Calling All Arm-Chair Theologians

Sorry about my absence.  While I was sick in bed for a week, I was wondering about this and thought that perhaps some of you would have answers, thoughts, or ideas.


  • The incarnation of Jesus as part of God’s original plan.
  • The crucifixion of Jesus as part of God’s rescue mission.

Thoughts and Questions:

  • Had the fall not occurred, what would adoption into God’s family and becoming the Bride of Christ look like?
  • Choice would be necessary either way.
  • Maybe failure on the part of mankind was inevitable.
  • Would this mean that redemption was also part of God’s original plan?
  • Given foreknowledge, omniscience, etc. perhaps it doesn’t work to talk about God in terms of plan A and plan B.

I’m sure you all stay awake at night thinking about these things. :)

What do you think?

57 thoughts on “Calling All Arm-Chair Theologians

  1. My thoughts on this whole area usually run something like this: Foreknowledge, omniscience, and cosmic planning are outside the scope of human experience, therefore we can’t possibly have any words/language skills to describe this experience, therefore even a discussion of the topic is futile, let alone understanding it. The Bible is no help because the writers had the same language issues that we had. In other words, I think I’m too stupid to understand but I won’t assume the same about everyone else—-though I do have my suspicions.

  2. As one Arminian to another all I can say is don’t speak too loudly or the Calvinist will hunt us down and burn us as heretics. Because they are predestined to. :o)

  3. The one thing that sets the new heaven and earth apart from God’s original creation is our awareness and appreciation of grace and how deep His love for us truly is. It adds an entirely new dimension and new depth to our worship, a worship that is all focussed on “the Lamb that was slain”!

    And since He was slain “before the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8), I would assume that God sees the end from the very beginning. Whether it’s due to His timeless nature or due to what we would describe as “foreknowledge” is not really that important to know (I think).

  4. Nothing more to add, but I want to reassure you that this question does keep some of awake at night. Funnily enough, it sends my wife straight to sleep.

  5. For my own part, process theology has been something that I have been chewing on of late that seems to answer a lot of these “issues.” Basically, it is a mix of philosophy, too, so it posits that the future is not knowable at all, since it does not exist. In other words, God knows everything that is possible to know, but the future is one thing that is not possible to know. Now, because of God’s omniscience in this scheme, God knows better than anyone the probable outcomes, but scripture reveals there is even room for “surprise,” as it were (. This takes seriously both freedom of choice and God’s love. It also takes seriously that God has always been calling people to join with God in God’s mission from the very beginning- moving creation forward. This is seen also on Mt. Sinai, where God calls the Israelites to be a kingdom of priests and to bless the world. They eventually choose to step out of that calling (as seen in the prophets and in Kings, et al). But God’s mission continues, and God still calls people to step into that reality. Jesus reveals even more of this “plan” with his life and death and resurrection.
    It also leaves room for things that God has declared will come to pass- not because the future is settled, but because of who God is, God’s character.

  6. Yes! Adoption (incorporation) was always the plan. Reconciliation is secondary by product of the Incarnation (whole process).”Death”for all by one representatives believing the lie about God the Father’s love; “life” for all by the Second Adam’s choosing to live in a non-adam way in adamic world – Paul’s pretty clear about that. Then the imperatives about how to live are not means to grace (performance) but lover’s response to love.

    Choice? Yes. We are blinded by the lie that “we are not enough” and live like the prodigal son and leave to become enough or like the elder brother and work hard enough to become enough when we always were. We chose the lie and create our own hell or the truth and rest in conbfidence.

    Omni-GOD is philosophic abstraction. The Trinity’s core quality is loving relationship.Personally I see Open Theism as a better option than Process. Try reading Kruger’s The Great Dance as an entry into Trinitarian Theology rooted in the early fathers. Blessings.

  7. david,
    I might be too stupid to understand, but I’m foolish enough to wonder. :)

    LOL, I don’t believe either team would have me.

    I forgot about that verse. Interesting addition to the timeline. Hmm.

    Nothing wrong with falling asleep to the sound of your spouse’s voice.

    Ah yes, I’m familiar with the “spin cycle.”

    Are you saying that God doesn’t know actual outcomes? Considering His existence outside of time, I would think that while He doesn’t control outcomes, He does know them. Either way, yes God’s mission continues.

    Do you think the need for reconciliation was inevitable, possibly making it part of the original plan, not a secondary plan?

  8. This question assumes a literal translation of Genesis.

    I believe that Genesis is more about describing our condition rather than our origins. I am an evolutionary creationist, and as one I believe that our evolution -guided by the creator- brought us out of a “sex, food, survival; sex, food, survival; sex, food, survival” to a “why am I here, what is my purpose”. That is the origins of our image of God.

    Our desire to judge, to be the keepers of right and wrong, is the sin of the garden and is what breaks relationships. Relationships between man and man and between man and his creator.

    It is into this that the creator made himself known to man; Abraham, the nation of Israel and finally his greatest incarnation, the life of Jesus.

    Any way, this is my 2 cents.

  9. Hey guys this is getting into head gymnastics which is part of the ‘good and evil’ stuff that mankind has sunk into and upon which doctrinal religion thrives.I have been listening to some quantum physics angles on the nature of spirit and the universe.Listen to Depak Chopra’s ‘How to know God’ and it it will have your head spinning.I think many of us believers can learn alot from another take on reality e.g some aspects of Zen etc while holding to the uniqueness of Jesus the Nazarine.By the way ultimate reconciliation an evangelically scapegoated early church belief answers some of the above problems.Read also a controversial book called ‘The Jerome Conspiracy’ by Michael Woods to show that we may be basing a lot of our end times beliefs on phoney Scripture!!

  10. The issue seems to not be a literal or symbolic reading of Genesis but accounting for blindness to the grace of God. Rather than read the “fall” as primarily a matter of disobedience and separation/rejection I read it as an illustration of humanity’s tendency to believe the core lie that we are “not enough” – good enough, bright enough, pretty enough, etc. to be the object of the Trinity’s unconditional love. Adam’s/Eve’s choice followed the suggestion of the lie about God really having their complete best interest in mind. After the action, the immediate change is not in God but in them and the image they paint on him and he helps them improved their wardrobe choices. Nothing suggests anger or any relationship change.

