Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Universalism? (with respect to salvation)

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Strict universalism of salvation (i.e. everybody will be saved, nobody will go to hell) is incompatible with Christianity, since it denies the freedom of the individual to reject salvation - and yet we see people rejecting salvation all about us, as the norm of modern society.

But there is a big, and seemingly un-settle-able, distinction among Christians relating to the framework for salvation.

Is salvation the default; or damnation? In other words, are people saved 'automatically' except when they deliberately reject salvation; or are they damned unless they accept Christianity?

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(In fact, there may not - on close examination - be such a gulf between these views; at least in quantitative or proportional terms of 'how many' are saved or damned. Nonetheless, in the usual brief and stark way that such matters are discussed, it makes a big difference which is adopted.)

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It is not adequate to say that these things cannot be known for sure - that it is God who judges not us... and so on; because although absolutely correct in a strict sense, it is necessary to order our lives here and now, and that cannot be done without some estimate of the way things are set-up: including the basic way in which salvation works.

In practice, we must have answers to these questions even if they are not definite. Not least we need to have answers in order to have an attitude to our loved ones and the natural and indeed necessary concern for the likely fate of their souls.

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How this question is answered will obviously depend upon how Christians use evidence, and what evidence they use (including what priority they allocate to evidence).

This cuts very deep, because the answer depends upon what we think Jesus did, what he accomplished for us - in other words, our basic situation with respect to salvation is mostly a consequence of how this situation was set-up by the work of Jesus.  

And that is partly a matter of what specific things he said and did, and partly the general tone or spirit of the New Testament, and whether what we get from it corresponds to default salvation (unless salvation is rejected) - or to default damnation (unless Christ and His teachings, plus or minus His church) are embraced.

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My own position is that we were saved by Christ unless we choose to reject it, and this is the Good News of the Gospels; but that in practice (so far as we can see in the world around us) many people would and actually do reject salvation.

Salvation was made easy for us, it was made the default state; yet nonetheless it looks very much as if many, many people will reject it; indeed it looks as if most people will reject it - since they will not be willing to accept the conditions of salvation.

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Thus a position which is perhaps regarded by many Christians as being very close-to universalism (hence very hopeful), may end up in practice pessimistic - at least in the world as it is now.

Qualitative near-universalism is compatible with a quantitative estimate that - in practice - but few will be saved and a majority, maybe a large majority, will reject salvation hence choose indirectly to 'go to hell'. 

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Note: I believe that the choice of salvation or damnation is a real and autonomous choice, but like other such choices is susceptible of influence - especially from Love. I believe that the Love of a Christian for others makes it more likely that those others will choose salvation. And indeed, that this is perhaps our major work in this mortal life.

14 comments:

  1. You saved the gem of the piece for the footnote.

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  2. You leave the $64,000 question unasked. What is salvation?
    Elder Oaks gave six definitions:
    http://indybooks.blogspot.com/2009/11/are-you-saved.html
    And his original talk is here:
    http://www.lds.org/ensign/1998/05/have-you-been-saved

    As I was growing up, my impression of the Christian heaven was that it was insipid and boring, something only namby-pamby Mr. Rogers types would want.

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  3. Among people who know about Christianity, is there any real distinction between embracing it and merely not-rejecting it?

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  4. @BC, have you, or has anyone else, written anything about the wimpification of Christianity?

    Perhaps the seeds were in ancient Catholicism, but as western protestantism adopted socialist ideals, that seemed to accelerate things.

    Sure, there's always been the fire-and-brimstone hellfire-and-damnation stentorian preachers. But the media like to portray bad clergy as hypocrites and abusers of their power, and good preachers as Harvey Milquetoast.

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  5. @B - Yes, I've written about it

    http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/christianity-and-masculinity_12.html

    http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/whats-in-face-christian-leaders-past.html

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  6. @WmJas - I would say both would be saved, because both would choose to be saved.

