How, and to whom, do we show hospitality?

Continuing on from the last post, another reason for showing hospitality is that provides a place for God to work:

It’s good to be reminded that the table is a very ordinary place, a place so routine and everyday it’s easily overlooked as a place of ministry. And this business of hospitality that lies at the heart of Christian mission, it’s a very ordinary thing; it’s not rocket science nor is it terribly glamorous. … Most of what you do as a community of hospitality will go unnoticed and unrecognised. At base, hospitality is about providing a space for God’s Spirit to move. Setting a table, cooking a meal, washing the dishes is the ministry of facilitation; providing a context in which people feel loved and welcome and where God’s Spirit can be at work in their lives.
Simon Carey Holt, quoted in Tim Chester’s A Meal with Jesus, p96

This quote also makes the important point that hospitality doesn’t have to be a posh “dinner party”, indeed it’s actually better if it isn’t. Too much formality, pomp, and ceremony can create barriers. For example, rather than chatting with each other, guests and hosts will probably be stressing about what they’re wearing or which utensil they are using!

Hospitality doesn’t have to be complicated, you can simply share some chips at a local park. Having said that, there’s also nothing wrong with showing hospitality via a feast or party. The important thing is to try to create a relaxed, friendly environment where you can talk and connect with people.

Sadly, like many things in life, hospitality has been affected by consumerism. The media and the advertising industry pressure us to provide elaborate and “perfect” three course meals, in an immaculate setting, perhaps with mood lighting, ambient music, etc. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with doing something special but we should always ask ourselves, “Will my guests enjoy this?”, “Will it make them feel comfortable and relaxed?”, “Am I doing it for them, or to make myself look good?”

This is particularly important when you consider that our guests may not be as well off as us. Indeed Jesus encouraged us to show hospitality to people who can’t repay it:

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Luke 14:12-14, NIV

John Newton, author of Amazing Grace, commented on this passage:

One would almost think that Luke 14:12-14 was not considered part of God’s Word, nor has any part of Jesus’ teaching been more neglected by His own people. I do not think it is unlawful to entertain our friends; but if these words do not teach us that it is in some respects our duty to give a preference to the poor, I am at a loss to understand them.
John Newton, The Works of John Newton

When Jesus was around, you would bump into the poor, the crippled, the lame, etc. every time you walked down the street. But where do we find people like this? Where do we find strangers? It’s tricky. Our society tends to hide them from view (our detention of refugees comes to mind).

I listened to a helpful talk Tim Keller on hospitality. He made three suggestions.

  • People within our congregations whom we haven’t shared a meal with.
  • Our neighbours. Literally the people on your street (e.g. a Grand Final BBQ).
  • Volunteer for a charity who shows hospitality (e.g. Loui’s Van).

People enjoying a BBQ

Keller also says:

Gospel Hospitality is welcoming people into your living space, treating strangers as family so that God can turn some of them into friends [i.e. God can use your hospitality in unexpected ways].
Tim Keller, Hospitality and God’s Grace

He also notes that home is a place where you are restored—a harbour—although we need to remember that nobody has the perfect home. It’s about refreshing and recharging people but also that people get loved towards belief, they don’t get argued towards belief. That’s to say, hospitality naturally promotes the Gospel, often more effectively than words alone.

Now I couldn’t do a series on hospitality without looking at the parable of the Good Samaritan. In it Jesus made it clear that hospitality should be inclusive, that it crosses cultural and religious boundaries, and that it should be a priority. In response to the question, “who is my neighbor?”:

Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

“By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.

“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”
Luke 10:30-37, NLT

I think this parable also shows that we don’t have to show hospitality on our own—we can do it with the help of others (e.g. an innkeeper, or a barista at your favourite coffee shop, or simply asking friends to co-host a meal).

Series summary

  1. Fear of strangers is growing in the West, and we’ve sadly seen politicians capitalising on that a lot recently. To counteract the fear we need to love strangers—show hospitality.
  2. We recalled Jesus’ frequent hospitality: showed that God is down-to-earth, inclusive in grace and love, and is the Messiah; gave people a taste of the New Creation feast (which everyone is invited to).
  3. Hospitality is a very significant biblical theme, from the first chapter, through to the last.
  4. Why do we show hospitality?
    1. God shows hospitality and asks us to imitate it
    2. OT Law & Great Commandment
    3. Lots of OT examples of godly people showing hospitality
    4. NT exhortations
    5. It was central to Christianity for the first 350 years
    6. It is a great way to love God
    7. It provides a place for God to work
    8. It naturally promotes the Gospel, often more effectively than words alone
    9. Because Jesus saw it as a priority
  5. How do we show hospitality?
    1. Not too posh, can be as simple as chips
    2. Conducive to conversation
    3. Aiming to make guests comfortable and relaxed, not to promote yourself
    4. Welcoming people into your space
    5. Treating people as family
    6. With the help of others
  6. Who do we show hospitality to?
    1. Invite the widest range of people you can, prioritising those who can’t reciprocate
    2. People you don’t know at church
    3. Your neighbours on your street
    4. People who come to Loui’s Van
    5. Across cultural, ethnical, religious, and class boundaries

Thanks for reading. I hope you’ve found this introduction to hospitality helpful.

