The following program is a presentation of
Grace Communion International and Grace Communion Seminary and is made possible by generous
donations from viewers like you. On this episode of You’re Included, theologian, Dr. Robin Parry, discusses God’s purpose for salvation and how it is already achieved for everyone. Our host is Dr. J. Michael Feazell Does the Bible give place to the possibility
that God would ultimately be successful in drawing absolutely everybody to faith in Christ?
Most Christians would answer that unequivocally, “no,” but I’m a little unusual in that regard.
I think that the Bible does provide good grounds for hope that indeed God will achieve his
purpose of saving all people. I’m a little bit out on a limb here, although it is a Christian
tradition with a noble heritage even though it’s been a minority sport through the years,
and it’s a Christian tradition rooted in both Scripture and in the gospel itself.
I’m not suggesting it’s something that if you’re an orthodox Christian you have
to believe this, I would never be so bold or arrogant to suggest that, but I do think
the idea that God will save all people through Christ is neither heretical, nor dodgy, nor
unbiblical. The idea grows out of a deep Christian instinct grounded in fundamental orthodox
Christian beliefs. We believe that God created all things, and that God created all things
good, and that God purposes good things for his creation. We believe that Christ becomes
incarnate as a representative man not just for some people but for humanity. He stands
before God as High Priest as a human in our place, as the God-man — that comes out brilliantly
in the work of T.F. Torrance. Most Christians (not all) believe that Christ
not only came to represent all people before God in his life, but also in his death, and
that when Christ dies, he dies on behalf of all humanity. There are various scriptures
that do that, and some Christian traditions would deny it, but it seems clearly the teaching
of Scripture, and it is the teaching of the majority of Christians. So already there is
a deep orthodox instinct that God has purposes. God takes no delight in the death of anyone.
God’s purpose, God wants, God’s heart is for the salvation of all, and it’s precisely
for that purpose that he sends Christ to stand before God on behalf of all to die on behalf
of all, and not simply to die but to be raised on behalf of all.
The question is, in one sense, salvation for the whole of humanity and the whole creation
is not something that in Scripture we even hope God might do, but it is something that
in the very person of Christ himself, God has already achieved. In the resurrection
of Jesus from the dead, that is already done in the past, the salvation of all humanity
and all creation following from that in our place, in our representative, in our Messiah.
What the Holy Spirit is doing is working in creation by uniting people to Christ through
faith and baptism and joining our lives to Christ so that we can participate in the salvation
that’s already achieved in Christ and in the Messiah.
My conviction is that what God intends to do and what God achieves in Christ through
the work of the Holy Spirit, God will do by eventually bringing all people to faith in
Christ and with them being united to him. I’m not wanting to suggest…often people
say this, “Oh my goodness, you think everyone will be saved. Does that mean all roads lead
to God? Or does that mean it doesn’t matter what we do because we’re going to be saved
anyway or we can go and sin because…let’s do all those things we want to do that are
really bad. We can do them because it doesn’t matter, because we’re going to go to heaven
anyway, so what difference does it make?” I’m not saying any of that. I don’t think
all roads lead to God. I think the only way to God is through Christ. The only way to
salvation is through union with Christ by the Holy Spirit. There isn’t another option,
so I’m not suggesting something that’s not Christ-centered or gospel focused or about
the cross and resurrection. In some senses Calvinists are right and in
some senses Arminians are right, the way I try and hold things together. Calvinists have
this very strong sense that God is sovereign, God will not fail in achieving his purposes.
What God sets out to do, in the end, God will achieve it and God wins. That’s absolutely
right, and God intends to save humanity, and that’s precisely what he’s going to do.
The Arminian on the other hand says we believe God loves everyone. We believe God wants to
save everyone…of course, because of creature’s free will, God sadly won’t be able to achieve
his purposes, but that’s what he wants to do and that’s what he tries to do through
Christ. The Calvinist says, no, if God wanted to do that he could. If God wanted to save
everyone he could. If God wanted Jesus to die for everyone he’d have done that, but
that’s not what happened. I want to say the Arminians are right — God
loves everyone, God wants to save everyone, Christ died for everyone. The Calvinist is
right in saying God will get his purposes done, God will achieve his purposes.
