I Don't Believe in Universalism

Calm down, let me explain.

I would like to explain why I don't believe in universalism.

Actually, the reason is pretty simple.

I don't like -isms.

I don't believe in -isms.

-Isms are ideological systems and I struggle with those. Especially metaphysical systems.

In the case of "universalism" I struggle with the metaphysical specificity you have to articulate about how God--given all the things that have to get juggled, from human sin, free will, evil, God's justice, God's holiness, hell, the biblical text, the atonement, time, sanctification vs. justification and on and on and on--will reconcile all things in Christ. If believing in universal reconciliation means believing in a specific theological vision--an -ism--that explains how all this stuff is going to get worked out then, well, I'm out. I don't believe in that.

To be clear, I love thinking about and creating those theological systems, how this or that issue or tension or biblical text "fits together" in a vision of universal reconciliation. I think such system building and system testing is a part of what it means to say that that faith is seeking understanding. It also helps us compare and contrast the reasonableness and coherence of different systems.

In short, I think creating these systems, these theological -isms, is both valuable and important. But I don't believe in these systems. The systems are tools and hypotheses. That is all.

Consider universalism. There isn't a single view--universalism. There are all kinds of views. There are universalisms. I don't believe in universalism because I can't tell you which of all these different views is the right view. I have my opinions of course, but I'm not particularly interested in determining in any final way which system is the "correct" system. I don't know how you could even determine such a thing.

So what do I believe in?

I believe God is love. That is what I believe. "God is love" is axiomatic to my thinking. A theological non-negotiable.

And what I've noticed is that when you are truly non-negotiable on this point and when you try to express God's love eschatologically what you end up articulating is something that earns the label "universalism."

If someone asks me about specifics about how this or that is going to work out or fit together in the end I'll start talking about theories, ideas and systems showing how all those things might be reconciled. For example, I have a system about how to reconcile God's wrath and eternal punishment with my axiomatic conviction that God is love. That system would earn the label "universalism." But I'm not sure my system is right. God might work it out some other way. In fact, I'm pretty sure God will work it out in some other way.

So I don't believe in the -ism. I believe that God is love and I refuse to negotiate on that point. That's about it. And while there are lots of theories about how God's love is expressed eschatologically I can't tell you which of those is right or wrong. So I hold the -isms very, very lightly.

Like I said, I don't believe in universalism.

But I do I believe that all things will be reconciled to God in Christ.

I believe that God is love.

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

19 thoughts on “I Don't Believe in Universalism”

  1. I hear what you're saying. I feel the same way about theism. Credo in unum Deum, but I would not describe myself as a theist. Rheumatism, on the other hand (unless, of course, you're a Christian Scientist) ...;)

  2. Karl Barth in a conversation with Eberhard Jungel said of apokatastasis: "I do not teach it, but I do not not teach it."

  3. I've always wondered about that phrase, "God is love." Whenever I hear the phrase, I think "Soylent green is people." Every definition of love that I know boils down to a set of emotions or ideas. Does "God is love" say that God is composed of a particular kind of mental constructs? I know many who would concur with that interpretation.

  4. I love this. It speaks to me of the mystery that should give us peace; that produces in our souls the MARVEL OF EMBRACING.

  5. Good words. I interpret my eschatology through the lens of the story of the prodigal son. The way i understand that God is love is that God is at least as nice as the father in that story. Does the older son eventually join the party? I guess there is a possibility that he doesn't, but the invitation from the father is always extended. The father in that story would never tell someone minding the door to turn the older son away. That's my dos centavos anyway.

  6. “God is Love” – Great; now show me!
    Honestly I couldn’t agree more, but like a basketball covered in Vaseline, you can’t quite mentally hold onto it – but I guess that’s the point.

  7. my dyslexia kicked in when you wrote: 'does the older son eventually join the party?' i read: 'does the older son eventually join the therapy?' yeah therapy could help that guy.

  8. god is love is most evident to me when i see the mommies and babies, the daddies & the kitties & the puppies! i love louis armstrongs version of 'it's a wonderful world'.

  9. It is more aply stated "Love is God."
    And I like this more.:
    “Thou art god, I am god. All that groks is god.”
    ― Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

  10. I tend to use the phrase "god is loving." The reason I make this distinction is because I see God's love as a verb. God's love is an active and present reality. It's not just a noun or a descriptor but, rather, a part of the active being of God. Thoughts?

  11. "I do believe that all things will be reconciled to God in Christ..." then you are in fact a universalist and there is no justice in this world for the wicked who reject Him, causing evil. Remember , the gate to heaven is narrow (Matthew) and the door to hell is locked from the inside (Lewis).

  12. Well put. You scared me for a moment with that title though. I still lean toward believing that people who die and haven't prayed the "sinner's prayer" or anything, aren't without any more chances. I came to that reading "Love Wins" in a desperate attempt to shake the straightjacket of my theological upbringing after the suicide of a friend's son, who had designated himself, "an atheist, but I'm not a (jerk - paraphrase) about it." His mom is Wiccan, he struggled with emotional and mental health problems all of his life, and finally, two months after my daughter died, he ended his life and shook me again. I just did not want to believe that this boy was in Hell. His mom told me what happened and said she hoped her son was with my daughter. I had always been taught he probably went to Hell but I could not say that. And, so I went searching and found hope. I don't have it all figured out. You probably have it better figured than I do, but, I keep hanging onto the mercy and love of God. I just have to reject that idea that God wants to torture "bad people" for eternity.

  13. But what does "God is love" mean? How many times is that stated explicitly in Scripture? What's the context? What does "love" mean any way? If you could be right, though, wouldn't you want to be?

  14. Barbara,the very next verse talks about how God's love is manifested in The Christ. I focus on the active affect of God's love in the person of Jesus. Too often when we just put God's love "out there" we tend to depersonalize it into a vague feeling. Focusing on the activity of God's love moves away from thinking it is just a static event.

    So, while I see love as an integral part of God's being (God is love), I emphasize this love as an active, real, and tangible reality.

  15. Interesting how you quote Lewis as if he's in the Bible somewhere. You should remember that God's "justice" looks very very different from our human understanding of what justice is. Thank God.

  16. One of the richest and most significant concepts in the Bible is the Old Testament "hesed" (steadfast love, devotion). God's "hesed" is both the deep involvement of his heart and the commitment of his will toward us. Similar to the love in a good marriage. The New Testament's "God is love" is based on this foundation.

Leave a Reply