Is Bell really a universalist?

A few people have asked me this question.

It is a bit of a slippery question. Ch. 4 of the book seems to be going down that route right until the end and then there is a sudden switch, grounded in human freedom, away from the idea that we can know whether all will be saved or not. It is somewhat confusing in light of the rest of the chapter because earlier on he seems sympathetic to the idea that God's love can melt even the hardest heart.

So I guess his view is this:
1. universalism is a valid Christian view, not heresy
2. there are good theological reasons for universalism (he thinks that God desires to save all, sent Christ to die for all, and that there are good reasons to hope that God will achieve his purposes)
3. human freedom means that we cannot know for sure that God will achieve all his purposes.

So I think I'd call him a "hopeful universalist." That mode of universalism (if you consider it to be a kind of universalism) is not uncommon.

I ran out of words in my Baptist Times article and so did not get on to the issue of distinguishing "hopeful" from "confident" universalism. So I simply spoke of RB as a "universalist" which, without the above mentioned distinction, might be a tad misleading.

But this is just my take on the issue but I hope it offers a little more clarity.

Comments

Mike Gantt said…
I can't recall the source, but I'm pretty sure he has explicitly said when asked in the last couple of weeks, "I am not a universalist."

Perhaps someone else can provide a link to video or text that would confirm or correct this notion.
Robin Parry said…
Mike

he did. The video is the interview with Bashir (it is on my blog below). But I think he meant "I am not a confident universalist"

Robin
Mike Gantt said…
Robin,

Makes sense. Thanks.
Paul said…
Robin,

Do "hopeful universalists," who also affirm infallible divine belief/foreknowledge about all future human free actions, have a means-end irrationality problem for God? Isn't it means-end irrational to engage in an activity to bring about that which you know is impossible? I.e., if God infallibly believes that sinner S will never repent and so will never be saved, why continually act to bring about S's salvation? I've heard it said that the definition of insanity is repeatedly doing the same action over and over again, expecting different results.

Thoughts?
"Nick" said…
Bell's gift to the evangelical world is that he has brought the issue out into the open. So in some ways whether he is a universalist or not isn't as important.

Now others can pick up the torch and carry it on, and possibly do a better job of arguing for it (as Robin has done already.) The ultimate desire would be, at the very least, that the position become an accepted position in Christian theology, even if many/most don't agree with it.

I also think that if Bell keeps studying the issue he will become more convinced. I know I started as a "hopeful universalist" and have moved into confidence, and I think most people move that way.
Robin Parry said…
Paul,

I am assuming here that you are dividing "hopeful universalists" into
(a) those who think that there are true propositions about future states of affairs and that God knows what they are (call them HUa), and
(b) those that think that there are no true propositions about future states of affairs (call them HUb).

On HUb it is not simply ignorant humans but also God who can, at best, be a hopeful universalist. Even God cannot be sure whether all will be saved or not.

But you are concerned with HUa. Now on HUa we humans may be hopeful universalists but God is not because he knows for sure whether or not all will be saved.

Well, perhaps the sober truth is that God knows that all people will freely choose to repent and so his continuing to work on people is hardly irrational. Indeed, I think that this really is the sober truth. So your dilemma does not arise.

If, as on your scenario, God knows that some will never freely choose to repent (and if he is not prepared to override their freewill) then God is not a universalist (even if he permits humans to hope for universalism).

But who is to say that, on this scenario, God does "continually act" to bring about S's salvation? Presumably he does not. He may try for a while simply so that the person is, in Paul's words, "without excuse" but I don't see why he would keep on doing so forever. I imagine the HUa person will hope that all will repent even whilst acknowledging that God already knows whether or not they will and, if they will not they will be annihilated.

So it does not seem to me that your proposed scenario fits the views of any actual Christians.

No hopeful universalist on either HUa or HUb faces your irrational God scenario.
Paul said…
Robin,

Thanks.

No hopeful universalist on either HUa or HUb faces your irrational God scenario.

Yes, it seems there are some hopeful universalists for whom the problem doesn't arise. I guess I had in mind a more robust set of propositions held to. For example, I have come across several "classical Arminians" who want to say that God always tries to save (without violating free will) the damned but they will never turn to him. Hell is locked from the inside. With this, they think they can protect God from charges of being unloving. So these type believe (a) God knows future truths about libertarian free agents, (b) some libertarian free agents will be in hell forever, (c) God will always try to save these, (d) and God desires/hopes they will turn to him.