    The difference is related to the possibility for theosis/ sanctification/ exaltation/ spiritual progress during life.

    I suppose theosis to be a matter of aiming at a higher place in Heaven, analogous to aiming for a higher rank of job.

    Mormons see this process as open-ended and quantitative and mostly a matter of how rapidly the stages can be traversed; but most mainstream Christians see theosis as something which is stopped by death or shortly after death (for example, there may be a very rapid and far reaching theosis around the moments of death in the case of martyrdom).

    This is another of those areas in which Mormonism thwarts expectations; because I think most people would predict that having a near universalist salvation, and theosis as continuing into an 'infinite' future (so that living an active and devout life and enduring persecutions etc 'only' speeds-up the process of exaltation which would/could happen anyway) - would lead to a lax and feeble kind of 'liberal' faith - but in practice it didn't.

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  7. @BC, your comment of 05:38 might give a false impression to those who are not familiar with the LDS concept of theosis/exaltation vis-a-vis salvation. Here's a quick rundown for those who don't already know.

    These things are covered in the basic missionary lessons (from the Preach My Gospel manual/book at https://www.lds.org/manual/preach-my-gospel-a-guide-to-missionary-service which can be read online or the download option gives a pdf) and in the 47 chapter Sunday school manual Gospel Principles which is taught to new members ( read online or Download a PDF at http://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-principles )

    The scriptural basis of exaltation-versus-salvation is found in Doctrine and Covenants sections 76 and 132.
    http://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/76
    http://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/132

    In a nutshell (and this is for your audience, since i think you are familiar with this), there are three heavens (kingdoms) to which people are assigned or file off into on the great judgement day at the end of the millennium. The Celestial is the highest, the Terrestrial is the middle, the Telestial is the lowest. The Celestial has 3 degrees or tiers in it. Only the folks in the highest degree/tier of the Celestial eventually go on to exaltation. The folks in the lower two tiers are servants or "ministering angels" to the folks who eventually go on to exaltation. All three tiers within the Celestial kingdom enjoy the presence of the Father.

    The folks in the Terrestrial kingdom accepted Christ, but were "less than valiant" . They enjoy the presence, or ministration/visitation of Christ, but not of the Father.

    The folks in the Telestial did not accept Christ, and have to suffer for their sins in hell during the millennium. But at the great judgement day, when "death and hell give up their dead" this is where they go. The Holy Ghost is the member of the Godhead who ministers to or visits this kingdom.

    These are only summaries of sections 76 and 132, and even those only give vague outlines and generalities. In reality, we don't know how to judge, nor should we, any particular person, as regards to what behaviors/beliefs here on earth lead one to any one of those kingdoms.

    Various other scriptures give tidbits, about how little children who die are saved in the Celestial Kingdom, and how people who die without any chance whatsoever of accepting Christ "but would have, had they had the opportunity" (not an exact quote) also eventually go on to the Celestial Kingdom.

    Based on the scriptures we have so far, we believe that much teaching, repenting, suffering/joy, and learning goes on among the spirits of the deceased in between the time they depart this life and the time they are resurrected.

    The proxy ordinances, such as baptism, that are done in the LDS temples are in the belief/hope that all the spirits of the deceased do get a chance to accept Christ at some point prior to their individual resurrection.

    But as to what heaven or kingdom they (or even we ourselves) end up in, whether it is exaltation in the Father's (Celestial) kingdom, "mere" salvation (ie, no exaltation) in the Celestial kingdom, or one of the "lesser" salvations in the Terrestrial or Telestial Kingdom, we just don't know.

    According to what has been revealed so far, ONLY that upper tier in the Celestial has 'eternal progression.' The rest do _ not_ have any increase, and remain in their saved state forever. Some Mormons have a private belief that there is progression between kingdoms but that is not supported in scripture, and in the past has been actively spoken against by leadership, notably by Apostle Bruce McConkie.

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  8. @Wm Jas, re embracing versus not-rejecting.

