Is Universalism the New Social Justice?

Its sad to say but in recent years it has become quite fashionable to focus on the place of the poor and marginalised in our society – well to talk about it – because the hard cold reality is much different to the romantic notions.

In the last 10 years the ‘social gospel’ as it was once called has become quite mainstream. No longer is it just for dreadlocked hippie radicals or aging Uniting church women – it has come on the radar of most churches and the ‘social gospel’ is no longer ‘liberal’ territory, but rather an integral part of most protestant churches.

Who’d have thought it?…

For some reason we now believe that acts of kindness are actually intrinsically valuable rather than being simply hooks to lure people to faith. (I grew up in the old world and have seen and participated in the shift so I am not having a dig at anyone here!)

As we look back its quite sad to see how wide of the mark we were with our understanding and how further wide we were with our action. Of course the challenge now is to translate current rhetoric into more substantial action, but that’s another story.

The reason for this post is to ask about how theological shifts occur and what drives them. Clearly there has been a theological shift on this issue of justice and compassion and no one would doubt its validity (I think…)

What other shifts are in the wind for conservative evangelicals and more importantly why do we shift?

Evangelicals are well known as ‘people of the book’, nice in theory, but in practice I would tend to suggest it is much more complex than that. We are people of the book as it is read at this place in history. I wish it were as simple as God’s words speaking to us clearly from the pages, but we are deeply influenced by our culture and we need to be aware of this.

I mentioned previously that I was involved in a unit on The History and Form of Evangelicalism at the Baptist Theological College in Perth. I audited the unit and did it simply for the ‘fun’ of it. And it was great fun, talking and wrestling with the issues we face and will face in this diverse movement. (As an aside if you thought ’emerging church’ was hard to define try defining ‘evangelical’!)

Perhaps one of the most telling realisations for me was that despite our ‘people of the book’ rhetoric we are deeply influenced by our surrounding culture and without exception evangelicalism has morphed in different ways to reflect the culture. The problem is that we aren’t usually aware of this element forming us because our culture is the ‘sea we swim in’.

If we look at the church in the 20th Century we see a church that was deeply influenced by the rationality and fact based nature of modernity. It gave form to much of our understanding of the Bible and we debated long and hard over fine points of truth and the questions of inerrancy etc. We saw those issues as vital because questions of empirical proof mattered to the surrounding world we lived in.

As we discussed shifts in evangelicalism in our class we observed some quite radical shifts even in our own lifetime. For example in many churches women are now allowed to be in leadership, and divorced people are not just allowed in leadership, but as pastors.

Did the Bible change?

Do we just understand it ‘better’ now, or has our culture pushed us to shift this way?

I think we’d like to say we have come to better understanding, but I wonder if it wasn’t our culture nudging us and actually propelling us? I wonder if in 20 years time we won’t have also shifted our views on homosexual relationships to accomodate the shift if culture.

Don’t laugh – who’d have thought we would be so open to divorced people in ministry 50 years ago? I imagine this shift will gradually creep into churches and one day we will wonder what all the fuss was about. (I say that as a person who holds pretty conservative views on the topic.)

Which brings me to the question of universalism.

I am not an expert on this subject so I won’t purport to know more than I do here! However what I do observe is both greater openness to this concept than before, as well as some level of acceptance amongst those who would be part of mainstream Christianity.

And so I find myself wondering… is this going to be one of the next significant theological shifts for the evangelicals?…

During the course I was informed by the principal of the college that the dominant view of hell among evangelical scholars these days is ‘annhilationism’ where people simply ‘cease to exist’ rather than living in eternal torment. This is quite a shift in the centre of gravity of this topic alone from 20-30 years ago – a shift I was unaware of being removed from academia.

Are we going to see a soteriological shift to match it as universalism becomes more popular?

The primary reason for the shift in view of Hell (Brian tells me) has been a response to our notion of God and the struggle to see a loving God even allowing for eternal torment – an idea our culture would find abhorrent. So if that one has happened what’s to stop a shift to universalism in some of its different forms becoming popular around our churches, because no one likes a gospel where some in get in and others get left out… A palatable form of universalism may well emerge as we try to accommodate this issue in our culture.

To get you thinking here’s a post by a Baptist Theological College lecturer in the UK asking this question.

Of course the question then emerges ‘how do we deal with this and other theological shifts?’

Do we go with them, or do we resist them and fight them? How do we respond with integrity?

