Ultra-Universalism is compatible with Evangelicalism


#1

Ultra-Universalism is the doctrine that there is NO post-mortem suffering for anyone. Ultra-Universalists who hold that the soul is immortal believe that instantly upon bodily death the soul goes to immediate bliss in Heaven. Ultra-Universalists who hold to soul sleep believe that instantly at the general resurrection everyone will be resurrected to bliss in Paradise. In short, everyone without exception gets Heaven with NO intervening post-mortem sufferings. Ultra-Universalists believe that EACH AND EVERY sin is 100% punished in this life. No sin goes unpunished, and each person’s punishment is complete when he experiences bodily death.

There is nothing about Ultra-Universalism that is incompatible with Evangelical Christianity. Ultra-Universalism does not question the inerrancy of the Bible. Someone who holds to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy can without contradiction also hold to Ultra-Universalsim. Further, someone who holds to the Nicene Creed can also without contradiction hold to Ultra-Universalism.

It has been suggested that a passage of the Nicene Creed requires post-mortem suffering: that Jesus shall “judge the quick and the dead.” An Ultra-Universalist understands that eschatological judgment to be the same for each person: The person whom God created is instantly made into the person God wills for him to be, and the sin in the person is sentenced to immediate and utter annihilation. In short, each person gets eternal life and all sin gets death.

Some have suggested that some passages of the Bible so clearly teach post-mortem suffering that one can be an Ultra-Universalist only by rejecting these passages of the Bible. But one must pause and reflect that this exact same charge is also made against the form of Universalism that believes in finite post-mortem suffering. The passages that most Evangelicals interpret as teaching eternal torment, the Universalists interpret as teaching finite post-mortem suffering, and the Ultra-Universalists interpret as teaching this-worldly suffering. None of the three positions involves a denial of the Bible or of Evangelicalism. Instead, it is simply an exegetical debate within Evangelicalism.


#2

Hi Geoffrey,

I appreciate reading your view. I’d by surprised if anybody could develop sound exegetical essays that strongly support that the Bible never teaches about postmortem suffering. And its a far jump to say that exegeses supporting a temporary eternal hell is comparable to saying the Bible teaches that there is no hell at all.

And concerning the Nicene Creed, all Early Church Fathers believed in postmortem punishments in hell for the lost. The only debate among Early Church Fathers involved the duration of hell and possible annihilation of lost of souls. Likewise, any historical study of the Nicene Creed implies that the Early Church Fathers believed that judgment of the dead included postmortem punishments for people who died lost.

Your view would have to explain why all Early Church Fathers misinterpreted the Bible and believed in postmortem punishments.

JG


#3

Geoffrey,
Can you begin point by point that we might discuss these. We could start throwing ideas at you but discussion that way is messy. If you can draw an outline and present it as such we could then follow better and object or agree on the issues.

Auggy


#4

Auggy, in this thread I’m not arguing for the truth of Ultra-Universalism. Instead, I’m arguing for its compatibility with Evangelicalism. As such, I’m making two claims:

  1. Belief in Ultra-Universalism is compatible with belief in Biblical inerrancy.

  2. Belief in Ultra-Universalism is compatible with belief in the Nicene Creed.

One or both of those points would need to be shown to be incorrect in order to show that Ultra-Universalism is incompatible with Evangelicalism.


#5

I think that the two main forms of Universalism (Ultra-Universalism, which believes in no post-mortem sufferings; and Restorationism, which believes in finite post-mortem sufferings) have far more in common with each other than either has with the idea of never-ending Hell. In my interactions with Evangelicals, they typically insist upon never-ending Hell. To most of them, the question of whether or not there are finite post-mortem sufferings is merely a difference in detail amongst Universalists.

James, I think that argument works too well. Its consistent application leads one to either Eastern Orthodoxy or to Roman Catholicism. When I read the Early Church Fathers, I’m not reading Protestant theology. Instead, I’m reading catholic theology with heavy emphases on the Eucharist, the Church, bishops, Mary, and all that sort of thing. I don’t see sola scriptura, justification by faith, etc.

Further, the only major Universalists I find are Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Gregory of Nyssa. And Origen I wouldn’t exactly classify as a Universalist. Instead, he seemed to believe in endless cycles of fall, universal restoration, fall, universal restoration, etc. Having only two Universalists (Clement and Gregory) is not much different than having none. Holding the Early Church Fathers as authoritative not only is fatal for Protestantism, but it’s also fatal for Universalism.

