Joe Jones on universal salvation

by Kim on August 17, 2011

We might … enquire whether this universal salvation renders our historical lives pointless. If, in spite of what we have done with our lives, God will nevertheless save us, then why worry about any moral seriousness, repentance, striving, and faith? But when it is put this way it makes it sound as though the only compelling and legitimate motive for moral effort is the desire to be rewarded for goodness. I have already suggested the inadequacy of this motive for Christian ethics and existence. Christians strive morally because of what they know about their own and others’ forgiveness in Jesus Christ. They are moved by gratitude and love, not by the selfish hope that it pays in the end to be good. For the Christian, there is great point to her historical life precisely as the experience of sanctifying growth …

Further, I would argue that anyone who says, ‘Why be faithful if God will save all in the end?’ does not in fact properly understand what the Christian means when she says ‘God,’ ‘faithful,’ and ’saved by grace.’ What appears to be meaningful talk is in fact empty of Christian intention, point, and content.

But won’t persons use this view as an excuse for ignoring the Gospel and the call of the Spirit, because it doesn’t pay to believe the Gospel? Why be a Christian if there is no dual destiny between Christian and non-Christian? But surely Christians are not believers in order to have some advantage over non-Christians, and Christians should have no interest in a salvation that logically requires that some others be damned. Such motives and reasoning are the opposites of Christian humility, gratitude for grace, and love.

Even more one might sharply ask whether my position is the epitome of so-called cheap grace. But the point of cheap grace talk is not that grace is really conditional. Rather, the target is that some folk speak of being saved by grace, but saying this makes no concrete difference for how they should live before God. Anyone who confessed salvation by grace alone but who did not actually live a transformed life would be cheapening the grace confession and would be misunderstanding the language of grace. Certainly we are not to think that the opposite of ‘cheap grace’ is ‘earn your own salvation.’

…. Living in the Spirit of Jesus Christ is a concrete and definite saving that makes a difference in one’s life. The images of hell and damnation remind us of the threatening potential of sin, while the teachings of hope in God’s grace persuade us that the domain of hell — however persistently it stalks and demeans our historical existence — is finally and ultimately empty!

It should be pellucid by now that the ultimate salvation that I am espousing is to be sharply distinguished from any so-called universal salvation that liberally and optimistically considers humans ‘good enough’ to achieve their own salvation or to deserve it. The universal salvation I posit is founded on the atoning work of Jesus Christ as the authentic self-revelation and self-communication of God’s reality. The gracious God has done this and is this and will be faithfully gracious in the future.

From “Schematic Reflections on Salvation in Jesus Christ” in Joe R. Jones, On Being the Church in Tumultuous Times (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2005), pp. 117-19.

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Universal « Practicing Resurrection
12.17.11 at 11:23 am

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doug 08.17.11 at 8:33 pm

“domain of hell — however persistently it stalks and demeans our historical existence — is finally and ultimately empty!”

How can he say this when Scripture states otherwise?

“Christians should have no interest in a salvation that logically requires that some others be damned.”

So Christians should not be interested in something that God’s Word says otherwise.


Ric 08.19.11 at 10:10 am

T.S.Eliot summed it up in two lines:
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.
This may be true with regard to to the inner life of the person’s conscience and consciousness, but to my mind the effects upon others in the real world, specifically when they cause suffering and death, far outweigh one person’s inner life. Some of the world’s greatest evils have been perpetrated by ascetics fired with an unshakeable sense of their own moral rectitude. Elijah, Mohammed, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Tse-Tung and Pol Pot all claimed that their massacres were necessary to cleanse the body politic.


Bill 08.19.11 at 12:00 pm

This is excellent. Thanks for posting it. I’m going to borrow it too!


D.S. Martin 08.28.11 at 1:17 pm

I would like to belive in universal salvation, but unfortunately the bible doesn’t teach it. In order to make this theory fit, we have to ignore all the parts of scripture we don’t like, and make up our own religion. I do believe that God is full of grace, and wisdom, and power - so he may work things out in ways I haven’t imagined - but that doesn’t make me free to imagine things contrary to what he has revealed.
It would be better for some to not have been born…
There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth…
Depart from me I never knew you…
This doesn’t sound like universal salvation.