As I spoke with Danelle about this last night we both saw ourselves growing into those older people in church who shake their heads and lament the state of the church ‘these days’. The people today who still frown at divorcees and women in leadership, may well be the anti-universalism people in 30 years time…

Of course we could just go with the flow…

35 thoughts on “Is Universalism the New Social Justice?

  1. Lee Camp writes that we all see the world through lenses. These lenses come from our culture, history and other biases so we never view anything subjectively.

    I think that when we read Scripture we view it through a certain lens (or plural) and therefore read them into it.

    I think the Bible is an eternal document that stays the same, just that we emerge and grow and change in our understanding of it.

    I think we are moving from searching for an “one interpretation of the Bible” mindset. How is it that we can get ten people to read a passage and get ten different responses. One of the flaws of evangelicalism is that we think we have the right answer. It’s quite a heavy thing to say that we understand God totally. Pretty arrogant as well.

    I’m not sure about other shifts, need to think more.

  2. Big Questions Hamo,

    there is a lot of shifting going on….

    Some of it has to do with words and definitions and labels shifting…like the old “fundamentalist” tag which used to be synonymous with evangelical but now has parted company in common use. Language does that kind of thing which is ok, as long as we all speak the same language. (We need to listen more and speak less, that is a note to myself)

    Lots of the shifting has put the “gelly” back into evangelical…I would want to respectfully suggest that a number of the big issues you raised,(social gospel, homosexual practise, universalism) are not evangelical ideas but post evangelical. The movement is shifting towards a different Gospel.

    The undergirding issue is the doctrine of Scripture and revelation which shapes the thinking on all those presenting issues.

    In my circles it is fashionable to speak of open evangelicals and closed evangelicals…again this distinction comes down to a doctrine of Revelation and Scripture…Are there fresh stirrings of the Spirit apart from his Word, or does God speak through his Word by his Spirit to a new generation. In evangelicalworld that looks like Tom Wright et. al on one hand Don Carson, Stott, Packer on the other…

    Some of the shifts are made by wolves in sheep’s clothing, Paul has a bit to say about that kind of thing in Galatians, or Peter in 2 Peter…

    let’s put the evangel back into evangelical !


    Putting the fun back into fundamentalism

  3. Gaz bringing up Lee Camp (my mentor and professor for biblical ethics at Uni) is really interesting regarding what you are raising Hamo.

    The options in the mainstream Christian mind I think lack the imagination of the good news of the kingdom of God. Often we are asked to chose between a message that is good news ‘merely for individuals’ or a message that is good news ‘merely for society’. Are they our only options?

    What Dr. Lee Camp shows us is that Scripture, the Early Church and many movements throughout history call us to something much more, they call us to “Mere Discipleship”

    If we start with the wrong questions we are sure to get answers that wont help.

    Here’s a review of Lee’s book:

    And here are some kind words from Shane Claiborne about what us Peace Tree Community crew and EPYC are doing to flame our imagination of the kingdom of God:

    I think it’s time to move from what’s popular (be it liberal or conservative) to what’s faithful and prophetic. The future of the church is in the church being the church.

  4. Note to Gaz:

    Gaz said:

    “I think we are moving from searching for an “one interpretation of the Bible” mindset….”

    This is a shift away from an evangelical understanding of Scripture and Revelation. I would not call that evangelical. You ought to feel free not to be evangelical rather than shift the meaning of what an evangelical is. Post-evangelical seems more appropriate.

    …But that is me working with my definitions, it is not about being arrogant it is about working with particular definitions


  5. Good questions Hamo! As per Gaz’s comments, the power of our “lens” cannot be underestimated. God’s word does not change but our lens can. There are many examples of this throughout history.

    I think that one of the overriding lens’s that has been passed on to me (and many others)through my years in Sunday school and church is the view that ultimately everything boils down to whether we will spending eternity in heaven or hell. In my process of trying to reduce the power of this lens and increase the effect of looking through a lens more oriented towards a “Kingdom of God” theology, it is amazing how certain passages in the Bible can take on a whole different meaning.

    It is a very interesting exercise to work your way through the gospels noting all the times that Jesus refers to Hell and judgment. What is the behaviour Jesus refers to, the consequence and the point he is making? I, for one, arrive at a very different picture to the one presented to me in my formative “church” years.

