Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Blogging heaven and hell: 4

In the tail of the comet of blogposts on Rob Bell, Mike has recommended what he considers to be a better read. I can't be the judge of that, but this one is available to me in the local library. The Evangelical Universalist was written by Robin Parry, but he published it under the name of Gregory Macdonald.

The issue at stake is not actually whether universalism rather than traditional theology is true, but rather, whether universalism can be brought under the umbrella of evangelicalism. Can this be treated as an intramural debate or not?

I contend that it can. At first, I had some doubts, but I am convinced that there is an exegetical case to be made for universalism. It can be derived from the text. For starters, the Hebrew Bible lends itself to the interpretation that there is no afterlife. The Christian scriptures introduce the notion of the resurrection, although this was already present in writings from the preceding two or three centuries. The question, then, is whether Christ not only offers eternal life for his own, but if he also threatens hell, a fate which was unknown in the Hebrew Bible, for those who reject him, or who have never heard of him.

I am sure that we could argue this forever, and it is not something that I expect to resolve. However, I would like to share with you this quote by Robin Parry, page 35,
If a traditional interpretation of a passage and a universalist one reach hermeneutical stalemate, then reason would lead us to prefer the universalist interpretation.
I could also offer this parallel statement,
If a traditional intepretation of a passage and an abilitionist one reach hermeneutical stalemant, then pity would compel us to prefer the abolitionist one.
But I can hear you answer back, not at all. In the case of the abolition of slavery, we live with the results. However, in the case of universalism, we don't know if we are condemning some to hell because we have failed to preach hell.

On the other hand, I argue back, the threat of hell keeps many people in painful and unhappy circemstance that they might otherwise escape. Whether hell exists or not, the threat of hell can cause a lot of suffering in this life.

I was raised to believe that the unversalist was the same as an atheist, but I argue now that it is not.


Charis said...

"the threat of hell keeps many people in painful and unhappy circemstance that they might otherwise escape."- Suzanne

iow, the threat of future hell keeps people in present hell ("hell on earth").

I perused NT Wright's material. He makes a good point that "the kingdom of heaven" isn't bye and bye pie in the sky. It's called "the Kingdom of God" in all but one of the gospels and is supposed to be present reality "the kingdom of God is in your midst" Luke 17:21.

Out with "hell on earth" and in with "they kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven"!

Anonymous said...

I know there was a theologian who taught that the Kingdom of heaven and the Kingdom of God were 2 different things and wrote an entire book on it. It turns out Matthew used the evasive synonym that other Jews used (and use today) in his gospel for God, namely heaven, so that they would not take God's name in vain. But they are the same idea, so that theology book can basically be tossed in the trash can.

And yes, the Kingdom of Heaven is where ever God rules, partially now and fully later.

Don Johnson

believer333 said...

I confess I don't know what to make of this. But because I really respect Suzanne, I'm listening.

So what do we make of the book of Revelations?

Dana said...

I'm Orthodox, and we don't give every verse of scripture the same weight. In addition, there is no "systematic theology" of Orthodox belief (though Orthodoxy has some great contemporary theologians, cf Yannaras, Zizioulas); "what Orthodoxy believes" is to be found in what is expressed in the Liturgy and other services of the gathered body of Christ. Because Revelation is so difficult -and was acknowledged to be so even by the great early Christian thinkers- though Orthodoxy recognizes it as part of the canon, it is never read or quoted in any Orthodox service; no doctrine/dogma is formulated from it.

I left the "left behind" Revelation-as-timeline scenario long ago. I think Revelation is like the Theatre in the Round at Disneyland: one scene after another projected on 12 different screens in a circle surrounding the viewer. The "then I saws" of Revelation are John turning his sight to another screen, or another aspect of the same scene on a different screen.

Christians are beginning to undergo some terrible suffering, from Jews who don't believe and are on the brink of/in the wake of the destruction of the Temple -depending on when you think Rev. was written- and from the Roman officials who are reeling from the reign of Nero and the subsequent chaos of the Year of the Four Emperors. The point is that the suffering is not for nothing, and that God will judge and give to faithful Christians their reward, and will restore them and the cosmos to the harmony and union with himself intended from Creation (*not* pantheism; everything retains its distinctness within this union).

I also think that the end of Revelation gives some things to think about that support the eventual reconciliation of all. Orthodoxy does allow the hope for this. It is not "universalism", but rather that in the face of God's unlimited love, there could be future possibilities.


