Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Inescapable Love of God

I'm reading, on Alex's recommendation, The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbott.  It is in Talbott's words "a real book, by which I mean that in it I have tried to reach the most demanding audience of all: that of non-educated specialists.  The book is in part an intellectual autobiography , in part the elaboration of an argument, and in part an attempt at persuasive writing." (pi) This is promising start, readable and clear, I know where he's going and what he's trying to achieve.  The book has three sections, Part One "Some Autobiographical Reflections", Part Two "Universal Reconciliation and the New Testament" and Part Three "The Logic of Divine Love."

I've just finished part one.  Positively, I appreciated the candor and directness of his writing. He also weaves theology, church history and personal anecdote together well in a way some American books don't.  However one third through I remain unpersuaded and a little unimpressed.  The essence of Talbott's argument in this section is an appeal to our emotions, which might make us feel one way or the other doesn't advance the argument for universalism.  For example he retells how during summer work he had a horrible boss, saying "And we have, I believe, a parable of the twisted gospel, the message of fear, that I encountered in the churches of my youth" (p36)  In fact the entire section reminded me of the that quote from The West Wing when President Bartlett says an argument he encounters during the show commits the "post hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy which basically means correlation does not equal causation. Clearly the torture of the Donatists or the execution of Servetus doesn't automatically make Augustine or Calvin's theology wrong, that would have to be shown by theological reasoning not by an emotional appeal.  But this didn't make me unimpressed, I'll employ emotional tactics, rhetoric after all includes both logic and pathos.  It was Talbott's misuse of history that left me unimpressed. Hasn't he read Brown's magisterial biography of Augustine? The Donatists gave as good as they got, sweeping down in raiding parties from the mountains, terrorizing the Catholic coastlands.  Isn't he aware of Calvin's sometimes prickly relations with the civil authorities of Geneva and why doesn't he mention that Servetus would have probably faced the death penalty for his views on the Trinity under the Roman Catholics as well?

I'm worried this doesn't bode for the next two sections while I'm happy for Talbot to argue for God's "expression of love, ... a love that is both all-pervasive and in the end, inescapable" (p14).  I wonder if at some point Talbott will make "love" (what it *really* means) the essential attribute of God.  He then implies traditional theology makes God capricious but I think this is both a misrepresentation of  Augustine, Calvin, Edwards etc and a reading back into the doctrine of God by Talbott. I was also disappointed by his glib disposal of so-called "hyper-Calvinism' (p6-7) which puts him outside of traditional Reformed theology.  But he writes well and I look forward to the next two sections.

21 comments:

Alex Smith said...

Unfortunately, I've lent my only copy to a friend, so I can't reread sections straight away. However, from memory, I don't think Part One is meant to present arguments, but rather to just paint the picture of where he is coming from (including his Christian heritage). Sorry I don't know enough about Church History to be able to respond or explain his reasoning. I encourage you to keep reading it on it's own merit, rather than predicting too much about where he might go :)

I'm glad you are at least enjoying the read, even if you're not convinced yet. For what it's worth, for me it has honestly been one of the most positive and life-changing books I've ever read (and that's not meant to be an appeal to anyone's emotions :p ).

Alex Smith said...

I've talked to a friend (who knows more about Church History than me) and he read your criticisms and basically his response was:

"First, it was Augustine’s own words--that is, his theological defense of the use of terror against heretics--that Talbott has criticized. So what if “the Donatists gave as good as they got”? How is that even relevant to Augustine’s theological justification for the use of terror *as a means of coercing them back into the state church*? Suppose, by way of illustration, that I should put forth a theological argument for the use of torture as a means of coercing Muslims to convert to Christianity; and suppose that, in response to your criticism of the theological argument, I should remark: “Don’t you know that many radical Muslims have done some terrible things, such as beheading those whom *they* regard as heretics?” How, I wonder, is your friend’s criticism any more relevant than that?"

