Posted by: Ken Brown | February 22, 2008

C.S. Lewis on Inclusivism

Carmen mentioned the character of Emeth, from C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle (cf. especially chapter 15), who served a false god, but in such a way that Aslan (the Christ-figure) nevertheless recognized him as a true follower of his. Of course, this is fiction, merely a thought experiment like the rest, but it might be helpful to supplement it with one of Lewis’ more explicit statements on the subject. This is from Mere Christianity, and I agree with it completely:

Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved by Him. But in the meantime, if you are worried about the people outside, the most unreasonable thing you can do is remain outside yourself. Christians are Christ’s body, the organism through which He works. Every addition to that body enables Him to do more. If you want to help those outside you must add your little cell to the body of Christ who alone can help them. Cutting off a man’s fingers would be an odd way of getting him to do more. (pg. 64)

UPDATE: This post is part of a continuing conversation.


  1. […] James posted his third entry: Continuing Diablogue About Salvation and Christianity ~Ken added: C.S. Lewis on Inclusivism Michael posted his third entry: The Ensuing Riposte with James McGrath James posted his fourth […]

  2. Every religion and belief system wants more people on the inside of that particular system, and offers plenty of reasons why you should be.

    So what has Lewis said, really? Ignore the hell question, don’t worry about it. Just believe. If you join us, things wil be THAT much BETTER! Woopie! Just don’t worry, just keep inviting more people in!

    What is this, a pyramid scheme? You buy what he’s selling, the whole trunk of doctrines and dogmas and then YOU have to go out and sell it to more outsiders, and so forth and so on, and don’t think about hell. And how can you NOT think about something you’ve just been told NOT to think about?

    All systems say the same, especially the ones that preach eternal punishment for outsiders.

  3. It’s probably not fair to add yet more links, but it’s getting late, so I’ll just note that I discuss both issues (inclusivism and hell) in much greater detail in several posts in the series this quote is posted to.

    To summarize: my concern is not to declare who is damned, and certainly not to draw some sort of institutional line to determine it, but simply to think through the implications of human freedom in the face of a good God.

    Now I’m off to bed. Have a good night!

  4. But if you’re not that concerned over who is damned then why the need to invite people in to be saved?

    Indeed, why speak about the necessity of inviting in as many as possible in order for the body to function properly, and why compare the people who choose to remain outside that body to “cut off fingers?”

    Sounds like damnation IS on Lewis’ mind. But of course “don’t let it worry you” I bet Lewis would say.

    Lewis as a matter of fact did admit in a letter written late in life that though he sympathized greatly with universalists like Macdonald that he himself did not accept universalism because of the words of Jesus himself in the Gospels regarding the fearfulness of eternal punishment. Personally, I view the words of Jesus as the result of intertestamental literature on hell and Jesus as a typical first century advocate of views held in his day and age. Nothing special about him believing in hell or preaching it. The question is should WE take intertestamental works like Daniel and Enoch and others THAT seriously concerning the rise in believe in eternal torment, and in Satan and Beelzebub as named enemies of God whose control extends vastly further than any “satan” ever did in the whole OT?

  5. You misunderstand. I’m not a universalist either (though I do sympathize with that view, and with annihilationism), but it’s not really because Jesus talked about hell. To go back to our original topic, that imagery need not be taken any more literally than the three-story universe.

    The problem is that sin–selfishness, pride, spite, vanity, etc.–runs very deep in the human heart, and unless a person is willing to give it up, even God can’t help them. The the possibility of eternal separation from God–call it hell, or death or destruction or whatever you want–is very real.

    My point is not that we needn’t worry about hell, but that it’s not my job to decide who’s in and who’s out. After all, my own sin is as much a part of the problem as everyone else’s. It’s only my job to do whatever I can to try and move myself in the right direction and, hopefully, make it a little easier for other people to do the same.

    More than that, however, I think putting the emphasis on “saving people from hell” is misplaced. True, if eternal damnation (whatever that might look like) is a real possibility, that’s a very serious matter indeed, and we should all be concerned about it, but salvation is meant to be far more positive than “fire insurance.” It’s meant to be a full life of selfless love, generosity, community, healing, peace, trust, joy, and much more. Granted, we all still have a very long ways to go on that score (which brings us back to the problem of sin), but that’s hope is what the Gospel is calling us to.