    Yes, there is that part about exclusion from the Garden and it is usually seen as punishment. However, the story has an element of another tree – of life. The story line suggests that they must not be allowed to eat of that tree and banishing them is the answer. Another way to see it is as God’s protection for them to not eat in the state of anxiety and fear that they are in because of the lie they believe. As if the Trinity is so committed to them they will go to any length to keep them from being stuck in the lie.

    The issue of foreknowedge is really well handled by Open Theology. For me a significant shift is moving away from a legal frame for sin and grace to seeing real relationship as core to the Trinity’s purpose in creation and the Incarnation’s purpose as adoption and that moves me away from the issue of philosophical ideals about perfection built into both Calvinism and Arminianism. Even “in Christ” I still have the capacity to choose the truth of adoption or the lie that I am not enough and I must choose between them.

    David, thanks for boldly asking the questions.

  11. Paul,

    True, the issue seems to not be a literal or symbolic reading of Genesis, however, if we move from our western literalistic interpretation, a truth that is deeper than literalism is easier to be revealed. At least this has been true for me.

    I agree about the protection from ‘eating from the tree of life’ is the reason for the banishment from the garden and that the result of ‘the fall’, whatever we come to believe that is, is not a legal punishment but a severance of communion from God. Not that God stopped his communication to us, he did, after all, go to them after their act of disobedience for their daily walk. Man and woman covered themselves – a symbol of the break in relations between them. And they hide from their creator – a symbol of how our sins is a barrier in mankind’s heart, mind and spirit not due to God’s holiness.

    The creator commanded them not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They did. That knowledge and how we use it is, I believe, the cause of our curse, and thus of the ‘fall’.

    Since that instance of the fall, God has been at work in the history of man to reconcile people to himself. And those people were/are to be his ministers to bless the nations.

    Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is the ultimate act of God’s incarnation in the world to reconcile man and creation to himself.


    Please expand on “ultimate reconciliation an evangelically scapegoated early church belief answers some of the above problems”. I am very much interested in hearing more.

  12. Not sure that this fits Grace but I heard something this morning that got my attention. I’d call it the story of the two gardens.. Eden and Gethsemane.. humanity was changed forever in those two gardens.. something to ponder..

  13. Paul, by Process Thought, I am pretty sure I embrace Open Theology as well- they are very similar (in fact, in many instances considered identical, and just differing labels for the same thing). I am a big fan of Kruger and that book. I often choose to use “Process” in place of “Open” because it seems to get less backlash- but I dig Open Theology (and also guys like Houghton, who explore a combination of Process/Open thought, Social Trinitarianism, Pannenberg and Eschatological Realism and Kenosis- some interesting stuff with amazing implications).

  14. Ultimate reconciliation was much more widespread and openly accepted in the early days of the church- in fact, a lot of the “fathers” either accepted it as true or at least a valid possibility.

  15. Thanks Cody for your input on ultimate reconciliation.I agree with what you say.On further exploration it looks that in the West we have inherited a skew version of what Jesus really taught about the end times.Some of the error comes from St Jeromes hatchet job on his Latin translation from the Hebrew Old Testament rather than the Greek Septuagent version that Jesus would have quoted from.He used his new translation to control the believers in the newly powerful Rome centered faith.5 of the other theological schools before Rome’s dominance believed in a form of universal salvation.Barry I have always been baffled by what I used to believe – that Jesus paid some kind of divine fine by his death to be the Saviour of the world but that in the end He may only practically be the Saviour of 25% of mankind at most.Paul in some of his letters seems to hint at all of creation being eventually reconciled to the Father and that must include the non believers from our evangelical point of view.That seems to be the shocking truth of grace and mercy.We believe we are a notch higher than the unbelievers because we have ‘received’ Christ by faith but this is just another religious brownie point..Some folk think that the second death may be a time of purification where self dependency is stripped away – others that it is a time of non being before ultimate reconciliation in the ‘city of God’ whatever that stands for.Try reading The evangelical Universalist by Gregory MacDonald -its very helpful.God is definitely all about restoration of relationship – believe it or not He is not a religious being!Hope this helps.

  16. Charlie,

    I also believe in Ultimate Reconciliation, recently being ‘converted’ out of the exclusive salvation school of theology. Maybe we could discuss some of my questions regarding this theology elsewhere.

    I guess where my request to you was to see why you think Ultimate Reconciliation answers the above problems. I do not see it answering, just including more people into the Body.

    My view is that the fall is a mythological description of our condition not a description on how we got there. Being an evolutionary creationist, I think we never were in a state of perfection as portrayed in the garden in Genesis. At some point in our evolution, God breathed on mankind and we took on the image of God.

    So my answer to the topic at hand is that I think our reconciliation to God has been apart of the evolutionary process instilled in creation’s spiritual DNA at the big bang.

  17. I don’t have any problem with believers wrestling with the things they don’t understand … as long as it doesn’t interfere with doing the things they do understand. A mystery, by definition, is something that cannot be fully understood or explained. But it doesn’t take a studied philosopher or theologian to understand ‘Love God with your all, and your neighbor as yourself.” Even a child can understand that. Yet, it continues to be our biggest failure.

    It seems quite apparent that in His days of incarnation Jesus’ biggest opponents were the studied philosophers and theologians. They thought they knew so much about God and life that they totally missed it when they met Him face to face. Those who came with child-like faith were the ones who benefitted most from His ministry, and came to recognize that He was ‘My Lord, and my God.’

    I see no evidence that the early church spent enormous amounts of time endeavoring to understand deep theological and philosophical mysteries – rather they spent their time devoting themselves to the apostle’s teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. The result was a community of believers who broke bread in their homes together with glad and sincere hearts. It was only when the philosophers and theologians from the outside came in and began to complicate the simplicity of their faith that Paul had to write strong letters reminding them to return to the basics; ‘Love God with your all and your neighbor as yourself.’ It was Paul who wrote “If I have the gift of prophesy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge … but have not love, I am nothing.” He also wrote “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
    It’s no sin for a believer to say “I don’t know.”
    It is, however, a travesty for a believer to say “I don’t love.”