I claim this view makes God means/end irrational. So this form of hopeful universalism would seem to implicate God as means/end irrational.
Ted said…
He seems to swerve away from full universalism at the last minute, even though his theology leads inevitably in that direction (in the way you've said Barth/Torrance do). Bell says love is not love if not freely chosen, so there must be room for people to reject God. But how does this square with the NT idea that we are enslaved and need rescue? Surely some over-riding of 'free will' is welcome if we're our own worst enemies?
Aaron said…
I think Bell shies away from saying he's a universalist because of how charged that word is. I think when he's says that he's not, he's saying he's not a pluralist - as this is usually what people think when they hear "universalist".

I also noticed the "swerve" that you talked about Robin. I think that Bell avoids proclaiming universal reconciliation in the book because he wants to give people room to breathe.

I think he believes it and is confident in it... he quotes "every knee will bow and every tongue confess" and then a few pages later says that love will not force anything.

By separating these two statements, and telling us that "we can have all the hell we want", Bell gives some breathing room while still getting the most important part of the message, Love, across. ( and in so doing, I think he's communicating the truth in the most loving way ;-)

BTW Robin, I'm a first time commenter here. I just discovered the blog a week ago and have already enjoyed reading and listening to your thoughts. I "converted" to Christian universal reconciliation about 2 years ago and can count on one hand the number of people I know who believe it... hopefully it'll take at least two hands now thanks to Bell. :-)

-Aaron
Eric Reitan said…
Paul,

I want to consider your worry about the means-end irrationality of God under certain (non-universalist) Arminian theologies in the light of what I have always taken to be one of the most moving stories in Zoroastrian mythology. R.C. Zaehner summarizes the story as follows:

"Ohrmazd (God) had become aware of himself not only as light, wisdom, and power, but also as goodness and mercy; so, though he knew that there could in the long run be no compromise, he offered peace to Ahriman (the Devil) and invited him to co-operate with him in his creation so that he too could share in eternal life and become 'deathless and unageing, knowing neither corruption nor decay'. Ahriman, however, will not and cannot be cajoled out of his wickedness, for his very essence is aggression and envy."

Ohrmazd here knows that, because Ahriman's essential nature is evil, Ahriman will not respond positively to Ohrmazd's gesture of loving mercy. But Ohrmazd makes the gesture even so because to do so expresses HIS essential nature as good and merciful.

Now this strikes me as lovely--and I am resistant to having what I find to be lovely dubbed irrational. But beyond that, it seems to me that "futile" gestures needn't be irrational, even if they're known to be futile. Pursuing a given end might somehow be the fitting thing to do, given who one is and the worth of the end pursued, even if one knows the end cannot be realized. In other words, the act of pursuing the end might have a value that makes the act good to perform, a value that it possesses independent of the value of the end's realization.

Being a confident universalist(and not thinking that there exist beings such as Zoroastrianism's Ahriman, whose nature is essentially evil), I don't think that God actually engages in any futile efforts to save creatures. But I don't find the robust theological view you describe to necessarily imply any irrationality on God's part.
Paul said…
Eric,

Thanks for that comment!

I'll mull it over and see if I have anything to say by way of response. If it takes a couple days I didn't want to leave you hanging.
MikeG said…
To Paul and Eric,

I'm really enjoying the little discussion you have going there! This may be a little off-topic, but I was wondering:

Which is more loving: to give a terminally ill patient some pain reducing drugs; or to give them a quick death?

Please ignore the whole "euthanasia" debate - I'm not interested in that. I'm just trying to conjure up an example whereby an act is committed solely because it is loving, not because it has a specific end in mind.

It just seems to me that although actions may be "means/end irrational," I wonder if something actually needs to be means/end rational in order for it to be the right thing to do?

Maybe I've just restated Eric's comment...
Paul said…
Hi Eric,

Had a couple moments freed up earlier than expected, so I have a few thoughts.

You summarize your Zoroastrian story thus:

"Ohrmazd here knows that, because Ahriman's essential nature is evil, Ahriman will not respond positively to Ohrmazd's gesture of loving mercy. But Ohrmazd makes the gesture even so because to do so expresses HIS essential nature as good and merciful.

So, I think we can agree that it would not be necessarily means-end irrational to offer someone X, even if you knew they would not accept X, but because it was the right, civil, polite, loving, etc., thing to do. So, I may offer my neighbor an invitation to my raging house party, even though I know he is an agoraphobic recluse who will most surely decline the invitation. I do it to be a good neighbor. To be polite and civil. To offer a gesture of love. Accordingly, I'm with you so far.

However, here's where I begin to part ways with your story:

(1) Ohrmazd makes one offer to Ahriman, not an endless amount.

