Evangelical universalism

by Richard on October 23, 2009

That splendid fellow Will Grady has an excellent post under the headline the evangelical universalist. I suspect it’s a theme to which he’ll be returning.

(For what it is worth, Will, my conclusions are similar to yours. What’s more, PamBG approves. So we must be right. ;) )

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }


dh 10.23.09 at 5:42 pm

I disagree and at the same time agree that it is beyond “Who goes to heaven?” It is presented here with a false premise: “Unlike Wright, the conversation revolved around the age-old (but incorrect) question, ‘Who goes to heaven?’ rather than a question of the resurrection of the dead and the new creation.” One should understand that some will be resurrected to life and others to death. “He that has the Son has life. He that has not the Son has not life.” Scripture also talks about the eternal fire that is never quenched.

So for me it isn’t about heaven but is about heaven but more importantly about the resurrection and eternal death and eternal life and the judgement that Scripture so clearly states.

So I guess I believe in Evangelical Universalism that we are eternal. It is just a matter of where our eternity is at. I see no indication of after death opportunity to accept eternal life that is totally outside of Scripture. “It is appointed unto man once to die and after this the judgement.” Other places in Scripture explain that judgement with “Depart from Me I never knew you.”


Mark Byron 10.24.09 at 3:18 am

DH, I was just using that Matthew 7 passage on the Todd Bentley post; I should have checked here first.

It would be nice for God to give folks a mulligan in the afterlife, but I’m hard-pressed to find a Biblical basis for that. Being universalist may sound sweeter and less judgmental to modern ears, but tbis is the inverse of the a href=”http://blogs.suntimes.com/sportsprose/2009/10/chad_ochocinco_planning_ricky.html”>Ricky Bobby fire dance scene; instead of Bobby not being on fire after a crash and him rolling and running and calling upon any available deity, the universalist insists there is no fire at all to worry about.


Tim Chesterton 10.27.09 at 6:00 pm

DH said:

here what you are saying. I will say the only “universalist” position is that it is universal that everyone’s soul is eternal.

I used to think that too, but I’m not so sure any more. After all, in 1 Timothy 6:16 we’re told that God alone has immortality, and in 2 Timothy 1:10 we’re told that our Saviour Jesus Christ was the one who brought life and immortality to light through the gospel - implying that it was not available beforehand.

So I’m coming to the tentative conclusion that the immortality of the soul is actually a Greek Platonic doctrine, not a Christian doctrine. If anyone is given the gift of immortality, I think it’s exactly that - a gift from God through the gospel, not something inherent in us. And the form that gift takes, in the New Testament, is not usually described in terms of the eternal survival of the soul but of the resurrection of the body.

But as I said, this is a tentative view.


dh 10.27.09 at 6:29 pm

Well Tim, it says “absent from the body is present with the Lord” in reference to Believers. Saying the soul is eternal doesn’t mean that all souls are immortal. There is eternal death and eternal life. Also just because a soul experiences eternal death doesn’t mean that the soul doesn’t experience judgement in hell in the literal sense. Just because a soul moves doesn’t mean it is alive. Notice I never once stated the term “immortality” to my quotes.

We could get into a discussion of Sheol encompassing Hades and Paradise prior to the resurrection of Christ and that at the resurrection of Christ those who were in Paradise were sent to heaven after being “loosed from the chains of death”. Hense the corisponding claim in the Nicene Creed as to where was Jesus after His death and before His resurrection. But that is for another day.

“He that has the Son has life. He that has not the Son has not life.” At the resurrection of the dead it will be the equivilent to the resurrection of Jesus where a new trandfigured body will take place. This isn’t Platonic but an understanding of what Scripture says in reference to the last days.

You say “not usually described in terms of the eternal survival of the soul but of the resurrection of the body.” I don’t believe these are mutually-exclusive as you seem to be observing in me and/or projecting from what you are saying but from the opposite perspective.

Therefore nothing I said contradicts what was said in the passages you referenced.


Tony Buglass 10.28.09 at 9:39 am

Tim is quite right - the immortal soul is a Platonic doctrine, and not Christian. The biblical worldview is predominantly Hebrew - the person is understood in terms of the ‘nephesh’ (Gen.2:7 - NIV translates it ‘living being’, which is much better than KJV’s ’soul’), which is the whole psycho-physical entity; there is no understanding of a separate and continuing life-force. OT Hebrews had no belief in survival after death; there was a feeling towards it, as they pondered how a loving relationship with God could surely not be lost at death, but the best they could see was some kind of continuing shadowy existence in the grave - the vocabulary for the place of the dead is unremittingly negative: sheol, abaddon (perdition), bor (the pit), etc. The first positive statements about life after death are in the Book of Daniel, from 168 BC, focussed by the need to understand the righteous death of the martyrs of the Maccabean Revolt (see also the way they are treated in the Books of Maccabees). It is always understood as resurrection of the body, not immortality of the soul.

