Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Can anybody win a verse war

Tom Talbott here argues that while there is prima facie support for Calvinism, Arminianism, and universalism, we should at least affirm that universalism is not patently heretical. It also raises some interesting questions about how, if we accept biblical authority, we go from the relevant Scriptures to our doctrinal conclusions.


Mike Darus said...

Talbott errs when he interjects "porpose" in the discussion. The verses he cites affirm the desire of God but they do not attempt to presume to know God's intention. It is God's desire that all be saved, but this is not the same as saying that this is God's purpose. Talbott unwittingly(?) interjects a universalist presupposition into the argument.

Talbot is illustrating a deductive approach to interpretation where one's theological position dicates one's interpretation and selection of texts. My seminary experience sought an inductive approach where one allows scripture to lead you to theology. It is not an easy thing to do since all your theological baggage tends to follow you into the text.

Mike Darus said...

I need an edit option. "porpose" should, of course, be "purpose."

Anonymous said...

universalism is patently heresy. "Not all who say to me Lord Lord will enter the Kingdom". The epistles are fraught with data about those behaviors that will keep one out of the kingdom. (Eph 5, Gal 5, Col 1)

Travis White said...

First, how exactly is the word 'universalism' being used here?

Does it refer to the position that every individual is going to be saved? Or does it refer to a position wherein people from other religions can be saved? (I think the latter is usually called 'pluralism' or something like that, but I just want to be sure that I don't assume too much and misrepresent what you're saying.)

If it's taken in the first sense, I have to basically concur with johno above. I fail to see how any one can give the Bible any sort of weight at all and yet maintain that all could end up being saved. The biblical evidence to the contrary is just far too vast and explicit. The Bible talks about hell and the people who will be there forever all the time. I mean, are Judas Iscariot and Stalin going to be in heaven?

The latter option would necessitate various denials of clear biblical data as well, though. Scripture makes it clear that we are saved by Christ alone. Can people in other religions praying to different deities be saved? If so, why then the strong condemnation against idolotry? If we're all ultimately worshiping the same God, it wouldn't make any sense for idolotry to be forbidden.

I personally think Calvinism is clearly true, from a biblical perspective. But I can at least see how an Arminian can come to her conclusions. However, I would say that universalism is about as clearly false as anything could be, if we're listening to the Scriptures. I have a tough time thinking that anyone could come to such conclusions without simply disregarding the Bible.

Jason Pratt said...

And yet, there are some of us here and there who do come to the conclusion that God will always be acting to save everyone from sin (and that, to put it perhaps a little too bluntly, we should bet on God and not on Satan. {g})

_Without_ simply disregarding the Bible.

But the discussion of such matters would take an exceedingly long time. And I mean an exceedingly long time even by _my_ standards. We're way beyond even what counts for me as a long comment, and into several books of systematic theology and metaphysics. I could of course put it much more simply, but then I would (not unreasonably) be accused of oversimplifying the situation.

Speaking, however, as a Christian universalist who (apparently unlike Talbott?) _does_ in fact care about heresy: yes, there are forms of universalism, and very many of them, which are in fact heretical, and which I am obligated to reject. When Calvinists and Arminians (to put the debate in Protestant forms) reject those contentions, they are doing no wrong thing at all. More power to them.

To take a couple of obvious examples: any 'universalist' doctrine which states that there is no punishment from God after death, is a heresy, and I reject it. I reject any 'universalism' which denies the (exclusive) truth of classical trinitarian theism, including the Incarnation of the 2nd Person of God as Christ. Those two rejections by themselves discount most of what goes by 'universalism' these days. {wry g}

I reject any 'universalism' which involves claiming that we are saved by dependence on anything other than God's action as Christ; and/or which says that our redemption depends only on us.

I reject a 'universalism' which involves claiming (apart from revelation, which I do not believe we've been authoritatively given--nor which do I expect to be given) that all persons _certainly will_ repent. (This is one of the subtler points; readers may remember me discussing this distinction in regard to Lewis and MacDonald from _The Great Divorce_ recently. It is one reason why I agree Origin was a heretic, though MacDonald was _not_, on this topic.)

I could add much more to the anathema list--to take a simple but also subtle example, I reject any 'universalism' which involves denying the name of Jesus. (But then, I reject all Calvinisms and Arminianisms which in effect do the same thing... {g} It is not so easy to avoid doing as one might suppose.)

But, on a more positive note of affirmation: I do affirm the name of Jesus ("The Lord is salvation"); and I do affirm classical trinitarianism; and I believe I have a logical obligation, and (personally) a moral one, to be a universalist, if I affirm these things are true. It is because I believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance--God self-begetting, God self-begotten, God proceeding... including the filioque! {g!}--that I believe God will always be acting in good hope to save everyone from sin and to reconcile all things to Himself, things in the heavens as well as things on the Earth, making peace through the blood of the cross of Him in Whom all the fullness was pleased to dwell, in and through and for Whom all things were created, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities: He Who is before all things, and in Whom all things hold together. (Amen. {s!})

But, as I have said, it would take a _VERY_ long time to cover all the relevant points. And the other two camps frequently do have legitimate concerns, which absolutely must be respected. (So I have no idea how Victor could feasibly set up a discussion on it in a web journal. {s})

Jason Pratt