Anonymous said...

"Whether hell exists or not, the threat of hell can cause a lot of suffering in this life."

Some would argue the threat has saved others.

What of Justice? What of the martyrs crying out in Rev for justice?

Muff Potter said...

I'm still reading, examining, and collating the various views on the doctrine of hell. The jury is still out for me on this one.

I will say though, the evidence is strong that the concept of eternal torment is a post Constantine invention of the Church designed to exert control over the masses.

One commentator wrote:
"...Some would argue the threat has saved others..."
I'm sure the Catholic inquisitors used the same logic whilst inflicting horrific punishments on their victims.

I've noticed over the years that those who are most adamant about the doctrine of hell achieve almost a masturbatory glee over the sure and future suffering of infidels. To assert that the Almighty gets off that way too, is purely speculative.

Anonymous said...

What is being recommended here is like me saying there should be no punishment for any wrong doing. We hate unjust judges who allow pedophiles and rapists off. The judge could say he was being loving and we just get glee from seeing the rapist punished in prison.

So why the need to change or even fight evil if there is no punishment? Seems to me the abusive husband would love to believe this. There is nothing to fear.

Anonymous said...

"...Some would argue the threat has saved others..."
I'm sure the Catholic inquisitors used the same logic whilst inflicting horrific punishments on their victims."

I cannot believe a false doctrine because evil men have abused truth for power.

That would be illogical. It would be basing my beliefs on wrong actions of fake believers and not the truth of the Word.

We have dismissed Revelation. What about Jude. Snatch them from what fire? What does that denote?

Anonymous said...

"To assert that the Almighty gets off that way too, is purely speculative."

Who asserts that?

Scripture states that He does not want anyone to "perish" but to have eternal life.

What is the difference?

Anonymous said...

Universalism is nothing new. What's new is that so many believers have forgotten why they ever bothered to believe.

"The offense of the cross" has not changed, nor has God lost the "other half" of his nature: holiness. Yes he is love, but that isn't all. And a love that never seeks justice for victims is no love at all-- a principle I'm shocked that so many who work so hard against abuse of women have abandoned. Apparently the men who have been hiding behind "Jesus paid it all" and "it's covered by the blood" are right after all; they'll go to heaven with their victims. Somehow we think justice is only for this temporary life.

If universalism is true, then we're all wasting our time.

Kristen said...

My understanding is that Universalism is usually not about God ignoring justice, or that there is no place of punishment. Most Universalists I have read and/or talked to believe in some form of hell-- they just believe that souls can and will be redeemed from hell after they have learned what they need to learn there. That hell is a place of redemption, and that God's Spirit is never far from any of us, no matter where we go after death.

I'm not a Universalist, but I think we at least ought to understand what they believe, and that's not about God just letting people get away with sin.

Anonymous said...

If so, then they believe it is hell that redeems most people.

Universalism, in whatever form, makes spreading the gospel a farce and faith (as opposed to the "sight" one has in hell) a cruel joke to those who died for it in this life. "There is no other name by which people can be saved" never came with fine print. And just like patriarchal teachings, univ. relies on what scripture doesn't say much more than what it does say.

I trust God to be both loving and just. I love the lost enough to warn them. I value the Cross enough to not be ashamed of it. God isn't asking for much; he asks us to trust him. For people to reject that simple request, freely offered to all equally, has to be the height of arrogance-- and no amount of time in some kind of purgatory can make up for that.

Kristen said...

"Annonymous," they believe it is Christ Who redeems people-- it's just that they believe He also redeems them out of hell.

How about cutting people some slack? It's not a crime to read the Bible and come to a different conclusion about what it says than you do, is it? Particularly if it's about a secondary doctrine like the nature of hell? It's God's grace through faith in Christ alone that saves us-- not what we believe about hell.

I certainly don't think believing in universalism need make spreading the gospel a farce. Even if people can be redeemed out of hell, wouldn't it be better if they never had to go there at all?

I'm hoping we can lighten up a little about this. It's not a deal-breaker for whether or not someone is a Christian, and not, to my mind, a reason to break fellowship.

I'm an annihilationist myself-- I don't believe in eternal, conscious torment. I think there is good biblical support for my position. But I try not to hold it, or any doctrine, so tightly that it's more important than simple trust in God through Christ, and loving my neighbor as myself.

Charis said...


