Take a look at the numbered propositions below.

1. God’s redemptive love extends to all human sinners equally in the sense that he sincerely wills or desires the redemption of each one of them.

2. Because no one can finally defeat God’s redemptive love or resist it forever, God will triumph in the end and successfully accomplish the redemption of everyone whose redemption he sincerely wills or desires.

3. Some human sinners will never be redeemed but will instead be separated from God forever.

(The three statements are taken from Universal Salvation?: The Current Debate, p. 7

If 1 and 2 are true, then one could reason that 3 is false. Therefore Actual Universalism is true.

If 1 and 3 are true, then one could reason that 2 is false. Therefore Hypothetical Universalism (Arminianism)is true.

If 2 and 3 are true, then one could reason that 1 is false. Therefore Calvinism (Representative Universalism) is true.

Here I think that one can see the dialectic of many debates in the history of western theology. I think all three can be true. Of course, I gloss redemption more widely than Universalists, Arminians and Calvinists, who tend to gloss it much more narrowly so as to mean the appropriate moral and doxastic disposition of individual persons or conflate the redemption of human nature with the redemption of the person.

If redemption means something like, God saves all humans from the effects of sin, namely annihilation, giving them immortality, then all three can be true. For the wicked persist forever because they have a share in Christ’s immortality, which is why they are raised up as well. So if we think of redemption in a wide sense referring to immorality of created natures and more narrowly in terms of personal salvation in terms of the appropriate moral and doxastic dispositions, the problems disolve.

But advocates of all three positions I suppose will point out that the three propositions can’t all be true if we don’t equivocate on the meaning of redemption. If we take redemption in the wide sense, the real problem is 3. Suppose 3 is true. ( I think it is.) If these people aren’t redeemed why are they existing at all? 3 I think contains an ambiguity since I think it employs the wide meaning of redemption while being inconsistent with a narrow meaning of redemption (if it is) used in 1 and 2.

Of course, we could say something similar about 1 and 2. Do 1 and 2 use redemption in the wide sense or narrow sense? If only the narrow sense, then you are either going to be a Universalist or a Calvinist. If on the other hand, we take 1 and 2 in the wide sense and 3 in the narrow sense, there is no inconsistency, with the added benefit of no Universalism or Calvinism.

But what about Arminianism? Instead of unraviling the confusion, Arminianism moves it to the realm of the hypothetical which indicates to me that it still accepts the implicit confusion. Arminians accept that redemption is to be taken in the narrow sense in all three propositions, which is why it rejects 2.

The point is not to demonstrate that each of these views are false (they are), but to note their mutual dependence and similarity. They actually agree on fundamental principles, they simply take them in different directions. 1 and 2, but not 3, 2 and 3 but not 1, and so on. In history this dialectical wheel keeps on turning.

15 Responses to Ping-Pong!

  1. Karen C says:

    Sorry, my previous post should have read, “I am learning a lot at this web site (as are, apparently by your award, many others.) Thanks . . .”

  2. Karen C says:

    Dear Perry,
    I am learning a lot at this web site (as are apparently by your award, many others. Thanks so much! It makes me wish I were in a position to go back to school and do a careful study of philosophy, doctrinal history, and the writings of the Fathers so I had a more in-depth and rigorous grasp of the issues. For various reasons that is not to be for the foreseeable future (though, of course, the Liturgy and prayers of the Church are a phenomenal education in themselves). In the meantime, I will continue to read this blog as I have opportunity. Are there any books you would especially recommend for someone in my position with these longings, but limited resources both of money and time? (I’m a graduate of a major Evangelical college where I had courses in Bible and church history from, of course, a Protestant perspective. It was fairly superficial at the time, but during the past 25 years or so since and especially within the past 5-6 years as I was studying Orthodoxy more of a foundation has been built. For instance, I have done a quick read of large portions of Jarislov Pelikan’s volumes on the history of doctrine.)

