Where I am currently


#1

I’m just about finished The Evangelical Universalist, and my initial thoughts are that some arguments are very strong and convincing, others less persuasive and I was left wishing more exegesis was included (especially given the sheer number of strongly UR texts that are discounted or reinterpreted by ECTers).

Briefly, I was strongly inclusivist prior to reading this book (to the point of believing that a majority of all humans would ultimately be saved - I confess that my research some time ago into NDEs propelled me in this direction) and in my current research, was leaning towards a “hoping UR is true, but not fully convinced”. So at this point, taking TEU into consideration, I would say I am a universalist but suffering cognitive dissonance as I’m not yet fully convinced on the *aion *question. Nevertheless, I fully acknowledge that any top-level belief system (eg. Calvinism, Thomism, Pentecostalism etc) will have difficulty texts, a point that Robin made clear in his book.

I found his early discussion of Craig and Talbott particularly interesting as I can count Craig as my primary influence in embracing Molinism years ago. As a point of trivia, I was always intrigued by Craig’s paper suggesting that under a Molinist perspective one could hold that God ordered the world in such a way that those who would never believe in any possible world, were geographically and historically placed in our world such that they belong to the group who never hear the gospel. I may be misrepresenting him a bit there, it’s been awhile since I read that paper, but I always found that line of thinking unpersuasive. It may solve a logical problem (in the way that Plantinga solved the logical problem of evil) but it is less than satisfying and certainly not pastorally insightful. I actually found it a little ad hoc.

Anyways, my main point of writing now is to muse out loud and to share an email I just wrote to great friend who is a strong believer in hell. We’ve never really discussed hell so I think this will be an interesting conversation. I won’t be sharing any of his responses here as such, but I think this letter neatly summarises where I am right now.

Please forgive any errors of fact or less-than-clear lines of thought as I never intended to write this email. It just morphed out of a basic reply about day-to-day activity.

Cheers,

Rob.


I’m actually reading a really good book at the moment. It might interest you even if you disagree, it’s definitely stretching. It’s called “The Evangelical Universalist”. His position is straight down the middle of the road evangelical Christianity with the only difference being that he sees hell as corrective and rehabilitative in addition to retributive, and that ultimately all people will be saved even if they first experience a very long dose of hell. He builds his case from the central foundation of what it means to affirm “God is love”.

At first blush, the average Christian (me included initially) would snort and exclaim, “Rubbish. The bible is clear about the damned and their fate.”

As I’m already inclusivist (ie. I believe many who have never heard the gospel in this life will nevertheless be saved through grace), I am however, finding his arguments surprisingly persuasive as he dismantles contradictions with the traditional view of hell that Christians tend to hold but not think about. For example, how can any finite crime (sin) merit infinite punishment? No matter how much horror and wrongdoing a person accumulates in one life (eg. Hitler) it still only sums to a finite amount. And in what sense of ‘just’ could we ever affirm that a finite amount of crime warrants infinite punishment?

The standard objection is that God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts not our thoughts. But this is a double-edged sword. In our emotionalism, we are more likely seek revenge and over-compensate for a wrong another has committed us. We don’t merely want to get back at them and even it up, we really want to get back and them and make them hurt! On that point alone God would be different to us, because His action in return would be perfectly just, not capricious and malevolent. In any case, it does no good for someone to object God’s justice is different to ours (and I accept the irony here), because if we affirm that God is just, we must, however imperfectly, understand what justice is and what it looks like. No well thought out human system of justice would ever conclude that a finite crime should have an infinite punishment. If we cannot understand ‘justice’ sufficiently (if not exhaustively) then to say “God’s punishments are just” means no more than “God’s gribbles are slooply”.

Interestingly, the Christian universalist (as opposed to other varieties of universalism) position was quite widely held in the early church and a number of very prominent leaders, including one who was elected as an early church council leader, espoused it. It appears the direction of the church changed with Augustine. He actually thought that a Christian could legitimately hold the universalist position, but himself believed in eternal hell and his formulation of the doctrine of hell took hold. Augustine actually formulated the idea of purgatory. That appears to have been his way of dealing with the biblical verses that affirm universalism.

There is really only one area in which I am not yet convinced but I have to admit the weight of evidence is in favour of universalism even here. The NT verses that talk about hell being eternal, everlasting, forever and ever etc. are generally mistranslated. The underlying Greek phrase (aion, aionios, aionian) is either “age-long” or “for ages of ages”. Again, it returns to Augustine as one of the chief culprits in the shift of the early church away from universal reconciliation. He didn’t speak Greek, tried to learn it, but hated it. The relevant Greek words shifted from meaning ‘age-long’ to aeternum in Latin, which means eternal. This in itself is factual and uncontroversial. Where the difficulty arises for me, is in how God is often spoken of as being aionios, and life for the saved is aionios. We would not think that either God or the life of the saved is only ‘age-long’. Yet this is only a difficulty and not a contradiction and of its own does not undermine or refute the weight of evidence supporting the position of universal reconciliation, that in the end the victory of Christ is complete and love conquers all, even hell.

