Tuesday, June 28, 2011

All those "ALL"s...

Signs by paynehollow
Signs, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

And so, keeping in mind the previous post and noting that I'm not wanting to be argumentative or divisive, I DO have a question I'm curious to hear some thoughts on...

As I've said before, I'm not a universalist. I believe God has given humanity the option of choosing grace or not, and that some people can and DO reject God's gift of grace. Now, having said that, I'd have to say that there is some biblical and logical reasons to think that some universalist-ish positions.

I got to thinking about this because of hearing some more fundamentalist/conservative types insist that ALL people truly sin (not merely have a sinful nature, but sin) - including babies. The reason they think this, they say, is because "the Bible says it and I believe it!" They point to passages such as Romans 5...

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned...

And where I see "all sinned" to be a hyperbolic way of stressing that we all are imperfect humans, prone to sin and who, given the chance, DO sin. But I would insist that it's hyperbole because, obviously, babies do not sin. A newborn just out of his mother's womb obviously has not/can not sin, just because there is no capacity there to make deliberate choice to sin.

"Not so," came the response in a recent conversation. "Babies sin, too. They're EVIL!" Seriously, some fella just asserted that babies were evil.

Anyway, I say all of that to say that, IF you go on to read that passage that says "all sin," you see the complementary passage, saying Jesus' work of grace was to save "ALL people." And I wonder about the more literalists who say "All sin" means that everyone sins, if they think that "ALL people will be justified" and saved means "ALL people," and, if not, on what basis do they claim literalism for the one sentence, but not for the other.

The passages that some more universalist-types would point to are below. Thoughts?

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for ALL people.

Romans 5: 12 - 18

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way ALL Israel will be saved...

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and God's call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that God may have mercy on them all.

Romans 11: 25-32

since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ ALL will be made alive.

1 Corinthians 15:21, 22

For in him [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1: 12, 20

Not looking for divisiveness or disrespectful disagreement, just wondering what your opinions are, for what they are worth?

To be clear, what I'm looking for is along these lines...

"When I read these passages, I think that 'all' is/is not to be taken literally. I think this because..."

No need to point to HIM or HER or name names about another's opinion and give your thoughts on OTHER's hunches, I'm just curious what you think about all these "ALLs."


Alan said...

The forerunner to the modern PCUSA issued this statement regarding infant salvation back in 1903:

Second, with reference to Chapter X, Section 3, of the Confession of Faith, that it is not to be regarded as teaching that any who die in infancy are lost. We believe that all dying in infancy are included in the election of grace, and are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who works when and where and how he pleases.

My understanding is that traditional Calvinism believes that elect infants that die in infancy are saved (Westminster Confession, Chapter X). Some have interpreted this to mean that there are non-elect infants that are not saved, but the statement above serves to clarify that point for those of us in the Presbyterian tradition.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

I'm a rare bird - I take original sin seriously. Years ago, in an adult Sunday School class discussion of Confessions of St. Augustine, several people got seriously hung up on the parts where St. Augustine spent a bit of time confessing his infant and childhood sins. Personally, I like that part, because what our Bishop was insisting was that, in essence, ignorance and immaturity are not an excuse because sin, quite simply, is sin.

No one likes to consider the possibility that election includes the rejection of tiny infants, helpless and in need of everything. We extend our sense of protectiveness even to the possibility that some baby or toddler may well face judgment.

St. Augustine was being consistent. If we say "original sin", that means we are sinful. Period. It isn't about what we do. It is about the state of our relationship with God. Broken. That this chasm has been bridged in Jesus Christ in no way means the chasm doesn't exist, or that God makes an exception for infants and toddlers.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

I think the whole use of "universalist" as some kind of odd, theologically-tinged epithet of derision is weird. I was never much in to the whole doctrine of election thing, believing it to be some Calvinist plot to keep we Arminians outside the grace of God :). After reading through the very long, very dense Part 2 of Volume II of Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics, where he wades through the doctrine of election and comes to the conclusion that if we take the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ seriously as our starting point for understanding the doctrine, we end up in the curious position that double predestination is both Biblical and thorough-going (a position with which I agree) and that the confession of Christ's full humanity and full divinity, rooted in Philippians 2 in particular, mean that the burden of double predestination and divine election have fallen upon the crucified and risen Christ.

