Tuesday, August 24, 2010

DA Carson on Universalism

How can God be loving yet send people to hell? from A Passion for Life on Vimeo.

[h/t Tim Challies]


Alex Smith said...

Summary of Don's points:

1. Some people who have fought God all their lives won't be happy in heaven.
2. Hell isn't a place where there are sorrowful & repentent sinners.
3. People will be sinning eternally and therefore guilty and deserving of eternal punishment.
4. Sinners want the cycle of sin, guilt & punishment to continue.
5. God has to intervene to break this cycle. He gives them new heart, the Spirit and Life.
6. Can't answer the question without putting it into context of "What is righteousness?", "What is sin?", "What is the connection between shame and punishment?".
7. It will be seen by all that God is just and all will acknowledge that.

Alex Smith said...

It's daunting to go against The Don but here goes:

1a. Saul. When even "the worst of sinners" came face-to-face with Christ he was transformed.
b. From here we can't see clearly how good heaven is and how bad hell is. So people are making an uninformed decision. Even if some do see clearly, God may be sending them to hell, for a time, to make them come to their senses. e.g. Prodigal son.

2a. What evidence is there for this?
b. Definately sorrowful sinners e.g. "weeping and gnashing of teeth".
c. Possibly repentent sinnrer in parable of Lazarus "if only you had told me".
d. Prodigal son is repentent in the pig pen (hell).
e. Fire is often associated with cleansing or refining.
f. God is merciful and wishes none to perish. He doesn't change his mind. So the assumption should be that he would give second chances.

3. Whilst there is sin God hasn't won. i.e. if most people will be in hell sinning eternally, that's not even a "draw", let alone a victory!

4. Most sinners don't seem happy to me. It seems most people with an addiction want to get out but are powerless to do so on their own.

5. Amen! If he can do it for some, he can do it for all :)

6. I don't think it needs that much context to adequately answer the question. The question acknowledges "God is loving". We know God loves even his enemies, therefore it must be loving to send some people to hell. The only thing that I can think of that would make hell worthwhile for someone, would be if it resulted in their repentence and salvation.

7. Sinners on earth don't (can't?) acknowledge "God is just". Why would they do so in hell, unless they have repented. i.e. The only way for full submission to God is if there isn't any opposition remaining.

Luke said...

Good work for having a wrestle with Carson! I thought you'd like this video. Any Talbot sermons on the web?

1. Carson's off the cuff remarks are actually quite a powerful and biblical answer. People get what they want. And God gave them over (Rom 1)

2. a) Revelation 16:10-11 describes how people curse God even as he judges them.
b) Your correct to challenge "sorrowful" I agree "weeping and gnashing" is an excellent rejoinder.
c) However he's correct about the repentance bit, the rich man in that parable isn't repentant which means turning from sin to God. Regretful, yes, concerned about his brothers, yes, but repentant, not at all.
d) The prodigal Son is a metaphor for the nature of grace not a metaphor for the entire doctrine of salvation, your confusing motive with description.
e) Some fire is unquenched, therefore the nature of fire advances neither argument.
f) Your assumption is an invalid conclusion because not all your evidence is clear (eg the existence of second chances) or your arguments true (justice is always remedial).

3. I think this relates to Carson's concluding remarks about the nature of sin and evil. I'm not sure how to counteract your argument except that what's on offer is equally problematic, where God's justice is remedial, making evil, not-evil. (Blocher)

4. I wouldn't want to go against Romans 1, on this one. Besides there's no way to prove the happiness of people and while sin may manifest as addiction, it's clearly something more than simply addiction.

5. Amen to that as well, although the possibility exists for God to save all but he chooses not to. (Romans 9).

6. Why doesn't it need that context? This is something I've been raising from the beginning, the nature of righteousness and sin are very important to the question of Universalism. Why couldn't hell be worthwhile and loving thing as retributive punishment? Life before death is the place for repentance and salvation, not Hell. (Furthermore where is the biblical support that extends repentance and salvation beyond the grave?)

7. Your equating submission and repentance, I don't see how or why? (Point 3 is still your strongest argument in this area.)

Alex Smith said...

Unfortunately I haven't come across any Talbott sermons.

