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The Bible and Universalism

GregMacd.jpgRobin Parry’s major focus, in his book The Evangelical Universalist  , is a biblical case for (evangelical belief in) universalism (not the same as pluralism). One of the good points about this book is that Parry ponders what he’s doing — so he lays out what would be needed in order to make a biblical case for universalism.

First, it must be positively supported by Scripture and that means (1) that it can be explicitly taught in Scripture — and he’ll look at texts like Rom 5:18; 1 Cor 15:22; Col 1:20; Phil 2:11 [not enough look at 2 Cor 5:14 but that’s another issue] and/or (2) that it can be reasonably inferred from what is explicitly taught, a very common way our theology has been formed, and (3) that it is consistent with the biblical narrative — and he sketches a classic view: that God’s intent is to redeem all of creation [more of that later]. Furthermore, universalism can only be supported if it does not conflict with what is explicitly taught in Scripture — and he refers to the hell passages like Matt 25:45; 2 Thess 1:6-9; Rev 14:11 and 20:10-15.
There are universalistic sounding passages (no one disputes they “sound” universalistic) and there are hell passages. Big question: Why has the tradition shaped the universalistic sounding passages by the hell passages and not the other way around?

Parry poses three statements from Thomas Talbott that illustrate method issues — namely that Scripture can be brought in to support each but they are not equally affirmed by all:

1. It is God’s redemptive purpose for the world to reconcile all sinners to himself (Arminians, Universalists).
2. It is within God’s power to achieve his redemptive purpose for the world (Calvnists, Universalists).
3. Some sinners will never be reconciled … leading to endless hell or annihilation (Calvnists, Arminians).
The texts that are used to support each proposition are then interpreted by each group in light of the propositions with which they agree and think are more fundamental.
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posted December 28, 2009 at 7:57 am

Scot, you asked, “Why has the tradition shaped the universalistic sounding passages by the hell passages and not the other way around?” I think the answer is because so many people WANT some people to be tormented forever…again, think Hitler, Stalin and the like. They think God would not be “just” to let people who did such evil things into heaven or into God’s presence. But Robin makes the point in his book that God is just because God is love and mercy. Also, I think some people think that there are enough people in the world who foolishly and wrong-headedly would do evil if there was an ending to their time in hell, not understanding the effects of their evil acts on themselves, other people and upon the torment that they will experience upon death.
I did finish the book and I think I can say that I am a hopeful universalist, maybe even leaning toward hopeful dogmatic universalist as he says he is. It’s interesting that near the end of the book he gives a list of some famous Christians who he considers to be hopeful universalists and he includes Pope John Paul II and he refers us to this page at for quotations from JPII that would indicate this to be true. (Robin, do you know whose website that is? When I started looking at the various titles of the subpages, I thought it looked like it may be an “off the wall” kind of place, but then I read the person’s personal view of Christian Universalism at and the writer sounds fine.)
Robin, I hope you can write here at the end of this discussion the last paragraph you wrote in the book before you began your Appendix section. I thought that was very compelling.

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posted December 28, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Robin (or Scot),
How would an Evangelical Universalist understand Romans 10:17? Or John 14:6? I apologize if I missed this in the book, but I didn’t see them addressed (if I’ve read too quickly, I’d welcome just a page cite).
Scot, am I right in assuming that your blogging on this indicates at least your willingness to accept this position as Orthodox? Does the Covenant accept this position as an acceptable view for teaching?
I’m asking as someone with Covenant church roots and considerable number of friends and family in attendance. Thanks for your response!

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posted December 28, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Scot and Robin — are you aware of anyone having written about this issue using Scot’s (and others’) “story” approach to reading difficult passages, particularly ones that seem in tension? I.e., the Blue Parakeet approach.
Also, does Robin’s book address the views of ancient church fathers on this issue? If I recall correctly, some of the ancient fathers held out a universalist hope. That seems like a relevant consideration.
I believe that the universalist passages provide good support for that position. Although they are in tension with other passages.