"Second, it was likewise Calvin’s own words--for example, his contention, among others, that heresy is a crime worse than matricide or patricide--that Talbott has examined. As he pointed out in a footnote, moreover, the authorities in Geneva never heeded Calvin’s plea for a more humane means of execution. But in fact Calvin clearly supported the execution and afterwards defended it with “every possible and impossible argument.” Your friend also asked why Talbott did not “mention that Servetus would have probably faced the death penalty for his views on the Trinity under the Roman Catholics as well?” For all I know, however, Calvin himself might likewise have received a death penalty under certain Roman Catholic authorities. So what? I know of no one who denies that, like Calvin, some Roman Catholic authorities of the time considered heresy (as they understood it) to be a crime worthy of death. So why even bother to point that out? Many Muslims, like many contemporary Calvinists, also believe that heresy is a terrible sin. And the one common denominator here is a shared belief that heresy, understood differently in different religious contexts, leads directly to everlasting torment in hell."

"Anyway, if I were engaging your friend in a discussion (which I have no time to do right now), I would ask him to identify a specific sentence that he regards as inaccurate and proceed from there. If there are inaccuracies, then we should send the feedback to Talbott. But vague generalities and worries about why Talbott didn’t engage in sheer speculation about what Servetus’s fate might have been under certain Roman Catholic authorities do not, as I see it, amount to much."

Luke said...

Hi Alex,

Regardless of the exact steps and historical details in Talbott's argument (which I should provide in extended detail another post) your mystery guest commentator missed or ignored this very important sentence in my post:

Clearly the torture of the Donatists or the execution of Servetus doesn't automatically make Augustine or Calvin's theology wrong, that would have to be shown by theological reasoning not by an emotional appeal.

In other words Talbott is trying to make Calvin and Augustine look dodgy so the reader will think by inference that their theology is dodgy.

Talbott tried to show that Calvin was evil by his involvement in Servetus trial and death sentence. How on earth does this prove that for example the doctrine of predestination is in any way flawed?

This is why the mystery commentator remarks make no sense. Although I should show this in more detail there is no evidence Augustine was any more bloodthirsty than anyone else in that period of history and my comment about the Donatists merely shows that Talbott is trying to cast Augustine in a dark light. Of course as both Talbott and the mystery commentator overlook this has nothing to do with Augustine's larger theological system. If it does, if justifying the war against the Donatists does mean we should question Augustine's larger system of theology, why doesn't Talbott show this linkage? Why doesn't Talbott show the individual steps that show how the dodgyness of Clavin and Autgusinte make their entire system of theology dodgy?

Alex, I probably should have elaborated this more clearly in my post. Your mystery reviewer is also a little bit sneaky in their final paragraph. They somewhat strangely accuse more of generalities and lack of specific evidence when themselves ignore specific sentences in my review and fail to address my criticism of the the overall direction Talbott's argument. (It would take some time but I'd be happy at a later stage to wade through the primary and secondary evidence about both Augustine and Calvin. But I think it's within the competence of us all, you, me, mystery commentator and Talbott to show why Calvin and Augustine's alleged dodgyness makes their theology dodgy.)

Alex Smith said...

My friend got back from holiday today and has now given me permission to quote him. My friend is Talbott himself :D

Luke said...

Good to know who I'm up against!

Allan Smith said...

Hi Luke,

If traditional hellism is true, then heresy would be infinitely more serious than any other crime. If we punish murderers for destroying the body, how much more should we punish heretics for destroying the soul?

There are related considerations. What Christian in their right mind would risk having children, knowing that there is a very good chance the child will end in hell? Or why isn't it both prudent and virtuous to drown children before they reach accountability to ensure they will go to heaven?

Christians don't go mad contemplating the everlasting horrors of traditional hellism for the simple reason that we don't actually believe in it. It's the rare funeral where a priest tells the family that Uncle George is now in everlasting torment because of his stubborn unbelief. Rather, he might say, "George was a difficult and complex man who lived a troubled life, but he now rests in the loving care of God."

Luke said...

So we should tell the victim of a Bully, you should be thankful, the pain is only remedial, in fact he's doing you a favor?

Allan Smith said...

Luke said... "So we should tell the victim of a Bully, you should be thankful, the pain is only remedial, in fact he's doing you a favor?"

