Gospel Conversations: Hope and Hell Conference Sydney 2019

Robin Parry is coming to Sydney to talk on all things Universalism. If you are living in Sydney and even half interested in Christianity and the Gospel, you should buy a ticket. I will be there!


Do we need to rethink the traditional ‘eternal torment’ concept of hell? Rev Dr Robin Parry is prominent among a growing number of theologians around the world who are convinced the answer is ‘Yes’—and who claim furthermore that far from being heretical, this move will only lead us to a more coherent orthodoxy. This is not a new idea. Many significant Christian leaders in the early church embraced the belief in a final, universal restoration (an apokatastasis), believing it to be the teaching of the Bible. Robin argues that there are good reasons to agree with them.

At Gospel Conversations we believe that we need to get this hot topic of the ‘heresy’ list and back onto the discussion table. There is arguably no part of the modern Christian gospel that provides as great a stumbling block to faith as the ‘eternal torment’ version of ‘hell’. No Christian really likes this doctrine, yet we often feel compelled to believe it as an article of faith. But should we?

Robin asked himself this question as an evangelical some years ago and began to uncover a vast stream of evidence—in the biblical narrative, the writings of the early church fathers, and the very logic of Christian doctrine—that strongly suggests that all humanity will be saved. Robin wrote a considered argument supporting the possibility of universal salvation in his book The Evangelical Universalist (originally published in 2006 under the pseudonym Gregory McDonald). He subsequently researched the more recent history of the idea for his book A Larger Hope? Universal Salvation from the Reformation to the Nineteenth Century (2019).

Robin argues that what we think about hell and the expanse of salvation has implications for how we think about God, creation, sin, justice, love, providence, freedom, atonement, church, and the value and future of the non-human creation, for the biblical vision of ultimate restoration is truly cosmic, revealing a far wider and richer picture of the massive endgame that God has in mind. So no matter what a person comes to finally believe about this topic, studying it will enlarge our souls and our faith.

Robin will speak to us over two Saturdays. The first Saturday he will lay out a biblical case for universal salvation and explain how it widens our picture of the great project of the Lord God. On the second Saturday, he and others will look ahead and address the important ‘so what?’ question. How does apokatastasis affect the way Christians interact with the world—their message, their stance, their contribution to public life. We will conclude with a panel discussion to respond to questions and thoughts.

A Tour of My Bookshelf


At the top of the shelf is the “Catholic” section. It contains bibles and catechisms and the like, all of which are either critical texts, or official Catholic editions.

  • Catechism of the Catholic Church
  • Compendium of the Catechism
  • The Catechism of Trent
  • Ludwig Ott – Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma
  • David Bentley Hart New Testament
  • Chinese Catholic Bible
  • Good News Catholic Bible
  • RSV-C2E Study New Testament
  • Knox Bible
  • NRSV Bible
  • Navarre Commentary on the Minor Prophets
  • Critical Texts
    • Hebrew Old Testament
    • Greek New Testament
    • Latin Vulgate
    • Greek Septuagint


On the Next shelf is the “Functional Catholicism” section. I keep all my missals and breviaries here.

  • English Liturgy of the Hours (Australian Edition)
  • Novus Ordo Roman Missal
  • Traditional Roman Breviary
  • Traditional Latin Mass Missal


To the right of the functional Catholic books is my Mormon shelf. It contains a variety of Mormon holy texts

  • Collection of Deseret Alphabet Mormon Scriptures according to the KJV
    • Old Testament Volume 1
    • Old Testament Volume 2
    • Apocrypha
    • New Testament
    • Book of Mormon
    • Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine and Covenants
  • LDS Quad. This contains all currently canonised Mormon scriptures in a single volume.
  • Book of Mormon. This was a gift from some Mormon missionaries, and contains personalised notes and highlighting. This BoM therefore has sentimental value
  • JST translation of the bible. This is an edition of the KJV bible which was radically modified by Joseph Smith, with many additions and changes. It is considered the official bible of the RLDS church, and the LDS church accords it a high degree of respect.


This is my “Universalism” Shelf. It contains various books devoted to Universalism.

