A few thoughts on a new argument for particularism

Oliver Crisp is a fabulous contemporary analytic theologian in the Reformed tradition. Recently he published an article in response to a universalist critique of non-universalist Augustinian (the Reformed tradition is a sub-set of Augustinianism).

Oliver Crisp, “Is Universalism a Problem for Particularists?” SJT 63.1 (2010) 1–23.

Now Crisp is very clear that traditional Augustinianism is logically compatible with universalism. God could, if he wanted, choose to save all people.

This, however, raises a problem of evil for traditional Augustinians who deny universalism (i.e., almost all of them) because “if God could, on the basis of Augustinian principles, have elected all humanity to salvation and did not, God does not appear to be good” (p. 2).

In the past, a fair few Augustinians have sought to handle this problem by claiming that both the glory of God’s justice and wrath and the glory of God’s mercy and grace need to be displayed in creation. So, the argument runs, to display the glory of justice and wrath God has to punish some in hell with the infinite punishment that their sins deserve.

But, the problem here is that the cross of Christ — on the penal substitutionary view of atonement defended by those Augustinians who deploy this argument — perfectly displays God’s justice and mercy. So, in fact, God can perfectly display the glory of his justice and wrath in creation (on the cross) without the need to send anyone to hell. So, as it stands, this argument seems to provide no requirement for God not to save everyone.

Crisp has suggested a response to this defeater. He calls it the “strict justice condition.” It runs as follows:
The Augustinian might argue, it is important that the display of divine justice has some connection to desert. Were Christ to be the only human person upon whom the 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 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. (p. 22).
I offer a few reflections here upon this attempt to defeat the defeater.

First, if God has to display the glory of his wrath by punishing at least one deserving sinner in hell then this argument only shows that God has to punish one sinner in hell. That should be enough to display the required glory. So in terms of the original argument particularists would still be left with a problem of evil if any more than one person was sent to hell. I am assuming that most particularists imagine that there will be more than one. So, unless there is an argument as to why God has to punish some/many/most in hell to show his glorious justice, this argument will not do as much work as particularists may hope. (Crisp does have another argument which, if I have time, I’ll blog on in another post).

Second, and this may not worry Crisp, I simply do not accept the premise that God must display his wrath in creation. I think that it is, at best, pure speculation. Worse, to my intuitions it just seems implausible. The implication of such an idea is that God could not create any world that did not contain sin, because, to be true to himself, in all worlds he creates he must display the glory of his wrath and that requires that he create a world in which there is sin so that he can punish it. Perhaps that is the sober truth but it does seem less than obviously true. Is God only capable of creating worlds containing sin? Is it not enough that God be just and that he display his wrath if there is sin? But, perhaps the Calvinist will simply say that they have different intuitions here.

Third, the Crispian defence appears to me to potentially problematize the notion of penal substitution. The doctrine of penal substitution (should one wish to embrace it) has to be stated with great care because it can so easily fall into deep problems. One classic objection to the doctrine is this: the claim that God satisfies his justice by punishing Jesus for our sins instead of punishing us is absurd. To punish an innocent person instead of the guilty person does not satisfy justice. In fact, it is downright unjust.

Now, I may be mistaken but it seems to me that the only hope of making a doctrine of penal substitution plausible is to forget “legal fictions” and to seek to make a case for some kind of strong ontological union between Christ and human sinners. Christ is ontologically identified with sinners in some strongly realist sense (the details of which I will leave to others). So when Christ suffers in our place he is not innocent. He may have been sinless but, through union with sinners, he “became sin for us.”

So I would imagine that the suffering of Christ must have “the right kind of [ontological] connection to desert” or penal substitution would not work at all (and Calvinist Augustinianism would need to do some major systematic rethinking). So why is the cross not sufficient? Why is it not rightly connected to desert?

When Crisp speaks of Christ’s sufferings not having the right connection to desert I suppose that he refers to an epistemological connection. Maybe it is not clear to creation that the cross is about punishment on sin because no one will ever have seen Christ sin. So to make this clear God has to punish someone in hell to display the glory of his justice. In other words, maybe the cross “embodies” the glory of God’s justice and wrath but does not “display” it clearly enough. Interesting suggestion. But would not a prophetic explanation of the cross do the trick in terms of overcoming this epistemic gap? God could explain what sinners deserve and what Christ is suffered on their behalf. The Spirit could open our eyes to perceive the display of divine justice in the cross. If that is possible then the cross could do the job not simply of being the manifestation of divine wrath on sin par excellence but it could also be recognized as such. The glory would be displayed perfectly and none would have to be in hell.


"Nick" said…
Great post Robin. I think your intuitions are right on. The biggest hurdle Calvinist/Augustinian theology has to overcome is that it creates (and Crisp really doesn't do anything to mitigate this) God as a monster who doesn't love the beings He created, and, in fact, created many/most of them simply to show the "glory" of His wrath (which just sounds oxymoronic to me anyway).

You also make a great point about penal substitution. I've thought for a long time that too much of the western tradition comes from a Roman legal perspective, and that it could use a good jolt of Eastern Orthodox or Greek philosophic thought on the subject (though I see problems with their views as well).
Peter Gurry said…
Robin, great questions. Your post motivated me to run over to the library to photocopy Crisp's article.

I would want to tweak the epistemological connection just slightly though. As I read Romans 9, the wrath poured out on the wicked is not so that creation will see it and thus see God's effulgence, but so that the redeemed will see it and thus appreciate their redemption all the more. The epistemological connection is not between creation and God's wrath but between the redeemed and God's wrath. Hell will display for the redeemed what God's wrath looks like when it is not poured out on Christ. This aspect could be seen in no other way.

Well, that's an off-the-cuff attempt anyway.
Peter Gurry said…
“Nick,” the hurdle you mention doesn’t really exist for Augustinian-Calvinists, at least not for Biblically-informed ones. It does not follow that God cannot love a creature he punishes for eternity. When Jesus commands his followers to love as God loves, he uses rain and sunshine as his examples (Matt 5:43-48). That this rain and sunshine do not redeem those they fall on is clear from the fact that it falls on the righteous and on the wicked. (Surely the wicked have been rained on more than a few times, and yet they remain wicked all the same!)

If these people were redeemed by God’s loving rain and sunshine, it would collapse the force of Jesus’ argument: namely, that like God, we should love people without consideration of their character. The point is that one of the ways God loves people is non-redemptive and non-discriminate—and it is no less loving because of this!

