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
… 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.
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!
8 thoughts on “Heaven, the Ultimate Destination?—Williamson at Moore College—part 1”
Although Paul Williamson conceded that no Christian should rejoice in someone’s eternal damnation, I’m curious what viewpoints he had in mind when he said that “all these viewpoints would agree with” him about this. Did he perhaps have in mind a particular subset of Christian viewpoints? For of course Jonathan Edwards wrote an entire treatise entitled: THE END OF THE WICKED CONTEMPLATED BY THE RIGHTEOUS: OR, THE TORMENTS OF THE WICKED IN HELL, NO OCCASION OF GRIEF TO THE SAINTS IN HEAVEN. And in section ii of this treatise he spoke some 14 times of the saints rejoicing in the misery of others before writing the following conclusion:
“When the saints in glory, therefore, shall see how miserable others of their fellow-creatures are, who were naturally in the same circumstances with themselves; when they shall see the smoke of their torment, and the raging of the flames of their burning, and hear their dolorous shrieks and cries, and consider that they [the saints] in the mean time are in the most blissful state and shall surely be in it to all eternity; how will they rejoice!”
Looking forward to Part II
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Thanks for commenting! Yes, that crossed my mind too… perhaps he meant modern Evangelicals (although I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some who still follow Edwards)?? Or perhaps he meant all the contributors to “Four Views on Hell”?
Thanks for the quote. I must admit I haven’t read much of Edwards (I was put off by “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”), although I probably should one day.
Yes, Alex, many Evangelicals still follow (almost even worship) Jonathan Edwards. I in fact studied under one at Fuller Seminary, and John Piper is another example of such a person with an international reputation. My understanding is that Piper denies that George MacDonald is even a Christian because, like all of the Eastern Orthodox, MacDonald rejected the penal substitution theory of the Atonement in its most twisted form.
Personally, I find some of Edwards’ philosophical writings on free will interesting, even profound, but his religious writings–“Sinners in the hands of an Angry God,” for example–strike me as nothing short of demonic in spirit. Clearly, advanced learning is no guarantor of spiritual insight, which explains, perhaps, you can find first-rate Greek, Hebrew, and historical scholars on both sides of so many theological issues, including the nature of the Atonement..
Yes, I watched the video where Piper questioned whether George MacDonald was even a Christian 😦