    Does a person have to be a Christian to be on the road to that kind of l

  6. I have more questions than you do.

    1) It sounds like you’re in an episode of Chico and the Man saying, “It’s not my yob.” Not your job? But you DO think it’s your job to politely inform people that they might very well be headed for “eternal damnation?” Why is it your job to even TELL people such a thing? Perhaps because you’re hoping in some polite manner that such people might then ask you, “Really? Then how can I avoid such a horrible fate?” And THEN you get to tell them about all your OTHER beliefs? I’m only saying. It sounds like a lousy thing to say in the first place, “eternal damnation.” How do you even know anything about “eternal damnation” except via a book written by people who picked up “eternal damnation ” from intertestamental writings filled with lots of other “stuff” too that I would not be so sure about.

    2) You suggest that your job is to keep moving in the right direction, as if your ethical/spiritual life is some sort of inclined plane you are ascending upward on, and you probably believe in “spiritual growth,” though I’m unsure such a thing exists.

    C. S. Lewis was an Oxford don before and after he converted. He continued to be himself basically throughout his life. He rec’d accolades for his writing, his ability to communicate ideas and stories. Being a professor and an acclaimed writer was what he was. I don’t see him as having battled great demons to maintain his sobriety and sanity or battled his way from being a criminal to a saint. He was like a lot of nice intelligent people in a relatively cushy job, being a professor at an esteemed school, and being esteemed as a writer. He drank with friends at the pub. He smoked. He even said some unkind things about rivals and/ or their works or points of view. He was human, that’s what I see, a human being. And sometimes his writing struck me as a bit crazy like when he mused that he had little difficulty imagining an eternal heaven for mosquitoes coupled with an eternal hell for humans.

    3) Are you getting better each day? each year? Really? Is there such a thing as “spiritual growth?” Do you think Billy Graham today is a much better person than he ever was in his youth? He was a clean-eared farm boy, honest to the core his whole life. (And not surprisingly in his day and location he was converted to Christianity by a preacher who was a nasty anti-semite.) About the only thing that changed over time was Graham’s is bumping into Charles Templeton a fellow Evangelist on the Youth for Christ circuit, and becoming lifelong friends. Chuck had the largest Youth for Christ group in North America and was the only Evangelist ever chosen to represent the entire U.S. Council of Churches, but Chuck became an agnostic after attending seminary in mid-life. He wanted Billy to come to seminary with him, but Billy refused. They used to duke it out over theological topics for decades it seems. As for influencing Graham, Chuck was ahead of Billy in two respects, first in denying himself the entire take on the last night of an Evangelical rally (Billy was photographed with the bag of money slung over his shoulder), and second in integrating his services. Billy followed Chuck’s lead in both those areas. And lastly, Billy also appears to have learned from Chuck by eventually growing softer on the creationist question and also growing more inclusive later in life as recent interviews with Graham demonstrated. In one interview Graham said he didn’t even know if all atheists would be refused heaven. But overall, Graham has not grown to become some sort of super saint even though he’s lived a very long life and certainly believed in “spiritual growth.” He’s just been Billy Graham, a human being.

    How many Christians do you really know that have undergone tremendous spiritual growth? You know Bonhoeffer is praised by some but he was coming up with a religionless Christianity in prison. And his theological views were Barthian, which scares Evangelicals who study Bonhoeffer deeply. Barth himself is cited as a closet universalist by those who have studied his own works deeply.

    4) Some Christians, I am sure, do not believe you are growing in the “right direction” judging by your theological openness and inclusivism.

    5) Lastly and most importantly, I think that arguments about the “inevitable trajectory of souls” and the dangers of “eternal” hell if you’re on the “wrong trajectory,” simply assume that there is a point of no return, and that unreality can confuse or entice a person for eternity. But how do you know that? Any argument about inevitability can be counted with arguments concerning free will and God’s infinite compassion. There is no proven argument that proves one side or the other. Even biologically speaking the human brain remains malleable so long as new stem cells continue forming and so long as new input is introduced.

