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:
- Heaven, the Ultimate Destination?—part 1
- Heaven, the Ultimate Destination?—part 2
- Heaven, the Ultimate Destination?—part 3
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)
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”:
- “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)
- 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.
- 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).
- 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”.
- 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)
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.
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