What is particularly persuasive is the sheer number of biblical verses that affirm universal reconciliation and yet we have been trained to gloss over them or ignore what they so obviously mean. The question really comes down to what hermeneutic do we use? Every major Christian belief system has passages that support their view and passages which contradict or offer difficulty for their view. So everyone holds a certain set of passages as foundational and then interprets difficult passages accordingly (think for a moment of the dispute between Calvinists and Arminians, or between Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals). So do we affirm the universalist passages and interpret the hell ones accordingly, or do we affirm the hell passages and interpret the universalist ones accordingly? For me the deciding factor is the essence of God as love. This is something I already consider foundational to my whole belief structure, but I’ve just not gone far enough by considering what does it mean for God to love someone who is in hell. Thus, justice and wrath should be seen as aspects of love, in contrast to the view that wrath and love are in tension in God. We affirm that God is love, but we don’t affirm that God is wrath. Love is something He is in His very nature. Wrath, on the other hand, is something displayed against evil. If no evil existed, His wrath would never be known. But He would always be love.

Just some musings. There is a lot in this to think about as it requires a paradigm shift, yet it is one of those things that once you see, you can’t unsee.


#2

Rob ~

i liked your letter. thoughtful, intelligent, respectful, and true to both reason and to the message of Scripture. has your friend written back yet? you’ve indicated you don’t intend to share his response verbatim, but it would be interesting to know the gist of his thoughts on EU.


#3

Thanks for sharing, Rob. I agree with Grace–very nice letter! And I’d be interested in hearing what your friend’s reaction is!

Sonia


#4

Thanks Grace and Sonia.

No, I haven’t heard back but that’s not unusual. We can go weeks without contact, however we’ll be having a lot of interaction during Christmas so it should be a good time to talk. Also, he is at work and will be very surprised to get an email of that length while there. I suspect he’ll forward it to his home address and read it later. He’s a supervisor in a govt. office so wouldn’t have the time to ruminate on a letter like that during the day!


#5

Glad to hear you’re liking it :sunglasses:

If he dealt with every passage Robin’s book would be as thick as the Bible :wink: Covering the other texts, is one of the reasons for this forum, also there are some other good material recommended here: viewforum.php?f=45


#6

Whilst I was typing my previous post you and two others posted :blush: Anyway, that’s a great email, I hope your friend reads it and considers properly what you’ve said. I look forward to hearing how it goes.


#7

Don’t have much time this morning, but I just wanted to say I appreciated your report. Thanks for posting it up! :smiley:

One of my Big List Of Things To Do… um… things… :mrgreen: is to go through the canonical scriptures writing notes on every statement concerning God’s salvation and condemnation, and how different soteriological branches relate to each verse. I know it would be a very helpful resource, and I’ve made a strong start already (in my spare time) writing up commentary on the relevant Gospel verses.

Obviously that isn’t much help to anyone else yet. :wink: But I’m working on it. Maybe I can start posting up material after this coming Easter, for consideration and discussion.


#8

Very nice - well written, soft spoken and to the point. I especially relate to the last paragraph regarding the hermanutics. As I’ve been looking at scripture lately, this issue is massive and quite dynamic. How we approach the text with our pre-suppositions says volumes of where we go with our conclusions.

Thanks for sharing that.

Aug


#9

Hi Rob,

Welcome to the Greater Hope! It actually took a direct word from the Spirit for me to admit to myself that I had come to believe Jesus is the savior of all humanity. I had been studying the subject for several months, working through all the traditional objections, discussing it with others, and even asking others to pray for me (being concerned that I might be missing something and was being misled). I don’t know when I came to really believe it, but I remember when the Spirit said to me “Stop lying!” It was during a Sunday morning worship service a few months ago. Up until that point, though deep inside I believed in UR, I would only say that I was “studying” UR. I wouldn’t confess to myself, much less to anyone else that I really believed UR. By the Spirit I understood that, right or wrong, I needed to stop lying to myself and to others and openly confess that I believed UR. And He didn’t say I was right, only that I was to stop lying. If the subject came up, I was to openly confess my beliefs regardless of the consequences. And there have been some terrible consequences of obeying that command. It has cost me some dear relationships. I hope better for you.