Hi Luke,

I'm not clear how your reply related to my post :)

Imagine a father who says to his child, "Come and give me a hug, or it's the strap for you!" That is traditional hellism... God as Cosmic Bully. Love me or I'll hit you.

You could avoid this by painting God as the Cosmic Tragic, eternally lamenting the impotence of his love and wisdom to woo the wayward human heart. God wants to save the world, but he can't. He finds no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but he just has to suck it up anyway. Rather than God's love never failing, it does little but fail. Good is overcome by Evil.

Hellism implies a failure of God's love, wisdom and power, a diminution of his glory. But we are told (and I believe) that He will not give his glory to another.

Jereth said...

Luke, I have enjoyed discussing universalism with you -- in the flesh -- over the last couple of days!

I'm so sad that this heresy keeps rearing its ugly head, but I guess we should not expect otherwise. The very first lie told in human history was the serpent's denial of divine judgment against sin: "You will not surely die!" (Genesis chapter 3). To paraphrase: "Do what you want! Disobey any of God's commands as you wish! I promise you will get clean away with it! There are NO consequences!" This lie gets repeated in generation after generation, in one form or another.

The doctrine of divine judgment is a doctrine which sinful hearts recoil from -- naturally! None of us want to believe the awful truth that our Sin causes infinite offence against an infinite God, and that this infinite offence merits infinite punishment. But for God teaching this truth in his inerrant Word, none of us would believe it.

We can't know why God has chosen to elect some to salvation and leave the rest of mankind to suffer eternal damnation. But what we do know, from Scripture, is that all of us deserve eternal punishment and God would be entirely just to have sent us all to hell.

Romans 9:18-24 offers some insight into the mysteries of God's will on this subject. When God casts the unredeemed into hell, his glory will be displayed and his triumph will be complete. He will have won the great, universal victory over sin! His servants will cry "hallelujah!" as they witness God's wrath being poured out once and for all on all wickedness and unrighteousness (Rev. 19:3-4)

Allan Smith said...

Jereth said... “The very first lie told in human history was the serpent's denial of divine judgment against sin... "...There are NO consequences!"

Allan replies: Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow him. Follow him where? Where did Jesus go? He trod the road of suffering that led to death. He descended into hell, rose again (from hell), and finally ascended into heaven. This is precisely the narrow road we must travel. There is no other way. Christians who think they get a cheap ticket into heaven by “simply believing” are in for a rude shock. They are the ones who imagine they can escape the consequences of sin. As a universalist, I believe I will certainly reap what I have sown. I fully expect to become acquainted with the refining fire of hell. Nothing but the fierce love of God can burn away the evil in my heart. As Paul said, if we die with Him we will also rise with him.

Jereth said... “our sin causes infinite offense against an infinite God, and that this infinite offense merits infinite punishment.”

Allan replies: Infinitely offended? Why not say, rather, that God is infinitely forgiving? Which is more glorious, more praiseworthy? The free gift of grace in Christ is far, far better than Adam's gift of condemnation. (If you insist on legal metaphors: Jesus has paid for the sins of the world (once for all). There is no more price to pay. It would now be unjust for God to punish the same sin twice.)

Jereth said... God has chosen to elect some to salvation... all of us deserve eternal punishment... God would be entirely just to have sent us all to hell.

Allan replies: Adam was chosen. He failed. Israel was chosen. They failed. Jesus was chosen. He succeeded. The whole universe now belongs to him and he will lose none of it. He will not stop working until all things are reconciled to God. “From him, and through him, and to him are all things.” ie. Everything that came from God through Christ will return to God through Christ. This is Good News. Compare it to yours: “Everyone who sins deserves to be tortured everlastingly, but God (the ever merciful!) chooses to save a few for no reason whatsoever.” (Allah does much the same.)

