A Reformed Case for Universalism

by Jedidiah Paschall

I am neither a scholar nor the son of a scholar. In truth, I am a son of a plumber, a Bible College dropout typically content to work away at fiction and poetry. This is not to say that I have not studied these matters carefully or that I am unprepared to make a bold, honest, and conscientious defense for the truth as I understand it. I have been asked to make a Reformed case for apokatastasis (universal salvation), and my own limitations notwith­standing, I shall make an effort to argue that the Calvinist tradition must engage this theological position without cavalier dismissal because the coherence of the Reformed system of doctrine is at stake. The only reason why I hazard these scholarly waters is because the matter at hand is anything but academic; it cuts to the heart of a matter of first importance – namely the Christian gospel and all of its implications for the absolute victory of God in Christ. The argument that I will sustain in this discussion is that Reformed Christianity must surrender all pretense to affirming a cohesive theological witness to the goodness of God or a faithful exegetical reading of the whole of Scripture if it falls short of affirming the universal salvation. We Calvinists are a pugnacious bunch, so in keeping with the tradition, there will be no pulled punches. I will seek to address, however elliptically, considerations for the theological case for Christocentric universalism within a Reformed framework, before moving on to Part II in another discussion where I will consider exegetical issues. It must be noted that this discussion is by no means exhaustive, there is much to be explored in terms of Reformed theology and universalism, but hopefully this will suffice in introducing some preliminary issues worth examination.

Before moving forward, it must be said from the outset that the affirmation of apokatas­tasis has nothing to do with a flaccid sentimentality that seeks to either save God from himself as he has been revealed in Scripture, or to relieve humans from the specter of coming judge­ment. Christ will return to judge the quick and the dead, and this should be a cause for trembling, not for platitudes. The only possible way to gain entrance into the eschatological bliss of heaven is by the grace of God in and through Christ alone. As Peter proclaims in Acts, “Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (4:12). An unapologetic affirmation of the universal hope arises from the moral necessity to ascribe to God only what he is in himself, as well as the moral courage to interpret the whole of Scripture through God’s self-disclosure in Christ. What is not a matter of debate is the existence of hell, which is copiously attested in the New Testament canon; however, what is debatable is the contention that hell is a place of eternal conscious torment for the reprobate as opposed to a provisional and redemptive estate for sinners who have not yet come into union with God.

Protestants inherited their various iterations of eternal perdition through a labyrinthine path of dubious exegesis, ecclesiastical overreach, and political opportunism dating back to the early stages of Christendom; however, what many Protestants in general, and Reformed Christians in particular, might not be aware of is that during the earliest centuries of the church, at least into the 4th Century according to St. Basil the Great, many Christians were universalists.1 “Custom”, says St. Cyprian of Carthage, “without truth is the antiquity of error.”2 It is not proper to assume that inherited custom of declaring the perpetual damnation of the non-elect held to by our Protestant forbears arose from bad faith. However, given the rise in serious universalist scholarship, to continue on a path of assuming the Reformers got the matter in question right without serious consideration smacks of foul-play.

The perpetual infernalist system of thought, traceable to a small handful of the earliest Fathers became ossified after St. Augustine in the West, and was (supposedly – though this is debatable) condemned, with Origen, one of the early Fathers who most cogently defended universal salvation, by the meddling of Emperor Justinian at the Fifth Ecumenical Council. The weight of 1500 years transformed the concept of eternal conscious torment in hell from a permissible theological position alongside universalism to a dogmatic fact that silenced the theological vocabulary that might have allowed Protestants to formulate theology along different lines. The categorical rejection of universalism in Western Christianity went largely unquestioned until the 19th Century. The surge in universalism in several branches of Christianity that began with great interest in the 19th Century has again surfaced in recent years, whether from Orthodox theologians such as David Bentley Hart, Catholic scholars such as Ilaria Ramelli, and even conserva­tive Protestant thinkers such as Robin Parry, Thomas Talbott, and the Reformed theolo­gian Oliver Crisp (who simply explores the issue); the doors for reassessment are wide open. In spite of the recalcitrant grip of confessional statements that might not actually best account for what Scripture actually teaches, and the mystifying unwillingness to entertain the notion that the Reformers might have got some matters horribly wrong, which typifies confessional Reformed Christianity both historically and on the contem­porary scene, the great virtue that lies at the beating heart of the Reformation and its legacy stretching back a half a millennium is Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda. The shining hope for the Calvinist tradition is that it can always be reformed according to the Word of God and the good and necessary consequences of the truth to which Scripture infallibly testifies. 20th Century Reformed theologians such as Karl Barth and T. F. Torrance, regardless of their reception in some confessional circles, have managed to present a compelling synthesis of the universal extent of the Atonement, even when they fall short of the logical entailments of their formulae for apokatastasis. Their accounting of the biblical material on election and atonement is a marked improvement upon the theologically and morally questionable Calvinist doctrine of double predestination.

Even when confronted with the indiscriminate scope of Christ’s saving work on behalf of all humanity, questions of efficacy and sufficiency aside, the impulse of erstwhile compe­tent Reformed scholars has been to insist on interpreting the universal statements of Christ’s completed work in bringing salvation to humanity in light of the particularities of a few notoriously difficult and commonly misinterpreted passages (e.g. Romans 9-11) surrounding election, salvation, and damnation. For these scholars, the more-or-less strict adherence to historic Reformed confessions and the broad Evangelical mainstream consensus on hell dating back to the 18th Century and earlier in the Magisterial Reformation leaves the legitimate exploration of apokatastasis in a verboten netherworld. So, what ends up happening is that Christ’s statements that he will draw all men to himself in the Johannine Gospel (12:32), or the Paul’s unambiguous statements in Romans that while all die in Adam, all are raised to life in Christ (5:13), and that all humans were shut up in wrath only so mercy could be shown to all (11:32)3, among numerous other passages that speak to the broad sweep of Christ’s atoning work, are stuffed into conformity to the proportionally far fewer passages that leave the question open to eternal conscious torment.4 So, through an elaborate series of hermeneutical gymnastics, camels can pass through the eyes of needles, and the lighter weight of a small number of passages tips the scales in spite of the far heavier canonical witness in a desperate attempt to retain fidelity to certain features of the tradition that may very well be wrong. I will revisit the exegetical questions surrounding hell at another time, but I want to move on to the theological assumptions that can be marshalled in favor of universalism before winding back to matters of biblical interpretation.