  • Terms for Eternity. This book is a comprehensive academic survey of classical Greek literature, including the New Testament, in order to investigate what words this literature employs in order to convey ideas such as “everlasting”, “timeless”, “eternal” and so on. The conclusion is remarkable, and indicates that the New Testament does not actually teach a doctrine of everlasting punishment after all.
  • God’s Final Victory. An absolutely brilliant book which philosophically analyses the issue of Hell. It clearly and logically examines all possible angles which people use to approach the issue of everlasting damnation, and concludes that they are all fallacious, and that Universal Salvation is preferable in every case as a more consistent and coherent world-view.
  • The Evangelical universalist. This book examines the issue of Universal salvation from a purely biblical perspective. It surveys the entire biblical narrative and zeros in on problematic texts, such as the book of revelation. This is a very valuable book when discussing Universalism with sola scriptura protestants, who take pride in abandoning reason and logic so as to follow “the plain sense of scripture”. When debating simple folk such as this, it is helpful to be able to demonstrate that “the plain sense of scripture” actually supports universalism, not infernalism.
  • The Inescapable Love of God. A brilliant book arguing in favour of universalism from a Christian philosopher. It is a cross between a memoir, a scriptural survey, and a philosophical discourse. It is an incredibly powerful book and I highly recommend it.
  • Dare we hope that all men be saved? A short book on the issue of universal salvation from a hesitant Catholic perspective. The author concludes that Catholics should “hope” for the salvation of everyone, but that they cannot have any confidence that this will actually come about. This is a valuable introduction to universalism, but I needed a more robust confidence, and found it in the other books on this shelf.
  • Love Wins. A controversial book from a protestant minister. In the book all he does is ask stimulating questions surrounding the issues of Heaven and Hell, and he never clearly states his personal position. However the reaction from fundamentalists has been to assume that he is teaching heresy and to cry fowl.


This is the “Other Religions” shelf, including Protestantism, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

  • Book of Concord. This is an English translation from the original Latin and German.
  • Book of Common Prayer
  • Westminister Confession
  • Gideons Pocket New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. I have had this pocket New Testament since I was 13 years old. I never used it much, but it has sentimental value seeing as it has accompanied me for much of my life.
  • Textus Receptus.
  • New World Translation
  • ESV Translation with Apocrypha
  • NIV Translation. This was my first real bible, given to me as a gift by some Anglican friends a long time ago during High School. I don’t read it any more, but it was very important for my formative early Christian days, and carries a high degree of sentimental value. This was also the bible that I reached for during my hour of crisis in order to read the story about Jesus being tempted in the desert.
  • 1611 KJV complete with Apocrypha.
  • Esperanto Bible with Apocrypha.
  • Chinese Bible. This was given to me as a gift during my 2014 mission trip to China. It therefore has sentimental value. I also like to hold onto it because it retains the translation of 道 for λογος in the prologue to the Gospel of John. I think this translation choice is rich in meaning and deep in significance, and it annoys me that the official Catholic Chinese translation instead translates λογος as “Holy Word”.
  • Arabic Bible.
  • Pocket Baghavad-Gita
  • Pocket Quran
  • 6-in-1 volume of the most authentic Hadith collections, in Arabic.
  • Critical Text Quran, Arabic
  • Standard Arabic Quran
  • Dual Column English/Arabic Quran.
  • Dao De Jing, Hardcover. English Translation with original text in Simplified Chinese characters.
  • Dao De Jing, Paperback. This was bought for me as a gift by Helen Yim at the end of our 2014 mission to China. I have greatly enjoyed reading it and this particular copy has sentimental value.


This is my “Generic Religious literature” shelf. It contains books about Islam, Christianity, Atheism.

