First, an update. As you will recall, in Part 2 we saw that Jamie Smith seemed to be thinking that the scriptural case for universalism could be “so easily refuted” that he was going to ignore that case (and that he was doing universalists who would appeal to such a case a “favor” by ignoring it), and we were asking (OK: with a bit of taunting thrown in) Jamie what decisive refutation he might have in mind. Well, Jamie has now responded (not just to my post, but to two other blog posts as well), but it looks like he’s not going to be telling us what (if any) refutation he might have had in mind, because he doesn’t specify it in his response, and its title would seem to indicate he’s not going to be saying any more on the subject: “Once (and only once) more on the ‘new universalism’.” You will also recall that in connection with my request, I had claimed that some pretty serious scriptural cases for universalism have been attempted. And Jamie does say this in response (it’s item 2 below that we’re directly interested in; I give the material before it to help set the context; there’s also a third item in this section; the parenthetical material and the stuff in brackets is all Jamie’s):
C. So I wish I had more retractions to make. You can chalk this up to either my stubbornness or my stupidity, or both. Just a few minor points:
1. Yes, the “new” universalism is not “new”–there are ancient streams of this. Yep, OK.
2. There are people who offer rigorous arguments, biblical cases for universalism, etc., etc. Turns out people have written lots of books on this. (Gee, really? Well, gooolllly…if only uh’d known…) Yep, got it. [See B.2 above]
Yes, of course, I see what look like marks of (very heavy) sarcasm here. I’ve always thought that I was reasonably adept at discerning what’s being communicated through sarcastic material, but in this case I’m quite unsure. I’m inclined to read these as retractions Jamie is making, throwing in some peculiar remarks, the intent of which I’d then be guessing is to diminish the importance of the points being conceded? (Yes, it is rather strange in that case, since he is on this reading diminishing the importance of how good the scriptural case is, when his very own view would seem to make that the centrally important issue. But in the context of his whole post, it might make sense, for it seems that he might be indicating that this whole topic is just extremely unimportant to him. So the strength of the scriptural case can be central, but if it’s central to an unimportant topic, at least to him, it’s still not important?) But who knows? Maybe these aren’t retractions, but explanations made through heavy sarcasm for why he is not making any retractions here?
At any rate, I’m inclined to just venture a guess that Jamie doesn’t really know of any really decisive refutations of the serious scriptural cases for universalism, but was taking it that there were decisive refutations for the best cases for universalism (perhaps because he was seriously in error about what the best cases were like).
If so, he is far from alone….
As I know, in part from a wealth of personal experience, there are many Evangelicals who are extremely confident that the scriptural case on the question of universalism very clearly comes down against the view. (I’m sure that’s true of other groups of Christians as well, but it seems far more prevalent, in my experience, among Evangelicals. And I don’t mean to be suggesting that Jamie is an Evangelical. My recollection is that he, like me [though no doubt for different reasons], thinks of himself as being something like a borderline case.) Sometimes these confident people have a fairly good grasp of the best scriptural cases on both sides and have just come to a very different verdict from me. Much more often, though, that is very far indeed from being the case. Very many apparently have been taught that the Bible clearly comes down against universalism, but that universalists simply ignore the Bible, and just go with their own “feelings” about what it would be just or good for God to do, instead. Very many have apparently been taught that universalists claim that Christ’s sacrifice is unnecessary for salvation. That universalists deny that God punishes anybody. Etc. Relatively advanced confident Evangelicals might have been taught that universalists simply ignore all the passages in the NT that speak of punishment, but then support their universalism, to the very meager extent that they advance any scriptural case at all for it, by naively citing a few prooftexts (and some very advanced cases might even have been taught some strange theories about what the word “all” means to explain why these verses do not really support universalism – I address some of these theories here). Now, what these folks are apparently being taught or told is true of some Christians who are in another good use of the term “universalists.” But it is of course not at all true of the kind of “evangelical universalists,” as they’re sometimes called, that Jamie is addressing.
What’s relevant to our current concerns in this is that, apparently, along with associated materials to explain the existence of Christian universalists, much of the Evangelical world is of the opinion that, and is teaching its people that, the Bible is abundantly clear on the question of whether all will be saved, and its extremely clear ruling is against the idea. And this is relevant to our current topic of hope.
I have been asked whether there is any, or much, danger that Christians will come down against even hoping that all will be saved. For what little it’s worth, first, I think that it’s in the Evangelical world where the potential for this is greatest. But, second, for what’s worth even less, my guess (as well as my hope) would be that not much of the Evangelical world will come down decisively against even hoping that all will be saved.
But that much of Evangelical Christianity seems committed to the scriptural case on the matter being not just against universalism, but extremely clearly against the possibility that all might be saved, does give a reason to doubt my speculation. I think that whether it can be appropriate for a Christian to hope for something that the Bible very clearly teaches will not happen is actually a very tricky and tough question. (On this, see Alexander Pruss’s very interesting comment here.) But it certainly seems that many Christians are inclined to judge (rightly or wrongly) that they shouldn’t hope for things that are clearly ruled out by the Bible. This, together with the apparent fact the much of Evangelical Christianity (rightly or wrongly) believes that universalism is very clearly and decisively ruled out by the Bible gives us some reason (to go along with a few signs of resistance to hope that seem to be popping up) to think at least some of the Evangelical world might well come down against hope. I suspect that for many, including some who seem not to like this feeling, allowing for room for hope will at least feel like backing down.
(I still hope to and plan to discuss in a later post the substantive issue of whether hoping for all to be saved is appropriate.)