Bedfellows or Bedlam - a considered response

By David Embury

In his article Universalism and Preterism: Bedfellows or Bedlam? Samuel Frost critiques "universalism" as he finds defined in the work of Keith DeRose, and his apparent reading of certain scriptural proof texts; Frost subsequently gives his analysis of such. Frost's article partially sprung out of requests and or concerns raised by some to counter or at least challenge what several alarmist preterists label 'PU' or preterist-universalism. Within this context of surrounding discussions others seeking to broaden their appreciation of Scripture have asked many questions around this area of the more inclusive and comprehensive nature of God's grace. Most advocating this particular position have been summarily and pejoratively labelled by these concerned preterists as "universalists". This branding however is both simplistic and misleading in that "we" who advocate from our various positions this inclusiveness are unnecessarily misrepresented, readily being told WHAT we believe and then how wrong we are in those beliefs.

One vocal preterist defines universalism, and by deliberate extension Pantelism, accordingly:

All Universalists teach this doctrine:

Even if we commit every atrocity and speak every blasphemy imaginable every day of our lives and are filled with undiluted hate for Christ and for His church every day of our lives and die in all of our sins and unbelief, God promises us that we will be saved and have eternal life.

That doctrine is _not an implication_ of Universalism. That IS Universalism.

Yes, Universalists believe that Jesus is Lord, but they also teach that we will be saved if we worship Mohammed, Buddha, Satan and the demons. There is no conceivable way that Universalism can be tolerated in the body of Christ. It is pure poison. Universalism doesn't merely have bad implications. It is in-your-face, explicitly anti-Gospel. [David Green]

I don't know Green's "universalist" source, but this could not be further from the truth with regards to pantelism. With the exception of Christ's sole Lordship, Pantelism affirms none of the above and by way of clarification and in response to some of Samuel Frost's article I submit the following:

Universalism per se is focused predominately on the "here-after" i.e., who gets to Heaven, whereas Pantelism is more interested in the "here-and-now", or as I often write – in this life i.e., beginning heaven today. Pantelism is inclusive and comprehensive in its view as to the reach, scope and encompassment of God's grace. Pantelism is unapologetically universalistic – it views the blight of sin as universal, and likewise God's response to it. Now if someone has a need to label Pantelism "universalist" then so be it, but this is less than accurate and can lead to misleading assumptions and or accusations; a non related example might be – one can believe that Mary the mother of Jesus is the most blessed of all women without being a Roman Catholic. So those taking umbrage with Pantelism need to be specific in their objections to pantelism, and not use miscued and misguided attacks on universalism as thinking they are accomplishing some feat; there are significant differences. An example of these detractors ineptness could be likened to a 'futurist' who persistently raises objections to 'full preterism' against a 'partial preterist' – as you can imagine someone is not getting the full picture.

Pantelism is both prêteristic and inclusionistic and views both eschatology and the redemption-reconciliation as finalised in Christ's AD70 Parousia. Some preterists refer to realised eschatology – pantelism concurs and further argues for prêteristic consistency in advocating realised redemption.

Pantelism is a developing and progressing base of prêteristic and inclusionistic thought that seeks to follow a more consistent fulfilled hermeneutic. Unlike the general thrust of universalism, pantelism readily agrees that NOT "every" ALL of Scripture is universal in scope nor is "every" reference to WORLD global.

Below is the crux of Frost's argument in defining to whom Paul's "all" was referring:

Frost: But, we know that Moses was "alive" soulishly for to God "all is alive." To be in the state of sleep was to be under the sting of the Death; that is, Moses was soulishly alive, but alive in a state of death/sleep. What Moses awaited for was to be made alive again by through Christ.

Now, if "those who have been asleep and are still asleep" are those who are being denied resurrection life by "some" of the Corinthians is compared with those who are "fallen asleep in Christ" (15.18 – the verb here is aorist), then we have a definition of Paul's "all."

If those who have previously fallen asleep are being denied, but those who have fallen asleep in Christ are not denied, then Paul is arguing that all, that is those who have fallen asleep and those who have fallen asleep in Christ will be raised. Both groups will be "made alive in Christ" since both groups have fallen asleep in Adam. In other words, falling asleep in Adam does not discount a person from being raised in Christ, which, apparently, some in Corinth thought that it did. From this perspective, "all" is not defining "every single human being," but the group that was being denied ("those who have fallen asleep" – perfect tense) and the group that was being affirmed ("those who have fallen asleep in Christ" – aorist tense). Paul is saying that all (both groups) will be raised in Christ without entertaining every individual.

