Interesting Thoughts Toward Universalism

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I'm still reading the book and still thinking about the complete argument in an attempt to evaluate it. But I find many of the issues raised interesting. I'm sure Cardinal Dulles would find much to refute in the course of the logic of the book. But this at least trolls an interesting depth.

from If Grace Is True
Philip Gulley and James Mulholland

I paid homage to God's grace while championing human freedom. Salvation was not dependent on God's decision to save me, but on my decision to accept him. My righteousness determined my status and destiny. I controlled my destiny. I chose whether I was loved and accepted or hated and rejected. God's love was dependent upon my behavior. Grace was not a gift but a trophy.

I had easily rejected predestination's claim that the trophy was randomly awarded. What good was a trophy if you hadn't earned it? Though I was uncomfortable when the power to save or damn lay solely in God's hands, I had no qualms with suggesting the power lay completely in mine. In retrospect, my defense of human freedom was simply plain, old human pride. I wanted to take credit for my choice to respond to God's grace. I wanted to believe I chose God.

Obviously this is not a matter for proof-texting but for understanding in the overall sense and reading in conformity with the tradition of the Church, and in this case the earliest tradition without the accretions of understanding that resulted as historical contingency shaped a world-view. We must understand the debate on its own terms without the triumphalism of one party or another. These earlier fathers give us a glimpse of that thought before accretions had been crystallized. And even among these earliest Fathers there is a strong measure of debate. In fact, there is a line (said to be overstepped by Origen, amongst others) that the Church definitively teaches we may not cross--that of suggesting the fallen angels shall be reunited with God. However, several great Saints of the Eastern tradition held fast to the idea of universal salvation as some members of the Orthodox community do today.

But what is important here isn't so much the mechanics of salvation and whether everyone is saved. Because even if everyone is saved, we still must work as though they were not because we cannot know that universal salvation is a given and there is much to argue against it.

No, what is really important, as TSO pointed out earlier this morning, is that when I take my eyes off of Christ, I will flounder. His face holds me up, His breath sustains me, His love makes me entire, His grace saves me from eternity to eternity.

When I take my mind off of this reality, I find myself in the untenable position of wrestling with matters that are really beyond me. I can no longer assume the place of the child in this--one of my favorite psalms.

Psalm 131

Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.

Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.

Let Israel hope in the LORD from henceforth and for ever.

For my own peace of mind it is far better to focus on intense love of God and following His commandments rather than trying to wrap my mind around mysteries within mysteries within mysteries. As I will not know the fullness of the truth until I have achieved the beatific vision (God be willing!), I should not trouble myself with these difficulties, but rather spend my time in the realities I know and understand. As St. Teresa of Avila said, "The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything." Which is not to argue against knowledge, but to admit that there is a time in every person's life where thinking and knowledge fail and obedience and love must prevail to carry the person through until the end. Teresa's dictum comes at the point where words end and the mind has been trained as thoroughly as possible. For some this will be a longer stretch, for some a shorter. In different matters we may think more and longer with greater fruit than in others. When it comes to the mystery of God's will in salvation, I have thought to the end of my own resources and I turn to love--because love holds the gaze of the beloved and it is in that gaze that I am made lovable. It is God's love and grace that makes any person loveable and while that Grace is constantly supplied and bestowed, it is strengthened by knowing from whence it comes, by holding the eye of the Beloved as we move ahead in faith.

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Re Philip Gulley: My defense of human freedom was simply plain, old human pride.

Obviously that's a bad defense, but we often see bad defenses for true things. It doesn't make them less true. I'm not a fan of human freedom but neither does that mean it's not true. But I can choose, with that freedom, to focus on Christ rather than the mechanics of salvation. And that is what you do so well and so consistently in your quality blog.

Gulley totally loses me with "I paid homage to God's grace while championing human freedom". It's a dichotomy -- and I'm afraid if I read his very charming books I would be reeling with confusion.

Dear Psalm 41,

Don't worry. The authors showed their apostatic hands and I don't intend to share any more of their particular and peculiar and muddle-headed arguments.

Their apostasy does not render universalism invalid, but it does show the dangers of valuing your own ideas above those that the Lord has handed us. There are very hard words in the Bible. We cannot discard them because they don't suit us. Neither can we assume that we understand them in their completeness. These authors do both. Tant pis!



"There are very hard words in the Bible."

There are also very soft words in the Bible, such as "Love hopes all things", which is reflected in your original post. We are certainly commanded to hope that all will be saved.

Thanks so much for your comments and God bless you this day.

Dear Psalm 41,

You are so correct, and you must note that it is unusual for me to be pointing out the hard words. But my point is everything must be read in the context of the fullness of revelation and it must make sense in that fullness. The arguments of Gulley and Mulholland fall apart because they feel they must leave any interpretative tradition in order to hold their beliefs. I don't think it is necessary to do so, but I think they got off-track by looking solely at the consolation and never at the admonition. We understand that Jesus didn't speak idly about possible dangers--that's why some people are so incensed that one should even mention the possibility of universalism. But I think those remarks can be interpreted in a traditional way that hearkens back to the Eastern Fathers without doing violence to scripture or to doctrine. Gulley and Mulholland fail this critical test. They fail it so much, in fact, that they must fall back onto unitarian understanding to hold onto universalism. So they implicitly deny the divinity of Christ to believe in the salvation of all. Obviously this flies in the face of revelation.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 29, 2005 10:03 AM.

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