldn’t THIS be that which determines (or at least explains) God’s own decrees and choices? It would. But how do we then ground in this fundamental intra-trinitarian being a decree to only love some as Carson does? In other words, what IS God essentially (in Carson’s words “intra-trinitarianly”) that makes unconditionally damning the majority compatible with the love that defines God essentially/trinitarianly and which must be the ground and explanation of all God’s acts?

Are you a monergist, Luke?



To me the answer is obvious for calvinists. God is hate - though not preached (any more than God not loving everyon), it’s part of the system and to me is unavoidable. I too agree with Aaron. Imagine if a father threw his 20 year old son into a furnace and told him, I know I’m loving but the love I had for you is not the love I have for you brother billy. Such philosophy begins to cripple the words of John “Beloved let us love one another, for love is of God and everyone that loveth is born of God”…well which one is it?


I see I should have gotten over my cold more quickly… :laughing:

Although I appreciate the various extended discussions, I was trying not to run Luke too far too fast. Aside from small progressive steps being quite possibly more helpful at illustrating why I believe universalism to be a logical corollary of ortho-trin (after all I arrived there myself after an extensive series and consideration of small doctrinal steps to trinitarian theism), Luke did ask for smaller posts. :slight_smile:

I’m not going to comment on most of what has been written since Luke’s original reply Thursday, consequently, even though I consider Aaron’s understandable and well-expressed opposition the most important to address aside from continuing the exchange with Luke. (I was actually hoping you would comment in order to help illustrate some important distinctions, Aaron. :smiley: )

By the way, what is the proper honorific to use? :slight_smile: There may be times when I have to refer to the author of GosLuke/Acts, and will have to distinguish; and I live in West Tennessee where there aren’t many Anglican priests. (Is it “Father” or “Brother” or “Reverend” etc.?)

I think later you eventually agreed with the principle my critique, so that isn’t as pertinent now. :slight_smile: But just in case: my point was that I often find opponents to universalism inadvertently reducing their theology of God or otherwise treating it as being less than trinitarian theism in order to oppose universalism in various ways; and your comment which I had quoted was one such example–with the added bit of irony that you had presented an ontological statement of God’s essential existence reduced practically to the point of not even needing to be theism (since “being itself” could theoretically be atheism unless a personal quality is read into it, as you did), after claiming that I wasn’t including enough doctrine in the statement “God is essentially love”.

(Note that when you say “I’d take ‘being’ as a straight dictionary definition of presence and reality”, this straight dictionary definition also has exactly nothing to do with personhood per se, and so could just as well be atheism.)

But later you acknowledged that you thought you had reduced too far (including quickly in that reply itself “Clearly more needs to be said about God then that he is essentially being.”) And despite the complexity, that was basically my point. So, moving on…

So, we at least agree that God is essentially personal?–that this is important in distinguishing theism from atheism? I ask that as a question, because I am not entirely sure you meant to affirm God is essentially personal instead of essentially non-personal (but maybe accidentally personal anyway).

Be sure to mention when you think we’ve gone much beyond Moses’ record in Exodus. :wink: Keep in mind Aaron’s remarks, because I’m sure he would be glad to point out where unitarians think trinitarians have gone much beyond Moses’ record in Exodus! Such as on the next question I asked:

I am not sure I got an answer to this. (Except from Aaron who of course said that God is essentially only a single person. :smiley: )

You do seem to briefly affirm “One God - three persons” in your reply to me, although you don’t talk about the multiple personhood much per se in your subsequent remarks and replies. But I can’t quite tell what this means.

So before continuing:

2.1.) Did you mean that you were agreeing to affirm that God is essentially multi-personal instead of essentially single-personal?

Or did you mean that although you affirm God is multi-personal you deny that God is essentially multi-personal (thus denying that God’s essential multi-personality is a proper doctrine of trinitarian theism)? Relatedly, were you agreeing that God is essentially personal but denying that God is essentially multi-personal? (Or did I misunderstand you and you were not in fact agreeing that God is essentially personal at all, even though you were willing to acknowledge that God is non-essentially personal instead? Or perhaps you are agnostic on the topic?)

