Is Barth the be-all and end-all?

Pete Brierley noted in the comments:

I came across a comment that anabaptistlifewithchrist made about Karl Barth, who apparently said ‘I’m not a universalist but I think God might be’. Now I’m pretty sure that Karl Barth was not a universalist but I’ve been told that you are more inclined that way. I was wondering if, having thrown down the gauntlet on my blog, you could engage in a little banter with me. I want to know exactly what I think on this issue and haven’t discussed it since studying theology a couple of years ago. Cheers, Pete.

Which, of course, confuses me. First, this suggests that I’ve posted somewhere. Some confusion there, and gauntlets and whatnot.

But the real confusion lies with Karl Barth. A good number of people think he might have been a universalist; certainly, there are Reformed Christians who step right up to the threshold (like Jan Bonda) and leave you nowhere else to step but over it.

But Universalism “flourished” in Britain in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, with a later Scottish mission (from the U.S., where it did flourish, then decline sharply) in the nineteenth century. Those churches that lasted became Unitarian in the main. So perhaps it is understandable to consider Barth a fount of Universalism (to some) rather than a fellow traveller.

The upshot is that I’m not well enough versed in “Barthian Universalism” to pick up that gauntlet. Mr. Brierley’s original posting, “wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone was saved?????” does offer a note or two to consider.

1. Justice or love? Evoking American Universalist Hosea Ballou: to subject a temporal creature (and his or her sin, being the product of a creature, must likewise be finite) to endless punishment is so disproportional as to be rendered unjust. There are other, biblical, reasons for believing that God’s wrath will not endure forever, and that the will of God would be frustrated by the destruction and alienation of his creatures. But that kind of theology is the very long term work of this blog, not single entry stuff.

2. Sodom’s punishment is referenced in one of those passages: Ezekiel 16:53-63 (“I will restore their fortunes, the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters . . . “)

I would rather avoid proof-texting – that’s so modern – but if I don’t make a reference, I’ll just be called by someone an unbiblical heathen or some more polite alternative.

Of course, and above all, once you’ve been trained to look for hell, it is pretty easy to find it. (Hell-hunting wasn’t the case in the patristic church; something to keep in mind when doing pomo ministry. So don’t get in the habit.) Let’s keep this dialog going.

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