  • Answering the anti-Catholic challenge. A response to the popular anti-catholic polemical tract, “Nothing in my hand I bring”. Nothing in my hand I bring is recommended highly by evil protestant pastors who are trying to steal sheep from the Catholic church and drag them down to the depths of Hell to be brutally tortured unto the ages of ages. It is packed full of lies, slander, and misrepresentations of Catholicism. Unfortunately many Catholics who read it are taken in by this subterfuge and end up apostatising from the faith, to the eternal peril of their soul. This book is an attempt to bring some of them back to the light, and inoculate existing Catholics against the lies and heresies of the totally depraved, bloodthirsty protestants that are seeking to destroy them.
  • The Orthodox Church. A good book from Hopeful universalist, bishop Kallistos Ware. Goes through the history of Orthodoxy and examines issues facing that church today.
  • Why I am not a Calvinist. Companion book to “Why I am not an Arminian”, it examines the shortcomings of Calvinism and makes a case for Arminianism.
  • Why I am not an Arminian. Companion book to “Why I am not a Calvinist”, it examines the shortcomings of Arminianism and makes a case for Calvinism.
  • Surprised by Truth 1, 2 and 3. Anthologies of testimonies of people who have converted to Catholicism from a wide variety of backgrounds.
  • Far from Rome, Near to God. 50 stories and testimonies from Catholic priests who left the Catholic church in order to become evangelicals. I find this book to be fascinating. Some times the reasons these priests give for their apostasy are erroneous and easily answered, but some times the reasons they give really touch your heart and make you sympathise with them. Some of their criticism of Catholicism are entirely valid and we should demand reform in the church along the lines they have identified.
  • Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. A testimony from Ex-Ahmadiyya Muslim, Nabeel Qureshi. A great, moving read.
  • No God But One. A theological companion to Nabeel’s testimony. Examines the theological concerns that drove Nabeel to Christianity in much greater depth.
  • Building a Bridge. A controversial book from a controversial author on the issue of homosexuality and the Catholic church. After reading the book I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. The author stays faithful to church teaching the whole way through and simply seems to be advocating for greater respect and compassion between Gays and non-Gays within the Catholic church.
  • Story and Promise. An interesting exploration of the Gospel from the perspective of Lutheran theology.
  • Lutheranism. A brilliant introduction to Lutheranism. The history of Lutheranism is examined, as well as key and core theological issues. The theology of Unconditional Promise as it relates to “Sola Fide” is explored and there is a brilliant section where the book claims that the vast majority of modern protestants just don’t get it, and have reduced “Sola Fide” to just another variation on “salvation by works”. The original Lutheran understanding of Sola Fide is far more profound and wonderful than the modern evangelical version.
  • The Devil Hates Latin. A cheesy novel that reads somewhat like fan fiction. It is nevertheless enjoyable. It is in the emergent genre of “Trad-Fiction”: Stories written from a perspective favourable to traditional Catholicism, and conservative Catholic values.
  • Atheist Delusions. A great historical survey of Christianity by the amazing David Bentley Hart, so as to refute the claims of modern Atheists against the church.
  • The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss. Another brilliant David Bentley Hart exploration of Classical Theism, as found in a wide and diverse range of religious, theological and philosophical traditions. DBH shows how human religious intuition is well founded, and backed up well by reason and experience.
  • Faith Within Reason. A great book from Herbet McCabe exploring issues surrounding classical theism. Very thought provoking. A great read if you want to try to conceive of God more correctly and less anthropomorphically.
  • How are we Saved? A tract from Bishop Kallistos Ware, outlining the view of salvation in Orthodoxy. A good read.
  • 10 Commandments twice removed. Seventh Day Adventist propaganda. An entertaining read, but ultimately unconvincing. They have a nuanced understanding of the place of the law in Christianity, but I prefer the Catholic account.
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz. Brilliant science fiction. The premise: After a world-wide nuclear holocaust, everything has gone to shit but the Catholic church survives. The story follows a Catholic monastery in the Utah desert through another 1000 years of history. The particular order of this monastery is dedicated to the preservation of scientific knowledge from the old world, through copying and memorisation. Fascinating stuff.


This is my “Languages” shelf.

  • Learn To Read Greek. Textbook and Workbook
  • Learn To Read Latin. Textbook and Workbook
  • Alif Baa and Al Kitaab. Arabic Textbooks
  • Fluent in 3 months. A primer on how to quickly arrive at fluency in any language.
  • Everyday Grammar. A compact English Grammar reference text
  • Hebrew Dictionary.


This is my “Miscellaneous” shelf. Contains poetry, philosophy, novels and so on.

  • The collected works of Edgar Allan Poe. A poetry anthology, given to me for my birthday by some friends back in my penultimate year of high school. Has sentimental value.
  • Endgame. This book was crucial in deprogramming me from the Pick Up Artist community. The key thesis is “Why would a girl want to date you or have sex with you if you are not satisfied and happy with your life as it is?” This book encouraged me to stop pretending to be someone great and attractive and instead actually be someone great and attractive.
  • Expensive habits. Entertaining essays about what it is like to live as a rich person. What is life really like when you have lots of money available to burn? Very humorous.
  • The Philosopher at the End of the Universe. This was my bible for my late teen years. It explores important modern philosophical conundrums with reference to popular science fiction movies. Very deep and thought provoking. I highly recommend it. I have however since moved on to deeper books, and prefer a more theistic approach to philosophical issues.
  • The Religions/Philosophy book. Two great coffee table books which look at the history of religion and philosophy. Very comprehensive. They briefly touch upon all of the big players in history.
  • Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. This was a revolutionary book for me. Reading the first 10 chapters of this book triggered something within me and enabled me to finally understand the core philosophical issues driving mathematics. As a result, I was able to jump from the bottom of the standard mathematics high school class all the way up to the top of the higher extension mathematics class in the space of 3 weeks. However the main theme of the book is to explore the thesis that consciousness can arise out of inanimate matter via something called “strange loops”. The author travels on many fascinating detours while exploring this issue. This book is a mental gymnasium.
  • The Mind’s I. From the same author as GEB:EGB, this is an anthology of short writings, with commentary. The writings explore themes of identity and consciousness, being and reality. A fun and stimulating read.
  • Waking up. By famous New Atheist, Sam Harris. This book explores the idea that it is possible to have a robust spirituality without being religious. A fascinating thesis, and he has some interesting reflections on psychedelics and the philosophy of mind, but I found the book ultimately unpersuasive. Harris dismisses metaphysics and religion too haphazardly. While I agree with him that Fundamentalism is toxic and the essence of ignorance and stupidity, I refuse to reduce all religion to fundamentalism. There is much of value in the philosophical, theological, metaphysical, religious traditions of the world.
  • The Wooden Horse. A great WW2 prisonbreak story. The way they escape from the camp is genius, especially considering that the camp was maximum security and was built specifically to prevent escape.
  • Harrius Potter. The first two Harry Potter books in Latin, along with a paperback English copy for reference.


