Engaging Stackhouse’s View of Hell―Part 1

John G. Stackhouse Jr.
John G. Stackhouse Jr.

John Stackhouse wrote the biblical and theological case for Terminal Punishment (also know as Conditionalism or Annihilationism) in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. As I did with the previous chapter, my aim is to engage with him as I read through his chapter, and not read the responses from the other authors until after I’ve finished my own.

Introduction

I like Stackhouse’s opening paragraph:

Any proper doctrine of hell must take thoroughly into account the goodness of God, an attribute that can be viewed as having two poles, both of which are essential …

… God’s holiness: God’s moral rectitude and cleanness, God’s detestation of all that is wrong and his relentless action to make everything right. God is, in a word, a perfectionist … “God is light” (1 John 1:5)

… God’s benevolence: God’s kindness, generosity, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice. God is, in a word, a lover … “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16)

John Stackhouse, page 61

The first example of “everything right” was in Eden before the Fall, and so I think that scene should define the minimum of any future right-ness. In it all humanity were created in God’s image and enjoyed holy relationships of selfless love―there was no death, destruction, or annihilation.

Stackhouse contends that his view, summarised below, satisfies both poles of God’s goodness better than the alternative views, and furthermore, is the most warranted by Scripture.

hell is the situation in which those who do not avail themselves of the atonement made by Jesus in his suffering and death must make their own atonement by suffering and then death, separated from the sustaining life of God and thus disappearing from the cosmos.

John Stackhouse, page 61-62

It will be interesting to see Stackhouse unpack this but my first reaction is that I don’t see why death has to be seen as complete separation from God. According to the 2016 Annual Moore College Lectures, most Christians believe in at least a semi-conscious intermediate state, where those who have died go until the general resurrection. That seems to imply “death” cannot simply be equated to complete separation and cessation.

What Is Hell?

In this section, Stackhouse highlights the three biblical depictions of hell he sees as central:

  1. A destination.

Hell is the logical and metaphysical, and thus inevitable, outcome of the decision to reject God―and thus to reject the good.

John Stackhouse, page 63

As with the previous quote, I’m concerned too much weight is placed on someone’s “decision“―whether they reject or “avail themselves”. As far as I can tell, everyone is ignorant of the complete reality of their choices, that we are corrupted/damaged and lacking in discernment. We desperately need the Holy Spirit to work in us, to heal us, give us wisdom, and the ability to choose what is best for us―namely the Good. I think Talbott’s reflection on C. S. Lewis’ conversion is very helpful when considering the role of our decisions.

  1. A fire. He says that fire performs two functions in the Bible:

The first is that of testing, or judging, the essential nature of a thing by destroying anything that lacks value, as fire burns away husks to reveal seeds, if there are any … . The second … [is] purifying the situation of that thing itself if there is nothing to it of lasting value.

John Stackhouse, page 63

I believe the Bible teaches us that everyone is a child of God―made in His image. If the biological seed/connection from our parents is irreversible (it’s in our DNA), how much more permanent will the divine (immortal) seed/connection from our Father be!

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39, ESV

  1. A dump. He says it fits because:

… hell is the place to which evil is removed and in which it is destroyed (Matt. 22:13; 25:30)

John Stackhouse, page 63

The first passage cited is the parable where one of the king’s wedding guests was so arrogant and ungrateful that he didn’t even bother to dress respectfully. Similarly, the second passage is the parable where a servant was so apathetic about his master’s business, that he did nothing with the talent entrusted to him. In both cases, the consequence was being thrown into the “outer darkness”. However, there’s no mention of them being “destroyed”, on the contrary, we are told there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (a conscious activity), which might be a sign of remorse (a step towards repentance). Given another chance, I suspect they would have a better attitude. Regardless of whether I’ve interpreted that detail correctly, I think Jesus’ point was that self-righteousness and laziness towards God are character flaws that will be addressed―and I believe―corrected, even if that requires hiding from us (outer darkness) so our delusions shatter.

Regarding Stackhouse’s comments about evil, I believe God’s holiness and love means He will not tolerate evil continuing anywhere, not even in hell 1. But how He achieves that seems to depend on what evil isor isn’t… Some theologians suggest it is the privation of good, similar to darkness occurring when light is removed. If that is the case, adding enough divine light/goodness should result in the cessation of evil.

Don’t let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good.

Romans 12:21, CEV

Alternatively, I think evil could be described as “any will discordant to God’s”. If that is correct, evil will cease if God can freely bring our wills into harmony with His―which seems to be His plan.

… [God] is patient with you; for it is not his purpose that anyone should be destroyed, but that everyone should turn 2 from his sins.

2 Peter 3:9, CJB

Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?

Abraham Lincoln


1. Which I think is a huge issue for the Eternal Conscious Torment view.
2. Literally, “a change of mind”.

Heaven, the Ultimate Destination?—Williamson at Moore College—part 4

In the first lecture of the Annual Moore College Lectures Dr Paul Williamson 1 briefly summarised Evangelical Universalism and said that, “a gauntlet has been thrown down”. His last lecture responds to that challenge. So far I’ve engaged with over half of his lecture:

I’ll continue with the next section of the lecture:

The third, and arguably the most encompassing, concept of heaven in the New Testament is that of New Creation.

Paul Williamson, Heaven, the Ultimate Destination? (1h 15s)

I agree.

Regeneration, or New Creation, encompasses much more than individual Christians or even the people of God collectively. Jesus is alluding to something much more extensive when He anticipates renewal of all things when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne—Matthew 19:28.

