Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I'm ditching this blog for a new one over at WordPress. After five years of blogging here at VideoAudioDisco I am giving up the ghost and starting fresh. Why? I just felt like a change (not to mention some frustrating blips with the blogger interface). Everything in life is provisional and this little blog has been a wonderful home for the past 5 years. The 311 posts convey my journey from Buffalo to Philadelphia to Toronto, as well as four years of seminary, two presidential elections, and lots of heretical theology. But it's time to move on. And what better time of year to begin a new blog than the beginning of the Christian year.  The advent of the Coming One is upon us. May we attend the End.

New blog is here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Damned Nonsense! Series Conclusion: What's at Stake?

This post is part of the Damned Nonsense! series, a collection of posts exploring the Christian doctrine of salvation. It is named after a dissertation by Ravi Holy entitled "Damned Nonsense: An Argument for Universalism Consisting of a Critique of All the Alternatives to It." While some of the series' content is adapted from Holy's worknot all opinions expressed in this series are Holy's. Please check out all the posts in this series!

You know that last 40 minutes on a long flight that seems to take forever and drains every last ounce of your energy? That's how I feel about this last post. We have covered a lot of material in this little series and the mental gymnastics have left me quite fatigued. It hasn't been a perfect flight, there's been some turbulence here and there (and no snacks!), but it's been a good and worthwhile journey. I hope that you have found the trip worthy of your time and maybe you will want to visit again in the future. Nevertheless, it is important to bring this series in for a landing. And like many say, landing is the most important part. So in today's post I would like to focus on what is perhaps the most important part of this entire discussion.

What is at stake in the debate about Universalism is the doctrine of God itself. Underlying every doctrine of salvation is an implicit doctrine of God: who God is, how God relates to the world, what are God's purposes for the world, and what are God's promises to the world. When we discuss salvation, atonement, hell, and so forth, we are discussing the very nature of God. In other words, the universal salvation debate is not simply about the salvation of humankind, it is about the One Who Saves.

In this light, the traditional view of salvation implies not only a God who saves, but also a God who damns, rejects, or quits. It is for this reason that more and more people are not only abandoning hell, but God altogether. For millions of people there is a disconnect between God's love and hell. On this note, I particularly love Bob Dylan's lyric in the song "Pay in Blood":

I've been through Hell, What good did it do? 
You bastard! I'm supposed to respect you! 
I'll give you justice, I'll fatten your purse 
Show me your moral that you reversed

Jan Bonda captures this popular sentiment when he says, "The theologian who succeeds in convincing believers that the doctrine of eternal punishment does not lead to a terrifying image of God has yet to arise. ... For how many has this doctrine - that God wants the doom of the many, and that those who believe must simply accept this fact - been the main reason why they could stand it no longer in the church and why they lost their faith?" (Bonda, 27-28) Indeed, this is the sad truth of millions who have given up on the Christian faith.

Those who espouse the traditional view must say something similar to what Clark Pinnock has said: "There comes a point when God, who has done everything to bring sinners back to fellowship, gives up trying," (from his [misnomered] book, Unbounded Love). Hell implicates God, plain and simple. As soon as we say "hell" we are talking about the very nature of God. Thereforethe only way to change our thinking about hell is to change our thinking about God. This series has been an attempt to challenge what we think about God's nature, purposes, and promises. I have attempted to put forth a view of the God revealed in Jesus Christ that makes room for the *possibility* that all shall be saved. By providing some of the historical, philosophical, and biblical support for this view, I have argued that universal salvation deserves a seat at the table of Christian orthodoxy. Universalism is, at least, as flawed as the traditional views of Calvinism and Arminianism. 

In the final analysis, however, it all comes down to the doctrine of God. The question, What can we actually know about God? lies at the heart of this and all theology. In this series I have argued that we can know the following about the God revealed in Jesus Christ:

  • God is sovereign creator, sustainer, and redeemer of creation.
  • God's love and grace are unconditional.
  • God desires the salvation of all.
  • Jesus is God incarnate.
  • Jesus died for all.
  • Jesus defeated death and sin.
  • Jesus is the Lord of the cosmos.
This much, I believe, we can know in the confidence of faith, hope, and love. And this much we can proclaim as good news for a world that is wounded and suffering! From here it is up to the individual to explore further the implications of such claims about God's nature, purposes, and promises. But I would not recommend exploration without due caution, for it is a dangerous thing to fall into the hands of the living God. One may find her entire theology turned upside down or his faith foundation violently shaken.


