Why Orthodox Christian Theism is important for Universalism


I’m setting up this thread for purposes of discussing more broadly why orthodox Christian theism might be (I would say is) important for universalism. It is a sort of sequel to Gregory’s original thread on why the Trinity is important; but unlike the original thread on his web journal (which is devoted more to discussing minituae of trinitarian exegetical theology–and that was by agreement of the thread participants and Gregory, too, btw), I intend this thread to focus on how (or whether) the tenets of orthodox Christian theism are important as guarantors of the truth of universalism. (Which was kind-of the topical thrust of Gregory’s original post on his webjournal, too, but the thread topic moved over to discussing the grounds, mostly exegetical, for trinitarian Christian orthodoxy. This thread will allow a restart of the topic here on the new forum.)

I’ve posted it here in General Discussion on EU, because the topical scope is broader than any of the particular categories elsewhere; and the topic isn’t clearly pro or con on the face of it. For example, a thread on the fixed chasm in GosLuke 16 would be obviously contra-universalism on the face of it, so would go there. But few people consider robust Christian orthodoxy to be important to universalism pro or con. I myself will be making an argument for PRO PRO PRO-ITY PRO PRO! :mrgreen: But in doing so I’m taking a direction against the general inertia on the topic, in the field (some notable exceptions, including Gregory himself to some degree, notwithstanding.)

My first entry, to be put up later, will involve addressing Bob’s question (down in the Christology category, in the Adoption of Christ…? thread), about why the Incarnation of Christ (in an orthodox, not modalistic fashion) instead of some kind of Arianism, makes a serious difference in my acceptance of universalism.

Question about a Unity Church
2009 Glenn and Tom dialogue -- gallery comments
Is Jesus God or What?
Two formal arguments: universalism with trinitarian theology

So, porting over Bob’s first question from this topic…

Would you profess that the essential character of God is love?

If so: that’s at least binitarian orthodox theism–and not any lesser kind of theism.

And the practical outworking of forgetting or not understanding the link between that kind of theism and the “basic” doctrine that “God is love”, is that theologians and other theists then try to introduce ultimate hopelessness into their theologies. I’ve seen this happen maybe hundreds of times personally: there always ends up being a disconnect between non-universalist soteriologies and orthodox Christian theism. It may not always be obvious at first glance; or it may be blatantly obvious even at first glance. But in my own experience (and I’ve come to expect it in principle, too), it always shows up sooner or later.

After this, the importation of non-universalistic belief into our own relationships with our enemies, leads to massive trouble. It has led (and sometimes still does lead) to oppression and slaughter in Christian history, and it has led (and very obviously still does often lead) to oppression and slaughter in Muslim or other theistic histories. It leads to fractured interpersonal relationships at the ‘smaller’ level, too.

I don’t mean by this that I am a pacifist in the modern understanding of that term. You can read my fictional work and figure out pretty quickly that I have a high regard for militant courage and skill; moreover that I understand that sometimes war and strife are necessary. Certainly biblical theology (not to say the narrative!) is full of imagery and action in favor of military strife.

But combat is not the end of the matter. And it makes a huge difference in our attitudes and choices of behavior when we believe that war and wrath are temporary and contingent and can and should be set aside, but that true love is eternal and essential; that the greatest of things that will be remaining is true love and fair-togetherness; and that any war and wrath which does not have reconciliation and the healing and restoration of our enemies in view, is misunderstood at best and may easily be utterly sinful.

However: the position I’ve just given follows directly from the belief that God is, essentially, love. And that claim is either nonsensical or vacuous, unless God is, singularly, an interpersonal relationship of distinct persons.

Which is at least orthodox binitarian theism.

(Note: I don’t mean to deny the Third Person of the Trinity; but trying to explain where the 3rd Person fits into the economic relationship between God and Creation would take me very far afield. Heck, I haven’t even mentioned here what the economic relationship of the first two Persons is! :wink: )

My first answer, then, is that the kind of theism we believe in makes a difference in what we consider to be ethically proper behavior. It may not be an absolute difference–by God’s grace there are many fine non-Christians (theistic or non-theistic) who may at any time be ahead of any of us in the kingdom. But this kind of claim in itself is a strongly contentious theological claim, that (as you ought to be aware) even many Christians would not agree with. And the claim is either coherent with the way God actually is, or the claim is incoherent with the way God actually is. If the latter, the claim must be wrong. But we can’t make the comparison unless we have an accurate idea of the true character and characteristics of God.

If I claim (as someone with at least tacit teaching authority) that by God’s grace there are many fine non-Christians who may at any time be ahead of any of us (including myself) in the kingdom, I had better have a coherent and correct idea of God to back that claim up with. Otherwise my claim is irresponsible, at best, as a proclamation. (A proper exegetical and/or metaphysical rationale would be a good idea to have, too. :wink: )

Yet it ought to be obvious that such a claim, if accepted and acted upon as true, will make a significant difference in the shape of our contributions to (at least) human society.

And there will be a significant difference in that shape, potentially and maybe actually, if some counter-claim is accepted and acted upon (and taught!) as true instead.

Discussion of Bob’s second question to follow in the next comment… :ugeek: :smiley:


So, on to the second question (which is far more of a doozy to answer than Bob’s first question. :open_mouth: :mrgreen: Fair warning to readers: if your eyes are already glazing over, take that as a sign and move along. It isn’t going to get any easier… :wink: )

First, let me do some distinguishing. In order to try to trim down the scope of reply, I’m not going to discuss what we might lose if we believed something else is true. (Other than to quip that there are many fewer Muslim universalists in history than Christian ones, as a practical example, perhaps… :astonished: :wink: )

I’m going to focus instead on what we might lose if it turns out that Jesus is not the orthodox 2nd Person Incarnate; especially (though not exclusively) if, broadly speaking, Arianism or neo-Arianism is actually true.

