Sunday, October 6, 2013

Another Logical Path To "Checkmate", and Additional Resources

In "Checkmate for Hell", I started out with the most basic (and in my opinion. the most elegant) logical defense for Biblical Universalism.  This defense is based on the following three propositions which are all defended by many of the most respected theologians in history, but which cannot all be true as they are logically exclusive:

  1. God's will is inescapable.  In other words, God is omnipotent/sovereign/in control.  In other words, God gets what God wants.
  2. God wants all men to be saved.  God doesn't want anyone to perish.
  3. Some will not ever be saved and will end up either annihilated or in eternal conscious torment.

These three cannot all logically be true.  So what has traditionally happened is that Christianity has been divided into two camps - one camp, which calls themselves Calvinists (but should really call themselves Augustinians), affirms propositions (1) and (3), but denies proposition (2).  The other camp, which calls themselves Arminians, affirms propositions (2) and (3), but believes that because of free will, some men are able to escape the will of God for all men to be saved.  But I argue in my first three "Chess moves" that propositions (1) and (2) are BOTH Biblical and BOTH true, as well as showing in "Chess Move #3" that the logical conclusion that all men will be saved is also Biblical.  Then, in "Chess Moves 4 & 5", I show why the verses used to defend proposition #3 above have been mistranslated and thus misunderstood.

But there is another logical path one could take in order to defend Biblical Universalism, and it is good to understand this path, because if you can arrive at the same logical conclusion through two separate paths, you can be more sure that the conclusion is, in fact, logical.  So let's examine this alternate route:

Move #1:  What Characteristics Would the Eternally Blessed Possess?
In Part 12 of "Checkmate for Hell", I present a defense for the idea that the view of "Heaven" being a realm outside of our present reality that Christians will one day be magically transported to is not a Biblical idea.  Thus, I will now use the phrase "Eternally Blessed" to describe the state of those souls who are united with Christ in "the end".  

So one must ask - what characteristics would the "Eternally Blessed" possess?  The first characteristic, which is the view I would say most people would jump to quickest, is what I would call "perfect bliss", and we see a picture of this state in Revelations 21:3-4:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

So the picture of tears being wiped away, as well as the elimination of death, mourning, crying and pain will be termed "perfect bliss".

But I believe there is another characteristic that would be a result of being "Eternally Blessed", and I call this "universal love".  Jesus said in Matthew 22:39 that we should love our neighbor as ourselves.  When asked who our neighbor was, Jesus told a parable of a Samaritan, who is arguably a member of another religion altogether from the Jews, and could be seen as an enemy.  Jesus implied here that everyone is our neighbor.  Not only this, but in Matthew 5:44, Jesus told us to love our enemies, and right after that said in verse 48 to "be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."  Therefore, I propose that the "Eternally Blessed" would posses both perfect bliss and universal love.

Move #2: Anyone who possesses universal love for all persons and who is aware that some persons are eternally damned cannot possess perfect bliss.
Feeling sorrow for others who are in pain is a sign of love.  Consider Paul's remarks in Phillipians 2:27 about Epaphroditus:

Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.

Paul is showing empathy here - he loves Epaphroditus with such force, that if harm were to befall him, Paul would experience "sorrow upon sorrow."  The idea that the love of God causes empathy like this is reinforced in I John 3:17:

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?

Also, in Romans 12:15, Paul says:

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

This is empathy - to feel the joys and sorrows of the ones you love.  Thus, I argue that anyone who possesses universal love would not be able to possess perfect bliss if anyone is eternally damned.

And so I conclude:

Move #3: Therefore, anyone who is aware that some persons are eternally damned cannot possess eternal blessedness (1, 2).
But, you might say, God will cause the eternally blessed to forget those who are eternally damned.  This is a strange concept, if you stop to think.  So you're saying that God will give us a lobotomy for us to possess eternal blessedness?  In John 15:26, the Holy Spirit is described as the "Spirit of truth".  In John 14:6, Jesus describes himself as "the truth", and previously, in John 10:30, Jesus had said "I and the Father are one."  So if Jesus is "the truth", then we can logically conclude that God is truth.  In Romans 3:4, Paul says "let God be true and every human being a liar".  Finally, Jesus said in John 8:32:

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Jesus said that the truth would set us free - not an elaborate hoax, whereby God fools us and takes away our memories of our loved ones.  So, because of this line of reasoning, I move on:

Move #4: If anyone is eternally damned, anyone who possesses eternal blessedness would be aware of this.
At this point, the moves are self-explanatory, so we can move forward a little faster:

Move #5: Thus, if anyone is eternally damned, then none possess eternal blessedness (3, 4).

Move #6: God, out of benevolent love for His creatures, confers blessedness at least on those who earnestly repent and seek communion with Him.

Move #7: Therefore, if anyone at all will be eternally blessed, this implies that in the end, God does not eternally damn anyone (5, 6)

Some Additional Resources
If you have the ability to stream Netflix movies, you should check out "Hellbound?" - this documentary features faith leaders from both sides of the debate:

If you don't have streaming Netflix, you can order a copy on this website.

