Friday, July 13, 2007

Debate with a Universalist

Tom Talbott (universalist) vs. Eric Landstrom (evangelical)

I tend to find this 'vs.' business slightly tiresome. It makes it sound like a boxing match, and hardly facilitates a search for unity in diversity! Perhaps we should reformulate the synoptic problem as 'Mathew vs. Mark' etc. No? No, I didn't think that would go down as well. What about author of Exodus 34:7 vs. Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Jer 31:29-30; Ezek 18:2)? No? Or what about 'Paul vs. Peter – the rumble in Antioch'? Ok, I'll stop typing and go to bed.



At 7/13/2007 2:04 AM, Anonymous Nick said...

Um, none of those examples is even close to this one, which is heresy vs. orthodoxy. Diversity in unity is a worthy and necessary pursuit, but so are backbones.

At 7/13/2007 2:46 AM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...

"Live long enough and you’ll encounter a lot of folks who say you are not really a Christian for a host of reasons. I’ve found the 'no-true-Christian-would-do-or-believe-XYZ' game one of the more popular among, well, Christians."
--Jonathan at the yahoo group ExitFundyism

At 7/13/2007 3:23 AM, Anonymous Arni Zachariassen said...

Yeah, Edward/Jonathan. I got that as long ago as tonight. I'm not a Christian because I'm an (theistic) evolutionist.

But, yeah.. Universalism vs. stuff.

At 7/13/2007 3:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, how does one decide what is heresy and what is orthodoxy (and what is acceptable difference in opinion). If one were to take the creeds as the guide - then in fact there is no fixed soteriology, and this matter about the future is open for discussion.

At 7/13/2007 7:35 PM, Anonymous J. Clark said...

How bout producing fruit in keeping with repentance as a sign of orthodoxy?

At 7/13/2007 9:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with von Balthasar.

We can hope, that all will be saved. And we should pray, that all will be saved. But we can't know, that all will be saved.

As far as I can see, the biblical texts are a problem for universalism. But they do leave room for hope.


At 7/14/2007 4:11 AM, Anonymous dan said...

Personally, I'd rather see my momma vs. yo' momma, cuz my momma would clobber all of yo' mommas.

At 7/14/2007 5:55 AM, Anonymous Dustin said...

How do you judge what true 'fruit' is j. clark?

There have been and are a lot of very persuasive and 'fruit bearing heretics' out there that I'm quite sure you wouldn't consider orthodox.

And in keeping with Talbott's argument, perhaps the 'fruit in keeping with repentance' is produced in an alternative time frame.

At 7/14/2007 3:11 PM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

I might agree with "vs." in the instance of "Paul vs. James".

I'm sure I emphasize the tensions (sometimes contradictions) in scripture more than other people. But ultimately I agree with your point, if I interpret it correctly: we're all still Christians regardless of our doctrinal differences. (Contra Nick).

At 7/14/2007 6:47 PM, Anonymous T. Michael W. Halcomb said...


20/20, one of America's news shows aired a program that had to do with universalism last night. I've written a brief post on the show and just how illogical the whole notion of universalism is. Check it out at:

At 7/15/2007 5:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read t michael w halcomb's post.. and being one of those weird "universalists" he talks about, all I can say where is "hell" in Scripture? I know Hades, Sheol, Gehanna, Lake of Fire...How strange are we that we not believe in a literal hell...when hell is never mentioned in Scripture?

At 7/15/2007 1:44 PM, Anonymous Nick said...

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." There it is, clear as day. The debate isn't over whether the word "hell" is in the Scriptures or taught by Jesus and his apostles. It's whether the doctrine/idea is there. "Look, the Bible doesn't teach the doctrine of the Trinity, because the word "Trinity" isn't there ever!" Is this where the debate is really at?

At 7/15/2007 2:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good point Nick. So, since Paul tells us that when Jesus gives back all of creation to the Father and He then submits Himself to the Father, it means that He is sumbmitting Himself to Himself? I never could wrap my arms completely around that word "trinity".

At 7/15/2007 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, I forgot to ask. When Jesus said "eternal fire" how do you know the word used for eternal actually means eternal instead of age as it is used in so many other passages?

At 7/15/2007 2:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick - "eternal fire" - any natural reading of this passage could actually be annihilationist. I.e. fire destroys. Obviously, there are other ways to interpret this passage - but what you have to admit is that the matter is not "clear" as you seem to assume.

At 7/15/2007 7:59 PM, Anonymous Nick said...

I won't touch the Trinity here, except to say that every orthodox teacher in history has understood that there is both distiction and unity in the Godhead; i.e., the Son and the Father are both God, but the Son is not the Father, and the Father is not the Holy Spirit. Thus 1 Cor. 15 poses no problems.

As for Matthew 25, you make some good points. "Eternal" here by itself could mean simply "age", as it often does. Several factors point me in another direction, however. First, the thought found in this verse is parallel to what Jesus says to the "sheep" a few verses earlier when he welcomes them into the kingdom...if entrance into the new heavens and new earth is not merely for an "age" (and then we get annihilated), but "eternal", then how can we understand the parallel differently when the text gives no indications of it? And even more, later in 25:46 Jesus makes it explicit: the same word "eternal/age" is used for both the final destinies of the wicked AND the righteous. Lastly, I would just make the overall biblical theological argument that many other passages demand to be read this way, even if on the surface a few passages look favorable to univeralism or annihalitionism, etc.--and all of those texts can be understood within the historic orthodox understanding of heaven and hell. Grace and peace.