Christians have always been forced into this, because we feel that some people have to end
up in hell forever — that’s been our unshakeable conviction. If that’s what you start with,
you’re going to have to sacrifice something else. You’re going to either have to say,
as many Christians do, God could save them but he didn’t want to, or you’re going
to have to say, he does want to but he can’t because somehow they throw a spanner [a wrench]
in the works or something. In Romans 5 you have this wonderful text,
“As in Adam all will die…” This is 1 Corinthians 15, “As in Adam all die, so
in Christ all will be made alive.” But in Romans 5, Paul has a similar thing comparing
Adam and Christ. He’s basically saying everything that goes wrong in Adam gets put right in
Christ. “And where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” There’s nothing that sin
can do to deface God’s creation that grace in Christ cannot put right. There’s no depths
that sin can go to or human depravity it can go to, but that the grace of God in Christ
and the death and burial of Christ can’t go deeper. And there’s no sin that God can’t
deal with in Christ. The end of the story is resurrection, it’s the empty tomb, it’s
not Golgotha. You know, it’s the triumph of grace.
My worry with some theology is it sounds like people are saying, where sin abounds, grace
abounds a little bit. Where sin abounds, what sin does, grace undoes some of it. Paul is
much more robust than this. He says, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.”
There’s nothing that goes wrong in Adam that isn’t restored in Christ and more.
It’s not just about finding proof texts, as so often the discussion degenerates — I
mean, look how many texts I’ve got. “I’ve got all these hell texts.” “Oh, I’ve
got all these universalist texts.” I think what we need is a way of turning the whole
biblical story from creation through the new creation in a way that tries to do justice
to the whole, and I want to do justice to the texts about hell. I can say something
about it in a minute. There’s justice to the whole story that tells the story in a
way where the ending of the story makes sense — where the ending of the story actually
gets you where God wants to go and where God’s already gotten in Christ.
I think the universalist end to the story makes sense of this. We see this in Colossians
1 in the lovely Christ hymn where it says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the
firstborn over all creation, for by him all things were created.” In case we’re wondering
what “all things” are, he says, “All things in heaven and on earth and visible
and invisible,” he just covers the ground. Everything.
Why else go that far to say it that way? Exactly. He’s says everything was created
by him, for him, through him. Then in verse 20 he says, “And through him God has reconciled
all things to himself, making peace through the blood shed on the cross.” And you think,
what are the “all things,” you know, reconciling all things. We know what the “all things”
are because he just told us “all things” means everything, everything. He said everything
in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, everything made through Christ, reconciled
in Christ, making peace through the blood shed on the cross. To me that’s about as
universalist as you can get, and it’s Christo-centric, it’s gospel-focused, it’s cross-focused,
it’s about a work of God already achieved in Christ.
But that doesn’t mean that there’s no need for a response. He says, you too, you
were reconciled when you first came to Christ, and so they’re participating in this. I
mean, we see it in 2 Corinthians 5 where Paul says, “God was in Christ reconciling the
world to himself.” He’s given us the message of reconciliation, so be reconciled to God.
So there’s this imperative. God’s done this in Christ, he’s reconciled the world
to himself and we’ve got a message now, we proclaim what God has done in Christ. There’s
a call that people need to participate in that, to be reconciled. Not through doing
something themselves, but through coming to throw themselves on the mercy of God, to trust
him, to put their trust in the grace of God and through the Spirit be united to join their
lives with Christ in faith and in baptism. So in Colossians we have this thing that runs
from creation through the cross to new creation, and it’s a way of telling of this biblical
story that the story ends in the way you think that’s right, that’s the way it should
end. If you say the story actually ends where some people are suffering forever and ever
and there’s no possibility of redemption for them, you think (and this is for me, as
I ask this question, I’m not suggesting this is what all Christians think, because
it’s not what most Christians think), How is that an ending that makes sense to the
story? It just seems out of place. Is God’s love somehow deficient or is his power somehow
deficient or is the cross somehow deficient? What’s gone wrong, how has it gone wrong
to end up like this? So I want to find a way to say, how can we
do justice to this stuff, what the Bible says about hell, given that kind of framework,
because the Bible speaks very clearly about it, and Jesus speaks very clearly about it.
If we’re going to be those who, rather than say this is what I’d like to think God is
like, and make God in our own image, we have to respond to revelation. We have to say these
texts are important, and we need to do justice to them in our theology.