    I believe that those who hear His word and do it gain a far deeper understanding of God than those who spend most of their time trying to figure out who God really is and what He really meant. God is and always was LOVE. God meant for us to love one another.

    I still struggle with it. That’s why he gives grace.

  18. Interesting direction this thread is going. I wonder if Ultimate Reconciliation is simply a reaction to a literal interpretation of hell? I think that folks have difficulty with the fiery imagery.. thinking that the biblical images are actual depictions of hell. I think most understand these images are no more literal than those heavenly streets of gold.

    Here is what theologian NT Wright says about hell:

    “Its a matter of deep down somewhere, there is a rejection of the good creator God, then that is the choice humans make. In other words, I think the human choices in this life really matter. Were not just playing a game of chess, where tomorrow morning God will put the pieces back on the board and say, Okay that was just a game. Now we’re doing something different. The choices we make here really do matter.”

    Here is a clip that I recently read from “The Reason For God” by Tim Keller:

    “In short, hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity. We see this process “writ small” in addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, and pornography. First, there is a disintegration, because as time goes on you need more and more of the addictive substance to get an equal kick, which leads to less and less satisfaction. Second, there is an isolation, as increasingly you blame others and circumstances in order to justify your behavior. . . . When you lose all humility you are out of touch with reality. No one ever asks to leave hell. The very idea of heaven seems to them a sham.

  19. Ken,

    I agree with you, however, how we view God HAS been tainted by the greco-roman philosophies of Augustine (neoplatonism) and the like. These people struggled to contextualize the gospel for their context much as Paul contextualized the gospel for the gentiles.

    My point is, everything we read in the bible today gets filtered through our western, greco-roman theologies about god.

    It would be a mistake to ignore being God’s ministers of reconciliation for “devoting ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Act 6

    The very people that became the servants to the widows (Stephen, Philip) became the instruments God used in the very next chapters. God tends to use ‘the least of these’ more than he uses us puffed up leaders/ theologian.

    Thanks for the warning, it is good for all of us to continually meditate on. (and get out there and love on the world)

  20. If Moses were the writer of Genesis he must have had a reason for recording the account as he did, whether we want to point out similarities to other stories/myths/accounts of other cultures/religions of the time. If the real issue is not human choice, human disobedience, consequences of that disobedience & the manner which God elected to address that very consequence, then does the consideration of the pictorial imagery of the Genesis account offer any insight into the God we want to communicate the Truth to us in understandable ways?

    I do not believe in a literal 6-day creation timeline. And the elements of man & woman being placed in a Garden & later expelled can be understood as a medium to explain the observable ‘condition’ of mankind. Genders, painful childbirth, sickness, working the ground for food, the problem of pain, suffering, death. If Moses were looking back to the ‘beginnings’ then he could have condensed in the first 3 chapters of Genesis a very concise explanation for the human condition. And it all being very much godly revelation. If we want to minimize the guilt factor, or the ‘sin’ issue, or the disconnect with God consideration, we can see the story as being, well, deliberately cryptic with any obvious meanings contrary to God’s real intent. And that could be a valid concern. We may trust the commonly understood metaphor so much we can’t see the proverbial Garden for the 2 trees. :)

    I am sure there are as varied interpretations as there are individuals to contemplate them. One or more of the elements of the story can be understated or inflated to suit the purpose of the storyteller. I would think the ‘real’ meaning to be rather easy to extract from the account without any need to suggest a more accurate understanding is somehow nestled within esoteric perspectives that hint at a more real truth.

    Whether you want to understand the account as symbol/factual, the fact remains physical death is very real. Male & female genders likewise real. The issue of the inherent nobility of mankind with a great propensity to do extreme evil to his fellow man is unfortunately very real. Then there is the problem of pain, suffering & the concept of sin. All these are very real. What does it mean if the manner which it happened was a literal, chronological series of events as recorded for us in the first 3 chapters of Genesis, or a reasonable facsimile?

  21. Kansas Bob,

    Although the literal interpretation of Hell may have some to do with the popularity of Universalism, it is true that there have always been believers that held this view. The majority of the early church is said to have been universalists. And there was a resurgence of this during the Great Reformation.

    The philosophical problem runs deeper than our image of hell though. there is the question of the culpability of a God who sets up a system that will torment or ‘just terminate’ the majority of humans based on their limited time and knowledge here on earth. Saying that we send ourselves to hell is a cop out. We do that because that is how this so called loving God set it up.

    There is also the conflicting ideas of a loving God who is just and a just God who loves. I believe in and trust the first – God IS love. His justice, wrath and holiness flows out of his love for ALL mankind. It is the wrath of God poured out on Jesus that cleanses humanity from their sin.

    “So then as through ONE transgression there resulted condemnation to ALL men, even so through ONE act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to ALL men”
    (Romans 5:18)

    At my conversion to Christianity, the bible opened up and became a reality to me. I understood things that previously had me scratching my head. The same thing has happened to my ‘conversion’ to universal inclusive salvation. The bible has become that much more alive with the love of God. I see universalism everywhere.

    True, I may have picked up a new pair of reading glasses that is filtering my understanding of the bible when I laid down my old, exclusive salvation pair, but I’d rather believe that God is far more loving and gracious than I could ever think or imagine.

  22. […additional armchair mussings]

    The idea/concept of sin, sinfulness, sin transmission or inheritance (hamartiology), is a topic that does affect the “tilt” of one’s foundational understanding of God, His holy motivation & His provision for sin’s disruptive results. Our view of God is going to be directly proportional to the degree of trust we ultimately have in Him…

    Who or what caused death, and why? Was death God’s punishment for sin? Was the fall a moral lapse that brought about wrath on moral grounds, or was it a relational lapse that caused humankind to be enslaved in corruption and death? If so, the fall was more about mortality, not morality.

