Steve Hays has, as you may know, accused me of idolatry. I replied briefly to his accusation and Steve has now responded to my defence (see link). http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2008/06/idolatrous-universalism.html
So here is my last ditch attempt (in 4 parts) to defend myself. After that I go silent. You must decide for yourselves. Steve writes:
True, you then spend chaps. 2-6 trying to make an exegeticalDo I subordinate divine revelation to my own pre-conceived ideas about what God ought to be like? Do I think that my human reason trumps divine revelation? That's Steve's legitimate worry. The answer is 'No' (unless I am far more self-deceived than I imagine).
case for universalism. However, these come with a tacit disclaimer. Given what
you said in chap. 1 [GM - he is referring to two passages in which I
describe my struggles over Hell - see link to read them], you will only believe in the self-revelation of God in Scripture
on condition that Scripture teach universalism. Your faith in Biblical theism is
contingent on universalism. That’s the escape clause in your contract. So, you
subordinate the authority of Scripture to your extrascriptural preconception of
I think that it is clear in the book that I present the philosophical arguments not to settle the issue of whether universalism is true or false but to show that traditional interpretations of biblical teaching on Hell are deeply problematic and that this should prompt us to ask ourselves whether we have misunderstood the Bible.
But there is nothing unusual about that way of thinking theologically. It is no different from claiming that empirical evidence that the earth is not stationary and is not the centre of the solar system should cause us to rethink biblical texts which seem to suggest otherwise. I imagine that Steve himself interprets the Bible in the light of some insights from Copernicus and Galileo. Nobody would suggest that by doing this he is subordinating revelation to reason.
Furthermore, I state unambiguously that, "Scripture must retain its place as the primary locus of authority in any hermeneutical spiral of understanding; so if such a review
of the Bible does not plausibly yield a universalist interpretation, then we must return to the philosophy and try to see how we can make sense of the everlasting damnation of the lost" (p. 41). So I hope that it should be clear that Steve has misunderstood my position. If I was convinced that universalism was unbiblical I would stop being a universalist. I have no interest whatsoever in making up theological ideas to make me feel better. I want to know the sober truth. I happen to be fairly convinced that universalism is the sober truth.
And, yes, that’s the very definition of idolatry. You begin,I said nothing of the sort, nor would I have because it is not true. (However, I am pleased that Steve thinks I did manage to show that the Bible can be read in a way that is consistent with universalism. :-) I am interested that at no point does he engage with any of my five chapters of biblical arguments. Even if, as Steve thinks, my motivation for reading the Bible in a new way was questionable that need not mean that my biblical arguments are no good. Those arguments still deserve to be taken seriously. I do not think that they are all equally strong but overall I think my case has merit.)
not with revelation, but with your preconception of God. If the Bible happens to
agree with your preconception, then that’s a bonus point for Scripture—but if
the Bible teaches everlasting punishment, then you jettison Biblical theism. So
you most definitely assert the primacy of your extrascriptural preconception. [GM - see above] For you, the Bible is expendable.
You were able to reinterpret Scripture consistent with your preconception. But
had you been unable to do so, then—by your own admission—you would no longer be
Actually, I wouldn’t dignify it with the label of “reason.”A bleeding-heart, limousine liberal? Ouch! In brief, just two points:
It’s simply emotion. The bathos of the bleeding-heart, limousine liberal. It’s a
secularized Christian conscience. You’re very compassionate behind your tinted
1. My philosophical arguments are surely not so bad that they cannot even be dignified with the label "reason". I have had feedback from several professional Christian philosophers and all of them were positive about the philosophical case (even if they disagreed with my final conclusions). Steve does not agree with my arguments but his reaction here perhaps errs on the side of being an over-emotional as opposed to a rational one. :-)
2. Emotion has a very important place in theological and ethical rationality so I make no apology for caring about those in Hell. I am just sorry that Steve is able to consider the whole matter from a non-emotional perspective.