Ten Questions I Have for Christian Universalists

I have been studying hell for the past several months and wanted to share a few questions I have for those who say either there is no such thing as hell or that hell is a temporary place designed to bring us to God. I hope none of this comes across as uncaring. It is not intended to do that. These are just questions that have crossed my mind that I wonder how people who are of the anti-hell persuasion would answer. If anyone has an answer they feel is appropriate, please share. I am here to learn…that is why I am asking questions.

  1. If hell is there to correct us so that all ultimately end up in heaven, wouldn’t it have been a lot more humane for God to just stick us in hell the first time around rather than have us live this life and then have hell too?
  2. How do you teach pathways out of hell when scripture repeatedly teaches that there are no pathways out of hell (Luke 16:26) ?
  3. How can you teach both an eternal heaven and a temporary hell when the same language is used of both places often set side-by-side. If you teach a temporary hell why not teach a temporary heaven? At least be consistent.
  4. How can you teach an inclusive heaven but exclusive hell when scripture teaches the opposite (narrow and broad were Jesus’ words)?
  5. When you ask the same question that was asked of Jesus in Luke 13:23, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” How can you come up with a different answer than Jesus but then claim Jesus has the same belief as you do? See 13:24ff
  6. How do you teach that people can pound on God’s door from hell and God allow them out of hell when Jesus laid out exactly that scenario and taught exactly what God would do given those circumstances (Luke 13:22-30) and it is opposite of Christian universalism?
  7. If there is no hell, why did Jesus die for our sins? Chad Holtz weighed in on this recently. His answer was in two parts:
    1. Jesus did not die to save us from an eternity in hell after death.  Jesus died because hell cannot stand the presence of God.   Our sin killed Christ.  All of us nailed him to the cross.”
    2. “The question is not, “Is there hell?”   The question is, “Does hell win?” – There are several problems with Chad’s line of reasoning here. This is framed all wrong. Scripture never postures hell against God. Scripture postures God against the forces of evil and darkness in the world. In fact, in Revelation 20 hell is a place used by God to judge death, sin, the devil, the beast, Hades and those not in the book of life and all are cast into hell. My question is, who is doing the casting? If it is God, then is hell God’s enemy or are sin, death, and Satan God’s enemies? Hell is not judged. Hell is a place of judgment. Matthew 25:41 seems to say that hell is prepared or created by God so you end up in one of those Luke 11:14-28 moments where people were accusing Jesus of casting out demons by the power of the devil. Jesus taught a house divided against itself won’t stand. That is the problem I have with the question “Does hell win” if scripture teaches that hell is something either God created and/or uses for his own purposes.
  8. Why do people make the hell issue a “God’s power issue”? It always seems people are trying to prove that the existence of hell and an all powerful God are mutually exclusive. If I am interpreting Revelation 20 accurately it seems to me God is the one who puts people in hell (as we also see in Matthew 25 and many other places). So people are in hell by the power of God. It is not that the existence of hell would prove God has any shortcoming in the power department.
  9. Why turn hell into something that we only experience here and now when that doesn’t have any scriptural basis at all? Are we just coming up with whatever we want to here or will the hell discussion actually include solid exegesis/interpretation?
  10. What questions do you have that could be put here as #10…I couldn’t have an un-catchy title that only had 9 things could I?

About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

22 Responses to Ten Questions I Have for Christian Universalists

  1. Preacherman says:

    Great questions. I have often wondered if hell something made up to scare or minipulate people into following Jesus. Jesus using it as tool or method to gain more followers. Does it seem right or just for God to punish for eternity over stuff done only a few years here on earth? Rob Bell does have point that we experience hell on earth, why would God send people to hell for eternity? It is not like earth is a perfect place. . If Jesus, Christians, Church leaders made up hell to scare, minipulate, gain followers it is sick. Sick way to seperate US from Them. Sick way to seperate Christians from other religions. Is hell our way of saying WE are “in” You “out”. We should take a holistic approach to hell and really question why God, the prophets, and O.T. writters don’t mentioned an eternal heaven or hell. Is this life just about getting There and avoiding hell? I think there has to be more to God’s kingdom on earth. Making earth a better place to live. Loving Christians, Muslims, Hindu’s, Buddhists, Agnostics, and Athiests. If hell doesn’t exist and we use it as a control thing then love looses. If we use hell to motivate and just use earth as a place to get to heaven and avoid hell then love looses. If we neglect the hungry, sick, poor in sake if getting from here to there and avoiding hell then love looses. If we live in constant judgement of others and have the WE are “in” You “out” mindset then love looses.

