Friday, March 11, 2011


I. “The Paradox of Exclusivism”

Herein lies the paradox that the Augustinians would do well to ponder. If two persons are bound together in love, their purposes and interests, even the conditions of their happiness, are so logically intertwined as to be inseparable T. Talbott, The Inescapable Love of God, 137

This is Talbott’s silver bullet argument for universalism.

II. The Inclusivist/Exclusivist Continuum

1. Universalism

Everyone sine qua non will be saved in this life or the afterlife.

2. Inclusivism

Everyone who’s heavenbound will be saved through the atonement of Christ, but not through faith in Christ.

3. Evangelical Exclusivism

Everyone who’s heavenbound will be saved through faith in Christ.

4. Reformed Exclusivism

Everyone who’s heavenbound will be saved through regeneration.

(4) intersects with (3). In Reformed theology, regeneration is the source of saving faith. Regeneration is geared towards faith in Christ. Regeneration is the seed of faith. Regeneration is the seed while faith is the flower.

But, in principle, there can be a gestation period. Regeneration creates a predisposition to exercise faith in Christ, but other conditions must also be met. These are ordinarily coordinated, but there can be exceptions. In principle the regenerate might die before hearing the gospel. Or the regenerate might die before arriving at the age of discretion. Things like that.

BTW, here’s an exegetical argument for the priority of regeneration:

III.  The Social Continuum

At the risk of stating the obvious, we’re closer to some people that others. That’s how God made us. And that’s a matter of degree.

1. A Loved One

Those who make our lives happy, worthwhile, meaningful, fulfilling. If we lose them, the joy goes out of our lives. We may lose the will to live.

At this same time, relationships can be fickle. Take a young couple where one spouse dies two years into the marriage. The widow or widower may stay in love with the late spouse until death.

If, however, the spouse hadn’t die, they might have divorced ten years into the marriage. Two years into the marriage they’re passionately in love. Inseparable. Ten years into the marriage they can’t stand each other. So what seems to be an indispensable relationship in this life may not necessarily be indispensable.

2. A Pal or Close Acquaintance

People we’re fond of. We care about them. We’d be saddened if they come to a bad end. Yet we can go on without them. We can be happy without them. It’s just that when we think about their situation, it saddens us. But that’s just in passing.

3. Strangers

We have empathy, compassion, or pity for them. We can imagine ourselves in their situation. We share a fellow feeling for their plight.

But we don’t affection for them. They don’t mean anything to us at a deeply personal level. It’s not a loss to us. It’s just a sense of what the loss would mean to them.

4. Enemies

Those we dislike, but treat better than they deserve out of Christian duty. We act in their best interest despite what we may feel.

IV. Different Social Bonds

Loved ones are subdivisible into three basic groups:

1. Fellow Believers

2. Believers and Unbelievers

3. Fellow Unbelievers

V. Evaluation

Talbot’s argument only applies to a subset of a subset of humanity. It only applies to a subset of loved ones–where one (or more) of a believer’s loved ones are unbelievers.

For instance, it may well be the case that Bonnie can’t be happy if she is saved while Clyde is damned, or vice versa. But it doesn’t follow from their pairing that a Christian can’t be happy unless Bonnie and Clyde are saved, for they are not his loved ones.

An argument for universalism must be universal in scope. Talbott’s argument falls far short. He needs an argument in which all parties are some believer’s loved ones.

VI. Coda

In principle, an exclusivist could concede that there are some relationships in this life without which Christians can’t be happy in the next life. And if that’s the case, God will save whoever we (as Christians) need to be eternally happy.

That, however, is not an argument for universalism. And it’s not an argument for postmortem conversion. 


  1. Steve wrote, “In principle the regenerate might die before hearing the gospel.”

    If justification is by faith alone, how can you have people who are saved through regeneration but not justified?

  2. Any chance my question will be answered?