For me, this sets aside questions of "universalist" or what have you, and sets the question squarely where it belongs - in the court of the Triune God. It isn't that Barth was a universalist. Rather, it is the whole matter of divine election is caught up with and subsumed within the salvation wrought by God in Christ.

In other words, it is certainly a possibility. I kind of feel that Calvin was correct that delving too deep in to the question of predestination and election is more a cause for trouble and worry. Both are Biblically rooted teachings. The matter of who is in, who is out - at the heart of the whole question of whether or not one is a universalist - is God's.

Marty said...

I haven't quite decided whether I even believe in a literal hell, so I would probably be more of a universalist than anyone here. My hope is that, in the end, all are saved, but only God knows for sure.

Marshall Art said...

Unless you're referring to a conversatiom at some other blog, I can't recall ever reading of a conservative/fundie saying anything that resembles babies consciously sinning, as if they choose to.

I think part of the issue is, in general, man's unwillingness to consider that God does not operate on the same level as a human being and that what seems unjust to us might not be so to Him. To assume that babies just can't be ignored assumes that God NEEDS to have them around, rather than wants to for whatever His reasons might be.

Alan said...

"believing it to be some Calvinist plot to keep we Arminians outside the grace of God"

Darn it Geoffrey, you've discovered our master plan! Drat! :)

I've always found election to be extremely comforting. And, given what I perceive to be abject terror on the part of those who think that salvation is all about getting enough checkmarks in the Nice column of Angry Santa's heavenly tote board, I think I'm right about election being a better way to live in faith.

But I take total depravity seriously, and my thoughts on infant salvation are more of a "I certainly hope so!" nature than a particular theological viewpoint. Because, unless there are a batch of much smarter babies than I come in contact with, trying to share the Gospel with them so they can be saved is probably only slightly harder than getting them to eat strained peas.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

After encountering Calvin as well as Wesley on election (and here, I think, Wesley's saying that he was a hair's breadth away from Calvin is substantially correct) rather than the secularized, bastardized version one reads about, I, too, find comfort in the doctrine of election.

Precisely because it takes the whole Gospel seriously, rather than as a charter for how to behave - roll over! fetch! - in order to get a treat.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

The difference between Calvin and Wesley on these matters lies, I think, in what are known as "the historic questions". Wesley thought it necessary, through a process of disciplined practice, to scrutinize oneself and others in matters of faith, salvation, marks of what used to be called "gifts and graces" but is now known, with far better terminology, as marks of grace, and fruits. These questions are now usually reserved for candidates for ordination, yet Wesley, historically, considered them a part of the examination of the life of any Christian.

The idea that we actively participate, through the grace of God, seems to run counter to the idea that it's all God, all the time. Yet, for Wesley, and later Wesleyans, it is important to recognize that the whole matter of salvation and perfection, justification and sanctification, is understood as something that not only happens to us, but in which we live and for which we live.

The real error (if it is one) came in the 19th century when the process Wesley called "Christian perfection" became understood as "entire sanctification" and moved from a possibility through the grace of God and our willing submission to that grace in our lives to a necessary mark of real salvation. This is the root of what is known as the "holiness" movement, and churches in the tradition, like the Church of the Nazarene, insist that unless one has received and can give testimony to one's entire sanctification, one is not truly saved. Wesley, certainly, never went this far, and the United Methodist Church does not, either. It does ask candidates for ordination if they are going on to perfection in this life, to which the proper response (whether one is seeking ordination or not) is, "Yes, with God's help." Calvin, I think, wouldn't go that far.

Dan Trabue said...

A few thoughts...


This is the root of what is known as the "holiness" movement, and churches in the tradition, like the Church of the Nazarene, insist that unless one has received and can give testimony to one's entire sanctification, one is not truly saved.

A small point and one on which I'm not entirely sure: Having attended a Nazarene church for a while and read some of their history (including their pacifist roots), you are certainly right to say that sanctification is a key teaching to the Nazarenes. I would only add the caveat that I never heard any Nazarenes (nor do I remember reading any of their literature) say that "unless one has received sanctification," one wasn't saved.

It may well be part of Nazarene teaching, I just never heard of such. But perhaps I just never heard it discussed in those terms.

But that's rather a sidebar.

Dan Trabue said...