This is my “Mathematics” and “Misc” shelf. This shelf just contains a bunch of mathematics textbooks and cook books.


This is my “Programming Languages” shelf. A relic from my Computer Science and Information Technology days. There are some brilliant books here describing the use and application of some fascinating programming languages, such as Haskell, Lisp, Bondi, Pattern Calculus.


This is my “Yet to be read” shelf. These are all the books that I haven’t yet got around to, but am incredibly keen to read.


This is my second “Yet to be read” shelf. It is slowly filling up.

Baptism at an Ancient Eastern Roman Catholic Orthodox Easter Vigil – A Rite Of Passage

xir244981_1024x1024[1].jpegby Aidan Kavanagh, OSB

I have always rather liked the gruff robustness of the first rubric for baptism found in a late fourth-century church order which directs that the bishop enter the vestibule of the baptistery and say to the catechumens without commentary or apology only four words: “Take off your clothes.” There is no evidence that the assistants fainted or the catechumens asked what he meant.

Catechesis and much prayer and fasting had led them to understand that the language of their passage this night in Christ from death to life would be the language of the bathhouse and the tomb — not that of the forum and the drawing room.

So they stripped and stood there, probably, faint from fasting, shivering from the cold of early Easter morning and with awe at what was about to transpire. Years of formation were about to be consummated; years of having their motives and lives scrutinised;  years of hearing the word of God read and expounded at worship; years of being dismissed with prayer before the Faithful went on to celebrate the Eucharist; years of  having the doors to the assembly hall closed to them; years of seeing the tomb-like baptistery building only from without; years of hearing the old folks of the community tell hair-raising tales of what being a Christian had cost their own grandparents when the emperors were still pagan; years of running into a reticent and reverent vagueness concerning what was actually done by the Faithful at the breaking of bread and in that closed baptistery …

Tonight all this was about to end as they stood here naked on a cold floor in the gloom
of this eerie room.

Abruptly the bishop demands that they face westward, toward where the sun dies swallowed up in darkness, and denounce the King of shadows and death and things that go bump in the night. Each one of them comes forward to do this loudly under the hooded gaze of the bishop (who is tired from presiding all night at the vigil continuing next door in the church), as deacons shield the nudity of the male catechumens from the women, and deaconesses screen the women in the same manner. This is when each of them finally lets go of the world and of life as they have known it: the umbilical cord is cut, but they have not yet begun to breathe.

Then they must each turn eastwards toward where the sun surges up bathed in a light which just now can be seen stealing into the alabaster windows of the room. They must voice their acceptance of the King of light and life who has trampled down death by his own death. As each one finishes this he or she is fallen upon by a deacon or a deaconess who vigorously rubs olive oil into his or her body, as the bishop perhaps dozes off briefly, leaning on his cane. (He is like an old surgeon waiting for the operation to begin.)

When all the catechumens have been thoroughly oiled, they and the bishop are suddenly startled by the crash of the baptistery doors being thrown open. Brilliant golden light spills out into the shadowy vestibule, and following the bishop (who has now regained his composure) the catechumens and the assistant presbyters, deacons, deaconesses, and sponsors move into the most glorious room most of them have ever seen. It is a high, arbor-like pavilion of green, gold, purple, and white mosaic from marble floor to domed ceiling sparkling like jewels in the light of innumerable oil lamps that fill the room with a heady warmth. The windows are beginning to blaze with the light of Easter dawn. The walls curl with vines and tendrils that thrust up from the floor, and at their tops apostles gaze down robed in snow-white togas, holding crowns. They stand around a golden chair draped with purple upon which rests only an open book. And above all these, in the highest point of the ballooning dome, a naked Jesus (very much in the flesh) stands up to his waist in the Jordan as an unkempt John pours water on him and God’s disembodied hand points the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ head in the form of a white bird.

Suddenly the catechumens realise that they have unconsciously formed themselves into a mirror-image of this lofty icon on the floor directly beneath it. They are standing around a pool let into the middle of the floor, into which gushes water pouring noisily from the mouth of a stone lion crouching atop a pillar at poolside. The bishop stands beside this, his presbyters on each side: a deacon has entered the pool, and the other assistants are trying to maintain a modicum of decorum among the catechumens who forget their nakedness as they crowd close to see. The room is warm, humid, and it glows. It is a golden paradise in a bathhouse in a mausoleum: an oasis, Eden restored: the navel of the world, where death and life meet, copulate, and become undistinguishable from each other. Jonah peers out from a niche, Noah from another, Moses from a third, and the paralytic carrying his stretcher from a fourth. The windows begin to sweat.