At 7/15/2007 9:36 PM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

Re "eternal fire" —

There is one response to annihilationism that never ceases to bemuse me. Traditionalists persist in characterizing annihilation as a temporary punishment. It isn't. Annihilation (like extinction) is forever — i.e. eternal.

Hence I understand "eternal fire" as a symbol: it signifies that the destruction of the wicked is permanent.

At 7/15/2007 11:34 PM, Anonymous T. Michael W. Halcomb said...

The question to be asked isn't necesarrily where is hell? As far as giving you geographical directiosn to such a place, well, I can't. It's neither up, down, left, right, etc. The same goes for heaven.

I remember when the Russian cosmonaut was in space a few years ago, looked out the window and reported back to earth, "I don't see heaven anywhere around here."

When the Scriptures talk of heaven (where the full presence and glory of God is manifest), it uses the up direction to simply symbolize the "Highness" if you will, of God's presence; it is above and beyond everythign else; nothing comes close. It is not meant to be taken literally (in a geographical sense).

The same goes for hell. It is spoken of as "below" everything to make that very point, that it is the lowest place one could imagine; the pits, if you will.

The way to understand heaven, then, is that it is the place where the full glory of God is manifest. Hell, is the exact opposite, where the presence and glory of God is nowhere to be found; it is the place without God (thus, when I talk about the doctrine of omnipresence, i don't say that God is everywhere; God can choose not to be some places, if He so pleases; hell is one of those places; there are many places God chooses not to dwell, for example, in the hearts of persons who do no want Him there; omnipresence should be defined as God being able to dwell wherever He so chooses; the same rule must be applied to omniscience and omnipotence, as well).

So, we can't precisely give a geographical location to talk about these places; we can only speak in symbols and metaphors; and rightly so.

Do they exist? Absolutely! Is it in Scripture? Yes (see the above example). Can we get glimpses of both on earth? Absolutely! Are both found in thier completeness here on earth? No. Whichever one we choose in this life will be fully meted out to us in the end.

At 7/16/2007 4:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...and all of those texts can be understood within the historic orthodox understanding of heaven and hell." Nick

The Pharisees and Saducees were wrong too. Historically, the "orthodox understanding" is exactly why some of us have chosen to read the Word for ourselves.

To take all the words that the "wise orthodox translators" translated, and teach it to mean an eternal hell fire one good reason to not follow man, but choose to follow God! Thank God that in this age, an age Daniel may have mentioned, we are growing in knowledge and have the ability to actually read the Scriptures for ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit to teach us.

As you would call me a universalists, I do want to add that I believe in the firey burning judgement of God. God is a consuming fire and He will purify us and burn out the dross.

18 Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to Me; all of them are bronze and tin and iron and lead in the furnace; they are the dross of silver.

19 Therefore, thus says the Lord God, "Because all of you have become dross, therefore, behold, I am going to gather you into the midst of Jerusalem.

20 As they gather silver and bronze and iron and lead and tin into the furnace to blow fire on it in order to melt it, so I shall gather you in My anger and in My wrath, and I shall lay you there and melt you.

21 And I shall gather you and blow on you with the fire of My wrath, and you will be melted in the midst of it.

22 As silver is melted in the furnace, so you will be melted in the midst of it; and you will know that I, the Lord, have poured out My wrath upon you."

Yet we read...all of Israel will be saved. Unless we have to go with all not meaning all.

At 7/16/2007 5:35 AM, Anonymous James F. McGrath said...

It was interesting to read the "your interpretation of Romans doesn't fit with John" argument. Why would one expect Paul's argument in Romans to agree with John's, when the Fourth Gospel clearly has a different outlook influenced by, among other things, multiple decades of hindsight and a shift towards realized eschatology in response to the delay of the Parousia?

If one opts not to force all of the Bible to conform to a procrustean harmonizing exegesis that decides which bits are right, and then "interprets Scripture in light of Scripture" to say "those other verses cannot possibly mean X, because here it says Y" - which of course, appropriately meets responses of "that verse cannot mean Y, because these other verses say X".

If some of us are not determined to view all Biblical authors as expressing universalism, but are willing to entertain the notion that some might, where might the discussion usefully go from there?

At 7/16/2007 3:31 PM, Anonymous James Pate said...

But I don't see John and Paul as contradictory on this issue. Both say that there will be people who have eternal life, and people who perish.

At 7/16/2007 3:45 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

It has been great fun reading these comments! Brilliant!

To be honest, I was deliberatly trying to be a bit provocative with this post ...

At 8/03/2009 3:31 PM, Anonymous Grumpy Grandma said...

2 years on and I am reading your comments to see if they will help me with my essay - 'Was Paul a Universalist?', set by none other than - yup - Chris Tilling. Sadly your comments don't really help me make up my mind in terms of Paul. Being a sociologist in a former life, I tend to see both arguments as having validity. What your arguments do help with is what I personally think - and the more dictatorial the anti-brigade become, the more I veer towards universalism.3 of my young grandchildren have a Thai mother who is bringing them up (in Thailand)in the Buddhist tradition. Do you think that in order for those 3 little boys to get to heaven I have to convert them to the Christian faith?


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