Alternately, did you mean that although trinitarian doctrine (generally speaking) does involve God being essentially multi-personal, you don’t believe God’s essential multi-personality can be argued “from God’s revealed words and actions” and so this trinitarian doctrine goes much beyond scriptural revelation (whether taken altogether or restricted to Exodus)?

My next question, which obviously depends on whether you agree that God is at least multi-personal (though you seem to do so), would be:

3.) If you mean that “being itself” (fundamental reality and existence, which you at least agree is personal, i.e. God, if not essentially personal…?) is multi-personal (essentially so or otherwise?!) – then do you mean “being itself” is only multi-personal, or that “being itself” is inter-personal? The former would be cosmological bi-theism or tri-theism (or however many persons), multiple independent facts as “being itself”; the latter would involve one single substantial independent fact of multiple persons.

3.1) And if the latter, do you agree that “being itself” is essentially inter-personal, or would you deny that “being itself” is essentially inter-personal (even if you acknowledge that “being itself” is essentially personal and maybe even essentially multi-personal? On the other hand, if you deny that “being itself” is essentially multi-personal then of course you couldn’t coherently affirm it was essentially interpersonal; much moreso, if you denied that “being itself” was essentially personal, then of course you couldn’t coherently affirm it was essentially interpersonal.)

Please note that I intentionally built a discussion of what God essentially is, into my series of questions from the start; since after all this question is what becomes a source of disagreement between us eventually: is God really essentially love? And even if God is essentially love, then what does this mean?

Consequently, it is of no small importance to be clear about where we agree on God’s essential reality so that we can delineate where we begin to disagree about God’s essential reality. Also, it makes following out the various metaphysical options somewhat simpler to list. :wink:

I’ll have replies to some other remarks in my next comment, so as to keep the progression of theological agreement or disagreement more direct here. There is more progression of doctrinal detail to go regarding God’s essential reality, if you agree that God is essentially inter-personal; if you deny this (stopping short at some point previously listed), then we’ve found where the core theological disagreement between us is.


I did have some other replies to Luke not directly bearing on the main flow of discussion I initiated for purposes of helping try to explain why I believe Trinitarian Christianity leads to some version of Universalism (instead of to Arm or Calv soteriology).

But to keep the main flow distinct, I thought I should answer them here. So!

I’ll be getting to that eventually. I started with the much much much much doctrinally simpler statement you preferred instead of “God = love”, namely that God is “being itself”, which (in the sense I mentioned) I could certainly agree with; and I am proceeding from there, illustrating where various denials result in different theologies (or atheologies) less than ortho-trin.

I have consistently said that when I state “God is essentially love” I mean something that is very doctrinally detailed and complex, and that is in fact orthodox trinitarian theism distinct from any other kind of theism. So I’m trying to show how ortho-trin, distinct from other theological propositions, adds up to what I mean by the statement “God is essentially love”.

Aaron provides a helpful example of what a different version of that statement involves–namely something that at most might as well be something other than ortho-trin!

There aren’t many of us who go into this kind of detail, and so whose universalism is so theologically dependent on ortho-trin being true compared to any other theology. Usually I find universalists sort-of approaching it (Robin/Gregory and Thomas for example). We do have a few here on the boards who are as gung-ho as I am in this theological connection but not many. Not yet anyway. :mrgreen:

That’s probably a factor of how any of us came to universalism originally. I got here originally from ortho-trin, the doctrinal precepts of which allowed me to resolve various scriptural issues concerning soteriology (such as the ground for reading X set of scriptures in light of Y set, or both in light of Z, etc.)