(2) There are clearly some instances where such a gesture would be ridiculous, even irrational. Suppose a deity, Theta, of the world of shapes could only save shapes with angles. But then there's Pi, whose essential nature is a circle. What sense does it make to offer Pi salvation? Perhaps he offers to square Pi. Where does this story differ with yours?

(3) I notice that you talk merely of "offers." However, there's more going on in the above scenarios I posed, such as intentional stances like 'hoping' and 'desiring.'

(3a) One can grant that someone may do something polite, civil, loving, etc., for the end of doing the polite thing, the civil thing, the loving thing, etc. But now we've changed ends. The end now seems to be "to do the polite thing." So in your story, Ohrmazd appears to treat Ahriman more as a means to the end of "doing the right thing" than an end in himself. The end is to do what is right.

(3b) But what sense does it make to say that you hope for or desire an end you know is impossible to realize? Does Ohrmazd infallibly believe that Ahriman will not accept the offer and yet still hopes he does? That doesn't seem means-end rational.

(4) So, it seems like I can agree with your intuition and allow you to still find the story lovely, but I don't think the reasons you find it lovely answer the means-end irrationality problem it would appear "classical Arminians" have implicated God in.
Robin Parry said…
Paul and Eric

I am loving your discussion. It is refreshing to get a different spin on the whole issue.

Robin
Paul,

I was wondering about the idea of means/end irrational. The call to evangelize is universal, is it not? The idea is to bring the good news to everybody. If not everybody will ultimately be saved and God knows that beforehand, doesn’t this make the call to evangelize means/end irrational?
Paul said…
Hi Dianelos,

To lay my cards on the table, I am a Calvinist and so offer a Calvinistic answer to the evangelism question. But, I'm not sure if it makes *God* means-end irrational. He commands *us* to evangelize, and since we don't know who will be saved, we evangelize all. Also, as Robin said above, it may be to serve as the means to make some "without excuse." But I fear this question may take off in another direction and I'd might not have the time to give it the attention it would deserve.
Hi Paul,

To be precise, Christ does not call us to evangelize, but to evangelize *all*, and thus to bring the good news even to those God already knows will be damned (and for whom, incidentally, the good news is not good). I have trouble making sense of that picture.

I don’t know much about Calvinism (I am an Eastern Orthodox myself) but I wonder whether Robin’s description of universalism might not be compatible with Calvinism too. After all, can’t the set of the unelect be empty? Who are we to claim to have some knowledge about the number of those not elected by God? At the very least can’t a good Calvinist be also a hopeful universalist and pray to God to have elected everybody?
Paul said…
Hi Dianelos,

Right, we are commanded to evangelize all those who are proper subjects of evangelism. I'm not sure the scope of your "*all*," you mean concepti, infants, severely mentally disabled?

I don't believe the set of non-elect can be empty; however, I'm sure a Calvinist could be a universalist. I don't believe universalism is a ticket straight to hell. I just think it happens to be false :-)
Hi Paul,

I can’t make sense of a perfectly rational and perfectly good person calling on us to bring the good news to all those who seem to us to be proper subjects of evangelism, while knowing that a significant proportion of them will be (or are already) damned. It seems to me that the call to universal evangelism implies that it is at least possible for everybody to be saved.

You say that you don’t believe that the set of non-elect can be empty. I suspect you mean that you don’t believe the set of non-elect is empty. Or else, do you have some reason to believe that the set of non-elect cannot possibly be empty? Or, in other words, that God cannot possibly have chosen to save everybody. If so I wonder what that reason might be.

Or consider this: Christ’s command to love everybody as ourselves, implies that, as we hope that we are elected for salvation, so also to hope that everybody else is. At this point one might suggest that even though we should hope for universal salvation it won’t happen. But in that case it seems to me that Christ’s command of universal love becomes incoherent, for it entails that we should hope for something that is false. So, given this fundamental command of Christ, it seems to me that all Christians not only can but should be hopeful universalists. (If I understand Robin correctly, “hopeful universalism” entails the belief that it is not impossible for God to have chosen to save everybody, one’s hope that God has in fact chosen to save everybody, and one’s belief that there is nothing to stop God from succeeding if God has in fact chosen to save everybody.)
Eric Reitan said…
Paul,

I think you response to the Zoroastrian story shows a way in which one might construe the story such that God's offer to the Devil is NOT irrational (and its beauty remains unmarred by that irationality)--while preserving your position on means-end irrationality. But for me, the story would STILL be beautiful (and, I think, not saddle God with irrationality) were it construed in a manner that I THINK you would have to take as exemplifying means-end irrationality on God's part.