    On another subject, where you say that hypothetical universalism isn’t necessarily heterodox, but that you think it rests upon some theological and philosophical mistakes, I would be interested in knowing a little more about what you think those mistakes are and why.

  3. “It is because he is the one who will be who he will be. To say that persons are an explanatory temrinus is just to say that persons aren’t”things.” There is always more to a person than their observable behavior which is why they can suprise you and why there are no laws of psychology.”

    The puzzle is starting to come together. God – the person – is the one who will act – be – who he will be – essence. 🙂

    “Persons are an explanatory terminus” though… would that be related to telos? Or a person explains causes, though he is not determined by them?

    “We look for a sufficient causal condition for things.But persons are not that way and so when we look for some cause behind the person what we are implicitly doing is trying to adapt the person to “thing” explanatory practices.”

    I see that persons are self-moving agents, external and internal programming influences notwithstanding, whereas things are predictable results of causes – to a large extent, or at least by hindsight.

  4. JNorm,

    I wouldn’t say hypothetical universalism is heterodox, but I think it rests on a number of mistakes, both theological and philosophical. Arminianism as I noted just moves the problem rather than diagnosing it.

  5. JNORM888 says:

    I recall the metropolitan bishop kallistos ware talk about the “possibility” of God saving all is not a heresy.

    So isn’t this also in “the realm of the hypothetical”?

    I like your insight on how all three groups depend on a similar logic of viewing “redemption” in a narrow sense. I agree that if “redemption” was looked at in a much wider sense then alot of the problems would disolve.


  6. Canadian,

    There is some measure of equal dependence, but the question is, is nature opposed to grace? Does the natural imply that the gratuitous is deficient or vice versa? I don’t think that our contributions of themselves are meritorious so there is so worry of pelagianism or semi-pelagianism since grace is the bedrock.

    Further, the fact that Hitler chose the way he did would make him responsible, would it not? If that doesn’t, what else possibly could?

    Another thing to consider is, agents are not things, they are not essences. We can explain why fire is the way it is by reference to its essence or somecontemporary substitute. It just does X. We look for a sufficient causal condition for things. But persons are not that way and so when we look for some cause behind the person what we are implicitly doing is trying to adapt the person to “thing” explanatory practices. And this is why persons naturally (pun) resist such things. This is why totalizing systems, whether in politics or science fiction strike us with fear and are dehumanizing.

    Think of it another way. With God, if we treat God in the same way, we will posit something other than God that explains his behavior, but this is obviously wrong and it isn’t just because God is a “necessary being.” It is because he is the one who will be who he will be. To say that persons are an explanatory temrinus is just to say that persons aren’t”things.” There is always more to a person than their observable behavior which is why they can suprise you and why there are no laws of psychology.

    I don’t start with total depravity but rather with the imago dei and if God irresistably wills human nature to be made in his image, then human choices can’t alter it and hence frustrate God’s will. But TD strikes me as saying just that, which is rather ironic.

    As for reading, I start with St. Maximus’ Disputation with Pyrrus.

  7. Joseph says:

    No idea whom to email so here’s a link to your award banner:


  8. Canadian says:

    You said: “But our free choice is a jointly sufficient condition with divine aid so it is not just unaided free will that crosses the soteriological bridge. You’ll need to spell out why that seems “flimsy.”

    Equal divine aid to both me and Hitler would mean both of us are dependant on our own will to make the difference between eternal life and death. I guess if I have Total depravity as a starting point, salvation would seem impossible without “special” divine aid from God to Hitler and/or me, and therefore I said salvation by our will seems “flimsy”.
    On the other hand, if Christ was consubstantial with us according to his humanity and received all of his human nature from his mother, then he received a free human will from a fallen human nature. This must/could mean that we naturally have free will in some manner.
    What are the best sources to cover these issues?