In the first century C.E. the nation of Israel yearned for their covenant God to bring salvation. Many Jews awaited the coming of a messianic figure, much like Moses, to deliver them. Some expected a warrior-king, a son of David who would bring a mighty military victory for Israel. Others anticipated a royal priest who would rebuild and reestablish the Jewish Temple as holy and undefiled. And still others anticipated a heavenly messiah who would bring judgment upon the wicked and vindicate the righteous. 

What no one expected was a prophet who would invite sinners and pagans into the community of God. 

What no one expected was a suffering messiah who would die at the hands of Israel's enemy.

What no one expected was a crucified Christ who would cry, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

What no one expected was that the crucified Christ would be raised from the dead in order to proclaim this messiah's Lordship and this salvation of God for the world.

... What do you expect?


This is not a conclusion. This is not the end. It is a layover. A time to rest before your next flight. Grab a beer or a coffee and relax. Find one of those charging stations and get your iLife all charged up for the next flight. This is just the beginning. Further reflection and journeying await. My hope is that this series has provided nourishment for the journey that lies ahead. May God lead you through the wilderness and protect you in the storm. May God bring you home rejoicing at the wonders God has shown you.

Love wins.
- jmw

Recommended flight destinations...




Rethinking Hell

Christian Universalist

Hellbound the Movie


The One Purpose of God - Jan Bonda

The Inescapable Love of God - Thomas Talbott

Universal Salvation: The Current Debate

The Last Word & the Word After That - Brian McLaren

Love Wins - Rob Bell

Hell: A Hard Look at a Hard Question - David Powys

Friday, November 9, 2012

Damned Nonsense! Post #13: Hans Urs von Balthasar...

“Just as God so loved the world that he completely handed over his Son for its sake, so too the one whom God has loved will want to save himself only in conjunction with those who have been created with him, and he will not reject the share of penitential suffering that has been given him for the sake of the whole. He will do so in Christian hope, the hope for the salvation of all men, which is permitted to Christians alone. Thus, the Church is strictly enjoined to pray “for all men” (and as a result of which to see her prayer in this respect as meaningful and effective); and it is “good and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved…, for there is one God and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself over as a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:1-6), who, raised up on the Cross “will draw all men to himself” (Jn 12:32), because he has received there a “power over all flesh” (Jn 17:2), in order to be “a Savior of all men” (1 Tim 4:10), “in order to take away the sins of all” (Heb 9:28); “for the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men” (Tit 2:11), which is why the Church “looks to the advantage of all men, in order that they may be saved” (1 Cor 10:33). This is why Paul (Rom 5:15-21) can say that the balance between sin and grace, fear and hope, damnation and redemption, and Adam and Christ has been tilted in favor of grace, and indeed so much that (in relation to redemption) the mountain of sin stands before an inconceivable superabundance of redemption: not only have all been doomed to (the first and the second) death in Adam, while all have been freed from death in Christ, but the sins of all, which assault the innocent one and culminate in God’s murder, have brought an inexhaustible wealth of absolution down upon all. Thus: “God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all” (Rom 11:32).”

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone Is Credible (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 97-98.


- jmw

NEXT WEEK: Series Conclusion - What's At Stake?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Damned Nonsense! Post #12: William Barclay, 'Convinced' Universalist

Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at Glasgow University and the author of many Biblical commentaries and books, including a translation of the New Testament, "Barclay New Testament," and "The Daily Study Bible Series."