    Here are some examples of how universalists see the hell issue, tell me they do not make just as much sense if not more than the “inevitable slippery slope” theology of Lewis (I’d also add that universalists like Bishop Colenso went to South Africa to help brighten the souls of fellow human beings whom he already knew were not damned but loved by God. Another universalist Christian missionary, and one who braved death, was Sadhu Sundar Singh, so universalists can be great missionaries too):


    An article in Christianity Today (“Hell’s Final Enigma,” April 22, 2002) by Rev. J. I. Packer (professor of theology at Regent College in Vancouver and executive director of the aforementioned magazine) addressed the question, “How might those in heaven feel about those in hell?” The people in hell will include fellow human beings with similar joys, fears, and life stories to those in heaven, and Christians have been taught they ought to love others with an “unconditional love” and “forgive seventy-times-seven times.” So how can heaven truly be bliss for Christians if people whom they have grown to know and love (and care for) on earth are burning in hell?

    Reverend Packer replied that heaven’s occupants would be busy loving each other and praising God. (I wondered if he meant that in the same sense as “winning teammates patting each other on the back for eternity?”) He added that their attention would be focused on heavenly glories. (I wondered if he meant that in the same sense as children so immersed in playing an entrancingly beautiful video game that they cannot be distracted by any actions or thoughts outside of the game?) Then, after having described how heaven’s occupants would feel about God, heaven, and each other, Reverend Packer finally replied to the original question of “How might heaven’s occupants feel about those in hell?” The Reverend’s reply consisted of ten words: “Love and pity for hell’s occupants will not enter our hearts.”

    But doesn’t such a reply beg the question? What kind of “heart” could find neither “love nor pity” entering it, knowing that the greater portion of mankind, including former wives, children, and friends, were all suffering in hell?

    Perhaps Rev. Packer’s next column should be about how to reconcile the following two statements, the first one being his own:

    “Love and pity for hell’s occupants will not enter our hearts”

    “Love is patient… it keeps no record of wrongs… It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails… These three remain: faith, hope and love.” (1 Corinthians 13:4,7,8,13–NIV translation)


    A Christian brother told me that when we are in heaven we will have no concern for those who will be burning in what he believed to be eternal hell. But if we are to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” how can this be true? God has said that He will have “all” come to Him. Is any heart so dark (and without the slightest flaw or crack) such that the light of Christ could never penetrate it? Does not emptiness abhor a vacuum, and what could be more vacuous than a heart trying to keep itself pumped up with lies and deceit which have no substance of and by themselves. Surely such vacuous hearts cannot avoid being eventually filled with the only solid and substantial Truth that is, was or ever will be?

    Something written by the 19th-century univeralist Christian, George MacDonald, recently encouraged my own heart… Jesus said for us to love even our enemies. We were His enemies at one time and He came down into our hell.

    “And what shall we say of the man Christ Jesus? Who, that loves his brother, would not, upheld by the love of Christ, and with a dim hope that in the far-off time there might be some help for him, arise from the company of the blessed, and walk down into the dismal regions of despair, to sit with the last, the only unredeemed, the Judas of his race, and be himself more blessed in the pains of hell, than in the glories of heaven? Who, in the midst of the golden harps and the white wings, knowing that one of his kind, one miserable brother in the old-world-time when men were taught to love their neighbor as themselves, was howling unheeded far below in the vaults of the creation, who, I say, would not feel that he must arise, that he had no choice, that, awful as it was, he must gird his loins, and go down into the smoke and the darkness and the fire, traveling the weary and fearful road into the far country to find his brother?–who, I mean, that had the mind of Christ, that had the love of the Father?”

    Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Will He not continue to seek out and save all of the lost? Will we have the love of Christ in heaven? MacDonald’s words were a blessing for me to read.

    SOURCE: Shana (First-Grade Teacher, Therapist for Autistic Children, and creator of a universalist Christian website) [Three sentences were edited by E.T.B.]


    I believe that justice and mercy are simply one and the same thing… That… hell will… help the just mercy of God to redeem his children… Such is the mercy of God that he will hold his children in the consuming fire of his distance until they pay the uttermost farthing, until they drop the purse of selfishness with all the dross that is in it, and rush home to the Father and the Son, and the many brethren, rush inside the center of the life-giving fire whose outer circles burn.