Speaking of "gospel" messages which are farces, I have been an evangelical for >30 years and I have observed up close and personal that the belief in that “get out of hell free card” leaves people trapped and complacent about their flesh. They can be cruel and abusive and think they get a free pass for it because they said the sinner's prayer, sit in the pew, and wear a "churchy" sheepskin.

I think they have missed the true GOOD NEWS!

Anonymous said...

"I think they have missed the true GOOD NEWS!"

So the good news is that you can profess Christ, live as an unrepentent abuser, rapist or sexual pervert and have a "get into heaven free card".

So what is the point of being Born Again?

Anonymous said...

Jesus saves us from hell if we trust in him in this life. After this life we face judgment (Heb. 9:27). There is no remedy mentioned anywhere in scripture for those who are already awaiting judgment.

"Cutting people slack" doesn't match what Jesus told us: the way is found by only a few and the gate is narrow. And how much slack is God to cut anyway? He only asks us to trust in the risen Jesus in this life; how hard can that be? "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved"... Jesus told them, "This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent." That's a lot of slack when it comes to requirements for salvation.

Once again: if in spite of all the NT says, we don't really need to trust Christ in this life in order to be saved, then we're all wasting our time. Those who suffer and die for becoming Christians are made to be fools in the eyes of universalist theology. I will never agree to treat such people with shame by making their sacrifices needless.

Does God make the rules or not? Is he God or not? Do we stand as his judges or not? How you answer those questions says more about your salvation than anything else.

Jesus wondered if, when he returns, he would find faith on the earth.

Kristen said...

Annonymous, please. I have no interest in continuing to argue with you on this point. I think most of the questions you raise have already been adequately addressed in other comments here.

If you want to think anyone who believes in Universalism is apostate, that is your prerogative. You will have to excuse me for not joining you.

Lin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charis said...

QUOTE ANONYMOUS: So the good news is that you can profess Christ, live as an unrepentent abuser, rapist or sexual pervert and have a "get into heaven free card".

So what is the point of being Born Again? ENDQUOTE

The GOOD NEWS is that you can choose TODAY "Thy Kingdom Come ON EARTH" or you can choose to continue to walk in darkness. And if you choose God's Kingdom, then you will have resurrection power to LIVE the words Jesus speaks in Matthew 5-7:
Your house will be on the rock instead of on the sand.
You won't ever look upon a woman with lust.
You will walk the extra mile.
You will give to those who ask.
You will move from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.

The GOOD NEWS is that God has made a way for you to crucify your flesh and be a new man. THAT is the good news which is missing from the message of "Jesus as fire insurance" and heaven (and hell) as distant future "bye and bye pie in the sky".

Jesus describes the GOOD NEWS here:

`The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, Because He did anoint me;
To proclaim good news to the poor,
to heal the broken of heart,
To proclaim to captives deliverance,
And to blind receiving of sight,
To send away the bruised with deliverance,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

The abuser, rapist, and sexual pervert is in captivity, is blind, is walking in darkness, is living in hell TODAY. But some of these sit in pews think they are "saved" (and I could make a pretty strong case that some of them even consider themselves to be shepherds among evangelicals and have large followings)

Anonymous said...

So, what if they never choose during their lifetime?

You claim that walking in darkness now means "hell on earth". Yet, they go to heaven when they die.

They had their "hell" here? Is that what you are saying?

Charis said...

Did they have their "hell" here?

They at least started their hell here. I can't imagine that they would be pleased in God's presence having a grand old party with all the people they hate and thought should burn?

Relationship with God is compared with marriage, Anon. If I FORCED my husband to come and be with me and he really despised me, it wouldn't be heavenly for him, would it? In some cases, I think Divorce can be the greater mercy.

I like Fr Barron's answer to your question (click here)

I can't speak for anyone else. I know I don't believe in eternal conscious torment for anyone. Mainly this is because I have had a "hell" of a marriage and regardless of all the extremely painful betrayal and hurt I still love my husband and would not see him tormented forever. Though if he should choose yet again to pursue his prodigal interests I'll be getting the rubber stamp of the "putting away" from a judge and praying that his flesh may be consumed in order that his spirit may be saved.

Anonymous said...

I do not think any true follower of Christ, who believes in a literal hell, would actually want anyone to go there. No matter what they have done. I think a true follower of Christ weeps over sin and the coming judgement of those who are not Born Again or those who claim to be Born Again and still consistently and willfully sin knowing the truth. (Hebrews 10)

I think that truth is what is missing here.