Tom Talbott is a professor of philosophy at Willamette University in Oregon, USA. Tom is the author of The Inescapable Love of God (ISBN: 1581128312)
From the Preface: "This set of reflections is neither a textbook nor a piece of scholarly research. It neither summarizes a specific field of study for students nor advances scholarship in some area of research. It is instead (what I would call) a real book, by which I mean that in it I have tried to reach the most demanding audience of all: that of educated non-specialists. The book is in part an intellectual autobiography, in part the elaboration of an argument, and in part an attempt at persuasive writing. In these pages, I have sought to share with others, particularly those who call themselves "Christians," some of my own deepest convictions about the nature of God and the world. I have sought to work out, with some degree of consistency, the idea that the universe really is an expression of love, as some of the mystics from many traditions have always insisted."
Part I chronicles some of Talbott's early theological struggles and how he came to embrace a doctrine of universal reconciliation: the wondrous idea that God's love will inevitably triumph in the end and finally transform every created person. Part II sets forth the positive case for his contention that universalism is a plain and obvious teaching of the New Testament. And finally, Part III explores some of the logical inconsistencies in competing theological systems.
Eric Landstrom is a pastoral studies major at Northwestern Bible College, Minnesota.
The following online exchange came about when Tom Talbott responded to Swordsman's (screen name) post regarding the universalist's belief that God must always get His will or desire to support the universalists proof verses that "all shall be saved" and Eric Landstrom responded to Tom's post.
Hello swordsman. You wrote:
"A number of universalists on this board (the majority, it seems) believe that God ALWAYS gets His way in EVERYTHING. That means that God causes sin. Pharaoh was used as an example. God caused Pharaoh to be the way that He was. Thus, God got His way with Pharaoh by making Pharaoh sinful."
Tom Talbott Replies
As a universalist, I do not believe that God always gets his way in every detail. Neither do I believe that God causes us to rape, or to lie, or to murder and then punishes us for the very action that he himself causally determined. To the contrary, our free choices, particularly the bad ones, are genuine obstacles that God must work around as he brings his redemptive purposes to fruition. But I do believe that God has the wisdom and the power to achieve all of his redemptive purposes in the end. Even as a grand chess-master has the wisdom and the ability to checkmate a novice without controlling, or even predicting, the novice's individual moves, so God has the wisdom and the ability to undermine all of our sinful motives over time and to achieve all of his redemptive purposes in the end.
Eric Landstrom's Response
How does this freewill continue in the after life? Is God like the Borg of Startrek fame, in that resistance is futile? I believe the lake of fire is God's compliment to mans free choice. By choosing not to seek God you are indeed choosing damnation. Imagine if you had freewill and turned your back onto God, only to be dragged to heaven to spend eternity with God. Then heaven would be hell to you for you had no choice.
Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death. Tom, since all flesh dies, what death is being spoken of here?
Tom Talbott's Response
Hello Eric. Thanks for your remarks, and please forgive the brevity of my reply. For a more detailed reply, you might follow the link below and click on Chapter 11 of my book, where I take up the issue of free will in much greater detail.
But here, in the sketchiest possible form, is how I see the matter. In reconciling the world to himself, God brings about a state of affairs in which all sinners voluntarily repent and voluntarily submit their wills to him. Indeed, the very idea of someone being reconciled to God involuntarily strikes me as flatly self-contradictory. But this in no way implies that the reconciled have freely chosen their destiny, as if they might have chosen eternal damnation or eternal misery for themselves instead. There are, after all, limits to the range of possible free choice, and the idea of someone freely choosing eternal misery over eternal bliss is, in my opinion, deeply incoherent. What possible motive might exist for making such a choice and persisting in it forever?
As for the question about Romans 6:23, I assume that by "death" Paul meant spiritual death or separation from God. The wages of sin--that is, the inevitable consequence of sin--is separation from God. So for as long as we continue in our sin, we will continue to experience separation from God. Do you agree with that?
