N.T. Wright on Biblical Universalism

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We cannot use that life and death as an appeal against itself—which is precisely what happens if we say that, because God is love, the nature of salvation is not as it is revealed in the teaching of Jesus and in the cross itself, the place where God has provided the one way of salvation. (If there were other ‘ways of salvation’, the cross would have been unnecessary.)


Universalism of this kind, there­fore, has the worst of both worlds: no clear doctrine of justification by faith, and hence no assurance of salvation. It neither has its cake nor eats it.

You can find the .pdf here….

From here, then:

What then of hell? I was congratulated not long ago, on the basis of selective quotations from my writings, on being a universalist, that is, on believing that all humans will be saved, including Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden. That, however, is not the position I take, or have ever taken. The New Testament is full of sober and serious warnings of the real possibility of final loss, and I do not think they are merely rhetorical devices to frighten us ahead of time into a salvation which will in fact come to all sooner or later. In fact, I think the universalist case — which normally turns on God having all the time in the world, after the death of unbelievers, to go on putting the gospel to them from different angles until at last they accept it — does in our day rather what purgatory did in the Middle Ages. That is, it takes attention away from the challenges and decisions of the present life, and focuses it instead on the future.

At the same time, of course, the New Testament does indeed hold out great promises for a glorious future. Romans 5 and Romans 8 speak of the great sweep of God’s mercy, reconciling and freeing the whole cosmos. This doesn’t sound like a small group of people snatched away to salvation while the great majority faces destruction. Somehow we have to hold all this together without cutting any knots. We should note, for instance, that even in the astonishing and moving vision of the New Jerusalem, the renewed heaven and earth (Revelation 21 and 22), there are some still ‘outside’: the dogs, sorcerers, fornicators, murders, idolaters and liars (22.15). In 21.8, a similar group is thrown in the lake of fire, which is described as the ‘second death’. It is hard to see how we can ignore such passages — and the many similar ones in Paul and elsewhere — without being accused of trimming our theology to suit the prevailing desire to be nice to everybody, never to say anything which implies that someone might be in danger. Equally, we should remind ourselves that from the New Jerusalem in Revelation 22 there flows the river of the water of life, on whose banks grow trees, the tree of life; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. There are mysteries here we should not reduce to simplistic formulae.

Wright changed a bit, bit not completely…

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