‘Grace Saves All’: A Book Review

by Tom Belt

It’s a pleasure to review and recommend David Artman’s Grace Saves All: The Necessity of Christian Universalism (Wipf & Stock, 2020, hereafter GSA), yet another voice among a growing chorus in defense of Christian univer­salism. I recall a time when contemporary Christian defenses of universalism were scarcely available. Today one would have to work hard to become familiar with all the contemporary published works on the subject — books, periodicals, and, we should add, excellent blog entries and conversations such as are found here on Fr Aidan’s site. We are enjoying a revival of renewed interest in the question of the destiny of souls that has been provoked by the growing number of Christians who have embraced universalism, not a Christless pluralism dressed up in Christian vocabulary, but a truly Christian universalism, the participation of all in Christ.

I immediately tracked with David’s (pardon my informality) articulation of things because, like him, I came to faith and continue to pursue it in an Evangelical context. David, a Disciples of Christ pastor, models the openness of mind that he asks of his readers. He has a comfortably concise way of presenting the arguments without pretense or provocation, and his unassuming style keeps readers’ attention on his arguments and off of him. He’s given readers unfamiliar with the debate a helpful pathway into the conversation.

The book opens with an observation regarding two different views of grace relative to our salvation. On the one hand, many (Calvinists mainly) hold that while “grace alone actually saves,” God doesn’t extend grace to all, so all are not saved. Others (Arminians), on the other hand, hold that God gives grace to everyone but deny that “grace alone” actually saves, so again all are not saved, since salvation is dependent in some measure upon human agency. GSA splits the difference between these two views, combining what David holds to be true in each, namely, that ‘grace alone actually saves’ and that ‘God gives grace to all’ without exception.

This raises questions about how it is we saved by grace, which in turn provides David the main outline of his book which he explores three approaches Christians have adopted in addressing such questions.

  • The first approach is the Transactional, so named because it represents salvation as a transaction between God and persons who each play a necessary role. God provides grace, human beings resolve themselves in response. Grace is offered to all, but this offer is not sufficient in itself to save, for each person retains a measure of agency which he or she must resolve. Only the provision of grace and the integrity of individ­ual choice combine to provide the sufficient conditions for salvation.
  • The second approach to grace and human agency David calls the Exclusive approach, because, as you will guess, it views salvation as effectively offered only to some. In this approach God sovereignly elects only a portion of humanity to save and grace alone irresistibly effects the desired outcome.
  • Lastly then, David gives the name Inclusive to his approach, which combines those aspects of the first two models he views as correct: ‘grace alone’ which is ‘offered to all’, thus saving all. Salvation is neither transactional (because God’s grace provides all that is necessary for salvation) nor exclusive (because God intends all to be saved and thus extends grace to all).

All three of these approaches are found within the history of Christian thought and are “ways of being Christian,” although David’s burden is to argue that it is only the Inclusive approach that can consistently maintain the goodness of God, thus the book title’s byline.

After briefly introducing these approaches, David dedicates a chapter to a 5-point defense of his Inclusive approach, a second chapter examining what Scripture has to say about judgment consistent with the Inclusive model, a third chapter examining how each of his three approaches understands the relationship between grace and salvation, and a fourth chapter examining Hell within each approach. A fifth chapter considers the book of Revelation, a sixth addresses challenges of mystery and free will relative to what has come to be known as ‘hopeful universalism’ (i.e., hoping but not believing it’s true), followed by a seventh chapter mentioning a few notable proponents of the Inclusive approach in Church history. David then shares his own journey of faith and coming to believe in Christian universalism in an eight chapter (which it might have been better to begin the book with). Lastly, we have an Afterword by Tom Talbott and recommendations for further reading.

As you can imagine, in roughly 100 pages of text there is no way even one of the questions taken up in any of these chapters can be adequately discussed, but GSA doesn’t pretend to be anything like a final word on the issues it discusses. It aims to be a conversation starter, and David should feel good about having accomplished what he set out to do. As he admits, he writes for parishioners and other Evangelicals who, though they’ve inherited a certain suspicion of universalist claims, are nevertheless open to considering what reasons there might be for finding Christian universalism convincing. GSA opens the door to inquiring minds and describes the basic terms of the debate and the positions as they’ve appeared within the history of Christian thought. As Tom Talbott says in the Afterword, if he had to offer the average churchgoer a single book that introduced the topic, he’d be hard-pressed to pass up David Artman’s GSA.