    Universalism is a loaded word and I know that I have previously misunderstood it to mean a pluralistic “all roads lead to heaven” view. I now understand this is not where this teaching is coming from at all. I found this post entitled “Can an evangelical be a universalist?” to help clarify the issue for me:

    I believe there has already been a theological shift in this area over recent years and that this will continue with positive results in many areas – including mission.

    I look forward to the ongoing conversation…

  6. Does it really matter what label we give ourselves?

    If as Hamo argues, we are changing our stance on certain issues, then surely the label’s (if we choose to use them) will change as well.

    Are we still going to have evangelical’s in 100 years time? Post-moderns, moderns, pentecostals etc? I doubt it and don’t care. I’m not trying to push a certain line of thought, merely trying to follow Jesus.

    Isn’t that what it’s all about.

  7. Tolerance is now seen as one of the most important values in today’s society. As Christians we need to determine how we understand tolerance in the light of Scripture otherwise our theology will be moulded by society and we will end up with a “Jesus said, I am one of the ways…” type of thinking.

  8. My understanding of universalism is that it states that Jesus is the only way and that no-one can be reconciled with God except through him but that the opportunity for reconciliation extends beyond this life time.

    In 1 Timothy it says that God wants all men to be saved and that Jesus has “unlimited patience”.

    One day every knee will bow at Jesus name and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

  9. Perhaps what gets questioned in our theological shifts is our pre-suppositions and how they are formed.

    As Gaz says we all come with lenses but whether we are fully aware of the lenses or even aware of how we obtained the lenses is another issue.

    I find it extremely difficult to think outside of the framework I was raised in and yet if I am to learn then I need to be able to see things differently. Whether I finish up in agreenance is another issue again.

    I have always had an aversion to universalism, partly from my reading of scripture and partly because it has been a disparaging term in the circles I have been a part of.

    I must say for me to shift to that view would be quite a significant leap.

    I understand what Andrew says about the implications for mission (positive) but I also think it offers some negative implications.

    Too many passages of scripture leave me wondering how they fit in a universalistic worldview ‘ the road is narrow and few find it’…

  10. I have been reading the article Andrew linked to above

    and the core of it is that although they hold all other beliefs in common with evangelicals, ‘evangelical universalists’ differ from the mainstream in two respects:

    (a they believe that death is not a point of no return. In other words, it is possible for those in hell to cast themselves upon God’s mercy (made available through Christ) and be saved.

    (b)They believe that in the end everyone will do this and there will be no people left in hell.

    This seems to be a very ‘right wing’ brand of universalism and the author acknowledges that there are many other forms.

    Unfortunately he doesn’t give biblical reference points for his two theories. I would have been interested to read them.

    I do still wonder to what degree this shift is an accomodation to pomo culture and a ‘fluid truth’ context?

  11. It does kind of leave open the option for people to subscribe to that belief and behave abominably knowing they’ll have a second chance – the redemption of Pol Pot sounds fun.

  12. One of the big shifts of “late” has been the fluidity of definition. In a post-modern world, language becomes a major focus,with “meanings” becoming many things to many people.

    In light of this recent change, we can spend a lot of time worrying about the current common place practice of shifting long-standing definitions of some of our most precious meanings and traditions, often resulting in a de-frocking of that which many hold precious and sacred.

    But what if we see most of our language and tradition and theology as all it was ever intended to be – i.e. “signposts” to the source of all Truth and Life?

    Maybe then we wouldn’t protect our individual tradition’s signposts with such venomous defences, instead celebrating in the actualization of their purposes being fulfilled, both inside our groups as well as outside of it.

    Do we really think that as “protectors of the truth” that we are more authorised to discern it that others? That our definitions are somehow more right than someone else’s?

    Throughout history, those with the power to control the dominant discourses (both inside and outside of church) have always seemed to locate themselves within the truth “camp”, and those different to them as outside it and “wrong”.

    I don’t mind the idea that often we all disagree, and sometimes with an immovable passion – but to claim that my version of the truth (which as Hamo suggests is constantly shifting throughout time) is the right version and yours is wrong because it opposes mine, is a bit of a stretch.

    And in the case of “homosexuality” – why wait for later Hamo – the arguments within and without evangelicalism have been rife for years – Tony Campolo is a classic evangelical who believes wholeheartedly the bible supports monogomous homosexual life commitments (read “marriage”).

