Universalism - a brief note on my position
And where do I stand on the universalism issue? ‘Stand’ is probably not the best way to frame it, but here goes:
I used to think that exclusivist was the only option, and anything else, compromise. Now exclusivist makes little sense to me, not because of this or that verse of scripture alone, but because of life, the smile of a baby, the groan of an old man, the death of a precious Hindi old lady who’s served her family all her life, and other bigger issues such as what the death of Christ and his resurrection says of God’s character, why he would create only to send most to hell, why the sending of Christ would seem to damn more to hell than save for eternal life, why God is love if most experience anything but love and forgiveness, why God won’t forgive most as we are commanded to in the scriptures, why God would be so interested in the contents of our minds (our doctrinal beliefs) as central to salvation etc.
But I just can’t go universalist, and I’ve been real tempted in the past, primarily because I cannot exegetically justify it. I don’t feel the scriptures enable me to make that jump. Sure, some passages in Paul sound universalist (like Rom 5, parts of 1 Cor 15 and Col 1, Eph 1), but I don’t think Paul himself was a universalist.* I think the most that could be said is that there are seeds of universalist thinking in Paul. A friend of mine in Tübingen is writing a postdoctoral work on this theme, and he is sure, certain, that Paul was a universalist, and I sure hope he is correct, but I doubt it as I think the argumentative structure of Paul’s letters would work very differently were he actually universalist (and cf. also e.g. Gal 5:21, and the recent, and excellent, Gericht und Gemeinde by NT scholar Konradt – mentioned before on this blog, here). But it is the word ‘hope’ from the last sentence I want to pick up on. Universalism is problematic, I think, because it draws into realms of dogmatic assertion, what is arguably at the most a present hope. Who knows what will one day happen? Perhaps I would call myself a ‘hopeivist’, but not a universalist. But, again, I hope I can be persuaded otherwise. For those who don’t live in tight Christian subcultures, the question of the fate of our non-Christian loved ones is extremely important. But I cannot simply brush Scriptures that I feel speak against universalism under the carpet.
*Gregory made some very helpful suggestions in response to this point in one of our e-mail correspondences.