1. The concept of God giving people over to their sin is certainly interesting. It's possible that this is one of the reasons for Hell, to make it clear to people what it means to be separated from God (as much as is possible, without being annilated). However, I don't think this rules out the possibly that God could still intervene at a latter stage.

2. a. Thanks for the reference. I imagine that people who end up in Hell will, at least initially, curse God. However, even in the context of just this passage it's something that is occuring alone the way and not nessessarilly the end result. More broadly, I don't think this will be their final position but instead every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

b. Amen :)

c. Yeah, I not sure on this one. I guess it depends how much is read into elehson . What's BDAGs definition of elehson ? V28 shows he doesn't his brothers to come to Hell but I agree that doesn't nessarily mean he's repentent. i.e. He at least wants to get out of the situation. Interestingly Jesus goes on to say "Take heed to yourselves, and, if thy brother may sin in regard to thee, rebuke him, and if he may reform, forgive him, and if seven times in the day he may sin against thee, and seven times in the day may turn back to thee, saying, I reform; thou shalt forgive him."

d. Why do you think it's limited to grace not salvation?

e. God is an unquenchable fire, whilst I'd suggest also being purifying, I don't know if that detracts from the analogy. I think George MacDonald liked this idea but I know you think he's dodgy so hopefully one day I can find a theolgian you respect using this idea :)

f. I agree the primary evidence for/against second chances isn't particularly clear, which is why I was looking at some bigger picture attributes of God to try to determine what our default assumption should be. I think Talbott goes into more detail on this big topic of Justice/Punishment/Mercy/Love/Forgiveness.

3. I can take Blocher comment two ways. On the one hand, be very definition, God's remedial justice does eventually elimate evil. However, I think his point is that if there's remedial justice, evil is less significant. I think evil is just as significant, with or without remedial justice.

4. I agree sin is more than just an addiction but like Romans says, we can become enslaved to sin. My point is that being enslaved to sin doesn't result in real happiness & satisfaction.

5. At least we agree that God is capable. One day, in this life or the next, we will agree on who he choses :) Unfortunately, I don't have time to go into Romans 9 today but I'm fairly sure Talbott looks at it in his book.

6. Sorry, I thought this might need clarification. For Calvinists, this question needs to look at the other things Don raises, however, it's an easier (not saying that it's nessessarilly the correct answer, just a simpler one) question to answer from a Universalist position. And yes, I'm not denying the importantance of nature of sin or righteousness. I was thinking from the point of view of someone in hell. i.e. They would only think it worthwhile if the end result was infinitely better (being right with God). There are a number of ways I could answer this but here's just one: I think there is lots of biblical support for the end result beyond the grave (universal submission to God), and I think the only way to properly submit to God is to repent...

7. Yep. If there is even one mind who opposes God, he doesn't have full submission. The only way not to oppose God, is to repent. Again borrowing from Talbott :D

Alex Smith said...

How do I make Blogger use the Greek font? e.g. "elehson"

Luke said...

I only know for the Mac, but I gather you install a unicode font on your PC which means anyone can see it regardless of browser. For the mac I also keep a keyboard switcher within easy reach so you can switch between english and Greek. I'd also printout a unicode keyboard layout until you get the hang of typing in Greek.

The Borg said...

@Alex, just a small point, why do you take the pig pen in the parable of the prodigal son to be hell? I thought it referred to living the (earthly) life without God.

Alex Smith said...

So you don't use HTML tags in comments? e.g. style="font-family:symbol" or anything?

Alex Smith said...

"I thought it referred to living the (earthly) life without God."

Hell is often described as "life without God" so it's not much of a jump.

Dad explains why better than me so I'll ask him to :)

Luke said...