I’d like to be able to believe my 19th-century Universalist brethren who wrote books claiming that most Christians in the first five centuries were Universalists, but my readings don’t support that.

My wife tells me that my writing can be too abrupt. I should say to all that any appearance of abruptness is unintentional. I have nothing but congenial feelings here. :slight_smile:


#6

Does the Nicene Creede accomodate room to hold that each person will both be damned and be saved? It seems that this is the view of “ultra” universalism.

One of the reasons why I embraced Talbotts and Macdonalds view was for their ability to escape the double talk of God is good and God is bad type of theology.

so my question is…
Is it more consistent of Ultra Universalism to say God saves all and God damns all?

Aug


#7

Auggy,

I am confused. Why do you think Ultra-Universalism teaches that everyone is both saved and damned?

Ultra-Universalists who believe in an immortal soul believe that at death each person is instantly transformed by the grace of God into a sinless person to live in Heaven forever.

Ultra-Universalists who believe in soul sleep believe that at the general resurrection each person is instantly transformed by the grace of God into a sinless person to live in Heaven forever.

Where is the damnation in that? :question:

The Nicene Creed speaks of Christ judging “the living and the dead”. The two categories of people here are simply: A) those who have not experienced bodily death when Christ comes, and B) those who have already experienced bodily death when Christ comes. According to the Ultra-Universalist, Christ levels the same judgment on each person: Instant transformation into sinless persons. No person is damned, lost, or in any way punished in the afterlife. Instead, we are all utterly and immediately set free from any taint of sin.

Hebrews 9:27 says: “It is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment.” Even non-Universalist Evangelicals recognize that each and every person (even the saved) is judged after he dies. “Judging” does not equal “punishing”. A typical Evangelical would, for example, hold that a Christian upon dying would immediately be judged and (by God’s unmerited grace) be made completely sinless and brought home to Heaven. An Ultra-Universalist Evangelical would simply say that this exact same judgment is rendered upon each and every human person (without exception).

All Evangelicals recognize the pattern of “death, then judgment” for every single person.

Typical Evangelicals hold that there are two outcomes of this judgment:

  1. Some are sentenced to Hell for all eternity.
  2. Some are ushered straight into Heaven for all eternity.

Restorationist Universalist Evangelicals hold that there are two outcomes of this judgment:

  1. Some are sentenced to Hell for a finite span, after which they are ushered into Heaven for all eternity.
  2. Some are ushered straight into Heaven for all eternity.

Ultra-Universalist Evangelicals hold that there is one outcome of this judgment:

  1. All are ushered straight into Heaven for all eternity.

#8

Hi Geoffrey,

You bring up many points. It will take me a long time pull all of them together in one essay. May I discuss one point at a time and then eventually try to pull it all together?

May I start with your following quote?

“I’d like to be able to believe my 19th-century Universalist brethren who wrote books claiming that most Christians in the first five centuries were Universalists, but my readings don’t support that.”

I’m [not] sure if most Christians in the first five centuries were Universalists because nobody took systematic polls. But Church history clearly indicates that universalism was widespread in the Church during the first five centuries.

Have you ever read Philip Schaff? He’s a renowned church historian from the 19th-century, and he wasn’t a Universalist. Please read selection from an encyclopedia that Schaff edited: George T. Night, “Universalists”, New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. XII: Trench – Zwingli, ed. S. M. Jackson, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1950), 95-8.

Schaff noted that 4 of the 6 known Early Church schools were universalistic. And universalism prevailed in the ancient Eastern churches.

And Augustine opposed universalism while he acknowledged that universalism was widespread in his time per Augustine’s Letter 164.

Could you at least acknowledge that universalism was widespread in the ancient Church?


#9

For what it’s worth, I agree with Geoffrey’s argument on these two points, strictly speaking. Good job! (I would disagree with Ultra-U at the exegetical level and maybe on the metaphysics; but not that it cannot be compatible with Evangelicalism as defined here. Whether it would be compatible with any notion of Evangelicalism that involved the necessity of preaching repentance for sin, however, seems dubious to me. :wink: )


#10

Jason, I agree with you to disagree with Ultra-U at the exegetical level. But I don’t see how you can say that Ultra-U fails at the exegetical level while Ultra-U is somehow compatible with belief in Biblical inerrancy. I’m sorry, but this sounds like a non sequitur to me. Anyway, Geoffrey says, “… it is simply an exegetical debate within Evangelicalism.”

