Love and Freedom: Conditionalism vs. Universalism

Last fall when I was blogging through Rob Bell's book Love Wins I wrote a post about the relationship between freedom and love and how freedom and love play out in the debate between conditionalism and universalism.

As many noted when Love Wins came out, Bell appears to be espousing conditionalism rather than universalism. That is, love wins for Bell because God respects human freedom, not because everyone, eventually, is reconciled to God.

C.S. Lewis believed in conditionalism and famously phrased the notion this way: The doors of hell are locked, but they are locked from the inside. We banish ourselves from heaven, not God. The idea here is that God never forecloses on salvation. Not now, not ever. But humans, exercising their freedom, can turn away from God and keep turning away. Perhaps for eternity.

[Addendum to original post:
A couple of readers in the comments have said that the view Lewis and Bell are espousing is not called "conditionalism." "Separationism" may be a better term, but I've not heard that term widely used. "Conditionalism" according to readers properly names the view known as "conditional mortality," an idea often associated with annihilationism. For my part, I've used, perhaps improperly, the word "conditionalism" to describe C.S. Lewis' and Bell's view that heaven is available if you open the door.]

Here are selections from Love Wins where Bell is walking through his conditionalistic vision of "love winning":
If we want hell,
if we want heaven,
they are ours.
That's how love works. It can't be forced, manipulated, or coerced.
It always leaves room for the other to decide.
God says yes,
we can have what we want,
because love wins.
Now back to that original question: "Does God get what God wants?" is a good question, an interesting question, an important question that gives us much to discuss.

But there's a better question, one we can answer...It's not "Does God get what God wants?"
"Do we get what we want?"
And the answer to that is a resounding, affirming, sure and positive yes.
Yes, we get what we want.
God is that loving.

If we want isolation, despair, and the right to be our own god, God graciously grants us that option. If we insist on using our God-given power and strength to make the world in our own image, God allows us that freedom; we have the kind of license to that. If we want nothing to do with light, hope, love, grace, and peace, God respects that desire on our part, and we are given a life free from any of those realities. The more we want nothing to do with all God is, the more distance and space are created. If we want nothing to do with love, we are given a reality free from love.
What follows is largely taken from my post last fall, as I've recently revisited this material in preparation for my classes on Love Wins for the Pepperdine Lectureship. The specific issue I'd like to assess in Bell's vision, and with conditionalism generally, is the regulating notion that love requires freedom. Love wins for Bell, not because we all get to heaven, but because we all get what we want. Love wins because love allows us freedom. So even if someone is separated from God, perhaps for all eternity, that is a win for love. Because you are getting what you want.

You don't want God and walk away.
God allows this.
So love wins.

Let's think about that. Love, according to Bell (and others like N.T. Wright and C.S. Lewis), allows people to walk away from God. More, Love allows people to keep walking. Toward what? Away from "light, hope, love, grace, and peace." So Bell asks us to imagine Love allowing people to walk deeper into darkness, despair, hate, revenge, and violence. To get a sense of this imagine the horrors, depravity and bestiality of war. And then keep multiplying that. We imagine Love allowing people to walk deeper and deeper into that?

The question all this raises is if a loving God would allow that decent into madness to happen.

The response, I'm guessing, comes back to the issue of freedom. What, it might be asked, am I suggesting? That God thwart our choices and corral us, against our will, into heaven? That seems to be the key idea driving Bell's position: Love requires freedom. This is how love "wins." As Bell says, "That's how love works. It can't be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide."

It's at this point I'd like to push back with a little psychology, because I think the notion of freedom at work in conditionalism is flawed.

At root, our psychological experience of freedom is comprised of two things: 1) Self-authorship/ownership and 2) Choice/caring congruence.

We feel free when we "own" our decisions and actions. When I scratch my nose I feel that I "own" (i.e., willed) the entire action. This sense of ownership helps create a feeling of self-authorship. I am writing, with my decisions, the story of my life.