1. The idea of God giving people what they deserve is only one part of the case for Hell, but an important part.

2. a. Thanks for the reference. I imagine that people who end up in Hell will, at least initially, curse God. However, even in the context of just this passage it's something that is occuring along the way and not nessessarilly the end result. There's no evidence in that passage that the cursing of God is simply something along the way.

b. -

c. -

d. Why do you think it's limited to grace not salvation? Like I said earlier, the parable describes God's motivation (the father) and our reactions (the brothers) it doesn't give a blueprint or an outline of salvation, for example where does the doctrine of predestination fit inside the parable? (By the way salvation is shorthand for all the doctrines of grace together, predestination, regeneration, repentance, atonement,justification, sanctification, mortification, preserving, glorification etc.) The parable is a metaphor for grace not an exact or compelte description of how salvation works.

e. -

f. -

3. I can take Blocher comment two ways. On the one hand, be very definition, God's remedial justice does eventually elimate evil. However, I think his point is that if there's remedial justice, evil is less significant. I think evil is just as significant, with or without remedial justice. But that's the problem, Blocher argues; evil is always evil and can never be reconciled with God, it's one side of his iron triangle of sin (the other two are the power of God and the goodness of God). If God's justice is remedial, sin simply becomes a means to an end and therefore not in itself evil.

4. -

5. -

6. They would only think it worthwhile if the end result was infinitely better (being right with God). This is important problem, why do you assume people would want want's best for them, Adam and Eve didn't under perfect conditions?

7. Yep. If there is even one mind who opposes God, he doesn't have full submission. The only way not to oppose God, is to repent. Why is it not possible to distinguish between submission and repentance?

Luke said...

"I thought it referred to living the (earthly) life without God."

Hell is often described as "life without God" so it's not much of a jump.

That's a logically naughty jump because Hell and Earth are two different categories, it'd be like equating a sandpit and a laboratory.

Marion said...

That is a huge jump, from pigpen to Hell. The Prodigal son (or rather The Two Sons) is about us here and now and our response to God. Repentance and turning to God. Read Tim Keller's book.

Hell is punishment for rejection of God. Sin has consequences.

Jon said...

I'm with Alex and not in awe of Carson. Carson ducks the major question by assuming that people are in hell because they have chosen to be. In that case it's not hell, because hell is a place of torment that no sane person could choose to go to.

In Carson's theology it's easy to get to hell by accident - simply by not believing. Atheists don't look God in the face, openly defy him, and say "I prefer that other place". Instead they look at the evidence, are unconvinced there is a God or a heaven or hell, and live their lives accordingly. When they die and face God they will realise they made a terrible mistake - but according to Carson that's too late and off to eternal torment they go.

Possum said...

The story of the Prodigal Son follows the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, where we see just how important one lost soul is to our loving father, God.

According to my sources, Jesus is responding to the Pharisees' complaint: "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them".

I think Alex was using that parable to illustrate what God is like – amazingly full of forgiveness beyond our expectations (so forgiving, in fact, that the "older brother" doesn't want his Dad (God) to forgive the younger brother.

We should take this as a warning against being Pharasaical in the same way. In their self-righteousness, the Pharisees have forgotten to rejoice when a sinner returns to God. Bitterness and resentment keeps the "older brother" from forgiving his younger brother.

The father is a picture of the Heavenly Father. God waits patiently, with loving compassion to restore us when we return to him with humble hearts. He offers us everything in his kingdom, restoring full relationship with joyful celebration. He doesn't even dwell on our past waywardness.

Also, it shows that sometimes a person has to become utterly steeped in sin (and sin's consequences) before they will finally think to turn back to God and beg his forgiveness. For the lost son, his sin resulted in utter desperation: a Jew in an (unclean in both senses) pig-pen, in a foreign land (in exile), starving to death and envious of the pigs, who had food.

As Mow points out, "Hell is punishment for rejection of God". If Hell is the ultimate consequence of sin, then I think Alex's extrapolation is valid.

The real question is, do these principles of forgiveness apply after death? I.e. are there any second chances after death?

P.S. Mow, yes, "Sin has consequences" but thanks be to our merciful God, who forgives sinners, laying those consequences on our Savior, Jesus.

Alex Smith said...

2.a. v. 10-11 The cursing occurs with the fifth messenger. v12-16 Goes on with other stuff with the sixth messenger. v17-21 Again moves on to other things with the seventh messenger. That's why I said it was something along the way. i.e. At the very least, the sixth & seventh messenger come afterwards.

2.d. Parables by definition don't go into details. However, to humour you, both sons are chosen (or predestined) before they were born (i.e. The father always intended to love his children).