    George MacDonald (19th-century universalist Christian), excerpts from “I Believe,” Unspoken Sermons

    Nowadays the “universalistic” Buddhists and “universalistic” Christians and “universalistic” Moslems feel closer to one another than they feel to the fundamentalists within their own religious traditions. And the fundamentalists of each tradition can’t even get along with the other fundamentalists of that same tradition.

    SOURCE: Brother Steindal-Rast, “The Monk is a Radical,” The Laughing Man, Vol. 2, No. 2, 1981

    I am a universalist because I believe that God and time are the best teachers, and there is plenty of time in eternity for everyone to learn their lessons, including Ghengiz Khan, Adolf Hitler, and the makers of Jolt Cola (a cola with twice the sugar and caffeine).


  7. You are still misunderstanding me. I didn’t say I am certain hell exists, nor am I certain that anyone will end up there (I sincerely hope that no one will!). I said I cannot honestly dismiss the possibility, and given that it is a possibility, it ought to be taken seriously. You’ve noted that I tend towards the imaginative and speculative, and you are right, but I’m not so foolish as to believe that something is true just because I’d like it to be, and that applies to universalism as much as to anything else. I’m happy to speculate about how universality could be true, but I also have to face the reality of horrific evil, and admit that it may not be.

    Regardless, I certainly do not go around telling people about Hell and then saying: “But wait: there’s good news!” Like I said (and have said before), I think an emphasis on hell is misplaced, and I think how rarely I mention the subject here attests to that conviction. But that doesn’t mean I dismiss the possibility or will pretend it doesn’t matter if pressed, and you pressed.

    I also have to question your continued harping on the notion that hell was invented by the Jewish intertestamental literature. Postmortem judgement (with the possibility of a guilty verdict) goes back almost as far as belief in the afterlife itself, and appears in numerous cultures. It’s simple logic: if there is an afterlife at all then we either have to become better, or we have to be excluded. It’s not paradise if we all go on living (and sinning) the same way we do here. And if some are excluded, they are either destroyed outright, or else go on living somewhere else outside paradise–and I don’t think I need to spell out how badly people can treat one another if they have the freedom to do so. Would it be any better in the afterlife?

    But that just comes back to the question of whether people can change. Am I a better person now than I was before? I’d like to think I am. I could point to the fact that I have far less of a temper, that I’m more compassionate and welcoming of those who differ from me, etc., but I’m naturally biased to give myself credit, and I may be blind to my real faults. As you note, I’m sure there are plenty of conservatives who think I am a worse Christian now than I was. Maybe they are right (I hope not!), but thankfully it isn’t their judgment I need to worry about–it’s God’s. What I do know is that I should be better tomorrow than I am today. Whether I will be or not, I don’t know, but that certainly should be my goal.

    Not that it’s a simple question of progression either. There’s an upward slope, but it’s all too easy to get complacent and slide back down it, or even turn around and resolutely march back down–I’ve done it and I’m sure most others have too. But the more important question is not have we changed but will we? Will we work, and pray, and hope to be better than we are, or are we content to remain as we are, or worse? The possibility that our eternal destiny depends on it can certainly add stress to the importance of such a question, but I hardly need to tell you that the issue matters regardless of whether we survive death.

    This also comes back to why it’s “not my job” to judge. Not because I’m just a lowly blogger and that’s the Pope’s responsibility: because only God knows the heart. Is Billy Graham a better person now than he was 50 years ago? Who has the right to say? You and I, who only know him second or third hand? Can even he be trusted to know whether he is “better” now than before? He surely will be biased no matter what his answer, though at least he knows more than we do.

    For that matter, I’ve the impression that the best among us tend to have the keenest sense of their own sin. The wicked generally think their doing just fine–thank you very much. The moment a person realizes otherwise is the moment they start moving in the right direction, at least temporarily.

    Don’t get me wrong though: I’m not saying none of us has a right to believe, say, argue about, and try to promote what we think is right and what we think is wrong. We not only can but must. I’m saying that we ought to be very, very hesitant to declare whether any particular person is good or bad. We all do good and bad things, but motives don’t always line up with results, and past behavior isn’t always a good measure of future choices, if there is a willingness to repent or a loss of concern.