We know this experience of "ownership" is a feeling because there are situations when this feeling can become suspended. Hypnosis and disassociation are examples. In such cases my motor cortex is activated--I'm doing things--but I don't feel the actions are "mine."

The second part of the feeling of freedom involves choice/caring congruence. When our choices align with what we want or care about we feel a sense of inner harmony and freedom. I'm doing what I want to do. Harry Frankfurt calls this volitional unanimity. Everything within me "agrees." Desire, choice and behavior are aligned.

Feelings of "unfreedom" occur when we are forced, say, at the point of a gun, to do something that is misaligned with what we care about. We are doing something we don't want to do. The point-of-a-gun example seems obvious enough when we think of external compulsion. But the compulsions can be internal as well. Psychosis, compulsions and addictions are all examples of states where people feel internally overthrown. But these are really just extreme example of what Paul describes in Romans 7, doing things we don't really want to do. Paul describes this lack of volitional harmony as being "wretched." It doesn't feel good. It doesn't feel free. We feel internally betrayed and coerced, "against our will" as it were.

All this describes our inner experience of freedom.  Freedom--call it free will or voluntary behavior--is the experience of self-authorship and inner unanimity.

Let's now go back to Bell's statement: "That's how love works. It can't be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide." As it stands, this assessment is totally non-controversial. Love doesn't put a gun to your head. Love doesn't force, manipulate, or coerce.

In short, God wants our choices to be voluntary. God wants us to "own" the decision. God wants us to "want" the decision.

But here's the critical issue at this point, an issue Bell and other conditionalists overlook. As we've just noted, more than mere choice is involved in creating the experience of freedom. For a feeling of freedom to exist we need choice/caring congruence.

Suddenly, this freedom thing is looking a bit more complicated. Freedom isn't simply the absence of external coercion. Freedom is about getting our choices to align with our affections and desires. God abandoning us to our choices isn't freedom. It's a lack of coercion, to be sure. But that's a very thin view of freedom, love and choice.

Let me try to illustrate this by taking on a sacred cow.

You often hear preachers say, "Love is a choice." This is wrong. Love is fundamentally about caring. To be clear, I'm not saying that love is a fleeting feeling. I'm saying that love is a deeply rooted affection.

What is remarkable is that everyone knows this already. So it's a testimony to how strange things have become that I have to spend words convincing people to stop and note how very strange and inhuman is the "love is a choice" formulation. Just think of someone you love (I've got my sons in my mind) and ask yourself: What best describes your experience of love toward these people? Choice? Or a deeply rooted affection?

I don't know about you, but I don't wake up and "choose" to love my sons. No, I wake up and feel a deeply rooted affection.

To be sure, those affections affect my choices and decisions. And that's going to be my final point in all this. Caring drives choice. I make loving choices because I care about my boys. I don't choose to care about my boys so that I can make loving choices. That's backward.

How did the "love is a choice" meme become so ascendent and popular among preachers? Here's my best guess:

The "love is a choice" meme gained prominence among preachers as they were trying to preach the centrality of covenant and promise-keeping in the face of marital infidelity where people were justifying their actions with statements like "I just don't love him/her anymore." And by this people meant, "I don't 'feel' in love with him/her anymore." To push back on that argument preachers started to respond with,"Love isn't a feeling. It's a choice." And what they meant was that feelings of affection ebb and flow, but a commitment gets you through the low periods. This is true, but we should get clear about what is actually going on.

What the preachers tend to miss is that you have to care about commitments for the "love is a choice" encouragement to work. Because if I don't care about my commitments or keeping my promises you have very little leverage with me on this score. Again, this is my root point. Caring is what grants us volitional traction. If you don't care about something I can't use it to sway your choices.

In short, what the "love is a choice" encouragement is doing is this: "I know you don't care about him/her right now. But you should care about the promise you made before witnesses. You should care about your integrity. You should care about what God thinks." And so on. The hope here is, because caring has evaporated for the spouse, that caring can be found elsewhere--in God, the kids, the commitment, the extended family, personal integrity/reputation. But at the end of the day you've got to find caring somewhere. Because if you can find that caring and bring it to the front you can affect the choice. You can say stuff like, "Okay, you don't love him/her. But think about the kids." You try to fish for some alternative/backup location of caring to give the marriage time to heal and for spousal affections/caring to reemerge.

