Reviews and Comments on Books about Universalism

Written by:  Robert D Brinsmead

When Edward Fudge recently re-published his book on Hell (The Fire that Consumes), a book I sponsored him to research and write some 30 years ago, its re-publishing raised no small interest, even a movie about it, and provoked some comments from Christianity Today.  This prestigious evangelical journal was surprisingly open and candid about how widespread was the re-thinking of the eternal destiny of the ‘unsaved’ or ‘non-believers.’  It said that historically there have always been three views:  eternal torment of the lost, annihilation of the lost, and Universalism.  Fudge, argues the second position which is also the SDA position.  I once agreed with him that that was the Biblical position.  The reality is that you can find and support any of the three positions by selecting certain passages from the Bible.  Origen, one of the Church Fathers, supported the third position.  George Fox, the founder of the  Quakers, also supported it.  The most prominent person with an Evangelical background pushing Universalism today, is a writer and preacher by the name of Bell.  (I have yet to read his book).

It seems that Christianity Today ( today rather than yesterday) appeared to be quite open and frank about the three positions and notes that all three positions have been argued from the Bible.

At the end of J. Harold Ellen’s little book (Honest Faith for Our Time), there are two Respondents: one of them is the well-known James M. Robinson, and the other one is F. Morgan Roberts who has been a Pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA) for over 50 years, with five honorary doctoral degrees and a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and lots more.  I only read his 15-page essay in defence of Dr Ellen’s “Unconditional Grace” this week.  I would have to say that it is one of the most logical, passionate and moving defences of Universalism I have read – not just theologically, but he spells out its ethical and moral impact for this real world.  He ends his Response by saying,  “Were I to leave some last message to my own children I would urge them to seek the kind of strenuous faith that is described in this book [by Ellens].  The author has practiced just such a robust faith himself, as a courageous pastor who spoke his troubled truth even when a timid, tradition-bound denomination tried to silence him.  He spoke it as a military chaplain on the field of battle.  He speaks it still today as a therapist, preacher, and teacher, comforting and challenging clients, congregants, and students to seek this healthy realistic faith.  I hope that his book will in some way move you, the reader, toward that same radically, grace-filled life of faith and discipleship.”

For all of Paul’s good intentions about removing the wall that separated Jew from Gentile, his Christology has erected more walls than you could poke a stick at.  He himself got into a war with the Jerusalem Church and the Jewish Christians – which got worse and worse until they became two religions hostile to each other.  Paul fell out with Barnabas, with Mark, with the Jerusalem apostles whom he called nasty names in his Corinthian letter.  He told people who disagreed with his version of the gospel to go to hell (Galatians 1) even though they had been sent by James to Galatia and Antioch.  Once the Christology gene was out of the box, Christology with the Soteriology that flowed from it created wall after wall, insiders and outsiders, division of divisions that never stopped. The remedy is not Pauline theology.  In the essay from F. Morgan Roberts, the logic of a true monotheism has to lead to a true Universalism in which you can never again divide the human family into believers and unbelievers, insiders and outsiders, the sons of light and the sons of darkness which has been the ruling paradigm since Zoroaster conceived of it.

I would suggest that in the progression of history the realization of monotheism became inevitable. The early Yahweh cult of Israel was way short of a true monotheism.  It did not develop until the end of the era of the OT prophets where it is finally said that God’s chosen people are all the peoples of earth rather than Israel alone.  And having accepted the reality of an absolute monotheism, the kind of universalism suggested in the core teaching of Jesus become inevitable.  That is the only kind of monotheism that can throw down all the walls of partition created by the various forms of salvationism which divide the world into the children of light and the children of darkness