    • The wicked are not so [i.e., like the fruitful, prospering righteous man], but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

      Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. Psalm 1:4-6 (see vv 1-3 for the blessings of the righteous).

      Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23:6)

      In Psalm 73, the Psalmist considers the relative positions of the righteous and wicked. After looking at the prosperity of the wicked, he concluded that God does not care – and that it is in vain that he has kept himself pure. (vv. 12-14). The next verse says, “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed the generation of your children.'” He confessed that trying to understand this was “wearisome” – until he “went into the sanctuary of God.

      When he saw things from God’s perspective, he saw a very different reality. He saw that the wicked are in slippery places where they fall into ruin (v. 18). There they are destroyed in a moment, swept away. They are like a dream – gone when you awake (vv. 19-20). He saw himself as continually with God (v.23), who is his portion forever (v.26). On the other hand, “those far from [God] shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you” (v. 27).

      It is obvious that the Psalmists expected everlasting glory in the presence of God. They also expected the wicked not to have this blessing, but to perish.

      Consistently, in the Old and New Testaments, the fate of the wicked is destruction, perishing, eternal death, and similar expressions. The destruction is everlasting; they perish, never to be revived; they die, never to be raised. When they are cast into the lake of fire, they receive painful punishment resulting in an endless destruction and death.

      The idea of man having an immortal soul separate and apart from the body into which God breathed the breath of life is foreign to the Bible. The Bible says quite plainly that God alone has immortality (see 1 Timothy 6:15-16), yet “to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (Romans 2:7). There is no such promise for the wicked.

      I recommend to you Edward Fudge’s comprehensive study of hell and the end of the wicked in his book, The Fire That Consumes. For nearly 30 years this book has withstood the arguments of its critics (whom he interacts with in the recently revised edition). If you are serious in wanting to learn about Hell, which Fudge says is real, I suggest you look at his book. Hell as Fudge sees it is a place where God can (and does) punish in infinite degrees in keeping with the enormity of one’s sin.

      • mattdabbs says:

        I haven’t read Fudge’s book but I do have a copy here I can read. One question I have that I will have to look and see if he addresses are verses like in Eph 2:1 where Paul says that prior to becoming reconciled with God we are all “dead in sin” and yet we live. Some of the arguments I have heard from those who take the annihilation view is that if we are dead in hell we are destroyed…really dead. And yet Paul has no problem saying people are alive and yet dead. I wonder if Fudge or others tackle that. I will have to have a look.

  2. Tim Spivey says:

    Great stuff, Matt. I personally liked the concept of universalist’s making it God’s power issue. It seems to me that we humans are really over our heads when we question God’s justness in light of our 21st-century, Western, human, categories. While I will grant that’s all we really have, it’s going to far to say God must conform. Perhaps we would do better to conform our views to His reality.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Tim,

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. It is funny how the postmodern worldview has realized that we do have filters and how those filters shape the way we understand things but then sometimes seems to be blind to it when the filters are our own.

  3. Tim Archer says:

    Excellent. I don’t bookmark many blog pages anymore (too many bookmarks!), but this one’s a keeper.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  4. hey matt… very thoughtful article and great questions.

    if you are interested, my church has been on the front lines of this issue for years … in fact, we were kicked out of our denomination and our church 4 years ago on charges of heresy for what many dubbed “universalism” … my pastor has written extensively on this topic, focusing on taking the Bible literally and authoritatively…. while I feel many voices on our side of the debate neglect to do so, or feel the need to explain scripture away.

    i especially recommend the “an adventure in taking scripture literally” document. it has irrevocably changed my view on scripture, on God’s love, and on eternity. i hope you’ll find it a helpful insight into the perspective of us “cristo-centric universalists” who seem to be getting such a bad rap these days.

    http://tsdowntown.org/theology/our-theology.html

    God bless you,
    justin

  5. Mike Wise says:

    Kevin Miller, who is producing the movie Hellbound just posted this blog post of yours. Figured I’d go ahead and take a stab at your questions, being that Universalism is the closest label that describes my theology.

    1- First of all I found this question to be very interesting and puzzling. If you believe in an eternal place of torment for the unsaved after we die why are you overly concerned with which would be a more humane approach? Usually this is the type of questions I would ask a fundamentalist.

    You’ve stumbled upon something probably without meaning too though. For many, myself included, we view the language of hell and torment in the bible as very serious, very stark but very metaphorical. Mostly it doesn’t have to do with an existence in the futre it has to do with what is going on here in this present world. Many people FEEL as if they are already IN HELL and I was one of them. I was in hell both of my own choosing and because of the actions of others and I was rescued from it. I have every reason to believe that if I had stayed in that state and died it would have continued into the next life. So the answer to your question is yes it WOULD be more humane and I believe that’s exactly what God is doing.