The point is, I understand the whole "love is a choice" idea and what it's trying to do--shifting caring from the spouse to the promise--but we shouldn't think "love is a choice" is good psychology. "Love is a choice" isn't psychology, it's a rhetorical strategy and it should not be used to guide us in thinking about human freedom.]
Given what I've sketched above, let's return to the view of freedom at the root of Love Wins and conditionalism. What's the problem with Bell's view of love and freedom in Love Wins?

On the one hand, the notion that Love isn't going to force or coerce anyone into heaven is perfectly true. I totally agree. But there's something problematic if this is all we mean by "freedom," God just leaving us to our choices. Again, freedom isn't just about choices. Freedom about something deeper and more complex. Freedom has to be about what we care about. Freedom has to be about love.

I think Augustine was pointing to this when he said that all our little loves are shadowy and incomplete until they fully rest in the Love of God. "Our hearts are restless," he famously wrote, "until they rest in Thee." Our affections are broken and scattered. Our loves are all pointed in the wrong direction. And due to that disarray our choices become sinful and self-defeating.

With our affections broken our choices are broken.

Here the deep problem with conditionalism comes into view. If our affections are disordered there is no way we can "chose our way" toward God. Something deep within us is confused and disoriented. We want the wrong things. So if God wants us to turn toward the Kingdom God can't just abandon us to our choices. God can't just step back and say, "I love you. And because I love you I will step back to grant you freedom." That's a recipe for disaster. Because freedom isn't about the absence of external pressure or force. Freedom, rather, is about getting our choices aligned with our affections. But if we want the wrong things to begin with how are we to make good choices?

The point is, love isn't going to win if God just steps back to abandon us to our choices. There might be a "win" in there somewhere, but it's not a winning God would want. Love doesn't win if all we have are choices running amok because of our disordered affections. No, love really wins only when God begins to work at a deeper level, when Love begins to work with our loves. Love moves our loves toward Love. Our desires and affections have to change before our choices begin to move. And that requires positive action on God's part. Not the Divine withdrawal and passivity that Bell imagines in Love Wins.

And I'd also like to make the point that this healing of affections is generally going to be a very slow process. Because Bell's right on this point: God isn't going to overthrow or coerce our affections, internally or externally. God can't just change our affections overnight without that being experienced as a volitional assault upon us. These are psychic structures rooted deep, deep within our identity. These are psychic glaciers that are going to have to move at a glacial pace.

But they can move, even if slowly. And the slow pace allows us to preserve our inner sense of self-authorship and unanimity.

Which brings us to one the reasons why I prefer universalism to conditionalism. Conditionalism suggests that God abandons us to our disordered affections and the predictable volitional mess that soon follows. Universalism, by contrast, confesses that God loves us and will not abandon us, that freedom isn't about a lack of coercion. A lack of coercion is not what sets us free. What sets us free is having our affections healed. Freedom happens when our loves come to rest in Love. And where conditionalism envisions God's abandonment, universalism envisions God's tireless and eternal involvement in bringing this healing to completion. It is a vision of Love healing the loves of my life--bringing order, unanimity, and harmony.

Bringing freedom.

That is when Love truly wins.

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34 thoughts on “Love and Freedom: Conditionalism vs. Universalism”

  1. wonderful post richard. thank you.

    isaac the syrian would agree!...

    "But if anyone acknowledges, imagines in himself, or teaches along these
    lines, that a person can effect that the love of God be depicted in
    himself as a result of vigilance over what is laid down in laws and such
    like, or as a result of compulsion or struggle on his part, or as a
    result of any human practice or means—then this person does not know
    what he is saying. Not even as a result of the law, or commandment,
    which He gives concerning love, is it possible to love God: from the law
    there comes a sense of awe, but not one of desire. For until a person
    receives the Spirit of revelations and his soul, with its impulses, is
    united to that wisdom which is above the world and he becomes aware in
    his own person of God’s lofty attributes, it is not possible for him to
    come close to this glorious savour of love. Someone who has not
    actually drunk wine will not become inebriated as a result of being told
    about wine; and someone who has not been himself held worthy of a
    knowledge of the lofty things of God cannot become inebriated with love
    for him."

