More on Universalism

4 August 2008

In a Godward direction: Relativism and Universalism

Theologically-inclined close readers of this ‘blog will remember that Universalism —the belief that all will be saved, also known as apokatastaisis— is a frequent wrestling point for me.

I would like to espouse a pure universalism, but after reflection and discussion I really can’t. I can hope that all will be saved, and I can even say that I believe that God has a way to save all, that God could make it happen. But saying that it will happen? I can’t say that with integrity and intellectual honesty, just as I cannot say with total certainty that I will achieve anything if I am not truly certain of its achievement.

So, I was intrigued by Tobias Haller‘s blogpost linked above. I enjoy it because of its nuanced and scriptural defense of Episcopal moral and theological positions.

It is precisely this kind of discourse and rhetoric that the Episcopal Church needs. The traditionalist/conservative side has easy recourse to beefy, rigorous theological thinking and writing and many writers and preachers who can develop and reiterate that thinking and writing.

While a ‘blog may not be what is conventionally thought of as the forum or the form of rigorous scholarly work, Haller’s reflection is certainly a step in that right direction.

As I have said before, if we in the Episcopal Church who subscribe to the moniker of “Affirming Catholics” and like-minded camps, we need to encounter and use the Scriptures just as the conservatives do, which is to say, just as Christians have always done.

The heretic is the one who says, “The Spirit is doing something new,” or “That was then, this is now.” It is the faithful, progressive Christian —the one doing new theological work that will mean something for the lives of Christians in the future— who struggles with the Scriptures and offers an interesting, thoughtful perspective.

Now, a few thoughts on Haller’s reflections. First, I really like how he draws a distinction between moral subjectivism and relativism. He admits that subjectivism might be a subset of relativisim, but I would clarify that subjectivism’s distinctiveness lies in its belief that Truth is discernible in the human realm, as long as we can fully understand the situation. In that sense it becomes an acceptable moral method.

Second, I am reminded of Tripp‘s response to a Jewish member¹ of his church that the New Testament is simply a Medrash on the Old. Haller and Tripp taken together, I posit that perhaps Christianity, on a philosophical and intellectual level (but not a theological one), is a subjectivist critique of First Century CE Pharisaic Judaism.
____
¹attendee? Don’t ask me, I’m not Baptist; I don’t get how such things work. In the Episcopal church, things are simpler, of course. And more complicated.

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2 Responses to “More on Universalism”


  1. I’m with you 100%. It’s not enough to say, “ooo this is nice”. We need to be able to express our theology *within* the tradition. It’s not enough to just do it…

    I think there are overlooked places in the Church Fathers and Mothers where we can find our new theologies are not so new at all.


  2. […] on August 6, 2008. Filed under: Episcopal Church, Theology, Uncategorized | Here I wrote a bit about how the Progressive/Affirming Catholic camp needs an approach that is […]

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