Why assume that hell is a place from which there is no redemption? Why is this unwritten
rule that if you go to hell, that’s it, there’s no exit, even if you repent, even
if you throw yourself on the mercy of God, even if you put your faith in Christ? – that’s
it, tough. There are biblical grounds for seeing that
yes, there is an eschatological judgment and yes, it is something that some people will
experience, but it is not a point of no return. I think this comes out nicely in the book
of Revelation, where you have the two most ferocious hell texts in the whole Bible. In
chapter 14 we have the smoke of their torment ascending forever and ever, and in chapter
21, you’ve got the lake of fire and sulfur. It’s where all the medieval images of what
people imagine hell is like comes from, this very graphic imagery, which is drawing on
Old Testament imagery. What’s amazing about this is that both of
these texts, when you read them in context, are chronologically followed by a picture
of the redemption of the very nations who have it’s just been said that the smoke
of their torment arises or that they’re in the lake of fire. In chapter 15 we have
this (like an epilogue) where the redeemed are standing on the Lake of Fire. They talk
about all “the nations.” (In Revelation, the nations are always the baddies. The church
are never called the nations, the church are those who are called out from the nations,
and they’re always distinguished from the nations.) But here all the nations will come
and worship you, it says [Rev 15:4]. But hold on a minute, they’ve just been chucked into
the lake of fire. It’s even clearer in chapter 21, where we
see the kings of the earth (also always baddies in Revelation). The kings of the earth are
thrown into the lake of fire, the nations are slain by this Messiah, Jesus. He comes
back with a sword from his mouth and they are destroyed [Rev 19:19-21]. That’s it,
you know? They’ve had it, this judgment. But then we read in chapter 21, we see this
image of the new Jerusalem and the gates are always open and the kings of the earth and
the nations are bringing their treasures in [Rev 21:24]. And you’re thinking, hold on
a minute, they’re the guys that have just been there in the lake of fire, what are they
doing here? But the doors are open, and I argue (in a
book I wrote) that they’re actually coming, being redeemed and washed in the blood of
the Lamb and coming out of that into redemption after death, a sort of post-mortem union with
Christ. And so in the end, God will “be all in all,” as Paul says in 1 Corinthians
15 [verse 28]. That’s the sort of destiny I envisage and which inspires me with hope
when I see a lot of the really terrible things that happen in the world, but in Christ God
has redeemed. In the end, God will bring about, for the whole creation…what he’s already
done for creation in Christ. What about the passage (in Acts chapter 2
I think it is) where in Peter’s sermon it’s talking about the times of refreshing, times
of restitution of all things? A lot of times people will raise the issue of, Does God love
Adolf Hitler, does God love Mussolini? They can’t comprehend that somebody who was that
destructive of other people could possibly be saved, and so the person themselves is
sided. But it would seem that once everything is restored, everything that Hitler may have
taken away from anyone is resolved, restored in the way that it would be in the age to
come …the life is back, the ability of the people who were destroyed by someone like
Adolf Hitler…(Well, it could be anybody. You have people just go wild and go kill a
family, you know?) Their ability to forgive would be resolved as well, and we’re redeemed
and made immortal and enter the fullness of the kingdom — ability to forgive would be
not a question anymore. Yes. People often raise the Hitler thing because
Hitler’s crimes are so terrible. They become emblematic.
Salvation never trivializes sin. In the cross, God saves us through the cross, and on the
cross sin is not trivialized or passed over or ignored. We see the horror of sin for what
it is, exposed — and that is our sins as well as Hitler’s. But if we’re Christians
and we understand something of the grace of God…(I sometimes wonder when people raise
the Hitler thing, if Christians raise the Hitler thing I think, Do you think you deserve
to be saved? Hitler doesn’t deserve to be saved, it would be wrong for him…but you’re
okay, it’s all right if God saves you, that doesn’t require too much grace “because
I wasn’t really that bad.” I think it betrays a failure to understand God’s grace,
God’s love, but also the transforming power of Christ in the Spirit.)
I do think God loved Hitler because Hitler was a human being made in the image of God
and terribly broken and warped and evil. But not so broken that he can’t be restored
in Christ, not so evil that God can’t change him by the Holy Spirit. No sin is that deep
or that big that it can’t be restored in Christ, and no person is that broken that
they can’t be restored in Christ. The same grace of God that saved you and me is the
same grace of God that can save someone like that and enable a reconciliation to take place.
Hitler would have to experience remorse and regret and repentance and all of that, but
I don’t see how it can be a Christian instinct that it would be somehow appropriate for God
to save me but not Hitler. Two things come into play. Some people feel
a sense that whatever someone has done, they need to be punished at least enough to experience
what they perpetrated on somebody else, and that’s their sense of fairness. Others feel
that… it’s the sense of needing a vengeance and so on, needing a sense of justice or whatever.
It has always struck me that we don’t appreciate the fact that, at least what I think is a
fact, that we all have in us to be exactly like Hitler given the opportunity, given the
circumstances, given the power, the authority to wreak some sort of vengeance or justice
on people that we don’t like, that we feel are in our way, we feel that are a drag on
society or whatever, and everybody has their different views of who that might be. I think
within our hearts we feel that from time to time.
