We’re taking advantage of our “Ask a…” series to talk with some of today’s leading theologians about the difficult topic of hell. Earlier this week, Edward Fudge responded to your questions about conditionalism (sometimes called annihilationism)—the view that immortality is conditional upon belief in Jesus Christ, so the unsaved will ultimately be destroyed and cease to exist rather than suffer eternally in hell. Today, Robin Parry responds to your questions from yesterday about Christian universalism, the view that one day God will reconcile all people to himself through Jesus Christ. (Talk about instant gratification!) And he did so with a series of videos.
Robin is a theological editor for Wipf and Stock Publishers. He lives in the UK and is the husband of but one wife and the father of two beautiful daughters (and the proud owner of a three-legged cat). Robin has written books on topics like Old Testament ethics, the book of Lamentations, and trinitarian worship. He is the author of The Evangelical Universalist, a controversial text written under the pen name of Gregory MacDonald. His impossible dream is to play the harmonica as well as Sunny Boy Williamson.
Robin was recently featured in the feature-length documentary, Hellbound, (which would be a great film to watch along with our series!) He's got a great sense of humor and has an engaging, conversational approach to discussing matters of theology.
I hope you learn as much from Robin’s video responses as I did. (For those who would prefer a transcription, I’m afraid I will not have time to do it myself. But if someone wants to volunteer to transcribe, I’d be happy to include it.)
UPDATE: Jessica had kindly transcribed the responses in the comment section below. I'll link to her transcription after each video. Thanks, Jessica!!
Robin begins with an introduction and then tackles your top seven questions:
From Philip: Universalism is a broad term and seems to live both within and outside Christian categories. What in your opinion distinguishes a person as a "Christian" universalist from another forms of universalism?
From Arni: Robin, what do you consider the strongest argument against universalism - and how do you answer it?
From Rick: Robin, thanks so much for taking our questions. I've found myself leaning toward the Universalism camp more and more, but sometimes I feel paralyzed by the fear of the consequences if I'm wrong. Not that I'm afraid I'll go to Hell, but I'm afraid what it would mean to learn that I should have been working harder to keep my family and friends out of Hell (which is the fear often put on people to go out and evangelize, even in embarrassing and disrespectful ways). I was wondering if you have any advice for putting this fear to rest? Also, how do Universalists view evangelism, and what should evangelism entail right now, considering the world's total future reconciliation with God?
From Amy: Hi Robin! Let me start of by saying that I've read your book, and found it extremely helpful and well argued. I have considered myself a universalist for a little over a year, and your book masterfully articulated many of the ideas I had been working through in that time. That said, the question I get asked most as a universalist (and one that you did address in your book to some extent) is this: if everyone will ultimately be saved, why bother being a Christian? I'm not even entirely sure how to process this question, because my first inclination is to respond that, if the removal of the threat of hell eliminates all motivation for following Jesus, then we have a serious problem. At the same time, though, I don't really have an answer for folks who say, "Well then why not just be a good person, even try to live like Jesus, but not bother with Christianity?" Quite frankly, as an LGBT person in the church, I'm beginning to see the appeal of this approach. Why not just be a Jesus follower, and leave all the craziness in the church behind? I'm not sure this is exactly a question, but any thoughts on this would be great.
From Dan: How do you reconcile your beliefs that all will eventually be saved with the scriptures that seem to indicate that not all will accept salvation, specifically those in Revelation 20:14-15 (those whose names are not in book of life and go to lake of fire/second death) and Matt. 7:13-14 (“broad is path to destruction…many take it; narrow is way to life, few find it”)? Thanks!
From Michelle: I was already asking questions about Hell and who goes there when I watched the movie Hellbound. Even so, I experienced such a paradigm shift that when people asked me about the movie I couldn't even put it into words for a few day. It was very well done. My question is, "What do you say to a person who has experienced horrible evil from the hands of another person (such as: abuse, rape, war, etc.) when they find out you believe that his/her tormentor will be reconciled to God and not suffer eternal punishment?"
From Justin: How do you respond to the historical tradition of condemning Universalism and/or how do you respond to the criticism that you are innovating beyond what the Bible "clearly" says?
Thanks again for your questions! You can check out every installment of our interview series—which includes “Ask an atheist,” “Ask a nun,” “Ask a pacifist,” “Ask a Calvinist,” “Ask a Muslim,” “Ask a gay Christian,” “Ask a Pentecostal” “Ask an environmentalist,” “Ask a funeral director,” "Ask a Liberation Theologian," "Ask Shane Claiborne," "Ask Jennifer Knapp," and many more— here.