Thomas Talbott

Thomas Talbott, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Willamette University

Professor Talbott engaged in a series of articles in the Reformed Journal debating the issue of the nature of hell with neo-Calvinist John Piper.  He wrote The Inescapable Love of God in 1999, and was the principle contributor to Universal Salvation: The Current Debate  (2004).  He is also co-founder of the Evangelical Universalist Forum with Gregory MacDonald (Robin Parry).

Here is a summary of Talbott’s journey into Evangelical Universalism:

“. . . the Western theological tradition seemed to leave me with a choice between an unjust and unloving God, on the one hand, and a defeated God, on the other. But of course this hardly exhausts the logical possibilities; there remains the additional possibility that it is God’s very nature to love, as I John 4:8 and 16 appears to declare, and that he is also wise and resourceful enough to accomplish all of his loving purposes in the end. Why, after all, should an assumption concerning everlasting punishment be the only unquestioned assumption in a context where some are limiting the extent of God’s love and others are limiting the scope of his ultimate victory? Why not at least examine the pros and cons of universal reconciliation alongside those of limited election and those of a limited victory over sin and death? 

. . . I now view universal reconciliation as something more than a vague hope of some kind. To the contrary, I now view it as essential to a proper understanding of salvation, essential to a Pauline understanding of grace, and essential to the inclusive nature of election. For even as many Augustinians are utterly convinced that God’s salvific will cannot be defeated forever and many Arminians are utterly convinced that God at least wills the salvation of all human sinners, so I am equally convinced that both claims are true.”

From the article “Can an Evangelical Be a Universalist?” by George W. Sarris:

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  • Parent page: Thomas Talbott
    Child pages: Essay: Freedom, Damnation, and the Power to Sin With Impunity, Talbott and Walls Debate On Hell, Universalism, Calvinism, and Arminianism


    1. I find Talbot very illuminating in his insistence in God’s omni-benevolence and omnipotence.

      • glwadmin says:

        Thanks for stopping by William! Yes indeed, that is the crux of the matter. If there is a God He must at the same time be both all-loving and all-powerful. Within the Body of Christ both are fully represented and in some churches both are even heard in the same sermon but somehow the religious mindset refuses to acknowledge the implications. One plus one just can’t equal two! It appears to be religion’s job to complicate a beautifully simple gospel.

    2. Talbot has been very helpful to me. He has a lot of great observations and useful insights. But in his book The Inescapable Love of God he comes off (at least to me) as having an axe to grind against Augustine and the Calvinist tradition. This comes across most powerfully in his rather lengthy discussion on “free-will” universalism. I have always had a problem with the Arminian concept of free-will. Mainly because it presupposes an ability of the will which is both unbiblical and irrational. Unbiblical because it goes against the scriptural teaching of human corruption, and irrational because it assumes evil beings will become their opposite all by themselves. Not even almighty God has free-will in the Arminian sense. God cannot act contrary to his nature. He cannot choose to lie. He cannot choose to cheat. How then, can we, who are accusomed to doing evil do good? With man it is impossible. Talbot does not seem to recognize this. All that discussion of his about the lost eventually choosing God on their own seems to miss what the Bible has to say about the relationship between moral nature and will.

      Anyway, Arminians will disagree with me but they do not build their case from the Bible.

      • glwadmin says:

        Thanks for the illumination on “free-will” William. It’s been quite a while since reading Talbott’s book. I heard he did a revision. Perhaps he corrected his Arminian slant. Having been raised an Arminian until a young adult and then being confronted with the Scriptural support for the sovereign grace of God I could never go back to an Arminian “free-will” paradigm. On the other hand I have been refreshed by worshipping with an Arminian body that believe solidly in the absolute LOVE of God for all humanity. They are a part of the “radical grace movement” and are now teaching that the gospel does not come demanding faith but it comes supplying faith. With that kind of turnaround I can’t imagine it will be long before the connections are made and the revelation of the God who is both willing and able to save is acknowledged for what it is(!) We did a post at on this radical grace trajectory:

        The unique focus of these two sites is to reveal the way in which the Body of Christ when unified together (we are One Body whether we like it or not) reveals the victorious Story of God. The Body of Christ is preaching all the elements of the ultimate restoration of all, just not all in the same place…yet! There is a convergence going on and the radical grace teachers are just one example of that convergence. We are borrowing and “cross-pollinating” our doctrines in order to make sense of our “gospels” and it is causing a revelation of the truth to emerge within the Body like never before. Thank God for His sovereign use of the Internet to bring His Body together in order to reveal His complete Gospel!

        • Chris F. says:

          What is wrong with the Arminian/Wesleyan view of free will? And how is it not taught in scripture? The very first story in scripture is Adam and Eve exercising their God given free will. Choose a different word if you like, God gave us the freedom to love. We can either love him or something else. But this is not forced on either way. That is why universalism cannot be true because God indeed is Love. He does not simply have love, He in his essence is Love. God is willing that all are saved, this is clear in scripture, but God does not force his creatures to love Himself. Forced love is coercion and most countries label forced love as assault or rape. God does not limit who choose him of their own free will but neither does he override the free will. In fact he respects it and honors it as valid. God predestines but that predestination is according to “foreknowledge” which means that God lets us freely choose who and what we will love but that since he is God he knows the end outcome and based on that foreknowledge he chooses his elect. This will ruffle the feathers of Calvinism and Universalism alike.