Eric Landstrom 2nd Reply
Thank you for the reply. I myself also see a doctrine of freewill in verses such as Josh. 24:15; Deut. 30:15-18; John 15:6-7; 3:16, 36; Romans 1:20; etc.) in this you and I have common ground. However to extend this salvation into the afterlife strikes me as a form of irresistible grace (feelings of salvation) gone off the deep end. Indeed if we do have a choice of whether to choose God or not and a person who in this life doesn't choose God, dying in their sins, what is the mechanism that removes the sin from the person?
My response to yours in regards to Romans 6:23. Again we have common ground ; to die in your sins is to be separated from God. This however begs the question I asked above.
Tom Talbott's 3rd Response
Hello again, Eric:
I think that you and I do indeed have a large area of common ground. But I guess I don't see why you think it goes "off the deep end" to extend "salvation into the afterlife." If (a) Christ's one act of righteousness eventually leads to acquittal and life for all the sinful descendants of Adam (Romans 5:18) and (b) not all of them are made righteous in this life, then why not conclude that (c) the process will be completed in the next? And if physical death arbitrarily brings to an end all hope for salvation, then why would the gospel be preached to the dead (see I Peter 4:6)?--and why would Jesus himself preach to those who had been disobedient (and therefore unrepentant) before they died (see I Peter 3:19)?
Eric Landstrom's 3rd Reply
As Christians we should have a large area of common ground as clearly the Bible teaches we are to be unified and Scripture is of no private interpretation (2 Peter 1:12-21).
Your use of Romans 5:18 as a support for the universalist position ignores the context of that verse, as it is a summery of Romans 5:10-17 and not meant to introduce new information. It is my argument that stretching this verse to include all men and not all believers is not correct.
To conclude that all are made righteous in the after life is a giant leap to make without direct Scriptural support. Perhaps I am wrong, but it seems that there are no verses that show of repentance and forgiveness in the after life. Thus my reckoning to stretch verses to cover for that lack of direct Scriptural support is not a proper approach to theological method. In regards to 1 Peter 4:6; either this can refer the Gospel being preached to the unsaved who are dead in the spirit (as we agreed of Romans 6:23) or when Christ raised the saints from hades; as we know the firstfruits of saints died in faith of a coming Savior and as such awaited in hades their redeemer (1 Peter 3:19). Regardless these verses do not denote repentance in death, and it would be a stretch to think otherwise.
Tom Talbott's 4th Response
Thanks for your further reply, Eric. But though you say that my interpretation of Romans 5:18 ignores the context of that verse, you do not explain yourself any further, except to say that 5:18 is a summary of Romans 5:10-17 and not meant to introduce new information. How does this show that my interpretation is incorrect? And even if I have fallen into error, how does the above support your previous comment that I have, so to speak, fallen off the deep end in my interpretation?
It seems to me, at any rate, that the context requires my interpretation. For in 5:12 Paul identifies the group or class he has in mind with great clarity; it is, he says, all human beings, or more accurately, all human beings who have sinned. Then, in vs. 15, he distinguishes within that single group or class between the one and the many--the one being Adam himself, who first sinned, and the many being those who died as a result Adam's sin. As even the Reformed New Testament scholar, John Murray, points out:
When Paul uses the expression the many, he is not intending to delimit the denotation. The scope of the many must be the same as the all men of verses 12 and 18. He uses the many here, as in verse 19, for the purpose of contrasting more effectively the one and the many, singularity and plurality--it was the trespass of the one, . . . but the many died as a result.
In the same context, moreover, Paul insists that the one, namely Adam, was a type of Jesus Christ (vs. 14), in that Jesus Christ, the second Adam, stands in the same relationship to the many as the first Adam did. But with this difference: 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! (vs. 15 NIV). It seems to me indisputable, therefore, that Paul had in mind one group of individuals--the many, which includes all human beings except for the first and the second Adam--and he envisioned that each of the two Adams stands in the same relationship to that one group of individuals. The first Adam's act of disobedience brought doom upon them all, but the second Adam's act of obedience undid the doom and eventually brings justification and life to them all.
