Friday, March 11, 2005

Universalist Misconceptions

Over on her blog, in a thread about the BTK killer, Peacebang is expressing doubts about Universalist theology:

I'm not sure if I am theologically a Universalist. But really, although I *probably* believe that BTK will be brought back "into harmony with the divine" at his death, I'm sure that while he lives and breathes and walks among us, he is one scary Mo-Fo.

I'll respond here because Peacebang's blog, like Tom Schade's, seems to be having problems accepting comments lately.

I suspect Peacebang's remark reflects a misperception about Universalism. My understanding is that the Universalists spent a good part of the 19th century debating and refining the doctrine of "the certainty of just retribution for sin". The phrase appears in several of their professions of faith. I think it's a popular misunderstanding that Universalists believed you could live a sinful life with impunity, and that everybody gets issued the same "get into Heaven free" ticket upon death's door.

Critics of Universalism loved to level this charge against it (and still do), arguing that such a doctrine can carry no moral force. But the Universalist Church did not actually teach "get into Heaven free", or what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would later call "cheap grace". Rather, they taught a variation on the ancient doctrine of apocatastasis, in which salvation is an ongoing process within which death is only an unremarkable stone in the road, and according to which the final reconciliation of the last rebellious soul, Satan, will not be achieved until some distant time in the far-off future. In the meantime, if you die with sins on your account and without repentance, there must be some kind of purgative and restorative process that would have to occur after your death before St. Peter would be allowed to fling wide the Pearly Gates for you, and it may not be especially pleasant to endure.

At least that's my understanding, although I may not have it quite right since I come from the Unitarian side of the house myself. This could be another question for... The Boy in the Bands!


At March 11, 2005 at 4:44:00 PM EST, Blogger jfield said...

You are referring to the Restorationist Controversy between the restorationists and the "ultra universalists." If memory serves, Hosea Ballou II and the ultra-universalists won out.

At March 12, 2005 at 5:10:00 PM EST, Anonymous Art said...

I did read a book about Univeralism once. As nearly as I could tell, almost every point of Universalist theology was argued about over the course of its first hundred years. It makes no sense to talk about THE Universalist position.


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