And the Nicene Creed professes belief in the Lord judging the dead. As I stated earlier, any historical study of the Nicene Creed implies that the Church in ancient history believed that judgment of the dead included postmortem punishments for people who died lost.


#11

I will admit my ignorance on this matter. I’d be interested to see primary sources from the first five centuries regarding the prevalence of Universalism.

It’s the same as an Arminian Biblical Inerrantist saying, “Calvinism is compatible with Biblical inerrancy, but those poor Calvinists are hopelessly muddled when it comes to understanding the Bible. They are right in accepting the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, but their interpretations thereof are incorrect.”

In other words, an Evangelical who believed in post-mortem sufferings could say of an Evangelical Ultra-Universalist: “Ultra-Universalism is compatible with Biblical inerrancy, but those poor Ultra-Universalists are hopelessly muddled when it comes to understanding the Bible. They are right in accepting the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, but their interpretations thereof are incorrect.”

True, but that same historical study (AFAIK) shows that the Church in ancient history believed that the judgment of the dead included unending postmortem punishments for people who died lost.

For that matter, the Church that composed the Nicene Creed (which includes a section about belief in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church”) had a VERY different idea than do Evangelicals about what the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” is. Surely you wouldn’t therefore say that no Evangelical can accept the Nicene Creed since Evangelicalism’s idea of “Church” is very different than the early Church’s understanding of “Church”? I’m not familiar with any Evangelicals who hold to the apostolic succession of bishops, the communion of the saints (including prayers to the saints), priests, a “high” view of the sacraments, infant baptism, infant chrismation, and infant communion, etc.–all of which was essential to the 4th-century Church’s view of “Church”

In short, Evangelicals can still subscribe to the Nicene Creed even though they have a very different idea of “Church” than did the men who composed the Nicene Creed.

And Ultra-Universalist Evangelicals can still subscribe to the Nicene Creed even though they have a very different idea of “judgment” than did the men who composed the Nicene Creed.

:slight_smile:


#12

I think there are plenty of doctrinal propositions that fail at the exegetical level while still being somehow compatible with belief in Biblical inerrancy. To give one very obvious example, I think non-universalist eschatologies fail at an exegetical level (broadly speaking, aside from narrow prooftexting tactics of course); but I certainly would never claim that an ECT proponent who also accepts a belief in Biblical inerrancy doesn’t in fact accept a belief in Biblical inerrancy. Not unless their ECT turned out to require a self-contradiction of what they themselves claimed and defended elsewhere about inerrancy. And I know of no intrinsic reason why any non-universalist soteriology would involve that kind of self-contradiction; nor do I typically see such self-contradictions in practice. (Unlike orthodox trinitarianism and non-universalist soteriologies, which both in principle and in practice I do find to be theologically incompatible.) Inerrancy of the texts does not guarantee inerrancy of interpretation.

(Disclosure: while I consider the canonical texts to be inspired, and authoritative, and of highly useful historical value, I consider the terms “inerrant” and “infallible” to be misleading at best in regard to the textual characteristics. Nevertheless, I have never yet found a reason to consider a belief in non-universalism per se to be incompatible with any kind of belief in scriptural inerrancy per se.)

To give a parallel example: the unitarians with whom I’ve been discussing trinitarianism and unitarianism, over in Gregory’s “Why Trin Is Important” thread (I mean on Gregory’s journal, not here), could easily be (and probably are in at least some cases) scriptural inerrantists. Obviously, I think they’re very much mistaken on their overall exegetical case. But that doesn’t mean I consider their unitarianism to be incompatible with any belief of theirs in favor of scriptural inerrancy.

True. But just as historically obviously, the wording of the Nicean Creed allowed for some significant variation within it that resulted in several congregational groups forming (some of whom still survive today), all of whom are concerned with scriptural fidelity and even fidelity to Nicean orthodoxy but not all of whom can possibly be equally representative of majority belief prior to the Nicean Council. Proponents and opponents of the filioque (roughly speaking Western and Eastern Orthodoxy) are the most obvious example of this: we can’t both be representative of majority belief and teaching pre-Nicea. (Note: I’m a proponent of the filioque myself. For readers who don’t know, that means I profess that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, not from the Father alone.)