(For purposes of this discussion, I’m treating Arianism broadly as involving some non-human entity, less than YHWH but otherwise supernatural, like an ultra-angel; and neo-Arianism broadly as involving some merely human and certainly not YHWH ultra-prophet, king and/or priest. The point either way is that Jesus is not YHWH Incarnate.)

Next distinction: Is orthodox trinitarian theism still supposed to be true at God’s own level of existence? The reason I ask, is because various types of Arianism or neo-Arianism could, strictly speaking, be true while the orthodox Trinity is also true. (An ultimate angel or delegated man can exist and be sent on various missions from God while God is still Father, Son and Holy Spirit in distinct Persons without distinction of substance. E.g., the existence of Moses or the archangel Michael doesn’t exclude the existence of the Trinity. Assuming Michael isn’t actually YHWH the Son, btw; there’s some debate about this. :sunglasses: )

If trinitarian theism is not true, then let us suppose binitarian theism is still true. In that case, God self-begetting and self-begotten is still love. But, technically speaking, the 3rd Person would not be proceeding from the union of that eternally coherent interpersonal relationship of fair-togetherness (i.e. “righteousness”).

An overarching reality is required for communication between entities who are not themselves the final ground of reality in an interpersonal union. (I’ll skip over some technical reasons for why the Persons of a consubstantial union wouldn’t themselves need an overarching reality for communion.) Now, the eternally active self-existence of God self-begetting and God self-begotten, would be the ultimate overarching reality. But that means that neither of these Persons could be in personal communion with us! They would have other relations to us, but not that kind of relation; which in turn means that we probably couldn’t exist as persons at all. What is required for us to be in personal communion (even to the minimum extent) with the Father and the Son (both corporately and distinctly as Persons themselves), is a 3rd Person of God Who proceeds from the unity of the Father and the Son. The distinction of ‘procession’ is important, because what is needed is a Person Who in His existence is not involved in the self-begetting upkeep of God; yet Who is in the closest possible substantial unity with the self-begetting/self-begotten interpersonal God, so that when we are in personal communion with this Person we are in direct personal communion with YHWH Himself. The Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son (note that I am affirming the filioque thereby), brings us the Father and the Son: and where one Person is in operation, all three Persons of the consubstantial God are in operation.

This is not a role that can be filled by an ultra-angel or Platonic demiurge–on the contrary, the demiurge would be in the same boat we are, in regard to communion with God!

Yet again: without the Spirit, it would be impossible for a merely human prophet to even be in communication with God at all, much less to be in better communication than others of us. Relatedly, without the procession of the Spirit, no delegated human person could ever be said to be ‘representing’ God.

So, for Arianism or neo-Arianism to even be true, much moreso for it to be a truth of practical action, the Spirit must be proceeding, and proceeding distinctly from (but in substantial union with) the Persons of God Who are involved with God’s self-existence as the final overarching Fact of reality.

Supposing we ignore the Spirit as a metaphysical necessity for communion, though. The next question would be, what if binitarian theism is not true?–what results follow if mere monotheism is true?

Then, as noted in an earlier comment, God cannot be essentially love: for a merely monotheistic God is not an eternally coherent interpersonal relationship of fair-togetherness, and certainly is not such a relationship in His own active self-existence.

But if God is not essentially love and fair-togetherness, then His wrath need not be contingent upon His love and intention toward fulfilling fair-togetherness with the object of His wrath. His wrath need not have anything at all to do with His love; and if He acted toward fulfilling non-fair-togetherness with the object of His wrath (which is what hopeless damnation including annihilation would necessarily involve), then He wouldn’t be acting in conjunction with His own self-existent action of fair-togetherness.

Moreover, neither would we be acting against the active unity of God’s own self-existence (the ground of all existence, including our own), if we acted toward fulfilling non-fair-togetherness: i.e., if we acted UN-righteously!

Our unrighteousness would not be intrinsically a sin against the light. It could only be, at best, a rebellion against whatever God’s intentions toward an object are at any given point in that object’s history: a little power rebelling against a bigger Power, Itself able to act un-righteously at will without penalty.

If the Trinitarian (or even Binitarian) God acts with no intention toward achieving fair-togetherness between persons, then He would be sinning just as we do when we intend (and so act, as rational agents) in such a way. And He would instantly self-annihilate; just as we would annihilate in acting against the principles of the ground of our existence, but for the grace of God. We’re still here to discuss the topic, so we can be sure that God will never act in such a way–if God is at least a binitarian union of Persons (self-begetting and self-begotten).

If God is merely monotheistic, though, then (assuming for purposes of argument that God could even exist as a sheer non-dynamic singular Person–which I would also argue is impossible, but that’s beside the point right now :wink: ) we could not possibly have any assurance that God will be universalistic. Worse, ‘morality’ would be reduced to mere might-makes-right, shorn of the quality of interpersonal fair-togetherness. (If that sounds a lot like how Muslims understand God… well, there’s a reason for that. :exclamation: )

What would an ultimate derivative agent be demonstrating for us, then, concerning such a God? That might makes right; that the most important importance in all reality is power-exertion and the causing of effects thereby: the creation of suffering. It would be less than absolutely pointless for such an agent to ‘show us God’ by (even willingly) dying on a cross; and it probably wouldn’t be for the sake of God’s enemies, either. Or even if it was for the sake of God’s enemies, there would be no assurance that God might not change His mind later and decide to hopelessly condemn His enemies anyway.

