Friday, January 18, 2008


CCfB's in the middle of a sermon series on universalism. As Joe explains it, he got caught slipping a subversive little paragraph into one of his Advent sermons and the result, a three week sermon series to explain himself. We're also taking a break from our Luke study on Thursday nights for follow-up discussion on the topic.

Last night, discussion was rich and intelligent and the best kind of theology--collaborative, sincere, and systematic. We started with this question of soteriology, and from there, noted connections to theology/Christology, atonement, hermeneutics, pluralism.

After some open discussion where we all tossed out what we'd been thinking on since Sunday's sermon, Joe pointed us toward this post from Experimental Theology.

I often try to keep my mouth shut in these discussion because the things I notice, as a trained theologian, are idiosyncratic and therefore distracting and generally unhelpful in moving the discussion in a generative direction. So here's the grab-bag of thoughts I didn't express in our discussion, because more important stuff was being said.

Talbott's "logical problem of soteriology" (my label), as Beck summarizes it, is exactly parallel to the basic logical problem of evil; it's simply the soteriological-specific form of it. Thus:
1. God's redemptive love extends to all human sinners equally in the sense that he sincerely wills or desires the redemption of each one of them=God is good.
2. Because no one can finally defeat God's redemptive love or resist it forever, God will triumph in the end and successfully accomplish the redemption of everyone whose redemption he sincerely wills or desires=God is all-powerful.
3. Some human sinners will never be redeemed but will instead be separated from God forever=evil exists.

Talbott's analysis (again, acc. to Beck) claims that any two of the three can be logically consistent but not all three together; again, classic form of the logical problem of evil dilemma. Talbott's universalist resolution rejects (3); he is denying that (this specific soteriological) evil exists. What this says regarding Talbott's theological tendencies regarding the problem of evil, I've no idea. Probably nothing. But I find the parallel intriguing. But I'm theologically uneasy with denying that evil exists as a solution to the problem of evil--does this mean I should also feel uneasy with Talbott's universalism?

Other random thoughts: regardless of whether one is Arminian or Calvinist, exclusivist views of salvation produce uneasiness and fear because of inevitable human epistemological uncertainty. We desire certainty; but we are perpetually uncertain if we have really completely chosen God (Arminian), or if God has chosen us (Calvinist). So we fear...because we can't be sure that we're not one of those unfortunate damned.

Evangelistic fervor. We think this is the result of an exclusivist's enthusiasm to reduce the number of lost souls in the world. But in thinking of my own experience in the church and on the "mission field," I think it's the other way around. I love this quote from RAH: "Never seek to persuade for the pleasure of having another share your views" (Moon is a Harsh Mistress). I think that describes exactly what most evangelistic fervor is about: seeking to persuade for the joy of having someone else agree with us. And our doctrine follows our inward motivation--we give ourselves a doctrinal reason for doing what we want to do, go out and make people like ourselves. Because we like people who are like us. We want to make more of them. It certainly explains why house churches in China were little homemade replicas of CofCs in middle TN.


Richard Beck said...

Hi Jennifer,
I don't move in theological circles so I was wondering if you could help me get a sense of the state of universalism in your circles. My sense is that the position is growing more common but that might just be the impression I get from reading too many Princeton and Barthian blogs.

Here at ACU I keep predicting that universalism will
grow in prominence, but I wonder what your more educated take is.

JTB said...

Mostly these days I move in toddler circles, and I'm pretty sure that toddlers are universalists, not having learned to be too cynical or schadenfreudish quite yet.

Actually, I don't really know. I'm not surprised that Princeton/Barthian blogs tend that way, Barth having a bit of a coy tendency toward universalism himself as I understand it. But I wouldn't doubt there are a fair number of evangelical theologians still writing apologetics for doctrines of hell...I mean, if you use Satan as your functional theodicy (heh heh) then he's got to hang out somewhere, right?