Yet again, my universalism does not require anything like a majority interpretation at the teaching level and/or on the ground, pre-Nicea. Nevertheless, I obviously think it is compatible with the statements, as given, in the Nicean Creed. By comparison, while I strongly affirm that my universalism is compatible with the theological statements regarding God and the Incarnation in the pseudo-Athanasian Creed, it would be ridiculous for me to claim that my universalism is compatible with the wrapping statements connected to that Creed. (Which is why I have to be careful to distinguish between the trinitarian faith statements of the AthCreed and the faith statements about the faith statements of the AthCreed. {wry g})

By the same principle application, then, I cannot disavow Ultra-U’s compatibility with the Nicean Creed, as given. In theory, the majority (unanimous?) bellief among the advocates of Nicean orthodoxy, before, during and after the Council, as to what constituted God’s “judgment”, could be wrong; and Ultra-U doesn’t blatantly contradict inherent logical meanings in the Creed so far as I can tell.

Consequently, then, I have to agree with Geoffrey strictly speaking on his two points. Whether those should be considered sufficient for categorizing evangelicalism, is another question. Obviously the message board statement of faith allows a slightly broader potentiality for evangelicalism in regard to scriptural inspiration, since some kind of inerrancy per se isn’t specifically called out. In that regard Geoffrey’s criteria might be considered narrower than the board’s! On the other hand (as I hinted earlier) I’m at least a little dubious about whether it makes much sense to claim identification with evangelicalism when repentence from sin appears to be functionally excluded across the board as part of our salvation from sin. And obviously I disagree that the exegetical case ends up with Ultra-U; possibly also the metaphysical case, too. None of these potential problems give me grounds (so far as I can tell) for disagreeing with Geoffry’s argument within the limits he has assigned for it in this particular thread, though.

To give a final parallel example: Coptic Christians chose after Chalcedon to go their way separate from Chalcedonian orthodoxy, because they believed (and still believe) we were wrong–indeed that we were the ones going away from the best and truest theology. Among other things, that means they are trying to accept and defend Nicean Orthodoxy, but in a significantly different fashion than I (and other Nicea-Chalcedonians) do. I can and do disagree with their theological variant, while understanding their concerns about what they were trying to protect that they believed we were threatening. I don’t believe I can disagree that their theology is, strictly speaking, inconsistent with the Nicean Creed, as stated, however.

cf Geoff’s reply, btw: same principles, shorter and more colorful than my own. :mrgreen:


#13

Geoffrey wrote:

Geoffrey,
forgive me for taking so long as I’ve been working hard on modifications to the board. I understood a sort of abstract interpretation that God does indeed save the person while the sinful man is destroyed. I clearly misread the statement.

So I do not hold that against your position.

As to the statement that it is compatible with Evangelical Universalism, I remain unconvinced. Heres how you can find out. Go to a local baptist, methodist, assembly of God, Calvary Chapel and shout out loud…

  1. EVERYONE GETS TO HEAVEN WITH NO POST MORTEM PUNISHMENT
    I’m kidding of course :slight_smile: LOL!

The truth is what is evangelical to you is not to Chuck Smith. The same is true of GM and Talbott and so on…
GM believes he is a E-U., but he has to be able to prove he falls within the domain of the evangelical beliefs and traditions in order to qualify such a notion. That is the mission of the forum. Some of us (not all) here believe that Talbott and Macdonald have presented a case where the failures of pantelism (that being no one gets punished because Jesus bore it all) and Ultra Universalism (everyone gets saved and faith is forced upon the person against their will) are evaded with logical reason.

As you know we UR’ists do hold that the warning passages are just that. Unless a good explanation of why these passages are abstract rather than having a real meaning , it is hard to imagine the Evangelical church would embrace it. And I think they would be right for rejecting such notions. I’m not saying you are wrong at this point, but I am saying I don’t see it.

God Bless brother,

Aug


#14

Georffrey,
I want to make one ammendment to my last post.

That is, I realize that “forcing faith upon the person against their will” is a loose statement. I merely was trying to illustrate a way of looking at Ultra-U. I know one could argue that no one comes to faith or it simply does not matter because Christ himself came to faith and that is all that matters.

So I don’t mean to sound dogmatic that U-U, implies faith is forced upon people. It only serverd as a possible way of handling the view.

Aug


#15

Geoffrey, I’m sorry that I somehow missed your 9/27 reply.