Paul Williamson, Heaven, the Ultimate Destination? (1h 48s)

We both agree the regeneration encompasses much more than Christians but on what grounds does Williamson then exclude non-Christians? Surely they are part of “all things”? Indeed I find it encouraging that Matthew 19:28 follows Jesus saying that it’s at least possible for God to save everyone—that “Humanly speaking, [salvation of anyone v25, even hard cases, like the rich v24] is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” (v26 NLT).

[Peter] describes it [palingenesis] as the restoration of all things—Acts 3:21. And what Paul undoubtedly has in mind when he speaks of creation being liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God—Romans 8:21. In other words, it’s a vision of cosmic redemption and salvation…

Paul Williamson, Heaven, the Ultimate Destination? (1h 1m 17s)

The original Creation was universal without exception (John 1:3), so why would the re-Creation (palingenesis) be anything less? Likewise, the Apostle Paul parallels this restoration/reconciliation of “all things” with the “all things” God created, that is, everything without exception (Col 1:16-20).

Regarding the type of restoration (apokatastasis) in Acts 3:21:

This term had a variety of applications in antiquity [e.g. “restoration to health” p.5], but as a Christian and a late-antique philosophical doctrine, it came to indicate the theory of universal restoration, that is, of the return of all beings, or at least all rational beings or all humans, to the Good, i.e. God, in the end. Although Origen is credited with being the founder of this doctrine in Christianity, I shall argue that he had several antecedents … that this doctrine was abundantly received throughout the Patristics era …

Ilaria Ramelli, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis, page 1

So yes, I agree that Romans 8:21 is a fitting description, especially as v22 speaks of “all creation”.

The fullest description of the [restored creation] is, of course, presented in the final two chapters of Revelation. There, drawing on a lot of Old Testament motifs, John describes a new cosmos, a new Jerusalem, and a new Eden. These however are not really three different places but rather figurative descriptions of the one reality, which we’re referring to as “New Creation”.

Paul Williamson, Heaven, the Ultimate Destination? (1h 1m 55s)

In Eden, God created harmonious/sinless relationships between everyone and everything. How can the new Eden ever exceed the original if there are billions of severed/inharmonious relationships, or worse, the ongoing evil of sinners? Conversely, Universalism envisages the healing of each and every relationship so that once again everything can enjoy the harmony of Eden and the end of evil.

While Peter speaks of destruction using the image of cosmic conflagration, he’s primarily describing the destruction of sin and corruption. Creation itself is not being eradicated, it’s simply being radically cleansed or purified.

Paul Williamson, Heaven, the Ultimate Destination? (1h 3m 19s)

That is precisely what Evangelical Universalists argue, just with a definition of cosmos that includes everything, otherwise sin isn’t eradicated, but simply quarantined somewhere in Creation (Reprobates are part of Creation, and wherever they are put must still be a place created by God, that is, part of Creation too. Although, as I argue below, there are many reasons to believe the Reprobates will actually be nearby the Elect in the New Creation).

Williamson notes a similar theme in Revelation:

Just as with the individual’s new creation, so with the cosmic. The old has passed away and the new has come. Not in the sense of obliteration and replacement but in the sense of purging and renewal. What John is describing here in Revelation 21 is creation renovated or renewed, a radical transformation … As someone has put it:

God is not making all new things, rather He is making all things new.

Paul Williamson, Heaven, the Ultimate Destination? (1h 3m 52s)

Again I heartily agree, it’s just we don’t see a strong case for excluding billions of God’s children 2 from the cosmos. Instead we see what appears to be the transformation/washing of the rebellious Kings and Nations—coming into the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:24,26; 22:14). Furthermore, Talbott et. al. also point out that the exclusion of the Reprobates would prevent the full transformation of even the Elect (e.g. they would have eternally have “holes in their hearts” where loved ones were, as well as many unresolved grievances).

And in this new creation or renewed creation, forever gone will be the chaos of evil, here symbolically represented by the absence of any sea.

Paul Williamson, Heaven, the Ultimate Destination? (1h 4m 30s)

While I believe evil will eventually cease, I don’t believe that’s possible until all sinners are converted/quenched/washed/healed. In the imagery it appears the sinners are nearby, which means that they can, and must, be converted, etc. for evil to be “forever gone”:

  1. Outside [the city gates v14] are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” (Rev 22:15, ESV)
  2. Currently Gehenna, the Valley of Hinnom, is just outside Jerusalem, so it’s logical that the eschatological Gehenna (aka Hell) is likewise just outside the New Jerusalem.
  3. The sinners would need to be nearby so that they could hear the Spirit and the bride’s offer to come and drink (Rev 22:17) and be washed (Rev 22:14).
  4. Brad Jersak says there is “convincing evidence for identifying the lake of fire with the Dead Sea.” 3 Currently the Dead Sea is visible from Jerusalem (about 13 miles away), which suggests the eschatological lake of fire will be visible from the New Jerusalem too. This concurs with Revelation 14:10, “fire and brimstone [is] in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb”.
  5. Some people think the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus informs us about the reality of the afterlife. If it does, then it shows sinners are near enough to be able to talk to and pass drinks to.

(Two more parts to come)

Dr Paul Williamson
Dr Paul Williamson

1. Williamson lectures in Old Testament, Hebrew and Aramaic at Moore College, has written a number of books, and was a NIV Study Bible contributor.
2. See Everyone is a child of God for the biblical reasons everyone is, and always will be, a child of God.
3. Her Gates Will Never Be Shut, p. 82.

Heaven, the Ultimate Destination?—Williamson at Moore College—part 3

In the first lecture of the Annual Moore College Lectures Dr Paul Williamson 1 briefly summarised Evangelical Universalism and said that, “a gauntlet has been thrown down”. His last lecture 2 responds to that challenge. So far I’ve engaged with over half of the lecture:

Continuing from where I left off.