Why should we show hospitality?

2016—the year fear trumped hospitality?

This year, more than any I can remember, politicians have played on people’s fear of strangers to win votes. I can think of examples in the UK, US, and Australia, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this disturbing trend extends to other countries as well. Sure, the refugee crisis, people smuggling, trafficking, and immigration are complex issues but I think it’s fair to say that a lot of recent policies haven’t been motivated by hospitality

However, I don’t think we can just blame political leaders, as governments usually reflect the concerns of their citizens. Therefore, our fear of strangers will be amplified by our representatives. So if we want our governments to show hospitality, we must first show hospitality in our own lives—in our homes, in our churches, wherever we are. And it’s our hospitality that I’m going to focus on today.

Feast

To recap the last posthospitality wasn’t an afterthought for Jesus. No, He spent a lot of time showing and participating in hospitality. It also was a prominent feature in His teaching. So we have to ask, Why? What does it tell us about God’s character? I suggested that:

  • It practically helped people—it showed that God is down-to-earth, caring about even our most basic needs.
  • It demonstrated that God ignores our cultural, racial, and class boundaries—that His grace and love are inclusive.
  • It gave people a taste of God’s promised feast—literally. In the New Creation, God wants everyone to sit down with Him, to share and enjoy good things together. And He proved it to them by sitting down with them and sharing good things.
  • It proved Jesus was the Messiah—God come to rescue humanity—that He was greater than everyone who came before Him, even Moses and Elijah.

Last week I focused on hospitality, from Jesus, right through to the last chapter of the Bible. However, hospitality appears throughout the Bible, starting from the very first chapter. God welcomed humanity into existence, into His space, and out of love, He fed and cared for us—showed us hospitality.

Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food.

Genesis 1:29, NLT (cf Gen 2:8-9)

It’s also in the oldest book in the Bible—Job. Job says:

I have never turned away a stranger but have opened my doors to everyone.

Job 31:32, NLT

So why do we show hospitality? Well, the first reason is, because God’s shows hospitality and asks us to imitate Him. This is explicitly stated in Deuteronomy:

He [God] ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 10:18-19, NLT

And this isn’t an isolated passage, it’s a theme.

You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.

Exodus 22:21, NLT (See also Exodus 23:9)

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 19:34, NIV

Notice how similar Leviticus is to the Great Commandment:

For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Galatians 5:14, HCSB

Is it not [God’s desire] to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Isaiah 58:7, NIV

And the Israelites took hospitality very seriously:

In ancient Israel, hospitality was not merely a question of good manners, but a moral institution … The biblical customs of welcoming the weary traveler and of receiving the stranger in one’s midst … developed into a highly esteemed virtue in Jewish tradition. Biblical law specifically sanctified hospitality toward the ger (“stranger”) who was to be made particularly welcome … Foreign travelers … could count on the custom of hospitality.

Encyclopaedia Judaica, Hospitality

Encyclopaedia Judaica give some examples, but there are many more:

  • Abraham saw the three men [angels] of Mamre “from afar” and he hurried to invite them into his house, ministered to their physical comfort, and served them lavishly (Gen 18).
  • Laban was eager to welcome Abraham’s servant while Rebekah attended to the comfort of his camels (Gen 24:28–32).
  • Jethro the Midianite was particularly disappointed at being deprived of the opportunity to extend hospitality to Moses (Ex 2:20).
  • Manoah did not allow the angel to depart before he had partaken of his hospitality (Judg 13:15).
  • The Shunammite woman had a special room prepared for the prophet Elisha (2Kings 4:8–11).
  • The extreme to which hospitality was taken is shown by the stories of Lot and the old man of Gibeah (Gen. 19:4–8 and Judg. 19:23–24).
  • Rahab harbored Joshua’s two spies (Josh 2).
  • Barzillai extended hospitality to David’s men (2Sam. 17:27–29).

Turning to the New Testament, we see the author of Hebrews appeals to this tradition:

Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!