On to a few particular comments. In Ch. 1 we meet David’s 5-point defense of the Inclusive approach:

  1. God is a loving parent to all.
  2. God sincerely wants to save all.
  3. God in Christ covers the sin of all.
  4. God is sovereign over all.
  5. God will be all in all.

Each point is briefly developed with supporting Scriptural references. Seasoned readers of Fr Aidan’s blog here will recognize the value of these points and their interconnectedness. ‘God as love’ – properly understood – secures all else that follows. For if God is the infinite love which creates and sustains us, he desires to unite all to himself, deals with the sin which alienates us from him, is able to secure his final intentions for us come what may, and consummates his creative intentions wherein he is ‘all in all’. Whether you consider these consecutively from the first or jump in the middle and work through the implications from there, the combined truth is finally persuasive.

Regarding divine judgment (Ch 2), David’s burden is to overcome the pitting of God’s love against his justice. Judgement can be from beginning to end a work of love undertaken in the best interests and reformation of those judged. The biblical basis for this line of thought is pursued in terms of the following passages:

  1. Lam 3.31-33 | God’s Promise to Not Cast Off Forever.
  2. Ez 16.53 | The Restoration of Sodom.
  3. 2Sam 14.14 | The Woman of Tekoa.
  4. Mt 5.25-26 | On Paying the Last Penny.
  5. Mt 18.21-35 | The Unforgiving Servant.
  6. 1Pt 3.19-20; 4.6 | Jesus’ Descent to the Dead.

One sees in the very act of divine judgment an abiding love and mercy at work, not a choice in God between two alternating and contrary acts. However, I have mixed feelings about the extent to which Old Testament passages can be depended upon to derive the sort of conclu­sions David wants to secure here. But I grant the presence in these texts a view of God, a tradition within Israel’s evolving view(s) of God, that represents a movement toward the kind of understanding of judgment which David defends. But I can’t see deriving such a view from the Old Testament as such because a) there are competing views of God in the Old Testament and no way to claim one text or set of texts represents the truth about God, and thus b) the Christian is compelled to defer to a Christ-centered reading. So how Old Testa­ment texts might legitimately be called upon to support a universalist eschatology is more complicated than simply pointing out this or that Old Testament passage. Granting that David’s book is intended to introduce readers unfamiliar with the debate over universalism to its main issues, I do wish he had brought the hermeneutical question of reading the Old Testament in light of Christ into the conversation.

I also have doubts regarding two of David’s passages. First, regarding Lam 3.31. The text is not complicated: “For the Lord does not reject forever” (ki lo yiznakh leʿolam ʾadonai). Most English translations render leʿolam here as implying some manner of finality or perma­nence, a rejection from which there is no return. David questions this reading, however, and explains that since ʿolam does not mean forever, the text can’t be denying that God rejects us forever. David suggests we construe v. 31 as saying something like ‘God only considers rejecting for ʿolam, not forever’. The problem is that the text doesn’t say ‘God only rejects ʿolam’. It says, ‘God does not reject ʿolam’. Divine rejection leʿolam is denied, not affirmed, as David suggests. So ʿolam has to be understood as implying some relatively permanent state of judgment. And this is not difficult to grant. Keep in mind that ancient Israel had no clear understanding of a future resurrection. So the denial of v. 31 is made with respect to this earthly life, in which case God is pictured as not rejecting so long as life endures. God is, in other words, always willing to restore. In addition, the Hebrew doesn’t specify an object (“anyone” in most English translations). It simply denies that God’s rejection endures ʿolam. Given the context, Israel is the best candidate. That is to say, it is this particular rejection, God’s exiling of his people (not divine rejection per se) which is in view. This particular judgment is not ʿolam.

A second doubt I have has to do with David’s reading of 2Sam 14. A woman from Tekoa approaches David on behalf of his son Absalom, who has been banished by David. She implores David to allow Absalom to return to Jerusalem, because, she reasons, though “we must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up” (v. 14a) nevertheless (v. 14b) “God does not take away life; he will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished forever.” God doesn’t banish irrevocably; neither should David. While I agree (for other reasons) that God’s rejection is never absolute, again I find it hard to extract this particular truth from this passage, for v. 13b ends by identifying Absalom as “his banished one” (“his” as in “David’s banished one” and “banished” from nadakh). In v. 14 the banished one under consideration is again Absalom, not banished people per se. While we can be confident now through Christ that God does not banish or judge irrevocably, I’m not sure it’s obvious that this passage gets you that truth.