    So, the shifts that are to come in the church will, as they always have, reflect the current whims of the greater society. I am thankful to be alive at a time when the grip of modernism is slowly losing its hold within the church

    The fact is, the Truth will set you free and when you are free, no amount of definitions and theologies can pry you from your liberation.

  13. Grendel – This is where universalism as I have known it does get really silly.

    I think the more ‘right leaning’ view that is being propounded suggests that Pol Pot etc get a second chance after death…

    Hope for you yet mate 🙂

  14. Interesting post Hamo

    Hey Grendal that is a very pertinent call. What about Pol Pot indeed? I feel we would be hard-pressed to find a universalist Christian in Rwanda, Cambodia, the Sudan etc. Not because they are bitter, although they may well be, but because of their heightened sense of the need for justice.

    I can’t help going back to Romans 1 and the issue of God handing people over to what they want. There is both an active and passive element to this. God hands them over, but it would be the decision they want anyway. I think it was Jarrod on this very blog who pertinently mentioned that most people want heaven without God. You can pretty much say that that would, in fact, be hell.

    The annihilationist view gives me a lot of comfort, but unfortunately I don’t believe it despite my wish for it to be so, because I just can’t see it in the Bible. I have no desire for people who reject God to end up in eternal hell. But there is no intellectual integrity in, as some in the evangelical world are doing, setting up a strawman scenario such as the following:

    Scary fundy Christian (the other person) preaches hot, screaming torment-filled hell with glee, while warm, friendly Christian (me/aka the author) preaches a variety of annihilationism or even universalism with sobriety.

    I hate the idea of hell insofar as friends, family, and yes, strangers, ending up there. But that’s why I want to tell people about God’s great love to us in Jesus – in that he is willing to give us what we don’t deserve to save us from what we do deserve. And the great irony is that Jesus would be a far lesser person to me if hell did not exist. Why? He had no reason to impress on us the need to pluck out eyes, cut off hands or the such, if he knew all along it would all be okay in the end. It was all just a power-play to ensure we went along with his ideas, rather than the Romans, the mainstream Jews, or the Greeks.

  15. In reference to Grendel’s comment: “It does kind of leave open the option for people to subscribe to that belief and behave abominably knowing they’ll have a second chance – the redemption of Pol Pot sounds fun.”

    1) I think this same logic could apply in some ways to a non-universalistic view where a person has lived an abominable life as a murderer or whatever and then repents later in life or on their death bed. The Pharisees didn’t like Jesus for this very reason. He kept extending grace to people who in their opinion didn’t deserve it.

    2) What is the difference between Jesus extending grace to someone 10 minutes before they die or 10 minutes after they die?

    3) If the main reason for following Jesus is only to go to heaven after we die I think we have missed much of the intent of his message.

    Hamo, the verse from Matthew 7 in relation to the narrow and wide paths is an interesting one. I have always applied my heaven/hell lens to interpreting this passage but when I have reviewed it recently I have noticed in the NIV that it uses the words “life” and “destruction”. I wonder whether this statement by Jesus could possibly have a wider application to this life now rather than just the post-death, “end result” theology that has previously been so prevalent in my biblical interpretations. The lens is powerful 🙂

  16. I agree with Andrew.

    The only difference I see between the universalist and fundamentalist position on second chance theory is the where the line is drawn. In terms of practical theology – the two proponents could just about get away with living identical lives and still be able to pull their ‘get out of jail’ card when needed.

    This further re-enforces the folly (or grace; depending on your viewpoint) of both understandings.

    The question for me then moves to what the idea of death really meant to Jesus. Was he thinking positionally?, procedurally? When was someone really dead in Jesus mind when he spoke the post death warnings?

  17. Just another comment in relation to Steve’s post: “And the great irony is that Jesus would be a far lesser person to me if hell did not exist. Why? He had no reason to impress on us the need to pluck out eyes, cut off hands or the such, if he knew all along it would all be okay in the end.”

    1) Universalists don’t say that hell doesn’t exist. They also agree with the ideas of judgment and punishment. I quote Richard Beck from

    “Thus, many universalists endorse a robust vision of punishment and hell. However, to maintain their commitment to God’s goodness, they view Hell as teleological punishment aimed at rehabilitation. Hell, therefore, like a parent’s punishment, is a gift, a hard and difficult gift, but a gift nonetheless. For only through rehabilitation can the person be reconciled to God. We can call this the teleological vision of Hell.”