Rather than understanding such punishments [in Hell] as lasting forever, Parry and Talbott emphasise that the Greek adjective aionios simply denotes “pertaining to the age to come”. They thus reject the idea that either the life or the punishment “pertaining to the age to come” must necessarily endure forever 3. In doing so, Parry and Talbott interpret the parallelism between eternal punishment and eternal life in Matthew 25:46 consistently.

Paul Williamson, Heaven, the Ultimate Destination? (57m 21s)

Talbott starts discussing aionios with the above approach 4 but also offers three alternatives. First:

For however we translate aiōnios, it is clearly an adjective and must therefore function like an adjective; and adjectives often vary in meaning, sometimes greatly, when the nouns they qualify signify different categories of things.

Thomas Talbott, The Inescapable Love of God, p. 80

For example, an old planet and an old person are extremely unlikely to have existed for the same duration, even though both are described as “old”. This is because the noun “planet” changes the scope of “old”, and conversely the noun “person” changes the scope of “old” to something much narrower.

Second, Talbott notes that even a non-universalist points out that:

… when an adjective … modifies a noun—in this case a result-noun … the adjective describes the result of the action … , not the action itself … We have seen this in regard to eternal salvation (not an eternal act of saving), eternal redemption (not an eternal process of redeeming), … and eternal punishment (not an eternal act of punishing).

Edward Fudge, The Fire that Consumes, 3rd ed., p. 41

In Pruning the Flock?, I gave reasons why the noun paired with aionioskolasis, probably should be translated “correction”, rather than “punishment”. Because of that, it could be argued, and Talbott does 5 , that the result of the correction is eternal/permanent.

Third, as Williamson notes:

Talbott possibly alludes to the immortal character of life associated with the age to come, when he describes it as, “A special quality of life, whose causal source lies in the eternal God himself” 6.

Paul Williamson, Heaven, the Ultimate Destination? (58m 29s)

Williamson then responds to Parry and Talbott’s approaches:

… we could point out that the scholarly consensus is that aionios can—and often does—denote neverending. Granted this observation may cut little ice with those who are climbing out on a theological limb in the first place.

Paul Williamson, Heaven, the Ultimate Destination? (59m 13s)

First, it isn’t just Universalists who say the literal translation of aionios isn’t “eternal”. As I mentioned in Is Aionios Eternal?, the 250 page Terms for Eternity: Aiônios and Aïdios in Classical and Christian Texts is probably the most comprehensive academic analysis of aionios, and it says:

[aiónios] may sometimes [not “often”] mean eternal [e.g. when applied to God] but also bears many other meanings … [such as] pertaining to the next aion [aeon/eon]

Ramelli & Konstan, Terms for Eternity, vii

This is supported by other respected scholars:

‘Eternal’ in these phrases [Matt 25:41, 46] is aiónios, meaning, as has often been pointed out, not ‘endless’, but pertaining to the ‘age to come’

J.I. Packer, The Problem of Eternal Punishment, Crux XXVI.3, September 1990, p. 23
[aiónios means] of the Age to Come
N.T. Wright, The New Interpreter’s Bible

a standard formal form of [aiónios] is “of the Age.”

O.B. Jenkins (Linguistics Phd),  Time or Character, The Ages or A Time Sequence in aionios

The Hebrew word olam, translated aionios in the Septuagint, also seems to be about something being “beyond the horizon” (a fitting description of the coming age), rather than its duration (see Punishment’s Duration). We also see examples of aionios not being translated “eternal”:

in the hope of eternalaiónios life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginningaiónios of time

Titus 1:2, NIV
the mystery hidden for longaiónios ages past
Romans 16:25, NIV
Do not move ancientaiónios boundary stone set up by your ancestors.
Proverbs 22:28, NIV
its bars held me with no-end-in-sightaiónios [actually three days]
Jonah 2:6, CEB

Second, while Universalism is novel for Evangelicals, it seems that the dominant view in Christianity (e.g. Catholics, Orthodox, and some Protestants) is:

We hope and pray that everyone will be saved but God hasn’t revealed the outcome.

That they see Universalism as even a possible outcome, suggests it’s not a “theological limb”. Furthermore, from what I’ve read, Universalism was common in the Early Church.

But perhaps more significant is the fact that in Matthew 25:46, and in numerous other New Testament texts, there’s really no obvious reason to assume that aionios means anything less than everlasting.

Paul Williamson, Heaven, the Ultimate Destination? (59m 29s)

First, I’m not assuming, I’m simply saying given even most non-Universalists admit that aionios means “pertaining to the age to come”, please let’s translate it as such and then let people come to their own conclusions about what that means.

Second, I think there are numerous Bible texts, the biblical metanarrative, and core/orthodox doctrines (e.g. the Trinity, Imago Dei), strongly support Universalism, which puts lots of pressure on not assuming that something that occurs in the coming age is everlasting (particularly if that thing is correction, which by definition is working towards an outcome).

Since the age in question undeniably does endure forever, it’s only logical to infer that the same applies to both the life and punishment so closely associated with it. Accordingly it seems fair to conclude that eternal life and its negative corollary, eternal death, does not really support a universalist understanding of heaven.

Paul Williamson, Heaven, the Ultimate Destination? (59m 44s)

There doesn’t seem to be a consensus about the future—I’ve also read biblical arguments for it being:

  1. an endless succession of ages .
  2. one finite age, followed by timelessness.
  3. a series of ages, which are followed by timelessness.
  4. immediate timelessness.

If any of these are the case, the punishment need not be interpreted as everlasting, it may only be a feature of a age, or some ages, or all ages but not timelessness, or even if it is a feature of timelessness, then by definition talking about it’s duration is meaningless.