So that connection remains a vastly huge factor for me. If I decided universalism was false, I still would have an obligation to believe a soteriology that was doctrinally coherent with the ortho-trin set (not simply a doctrinal set I could affirm in one breath while affirming ortho-trin in another breath without logical, and so without theo-logical, connection between them.) On the other hand, as I noted in the thread to which I linked in my first post for this thread, if I decided something less than ortho-trin was true, I might still think there was some case I could make for universalism from scripture, even a very strong case, but I would be much less psychologically certain it was true–because those lesser theologies just don’t provide inherent assurance of God’s scope and persistence to act in salvation (including especially from sin) as ortho-trin does.

Similarly and the other way around: if I saw that someone provided a more coherently theological account of Arm or Calv soteriology from the precepts of ortho-trin, I would consider myself to be obligated to reject Kath soteriology for Arm or Calv instead, even if I thought the scriptural case for one or more Kath variants was very strong: because theologically the concepts have to fit together.

(If I thought the metaphysical logic for Calv or Arm from ortho-trin was ironclad but the scriptural case for one or another Kath variant was also ironclad, I really don’t know what I’d think, other than to be sure that someone somewhere, possibly including myself, was making at least one huge mistake! The same would be true the other way around, if I thought the metaphysical logic for Kath was ironclad but the scriptural testimony for Calv or Arm was ironclad. I would at least have an obligation to reassess various elements until I got a coherent answer.)

You should of course immediately note where you think a theological position is going contrary to revelation, or beyond it in some way or extent you consider improper.

But I have to note from long experience, that it is naive to discount the crucial importance of assessing metaphysical coherency (even if it isn’t recognized as such) in deciding what counts as testimony to what from scriptural revelation. This is why unitarian and trinitarian Christians differ from one another in regard to what revelation reveals, and why we agree with each other in rejecting polytheism or cosmological multi-IFs (tri-theism for example) over against Mormons despite their attempts at appealing to shared scriptural testimony (even where not doctored up or restored by Joseph Smith).

As Tom (TGB) has previously noted, Lewis in the place you quoted him basically says that “God is love” should and must be taken as the fundamental ontological definition of God, and gives some explanation for why this is so: because the statement is uniquely connected to trinitarian theology, with trinitarian relationship being fundamentally ontological.

Like Tom, I couldn’t tell if you quoted this supposing to refute us, or as an example of someone else not remaining within the circle of orthodoxy by making the same mistake we do (Lewis is notably Arm not Calv after all). But I will report that this along with a few other related statements was what initially pointed me toward universalism being true. (I’ve studied and extensively written on Lewis’ theology.)

Though obviously an essential description will also involve characteristic descriptions, even though the reverse isn’t necessarily true.

I will note however that in the quote you provided from Lewis, he is not turning a characteristic of God into a fundamental description, but rather showing that a fundamental description (God’s essential existence as a coherent interpersonal relationship) amounts to the statement that God is (essentially) love–in a way unique to what only trinitarians (or at least binitarians) can claim.

To say (as Lewis does) that “If God was a single person, then before the world was made, he was not love” is entirely the reverse of turning one characteristic or activity of God into an essential reality. It is explicating what the essential reality entails, in a fashion unique to that theological system.

The claim that “God is love” == “God is ortho-trin” is not, however, reductionist. On the contrary, what is reductionist is to claim that love is only a characteristic of God, even if an important one. (Compare with Aaron’s remarks; his reduction in theology parallels his greatly reduced meaning for “God is love”!)

It only begs the question if someone hasn’t been continually (even tiresomely :wink: ) repeating the details of what “type of love” he is talking about.

Put another way, to claim that “God is (essentially) love” == “Orthodox trinitarian theism is true and not some other kind of theism”, may or may not be defensible; but it is absolutely not begging the question about which type of love is being talked about in that list! Obviously it’s talking about “(1) God’s intra-Trinitarian love”, upon which all those other four meanings in Carson’s list must ontologically depend if ortho-trin is true.