Specifically, I think we could construe God's offer to the Devil as more than just a polite gesture or something along those lines, but as being motivated by a desire to bring this other being into transformative communion with Himself. That is, the offer is made IN PURSUIT OF THE END of such communion, even though God knows that the end will not be realized by this or any means.

The idea is that there may be an intrinsic rightness associated with pursuing an end even in cases where the end is unrealizable. Acknowledging the possibility of this does not utterly do away with the notion of means-end rationality/irrationality. One can suppose, I think, that if pursuing an end of a certain sort has intrinsic value, than realizing that end also has value (the end itself has value). Hence, if there are various means of pursuing the end, some of which will realize the end and some of which will not--and one knows (as God presumably does) which are which--it would seem to follow that there is something irrational about choosing that means which will not realize the end (at least assuming that there isn't something intrinsically immoral about the means which will realize it).

But the case at hand is one in which there are no means which would bring about the end in question. Whatever God does, God will fail to convert the Devil. The question is whether doing nothing to pursue that end is always the most rational or reasonable alternative when nothing one might do would realize the end.

This is what I'm calling into question. It seems to me that it could be reasonable for God to pursue an end that He knows will not be realized by ANY means, because the pursuit of the end (even if doomed to failure) is better than not pursuing the end at all. In other words, actions in pursuit of a good end might fall into a hierarchy in terms of intrinsic value (ordered from most to least valuable):

1. Pursuing end E by a means that one knows will attain E.

2. Pursuing end E even though one knows no means will attain E.

3. Not pursuing end E at all.

Now we might distinguish, within 2, between pursuing end E in a sincere way for a time, and pursuing end E remorselessly, so to speak. And it may be that these options differ in intrinsic value, with the latter being less valuable than 3. And I'd also be inclined to say that if there is a means of pursuing E that one knows will work (and which is not intrinsically wrong or anything like that), then foregoing that means in favor of one that one knows will fail is irrational and so as an action has little value (perhaps the same value as not pursuing E at all, assuming that E's attainment is intrinsically good).

Of course I say all of this convinced that God's resourcefulness is such that, when it comes to the salvation of creatures MADE BY GOD, and hence being by nature good, God will always find a (permissible) means that will eventually succeed in converting each of His creatures. My point is that even if this were not so, God might still have reason to PURSUE their conversion as an end.

Thoughts? (It may take a few days for me to get back to you).
jflyhigh6 said…
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Techwest said…
Hello Bro Parry and friends. First I gladly mention that I knew nothing of your labors until Michael Heiser quoted and commented on you work at length in one of his blogs, which I follow regularly. So "Howdy"... pleased to meet you [I'm in Texas... a rebellious republic entrapped by the USA!]

This is a subject that I have given a lot of study to though theology is not how I made my living. There is a huge... HUGE problem with this topic within Theological Academia, and that is with labeling. What IS taught at the entry level of theology grad school is a misaligned juxtaposition of "universalism" [no qualifiers] against/vs "particularism". That examination is woefully inadequate. Anyone with average study skills can see generic 'universalism' all over the old testament and new: the rub is the extent and ultimate manifestation of that universalism. The thing cannot be studied without opening and re-examining soteriology and "Open" [vs. what?] theology. To the latter - with all due respect Robin I think you need to dig a bit deeper on 'open'. [lets not lump all open-ideas into one soup kettle]. I strongly suggest the writings and lectures of Gerald Schroeder. While never directly addressing the christian infight over "open", his work does illuminate the underlying idea.
jflyhigh6 said…
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Paul said…
Hi Eric,

Thanks for the response, sorry for the delay in getting back.

It seems to me that, at least on action-based theories of desire, we desire or want what we can get. If S desire X, then S is disposed to take whatever actions S believes are likely to bring about X (cf. Shroeder, Three Faces of Desire, OUP). But presumably if S infallibly believes that X cannot be brought about, S would be irrational to try and bring X about. There are no actions "likely to bring about X," since X is impossible to occur, given infallible foreknowledge. Hence, I can desire an orange, and I am disposed to take actions likely to bring about that state of affairs. However, I do desire to draw a square circle, for I am not disposed to act in ways likely to bring that about. Why? It's impossible to bring about (i.e., it is impossible to falsify an infallible belief).