However, even if there will be only one endless age to come, that something occurred in it, wouldn’t necessarily mean it lasted for the duration of it. If I said:

In the morrow there will be breakfast and in the morrow there will be work.

It’s very unlikely that I meant breakfast will take all tomorrow, nor that work would, nor that breakfast will have the same duration as work, even though both are “closely associated” with tomorrow.

Finally, some Universalists (e.g. Conditional Futurism or In the End, God…do interpret the Matthew 25:46 as “everlasting punishment” because they argue that the Bible is describing a conditional trajectory—that God is still free to help you move onto a different trajectory. Their cases are far more nuanced but just flagging that things don’t hinge on aionios.

(Part 4)

Dr Paul Williamson
Dr Paul Williamson

1. Williamson lectures in Old Testament, Hebrew and Aramaic at Moore College, has written a number of books, and was a NIV Study Bible contributor.
2. Talk outline.
3. Parry, Talbott, and other Evangelical Universalists still believe the life will never end. However, they primarily get that from other texts, rather than aionios.
4. The Inescapable Love of God p. 79.
5. Ibid. p. 81.
6. Ibid. pp. 83-85.

Heaven, the Ultimate Destination?—Williamson at Moore College—part 2

In the first lecture of the Annual Moore College Lectures Dr Paul Williamson 1 briefly summarised Evangelical Universalism and said that, “a gauntlet has been thrown down”. In his last lecture 2 he responded to that challenge. My previous post covered the first half of that lecture and I’ll now continue where I left off.

But this [God’s kingdom] is clearly not portrayed as an all inclusive prospect—Matthew 8:12.

Paul Williamson, Lecture 6 (53m 17s)

The context of that verse is that Jesus is amazed at the faith of a Roman centurion, and reveals that the Gentiles are going to come into the Kingdom while many of the Jews are cut off:

And I [Jesus] tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 8:11-12, NLT

The Apostle Paul seems to have had this in mind in Romans 11 as “eyes that cannot see” (Rom 11:9) and “Let their eyes be darkened so they cannot see” (Rom 11:10) are reminiscent of “outer darkness”. However, thankfully he reveals the next chapter for those Jews:

I ask, then, has God rejected His people? Absolutely not! … I ask, then, have they stumbled in order to fall [irreversibly]? Absolutely not! On the contrary, by their stumbling, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous. Now if their stumbling brings riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full number bring! … A partial [temporary] hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved …

Romans 11:1a,11-12,25b-26a, HCSB

Romans 11 suggests to me that the “outer darkness” is a severe method God uses to shatter arrogant delusions (see earlier in Romans) and to provoke “jealousy”—the desire to return home and join the Kingdom’s feast.

Indeed, not even all of Christ’s professed disciples will enter this coming kingdom—Matthew 7:21-23.

Paul Williamson, Lecture 6 (53m 25s)

I think we should heed the serious warning in the passage:

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’

Matthew 7:21-23, HCSB

However, surely, “I never knew you” is an impossibility for the all-knowing God? Likewise, according to Jonah et al., it is impossible to leave God behind—to truly “Depart from Me”. Therefore, I think the passage is hyperbole. So while, it teaches that God will severely discipline lawbreakers 3 by hiding Himself from them, I don’t think the consequence has to be interpreted absolutely—as forever. Furthermore, the disciples would’ve been mostly (all?) Jews and so again Romans 11 applies—that those cut off will be grafted back after  their hearts are changed.

Paul himself lists various examples of impenitent sinners who are expressly excluded—who will not, who will not, inherit the Kingdom of God.

Paul Williamson, Lecture 6 (53m 44s)

There are many passages that describe our rebellion, including the Paul’s lists of impenitent sinners. While rebels are rebelling, they can’t come into God’s Kingdom. It’s only when they cease to be rebels, that is, turn to Jesus with the Spirit’s help.

While a prodigal son/daughter is wallowing in the pigpen (outside the Kingdom) they aren’t at home (in the Kingdom) with the Father and their siblings experiencing all the benefits, instead they are:

  • hungry (sin is unfulfilling).
  • lonely.
  • uncomfortable.
  • stinking (sin quickly becomes unpleasant).
  • prone to sickness 4.

Some Christians believe God only goes as far as allowing these natural consequences of rebellion to occur but I think that because He is our Father, He is also proactive. Metaphorically speaking, God:

  • prunes rotten branches off us.
  • irradiates the cancer in our bodies.
  • purifies us like metal—purging the dross.
  • pulls out the weeds within us.
  • burns up the rubbish within us.

One of the difficulties in the discussion of hell is that people point to the state that people are in now (e.g. impenitent sin) and project it into the future. It’s understandable because we are a mess but I think it really underestimates God. I believe God’s ability:

  1. to reveal truth is greater than our capacity to continue deluding ourselves.
  2. to satisfy is greater than evil’s fleeting highs.
  3. to woo is greater than evil’s allure.
  4. as a gardener is greater than the infestation of any weed.
  5. as a doctor is greater than the destruction of any disease.

Darkness cannot withstand Light.

I hope that Williamson, as a Calvinist, would agree that God is at least capable of achieving the best outcome (union with Him) for each and every person.

(Part 3)

Dr Paul Williamson
Dr Paul Williamson

1. Williamson lectures in Old Testament, Hebrew and Aramaic at Moore College, has written a number of books, and was a contributor to the NIV Study Bible.
2. See here for his talk outline.
3. In particular those who try to look impressive in public but aren’t doing God’s will—aren’t loving God and neighbour.
4. At least spiritually speaking, although physical, mental, and spiritual health seem intertwined to some degree.