Jereth said... When God casts the unredeemed into hell, his glory will be displayed and his triumph will be complete. He will have won the great, universal victory over sin! His servants will cry "hallelujah!" as they witness God's wrath being poured out once and for all on all wickedness and unrighteousness (Rev. 19:3-4)

Allan replies: Osama would agree with your sentiments. Does that give you pause? I also will quote John's revelation: “And I heard every created thing in heaven and on earth and under the earth [in Hades, the place of departed spirits] and on the sea and all that is in it, crying out together, To Him Who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb be ascribed the blessing and the honor and the majesty (glory, splendor) and the power (might and dominion) forever and ever (through the eternities of the eternities)! (Rev 5 Amplified)

Luke said...

Hi Allan,

So we should tell the victim of a Bully, you should be thankful, the pain is only remedial, in fact he's doing you a favor?

Universalism says that everyone is saved and simply at an earlier or later stage of salvation, which means that all sin and evil are simply stages in that salvation. The person being tortured will eventually be the brother of the torturer, so the act of torture is really only a stage in their love for each other.

Luke said...

@ Alex,

I've posted a more comprehensive and clearer review of my criticisms of Talbott in a separate new post.

Allan Smith said...

Luke said: Universalism says that everyone is saved and simply at an earlier or later stage of salvation, which means that all sin and evil are simply stages in that salvation.

Allan replied: Joseph told his brothers that the evil they did was used by God to achieve their salvation. Did this imply the brothers now can be even more evil to achieve even more salvation?

In the same way, Paul says our great sins are met with even greater grace. But I can't help feeling that the person who sins more to get more grace will be in for a rude surprise. God's grace sometimes comes hot.

Alex Smith said...

I'm so sad that universalism keeps getting called a heresy, but I guess we should not expect otherwise. It's in our human nature not to trust that God is loving, omniscient and all powerful. The very first sin was trusting, and taking advice from, the serpent instead of God. For although God did bring judgment against Adam & Eve causing them to die, He also promised that through Christ, all will be made alive again (1 Cor 15:22). i.e. at the Cross Adam & Eve were forgiven and, like you & I, now look forward to new life. It is true that at some time in their life, everyone, including you & I, sins and thinks they can get away with it. The surprising thing is, you & I do "get away with it" in the end because Christ takes our sins to the Cross and forgives us! This truth also gets repeated in generation after generation :)

There is more than one reason to recoil from something. By God's grace, even sinful people often recoil from things which are evil. Likewise, it's possible that the reason we recoil from your doctrine of divine judgment, is that infinite punishment for a finite crime by a finite being (we haven't been raised immortal yet) against an infinite being, is wrong? I don't deny that finite punishment does and will occur, however, it still has to take into account God's promise of reconciliation found in many equally inerrant passages, e.g. "For in him [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." Col 1:19-20.

Even though God elected Israel, it was in order to rescue the gentiles (see Rom 11). Likewise, even though He elects the Church now, it is so we can be part of His plan to rescue the World. "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us." 2 Cor 5:18

Romans 9:18-24 needs to be taken in light of Romans 11:30-32, "Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all."

By anyone's standards, Revelations is a complex book and therefore rather than me trying to explain that passage in one paragraph, please read chap. 5 of The Evangelical Universalist.

"Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness ... For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men." Lam 3:22-23, 31-33 So whilst many (perhaps all), will go to hell and suffer, it's not the end of the story.

jereth said...

Greetings Allan,

I would like to comment, if I may, on a couple things you said.

First you say

As a universalist, I believe I will certainly reap what I have sown. I fully expect to become acquainted with the refining fire of hell.

and then

Jesus has paid for the sins of the world (once for all). There is no more price to pay. It would now be unjust for God to punish the same sin twice.

To me it sounds as if you are saying that Jesus suffered for our sins once for all; but that we then must suffer for them again in hell before we are admitted into heaven. So, in fact, sin must be paid for twice -- once by Jesus on the cross and once by the sinner himself in hell. There thus appears to be a contradiction in your statements.

Have I misunderstood you?

Everything that came from God through Christ will return to God through Christ.

Our theologies differ from each other in this respect: you appear to believe that a person can only "return" to God via redemption. I believe, on the basis of Scripture, that some will "return" to God via redemption while others will "return" as "prisoners of war", as they are led before him, disarmed and defeated, in triumphal procession (cf. Col 2:15).