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Gregory MacDonald

posted December 28, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Joanie (#1). I have no idea who runs the site – sorry. I cannot recall who put me on to it. It was a legit person who did but they may have been misled. The paragraph you like can be found at the end of this link:
Wes (#2). Evangelical universalists would affirm that salvation comes only to those who are united with Christ by the Spirit, through faith. So responding to gospel preaching (or communication) is critical because there is no way to the Father other than Christ. Does that help? (I ought to qualify that by adding that inclusivisit evangelical universalists would allow that explicit faith may not be a necessary condition.
EricG (#3). Embarrasment – I don’t know what the Blue Parakeet approach is (shame on me) :-(. I mention some early fathers in passing. You might be interested in a book that I am editing on Christian universalism in history. We have a chapter on Origen and another on Gregory of Nyssa (along with lots of other chapters – most focused on 17th – 20th Cs). It’ll be published in mid-late 2010 by Wipf and Stock/Cascade.

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posted December 28, 2009 at 1:47 pm

The history of the post-Constantinian Church is largely a history of power structures. It’s hard to get obedience and money from people if you have nothing to threaten them with, and what better tool for the job than a concept that involves eternal, conscious, torment in a fiery pit. The Pharisees sure figured that out hundreds of years before Jesus, and go figure, these religious people were the only kind of people Jesus talked about “Genhenna” with. So while being obviously over simplistic, I think it’s the case that using a very non-inclusivist theology made more sense for a Church that was usually a bully.

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posted December 28, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Thanks, Robin, for the link to your blog and to the paragraph you included there which is also at the end of your book.
And thanks for mentioning “inclusivistic evangelical universalists” because prior to reading your book, I said I was an inclusivist and wondered if it made sense to say I was a inclusivist if I was was a Christian universalist. But it sounds like I can be both. For anyone who does not know, inclusivists believe that anyone who is saved from sin is saved by Jesus, but it’s possible for someone who is not a Christian to be saved by Jesus if that person is seeking to truly know and do the will of God. It’s possible that the person will never hear the gospel of Jesus presented by a human being, but God heard their prayer and their plea and saved them through the grace of Jesus. You may say, “Well, why bother believing that if you are a Christian Universalist anyway,” but I would answer that the people who are saved this way may also begin living a grace-filled life now the way Spirit-filled Christians do. At the end of time, when they hear the voice of Jesus, they will recognize that voice because they will recognize that Spirit as the one that has been leading them through their lives.

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Mike McLeod

posted December 28, 2009 at 8:32 pm

I have tried to order this book, but for now, Amazon is out of stock, so I wait. But I was wondering if Mr. Parry comments on the question of “eternal” used both for life and punishment in his book? I realize that this term theologically has both a quantitative and qualitative asepct to it, that is, not only does eternal mean enjoying a quality relationshp with God right now, it also has an aspectual usage that this relationship is forever. If we evacuate the quantiative aspect of eternal for punishment, what is the effect for eternal life, is it too temporal?
Apologies if I missed this discussion in a previous post.

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posted December 28, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Thanks for doing this series Scot. I’ve had this book on my shelf for a year or two but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet so this has provided the impetus for me to get started. Christian Universalism is one of those subjects that intrigues me, and makes a lot of sense, but seems just too “far out” or vaguely heretical, for me to completely jump on board with.
Possibly for reasons similar to Robin’s Pseudonymity, I’d be very reluctant to admit my leanings in this direction – as a leader in my church to be openly expressing such a theology could prevent me from being taken seriously or undermine my position otherwise. I’d be very interested at some point in this series to hear stories of how open people are in expressing their views on this subject, and just how far “out of the closet” people are coming? This aspect of Robin’s and others stories would be almost as interesting to me as the theological stuff.
This little 3 point schema of Talbott’s has been one I’ve found very useful. No one viewpoint has a monopoly on biblical truth – all have passages which seem to support and seem to contradict them. It’s a question of which of the three points seems most important, and how the viewpoint can be harmonised with scripture, both in terms of specific passages and it’s entirety.

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