I am a convinced universalist. I believe that in the end all men will be gathered into the love of God. In the early days Origen was the great name connected with universalism. I would believe with Origen that universalism is no easy thing. Origen believed that after death there were many who would need prolonged instruction, the sternest discipline, even the severest punishment before they were fit for the presence of God. Origen did not eliminate hell; he believed that some people would have to go to heaven via hell. He believed that even at the end of the day there would be some on whom the scars remained. He did not believe in eternal punishment, but he did see the possibility of eternal penalty. And so the choice is whether we accept God's offer and invitation willingly, or take the long and terrible way round through ages of purification.
Gregory of Nyssa offered three reasons why he believed in universalism. First, he believed in it because of the character of God. "Being good, God entertains pity for fallen man; being wise, he is not ignorant of the means for his recovery." Second, he believed in it because of the nature of evil. Evil must in the end be moved out of existence, "so that the absolutely non-existent should cease to be at all." Evil is essentially negative and doomed to non-existence. Third, he believed in it because of the purpose of punishment. The purpose of punishment is always remedial. Its aim is "to get the good separated from the evil and to attract it into the communion of blessedness." Punishment will hurt, but it is like the fire which separates the alloy from the gold; it is like the surgery which removes the diseased thing; it is like the cautery which burns out that which cannot be removed any other way.
But I want to set down not the arguments of others but the thoughts which have persuaded me personally of universal salvation.
First, there is the fact that there are things in the New Testament which more than justify this belief. Jesus said: "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (John 12:32). Paul writes to the Romans: "God has consigned all men to disobedience that he may have mercy on all" (Rom. 11:32). He writes to the Corinthians: "As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22); and he looks to the final total triumph when God will be everything to everyone (1 Cor. 15:28). In the First Letter to Timothy we read of God "who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth," and of Christ Jesus "who gave himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tim 2:4-6). The New Testament itself is not in the least afraid of the word all.
Second, one of the key passages is Matthew 25:46 where it is said that the rejected go away to eternal punishment, and the righteous to eternal life. The Greek word for punishment is kolasis, which was not originally an ethical word at all. It originally meant the pruning of trees to make them grow better. I think it is true to say that in all Greek secular literature kolasis is never used of anything but remedial punishment. The word for eternal is aionios. It means more than everlasting, for Plato - who may have invented the word - plainly says that a thing may be everlasting and still not be aionios. The simplest way to out it is that aionios cannot be used properly of anyone but God; it is the word uniquely, as Plato saw it, of God. Eternal punishment is then literally that kind of remedial punishment which it befits God to give and which only God can give.
Third, I believe that it is impossible to set limits to the grace of God. I believe that not only in this world, but in any other world there may be, the grace of God is still effective, still operative, still at work. I do not believe that the operation of the grace of God is limited to this world. I believe that the grace of God is as wide as the universe.
Fourth, I believe implicitly in the ultimate and complete triumph of God, the time when all things will be subject to him, and when God will be everything to everyone (1 Cor. 15:24-28). For me this has certain consequences. If one man remains outside the love of God at the end of time, it means that that one man has defeated the love of God - and that is impossible. Further, there is only one way in which we can think of the triumph of God. If God was no more than a King or Judge, then it would be possible to speak of his triumph, if his enemies were agonizing in hell or were totally and completely obliterated and wiped out. But God is not only King and Judge, God is Father - he is indeed Father more than anything else. No father could be happy while there were members of his family for ever in agony. No father would count it a triumph to obliterate the disobedient members of his family. The only triumph a father can know is to have all his family back home. The only victory love can enjoy is the day when its offer of love is answered by the return of love. The only possible final triumph is a universe loved by and in love with God.
[Quoted from William Barclay: A Spiritual Autobiography, pg 65-67, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1977.]

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Damned Nonsense! Post #11: What about Missions?

This post is part of the Damned Nonsense! series, a collection of posts exploring the Christian doctrine of salvation. It is named after a dissertation by Ravi Holy entitled "Damned Nonsense: An Argument for Universalism Consisting of a Critique of All the Alternatives to It." While some of the series' content is adapted from Holy's worknot all opinions expressed in this series are Holy's. Please check out all the posts in this series!

In this series we've been exploring lots of different arguments for and against Universalism. Here is one against it: 
"It trivializes the radical sinfulness of fallen humanity, and plays down the penalties due for such sin; it compromises morality by denying that good or evil choices make any ultimate difference, and undermines the missionary mandate of Christ by implying that evangelism and conversion are incidental to salvation.” (David Hilborn and Don Horrocks, “Universalism and Evangelical Theology: An Historical Theological Perspective,” from Evangelical Review of Theology, no. 30 July, 2006, 216. )
While we've already touched on the trivialization of consequences and playing down of sin, we have yet to explore the last point made by the critics. Does Universalism undermine missions? Many critics claim that Universalism and missions together yield an oxymoron. If everyone will be saved, why evangelize? In today's post I'd like to debunk this silly criticism and explain that Universalism not only promotes missions but requires it.

The claim that Universalism undermines missions is based upon a specific caricature of Universalism. Did you pick up on this caricature in the above quotation? Did you notice the view of salvation implicit in the criticism? 
The authors argue that Universalism implies that "evangelism and conversion are incidental to salvation"! What, then, exactly is salvation, some kind of switch that God flips in the End to make everything hunky-dory? This caricature (or straw man) portrays Universalism as only concerned with what happens in the End. The universalist is really only concerned about what happens after death or later down the road; and, therefore, lives a liberal, non-evangelical life because s/he thinks that everybody's gonna make it anyway. 

What I find interesting is that this caricature of Universalism is itself rooted in a popular Evangelical view of salvation that significantly distorts the biblical meaning of salvation. Over the past 300 years the evangelical movements of Dispensationalism and Fundamentalism (and probably 18th century Pietism) have come to dominate the popular understanding of salvation as individual postmortem destination (i.e. heaven or hell). This view has led to ineffective and unbiblical evangelism (I have written on this elsewhere). As you can see, this is implied in the criticism above.