Unless you're referring to a conversatiom at some other blog, I can't recall ever reading of a conservative/fundie saying anything that resembles babies consciously sinning, as if they choose to.

I was thinking of a conversation held at another blog, Atheist George's Misplaced Grace, where there was a conversation about God commanding Israelites to destroy a people, including killing "innocent" babies. I was making the case that of course, babies were innocent, which led some to say No. Which led to conversations about sin, guilt, innocence and evil, as it relates to babies.

I offered the option, "Are you merely speaking of having a sinful nature?" which was never responded to directly. It was one of those conversations where I had trouble getting direct answers.

For instance, I offered the MW definitions for guilt, sin, innocent and evil, saying "THIS is what I mean by those terms," and asking if they meant something other than standard English definitions.

That was met with the suggestion that I'm relying "upon modern definitions of English terminology, rather than contextualized definitions of the words in their original language."

To which I gladly agreed that, yes, as a modern English speaker holding a conversation in a modern English context, I WAS using standard English definitions. I asked specifically and repeatedly, "WHAT definitions are you using?" but never got a direct answer.

I said that I fully understood that sometimes it's very helpful to look at the Greek or Hebrew words being used in the Bible and asked which place in the Bible did they find the suggestion that babies are "evil" or guilty or sinners, but never was met with a response on that question, either.

I was met with just blank and unsupported statements like, "Yes even babies are evil."

So, yes, Marshall, this was based upon a conversation held most recently at another place, but that has been held other places, as well.

I have had a hard time getting beyond, "Do you mean merely that babies have a sinful nature, as is common to all humanity?" a point on which I agree, "...or do you mean a baby is GUILTY of SIN, of committing a SINFUL ACTION, and thus NOT INNOCENT?" which has been met with some equivocation and a lack of clarity.

Dan Trabue said...


I take original sin seriously.


I take total depravity seriously

My take is that I believe in humanity's sinful nature - our bent towards sin, towards wrong, towards bad, sinful mistakes. I believe we have a sinful nature and, given opportunity, we often indulge.

BUT, I also believe in the biblical notion that we are God's people, created in the image of God, a little lower than the angels (or "a little lower than God," depending upon the translation), created to do good works in God, greater works even than Jesus!, as He said. We have that of the divine within us.

So, I believe in the dichotomy of humans having a sinful nature AND having a Godly nature, as well.

Therefore, depending upon how it's being used, I'm wary of the non-biblical term "utter depravity" of humanity.

Beyond that, I find the use of words like "guilty," "sinful" or especially "evil" when speaking of a newborn babe to be a bit silly, unless one is speaking humorously of hyperbolically.

That sort of use with those words undermines, to me, the meaning of the words. A baby is "evil?" Really? And Hitler, too? To place a newborn infant and Hitler at his worst in the same category undermines the meaning of the words "evil" or "guilty." And using the suggestion that babies are evil, guilty or "not innocent" to justify the killing of babies sounds just a bit desperate.

Them's some of my thoughts. Just for what they're worth, which ain't much.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Ooo! Hitler! LOL ;)

Seriously, let us consider for the nonce the Biblical passage you mention, in which an entire population is called to be wiped out, including the children. The thought here is simple enough - you wipe out a potential enemy when you eliminate the children. Are children in a conflict "innocent" if domination, occupation, and subjugation are the goal? Potentially, no. The earliest writings of Israelite/Judean history reflect the kind of national ideology, with YHWH as their national deity, that were common enough throughout not just the Levant, but most of the world (and still are in many places). I am saying nothing about whether or not I find such thoughts abhorrent or not, or such practices disgusting. All I'm suggesting is there is logic to it, one that comes from a time before Rousseau, before the Romantic cult of the child, before the bourgeois idolization of some idea of human innocence.

Original sin as a doctrine does not admit of exceptions because it isn't about what we do. It is about who we are in relation to God. It has nothing to do with rationality, with choices, with whether or not the tiny baby is or has done anything most today would call evil, sinful, or immoral. As St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions, babies are egocentric, demanding, their sole focus on the satisfaction of their most basic needs, with the whole world seen as their servants. We may write this off today as biological necessity, but even Freud understood these realities as part of the human predicament (sorry, Alan. . .).