    2) If I know my child has faith in Jesus and heaven is their destiny, do I still impress on them the importance of looking both ways before they cross the road or not getting into cars with strangers? Just because I know there final destination is secure, does not mean I do not go to extreme measures to warn them about dangers and possible suffering along the way. I still think Jesus had good reason to warn us of the consequences of sin even if (according to a universalist understanding) at the end of our journey (no matter how long it may take) we will be with him.

    Just for the record, I don’t necessarily subscribe wholeheartedly to a Universalist soteriology at present but I am definitely viewing this understanding of salvation through a much different lens than I did say 12 months ago.

    I agree with Hamo when he says “I find it extremely difficult to think outside of the framework I was raised in and yet if I am to learn then I need to be able to see things differently.”

    How can we even begin to pry these lenses from our eyes which seem to be so rigidly stuck in place? Do we even want to?

    For me the key is to take a real interest in hearing and understanding another persons viewpoint rather than immediately thinking of ways to correct their misconceptions. Easier said than done 🙂

  18. One of the shifts in church teaching that rings true is the Kingdom of Heaven being a reality that also exists this side of death (a more Hebraic understanding). If Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom of Heaven is about more than where we go when we die, don’t those teachings have even more to say on how we should live than even “turn or burn”?

    Besides Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom of Heaven, why did Jesus suffer and die a horrific death? In order that we may live the same self-centred lives?

    Why should we not sin?

    Why must Jesus be the way, the truth and the life?

    Why must God be God?

  19. Sin kills. Jesus came to rescue us from sin. Not just from sin-guilt, but from sin. (Romans stuff).

    What I don’t get is, if we don’t want to live with and for God in this life, why the hell do we think we’ll want to in the next?

  20. Hey Andrew K – a well considered post, but surely the rehabilitative understanding of justice that is currently the way we view things is skewing your vision. Is there no such thing as retributive justice? The Bible seems to speak of both. Once again I say this with a certain amount of trembling, as the idea of a God who is retributive is a scary one, though not for all that, any less true.

  21. Andrew, isn’t the point of Christianity that we suffer because we follow Jesus not because we don’t? The point of the gospel is “suffer now, glory later” because that’s the way Jesus did it. The whole weight of scripture (check Heb 11) is that “enduring the pleasures of sin for a season” is your ticket to exclusion from the kingdom because of the refusal to suffer now.

    I agree about the lenses that we wear Andrew, but biblical lenses are not as bad as they are cracked up to be,IMHO, and the lenses of 21st century culture don’t seem to be doing a whole lot for this crazy mixed up western world. Everyone’s looking through a set of lenses, it’s just whether we’re willing to admit it or not

  22. Alex, at some point for most of us (unless we were brought up in the church loving God) there was a time when we did not want to live with God. And then at some stage God’s amazing grace broke through into our lives and we began to see things more clearly. Universalists contend that this amazing, unlimited grace will eventually break through into everyones lives at which point they will also want to live with God.

    Steve, the issue of rehabilitative v retributive justice is an interesting one and in some ways I think depends on how we understand the character of God through Scripture. A related issue that fits in with this discussion is how an infinite punishment for a finite offense is “just”. In the OT God defines justice as “an eye for an eye”. It ensures punishment/offense proportionality. In the NT Jesus takes this a step further and says we are to love our enemies.

    Steve, you also say that our biblical lenses are not as bad as they are cracked up to be. The problem with this view is that many honest, thoughtful, intelligent Christians believe they see with a “biblical lens” and arrive at contradictory conclusions. Those who believe in a universalist soteriology do so because they believe this is the most honest and complete reading of the biblical narrative.

    Although many will argue that universalists are reading scripture through a post modern 21st century lens, it could also be argued that those who view God as one who meters out retributive punishment to the majority of his creation through an infinite time in hell are still viewing scripture through a medieval lens which has also been influenced from a cultural mindset of a different time.

  23. The restorative justice concept is very 21st C and must impact our view to some extent, just as the more hard lined 20th C modernistic approach did.

    I’d be interested to know what biblical material universalists use for their second chance theology.

    Is there a biblical framework for seeing the afterlife as firstly a chance to ‘repent’?

    I find that hard to come to grips with for those who have willingly told God to butt out of their lives.

    I find it an easier concept for those who have never heard.

    But I am not sure where I would locate it biblically… Any ideas?…

  24. I should add that my interest is less in universalism per se and more in how we form theological understanding.

    I have to admit I see it shifting with culture and it does make you wonder how true our view of truth is at times.