Theological Considerations

The Westminster Confession of Faith (hereafter WCF) 2.1 reads that God is “without body, parts, or passions.” Herein, the confessional witness, attested elsewhere in the Magisterial symbols and creeds affirms the most fundamental truths of Classical theism; namely, Divine simplicity and impassibility, thus keeping the Reformed tradition in line with the great Catholic and Orthodox traditions stretching back into the Patristic era. While Reformed theology has struggled at a systemic level of coherence to this Classical theism, the fact that it is a general feature of Reformed theology does open the door to the question of universal salvation, for no small reason other than the fact that apokatastasis is probably the most logical eschatological entailment of Classical theism. If God is pure act, self-identical in all the diverse manners in which he extends himself into creation, there can be no contradic­tions present in this extension. Whenever God extends himself in justice, he is extending himself identically in love in the same infinite and eternal act. Divine justice, and whatever can be made of the analogical language in Scripture surrounding wrath and the like; this is not divisible from God’s love, mercy, or goodness which is at every instant extending from himself into creation from its protological beginnings to its eschatological end. The good of the creature is always the end to which God moves.

So, at issue, by good and necessary consequence is whether or not the good of the creature can in the final estimation also end in the everlasting perdition. When considering the Reformed Standards in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Answer 1 – “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever,” raises the question of whether or not eternal conscious torment of any human is in keeping with this chief end of glorifying and enjoying God in perpetuity. It would seem rather torturous to imagine that the damned can enjoy God in any meaningful sense in the agonies of hell with the everlasting impossi­bility of repenting and eventually being restored to the goodness of God. This is, of course unless one wishes to make the ghastly argument that damnation was included in God’s good purposes for any creature, and a thing to be enjoyed by that creature. This is but one of numerous examples where Reformed theology struggles to achieve coherence if the doctrine of eternal conscious damnation is to be maintained.

The other questions I will briefly touch on here are the matters of election and atonement. Election has been traditionally cast in terms of those who God has predestined to salvation and those he has predestined to perdition, and both of these are not conditioned by any quality present in the human being but solely dependent on the inscrutable and sovereign decree of God (WCF 10). John Calvin takes up the Augustinian understanding of election thusly in The Institutes III.21:

We shall never feel persuaded as we ought that our salvation flows from the free mercy of God as its fountain, until we are made acquainted with his eternal election, the grace of God being illustrated by the contrast, i.e., that he does not adopt all promiscuously to the hope of salvation, but gives to some what he denies to others.5

However, in the 20th Century the theology of election was reinterpreted Christologically by Karl Barth and T. F. Torrance. Torrance, for example says:

… in Jesus, the election for all becomes [the] ultimate fact in our existence – and here, therefore, election and substitution combine in the most unique, most intense and personal concentration of the one and the many … In himself, as God and man in union, Jesus Christ is the actualization of the eternal purpose of God to give himself to humanity in pure love and grace … Here where God has given himself to be man’s God once and for all, nothing can undo that decision. But here too God gives man to himself once and for all, and nothing can undo that decision. It is an eternal election of love, an everlasting covenant.6

Torrance’s Christological recasting remains quintessentially Reformed in its unconditional flavor. But, instead of a merely anthropological assertion, the doctrine is depicted in a fundamentally Christocentric manner, as the above indicates. Christ is elect — hence, in Christ humanity in its entirety is elected, thus showing himself to be the God who saves, not discriminating between one class of humanity versus the other but indiscriminately for the whole of humanity.

In the related matter of atonement, which Reformed theolo­gians have classically considered limited in scope, Torrance demands that the atonement, which is grounded in an Athanasian understanding of the incarnation, is unlimited:

We must affirm resolutely that Christ died for all humanity – that is a fact that cannot be undone. All men and women were represented by Christ in life and death, in his advocacy and substitution in their place. That is a finished work and not a mere possibility. It is an accomplished reality, for in Christ, in the incarnation and in his death on the cross, God has once and for all poured himself out in love for all mankind, has taken the cause of all mankind therefore upon himself. And that love has once and for all been enacted in the substitutionary work on the cross, and has become fact – nothing can undo it.7

This makes it all the more curious why Torrance, in general agreement with Barth, forgoes logical consistency to both his doctrines of atonement and incarnation when a mere page later he denies universal salvation with equal vehemence:

Objectively, then, we must think of atonement as [a] sufficient and efficacious reality for every human being – it is such sufficient and efficacious reality that it is the rock of offense, the rock of judgement upon which the sinner who refuses the divine love shatters himself or herself and is damned eternally.8

It is not entirely clear why Torrance takes with one hand what he gives with another. The whole question of efficacy, as he has already established, is bound up in God’s work in the Incarnate Christ. Efficacy cannot reasonably be called universal if it is not universally accomplished and applied. It would be odd for Torrance to appeal to an Arminian understanding of free will at this point. Torrance’s erroneous logic can easily be cleared up by eliminating this non sequitur and to simply acknowledge that the atoning work of Christ will be universally effective for all in eventual and ultimate reconciliation.

Oliver Crisp in Deviant Calvinism does just this by providing an analytic case that Universalism is logically compatible for both Augustinian and Barthian Calvinists. While I cannot enumerate all of Crisp’s arguments I will note the following, first regarding Augustinian Calvinism:

Augustinianism and universalism are compatible. Or, more specifically, the central moral and metaphysical intuitions behind Augustinianism are compatible with universalism … In recent theological-philosophical discussion of eschatology, there has been an interest in what has become known as the soteriological problem of evil. This is the contention that and all-powerful, loving God would ensure that none of humanity suffers everlasting punishment in hell … The argument for Augustinian universalism is one way in which an Augustinian who is a determinist could respond to this problem by embracing universalism (in which case the problem dissolves, because there is no soteriological problem of evil: all human beings are saved).9

Likewise, regarding Barthian universalism, while Barth is notoriously difficult to logically pin down Crisp asserts that Barth’s theology at minimum contemplates hopeful universalism:

If human moral freedom consists in some version of compatibilism, then, applied to Barth’s views, human beings are all elect in Christ and will all be saved. Indeed, this is inevitable, given the prior free act of election in Christ, the Elect One.10

I wholly recommend Crisp’s work in Deviant Calvinism. Generally, I have little interest in analytic theology but Crisp puts analytic arguments to fantastic use in demonstrating that universalism is certainly conceivable within a Reformed framework. What is most notable for the sake of this discussion is that universalism need not be a fringe question in Reformed theology – it can move to the center of what it means to be Reformed in the 21st Century. Whether one wishes to remain within the classical mainstream of Augustinian Calvinism, or if one prefers to follow a Barthian/Torrancean framework (which I do with the notable exception that I remain a Classical theist), the question of universalism ought not be dismissed on theological grounds without a thorough and careful investigation.

