Monday, July 16, 2007

Can a Lutheran be a Universalist? (Part 8)

Now to Luther’s fourth “exit”, which is to stop searching for a logical exit and simply accept and believe both sides of the paradox.

Luther believed that theological exit strategies too often lead us astray, in circles, or down blind alleys. We are so desperate to escape our Biblical paradox that we will, at great cost, reason our way out of it.

And on the subject of human reason, Luther had much to say. It is precisely here where Luther is most misunderstood and most criticized. This is because Luther believed human reason itself was paradoxical. He called it the devil’s bride and a damned whore. But he also called it God’s greatest gift to man, a glorious light.

So although Luther’s theology used reason to discover Biblical truths, his resultant theology sometimes ended up being quite “unreasonable.” That is to say, it embraced logical absurdities. He would simply not allow reason to stand in judgment of Scripture.

Luther believed that if something was taught in Scripture it didn’t matter to him if he and others thought it to be absurd. He saw, as did few before or after him, that logical attempts to escape from something clearly taught in Scripture often just ended in another kind of contradiction - contradicting the words of Scripture itself. This, to him, was more absurd than accepting a Biblical paradox on pure faith.

So Luther had no difficulty teaching contradictory absurdities. The saved are predestined to salvation, but the lost are not predestined to damnation. The saved cannot lose their salvation and, oh, by the way, yes they can. No one can make a decision to accept Jesus, but we can make a decision to reject Jesus. The saved are saved entirely by God, but the condemned are condemned entirely by themselves.

These are, to most theologians and philosophers, logical absurdities.

So it would be quite in keeping with Luther’s way to accept and believe in the universal restoration of all, and - at the same time - accept and believe in the eternal punishment of some. Both are taught in Scripture, so both can be believed and taught.

Logically absurd?

Maybe so. But it seems to me that one could hold to both sides of this paradox and still remain quite Lutheran.

Perhaps more Lutheran than Luther.


L P Cruz said...

I always think that what limits us from going astray is the words of Jesus in Mark 16:16, he who does not believed shall be condemned.


Amy said...

I love that believing means not being concerned with logic. It is a great picture of how God's ways cannot be defined according to our ways--that he is above all that human intellect/reason. 1 Corinthians 1:19--For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." It's so much more freeing to stop trying to understand/explain the logical absurdities of the Bible and just trust that God knows what he means and what is going on.

Anonymous said...

I have really enjoyed reading through your 8 posts on "Can a Lutheran be a Universalist?" I too find it "quite remarkable that there is not much more interest, study and discussion of it within Lutheranism."

If you do come across more information on this important topic I would love to here from you. My email address is

I am planning on reading Talbott's book when I can get my hands on a copy.

Andrew (Perth - Australia)

T. Hahm said...


Thanks for your comment. I'll let you know if I run across anything.

Amillennialist said...

I like your site, Mr. Hahm.

The problem that Calvin's spawn have is that they make Reason more important than Scripture, and this causes them to attribute to God statements He does not make.

It's similar to the problem Israel found with the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah: Suffering Servant and Mighty King?

Our answer is "Two Messiahs."

God's answer is, "Yes."

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article. It was helpful!
Tony in Jacksonville, FL

Anonymous said...

I found your posts here to be incredably interesting and helpful-- I personally am at sort of a 50-50 split and tend to think that, whatever God's ultimate plan is, it isn't necissarily for humans to know. And while many people aren't really going to be happy with that answer (myself included, I always need to know everything!) I guess we just have to be content with it.

However, I do wonder what you make of Jesus' comment about the unforgiveable sin-- blaspheming the Holy Spirit. I believe Jesus says something about it being a sin that will not be forgiven "in this age or the age to come". And while, at first glance, that might imply that people will be forgiven sins after they die, many theologians tend to interpret blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as being a rejection of God's saving grace-- which would mean that those who reject God are not forgiven for that after they die.

So I was just wondering what your take on this was.

John H said...

Thanks for this series. Very thought-provoking. I've blogged on your series here. (NB that's my "eschatology" blog. My regular blogging is here.)

Hope this comment reaches you - I see you have not posted here recently, hope all is well with you.

T. Hahm said...

John H.,

Thanks for your review of my thoughts on Lutheranism and universal restoration. I took a quick look at your blogs and will follow them as time permits. Keep up the good work. Hope to return to active blogging at some point in the future.