The problem with this criticism is that it forgets the full meaning of salvation in the Bible. Salvation, according to Scripture, is not going to a destination when you die, it is the manifestation of God's rule on earth as it is in heaven. Salvation is not about going to heaven, it is about heaven coming to earth. Salvation is not only about what happens later, it is about what's happening now as well. All of these sentiments are best captured in Jesus' central proclamation: the kingdom of God is at hand.

The kingdom of God was the heart of Jesus' message (Mk 1:14; Matt. 4:23; Luke 4:43) and it meant nothing less than the salvation of the cosmos by God. Simply put, the phrase kingdom of God means the manifestation of God's sovereign rule; but it has a long history in the story of Israel, going all the way back to Abraham. The covenant that God made with Abraham was for Israel to be a blessed people and thereby bless the whole world (Gen.12). To Abraham God promised a community of people that would outnumber the stars (Gen.15). Thus, the salvation of God's people was always intertwined with their missional calling to bless all the families of the earth. The salvation of God is the fulfillment of the Missio Dei (the mission of God). Salvation and missions go hand-in-hand.

By proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand, Jesus invoked the ultimate hope of Israel that was rooted in the Abrahamic covenant. Salvation was nothing less than the fruition of the Abrahamic covenant on earth, here and now (i.e. the kingdom of God). The resurrection of Christ confirmed the inauguration of this reality and the Church continues it's mission to invite the world to salvation in Christ in the kingdom of God.

Paul explains salvation in this very way in Galatians: "He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit." (3:14) N.T. Wright reminds us that "the covenant between God and Israel was always designed to be God's means of saving the whole world." Therefore, salvation is inherently missional. 

This understanding of salvation changes everything. Instead of inviting people to "accept Jesus into their heart" or assent to a mere belief system, salvation is participating in the kingdom of God. Salvation is a way of life here and now. That the universalist believes all shall be saved in the End does not change the fact that salvation is available here and now! Salvation requires participation in the kingdom of God, which is, until the last Day, also the Missio Dei. Salvation "calls forth" what  Douglas Harink calls a "corresponding right-making (justice) among the peoples of the earth." Therefore, Universal salvation requires the active participation in the salvific mission of God by living into the kingdom of God here and now - and inviting others to do so as well.

Though he is not a universalist, I was struck by Tony Campolo's words in his new book Red Letter Revolution. He captures the necessity of missions in light of salvation:

"... if there wasn't any heaven, and if there wasn't any hell, I would still be, as I am today, committed to evangelizing. Most days, I am out on the road preaching to people and asking them to come forward and accept Christ as their personal savior. I do that not only because it guarantees them a ticket to heaven but also for two other reasons. Number one is that we, who have allied ourselves with Christ and the work of his kingdom, want to recruit others to join us in the task of changing the world into what God wants it to be. Evangelism, as I view it, is recruiting agents for God's work in this world. Second, I believe that by calling people to Christs and asking them to participate in his work in the world, I am offering them a calling that will give them ultimate meaning in their lives. ... The question, What is the meaning of my life? is of ultimate importance. My answer is, "You are here in this world because God wants you to partner with him in bringing love and justice into the world." (50-51)
I don't want to sound like a broken record, so I will quit here. The major point is that salvation cannot be understood as only the postmortem destination of an individual. Salvation is the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of God is at hand! This means that salvation requires the mission of living the kingdom of God and inviting others into the covenant people of God now.

- jmw

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Damned Nonsense! Post #10: The Orthodox View

This post is part of the Damned Nonsense! series, a collection of posts exploring the Christian doctrine of salvation. It is named after a dissertation by Ravi Holy entitled "Damned Nonsense: An Argument for Universalism Consisting of a Critique of All the Alternatives to It." While some of the series' content is adapted from Holy's worknot all opinions expressed in this series are Holy's. Please check out all the posts in this series!

Let's take a break from all this heavy reading and watch a video. In today's post Orthodox Christian priest, Steve Robinson, explains the difference between the popular Protestant view of salvation and the Orthodox view. Enjoy.

"And now, there is no place where God is not.
There is no place to escape the love of God.
There is no place that we can hide from God's love for us
that flows from His heart like a river of fire." 

"Steve Robinson is an Orthodox Christian living in Phoenix Arizona and owns his own construction company. Prior to becoming Orthodox, he was an evangelical pastor and church leader. More recently, he established one of the most popular Orthodox podcasts on the planet – Our Life in Christ– which he hosts with his friend Bill Gould."

- jmw

Tomorrow's Post: Universalism & Missions