(Notice, btw, in relation to Jeff’s questions that originally started this line of inquiry: the ultimate agent of such a God would have responded much differently to the temptation in the wilderness. He might not have changed stones to bread to feed himself apart from permission from the Father, but he would have had no compunction against using power merely to ‘prove’ himself to people–nor against using power to merely crush rebellion on earth against God. Observe that this comports fairly well with the expectations of general Israeli population about what the King Messiah would be doing, though!)

Moreover, such an agent wouldn’t be demonstrating that God is personally concerned with (and operates in conjunction with) the created cosmos; otherwise, God would be coming Himself and not delegating that function to some functionary! If the greatest possible representative of God is not Himself God, then this ‘representative’ would actually be affirming that God stays the hell away from His own creation! :exclamation: This would tend to run against the whole notion of God Himself acting in Nature supernaturally, including for purposes of holding Nature together. Not-incidentally, the nominal deists almost unanimously agree that Jesus must only have been (at best) a specially delegated man. And, also not-incidentally, nominal deism shades pretty quickly into cosmological dualism, where Nature exists independently of God and God has nothing to do with Nature–a position that very quickly becomes practically indistinguishable from atheism.

But what if trinitarian theism is true, and also some form of Arianism?

The answer depends on whether the agent being sent is supposed to be the ultimate self-revelation of God. If he (or she?) isn’t, then God may yet send a Person of His consubstantial unity (which would be the 2nd Person, God self-begotten, for technical reasons I won’t go into here) to be Incarnate and to do Himself what Christ has (imperfectly, as a preparation for the true Lord) already done. We would simply be mistaken to think that Jesus was the Christ, and should be looking for the real Christ to come, if we have reasons to believe that God Himself would eventually come to do what Jesus of Nazareth (or some super-angel or whatever) has merely illustrated by analogy–merely has seemed to have done. (And I would have strong reason to expect God to do this eventually sooner or later in our history, though I won’t go into why now. This is aside from serious exegetical and theological problems with the position that Jesus wasn’t really the real self-revelation of God while making claims for himself involving the honor, attributes, name, deeds and seat of God.)

But if Jesus, as a non-YHWH entity, is supposed to nevertheless be the greatest self-revelation of God…? Then I would have to call non sequitur at best! What kind of sense does it make for God’s greatest self-revelation to be something that wasn’t even Himself in action!? Any of the OT manifestations of YHWH would be greater than that!

Similarly, there would be a strong disjunction between what Jesus has done, supposedly to reveal what God is and does, and what God must not be doing if Jesus isn’t God Incarnate–because God obviously then cannot be doing those things as Jesus. If God is eternally giving Himself in sacrifice for the sake of even His enemies, who betray and abuse His grace to them, then why not illustrate that Himself in our natural history as (supposedly) His greatest self-revelation? Why send someone else to do it?

We also then get the problem that it isn’t in fact God Himself paying for our sins (in any way that phrase could be construed). It’s God sending someone less than Himself to pay for our sins on the cross. This would be tantamount to demonstrating that God holds Himself apart from the consequences of our actions, and (worse) takes no responsibility Himself concerning us. There could be no reckoned-with-the-transgressors theology, for God Himself would not be acting in communion with sinners to save us.

Whereas on the other hand: if Jesus could somehow be a modalistic God, then (for technical reasons I won’t go into here) He would not be able to be anything more than a docetic God (not human as well as God). Consequently God would not really be operating in intimate conjunction (like in a marriage :exclamation: ) with the created cosmos–He would only be instigating power-effects. And notice how this result comports again with what follows if God’s “Persons” are only modalistic expressions of a singular Person: the most important ‘importance’ in reality becomes, at best, mere power-exertion effect, the creation of automatic reactions by actions. Which cannot be any meaningful ethicality. (Plus all the talk in the scriptures about the Son in personal distinction from the Father, especially from Jesus Himself, would have to be a sham.)

So, yes. It makes a difference if Jesus is not God Incarnate, including (maybe especially) to the doctrine of universalism.

These are a large selection of my reasons (given somewhat in summary despite the length of this comment :wink: ) for why my acceptance of the doctrine of universalism would be much less likely to itself be true (if not voided altogether) if orthodox Christian theism, including in regard to the nature of Christ, is not true. It also, incidentally, demonstrates why I would be much less likely to believe universalism is true if I believed something other than orthodox Christian theism to be true.

In relation to which I’ll reiterate again: I am not remotely surprised when I discover non-universalistic theists tacitly or explicitly denying tenets of orthodox Christian theism (even when they wouldn’t otherwise mean to be doing so).



Thanks for your generous response! On part one, I do agree that it’s vital to see love as essential to God’s character, and that seeing love as eternal would foster less oppression, and indeed change how we evaluate non-Christians. And I personally see that orthodox theism can nicely support universalist eschatologies. I’m not sure I’m capable of being as clear, or nearly as comprehensive as you, on the rest.

I am puzzled by arguing that “non-universalist soteriologies” correlate with non-Trinitarianism. Is it that settled that more orthodox Christians than others are universalist in outlook? I’m doubtful that noting that another tradition, Isalm, resists universalism would persuade skeptics within “Christian” theism. If Islam rejects atheism, we needn’t affirm it :wink:
My apologies in advance that I undoubtedly have failed to rightly understand many of your points.