Your argument that Augustinian-Calvinists cannot believe God truly loves everyone because God does not redeem everyone only works on a specific (and dare I say, narrow) definition of divine love. It only works if “love” is defined as that which ultimately redeems. But redemption is not a sine qua non of divine love. At least not in Matt 5:43-48. God-sent rain and sunshine are no less loving because they don’t redeem their recipients. Perhaps God’s love is broader and more complex than your single category of redemption allows for.

I have seen this assumption (that only redeeming love counts as real love) behind more critiques of the Augustinian-Calvinist position than I can count. It needs to be challenged. The objection initially has an emotional appeal to it. But it doesn’t hold up to Biblical scrutiny.

There is no Biblical reason to assume that God cannot love creatures he condemns to hell. Every day of rain and every day of blissful sunshine have been an undeserved outpouring of God’s providential love for the wicked as well as the righteous. Would that our love was half this frequent or half this unaware of the character of its objects!
RonH said…
A well-executed... er... Parry riposte? (Sorry. Bad fencing humor...)

Can you recommend a book on the development of the doctrines surrounding hell/eternal damnation through history? One thing I've learned from reading about theology is that ideas don't leap fully-formed from the text. Cultural context must always be taken into account. (Your book is incoming from Amazon, so anything you cover there I'll have access to soon...) I can handle reasonably complicated material, but I am a layman and likely to get lost in something too technical.

It's not particulary charitable to claim Calvinism turns God into a monster. I know many Calvinists, and they'd take a claim like that as a low-blow at best, and an outright charge of idolatry at worst. I suspect that much of the heat being directed at Rob Bell over his book comes from the rhetoric he flings at what is in fact the majority, traditional teaching of the Church. I was turned off enough by the first chapter that I declined to read further. This is not the way to persuade others, who may well have put a great deal of careful thought into their positions.

When it comes to hell, we're not talking about rain vs. sunshine. In what sense does God love a person whom he will be subjecting to eternal torture forever? Especially when, from an Calvinist perspective, that person had no chance of avoiding damnation because God chose not to elect him? It seems to me that one of the essential features of love is that it desires the welfare of the loved, possibly even at the expense of the lover. I can see absolutely no way that eternal torture could be construed as seeking the welfare of the loved. I see no way that the damned can be said to be loved by God without redefining "love" into something I find entirely unrecognizable as such. Instead of reinterpreting love to accomodate hell, why not reinterpret hell to accomodate love?
Peter Gurry said…

“When it comes to hell, we’re not talking about rain vs. sunshine.” Precisely so. And this is why it does not follow that eternally punishing the infinitely guilty negates God’s love for all humanity. There are none in hell or heaven who do not receive the kind of love Jesus speaks of in Matt 5:43–48. Not one. The question for us is Why aren’t rain and sunshine more than enough to affirm God’s universal love? Are these somehow lesser forms of love? Do they not “count” because they don’t last into eternity? If the answer to either of these is no, then why did Jesus use them as illustrative of the kind of love that seems so incredibly counter-intuitive to us: namely, enemy love? Is our love for enemies a lesser form of love? If not, then why is it for God?

I honestly think the reason we are not more impressed with Jesus’ examples is because we are good disciples of the Enlightenment. We have drunk so deeply from the well of naturalism that using “natural” phenomena like rain and sunshine feels cheap to us. It somehow doesn’t cut it. I think this is a massive mistake. If God is the reason the sun rises every morning (cf. Ps 104), if God is the reason behind every meal we eat, every breath we take, every sunny day we enjoy, every successful heartbeat, then suddenly God’s providential love doesn’t seem so insignificant. It is simply overwhelming how much regularity there is in the universe and how much we benefit from it. And all of it is credible to God. So maybe it is pretty amazing that God loves this way without distinction. And maybe it becomes a touch arrogant to suggest that we know a better way for God to love his rebellious creatures than mere rain and sunshine.

Frankly, a lot of the talk about God’s love in this whole debate operates with a flattened, one-dimensional notion of God’s love. The more I engage with folks in this discussion, the more I’m convinced that a great many sloppy arguments would be cleared away if folks were more aware of how wonderfully complex God’s love is in Scripture. A great place to start to understand this is D.A. Carson’s lecture: “The God Who Loves” given about a year ago. His slim little volume, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, is must-reading for those wanting to work out the implications of God’s love.
Peter Gurry said…
Sorry, I should not have said, "There are none in hell or heaven who do not receive the kind of love Jesus speaks of in Matt 5:43–48. Not one." I should have said, "There are none in hell or heaven who have not received the kind of love Jesus speaks of in Matt 5:43–48. Not one."

That's what you get when you don't proofread ;)
RonH said…
Sure, we all experience God's providential love in this life as you say. I don't at all discount the great grace he shows to us with every breath. But a pleasant run of 70 years on earth is absolutely nothing in comparison to an eternity of suffering. I didn't ask how God shows his love to humanity in general... I asked in what sense God is loving someone he has consigned to eternal damnation (indeed, even predestined for it). If I give my son a birthday party then lock him in the basement for the next 18 years, you would rightly suspect that I didn't really love my son. My whipping out the yellowed photos from the birthday party would hardly sway you, I imagine.

You seem to be holding to a definition of love that somehow permits the beloved to suffer eternal torture. I suppose that is one way out: to explicitly assume that torturing someone forever is by definition still loving (provided it's being done by God). But does this really ring true to you? When my son puts together a jigsaw puzzle, I have to keep reminding him that if he has to pound on pieces with his fist to make them fit together, it's usually a sign that they weren't meant to be assembled like that. Unlike Carson, I don't really find the Biblical passages about God's love to be that difficult at all. I find the passages on hell to be difficult, and I use the less difficult passages on love to illuminate them. Do you think it fits better to go the other way?
Anonymous said…
"To punish an innocent person instead of the guilty person does not satisfy justice. In fact, it is downright unjust."


What is your take on I Peter 3:18?

"For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:"

James Goetz said…
"The glory would be displayed perfectly and none would have to be in hell."

This works for me. :)
Peter Gurry said…

Strictly speaking 70 years full of God's providential love is not "absolutely" nothing in comparison to eternity. The math gets tough, but it's not absolutely nothing. Especially when you think of the character of those being shown this love. They are not innocent like you seem to think your son is. Remember, rain falls on the righteous and the wicked. I assume you would put your son in the former category. Well and good, but there is still a second category. You seem to think that God owes his rebellious creatures love. I think no such thing. When John says God so loved the world (Jn 3:16) we are not meant to be surprised that God loves something so big and so teeming with people. We are meant to be shocked that God loves something so wicked, so diametrically opposed to himself. Most do not realize this about John's theology. Again, I recommend Carson on this in the video linked above (and his commentary on John).