So perhaps I’m just unclear about what David thinks these passages achieve. Do they contribute to a growing trajectory in the Old Testament which is brought to full clarity in Christ? I agree. Or do they establish universal truths discernible in their Old Testament context? David appears to argue as if the latter is the case. If so, that would be a point of disagreement.

I do agree all these passages challenge Israel’s understanding of God in terms that anticipate the character and scope of love which we later see confirmed in and as Christ, but I’m not convinced these later insights are transparently discernible in the Old Testament texts alone. Perhaps this is a point universalists can take from David’s book, namely, that Old Testament passages cannot be brought to bear upon the Scriptural side of this debate (or any theolog­ical or moral debate for that matter) apart from being explicit about how one reads the Old Testament.

Regarding the chapters on Hell (Ch 4), Revelation (Ch 5), and his comments on Church history (Ch 7), I’ll just say that as brief they are, they are sure to provoke an open mind to ask further questions and to dig deeper, which is precisely what David aimed to do. Hell is construed as restorative, Revelation yields relevant passages that only make sense if the judged are able to reform their attitudes and join the company of the redeemed, and recognized saints of universalist persuasion are discussed.

Let me end with a response to something more directly related to the heart of David’s understanding of grace and human agency. David inclines to a Reformed doctrine of grace (sola gratia). Grace “alone” saves. From the start, his concern is for whether grace is thought sufficient to “actually save.” In Ch 3 (“Grace”) it becomes clearer that he understands grace in Calvinistic terms, for he names Calvin in identifying that sense in which he agrees with the Exclusive approach. Calvinists correctly suppose that grace where offered achieves its end without fail. Their mistake is to limit the extension of this grace to an elect few. David corrects this by extending grace to all, but that “grace alone” saves is left unchallenged.

This creates a problem. For if “grace alone” achieves its aim without fail, how is the gospel ever rejected? And if we recognize that grace can be (because it is) rejected by individuals in some measure, then is “grace alone” true? Curiously, in Ch 3 David seems to adjust his understanding of grace by limiting its guarantee to the ‘eventual’ salvation of all. But surely this is not the Exclusive/Calvinist notion of “grace alone.” And it leaves us wondering how divine grace and human agency effectively relate now, en route to the end. In any case, in the end it seemed to me that David’s position on grace collapsed into a transactional view, for God is viewed as pursuing persons as long as it takes to win hearts and minds. And why should a grace which, strictly speaking, “alone” saves ever need to wait for anything? David ends up implicitly granting that God’s ends are not always immediately achieved and thus that some manner of genuine synergy is involved.

I suggest that we not split the difference between the Exclusive (Calvinist) and Transac­tional (Arminian) approaches. That is, one may simply reject the “grace alone” view of salvation and affirm a genuine synergy at the heart of God securing his purposes in us. This would not subject us to having to grant that some may not finally be saved, for so far as human agency resolves itself responsibly under the terms of God’s gracious offer, all shall be eventually saved, not because grace “alone” effects the salvation of anyone, but because the scope of our God-given capacities to choose, even if they must surrender to God under their own God-given powers, cannot foreclose upon themselves.

There is an irresistibility to grace which defines us, yes. It is our irresistible openness to God as our final end and the inescapable orientation of desire which cannot finally rest from its pursuits until it rests in God. This means infernalism and annihilationism are ruled out, but it does not give us a terminus ad quem at which point God adopts a fundamentally different mode of securing our surrender. Nor do we see in it a mechanism by which God summarily dispenses with human deliberation. These are complex issues that continue to resurface, and there’s no covering it all here. I just wish to suggest that we must construe our surrender to God in terms that make it impossible to think that “grace alone” is sufficient to explain that surrender, for if grace alone is sufficient to explain why any are saved, grace alone explains why any are not saved, and that is not a truth Christianity can afford to embrace.

In the end, where David splits the difference between his Exclusive (“grace alone”) approach and his Transactional approach to a combination that retains the “grace alone” model of salvation, I’m inclined to affirm the Transactional approach (rid of its Arminian attire) that posits the real integrity of human agency, and thus a genuine synergy, but qualify the scope of this agency by grounding it transcendentally in an irresistible openness to God and a desire that haunts us until it is satisfied in God. We can say ‘no’ to grace on occasion, even in the best of circumstances (consider the Fall, primordial or historical). But we cannot reject our way out of our essential openness to God. Long story short, it is not “grace alone” that invariably defines the faith of those notable universalists David celebrates in early Church history, for none in the East (or anywhere before Augustine?) held to anything like a Reformed understanding of grace. It is thus through both the grace of impartation and the labor of participation that we are saved. This will be as great an adjustment for Evangelicals as opening up to the possibility that all shall be saved.

