Monday, August 25, 2008

NEWS: Possible Christian Universalist Forum

Gene Pineda and a few others will be will be opening a forum site dedicated to Christian Universalism. The website, when it goes live, will be.

Gene would like to here from any interested in guidlines for the Forum.

One suggested list for a 'doctrinal basis' for the discussion group was the following:
1) Jesus Christ is the only incarnation of God
2) The teaching of the Trinity according to the Nicene Creed accurately interprets the Christian Bible
3) Christ is the only way to salvation
4. "The original manuscripts of the Bible are the canonical written Word of God and all of the teachings in the Bible are true."
5) Christ commands His followers to fulfill the Great Commission
6) Christ will gloriously return to earth
7) Christ redeems people from hell

It may be that there are some problems with this list so now is the time to add your bit.

Gene writes, "If no one is interested than I simply will not purchase the forum. But if people would like to have a more dedicated community then I'll give it a go."

So - do register your thoughts

Monday, August 18, 2008

How Universalism Has Impacted my Life

Denver raised a good point. He wrote:

"Your autobiographical sketch in TEU stops at your 'conversion' to universalism. How have you changed since believing in universalism? How has your relationship with God changed (especially since before your shift you found yourself unable to worship God)? How has it affected your daily life?"

Here are a few reflections off the top of my head.

It has impacted my understanding of God and thus also my prayer life and worship life. The vision of God and his purposes that I now hold is inspiring and makes me want to worship. The final paragraph of the book sums it up for me:

In conclusion, let me ask you to hold in your mind traditional Christian visions of the future, in which many, perhaps the majority of humanity, are excluded from salvation forever. Alongside that hold the universalist vision, in which God achieves his loving purpose of redeeming the whole creation. Which vision has the strongest view of divine love? Which story has the most powerful narrative of God’s victory over evil? Which picture lifts the atoning efficacy of the cross of Christ to the greatest heights? Which perspective best emphasizes the triumph of grace over sin? Which view most inspires worship and love of God bringing him honor and glory? Which has the most satisfactory understanding of divine wrath? Which narrative inspires hope in the human spirit? To my mind the answer to all these questions is clear, and that is why I am a Christian universalist.

This God is amazing! Exciting! Awesome! I have a stronger sense of his love, his soverignty, his purity, his integrity, his fidelity, his power to save, his grace, and his mercy than I had before. And I do not have doxological crises on the Hell issue now (though, being honest, I still have them for other reasons periodically, e.g., why God commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites).

It has increased my joy for the future. I find that when situations look bleak I can draw hope that history is the the hands of this omnibenevolent, omnipotent God with these good and cosmic purposes. I have a much stronger sense of the final victory of God and this takes the edge of the sometimes tragic events in life.

Oddly, the reality and importance of Hell impresses itself upon me more now than it did before I was a universalist. Perhaps because ECT was so very terrible I tried not to think about it and tended to sideline it in my theology (and my experience of lots of Christians is that they do the same). But I am now freed up to accept Hell and I feel that the church needs to recover the place of divine judgement in our theology and praxis. Ironic, huh?

I have found it to be pastorally helpful. Recently someone close to my family died after a painful and protracted illness. He was a wonderful man but not a believer and I was asked by his family to speak at his funeral. Before becoming a universalist I confess that if I was honest I would have thought his chances of being saved were very slim indeed. Just possibly he found faith in his final moments. Just possibly God might let him through (because judgement is in God's hands and not ours). But let's be honest, he had not accepted the gospel and that is that. He's missed his chance. That kind of message is little consolation to a grieving family. But my universalism allowed me to hold out solid hope of resurrection and salvation for him without in any way compromising the imperative of embracing the gospel message.

It has not impacted my evangelism in the sense that I do not present universalism to people when I explain the gospel. I do not have any formula for how I present the gospel (like the 4 spiritual laws) but I still address the sin issue and, when the situation is right, I speak of Hell and judgement. I do not tell people that Hell is not the end (though, if it was appropriate in a specific situation I would do so). Like Jesus and the prophets I would want the utter seriousness of the coming judgement to impact people and I would urge them to avoid it. The number of those saved in the end (i.e., all) is not part of the gospel message itself and some people might use it as an excuse not to take the warnings seriously. I am open to mentioning it but only in the right circumstances. So if you heard me explaining the gospel you may well not realize that I was a universalist.