  9. Karen C says:

    I think one sinner’s reason for choosing Christ while his neighbor rejects Christ is a mystery known only to God. What I understand (as a relatively new Orthodox) is that the first (choosing to follow Christ) is necessarily empowered by God’s grace (since without Christ, we can do nothing). However, God’s grace, being necessarily synonymous in Orthodox thought with His Love and Presence, does not force us against our will. An important part of the Orthodox definition of being made in the image of God, of “personhood,” is the freedom of the will. While we could never choose for God without His grace, also by His grace, we do have true freedom to decline to follow Him. If genuine freedom of choice were not part of the deal, a truly “personal” relationship with God–a true participation/communion in the Trinity–would be impossible (by definition) for human beings.

  10. Canadian,

    I think that question is grounded in a misunderstanding. It is akin to asking what caused God to choose to create rather than not. If it is a person, then asking the cause is confusing persons with non-persons.

    I think all persons are made in the divine image so all persons have the natural capacity for faith. But if the person is the terminus or telos for the action of believing then it is superfluous to ask what caused them to choose one over the other. It is like asking why one person choose to sin in this and so circumstance but some other person did not. Why not if the causal preconditions were sufficient? If the agent isn’t a telos for the action, then they are a mere conduit, as Nietzsche said, a mere fiction added to the deed.

    Further, I don’t think human sin over turns God’s will for what constitutes human nature so that I reject total depravity since it implies that God’s irresistable will is resistable since humans could change what God willed.

    Christ redeems all in fact by his incarnation, atonement and resurrection. The application is already made with reference to nature. But our free choice is a jointly sufficient condition with divine aid so it is not just unaided free will that crosses the soteriological bridge. You’ll need to spell out why that seems “flimsy.”

    I don’t tink that if a will is free that it can be determined by God. As a consequence I don’t think the divine will is subject to determination. God is not creator by essence for example. This is in part just to say that I am an Incompatibilist about free will and determinism.

    2 is used in a wide sense in that God’s salvific will is universal in scope in that it applies to all since all are given immortality. That redemption from annihilation does not imply Universalism in terms of the actual personal salvation of all. People are made immortal even when they do not wish to be, but how they spend that eternal existence is up to them, which is why they are significantly responsible for their end.

  11. Canadian says:

    How did that smiley face get there? Not intended. Should have been a right bracket.

  12. Canadian says:

    Sorry, by advantage, I was getting at a sinner’s reason for choosing Christ rather than his neighbor. (“Who makes you to differ?”) One sinner is not smarter than another yet only one chooses Christ, repentance, faith, baptism, etc. I have held to Predestination and election of individuals, and THAT would be their advantage over the reprobate who hears the same message yet refuses to come. Are we all equally made “saveable” by Christ’s person and work and then Personal application is left to our free will? That just seems flimsy. Does the Omnipotent have power over Natures but not Persons?
    How is #2 used in a wide sense so that the phrase “sincerely wills or desires” in #1 and #2 can both be true and not lead to Universalism?

  13. Canadian,

    Yes, that is the gist of what I am saying. All are redeemed with respect to nature, which is why even the wicked persist eternally. In Christ all are raised.

    As to the advantage of personal salvation, they experience the joys and blessings and goods of the divine presence rather than experiencing them as torment. But I am not clear that this is what you meant. Do you mean that those who co-operate have “merit” of which to boast? Is that what you are asking? I’d say no, since God is always the necessary condition for their cooperation.

  14. Canadian says:

    Are you then saying something to the effect that all of human nature is monergistically redeemed in Christ, but human persons themselves are saved synergistically? Do the Personally redeemed have some advantage in some way toward their (saving) synergistic actions? This Calvinistic tower of mine has been falling for awhile, but I’m finding it hard to put things together.

  15. photios says:

    In keeping with their gloss on 1 and 2,

    I would rewrite 3 in a more Orthodox manner: “Some human beings will never be redeemed, but instead will experience God as fire.”

    There is no dualistic cosmology in the Eschaton, Hell is not ontologically “other” than Heaven. God is both.

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