As a member of the Reformed Church told me once back in my seminary days, the doctrines of election and predestination have to do, in the end, with God's justice, not ours. If you are uncomfortable with the thought of babies and children being sinful and separated from God, remember the subject of the phrase isn't the persons in question, but God.

Marshall Art said...

What point is there to bring up a discussion held elsewhere as if anyone who visits here has ever expressed that opinion? I don't believe anyone who visits here ever suggested that babies can choose to do evil, or anything like it.

But it occurred to me that you are doing what you suggested others have been doing in previous posts, that is, quarreling over words. That all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory has ALWAYS been understood to mean that all are of a sin nature, that nothing anyone can do alone can erase that. To find a few (if that many) who think it means babies can choose to sin serves what purpose here?

At the same time, I don't think any of the verses you've provided suggest that all WILL be saved. Otherwise, why would there be a need for judgement at all in the final days? Where you guys off track is in your fickle and ambiguous determinations of when one is saved or judged or shown mercy. Does God alone have the authority? DUH! That's never been the discussion. It's always been about interpreting Scripture so that we can learn what will leave us in His Good Grace and what shows we're not so interested in that after all.

Dan Trabue said...


To find a few (if that many) who think it means babies can choose to sin serves what purpose here?

It serves the purpose of finding out that you and I can agree on something and that's a good thing. It serves the purpose of showing that these two fellas in the previous discussion are not representing at least all of conservative-dom.

Good to know we agree that babies don't choose to engage in sin.

As to the question about "justification for ALL people..." I was just curious what folk thought. You appear to think that we ought not take Paul literally there, that when Paul said Jesus' sacrifice will serve as a source of life and justification for ALL people, that Paul's words ought not be taken literally.

Thanks for your thoughts on the matter.

Dan Trabue said...


I don't think any of the verses you've provided suggest that all WILL be saved.

Well, taken literally, do you not think that is EXACTLY what Paul sounds like he's saying?

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for ALL people.

I mean, Paul is LITERALLY saying Jesus act RESULTED in "justification and life for ALL people." What do you think he meant by that, if not the literal meaning?

I'm just asking because I'm curious.

Dan Trabue said...

Geoffrey, I'm not sure where you're going here...

Are children in a conflict "innocent" if domination, occupation, and subjugation are the goal? Potentially, no.

Regardless of the goals, children (or at least babies) are innocent by definition, unless you're using some other definition of "innocent." I'm just not sure in what sense babies could be referred to as NOT innocent, or as guilty, or as sinners, or as evil.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

No, Dan. If the goal is total domination, leaving behind children leaves behind a potential source of conflict. Thus, wiping out everyone removes any possibility of future revolt.

Again, I'm passing no moral judgment here. I'm just saying this is the thinking, and it isn't confined to ancient Israel. There was a reason there were so many ruined ancient cities around the world. After the army was defeated, the victors went through killing, raping, and carting off pretty much everyone, then burned the physical remains.

"Innocence" is a cuddly term. Life, sad to say, isn't that cuddly.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

And, no, I do not accept childhood "innocence". Spend five minutes listening to children speak to and about one another. Spend a few minutes consoling your tween daughter because of the behavior of her peers toward her and others. Spend five minutes watching a six- or seven-year-old watching in fascination as a spider attacks a fly in her web, or a cat hunts, kills, then devours a bird.

Childhood innocence is a modern myth, best disposed of.

Dan Trabue said...

Come now, Geoffrey. If nothing else, look at the 1 minute old infant. THAT is innocence defined. There is nothing NOT innocent in a newborn.

I have children, I was a teacher, I have worked with children in many contexts. I am aware that children are not perfect. But for my purposes here, I'm speaking of a newborn, which is wholly innocent.

From MW:

Innocent: 1. a. free from guilt or sin especially through lack of knowledge of evil : blameless (an innocent child)

b : harmless in effect or intention (searching for a hidden motive in even the most innocent conversation — Leonard Wibberley); also : candid (gave me an innocent gaze)

c : free from legal guilt or fault; also : lawful (a wholly innocent transaction)

2. a : lacking or reflecting a lack of sophistication, guile, or self-consciousness : artless, ingenuous

In THESE standard English use of the word, a baby IS innocent. There is no myth there.

In what possible sense is a baby NOT innocent?

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

In what possible way is a newborn infant not innocent? Either take original sin seriously, or don't Dan. If you do as you say you do, then the child is a sinful creature, separated from eternal salvation. You can always do what medieval Catholics did and invent limbo.