If we’re going to be honest with ourselves, if we had the opportunity and a council around
us that said that’s the right thing to do, that’s what we need to do to further society
or whatever, we all have it in us to react that way. We do react that way for a moment
with our own families; with people we care about, we can have a moment of anger that
reflects what’s in our heart. We all need a redemption from that kind of thing. To single
out an individual who is notorious and then say, “I could never be like that,” I think
is naive and silly on our parts. That’s one of the things that’s scary
about those psychological experiments with the electric shocks. It was set up where somebody
pretended to be in the chair receiving electric shocks when, in fact, they were an actor,
they weren’t [receiving shocks] at all. The psychologist would invite someone to control
the levels of electricity. Whenever the person in the chair got an answer to the question
wrong, the participant had to administer an electric shock to them. Each time they got
it wrong, they turned the shock up. There was no electricity at all, but they didn’t
know that. What they found is if the scientist told the
person, “It’s okay, they might be screaming and make a lot of noise, but they’ll be
fine, just keep doing it,” the number of people who were willing to administer lethal
electric shocks was very disturbing. This was research done on the back of “Why was
it that apparently decent, good German guards would be prepared to participate in the Holocaust
just because they were told to by people they trusted?” It’s quite scary to realize
some of the things that we might be prepared to do in certain circumstances.
We’ve never faced the circumstances, so how do we know how we would respond? The point
is that we need redemption as much as the next person. It’s no surprise that Christ
came for all of us. We all need redemption, we’re all capable of that. Sin is sin. I’ve
never seen that as a good argument even though you could understand it, especially if you’re
a victim of someone. Sure, sure. There are arguments against the
view that I take, and I sympathize with some of them. It’s not the mainstream historic
tradition. The most spiritual Christians in our history, most of them have believed in
traditional views of hell, and the best theologians in our tradition, most of those have believed
in traditional views of hell, and I acknowledge that. I wouldn’t for a minute suggest that
if you believe in a traditional understanding of hell you’re careless or you’re corrupt
or anything of the sort. I just think the traditional understanding of hell is one that
creates tensions within a traditional Christian theology of the doctrine of God that is problematic.
Oftentimes people will go, “Yeah, but you see, Robin, what you need to understand is
God is loving, but he’s also just.” Then they give me that knowing look as if somehow
I’m wanting to say God’s loving, but he’s not just. He’s loving but he doesn’t punish
people. That’s so wrong-headed to me because God hasn’t got two sides in there — sometimes
I do loving things and sometimes I do just things. Everything that God does is motivated
by the holy love of God. Everything that God does is just. Everything that God does is
loving. If God could do things that were just but
not loving, as is being implied, hell is God being just but it’s not God being loving.
I think, hold on here, if everything God does is motivated by the holy love of this God
who is an integrated God, he’s not schizophrenic or something…you need to give an account
of hell where you can say this is something that would be done by a holy, loving God — a
holy and loving [God]. This action of sending someone to hell is an action that is consistent
not just with God’s justice but also with God’s love.
It’s not that I have some sentimental view of love. I seek to have a biblical view of
love. I have an understanding of love that is based around how God has revealed his love
to us in Christ — what the cross is about and this whole story that’s stretching the
notion and shaping the notion of what God’s love is like around creation and redemption.
How can it be the case that God is love, if some of the things he does are just but not
loving? It has to be loving. If it’s eternal torment with absolutely no hope of redemption,
how is that loving? It becomes a problem. How is that an act of God, the holy, loving
God? I guess it depends on one’s definition of
love. I attended a lecture by a noted American theologian, and it was on this topic of God’s
justice. Someone asked the question, “How can I enjoy heaven if I’m looking at my
loved ones writhing in hell?” He said, “If you understood God’s holy love, you would
know that God’s love is consistent with that. He enjoys the destruction of his enemies,
and you will enjoy it as well. That is how God’s love is, and you will experience God’s
love that way, too.” That’s a very dehumanizing theology. What
kind of human being is that shaping you to be?
God has created us with a sense of love that wars against such utter nonsense.
Exactly. It’s a repulsive notion, I think. I can understand …it comes out of a desire
to submit to revelation, and I can respect that.
Yeah, a desire to uphold the sovereignty of God.