    I am not saying you can’t know things with a degree of certainty, but in recent years my certainty has increasingly been accompanied by a necessary humility.

  25. Hey Hamo – think you hit the nail on the head on that last point.

    The issue really is how we form theological understanding. The comments so far demonstrate that many post-ers are coming to their conclusions from vastly different perspectives (see mine and Andrew K’s interchanges for example). For those who take the Bible seriously, and that seems to be most who post on your site, otherwise the arguments wouldn’t be so vigorous, the question has to be asked “Can we come to some conclusion about what the original intent of the author/Author of the biblical text meant?” In my understanding of how language works, we most certainly can, and I would ask everyone who feels up to it to read through Kevin Vanhoozer’s “Is there a meaning in this text”, and “First Theology” to see how important this is to our epistemology. We don’t simply derive meaning from the words of a text, but from what the words in that text do – which sounds pretty much like something God said through Isaiah!

    Despite the morass of meanings we think exist the opposite is more often the case. I find that non-christians who have read the Bible and rejected it are far more honest “readers” than many who have grown up in the church, because they feel under no obligation to agree with the text, or find ways to feel comfortable with what it says. If we also believe in the perspicuity of scripture, its “understandableness” if you like, then we have to say that God can and has spoken to us in such a way that we can draw true conclusions. Not comprehensive conclusions, by no means, but certainly we can know some things truly. Otherwise God’s ultimate communicative act – Jesus his final Word – is unable to reveal God to us in any meaningful and saving way, yet Jesus clearly says that to have seen him is to have seen the Father. Jesus was more than confident that, despite their dullness, the disciples could take a “true reading” about what God was like by observing Jesus. You see in the end it’s not simply about how langauge works, or how we come to theological conclusions it’s about how relationships work. We come to “true readings” of people all of the time, not ultimate readings, but as I said before, true nonetheless.

    CS Lewis was well ahead of his time when he said that windows are made to look through – that’s their task. But he noted that we are meant to look through them and see something. When we end up treating everything like a window we end up seeing through everything (the post-modern conundrum), and when we end up seeing through everything what do we end up seeing? Nothing!

  26. i think some of the windows of this post-modern context are serving their purpose very well – in that people are curiously looking through them to the Beyond.

    I think sometimes the more modern tendency has been to get stuck looking at the window frame, admiring its beauty and construction, thinking this is its point instead of simply framing the Other view.

    Maybe the view from one window in the house is simply just part of the picture, and to look through another window may indeed offer another angle from which to learn.

    But the multiplicity of views available still fall far short of the glory of that which is trying to be viewed and comprehended.

    i say, let people look through whatever window is accessible to them; for the eyes of their heart will see that which they hope for, but cannot believe – the Father running towards them before they even knew they were lost.

    Isn’t the “giving” the role (and heart’s desire) of the Father, and the “looking/asking”(regardless of the window) the role of the son?

  27. I’m not sure if there has been a culture shift. We’ve always wanted the benefits of a loving, all-powerful Father without the discipline of a loving, all-powerful Father. But is overindulgence love?

    And, while much of the church has shifted within our lifetime, surely there has always been ebbs and flows within the people of God to want to be popular to the world around us while trying to maintain a sense of purity and purpose as the people of God.

    How does one handle these shifts? I suppose it depends on our ability to maintain focus on following everything Jesus commanded. The same Saviour who forgave sins is the same Lord who commands us to sin no more.

  28. “I’d be interested to know what biblical material universalists use for their second chance theology.”

    Hamo, although my understanding of Universalist theology is limited I think it could probably be more aptly described as “unlimited mercy” rather than the provision of a “second chance”.

    Throughout the OT God is continually giving his chosen people a “second chance”. They rebel, he punishes, they repent he extends mercy…over and over again. Jesus even uses the example of forgiving 70 x 7. This is not just a 2nd chance but a third and fourth and…

    As far as I am aware Universalist soteriology is based less on proof texts than on overall biblical theology – not unlike the doctrine of the trinity.

    Some initial texts for review though would probably be:

    Romans 11: 25-32

    Romans 5

    1 Corinthians 15

    1 Peter 3:18-20 and 4:6 are also interesting.

    “I find that hard to come to grips with for those who have willingly told God to butt out of their lives.”

