The problems for hell are the issues of justice (hell can’t fit the crime of sin by finite beings) and the issue of joy (the saved can’t be eternally blissful knowing loved ones are suffering in hell). Gregory Macdonald’s book The Evangelical Universalist next describes how some theologians have responded to these problems, and he examines both Calvinism and free will theism — in the forms of open theism and Molinism. Today’s post focuses on the freewill defense of hell, and “Macdonald” thinks this freewill theory actually leads toward universalism.
As with others in this series, I am trying to present the author’s view and not trying to show where and how I might disagree. I sketch, we discuss.
The major issue here is that God’s will is not always done. God’s will is that all humans freely choose to accept Christ. God loves all humans and desires all humans to make that choice, but God will not and does not force salvation on humans. God wants them to choose freely. If people reject Christ and choose hell, it is their choice. Hell, therefore, is not God’s problem but the human problem.
Big question that will emerge in the post today: Is there choice after death? Do you think the God of love and grace and mercy would sustain that mercy toward those who have rejected Christ after death? At issue here is this question: What kind of God is necessary to believe in an eternal hell?
One way freewill theists defend hell is with what is called “open theism,” but this view is not treated extensively in the book. A few comments. Open theism operates with the view that God’s creation was a risk because God does not completely know what will happen. This is sometimes called “risky providence” (24) and part of the risk is humans choosing hell. Human freedom mucks things up. “Macdonald,” or Robin Parry, argues against open theists because God’s risk would be too great if he knew how awful the consequences would be — the majority not choosing Christ. In general, the open theist sees life in this world with God being the Skilled chessplayer who can beat the novice.
Next Parry moves to Molinism
, a way of explaining both God’s sovereignty and human libertarian freedom. God, in this view, created a world in which a maximum number of humans would choose Christ. Parry’s main argument is simply that if Molinism is true
then God, being omnipotent, can actualize the logically possible world in which all people freely choose (in a libertarian sense) to be saved. This allows for libertarian freedom and universal salvation. But, if it is suggested that such a possible world might not be possible for God to actualize then Parry’s fall-back argument is that a loving God would prefer to cause
sinners who continued to resist him to freely choose him (in a compatibilist sense of ‘freely choose’) than to send them to Hell for eternity. In other words, libertarian freedom is good but it is not the most important thing in the universe.
This stuff gets complex so here’s another way of putting it:
God prefers a World (W) in which any people who do not accept salvation in Christ freely (in a libertarian sense) will nevertheless accept it freely (in a compatibilist sense)
… to a World (W2) in which those who do not accept salvation in Christ freely (in a libertarian sense) are condemned to hell for eternity (27).
That is, God is more like the first than the second sent of conditions. Further, God would more likely provoke faith than let humans choose hell for eternity. As I understand Parry, hell is a condition God uses to provoke faith.
Thomas Talbott, a Christian universalist, argues that no human being can make a fully informed decision and reject the gospel. Hell, then, might be the place many come to a fully informed decision and, in Parry’s view, one must maintain the possibility that hell will be emptied by choice.
Next, Robin Parry argues “for” universalism in the Bible … next week….