Why I am a Universalist: Summing Up and Some Links

Dear Reader,
Below are the links to my series Why I am a Universalist along with some additional Internet resources for you to explore if you wish to learn more about Universalism.

What I try to do in this series is to build a plausibility case for Universalism. I think Universalism is the best soteriological position to stake out logically, biblically, theologically, scientifically, and morally. I understand, however, that there will be many who disagree, often with formidable reasons. But I hope, if critics read the entire series, they will draw three conclusions:

1. Universalists do wish to subscribe to a biblically supported vision.
2. Universalists are not adopting the position for naive, "feel good" reasons.
3. Universalists have some very good reasons for adopting their position.

In short, I'd like an informed and charitable critic to say, "I disagree with you, but I see why you have reached that conclusion."

To summarize, I've made the following arguments in this series:

1. Biblical Arguments:
Romans 9-11
I Corinthians 15
A Universalist Reading of Hosea
Amos 9.7: Exodus in the plural

2. Logical Arguments:
Talbott's Propositions

3. Moral and Ethical Arguments:
Justice and Teleological Visions of Punishment
Moral Luck

4. Theological Arguments:Moral Coherence
The Soteriological/Eschatological Interface
Salvation in a Post-Cartesian World
Excursus: On the irascibility of God

5. Pragmatic/Ministerial Arguments:
Philosophical Robustness

If you want to explore more about universalism, through this series I've discovered some great Internet resources:

Check out Yale philosopher Keith DeRose's Universalism and the Bible Page.

Also, from Princeton Theological Seminary, check out D.W. Congdon's own series on Why I am a Universalist. For the more theologically inclined, Congdon's series is a much more thorough theological approach than the one I took here (but of course, I'm a psychologist).

Finally, Congdon also maintains a nice Universalism in the Blogosphere resource page.

Thanks to all who participated in the series (and to those who will participate today or in the future). I hope, as always, that I've given you something to think about.

Since this initial series in 2006 I've gone on to write a lot more about this subject, expanding upon many of the arguments found in the posts above. So, for my more up to date writing on this subject:

Universalism: A Summary Defense (one post that condenses many of the arguments above)

Universalism FAQ and Answers (the best work I've done to date on this topic: a summary post in a Q&A format linking to many other posts prompted by the publication of Rob Bell's Love Wins)

The Best Ending to the Christian Story (a post linking to an exchange I had with J.R. Daniel Kirk from Fuller, hosted by Two Friars and Fool, about universalism being the best ending to the Christian story)

Universalism and Theodicy (a critical post as universal reconciliation is less about soteriology than theodicy for me and many others)

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25 thoughts on “Why I am a Universalist: Summing Up and Some Links”

  1. Thanks for the link! I plan on adding your pages to the blogosphere archive very soon. I appreciate your posts very much. I may interact with them in my series in the future.

  2. I am very grateful for your work. The issue of love and disgust is so fascinating I cannot stop thinking of applications. As one who has come late to the realization of the inescapable love of God, and as a pastor/teacher I wonder why this view has gotton such short shrift in the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism? I wonder why the reconciliation movement petered out so badly in American where it seemed to have had good theological teaching around the Civil War? I fear for those who make a stand for this because I have found Christians to be very jumpy and not always so nice when asked to reconsider the wideness of God's mercy.

  3. Dr. Beck,

    Thanks for a fascinating series of posts on a topic I have never heard discussed seriously. When you began your transition towards universalism did you struggle with the "what-ifs"? "If the Armenian position is true then I am effectively condemning people to hell that I may have otherwise reached!" That sort of thing.

  4. Colby,
    I think you point out one of the biggest issues for the universalist position: Will it create apathy for evangelism and missionary work?

    I do worry about this issue. Christianity is about proclaiming the good news and if there is no good news there is no Christianity. So I think universalists should be passionate about evangelism.