…Context is everything. In my view the "all" is balanced nicely because the same "all" that were dying in Adam (sleeping) is the same "all" that will be made alive in Christ.

Those who would participate in the resurrection are not only those who fell asleep in Christ, but all those who hoped in Christ long, long ago. It was the latter group that was being denied in Corinth. Rather, then, than proving universalism, this verse proves that only those who hoped in Christ, along with those who fell asleep in Christ, will be made alive. [bold text mine]

This is exactly what pantelism is advocating – "all those who hoped in Christ long, long ago" who were "soulishly alive, but alive in a state of death/sleep" having hoped in the Messiah, and were therefore "in the Christ" can be none other than historic Israel of the old covenant IN TOTO:

1Cor 10:1-4 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that OUR forefathers were ALL under the cloud and that THEY ALL passed through the sea. THEY were ALL baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. THEY ALL ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for THEY drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied THEM, and that rock was CHRIST.

In spite of the biblical fact that a whole generation of 'the chosen' dropped and died in the wilderness of unbelief, ALL historic Israel inclusively so, were redeemed and therefore in Christ. The inclusiveness of Israel and her redemption cannot be whittled down without doing great violence and injustice to the faithfulness of God. That "some" did not see it DID NOT negate it:

Rom 3:3-4a For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not!

Jesus was God's redemptive agent of and for His people Israel. Jesus was THEIR Messiah, thus ALL Israel, from God's perspective, were in Christ. Israel was God's chosen "vine" [Isa 5:7] – Jesus prophetically, redemptively and eschatologically was "the true vine" [Jn 15:1]; therefore Jesus was True Israel, fulfilling in himself Israel's divine mandate [Isa 49:3]. Jesus was THE ELECT [Messiah] of the elect [Israel] [Isa 49:8-9]. Jesus WAS Israel's redeeming Messiah [Mt 1:21; Lk 1:68], thus ALL Israel was IN Christ, and in the Parousia ALL were delivered from the "ungodliness of Jacob" having finally had their "sins taken away" and so ALL Israel was set free [Rom 11:26-27]. It was to ALL Israel that the prophetic promise was made of a new covenant [Jer 31:31-34], and this redemptive promise of restoration WAS the "hope of Israel" i.e., her resurrection [Eze 37:1-14; Act 23:6; 24:15; 26:6-8]. It was THIS promise that Yahweh would make good through the remnant elect on behalf of the greater whole. The first-fruit believers of the AD30-70 transitional period were the ones separated and dedicated [sanctified] by and to God as the first-fruits offering of the greater gathering harvest of all Israel at "the fullness of the times" Eph 1:10.

Though rebellious enemies of the gospel, historic Israel were nonetheless elect and beloved on account of God's promises to the patriarchs, and ultimately in the mercy of God, accepted and redeemed:

Rom 11:15 For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

Or to paraphrase it: "For if Israel's temporal hardening brings the reconciling of the world, what will Israel's acceptance by God be but resurrection life?"

And this is the crux of the matter – the fulfillment of Israel's redemption brought about the world's reconciliation. And "world" in this context clearly DOES extend beyond the limits and borders of historic Israel. Paul's "all Israel" is corporately inclusive and so likewise Paul's "the world". Thus by virtue of Israel's redemption we have all humanity in Christ, or as Paul states: "…God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, NOT imputing their trespasses to them…" 2Cor 5:19.

Those who seek to read Paul's "all Israel" as "the church only" plainly ignore the context made clear in Rom 10:1; 11:1, 14, 28 and can only do so by reading into the text this bifurcation and could do well to consider the following: When Paul and others spoke in terms of NOT ALL Israel being "Israel", "Jews" or "God's children" [Rom 2:28-29; 9:6, 8; Rev 3:9] they were delineating the fact that historic Israel was not, and had not for some time, lived in accordance with her holy vocation and calling as Yahweh's priests to the world, i.e., being Yahweh's light to the Gentiles, as was their mandate as kingdom priests [Ex 19:5-6; Isa 42:1, 6; 43:10; 49:3-6; Zech 3:8]. It was THIS kingdom mandate – the authority as witnesses to Yahweh, that was stripped from old covenant historic Israel and given through Christ to the nation producing its fruits [Mt 21:43-45] i.e., new covenant or true Israel, also known as "the Israel of God" [Gal 6:16]; none other than the 'Body of Christ' – the branches of the Vine. Historic Israel through her self-centred and self-righteous exclusiveness abdicated her God-given role as God's redemptive handiwork in the earth – it was THIS mandate and THIS role that those "this generation" first-fruit saints of faith inherited, in other words – THEY received and entered into the inheritance of kingdom rule and life [Rom 5:17].