    Okay, the argument attempting to distinguish between mortality vs. morality: what did God tell the man (Adam) not to do? “Don’t eat it!”. The result of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good/evil was death. Relational death? Spiritual death? Physical death? All of these?

    The Genesis account does not provide many clues, but the first thing that occurred to the man & the woman was not death. It says the eyes of both of them were opened. And they happened to notice their nakedness. Now it may seem odd that the first husband+wife suddenly developed prudish attitudes after eating the fruit, especially since they had been romping around in the buff since their creation. Were there other people in the Garden to cause this new found sense of modesty? Nope. The only One they were suddenly shy around was the very God that came to fellowship with them in the “cool of the day”.

    Was death a punishment then? An unfortunate consequence? Or the logical conclusion of self-preservation, self-awareness & self-centered independence?

    Isn’t it interesting that God does continue “relating” to people even after expulsion from Eden? He actually converses with them & provides for them. And the concept of physical death is complicated by the accounts of Enoch & Elijah. Their exemption seems puzzling, but are they somehow key figures in this sin vs. death scenario?

    A major force in our current human condition is the fear of death. Rather than living selflessly for God & others, we cling to our lives, desperately searching for hope and meaning along with success and survival.

    So, is this why it says, “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.”? Hmmm…Enoch was able to get it right? He restored the “cool of the day” relationship? He was so God focused he was caught up by God & therefore avoided death?

    More thoughts later…

  23. Thanks for the response Barry.. I hope that we are not hijacking Grace’s blogpost..

    I think that many have picked up what I believe to be a false teaching that paints God as an angry entity that “sends people to hell”.. often sincere believers reject this image of God and embrace an ultimate reconciliation view because of it. What I usually say is that suffering and torment come from within creation before one dies.. God does not inflict suffering and torment.. and I see nothing to indicate that it will also be that way after death. In a sense Hell is a place fashioned by created beings.. not God.

    I agree with Bishop Wright.. choices in this life really matter.. if human choices did not matter then life would be just some sort of cosmic game.. I don’t think life is a game.. I think that life is sacred.. and I think that the road to hell is taken one choice at a time.

  24. [re: hell/eternal damnation hijack consideration…]

    Yes. Good food-for-thought…

    I too wonder what it is we think we can get away with once we render an account for every action, thought & idle word spoken.

    I have to admit my concept of ‘justice’ as it would apply to me when facing Jesus/God is this: I must give an account for everything. Nothing will remain hidden. I believe I will have to reconcile with everyone I encountered here on earth. Must give an account of my life. God will need to address it or else I would not understand first His holiness or His love. However, there is no ‘need’ in this scenario for a ‘hell’ or a ‘purgatory’; this will be sufficient:

    His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. Rev 1:14

    Those eyes will indeed burn through my spirit/soul/being with no need for an external flame. That will be the setting things right I believe must happen if God is concerned about what we do here in this life.

    No one will escape that gaze. It is inevitable. And what we have done will be shown for what it is. I don’t think there is any loophole that results in a stance of “just as if I never sinned.” God will address it no matter what my response was. Did I repent? The eyes of fire will acknowledge that. Did I regret it? Did I enjoy it? Am I unrepentant? The heat of that gaze will be directly proportional to everything I have done.

    God will reconcile everything regardless of repentance in this life. The murderer will have to face the one they murdered no matter if they repented, sought forgiveness & reformed their lives or found religion. Whatever happened to the victim because their life was cut short must be addressed. We will have to face the consequences of our actions. Hitler? Idi Amin? Pol Pot? Stalin? Berkowitz? Bundy? Dahmer? Yup. They will all stand before every victim of their atrocities. They will not escape no matter what their death-bed confession was…

    I think this must happen because we could not live with ourselves deluded in our own self-awareness. We could not think we had ever gotten away with anything. It must all be revealed & weighed against all others. There could not be a wiping away of every tear until all things have been revealed, addressed, reconciled, made right.

    Not sure about the concepts of eternal punishment or eternal paradise. I am not a universalist in the strict sense, but I do not think God has predestined some for hell, some for heaven just because He is in charge…

    But it could not be any other way if we believe in a God whose greatest desire is right relationship. It would be troubling to think that there still needed business taken care of after all is said & done. Somehow no loose ends will be left dangling. Everything must be addressed, weighed, judged (not in a negative sense) & all issues reconciled before anybody could live in real bliss.

    If ‘heavenly reality’ the end for all of us, then it will be necessary to be completely transparent. We would need to know what we did wrong here. I think we will need to know the degree of our selfishness & self-preservation if we are to be free to love & accept & be open to all others. No self-consciousness or shame or intimidation. We have to be known so we can know others. And all that dysfunctional relational crap we lived out here must be part of our appreciation for not having to be like that anymore…

  25. Kansas Bob

    I too respect Tom Wright and his work.I think that like CS Lewis proposed in the Great Divorce Tom feels that people put themselves into the ‘hellish’ place.By the way 3 different words translated ‘hell’ in the Old King James but that’s for another day.In ‘Surprised by Hope’ Tom chickens out trying to think seriously about Ultimate Reconciliation following a period of cleansing/transformation etc,by saying he hopes God may have something hidden up His slieve that will be revealed in the future.I believe that something is actually the Good News that we are to proclaim to a disfunctional world – a future already sorted by a loving God.Barr will have to think more clearly about what I said earlier.Get back to you.

  26. Kansas Bob,

    “God does not inflict [eternal]suffering and torment”

    This may or may not be true, but if it is, he set up the system that allows for it. According to teh traditional teachings, a majority of humanity is going to end up in eternal conscious torment. They go on to say that it is not really God, but the individual’s own choice. The fact remains that God could have chosen any number of more humane means to deal with the sons of disobedience.

    If I, who am evil, could come up with a more humane system for dealing with the disobedient, how much more a Father of love?