    But, clearly, a universalist will approach evangelism differently. A couple of quick contrasts:

    1. Universalists will de-emphasize the "moral ultimatum" approach. That is, a thanatocentric approach typically involves a "gift/threat" offer ("believe or else"}. Universalists will proclaim the good news as fully good news: You can have God's salvation today. And the Life of God is so amazing, so powerful, why wouldn't you want to participate in the Way of Jesus? The appeal is strictly one about joy, life, and community.

    2. The evangelistic motive for universalists will be less about numbers (how many we save from hell) but about our participation in the life of God. If you read Luke 10, proclaiming the good news was very simple: Go into a town, accept the hospitality of the people, heal the sick, and say "The Kingdom of God is near you." Thus, when we step into God's story everywhere we go we take this simple message: "The Kingdom of God is near you." We don't do this because of who THEY are but because of who WE are.

    3. Finally, because universalists are not rushing things in the face of death (getting people baptized quickly), they will be both more patient (and reduce the risk of being jerks to people) and find social justice efforts intrinsically more meaningful. That is, they will see helping the poor as a form of evangelism (a way of demonstrating that the "Kingdom of God is near").

  5. Dr. Beck,
    I've enjoyed reading some of your thoughts on universalism. It's something I've been churning over in my head for a few months (not very philosophically, though).

    One thing that stands out to me are some of the Biblical passages that seem to create a distinction. Matthew 25 with the sheep and goats and 2 Cor. 2:16 (the aroma of Christ-smell of death vs. the fragrance of life).

    I guess these passages connote some idea of a spiritual death to me... How do you approach these types of passages from a universalist perspective?

    Thanks for your help,

  6. Daniel,
    Here's a few starting comments.

    First, we need to recognize parables as parables, forms of narrative full of drama and hyperbole. That is, and most NT scholars would agree with this, parables are not propositionally-laden metaphysical discourses. That is, Jesus isn't trying to do systematic theology about the afterlife in these stories. If he was, he's puzzling and not very comprehensive across these stories. Rather, a parable was a form of MORAL RHETORIC. A way of making a moral point. And the moral of Matthew 25 is that in the Kingdom of God, God's interests are intertwined with the "least of these." And, to participant in the story of God, the church should also intertwine her interests with the poor and marginalized.

    Thus, Jesus uses language of ultimate judgment to make a moral point, to paint the moral behavior of the people in the story in a certain light. What light? The light of Ultimate Things and Concerns. Thus, the language of judgment is used to make a point about today. It's a poetic way of saying that God, and not just Jesus, is very angry with ignoring the poor and that there will be consequences.

    The consequences will be "eternal" but most scholars believe that the word "eternal" in the NT doesn't mean forever and forever without end. The KJV did a poor job translating this word as "everlasting" leading to lots of confusion ever since. The consensus is that the word is referring not to "duration" but to a kind of "quality." That is, the phrase "eternal life" is not referring to immortality but to the quality of life with God when He is in our midst. Conversely, "eternal death" refers not to unending punishment but to the quality of life under God's judgment or separated from God. This is why, if you do a word study on "eternal," both "eternal life" and "eternal death" are things we actually experience right here and right now insofar as we move with or against the story of God.

  7. Hi folks, if I may take a shot at the distinction language in the NT, I'd like to. As Dr. Beck points out, the word translated "everlasting" is aionion. It's root is the word aion, where we get the word "age" or "eon." Basically the aionion word means either "pertaining to the age" or "of the ages."

    So when we see references to God being "aionion" it means that He transcends the ages. However, in the context of the NT, we see that judgment was coming on OT Israel. The only way to be "saved" from that judgment was to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" for He fulfilled the Law's requirements. Those who trusted in Him "died to the Law." But those who did not believe trusted in their "flesh" (sarx), which was closely related to OT body of Israel (Moses).

    So, when the judgment came, that was the "wages of sin," it was "death." We know that the power of Sin (who's wages were death) was The Law. So, those who remained in the shadow of OT Jerusalem suffered aionion kolasis, while those who trusted in Christ experienced aionion LIFE.