But to clarify, I do not see why I should assume that God continues to love those he justly condemns to hell. You seem to think this but I don't know why. Are there passages in Scripture that portray God loving people after the final judgment? I'm not aware of any. So why assume it is so? Again, is it not enough that he has loved rebels every day of their earthly life? Is this fact not enough to confidently affirm God's great love for all humanity, rebellious as it it? I just don't see why I have to affirm God's everlasting love for every individual in order to affirm God's incredible love for every individual. There may be a good reason. But I haven't seen one yet. And again, I don't think God owes anyone love. There is no injustice if he stops after the final judgment.

Your analogy of your son breaks down at two critical points. First, both you and your son are creatures whereas God is the creator. This distinction alone has infinite implications. But second, I assume that you love your son because you find it quite natural and, in a sense, easy to do so. I would guess you find him quite loveable, in fact. But does God love us because we are so loveable? I think not. He loves because of who he is in spite (not because) of who we are. This is quite different than with your son (I assume). But your analogy does work to show that even your love is multifaceted without being any less love. Surely you love your wife as well as your children. And surely you (at least want to) love your neighbors. But I would be surprised if your love for your neighbor looked exactly like your love for your son or for your wife. And yet it is no less love because of this. Can the same not be posited of God? Why does his love have to be one-dimensional when ours is obviously so genuinely multi-faceted?

So no, I do not assume that justly punishing someone forever is a form of love for them. But nor do I assume that God must love people for eternity in order for his love for them to be genuine in this life. It just doesn't follow. It's an assumption and one I don't see made in Scripture. He loves us massively in this life. And that love makes our rebellion all the more heinous. His patience is extraordinarily long, but it has limits. His kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. Why would we need to repent if there are ultimately no consequences for not repenting? It seems that many would rephrase Paul's logic to: "His kindness is meant to make clear that there are no eternal consequences."

By the way, have you actually listened to Carson's lecture or read his book?

This is a weighty topic and deserves careful and prolonged reflection--two very hard things to do in a format like this one.

But thank you for the conversation. I appreciate it.
RonH said…
Apologies... I had the impression that you were asserting God still loves those he damns. My mistake. Nothing is quite as futile as arguing against a position that the other party doesn't hold, eh? ;-)

However, it seems you're making a similar mistake. I don't hold that God owes love to anyone. I don't hold that God is unjust in condemning sinners. I don't hold that God loves us for anything intrinsic to ourselves. What I am holding (at least for the present) is that when God reconciled me to himself in Christ, he reconciled everyone else as well. I find Robin's case for this idea to be quite compelling -- and that's just on the basis of what I've read and heard online. I look forward to reading in more depth when the book arrives.

I read Carson's book when I was trying to be a Calvinist. I don't find his arguments to be relevant to me now since he a priori rejects the idea of total redemption and I do not. In fact, his entire book (not to mention countless others) is an attempt to explain how we can call God loving if he still damns some/many/most of humanity for eternity. If God doesn't in fact do that, the doctrine of his love becomes substantially less "difficult". In other words, if I just turn the jigsaw puzzle piece around, I find it fits with much less force.
Robin Parry said…
RonH and Peter—great discussion.

I officially delegate RonH to reply on my behalf. Whenever I plan to reply to Peter RonH beats me to it and says what I was going to say but says it better.

Good going guys.

Peter Gurry said…
"Nothing is quite as futile as arguing against a position that the other party doesn't hold, eh? ;-)" Indeed! I probably should have clarified that up front, but then we would have missed out on the fun of conversation ;)

RonH, do you mean everyone is already reconciled or will be reconciled. I thought Robin held the latter.

You are correct that if all are redeemed, God's love becomes substantially less difficult but I think it's unfair to say that Carson is operating from an a priori assumption that not all are redeemed. I'm pretty sure he has quite a bit of Scripture to back him up. Interpretations aside, it's not really fair to call it a priori.

But to stress again, it is only if God's love is one-dimensional that we find we need to "explain how we can call God loving if he still damns some/many/most of humanity for eternity." The assumption with universalism is that God's love is always and only efficaciously redemptive. Really? It clearly is not so in Matt 5:43-48. And yet it is no less love because of this.

But I should like you or Robin to show some texts where it is clear that God redemptively loves those after he has condemned them to hell.

Robin, I'm searching through your book to see where you deal with Matt 25:46 in detail. Do you address the issue of eternal life and eternal punishment there? I can't find it.

I'm also dismayed at how you use Matt 5:43-48 on p. 17. You seem to assume that God's enemy-love would keep him from "hardening" believers' hearts in heaven so that they would no longer love those in hell. What? When did God's enemy love extend into eternity? Where does eternity come from in rain and sunshine? I'm not seeing it. This is where more nuance is desperately needed in a properly Biblical understanding of God's love. It won't do to assume that God's eternal love for the redeemed can safely be substituted in contexts that speak of his indiscriminate love for his enemies. Surely you don't think that rain and sunshine are ways of talking about everlasting, redemptive love do you? Rain and sunshine provide a powerful way to talk about indiscriminate love for a first-century audience. They are an incredibly weak way to talk about eternal, redemptive love. Again, there is no redemption in rain and sunshine is there? If Jesus wanted to make a point about the length of God's love or the redemptive extent of it, he sure picked odd illustrations. I would think the cross or the resurrection or the reconciliation of all things would make for far better illustrations. Unless, of course, God's love can't be reduced (!) to redemptive, eternal categories. (Yes, I'm suggesting that it is universalism that is really guilty of reducing God's love [at least categorically!], not particularism.)

This is not a minor point. I must say I was distressed to find that your bibliography did not list any of Carson's work on love, especially since that is so integral to your argument. I always wondered why Carson made such a big point about not absolutizing one way the Bible speaks of God's love. It seemed like much ado about nothing. Now I see why ;)

By the way, I chuckled when I first realized that Gregory MacDonald was a pseudonym. Nice one!
Peter Gurry said…
Sorry, guys, that was kind of wordy.

My main gripe is this: Why don't rain and sunshine provide ample explanation for how we can call God loving if he still damns some/many/most of humanity for eternity? Why is this love not enough? If something needs to be added to this form of love (either more time or redeeming qualities), then how does it suffice as a motive in Jesus' argument? It seems you're stuck saying either (a) Jesus' logic was kind of weak because rain and sunshine aren't that impressive or (b) rain and sunshine will continue forever and will redeem those on whom they fall. I don't like (a) because then Jesus is giving us a weak reason to do something we all know is incredibly difficult: loving our enemies. I don't like (b) because rain and sunshine don't save people and don't seem to last forever.