    I anyone that makes it to eternal life is solely the work of God’s grace and nothing to do with us, how much more amazing the grace that allows to the rest who does not deserve life. Either my eternal life came through my choosing correctly how to use my free will, or it came as a result of the grace of God alone.

    “choices in this life really matter.. if human choices did not matter then life would be just some sort of cosmic game”

    Ultimate reconciliation allows for accountability. We all will be judged, some may be punished. I am not willing to guess the punishment, but I believe that it will be fair and flow out of God’s love. And the end goal of the punishment will be reconciliation not eternal damnation or death.

    “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross — through him, whether things on earth or things in heaven.”
    Col 1:20

  27. Thx again Barry for the conversation. Continuing, with permission, to hijack Grace’s blog.. a few thoughts about your comment..

    Suffering, Torment and God’s System
    I think that God did set up a system that “allows” for suffering and torment.. just look around and it is an obvious reality. Saying that you do not know if this present day suffering and torment comes from God or not tells me that you may embrace this idea of an angry God that inflicts suffering on people. I reject that view of God.. I may be misunderstanding what you are saying.. maybe you reject that view too.

    I think that universalists can be guilty of making God into their own narrow image of what a God of love looks like. I make room for a God who is love even though He “allows” self-inflicted suffering before and after death.. I don’t believe that God causes suffering before of after death.

    The indictment against God is often “How can a God of love allow suffering?” I think that your position basically moves the question to the afterlife. Maybe it would be helpful to answer the before death question first?

    I really don’t understand why God “allows” babies to be born addicted to crack.. or any of the many ways that the innocent suffer.. it doesn’t make sense to me. I could get angry about it and blame God for the suffering.. instead I look at the cross and understand that He is a God of love.. and find that I can deal with the unanswerable questions.

    I guess I think that we need to deal with the hells on earth and maybe then we can deal with the afterlife stuff.. the issues are not all that different.

    Post Death Punishment
    I think that the idea of time is a part of our present day creation and does not exist after death. So the idea of a “punishment” that is not eternal seems to embrace the idea that time exists after we die. I have never understood why people embrace that.

  28. Kansas Bob,

    “God does not inflict [eternal]suffering and torment”
    You may note that I took the liberty to insert the idea of eternal into your original statement. I did this because I realize that there is suffering and torment throughout the earth today and if there is a God he is allowing it. My concern is, what kind of God does the idea of eternal torment for most of his creatures made in his image portray?

    Post Death Punishment
    So how does your view of eternal torment (Hell) deffer from a traditional view point?

  29. Here are two paragraphs that I think sum up why I believe what I believe:

    “Though certainly not the dominant view within historic Christianity, belief in universalism within the church is very ancient indeed. Among others, Theodore of Mopsuestia (4th century), Gregory of Nyssa (4th century), Clement of Alexandria (2nd century) and St. Isaac the Syrian (7th century) all seem to have espoused universalism and none was denounced by the Church for espousing a heresy. Gregory of Nyssa, in fact, was declared the “Father of Fathers” by the 7th Ecumenical Council. I think, therefore, that those who claim that universalism is incompatible with orthodox Christian teaching are hard pressed to show that the view contradicts anything in the so-called ecumenical creeds and hard pressed to show that the view has been denounced by any of the major and universally accepted Church Councils.”

    And Kevin Corcoran summarizes his counter to Universalism with this;

    “I hope that universalism is true. I even pray that it’s true. But I guess I don’t believe that it’s true. The scriptures it seems to me are ambiguous on the matter. There is a good biblical case to be made both for separationism and for universalism. And in that space of biblical indeterminacy I think there is plenty of room for hoping that universalism is true, for hoping that eventually God gets what God wants and all are ultimately reconciled.”

    The point I would like to make is, why, if it is both orthodox and biblical to hold either beliefs, would he chose to hold the uglier one?

  30. I see suffering after death the same way as I see it before death Barry. You still seem to be opposed to the extreme view that God is punishing man before and after death.. I am also opposed to that view. All I am saying is that God is not the source of suffering and torment before and after death.

    I appreciate that many hold the extreme view that God is angry and sends folks to hell.. I think that is a very narrow view. I also appreciate that many folks hold the extreme view that God is love and no one goes to hell.. I also think that is a narrow view.

    I personally think that God is love and He allows people go to hell of their own accord.

    Enjoying the dialog.

  31. Whether or not God is actively punishing sinners for eternity does not let him off the hook for setting up the system that allow for this, I far as I am concerned. Just as if I turned on all the elements of the stove, move a chair in front it and placed something wonderful at the back, showed my toddler it and told him not to tough it, would I not be guilty of the inevitable outcome?. It would not be my fault. I even told him not to do it. Does that mean I do not need to take any responsibility?

    “I personally think that God is love and He allows people go to hell of their own accord.”

    So, if I love my daughter, and I see her doing something that is going to greatly harm her or end her life, my love for her should be big enough to let her continue?

    Sometimes it is more loving to temporarily remove the freewill in order to meet a greater purpose.

    If you are a Calvinist, freewill is a joke. The elect have no choice but to choose to believe and the non-elect do not have the choice to believe.

    If you are an Arminian, it is by your freewill that your are saved or not.

    If you are a Universalist, salvation is by God’s grace and his grace alone.

    There is a lot of fuzzy doctrine that has arose around the idea of freewill that I do not think is actually in the bible. We have made freewill an apologetic point because it is so important to us. I’m not sure how important it is to God.
    (These thoughts are coming to me as I type so do not hold me to them – just thinking out loud)

  32. to add to the convo:

    Of course if God is so much more ‘humongous’ compared to His creation then why would He ever be vexed by what we do or don’t do or whatever? We are limited in our capacity to do evil. He set those parameters. Seems He is letting it all take place. All evil. Little intervention is observed & then what does constitute divine intervention? Compare our human capacity to maliciously do evil deeds vs. non-Christian belief system. Why even compare the two?

    So why are we considered ‘objects of wrath’ as Paul succinctly puts it…?

    Not because of what we do, but because of what we are?


    Why do we even think we can cause such grief to the Creator that He forever will sustain someone in endless torment?


