Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Origin of Sin, Hell, and Universalism

It seems that in order to talk about Hell and Universalism one must also talk about God and Sin. So let me back into the latter discussion by first addressing Universalism in terms of covenantal concepts. Then speak to God and sin. And lastly death and hell.

Sin and Universalism

According to Andrew Perriman (a view that I would agree with), the church is a corporate salvific community of believers within an ever-expanding and re-populating Abrahamic covenant resident through the testamental eras in an rapidly unfolding eschatological sense. And it is to this covenant's jurisdictions that superintends over all other soteriological considerations of "universalism" commonly argued within various branches of the Reformed Church. His is the biblical theological view that focuses on God's covenanted people, or incorporated communities, while the Reformed soteriological statement may focus on the systematic view of salvation delimited only to covenanted individuals. Curiously both theological positions originate from within Reformed theology itself out of which Calvinism's more systematic theologies were birthed bearing a multitude of logistical statements and theological deductions that seemingly require advance degrees in philosophy and linguistics to even begin to follow through its many centuries of synthetic arguments. Specifically as it expounds and exposits on that area of doctrine described as "soteriology" and better known in the vernacular as "the doctrine of salvation."

But the covenant view focuses on (i) the gracious charter of God "cut" or established between man and Himself through enactment of sacrifice. In the ancient Near East this is known as the Suzerainty-Vassal covenant treaty binding each agreeable party to variously named obligations, blessings and curses. Its structure is readily recognizable throughout the entirety of the book of Deuteronomy in all its chapters. While the soteriological systematic view focuses only on the implications of not heeding that charter as implemented between God and man. (ii) The first view sees a covenant meant for all peoples living in a land of universal blessings, whereas the other sees it as meant for "the elect, the predestined" who may only participate in God's delimited blessings. (iii) The first view avoids reflecting on the metaphysical implications of death and the grave, while the second view creates stricter boundaries upon death by giving considerate focus upon hell itself. So that, regardless of Perriman's purpose of debating implied universalism or not, he has intentionally raised a range of problems presented by the "systematic view of personal soteriology" (known as Calvinism) as versus the more natural or reasonable reading of a "corporate biblical theology of a covenanted people of God" found in Scriptures known as Remnant Theology (as versus replacement or separation theology):

  • Replacement Theology - the Church and Israel refer to the same group of people.
  • Separation Theology - the Church and Israel refer to different groups of people.
  • Remnant Theology - The Church and Israel overlap in some manner of continuity and discontinuity.

Overall one may say with reasonable assurance that God has come to restore all things unto Himself. And that the covenanted church's mission is to proclaim this restoration through the cross of Jesus. That the journey for mankind is the discovery, or realization, of God's universal and inescapable love and the "blessings" that come to a covenanted people reconciled to God as their gracious Suzerainty. But to those who reject the love and sacrifice of God as free-willed beings there will also be required the "curses" that come to a previously covenanted people of God willing to break treaty, and in this case, specifically not bow to the Lordship of Jesus Christ who enacted redemption upon a Cross of Sacrifice. In strict terms, those "curses" may be considered self-made or self-inflicted because the Christian idea of sin is that which is not of God. To not be in God is to be in sin. And because it is a personal choice than it can be considered a self-made hell which is a grievous enough choice that God will continually, and unabandonly, assists us to not make regardless of the personal hell and depravity we carry with/within us through this life. But "curses" does not mean that God will automatically inflict harm and destruction upon those who break from His universal covenant... it simply means that we have chosen sin's harm and destruction upon ourselves by breaking covenant with God. In this way God is not found to be capricious or mean God; nor a totalitarian or despotic ruler; nor even a cosmic monster which can arise with the Calvinistic doctrine of soteriology through its doctrines of personal "election" and "predestination" and its implied "double predestination" to those damned for all eternity under the TULIP system.