The bishop rumbles a massive prayer — something about the Spirit and the waters of life and death — and then pokes the water a few times with his cane. The catechumens recall Moses doing something like that to a rock from which water flowed, and they are mightily impressed. Then a young male catechumen of about ten, the son of pious parents, is led down into the pool by the deacon. The water is warm (it has been heated in a furnace), and the oil on his body spreads out on the surface in iridescent swirls. The deacon positions the child near the cascade from the lion’s mouth. The bishop leans over on his cane, and in a voice that sounds like something out of the Apocalypse, says:

“Euphemius! Do you believe in God the Father, who created all of heaven and earth?”

After a nudge from the deacon beside him, the boy murmurs that he does. And just in time, for the deacon, who has been doing this for fifty years and is the boy’s grandfather, wraps him in his arms, lifts him backwards into the rushing water and forces him under the surface. The old deacon smiles through his beard at the wide brown eyes that look up at him is shock and fear from beneath the water (the boy has purposely not been told what to expect).

Then he raises him up coughing and sputtering. The bishop waits until he can speak again, and leaning over a second time, tapping the boy on the shoulder with his cane, says:

“Euphemius! Do you believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, who was conceived of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was crucified, died, and was buried? Who rose on the third day and ascended into heaven, from whence he will come again to judge the living and the dead?”

This time he replies like a shot, “I do,” and then holds his nose…

“Euphemius! Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the master and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who is to be honoured and glorified equally with the Father and the Son, who spoke by the Prophets? And in one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church which is the communion of God’s holy ones? And in the life that is coming?”

“I do.”

When he comes up the third time, his vast grandfather gathers him in his arms and carries him up the steps leading out of the pool. There another deacon roughly dries Euphemius with a warm towel, and a senior presbyter, who is almost ninety and is regarded by all as a “confessor” because he was imprisoned for the faith as a young man, tremulously pours perfumed oil from a glass pitcher over the boy’s damp head until it soaks his hair and runs down over his upper body. The fragrance of this enormously expensive oil fills the room as the old man mutters: “God’s servant, Euphemius, is anointed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Euphemius is then wrapped in a new linen tunic; the fragrant chrism seeps into it, and he is given a burning terracotta oil lamp and gold to go stand by the door and keep quiet. Meanwhile, the other baptisms have continued.

When all have been done in this same manner (an old deaconess, a widow, replaced Euphemius’s grandfather when it came the women’s time), the clergy strike up the Easter hymn, “Christ is risen from the dead, he has crushed death by his death and bestowed life on those who lay in the tomb.”

To this constantly repeated melody interspersed with the Psalm verse, “Let God arise and smite his enemies,” the whole baptismal party — tired, damp, thrilled, and oily — walk out into the blaze of Easter morning and go next door to the church led by the bishop. There he bangs on the closed doors with his cane: they are flung open, the endless vigil is halted, and the baptismal party enters as all take up the hymn, “Christ is risen…,” which is all but drowned out by the ovations that greet Christ truly risen in his newly-born ones. As they enter, the fragrance of chrism fills the church: it is the Easter-smell, God’s grace olfactorally incarnate. The pious struggle to get near the newly baptised to touch their chrismed hair and rub its fragrance on their own faces. All is chaos until the baptismal party manages to reach the towering ambo that stands in the middle of the pewless hall. The bishop ascends its lower front steps, turns to face the white-clad neophytes grouped at the bottom with their burning lamps and the boisterous faithful now held back by a phalanx of well -built acolytes and doorkeepers. Euphemius’s mother has fainted and been carried outside for some air.

The bishop opens his arms to the neophytes and once again all burst into “Christ is risen,” Christos aneste …. He then affirms and seals their baptism after prayer, for all the Faithful to see, with an authoritative gesture of paternity — laying his hand on each head, signing each oily forehead once again in the form of a cross, while booming out: “The servant of God is sealed with the Holy Spirit.” To which all reply in a thunderous “Amen.” and for the first time the former catechumens receive and give the kiss of peace. Everyone is in tears. While this continues, bread and wine are laid out on the holy table; the bishop then prays at great length over them after things quiet down, and the neophytes lead all to communion with Euphemius out in front.

While his grandfather holds his lamp, Euphemius dines on the precious Body whose true and undoubted member he has become; drinks the precious Blood of him in whom he himself has now died; and just this once drinks from two other special cups — one containing baptismal water, the other containing milk and honey mixed as a gustatory icon of the promised land into which he and his colleagues have finally entered out of the desert through Jordan’s waters. Then his mother (now recovered and somewhat pale, still insisting she had only stumbled) took him home and put him, fragrantly, to bed.

Euphemius had come a long way. He had passed from death unto a life he lives still.

    • +

Delivered at Holy Cross Abbey, Canon City, Colorado,
Theology Institute, August, 1977
Copyright © 2003 St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. All rights reserved.