The following are some good links for further research:

This is a forum where Evangelical Universalists discuss theology and theologically related topics

There is a nice thread on that forum here where one of the members has been working on exegesis into various Universalist passages

Here is a list of a number of passages that support Universal Reconciliation

Here is another list of passages that are contained in the book "Hope Beyond Hell" (the entire book is available in a link on that site as well)

This site also has many resources for exploration into Universal Salvaion

There is a free book on the site above is called "Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years"

Another list of Reconciliation Scriptures

The Christian Universalist Association

This article puts some interesting historical perspective into the issue of Hell

Here is a list of quotes from early church fathers on Universalism

This is a list of articles about Christian Universalism 

Note that there are plenty of other websites out there - these are just a few I have checked into.

Here is a list of Universalist Authors (note that this is not a comprehensive list - merely a nice list of scholarly authors who support Universalism):
Thomas Talbott
Robin Parry (also wrote "The Evangelical Universalist" under the pseudonym Gregory McDonald)
Karl Barth
Soren Kierkegaard
Eric Reitan
John Kronen
George McDonald
Christopher H. Partridge
Jaime Clark-Soles
Rene Girard
Peter Enns
Sharon Baker
Marilyn McCord Adams
Jurgen Moltmann
Hans Urs Von Balthasar
Karl Rahner
Richard Rohr
James Relly
Keith DeRose
F.D. Moule
Morwenna Ludlow
Jacques Ellul
William Barclay
Brad Jersak
Michael Hardin
Richard Beck

Along with this list, this link makes the argument that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was sympathetic to universalism.


  1. Hi Geoff,

    Thank you very much for linking to my article on Bonhoeffer's universalist tendencies and American Evangelicalism. Frankly, I'm quite flattered that anyone out there would actually come across my writing let alone think it has merit.

    However, I think it is important to note that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was not, in fact, a universalist, even as he was quite sympathetic to the point. He still maintained the "dual outcome" as he called it, saying that God judges based upon faithfulness to humanity's being in Christ. So, for Bonhoeffer, all are in Christ, but not all are faithful. And those who are not faithful will be judged by God accordingly. All of this is most clearly laid out in the second part of his book Discipleship.

    So, even as his theology changes the shape of a lot of this discourse--and even as he called it theology's hope and sigh--he still was not a universalist.

    If, as it seems, you are interested in Christian universalism, you might also want to read the work of Tom Greggs (, as he's also a careful theologian doing work in Christian universalism.

    1. Thank you so much for reading, Joe!

      Yes, I have read the Metaxes biography, and actually have been a part of a Bonhoeffer study group started by my church. I had read a Glenn Beck interview with Metaxes, and found it extremely curious, as I would have guessed that Bonhoeffer would have stood against people like Beck, had he been alive.

      As far as Bonhoeffer and Universalism goes, are you saying he was a "hopeful universalist", or not at all?

      Thank you for the book recommendation - I don't think I'll be getting it now, as the price is over $80 at the moment.

    2. Yikes! That's a pretty steep price. Ah, academic texts.

      And yeah, I think the Metaxas stuff has been a very interesting step in Bonhoeffer reception. I think that there are some very legitimate questions about how much Bonhoeffer would have been cozy with Glenn Beck or the brand of Christianity he espouses. In fact, that's kind of a front burner issue for a lot of Bonhoeffer scholarship these days.

      At any rate, I don't know precisely what you mean by the term 'hopeful universalist', but his direct quote is that apocatastatis can never be more than the theologian's 'hope and sigh' and cannot be made part of a system. And yet, both times that he directly mentions it, it is with a very favorable disposition. And so I think that he really likes the position, even as he's not able to read universalism in his bible, if that makes any sense.

      He's actually really tricky on the notion and (surprise surprise) doesn't fit into our way of approaching the topic. Precisely because he does move the argument for God's judgment into the realm of faithfulness and away from the realm of regeneration or being in Christ (because those are achieved facts through the resurrection), he doesn't fit into the way universalism is usually addressed. Generally, it's thought that all who are in Christ will be saved, but for Bonhoeffer that isn't the case--which is why I think he's really an interesting theologian on the topic. All are in Christ, but not all will be saved because not all are faithful (which, it seems to me, seems to also map onto God's interaction with Israel: Established as God's people and then called to be faithful--which they are judged for not being).

      So, in the sense that all Israel was God's community, but that there was judgment for their faithfulness, I think that Bonhoeffer's theology allows for all humanity to be in Christ, and yet judged for not being faithful to their identity in Christ. So I don't know if that makes him a "hopeful universalist" or not, but it does make him an interesting dialogue partner on the topic.

    3. One other thought, I don't know if you have any academic journal access, but if you do, you can also see Tom Gregg's thought on Bonhoeffer in an article in Modern Theology entitled "Pessimistic Universalism". Here' the citation: Modern Theology, 26 no 4 O 2010, p 495-510.