    2 Not an easy question to answer because in order to answer it one has to look at the entire work from where the verse came. The Rich Man and Lazarus is a parable it’s not a work to be taken literally so the imagery of what is being taught must be looked at closely. Biblical scholars much greater than I have suggested that this story isn’t talking about the state of things after we die but it actually is dealing with the state of things in this present life. More closely the state of things as they were in the 1st century when Jesus was living and teaching. The Rich Man is the house of Israel, God’s wayward Children. Lazarus is us, the gentiles.

    This could be the story of God’s turning from the House of Israel and the adoption of the gentiles in the holy kingdom. The hell he speaks of could be a warning of a more immediate danger than what happens after life. The events of AD 70, the fall of Jerusalem would have been hell for The Jews. These warning wouldn’t be something that The Jews would have had ears to hear and yet they have already come to pass.

    3 The issue with this question is a misunderstanding of not only hell but also heaven, that is, the idea of where the saints go after they die. Many Christians believe that this place, heaven, is the end of the story. It’s not of course, Revelations, Isaiah, Joel ALL speak of a new existence here on earth. Not the only broken damaged world in which we currently live but a restored creation which will set everything right. THAT is our final destination if you will. So wherever we go after we die, whatever paradise that Jesus promised the thief on the cross is also temporary. NT Wright does a beautiful job of explaining all of this in his book Surprised By Hope. Wright does not share my particular idea’s about universalism, although he even admits that for the most part the church has gotten the language and the intent of the language wrong when we speak of judgement.

    4 Broad is the way that leads to destruction, I think it’s a hefty leap to go from the word destruction to imply eternal torment. Lots of folks let this verse trip them up, not sure why. Ask an alcoholic how easy it is for him to keep drinking as opposed to how hard it is for him to stop. Ask anyone how quickly a fight can break out over a simple disagreement and how hard it is to reign it back in again. It’s really easy to destroy your life, it’s very difficult to truly live the abundant life that Jesus offers. Very few ever achieve that.

    5 Again I don’t think the salvation implied here is talking about eternal salvation I think this is another foreshadowing off the destruction of Israel. I could be wrong and I accept that but look further down in the chapter as Jesus mourns for Jerusalem

    Luke 13:34“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 35Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”

    6 Somewhat a continuation of the last question dealing with the same passage. It takes on a totally different meaning when you read it as Jesus desperately warning his flock of the coming fall of Jerusalem.

    7 Now you’re asking the real question. Why did Jesus die? Jesus died because the world is broken, not only are all of us broken people but the very world that we live in is damaged. Natural disasters, cancer, famine, it’s a dangerous place to live. When we talk about sin we are not only talking about the things which we do wrong, though that is a big chunk of it. We are also talking about our present condition. We are incapable in and of ourselves of being anything else other than fallen humans, sinners. There is nothing that we can do, individually or collectively to make it right. We can’t improve the conditioning of our world nor can we do anything but prolong our inevitable death. I can’t think or meditate on this for very long without crying out to God and saying; this isn’t how it’s supposed to be God! My brother died in a car wreck, I watched my grandfather waste away to cancer. I was picked on an abused as a kid in school and it’s turned me into an adult who has to constantly war again resentment and bitterness that I feel towards other people. THIS WORLD IS HELL!

    Who will rescue us?

    Who could possibly set into motion what needs to be done to make this world right again?

    Jesus has and Jesus continues to do so. Through the death of Jesus sin has been defeated. In the same way that we see the image of stars in the night sky which have already been burned out we live a life in this broken world which has already been taken care of. Sin has been defeated, and slowly but surely God is restoring this world entire to what it was always meant to be.

    If you take away nothing else from my response today I hope that what I just said has given you some hope.

    8 Eh, this question doesn’t really make much sense to me. I don’t know of many people who actually believe in God that would ever question his power. God is the creator of all things he can do what he wants. I don’t see that as an issue. My issues with the idea of an eternal hell is it seems to be punishment without purpose. What does punishing people for all eternity do for anyone? Will any of us rejoice at the torture off any of our loved ones in hell? Would God? The same God who states that he does NOT take delight in the death of the wicked? (Ezekiel 18:23) God is certainly not afraid to punish for the purpose of correction. In the idea of an eternal hell the punishment seems to be greatly imbalanced to the crime nor does it have any corrective or rehabilitative effect.