Incidentally, I discuss this in much greater detail, and deal with some of the standard objections to my interpretation, in Chapter 5 of my book, which you can find by following the link below.
Eric Landstrom's 4th Reply
There seems to be a great rift in the understanding of Romans chapter 5 between universalists and non universalists. The overall problem that a non universalist has with the universalist's understanding of Romans 5:18 is that if all are saved then this actually directly conflicts with Romans 5:15 where is says only many are saved. The difference between all and many are obvious. but your idea of progressively saying that Paul was saying one was saved then many to finally all being saved is a rather unique way of understanding Romans 5:12, 15, 18.
However, even if we ran with your interpretation of Romans chapter 5, it still runs headlong into other verses in the Bible that clearly state that to be saved one must believe or have faith (John 3:16-18, 36; etc.). The universalist theory would be plausible if we could find verses that clearly show repentance and forgiveness of sins in the after life. However, to the best of my knowledge there are no verses in the Bible that show this. If we cannot bring this direct support to the table, then I feel it would be wise to reexamine the verses that the universalist uses to support the theory of universalism in the light that there are no verses that show after-death repentantance and salvation.
Tom I understand why you quoted John Murray, however anytime we abandon the Bible to look at commentary or other helps, we must ask ourselves, if the writer of the extra-biblical material was inspired. In consideration of John 20:30-31 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17 we should conclude that they are not inspired. Under no circumstances does the Bible tell us to establish doctrine by historical wittings or extra-biblical material. Wouldn't you agree?
In regards to your commentary: I would agree with you right up to verse 15. While true, the free gift of grace covers all sins and not just Adam's offense; I would comment far differently than yourself.
For if one mans offense meant that men should be slaves to death all their lives; it is a far greater thing through another Man, Jesus Christ offers salvation to all men. Men by their acceptance of His more than sufficient grace and righteousness should live their lives as kings knowing their salvation is assured. There is no comparison between the sin of Adam and the grace of God. The free gift of grace covers all sins, not just Adam's offense. Verse 15 is just saying that went measured by time, the victory of Christ is far greater than Adam's sin. Because Adam's sin is only temporary, whereas Jesus Christ's victory is forever. This verse does not say all are saved!
Tom Talbott's 5th Response
Two quick points, Eric:
(1) You wrote: "There seems to be a great rift in the understanding of Romans chapter 5 between universalists and non universalists." But in fact this is not true at all. John Murray, whom I quoted in my previous post, is a strong advocate of everlasting punishment. But even Murray admits, as do a number of other proponents of everlasting punishment, that if all we had to go on were Romans 5, then we would have to conclude that Paul was indeed a universalist. So contrary to what you have said, there is nothing particularly unique in my "understanding of Romans 5:12, 15, 18." It is simply a matter of accepting what is right there before your eyes.
(2) You also wrote: "However, even if we ran with your interpretation of Romans chapter 5, it still runs headlong into other verses in the Bible that clearly state that to be saved one must believe or have faith (John 3:16-18, 36; etc.)." But again, this is not true at all. For according to my interpretation of Romans 5:18, (a) All the descendants of Adam who have sinned will be saved. And the most that John 3:16-18, not to mention Romans 5:17, commits one to is something like: (b) Only believers or those with faith in Christ will be saved.
But since (a) and (b) are logically consistent, the truth of one does not count against the truth of the other; in particular, the truth of (b) does not count against the truth of (a). So you are quite mistaken in your suggestion that my interpretation of Romans 5:18 clashes with such texts as John 3:16-18.
The basic confusion here is one that I discuss at length in the chapter to which I referred in my previous post. So here I'll simply quote myself and reproduce, without the supporting arguments, a concluding paragraph:
One of the most common arguments rests upon a mere confusion. First, someone points out that, according to Paul, only those who belong to Christ, or only those who gladly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, or only those who repent of their sin will be saved; no unrepentant murderer, for example, can enter the Kingdom of God. Then, the person draws the faulty inference that, according to Paul, not all sinners will be saved. But as I have tried to show in this chapter, that is a simple non sequitur. Paul's whole point is that the day is coming when all persons will belong to Christ, all will gladly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and all will have repented of their sin. For though Paul nowhere endorses the absurd view that God will reward unrepentant sinners with eternal bliss, he does endorse the view that the same God who transformed Saul, the chief of sinners, into Paul, a slave of Christ, can and eventually will do the same thing for every other sinner as well.