    Let’s just put out this hypothetical consideration: what if we (mankind) were actually given an essence of divinity that was not given to the angels? Let’s say we are the pinnacle of creation, sharing in the Imago Dei as no other creature does. Is there going to be a greater expectation placed upon us that is not going to be placed on any other creature?

    Is that the reason God is so jealous? He wants to be represented rightly throughout His creation? Maybe the impact of sharing divine nature with beings that have been marred by sin something we cannot ever understand?

    I dunno, could be God is bipolar. Or a divine version of the Wizard of Oz. Mad Scientist?

    Did He put into place principles or aspects of His creation that were never intended to be changed or modified or compromised on?

    He is an Enigma. Because He does not ‘act’ within the confines of what we perceive as being moral or rational or loving or wrathful or whatever. He does seem to let things happen unabated in those areas that He has intervened before according to the biblical stories. Although He went out of His way to reveal Himself as a heavenly Father, we cannot understand His extreme displays of eternal torment or coming to destroy the enemies of God. The picture quickly breaks down with our concepts of proportion & the scales of justice & punishment to fit the supposed crime, etc. He is so much bigger than any human creature compares to. It just doesn’t make sense…

    Maybe He doesn’t care what we think about it. Maybe it doesn’t offend Him either. Maybe all the postulating fades once we are standing there face-to-Face. Maybe all He will be interested in is how we acted upon the understanding that we had…

  33. Guys we can simplify it all by saying that the Greek word translated as eternal by Jerome and all subsequent translators who depended on his Latin Vulgate means eonian a period of time.Josephus uses it to describe a guy who was imprisoned for 3 years!This whole doctrine is built more on mistranslation(why???) and Dante furtive imagination!.God by nature is redemptive.We dont stick our wayward kids into their bedrooms for ‘eternity’ but for a period of time.Can God be less than we?

  34. Thx again Barry for the dialog.

    I may be misunderstanding but it appears that your view of God seems to cast dispersion on Him for setting things up the way that He did. Using your logic it seems that God is to be blamed for the bad things that happen because He does not intervene. I do not hold that view.. I do not believe that suffering ot torment comes from God.. before or after death.

    I think that you have bought into the compartmentalization of “eternity” into before and after death realities with each have different rules that seem to be at odds with each other. In this alternate reality people are forgiven who do not seek forgiveness.. people are forced to love God.. and Hitler and Mother Teresa are heavenly neighbors. I think that view makes a mockery of our earthly lives.. it paints our life here as something less than sacred and trivializes the virtues of love and faith.

    Just a few thoughts..

  35. Just a followup question to clarify the idea that we are all God’s children and He is obligated to act in a way that a good parent acts toward their children.

    Do you all believe that people who are not born again are children of God?

  36. You guys are way too enlightened for this arm-chair theologian… ;)

    But if all people are to be redeemed in the universalist sense because God is not only love but just & the apex of reconciliation, then what about the devil & his demons?

    Is Satan as an adversarial figure of biblical proportions, what becomes of his eternal hope?

    Is the ‘devil’ only a symbolic construct to embody evil? Or is Satan a real, honest-to-goodness fallen angel doomed to eternal hell fire since it was created for the devil & his angels according to Jesus’ Matthew 25 reference?

  37. Charlie,

    I agree with you on the definition of aiōnios; though it could also be argued to mean eternal. Obviously, because of my views I tend to go with ‘age’ or ‘period’.

    Kansas Bob,

    I am saying the traditional view is casting dispersion on God for setting things up the way that He did. Is eternity/ the life after death, just a continuation? If it is then could not those that resisted God may start to realize their error and turn to life? If this is the case, those scriptures that have led me and others to a ultimate reconciliation interpretation of reality could be fulfilled.

    However, I don’t know that is necessarily a continuation. Are we mortal beings that are given immortality? Does that mean there could be some kind of fundamental changes? I don’t know and I can’t speculate.

    I think you have bought into the continuation view of “eternity”. ;)

    I think Jesus compares the lost to a prodigal SON and a lost SHEEP. Yes all humanity are God’s children. Those that enter into the redeemed relationship obviously are in a different relationship to Daddy.


    I do not know about Satan and the demons. Some say that when it says ALL creation is going to be redeemed it includes ALL creation. I do not think that it really matters because I don’t think we have a role in the reconciliation of them. We DO have the call to be ministers of reconciliation to our own kind though.

  38. [additional thoughts…]

    I would hope there were no need for hell. Could be all the recorded instances Jesus mentions anything remotely understood as hell, damnation, punishment, etc. misunderstood or taken out of context, etc. Maybe God really did not order the killing of the Canaanites or the mass extinction of mankind in a global flood. Maybe God was not how He has been historically represented. I am sure with the arrival of Emmanuel it could have been cleared up sufficiently. Somehow we Christians will glom onto certain pet doctrinal conclusions that have large appeal or little support from the generally held viewpoints regardless of biblical references or Church Councils or scholarly review…

    While I can appreciate Jesus did not preach hell-fire & brimstone, nor originate the “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” sermon topic, I can point to red letters in my bible attributed to Him mentioning in graphic detail forms of torment for the ungodly.

