Christian Universalism in the Bible

"If one should ask what we are worshipping and adoring, the answer is ready: we are honouring love." – St Gregory of Nazianzus

Welcome!

I’ve been wanting to do a methodical study of Universal Reconciliation for some time now. By methodical I mean starting at Matthew and working my way through the New Testament. Not that the Old Testament is unimportant, but there are relatively few references to the afterlife in it, making it not so much of a problem for a burgeoning Universalist such as myself.

Before we begin, however, a quick note on the phrase Christian Universalist.
Being a Christian Universalist does not mean that I believe all roads lead to Rome – at least not in the Unitarian Universalist sense of all gods being pretty much as good as each other.
It does mean that I believe in Universal Reconciliation (UR) – the idea that all will be reconciled (to God, one another, and all creation) by Jesus Christ.

Of course it should be pointed out that, though all salvation is through Jesus, we need not conclude that he cannot save those who have not explicitly accepted him in this life.
— C. S. Lewis* (1898-1963) “Christian Apologetics,” God in the Dock

But why, you might ask, does it matter? Surely if I am a Christian I will preach the Gospel anyway, whether I think people will end up in eternal conscious torment or not?

Sort of.

Yes, if I am a Christian I will preach the Good News regardless (although some might wonder what Gospel I will preach, if not that Christ died to save us from hell, and non-repentance now will lead to burning forever)
But on the other hand, I will have trouble believing that the News is all that Good when it appears to condemn the majority of the human race to suffering forever. And I will have trouble trusting the goodness and the love  – the character, if you will – of the Source of that news. (This isn’t hypothetical, it’s where I am now, in May 2012!)

That makes me a hypocrite. I can’t preach something I’m having trouble swallowing myself. But at the same time, I do believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that his Way is the best if not the only Way. Hence, this study.

*Of course C.S. Lewis was not a believer in UR himself, although another great author, from whom Lewis drew inspiration, was: George MacDonald.

What I’ve been doing

I haven’t been getting around to that methodical study (although I do have some posts written but as yet unpublished). But I have been doing a fair bit of reading what other people have to say about the matter – on facebook groups, on other blogs such as Richard Beck’s wonderful Experimental Theology, and in actual books. I’m currently about halfway through both The Evangelical Universalist and Hope beyond Hell. The first is written in more theological terms, making the second rather easier for a layman like myself, but both are very interesting and thought-provoking.

I’m also looking forward to seeing Hellbound? at some point – living in Europe makes it slightly harder to come by.

And that’s what I’ve been up to. I do hope to start posting more again soon.

Tennyson, In Memoriam LXIV

Oh yet we trust that somehow good

Will be the final goal of ill,

To pangs of nature, sins of will,

Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;

That nothing walks with aimless feet;

That not one life shall be destroy’d,

Or cast as rubbish to the void,

When God hath made the pile complete;

That not a worm is cloven in vain;

That not a moth with vain desire

Is shrivell’d in a fruitless fire,

Or but subserves another’s gain.

Behold, we know not anything;

I can but trust that good shall fall

At last–far off–at last, to all,

And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream: but what am I?

An infant crying in the night:

An infant crying for the light:

And with no language but a cry

Gregory of Nyssa

It’s not strictly related to (potential) Universal Reconciliation in the Bible, but I do like these two quotes from the 4th century saint:

The annihilation of evil, the restitution of all things, and the final restoration of evil men and evil spirits to the blessedness of union with God, so that He may be ‘all in all,’ embracing all things endowed with sense and reason.

Gregory of Nyssa, Sermo Catecheticus Magnus

…when death approaches to life, and darkness to light, and the corruptible to the incorruptible, the inferior is done away with and reduced to non-existence, and the thing purged is benefited, just as the dross is purged from gold by fire. In the same way in the long circuits of time, when the evil of nature which is now mingled and implanted in them has been taken away, whensoever the restoration to their old condition of the things that now lie in wickedness takes place, there will be a unanimous thanksgiving from the whole creation, both of those who have been punished in the purification and of those who have not at all needed purification.

(Not sure where the second one comes from, possibly the Sermo Catecheticus too?)

 

Matthew 1:20-21

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save people from their sins.”

I only include this in passing, because it is the only instance of an explanation for Jesus’ name. The angel does not say that he will save people from hell, or from death (of the first or second kind), but only from their sins.

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