Aiden Kavanagh, one of the great liturgical scholars and sacramental theologians of
the twentieth century, delivered this lecture at Holy Cross Abbey, Canon City,
Colorado, Theology Institute, August, 1977. He departed this life in June, 2006.

The COVID Sessions – Online Interfaith Exchange #1

A Hindu, a Buddhist and a Christian discuss politics, coronavirus, and comparative theology.

7 Myths About Universalism

Robin Parry holding a teacup

Below is Parry’s article—originally published as Bell’s Hells: seven myths about universalism in the Baptist Times.

You can be a good evangelical without believing in eternal punishment, writes Robin Parry

On Tuesday February 22 2011, Rob Bell – the influential pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan – posted the promotional video for his new book, Love Wins.

Rumours started spreading almost immediately that Bell’s forthcoming book advocated universalism and, unsurprisingly, the Internet went white-hot. On Saturday February 26 Justin Taylor, a well-known neo-Calvinist, posted his provisional reflections about Bell as a universalist on The Gospel Coalition blog and, reportedly, by that evening about 12,000 people had recommended his post on Facebook.

That same day Rob Bell was in the top 10 trending topics on Twitter. And from there the number of blog posts exploded. Overnight, universalism went from being a marginal issue that most evangelicals felt that they could ignore to being the next big debate.

Feelings are running high at the moment and a lot of strong language is being used. I think that if the church is to have a fruitful discussion on this matter (rather than a bad tempered battle-to-the-death) then it is essential that we have a clear understanding of what Christian universalists actually believe. A lot of myths about universalism are informing the current debate and I want to explore seven of them very briefly below.

To begin it will be helpful to have a quick definition of Christian universalism. Christian universalists are (mostly) orthodox, Trinitarian, Christ-centred, gospel-focused, Bible-affirming, missional Christians. What makes them universalists is that they believe that God loves all people, wants to save all people, sent Christ to redeem all people, and will achieve that goal.

In a nutshell, it is the view that, in the end, God will redeem all people through Christ. Christian universalists believe that the destiny of humanity is ‘written’ in the body of the risen Jesus and, as such, the story of humanity will not end with a tomb.

Myth: Universalists don’t believe in hell

Many an online critic of Bell has complained that he, along with his universalist allies, does not believe in hell. Here, for instance, is Todd Pruitt: ‘Rob Bell . . . denies the reality of hell.’ Mr BH adds, ‘To Hell with No Hell. To Hell with what’s being sold by Rob Bell.’

Nice rhyming but, alas, this is too simplistic.

Historically all Christian universalists have had a doctrine of hell and that remains the case for most Christian universalists today, including Bell. The Christian debate does not concern whether hell will be a reality (all agree that it will) but, rather, what the nature of that reality will be. Will it be eternal conscious torment? Will it be annihilation? Or will it be a state from which people can be redeemed? Most universalists believe that hell is not simply retributive punishment but a painful yet corrective/educative state from which people will eventually exit (some, myself included, think it has a retributive dimension, while others do not).

So it is not hell that universalists deny so much as certain views about hell. (To complicate matters a little there have even been a few universalists that believed that hell is an eternal, conscious torment! An unusual view for a universalist but possible – honest.)

Myth: Universalists don’t believe the Bible

One does not have to read Bell’s detractors for long before coming across the following sentiments: Universalists are theological ‘liberals’ that reject the ‘clear teaching of the Bible’. Surely all good Bible-believing Christians will believe that some/many/most people are damned forever? ‘If indeed Rob Bell denies the existence of hell, this is a betrayal of biblical truth,’ says R Albert Mohler. David Cloud, concerned about Bell’s questioning classical conceptions of hell, writes, ‘It is evil to entertain questions that deny Bible truth.’

So, are universalists really Bible-denying? No.

Historically, Christian universalists have been Bible-affirming believers and that remains the case for many, perhaps the majority, today. The question is not ‘Which group believes the Bible?’ but, ‘How do we interpret the Bible?’

The root issue is this: there are some biblical texts that seem to affirm universalism (eg Romans 5:18; 1 Corinthians 15:22; Colossians 1:20; Philippians 2:11) but there are others that seem to deny it (eg Matthew 25:45; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9; Revelations 14:11; 20:10-15).

At the heart of the biblical debate is how we hold these two threads together. Do we start with the hell passages and reread the universalist texts in the light of them? That is the traditional route. Or, do we start with universalist passages and reinterpret the hell texts in the light of them? That is what many universalists do.

Or do we try to hold both sets of biblical teachings in some kind of tension (and there are various proposals for how we might do that – some leaning towards traditionalism, others leaning towards universalism)?

There is also the question of wider biblical-theological themes and their relevance. For instance, biblical teaching on God’s love, justice, punishment, the cross-resurrection, covenant, etc. How might reflection on those matters influence our theology of hell?

