I just finished watching the documentary by Kevin Miller, Hellbound? As some of you know I have already been thinking and reading on the issue of Christian Universalism for sometime (for at least a couple of years, if not longer). I wouldn’t say that this documentary, in particular, added anything to what I already have known about the issues involved in this debate (among Christians). My general impression of this film is that it was well-done, even if it did at points maybe caricature certain positions (like the Eternal Conscious Torment position), and privilege others (like Christian Universalism). But in the end, I think that Miller still struck a good tone with the documentary by hearing from multiple voices—although it would have been nice if he had consulted with a Barthian scholar, and got this type of more theological understanding of classical Christian concepts revamped in a methodologically Christ-centered fashion (especially in regard to understanding Jesus as both the elect and reprobate in his vicarious humanity for us). I think that they included the author of The Evangelical Universalist, Robin Parry, into the mix of voices was very commendable. If there is anyone, and any treatment of the text of Scripture that could persuade me of a Christian Universalism it would be Parry’s (along with some implicates from Barth and Torrance).
I think the most important point that was made in the film, and it is one that Parry hit home especially, is that what stands behind our exegetical and interpretive decisions primarily is a vision of God. What does it mean for God to be love? Is love defined by our own sentimentality and culturally conditioned conceptualization of that, or is there Revelation of God as Love that breaks in on our conceptions and reorients them to His? And how does Scripture, and the exegetical process dialectically and spiralingly chasten over-theologized conceptions of what Triune love might be? These are the tensions, that for me remain. And I think these tensions are illustrated over and again in Scripture; as we have the passages that are clearly universalist, and then we also have the passages that are clearly particularist (and according to Jerry Walls in the documentary, we have passages that are clearly annihilationist—although I am not so sure I agree with that as much). In fact, I think Walls’ sketch of the tension is probably the best most clairvoyant one in the film; he identifies (through the editors of the documentary) multiple passages that stand out in each category (that I just noted), and then highlights how the Tradition has tended to favor the particularist passages (so the ones that seem to suggest an eternal conscious torment view of hell), and used this set of passages as the clear ones (so the classical analogy of faith or as Grant Osborne has called it the analogy of Scripture approach) to interpret the less clear ones, which the Tradition would presume are the passages that are more universalist and/or annihilationist. And he notes that what the Universalist does with their set of passages is to inversely use these passages as the cipher through which to read the particularist passages of Scripture (that might seem to argue that hell is eternal conscious torment). They come back to Walls, and in the end, I think he ends up where I am at in posture; that is, that there remains an somewhat undecided tension between all of the passages (undecided relatively speaking, from the human perspective). And thus, he is hopeful and happy to be surprised by God in the eschaton, that in fact the Christian Universalists were right after all.
As I opened this post up with; much of the decision making on this comes back to our conception of God (in fact it all comes back to this). The reality is, though, that while I hold to the fact that God’s very nature and life is un-impeded free love for the other in His life, at the same time, the clarity of Scripture (given by Him) is, as I just highlighted, less clear about this issue than either the Dogmatic Traditionalist or the Dogmatic Christian Universalist might be. So I remain chastenedly hopeful, but would probably not be considered a Christian Universalist, proper. I live in the tension that is identified and articulated by Thomas Torrance, and I quote this often from him, and with this I close:
God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. ~T. F. Torrance, “The Mediation of Christ”, 94.