So I go with option (c) God loves the righteous and the wicked in thousands of ways big and small every single day. Since every breath is given by God in indiscriminatory love, it would be absurd of me to accuse God of being unloving because he justly punishes the wicked he has lavished his love upon every second of every day of their rebellious life.

There are two different questions being asked in this discussion. One is: How can God not save most people? The other is: How can God save anyone? The latter seems to be Paul's question in Rom 3. The former seems to be the question raised by univeralists. I'm going with Paul on this one.

The question from universalists is, of course, framed in terms of love, but I fail to see the warrant for doing so.
Peter Gurry said…
That was still too wordy! Sorry :(
Anonymous said…
Jesus of course was essentially a Jew.

That is he was essentially an outsider and a radical Spiritual Teacher who taught and demonstrated a Spirit-Breathing Spiritual Way of Life within the context of the tradition of Judaism as it existed in his time his place. While he was alive.

Jesus did not, and could not have, created the religion of Christianity (the religion about Jesus).


It was ALL created by others after his death, none of whom ever met Jesus up close and personal as a living-breathing-feeling human being.

He certainly could not created the "death-and-resurrection" dogma that became the central idea of Christian belief.

But what did Jesus teach and demonstrate while he was alive?

He taught and demonstrated a non-sectarian truly universal Spiritual Way of Life. Summarized in his great calling to love God absolutely, and then on that basis, to practice self-transcending love in all relationships and under all circumstances.

The practical details of how to do this were further elaborated in the Sermon on the Mount. Which elaborates universal moral principles that can be practiced by any one and every one in any time and place.
RonH said…
I've posted the same comment twice. Once it never showed up, and the second time I *saw* it on the main blog page for the entry and later it disappeared. Am I being moderated? Or is this blogger being mean?
RonH said…
Hm. That last one worked. I'm guessing this is Blogger being mean. Let me try my original comment one last time. I'll split it up just for grins:

I'm afraid I'm grandstanding on Robin's blog, which I've always considered bad form, so I'll need to wrap this up. Most theological discussions are very old ones, and for good reason: they rarely come to conclusions.

When I said God reconciled me to himself, I meant it in the same tense used in 2 Cor. 5:19. Reconciliation is an already/not-yet thing -- an idea found across most Christian traditions. In this context, the timing isn't as relevant to my point as the extent: in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.

I'm perplexed by your focus on Matthew 5:43-48 and the importance that you appear to attach to it. I'm happy to concede that God shows love in sending rain and sunshine. I'll grant that even if that was the full extent of the love God showed us, with no redemption for anyone and damnation for all, it would be more love than we deserve. Can you agree however that by sending rain and sunshine as well as redeeming someone, God shows even more (undeserved) love than by sending rain and sunshine and then damning them? Can you agree that God would show more love still by giving rain, sunshine, and redemption to everyone than by withholding redemption from some? Is it within reason to claim that loving one's enemy enough to make him one's friend is an even greater love than loving one's enemy for a time and then ceasing to love him (which you seemed to admit God is doing when he damns someone)? I cheerfully grant that you have an interpretation of Matt. 5:43-48 which is consistent with a Calvinist framework. I humbly suggest that I have an interpretation of it that is consistent with a universalist framework.
RonH said…
See, interpretive framework is everything. I wasn't intending my comment about Carson's a priori assumptions to be a criticism, fair or otherwise. Indeed, Dr. Carson is far more learned than I. But none of us approaches the Biblical text free of an interpretive grid. There are passages which seem to suggest universal reconciliation (e.g. 1 Cor 5:22, Col 1:19-20, Rom 5:18, 2 Cor 5:19). There are passages which seem to suggest eternal damnation (I doubt I need to list them). These texts appear contradictory when taken "plainly", and some interpretation is required to resolve the contradiction. The approach you take when reconciling these texts will outline the theology you eventually derive from them. If you take the damnation texts as being more clear, you will use them to qualify the universalist texts (i.e. we believe some are damned, therefore 1 Cor 5:22 cannot be saying all are saved). If you take the universalism texts as being more clear, you will use them to qualify the damnation texts (i.e. we believe 1 Cor 5:22 teaches all will be saved, therefore Matt. 25:46 cannot be teaching eternal damnation). The point to note here is that the approach cannot itself be derived from Scripture, because it is precisely what we use to understand Scripture. We all have one, and it is a priori. In his book, Dr. Carson simply takes universalism off the table without evaluating it (or what it says about God's love) at all. Why? Because "he has quite a bit of Scripture to back him up"? Only if he chooses in advance not to interpret that Scripture the way a universalist would.

The thing about assumptions is that they aren't derived from reason -- the reasoning comes after them. It is possible to change them simply by force of will. Doing so can allow you to "try on" a different framework... and occasionally when you do that, you find the "fit" is better. The most interesting question to me is: why do you make the assumptions you do? The second most interesting question is: why does the most interesting question kill every discussion I've ever asked it in once I ask it?
Peter Gurry said…
Good thoughts, RonH. And you're probably right, we should probably stop hogging Robin's post!

And yes, I can definitely see how rain & sunshine + eternal redemption is more loving. But I don't really want to get into the game of measuring God's love. It's a small step from there to telling God how he ought to love and how. I want no part of that.

The reason I fixated on Matt 5:43-48 is because one of the main arguments made by universalism is that God's universal redemptive love is incompatible with hell. I feel the force of that argument, I do. But I'm not so sure the Bible teaches God's universal redemptive love. It emphatically does teach his universal providential love. And Matt 5:43-48 is an important text that is often cited in support when, in fact, it provides no such support (Robin cites it in his book on p. 17 with no discussion at all; he simply assumes the love spoken of there is redemptive). So yes, I harp on Matt 5:43-48 because rain & sunshine are so massive in their implications for God's love--even though they are not redemptive! And I worry that some universalists are actually shrinking God's love by only speaking of it in one category. I'm concerned that universalists may not be impressed by rain and sunshine because these aren't "real." If one is predisposed to thinking that redemptive love is the only game in town, then I can see how rain and sunshine wouldn't get them off the bench. That concerns me. If they're not impressed by rain and sunshine, then they will begin creating motives other than those Jesus gives us and that is dangerous. So the theological issue at stake in Matt 5:43-48 touches on a very pastoral issue. I want to see people imitate the kinds of love God tells us to. And in Matt 5:43-48, that way is decidedly not redemptive or eternal.

