Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Can a Lutheran be a Universalist? (Part I)

I am currently reading The Evangelical Universalist by Gregory MacDonald (pseudonym), 2006.

MacDonald has also written a shorter paper entitled “Can an Evangelical be a Universalist?”, which is posted on Brian McLaren’s website.

Seeing the title of this article, I ask myself the same question about Lutherans.

I’ve read a fair number of books and articles defending Christian universalism (or the doctrine of final restoration, as some prefer to call it.) A lot of them, to my way of thinking, aren’t very good. Universalism comes in a lot of flavors, even including non-Christian universalism, which teaches salvation apart from Christ. Authors come at the issue from a wide variety of perspectives - as very liberal theologians, as legalists (we can all earn our way to heaven eventually), as former Calvinists, Arminians, or even Unitarians. Some are overly argumentative, seemingly just out to condemn the harshness of the traditional church and its teachings. The variety of perspectives and agendas results in a kind of smorgasbord of thought on the matter, most of which I can’t relate to.

Some of the better authors, however, approach the issue with great clarity and honesty, evidencing a high regard for Scripture and “Luther-like” principles of letting Scripture interpret Scripture. MacDonald appears to be one of these. Other authors I have appreciated are:

- Thomas Talbott, The Inescapable Love of God (1999)
- Jan Bonda, The One Purpose of God: An Answer to the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment (2003)
- Andrew Jukes, Restitution of All Things (1867 - Out of Print)

I am on the lookout for a Lutheran theologian who has studied and written extensively on the subject (either pro or con) - so far without success.


Jeffrey G said...


I'm not a theologian, and I haven't wrote any books, and I don't claim to have the answer, but I might have some relevant questions.

I'm Lutheran, and I don't view Heaven as "reward" and hell as "punishment". I believe sinful beings simply don't belong in Heaven, so that is why they are barred entrance. The wages of sin is death. What do you do with a person who possesses a tendency to sin? You can't just let him in. Heaven is the new Eden. He would mess everything up. He would sin anew.

He has to be regenerated. God has revealed his plan for human regeneration. Faith and baptism. If universalism is true, then either a) the revealed plan for regeneration would have to be able to be applied to everyone.


b) There is a separate, unrevealed, plan for human regeneration that takes care of everyone else.

If the answer is b), then the plan is unrevealed and we aren't meant to know about it, so there isn't much to say on the matter.

T. Hahm said...

I think you are absolutely correct that heaven and hell has little to do with reward and punishment.

The old must be destroyed and the new created.

How God accomplishes this in us before our physical death (by grace through faith) is more clearly revealed than how he will do it after physical death (perhaps the same way?). Baptism by water or baptism by fire.

One way or the other, God will make all things new in Christ.