My differences with David here (provided I’ve read him accurately) do nothing to diminish my excitement at the publication of this wonderfully helpful book. I highly recommend it. It will challenge any honest and inquiring mind to explore reasons for believing all shall be saved. I pray Grace Saves All is read widely, sets its readers on the path of discovery, and provokes fruitful discussion.

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20 Responses to ‘Grace Saves All’: A Book Review

  1. Iain Lovejoy says:

    The “Old Testament” is a history specifically of Israel. My understanding of the essence of Christianity as deriving from 2nd Temple Judaism is that it takes a history of Israel that promises the eventual full restoration of the historical Kingdom of Israel to it’s people and universalises it, so that the promise of the restored historical kingdom to the Jewish people becomes a promise of a restored Kingdom of God encompassing and redeeming the whole world. It is Christ himself who says that the whole of the scriptures are about Him.
    If so, it seems to me quite legitimate to take passages which in their origin are references to God’s refusal to abandon forever specifically the people and kingdom of Israel to assert that, likewise, God will not abandon forever anyone at all. Lamentations 3 is about the eventual restoration of the people of Israel to their kingdom (it goes into “we” from “I” later on) and it doesn’t assume any terminus ad quem of death beyond which redemption is impossible – indeed the very point of the passage is to say that the death of the Kingdom of Israel as now foretold is *not* the end, and God will indeed raise it from the dead when in its death /exile it repents.


    • Tom says:

      Good point, Ian. I agree, which is why I thought David could have made the connection to Christ as the means by which we read the OT.


    • jb says:

      I agree that we can understand the salvation in Israel more universally in light of Christ, but I’m unsure how to respond to the fact that Israel’s salvation, while wholistic and accounting for the whole nation of people, still includes plenty of Israelites never reaching/seeing Israel’s salvation. Many (most?) individual Israelites never saw the salvation of their people, but died in exile or war. Does that disturb the way we understand universal Christian salvation as both a wholistic salvation of all mankind and also the individual salvation of each particular person? Or is that the point where we simply acknowledge that the analogy of Israel for God’s universal plan of salvation is, like every analogy, imperfect?


      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        The OT appears to have no or little concept of individual salvation, with all alike going down as shades to Sheol. It is largely the collective nation of Israel on which punishment falls and which God redeems, and a person is “saved” or “redeemed” in the fate of his descendants and people. Both ideas of individual resurrection and individual reward / punishment in the afterlife seem to have arisen in the inter intertestimonial period and appear to have been a matter of controversy in Jesus’ time. I really don’t know enough about their development.


      • Tom says:

        Good point JB. My sense is that Israel’s journey only has universal implications in/through Christ who fulfills Israel’s (and humanity’s) call, for the reason you point out – Israel has never achieved an ‘all-Jews’ enjoyment of God’s intentions. Christ offers those passages their fuller sense, so I don’t think we can derive the finally all-inclusive nature of salvation from the specific OT texts David shares. I don’t think the average Evangelical reader appreciates this.


        • jb says:

          I just happened to be listening to a talk by Robin Parry (Gospel Conversations – Hermeneutics and Hell: Biblical Interpretation and Universal Salvation), and he mentioned a couple passages which I think helped shed a little bit of light on this idea for me. In Isaiah 55, the prophet states that “to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance,” although in that context he is referring specifically to the survivors of the Nations, IE those who have already passed away will not enjoy that salvation, only those who “make it to the end,” per se.