I'm not sure I can agree on the most interesting question though. Which, sadly, means I provide more grist for the mill of your second most interesting question :(

It is important to try to understand other positions. I agree with that. (Hence my reading Robin's blog!) But at the end of the day, I would hate to see someone shopping around for their favorite system. If taste becomes the final arbiter I think we are better off closing our Bibles. The goal--hard as it is sometimes--is to humbly recognize one's own predispositions so that the Word of God can confront and convict us with all its power. Ultimately I want to read the Bible in such a way that it reads me. If the Bible teaches universalism then I want to be the first on to jump on board. What I don't want to do is let one set of texts set the interpretive agenda for all the others simply because it fits my taste. And now I'm speaking about my own Calvinism.

Thanks for the discussion, RonH.
RonH said…
"What I don't want to do is let one set of texts set the interpretive agenda for all the others simply because it fits my taste."


It's not about "taste", Peter.

I despair --- both for my communication skills and the impression you must have of my theology.

Regardless, I wish you well in your quest to get to the truth of Scripture despite your predispositions. May you achieve more success than I have. Or if not, may your failures at least be more gentle.
Peter Gurry said…
I'm sorry, RonH. I didn't mean to depress you. I don't assume your theology is based on mere taste.

In any case, the well wishes are heartily reciprocated.

You write: “Are there passages in Scripture that portray God loving people after the final judgment? I'm not aware of any. So why assume it is so?

Because of the spirit that permeates the text. You are missing the forest for looking at the trees.

And because of the spirit that permeates our own being. We are made after all in the image of God, and as Christians we believe in the living presence of the Spirit of Truth.

Perhaps you think that it is a better bet to rely on Scripture than on the living presence of the Spirit of Truth. But Scripture is ambiguous, so you have to rely on other peoples’ interpretation of Scripture, or at best on your own judgment about the text or on your own judgment about how other people interpret the text. I really don’t think that this is a good bet. Christ in the Gospels tells us not to be sorry that He won’t be any longer physically with us because God will send to us the Spirit of Truth, He doesn’t tell us not to be sorry because God will see it that we have a good text to rely on.

But perhaps you think that there are many spirits, including deceiving ones. And that therefore Scripture is the more reliable guide. But, again, Christ Himself tells us how to recognize the truth, namely by its fruit. And the greatest fruit of all is to follow Christ. So here is the test to distinguish the Spirit of Truth from deceiving spirits: If a spirit motivates you to follow Christ, to obey His commands, to become like Christ in living and loving and giving yourself up for God, like Christ did – then it is from the Truth. But if it tells you, you know, that becoming like Christ is not really the point, and that it is quite sufficient to study the Scripture instead and believe that Christ is the savior without necessarily doing what He commands or following His path – then you can be quite certain that this is from deception.

We are first and foremost spiritual beings, Peter. Our intellect is there to be one more light to illuminate our spiritual path. The way to know God is to walk towards God. One knows God in one’s experience of love the way Christ loved, no in any learning. You can learn all you possibly can, and you won’t know God as the most simpleminded person in a simple act of self-transcending love does. Scripture, unless it motivates you to become like Christ, is just ink on paper.

And how was Christ like? Hanging on the cross He prayed for the forgiveness and thus salvation of those who had nailed Him to it. I say let the example of Christ by the guide of your life and of your beliefs.
Peter Gurry said…
Dianelos, you can't have a forest without trees. I'm all for stepping back and looking at the big picture but not if that means cropping certain sections of the forest out of the picture.

I appreciate your emphasis on the Holy Spirit, but I find it unhelpful to drive a wedge, however small, between the Holy Spirit's revelation and God's written revelation. It is the Spirit who inspired these words and so an unwavering commitment to them, even in the details, is not a turn away from the Spirit but a turn to the Spirit. Nor do I share your pessimism about the Scripture's ambiguity. That good interpretation is hard work does not mean the text is ambiguous. Still less does it mean we should ignore the work of others in favor of the Spirit's work inside of us. That is Individualism run amok. It is also a false dichotomy. We work hard even as the Spirit illumines our minds. I do not think it honors the Spirit when we shrug the details in favor of his internal guidance.

So I submit that it is still an important question whether or not there are passages in Scripture that speak of God loving people after the final judgment. Some day all people will know God--either in his love or in his judgment. And that will be a sobering day. The Holy Spirit, speaking through Jesus Christ told people "unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:1-5). This can only be taken as mean-spirited if it is untrue. When Christ offered forgiveness on the cross he offered it to people who desperately needed it. They needed it, in part, because without it they faced eternal judgment.

May we be those who boldly proclaim the good news that Christ offers protection from his own coming judgment to all who turn to him in repentance and faith.
Robin Parry said…
Peter and RonH,

Sorry for delay. A rare moment of internet access . . . so here I am (briefly)

Really great discussion guys. Thanks — appreciated it.

RonH: no idea why you were having problems with your comments. I was not moderating you.

Peter: crumbs! Much as I would love to reply to your comments I am afraid I do not have the time. You make so many points. However, one thought:

Biblical support for the claim that God loves everyone with redemptive love? Hmmm. Well, how about John 3:16 for starters: "For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son . . ." In the context of John's Gospel "the world" is most likely the human world in rebellion against God. And it seems that God loves them redemptively. To that I guess we could add all those texts about Christ dying for everyone (there is an excellent article by I. Howard Marshall on this issue called something like, "For all, for all my saviour died"). So powerful are these texts that many a Calvinist has been prepared to surrender systematic consistency in order to be true to Scripture. I can respect the integrity of these four-point Calvinists whose heart is to be true to Scripture even if it does not teach what they may expect it to.

So I think the burden of proof would lie with those who wish to deny the claim that God loves everyone redemptively.
Peter Gurry said…
Thanks, Robin! Regarding John 3:16, I simply note that we need to define "world" more carefully. You used the word "world" in your initial definition which is a tautology ("the human world in rebellion against God"). But then you easily move in your next sentence to defining the world as "them." In John's theology I find "world" emphasizing the great wickedness of people not the great number of people. If "world" means "everyone" then 1 John 2:15 gets pretty hairy: "Do not love everyone or anything in everyone. If anyone loves everyone, the love of the Father is not in him." What does it mean to love anything "in everyone"? So I'm not as eager to individualize "world" in John's writing as most people are, whether it's John 3:16 or elsewhere. I think something like "God's created order in rebellion against him" works better. Individualizing "world" it is something we do, not something John does.