    Aionion kolasis needs to be defined. Kolasis is the Greek word meaning "pruning" or "punishment." We can see how when Jesus talked about the branches that would be "cut off" (pruned) and "cast into outer darkness" or "Gehenna/the Lake of Fire" we realize then that this pruning was for the purpose of bringing MERCY to all.

    Aionion had to do with the fact that they were living in the consummation of the ages (aionion) and they had to choose between life and death. Those who chose death experienced it in AD70.

    The "resurrection" occurred when the "body of Christ" (immortality/incorruptible)was "called out of" (ekklesia)the "body of Moses" (mortality, corruption).

    The Lake of Fire was God's judgment through the Roman ARmy in AD70. Once this occurred then mercy was extended to the whole world through Jesus Christ. That was God's plan all along. You can count on that.


  8. Thanks for your interesting series on Christian Universalism!

    You may be interested to know that a new ecumenical organization has recently been started to promote Christian Universalism, uniting people and churches from a wide diversity of denominations in the belief that God loves and will save everyone. The Christian Universalist Association includes Evangelicals, Pentecostals/Charismatics, Mainline Protestants, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Unitarian Universalist Christians, non-denominational Christians and more! Check out our website: www.christianuniversalist.org

    Divine blessings,

    Eric Stetson
    Executive Director,
    The Christian Universalist Association
    "All God's children, no one left behind."

  9. If universalism is true then the entire Mission of Christ is invalid. The Bible affirms some to be and will be lost. But we must accept the fact that God never attended a digressive and flagrantly traitorous school like ACU. WHY DON'T YOU BE HONEST AND REMOVE CHRISTIAN FROM THE NAME OF YOUR INSTITUTION? jwb

  10. jwb,
    I doubt we will ever see eye to eye on this, but universalism has always been a part of Christianity. From the church fathers to the present day. Further, the belief in an never ending hell has never been a part of the ancient Christian creeds. Thus, universalism is completely compatible with Christian orthodoxy.

    Finally, my view is a minority voice on campus. The vast majority of the ACU faculty disagree with me. Plus, I don't teach bible classes so I never teach this stuff. It's just my personal opinion based upon study and prayer.

  11. I appreciate your willingness to discuss what you believe. I just have a couple of comments / questions.

    1. It seems that you ignore part of Luke 10, taking only what you choose to and leaving the rest. e.g. lambs among wolves (v.3) and the whole section in vss. 10-16 where we see "wipe the dust from your feet, more tolerable in the day of judgment, rejecting Jesus and God, etc." Please comment on these passages, because, they are not part of a parable and therefore not figurative language.

    2. In the last comment above you rely only on what the church fathers and ancient creeds say. Why do you cite these as an authority in addition to Scripture? It is my understanding that much of what was said doctrinally in the fathers and creeds was contrary to Scripture from a very early date. I would be careful with that.


  12. JG,
    Fair questions.

    First, universalists believe in punishment, judgment and hell. So there is nothing incompatible between universalism and Jesus's teachings about judgment. The issue hinges on if eternal torment lasts forever and ever. Jesus, as best I can tell, doesn't speak to that particular issue.

    Second, I'm assuming, given your stance about the ancient creeds, that you are Protestant or CoC. Which means, most likely, that your doctrine bears a close similarity what came out of the Reformation (1500s to present) or the American Restoration movement (1860s to present). If that is the case why would you trust teachings 1,500 or 1,860 years separated from the gospels and distrust teachings within 300 years of Jesus? Seems that the closer you get to the New Testament the more accurate the teaching would be, all things being equal. Also, what exactly is in the Apostle's Creed that is "contrary to Scripture"?

  13. Dr. Beck,

    Thanks for your answers. Do you believe that Heaven lasts forever? If so, in Matt. 25:46 Jesus uses the very same Greek word to describe life as he does to describe punishment. If Hell is going to be temporary / short, then so will Heaven, according to this verse.

    I am CoC. I must admit that I have never read the Apostle's Creed (I will try to do so soon), but I have translated the Didache (early to mid-second century). And, from that experience, I can say that the teaching contained therein DOES contradict NT teaching. Thus, very soon after the apostles died, error crept into the Church.