Conclusion

As I made clear from the beginning of this discussion, I am not a theologian in any proper sense. In many ways I feel inadequate to the task of making any definitive conclusions about the Reformed systems of doctrine. However, as a Reformed Christian, I feel it necessary to bring these matters to the attention of those in my Reformed community. My efforts here are not to liberalize or soften Reformed theology, whatever can be made of the tradition it will likely remain perennially stern in character. However, this does not mean that Reformed theology should be recalcitrant or immune to further reform. Perhaps my betters in the Reformed community would be more suited to the task of making a robust case for universalism. My hope is that, with respect to theology, it would include a continuing and deeper ressourcement with the Patristic witness and an engaging dialogue with the catholic tradition in general. Universalism is not going anywhere anytime soon. The gospel of Jesus Christ is meant to be good news; I would argue not merely for a flinty remnant but for all humanity without distinction. If there is any moral analogy between humans and God, the question of the eschatological destiny of humanity must deal with the question of the nature of that destiny not for some but for all. Can heaven and the beatific vision of God truly contemplate the specter of anyone being irretrievably lost? My contention is unapologet­ically no. For God’s goodness to be good at all it must extend, in the words of Tennyson, “at last far off, at last to all.”

 Footnotes

[1] Basil Asketikon SR 267. 
[2] Epistle 73.9.
[3] On Romans 11:32 David Bentley Hart states: “This is the conclusion to the question of 9:14 above, which prompts the long, difficult series of reflections that end here, and which is posed in its most troubling conditional form at 9:22 (what if those who have erred or stumbled are merely vessels of wrath, whose only function is to provide a contrast to vessels of mercy?). At 11:11, however, Paul affirms that those not elected for service on the basis of divine foreknowledge, though they have stumbled, nevertheless will never fall; and at 11:12 and 25 he affirms that the temporary estrangement of the elect and ‘those who stumble’ is a temporary providential arrangement that allows the ‘full totality’ of Jews and gentiles alike to enter in; and here, finally he affirms that there is no actual distinction between of vessels of wrath from vessels of mercy: rather all are bound in sin and all will receive mercy.” The New Testament: A Translation, p. 311, n. aj.
[4] See, e.g., Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:10.
[5] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.21.1.
[6] T. F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, p. 109.
[7] T. F. Torrance, Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, p. 188.
[8] Ibid., p. 189
[9] Oliver Crisp, Deviant Calvinism, pp. 97-98.
[10] Ibid., p. 168.

(to be continued)

* * *

Jedidiah comes from a construction management background and is slowly transitioning into education in order to free up more time for his passions of writing fiction and poetry. He is a Christian from a fairly conservative Reformed background with a deep appreciation for Eastern Orthodoxy and Charismatic Christianity. His theological love begins with the Hebrew Bible and Old Testament theologians like Von Rad, Brueggeman, and Waltke and he is developing a keen interest in Classical theism and the Apostolic Fathers. You can read more of his work at St. Jude’s Tavern

This entry was posted in Eschatology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to A Reformed Case for Universalism

  1. Kevin Davis says:

    “‘The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever,’ raises the question of whether or not eternal conscious torment of any human is in keeping with this chief end of glorifying and enjoying God in perpetuity.”
    Umm, of course not. The state of damnation is the frustration of the chief end of man. It is precisely the opposite of the chief end of man, and that’s the whole point.

    “It would seem rather torturous to imagine that the damned can enjoy God in any meaningful sense in the agonies of hell with the everlasting impossibility of repenting and eventually being restored to the goodness of God.”
    Who has ever said this? Or implied it? How does Reformed theology require that the damned “enjoy” God? Seriously? Once again, there is some weird confusion about what “chief end of man” means.

    “This is, of course unless one wishes to make the ghastly argument that damnation was included in God’s good purposes for any creature, and a thing to be enjoyed by that creature.”
    Once again, where does Reformed theology require that damnation be “enjoyed” by the creature? I’ll give you the short answer: nowhere.

    I’m actually not interested in defending the classical Reformed position, but these are some obvious errors in presenting that position fairly. As for Barth and Torrance, yes, they are universalists because Christ is the only truly elect and truly reprobate man — He in whom all of us are located eschatologically. For somewhat complex reasons, both Barth and Torrance didn’t like the “universalist” label, but their theologies were rigorously universalist and probably the best presentations of universalism in church history.

    Like

    • Kevin,

      Thanks for reading through this, and I appreciate the push-back. It’s hard to go deeper than assertions in a short article, and my intent was provocative. Here’s what I’d put back to you:

      The state of damnation is the frustration of the chief end of man. It is precisely the opposite of the chief end of man, and that’s the whole point.

      Think this through. If the chief end of man includes the enjoyment of God in perpetuity (which I agree with), then there is a logical breakdown in the Reformed system if God created a set of humans that he determined would not reach the very end he created them for, and they end up in a state of perpetual suffering without recourse to redemption. That’s a big, big problem in terms of soteriological theodicy and I don’t think my Calvinist friends take this seriously enough. If you want to maintain a Classical Reformed stance, which in many respects is a sound system, you are going to have to deal with the problem of evil as it relates to eschatology because this is the wrench in the Calvinist gears. I am arguing that it needs reforming. But, hey I’m a plumber’s kid with about as much knowledge of theology as scatology.

      Here’s where the rubber meets the road in my estimation – the Classical Calvinist (or Barthian for that matter) has no way to escape attributing evil to God without the affirmation of universal salvation. If one want’s to take a highly deterministic, or even compatibilistic view the eschatological problem of evil is going to bleed into your Theology Proper. For any creature to not attain to the good end for which it is created is evil. If God has elected some portion of humanity (however small or great) to damnation, then his purposes in creating them were evil unless you want to equivocate in your language for God. This is going to run like a wrecking ball through Reformed Theology Proper, because when you get to the nature of God, classically construed you are going to have to account for Divine act being realized in an evil end while avoiding calling God evil. I’m absolutely serious about this point (which David Bentley Hart made much more eloquently); the only coherent way to account for God’s goodness is to view hell as a provisional estate that is necessary to achieve the good end for which all humanity was created.

      Like

      • Kevin Davis says:

        Yes, the theodicy question is always where classical Reformed theology is at its most vulnerable. I’m not a Calvinist. They will, of course, reply that “compatibilism” allows us to accept double predestination without making God culpable for the responsibility of the reprobate’s fate. I don’t buy it. That’s a “have your cake and eat it too” approach, and it’s deeply embedded in Reformed theology — from Calvin himself to Turretin to Hodge to Bavinck to popularizers today like Piper. They want the benefit of sovereign, unconditional election without the consequence. The consequence is that, for the Calvinist, God is responsible, causally, for the fate of the reprobate who are unconditionally reprobate. (The key word is “unconditionally” because reprobation, like election, is not based on anything within the person, as all are equally depraved.) Calvinists will accept that God is responsible for the fate of the reprobate, but they will defer to “mystery” and “compatibilism” to keep the reprobate responsible for his fate in some sense, while retaining God as the sovereign cause. Thus, God is responsible and not responsible. Like I say, it’s the theological equivalent of “have your cake and eat it too.”