  2. Wow, this is such an awesome post. You've pretty much summed up the conclusion I have come to after years of struggling with a nagging question in my mind of what God is really like. Like you, I can no longer believe that God's love, for it to be truly love (as displayed by Christ) can be conditional at all. With the help of George MacDonald and other authors, as well as through my own experience as a parent, I've come to understand that true love does not/ will not ultimately give way to "free will" and stand by as the loved one destroys him/ herself. And, beyond that, the more I read about Universalism/UR, i find that scripture not only allows for, but in many ways makes more sense when read from this perspective. So many logical and scriptural inconsistencies have disappeared, as well as the tension of the "us vs. them" mentality that used to weigh so heavily on me. Anyway, thank you for so clearly laying this out. Wish I could hear the lectures you will be giving, but thankful for what you choose to write out here.

  3. I have never been able to believe that a loving God would create beloved creatures for whom the last word is despair and destruction. Without universalism I find no god worthy of worship.

  4. Two entirely unrelated comments:

    (1) I think your diagnosis of the "love is a choice" is largely accurate, though not complete. In my judgment you left out two positive factors in leading people (esp. ministers) to opt for that view. First, it emphasizes love as an action rather than an emotion; second, it presents love as something you ought to (and can) do regardless of your feelings about a person at any one moment. Your example about your children makes sense in one respect, of course, but those are also the most radically "given," "natural" feelings people experience. What about the homeless person who smells? What about the person of another race? What about the neighbor who verbally abuses his children? The "love is a choice" position, although flawed, can be a helpful corrective or frame for people trying to understand what it means to love-through-action people who are not immediately or naturally lovable.

    (2) I think your diagnosis of the freedom problem in Bell and others is spot on. Where does this land you theologically in terms of divine and human freedom? I've shared this before, but I think the most attractive and theologically defensible form of universalism (which, I take it, is the one you espouse) is one whose corollary is a strong conception of divine sovereignty—not in competition with human willing rightly ordered, but absolutely in competition with human willing that is in bondage to sin and that therefore needs healing, renewal, liberation. But your references to Calvin, Barth, et al sometimes leads me to think you want to draw up short at certain strong claims about divine agency. Thoughts?

  5. Another point that shows the flaw in this reasoning is that love limits evil. If I am trying to kill myself or another, love will try to stop me. Love will not walk away without protesting. Also, any parent can tell you that love is not getting what you want. Love is getting what is best for you, that's why good parents don't give their children things that will not be good for them just because the children "want it." I couldn't bear to believe in such a cold God.

    Also, thank you so so much for pointing out the deep flaw in the "love is a choice" rhetoric. That phrase makes me want to throw up and I have always hated it. As a divorce person who did care about her vows but should never have gotten married, I made the most loving choice to set my husband free because I never loved him in a romantic way, and he deserved to have someone who does. At the end of the day if that love was never there, or for some people is completely dead, "stay because of your vows" is a prison sentence. "Never ever get divorced" isn't even biblical, from my studies. I don't advocate for divorce, I believe in the sanctity of marriage, but shit happens.

    Which brings up another damaging piece of rhetoric: "you always marry the wrong person." The question that follows that statement is, "why should I be discerning if its going to be an awful letdown anyway?" I think Evangelical culture sets itself up for failure with these two statements. But I digress. Thank you for this post! Great read!

