One of my favorite ways to introduce universal reconciliation in Christ and to compare and contrast it with other soteriologies--Calvinism and Arminianism in particular--is to use Thomas Talbott's propositions as described in his book The Inescapable Love of God and his essays in the edited book Universal Salvation?: The Current Debate.
Specifically, Talbott has us consider the following three propositions:
As Talbott points out, what is interesting about each proposition is that all three have ample biblical support. But, as Talbott goes on to point out, you cannot logically endorse all three. You have to accept two of the propositions and reject a third. And depending upon which propositions you either accept or reject you end up with either Calvinism, Arminianism, or Universal Reconciliation.
- God’s redemptive love extends to all human sinners equally in the sense that he sincerely wills or desires the redemption of each one of them.
- Because no one can finally defeat God’s redemptive love or resist it forever, God will triumph in the end and successfully accomplish the redemption of everyone whose redemption he sincerely wills or desires.
- Some human sinners will never be redeemed but will instead be separated from God forever.
It ends up looking like this:
If you are long time reader I've walked you through Talbott's propositions a few different times over the years. In this post I want to talk about the ancillary hypotheses associated with Calvinism, Arminianism and Universal Reconciliation in association with Talbott's propositions.
- Calvinism: Adopts Propositions #2 and #3. God will accomplish God's plans and some people will be separated from God forever. This implies a rejection of Proposition #1, that God wills to save all humanity.
- Arminianism: Adopts Propositions #1 and #3. God wills to save all people and some people will be separated from God forever. This implies a rejection of Proposition #2 as God will fail to accomplish something God wills (i.e., to save all people).
- Universal Reconciliation: Adopts Propositions #1 and #2. God wills to save all people and God will accomplish God's purposes. This implies a rejection of Proposition #3, that some people will be separated from God forever.
First, to clear up the jargon. The definition of ancillary is "providing necessary support to the primary activities or operation of an organization, institution, industry, or system." Something ancillary is in the background working in a support role.
An ancillary hypothesis, then, is a theoretical notion that works in the background to support some theoretical model. Theories, as they grow more complex, are often confronted with contradictory data or logical inconsistencies. In the face of that, theories often add ancillary hypotheses to fill in the gaps or to strengthen up the logical connections. In this post our theoretical models are Calvinism, Arminianism, and Universal Reconciliation.
Specifically, after you adopt two of Talbott's propositions and reject a third you're left with a logical conclusion but are without a mechanism. For example, Calvinism rejects Proposition #1, logically implying that God doesn't want to save all people. Well, that seems strange. God doesn't love everybody? Could you explain what you mean by that? What's the mechanism here?
Arminians, by contrast, reject Proposition #2, logically implying that God's will to save all people will be thwarted. Well, that seems strange. God's sovereign and omnipotent will can be thwarted? Could you explain what you mean by that? What's the mechanism here?
Finally, Universal Reconciliation rejects Proposition #3, logically implying that people won't be separated from God forever. Well, that seems strange. Hell isn't eternal? Could you explain what you mean by that? What's the mechanism here?
The point being, after you accept and reject Talbott's propositions there are some residual questions, issues that need to be resolved. Why doesn't God love everybody? How can God's will be defeated? How can hell not be forever?
To answer these questions you need some ancillary hypotheses. Mechanisms that explain how the three propositions might work together given how you've accepted or rejected them. These ancillary hypotheses aren't found in Talbott's propositions--that is why they are ancillary--and we could imagine a variety of potential mechanisms to make the various propositions work together. But generally speaking, the accepted ancillary hypotheses are these:
- Ancillary Hypothesis of Calvinism: Election
- Ancillary Hypothesis of Arminianism: Free Will
- Ancillary Hypothesis of Universal Reconciliation: Duration of Hell
Election, free will, a finite hell. These are the ancillary hypotheses sitting behind Talbott's propositions. They are not contained in Talbott's propositions, but they function in the background to to make each theoretical model work.
And here's my observation about all this. Each of these ancillary hypotheses are hotly contested. And no wonder as ancillary hypotheses tend to be the weakest links, the bits of post hoc speculation and jury-rigging needed to make the system work.
And that goes to my point. Is the doctrine of, say, election any less controversial and contested then, say, a universalist speculating about the duration of hell? To say nothing of free will.
As I see it, all three ancillary hypotheses are equally speculative, equally debatable and equally problematic. Which is yet another reason why I don't think Universal Reconciliation is any more "heretical" when compared to the more accepted soteriologies. I think everyone is on equally shaky ground.