When the Allies defeated Germany at the end of WW2, some Germans came over gladly and willingly to the victors while others (eg. those who stood trial at Nuremberg) were taken captive against their will. Either way, the entire German people were won by the Allies and belonged to them.

And I heard every created thing in heaven and on earth and under the earth [in Hades, the place of departed spirits] and on the sea and all that is in it, crying out together

2 points
- the book of Revelation makes a distinction between Hades (a temporary place where the dead await final judgment) and the lake of fire (= hell), the place of damnation. We should be careful to avoid confusing hades and hell in our discussions. According to Rev 20:14, after the final judgment Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire along with unredeemed humanity
- I agree with you that every tongue will finally confess Jesus' Lordship, and ascribe glory to God. However, the Bible teaches that some (the redeemed) will do this gladly while others will do it under compulsion, from a position of defeat. Again I would invoke the analogy of the defeat of Germany by the Allies.

regards,
Jereth

Allan Smith said...

jereth said... To me it sounds as if you are saying that Jesus suffered for our sins once for all; but that we then must suffer for them again in hell before we are admitted into heaven. So, in fact, sin must be paid for twice -- once by Jesus on the cross and once by the sinner himself in hell. There thus appears to be a contradiction in your statements.

Allan replies: Hi Jereth. In what sense did Jesus suffer for our sins? If it's like paying a debt or a ransom, then yes, you can't be asked to pay twice. But we're dealing with metaphors here (hence we get contradictions when they are forced), and some metaphors are more useful than others. For me, the Christian life is more like a man following a trusted friend on a difficult and dangerous journey than like a man in court being declared innocent by the judge.

A parable: A teacher kept some nasty students in at lunch to scrub the floor. The teacher helped them with the work. When the students grumbled, the teacher said, “I am innocent of any crime yet here am I, sharing your punishment. I also am losing my lunchtime. Now stop complaining, and let's get on with it.”

The fact that the teacher took the punishment upon himself did not mean the students were left unpunished. He shared their suffering in order to establish relationships with them and help them see the error of their ways. To simply let them off would have done more harm than good by severing the connection between actions and consequences. When motivated by love, justice is in fact merciful.

Jereth said: Our theologies differ from each other in this respect: you appear to believe that a person can only "return" to God via redemption. I believe, on the basis of Scripture, that some will "return" to God via redemption while others will "return" as "prisoners of war", as they are led before him, disarmed and defeated, in triumphal procession (cf. Col 2:15).

Allan replies: Here's Col 2: “When you were dead in your sins... God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

Who are forgiven and made alive in Christ? Those who are dead in their sins. ie. Everyone. Which powers and authorities are disarmed and humiliated? The written code with all its regulations, everything that stood against us. Adam brought death to the living, but Christ brings life to the dead. This is the glorious triumph of God.

Jereth said:
- the book of Revelation makes a distinction between Hades (a temporary place where the dead await final judgment) and the lake of fire (= hell), the place of damnation. We should be careful to avoid confusing hades and hell in our discussions. According to Rev 20:14, after the final judgment Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire along with unredeemed humanity
- I agree with you that every tongue will finally confess Jesus' Lordship, and ascribe glory to God. However, the Bible teaches that some (the redeemed) will do this gladly while others will do it under compulsion, from a position of defeat.

Allan replies: John is emphatic: every created being will join in that chorus of praise. Its similarity Philippians: “...at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father...” strongly suggests the confession is not forced but willingly given. Judge for yourself. What is more glorious to God as Father: crushing his wayward children, or reconciling them?

Here's how I read it. The Lake of Fire is God himself. Death and Hell, having finished their necessary work, will both be consumed by the white-hot love of God.

Jereth said...

Allan wrote: The fact that the teacher took the punishment upon himself did not mean the students were left unpunished. He shared their suffering in order to establish relationships with them and help them see the error of their ways.

Allan, based on what you have written here, it seems to me that your understanding of the cross is close to what is commonly known as the "moral influence" theory. Would that be correct?

Allan wrote: John is emphatic: every created being will join in that chorus of praise.... the confession is not forced but willingly given.

Alex wrote (earlier): "For in him [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." Col 1:19-20.