        So, my push-back was about your presentation of the classical Reformed position on the chief end of man. You didn’t present it fairly, and you made some obvious non sequiturs. In my many conversations with Calvinists, having myself been one, that sort of misrepresentation is important, and it weakens what could have been otherwise a stronger presentation. That’s all. I tend to be nitpicky, a blessing and a curse!

        Like

        • Thanks Kevin, pick away, I’ve got no issue with that. The only thing I might be inclined to grant is that I did make some logical leaps without filling in the gaps in interest of space. But, in general the argument shouldn’t be that hard to follow. Given the Calvinist system, if God creates man for an end, there is a problem if his power is inefficient to meet that end and that’s what I am honing in on. It probably deserves an entire discussion itself to tease out the whole argument, but I don’t think my assumptions are without merit.

          Like

          • Kevin Davis says:

            “if God creates man for an end, there is a problem if his power is inefficient to meet that end”

            But in the Calvinist system God’s power is not inefficient to meet that end. God could have decided to save all, wherein all humans would achieve their “chief end” to glorify and enjoy God. If all humans do not achieve this end it is because of sin and the withholding of grace for salvation, not because of a lack of power in God. God is not constrained to save all because his grace is free. He could save all, and I’m inclined toward hopeful universalism — but I don’t see where classical Reformed theology is in contradiction on this point. They believe that not all are saved — some elect, some reprobate — because they believe that is definitively taught in Scripture, but theoretically, given God’s power and freedom, he certainly could have determined to save all. As I wrote above, there are other problems with Calvinist theology. I just don’t see this as being one of them.

            Like

  2. Reblogged this on ST. JUDE'S TAVERN and commented:
    Fr. Kimel kindly invited me to write up an article on Reformed Universalism for his site, Eclectic Orthodoxy. I hope this is thought provoking for those in my Reformed community especially.

    Like

  3. HAT says:

    Nice work. Don’t forget that Second Helvetic Confession: “We are to have a good hope for all.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the Second Helvetic represents a minority report in the Reformed tradition. It could have developed along different lines but Geneva beat out Zurich on soteriology. Bullinger was not on board with Calvin’s strident determinism and was probably more Lutheran in that respect. Part of the issue in discussing “Reformed” or “Calvinist” views is that some want to act as if they are monolithic when in fact the tradition had genuine diversity from the onset.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Thank you again, Jed, for writing this article for the blog. We look forward to Part 2!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Of relevance to this discussion is an article I wrote five years ago. I had completely forgotten it until today: “Tweaking Augustine.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pastor David Cooper says:

    Thanks so much for your blog and I am looking forward to reading part 2. I have real issues with universalism because from the creation of Adam right through to now, God has given humankind the freedom to accept or reject him. He did not make us robots and therefore salvation requires the response of each individual in regards to the universal atonement Christ has accomplished. We can all agree that the Lord is a righteous Judge and as for eternal punishment (whatever duration and form that takes), we can be sure that ultimately everyone will receive what is right and good for the glory of God. I do, however, love TFT writings very much simply because Jesus the Christ IS our salvation but we all must put our trust in him

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Tom says:

    Great to see you posting Jed!

    One reading of “the enjoyment of God is the chief end of man” by which some Reformed folk have (in conversation with me) sought to bring that conviction into harmony with the belief that God also unconditionally determines some to suffer eternally is to understand it not as describing God as the chief end of each and every human being, but only the chief end of ‘man’ the species, the kind. It’s fulfilled categorically, as it were, by whatever percentage God determines. That he also determines some to suffer eternally isn’t a failure of the ‘end of man’ since that end obtains in others. Have your run across this explanation?

    Tom

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah Tom, I’ve seen it. I think that it is a bad argument. If it were the case WSC.A1 would read something like “the chief end of human nature is to glorify God…” But God didn’t come to save natures in the abstract, he came to restore humans – real people. If there are a subset of humans that the chief end of man doesn’t apply to, I’d love to hear a cogent defense as to why. It seems to me to sidestep the question for the traditional Calvinist about God’s purposes in creating humanity in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Bobby Grow says:

    Hmm, TFT’s (and Barth’s) logic isn’t “erroneous,” but instead determined by a particular sort of dialectical and actualistic logic and rationality that they reason from the sui generis nature of the Evangel itself. That needs to be appreciated more, and not simply written off. Roger Olson wrote Evangelical Calvinism off (a la the reasoning we’ve appropriated from Barth/TFT et al) for the same reason; i.e. that there is erroneous logic present. But that is like ignoring a huge elephant in the room. For TFT, in particular, he offers an alternative to what he calls the logico-causal and necessitarian schematic that decretal theology works from. Barth simply focuses on actualism and Divine Freedom, and through his sort of dialectic doesn’t really worry about the so called erroneous charge that is all too often made against his approach. In other words, in order to really critique both Barth and TFT on the level of logic, you would have to go back into a broader discussion that leads them to their theo-logical conclusions (for Barth it is his actualism/dialecticism and for TFT it is his what he calls kata physin epistemological inversion theological science mode). I have already written numerous posts in contrast to the charge you make (contra Barth/TFT) by way of response to both Roger Olson, and then Kevin Vanhoozer, when he visited the blog a few times). Not sure I want to redo those in response to your post here. Thinking about it.

    And along with Kevin’s point: TFT and Barth both offer a universalist theo-logic, without committing themselves to an absolute form of that in the eschatological sense. But this sort of logic is not anything different than what we find in the Pauline corpus; this doesn’t mean that Paul doesn’t also offer a particularist theo-logic right alongside his broader universalist sentiment. This is a reason, for me, why concluding that universalism is the biblical teaching simply does not ultimately work; not in an absolute or conclusive way. This is where Barth’s default back to Divine Freedom vis a vis this loci is helpful I think. It does leave things open, but not in such a way that a dogmatic universalism is the result.

    I mean if you really want a Reformed Christian universalism just follow David Congdon’s logic (but don’t!). Congdon offers a theo-logic that radicalizes Barth’s actualism (but more so Bultmann’s–so Lutheran in that sense); and of course goes beyond that. But he works out the sort of coherentist theo-logic that you are seemingly looking for in Barth and TFT.

    Like

    • Bobby Grow says:

      Here is how Bruce McCormack seeks to provide some wisdom on this (although I’m not fully on board with this solution … it is too hypothetical — nevertheless, it at least draws some helpful imaginary in order to think this within the Reformed scope, and then with Barth later):

      [I] would suggest that there is a better way of dealing with this, the most profound and important of the tensions found in the New Testament. I am certainly conservative enough in my understanding of biblical inspiration to believe that if something appears in the New Testament, it is there because God wanted it there. So if a tension exists, there must be a reason for it. And if I had to guess, I would say that the reason has to do with the fact that those awakened to faith in Jesus Christ in this world are still sinners. If God told us the answer to the problem in advance of the eschaton, we would harm ourselves on the one side or the other. If Hew were to tell us that a universal salvation will be the final outcome, we would very likely become lax, antinomian even. The sense of urgency that is pervasive in Paul’s Christian existentialism would be lost. If, on the other hand, God told us that limited atonement is the true resolution of the tension, we would very likely despair of our salvation. How could anyone be certain that the atoning death of Christ was really intended for him or her? And so I would venture to guess that the tension I have described is divinely intended — in order to protect us from ourselves.

      In short, I think it was a mistake for the Westminster Assembly to seek to resolve this question on the side of limited atonement in advance of the return of Christ in glory — just as I think that it would be a mistake for any church today to teach universalism. Again, these are simply the logical possibilities that arise on the soil of the Reformed understanding of the relation of grace and faith. As such, they constitute the walls within which we are to live in this world. All of us will tilt more to one side than the other. And if individual theologians wish to conclude to one or the other — for the sake of exploring implications and relationships among the various Christian doctrines, they should be allowed to do so. That belongs to their unique calling. But churches need to be responsible for all the faithful. And for that reason, I would say, neither limited atonement nor universalism should ever be made church dogma.

      We are now in a position to appreciate Karl Barth’s position on the problem of universalism. [Bruce L. McCormack, So That He May Be Merciful to All: Karl Barth and the Problem of Universalism, 240-41 in, Karl Barth And American Evangelicalism, edited by Bruce L. McCormack and Clifford B. Anderson.]</blockquote.

      I actually have a plethora of posts on Christian universalism as I just perused my blog. Many of them directly respond to the sentiment you have put forth in your post here, Jed.

      Like

    • Bobby,

      First, thanks for your thoughtful responses here and on your blog. I apologize up front for my truncated responses, I have a lot going on in terms of school and family responsibilities for the next few days. If I am able to respond more, I will. So, I won’t be able to give a point-by-point response to you on this, sorry.

      That said, here’s the rub. I can see how you might say that Barth, Torrance, et.al. are being logically consistent given their assumptions. But, I think I have already been fairly clear that I find the dialectical underpinnings of their theological prologuemena to be highly problematic. I know that this might sound crass, but there are times when the Barthian schema ultimately seems like a more sophisticated way of saying ‘the Bible tells me so’, and this is still offered without some kind of external warrant like logic and basic coherence. To Barth’s credit, this doesn’t seem to bother him in the slightest and in general I think his radical Christocentrism goes in far more positive theological directions than negative ones even if I don’t share his fundamental assumptions. So, while I am willing to grant that to a Barthian the refusal to embrace a universalism is not a non sequiter given their assumptions, this simply is not the case for me and I suspect others who evaluate the issue from a different framework.

      This has been the reef of our differences since I have begun dialoging with you on this stuff a few years ago. I appreciate that the dialectical theologians have re-engaged with the Patristic sources and reified doctrines that have fallen into disuse. Torrance’s appropriation of Athanasius is nothing short of brilliant. But, the problem is, they simply want to discard the metaphysical underpinnings of Patristic thought that produced these doctrines in the first place. This, for me will always boil down to the rejection of the analogia entis by the dialectical school (though Breunner did seem more amenable to it) in general; it is in my estimation the critical flaw in the entire system and why I cannot, in spite of my deep sympathies with Barth, Torrance, et. al. properly call myself a Barthian. I don’t think you have much to worry about when it comes to going Congdon’s route, simply because I think he has taken dialectical assumptions and simply taken them much further in a Bultmanian direction, which I am not inclined to do on multiple grounds. Suffice to say, I don’t think that we are going to span this impasse here, and I do stand by my sentiment that Torrance and Barth are simply not consistent on the question of universalism – and I am not the first (and probably won’t be the last) to say this because so much of their system actually implies it.

      Like

      • Bobby Grow says:

        Jed,

        No, ultimately your response here only illustrates the basic point: you and those who assert that Barth/Torrance et al operate with erroneous logic operate with an underinformed and thus malformed understanding of Barth’s TFT’s prolegomena. Even Vanhoozer’s critique suffers from this when he attempts to argue that TFT is incoherent vis a vis scripture just at the point that TFT does not cohere with Vanhoozer’s own theological commitments. This is to engage in a serious category mistake.

        But at the end your response here almost makes it appear as if you didn’t actually read what I shared from Hunsinger. The whole point of that was to illustrate how claiming the “logic” is erroneous is absurd; and again, based on an underinformed perspective.

        As far as lack of “metaphysics,” in TFT, and even Barth, this only demonstrates that you haven’t spent enough time with barth tft studies. The whole critique of TFt from some barthians contra tft is that he is basically a Thomist. And then of course Hunsinger/Molnar themselves argue for a metaphysical Barth. Anyway, you don’t seem to have the proper handle on their theologies to come to the radical opinion that they just do operate with erroneous logic. I mean to only make an assertion like that, and then rely on others, could only mean that all the others have erred just the same; and they have—they haven’t shown adequate care in actually attempting to understand the basic premises of Barth’s TFt’s theologies. IOW, your generalization and appeal to authorities is a non-starter.

        As far as reducing this all to analogia entis really misses what dialectical theology is all about. It might represent your perception of why you think Barth tft are erroneous, but this only really illustrates a perception based on a reductionism that doesn’t ultimately work; when, again, you have spent enough time understanding what’s going on in their respective theologies.

        As far as TFT and patristics. Just read the book on TFT and Orthodoxy. The Orthodox have a much different take on TFT and the patristics than you do.

        Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Bobby, I do not know if Jed’s use of the word “erroneous” was the best choice, but he has identified a problem in Barth and Torrance that many readers have also picked up on–namely, specifying a compelling reason, or reasons, why both men refrain from following through on the evangelical logic of their understanding of the incarnation and atonement. Given their emphatic insistence that all humanity is gathered into Christ, how is it that it is still possible for human beings to definitively, irreversibly, irrevocably reject Christ? Precisely at that point the Cross is nullified–unless, of course, one is an Arminian. But neither Barth nor Torrance are Arminians. The latter goes so far as to claim that we are saved by the faith of Christ, that God acts for us on both sides of the Creator/creature divide.