Since I refuse to accept the idea that newborn babies "are" innocent, not just in a theological sense, but in any way, I'm not sure why you're arguing with me. I love my daughters, but having spent the past 14 years as a Dad, my experience is that children are egotistical, demanding, manipulative (all that crying because they're hungry teaches them to cry when they want pretty much anything), and sometimes downright vicious.

A newborn baby is no less sinful than Josef Stalin. Chew on that.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Sin isn't what we do. It's what we are.

We cannot escape how ugly that is, not in ourselves, not in anyone else.

Not even the face of a newborn infant.

That is why Christ came. That is why we need grace.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

As to whether in some contingent sense the conquering Israelite army indulged in the murder of "innocent" children, my own sense is that, in their own eyes they did not think so, for the reasons I stated.

I am certainly not suggesting that the annihilation of the entire population of a conquered foe is a moral good. Actually, I find it abhorrent. I do not, however, indulge in fantasies of "innocence" or "responsible" rooted in a contemporary idiom and ideology that was completely foreign to the writers of the time.

It is one thing to say that killing or otherwise eradicating a conquered people is morally vicious. One need not fall back on, "Oh, the poor innocent children!" to do so, and it only creates a distraction where clarity is needed.

Marshall Art said...


The distinction I draw, and that is not meant to be addressed by those verses, is that what Jesus has done for all is true, but that doesn't provide for all being saved. That is, He simply allows for everyone to be saved, but not that everyone will be saved. The offer is out there and no one will be barred from taking advantage of it, but not all will.

These verses don't suggest at all that everyone WILL be saved, but that the actions of Christ were perpetrated so that everyone COULD be saved. I'm not trying to sound as redundant as it may seem, but only hope to be clear.

Dan Trabue said...


Either take original sin seriously, or don't Dan. If you do as you say you do, then the child is a sinful creature, separated from eternal salvation.

I DO take original sin seriously, Geoffrey. Or, since it's not a biblical term, I'd say that I take the tenet that we ALL have a sinful nature as a very real thing.

AND I take the notion of being created in the image of God to do good works in Christ seriously, too.

Where we appear to be parting ways is that I'm suggesting being a "sinner" or being "guilty," or "not innocent," these all indicate that we have DONE something - a sinner is one who SINS - who rejects God's ways and stands in defiance of the right. Someone is GUILTY when they have DONE SOMETHING. Someone is innocent if they are free from guilt or sin.

And all of that to say that a newborn babe IS free from guilt or sin - in the sense that they have DONE NOTHING. In the sense that a "SIN" is something we do, a babe is sinless. They have a sin nature and WILL sin once they reach that capability, but a newborn has NOT sinned, is NOT guilty of anything.

The Bible is clear that children don't "inherit" the guilt of their parents, but that each person is held accountable for their own actions. A babe is innocent, again, by definition.

If you disagree with that, well, then we just disagree and you must be using some definition other than the standard English one, as far as I can see.

Dan Trabue said...


Sin isn't what we do. It's what we are.

And I guess if that is how you are defining sin, then that's one place we disagree. Sin IS what we do. SinNERS is what we are, once we have chosen, which does happen early on, but "Sin" is not what we are. We ARE God's holy, beautiful, flawed, fallen, beloved people, created to do good works in Christ.

Dan Trabue said...


These verses don't suggest at all that everyone WILL be saved, but that the actions of Christ were perpetrated so that everyone COULD be saved.

I generally agree with you here, with your conclusion, anyway. But my point is, that is not what this verse is literally saying. It's literally saying "ALL will be justified," is what it literally says. Or, put another way, it does not say "justification and life for all... IF THEY ACCEPT AND DON'T REJECT IT," which is what you and I sort of believe. But what we believe is not found in that passage, just literally "ALL."

For what it's worth.

Marty said...

This is a very interesting conversation.

Dan, I tend to agree more with you on the innocence of babies. Could it be because we come from a Baptist background? From reading what Alan and Geoffrey write, I can now understand why Presbyterians, Methodists, and others baptize infants. I never really understood it until this comment thread. I went to the UMC website and found that one receives grace through baptism. For Lutherans the baptism saves (my husband is Lutheran). I don't agree with either one. It's just tap water after all. Such odd concepts to me, but it isn't a doctrine that would make me leave the UMC and go back to being Baptist.