    9 I guess this question again comes down to how you are reading scripture. If I have proved anything in the time it has taken me to thoughtfully answer your questions I think it’s that scripture can be interpreted in various ways and still make sense. God and his ways are a mystery to us. Once we think we have a grasp of who he is and what he is doing he will turn around and challenge us in ways we never imagined. God cannot be put into an exegetical box. Every theory about this has gaps, mine included, but that is one of the very things that I most enjoy about being a Christian. The chance to wrestle with these idea’s, to earnestly pray about them and allow the holy spirit to guide me to new understandings. We shouldn’t be afraid of the mystery and we shouldn’t be afraid of not having it all right. Ours is a loving and gracious God. Our hope lies not on our own understanding but on Jesus who defeated sin and death and is calling us home. Not to a home that exists only after we die, but to a home in his already established kingdom right here and right now.

    10 The answer to this question is maybe, but only on every other Thursday. I don’t have any scripture to back that up though.

  6. Matt,

    I’ve been dealing for the past year and a half with these same questions. Though I don’t believe the best place to answer the 10 you gave would be in this comment, so I will wrestle and write a response via my blog, and would love to share it with you in the very near future.

    All of these questions are very accurate, and it seems much of what others who support Christian Universalism and the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation have not spoken or written with clarity when they write. I think Chad Holtz was trying to speak something else, but can be taken differently because of the way he wrote it…

    As for that question with Chad Holtz, I believe scripture speaks on “the results of sin is death” not hell, and I think he was addressing that, though it is not completely accurate… I believe Jesus didn’t come to save us from hell, or from punishment, but from Death (Hades/Sheol – neither of which are hell, though much of our modern translations like to translate them to be hell…). Death was the original result of Adam and Eve’s sin… Our modern doctrine of hell (eternal conscious torment and annihilation) was never mentioned in the Bible, not to anyone in the OT, until Matthew (which is also up for debate, because Jesus didn’t speak of a foreve hell, but instead Gehenna, the Valley of the son of Hinnom – garbage dump/place of sacrificing children in King Josiahs reign in OT)…

    Death is what Jesus came to save us from. Sin bring us death, and so in order for us (all humanity) to not “die unto the death”, is for Christ to provide a way for all creation to be rid of sin and the flesh.

    As I’ll mention in my furthered response on my blog, in Rev. 20, many think the “Lake of Fire” is hell… In fact, in Rev. 20 and 21, it says that “death and hades will be cast into the Lake of Fire”… In our modern translations, we translate “Hades” to be “Hell”, which would look like this — “Death and Hell will be cast into the Lake of Fire.” Stop. Hell is destroyed along with everything else? What IS the Lake of Fire then?

    It’s Gehenna. Gehenna has the same descriptions as the Lake of Fire… The Lake of Fire isn’t hell, because it is the Second Death, and death will be destroyed, as Rev. 21 states, as well as throughout all of scripture.

    To be continued…

    Quote from George MacDonald, Donal Grant, “All hatred of sin is love for the sinner.”

    God doesn’t hate the sinner. He hates the sin within the sinner, and will do everything in His power, with mans free will, to cleanse them of their sin, and make them sinners no more.

    Peace to you Matt! Thanks for your post and I look forward to more discussion.

  7. Also. Think of all of those in the world whose desire is to be rid of the evil in our world. Their desire is to be free; free to love, free to have peace, free to have life.

    Jesus came to cancel sin and death to give us the desires of our hearts. I can say that most of those today we see all want love, all want life, all want peace and freedom. NO ONE wants to die, no one wants evil… Even those who appear to not want these things deep down know they do… They might not present it well, but deep down, freedom, love, hope, peace and life is what they desire. What they do many times doesn’t speak of that desire, because they have become to angry with evil, that they outlast evil at the evil…

    But God knows how to soften every heart, through His goodness, earth learns repentance, as Paul states in his letters.

    Peace.