You both appear to be arguing for universalism on the basis of biblical texts which state that every created thing will eventually submit to God's reign. To be consistent, it seems to me that you must therefore also insist that even Satan and his demons (who are as much a part of the created order as mankind) will eventually be brought to repentance and offer glad, willing praise to God. Is this what you indeed believe?

I think that Scripture is quite clear that Satan will never repent; he will persist in endless rebellion and be punished everlastingly in hell (Rev 20:10). Yet I take texts such as Col 1:20 and Phil 2:10-11 seriously, as you do. And so I believe that one day even Satan will offer grudging praise to Jesus and bow his knee in submission while experiencing everlasting judgment.

Submission, obeisance and praise do not have to be willing acts. Consider the example of a vanquished general or king bowing in chains before his conqueror. Or the gladiators who said to Caesar "we who are about to die, salute you".

I agree with you both that God will one day bring peace and reconciliation to all creation; where I disagree with you is my view that Scripture teaches eternal condemnation as one means by which God achieves this peace. An earthly kingdom is truly at peace even when criminals and prisoners of war are (involuntarily) incarcerated within its dungeons and prisons; so to with the heavenly kingdom.

Luke said...

Hi Alex,

Just as you'd qualify Matthew 25:46, so I'd qualify 1 Cor 15:22. I'd say the "all" needs qualification and explanation just as you'd say "Hell" or "eternal punishment" needs qualification and explanation.

So the real question is by what larger theological system are we making these qualifications and explanations? I'm not sure why you claim that our sin does not have infinite properties? If Scripture has dual authors, an infinite being and finite beings why can't finite beings commit a action with infinite consequences? Doe the Bible only have human authors?

Not everything will be reconciled, some things will be burned away (admittedly opening the door for Annihilationism) so you can't have a refining fire and the reconciliation of all things, you have to choose which will it be? This is where universalism breaks down, sure some verses seem by themselves to support universalism but when viewed through the larger picture and compared with other verses it doesn't work.

Alex Smith said...

Jereth, God is all powerful, all loving and has an infinite amount of time to achieve His purposes, so yes I do believe He will even bring the devil to repentance. As the Scripture clearly says, everything, even Chirst, will be in submission to the Father.

The point of contention is what type of "submission" it is: voluntary or involuntary.

Here are some of the reasons I'd say the submission is voluntary:

1. I'd look at texts like 1 Cor 12:3 "Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit."

2. I'd say that God desires genuine worship from the heart and that "we who are about to die, salute you", is not that. e.g. John 4:23 "true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks."

3. I'd see that Jesus is willingly submitting and assume that that's the kind of submission the others are partaking in.

4. I'd also point out that while there is any resistance, even if it's in a being's mind, to God, that full submission has not yet occurred. While there are beings in hell gnashing their teeth, I don't see complete peace.

Whilst I don't expect you to suddenly change your view on this, I hope that you can see that it can at least be put forward as a viewpoint from Scripture.

Alex Smith said...

Luke, we are in agreement on the first paragraph :)

Unfortunately defining a "larger theological system" takes more time and effort, and you have the advantage of holding the majority view and a few years of biblical college from that perspective. i.e. I'm fairly familiar with the ins and outs of your viewpoint but you're not very familiar (at least in comparison with the orthodox position) with Universalism (and I'm only just beginning to become familiar with it myself!). This has meant a lot of the discussion has been spent just clarify what I'm claiming (not helped by the fact that sometimes I'm not even sure).

Anyway, books like "The Inescapable Love of God" and "The Evangelical Universalist" certainly are an excellent start to establishing the larger system. Although I fear you are getting bogged down in some of the details rather than letting it speak for itself.

I'll have to think more about finite/infinite. I don't quite follow your logic. The Bible authors are humans inspired by the Holy Spirit. So the answer is no, the Bible doesn't "only" have human authors.