    Matthew 7:21, Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

    It's easy to give mental assent to Truth. Even Satan and his demons know who the Father and the Son are, and what they have done. Living according to the Truth every day, well, I often find it inconvenient, a lot of work, I mostly fail at it, which is discouraging, and it can be very ego-bruising.

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  9. @B "According to what has been revealed so far, ONLY that upper tier in the Celestial has 'eternal progression.' The rest do _ not_ have any increase, and remain in their saved state forever. Some Mormons have a private belief that there is progression between kingdoms but that is not supported in scripture, and in the past has been actively spoken against by leadership, notably by Apostle Bruce McConkie."

    Within Mormonism there are Classical philosophical versions that emphasize structures and categories and absolutes of which Apostle Bruce McConkie seems to have been one of the most forthright; and the pragmatist tradition which emphasizes processes, fluidity and unbounded progress - which I picked up from the likes of Sterling McMurrin, Eugene England and Terryl Givens.

    To my mind, both sides are right, each side has some truths which the other misses, and both sides collapse into absurdity if pushed too far - but my sympathies are on the pragmatist side.

    Therefore I interpret the categories and bounds you describe in a fluid kind of way; and certainly I believe that the spirit of Mormonism is strongly against the idea that (with but few exceptions) there are rigid and permanent (eternal) boundaries or limits placed on spiritual progression.

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  10. but most mainstream Christians see theosis as something which is stopped by death or shortly after death

    It's interesting that you point this out, because it's something that has never made very much sense to me. As you know, I am presently no kind of Mormon, but even as an evangelical I have never understood why one's "place" in heaven should be "fixed". Once I get there, why can't I work to improve my situation, just like I can in real life - and in fact *better* than I can in real life because there will be fewer hindrances? It doesn't make sense.

    But all of this must be coupled with the fact that I have also never understood what it even means to have a "place" in heaven. If I'm already blissfully happy, how can someone else be "more" blissfully happy?

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  11. @SJ - I don't think it is to do with amount of happiness - more like the difference between being a child and an adult, single and married, having children - that sort of thing.

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  12. @Samson J.

    "even as an evangelical I have never understood why one's "place" in heaven should be "fixed". Once I get there, why can't I work to improve my situation, just like I can in real life - and in fact *better* than I can in real life because there will be fewer hindrances? It doesn't make sense."

    My understanding is that eternal progression is in fact promised in Heaven. In classical theology (where God is the bottom line irreducible reality, and is infinitely good), one will always be growing in godliness, because it takes an eternity to grow in theosis, i.e. one will always have room for improvement, relative to the infinite goodness of God.

    (In Mormon theology by contrast, I assume eternal progression is taken as an axiom of reality, valid for any sufficiently Good intelligent being, and God is simply progressing just like everyone else.)

    At the same time, Heaven consists of a fixed hierarchy, because all of the saved are progressing at the same time. Thus, in an Achilles and the Tortoise kind of scenario, the Saints who are far ahead in theosis will always remain ahead of me. (Time in Heaven is supposedly a matter of convenience.)

    An imperfect metaphor for this is seen in the growth of families. I may eventually become a father, but I will still be my father's son -- indeed, through me my father will become a grandfather. Likewise, my older brother is eternally my older brother, even though I will eventually become exactly as old (and hopefully just as mature) as he is right now. He will just grow older and more mature in the meantime.

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  13. At the same time, Heaven consists of a fixed hierarchy, because all of the saved are progressing at the same time.

    Well, that sounds alright.

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  14. @SJ and A - Actually, although I have only a hazy notion of what Heaven may be like - I'm pretty sure it could not be as Arakawa suggests, because that would deny free will - which I regard as a 'given' in human existence - before, during and after mortality. In particular, feeble souls such as myself may be best (from every perspective) in some lowly role for... well if not forever, then for a very long time, and plenty of time to be 'overtaken' by many many others... (and time is, I assume, linear and sequential in Heaven, as on earth).

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