Hebrews 13:2, NLT

Likewise, the Apostle Peter encourages us to:

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

1 Peter 4:8-10, ESV

And so does the Apostle Paul:

When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Romans 12:13, NLT

These examples also show that hospitality should be both an action and an attitude.

For about the first 350 years of Christianity, Christians met almost exclusively in homes. This meant churches naturally revolved around hospitality, specifically sharing a meal. We see an example of this in Acts.

And day by day, attending the temple together [only those in Jerusalem] and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.

Acts 2:46, ESV

So it makes sense that one of the desirable qualities of a leader was to be hospitable.

but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled,

Titus 1:8, HCSB (see also 1Tim 3:2,5:10)

Another reason to show hospitality is because it’s a way to love God. We see this explicitly in the parable of Sheep and the Goats:

“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King [Jesus] will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!

Matthew 25:35-40, NLT

My next post will look at “How, and to whom, do we show hospitality?”, which happens to also give three more reasons to show hospitality.

What does Jesus’ hospitality tell us about God’s character?

Hospitality is a huge topic in the Bible so I’ve broken it up into two parts. Today I’m going to focus on God’s hospitality, particularly in Jesus, and next week I’m going to focus on imitating that hospitality. Before we can figure out the significance of His hospitality, we need to look at what hospitality is.

Broadly speaking hospitality can be defined as:

Google's definition of hospitality

It’s a nice concept. I think we all like friendly and generous receptions, and to be entertained by hospitable hosts.

It’s also worth looking at the word in the New Testament’s original language (Greek) that gets translated as “hospitality” in English:

philoxenos
philo (love) + xenos (stranger)
love of strangers

It is similar to:

philanthropy, which is the love of humanity

It is the opposite of:

xenophobia
xeno (stranger) + phobia (fear)
fear of strangers

Throughout the Bible there are countless passages that describe and command us to love others, even strangers—frequently this is done by showing hospitality, and hospitality usually involves meals. As Mike Breen says:

If you take the mountains and meals out of the Bible, it’s a very short book. In a world of competing church models and strategies … Jesus employed one practice over all others: sharing a meal with people. … grace, mission and community are never enacted best through programmes and propaganda, but rather through the equality and acceptance experienced at the common table. May our lives never be too busy to live this out.

Mike Breen, 3DM leader and author

This quote is part of Mike’s review of Tim Chester’s book, A Meal with Jesus: Discovering grace, community & mission around the table (AMWJ). I’ve drawn extensively from this book for this post, in some ways this is an appetiser for the book, as I highly recommend reading it.

Chester starts his book by pointing out an interesting connection between the three, “The Son of Man has come to” passages:

The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.

Luke 19:10, HCSB

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.

Mark 10:45, HCSB

The Son of Man has come eating and drinking

Luke 7:34a, HCSB

Part of the way Jesus seeked and served was by eating and drinking—that is by either showing hospitality or participating in it as a guest. And we know Jesus did frequently eat and drink, as He was criticised for doing it.

Then they said to Him, “John’s disciples fast often and say prayers, and those of the Pharisees do the same, but Yours eat and drink.”

Luke 5:33, HCSB

“Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”

Luke 7:34b, HCSB

And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!”

Luke 15:2, HCSB

So the first observation I want to make about Jesus’ hospitality is that it shows us that He is down-to-earth. That God values all creation, even common things, like food and drink, indeed hospitality plays an important part in His rescue mission.

Most of the Jews wanted and expected the Son of Man to come with a mighty army to seek and destroy their enemies, not to seek and save them! They were only expecting hospitality for themselves, not sinners and certainly not their enemies.

Jesus’ evangelism and discipleship often involved meals (Chester gives a list from Luke’s Gospel, AMWJ, p14). Jesus:

  • eats with tax collectors and sinners at the home of Levi.
  • is at a meal when He is anointed by the weeping woman.
  • feeds the five thousand in the wilderness.
  • eats at the home of Martha and Mary.
  • is at a meal when He condemns the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
  • is at a meal when He urges people to invite the poor to their meals.
  • invites Himself to dinner with Zacchaeus.
  • eats the Last Supper.
  • has a meal with two disciples in Emmaus after the Resurrection.
  • appears to the disciples in Jerusalem and eats fish with them.

In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.

Robert Karris, Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel, p14

But hospitality is more than just a meal. It is welcoming someone into your home or space, listening and sharing—a sign of friendship. It was one of the reasons the religious elite complained that Jesus was “a friend of tax collectors and sinners”.