This is not just about finding ‘proof texts’ to whip your opponent with (both sides are capable of that) but about making best sense of the Bible as a whole. And when we follow the big plotline of the scriptures, which ending to the story has the best ‘fit’? Universalists believe that the ending in which God redeems his whole creation makes the most sense of the biblical metanarrative. Traditionalists disagree.

My point is that this debate is not a debate between Bible-believing Christians (traditionalists) and ‘liberals’ (universalists). It is, to a large extent, a debate between two sets of Bible-believing Christians on how best to understand scripture.

Myth: Universalists don’t think sin is very bad

Blogger Denny Burke thinks that Bell’s ‘weak’ view of hell if based on a ‘weak’ view of sin which, in turn, is based on a ‘weak’ view of God: ‘Sin will always appears as a trifle to those whose view of God is small.’

Universalists ‘obviously’ think that sin isn’t something to get too worked up about – after all they believe that God’s job is to forgive people, right?

Once again we are in the realm of mythology. Propose a view on the seriousness of sin as strong as you wish and you’ll find universalists who would affirm it. Does sin affect every aspect of human life? Is it an utter horror that degrades our humanity and warrants divine wrath? Does it deserve eternal punishment?

Universalists could affirm all of these things so long as they believed that God’s love, power, grace, and mercy are bigger and stronger than sin. Universalists do not have a low view of sin, they have a high view of grace: ‘Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.’

Myth: Universalists believe in God’s love but forget his justice and wrath

Here is Britten Taylor’s response to Rob Bell: ‘God is love. But, He is also just. God pours out His mercy, but He also pours out His wrath.’ The implication is that universalists overplay divine love and forget that God is also holy and just. Right? Wrong.

Christian universalists have a lot to say about God’s holiness, justice, and even his wrath. Typically they think that God’s divine nature cannot be divided up into conflicting parts in such a way that some of God’s actions are loving (eg, saving sinners) while others are just and full of anger (eg, hell).

They see all of God’s actions as motivated by ‘holy love’. Everything God does is holy, completely just, and completely loving.

So whatever hell is about it must be compatible not simply with divine justice but also with divine love. Which means that it must, in some way, have the good of those in hell as part of its rationale.

Universalists feel that one potential danger in traditional theologies of hell is that while they make much of God justice and anger they appear to be incompatible with his love and, as a result, they divide up the unity of God’s nature.

Myth: Universalists think that all roads lead to God

Here is Kevin Mullins’ definition of universalism in his discussion of Bell: ‘Universalism – the belief that everyone, regardless of faith or behavior, will be counted as God’s people in the end. All roads lead to Him. All religions are just different expressions of the same Truth.’

That idea is what underlies crparke’s comment that, ‘If Rob Bell denies hell then he denies the need for a “savior” and makes the sacrifice of Jesus irrelevant.’

Here our Internet conversation partners have confused universalism (the view that God will one day save all people through Christ) with pluralism (the view that there are many paths to God and that Jesus is simply one of them). But Christian universalists deny pluralism. They insist that salvation is found only through the atoning work of Christ. Without Jesus nobody would be redeemed!

Now there is a disagreement between Christians about whether one needs to have explicit faith in Jesus to share in the salvation he has bought. Some Christians, called exclusivists, think that only those who put their trust in the gospel can be saved.

Others, called inclusivists, think that it is possible to be saved through Christ even without explicit faith in him.

Thus, for inclusivists it is possible to be saved even if, for instance, you have never heard the gospel. Inclusivists would maintain that if someone responds in humility, love, and faith to the truncated divine revelation that they have received then God can unite them to Christ and they may be considered as, perhaps, ‘anonymous Christians’.

But we need to be careful not to confuse the discussion between exclusivists and inclusivists with the issue of universalism. Many people make that mistake. The former debate concerns how people can experience the salvation won by Christ while the latter concerns how many people will be saved. Two different questions.

Thus, some universalists are inclusivists (eg, Rob Bell) but others are exclusivists, maintaining that only people who trust in the gospel can be saved. (Obviously exclusivist universalists have to believe that salvation is possible after death.)

But whether one is speaking of exclusivist or inclusivist universalists, neither relegate Jesus to the sidelines.

Myth: Universalism undermines evangelism

Here is Matt: ‘I do think the Scripture is clear that salvation at least has some limits. If it doesn’t, then preaching and evangelism are ultimately wasted activities.’ And R Albert Mohler worries that, ‘If indeed Rob Bell denies the existence of hell, this . . . has severe . . . evangelistic consequences.’ Why, after all, would anyone bother to go through all the effort and struggle of evangelism if God is going to save everyone in the end anyway?

So must universalism undermine evangelism? Not at all. There are many reasons to engage in mission and evangelism, not least that Christ commands it. And it is a huge privilege to join with God in his mission of reconciling the world to himself. The gospel message in God’s ‘foolish’ way of setting the world right so, of course, universalists will want to proclaim it.