Further, in the context then of the first-fruit believers those who Paul specifically speaks of as "in Christ" were those of faith, called as priests unto God, brethren of Christ – those who are saved to serve.

Essentially then, "the world" has been brought into Israel "in Christ" [Eph 2:11-13]; "believers" are His priesthood [1Pet 2:9-10] to minister within Israel i.e., to "the world" His blessing and Presence – thus the 'fellowship of followers' are as the New Jerusalem in the new creation in this ageless age of righteousness [2Pet 3:13]. Active faith then is the key to THE CALL, not the key to Heaven – "getting to heaven" was never the issue, but coming into the covenant call of priestly service.

Frost: If all things are reconciled to Christ, then every man will be made a member of the body of Christ. Let us continue to read Paul, however. "And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister." Does DeRose take this last verse to refer to the same content of "the all things" in 1.15-20? "All creation" and "under heaven" are two phrases Paul has already used, but who would argue that the gospel was preached in Paul's day to the Eskimos or the Chinese? [bold text mine]

Certainly according to Scripture humanity has been reconciled TO God THROUGH Christ – the fact that many don't realise this does not negate the reality of it – this is why Pantelism advocates evangelism – sharing the full gospel of forgiveness for all.

The above passages quoted need to be seen for what they are – a building up in grandeur of the work of God in Christ. This passage is not pitting one against another, or fostering some "either-or" argument, but rather a "both-and" or ALL case is in view – building from the bottom up in greatness – and yet encompassed all. Verse 15 has the pre-eminent One over all creation; verse 16 generically has all things visible and invisible; verse 17 envelops this; verse 18 then moves higher up declaring His headship over the Church and His excellence as the firstborn from the dead, i.e., old covenant Israel [Act 26:23]; verse 19 reaches the peak of magnificence where, in Christ, dwells ALL the fullness of God, even bodily [2:9]. And ALL this for what purpose:

Col 1:20 …that by Him [through Christ] to reconcile all things to Himself [the Father], by Him [through Christ], whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

God's purpose in Christ was to bring peace, redemptive peace between Himself and His chosen Israel; this in turn wrought His reconciling peace to the world – and this peace He accomplished in Christ AND ministered through the first-fruit saints:

Isa 53:11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.

Verse 21 and following then digresses further to the audience of the epistle specific.

Thus not speaking for DeRose' universalism as per Frost's understanding, pantelism in taking a fulfilled perspective sees this creational language as age specific to the world of Israel's day – a world that was "passing away" [1Jn 2:17]. We know that the gospel spread far and wide and that there was a "foundation" for its reception in that as James says:

Act 15:21 “For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

This helps explain in part how it was that folk "from every nation under heaven" [Act 2:5] responded so readily to the gospel.

Frost: Also, there appears to be a conditional "if" in verse 23. What would it matter "if" they didn't remain in the faith, stable and steadfast? They are already reconciled. [bold text mine]

Yes reconciled they were, yet should any stray from the faith bowing or returning to law observance for righteousness, i.e., having "fallen from grace" [Gal 2:13, 18] – a constant issue that Paul wrestled with on behalf of those he loved; then it mattered greatly, as such could potentially place one in the perilous position of perishing in that 'end of the age' conflagration of Israel's fall – not something simply limited to within Jerusalem's walls alone.

It is interesting how those preterists advocating a limited world for example mostly gloss over the "world" of Jn 3:16-17 and readily interpret it globally – so much for consistency to "their" prescribed method. Yet such from a pantelistic framework fits readily with "Israel" – "he came unto his own" [Jn 1:11] etc. This is not to deny a broader "global" application of such verses as Jn 3:16 or even Rom 3:23 etc, but if one is going to argue for limitations on ALL and WORLD then there needs to be some semblance of consistency. To argue "context" without actually dealing with its wider implications i.e., how that impinges on its historical contextual setting is no answer.

So as it can be seen, the case raised against universalism carries not weight of conflict with pantelism – quite to the contrary; there is more contradiction and inconsistency within the prêteristic landscape where realised redemption is ignored. There IS continuity and contrast between Paul's ALL and John's WORLD, but not conflict or contradiction. Acknowledging the contextual setting of the first-fruit saints and their exclusive ministry in this, helps to understand the "limited nature" of some of what Paul and others wrote. That limitation was about redemptive purpose in life, NOT reprobate position post mortem. Theirs was the bringing together of the great redemptive climax of the microcosmic story of Yahweh and Israel, which was the focal point of the greater reconciliatory macrocosmic story of the Creator and his world; in toto, the restoration of man.