Yeah. But you end up where you have a theology which is shaping humans where what it is to
be fully human and fully redeemed is that we would be able to look at people suffering
in excruciating pain and rejoice in it. It takes kind of a logical definition of how
God must be and then it takes, by logic, in order to safeguard the sovereignty, and discards
all sense of love that’s actually found in Scripture and turns it on its head to fit
that. He went on to say, “You have to understand that God is an infinite God and that a sin
against God therefore is an infinite sin, and infinite sin requires an infinite punishment,
and it’s only fair and just.” I thought a third grader would not reason in such nonsense!
How can a human being who is not infinite…how can a sin from a human being be infinite?
Nothing about a human being is infinite — so you’re going to say a human sin is infinite?
That doesn’t make sense. You’re greatly overestimating human capacities
there. Yeah, and I’ve argued at some length against that argument in my book, The Evangelical
Universalist. I think that’s right. If God is shaping us to be more loving, more
sensitive to the pain of others, then you would think that the combination of redemption…when
we’re fully redeemed and so on, we would see the suffering of others and experience
it with sorrow. This is precisely how you see God responding to the suffering, even
the suffering that God himself inflicts. In the book of Jeremiah, for instance, God punishes
Israel for their sin, and yet several times we see God lamenting over the suffering of
the people. You don’t see God going, “This is deserved and it’s just, and so I rejoice
in it.” Precisely.
Yes, it might be deserved and yes, it might be just, but God’s not rejoicing in it.
God takes no delight in the death of the wicked, as Ezekiel says. It paints a vision of God,
God somehow rejoicing in this and so we should be rejoicing in this. We will be standing
there looking at maybe our children who have turned away from the Lord, suffering, and
we will praise God, “Yes, this is glorious.” Something inside of most people is repelled
by that. Yes.
That’s because we’ve got sinful minds. I think that’s a deep Christian instinct
based on a Christian understanding of what love is and what it is to be a human and what
it is for God to be God and God to be loving. It’s not just sentimentalism.
Hosea 11, “My heart recoils within me, how can I give you up?” In the face of the punishment,
God can’t even endure watching it, so he reverses it. And he calls on us to… he says
to us, “Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you.” And yet, what is this,
something he does not, will not, cannot do? It just makes no sense.
Which is a problem, you know? This is an argument that an 18th century Baptist preacher called
Elhanan Winchester, a revivalist during the latter part of the 18th century who also happened
to be a universalist, so he was quite unusual. He employed this argument. He says, “Are
we saying that God is calling us to do things that he himself doesn’t do? He’s calling
us to love our enemies, but he doesn’t do that. He’s calling us to pray for the lost
with hope for their salvation, but he doesn’t, because he knows they’re not going to be
saved, so he’s got no hope for their salvation. Is God requiring us to do things that he doesn’t
do?” It’s problematic. There’s all sorts of
problems with… What got me into this was reflecting…I read William Lane Craig’s
book, Only Wise God. William Craig is a brilliant evangelical philosopher. He was talking about
a way in which it might be possible, it’s controversial, as to how God could be sovereign
and humans could have free will, understood in this sort of libertarian sense of being
able to do something or not do it. I thought, that’s amazing. God can allow us freedom,
and get his will done. Then almost immediately, this was years ago, I thought, “but then
why does anyone end up in hell forever, because if God could get his will done as well as
allowing us our freedom, how does that work?” He [William Craig] has some attempt to argue
how it is that God can allow some people to be in hell, and, to my horror (because I really
wanted to believe in the traditional view of hell), it didn’t work! I thought, “I
am not at all persuaded by this.” That really unnerved me, because at the time I thought,
“I know that the Bible says that some people will be in hell forever.” I thought that
was a given, and not open for question. That then started me on a search, have I understood
the Bible right? Haven’t I? I began searching for a few years trying to
think it through, and I came to conclusions which were different from most Christians,
but in a sense I want to say, “Look, what I believe is orthodox. It’s consistent with
everything in the Creeds, it comes out of the evangel, it’s gospel-focused, it grows
out of a reflection on the cross, it’s Christ-centered, it’s Trinitarian, it affirms the inspiration
of Scripture, and it tries to do justice to a whole load of texts, including hell texts.
It is not, in terms of orthodox Christianity, heretical, although it might be fringe. I
want to argue this is a view that should be tolerated as a possible expression of orthodox
Christianity. I would just add that even if there are those
who do hold out and never do respond to God’s love, God’s love is no less what it is for
them, and the Scripture makes absolutely plain what God’s heart is and his desire is, even
if he does allow someone to hold out (which I have to struggle with, even though I have
to allow it, I guess, because I don’t know), but I do know God’s heart because he reveals
it, and I know that he’s awfully good at what he does.
Yeah. You’ve been watching You’re Included,
a production of Grace Communion International.