  6. I haven't read Rob Bell's book so I don't know how good of a response this is, but it makes sense on its own. And it puts into words a lot of the things I've been feeling. My youth minister used to say, "God doesn't send good people to hell. Good people send themselves to hell" (which I actually said to a non-Christian in tenth grade and I still feel bad about). My answer now is, why would good people send themselves to hell? If they want hell because they think they would prefer it, then they have been deceived and are not free to make good choices. If they're not deceived, and they don't actually want hell, then they didn't actually choose it. And if they do want hell and do actually prefer it, then it can't be that heaven/being with God is the best possible destination for every human.

  7. Thanks for your helpful replies. My own in turn:

    (1) Your language about caring sounds Augustinian—i.e., talk of caring is talk of our desires, or equally of our unchosen/sheerly-given loves. I couldn't agree more, then, that the reason one (at least initially) treats a surface-unlovable person lovingly is that one already desires or loves something else that leads one to treat that person well. For Christians, that "something else" is Jesus (under whatever name we use). And we trust that, in treating the unlovable person with love because we love Jesus, we will come to love the former not only in volitional action but also in affective fact, as we do the latter.

    My only point about the "love is a choice" position is that there are many "loves" we can talk about, and that the more usual love is the loving action we choose to do even though we don't feel like it. But you are of course right, that that loving action chosen in spite of ourselves is always rooted in a deeper, unchosen love—and that that sort of love is always unchosen, because it is the love that has already chosen us.

    (2) This also sounds amenable to Augustine (in a way, perhaps, that it may not be to some streams of the Reformed tradition): that grace is irresistible, but works temporally and pedagogically. God works sovereignly to deliver us from bondage to sin, and so deliver us into freedom; but that freedom is not, when fully realized, competitive with or separated from God's agency but entirely consonant with it. To connect to the first point, it is free because it has been entirely educated into the maturity of living according to one's deepest unchosen love: God in Christ.

  8. Some of my limitations here are that I haven't (let me confess) read Augustine. But from what I understand, second hand, this is very Augustinian.

    The only twist would be that I don't think that this pedagogy of love is able to be completed in every biography prior to death. Thus the notion of postmortem salvific/pedagogical activity on God's part.

  9. Richard, I appreciate this post very much. I must confess that when I think of relatives and old friends who have an extreme anger at the poor, mostly people of color, who, in their words, "live off entitlement programs", I have been at a loss at how to help them get past their anger except to exhort them to CHOOSE to accept the words and life of Jesus, rather than expecting them to immediately start "feeling" differently toward the poor. After all, I grew up in such an anger, and I reached a point where I had to choose between living a double life between my heritage and those my heritage rejected. But, while reading your post I came to recognize an affection that I had grown into before having to make that choice, and that affection came gradually.

    Still, when I think of Joshua's words, "Choose today whom you will serve", the word "Choice" hangs there in front of me. But I must certainly concede your conclusion that an affection must come first. And maybe that is where good preaching comes in. There is more to preaching than imparting information; it is to stir the soul. And that is what concerns me about the CoC is some quarters, though I am no longer a member, simply becoming a part of a bland evangelicalism, that the preaching will suffer, that it will simply be of a simplistic expository nature rather that the preacher bearing his or her own soul, showing what the knowledge and experience of God being all in all actually does to a person.

  10. I love this.

    I have a tangential question. You wrote: "With our affections broken our choices are broken. . . . Something deep within us is confused and disoriented." Where (if at all) do you see human responsibility for bad choices/culpability for sin?

  11. You are speaking about "separationism," not "conditionalism." C.S.Lewis held to a blend of separationism and dehumanization, two contemporary strains of the traditional view on Hell. Separationists view Hell as mere separation, God not forcing sinners to be with Him if they don't want to (at some arbitrary point in time, which logically might change). A door locked from the inside is very apt for this.

    But Conditionalism as a term is from "Conditional Immortality," where nobody lives forever unless they are given the gift of eternal life. Hence, for the unsaved there is annihilation. It is all about ontological existence, and the condition in view is to be found "in Christ."