Your real argument seems to be the line that it is “nonsensical” to think that God could love, unless ‘God’ is more than one “person.” I’ve also often taught this (such as Lewis’ idea that God couldn’t be fulfilled in love without a relationship that allows him to exercise it). But I sense that this is an assertion that calls for demonstration in plain English, without assuming a priori that one grasps the nature of Reality. Part 2 will follow.

Bob Wilson



Your part two does offer much amplification, but if I didn’t “glaze over” (thanks for appreciating the possibility), I fear it’s over my head. You reassert that orthodox theism is the “guarantor” of universalism, but I find that is precisely what most Trinitarians claim not to see at all.

You proceed to assert what MUST be true about the relationship of “substance” and “persons,” that an “overarching reality” is required that a “demi-urge” can’t provide, and that a ‘procession’ toward us can’t co-exist with God’s “self-begetting upkeep.” You seem to intuitively know what “God” can and cannot do, but these ideas feel like they presume (circularly) that I already grasp what the Almighty’s metaphysics must be. Perhaps these are truths, but I resist affirming propositions that are in language that I really don’t comprehend. These sound like the emphasis on “ontological” jargon I referenced that takes our focus off of pursuing the meaning of the biblical story whose God’s character affirms the values of love and justice. If grasping such formulations is vital to Christian hope, despite a theology doctorate, I’d remain hopeless! (more to come)



I hear you to proceed by saying that a monotheistic God’s wrath simply could not be governed by his righteous love. You reinforce this, saying that only an unloving Trinitarian God would be capable of “sinning,” but a truly caring God HAS to be incarnate. For the unrestrained power of a singular god means he cannot be revealed at the cross. I’m afraid that none of this is self-evident to me.

I do grasp your final point that some versions of God “paying” for our sins (notably “penal satisfaction”) logically require that God’s anger could only be satisfied by a deity that pays infinite retribution. My current study focuses on the atonement which I also don’t fully grasp. But in short, with e.g. Joel Green, I don’t find this interpretation biblical or coherent. I’m inclined to think of the cross less as a power “transaction” that changes God, than redemptively displaying what the character of God himself has always been, such that we will be transformed.

I realize that you are convinced it cannot convey that unless a Trinitarian formulation is valid. My bias is that such questions will not usually be answerd by agreement on what metaphysics requires, but more traditionally will be determined by one’s sense of what God has actually revealed to us. For many of us this will include some conception of a revelation that several “persons” are “God.”

Grace be with you,


This is my understanding as well.


As a technical matter, I would argue, yes. Although there is a continuum, of course.

Consider someone whose non-universalistic soteriology involves claiming that hopelessly condemned sinners continue existing completely separated from God. That’s a blatant denial of God’s omnipresence, even when the person doesn’t mean to be denying this; and it’s also in effect a claim that the sinner and God both exist dependently in some overarching reality (and/or that the sinner has–by sinning!–achieved the goal of Satan: to be like the Most High, existing without dependence on anything else, self-existently.)

The non-universalist can sheerly deny this, but that doesn’t solve the problem. Or the non-universalist can start complaining about gatekeepers of orthodoxy (or whatever), but that doesn’t solve the problem. Or the non-universalist can become an outright cosmological dualist or a Mormon-ish polytheist or whatever; which at least has the virtue of not involving professing one thing under orthodoxy and then denying that profession later for the soteriology. :mrgreen:

Or, the non-universalist can start affirming that if the sinner continues in existence then God must be actively sustaining even the sinner in existence, and in a fashion where God is present with the sinner (even if the sinner is still doing her worst to ignore and defy the light, squinting shut her eyes and stopping her ears and hardening her heart as God says of His beloved Israel through Isaiah).

That isn’t universalism yet; it could be a form of Calvinist or Arminian soteriology (broadly speaking) just as easily. But it’s a step toward orthodox Christian universalism. And it’s a concept that universalism absolutely needs, I think, unless we’re supposed to be talking of a ‘salvation’ (from sin or from whatever) apart from God. Which I would strenuously deny we should be talking about–not as affirmers of supernaturalistic theism.

That’s an interesting way to put it, but my position is a little more nuanced than that.

My argument is that it is nonsensical to claim that God is love unless ‘God’ is more than one person, in an active interpersonal union, self-begetting and self-begotten. I also argue (and argued, relatively briefly :wink: ) that God cannot be truly moral unless at least this orthodox binitarian theism is true. (And that this factor would be pointless in regard to us, unless orthodox trinitarian theism is true. Including the filioque. :sunglasses: )

It may or may not be nonsensical for some other kind of God to possibly ‘love’, but it would be an amoral love at best. And that kind of God would not be intrinsically love.

God being intrinsically love, is very important to the assurance of universalism; for if love is only something God does (like wrath), instead of something God is, then God could cease doing love to a person without ceasing Himself to exist–also any of His other actions might not be contingent upon His love nor have love to the person in God’s intention for fulfillment.

Any non-universalist soteriology (that I can think of), meanwhile, involves God either choosing to cease loving the hopelessly doomed sinner (roughly speaking Arminianism) or never having chosen to love the hopelessly doomed sinner at all (roughly speaking Calvinism).

