A Review by: Evelyn Uyemura (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Los Angeles November 2, 1999
I have spent most of the past year reading everything I can find on the Internet on the subject of Universal Reconciliation. But nothing has given me more food for thought than this beautiful book by Tom Talbott. Talbott argues against the doctrine of eternal hell from two points of view here: scriptural and philosophical.
His scriptural argument is based primarily on Paul's epistles. The book of Romans, which I had previously thought was a stronghold of Calvinistic thinking (or Augustinian thinking, as Talbott refers to it), turns out to support the belief that God has predestined ALL to be conformed to the image of His Son! It is startling to see how we have overlooked so many verses and mis-read others, based on our preconceptions. Talbott also addresses other passages of scripture that appear to teach a doctrine of eternal punishment. He shows how every theological position (in this case, Calvinism, Arminianism, and Universalism) has its pile of verses to use as proof, and its pile of verses to be "explained" or perhaps "explained away." And he shows that we cannot simply toss proof-texts at each other, but must also think about the overall meaning of Scripture. The fundamental questions that need to be answered are: is God loving and fair? Is God powerful enough to bring His will to pass? What is God's desire for His creation? Only after we have answered these questions can we have a basis for understanding one passage of Scripture in light of other passages.
The chapters in which he argues from a logical or philosophical standpoint are fascinating. For example, he completely disarms the popular argument that says, "Well, yes, God is loving, but He is also just, and His justice requires Him to send sinners to hell, even though He wishes he didn't have to." Talbott shows that it is impossible for love and justice to be in opposition to each other. And he demonstrates that those who teach predestination actually do not take seriously the fact that Love is God's defining characteristic. His thoughts on justice are powerful and thought-provoking. In fact, he will force you to reconsider what justice actually requires. (For example, how does punishment undo the damage that sin or evil or a crime has caused? What would it mean to actually repair the damage of sin? What is God's motive in punishing sin?
Another compelling argument that Talbott presents is the idea that it is impossible for God to love any individual and bring that individual to a state of happiness without also loving and providing for everyone s/he loves. If I am saved, but my child is lost, how can I be happy and at peace? Is it imaginable that God can remove my love for my child? Or that He can keep me in ignorance of my child's fate? Or that He can cause me to forget that I ever had a child? And the more people I love and the more deeply I love them, the more miserable I would be in eternity, if any of them were lost. This is not just a sentimental thought but a profound problem with any view of God other than the view of Universal Reconciliation.
Talbott also answers the other most common argument against the salvation of All, namely that people have a free will and if they refuse to turn to God, God cannot or will not force them to. He argues that no one can freely chose something that is self-evidently in their own worst interest. And that therefore once individuals have been confronted with the reality of God's complete love and acceptance of them, they will have no grounds for chosing to reject His love. Such a choice would be so irrational that it could not even be called a free choice. I can only want happiness for myself, and if I know that God also wants happiness for me, on what grounds could I reject Him? Such a rejection is only possible when I am under some sort of delusion, and is therefore not truly a free choice. So when we see Him as He is, we will freely love Him, because how could we not?
This book will stretch your mind at the same time that it warms your heart. If you are sure that hell is true, please read this book and see how your arguments stand up. If you wish or hope that hell will not be the eternal fate of any human being, read this book and allow yourself to believe that God is even more wonderful than you imagined. If you are already convinced that eternal hell cannot be true, read this book to deepen your understanding of the strength of your position. This is a book of great beauty.