          Paul riffs on this idea in Philippians 2, where he states that “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The point of interest for me here is that Paul takes the language from Isaiah and blows it up to invite a universal meaning. It’s not just the survivors on earth or those in heaven who enjoy God’s salvation, but those in heaven, AND on earth, AND under the earth (language I think can only be understood to mean Hell in some form or another). Really great stuff.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Tom says:

    Fr Aidan, thanks for the invite to review. And David, thank you for taking the time to write and publish GSA. It was inspiring and challenging, and I’m glad folks are reading it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Artman says:

      What an honor to have my book deemed of enough import to even be reviewed on Eclectic Orthodoxy! I am truly humbled. I know that all conversations/criticisms regarding the book will help advance what I believe is the root/most important spiritual conversation happening with regard to Christianity today! I want to continue to learn and be challenged and I am so grateful to get to have this discussion. My mind is awash already! Looking forward to more reflection in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tom says:

    I left two typos in for good measure, just to keep Fr Aidan on his toes!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jeff says:

    David, is it a reformed view of necessity or the Augustinian – Thomistic scholastic view ?, there’s a difference


    • David Artman says:

      Hi, Jeff what a great question. As I explained on my longer post I just made, I was using the terms Exclusive/Calvinist and Transactional/Arminian more generally and not in a specific sense so much. What do you see as being the differences between the Augustinian and Thomistic Scholastic view of necessity?


      • Jeff says:

        .David .. a bit windy… but a summary of the Augustine- Thomistc model of necessity :

        Luther did not truly understand the distinction between necessitas consequentiae and consequentis. The classic definition of the distinction ( Luther held an absolute necessity ) is when a man sits, he sits necessarily as long as he is sitting (by necessitas consequentiae or suppositionis), for it is impossible for him to sit and not to sit at the same time (sensus compositi); however, he sits freely or contingently (and not by necessitas consequentis), for it is always possible for him to stand (sensus divisi). This illustration of the two types of necessity shows, contrary to Luther, that it makes a great deal of difference if one says that an event happens necessitate consequentiae but not necessitate consequentis. Luther overlooks the different senses in which “can” and “necessity” can be understood when he says to Erasmus: “How could Judas change his will while God’s infallible foreknowledge stands? Could he change God’s foreknowledge and make it fallible?” “A theologian could reply in Thomistic terms: God infallibly foresees that Judas will freely choose to betray Christ. As a consequence of God’s foreknowledge, Judas’ free betrayal is said to be necessary by necessity of supposition, immutability, condition or consequence, but not by absolute or consequent necessity. Because Judas’ betrayal is the result of his free choice, as proximate cause, it can be said that in one sense (sensus divisi) Judas could have responded to the grace by which God enables all men to resist temptation and could have asked Christ for forgiveness instead of betraying him. This was a real alternative for Judas before his actual betrayal of Christ.” In another sense (sensus compositi), however, under the supposition that God foresees that Judas will freely betray Christ and under the supposition that Judas is actually betraying Christ freely, then it is impossible that he not betray him. Thus Judas necessarily betrays Christ by necessity of consequence and in the composite sense, but he does not betray Christ necessarily, by necessity of the thing consequent and in the divided sense, but freely. In both senses God infallibly foresees the event.” Again we see that it does make a difference if one says that an event happens by necessity of consequence but not by necessity of the thing consequent.


  5. David Artman says:

    Tom, thanks for your comments about what I am meaning by affirming that salvation is by grace alone.
    As I see it the whole process of my spiritual formation and ultimate salvation (union with God) definitely involves my participation, but there is no sense in which God will finally allow me to fail. So in that way I don’t view it as being exclusive or transactional.

    If my ultimate salvation is transactional that indicates that an element of possible failure is involved. (I might not be able to do my part well enough and then be lost.) If my ultimate salvation is exclusive, then there is no possible element of failure involved on my part, but all will not be saved because God has not elected all for salvation.
    That all are not elected for salvation causes a problem when it comes to affirming the complete goodness of God.
    Of course, the same problem arises in the transactional approach in that God knows from the beginning whether or not I will be able to do my part. Ultimately, if I fail it will not be a surprise to God. And therein lies the moral problem which is hidden within the transactional approach from my point of view.

    Also, when I was using the terms exclusive and transactional I was also attaching the terms Calvinism and Arminianism to them as common, general identifiers of those kinds and types of systems. Calvin and Arminius saw predecessors to their thoughts in earlier, pre-Reformation sources. Augustine in particular found justification for his thoughts in Augustine’s writings.
    So, and this was probably confusing, my notion of how I am seeing salvation by grace alone was not intended to have to conform strictly to Calvinist doctrine.

    I guess to summarize, I could put it this way. When I think about grace I think of it as being God’s free benevolent presence in my life. And for me everything about my life is due to God’s presence in my life. So it is by grace that I am given enough agency to make real discoveries and to have real participation in God’s kingdom on this earth. But I am not given enough agency by which I may do a irrevocable harm to myself and be lost forever to God. Ultimately my spiritual orientation to God is a work of God’s grace in my life, and I will ultimately find union with God, either sooner or later, as I exercise the agency I have been given by grace.
    Hope these comments help clarify things!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Thanks David for this. It really helps!