    Only God has both the knowledge and objectivity to judge the heart, and I’m happy to leave the job to him.

  8. I appreciate the extended discourse, but admit I have difficulty seeing exactly what you are getting at, or why you feel happy about all the jobs you are leaving to God.

    You admit your beliefs are existentially based, as if existentialism was the basis for any particular system of beliefs, but I don’t see that it is. For instance you are existentially certain that God is non-deistic, and personal and judges people and apparently nations as well. And you believe that you have (let us say) the inside track (compared with me) on such a deity because you believe that specific ancient writings are holier than any other such writings before or since (though Jews hold a similar belief, but not in all the same writing as you, and they regard the NT writers as having employed OT prophecies out of context).

    In other words you believe much more than simply the practical daily benefits of helping rather than harming. (We agree on those.)

    But you also seem to be saying that your particular religious beliefs give you the inside track on supernatural benefits, even eternally so.

    You add that you are not willing to “risk” questioning your particular religious beliefs to the extent that say, I am willing to question them.

    What exactly do you fear? That if you cease believing all of the particular things you presently believe that you risk turning into a devil? Plenty of people do not believe in many of the particular things you do, and are not devils. So why fear?

    By the way, speaking of becoming a devil, I doubt you will ever become one whether or not you believe all of the particular things you presently do. So that is not an issue between us. But the question remains, have you asked yourself exactly why you have this fear of letting go of your beliefs? I know you hold them lightly, existentially, but what exactly do you fear about letting them go? Fear of becoming a devil as I said?

    I saw such fear inside myself ages ago when I began to question aspects of my Christian belief system. But eventually I came to realize that people are people, imperfect human beings, and that yes, in some circumstances people can act like devils, including people with plenty of religious beliefs as even Lewis admitted:

    Lewis wrote in a letter to a friend, “Even more disturbing as you say, is the ghastly record of Christian persecution. It had begun in Our Lord’s time – ‘Ye know not what spirit ye are of’ (John of all people!) I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man very much better, it makes him very much worse. . . . Conversion may make of one who was, if no better, no worse than an animal, something like a devil.” (Letter written by Lewis late in life to his lifelong friend Dom Bede Griffiths, who converted to Christianity around the same time Lewis did, but whose views concerning religion grew far more inclusive than Lewis’.)

    Also if you trust God and truth, then why fear such a God would not accept your most honest questions, everyone’s most honest questions, including questions regarding the notion of a doctrine of eternal punishment?

    Lastly, on the development of ancient Hebrew doctrines concerning the afterlife, they did not begin with eternal punishment, they began with Sheol, land of shades, were all the dead went. Only a few “heroes” got to go up to heaven, like Elijah in his chariot. That was also the ancient Greek view. The Mesopotamians were likewise believers in the land of all the dead, lying beneath the earth. The mortality of humanity is assumed in Genesis 2-3 or 4, where it is said, “from dust you were made, to dust you shall return.” The story of the expulsion from Eden explains how and why human beings had knowledge that was god like (becoming like god, knowing good and evil), but also explain why humans were mortal like the animals. Humans got to eat of one fruit, that made them god-like in knowing things, but they also were not permitted to eat of another piece of fruit making them god-like in another way, living eternally, so that explains the human situation. Genesis 2-3 explained the human situation in pretty ancient Near Eastern term.

    The intertestamental period was when a naming of particular angels and demons began in earnest, and the rise in belief that they were everywhere, ruling the world, and a rise in the belief of fiery hells or eternal punishment, not unlike those of the Zoroastrians, though such hells were not apparently eternal according to some Zoroastrian literature.

  9. I’m not sure where you are getting the impression that I am afraid to question or afraid of hell, much less the impression that I feel I have an “inside track” on God or think that one has to maintain certain beliefs to be accepted by God. I’ve denied all those things in previous comments and in the posts I’ve linked to. But because I’m willing to entertain the possibility of “eternal damnation” (which I’ve only said is a “possibility” and in any case should not be confused with eternal punishment), that somehow makes me fearful and unquestioning? Do you think it would be better if I was thoroughly convinced of my own righteousness and security? That sounds like just the sort of attitude that lead to that persecution Lewis notes…

    As for what I am getting at, it is really quite simply: That Christianity is a call to trust and follow the God who died on a cross. It’s not about what you believe about hell or the atonement or anything else; it’s not about accepting the Bible as inerrant or attending the right services or getting dunked in the right water. It is about living for God instead of yourself, and it is about a God who himself lived for us instead of himself.