Hence, the Abrahamic Covenant is historically re-enacted by Jesus on the cross of Calvary whereon He presented Himself to be literally "cut," or sacrificed, as the Lamb of God so as to establish a finalised ratification of the Covenant of Redemption between the God of the Heavens and the peoples of the earth. Marking this universal covenant as eternally bounded by God's very own sacrifice Himself and consequently reinforced and empowered by His self-made (and willful) covenant with mankind. Thus, it was (and is) a universal covenant with universal obligations, blessings and curses (as so described in the above paragraph). And it is in this manner that the Suzerainty-King is vindicated and is shown to be just and righteous when He returns to enforce His ransomed, conciliatory, covenanted people. All the more so because it was the Suzerainty Himself who was sacrificed in order to enact this binding covenant with man such that no surer sacrifice could be made except upon the personage of the Godhead ratified and invoked (sic, compare the book of Hebrews with the book of Deuteronomy specifically in this regard).

However, what does this all mean? And how did the church begin to diminish the love of God as it raised the bar on the justice and wrath of God? Is God a God of Love or is He a God of Justice? And do these non-sequitur's of truth bear a similarity of image and intent but miss the mark completely upon the very purposes of the Godhead meant and designed for a fallen Creation?

Was the Act of Creation Sinful?

In this way I find the argument of universalism misguided as a systematic theological argument by missing the intent of God's act of reconciliation. True, God's love is universal. But also true is the rejection of that love offered time-and-again by the Spirit of God to a rejecting mankind. Scripture attests again-and-again that God's relationship to creation is one of reconciliation, restoration, and the glorious re-ordering of Creation's sinful bent away from Himself back unto Himself. In a sense, we have all that is "pure" on the one side of things, and all that is "impure" on the other side of things. Or, we have all that is "God" on one side and all that is "not God" on the other side. But when God recreated His image into something separate from Himself, in the transference man was given free will as part of God's very own image of volition, which thing was also expressed into Creation's very own essence. Thus, God's image was stamped upon Creation's image, (i) part of that being volition or free will. And (ii) part of that being the essence of God however we describe it. So then not only man, but Creation itself, is marked by God's very essence, or Image, and within that essence or Image came free will (I see this explicitly in the creative order when considering quantum physics principles of indeterminacy and uncertainty). And yet, we might ask, how then did sin arise? And how can anything be separate from the very being of God? Even "Creation" itself, like man, proceeded from God and is of God... So how did "sin" result if all had come from a perfect and sinless, holy God?

Perhaps it was the mere fact that Creation was made "separate" from God in some ontological sense - that it took God's perfected, volitional, essential will of harmony as it was reflected and imbued in His Godhead - and it became corrupted in a disharmonious separation from that same Godhead. Maybe, though this is conjecture and not known. But we cannot say that it was without God's foreknowledge of this disharmonious event that it resulted. Why? Because God was not ignorant of the affects of His creative activity upon Creation. This would declare that God was not omniscient. Nor can we say that God was powerless to contain or prevent these same affects or results. This would declare God as not being omnipotent. Nor can we say that God is somehow separated from, and unaffected by, His creative act. This would declare God as not being omnipresent within all parts of His creation. What we can say is that when God created Creation He knew that it would become sinful, and that it would affect His Godhead as much as it would affect itself (omniscience). That He would still continue in the act of creation purposefully (omnipotence). And that its separation from Himself would break fellowship with His holy presence and refuse reconciliation with its all-present Creator-God (omnipresence). Thus we may say that the act of creation is a mystery. That its continuance is a mystery. That its sustenance is a mystery. And that its operation is a mystery. But a mystery that is miraculous and marvelous nonetheless!