Fear of hell is not the only motivation for mission. And, what is more, the majority of universalists do fear hell. Whilst they may not view it as ‘the end of the road’, they still consider it to be a dreadful state to be avoided.

And historically universalists have not run from mission. Here are the words of an eighteenth century Baptist universalist, Elhanan Winchester, who was himself an evangelist: ‘There is no business or labour to which men are called, so important, so arduous, so difficult, and that requires such wisdom to perform it [as that of the soul-winner]. The amazing worth of winning souls, makes the labour so exceeding important, and of such infinite concern’ (sermon on the death of John Wesley, 1791).

Myth: Universalism undermines holy living

Here is Frank: ‘Oh thank goodness Rob Bell is here to explain that we can do whatever we want because (drum roll please) . . . there’s no consequence, there’s no hell!’ And Frank is not alone. During 17th, 18th and 19th centuries many Christians were especially worried that if the fear of hell was reduced people would have little to constrain their sinful behaviour. Thus universalism, they feared, would fuel sin.

But the fear of punishment is not the only motive for avoiding sin and, even if it were, universalism does, as has already been mentioned, have space for some such fear. But far more important for holy living – indeed the only motive for heartfelt holy living – is the positive motivation inspired by love for God.

Who, after all, would reason, ‘I know that God created me, seeks to do me good, sent his Son to die for me, and that he will always love me…so I must hate him!’? On the contrary, the revelation of divine love solicits our loving response (1 John 4:19).

Clearly there is an important debate to be had but if we desire more light and less heat we need to start by getting a clearer understanding of the view under discussion.

Support a Missionary Studying Patristic Greek and Latin

tl;dr Summary:

I am trying to rustle up some money so that I can attend the 2020 Macquarie Ancient Language School intensive summer week. I intend to study biblical and patristic Greek for the duration of the week. I am also trying to gather funding to attend the Sydney Latin Summer School. Both of these weeks are taught in an intensive mode, which I personally find very effective and valuable.

I need $500 in total. $160 will pay for the tuition for the Greek week, and the extra $20 will cover the cost of the food catering for the week. The remainder ($320) covers the total cost of the Latin summer week including food and materials.

I do not have a very large or stable income. Which is why I’m asking for donations. The vast majority of my money goes into rent, and the rest of it goes into groceries. If you were willing to help out with supporting me in my academic and religious missions, it would mean the world to me.

To donate, click here


I’m a second year arts student, studying ancient languages at the University of Sydney.

So far I have studied

  • Classical Latin (one year)
  • Attic Greek (one year)
  • Koine Greek (one semester)
  • Levantine and Modern Standard Arabic (one semester)
  • Mandarin Chinese (one semester)
  • Biblical Hebrew (one semester)
  • Sanskrit (one semester)

I am intending to continue with all of these languages over the next 5 or so years and strive to achieve mastery in them all at least in terms of reading fluency.

My motivation for this is that I am intending to go into academia and missionary work here in Sydney. There are many diverse religious communities in this city, each with a very important history, culture and deep tradition. The languages I am studying are highly relevant to the literature that has historically defined these communities.

In terms of the academic side of things, I’m intending to do comparative studies of Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, Jewish and Daoist philosophy/theology. I want to get deep into all of these traditions at once and study them via the original languages and primary texts.

In terms of the more practical missionary side of things, I spend much of my week visiting mosques, temples and churches in order to engage with members of these various traditions at both a lay and academic level. Learning these languages enables me to connect on a very deep level with all these people, as I’m able to articulate the theology which defines their faith lives in their own prestige language.

As a missionary, I don’t actually seek to convert anyone to anything. I merely aim to be a bridge between communities that tend to regard each other with suspicion and animosity (for example, evangelicals and Catholics, or Muslims and Christians). In other words, my goal is to teach Muslims about true Christianity and teach Christians about true Islam, and that sort of thing. There are many myths and lies on both sides of the divide and my mission is merely to shine a light and reveal the lies for what they are, and hopefully in the process get people talking and engaging with each other in a more friendly way.

A breakdown of which of the languages I am studying correspond to which religions:

  • Arabic – Middle and far Eastern Christianity, Islam of all varieties
  • Latin – Western European Christianity, the Vulgate, the eastern church fathers, the liturgy
  • Greek – Eastern European Christianity, the new testament, the Septuagint, the eastern church fathers, the liturgy
  • Syriac – The language of Jesus, the liturgy, the far eastern church fathers, the Peshitta
  • Hebrew – Judaism and all it’s related literature. The Torah, Mishnah and Talmud
  • Chinese – Chinese religion and philosophy
  • Pali and Tibetan – Buddhism
  • Sanskrit – Buddhism and Hinduism

To donate, click here

Hare Krishna Mahamantra

Most Saturday nights I trek to Wynyard and sit in on the Hare Krishna mantra meditation. It never fails to put me in a trance. I decided to record the sesh last weekend. Here it is for your pleasure:

Part 1

Part 2