I finally obtained a copy of the published version of my paper “Preaching Apokatastasis.” A few editorial changes were made before publication, but on the whole this is the same paper that I shared with everyone a couple of years ago.
My approach to the question of universal salvation is a bit different from others, largely because of the huge impact Robert W. Jenson had on my theological reflection. Jens taught me that the preaching of the gospel of Christ requires the speaking of unconditional promise. This was the burning concern of the Reformers, under the rubric of justification by faith. If the gospel is not declared in the perfomative mode of promise, then preaching is reduced to exhortation … and more exhortation … and yet more exhortation … ad nauseam—the dead speaking irrelevancies to the dead. Exhortation has its place, of course, but only when enveloped by the eschatological promise of Pascha. Only the gospel bestows life!
Another way of putting the matter: the task of the Church is to proclaim Love—absolute, unqualified, unmerited, unconditional, liberating Love—into the lives of our hearers, no matter what their situation, no matter what their sin. The God who is Love never takes no for an answer. Our disbelief and rebellion is simply yet another opportunity for the Lord to work the magic of resurrection. Preachers, attend!
Jens and I had several conversations about gospel and justification when I worked on a STM with him. I remember on at least one occasion asking him: “If I, as a priest, am authorized in the name of Jesus to make unconditional promises of salvation to my hearers, why may I not also declare to them the salvation of all?” That would be to make an impermissible move, he replied, from 1st-2nd person discourse to 3rd person discourse. I was never quite satisfied with this answer, but I obeyed it nonetheless throughout my parochial ministry. After I became Orthodox, I came to understand that together we are the “whole Adam” to whom the gospel is spoken. My life cannot be separated from my parents, my spouse, my children, friends and neighbors, my enemies. I am saved with them as the whole Adam or I cannot be saved at all. Hence pastors are indeed authorized, so I believe, to declare the promise of universal reconciliation when the pastoral situation dictates. In the memorable words of Dame Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”