It seems that on most accounts of desire, a desire is always for a conceivable state of affairs. There are also desires that are intrinsic desires, the desire for a state of affairs to obtain for that state of affairs. Pleasure is such a desire. Suppose I receive great pleasure from my right foot getting a massage. Now, suppose I lose my right leg in a terrible auto accident. Does it make sense for me to desire this pleasurable experience anymore? Suppose I desire it on a daily basis. Talk about it. Make it known to everyone. Don't we usually tell such a person he needs to move past such desires? Of course, I may wish that a prosthetic leg might be attached, complete with wiring to my brain such that I could "feel" again. So I say that I desire this to happen and I believe it is conceivable, so I hold out hope. But if I infallibly believed this wold never occur, isn't irrational to hold to such a desire? I may desire other pleasurable experiences, but not that one.

Moreover, it appears you're claiming the desire is a means to an end for God, even though it is also desired for intrinsic reasons too. So, it is a means to show that God is loving, that his name might be praised, etc. The "polite gesture" analysis handles this, the sincere desire doesn't. For given the above lines of argument, this would be means-end irrational.

Plantinga states in WCB that "means-end rationality is the sort of rationality displayed by someone who aims to achieve a certain goal and chooses means that are effective for attaining that goal" (115-116). But on what I've dubbed "the classical Arminian" account, it sure appears that any desire by God to save some sinner S is an action he undertakes knowing it is impossible to satisfy or bring about the salvation of S. The action of his behalf is irrational, then, or so I say.

But perhaps we've just reached an intuitional stand-off.

Thoughts?
Paul said…
jflyhigh6,

Briefly, I could argue that it is not possible for God to save all if he wants to robustly manifest all of his attributes, and God must always act so as to robustly manifest all of his attributes if he's undertaken to create. Or, I could argue that it is possible for God to save all but he won't for outweighing good reasons, and he has revealed that he will not, so we know on revelation that not all will be saved. On neither account am I committed to "hopeful universalism."
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DCooling said…
Hi Robin,

I'm currenrtly researching in the area of theological aesthetics (at LST), and I'm thinking about the implications of God being 'all in all' for the development of a distinctly Christian imagination. The area I'm trying to relate all of this to is our regard for cultural artefacts. I'd find it helpful if you could point me in the direction of any universalist literature on the ontology of cultural artefacts (if there is any!), and also if you could share any thoughts you might have.

Cheers
Daniel
Robin Parry said…
Daniel

There is very little universalist literature, end of story. That which there is tends to be focused on defending universalism.

There needs to be a move to constructive theological studies of the kind that you mention but, as yet, I am not aware of anything that exists on the ontology of cultural artefacts.

Of course, I would start with Rev 21. The universalist image of the kings of the earth and the nations coming into the new Jerusalem. They bring with them their cultural treasures as gifts (the image is based on Isaiah 60). These are cultural artefacts that we non-Christian but which can still be offered up as acceptable to God (perhaps when washed in the blood of the Lamb in some sense). I wonder if Richard Mouw (not a universalist) has some helpful stuff on this idea. His name pops into my head.

Moltmann may have some stuff to say about this—dunno. Ask Nik Ansell at the Institute of Christian Studies. He'll know more than me.

I am afraid I have not really thought about this subject—we'd need to chat about it to get my brain working in the right kind of way. I am better in conversation than I am in "giving answers"

Nice to hear from you. Long time no see.

Pax

Robin
Paul said…
Of course, von Balthasar may have more than a few things to say on the previous aesthetics question.
DCooling said…
Thanks Robin,

Yes, Rev 21 is so suggestive! I've got it in mind to read Mouw and Moltmann. Thanks for the other suggestions. For me the interest is especially on the groanings the Spirit makes on our behalf: teasing out the implications of the nexus of Spirit words in Rom 8 such as adoption, inheritance and glory. Receiving the spirit of adoption, to my mind, carries the implication that one will carry on the work of 'adopting' the 'other' in terms of our disposition at least. Sharing in divine pathos, carrying a sense of anticipating the transfiguraiton of all things, and then seeing where that might lead habits of engagement with, and criticism of, cultural artefacts.

If you're interested Stephen Pattison has a chapter on this at the end of his Gifford Lectures book 'Seeing Things: Deepening our Relations with Visual Artefacts'

Paul: Naturally Balthasar's on the list. Yet it is still interesting how so many theologians limit the discussion of glory to certain artefacts such as painting and music, rather than, say, paving slabs (some might say we already know they're all going to be transfigured into gold so there's no need for further reflection).
RonH said…
Paul,

Regarding God's being unable to save all in order to manifest his attributes... I assume you're referring to his justice, wrath, etc.? Does not God perfectly manifested these in the Atonement? Christ bears God's wrath and suffers for sin to satisfy God's justice in ways no human possibly could. At the same time, he saves the rest of us. In this understanding, God saves all while still fully manifesting his justice and wrath.