      I do not find your claim that their restraint is driven by their apprehension of the gospel itself. The unconditionality and universality of the gospel, which both theologians so clearly apprehended, naturally, logically, evangelically leads to the greater hope. Yet having come to the very edge of the cliff of apokatastasis, both take a step back and grant the creaturely nay the final say. Or so it seems.

      Where the rubber meets the road is in preaching. Are there occasions when the preacher is justified in declaring to his congregation, “In the name of Christ I say to you: You are saved and will be saved”? No ifs, ands, or buts–just pure unconditional promise.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bobby Grow says:

        Aidan, you know what delimits them—and not you?—their commitment to sola scriptura and its teaching. Which for Protestants trumps the authority of church trad.

        And no, this does not commit them to Arminianism. In order for that to be the case, they would have to also be committed to the theory of causation and metaphysic that leads to that binary between Calv/Arm. But they reject that, Barth more consistently even than TFT. That’s what that post I shared with full reference to Hunsinger on Barth was supposed to clear up. I mean, yes, people can attempt to force them into some sort of false theological location, and then judge them artificially from there; but that is to ignore their own stated and articulated and worked out prolegomena and theologies, respectively. That’s not good form to press people into such molds. It makes it easier for the critics, I get that; but not good form.

        Like

        • Mike H says:

          Bobby,

          Apologies for jumping in on your conversation here.

          I’ve been watching the back and forth because I’ve had the same understanding (or misunderstanding depending on your point of view) as others here re ‘erroneous logic’. I’ve read your blog response but am still not clear on how you’d answer the following question:

          In the Barth/TFT framework that you’re arguing for here, if a person is finally and irrevocably damned, which agent (God or man) is responsible for the person being in that final and irrevocable state? I probably haven’t asked the question in a way that will avoid scrutiny, but I’m sure you understand what I’m asking.

          Even while acknowledging human freedom within the context of “the one divine mystery” and not an “autonomous mystery” and assuming a coexistence of human freedom and divine providence, the clear implication to me is that the state of damnation is fully 100% on the side of human “freedom”. Is that accurate?

          I see that idea in the Torrance quote from ‘Atonement’:

          “As we saw, it is the positive will of God in loving humanity that becomes humanity’s judgment when they refuse it.”

          When they refuse it. It’s not that God finally refuses man, or “passes over” some and saves others, or sovereignly determines that man should reject God to the glory of God. In this framework, it’s simply that man finally refuses God. “Impossible possibility” notwithstanding, a final and irrevocable rejection is entirely possible. So I don’t know how to read this any other way than to say that the acceptance or refusal on the part of each human is the determining factor in a person’s eschatological experience, even if this “refusal” isn’t being construed in distinctly Arminian terms or hell thought of dualistically.

          Thoughts?

          Like

        • Bobby,

          I just wanted to drop a line to let you know I haven’t forgotten you amigo. I’ve got a ton going on over on my end that I have to tend to. But, I will respond as soon as I can put together some coherent thoughts.

          I do appreciate the pushback, and I figured it was coming. Just to be clear, my beef is probably more with the classical Reformed position than the evangelical Calvinism that you espouse (which I am highly sympathetic to in general). Just so you know, much of my response to you will center on why I think that the rejection of classical theism on the part of the Reformed dialectical theologians leads to the kind of errors I am pointing out. Perhaps I will be guilty of overstatement, but I think you’ll get the gist of my argument nonetheless.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Bobby Grow says:

            I understand, Jed. But I don’t think you have, thus far, shown in principle how Barth’s or TFT’s logic is erroneous. But they shouldn’t be lumped together too closely in this area either. TFT offers a *positive* account of soteriology and particularity insofar as he focuses on what has been revealed in the *yes* of salvation for humanity in Christ. He simply relegates the *no*, in the case of personal appropriation, to the mystery and inexplicable nature of sin and darkness. That’s his response, and it’s not erroneous or unbiblical. Deut 29.29. Not to mention TFT spends lots and lots of time debunking what he calls the logico-deductive-causal necessitarian schemata that dominates so much of the various classical theisms on offer. If someone doesn’t read him through his alternative lens, and what he calls epistemological inversion, then that person will indeed conclude that his position is incoherent. Barth, on the other hand, with his actualism, simply rejects the whole paradigm and logic that classical theism operates under. He keeps himself from dogmatic universalism by pressing on Divine Freedom, which of course funds his pivotal doctrine of election and doctrine of God, respectively.

            Like

  9. Pingback: Responding to Jedidiah Paschall’s Case for a Reformed Universalism: With Particular Clarification on Barth’s and Torrance’s Logic as ‘Erroneous’ | The Evangelical Calvinist

  10. Wyatt says:

    Fr Aidan Kimel, I appreciate this guest post by Jedidiah Paschall and you’ve always been good about being ecumenical and inviting conversations with other parts of the church tradition. I appreciated Jedidiah used TF Torrance as a representative for the reformed tradition, because he is generally accepted as a good interpreter of Barth and also is a faithful to the Scottish Reformed tradition as well. There are stronger affirmations for Universalism in the Reformed Tradition that are more convincing though, and universalism may be realized or futuristic or both, so there’s some confusion around the terms. Barth and TFT reject universalism (apocatastasis) because they want to affirm the freedom of god to choose all people. Oliver Crisp calls this a Hard Universalism in his book. I like Barth’s distancing from a hard universalism, because it has some ecumenical advantage, because there is a strong disdain for universalism (sadly) among most evangelicals.

    The Reformed position IMHO provides a stronger argument for universalism, due to doctrine of double predestination, because it allows for God to say no to all individual no’s. There is a double standard among conservative reformed, where they have a strong affirmation of double predestination, but then erroneously retreat to a personal decision or work of faith, and I think Jedidiah is right to identify this in TFT. I think he is rather inconsistent, especially in the way he is unwilling to side with either limited atonement or universal atonement (but i see the ecumenical value). It may be interesting to see some engagement with Jürgen Moltmann, in Part 2, who does provide a more vocal affirmation of universalism (especially in his later years).

    I think David Congdon is misrepresented in these comments, because his definition of universalism is on completely different terms. If you read his book The God Who Saves, then the realized universalism he discusses is not futuristic at all. So it is another valid approach, but Congdon is influenced by Barth (who is reformed) but also by Bultmann (who is lutheran).

    I look forward to reading the Part 2.

    Wyatt Houtz
    https://postbarthian.com

    Like

    • Wyatt,

      Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts. It will probably be another couple of months before I get around to completing Part II, but I will get to it. I don’t want to misrepresent Congdon, because I have only had the chance to read parts of his books and most of what I have read is limited to his articles. However, my points of disagreement with his is probably similar to my disagreements with Bultmann in general. I probably won’t interact much with Moltmann in the exegetical piece simply because of time constraints and where my focus will be directed in general (in the exegetical part I will primarily be critiquing the classical/Augustinian Calvinist exegesis and some interaction with some of the leading lights at Old Princeton). It is good to see that I am not the only one who does notice some inconsistency on the part of Bart and TFT.