Maybe a analogy will help: Lets say when Eva grows up, she sadly rebels against you and stabs you in the foot with a kitchen knife because you won't let her go out on the town. On the one hand, there will be infinite consequences (e.g. you will always have a scar on your foot), on the other hand, you hopefully wouldn't infinitely disown her for it. You might ground her or even kick her out, but it shouldn't be the end of the story. I assume you'll reply that "God is infinitely big and so the offence is greater", but I'd say the opposite, because God is infinitely big, we can't actually do anything to harm or offend him, at least not permanently. As I wouldn't approve of Eva stabbing you in the foot, I don't approve of sinning just because we can. In both cases it's better to act Godly and also to avoid "being gounded/kicked out" or hell!

I'd would agree that sin can be burned away but I'd say the person remains. This does allow for both refining fire and reconciliation. i.e. when the the sin is taken/burned we can be reconciled. I don't see this as a breaking point.

I'm not trying to base this on one or two verses, but on many, which help create a larger picture. Hopefully you'll enjoy reading "The Evangelical Universalist", as it goes through from Genesis to Revelations, dealing with the bigger picture.

Everyone, please lets move the conversation to the latest post so Luke doesn't have to keep approving the comments :)

Luke said...

Unfortunately defining a "larger theological system" takes more time and effort, and you have the advantage of holding the majority view and a few years of biblical college from that perspective. i.e. I'm fairly familiar with the ins and outs of your viewpoint but you're not very familiar (at least in comparison with the orthodox position) with Universalism (and I'm only just beginning to become familiar with it myself!). This has meant a lot of the discussion has been spent just clarify what I'm claiming (not helped by the fact that sometimes I'm not even sure).

That's a good observation Alex, I agree it's the larger theological system that determines meaning because all verses both the "all" passages and the "eternal torment" passages need to be qualified. (Just a side note on my view, it's not the straw-man Talbott says is the Augustinian view, I don't know who holds that but not many in the Reformed circles we'd know. ) I like your last sentence it explains what's going on but sometimes Allan presents different arguments to arrive at the same conclusion. It'd help to clarify the boundaries a bit more because Universalism doesn't seem monolithic.

I fear you are getting bogged down in some of the details rather than letting it speak for itself.

I'm trying, but it's aggravating when he contradicts himself, saying context is important and then ruling it out and then using it again. I wish he'd be consistent.

I'll have to think more about finite/infinite. I don't quite follow your logic.

The Bible has a infinite author God and finite authors: humans. The one bible is both infinite insofar as it's been written by God and human insofar as its been written by people. Something that is both finite and infinite, sadly like sin.

There are two issues with your definition of sin, firstly if sin isn't infinite it's nothing at all. Simply a matter of acting out of ignorance. Secondly this debate has made me think more deeply about sin and maybe saying simply God is big isn't helpful. God is loving (God isn't solely love that denies the Trinity) so the love that flows between the Trinity is extended to humanity as a gift from the Father to the Son. I think want makes sin so significant is the way it lashes out at the core of God, the inter-Trinitarian love. So it's Eva stabbing me in the foot is a bad example, Eva inventing a time machine and coming back as a young lady to kill Amy, me and herself in the moments after she is born is a better example. But were both using metaphors to explain the flow of argument from Genesis 3 to Romans 5.

I'd would agree that sin can be burned away but I'd say the person remains. This does allow for both refining fire and reconciliation. i.e. when the the sin is taken/burned we can be reconciled. I don't see this as a breaking point.

Sin isn't a thing. Like love, freedom and justice it needs people, it can't be placed in a box or cut into smaller pieces or even burned. Sin is people in rebellion. (Evil is the moral category to describe what sin is.) It's like Bush's silly War on Terror. Terror is intangible it's a feeling caused by terrorists not something by-itself.

I'm not trying to base this on one or two verses, but on many, which help create a larger picture. Hopefully you'll enjoy reading "The Evangelical Universalist", as it goes through from Genesis to Revelations, dealing with the bigger picture.

I am looking forward to the 'Evangelical Universalist', I had a sneak peak at it and everything about that book seems more attractive than the 'Inescapable Love of God'. Although neither book has an index, which is a very serious academic offense.

Yes, moderating does get annoying, it kicks in after a week to prevent mobile phone salesmen from Pakistan posting comments on old threads.