And yes, I'm thinking through the debates about the extent of the atonement myself. I respect the four-pointers as well. But frankly, most of the texts usually cited by four-pointers I find unconvincing. 1 Tim 2:4 is probably the most frequently misused. If the "all people" God desires to be saved in v. 4 is really to be understood as "every individual who ever lived" then it should so be understood in v. 1. But is Paul really telling us to make supplications and thanksgivings for "every individual who ever lived"? If so, my prayer list just expanded by about 20 billion people and at the same time my prayers just became generic to the point of banality, "God, please help Bobby, and Sally, and... of forget it. God, please help everyone who ever lived, amen." But, of course, v. 2 shows that Paul does not have "everyone who ever lived" in mind. He has all sorts of people, even nasty kings and others in high positions who we might otherwise love to hate. We pray even for them. Because God desires even kings to come to salvation. Even those kinds of people. These are standard arguments, but they are good ones. Other passages like Tit 2:11 are likewise frequently cited without any consideration to context.

Honestly the toughest verse for me is 1 John 2:2. That one does seem to offer support for universalism. But then not for your particular flavor of universalism wherein wrath is still a reality for the unrepentant, albeit not an eternal one. Your view seems to require that unbelievers will bear the temporal wrath Jesus already bore. But that strikes me as odd and even impossible. Will God pour out the same wrath twice? Who filled up the cup of wrath a second time? But perhaps you would want to go with one of the other options for understanding "propitiation" (hilasterion). Either way, the points already made about what John means by "world" are what keep me from assuming 1 John 2:2 is finally about "every individual who ever lived."

In any case, I think you need to show more than just that God loves everyone with a desire to redeem them. You need to show that God loves everyone with a desire to redeem them even after the final judgment. That I submit you will not find in Scripture anywhere.

I think I heard recently that you will be at ETS this fall in San Francisco? That would be great. Maybe we could grab coffee and respond without the worry of losing internet ;)
Auggybendoggy said…
Isn't Cor 13 a definition of love? Perhaps it's only one definition of one of the types of love that God has.

Perhaps another might go like this:
Love is impatient and is easily provoked to violence. Love can be unkind and absolutely malevolent. It's rude and always boasts about itself and never protects.

LOL - Are Calvinists serious?
Auggybendoggy said…
Isn't Cor 13 a definition of love? Perhaps it's only one definition of one of the types of love that God has.

Perhaps another might go like this:
Love is impatient and is easily provoked to violence. Love can be unkind and absolutely malevolent. It's rude and always boasts about itself and never protects.

LOL - Are Calvinists serious?
Auggybendoggy said…
Might it also be argued that using this same type of reason:

Since Satan loves himself then it can be said that Satan is love?

After all his love is a form of love it's just different from God's.

If love can be defined according to our interpretations of the text rather than letting our definitions of words help us interpret the text, then I assume this applies in all aspects?

Likwise, is it no wonder why Universalists are always trying to get Calvinists to declare that God is hate.

Suddenly, DA Carson is right about one thing. It's a complicated thing to distinguish between the love of God and the love of Satan when love is defined in many ways.
Peter Gurry said…
Auggybendoggy, is Satan Triune?
Auggybendoggy said…
No, but why does the logic require him to be triune. If Satan loves, then is he love, in some sense?
Peter Gurry said…
Auggybendoggy, I'm thoroughly confused. Why do you think that Satan is capable of love? If you don't, why are you bringing him up?
Auggybendoggy said…
Peter, sorry. I don't mean to be confusing. I'm commenting regarding God's general love (sending rain) upon the reprobates.

As for Satan being triune, would you accept the following: Me, Myself and I?

Kidding of course.
Robin Parry said…

I don't think that the Satan and God analogy works re: love. When Christians speak of God being love "in himself" the idea of the Trinity is fundemental. Indeed Richard of St Victor made God's love central to his case for the Trinity. Agape love has to be for "an other" and so there must be at least two persons within God. But perfect love would be the kind that the lover and the beloved wish to open up to a third person. But if God was a single person then God could not be love apart from creation. So thought Richard and modern theologians tend to go down the same route (rightly, in my view). Satan, of course, is not a trinity so his self-love is just selfishness.

I believe that God can be perfect love even if there is no creation.

However, this does not mean that it is possible for God to be perfect love if love is only within the Godhead once God has chosen to create a world. It seems to me that for God to be love would be for God to love his creature (if there were any creatures).

Consequently, if God creates then God will love creation because God's nature is love.

If God does not love creation then God is not love in his nature.

That's my take on things. I cannot make any sense of the idea that God could be love in his very nature and at the same time love nothing that he has made.
Robin Parry said…

yes—I think coffee is the only way to do the discussion as I simply don't have the time to respond to all your questions and comments in anything other than an off-the-top-of-my-head brief reply.

Here is a brief one. Yes, you are right, John's use of "world" is more nuanced than I suggested but I don't think that this helps your case. It is still clear (to me, at any rate) that the object of divine love in John 3:16 is the rebellious human world — the world that rejects Jesus. The focus is on "the world" in its totality rather than on the individuals that compose it but it clearly includes the individuals that compose it because the verse goes on to say, "so that whosoever believes in him [i.e., individuals that are in the world] ..." It would seem very odd to imagine that John says that God redemptively loves "the world" in its totality whilst at the same time not loving many of the individuals that are part of the world. I would have thought that John would raise his eyebrows in surprise and then scrunched his face up in confusion at that kind of interpretation.

1 Jn 2:2. Indeed. I agree — very tricky to squeeze it into a limited atonement framework.

See you in San Francisco.

(How did you know I was on a panel at ETS? I did not know that this had been advertised yet.)
Peter Gurry said…
Robin, I forget now. I want to say it was maybe on your blog? Or maybe over at the Evangelical Universalism website. Can't remember now. Sorry if I let the cat out of the bag.

Good thoughts on "world" in John. I have some possible responses, but I'll save them for coffee.

I would be interested to know what role faith plays in your scheme of things though. If the love in John 3:16 is effectively redemptive, why bother mentioning faith? I guess I still don't get the theological point of making condemnation and judgment temporal. Or at least why these judgments should be postponed post-mortem. Why not get it all out of the way in this life so we all go to heaven straightaway when we die?

Questions for coffee though. Thanks for the engagement. Looking forward to hearing form you at ETS.
Auggybendoggy said…

Would this be correct of your view?

God in his love for the elect is exactly like the pagans?