      Like I noted in the article, I am more or less a creative writer and not a theologian in any proper sense. I do interact heavily with many strands of theology so I don’t think my observations and conclusions are unfounded, but I also realize my own limitations. All of this notwithstanding hopefully I can spark some interesting conversation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bobby Grow says:

        Jed,

        To be clear: When I referred you to DC’s book it was tongue-in-cheek. The only reason I placed that in my comment was because I think DC offers a coherent argument for universalism (although not Christian by any orthodox standard). There is no misunderstanding about what DC is a proponent of and where he thinks from (as you rightly note his Bultmann commitments). But be that as it may, I still think there are scriptural-teaching reasons for rejecting Christian universalism. Clearly, if the Bible itself is not authoritative for someone, or if it is marginalized-subordinated by a prior commitment to ecclesial and patrological teachings and theories of authority, then of course my conclusion as a Protestant committed to sola scriptura will always be untenable. Thus far I don’t see how you’ve offered a classically Reformed position for Christian universalism. I’ll be waiting.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Cool, thanks for clarifying. Like I indicated below, I think that the argumentation for universalism is actually fairly straightforward in terms of exegesis. But, I haven’t developed those yet. I think those should hopefully open up some lively debate as well. It will be a while before I can complete those though.

          Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I read Congdon’s book when it was first published. To be honest, Wyatt, I found myself seriously questioning his orthodox commitments. I cannot recommend his book, FWIW.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Bobby,

    I’m pulling this down thread because the old one is getting crowded. Clearly you are more well read in TFT and Barth than I am, so I am not going to go blow-for-blow with you on this. I do agree with you that Barth and TFT (especially TFT) are making their arguments regarding to election and atonement on the basis of Divine freedom, and I am in essential agreement with them on this point. However, I do not agree that TFT’s argument against universalism is based likewise on Divine freedom, it clearly is based in his argument for human freedom because he is basing it on ‘the sinner who refuses divine love…” not on some prior action on God’s part which has been universally directed at saving humans.

    Whether or not one views this as an error depends greatly on how we are defining freedom. If freedom is expressed in its movement toward the good rather than a purely voluntary act, then yes, it clearly is an error because TFT offers no explanation for how such freedom is possible in the first place. My guess (and it is just that) is that he is still appropriating a view of freedom that has been assumed by Protestantism from the onset, which is fundamentally voluntaristic in its framework. My argument is simple, if election in Christ is universal and if the atonement is universal both being divine works, then salvation for humanity (being a divine work) must be universal as well that will eventually result in universal salvation based on the efficacy of the divine work. To fall short of this is to introduce some sort of contradiction in how efficacy is defined in the first place. At least the classical Calvinist position is logically consistent in its double predestination and limited atonement because God’s saving work is absolutely efficacious for the elect, as is his will for the reprobate to be consigned to perdition. Of course, I am presupposing a classical view of the will here and an analogy between divine and created wills, namely that both are inclined to the highest good – and human will once stripped of all the privations of evil will likewise attain to the highest good freely because it was created for this end. TFT does grant genuine freedom to the human agent in a way that the classical Calvinist would not, however I think his argument here still belies a defective understanding of what constitutes true freedom. I do not see any way to get around the fact that TFT is allowing the human will to be anything less that ultimately oriented to the evil (i.e. the everlasting ruin of the soul in hell) even after arguing so forcefully for the sovereign and universal work of God in Christ to bring about its salvation. This is where I see the non sequitur because he gives nothing more than a passing remark for why he argues thusly. The only way that I could see TFT as consistent here is if he were to explicitly argue in favor of voluntarism (and I haven’t read anything in his corpus where he does so).

    Perhaps he is being consistent to his theological prologemena, but he still hasn’t demonstrated warrant to any external source that lends logical weight to his decision – he doesn’t even really offer exegetical arguments in Atonement, he simply makes an assertion that he doesn’t go on to develop beyond a simple statement that he seems to take as axiomatic.

    I am more than willing to grant that humans can, for a time, exercise freedom in a defective manner in such a way that they can reject the saving work of God in Christ. However, all I am arguing is that they cannot do so everlastingly. This preserves true freedom and still upholds the efficacy of God’s will to bring salvation to all. I don’t think that TFT’s rejection of universalism must necessarily stem from his theological presuppositions, because he makes no indication himself that it does (at least not in any place I have run across in my research). I also do think that for TFT the case must be settled exegetically because of his commitments to sola Scriptura, not on the basis of any prior systematic commitments. I am perfectly fine with this. The key issues I will be raising when I move onto Part II of this article will center on this precisely. I do not think that texts like Romans 5 and 11, or 1 Corithians 15 are arguing for anything short of universal reconciliation and I will be working to demonstrate this. Conversely, I will be arguing on the basis of prophetic contingency that the warning passages that might seem to indicate an everlasting damnation in texts such as Matthew 25 as well as Revelation 20 should not be read as iron-clad arguments in favor of it, especially in their appropriation of aionios. I could go on to argue why I think that classical theism is exegetically warranted, but I’ll have to leave this sort of argument for some later work – suffice to say I do think that James Barr gave the dialectical theologians a sound thrashing on their rejection of philosophical categories in Scripture in books like The Biblical Case for Natural Theology and some of his work in his volume Biblical Theology where he demonstrates that there is not such a hard demarcation of what we might call special and general/natural revelation in Scripture. But, that will be a different debate for a different day.

    I’ll continue to respond as I am able, but it’ll probably be slower than I would like.

    Like

    • Bobby Grow says:

      Jed,

      Have you read TFT’s book School of Faith? Or his books Theological Science or Ground & Grammar? Or his book Scottish Theology? These books of his, and others, give the framework he thinks from (not Incarnation&Atonement which are his published New College lectures). His doctrine of salvation is not Augustinian, as you seem to be intimating; his doctrine of humanity (or anthropology) is fully Christologically conditioned, which flows from his doctrine of election (in a doctrine of God)—see Myk’s chapter in particular (in our first EC book). His doctrine of salvation and anthropology comes after not prior to his doctrine of God and election (here he is like Barth). So you misunderstand TFT at a basic and fundamental level when you attempt to distinguish him from Barth in this way. That said, and like I already noted: For TFT his doctrine of election and subsequently salvation, condition the way he conceives of not only divine freedom, but human freedom as he thinks those together in the homoousion. This is why he has a positive view of salvation, in the Yes of Christ, and an asymmetrical understanding of what is subjectively taking place in the no of those who inconceivably remain in this status (i.e. those who reject their election). This doesn’t have anything to do with freedom, not for TFT, but instead with the surd nature of sin itself. It is inexplicable and thus an irrationality that your commentary on ‘freedom’ in general does not touch. Torrance does have exegetical arguments, not as many as I would like (but that’s because he was a Christian Dogmatist), which are mostly in his unpublished sermons. Even so, insofar as theological exegesis has its place, we can already see, in a robust way, in re to TFT’s larger theological framework, how he would approach biblical exegesis in these areas.