    I am not sure what you mean by trusting teachings of 1500 or 1860 years seperated from the Gospels. If you mean the literature of the Restoration movement, I am sad that you would jump to such a conclusion. I do not trust anything blindly. I compare what I read to Scripture, no matter who has written it. I disagree with several things written from that time period, i.e. some teaching on the millenium / eschatology, war and the Christian's role in the Civil Gov't / voting, etc., and I am sure a few other things I can't think of right now. However, I believe that these men got it mostly right. But, that is not because of who or what they were, but because I can go to the Scriptures and see for myself whether these things are true or not.

    Thanks again for dialogue. I look forward to continuing it. JG

  14. Hi JG,
    There is a great deal of scholarly work on what, exactly, the word "eternal" means in the New Testament. The scholarly consensus, based upon my study, is that "eternal" is an adjective that refers to a quality of life or punishment rather than how the old KJV rendered it (i.e., "everlasting"). That is, "eternal" isn't taken to mean "of infinite duration" but as "not of this world or time."

    Regarding the teachings of the early church (e.g., Didache) I don't know what to say (i.e., you either reflect upon your historical contingency or you don't). Regardless, the issue of creeds was brought up in my comments above to discuss Christian "orthodoxy" in light of core creedal commitments. But if you are CoC then you will agree that we have no creedal stance or official position on the doctrine of hell making this conversation somewhat moot (from this particular perspective).

  15. Dr. Beck, in your comment from March 07, you claim Jesus does not speak to the issue of eternal torment lasting forever. Could you please explain Matthew 25:46 in light of your claim? Can you explain the clear dichotomy between eternal life and eternal punishment?

  16. In light of this, who are the "elect" from scripture, and what do you do with Revelation 21:27?

  17. Have just finished a few straight hours of reading all these universalism blogs and associated comments. Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you, Richard, for opening up all my "I've never really believed this but everyone else seems to" boxes and giving me a place to display the contents with enthusiasm and confidence.

    I can't overstate how much your site means to me or how long I've been looking for it. On behalf of all your like-minded readers, thank-you.

  18. How do the following scriptures fit into your "theology"? I would be interested in knowing.

    Romans 3:21-24
    1 Corinthians 6:8-10
    Matthew 5:27-28
    Romans 6:23, 5:8, 10:9
    1 John 1:5-10

    How does this writing compare to what is called the dictionary definition of universalism? (The idealogy that all men will be saved)

    Should we simply allow sin to influence our judgment rather than identifying the sin and praying that they will come to repentance before it becomes too late?

    Are you or are you not "refuting" that the wages of sin is death? Then the wages of sin are either non-existant or life, the latter of which is completely contrary to the word of God?

  19. I would think mature believers would be okay with your three propositions:

    1. Universalists do wish to subscribe to a biblically supported vision.
    2. Universalists are not adopting the position for naive, "feel good" reasons.
    3. Universalists have some very good reasons for adopting their position.

    I am not sure where I fall in the conversation, but I know I am not a Universalist or 100% Calvinist and perhaps a traditionalist. I would like to say I a Biblicist. I'm engaging in the discussion because I find Christians to be so divided and this is one of the many issues, theology of God's love as extended to salvation.

  20. Daniel,
    I can't speak for Dr. Beck, but I'm pretty sure he'd agree with me if I said that none of these scriptures threatens universalism in any way.

    The wages of sin is death. Most certainly. But "God bound all men over to disobedience (sin...death) so that he may have mercy on them all" (Rom. 11:32)


  21. Hi Richard,

    If you're interested in a non-Christian's response to your comment, please see here: http://rationesola.blogspot.com/2011/04/why-i-dont-buy-univeralism.html

    Best wishes,
    Sola Ratione

  22. Late in the conversation but just thought I would mention the whole verse says "the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord"
    The ones who receive the wages get the gift. Clearly a universal salvation verse

  23. This is an excellent article I came across as to why universalism REQUIRES evangelism. Good read.


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