The reason why we have ’soul’ language is because of the cultural move into Hellenism. Some Hellenistic Jews (especially Philo) tried to explain Judaism in terms of Greek ideas. Christians used the language to hand to explain their thoughts - psyche (soul) was a convenient handle for the ideas they wanted to articulate, but it does not come into the NT with all of its Platonic baggage. The language of the NT may be Greek, but the underlying thoughts are overwhelmingly Semitic.

The problem is exacerbated by the Early Church Fathers. They were Greeks, working in a Greek world, trying to explain the faith to Greeks, so virtually treating the NT as philosophical text. The result ever since is that Christians have utterly confused two quite different frames of reference - resurrection and immortality. They aren’t the same, they don’t even fit together terribly well, they don’t share the same assumptions about human nature and existence or even about God.

So what you’re now doing, DH, is reading back into the NT ideas that aren’t there. “Saying the soul is eternal doesn’t mean that all souls are immortal.” The NT doesn’t say there is an eternal soul. That is what people have read into it. It isn’t there.


dh 10.28.09 at 3:16 pm

Well Tony, when one reads about the pit where there is weeping an gnashing of teeth then one can see that it IS eternal whether it is in heaven or in hell. Also Just because OT Hebrews didn’t believe in it doesn’t mean they were right. Even Jesus talks about the eternal soul with the parable of the Lazarus and the Rich Young ruler. Sheol was explained by Jesus as being more than just a place of non-existence. Also, just because the OT Hewbrews might have had it wrong about the soul doesn’t mean it is problem for they had limited knowledge for God had not revealed anything to them about the soul other than some pieces.

I find it interesting that you say it is Platonic when Jesus was talking to Jews with regard to the afterlife within the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Young Ruler when He was speaking to Jews and clarifying and revealing to them what takes place in the afterlife.

Tony, it seems to me that Jesus explains the eternity of the soul with regard to Sheol, Hades and Paradise/Abraham’s bosom. Remember Jesus was talking to JEWS. Also this parable explains indirectly what happened to Jesus after the resurrection and before the ascension.

Tony, I also need to explain that nothing I said places the places secondary the resurrection of the body. I believe totally 100% in the resurrection of the body and the eternality of the soul. They are not mutually-exclusive.


dh 10.28.09 at 9:11 pm

I don’t see the Maccabean connection 168BC for Daniel? come on



Joel 10.30.09 at 12:00 am

After spending a lot of time with the Book of Revelation and studying a number of books, I came to the conclusion that there is a healthy tension between universalist thought and images of people condemned forever after. I still struggle with this issue; that’s not necessarily a bad thing. What does concern me is that much of the teaching regarding eternal salvation for some and eternal condemnation for others is grounded more in pride and snobbery than in Scripture — thus at the extreme end the book burnings and crazy proclamations. I hear much talk in the U.S. about “God’s plan of salvation” but not nearly as much about God’s promise of transformation and re-creation.


Tony Buglass 10.30.09 at 5:25 pm

“I don’t see the Maccabean connection 168BC for Daniel? come on”

Well, we could run round a few rings together over the language (Aramaic, of a late variety), the historical clangers which suggest it was NOT written at the time of the events in the narrative section, and the allusions in the apocalyptic section (which refer to events leading up to Antiochus Epiphanes’ attacks on Judaism), but I really don’t have time.

Instead, I just want you to explain to me why a book which is presented the work of a 6th C prophet was never in any of the scrolls of the prophets, was always included in the scrolls of the writings, and was not included in the earliest versions of the Septuagint? Answer - because it wasn’t written then, it is a 2nd C text, and it fits that context perfectly. It seems to me that the only people who defend a Babylonian date are evangelical Christians, who do it for reasons of faith rather than reasons of evidence - the page you cite is very good at arranging evidence to fit a previous idea, but doesn’t actually start by asking open questions about the facts.


Tony Buglass 10.30.09 at 5:30 pm

” Even Jesus talks about the eternal soul with the parable of the Lazarus and the Rich Young ruler.”

No, he doesn’t. He talks about the judgement of the PERSON, which is much more than a soul. A soul is a disembodied entity - how could the rich man or Lazarus recognise each other if they were just souls?

The point I am making is not about whether or not there is something after death (I agree - OT Hebrews hadn’t got that far) or whether or not there is a judgment or an eternity - clearly there is. My point is about the radical differences between Greek and Hebrew anthropology - the Hebrew mind did not conceive of life after death in terms of a separate and eternal soul. That was Greek. Hebrews thought of the person as a nephesh - the whole thing, body and soul, is integral.

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