That's what I hear you arguing. That God in a general sense loves better than pagans but in his love for the elect, he loves exactly like the pagans - he loves his own but not his enemies.
Peter Gurry said…
Auggybendoggy, are you referring to Matt 5:43-48?
Robin Parry said…

Thanks for being such a great conversation partner on this site. Your comments have been respectful and yet robust. That is precisely the kind of engagement I have been arguing that Christians need to have on this issue.

Thanks. I have thoughts on your questions but will save them for coffee.

Peter Gurry said…
Coffee it is! (I hope we can remember, that's a long way off ;)
Auggybendoggy said…

Yes and Robin is quite right. A conversation with you is indeed a pleasure.

I hope you didn't take the satan thing to be antagonistic. My thoughts were a bit misdirected as I re-read the post. However, I do understand that making hyperbolic comparisons can be antagonizing and if you took me that way I apologize.

My actual thoughts were that if Pagans love their own (in a selfish sense) much the devil does, then is God's love for the elect similar if not exact to that of the pagans or the devil.

I'm not trying to provoke you. It's the way I interpret your understanding of Matt 5 and your defense of "complex"/discriminating love.
- I use that language from DA CArsons link you provided.-
Peter Gurry said…
Auggybendoggy, I'm heading into finals week so my responses might get fewer and further between. But, I've appreciated the engagement on the issue. Thanks.

But to your question, "If Pagans love their own (in a selfish sense) much as the devil does, then is God's love for the elect similar if not exact to that of the pagans or the devil?" the answer is no. First, logically it does not follow that "Pagans love their own; God loves the elect; therefore God's love is pagan."

But I think what you mean to ask is this: if God discriminates in who he redemptively loves, how is this discriminatory love different from the discriminatory love of the pagans? Is that right? I think this is a great question. One I was thinking of just the other day.

My answer again would be no. The only reason believers (I'll avoid using "elect" for now) love God is because God first loved them (1 John 4:19). If God initiated the loving relationship we have with him, how could God be charged with loving those who love him? We had no love for him that could have motivated him to love him. Our love for him did not exist. There simply wasn't any. So, in John's logic, there's no way God to be charged with "only loving the people that love him."

I take it that the pagans (or tax collectors) in Matt 5:43-48 are accused of loving and greeting only the people they find it easy or natural to love and greet. People within their circle, as we might say. But in 1 John 4:19, when God first loved us, we did not yet love him. So in no way could he be charged with the same offense.

Remember, God does not save the elect because they somehow have greater potential than the non-elect. Crucial to a reformed understanding of election is that it's based on God's sovereign good pleasure. Which is another way of saying "It's got nothing to do with us." How could it? We are all by nature children of wrath. What separates the elect from the damned is undeserved goodness. That means every elect person is a person fully deserving of eternal hell. That is overwhelmingly humbling. Who can even begin to comprehend this grace?

Hope that helps.
RonH said…
A good answer. Yes, God chooses to love those who do not love him, and their love back to him is a result of his love to them first. This understanding of love is in no way inconsistent with universalism, however... Indeed, it's one of the easiest routes to it. If in fact there is absolutely nothing intrinsic to us that plays into election, then there is nothing on our end to stop God from electing everyone. "Free will" doesn't enter into it. In the light of this irresistable grace, the Reformed response to the question of "why then does God not elect everyone" can only be "because of the unsearchable counsel of His own will". In other words, "we don't know -- he just doesn't". Now, there are plenty of attempts to speculate as to why this might be the case: God is most glorified when some/many are damned, God's wrath/justice must be displayed, etc. But these are all precisely that: speculation. Why God chooses some and not others is entirely in his inscrutable mind alone.

But the question of "why then does God not elect everyone" itself takes as a given that God does not in fact elect everyone. But how reliable is that proposition? Can we really say with certainty that God does not elect everyone in light of 1 Cor 15:22, Col 1:20, Rom 5:18, 2 Cor 5:19, and all the other passages that suggest Christ's reconciliation was (or at least will be) in actuality 100% effective for 100% of creation?
Peter Gurry said…
RonH, saying "we don't know why God doesn't elect everyone" should not at all be compared to saying "God just doesn't." The former is said in reference; the latter in smug discontent that borders on arrogance. Saying God "just" does anything is unworthy of him. Not that you were saying either. Just offering a caution in the way we phrase the discussion.

I have to disagree (without the time to defend it here) that Scripture gives ample evidence that God does not, in fact, elect everyone. For one thing, to elect someone usually has the idea of "picking out" (hence the ek in ekloge). If everyone is elect then out of what are the elect picked? Sin? Destruction? Dissolution? Perhaps, but I don't see Biblical warrant for this. It seems that Biblically, election operates with a fundamental "in opposition to" notion that simply doesn't exist in universalism. This does not make the Reformed doctrine of election dualistic (such that election somehow needs reprobation to work) but rather recognizes that apart from God's electing grace, all stand under just condemnation. The elect are chosen out of this all-encompassing mass of condemnation.

Needless to say, I don't share your interpretations of 1 Cor 15:22, Col 1:20, Rom 5:18, and 2 Cor 5:19, but I don't have time to explain right now. They are important though, so please don't interpret my present silence as disinterest. These passages do matter for our theology.

One of my biggest struggles with any form of universalism is that it seems to remove any meaningful distinction between life now and the life to come. If eternity is inhabited only by the redeemed, then what is the point of anything in this life? Live how you want because your decisions only ever have limited consequences. If I may, I struggle to see how universalism doesn't ultimately make a mockery of human responsibility. But I'm still reading and trying to understand, so maybe I'm currently guilty of understanding someone else's conclusions through my own assumptions.
Peter Gurry said…
Sorry, that second sentence should say "reverence" not "reference." That's what happens when you comment on blogs when you should be writing your term papers!
Peter Gurry said…
Also, RonH, just so I'm clear, I don't see a logical reason why God couldn't have elected everyone. But that is not the same thing as saying there can't be a reason. There may be theological reasons we can deduce or there may be a reason God has not disclosed. I'm comfortable with either option, frankly. God's not-electing-everyone is not inconsistent with his character or with Scripture so I don't feel the question as a pinch. Some feel it is a pinch because it would be more loving for God to elect everyone, but again I'm not comfortable telling God what would be more loving. We're not talking about math here. Beggars can't be choosers. If God loves any of us at all (and he clearly loves all without exception in Matt 5:43-48), then we've got infinite grounds to worship him for all eternity. At least I think so. I find Matt 5:43-48 simply stunning. If there's anything more to his love that's icing on the cake. We simply don't deserve anything good from him.
Robin Parry said…
Three ultra brief comments

1. I do not think everyone is among "the elect". But then I think that everyone outside of Christ is outside of the elect. For biblical writers the category of "the elect" functions differently than it does in Calvinist systematic theology. In the latter it applies to a fixed group (many of whom are not yet believers). For NT writers the language of "election" would not be applied to anyone outside of Christ.