Furthermore, the "why's" of God's divine acts must be left only to the divine counsels of God other than to understand that this God created out of pure joy and wished to share Himself with those things other than Himself. Does not the artist do the same thing? Does he not wish to share his heart, his temperament, his being with those around him? Is it not the same difference that we see from the image of the Creator within the artist? That He would share Himself - His heart, His temperament, His being - with all around Himself, or surrounding Himself, or within Himself, beyond that of His very own divine Fellowship? A Fellowship that needed to express itself beyond itself to something that had never existed before; from itself to something other than itself; through itself to the very empowerment of a created world of universe and nature, creature and mankind, each-and-all bearing the imprimaturs of the Divine's wisdom, glory, magnificence, eternity, infinity, and holiness? How like the artist is the very God of the world who colours this world with sublimities beyond the mortal pale? Who makes visible the invisible? And the invisible visible? Who brings sight and sound to the living? Breath and burden to all creatures? Who raises sun and moon with one hand, and lifts clouds and winds with the other? Who speaks peace one moment when at the next moment He trods through the valley of death and destruction? Who bows all things living to His will? Who deigns to walk stride-for-stride with any who are lost and alone, destitute and deprived, without hope or mercy, seeking deliverance and salvation? Yes, this is the God of creation. It is He that is Almighty God. Who will rule and reign. Who seeks His will. His shalom of peace and divine order in all that is, or is not, obedient to His will or peace. Who brings order from chaos. Who uses chaos to bring order. Who is Infinite Wisdom, Power, Ability and Purpose. He it is that is the Creator God of the Universe and none other. Neither image or idol. Neither fallible thought or foolish opinion. Neither pretensions of doubting hearts or ignorant spirits. It is the Creator God that gives all life and breath. Who wishes to share Himself with all that is separate - even as it exists as an integral part of Himself - in the divine mystery of what it means to be creation.

So then, we may only say that Creation is separate from God but inexplicably related to God; that it was birthed from the divine essence of God but in that birthing became corrupted by sin somehow; that sin did not exist until the angels were birthed; and later, even as creation itself was made with man as its central player of disobedience; that God's omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence is neither diminished nor limited in its fullness through His act of Creation; that one of the main characteristics of Creation is volitional, or libertarian, free will; that the Image of God is found in Creation and speaks as much to Creation's holiness as to its fallenness; and further, that the very act of God in creating further portends to Creation's holiness. Consequently, the physical characteristics and fleshly composition of creation is not what makes Creation sinful (contra the doctrine of pelagianism, for one).... It is sin itself resident within Creation that has made Creation sinful. For to be freed from the body is not to be freed from sin - else death and the grave would have no hold! It requires the freedom of redemption to free man and creation from sin. That only and nothing less than this (contra doctrines of self-denial, mortal austerity, fleshly abuse and discipline). It is the soul, and not simply the body, that has become corruptible and requires incorruptibility. The flesh but speaks to this fact. To be fleshly, or of this world, is not what makes sin present. Sin was already present and the fleshly "home" we bear but only attests to sin's presence. Sin has corrupted both our soul and fleshly pale. But looked at another way, all creation, including mankind, bears God's essence. His image. His being. We are holy vessels that have become corrupted through this thing we call sin. And yet, it is God's selfsame essence, will and purpose, that will complete His image of holiness in all things living, all things fleshly, yeah, even mankind. Who will raise (or resurrect, or re-birth) our mortal bodies unto a new heavens and new earth. Renewed by the very redemption of God Himself. Even our Lord and Savior Jesus will join Himself freely with His creation giving to it His glory, sublimity, majesty, honour, and love.

Was the Intent of Creation Sinful?

No. The intent of Creation was not sinful because its Creator-God is not sinful. But somehow "sin" did result and corrupted the volitionalism imbued within Creation (man included, for "nature/creation" has its own type of volitionalism or liberatarianism). Sin corrupted God's Image that had been transferred into His Creation - into that very substance that had been created from Himself as part of His essence, His being, His will. And yet to describe Creation as a "separate part" external to God is inexact. This position would then fall into the various forms of pelagianism which views all matter and flesh as sinful. For Creation is as much a part of God as God Himself is a part of Himself. In a sense, Creation is God and we are but witnessing the turmoil that is occurring within God as a part of God's turbulent creation at an ontological level that we are feeling, and seeing, on an existential level (one could say that the religion of Hinduism highlights these facts, although not strictly Christian it bears a form of Christian observation regarding creation's turmoil... but this is another matter for another time). A turmoil that cannot be left to stand as separate from God but must find reconciliation, restoration and renewal. For it is within God's nature to be whole. To be unified. To find harmony, peace, and "shalom" (the Jewish term meaning "order").