Fortunately, I only have to make my case; not make their case. :sunglasses: I can analyze their cases on a case-by-case basis, of course. But if universalism does follow logically as an exclusive corollary from orthodox trinitarian theism (as I find and believe that it does), then I can expect in advance to find one or more contradictions of orthodox trinitarian theism in their soteriologies. Which, under probing, is exactly what I do routinely find. But another option would be that the Trinitarian doesn’t yet sufficiently understand the connection of trinitarian theism to salvation and condemnation. (I have in fact run across Trinitarians on more than one occasion who even basically denied that God’s trinitarian characteristics have any connection to His salvation and/or condemnation of us.)

I also find that Trinitarians, ironically, often profess privative instead of positive aseity: i.e., that God simply exists uncaused instead of being self-caused. That’s a denial of God being self-begetting and self-begotten; and it leads to theologians disconnecting any actions of God from God’s own self-existence. The upshot is that no action of God (if privative aseity is true) has any relevance to God’s own self-existence; so even if God is still somehow supposed to be ‘love’ (which would frankly be nonsense if an active interpersonal union is not the heart of God’s own self-existence, but hypothetically supposing it was still possible…), none of His actions are necessarily contingent on His being love. Meaning He can choose not to love, or to cease loving, another person in complete disregard to His own intrinsic nature.

Which might sound like a great way to save a non-universalism theory! :wink: But there’s a price to be paid: it disassociates all hope and trust that God will act in one way and not in another, from God’s own intrinsic nature. The non-universalist cannot coherently disassociate all actions from God’s intrinsic self-existence while still retaining a hope in God grounded in God’s intrinsic nature. (Though Lord knows I’ve seen them try it often enough… :wink: )

Well, yes, in lieu of several hundred pages of metaphysical and/or exegetical argument, I pretty much have to present positions as assertions. :open_mouth: :wink: Historically, most of these positions are not in contention among trinitarian scholars, though.

Some of the positions should have been clearly enough argued even in that relatively brief summary, however. For example, by definition a demiurge is a created entity, not self-existent like YHWH; consequently, if YHWH is the final overarching reality, a demiurge cannot provide an overarching reality for us to have communion with YHWH. (This was a key point in the Arian controversies, including with Arius and his compatriots, who wanted to claim that Christ was a Platonic dynad. There’s a fine essay from C. S. Lewis as an introduction to a translation of Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, which if I recall correctly is reprinted, among other places, in the God in the Dock collection, that has a bearing on this topic.)

I can sympathize with a complaint that I did not argue in my comment that communion (including communication) requires a common overarching reality upon which the two persons in communion depend for their existence (the special case of God’s own interpersonal union as the final overarching reality, being excepted.)

But when I’m making a case to supernaturalistic theists for why one particular kind of supernaturalistic theism (presumably accepted by those supernaturalistic theists, too) is so important for assurance of universalism, I didn’t realize I would have to argue for the truth of supernaturalistic theism per se (much moreso for trinitarian theism. :slight_smile: )

I’m reasonably sure that there are plenty of Christians, including universalists, who hope in God without grasping such formulations. And if asked, they can rightly and properly say, “I trust in God” to explain why they have such hope. I’m also entirely sure that God values that trust, regardless of the technical understanding of the person, and that such a trust is what He wants from us as faith.

But trying to have a discussion about technicalities (including in regard to all the theological propositions in my previous paragraph there!) is going to lead (one would suppose) to a technical discussion. Or to mere fideism, maybe. :wink:

I don’t expect to be able to understand the same technicalities my doctor does; and I don’t expect to always understand him if he tries to discuss them with me; and there’s a pretty good chance I’d rather not even discuss technicalities with my doctor. :mrgreen: But I do expect my doctor to know and understand the technicalities!

I’m saying that a merely monotheistic God’s wrath need not have anything necessarily to do with His love; whereas the wrath of a trinitarian God must necessarily be contingent upon His love. This is because the merely monotheistic God is not intrinsically Himself an interpersonal unity in His own self-existence, while the trinitarian (or at least binitarian) God is intrinsically Himself an interpersonal unity in His own self-existence.

I am also saying that a merely monotheistic God’s love need not have anything necessarily to do with acting toward the fulfillment of a unity of fair-togetherness between persons; whereas the love of a trinitarian God must necessarily involve acting toward such a fulfillment. Same rationale as in the previous paragraph: the trinitarian God is intrinsically love, in His own active self-existence. The merely monotheistic God is not and cannot be intrinsically love.

I am also saying that the actions of a monotheistic God must be at best ethically arbitrary, in a fashion which we routinely recognize to be amorality: might makes ‘right’, and ‘right’ has nothing necessarily to do fairness between persons (a cooperative interpersonal unity, or ‘fair-togetherness’ in Biblical Greek–the word we typically English as “righteousness”.)

Actually, I said that it would be nonsense to try to claim that a Trinitarian God could be unloving and still continue in existence. (Though here we get to one of the few real dissensions between me and most trinitarian scholars: most trinitarians are privative not positive aseitists, and that ends up making a big difference in what they think it’s cogent to claim and teach about. See above remarks in this comment on the topic.)

I did however also say that if a Trinitarian (or even Binitarian) God acted toward fulfilling non-fair-togetherness (which would be the opposite of love), then that would be the same as God sinning; whereas I also said a merely monotheistic God would have only an amoral ‘morality’ at bottom (having nothing to do intrinsically with a fair-together unity of persons). So, yep, in a roundabout sort of way, I would actually agree with how you thought I was putting it above. :smiley:

Actually, my point in that paragraph was simply restricted to the rather tautological observation that unless God Himself is paying for our sins on the cross, then God is not Who is paying for our sins on the cross; which makes a huge difference in what that guy nailed up on the big plus sign is supposed to be revealing about God. :wink: I explicitly set aside questions of what it means for God to be paying for our sins.