    See the "Hell Triangle" diagram at

  12. Big question. As far as our social contract is concerned, responsibility is mostly a straightforwardly causal term. If you're the proximal cause of X you're responsible for X. As to why you did X, as to the causes that led up to your doing X, that's a philosophical question that no one has yet been able to answer in any final way. I think it is generally agreed that the causes are both agentic and systemic. I make my own choices but I'm also a creature of my context. There's no one single cause, no final way to assign blame. And as to if God is any way implicated in all this that, too, is an open question, the question of theodicy.

    As I see it boiling down, people do bad things. As to why they do bad things, there are a million reasons. Regardless, whatever the reasons, salvation is about helping us step away from those bad things and into the Kingdom of God. Culpability isn't really an issue. Judge not, the Good Book says.

  13. There actually is a lot here that I think is good and makes sense in regards to what love is and how freedom plays in and so forth. I'm not a universalist, but I have never been big on the whole "God doesn't save everyone because that wouldn't be loving since they have freedom" argument.

    However, to reiterate what a few others have said, the term "conditionalism" refers to something entirely different than what you are describing. It describes the belief that the unsaved are destroyed/annihilated/killed in body and soul. It has nothing to do with the question of whether or not Hell is locked form the outside or inside (and that doesn't really matter since eventually they aren't there to experience it anyway). C.S. did not believe in annihilation/conditionalism; he believed in, well, hwat you said he believed in (just not the belief definied by the word you used).

    It'd be like if I told people they shouldn't feel compelled to avoid eating meat, thereby becoming dispensationalists. And then I proceed to write an article about why meat is good, and therefore, dispensationalism should be avoided. Obviously, I'm using the wrong term, since dispensationalism has nothing to do with vegetarianism.
    (I'm new to this blog so if you are a vehement vegetarian I don't say that to be offensive or a shot at your vegetarianism; it's just an example lol).

  14. Thanks. It's a tough issue, and I really appreciate your thoughts and how you see salvation in all of it.

  15. Well then, let me offer you an irresistible invitation: Read some damn Augustine!

    Also: Yes, with an unqualified absoluteness, Augustine's pedagogy of love stops with death. He views universalists as tender-hearted and well-meaning but finally misled believers who need correction. However—and I'm stepping outside of my knowledge of the scholarship—it's not clear to me that anything in Augustine's overall thought requires that there be no postmortem continuance of God's gracious pedagogy *except* his conviction that Scripture teaches clearly and uniformly of everlasting punishment for the wicked. So your position needn't be anti-Augustinian so much as non- (or trans-?) Augustinian.

  16. Haha! We're back to a weaker-will Dr. Beck. I love watching you bounce subtly between these two polls. This is a truly excellent post. I hope Rob Bell reads it. I think he would appreciate it. I think it is a solid critique that he would benefit from absorbing and addressing.

    A possible riff, on what you're saying about the gradual, gentle, (maybe even post-mortem) education of desire: God's selflessness is God's primary asset in this regard. It isn't necessary for God to seduce every person the way you or I would have to convince someone to like us. Because God IS love God can chase us/entice us down any trail of love. This makes it even less coercive. God merely encourages our natural affections and gently expands them till we arrive at the vast margins where God's beloved are found. To put it another way, God doesn't try to make us love God. God helps us to love the people God loves. God's love is a finger pointed toward the enemy rather than a beacon drawing us to God.

    Instead of God needing to reverse an object in motion, God can merely lay the path so our momentum carries us toward peace.

  17. I wish I could remember who and where in Orthodoxy I heard what I'll attempt to describe, but I don't, so please forgive me. But within the context of Orthodox psychotherapy, it was a recognition that our choices are constrained by so many different things. I remember the person describing the tiniest of movements toward 'good' (not necessarily even God) by someone with a horrific formation functioning as a sociopath as greater than 'huge' acts of piety by someone overcoming less. And within the whole description there was a sense of God working to rescue and turn everyone.

    Orthodoxy doesn't rule out the love of God eventually winning over every heart. That's clearest in St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Isaac the Syrian, but permeates the sense of 'we don't know' found everywhere. And the 'we don't know' is always combined with 'pray and trust in God'. There's a tension between the warning that we perhaps we can so harden our hearts to God that his love can find no way in balanced against an incredulity that anything merely human could ever win out against the love of God.