So I half agree with Peter (we are not all elect) and I half disagree.

But I do think that the notion of election warrants more careful study than I have yet had the time to give it. So I will now leap out of that discussion again.

2. Peter, you worry that universalism undermines human responsibility. Can you clarify how universalism does this in a way that Calvinism does not?

3. Peter, you worry that universalism makes this life pointless. Here we may happily defer to the wisdom and sovereignty of God. Why does God do things the way he does? In the end, this is not given us to know. Fair enough. God knows what he is up to and I am sure he has good reasons. I can live with that.

But I don't see the problem. Why is the fact that God guarantees the final outcome problematic? Why does our denial of the claim that "death is a point beyond which change is impossible" make life now meaningless? I am struggling to see what the logic is here or why it troubles you so. Consequently I am not sure how best to reply.

At some point one must go beyond reading and thinking about God. To understand, one has to raise one’s eyes and look. For we Christians are not only committed to the existence of God but also to the presence of God through the resurrection of Christ. The Spirit of Truth is already here with us, the path to the Kingdom is already open, the view of the Kingdom is already clear. For Christ’s work is done.

The glory of God, the divine justice of God, has nothing to do with the condemnation of creatures. The glory of all creation is Christ hanging on the cross. And we all deserve salvation because Christ hang from the cross for all of us, because He prayed for the forgiveness even of those who had nailed Him to it. To be humble and to glorify God does not consist in limiting the power of Christ’s sacrifice, but to tell all about the good news.
RonH said…
Fear not... You don't lose any points from me for not responding with Reformed interpretations of the scripture refs I fired at you. In fact, I'd wager I already know what those are (I spent about ten years trying to be a Calvinist). Clearly, those passages do not unquestionably teach universal reconciliation otherwise you'd be the one under suspicion of heterodoxy. The rhetorical (and admittedly subjective) question I'd pose is: how certain are your interpretations of those passages over against your interpretations of condemnation passages?

I've never personally met anyone, Calvinist or otherwise, who wasn't at least a little bit sickened at the thought of God damning people that he himself could have saved if he chose to. Some, like Spurgeon, assure us that one day we'll be satisfied and rejoice at the damnation of others... But frankly, I don't want to ever rejoice at the damnation of others. Now, one could say that I feel that way because I'm depraved. But isn't it also possible that I feel that way because I'm created in the image of God? That in fact grieving over the suffering of others rather than rejoicing over it is a reflection of the Divine response? If this were true, it would likely affect one's hermeneutics. Nobody's "telling God what would be more loving". We're just admitting that from our perspective, saving everyone looks like showing more love than only saving some. There's no reason God has to share our perspective. But for myself, despite my best efforts to the contrary, I eventually came to the conclusion that Calvinism had to stretch credulity a bit too far to reconcile all of Scripture, reason, common sense, and what I perceived as the witness of the Holy Spirit in my own life.

Your questions about the point of life now given universalism can be directed at Calvinism as well. What is the point of the life of the elect now, given that God has already elected them to salvation from the foundation of the world? Or for that matter what is the point of the life of the "vessels prepared for destruction"? Universalism may not have a better answer to these questions than Calvinism, but nor is its answer any worse.

Incidentally, attempting to refute universalism by employing the reductio "Live how you want because your decisions only have limited consequences" is little different from attempting to refute Calvinism by saying "There's no need to evangelize because the elect are predestined." Right straw-y men, both of 'em. Objecting to a premise because you think it leads to a conclusion which your opponent does not in fact hold is not terribly effective.
Auggybendoggy said…

So God loves the pagan the way he loves the elect (non-discriminatory)?

Do you think Jesus might actually mean, that by the fact that you know that both the rain and sun are given to both the righteous and the unrighteous, then you can know that God loves all? And therefore you should love all too.

Or perhaps the word Jesus chose "love" might have been a poor choice of words and "kindness" might have been better :) I knew you'd like that one.
Peter Gurry said…

1. With election, you've set up a bit of a false dichotomy. But wouldn't your view logically lead you to say that all will one day be elect? And so the question about being "picked out" still stands. What are the elect chosen out of if everyone is finally picked? Why the ek in ekloge?

2. The issue of responsibility I'm struggling with is with regard to eternality. Calvinism has no trouble affirming human responsibility (I'm thinking here of the work of Jonathan Edwards). Unbelievers are held eternally responsible for their actions. In universalism, no one is held eternally responsible for their actions, are they? Perhaps the difference is that, in universalism, there are no infinitely significant human actions, thoughts, or desires? I could be misunderstanding here, so let me know.

3. I'm not really sure what I was getting at. That's what happens at the end of the semester. I guess it strikes me as disingenuous to tell people that "it is appointed unto man to die once and then to face the judgment" (Heb 9:27) if after that judgment is over and done with everyone is reconciled. There's a finality to this way of talking that I can't seem to get in universalism. But I'm still reading, so be patient with me ;)
Peter Gurry said…

I'm just not that moved by arguments that boil down to "Since I can't do it now, I can't do it ever." Someday we will be like him for we shall see him as he is. That day has not come.

"We're just admitting that from our perspective, saving everyone looks like showing more love than only saving some." And this is precisely what worries me. How does this kind of thinking not lead someone to denigrate rain and sunshine as less loving? If we start with the assumption, "God should be as loving as our perspective will allow" it won't take long before we get ourselves in trouble. This is precisely why we need scripture. Because our perspective needs correction. I'm not saying it isn't hard to get our perspective right.

You're right though, I think I was looking at things through my own system and thus setting up a right strawy-man.

Also the point of life for the elect is, of course, to glorify God. But I know that's a stock answer.
Unknown said…
Peter Gurry wrote:
"There is no Biblical reason to assume that God cannot love creatures he condemns to hell. Every day of rain and every day of blissful sunshine have been an undeserved outpouring of God’s providential love for the wicked as well as the righteous. Would that our love was half this frequent or half this unaware of the character of its objects!"

Ah yes! A good father who locks his disobedient son in his room for the rest of his life neveretheless loves his son. For the father always provides food and water for his son, and allows the sunshine into his son's prison. These blessings have been have been an undeserved outpouring of the father's providential love for his disobedient son!

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