Heaven, the Ultimate Destination?—Williamson at Moore College—part 1

In the first lecture of the Annual Moore College Lectures Dr Paul Williamson 1 gave a brief summary of Evangelical Universalism and said that, “a gauntlet has been thrown down”. He gave four lectures covering the intermediate state, resurrection, judgment, and punishment. The sixth, and final, lecture covered heaven, and whether that is the final destination, and whether it is for everyone, or not 2.

I agreed with his case that heaven is only a temporary destination until the New Creation—the eternal destination—so I’ll mainly engage with his critique of Evangelical Universalism. Before he got into the lecture, he addressed some questions, notably:

Can Christians rejoice in the prospect of hell for those who oppose God—for God’s enemies?

Certainly not! God is grieved over the death of the sinner, and how much more is He concerned over their eternal death. However, you understand that. Such a prospect should give us very heavy hearts and prompt us to pray, and prompt us to evangelise. And I think all these viewpoints would agree with what I’ve just said.

Paul Williamson, Lecture 6 (19m 40s)

I agree that nobody should rejoice at the prospect of hell. However, I think this creates a dilemma for non-universalists, in that it would surely mean God and the Elect would eternally grieve the loss of their loved ones, whereas the New Creation is meant to be a place of “no more tears”… Some people respond by saying, “We will cease to love our loved ones”, but I would’ve thought the more Christlike we become, the more loving we’d become 3.

What do we make of God allowing sin to exist, even in a cordoned off part of the New Creation?

Another good question. Maybe we can return to it after this lecture. I’m not sure that I’ve got an answer to that one, but perhaps someone here does.

Paul Williamson, Lecture 6 (20m 12s)

I think this is a huge problem for the Eternal Conscious Torment view, especially for Calvinists who believe God could cause evil to cease by converting all sinners.

He then got into the lecture and I agreed with his argument up until this comment:

Moreover, texts such as Isaiah 45:23, arguably allude to forced subjugation of defeated enemies rather than genuine repentance and salvation.

Paul Williamson, Lecture 6 (36m 4s)

Unfortunately he didn’t explain why he interprets the verse that way.

By Myself I have sworn; Truth has gone from My mouth, a word that will not be revoked:

Every knee will bow to Me, every tongue will swear allegiance.

Isaiah 45:17-25, HCSB

Many translations translate the swearing as a positive act: “swear allegiance” (HCSB, ESV, AMP, EXB, NASB, NLT, etc.); “will promise to follow me” (NCV); “solemnly affirm” (NET); “vow to be loyal to me” (GNT, WYC); “worship me” (CEV). Robin Parry explains why:

That this is no forced subjection of defeated enemies is clear for the following reasons. First, we see that God has just called all the nations to turn to him and be saved, and it is in that context that the oath is taken. Second, the swearing of oaths in Yahweh’s name is something his own people do, not his defeated enemies. Third, those who confess Yahweh go on to [immediately] say, “In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength,” which sounds like the cry of praise from God’s own people.

Robin Parry, The Evangelical Universalist, p68-69

Continuing on.

… without question, the eschatological inclusion of the nations in the salvation of God is clearly articulated several times in both Isaiah and elsewhere in the Old Testament. However, as even Parry concedes, this hope is not universalist in the sense that it envisages the salvation of all individuals who have ever existed.

Paul Williamson, Lecture 6 (36m 15s)

I’m guessing he’s referring to a comment in The Evangelical Universalist, however Parry explains:

While it is true that the Old Testament is interested primarily in groups (Israel and national groups) rather than individuals, this does not mean that we cannot infer the fate of individuals. We have seen that the ultimate vision for humanity is one in which all humanity worships Yahweh; and, thus, it anticipates a future in which each individual does.

Robin Parry, The Evangelical Universalist, p72-73

Furthermore, as the OT doesn’t have a developed concept of resurrection, it wouldn’t make sense for it to focus on the fate of those who had already died.

But for all its emphasis on the eschatological inclusion of the nations, the Old Testament offers little support for the idea that this future utopia is going to be the ultimate destiny for everyone, including those who fall under God’s wrath. Rather those who fall under God’s wrath are very clearly and explicitly excluded in Isaiah.

Paul Williamson, Lecture 6 (39m 6s)

Parry’s chapter on the OT highlights a biblical pattern of rebellion, warning, consequences/punishment, repentance, and restoration—of both Israel and the nations. While it isn’t proof of universalism, I think it’s highly suggestive and anticipates the explicit passages in the NT.

I think we should also step back and ask why God created everyone, for what purpose. I think Genesis 1-2 shows us it is for harmonious relationships, firstly with God but also with everyone else. The promises of the New Creation in Isaiah build on this, whereas non-universalism posits that some 4 relationships are left discordant forever, which seems significantly less than God’s original intent for creation.

Lastly, Acts 3:21 says a time will come for “God to restore everything as He promised long ago through His prophets [i.e. the Old Testament]”. It seems non-universalists have to either significantly reduce the scope of “everything” or the quality of the “restore”. It’s hard to see how eternally broken relationships could ever be described as restored and reconciled (Col 1:15).

In my next post I’ll look at the second half of this lecture.

Dr Paul Williamson
Dr Paul Williamson

1. Williamson lectures in Old Testament, Hebrew and Aramaic at Moore College, has written a number of books, and was a contributor to the NIV Study Bible.
2. See here for his talk outline.
3. Talbott points out that for people with non-believing parents, siblings, spouses, children, and life-long friends, that would mean discarding almost everything in this life.
4. Or many or most, depending on how many billion reprobates you believe there will be!