Those verses are there, nonetheless, and they do say ALL. Don't you wish sometimes you could channel Jesus and Paul and ask them exactly what they meant?

Dan Trabue said...

You might be on to something with the Baptist thing, Marty. I know that, at least with anabaptists, it tends just not to be that big a deal.

Mennonite thinker Robert Friedmann, writing on the anabaptists on this topic, put it this way...

While for the Reformers the question of personal, individual salvation (from the taint of original sin and punishment for it) stood in the foreground... the Anabaptists were primarily interested in the idea of Nachfolge (following Christ) which is based on an implied "theology of the kingdom of God."

Of course, the Anabaptists too were sure that this idea means, in the last analysis, "salvation"..., but salvation as taught by Luther was certainly not their primary concern. Their concern was rather obedience to the Word of God which excluded from the outset too much thinking concerning one's own fate.

Only by obedience can one become a "disciple" and thus be active towards the promotion of the kingdom of God. Original sin exists, of course, but must not necessarily prevent man from such a way of Nachfolge, if man only fights in his own depth all the opposing forces.

Here we see immediately the great difference between them and the Reformers: there is no inescapable pessimism concerning man's capacity to obey God's commandments (including those of the Sermon on the Mount). The reason for this is that Anabaptism begins with the very idea of inner rebirth and a new and dedicated life, while Protestantism in general is inclined to despair of such an ability in man.

Anabaptism sometimes sounds (especially to outsiders) works-oriented, but it IS all about grace and works are just the outflow and evidence of that grace.

In the end, we agree with original sin in broad brush strokes (ie, we all have a sinful nature), but just aren't that worried about it as a critical teaching of Jesus. And, as with "original sin," so, too with atonement, virgin birth, etc, that some traditions appear to spend more time thinking on.

We're very much a Sermon on the Mount, Jesus- and James-embracing group of believers.

Marty said...

Stop it Dan. You're making me want to go back to being Baptist. I probably would if there was a Baptist Church like yours in my area.

Dan Trabue said...

Well, of course, most Baptist churches these days would probably be more likely to disagree with me and mine (and you) than not, including on this matter. But perhaps a Mennonite church...?

Of course, your church sounds pretty groovy, too.

Marty said...

Yeah, now your reminding me why I left the Baptist Church. There is a Mennonite Church way across town. Too far.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

The Mission Statement of the United Methodist Church, adopted at the last General Conference, is, "Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." There has been a reawakening within mainline and evangelical denominations for a refocus on what we are Christians for in recent years (the UMC, technically, is an evangelical denomination, and Wesley is far more in the classical evangelical tradition than, say, Reformed or Anglican churches). The focus on discipleship, since the mid- to late-1980's, had led to the whole, "What's it all about?" questioning, which led, in 2008, to the addition to our mission statement.

My wife's favorite verse is in 1 Peter, where the author says that God is patient, wanting all to come to salvation. All I have written so far in no way denies the possibility that all of us may well stand before the throne of God and not be ashamed thanks to Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. As I wrote in my first comment, the whole question, "Universalist?" makes the error of assuming we can know anything about the works of God in Christ through the Spirit. Since the point of the story is that we are called by God to relationship with God for God's purposes in the world, whether or not all or some or even just one person in all human history is truly saved by grace through faith seems to me to be missing the point.

Again quoting Karl Barth (the guy wrote way too much, but at least he left behind some interesting quips), "We must never claim to know. We must always live as if we knew." There is far more important things for us to be about than wondering whether or not we got the Divine Hall Pass.

Marshall Art said...


I can only agree if those verses are taken out of context. Then perhaps one might feel that way. The first Romans piece provides more context in that it speaks of those who receive. What follows after that must be isolated in order to ignore that.

The second Romans piece says "so that God may have mercy on them all", not that he will.

The other excerpts provide less context, but I suggest a full reading would result in the same thing.

George W. said...

As the token atheist here, but one who has a pretty firm grip on this topic, I find it telling that no-one here has decided to really answer Dan's original question.
Universalism was a foundational teaching of the early church, Origen being the first "Church Father" who comes to mind on the issue. It was not even considered a "heresy" until much later in church history.
There is much reason to believe that a plain reading of the scriptures is consistent with universalism.
I have no dogs in the theistic fight, though I guess an atheist would necessarily want universalism to be true if he were wrong about the veracity of Christianity. I will also, for full disclosure, admit that I list my "religion" on Facebook as "The less special half of 1 Timothy 4:10". So I am not a non-biased third party here.