Eric Landstrom's 5th Reply
Good morning Tom,
Your argument is unique. I have pointed out to you that the musings of extra-biblical writers when ever placed in history are not inspired, and as such, we should not use their thoughts to create or support doctrine. You argue for the position of universalism from the point of view that Romans 5:18 says all are saved. I have contested your understanding of Romans chapter 5 and feel it is a private interpretation that you hold. However you do acknowledge that your interpretation would conflict with John 3:16-18, 36; etc. unless resolved. Rather than resolve this conflict within temporal confines, you have chosen to attempt to resolve it in the afterlife. However there is no Scripture that gives any support to the notion that there is repentance and salvation given after the death of our flesh and blood bodies. Tom, this is a magnificently sized hole in the theology of universalism.
Laird has put forth the idea that the lake of fire acts as a type of purgatory in that it is a place where the wicked are cleansed of their sins. However, Laird has been completely unable to show any proof of anything or anyone getting out of the lake of fire and going to be with God. However, because I have never discussed with yourself as to what your beliefs are I do not know if you believe the same as Laird does. Thus, this whole exchange is more of a fact finding mission for myself because none of the universalists I have spoken with have been willing to tell me what they believe further than telling me all are saved.
Regardless, as I affirmed in my forth post in the second paragraph to you; the universalist theory would be plausible if there were verses that clearly showed repentance and forgiveness of sins in the after life. But as the Bible does not show this, then it would be wise to examine verses such as Romans 5:18 in the light that if all are to be saved, then it must happen in the temporal period of life. Since clearly not all who pass through this temporal life do come to believe in the work of the cross and Him that did it, then the all that is spoken of in Romans 5:18 must only be all those whom are in Christ and not all men.
Tom Talbott's 6th Reply
I fear that I'm having a hard time following your reasoning, Eric, and here is an example of what I mean. You wrote:
"Your argument is unique. I have pointed out to you that the musings of extra-biblical writers when ever placed in history are not inspired, and as such, we should not use their thoughts to create or support doctrine. You argue for the position of universalism from the point of view that Romans 5:18 says all are saved. I have contested your understanding of Romans chapter 5 and feel it is a private interpretation that you hold. However you do acknowledge that your interpretation would conflict with John 3:16-18, 36; etc. unless resolved. Rather than resolve this conflict within temporal confines, you have chosen to attempt to resolve it in the afterlife. However there is no Scripture that gives any support to the notion that there is repentance and salvation given after the death of our flesh and blood bodies. Tom, this is a magnificently sized hole in the theology of universalism."
There seem to me at least three confusions here. First, you suggest that my argument concerning Romans 5:18 "is unique" and that I have offered "a private interpretation"; at the same time, you complain that I have relied upon "the musings of extra-biblical writers," that is, upon a tradition of interpretation. But you can't have it both ways. A private interpretation is, by definition, one that does not rest upon the musings of some other writer. And how could an interpretation that I share with Origen, St Gregory of Nyssa, George MacDonald, William Barclay, and a host of others posting on this board, just to mention a few, possibly qualify as a private interpretation? You seem to be using words here without any idea of their meaning.
Second, the following sentence attributes to me exactly the opposite of what I have argued: "However you do acknowledge that your interpretation [of Romans 5:18] would conflict with John 3:16-18, 36; etc. unless resolved." But in fact I have acknowledged no such thing. To the contrary, I have explicitly denied any conflict between John 3:16-18 and my interpretation of Romans 5:18. Only a fallacious argument, I have contended--and a rather elementary one at that--could possibly lead to the appearance of a logical conflict here. For though Romans 5:18 states, on my interpretation, that justification and life will come to all men, it provides neither a time frame nor an order of events. It no more implies that this will happen before a person's physical death than it implies that this will happen before a person's 80th birthday. Nor does it say anything about the conditions that must be fulfilled before the transformation occurs. It just says that it will occur. And that is quite compatible with whatever conditions might be set forth in John 3:16-18 or elsewhere in Scripture. So there is no conflict to be resolved here, period.
