Friday, February 03, 2006

Christian Universalism Pt. 1

I have far too many ‘series’ on the go at the moment, so I won’t draw this one out, and I will keep it very basic. But the question of Christian Universalism or Allversöhnung has been exercising me greatly of late. And it’s an important question for me. My own particular Christian background has strongly anathematised any leaning in a universalist direction, and to flip over to ‘the dark-side’ on this one would deserve at the very least a merciful bullet in the head from an elder or two. So, my procedure was as usual: read everything you can get your hands on that is even partly related.

However, the evangelical in me will always start off with the scriptures, at least as a practical first-step. Off the top of my head, I listed a few that could both speak against and for Christian Universalism. I didn’t initially try any serious exegesis, I simply listed them next to each other, and it made a real impression on me. Here, first, are a couple of texts that would, certainly at first sight, speak against Universalism.

“… Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Mat 25:41-46)

“… when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might …” (2 Thess 1:7-10)

Particularly striking is the word ‘eternal’ in both of these passages. In the light of such verses, one also ought not to drive too strong a wedge, as I felt von Balthasar was in danger of doing in Was Dürfen Wir Hoffen?, between pre- and post-Easter perspectives on Universalism.

… Part II briefly looks at scriptures that would seem to affirm Christian Universalism.



At 2/03/2006 1:20 PM, Anonymous Dan said...


I'm curious as to what sort of reading you have done on this topic.

For example, Moltmann (in The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology... I think) begins his discussion of universalism by doing exactly what you are doing now -- comparing the various cases in Scripture that seem to support both sides. Indeed, Moltmann (when coupled with scholars like Tom Wright who see a lot of the damnation language in Jesus as referring to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70) builds a pretty convincing case that Scripture is far more ambiguous on this topic than we have imagined. Indeed, it seems to me that both sides often engage in rather tenuous (and false) readings of passages like the ones you have quoted here -- and the ones you are likely to quote from elsewhere (like Ro 11?) in your next post. However, this ambiguity leads me to von Balthasar's position that moves this discussion away from certitude and into the realm of hope. Of course, Moltmann's various writings in regard to this have influenced me along the way.

I love this thread and I'm looking forward to seeing where you go with this.


At 2/03/2006 3:49 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Dan,
thanks for these thoughts. And I'll really apprecate your feedback as I progress through them. But, I would add, I'm only going to be touching the surface of the debates involved, so I hope you don't get too frustrated!
Actually, I was going to blog about your blog sometime this week, if you don't mind?!

At 2/03/2006 4:07 PM, Anonymous dan said...


Don't worry I'm not looking for anything exhaustive. Mostly I'm just really curious to hear how you've been turning this topic around in your mind.

Oh, and I don't mind if you blog something about mine -- I'd be quite flattered actually.


At 2/25/2006 3:11 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Nat,
I sure have seen your blog before. I visit it regularly. I honestly think you should think about writing professionally. You write both with humour and with profundity, a mix I appreciate.
As for your articles, I’ve seen them both, and I found the first particularly helpful – put it into a Word file, then highlighted it as I read through.

As for the doctrine of scripture you are addressing, although I do not buy an inerrancy or infallible doctrinal approach, I still want to be scriptural, so your posts I most definitely found useful.

All the best,


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