For what it’s worth, however, I am pretty strongly against the notion that even God (much less a mere created entity, be it a super-angel or a human or whatever) is satisfying God’s anger by being infinitely punished by God as though God was a sinner (meanwhile letting the real sinners go scot-free). Attempts at trying to gell that with orthodox Christian theism typically involve introducing a schism between the intentions of the Father and the Son (or even more of a schism than that!) And like you I don’t find it to be biblical either.


LOL! You THOUGHT your doctor KNEW what he was talking about :slight_smile:


I thought I ought to add: by this, I don’t mean that I believe there is no connection between the sacrifice of God on the cross and the wrath of God. I only mean that a connection involving schism in the intentions (much moreso the substance) of the Persons cannot be true, if orthodox theism is true.

But (among several other important things regarding the cross) I understand God to be showing us that He doesn’t inflict our punishments from on high in disassociation from us, but willingly suffers Himself along with us: He accounts Himself with us, the sinners, despite being innocent of sin Himself.

As the old saying goes: when He spanks us, it really does hurt Him even more than it hurts us. :slight_smile: And that’s one of many things He reveals to us about Himself on the cross.


Bob wrote: “…More orthodox Christians than other Christians are universalists??”

Jason said: "“As a technical matter, yes.”

Thanks for amplifying. I’d reacted out of experiencing liberal Christians as more sympathetic with universalism than more conservative ‘Trinitarians’ (as you observe–Calvinists & Arminians alike). E.g. a panel on current issues at 2008’s Nat’l Pastor’s Convention (with Scott McKnight, Tony Jones, Phyllis Tickle, & CT’s Andy Crouch) had no consensus from moral issues to Scripture’s nature; only that universalism was inconceivable**!** (N.T. Wright told me MacDonald misinterprets the Bible, though most admitted illiteracy on evangelical versions; but Baylor’s Roger Olson said his next book will survey universalism among evangelicals, which he expects to be the debate of this century!)

I now see your own “technical” arguments to mean that orthodox theists should most often be universalists, since it “follows logically” from their beliefs. I totally agree (even if questioning it as an “exclusive corollary” for us).

I do resonate with your remarks on the cross. And even get that a non-Trinitarian (by definition) can’t say it reveals God Himself (or HIS “payment”). Yet we imagine God himself can minister to us through others, and my discussion alternative was that “God was in Christ” such that in some lesser but valid way we might trust that he faithfully displays God’s character toward us.

I also agree that denying “omnipresence,” and affirming cosmic “dualism,” “polytheism,” human “self-existence,” or thinking salvation is “apart from God,” all play contrary to universalism. I just sense that some who lack Trinitarian metaphysics are convinced that they can also reject such things.

I agree that God’s crucial love is “intrinsic,” and “not amoral.” But you restate in several ways that this requires that God be an “interpersonal unity” to assume that his wrath will be “contingent on his love,” or to believe that He will “fulfill righteousness between persons.” Perhaps you could sequence the propositions that logically demand this conclusion.

I get that sometimes we skeptics delegate analysis to professionals, but comparing religious questions to trusting a “doctor” to know puzzles me. Don’t folk often defer to religious ‘authorities’ that they assume “know,” yet we’re then left with no basis for choosing among competing claims? Concerning ultimate issues, do you think there’s any substitute for personal responsibility to evaluate as best we are able to comprehend which convictions we’ll give our allegiance to?

I’m glad some like you can sort out the technical approach. My own conservative tradition burdens me that openess to a universal outlook mainly pivots on whether we bring in our interpretation of the Bible’s story a sense that God’s dominant character is gracious (I’ll summarize my simplistic “biblical” case under “Papers”). That’s why I’m especially grateful for the many exegetical insights that you have shared in other posts that bear on that.


Are you guys saying here that God can only BE love if he is able to interact with at least one other entity/personality in the Godhead? If so does that mean that we as created beings are the only entities that can be the object of God’s wrath (because I presume God the father can’t really ever have a reason to vent his wrath on God the son)? That could be construed as implying that we were created IN ORDER for God to have something to be wrathful with.

This will just be me not following very well :slight_smile:


I too may not follow well, and should let Jason clarify. But my perception is that Jason does affirm that for God to BE love, there must be interpersonal interaction within the one God. I’ve been stating that I doubt that and I’m unable to follow the logic of that. I believe Jason has implied that “wrath” is not similarly intrinsic to God’s essential nature in the way that love is, but is only something God may do. I would sympathize with that, and not see wrath as something that God needs to “vent,” or as contrary to his love, but indeed as an appropriate and redemptive expression of righteous love. Thanks for joining us in trying to puzzle it out!
Grace be with you - Bob


That certainly happens, unfortunately. Sigh. :wink:

Have you read the article I linked to (I think the post with the link was in ‘Articles’, though it might have been in ‘Soteriology’) where I noted a very curious statistical anomaly developing from a combination of polls intended (originally) to gauge how many new Baptist seminarian graduates, heading for pastoral positions, were Calvinist vs. Arm? A very significant number of them (almost half) denied being Calvinists while affirming a key belief (concerning the persistence of God in saving those He intends to save) that typically distinguishes Calvinism from Arminianism soteriologically.