And finally, you wrote: However there is no Scripture that gives any support to the notion that there is repentance and salvation given after the death of our flesh and blood bodies. But this merely assumes the point at issue between us. For if my interpretation of Romans 5:18 and other Pauline texts is correct, then we can reason as follows: According to Romans 5:18, (1) All men will eventually be brought to repentance and life; and according to Revelation 20:11-20, (2) Some men will die in an unrepentant state.
Therefore, we have some support in Scripture for the conjunction of (1) and (2). From that conjunction, moreover, we can deduce (3) Some men will be brought to repentance and life after they die.
Therefore, we have some support in Scripture for (3), Romans 5:18 itself being an important part of that support. The principle here is that if q is a logical consequence of p and we have support in Scripture for p, then we also have support in Scripture for q.
But in any event, you and I have now traveled a long way from our initial discussion of free will. So baring some unexpected or new angle in your next reply, perhaps I'll just let you have the last word in this particular exchange. Thanks for the interaction.
Eric Landstrom's 6th Reply
Your argument to support your position regarding Romans 5:18 is simply not valid. You propose that because others in the past have thought in the same fashion you do that this validates your position. My retort to that is, yes people have held to your position in the past; but at the same time it doesn't mean they are correct. You site Origen as support for your view among others. To refute Origen and Alexandrian ideology would be beyond the scope of this board and our discussion.
As to the resolution of your interpretation of Romans 5:18 not conflicting with John 3:16-18, 36; etc. Your proposal that this happens in the afterlife. This idea has no Scriptural support. If you feel this is a simplistic argument; then your correct, it is simplistic because it is an obvious hole in universal theology. You attempt to skip over the fact that there is no Scripture that directly supports repentance and forgiveness in the afterlife by attempting to mush together the universalists interpretation of all being saved with what takes place in Revelations 20:11-15. This is odd and stretches both ends to meet in the middle.
You are correct however in that we have detracted from the question of freewill because you avoided answering my fist question regarding freewill to my satisfaction. We both agree man has freewill, but in your apology for universalism you seem to propose that man continues to have freewill in the afterlife by stating man can choose to resist God as much as he wants; but in order for a universal reconciliation to come to fruition; eventually all must conform to God's will. My conclusion from this form of universal theology is that in fact you detract from the very idea of freewill because you make God's judgment to be as the Borg from the Startrek fame, in that resistance is futile. In the end all come under the thumb of God's rule. If that is the case, then freewill cannot thrive.
I agree, in the end all do come under the thumb of God's rule in that God has the authority to issue judgment having the keys to death and hades (Rev. 1:18) by the work on the cross. I do not agree that Revelation 20:11-15 supports the idea that all are saved in the end. It is important to note that in Revelations 14:10 that it is not the Lamb or the angels that torment, but that the punishment is only done in the presence of them. Clearly Revelation 14:10 shows the punishment is external of God. So what is the cause of this trauma upon the wicked? Sin is the answer. This just further strengthens what we agreed what Romans 6:23 meant; in that to die in your sins is separation from God. The universalist must show that God somehow "conditions" sin out of the wicked in death. However this is not shown anywhere in Scripture. Revelation 20:11-15 does not show this ether. Instead it shows that all men are judged of their works. It doesn't say that automatically somebody who is not "in Christ" is thrown into the lake of fire; but that they are judged by the light they had and the way they lived their life of their own freewill. It is from this paragraph we learn that those who aren't in Christ aren't automatically damned because of Adams sin, or being a member of a fallen race.
It is at this point Tom Talbott politely pulled out of further debate.
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