          Calvinists don’t recognized God’s foreknowledge and the difference that it makes and Universalists are inconsistent in their theology. They say that God is love but the end result is that despite what I feel about God I will end up in eternal bliss with him forever. This would be forced love as I mentioned previously. We do have the ability to resist grace and not because God per-ordained that for us but because we chose to resist it for ourselves.

          By the way the notion that God cannot act in a way that is against his own will or nature is a false circular argument. There is nothing behind or in front of God preventing him in acting in any certain manner. If there was such a thing that thing would then be more powerful than God himself.

          • By the way the notion that God cannot act in a way that is against his own will or nature is a false circular argument.

            So you would say that God can act against his nature. Don’t you realize how absurd that idea is? Scripture says God cannot lie. That he is not the author of evil. That he cannot repent. I can go on forever. The Scriptures simply do not bear out your hypothesis.

            There is nothing behind or in front of God preventing him in acting in any certain manner. If there was such a thing that thing would then be more powerful than God himself.

            This is the Platonic argument called Euthyphro’s Dilemma. Socrates’ famous question concerning the nature of goodness asks whether a thing is good because God says it is good, or does God say it’s good because it is good.

            Both answers are wrong. Goodness is not above God (Plato) or Below God (You). Goodness is within God. It is his very nature. Thus he cannot chose the be bad. To be bad would be to be other than who he is. As Jesus said, A tree is known by its fruit. That is what is wrong with wesleyan “free (sic autonomous) will” Man is evil and cannot chose good apart from regeneration.

            • Chris F. says:

              No, I would simply say the argument is false in its entirety. This is where philosophy cannot explain God. You are correct that both answers are wrong or more precisely, using apophatic reasoning, neither answer is the “right” answer.

              God’s essence is unknowable so to use human terms to explain what his essence is like only captures a small likeness. God however is knowable as the Greeks says through his energies. So when scripture says things like God cannot repent (even though we have the example of Genesis 6:6, and when he relents/repents of his anger against Moses and Nineveh…I could go on and on, haha =) we must remember that these are human terms used to explain the nature of his essence. They cannot capture the full essence.

              Again God is revealed and known to us through his energies. This is what is so startling about the Incarnation of the pre-eternal WORD of God in Jesus Christ. As St. Athanasios so famously stated, “God became man that men might become god.” Through the Incarnation God and man are brought together in the Theanthropos i.e. God-man. He recreates our human nature so that we may die, resurrect and ascend with Him to His Father. By the way do you attend a sacramental church? Because through the sacraments we must fully enter into God’s energies on this side of time.

              But nonetheless the process begins by knowing God as he is revealed in Christ. Christ bestows on us and in us His divine energies/grace and as we know him (in the Biblical sense of the word) we then become like him if we cooperate with him. St. Gregory Palamas discusses this topic in great detail in his Triads. An analogy to help us understand this process is that God is fire and we are iron. As we are put deeper into the fire of God we become white hot and are fire like without ever becoming the fire itself. As Athanasios stated we become god not God.

              BTW you never answered the other questions I raised to begin with about free will.

    3. Amen. I feel that the doctrine of endless torment has done more harm to the cause of the Gospel than just about any other error. It is the reason behind the Arminian / Calvinist split and a huge impediment to evangelism.

      • glwadmin says:

        Yes, unity is Jesus’ number one missional strategy (Jn 17) and ECT is what is behind the Church’s disunity as you mentioned. Many have pointed out like J. I. Packer that the Arminian god and the Calvinist god are two entirely different deities representing two different religions. They both must come clean and admit this. Either they must embrace both and therefore Ultimate Restoration or they must dismiss their so-called “brethren” as heretics and purveyors of another faith. There is no way around it and the Internet has exposed their disunity and fighting like never before. The world is not interested in something claiming to be true while it’s adherents head in completely different directions.

        But like Peter Hiett says, when you see a bunch of “different birds” flying along together or fish swimming together you naturally assume there is one wind, or one current that is carrying them in the same direction. If you see a crowd dancing to the same beat you assume there is one song they are listening to, even if you can’t yet hear it(!)

    4. Brother Stumblefoot says:

      You’re probably aware of this already, but “Ancient Hebrew Research Center” website has some good information on the O. T. word “Olam,” which of course
      would apply to the N. T. “aion,” etc. The gist of the study is that what has been so often translated “eternity,” etc., is in fact, “that which goes beyond our sight,” e.g., the smoke from the burnt offerings rising upward, and disappearing. I think probably we may deduct from this, that when the biblical writers spoke of “unto the aions,” and similar expressions, they were saying, “as far as we can see,” but that they did not intend “eternity” as we English speakers perceive the word. There’s more joy in Reconciliation than the competing views have ever come up with.

      • glwadmin says:

        Thanks for pointing that out Bro Stumblefoot…It’s been said that we westerners “swim in Greek soup.” We have imposed our very Greek/legal/Augustinian worldview onto the Hebrew Scriptures and skewed the intended meaning of many Biblical concepts including this one you mention of the aion/olam.

        • Chris F. says:

          I wouldn’t include Greek with Augustinian and legal worldview. The Greek Fathers had much disagreement with those to model. Augustine didn’t know Greek, he spoke and read Latin. It is from the Latins/Roman Catholic Church that the legal/Augustinian language and concepts are derived in Western Theology.

    5. Brother Befuddled says:

      Thanks be to Bro Stumblefoot for the linguistic information. I think that Chris F. Is absolutely correct regarding Augustine and the importation of Latin legal language and concepts into Western theology.

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