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Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Jim, you ask "is universalism impatience with the limits such tensions imposes?" Perhaps, but if the tensions you so neatly describe are the result of equally weighted convictions pulling in opposote directions, then the result could easily be stagnation and lack of any direction. I guess I continue to want to ask questions like: "if love and divine purpose are the context within which we best understand judgement and human freedom - what kind of direction does that lead us in?" I am pleased to see that you agree with my hunch that this debate is around the corner, but I share your concerns about the manner in which it might take place.

Michael - thanks for the historical information. I guess that the roots of some forms of Unitarianism in General Baptist life of the 18-19th century in the UK also connects here, although some research would be needed to see if soteriology was as large an issue as christology in these debates (research project anyone on Baptist Universalists?)

David - I think the series is execellent, so no disclaimer necessary

If the issue of universalism does become the "next big thing" in global Baptist life, it won't have been the first time. The 18th C. Universalist denomination had its origins in Baptist life. There is also a very small group of Primitive Baptists in the Appalachian hills of the Eastern U.S. who embrace universalism. (The other Primitive Baptists, almost all Calvinistic, refer to these folks as the "no Hellers.")

Questions of universalism have arisen on the edges of Baptist life about every 50 years or so, I think. Conservative accusations that others are universalists (when this has not been the case) are more frequent.

IF universal salvation can be affirmed, it seems to me, it can only be a very Christocentric version. The pluralist "all roads lead up the same mountain" tripe must be rejected--even while affirming the necessity of interfaith dialogue.

Thanks for the post (and the link). I hope to engage the exegetical issues at some point. I never imagined where my series on univesalism would take me, and if I had to do it over again, I would engage the biblical texts up front.

Sean, I think your hunch is correct - and I think the balance you suggest between exegesis and theology is exactly what is so hard to achieve, both in our own thinking, and as a shared basis for good conversation betweent hose who see things differently.

I also think that your comment on universalism and mission is an important corrective to the too ready assumption that the universalist strain in the biblical story is simply to be silenced by dogmatic statements derived from elsewhere. Mission as participating in work of God's Kingdom in the name of Christ and in the power of the Spirit, undoubtedly looks different from a universalist perspective.

But do you not think there are significant, perhaps intractable difficulties in thoroughgoing universalism, not least the particularist strains embedded in the same biblical texts. For myself I'm reluctant to relieve a necessary tension within the Gospel mystery; paradox needn't be the enemy of truth - it may be its best and clearest expression possible for finite minds. Love and judgement, human freedom and divine purpose, inclusion and separation, holiness and sin, acceptance and rejection of the Gospel offer, and yes, heaven and hell - these I think are realities which the Bible presents in all their awkward, intellectually uncomfortable, and conceptually untidy 'thereness'. Is universalism impatience with the limits such tensions imposes? Didn't mean to go on - but I think the issue is as looming as you say - how such an issue would be debated is perhaps illustrated in the ongoing penal substitution exchanges. but that it will be pressed as an issue is inevitable for a church faced with the realities of mission in a pluralist and globalised world, and one where post-modern resistance to absolute religious claims is itself a quasi religious position.

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