I think that "all" means "all", and that the analogy that Paul uses in Romans 5 is entirely pointless outside of either a renunciation of "total depravity" and/or traditional original sin or a belief in universal salvation. I wrote a post about it, and invite anyone to show me the error of my understanding.

As an aside, I edited a book on universalism entitled "Raising Hell" by Julie Ferwerda. The book is entirely free at the moment, and I'd be happy to send a PDF copy or provide a link to anyone interested.

Dan Trabue said...

Thanks for the thoughts, George. I should have pointed out in my post that it was reading your post on this and other passages that made me post here. My apologies for that oversight.

I remain unconvinced in a totally literal interpretation of the passage and of "all," because I believe in human free will and that folk can choose to say yes or no to God's grace. But there is certainly a case to be made.

George W. said...

I don't deny that people can exercise free will. I also don't think salvation is like a gift wrapped in fancy paper that is handed to you and you have a choice to open it or give it back to Jesus. Salvation, to a universalist, is more like a surprise party that Jesus has planned for you, and regardless of how many protests you make telling him you want nothing to do with it, He is going to throw you the party nonetheless.
That is the thrust of my post, that just as we have free will to try and live the best sin-free life in spite of Adam's transgression (though are doomed to failure in many respects), so too, do we have the will to turn our back on the grace of God- only to be embraced in spite of our foolishness and pride.
I just don't know why you think you are so damned important that you feel like you could choose to circumvent the will of Jesus. If He wants you at the party, He is going to get you there somehow.
The bible is pretty clear that there are consequences for sin, but there is little basis to assume that this is "eternal", filled with "hellfire", or that all people will not be drawn into the fold in the larger scope.
I appreciate you taking the time to discuss why you are skeptical, and you ought to be unless someone can answer every lingering question.

Feodor said...

Aside from my surprise that all of you would so easily join together in identifying fallenness with guiltiness, I am not surprised that Marshall - by his indirect, unknowing ways - succinctly describes the role of Jesus which remains after Protestantism strips the Gospel message of glorious and mystical values of the Incarnation and the Ascension of a full human being. Marshall:

"He simply allows for everyone to be saved, but not that everyone will be saved. The offer is out there and no one will be barred from taking advantage of it, but not all will."

How does this, in Christian theology, change anything, add any greater love, from our Old Testament? In his view, as, I believe, must be the case in protestant theologies that have not learned to integrate the glories of what was lost, Jesus is seen as only a slightly better car salesman than the Father.

Totally missing here is an appreciation that the gospel message of God being born in human flesh between piss and shit, announced by the angels and crying for milk, walking dirty peasant roads, living faithfully even when angry, sarcastic, dismissive but steadfastly desiring to manifest God's love, and finally dying an innocent execution, descending to preach to the spirits in prison (purgatory implied? and what exactly would "Abraham's bosom" be except a notion of purgatory?), and rising, conquering death itself, and ascending -as an incarnate being - to heaven, thereby glorifying all of humankind by our kinship.

What is the sting of death? And if death is the wage of sin, where is the sting of sin?

We are fallen, mortal, imperfect in will and love. So are babies. But imperfection is far from guilt, from loss of innocence. That babies thirst, that they hunger, that they cannot conceive of, much less communicate, what causes discomfort, and so cry out - all is simply the way we are wonderfully and fearfully made to develop in the glory of God.

This is selfish? No. How can so many of you guys, having worked through and expanded your sensibility to grace, say such crazy things?

Dan Trabue said...

Thanks for the thoughts, George.

Feodor said...

This is selfish? No. How can so many of you guys, having worked through and expanded your sensibility to grace, say such crazy things?

And I'll have to admit that I don't know what you're speaking of, Feodor. What "crazy things" do you think I/we have said?

WHAT is selfish?

I'm just unclear who it is you're speaking to and what it is you're saying.

I will say that I agree with you where you say...