Videoclip: The Gauntlet Thrown Down by Evangelical Universalists—Williamson at Moore College

Dr Paul Williamson lectures in Old Testament, Hebrew and Aramaic at Moore College, has written a number of books, and was a NIV Study Bible contributor. In the first lecture of the Annual Moore College Lectures, he surveyed the views of the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Zoroastrians, Greeks, and Romans then focused on Evangelical views. He also explained what each of the remaining lectures would cover.

Of particular interest were his comments (clips below) on Evangelical Universalism—he explains the view and says that, “a gauntlet has been thrown down”. In the Q&A it turns out he has read the second edition of Four Views on Hell, and while he disagrees with Robin Parry, he acknowledges that Parry is a genuine Evangelical seeking to be faithful to Scripture.

One other comment that caught my attention was:

Hell has generally been perceived as a place of conscious punishment that endures forever. Not surprisingly, many find such a thought deeply disturbing, indeed there’s probably something wrong with you if you don’t find such a thought deeply disturbing.

Paul Williamson, at 1h 22m 36s

I look forward to seeing him engage these topics further in the rest of the lectures.

Annual Moore College Lectures 2016 "Death and the Life Hereafter" by Dr Paul Williamson
Annual Moore College Lectures 2016
“Death and the Life Hereafter”
by Dr Paul Williamson

Review of The Forgotten Gospel Conference

This conference on God’s boundless love and ability to save, brought together these amazing speakers:

Talk videos (free)!

Unfortunately I couldn’t afford to travel there from Tasmania but one of my friends who attended gave a report, which I’ve condensed/edited slightly:

My overwhelming sense is that the conference was a success—a magnificent one even—though not as much for the reasons I’d expected…

I came with legal notepads ready to record more information, clever twists of favorite Universalism defenses, new ways of looking at old texts. I came with a readiness to engage my mind; less aware of my needs to bring heart into alignment with head. Almost instantly though, I realized I would likely take no notes (and I didn’t…) but just listen. Mind very much filled and engaged and alert yes, but Universal Reconciliation, and Restoration, and Recreation, as a reality for the heart just as much as for the mind. Real world in other words…

Strangely, I already knew this at some level… Six, perhaps seven years ago, when I tried to win my wife to Universalism, I met with failure. My arguments—solid as they seemed for me—simply fell on deaf ears. My son, then 17 or 18, listened to my arguments, challenged them intelligently and appropriately and in fairly short order embraced the truth of God’s Universal Victory through Jesus. And in something of a blow to my ego, it was he who convinced my wife of the reality of Universalism! Where I had employed what worked for me—reason and logic and irrefutably clever argument—he shared it in the realms of the heart and of relationships. The relentless pursuit of a loving Father going about reconciling His creation to Himself. Relationships…

Pastoral Concerns

What dawned on me then, in those first few moments of the Conference on Friday night, with the warm and genuine welcome by our host, Pastor Peter Hiett, and the first two messages of the evening—one by Brad Jersak and one by Peter—was that this was to be an affair for the heart. A moving beyond the wonderful facts and logic and intelligence of Universalism, to that place of pastoral concerns; where passionate and smart leaders, shepherds of real life drama flocks, bring the grace and compassion of Universalism into the world of heart and spirit and relationship. Yes—there was ample and generous portions of reason and logic and academic rigor. But it was in the service of nurturing and ministering to a church full of real people with all the drama and pain and dysfunction that uncamouflaged life brings.

And the greatest truth—logical, relational, head, and heart—repeatedly driven home with a joyous intensity by each and every speaker was a rediscovery, a reawakening, a rehabilitation, indeed a resurrection of the Truth about God’s very essence and character and being. A God whose wrath and justice are not counter to His love, but rather a redemptive reflection of it.

Christ/Cross-centred Worship

Further, and infinitely supporting and revealing of this great truth, stands the person of Jesus and the realities of the Cross. In fact, the entire Conference stands as a shattering rebuke to the craven and baseless assertion (one I’ve been subjected to countless times…) that we Christian Universalists minimize and marginalize Christ and His Cross and don’t take it seriously enough. For the essence of the Conference was worship. The triumph of God’s Love—demonstrated at such cost through the life and death and resurrection and person of His Son Jesus.

All I could think, and say, both as it was happening, and now, is WOW! The beautiful, but perhaps distant and intangible truth of Universal Restoration if left in the realm of reason, given richness and intensity and realness in the realm of Pastoral concerns and grateful worship. I went planning to be blessed, and encouraged, and my mind stimulated. And all those things happened. I didn’t expect to experience such profound worship though. What a gift that was for me!!

I’ve already noted how Christ and cross centered and worshipful the entire conference was. But other notable themes were woven throughout all the presentations as well.

Penal Substitutionary Atonement

First off was the general agreement on the enormous difficulties that penal substitution theology poses to people trying to grasp the love of God and it’s consequent Universal Reconciliation. Huge and perhaps complicated topic I know, but every speaker left little doubt that penal substitution explanations of the Cross are far more hurtful than helpful to understanding the True Love of God… Nuff said about that, except to say I rejoiced to hear that!!! (Yes, it’s a present image, but must be closely limited in how it is interpreted lest God quickly acquire the image of a monster—sated only by violence and innocent blood…)

Love That Judges

There was this relentless urge in all speakers it seemed, to spare no words in emphasizing the fullness and completeness of God’s eternal Love. Not a love that judges or saves, but a love that judges and saves. It was just wonderful to watch and listen as each speaker took—tirelessly—upon himself the mission of restoring and rehabilitating the reputation of God! Truly the forgotten goodness of the news!