Blessings,
Sherman


#10

Aaargh!!! I had a long reply written for all you guys and I clicked the wrong button and lost it!! http://www.elijahs.org/swear.gif

So…I appreciate everyone’s responses and comments. Sherman, I’m not far off the point you were at but my confidence level is not yet high enough to firmly state “This I believe” and defend accordingly.

My friend replied nicely and respectfully and his objections were pretty much as I’d guessed they would be. To give credit, he is at work and has limited time and no access to bible study resources. However, I fully expect this conversation to continue over Christmas. :slight_smile:

I then replied to him:

This will inevitably be one-sided as I don’t wish to share his responses without his knowledge or consent. But you’ll be able to get the gist. My main point of doing this is more as a kind of musing journal than a full dialogue.


#11

This is why doing theology is not wise when distracted or at work. An obvious point I missed at first read and which now jumps out at me is this. Suppose the verse means…

For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all **kinds of **people, especially (malista) of those who believe.

The resulting problem for a non-UR interpretation is the same. ‘Especially’ still marks off a sub-set so “those who believe” are still only a portion of the ‘all kinds of people’. Adding the qualifier “kinds of” actually does nothing to mitigate the force of the verse and the questions and implications for a non-UR reading.

To see this clearly we still have to ask, how is God the Saviour of all kinds of people but especially of those who believe? It is clear how He is the Saviour of those who believe. But it is still not clear how He is the Saviour of all kinds of people, a category that is divided into those who believe and those who don’t. Therefore God is still the Saviour of all kinds of people who don’t believe. How is this possible in a non-UR context? I don’t know.

We know what it means for God to be Saviour. But for God to be the Saviour of all kinds of people who don’t believe and still end up in ECT, seems to strip “Saviour” of all its key aspects.


#12

Rob, concerning your difficulty with God being “merely” aionios:

I have discovered in secular Greek literature that the word aionios was a term applied to a stone wall. The second century Jewish historian, Josephus, applied it to a 3-year prison term of an individual. The apostle Paul used it with reference to the time which Philemon would have back Onesimus, his former slave who now had become a Christian. The Septuagint uses the word with reference to Jonah’s despair concerning his length of time in the belly of the fish (a mere 3 days!)

I am now convinced that the English word which is a close approximation to the meaning of aionios, is “lasting”.
In Christ’s parable of the sheep and the goats, the sheep enter into lasting life, and the goats into lasting correction. There is no temporal specific inherent in the meaning of the English word “lasting”, not even in a general sense. It could be relatively short, very long, or even eternal. So with this understanding, there seems to be no problem in speaking of God as “lasting” or the life of the believer as “lasting”.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have lasting life.

Does the forgoing translation pose any problem?


#13

Nice summary. Do you remember where in the “secular Greek literature” that was? Likewise do you have the reference for Josephus?

I hadn’t thought to use “lasting”, but I agree, that’s an excellent translation!


#14

“It is better to be an atheist who does the will of God, than a so-called Christian who does not.” George MacDonald

But is it not impossible to please God without faith?


#15

This is really an honor JustMe that you would share this with us.

It is very interesting and I love the way you are so engaged – and cordial and polite!!
Easier to be that way with friends no doubt.

And I might add that this post and thread are part of the reason I like this site so well! Very genuine and real.

However, having had many similar interactions with friends over the several years now that I’ve embraced UR, let me advise caution. We, who hold to UR, must also as a corollary of UR hold to patience; that we know so few believe it now, yet also we believe all will eventually come to see it, means that even in the hands of God Himself, the conviction of UR may take a long time. So please please don’t push it! State it, with passion and conviction yes. But this is a huge step for so many! (Sure was for me!!)

One of the stunning unexpected consequences of my personal embrace of UR is how I have let go of being so insistent (and in the process, obnoxious!) in the veracity and correctness of my own way of seeing things. Further, I’ve grown to distrust those who quickly alight onto this new belief; I’d much prefer a long and protracted process of wrestling, and then, eventually, coming to embrace UR. Those kinds of “converts” are far more likely to last and have depth of conviction.

Also so very interesting to me about your letter is how the various ways of getting to UR have varying degrees of appeal. Some gravitate to the meanings of the Greek words… For me, the basis was much more simple though: I simply came to hold that “love” is in no way compatible with ECT or annihilation. Period. And to engage “love” for the purpose of killing and or torturing forever renders language utterly meaningless. A “love” that could do such things is a complete betrayal of any rational use of the term.

But that’s just me – so it’s interesting to listen to others who take other paths to the same destination of UR.

I really hope you are able to continue to bless us in sharing this ongoing conversation!!

Thanks again,

Bobx3 –
aka TotalVictory


#16

Roof,
You come up with good questions!

What does it mean to be faithful? And what shows our faith?