I see signs of a shift to universalistic hope in high-level Roman Catholic Church commentary recently, too. I doubt they’ll ever formally pronounce in favor of it (too many in the tradition have been against it), but nowadays one often sees emphatic statements to the effect that God makes saving grace possible to everyone, including post-mortem (such as in the case of suicides), and seeks the salvation of everyone; and that it is legitimate for RCs to hope for the salvation of everyone.

That, and as a matter of practice I often see hyperorthodox Christians (such as myself) trending that way once they begin putting together the pieces and being disciplined enough about not denying tenets of orthodoxy in their subordinate theological positions (especially soteriology).

Thus, the more consistently orthodox theologians are, the closer they come to orthodox universalism, in my experience. They start believing in post-mortem salvation, for example, and begin to de-emphasize the necessity of correct doctrinal belief for purposes of salvation. (That last part explains why liberal anti-doctrinaires, responding against the historically popular brew of orthodoxy, gnosticism and hopeless condemnation, reject all three in rejecting the gnosticism or in rejecting the hopeless condemnation.)

Lesser, of course, is lesser. :wink: But that is why I emphasized that the question is whether Jesus is supposed to be the ultimate revelation of God or “should we be expecting another”? Jesus could in theory be the greatest preparation for the true gospel to come. But that’s hardly the tenor of the scriptural evidence.

Certainly! Muslims traditionally reject such things, too (and affirm omnipresence, sort of), for example. Any rigorous supernaturalistic theist would agree to affirm omnipresence and reject those other things. (Keeping in mind that… um… henotheism, I think it’s called, can be supernaturalistic theism with a subordinate set of deities that are also supernatural with respect to our natural system. The Judeo-Christian scriptures affirm that kind of henotheism; as do the Muslims for that matter.)

Originally I had a minor essay here on why the sheer monotheism of Islam would make for a serious stumbling block to universalism–but the forum has been having a lot of connection hiccups lately, and it died when I tried to save it. Argh…

In order to most reliably infer, actually; not in order to assume. Anyone can make an raw assumption or assertion. :wink:

As I noted (in several ways), if God is not an active interpersonal unity in His own self-existence, then His wrath need not necessarily have anything to do with His love (i.e. with acting to fulfill a cooperative coherent interpersonal relationship); moreover, His love would have nothing intrinsically to do with His own self-existent reality.

(As also noted, we also run instantly into the problem of God’s morality if sheer monotheism is true. Trinitarian theism, or at least binitarian, solves the infamous Euthyphro Dilemma; and it’s basically the only way to solve it without landing on one or the other horn of the Dilemma.)

If God is an active interpersonal relationship, though, then we can be fully assured, as a corollary, that all of God’s actions will be taken in conjunction with (and not against) this intrinsic characteristic of His. That includes wrath, which will be enacted with the goal of fulfilling love and justice in regard to the person who is the object of His wrath.

Oy, let’s see…

P(roposition)1.) Supernaturalistic theism is true. (Setting aside how one gets to this proposition, which would require prior metaphysical analysis.)

P2.) Theism involves intentional behavior at (and as) the foundation of all reality; distinct from atheism which involves either no behavior or only unintentional behavior at (and as) the foundation of all reality. (Also requires prior analysis.)

P3.) God is a self-begetting, self-begotten interpersonal unity. I.e. at least binitarian theism is true. (Should be established on prior analysis. Note that because the entity is singular and personal, singular-personal terms can be used in reference to the entity, which when being spoken of corporately should be considered singular. Notice connections to OT references to God.)

C(onclusion)1.) God’s self-begetting and self-begotten-ness involves intentional behavior at (and as) the foundation of all reality. (from P2, P3)

C2.) God’s self-begetting and self-begotten-ness involves intentional behavior at the foundation of His reality, too. (from P1 (if true, God is real), C1.) i.e., positive aseity is true: God depends upon His own action for self-existence.

P4.) Not-God entities exist. (Part of P1; i.e. pantheism isn’t true.)

P5.) Some not-God entities (included within P4) are also persons. (Should be established, insofar as possible, on prior analysis. Incidentally, I would analyze this proposition and counter-propositions before arriving at P1 etc. One result is the discovery that this can only be self-reflexively presumed, not proven; although hypothetical counter-presumptions can be analyzed and rejected as incompatible with claims tacitly made in argumentation.)

C3.) All not-God persons depend upon God’s intentional self-begetting and self-begotten behavior for existence, including as persons. (from C1, P5.)

C4.) God’s own self-existence depends on the Persons of God acting to fulfill cooperative interpersonal unity. (From P3 (God exists as an interpersonal unity), C2.)

C5.) God would cease to exist if any or all of the Persons acted against fulfilling cooperative interpersonal unity. (implied by C4.)

O(bservation)1.) I exist.

C6.) I can be sure God (in any Person or corporately) will never act against fulfilling cooperative interpersonal unity between persons. (from C3, C4, C5, O1.)

O2.) I sometimes act against fulfilling cooperative interpersonal unity between persons (i.e. against fair-togetherness, i.e. “unrighteously”).

C7.) I sometimes act against the foundation of all reality, including my own. (from O2, C3.)

C8.) My action against the foundation of all reality, including my own, leads to my cessation of existence, without intervention from God. (from C3, C5 (implied subordinate parallel), C7.)

C9.) God intervenes to save me, the doer of non-fair-togetherness, from cessation of existence (from O1, C7, C8.)