(This is my first comment, and I submit it with trepidation given the intellects I'm seeing around here. But I'm working through the whole universalism thing, have encountered the "attribute manifestation" objection before, and wonder if the approach I'm suggesting works...)
Robin Parry said…
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Robin Parry said…
RonH

No need to fear. You are spot on target!

I think I make a similar point in TEU and Oliver Crisp has a good article making that same point but better than I would be able to.

As far as I can see the argument that hell has to exist because God has to manifest the attributes of his justice and warth has been demolished on its own terms for precisely the reason that you give — the cross is all that is needed for the glory of God's justice and wrath to be manifest.
Not to mention that God’s attributes of love and of power (which entails victory) are primary in any case. The idea that evil will succeed to become eternal is as injurious to God’s power as anything, and thus as absurd as it gets.
RonH said…
Thanks, Robin. I feel better now. (BTW, I've got TEU on my Amazon wish-list, but -- speaking of wrath -- I'm likely to catch it from my wife if I add another to my stack of books I've purchased and not finished. Perhaps if there were a Kindle edition....)

Danielos,
Regarding "primary" attributes... This is something else I've thought about. Attributes like justice and wrath have their place, but seem like attributes that can only be manifested in the presence of sin. One can't demonstrate justice unless a transgression has occurred, and one can't be (righteously) wrathful without an object deserving wrath. So these attributes are in a way contingent on the presence of sin. Attributes like love, glory, etc. can exist in "eternity past" within the Trinity, but I don't see how attributes like wrath or justice could possibly be exhibited within the Trinity. If the Trinity could be complete "before" creation without manifesting these attributes, there's not much reason to require that they be manifested "after" the final resurrection.

I'm not encountering philosophical objections to EU that hold up very well (though I'm admittedly new to the idea). The texts and tradition seem to be the ones that carry the most weight.
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RonH,

I agree with your thought, but I have a few specific and non-critical observations on this bit you wrote: “Attributes like justice and wrath have their place, but seem like attributes that can only be manifested in the presence of sin.

I don’t think that an attribute like wrath has any place at all. It does not comport with perfection and thus fails St. Anselm’s classical definition. What’s more it does not comport with God’s omnipotence and omniscience, for no state of affairs can possibly justify wrath in an omnipotent and omniscient being. I understand you are saying that God does have the attribute of wrath only while creation is at a fallen state, but I don’t think that the attribute of wrath ever fits God who is love.

I don’t think that justice can only be manifested in the presence of sin. When Mary used the costly perfume to wash Jesus’ feet she wasn’t sinning and He manifested justice to her. Similarly, there will presumably be a state in which humans do not sin anymore; but they will still enjoy God’s justice. - Justice, as far as I can see, is a necessary attribute of any world created by a perfect being and in which freedom exists, namely the attribute that all free choices will meet their natural consequences. Thus, I’d rather say, that justice can only be manifested in the presence of free created persons. (Which is close but not identical to what you write above.)
Paul said…
RonH and Robin.

Sorry for the delay, I hadn't checked back until just now.

"Regarding God's being unable to save all in order to manifest his attributes... I assume you're referring to his justice, wrath, etc.? Does not God perfectly manifested these in the Atonement?"

No, I don't think that's right.

"I think I make a similar point in TEU and Oliver Crisp has a good article making that same point but better than I would be able to."

Crisp later went on to offer a defeat this idea, arguing that if only Jesus is punished then no one actually guilty receives punishment. I think the display of God's justice, to be fully displayed, needs to be visited on some deserving subset of humanity, of which Jesus isn't a member of, being innocent as he was. As Crisp states,

"Were Christ to be the only human person upon whom divine justice was visited, as a vicarious substitute for sinners (as per Augustinian universalism), this would not have the right connection to desert because Christ does not deserve to be punished – he acts vicariously (and sinlessly) on behalf of sinful human beings deserving of punishment. There has to be some connection between the display of divine justice and the idea that (at least some of) those upon whom divine justice is visited are deserving of punishment."

--- Is Universalism a Problem for Particularists? (Scottish Journal of Theology (2010), 63: 1-23)
RonH said…
Dianelos,
Thanks for the observations, though I don't really follow them. I have no training in either philosophy or theology, so perhaps I lack the background to see what you're saying. I am but a lowly software developer who has yet to fully internalize Psalm 131 (thought not for lack of trying).