“I’d be interested to see primary sources from the first five centuries regarding the prevalence of Universalism.”

We have translated sources from the Ancient Church which indicate that universalism was a prevailing doctrine in the Ancient Church. I need to clarify the fine line between saying universalism was a prevailing doctrine versus universalism was the prevailing doctrine. I’m positive that it was a prevailing doctrine while I’m unsure about the latter. My two primary handy slices of Ancient Church history sources in regards to universalism are from Clement of Alexandria (150-211/216) and Augustine (354-430). Clement supported universalism while Augustine refuted universalism, and they both indicate that universalism was widespread in their respective time in Church history. Both Clement from the second century and Augustine from the fifth century discussed widespread debates about 1 Peter 3:18-20.

Clement of Alexandria Stromata, Book 6, Chapter 6 (logoslibrary.org/clement/stromata/606.html).

Augustine Letters 163 (logoslibrary.org/augustine/letters/163.html) & 164 (logoslibrary.org/augustine/letters/164.html).

Clement defended that 1 Peter 3:18-20 teaches that Christ descended to Hades between His death and resurrection while Christ preached the gospel in Hades to both Jews and gentiles, including the disobedient contemporaries of Noah. This interpretation went hand-in-hand with Ancient Church universalism. And opponents to universalism in the second century Church claimed that 1 Peter 3:18-20 describes Christ preaching the gospel in Hades only to Old Testament believers.

Over two centuries later in 414, Bishop Evodius wrote a letter to Bishop Augustine, which is now called Letter 163. Evodius asked Augustine about the identity of the “spirits in prison” in 1 Peter 3:19.

“I ask also a fourth question: Who are those spirits in reference to whom the Apostle Peter testifies concerning the Lord in these words: “Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit, in which also He went and preached to the spirits in prison?” giving us to understand that they were in hell, and that Christ descending into hell, preached the gospel to them all, and by grace delivered them all from darkness and punishment, so that from the time of the resurrection of the Lord judgment is expected, hell having then been completely emptied.”

The context of this question implies a widespread belief that Christ descended to hell and preached the gospel to everybody in hell. Particularly look at the phrase, “giving us to understand” implies that this was a common view in 414. And Augustine replied to Evodius per Letter 164 and described the contemporary debates about 1 Peter 3:18-20, which have some noticeable similarities to the second century debate per Clement.

We know that Augustine went on to become the premier father of Western Christianity. And Western Christianity mostly rejected universalism while Eastern Christianity kept universalism as an option to this day.

“True, but that same historical study (AFAIK) shows that the Church in ancient history believed that the judgment of the dead included unending postmortem punishments for people who died lost.”

Have I given you enough evidence that the Church in ancient history believed both universalism and unending postmortem punishments?

‘For that matter, the Church that composed the Nicene Creed (which includes a section about belief in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church”) had a VERY different idea than do Evangelicals about what the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” is.’

I don’t see the phrase “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” including the sacraments, but it could imply apostolic succession, which I believe backslid terribly. And I agree that I understand water baptism somewhat differently than the Nicene Fathers, so “We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” has some differences. On the other hand, I don’t see that these differences compare in magnitude to the differences between the Ancient Church view of the judgment of the living and the dead and Ultra-Universalism. And I suspect that your soteriology compares to inclusion theologies which require no faith, but I’ll have to see your exegesis to know for sure.

I guess with strictest technicality, I agree with you and Jason.


#16

Hmmmm… Let’s see no post-death punishment … Biblical inerrancy.

… and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Revelation 20:10 ESV

The “beast”, understood throughout early Christianity as being a reference to the personal antichrist — a person. The false prophet — the antichrist’s right-hand man ---- a person ----- both suffering forever and ever (or more accurately “for ages of ages”). If an age is 1000 years, then ONE age of ages is 1000,000 years, and these two men will suffer for several ages of ages (at least 3 million years). That’s got to be post-mortem!


#17

Paidon,

as it happens, most of the universalists here wouldn’t go with ultra-universalism anyway. (Myself included.) But since inerrantists can be (despite the term) rather flexible about scriptural interpretation, I was willing to agree that strictly speaking the position isn’t necessarily incompatible with “inerrancy”.

That being said, I would agree that it’s pretty obvious that post-mortem punishment is attested to in the scriptures, including where you noted. But Geoffrey is welcome to present arguments otherwise for evaluation.