Wednesday, August 6, 2008

N. T. Wright on Hell and Universalism

I thought that you might be interested in this insightful critique of Tom Wright's theology of Hell.

Feel free to join the discussion. I hold Tom Wright in high regard so I'd be interested to know his response.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Universalism and Heresy in Sergius Bulgakov

I recently read an interesting article called "Universal Salvation in the Eschatology of Sergius Bulgakov" by Paul L. Gavrilyuk (JTS 57.1, April 2006). Bulgakov was an influential 20th C Orthodox priest and thinker. Here is an extract (and a footnote).

"As it is to be expected from an Eastern Orthodox priest and theologian, patristic tradition was a springboard for Bulgakov’s own theological deliberations. He observes in The Bride of the Lamb that in pondering the final destiny of humankind patristic tradition followed two distinct trajectories: one associated with the universalist ideas of Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, the other espoused by the opponents of the doctrine of universal salvation. It should be noted that Bulgakov’s knowledge of the relevant patristic material was largely based upon the dissertation of M. F. Oksiiuk, Eschatology of St Gregory of Nyssa (1914), which provided a comprehensive survey of patristic views on eschatology up to the time of the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553).

Bulgakov recognized that the claim that all, including the fallen angels, would ultimately be saved represented a minority opinion, suspect of heresy on the grounds of its association with Origen. At the same time the Russian theologian emphasized that the Church had not issued any dogmatic definition on the subject of the final outcome of the last judgment and the eternity of hell beyond what was stated in the Nicene creed. According to Bulgakov, in the absence of a conciliar definition, consensus patrum, even if it could be presumed to exist on this issue, was not enough to settle a dogmatic dispute. In an important article ‘Dogma and Dogmatics’ (1937), written concurrently with The Bride of the Lamb, Bulgakov argued that only the doctrine of the trinity enshrined in the creed and the doctrine of the incarnation stated in the definitions of the seven ecumenical councils enjoyed the status of the dogma binding upon all members of the Orthodox Church. He relegated all other doctrinal questions, such as the veneration of the Mother of God and of the saints, sacramental theology, pneumatology, atonement theories, and eschatology, to the sphere of theologoumena, that is, of more or less authoritative patristic opinions. Bulgakov stressed that in the area of eschatology in particular no ecumenical council had ever condemned Gregory of Nyssa’s version of universalism. It is a matter of historical fact that in the Eastern Orthodox tradition the doctrine of eternal damnation did not achieve the level of explicit articulation that it later found in the Roman Catholic conciliar definitions and Protestant confessions."

A version of the Origenist doctrine of apocatastasis was condemned by the local council of Constantinople in 543. Whether the bishops of the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553) anathematized this aspect of Origen’s theology explicitly is a murky question. Up to the late nineteenth century it was widely assumed that this ecumenical council did condemn universalism. See J. Daniélou, ‘L’apocatastase chez Saint Grégoire de Nysse’, Recherches de science religieuse 30 (1940), 328-47; Brian Daley, The Hope of the Early Church (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 190; J. Sachs, ‘Apocatastasis in Patristic Theology’, Theological Studies 54 (1993), 620-1.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Evangelical Universalist Struck Dumb!

Dear Bloggerites,

Sorry that I have not been blogging recently. The simple fact is that I have something of a problem - Namely that I cannot think of anything to blog about.

Why is this? Well, by its very nature this is a single-issue blog dealing only with matters to do with universalism. I decided at the start not to repeat material from the book and therein lies my problem. You see most of my thoughts about universalism are already published in the book. If I am not going to repeat those then what am I to talk about? I don't actually have a lot left to say about universalism.

My fear is that I will just end up space-filling and not writing anything of value.

So I have decided that, unless I have a sudden rush of new thoughts on universalism (which is not likely as I do not have any time to do any new research), I will leave this blog open for another month for people to discuss and then I shall delete it.

Anyone is most welcome to contact me by email if they wish to chat about universalist issues.


Gregory MacDonald