I don't see how God's wrath is necessarily incompatible with God's love. I love my children. If someone hurts them, I will display wrath -- precisely because I love my children. The wrath isn't really a part of me the way the love is, and if my children are never threatened it will never emerge in the first place. I suppose you could even say that the "wrath" isn't an attribute in itself, but is just another facet of my love (though directed at a different object). Not at all a necessary one, however. In the Bible God does a fair bit of displaying his wrath, so I have a difficult time agreeing that it could never fit him.

I view God's justice the same way... Justice involves God's response to sin/evil and his vindication of the righteous. If there's no sin to respond to, I don't see where justice comes into play at all. I don't follow how Jesus manifests justice to Mary in your example... No, Mary wasn't sinning. Judas was sinning however both by disingenuously suggesting that the expense could be used for the poor and by presuming to judge her act of love and worship. Jesus shows justice by vindicating Mary, but that would have been unnecessary had Judas not tried to intervene.
RonH said…
Paul,
I simply can't agree that God's justice is not fully displayed in the Atonement unless at least one person is truly damned forever. I guess some of our difference here will hinge on what precisely is going on at the Atonement. It sounds to me like you're saying that Jesus satisfies God's justice enough to save us, but not quite as thoroughly as actually damning us would. But as I read scripture, on the cross Jesus becomes sin for us, assumes our guilt (a la the Old Testament sacrifices) so that we are made guiltless, and is forsaken by the Father. Near as I can tell, this is as thorough a satisfaction of God's justice as actually damning us could have ever been. If the "right connection to desert" must come into play, then I fail to see how the Atonement can work for anyone.

(As an aside, much of this is assuming a penal substitutionary understanding of the Atonement in the first place; but I am not persuaded that the Atonement is best understood as being primarily about satisfying God's justice and wrath. Even if I were however, it would still appear to me that perfect satisfaction was made by Christ, and that damning someone else isn't necessary for manifestation of justice.)

Additionally, if what you're saying is true (i.e. God's justice requires the damnation of some in order to be manifested), it would still seem to me to be impossible for all of God's attributes to be manifested within the Trinity (unlike love, glory, etc.). This would make creation (and the Fall!) necessary for God to be fully realized.
(I am reposting this, because my first try failed to appear)

Hi Ron,

I am only a lowly software developer too, so it’s quite alright. And I notice that Jesus was only a lowly carpenter, while those who moved for His crucifixion were learned theologians. I am not trying to make any comparisons but only to point out that in matters of spiritual truth there seems to be little correlation between knowing that truth and one’s profession. Humility of mind and bravery of heart (aka faith) appear to be more relevant.

You write: “If someone hurts them, I will display wrath -- precisely because I love my children.

That’s not the proper analogy I think. A better analogy would be: “If one child of mine hurts another child of mine I will display wrath, precisely because I dearly love them both”, or perhaps “If a child of mine disobeys some of my commands I will display wrath, precisely because I dearly love her”. Which pictures I don’t think work very well. In my mind the only appropriate response of perfect love to somebody hurting another is to feel sadness and desire to put things straight. Which I think comports well with the Gospels, where Jesus points out that when one loses a single sheep one leaves the others to go search for the lost one until one finds it. Jesus then repeats the same idea mentioning the lost coin.

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[continues from above]

In the Bible God does a fair bit of displaying his wrath, so I have a difficult time agreeing that it could never fit him.

Well, my personal opinion here is this: If the Bible is authoritative then we are certainly built in the image of God, but also susceptible to error. Therefore, if the way we understand something we read in the Bible clashes with the image we are built in then we should discount that way.

No, Mary wasn't sinning. Judas was sinning however both by disingenuously suggesting that the expense could be used for the poor and by presuming to judge her act of love and worship.

We shouldn’t judge others, not only because it is unloving but also because we simply can’t. Whereas Mary did the right thing, it would have been wrong for Judas to have done the same. It is obvious that if Judas had found himself in Mary’s position, the right thing would have been to sell the perfume in order to help the poor. I think the story teaches an ethical fact, namely that whereas ethics is objective (in the sense that an action has an intrinsic moral value) it is also relative to the person who acts. Which, if you think of it, becomes obvious, for an action has no independent existence; an action is alway's a person's action.

Jesus shows justice by vindicating Mary, but that would have been unnecessary had Judas not tried to intervene.

Given Jesus’ moral perfection I think it would have been necessary to show justice to Mary even had Judas remained silent. Jesus would certainly have said something like “Thank you Mary, that feels good”.
Paul said…
RonH,

I'm fine to leave the first point at an intuitional difference, makes it hard to force others to universalism, though. Robin had said that the point you raised "demolished" the view that there had to be a hell with actually guilty sinners in it, but that can't be said anymore, as it depends on your intuitions and other hotly debated theological issues (like penal substitution).