    As for the Bible: I trust it because I’ve found that through it I draw closer to that God, and the more I study the more depth and beauty and honesty I find there, even in the places that you might least expect it, like Numbers or Job, but most of all in the Gospels.

    Ultimately, however, the reason I am more concerned to imagine and speculate than to try and give evidence or proof of Christianity, is because it wasn’t evidence or proof that made me a Christian in the first place: it is and always has been the experience of God through life and relationships and prayer and scripture. I trust in God, not because of some rational proof or because I fear doing otherwise, but because I have a lifetime of reasons to trust God. But since I do trust God, I won’t hesitate to imagine and speculate (and debate and share) about what the world looks like from that perspective. What more do I need?

  10. It’s a matter of perspective then, because the more I study the Bible the less close I feel to “the God of the Bible,” as if there can be only “one consistent interpretation and one God” who wrote all the books of the Bible.

    Jesus’ death proves that he was a rabble rouser whom the Romans and Jews both agreed was upsetting the apple cart. And they didn’t treat any other prophets or messianic pretenders any better. Including the miracle working Egyptian whom Josephus mentions as leading over ten thousand Palestinians to believe in him. I don’t think the historical Jesus meekly chose death so much as instigated it via his rabble rousing. And this same Jesus, as Schweitzer points out, might have been dissapointed at the result, hoping God might indeed save him and Israel at the last minute. Instead he crys out “My God why have you forsaken me” according to the earliest Gospels. (Jesus’ final words and actions are far calmer and self assured in the last two Gospels written, Luke and John, which read more like the death of a self assured philosopher).

    So, in terms of perspective you love the Bible and feel it is a part of your life. I study it as I would any book and notice in all honesty, some inspiring and some not so inspiring passages. Even the Jesus in the Gospels and some of his teachings appear questionable. Including his adoption of the notion of eternal punishment from pre-first century Jews.

    And how can you define for others what “closer to God” means? I’ve heard the Nine Inch Nails song of the same title. The brain loves what it loves, in music, in literature, in art. A person can’t explain to another person exactly how and why they might love Mondigliani, or Tolkein, or Michael Smith (CCM artist), or other such things. They just do. I understand that. I’m not asking you to love or not love something. My questions aren’t about love. Does eternal punishment honestly make sense to your rational mind? Living a finite life of so few years on this bedeviled planet, surrounded by so many emotional tempests and clouds of ignorance, ill health, suffering of many types, disappointments, loneliness, fear, miscommunications, and the distressing knowledge of one’s inevitable death, living such a life, you honestly rationally think that eternal suffering at the end of ALL of THAT makes rational moral sense? It’s more like God designed this world like spider’s web in order to ensnare souls for hell, to drive people mad. Just staying both well informed and sane should earn anyone a medal after they die.

    So, do you rationally think the above scenario of a short confuisng painful life in a land of tempests of emotions and struggling for what little knowledge each of us can gain, followed by an eternity of woe, makes enough “sense” for you to even consider it a “possibility?” I agree no one knows, I certainly have not seen behind the metaphysical curtain. But at the same time I cannot rationally conceive than an infinite Being exists who would create such an irrationally unjust scenario.

    Meanwhile, the EXECUTION of a first century apocalpytic prophet who preached outside and disrupted the Temple during holy week, including preaching such tempestuous things as the soon arrival of God’s kingdom, makes perfect sense in its day and age. It does not require divine intervention to explain such an EXECUTION taking place.

    By the way, I have a paper online, “The Lowdown on God’s Showdown,” that highlights the many predictions of soon coming worldwide judgment found throughout the NT. I was working on a second part to the paper as well, demonstrating the use of “this [last] generation” statement in the Dead Sea Scrolls, prior to Jesus’ day, as well as the Dead Sea Scroll prediction of the soon coming “battle of the sons of light with sons of darkness” that was supposed to take place in a generation, around Jerusalem. Again, such predictions were being made before Jesus’ day.

