Introductions to Universalism

A nice chat with other member of Universalist National Memorial Church after services today, over coffee. As sometimes happens, the matter of books came up, which merged with another comment about Hosea Ballou, and from there to books about Universalism.

I recommended two smallish, straight-forward books and a documentary history, if with reservations. Both are institutional histories, and both are irenic towards Unitarianism, positing Universalism as a close relation rather than a religious tradition on its own terms. Fine as denominational works, but also a bit unsatisfying for informing a faith, particularly a Christian faith. Of course, theological universalism is hot now — in evangelical circles, and so many of the faith-forward works are better for evangelicals. And the academic works are good for academics.

There’s room for a primer. In the mean time, here are those three books.

  • The Larger Faith by Charles A. Howe
  • American Universalism by George Huntston Williams
  • Universalism in America: A Documentary History of a Liberal Faith, ed. by Ernest Cassara

All three are from Skinner House, but only the first two are available at the UUA Bookstore.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. In our discussion, I forgot to mention the fairly recent (2009) Universalism 101 by Richard Trudeau as one to put in the mix. It is available at the UUA bookstore and Amazon. I read it back in 2010 and should probably give this short (just over 100 pages) volume another read to see if it might be a good book for new friends at UNMC, as I tend to think of it as containing a good-but-brief introduction to Universalist history, theology, and culture.

  2. I very much liked all three of the books that Scott recommends. I have not read or yet seen a copy of Trudeau’s book.

    I’m wondering how others that participate here feel about current Universalist authors including Tom Talbott, Ken Vincent, Kalen Fristad, Eric Stetson, Boyd Purcell, Philip Gulley, and James Mulholland.

    Also, I’d like to hear anyone’s evaluation of current Universalist organizations, groups, and websites, many of which are evangelical.



  3. Phil Gulley has somewhat broadened his popular theology writings to include topics beyond Universalism. I’m particularly thinking of his book IF THE CHURCH WERE CHRISTIAN – an examination of what the institutional church says versus what it often does.

    With regards to Jim Mulholland, Jim has moved to a point where he now rejects Christianity and Universalism specifically, and organized religion in general. My take on him, is that he is now of the opinion that people would be better off if they left religion altogether.

    I’m more of the opinion that secular atheism is a fine path to follow, but that it is not useful for everybody (including me).

  4. Derek:

    Really appreciate your update on Jim Mulholland. I had no idea that he had become an advocate for “leaving your religion”.

    I attend the monthly meeting of the Alzheimer’s Assn. here. All attendees except me are secular atheists. My ex wife is now quite far along in Alzheimer’s (I’m one of her care givers), and was previously affiliated with a humanistic Jewish congregation. We met with the founder of the Society for Humanistic Judaism, Sherwin Wine, a few times. That was enjoyable. He died in a car crash in Morocco in 2007.


  5. @ John : “Sherman Wine” and “Humanistic Judaism”…. I haven’t heard about Rabbi Wine and his movement in some time. I grew up in the Detroit area, not too far from Birmingham Temple in Farmington Hills. Certainly a very spiritually creative leader, and community!

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