3. God eliminates your evil so you can be reconciled to him. Likewise those in Hell. God doesn't become evil in either case. For you, sin is part of your journey, a means to an end if you like, but that doesn't make it any less evil. The triangle is still intact :)

6. "Love thy neighbour as thy love thyself" The assumption is that, not only are human self preserving, they are loving themselves (seeking the best for themselves). They often don't know what or how to achieve it but the desire is there. Even depressed people often want to "escape" (even if they think they want nothingness, it's so they won't suffer anymore) the situation by any (often shortsighted) way possible.

7. Obviously it is possible to have a fair degree of physical submission by force, but the only way to have complete and total submission (physically, mentally & spiritually) is to be in a right, loving relationship with God, and that would have to involve repentence.

Thanks for the suggestion Mow but I have already read Tim Keller's book and found most of it very encouraging :)

I'd also like to raise the concept that mercy & forgiveness aren't always dependent on repentance. e.g. While we were God's enemies, he died for us. "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do." also comes to mind. Also some Christ-like people have been known to forgive the unremorsful.

Our repentence doesn't earn God's forgiveness because extrodinarily God has already forgiven us.

Luke said...

@Jon: Saying "by accident" implies people can make an informed decision. Given our finitude and God's eternal nature, we'll never be able to make a completely informed decision either for or against God.

@Shelley: Yes it's true the parable describes "what God is like," this is what I meant by saying it describes God's motive for saving us. And yes, the older brother is warning for us about our reaction to God's grace. However the parable doesn't provide a blueprint for salvation, it doesn't explain how all the parts of salvation fit together, or even contain all the parts of salvation.

Now you've made the good point that Hell is one sense the extreme consequence of being steeped in sin and God's punishment. However Shiloh's question is also a good one, Jesus ministry is earthly and the parable is entirely on earth, what precedent or reason is there to move any of it's meaning to after death?

Luke said...

2.a. I think the principle remains, people will curse God even as they submit to his punishment.
2.d. I think your reading predestination into the parable, it starts interestedly by simply asserting there were two sons. However where is the sacrificial death of Jesus in the parable? etc I agree it's a parable, details aren't necessarily the focus. But your argument is that the pig pen is meant to be read as Hell, but I'm saying the parable not set up to explain how salvation works and you link, without some sort of clue in the parable or Jesus' explanation of it, Hell and the pigpen.
3. Evil can never be part of the journey, evil can never be reconciled with God. Evil is evil, Blocher's point is that it can never been seen as simply a way of brining you closer to God because that makes it part of God's plan. God in his sovereign power brings good out of evil, but he never uses evil to achieve good. This is why the end justifies the means is a ethically repugnant moral principle. (Sin isn't part of the journey, it's a defeated aberration.)
6. But why would Adam and Eve not choose God under perfect conditions?
7. I still think complete submission and repentance are two different things, only being on this side of death keeps the rebellious one hairsbreadth away from complete submission.

(You can't separate repentance from forgiveness even if the forgiveness precedes the repentance, because both occur in the context of a relationship. This is why it's impossible to forgive the dead or yourself, forgiveness is relational, it requires another person, it doesn't occur in a vacuum. People in Hell are by definition not in a relationship with God.)

Jon said...

Indeed Luke, we don't have all the information. Contrary to Carson's assumption that people have chosen Hell. "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do".

Luke said...

But Jon your presupposition seems to be that ignorance is the root of sin and evil, which it isn't willful disobedience is the root of sin and evil.

Regarding Jesus words on the cross, he clearly didn't mean to contradict himself ("if your brother repents forgive him", for example the members of the mob were unrepentant) and clearly he didn't mean to contradict the Apostle Paul who says "God will give them over to what they desire."

I agree the principle of forgiveness is powerfully centre stage, but the steps in the argument to make it universal aren't present in the text or the canon.

Jon said...

Luke in Paul's day it was unthinkable that there was no god. The only question was which one, and what was he or they like? Not so now. It's not so much that the cause of sin is ignorance - I'm not assuming that at all. We are all in rebellion, whether we have accepted Christ or not. What distinguishes Christians and non-Christians in Carson's view is their acceptance or rejection of God's forgiveness through Christ. It is here that ignorance comes in. Because someone is unconvinced that this forgiveness is needed/available/makes sense, they are therefore condemned while other equally rebellious people are accepted.

Alex Smith said...

I found a YouTube clip on fire:


And here is another powerful clip: