TNT: S T U for the ABC’s of Theology

Micky and Callid join Bo to discuss Salvation, Theopoetics and Universalism for the ABC’s of Theology. S-Salvation

You can read the original posts here:

S is for Salvation (Micky)

T is for Theopoetics (Callid)

U is for Universalism (Bo)


You can follow the rest of series here [link] 

Artwork for the series by Jesse Turri

U is for Universalism (and Ultimate Concern)

I used to joke with people that you had to be careful attending churches that had a ‘U’ in them. United, Universal, Unitarian, Unity, etc. They seemed either to believe in almost everything or in not much of anything. U-Universalism

It was much funnier back then… but there is something to it.
Theological words are much the same. ‘U’ words tend to be big and sweeping in their scope. Much like the ‘I’ words seem to embody a certain period and concern, the ‘U’ words are large and consequential.

We will tackle Universalism first and then look at Ultimate Concern.

Grenz defines it this way – but pay attention to how he does so:

Universalism. Known historically as apokatastasis, the belief that all persons will be saved. Hence universalism involves the affirmation of universal *salvation and the denial of eternal punishment. Universalists believe that ultimately all humans are somehow in union with Christ and that in the fullness of time they will gain release from the penalty of sin and be restored to God. Twentieth-century universalism often rejects the deity of Jesus and explores the “universal” bases of all religions.

Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 1325-1327). Kindle Edition.

Did you see it? By presenting the concept as a historical concept with some biblical precedent, there is put forward some credibility. Then modern versions are handled in one sentence and in a way that rejects the deity of Jesus.
This is not a mistake, nor is it an accident.

Universalism is an old idea. The version that emerged in the 20th century is a different animal. In a globalized context where religions, traditions and world-views bump up against each other everyday,  the conversation changes immensely.

There are really 2 distinct universalisms:

  • Classic christian universalism relates to the belief that salvation is for everyone. A couple of years ago Rob Bell’s Love Wins was accused of being universalist. Karl Rahner’s notion of ‘anonymous christians’ is another expression of this impulse.

If you think that the christian God loves everyone and that ultimately (another U word) God’s work is for everyone and that basically everyone will end up with God, that would be a type of universalism.

  • Contemporary universalism is more about world religions. It is a type of pluralism. Contemporary universalism is concerned with the validity of any – or all – approaches to religion. Many look to figures like John Hick or use the ‘many paths up the same mountain’ analogy.

Contemporary universalism is as different from classic universalism as lighting is from a lighting bug.

Classic universalism is concerned with with work of Christ for every-one [thus Grenz’s concern for Jesus’ divinity]. Contemporary universalism is not about Christ’s effectiveness so much as the inherent validity of traditions and religions.
Both of these notions are beautiful attempts at something grand but are warped deeply by the legacy of colonialism.

I could write (and have written) massive papers on contemporary approaches to universalism – specifically within the context of inter-religious dialogue and postmodern approaches to pluralism.

The globalized world of the 21st century means that religious conversations and convictions are perhaps the most important conversation happening in our lifetime. Unless Jesus’ return is soon, we are going to have to learn to live on this planet together.

Which leads us to another important U word.

Ultimate Concern: The idea arising from Paul Tillich that everyone has something that is of highest importance to him or her. Tillich suggested that persons’ ultimate concern, or “what concerns ultimately,” is their God. In this sense, everyone is inherently religious.

Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 1318-1320). Kindle Edition.

Tillich presented several innovative concepts* that reframe the whole theological enterprise. This notion of Ultimate Concern is the perfect addition to the Classic/Contemporary address of Universalism and Pluralism.


Thoughts? Concerns? Questions?


Below is a short bibliography of resources I find helpful.
*If I were not in the field of Practical Theology, I would write on Tillich. His notion of correlation and his approach to ‘the ground of being’ fascinate me. If it were not for the linguist turn that happened in continental philosophy after his time, I think that he would have been the most significant theologian of the 20th century. Alas, the world changed.

McLaren’s christian take

Prothero’s innovative non-academic take

famous John Hick

Knitter’s Theologies of Religion

a christian take on multiple versions of ‘salvations’

Catherine Cornille on the impossibility of this whole thing

the best new work on the subject

classic work on Pluralism

the invention of world religions (a must read)



HBC Top 11 Blogs of 2011

Here are the top 11 blogs of Homebrewed Christianity in 2011  :

1. Theology Nerd Book Survey 

2. That’s “Too Gay” – Brian Ammons’ Banned Chapter from Baptimergent

3. Your First Steps into Biblical Universalism

4. 31 Reasons I Left Evangelicalism and Became a Progressive But Not a Liberal by Michael Camp

5. God Takes Sides….or When Karl Barth Was Right

6. Defining the Secular: Charles Taylor (pt. 3) by Deacon Hall

7. Rob Bell Wins 

8. The classic ‘Footprints in the Sand’ poem revisited

9. Are you a Bellian or Piperian?

10. a big difference between Christianity and Islam 

11. Goosing Emergents into the Mainline


Thank you all for your amazing participation and feedback – that was a wonderful year of conversation and theological brewing!

Let us know if you had a favorite that didn’t make the list.


From Chad, Tripp, and Bo – thanks for a great year, Brew On!  and don’t forget to share the brew.



Your First Steps into Biblical Universalism…

So the number of permanent residents in hell is on your mind? I’m gonna guess it wasn’t a few weeks ago until Rob Bell solicited a few twitter-bombs from some conservative dogma police. Since then it has been really popular to blast Bell for being un-biblical, heterodox, and all other sorts of bad stuff. That’s cool if you are interested in getting into someone’s head, supplying their intentions, and making judgments on behalf of the truth (which these individuals have undiluted access to!!). BUT if the conversation has got you thinking…is ‘love wins’ really a dramatic deviation from the church’s tradition and just some sexy packaging for liberal theology I would like to introduce you to a few Early Church Fathers who could introduce you to a ‘love wins’ way to read the Bible: Clement of Alexandria (ca. 160-215 C.E.), Origen (ca. 185-ca. 251 C.E.), and Gregory of Nyssa (331/340-ca. 395 C.E.)

These fellas are not just minor voices who should be ignored but essential for the develop of the doctrine of the Trinity (ps…it’s a big deal doctrine). I will avoid a discussion of the Trinity and their brilliant philosophical modification of Platonism to simply say that the nature of divine love articulated in the Trinity led them toward affirming God’s universalism. (1) But more than the Trinity it was the Bible that got’em!

Don’t believe me? Then try it out! Remember these three things and read some Bible to see if Biblical universalism is jiving with you.

Here are some of these three fellas favorite Bible passages…John 12:32; Acts 3:21; Romans 5:18-21, 11:25-26a, 32; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 15:22-28; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Ephesians 1:10; Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:20; 1 Timothy 2:4; Titus 2:11; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2. For serious play-by-play through these Church Fathers’ readings of the Bible see Steve Harmon‘s book Every Knee Should Bow: Biblical Rationales for Universal Salvation in Early Christian Thought. (2) But before you read them check out these three features of Biblical Universalism and see if they help frame your Bible reading.

1) God is Love….this means that there is nothing about God, in God, or comes from God that is not love. Love is not something God occasionally does or engages in but is the very essence of God. To say ‘God is Love’ is to say that the great mystery of God is a mystery in which every depth that is yet to be understood or revealed is another depth of love. God is love. Love known and unknown but nothing but love.

2) Love requires freedom…..this means that God’s actual goal for creation, to bring it to fruition within the divine love (Paul’s ‘all-in-all’), requires creation to have genuine freedom. Even Calvinists pretend its true in their daily lives. For example, when two lovers consummate their marriage in a passionate act of sweet love making, freedom, vulnerability, and risk is what made the actual act – intercourse – making love and not rape. The freedom to give oneself to another and to receive the other as other is not a human contaminant to love but essential. Because the God who is Love desires to love the whole world and genuine love involves freedom, the creatures of the Creator have received the gift of freedom to love God as a result of God’s own free decision to create and love.

3) Love Wins….God’s love wins. Why? Because the God who is Love is the one and only true God. The infinite Creator of all the universe who is love, is infinitely committed to loving and living in love with the world. This finite world and every finite person within it will remain for all eternity an object of the pure divine love. So both the Creator and creature’s freedom can never be compromised for premature victory. This means a). No one can or ever will be forced into loving God for the very love God desires requires freedom & b) Nothing, including one’s death or present state of response, can force the infinite God of Love to quit pursuing any and every part of God’s creation.

I hope you can see how this is NOT universalism of the blank check variety. The only thing universal here is the scope and reservoir of God’s love. The eschatological optimism is not about anyone, anything, or any action other than the God revealed in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is precisely that very particular vision of God that can lead one to be optimistic, hopeful, and excited about the future. Why? because the world’s future is God.

1. The Trinity still opens one’s theological imagination in an eschatologically optimistic direction. There is of course Karl Barth but a Greek Orthodox Priest who is a friend told me he saw all these ‘love wins’ posts on facebook and read enough quotes from the book to think it sounds like a pretty normal idea in Orthodox circles.

2. This book is really excellent and was personally transformative for me in undergrad!