We are fallen, mortal, imperfect in will and love. So are babies. But imperfection is far from guilt, from loss of innocence. That babies thirst, that they hunger, that they cannot conceive of, much less communicate, what causes discomfort, and so cry out - all is simply the way we are wonderfully and fearfully made to develop in the glory of God.

On that, I agree. Your other comments, I'm just not sure what you're saying.

My apologies for my obtusities.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Feodor - it was your beloved Dr. Freud who restated the case for original sin, in a different, wholly secular, developmental context. Rather than the innocent wittle babykins all sweet and cuddwy just wanting his milk, Freud saw a creature of the most basic ego, the most violent demands, traumatized by the eradication of the sense of omnipotence that came with floating weightless in the fluid of the womb, not knowing want because all its needs were met before they became needs. With birth, according to our Viennese savant, comes not just separation, but deprivation, and the entwined fear and rage at this new thing. Freud saw our psychological development as little more than an outworking of coming to terms with this initial trauma. Since it is universal - every child is born, obviously - it is, indeed, analogous to original sin.

While there is little to nothing of merit in the views Freud propounded - being born makes me want to kill my father and have sex with my mother? really? - to take the view you do seems to indicate you hold Sigmund in far less esteem than you have previously stated.

I say "almost nothing of merit" because on one, very significant point Freud was exactly right - babies are transparently ego unbound. The world revolves around satisfying their needs. The first couple years of human life is a constant struggle between parents setting limits to the satisfaction of those needs that soon become wants, and the on-going attempt to make such satisfaction the basis of the parent-child relationship in which the child is the dominant partner.

Now, one can, I suppose, write this off as little more than developmental biology. As I'm not a fan of reductionisms, and as the teaching of original sin, as I understand it, in no way lessens the mystery of the Incarnation even as it seems to offer a suggested reason for it, makes far more sense of the evidence than a simplistic biologism, I'm not quite sure why you think it simple-minded to support the doctrine, or the need for Incarnation, or the glory of the new relationship founded in the resurrection/ascencion (with which I whole-heartedly agree; which is why the whole "universalist? not univeralist?" question also seems nonsensical to me).

Feodor said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Feodor said...

Sorry, Dan, Geoffrey has an old loss to revenge. But is it just me or has Geoffrey seemed somehow less than himself of late? Take for instance these seemingly contradictory passages of his:

"We may write this off today as biological necessity, but even Freud understood these realities as part of the human predicament (sorry, Alan. . .)"


"While there is little to nothing of merit in the views Freud propounded..."

And yet Geoffrey accuses me of contradiction: since I wrote on his blob a couple of months ago:

"On the whole Freud's science has held up just as well as Darwin's. They were both wrong about a number of things and a number of specifics, even a few significant things. But their major findings prevail. In Freud's case, his discovery of the modern notion of the unconscious. Of the activity of the unconscious in dreams. And, yes, the role of aggression in sex, by which he anticipated the discovery of testosterone among other factors."

[It was my mention of testosterone that silenced the unthinking objections of Geoff and Alan (a professional chemist) that Freud had it all wrong in relating sex and aggression.]

Only to have Geoffrey follow with this, which seems to me to be in a complete spirit of agreement with what I originally said:

"To say that Freud is a necessary person through whom anyone serious about understanding human beings and society must work is only the first sentence. The second sentence, of course, is to recognize that so much of his work has been revised - often by Freud himself as he changed his mind..."

The bottom line for you, Dan - and the definitive answer to Geoffrey's whinging - is that Freud indeed made an analogy between his findings of the developing infantile ego wrestling with the birth experience and a prevalent Victorian resistance to "selfish" - thus sinful - infant existence. But let's thank God that Freud's intent was to take the ascription of guilt away from the baby. It was, rather, nature: the nature of the infant's psychology... thus, guiltless.

Partly as a result of Freud's de-mythologizing of infantile guilt, we are blessed today with doulas, the noble and humanely scientific profession of nurse midwifery, and also, though scary to me, the opportunity for water births. All these are dedicated to honoring both the painful but holistic experience of the mother and the painful, rupturing but necessary experience of the born child.

Now, let's hope Geoffrey soon returns to his sharp-minded norm.

Marshall Art said...


It is not you. It is feodor, who spends too much time trying to sound intellectual that in being "precise" and clear. When he is clear, he exposes himself as foolish. Frankly, here, I can't tell if he's agreeing with me or not.