However, we also wish to avoid falling into a panentheism that says that God is as dependent upon Creation as Creation is upon God. This would be the view of Process Theism (or, Process Theology) which position then goes on to add "that each affects the other in a formative way" - which is true, but not true as dependent realities (more said on this in a moment). Nor do we aver a form of pantheism when speaking of Creation as God, and God as Creation, each both-and-the-same. This would be the view of Hinduism and similar religions like Hinduism. Whereas we do affirm that God is both separate-but-conjoined with Creation. Just as Creation is separate-but-conjoined with its Creator. That each bears the essence of the other. This is the view of Christian theism. Moreover, God volitionally declared Himself "bound" to Creation, as much by fiat as by fact (making process theology only partially correct); so that, He Himself must resolve this tension through reconciliation rather than through simple dismissal through destruction or death. This would be the views of both Classic Theism as well as Relational Theism. Furthermore, each affects the other in a formative, but not a dependent fashion. Which is also the view of Relational Theism but not that of its sister position of "Relational-Process Theism" (here commonly referred to as "process theism" within this website).

Lastly, and in some sense, I think God must resolve this tension from an ontological perspective as well. That since Creation is as much a part of His essence as He is of His own essence, then a reconciliation must be made. Or, proposed differently, we are of God's essence (both by His Image as well as by His Creative act), and because we constitute a part of God's Creation, we must be reconciled back to our Creator because His essence cannot be left unconstituted. It demands an ontological re-ordering. A divine reconciliation. Consequently salvation is both a determination made by the Godhead as much as it is an ontological necessity. Because of these facts sin, death and hell will likewise have mandatory consequences both because of divine determination as much as by ontological necessity.

Is the Nature of Creation Sinful?

I might answer this by saying that Creation itself was pure and holy. But when sin entered - however it entered for we do not know and can but only speculate as explained above - it did corrupt Creation both in its Image of God as well as in its nature to be in harmony with God: in the estates of fellowship, devotion, love and good will. Creation literally fell out of fellowship from the Godhead as it were, and has been tumbling on its own ever since, thus necessitating Reclamation. Restitution. Restoration.

In response, God has set about to do this very thing - to reclaim, to restitute, to restore - in a complex array of salvific events that will renew the original charters of Creation back unto Himself. Importantly, man figures advisedly into God's plan of renewal. Somehow, in the depths of God's being man has been determined as an instrumental factor, and even a major element, in the restoration of Creation. "From Adam came sin" it is said by the Apostle Paul, and "from the Second Adam (Jesus) comes sin's defeat and death." This would also speak to, and include, all followers of Jesus, called the Church, which has the divine commission to "defeat" sin and death through the power of the Cross, by water and by blood, through the Spirit of God. For through Jesus - and through that divine fellowship known as His body the Church - comes the very renewal of life and restoration of Creation in the wisdom and mercy of God.

Thus, while God tarries, the Church is to be about its mission of spiritual salvation and reconciliation; corporate and civil justice and equality; economic benevolence and fairness; and ecological restoration and provisioning, among other things here considered. We are not to simply wait for Christ's Parousia but are to put to use all the talents and abilities, insights and passions, energies and imaginations, of the Church of God into our blighted, misused, mispurposed, benighted world. In this way has the Kingdom of God come unto men. A Kingdom that will be ultimately rejected. An upside-down Kingdom that is not understood. That leads by example through selfless servitude, sacrifice, and sharing. But a Kingdom proclaiming God's heart-and-will within the fallen realm of God's creation destined for final reclamation, restitution, and restoration.

Conversely, if Creation were left to itself it would lead to a completion of death, ultimate disorder, and be invariably marked by hatred and animosity. This state of affairs could then no longer be a part of God's essence. Nor His divine Godhead. Nor of God's holiness. For injustice would be the reigning ethic in this anarchical "kingdom" of total despair, total isolation, consummate self-absorption, consummate brokenness, and consummate societal destruction known as death. A death that would either be "temporary" and compelled towards a final annihilation. Or a death that is eternally locked within itself upon its own self-propagating prison walls and dungeons of chaining darkness, torment, and "hells." But a death no less. And one that its Creator-God must rectify. Must correct. Must resolve. Even prevent. Not only because He wills it so, but because He can do no other but reconcile His Creation back unto Himself. His Godhead. His essence (sic, the concepts of relational theism and ontological order have now been placed together as interlocking positional themes).

Annihilation as a Theologoumenna

As a brief aside, my own view of death is one of annihilation as the only logical consequence rather than an existing "eternal state of death" we call hell, or the Lake of Fire, posited by theologians as an eternal residing part of God's creation forever and ever and ever. But in either case, whether Death is annihilatory, or whether it is eternal in its estates, God's essence is rectified and order is established however He chooses its ending determinations. Yet it seems to me that a more perfect order of wholeness subtends itself towards the view of annihilation, a view we call a theologoumenna, which is not strictly a biblical doctrine but more of a theological supposition that seems biblical.

And I think the Love of God would demand this too. That He be not consider our eternal tormentor and executioner, but our everlasting Restorer - either to life eternal, or to a final, completed death that is extinguishable. Perhaps we might say that death in-and-of itself is ultimately distinguishable. That in its very nature or essence is ultimately found its perishability. And it is in this wise that sin and death cease an eternality of existence. So that even in the very concept of death itself can be found the overarching shalom, or restorative order, of God. Something that can not continue because it simply can not continue paradoxically. That in itself it finds a finality and an end. That said, the force and nature of God is to reconcile, to restore, to overwhelm a creation bent on refusing God's divine personage and glorious being. Creation's sinfulness cannot continue. It cannot succeed. It can only succeed in holding to its own rebellion with its consequential results of death and final destruction however that works out.


And so we are told that even in Creation's rebellion it will be defeated through a final death... and a final reordering of creation. In the end, the Suzerainty-King shall rule, and He will rule completely. Neither sin, death, hell or devil shall defeat His universal grace, mercy, hope and supreme majesty. As there has come a "Day of Reconciliation through Christ," so there will come a "Day of Wrath" (described as the "Day of the Lord" in the OT) visited upon those who refuse God's covenant of love, truth and justice enacted upon Christ's life and ministry, even as it was enacted upon His death, His resurrected ascension, and His returning Parousia to rule and to judge. Till that time we proclaim God's purposes. His heart. His intent. And His abiding desire. That His Just Love demands no less. That His Loving Justice cannot be refuted. That His purposes cannot be defeated. That His essence must reign supreme.

R.E. Slater
February 28, 2012

*For a related article see "Does God Always Do the Wisest Thing?" -

A new perspective on universalism and hell
Wednesday 16 March 2011

One of the things that has surprised me in the Bell’s hell controversy is the assumption behind much of the criticism that the denial of hell as a place of eternal conscious torment amounts to an endorsement of universalism—or at least as a “preliminary step” in that direction as it was put to me by Steve Hays on the Triabloggers site. Practically speaking, Steve has a point—consider, for example, this personal testimony from The Beautiful Heresy:
In my mid-40s I discovered Universalism about mid-2004 and immediately began reading all I could about it. I was raised as a Pentecostal Fundamentalist and could never quite grasp why G-d was so angry with me and the rest of the world that He wanted to condemn us to Eternal Torment. G-d seemed weak, angry and schizophrenic to me. This journey is about my discovery of G-d’s universal and inescapable love.
But universalism is not at all an inevitable corollary of the argument, on the one hand, that the supposed “hell” texts in the New Testament mostly have reference to historical events, and on the other, that the final destiny of those whose names are not written in the book of life is simply destruction, death (Rev. 20:15). In fact, it seems to me that the historicizing hermeneutic that locates the wrath of God in history—judgment on rebellious Israel, judgment on an aggressive, idolatrous and over-bearing paganism—also weighs heavily against the universalist position.

I can only offer a very limited response to the universalist argument here, prompted by a question about my statement that universalism “like much traditional evangelical thought, it is premised on the priority given to soteriology”. I will not look at the various texts usually put forward as evidence for universalism. I will simply outline some general lines of thought.

It may help, in the first place, to establish a distinction between two ways of defining Christianity.

1. The traditional understanding has been that Christianity is essentially a general religion of salvation, which makes the primary task of the church the salvation of the lost, with the ultimate goal of ensuring that as many people as possible escape the punishment (or perhaps annihilation) of “hell” and gain eternal life with God in heaven. In this construction personal salvation precedes the corporate existence of the church—and very often we find that neither ecclesiology nor missiology develops beyond a simple multiplication of this primary function.

2. The alternative approach regards “Christianity” (the quotation marks indicate reservations about the validity of the term) as an intrinsic continuation of the calling of Abraham, against a background of persistent and escalating human rebellion, to be the progenitor of a people marked out by a more or less exclusive covenant commitment. My argument in Re: Mission is that the people of God was from the outset determined as “new creation”: Abraham is promised the original blessing of creation, he is told that he will be made fruitful, that he will multiply, and that his descendants will fill the microcosm of the land of Canaan. The Christ-event lay at the heart of a massive convulsion in the historical existence of this “new creation” people, but the basic “missional” purpose remained intact: to bear concrete, embodied and prophetic witness amidst the nations and cultures of the world to the redemptive presence of the Creator and to the final hope of renewal. In this construction things are the other way round: the corporate and political existence of the church precedes the “salvation” and incorporation of individuals.

Under the first option there can be a reasonable debate about whether all humanity or only part of humanity will be saved. That is what I meant by the statement that universalism is “premised on the priority given to soteriology”.

Under the second option this debate makes less sense. The people of God is by definition a limited set [(a "remnant" people - skinhead)]. It is a people called out of the world—chosen, elected, set apart, transformed, sanctified—let us say, for the sake of the Mission Dei. When that people gets into trouble, it needs to be saved—from Egypt, from Babylon, from Antiochus Epiphanes, and critically from the condemnation of the Law that finally brought the wrath of God upon it in the form of the war against Rome. The manner of that final salvation opened up the door to Gentiles (Eph. 2:11-22), but it did not thereby transform the renewal movement into a general religion of salvation.

Most of the “salvation” or restoration texts in the New Testament, I would suggest, have to do with this deliverance of the historical community of Israel from destruction or obsolescence. Within the covenantal and narrative-historical framework the question naturally arises whether all or only part of Israel will be saved. So Jesus is asked as he makes his fateful journey towards Jerusalem, “Lord, are those being saved few?” His answer suggests that he thought it unlikely that many would find the narrow path leading to life (Lk. 13:22-24; Matt. 7:13-14). It seems to me that Paul was equally pessimistic about the fate of his “kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3), though his quotation of Isaiah 59:20 in Romans 11:26 suggests that he held to the hope that following judgment—following the “punishment” of the war—all Israel would repent and be saved.1 It didn’t happen, and both Jesus and Paul were proved right.

There is also in scripture the prospect of a final restoration of all things—leadme.org (what a name to give your son!) points this out and draws the conclusion that this “involves the reconciliation of each human soul”. But I wonder whether that conclusion can be defended exegetically. Colossians 1:19-20 is the obvious text to consider here:
because in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell and through him to reconcile all things to him, making peace through the blood of his cross, through him whether things on earth or things in the heavens.
The idea of cosmic reconciliation achieved through the cross is not easily accommodated into Paul’s thought, though Romans 8:19-21 certainly has a bearing on the matter.2 But the point to note is that this reconciliation is framed precisely in cosmic rather than human terms.

In Ephesians 2:11-22 it is Jews and Gentiles who specifically are reconciled and find peace through the cross. In Colossians 1:15-20 it appears to be the larger structures of the cosmos that are reconciled: “whether thrones or dominions or sovereignties or authorities” (1:16). This is in some sense an extension or expansion of the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in the renewed people of God, but neither here nor in Romans 8:19-21 do we clearly have the thought that the restoration of the cosmos includes the “salvation” of all people.

In John’s symbolic vision of the new heavens and new earth it appears that the unrighteous, those whose names are not written in the book of life, “the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars”, are explicitly excluded from the restored cosmos. This may raise numerous other questions about the “ethics” of final judgment, but it is difficult to reconcile with the “beautiful heresy” of universalism.