(I have to confess I’m curious about those “five categories” if “Scripture seems to use the word in four different ways”. Does Carson mean that he doesn’t think scripture testifies to love among the Trinitarian Persons??! Or does he think scripture doesn’t testify to love in God’s providential care? God’s “special” love to the elect? God’s “conditional” love toward covenant people in the language of discipline? I know some Calvs certainly don’t believe scripture ever uses the word in regard to some yearning of God toward all humans in command, much less in any real invitation to all human beings, to repent and believe!–though some Calvs certainly do, and I don’t recall if Carson is one of those. Aaron would doubtless say that scripture doesn’t seem to use the word in the first way! :mrgreen: )

My mind is sort of boggling over how the claim that ‘love is an interpersonal relationship, God is essentially an interpersonal relationship, therefore God is essentially love’ (to put the argument perhaps oversimply) could even possibly count as elevating the unity over the distinctions. Except in the sense that trinitarian theism, as a type of monotheism, “elevates” the unity over the distinctions by being monotheism instead of tri-theism!

If anything I would have expected the complaint to be the other way around, that “God is love” elevates the distinction of the persons over the unity of the substance; since if anyone is stressing a notion of “God is love” that a unitarian Christian (or a non-Christian Jew or a Muslim or a nominal deist or even a pantheist) could just as easily approve, it isn’t me or other trinitarian universalists appealing to God essentially being love as ground for Kath theology being true!


Well, it only starts to look too much like a modalism (such as Sabellianism) when the interaction of the Persons between each other starts being presented as only a MODEL! :wink: That would mean that the interrelation between the Persons isn’t real as such; that the Father doesn’t really love the Son or vice versa, and the Spirit isn’t the love existing between them.

At any rate, it isn’t trinitarian universalists such as myself who are trying to claim that this interpersonal relationship is only a model; just like it isn’t trinitarian universalists such as myself who are trying to present “God is love” in a reductive fashion that would be entirely acceptable to modalists (as well as to unitarians) :wink: .

Like many other universalists, I have less than no problem incorporating “God is a consuming fire” with “God is love” and even with “God is justice” (though I don’t personally recall any scriptures saying exactly that. I affirm it anyway, specifically as an ortho-trin theologian and apologist.)

2 Thess 1:6 doesn’t say “God is just”, by the way, but that would still only be on the same plane as saying as “God is loving”; it would not be parallel to saying things like “God is a consuming fire” or “God is love”. As it is, the Greek says {eiper dikaion para the(i)o}, “if it happens to be just of God” to repay such and such with this and that. (Doubtless St. Paul means that God is just, or he wouldn’t call that coming punishment and reward “the just judging of God” among many other statements of that sort. But this shows how unusual and important direct statements are such as “God is love” and “God is a consuming fire”.)

Anyway I go so far as to stress (once again as even a supernaturalistic theist, much moreso as a trinitarian theist) that there can be only one eonian fire, namely our God Who is a consuming fire; consequently I routinely and coherently identify things such as the lake of fire of RevJohn and the eonian fire of Mark 9 as God the Holy Spirit Himself. I also notice, not incidentally, that the Hebraist makes his statement about God being a consuming fire when speaking as a warning to other Christians in a chapter largely dedicated to THE LOVING REDEMPTIVE PURPOSES OF THE PUNISHMENT OF GOD!!–something to be avoided by being righteous instead, surely, but far from being hopeless, much less the wrath of God on a Calvinistic non-elect whom God never intended nor acted to save. (But I could write, and have written, very much more about punishment threats across EpistHebrews, including OT contexts of the same.)

I will be more concerned about not pulling “God is a consuming fire” from the scriptures when I haven’t routinely done so. :mrgreen: Similarly, I will be more concerned about not pulling “God is just” from the scriptures when I haven’t routinely affirmed (specifically as an ortho-trin theist and not some lesser kind of theist) that God is essentially justice and righteousness: something I suspect you yourself would deny.

And I think that this catches me up on replying to Luke. (Replying to Aaron will need another comment.)


So Jason… :confused: