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.

8 thoughts on “Heaven, the Ultimate Destination?—Williamson at Moore College—part 2”

  1. You hit the proverbial nail on the head, Alex, when you wrote: “There are many passages [in the Bible] that describe our rebellion, including Paul’s lists of impenitent sinners. While rebels are rebelling, they can’t come into God’s Kingdom. It’s only when [according to Paul] they cease to be rebels, that is, turn to Jesus with the Spirit’s help” that they become part of God’s kingdom.

    It is truly amazing to me how many theologians repeatedly embrace the following inference, which is so obviously fallacious: if no unrepentant sinner will ever enter the Kingdom of God, then some people will never repent and thereby enter the Kingdom of God.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I spent days writing and rewriting those couple of paragraphs trying to articulate the thought. Basically God’s infinite ability means everyone’s current state won’t be their final one. That most people’s current state looks like a “pigpen” (or the “faraway country” which precedes it), further encourages me to think people will turn around.


    2. if no unrepentant sinner will ever enter the Kingdom of God,


      some people will never repent and thereby enter the Kingdom of God.

      Exactly right Mate —- this is so obviously fallacious !


  2. Alex,
    Thank you for these excellent notes.

    Tom and Alex,
    Yes, this is so important — that it’s a process, mid-way, that’s being talked about, and not a final result being declared. And I think the very grammar of NT Greek points in this direction too. But I would like to have your (pl.) opinion on this !

    Every NT Greek grammar tells us that the Gk present tense is closest to our present continuous (eg I am walking) and thus describes an on-going process. But traditionally our English Bibles have translated Gk present tense with the so called present simple (I walk) which is a timeless, tenseless kind of verb. Three quick examples:

    Rev 21:5 — The KJV has “Behold I make all things new” which makes it seem like a kind of timeless declaration (Imagine someone saying to you “Look, I bake a cake.”). But the verb in the text is present tense and thankfully the newer translations are beginning to correct this: “Behold, I am making all things new.” In other words, even after the great white throne judgment at the end of the previous chapter, God is still in the process of making all things new!

    1 Cor 1:18 is a great example of the on-going nature of the process, especially in the newer translations: “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” This is no declaration of a final “two destinies”. I think the best way to interpret it is to say — perishing is our default setting in this world, but when we trust in Christ we are then in the process of being saved.

    Lastly, John 3:36, which is often quoted in support of two final destinies. But I don’t think even the newest translations are yet reflecting the present tenses. Here is my translation: “whoever is believing in the Son is (now) having eternal life; whoever is not obeying the Son shall not see life (as long as he does so) but the wrath of God is remaining on him (as long as he does so).

    I would appreciate any corrections, or cautions, or any comments at all ! Thank you !!

    Liked by 1 person

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