Why I am a Universalist, Interlude: A Comment on the Disjoint Between a Continuous Soteriology and a Binary Eschatology

In the comments to my last post, Daniel, from the blog Hopeful Daniel asked me a question that prompted me to write an overly long reply. I wrote so much because I had been thinking about how to make this point in the series. Anyway, I didn't want the point buried in the comments so I'm pulling it out and posting it out front. Below is Daniel's comment and my reply. Thanks Daniel! And I do want some book recommendations from readers about Wright and Perriman! I'm almost done with Behavioral Game Theory (a riveting read I tell you!).

Dr. Beck,
Have you had a chance to interact with the proposals of NT Wright and Andrew Perriman concerning their partially realized eschatology? I think they might argue that Paul's argument has more to do with the continuation of the people of God through the crisis of the end of second temple judaism (cf. Jerusalem's destruction in 70AD). You've mentionned in previous posts that you may be making certain eschatological assumptions (namely, that all or at least most of the talk of 'gehenna' and destruction--or being 'objects of wrath'--in the NT has to do with our post-mortem 'destinations')... could it be that the New Testament is a lot less concerned with 'life after death' than we think it is?
I certainly think such a proposal could be consistent with universalism, and so I was wondering if you'd had a chance to read up on it or not.
Either way, I just wanted to say thanks for all of your very insightful posts.
Rich blessings,

You have pushed me to the limit of my theological training! I know of Wright but have not studied him. I don’t know Perriman. Any recommendations on which books to start with?

But based on what you say I, too, would agree wholeheartedly that the NT (or the OT for that matter) is not very concerned with the "after-life." Its concerns are very here-and-now. These blog posts are about the "after-life" which makes it seem like I am particularly keen to emphasize it. I am not. In fact, as you hint at, universalism is a way to set aside the concerns of the "after-life," trusting that God will make it all work out, somehow, in the end. I like to think that universalism synthesizes soteriology and eschatology very parsimoniously. In short, I like universalism because it pushes me into the present moment.

Here’s an example. Some years ago an ACU bible professor taught a Highland class on Western versus Eastern visions of salvation. Summarizing, the Western tradition, Roman in tone, has emphasized status. The Eastern tradition, which we are less connected to, emphasized, I forget what he called it, something like “divinization” (becoming more godlike). Basically, it’s the distinction between justification (a binary category) and sanctification (a continuous dimension). The distinction between the static “I am saved” and the more dynamic “I am being saved.”

So the ACU prof says that we need to recover in the church the more dynamic, sanctification, process vision of salvation. Further, other ACU bible professor friends ask me to keep my soteriology and my eschatology separate. Specifically, they want me to keep my soteriology focused on the here and now.

Well, here’s the problem I have with these very intelligent friends of mine. You can’t tout the virtues of a continuous soteriology (“I am being saved through my participation in God’s life right here and right now”) with a binary eschatology (there will be an eternal separation between Lost and Saved). Otherwise, the ultimate concerns of eschatology keep intruding into the here-and-now vision of soteriology. Nor is it likely you could persuade people to “just don’t think about it,” eschatology that is. People are going to think about it! If hell exists, people are going to think about it! So, you better have some answers. Hedging on the issue isn’t going to work, ministerially speaking.

I think the soteriological/eschatological vision has to be unified throughout. Universalism does this by positing that the continuous dynamic at play today (greater and greater participation in the life of God) is how it will be eschatologically as well (after death this growing participation picks up where it left off and keeps going). I think many ACU bible profs are working with (or at least refusing to reconcile) a continuum/binary disjoint in their soteriology/eschatology models (it's all about partipating in the life of God until, bam!, at death, let the sorting begin!). In universalism, it’s continuum/continuum all the way through. Thus, ultimate concerns (e.g., eternal destination, a binary category) are not superimposed on a dynamic continuum at work today (e.g., participating in the life of God today, sanctification, becoming like God).

Does that make sense? This seems obvious to me, but no one around here listens. So, I wonder if I'm missing something.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

6 thoughts on “Why I am a Universalist, Interlude: A Comment on the Disjoint Between a Continuous Soteriology and a Binary Eschatology”

  1. Sadly, I think a psychology professor can get away with being more open ("loud and often") with understandings that stray from our norms, than can a Bible faculty.

    "The people" don't seem to mind as much if our psychology profs are a bit wonky, as long as our Bible people are still on the old paths...

  2. Hi, I just saw your request for info on Wright and Perriman.

    Wright explores his view of AD70 most in 'Jesus and the Victory of God.' By memory, the only short book he discusses this in is 'The Meaning of Jesus' with Borg.

    However, you might also wanna check at http://www.ntwrightpage.com/

    Perriman's book is 'The Coming of the Son of Man.' He also oversees a site/forum at opensourcetheology.net

  3. Graham Old,
    Thanks for the links! I'll be checking them out to join the ranks of the theologically literate.

    Here's the trouble: All (well, most) those guys are friends. They frustrate me, but I don't want to knock 'em too hard.

    But on second thought, they don't even read my blog so why not?

  4. I've found your blog only a couple of weeks ago, and particularly this series. It is very encouraging to find somebody who thinks like that.

    I just wanted to make a comment on "becoming more godlike". The term is Theosis, used in (proper) Eastern Orthodox theology, & it simply refers to a process where God is pouring himself into us, making us more like him. This began with the Incarnation itself where God becomes human, blessing and sanctifying "humanity" as a state of being, then Crucifixion where God blesses & sanctifies hell (both as a mental/spiritual state during life & as a "place" after death, if you think of it as such) and in many other instances. It is also the original concept behind traditional Eucharest (communion from the bread & wine)

    Btw, thank you for writing this series :)


Leave a Reply