  8. 1. Great question, and I’m not certain I have the answer. However part of it, I believe is that we have the opportunity, here, to learn a great deal and make some progress toward maturity in Christ. Paul says that his goal in teaching and admonishing in all wisdom is to present people mature in Christ. Presumably that would mean skipping the whole hell experience (save that we go through here, of course.) Second, there seems to be an order of creation. First the physical, then the spiritual. I’m not sure I’m not taking that too literally, but perhaps that’s just the way it has to be done — to work, I mean. In the physical world, things often have to be done in a certain order. First the foundation then the walls, you know.
    2. That is a parable which isn’t (I believe) even talking about the afterlife. Without a parable He didn’t speak to them.
    3. You could be consistent and still have a never-ending reward. Suffering for the age (and release to life); life for the age (and beyond). There is also linguistic argument for the noun modifying the adjective, so to speak. Too complex to go into here. Read Talbott for better answers than I could give.
    4. Yet Abraham was promised descendents without number. Which is it? Few of the Jews to whom Jesus was speaking were finding the narrow way. It doesn’t follow that the Shepherd won’t search out His lost sheep and place them in the right way. This was one of my last questions before changing my stance on the subject.
    5. Also in this context: Note this: Some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luk 13:30 HCSB) Being last doesn’t mean the door can never open for all eternity. Again, Abraham’s descendents shall be as the stars of the heavens; the sands of the seashore.
    6. For the age. “I assure you, you will not get out of there **until you have paid the last farthing.**”
    7. Long question; short answer: Christus Victor. (Actually, it’s a long answer, but too long to spell it out here.)
    8. Since God is love and God loves the world, God cannot do less for the world than He is able to do. He is able to do all things. (Obviously there’s more to this, but keeping it short –)
    9. If you want solid exegesis, go to http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com . Some believe that hell is only earth, but most don’t believe this way. Yes earth does contain aspects of hell, especially for many less privileged, but earth is not all there is to hell.
    10. I’ve been searching for answers for quite a while. At present I don’t really have a question, but I’m sure one will come up — they do that.😉

    Blessings, Cindy

  9. admin says:

    What about considering conditional immortality? see http://www.afterlife.co.nz/

  10. Pingback: Around the Web January 2012 | Afterlife | Conditional Immortality, Soul Sleep and Annihilationism |Conditional Immortality Discussion around the web

  11. Here is my response to this post that I promised I’d post — http://stephenclayton.tumblr.com/post/16726945501/a-response-to-matt-dabbs-ten-questions-for-christian

    Please, if anyone has any more questions for me to response to, I’d love to continue this dialogue, this conversation. Just email me with your questions — stephenstonestreet@gmail.com!

    Peace to you all!

  12. Hello Matt,

    I am looking at a comment of yours from back in September:

    The question I have that I will have to look and see if he addresses are verses like in Eph 2:1 where Paul says that prior to becoming reconciled with God we are all “dead in sin” and yet we live. Some of the arguments I have heard from those who take the annihilation view is that if we are dead in hell we are destroyed…really dead. And yet Paul has no problem saying people are alive and yet dead. I wonder if Fudge or others tackle that. I will have to have a look.

    If someone is “dead in sin” then they are living under the sentence of death. Any literal word can be used metaphorically. Likewise, someone that has passed from “death to life” has passed from the sentence of death to the promise of eternal life.

    Eph 2:5-6 KJV
    (5) Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
    (6) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:

    It should be obvious that none of Paul’s audience was literally dead, literally quickened, or literally sitting in heavenly places at the time. In that context, “dead” speaks of the fate of the second death, and “quickened” and “raised us up together” points to the future resurrection when “this mortal shall put on immortality.” The literal meaning of “dead” as “darkness, silence, without thought, love, hatred, envy, or any being…” remains the same.

    Just to demonstrate that this type of metaphor remains in common usage, in the popular Tom Hanks movie “The Green Mile” one of the prisoners is announced by a guard as a “Dead Man Walking” but none of the characters were confused about whether the prisoner was really alive or dead at the time, nor did they take this to mean that the electric chair would grant its subject an infinite conscious existence.

    If you would prepare a list of questions for Christian Annihilationism, I would be glad to answer by private email or public forum. If this would interest you, please feel free to contact me by email. I think I could give you some better answers than Edward Fudge (especially considering that he does not completely support the annihilation of the wicked.)

  13. gene says:

    I think part of the difficulty is that there are different types of Universalists and even within the similar groups, they don’t all agree. This makes pinning it difficult.

    For example, question 4: Robin Parry in the Evangelical Universalist argues for an exclusivis heaven. That is Evangelical Universalism endorses that only through Christ can one be saved. So U.salvation does not mean everyone is saved regardless of their beliefs or actions.

  14. Jeff says:

    Death is the absence of life, not a different kind of life. Still, Paul and other NT writers often used the word “death” figutatively, as with a busy-body widow being “dead while she lives.” We might use the same metaphor in reference to someone who is “good as dead.” It simply means as John said, someone who “has no eternal life abiding in him.”
    When we take a break from our western wooden-literalism, and learn to understand the glowing metaphors inherent in ancient writing styles, it explains alot of alleged “Bible difficulties.”

  15. Pingback: Around the Web January 2012 - Afterlife

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