Jesus says the “faithful servant” is the one found doing his master’s will, when the master returns. James says, “I will show you my faith by my works.”

It is possible to have a kind of faith and displease God – “The demons believe–and tremble.” So James also tells us. The faith that counts is that which manifests in obedience to the will of God.

In the parable of the sheep and goats, the sheep are faithful without knowing they were, and the goats who thought they had been faithful are told they have not been.

When we think of the word “faith” we tend to think it means “belief” but it also contains the sense of what we mean by the word “faithfulness” --which includes such concepts as: allegiance, loyalty, trustworthiness, responsibility.
Sonia


#17

According to MacDonald, faith is nothing other than obedience.

It is therefore possible to re-state MacDonald’s statement thus: “It is better to be an atheist who has faith in God, than a so-called Christian who does not have faith in God.”


#18

Well, I have to go with the Bible vs. MacDonald, for the verse says: New International Version (©1984)
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

“anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists”. That sounds like a checkmate to me!


#19

@ Paidion - thanks for that insight. I will follow it up and see where it leads me. :slight_smile:

@ Bobx3 - some more background might be in order here. I was raised in a very strict, fundamentalist church group. We alone were right and everyone outside were hell-bound. In fact, things were so grim that maybe half of the group itself would end up in hell, so toe the line carefully! In my early 20s I discovered that we were misled on many things and my new bride and I exited. Over the ensuing years I went through a crisis of faith, connected with mainstream Christianity and suffered through many refinements of belief and a few major paradigm shifts. The direction seems constant though. I am always moving away from dogmatism and religiosity towards acceptance and love. Do I always succeed? No. But I see steady improvement. What is the admonition?..judge ourselves so that we will not need to be judged.

Part of that is allowing others the space and freedom of their own journey, trusting in the goodness and love of God; that He will walk with them and be their guide. Hence, the need for me “to be right” has dissolved over the last couple of years and the need to convince others of the wrongness of their beliefs and the correctness of mine has been exposed as the hubris it is. I have been wrong many times on many things, big and small. I have always felt the guiding presence of God, no matter what my doctrinal mindset. Why should now be any different? I trust in the faithfulness of God to lead me! Not in my inadequate ability to get it right. Therefore, to embrace UR would only further establish my desire to not force my views on others and not constantly see everyone who believes differently to myself as automatically wrong. On the assumption of UR, no matter how long it takes, God will eventually win everyone over with His love. My duty then is simple, to love my friends and enemies, to do good to those who despise me, to look after “the least of these”, and to allow love the time and space to work in my life and in the lives of those I engage.

Far more important to me than the idea of UR, has been the kind of love that is emphasised and advocated by writers like Jean Vanier, Dave Andrews, the lives of Mother Teresa and St Francis, and so on. Doctrine is highly useful for the ordering of thoughts and clarity of decision-making. It is still superceded by love. As Paul so insightfully noted in his famous excursus on love, we could have all knowledge and understand all mysteries but without love it is nothing. I would rather find the grace to love first, and then ensure all my beliefs are “right”. As my wife has said to those who pressure her over the alleged necessity of speaking in tongues (we attend an AoG but are not Pentecostal ourselves): “I need to figure this love thing out first before I worry about the least of the gifts.”

So Bob, I can give a ringing endorsement to your comment, “One of the stunning unexpected consequences of my personal embrace of UR is how I have let go of being so insistent (and in the process, obnoxious!) in the veracity and correctness of my own way of seeing things.

I only need to pause and contemplate how many times I have been wrong before. This I accepted long before hearing of UR. Nothing changes. :slight_smile:

For me, nutting through the theology and scriptural questions surrounding the issue of UR is a case of intellectual curiosity. Even if I am embrace it, it doesn’t mean I’m right. But love is always in fashion. I don’t think we can go to far wrong by embracing the desire to seek the best for others even at expense to ourselves.

To err is human, to love: divine. :wink:


#20

Reply to Alex:

I found the following statements in one of my short writings. I don’t have the precise references on hand, but I could attempt to find them. I am sure that I can find the Josephus one at least. Josephus didn’t say how long the imprisonment lasted, but another source claimed it was three years. In any case, even if it had been 30 years, or even 50, clearly it was not eternal.

**In the first century before Christ, Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian, wrote:

“The second wall is in all other respects like the first, but of twice the height. The third circuit is rectangular in plan, and is sixty cubits in height, built of a stone hard and naturally “aiōnios”.

Could the stone have been naturally “eternal”?

Flavius Josephus in Wars of the Jews, wrote:

“…Jonathan condemned to “aiōnios” imprisonment.” Was Jonathan condemned to eternal imprisonment? It is said that his imprisonment was for a period of three years.**