    Personally, I think I'm okay with that tension. Personally, I should strive to love God and not harden my heart. And I should pray for others, living and dead. Never abandon hope.

  18. Thanks for this. By the way, I think that people who are in times of crisis--depression, but also perhaps your divorce example--really reach the point where they can't access their own "caring." I've even seen this in people who neglect/ abuse children: I SHOULD care about the welfare of my child, but. . . .

    At this point, telling them it's a choice sounds better than just leaving them to act on their broken lack of caring. But I think I agree with you--it doesn't work. The choices don't actually get made until the caring gets restored.

    Which is hard work. Maybe even Holy Spirit work. Certainly not a-preacher-tells-you-what-to-do-and-suddenly-everything's-better work.

  19. I'll add that in my own experience, the people who avoid responsibility by claiming not to be agents (It's the system!) are just as happy to avoid responsibility by claiming to be agents (I'm a bad person!). Either way, people who feel powerless/ unwilling to step away from bad things into the Kingdom of God will rationalize. Either way, our message is less about blame than about the possibility/ hope of change.

  20. This has given me a lot to think there any other material that could be helpful in drilling down into the viewpoint of having our loves rooted in Love?

  21. While this book doesn't share my views about salvation, I think James Smith's book Desiring the Kingdom does a great job putting love, as I describe it in this post, at the center of spiritual formation. Basically, I agree with everything Smith says in Desiring the Kingdom with the addition of extending that vision of spiritual formation postmortem.

  22. I don't think I agree with the characterization of Bell's position here. He writes of a God that is endlessly chasing after us, not the passive, abandoning God you're suggesting he believes in.

  23. I think Bell is a bit of a Rorschach test, by design. Plenty of people are absolutely certain he is a universalist, and they can find quotes to warrant this claim. I think Richard's quotes equally warrant calling him a conditionalist. I think Bell is a "Don't put me in a categoryist." And if you feel like formulating it more logically, he might even be a "Your categories aren't coherent or mutually exclusive or being properly applied-ist."

  24. I agree. Bell's style is very poetic, he's more an artist than anything, so it's hard to say exactly what he believes. That said, to matt's point, early in the book Bell seems very much a universalist, but later in the book he seems to change his mind and moves to this more "conditionalist"/"separationalist" position.

  25. Oh my word.

    Up until now I had been conditionalist myself. I just seemed the only logical...But this puts a new spin on things. Not sure what I am now. But you've most certainly given me food for thought.

  26. Very good. As I have said before, if a corrupted will is a sickness of the soul eating away at the children of God, God’s behavior in the “sinners choose hell” explanation is directly equivalent to your watching idly as a mentally ill person deliberately walks up to and disturbs a rattlesnake, followed by your shaking your head sadly at their poor choice and the fact that they will soon die of poison. “It’s a shame, but it was her decision.” If there is a perfect, absolute good, then without their Creator’s miraculous intervention humans are either incapable of recognizing it or incapable of choosing it. Neither can be credibly blamed on the sinner. God must assume responsibility; at least supralapsarians are consistent here.

  27. I think two illustrations of your point are the centurion at the Cross and Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus. What we see is neither coercion nor decision. Rather, a revelation of ultimate love, when seen face to face, transforms our hearts ... we 'see'. And when we see Love, we love. And I'm hopeful that one day, 'every eye shall see him.' Am I tracking? Cf. Zech. 12

  28. Bell's latest "Unbelievable?" interview came across to me that he's firmed up on the latter position. Having said that, I still think he thinks God endlessly continues to pursue people, it's just He's unable to melt people's hearts or woo/attract them to Himself :-/

  29. Come read what can change your life and make you happy. Forgiveness. Faith. Truth. Hope. But the Greatest of all is Love. Misunderstood while we're all misunderstanding - Love described in the past tense while our comprehension of it resides in the Now. And that in itself presents an obvious understatement in regards to how Love isn't truly Known at All.

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