True Free Will

I was also very much pleased to note that each speaker took gentle but unmistakable jabs at the common Arminian misperceptions of free will. In fact it’s not free, really, until it is good—as Peter Hiett perhaps drove home best. The notion that instead what is happening is that God is slowly bringing us, teaching us, maturing us into a more and better and fuller freedom. It is only then that we really are free. This is of course utterly crucial in our responses to those believers whose main quarrel with God’s Universal Victory over sin is the “free will” clause.

The Relationship Between God and Creation

Another idea emphasized by many of the speakers was that the creation exists as wholly from and dependent on God. It’s not as if God is here (all holy and separate and protected from His dirty creation—as if it can exist all by itself…) and we are huddled over there, in complete isolation from God. Baxter Kruger was perhaps most gloriously and intensely insistent on this point. There simply is no creation apart from the community of the Trinity. Which of course plays centrally in the idea that a failure on God’s part to restore/reconcile/redeem all His beloved creation is unthinkable in the context of the completeness and fullness of the Trinity.

The Biggest Joy

All of which brings me to a sobering, and to varying degrees painful reality. And this hit home as I chatted with random folks during the conference. But for many (most?) of us—and [from] everything I could tell, all there were convinced Universalists—our home church worship environment and experience really can be marked by a festering and grating loneliness. We have this great conviction of God’s Universal victory through Jesus, and yet cannot share it meaningfully with others we worship with—lest we be ostracized and branded heretical. In fact several I spoke with said they have no home church—and instead have online fellowship experience where they feel more like they belong. This resonated deeply with me. And the sheer joy of just being together with so many who saw the same truths that I do, was a blessing unparalleled…

The biggest joy—and blessed relief—of this conference for me was the feeling that I was home. Yes, I go to church here, in my own little community, but I can’t just blurt out any time I want my convictions of these great Universal Reconciliation truths. I very much appreciated the speakers open recognition that, among themselves, they do have differences and don’t all agree on everything. That’s refreshing, because that’s real and honest. So Peter, if you’re reading this, I feel like I am a part of your church—even though I live in Florida!!!

Constructive Criticism

For the sense that I’m looking at this whole conference with open eyes and constructive criticism—and not just giving it a rubber stamped thumbs up just because it’s right on my favorite topic—let me make a couple observations…

Annihilation. There was nary a mention of this possibility, which is unfortunate given that a growing number are finding their solution to the horrors and inconsistencies of an ECT hell in the answer of annihilationism. This is particularly important to me since I was raised in an annihilation tradition. Not a big complaint at all, but noted…

Speakers Q & A session. This was by far the biggest disappointment for me. It was tacked on at the very end, after a very hasty lunch on Sunday, and felt disorganized (a great contrast from the order of the overall conference) and rushed. Prime goal was to be out of the building by 2pm—which lent this abbreviated session a feeling of haste instead of reflection. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but could have been much better. There is an obvious camaraderie and even fondness for each other among the speakers; this needs time to flourish and be on greater display. Further, why not let this be the time and place to let us in on some of their theological differences—and in the process, model for us out here that all important skill.

My suggestion would be to put it in the afternoon Saturday and make it a bit more “formal” and organized. Have more time and emphasis spent on writing these questions as well on having the moderator more familiar with them before he reads them to us in the actual session.

Final Thoughts

Was just plain cool to meet these writers. Biggest highlight for me was meeting Tom Talbott! Dude kind of started it all for me—and it turns out quite a few others as well! He seemed genuinely happy to meet “TotalVictory”! Either that or he faked happy pretty well!! And of course meeting Paul Young and Brad Jersak and Peter and Robin Parry himself!! That was just great.

In closing, the idea of the church body, with her many different parts, gathered under One Head; Jesus Christ. I’d always heard that meant the different gifts within our church—as in our particular denomination!!! Well, actually no! I was so pleased to see all the streams of theological thought seen here, with Catholics and Orthodox and Calvinists and charismatics and multiple varieties of Arminians all gathered together celebrating the Lordship of the Christ—as a reflection of the true God. A God who is completely successful in Restoring and redeeming His entire Creation… Wow!!

So a truly blessed and wonderful conference. Would be a thrill to anticipate the next one!!!

All the best,

Bob x3
TotalVictory

The Deeper Story of God's Relentless Love

 

Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? Four Views on Hell? Origen? Torture? Is Everyone A Child Of God?—William Cavanaugh Interview—part 6

William T. Cavanaugh
Dr. William T. Cavanaugh

Cavanaugh is Professor of Theology at DePaul University in Chicago. He holds degrees from Notre Dame, Cambridge, and Duke University, and has worked as a lay associate with the Holy Cross order in a poor area of Santiago, Chile, as well as for the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the Notre Dame Law School. His books include:

2016 Richard Johnson Lecture

I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. William Cavanaugh and attending his lecture “The Myth of Religious Violence”. I’ve broken the interview up into 6 short posts:

  1. Violence and Theology? Just War and Pacifism?
  2. Was God Violent To Jesus? Is Jesus Coming Back Mad As Hell?
  3. Did Constantine Make Christianity Violent?
  4. Has God Ever Commanded Genocide? What is Justice?
  5. Is God Violent In Hell? Does That Influence Us Now?
  6. Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? Four Views on Hell? Origen? Torture? Is Everyone A Child Of God?

I’ve also posted it as a single, combined post.

Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?

What do you think of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? ? Have you read it?

I have, actually I just reread it recently. I think again that’s the sort of Barthian idea that we should at least hope that all will be saved. There’s that passage in first Timothy I think that kind of indicates that. But we can’t say for sure. And again the question is how could anybody resist God’s grace forever.