As for your second objection (from the trinity), if I have a problem you do too, no mercy would be exhibited either. However, the problem here isn't that, it's that my view isn't about the manifestation of his attributes no matter what possible world we consider, it's the display of the attributes in the created order. The argument about display or manifestation has always been a contingent one, i.e., displaying or manifesting it to creation. So it's a conditional, "if God creates, then God must fully manifest all his attributes to his creation, since the ultimate end of his creation is the glorification of himself." So here we see we can avoid your modal collapse, the necessity is a contingent necessity.
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jflyhigh6 said…
the more i think about it all, why do we talk about universalism? doesn't it do more harm than good to talk about it, Biblically, why don't we continue to teach eternal conscious torment, if we're wrong about eternal conscious torment then, ok, better for everyone else, but talking about universalism, what if that brings one soul, just "one" person to fall away or go through life meaningless, one person means a lot to God
RonH said…
Dianelos,
I don't see a problem with my exhibition of wrath on behalf of a child being itself part of my being created in the image of God, since Scripture also portrays a God who can be wrathful. I can see how that could be inconsistent with other philosophical assumptions about God which might provoke one to interpret the wrath passages differently, but at this point I'm not running up against a compelling reason to make assumptions like that. As always, the crux of the matter is one's approach to Scripture, which brings me to my response to...

Paul,
The point I brought up about God manifesting his justice in Jesus wasn't to force or compel anyone towards universalism. It was merely to question your objection to it, which was that without eternally damned souls God couldn't fully manifest his justice. I assure you I harbor no illusions at all of being able to persuade you with argument, because our fundamental difference here is in assumptions about how we're approaching Scripture. I hadn't quite connected the dots until I saw Robin lay them out nicely in one of his online writings, or perhaps in the audio talk posted a while back. Within the Protestant world (and I start there because that's what I'm familiar with), there's a tension between the Biblical teachings of the love of God, the sovereignty of God, and hell. Arminians view passages about sovereignty in the light of the ones about love and hell (i.e. God loves everyone but he doesn't save everyone therefore he must limit his sovereignty). Calvinists view passages about love in the light of the ones about sovereignty and hell (i.e. God saves everyone he chooses to but he doesn't choose everyone therefore he doesn't love everyone). Universalists instead view the passages about hell in the light of the ones about love and sovereignty (i.e. God loves everyone and God saves everyone he chooses to therefore God must save everyone). (Forgive the lack of nuance here... I'm not intentionally constructing straw men, just trying to maintain some semblance of brevity!) Of the three doctrines in question, frankly I find the teachings on hell to be the ones with the weakest support in Scripture. Damnation is pretty much ignored in the OT and the Epistles. It is only really dealt with directly in the Gospels and Revelation. If I've got to choose which to interpret in light of the others, I lean towards interpreting the one with the least weight in light of the stronger ones.

I would submit your contention that God's justice requires damned souls in order to be fully manifested isn't so much an argument for why hell should exist as an attempt to explain how it could exist in light of your understanding of God's sovereignty. I'm willing to concede that, in light of your assumptions, your reasoning is fine. My question would be: why do you choose to interpret the texts suggesting universal reconciliation in light of the texts on sovereignty and hell?

(My apologies to Robin for popping in out of nowhere and bloghogging like this! It's just that googling you fellows turned up such levels of erudition on the part of Robin, Eric, and Dianelos that I couldn't resist. Not slighting you at all, Paul... it's just that "Paul" isn't unique enough of a search term! Robin's in the UK, Dianelos would appear to be in Greece, I'm in Texas.... the Internet is truly a marvelous thing!)
Paul,

You write: “since the ultimate end of [God’s] creation is the glorification of himself.

To me this sounds bizarre. It’s like thinking that God is not only perfect in goodness, power, knowledge, etc, but also in vanity. Excuse my ignorance, but if this view is seriously entertained by some, could you please point me to some source which explains what they mean exactly, and what their reasoning is?

On the other hand it does seem plausible to me that the final state of creation will be one which most glorifies God. If you agree then do you find it plausible that a final state in which a large number of the persons created by God are suffering in hell is the state that most glorifies God?
Robin Parry said…
Paul

sorry—I have not had the time to keep up with this conversation.

I will read Oliver Crisp's more recent article and I may post a response to it. I'd rather not respond until I have read all he says.

Robin

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