      As far as James Barr’s sort of wacky analyses, I’ll refer you (for purposes of space and time on my end) to Kenneth Oakes’ book Karl Barth on Theology and Philosophy . And as I already noted, in your going forward and forthcoming post, the biblical teaching has just as many particularist passages as it does universalist ones; as McCormack identifies for us, and the wisdom I shared from him in that regard.

      As far as lexical argument: The reference to aionios as so many proponents of various forms of Christian universalism make, is not really helpful, in my view, in any sort of critical way. In this case the context itself is determinative, canonically. I realize that people like Ramelli have majored on this, but when I read and listen to her, her arguments start to ring hollow insofar as the context she uses to provide meaning is more ecclesial than canonical. IOW, I don’t find lexical arguments on that ‘word’ to be conclusive one way or the other. But something more substantial in this regard is the Dominical teaching of Jesus. Somebody no less than the Evangelical Universalist himself maintains that Jesus taught and held to the conservative rabbinic teaching of the day, that taught an eternal conscious torment view of hell (so unless you want to default to a hard kenocitism, this ought to have some sort of significant impact on these things for you).

      Anyway, what I’m interested in seeing you present is a coherent Reformed Universalism that coheres with a classical supralapsarian double predestinarianism. Although that doesn’t seem like that’s what you’re going to present. It does seem as if you’re using Barth and TFT as badges for the Reformed pedigree, when as you know, as well as I, nobody in the classically Reformed world accepts them as genuinely and confessionally Reformed. Yet it’s also interesting, because while you’re ostensibly using them as your Reformed hook and entree, at the same time you are contradicting their own teachings. Which is fine, but then you are really removing yourself from anything “Reformed” at that point, and venturing into erstwhile waters that look and sound like other iterations of the classical theisms more fitting for an Orthodox and Patrological thinker rather than a Reformed one. And as Kevin Davis pointed out above (and already), your characterizations of classically Reformed theology aren’t all that accurate either. I think it’s fine for you to maintain an constructive theological position, but to label it Reformed in any meaningful way (even from a Barthian or Torrancean direction) doesn’t seem all that meaningful to me.

      Like

      • Bobby, I’ll get to more of your comment later. But, you seem to want to draw the same kind of boundary markers on what constitutes ‘Reformed’ as many in the classical camp. If I were the only person who were making the argument that there are many threads of Reformed theology that are amenable to apokatastasis, that would be one thing. However, this simply isn’t the case. Crisp, for example demonstrates how it is defensible on multiple grounds (in ways far more capable than I can offer) in Deviant Calvinism. If you want to claim it isn’t in line with the Evangelical Calvinism you propose, I totally get that. But to say that there is no room to be constructive and Reformed, or to take Torrancean or Barthian positions in directions that glean from their insights but leave other of their tenets behind doesn’t seem that reasonable. Similar arguments have been made to demonstrate how Barth and Torrance themselves were not Reformed and obviously these are wanting. To be clear I am basically hybridizing certain strands of both Augustinian and Barthian Calvinism in a direction that is still (I think) distinctly Reformed. But, if pushed to it I would gladly drop any and all Reformed affiliation if that meant not being universalist because I think that these matters are fundamental both to a biblical anthropology, a coherent moral accont of Theology Proper, and it cuts to the heart of the gospel itself. Can the good news be good really if it leaves any aspect of creation untouched or left to eternal ruin?I’m fine if others disagree with me on this, but that doesn’t sound like good news to me – it sounds like a God who cannot accomplish what he set out to do in sending his Son – reconciling all things to himself whether in heaven or on earth.

        Like

        • Bobby Grow says:

          Jed, no, that’s not really what I said; and I have been arguing for the expansive nature of Calvinism much before Oliver ever went to print on these things. What I said was that you’re using Barth and TFT, and that mood, as your way into the Reformed world as the premise for your “Reformed Calvinism,” and then saying their logic is erroneous. That’s a rather odd way to frame things, and appeal to them as your Reformed bases and entree. It’s one thing to be PostBarthian and another to be Barthian; you’re positioning is more PostBarthian, which is why the online version of that liked your post. And I’m not delimiting the expansiveness of Reformed theology to Evangelical Calvinism, in fact years ago I made an index that identified at least 5 strands in the history. But I am saying that in *that* history, you are not going to find your position; not in the sense that you’re advocating for an absolute or dogmatic universalism. I’m well aware of Crisp’s position—I mean he forwarded our last book. His expansive note in re to Reformed theology has to do, materially, with recognizing that there has indeed been a universalizing ethos present for some, but not a universalist one in the sense you are proposing. Evangelical Calvinism, based constructively as it is on Barth’s and TFT’s theologies, respectively, fits historically, into this universalizing ethos in re to the salvific locus. But not the universalistic position you are proposing. PostBarthian’s use your logic, but neither Barthians nor Torranceans do. So you’re at least twice removed from confessional Reformed theology, proper, and at least once removed from Barth and Torrance; which was my point. At a certain point of removal this becomes non-Reformed (historically), and something else. The “constructive” apparatus only has so much lassitude vis a vis interpretive traditions.

          So I guess the framing of your position as Reformed Universalism doesn’t ultimately work in my view; even if you appeal to constructivism as your way in. Yes, I can see where you’re seeing the universalist logic in both Barth and Torrance, but to suggest that their positions are erroneous because they do not reduce that in the direction you think they should does not follow (for reasons I’ve already presented). Your position as PostBarthian? Yes. As Reformed or Barthian or Torrancean? No. I’m hitting at the way your post has been presented as Reformed and Barthian or Torrancean; and thus far I don’t see it as any of these. If it wasn’t framed this way I wouldn’t even be commenting or pushing back. I already have gone through this malaise more than once, and have already concluded that a dogmatic or absolute Christian universalism is untenable based upon the teaching of Scripture. And I’m not the only “Barthian” to conclude this way.

          Like

          • Bobby, thanks for the clarification. I would draw you to the post itself. I made no claim that I was either Barthian or Augustinian even though I referenced both. You’re right to note that I am making a constructive case, but it is constructive based on various strands of Reformed theology. To be fair, I did not make that clear in the post itself and I probably should have.

            Like

Comments are closed.