Mmm… Peter Kreeft, when he was interviewed about this, said, “We hope and pray that everyone is saved but we can’t say for sure.” So again that’s kind of the standard Catholic and Eastern Orthodox position. I think George Pell said that hell may be empty. I think he was criticizing people who dogmatically say there’s people in Hell. He says we can’t say there definitely will, or won’t, be.

Somebody told me there’s a website out there with lists of people that definitely are in Hell… {concerned laugh} that’s so…

Yeah… I don’t doubt that.

Four Views on Hell?

Have you read Zondervan’s Four Views on Hell?

No, I haven’t.

It’s from an Evangelical perspective, and they’ve got a case for Annihilationism, a case for Eternal Conscious Torment, a case for Universalism, and a case for Purgatory.

From an Evangelical point of view??

Yeah.

{chuckles} That’s good.

Yeah, it’s the first time that a major evangelical publisher has admitted that Evangelical Universalism is a biblical and theological Christian position, even though they disagreed with it. {shows William Four View on Hell book} It only came out this year and I haven’t actually finished reading it.

Origen?

What do you think about some of the Early Church Fathers? What do you think about Gregory of Nyssa and Origen, for example? Who both appear to hold to Universal Salvation. What’s your view on that?

{laughs} I think Origen was probably a little too confident. I haven’t read Gregory of Nyssa on that. But again I think the wiser position if to say we hope but we don’t know for sure. Origen seemed to know for sure. He seemed to know a lot of things for sure.

OK, that’s cool 1.

Torture?

You wrote a book on torture, which I haven’t actually read. Do you think torture is ever justified?

No.

No… that’s good! {both laugh} I’m glad to hear that! Some people seem to think it is…?

It’s listed in various church documents as an intrinsically evil act and I think that’s the way we should treat it. What’s interesting to me is just the way torture works in the popular imagination. You know it doesn’t work at all as it does in reality. In reality it doesn’t really work much. You very rarely, if ever, get real, actionable intelligence. It’s more for intimidating people and breaking up social bodies and things like that.

But the role it plays in the popular imagination in United States… it’s really important for some people to know that we’re torturing terrorists because that seems to protect us. This is I think, in part, behind the popularity of Trump. “He’s going to be a strong person with few scruples, going to protect us from the bad things that are out there.” It doesn’t make any logical sense but torture is a kind of theatre, is really what I argue, a sort of liturgy—anti-liturgy—that reverses the Eucharist.

Yes, I found the idea interesting, well the little bit I could read in Google, {both laugh} and I wondered how it worked.

Is Everyone A Child Of God?

We’ve almost run out of time but quickly, do you think everyone is a child of God?

Yes.

Coming from a few different passages. I think starting in Genesis.

Yes.

Yes, you do think that, and I agree. {both laugh} My latest blog series was on everyone being a child of God. What are some of the implications of that—of everyone being a child of God?

Well, you need to treat everybody with dignity, even people that seem completely alien—these days, Muslims. Children of the same God. I mean that’s at the most basic level.


1. Upon further reflection, I was puzzled by the description of Origen as “presumptuous”, as he doesn’t come across that way to me. So I asked Dr. Ben Myers, who lectures on Origen:

Short answer: no, ‘presumptuous’ would be the last word anyone would use to describe Origen! Even on the topic of universal salvation, he’s actually very tentative and suggestive and exploratory, never fully decided or dogmatic. This is because he’s essentially an exegete, not a theologian, so he’s always keenly aware of the huge diversity within the biblical canon.

Why C.S. Lewis’ Conversion Suggests He Should’ve Been A Universalist

 

Monochrome head-and-left-shoulder photo portrait of 50-year-old Lewis
C. S. Lewis

Every time I hear someone advocate for C.S. Lewis’ view on Hell, I can’t help but think of Thomas Talbott’s insightful observations about C.S. Lewis’ own conversion:

For the sake of clarity, however, it is important to see just how far removed from more ordinary ways of thinking about freedom the libertarian conception can sometimes be.

As an illustration, consider how C. S. Lewis, despite his commitment to a free will theodicy of hell, described his own conversion to Christianity:

I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England[;] … a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape. The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood [my emphasis], they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. … His compulsion is our liberation.

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 228–29

There is, I believe, great wisdom here. At the time of some momentous conversion, many people feel utterly compelled to change their lives in some way even as they acquire a genuine sense of liberation in the process. At the very least, the above quotation suggests that Lewis felt utterly boxed in or checkmated in the sense that every motive for resistance had somehow been undermined and no live alternative remained available to him. He even used the word “checkmate” to name the chapter in which he described the end of a journey that had begun with atheism and nally ended with his conversion to Christianity. He also explicitly addressed the issue of freedom and necessity in relation to his own conversion. He observed first that

before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears a moment of wholly free choice.C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 224

But lest he should be misunderstood, he immediately added the following clarification:

I say, ‘I chose,’ yet it did not really seem possible to do the opposite. … You could argue that I was not a free agent, but I am more inclined to think that this came nearer to being a perfectly free act than most that I have ever done. Necessity may not be the opposite of freedom…

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 224

Indeed! That is just my point; even Lewis described his freedom in relation to his own conversion very differently than he described the freedom of the lost in relation to their damnation. For he in effect described the crucial choice in his conversion as voluntary but not free in the sense that he could have chosen otherwise. He even described himself as having been compelled to submit to God freely and spoke as if necessity is sometimes quite compatible with freedom. So now we must ask, if God’s mercy can eventually compel one prodigal to submit to him freely, as I agree it can, why can it not likewise do the same for every other prodigal as well?

Thomas Talbott, The Inescapable Love of God, 199-200

Basically, if even a strong atheist like C.S. Lewis can be freely converted, there’s significant hope that everyone else can be too!