    Could be God has purposely been cryptic about the afterlife & the final judgment(s). Maybe He wanted to paint a somewhat blurry picture of what happens after this life to help us focus on this life more. Be a better person knowing the little information He was willing to provide. Maybe the cosmic joke is on us. Could be He is not like the God of the Old Testament or the God of eternal damnation or endless torment we have miscast Him as. Could be the devil & every disobedient creature rehabilitated in that Divine Penal System yet to be revealed. Maybe we all get probation. Hallelujah! Have to work out our issues with those we mistreated by being assigned as roommates in the New Jerusalem. But then if God can resist the will of the unrepentant why should we dispense with the doctrine of hard-line predetermination? Could be God’s beauty & love is irresistible once we are in His presence. Could be He is the Grand Attractant drawing even the farthest prodigal home. Even if that prodigal content to dine with pigs & simply pine over the good-ol’ days of debauchery now just a fond memory…

    “Aw shucks,” we all conclude. “Boy was I a fool for not living according to the little I did know.” And just a brief moment in the Lake of Fire enough to fry our attitudes back into humble contrition…

    I do have a sense that yes, God does have it all worked out according to His divine plan & purpose. Not a clue how it will be accomplished though, but yes, I do believe it will be a surprise to us all…

  39. Joseph,

    Jesus did mention hell, or rather Ge-Hinnom which was a valley outside of Jerusalem. Jesus’ first hears would not have envisioned the hell of Dante but rather the burning fires of the garbage refuse outside the city. This valley had an infamous past going back to child sacrifice. As such it was regularly used in graphic imagery of judgment. And who were the people Jesus aimed his graphic judgment at? The very people of God who were not fulfilling God’s mandate of his people to be a blessing to the nations, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, …

    Yes, I believe we have missed more than we could know in our interpretation of the scriptures due to 2000 years of bad imagery – or re-imagery in the case of Ge-Hinnom; with our 1700 years of greco-roman philosophical influence on doctrine and theology.

    Four of the six main schools of christian thought of the first 300 to 500 years where universalists, one believed in conditional immortality (the lost did not receive it – they just perished) and the last, Rome believed in eternal torment. This was the beliefs of those before the major sweep of the formalization of theologies heavily influenced by Plato and Stoics.

    It is my contention that when we add all this up, we get beliefs that paint God as a vengeful God in need of appeasement. Thanks be to Christ that he came to take my punishment. To Hell with all those who decided to keep theirs to work out for themselves. The only problem is that Jesus said if we have seen him we have seen the Father. So I have to start with the image of God that Jesus lived for us and work backwards to reinterpret [Hebrew] scripture in the light of this newly relieved image of God.

  40. Thanks again for continuing the dialog Barry.

    I think that we are probably at an impasse on this one. I do see some continuation from this life to the next. I see our lives here to be precious and sacred.. I think eternal life begins when one simply bows to Jesus in this life.. I do not think that God has promised us tomorrow if we resist Him today.. I do not think that it is wise to counsel people that it will all pan out in the end.

    I think that many universalists are sincere believers and love the Lord as much as anyone.. I really hope that they are correct about the afterlife.. but if they are not then IMO they are guilty of promoting a theology that encourages people to ignore and resist the Holy Spirit today.

    All that said I want to say that I may be way off on the afterlife and you may be 100 percent correct on it.. I guess neither one of us will know about that for certain.

    Blessings, Bob

  41. bob,
    Good thoughts. I think that no matter what we believe about afterlife, many of us have been guilty of not recognizing the importance of this portion of our life in preparation for eternity. I can’t say I have a grasp on explaining why it’s important, but from what I understand about scripture, it seems to indicate that it is unwise to blow off this time we have to prepare.

    As far as the afterlife, you’re right, we don’t know. I wonder if perhaps eternal life is only available to those who choose to live in relationship with God.

  42. Great thought Grace.. what if eternal life begins only when someone is born again? Maybe all other life is merely temporal? I suspect that I will be pondering that most of today..

  43. Kansas Bob,

    I too am thankful for our dialogue. I like the idea of civility between such differing view points. If more forums were like this, I think that we, as Christians, would be able to work out a lot more of our issues with each other.

    Let me just say this: the gospel I share has nothing to do with this doctrine. The gospel I share is about being reconciled to our Father here and now. The gospel of fire insurance for our future life, in my mind, is a perversion of the true gospel. This doctrine changes me and not my message.

    I agree with our lack of focusing on what we are doing in this life. Also, one first century school of thought also believed in conditional immortality based on relationship started in the here and now.

    Thanks for letting us go on about things not so important as we like to make them out to be.

  44. Thx again Barry for the dialog.. just a quick follow-up..

    If I am hearing you correctly I think that your objective in sharing the gospel has no eternal aspect to it all.. it is just a message of temporal importance.. am I hearing you correctly? If not maybe you can specify what eternal significance you attach to a person responding to the gospel message.

    Thx, Bob

  45. Here is a quote from NT Wright

    “My proposal has been that ‘the gospel’ is not, for Paul, a message about ‘how one gets saved’, in an individual and a historical sense. It is a fourfold announcement about Jesus:

    1. In Jesus of Nazareth, specifically in his cross, the decisive victory has been won over all the powers of evil, including sin and death themselves.
    2. In Jesus’ resurrection the New Age has dawned, inaugurating the long-awaited time when the prophecies would be fulfilled, when Israel’s exile would be over, and the whole world would be addressed by the one creator God.
    3. The crucified and risen Jesus was, all along, Israel’s Messiah, her representative king.
    4. Jesus was therefore also the Lord, the true king of the world, the one at whose name every knee would bow.”

    As NT Wright points out here, I believe a part if the gospel message is victory over sin and death and the promise of the bodily resurrection. But this is only part of the message, and the part that has, for much of conservative Christianity, become the sole message. This has resulted in a focus of the great bye an bye.

    For example, Jesus said:

    “Do not let your hearts be distressed. You believe in God; believe also in me. There are many dwelling places [mansions] in my Father’s house. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going away to make ready a place for you. And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too.”
    (John 14:1-4)

    This is often used to describe what Jesus is currently busy doing; preparing our heavenly home. I think this is wrong. Jesus left (death) to prepare the place and returned (resurrection) so that we have a dwelling place NOW. This is the same word used later in John (14:10)

    “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing [dwells] in me performs his miraculous deeds.”

    In the first scripture, Jesus is leaving and returning so that “where I am you may be too”. And were was he as he spoke this? “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.” This living life in Christ has lost much of its meaning in a “I’ve got a mansion, just over the hills…” gospel.

  46. Thx Barry. I hear what you are saying and I agree that the gospel is not all about a mansion in heaven.

    But I am not sure that you answered my question.. so let me formulate a response for you and you can disagree or agree with it:

    The view of Christian Universalism embraces the idea that the only value of receiving Christ today is that you become a better person on earth. However, receiving Christ has no real value after you die because all will receive Christ at that time.

