I read The Inescapable Love of God three years ago. I do not recall how or why I was directed to this book. All I know is that I read it cover to cover and found it utterly compelling. I had been what is often called a “hopeful universalist” ever since reading Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? by Hans Urs von Balthasar oh so many years ago. I found it an easy step from C. S. Lewis’s God who invites us to take a bus ride to heaven to Balthasar’s God of absolute love who has embraced every human being in the death and resurrection of Christ. Yet we live under judgment, Balthasar reminds us: while we may hope that all will be saved, we cannot claim to know that such will be the case. We still await final judgment. Okey dokey. Who was I to argue with the great Balthasar. But the distinction between hope and knowing continued to needle. It simply didn’t make sense to me at the level of proclamation and faith. Later I discovered Met Kallistos Ware invoking the same distinction.
Then I read The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbott, Ph.D., and I found my hope for universal reconciliation growing exponentially. Such is the quiet forcefulness of his exegesis of the New Testament (especially of the Apostle Paul) and his philosophical critique of traditional formulations of eternal damnation. Is it really obvious that Jesus and his Apostles taught everlasting perdition? If God is omnipotent Love, is it really beyond his resources to effect the salvation of all, without compromising the integrity of personal freedom? If God is merciful Love, then how could his justice require the condemnation of even a single human being to everlasting torment? And what is freedom? What is justice? What is love? Talbott tackles all of these questions with precision and care. But most importantly, he presents a vision of the victorious gospel of Jesus Christ that is truly worthy of proclamation:
The gospel presents, for our consideration, a vision of God and his creation that makes one want to shout with joy, a vision that can free us from all of the fears and the guilt and the worry within which we so often imprison ourselves. That vision may not always satisfy our wishful sentiments … but it does satisfy our deepest yearnings; it may at times devastate human pride, but it could never, ever devastate human hope. It is a vision altogether worthy of being true, and that is also, I believe, an indispensable condition of its being true. (pp. 32-33)
Talbott is an academic philosopher, now retired, who was raised in an evangelical Christian family. My guess is that he would still identify himself as an evangelical, though I imagine that many of his fellow evangelicals might debate that, given his forthright universalist convictions. Holy Scripture serves as his foundational and decisive theological authority against which theological tradition must be judged. He brings to his reading of Scripture a formidable philosophical intellect. He is well aware of the hermeneutical challenges involved in the interpretation of the Bible as the Word of God.
It is with great pleasure that I take up the task of reviewing the revised and expanded edition of The Inescapable Love of God. This will be a multi-article review. I will take a look at some of Talbott’s key arguments and concerns. I imagine it will take me two or three weeks to complete the review. Look for the next installment the middle of next week, God willing.