      I looks to me now as though you do not want to just split the difference between Transactional and Exclusive approaches (which the book starts our with). After reading what you say here it looks like you recognize a real ‘synergy’ that defines human salvation. The only final destiny human beings can reach is God, that’s an unconditional given. But the conditions upon which we come to enjoy this rest is conditional upon human agency. God remains irresistibly the only end given us, but he cannot effect our union with him irresistibly. That looks transactional to me – not re: the determination of our end, but the means by which we reach it.

      That we are able even to make such choices is itself a gift of grace imparted. But that grace makes room for agency, gives us a genuine, if even a qualified, measure of ‘say-so’ about surrendering ourselves to God. I agree. So, the Exclusive approach seems to me to be wrong about ‘both’ the limited offer or grace and its irresistible operation.

      The Transactional approach as articulated in your book (by Arminians I guess) is right about the essential synergy involved in salvation, but typically wrong about limiting the offer of grace. You may have missed an helpful point here. That is, Arminians are inclusive in the offer of grace with respect to ‘who’ is offered grace, but they’re not inclusive with respect to ‘when’ we are offered grace, for do they not all believe we can exhaust that opportunity? So the problem with the Transactional approach (as you describe it in the book) isn’t that it limits the effect of grace to human agency (that effect is conditional upon our agency), but that it forecloses upon the offer of grace. It holds that grace is offered universally in terms of ‘width’ (inclusive of all persons), not in terms of ‘depth’ (that it is inexhaustible). They think human freedom can exhaust grace’s offer. But to fix this it seems better not to deny human agency as a necessary factor, but rather to deny that our agency can exhaust grace’s offer. Sorry if I’m being unclear.


    • David Artman says:

      I meant to say that Calvin found support in Augustine for his views.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Robert Fortuin says:

    A huge concern for me is the glaring oversight of a patristic (read: neo-platonic) foundation upon which the key aspects of Christian universalism must be based. A conversation about salvation stuck in a post-reformation register will remain an incoherent (I dare say, deeply non-Christian) enterprise in which grace, inclusion, transaction, and so forth, remain unintelligible distractions at best. One must do theology in an entirely different register, that is in neo-platonic terms, by visiting key notions of causation, analogy, participation, freedom, and so forth.

    Liked by 2 people

    • David Artman says:

      Very interesting! Do you have an outline of this, or do you recommend any resources? I know David Bentley Hart speaks in these terms frequently…


      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        ‘That All Shall Be Saved’ is the best Christian Neoplatonic presentation of universal salvation, especially when combined with a couple of the essays in Hart’s ‘The Hidden and the Manifest.’

        Liked by 2 people

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        David – let me first make clear that I wholeheartedly applaud and admire your contribution, bravo!

        At risk of oversimplification, as this is a sweeping and complex topic, allow me to add a few words. To illustrate what I mean, imagine the attempt to pull a shot of espresso with Folgers and a drip coffee machine – it isn’t going to happen. One must use ingredients and tools of an altogether different kind. In our immediate context of orthodox Christian universalism this means setting aside the paradigms inherited from early modern sources. The early modern concepts of grace vs. nature, free-will, faith vs reason, transaction, guilt, justice and the derivative notion of salvation are fundamentally defective in definition, in scope and in focus. A different metaphysical model is required, the paradigmatic model which underwrote the theology of the 4th and 5th century ecumenical councils. Operative notions are, to name a few dominant ones, the nature of Being and being (divine transcendence), ontological analogy, salvation as participation, cause and effect.

        Here’s an example – freedom defined as the human will undetermined by a prior ontological determination (a purely natural will, according to the modern paradigm) is an incoherent, absurd contradiction. Nature and grace, created will and God’s will, are opposed and forever incompatible. This absurdity results from the abandonment of an analogy of being according to which there is an ontological likeness of the cause in its effects; which is to say, in regards to free-will, that creaturely freedom is and can only be determined by its cause. Similarly juridical notions of transaction, guilt, justification, and so forth, need to be set aside as wholly defective and misleading.

        Anyways, none of this is novel, so no need for me to re-hash this, and besides there are better qualified raconteurs in the arena. My intent was only to call attention to what I see as a serious problem which one will have to come to terms with, better sooner than later for our days are short and numbered.


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