    Do you agree with that statement? If not how would you reword it?

    Thx, Bob

  47. Well Bob, to be honest, I am still working through some of this stuff. However, according to the statistics, receiving Christ does little or nothing to man people better, but this is another topic.

    Christian Universalism CU or Ultimate Reconciliation UR has many different internal interpretations and currently on this I am agnostic. Some would believe that God’s grace is big enough to extend to an unrepentant individual immediately. These people, though they make it into eternity [heaven] still have to deal with the effects of their lives; Hitler, for example will be accountable to make amends for his deeds while on earth.

    The other idea is that hell does exist, though repentance is still possible while in this state and thus eventually, the love of God and the will of God will prevail. In this camp some think that the time of punishment is fixed and repentance while ‘doing your time’ will take effect after time served; others think that it is when ever repentance occurs, the penalty is lifted.

    Again, on these details I am agnostic. How I boil it down is: “all will be judged, some may be punished”.

    I have said it before, but let me say it again: throughout church history there have been theologians and believers that have believed CU. Quite a few in the 1800’s; during the reformation this doctrine became popular with some; and in the early church this doctrine was popular in 4 of the 6 schools of thought and CU was held by many in the different counsels producing the creeds but the topic never came up as being heretical.

    Like my first conversion to Christ, this conversion to CU or UR has opened my eyes to biblical interpretation. I now see in my bible a complete story of redemption of humanity from the front cover to the last cover.

    Any way, I hope this answers your question.

    Thanks for being so gracious.

  48. Barry.. I understand what you are saying about the statistics.. but I hope that you are not saying that Christ has not made a difference in your life.

    For me Christ is EVERYTHING.. my life would be unlivable without the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Hope.. my desire is that EVERYONE know him personally.. knowing Christ makes a difference if one really knows Him.. it is not about being converted to the theology of Christ (that is just head stuff anyway).. it is having a relationship with Jesus.. it is really knowing Him at a heart level.

    I do not mean to belabor this point.. but from your last comment you seem to be unsure that knowing Jesus really makes a difference in the here and now. Men like the apostles gave their lives for the gospel.. not the theology of the gospel but the Christ of the gospel.. knowing Jesus made a difference for them.. their love of Christ inspires me.. I hope it does you too.

    I hope that I have not offended you.. I don’t know you.. and I may be reading too much into words like “agnostic” and “conversion to CU or UR”. I wish you well and pray that your walk with Jesus will be a sweet one this week.

    Blessings, Bob

  49. Bob, thanks for your concern.

    My saying ‘conversion to CU’ was only meant to show how drastically the shift has been in how I view things, like the bible. My being agnostic is only in regard to the different possibilities of what happens after this life.

    My point with the statistics is that either the gospel and an life indwelt with Christ is not suppose to change us in the here and now or for the most part we have been doing something wrong with the gospel we preach and teach, or we are not preaching and teaching the right or full gospel.

    I am a ‘born-again’, bible believing, [post-]charismatic christian leader in a non-denominational, conservative church.

    You say “knowing Christ makes a difference if one really knows Him”. I totally agree. However, I have come to realize that the head stuff dictates how we hear the heart stuff. 1700 years of greco-roman, neoplatonism influenced theologies is the filter that most of Christianity sees and experiences reality in.

  50. I hear what you are saying Barry.. for most of my life this was true for me:

    “I have come to realize that the head stuff dictates how we hear the heart stuff.”

    I think that it is exactly the opposite of how it should be for a believer.. our head should not regularly trump our heart.. trusting God should be the rule and not leaning on our own understanding.. intellectual theology should not override the influence of the Spirit in our heart.. it really speaks more to how weak our hearts are and how we are in need of spiritual exercise. Don’t mean to preach :)

    Have a great week.

  51. Bob,

    I know what you mean, I am just not sure. What does ‘the influence of the Spirit in our heart’ look like/ feel like? At this point I think I should disclose that I have attended a conservative, charismatic church for the past 17 years, 13 of which I have been in leadership. However, I would now call myself ‘post-charismatic’.

    So with that out of the way:

    1) Recently, I have taken notice that it is the charismatic leaders that seem to be the ones that always end up in the lime light over some shameful scandal that ‘the influence of the Spirit in their heart’ should have prevented.

    2) I knew ‘in my heart’ the truths of Christian Universalism before I ever had a theology to back it up so that I could ‘believe it’ as biblical. The theology of my church, which do not subscribe to CU by the way, influenced how I believed the Spirit was influencing my heart. I spent the past year wrestling with God over CU as well as a number of other related things. This all started when I heard a wonderful story of the eternal Fatherness of God that broke open for me another story that was ringing throughout the scriptures, portraying the Missio Dei who has been pursuing man to bring him back into a reconciled relationship with himself.

    3) Having laid out a bit of my story, let me say that I do not know how to separate out the head stuff from the heart stuff. So please, give me the liberty to modify my original statement:

    “What we ‘know to be true’ in our minds and in our hearts greatly influence how we perceive reality, interpret scripture and hear from God ‘in our hearts’. It takes a jolt from outside ourselves to bring us to a point where we can even consider wrestling with God”. So, when I said: “I have come to realize that the head stuff dictates how we hear the heart stuff.” I was not referring to some ‘liberal ivory tower scholarship”.

    I would appreciate any insight you may have on this heart/ mind issue, so please feel free to preach.

  52. I have spent all of my Christian life in charismatic churches Barry and understand where you are coming from. The problem is (IMO) that most charismatic churches are very fundamentalist in nature and teach a brainy leadership of the Holy Spirit which quenches His real influence in the heart.

    I think that most Christians are very uncomfortable with living from their heart because fundamentalist church leaders have told them that their heart is desperately wicked and not to be trusted. Think about it.. when was the last time you heard a message about living from your heart or even one that spoke of the heart being good.

    I have written about this on my blog.. feel free to check out these posts:

    Those are just a few.. feel free to email me at if you’d like to dialog a bit more.

    Blessings, Bob

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