It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of the table fellowship for cultures of the Mediterranean basin in the first century … Mealtimes were far more than occasions for individuals to consume nourishment. Being welcomed at a table for the purpose of eating food with another person had become a ceremony richly symbolic of friendship, intimacy and unity … [So much so that] when persons were estranged, a meal invitation opened the way to reconciliation.

Tim Chester’s quote of Scott Bartchy, A Meal with Jesus, p19

It’s also worth remembering that a significant part of the Jewish Law revolved around food, what you could and couldn’t eat.

[In] all cultures meals represent ‘boundary markers’ between different levels of intimacy and acceptance. [An] analysis of the laws in Leviticus about food … [showed that] … they concerned boundary maintenance. … Policing the human body was a way of policing the social body by maintaining a common identity. Jewish food laws not only symbolized cultural boundaries; they also created them. It wasn’t easy for Jews to eat with Gentiles … You couldn’t be sure you were being offered kosher food prepared in a kosher way. … Scholars believe that Jews rarely ate with Gentiles in Jesus’ day.

Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus, p20

So you can see why the Pharisees were so angry at Jesus for breaking their rules and becoming unclean, from their perspective.

It’s not surprising that Jesus’ teaching also often included meals.

  • The parable of the narrow door warns that God may withhold hospitality to those who are apathetic.
  • The parable of the great banquet.
  • The parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin both end with the finder calling their friends and neighbours into their home to celebrate, presumably with a feast.
  • Similarly, the parable of the prodigal (lost) son ends with a feast to celebrate. Significantly, the turning point for the son was when he realised his father’s hospitality, even to the servants, was far better than the pig food that he was coveting.
  • The failure to show hospitality is condemned in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

But there’s more…

In the Old Testament, God revealed that:

In [the New] Jerusalem [when Jesus returns], the Lord Almighty will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world. It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat. There he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.

Isaiah 25:6-8a, NLT/NIV

It’s a wonderful promise and would’ve come to mind when Jesus described His Kingdom as participating in a feast:

People will come from east and west and north and south [i.e. everywhere], and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.

Luke 13:28, NIV

And just as my Father has granted me a Kingdom, I now grant you the right to eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom

Luke 22:29-30a, NLT

Peter Leithart explains the significance of this.

For Jesus ‘feast’ was not just a ‘metaphor’ for the kingdom. As Jesus announced the feast of the kingdom, He also brought it into reality through His own feasting. Unlike many theologians, He did not come [simply] preaching an ideology, promoting ideas, or teaching moral maxims. He came teaching about the feast of the kingdom, and He came feasting in the kingdom.

Tim Chester’s quote of Peter Leithart, A Meal with Jesus, p15

As does Chester:

The meals of Jesus represent something bigger. They represent a new world, a new kingdom, a new outlook. But they give that new reality substance. Jesus’ meals are not just symbols; they’re also applications. They’re not just pictures; they’re the real thing in miniature. Food is stuff. It’s not ideas. It’s not theories. It’s, well, it’s food, and you put it in your mouth, taste it and eat it. And meals are more than food. They’re social occasions. They represent friendship, community and welcome.

Tim Chester, A Meal with Jesus, p15

One of the crucial points I want to convey is that God’s hospitality gives us an insight into His character and shows us what He values. It is both practical and profound. It helps people now and points them to God and His future feast.

God’s hospitality also shows us how amazing and inclusive His grace is. As Isaiah said, this is “a wonderful feast for all the people of the world” and Jesus alludes to this when He says people will come to the feast from everywhere. Furthermore, He taught and demonstrated in His hospitality that our earthly categories didn’t matter—the invitation extended to everyone, even people the Jews elite rejected, like Roman centurions, Samaritan women, tax collectors, the poor, the sick, the blind, the crippled, and the Gentiles—which is most of us!

Finally we will look at how Jesus’ hospitality fulfilled the Old Testament and confirmed Jesus’ identity as God.

Luke 9:7-9: Herod asked if Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead, Elijah, or another ancient prophet returning (e.g. Moses).

Luke 9:18-19: Jesus asks who do people say I am? Again the options are: John the Baptist, Elijah, or another prophet.

The feeding of the 5000, which is placed between the repeated question, sheds light on why the answer given in the next verse is none of the above but actually “God’s Messiah!”—God come down to rescue. The feeding of the 5000 wasn’t just Jesus providing some fast-food to get the disciples out of an awkward situation! No, it’s far more than that!