Kim 08.28.11 at 5:36 pm

unfortunately the bible doesn’t teach it.

Oh dear. It’s that simple, is it? Fortunately, there are seminal — some would say “regulative” — biblical texts that do “sound like universal salvation”: e.g. Romans 11:32, I Corithians 15:28, Colossians 1:19-20. In any case, the issue clearly cannot be resolved by proof-texting — there are exegetical, literary, meta-biblical, hermeneutical, and theological questions that need to be asked and explored — and plenty of outstanding theologians from Origen and Gregory of Nyssa to Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar (who presumably knew their Bible) who have been at least “hopeful” universalists. Joe Jones stands in that tradition.

Over the years we have discussed hell /universalism at some length on this blog, long predating the recent theological rucking over Rob Bell’s Love Wins. All I want to insist here is that the matter is not open and shut, and that only a combination of ignorance and discourtesy could lead one to suggest that a theologian like Jones is simply “imagin[ing] things.” As George Hunsinger concludes his masterful summary of the issues in “Hellfire and Damnation: Four Ancient and Modern Views” (1998): “If the mark of good theology is that is knows how to honor the necessary mysteries, then there may be higher and reconfigured mysteries that the Augustiian tradition knows not of.”


D.S. Martin 08.28.11 at 10:03 pm

Who said anything about simple? Romans 11:32 says mercy, not salvation. Christ clearly taught there would be degrees of punishment and reward, therefore mercy for all does not imply universal salvation (or disprove it either). I suspect there are other texts that raise the issue better. Of course there are questions that need to be explored, but don’t we have to base what we believe on what Christ taught? I am certainly not eager for judgement on anyone. I am also more ready than most to work through such hard sayings. Our arguments for and against whatever view cannot be based on how people might respond to it (as Joe Jones’s straw men do in the original post), or how we feel about it, but on what authority we base our ideas. We must interpret scripture by scripture. Not simple. Our God is a God of love and a God of holiness and judgement. Can we honestly ignore the parts we don’t like? Actually, this is a debate I would love to lose. I would rather believe in universal salvation. I would like to be “hopeful” that there is some aspect of what God will do in the end that has not yet been revealed. On this scripture remains silent; so for now we must live in the light we have been given — and embrace the mystery, trusting God to be God, and not feel we need to tell him how he should do things (on one extreme) or limit what he can do (on the other).



Kim 08.29.11 at 9:01 am

Nice response, D.S. Sorry if I misinterpreted or misrepresented you. Given the few “Bible-believing” folk at Connexions who seem to know the census and climate of hell with such a smug assurance that an empty inferno would actually disappoint them, I’ve developed an itchy polemical trigger-finger on the subject.

BTW, do you know Scott Cairns’ “Adventures in New Testament Greek: Apocatastasis“? And Franz Wright’s “Hell”? –

But if they were condemned to suffer
this uneding torment, sooner or later
wouldn’t they beome holy?



Scott Cairns 09.02.11 at 2:30 am

Love calls us, every one; Love beckons. Love will not forsake us, but will bid us turn, will forever bid us turn, will forever offer His welcoming embrace.

He is the One Who Does Not Change, and will forever welcome those who flee, those who, exhausted and emptied by their flight from Him, finally turn to Him in love, accept and receive His purifying flame, which is also Love.

Doxa to Theo!


Kim 09.02.11 at 7:33 am

Speak of the, er, …

Thanks for dropping by, Scott.


Beth 09.02.11 at 8:20 am

Scott, that’s really quite beautiful - thank you.


Scott Cairns 09.03.11 at 2:00 pm

Thank YOU! These matters are of absolute importance, and a recovery of this beauty is essential to our apprehending His love now. Here is how my belovéd Saint Isaak of Syria expresses the mystery: “In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be encompassed by the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised.”


D.S. Martin 09.06.11 at 1:38 am

Hey Scott:

Good to read your insights on these matters of “absolute importance”.

God bless, Don

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