  11. Edited to remove a couple typos:

    It is certainly a matter of perspective when it comes to how one views the Bible. Not just one perspective either: one of the things I appreciate about scripture is that it does not embody a single perspective, but (as I have suggested elsewhere), presents something more like an engaging debate about who God is and how we ought to relate to him.

    We have four Gospels, for Pete’s sake, and those who think they can harmonize them are (in my humble opinion) deluded. I don’t love scripture because I find it inerrant or homogeneous or perfectly consistent, but because I find that it invites me into that conversation (and more than that, into a “lively and liberating way of living,” in Brueggemann’s words). And no, I don’t think everyone’s experience of God is the same–far from it! Rather one of the things that convinces me that God is more than just some impersonal force is how personal the experience of God tends to be–it’s different for everyone. Which is yet another reason why I hesitate to judge others.

    Finally, I really do not understand why you have such an infatuation with the subject of hell. You also appear to have overlooked my last comment where I clarified that “eternal damnation” is not to be confused with “eternal punishment.” Since you seem eager to expend extraordinary effort attempting to disabuse me of the latter, let me save you the trouble: I have never defended nor even suggested the idea that God might punish people for eternity.

    What I have said is that if there is a judgment (a theme that runs throughout scripture, whether applied to the afterlife or not), I cannot honestly dismiss the possibility that some will fail that judgment–I cannot even dismiss the possibility that I might fail that judgment–and thus I cannot honestly embrace universalism, as much as I would like to. As for what happens after the judgment, I am agnostic. Like you, I cannot imagine that God would subject anyone to conscious eternal punishment, but I’m not convinced that even Jesus’ comments suggest that, in any case.

    Still, since you find the mere possibility of hell so absurd, let me press you a bit: The question for me comes down to whether there is just one moment of judgment (on whatever grounds), or whether the door always remains open, so to speak. You seem to prefer the latter option, for obvious reasons, but there’s a catch that you seem to have overlooked:

    The only way those who cannot or will not immediately accept God can have a second (or third, or infinite) further chance(s) is if they continue to exist in some conscious form. And if they continue to exist, but are separated from God, then they are in hell (again, assuming the fire and brimstone and whatnot are merely metaphors, and “hell” really means “separation from God”), or at least, some form of pergatory (as if we haven’t referred to Lewis enough in this conversation, I’d note his suggestion in The Great Divorce that hell and purgatory are one and the same, and it is simply a matter of choice and perspective).

    In any case, if those who do not accept God (or are not accepted by God) at first are given further chances to repent, then how long are they allowed to go on like that if they continue to refuse? It seems to me there are only two options: Either they are given a limited time, after which they are destroyed permanently (so we are back to annihilationism, just with a bit longer of a grace period), or else they never reach the end of their chances, in which case those who do not repent (and as I have said, I cannot dismiss the possibility that ongoing separation from God would only further alienate a person) remain separated from God forever. So either there is a time limit, or there is the possibility of eternal conscious separation from God, but either way universalism is hardly a foregone conclusion.

    So what is the solution? Will God grant everyone into paradise immediately, regardless of what they have done or even what they would still like to do, or is there a judgment? And if there is a judgment, is it permanent or not? Do we get second chances or not? Do we ever run out of second chances? Honestly, I don’t know, which is why I say, again, I cannot rule out any possibility.

    Regardless, so don’t see much value in emphasizing these kinds of questions, as they are not only speculative, but don’t seem to me to have much value for influencing behavior. Plenty of people believe in hell as eternal conscious torture, but live no better because of it, while plenty of people don’t believe in the afterlife at all, and seek to live good and moral and generous lives simply because it’s the right thing to do. Between you and me, the latter are in a lot better shape than the former, regardless of their beliefs, and I’d sure as hell rather have them for neighbors! 😉

  12. […] I’ve been enjoying with Edward Babinski in the comments (especially here, here, here and here). We’ve covered a lot of ground but one issue Edward keeps coming back to is universalism and […]

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