H(ypothesis)1.) God eventually chooses to allow me to cease to exist (at least as a person), or acts to take me (at least as a person) out of existence. (Note that this covers annihilationistic versions of Calvinistic soteriology as well as Arminianistic soteriology, practically speaking; the difference between the two being God’s original intention regarding the ultimate salvation of the sinner from sin.)

H2.) God keeps me in existence as a person; but either refuses to ever act to lead me to fair-togetherness, or else gives up acting toward this end. (Note that this covers non-annihilationistic versions of Calvinistic and Arminianistic soteriology. Note that “Calvinistic” and “Arminianistic” are meant to broadly cover principly similar doctrinal sets of salvation and condemnation in groups or denominations not historically Calvinist or Arminian per se.)

H3.) God keeps me in existence as a person; and persistently acts to lead me to fair-togetherness with other persons (including with Himself).

O3.) If H1, then contra C6.

O4.) If H2, then contra C6.

O5.) If H3, then no contradictions through C9.

C10.) If set through C9 is true, and if set H1-3 is exhaustive as a response from God to my sin, then H3 must be true.

Not at all. The basis for choosing among competing claims has already been made in your example: I believe X because my preacher/teacher/whoever says it is true, and I have some reason (possibly weak or misled though that reason may be! :wink: ) to expect them to know what is true and what is not, on X topic.

The vast majority of our personal knowledge (accurate or faulty though that may be) falls into this category.

Nope, unless the substitute is not having any rational thought at all on a particular topic. :wink: But personal responsibility to evaluate as best as we are able to comprehend, etc., includes deference to authority.

Consequently, personal responsibility to evaluate, etc., increases proportionately (exponentially?) for teachers and experts. Because other people are depending on us. (Whether or not we hold officially paid teaching/expert positions, which btw I don’t. :wink: )

Well, in Greek (and the same is true in Hebrew, if I recall, but this is especially true in Biblical Greek), the word for ‘grace’ is literally ‘joy’ (plus cognates and compound words thereof). And freely given joy would be the dominant character of an orthodox Trinitarian God; especially including the 3rd Person–Who, you may recall, has a special Biblical connection to charism and things of that sort. :smiley: Note also that the underlying term means to glow or shine; the way a fire does. Note again the connection between {char} and what we call ‘char’–the result of burning. Not so great when we’re talking about a natural process; but something very different when we’re talking about the result of our God the Consuming Fire!

(For then we have salt in ourselves, and will be at peace with one another.)


Almost. I’m saying God can only BE love if God (singularly) consists of at least two Persons (corporately–note the connection to the Shema proclamation of YHWH as AeCHad, a corporate unity) Whose personal interactions with one another are what God’s own self-existence depends upon.

i.e., one of the Persons would be God self-begetting; and one of the Persons would be God self-begotten; but the distinct Persons would be of one substance (as the old orthodox debators put it.)

Pretty much, yep; I’d agree with that.

In theory one or the other Person could have a reason to be wrathful against the other Person, but that would involve an action having been taken that would consequently schism the self-existent unity of God. Resulting in the non-existence of God and of everything else in existence that depends upon Him. You should note that this leads to one strategy for rebel entities who think they could be self-existent if God wasn’t “oppressing” them: introduce a schism between the Father and the Son! This has a lot of relevance to your question about the temptation in the wilderness, btw.

I do affirm however that it isn’t impossible for one of the Persons to thus ‘sin’ against another of the Persons. I only affirm that it’s impossible for God to do this and still exist, much less the past, present and future of any natural system dependent upon God for existence; and since we’re still here to discuss the matter (and since on other grounds I know I am a derivative entity who cannot be self-existent), I can be sure God will never act in that fashion. Any appearances to the contrary must have another explanation than that.

Note that my affirmation here allows me to consistently claim that in sinning we are not doing something technically impossible for God. It’s just something we can be sure God never has done, does do or will do (from our temporal perspectives.)

Not if trinitarian (or at least binitarian) theism is true. Maybe if other kinds of monotheism are true; but if trinitarian theism is true, then God’s wrath is only contingent upon His love, and His primary goal in creation must be to love His creation. Even His wrath would be an expression of His love toward the person, in the long run.

However, if any other kind of monotheism is true, then I honestly don’t know how we could have any assurance that God didn’t create something IN ORDER to be ultimately wrathful to it.

Notice, btw, that one of these positions comports with Calvinistic ideas about the damned, and one of these positions absolutely doesn’t… :mrgreen:


I’m following but not sure I grasp it all. Entertain my thoughts here.
a) God is infinte
b) God is love
c) God never changes
therfore - God has always had inter-relationship within himself prior to ANY creation.

Perhaps I’m not even close to understanding this conversation (LOL!) :slight_smile:



I think that’s exactly what I’ve seen argued here and elsewhere. I see it as trying to apply human concepts of love (after all, can’t have love without a buncha’ people, right?) to God (God is love - therefore God must be a buncha’ people) :wink:


But what about the command to love your neighbour as you love yourself which would imply that it is possible for a single entity to experience love without other entities?

And in fact that would make the template for loving others self-love.

On a lighter note - Jason your paragraph here

reminds me of this fron The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy :slight_smile:


Yup. But with the trinity concept it becomes a sort of “me, myself and I” love fest. :mrgreen:


By the way all - please excuse my irreverence. I really do not intend to be offensive or belittling in my attitude. I do have a tendency to take concepts and look at them from a different angle or just boil them down to their simplest form which can sometimes come across as a bit silly or insulting.

I only take real world love and justice seriously and am always light hearted when discussing theological concepts. :slight_smile:


  • Byron