In verse 11 Jesus welcomed them, and had them sit down, the Greek word there is literally recline, as they would’ve done at a feast. The location is significant too, they were out in the wilderness, just like the Israelites in the OT had been. And again, they complained about the lack of food! Last time God answered Moses with manna from heaven, this time Jesus looked up to heaven and was miraculously answered with an abundant feast—everyone was satisfied and there was plenty leftover. So we see Jesus was a bit like Moses but even better. And Jesus will lead a new exodus, saving people not just from the Egyptians but all earthly and spiritual oppressors—even sin and death itself! (this is reinforced at the Transfiguration, v31, where Jesus discusses His exodus)

That’s very exciting but the feeding of the 5000 would’ve also reminded the people of the feeding of the 100 in the Old Testament. Guess who did that? It was it was Elisha, the prophet who Elijah handed the batten too—he literally gave him his cloak—to show that Elisha was the new Elijah. Elisha told his servant to feed 100 men with 20 loaves. Jesus told the disciples to feed 5000 men (plus their families!) with 5 loaves and 2 fish. God miraculously provided for Elisha’s 100 men, and there were leftovers. God miraculously provided for Jesus’ 5000 men, and surprise-surprise, there were leftovers. So we see Jesus was a bit like a new Elijah but again, Jesus is even better.

Not only would the feeding of the 5000 remind them of Moses and Elijah, it would’ve reminded them about Isaiah’s prophecy of the great feast, which I mentioned earlier. Isaiah goes on to say:

Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink—even if you have no money!

Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it’s all free!

Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?

Why pay for food that does you no good?

Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food.

Isaiah 55:1-2, NLT

And this scene is alluded to again, right at the end of the Bible, where God and Christians are united in extending hospitality to everyone who is thirsty.

The Spirit and the bride [Christians] say, “Come!” Everyone who hears this should say, “Come!” If you are thirsty, come! If you want life-giving water, come and drink it. It’s free!

Rev 22:17, CEV/NLT

Jesus provided for the 5000 without charge but we anticipate an even greater feast, one that will satisfy every physical and spiritual hunger and thirst. The feast in the New Creation is one we are unable to pay for but thankfully Jesus has paid for it so it’s free for everyone!

So to summarise:

What does Jesus’ hospitality tell us about God’s character?

  1. Hospitality is loving and welcoming people, particularly strangers or outsiders, into your home or space and usually involves eating and drinking.
  2. Tim Chester wrote a great book about hospitality called, A Meal with Jesus.
  3. The Son of Man has come eating and drinking to seek and save, to serve and give.
  4. Jesus spent most of time showing, receiving, and teaching hospitality.
  5. His hospitality displayed His:
    1. Friendship and grace
    2. Inclusivity/welcoming of everyone
    3. Invitation to reconciliation
    4. Valuing of creation, even common things, like food and drink
  6. Hospitality practically helped people, pointed people to God’s kingdom and feast, and indeed started God’s kingdom and feast.
  7. Jesus is a bit like Moses and Elijah but His provision of food/salvation is far greater and open to everyone because He has completely paid for it!

Hell—Practical & Ethical Implications Now

Last month I was asked to write an article for an e-zine, Engage.Mail. This online publication is a produced by Ethos, the Evangelical Alliance Centre for Christianity and Society. Here is my introduction:

Evangelical Universalism

In March 2016, one of the world’s largest Evangelical publishers, Zondervan, produced a second edition of Four Views on Hell, which included Eternal Conscious Torment, Terminal Punishment, Purgatory and, for the first time, Universalism. The editor states that all four contributors are committed Evangelicals who affirm biblical inspiration and authority and the existence of Hell, and who base their view primarily on Scripture and theological reasoning, rather than tradition, emotion or sentimentality.

In this article, I explore the practical and ethical implications of the Evangelical Universalist view of hell on our understanding of justice and judgement, imitating God, punishment, God’s character and evangelism. It is beyond the scope here to make a case for this view, and for this I recommend Gregory MacDonald’s The Evangelical Universalist (2012), as well as the Four Views on Hell mentioned above. The latter was recommended by Dr. Paul Williamson as further reading during the annual lecture series on ‘Death and the Life Hereafter’ organised by Moore College, an influential Evangelical college in Sydney, in August. Williamson said that, while he doesn’t agree with the last three views, he believes their proponents are Evangelicals who deserve to be respectfully engaged.

I go on to look at:

  • Judgment and Justice: what do they look like?
  • Imitating God in all our actions?
  • Our perception of hell’s purpose/nature and our view of punishment now
  • Hell and God’s abilities, character and response to evil
  • Inspiring hope and evangelism

The full article is freely available on their website:
Practical and ethical implications of hell. Part I: evangelical universalism

I’m now working on a sermon titled, “Hospitality—Why?”, so I may not get a chance to post anything else this month…

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!