    What about those who have grown up in “the church” and may have had a skewed picture of God (for a variety of reasons) and in effect have told God (or at least their view of him) to butt out. Later on in life they discover a relationship with Jesus as if they have never really met him before. I have heard this story repeated numerous times in different settings. Is this any more difficult to come to grips with?

    As Simon said in an earlier post, is not the issue to do with where we draw the line rather than second chances or whether or not people deserve to go to heaven? Are we viewing time through God’s eyes or ours?

    “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:8-9

    As I said earlier, I am only thinking through these issues myself and have not come to any definite conclusions in my own mind. I am merely offering these comments for the purpose of fostering the discussion and hopefully bringing some clarity to some of these issues 🙂

  29. Its alright mate – I won’t think you’re a heretic if you don’t think me one!

    I am always happy to discuss, but despite the conversation so fa I am a long way from convinced.

    I guess one other issue I would raise is the history and trad of the church which does not seem to view universalism favourably.

    I can almost hear you say ‘but in the past we have been wrong on other stuff too…’

    And you’d be right, but on an issue as big as this I will be moving very slowly!

  30. I think we should be careful not to push an analogy too far. But having done so “otherendup” there would seem to be far more modernist in your response than you would care for. You assume there are other windows in the house. How could you possibly say with confidence that there were, since a postmodern “epistemology” rejects this possibility? It all sounds similar to the blind men and the elephant routine, in which the very point of the story – that none of us can see the whole truth – is undermined by the narrator’s insistence that they alone have a God’s eye view of both the whole elephant and all of the blind men. Lewis’s point was not a modernist one at all – if anything he of all those in his era rejoiced in the mystery of the world and of God. His concern was that no one would ever arrive at any truth, and his suspicion was that, for whatever reason, they did not want to. Now the point of arriving at truth is not to enslave you, but, as Jesus said, to set you free. Modernists get it wrong when the arrive at truth for truth’s sake. Post-modernists get it wrong when they say that all truth-claims are enslaving, because Jesus is the ultimate liberator.

    Besides what if one of those windows in the house is the window gazed through by the confessional church of Germany in the late 1930’s/early 1940’s who backed Hitler? Who is to say that their enacting of the Scriptures is not valid? Why should we universalise our experiences to negate theirs? This is Vanhoozer’s example, by the way, and he puts it far more eloquently than I.

  31. Steve,

    don’t we all come from some part of a church tradition that totally skewed its version of the Truth, whether intended or not, for its own gain, including – constantine, the crusades, colonisation of Australia, the prosperity doctrine, conservative evangelicals, the just war theology, right-wing fundamentalists, left-wing liberalists, etc, etc???

    personally i think you’ve missed the point of the blind man and the elephant – it’s a metaphor that recognises the reality of the elephant ie. “God” and merges it with the reaity of our limitations ie. our inability to see beyond our own immediate situation “touch”. the author is not claiming to be beyond God, but simply highlighting the arrogance, or ignorance, of the blind man who proposes to know the whole truth about that which he is fumbling to describe.

    i’m sweet with people defending their “window” with rigour and passion, but to deny the possible validity of other windows, based simply on our personal conviction/belief/tradition, places us precisely in that place you described – raising ourselves beyond God.

    I tend to veer away from the Modernist’s driven-ness to name, to label… ultimately to “know”, because i sense within that driven-ness, a desire and a need to control God, in order to locate ourselves within our own understanding and belief.

    This is why I’m not so fussed about windows, houses, sacred books, churches, temples, religions, one chance/two chances, teachers, prophets or even elephants – If it is truly the Spirit of Truth that stirs and convicts a person’s heart, and in response to that stirring and conviction, a person (re)connects with this Truth/God/Jesus, I just find it unecessary to consider myself in a position to make a judgement on whether that process was valid or acceptable.

    But this is where i have begun to reconsider my traditional western evangelical roots of needing to save the world personally, and to know whether someone is going to end up in hell or heaven after they die.

    Thanks for the ongoing engagement 😉

  32. sorry Steve,

    when i say you have missed the point of the elephant and the blindman I know you recognise the point of the story is what I said – I just totally disagree twith you when you suggest hat the narrator undermines the story in the way you suggest.

    The narrator simply occupies the the position of the story teller – just like those who told the parables – they sit beyond the story in, the seat of “wisdom”, pointing to the Truth beyond us all.

    sorry bout that…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *