Sunday, October 18, 2009

Evangelical Universalism Radio discussion

On Sat 17th October Premier Radio broadcast a discussion on The Evangelical Universalist. I was in discussion with Laurence Blanchard on Justin Brierly's radio show "Unbelievable". Click here if you want to hear it.

Laurence is a pastor from California. His PhD was on universalism and it will be published by Paternoster next year. He is a good Christian brother and one of few traditionalist theologians who really understands universalism.

The discussion is a good 'issue-opening' one. Of course, Laurence and I would warn anyone who wanted to listen to it that the requirements of the radio format meant that we had to skip through subjects fairly fast. As a result sometimes I had the last word on a topic and sometimes Laurence did. Much as we'd both have loved the chance to pursue these lines of thought more rigorously that would have been inappropriate. So don't expect the debate to settle anything.

I would like to honour Laurence for defending the traditional view of Hell in an unwavering yet very gracious way. I hope that this discussion models how Christians can disagree in love.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Gregory MacDonald reveals his true identity

At last Gregory MacDonald's true identity is revealed!

His real name is ***** *****

Monday, August 17, 2009

Charles Chauncy (1705-1787) on 'death' in 1 Corinthians 15

Charles Chauncy was minister of First Church in Boston for decades. He was very influential and is best known as an opponent of the Great Awakening (standing against men like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, et al). So that does not make him an obvious person for an evangelical to turn to for inspiration.

However, Chauncy was a firm Bible-believing Christian and whilst he sadly came to doubt and then reject the classical doctrine of the Trinity we must stress that he did so because he believed it to be unbiblical (it was not uncommon in this period for Bible-based Christians to reject the Trinity as unbiblical).

Anyway, of interest here is that Chauncy became a universalist because he believed it to be the only view consistent with Scripture. In 1762 he preached a sermon entitled "All Nations Blessing Christ" which was the first hint at this new view. But the main work he wrote is a very scholarly (I'm not joking about the scholarly part) book published anonymously in 1784 entitled The Mystery hid from Ages and Generations, made manifest by the Gospel-Revelation: or, The Salvation of All Men: The Grand Thing aimed at in the scheme of God (they loved short and snappy titles in theose days)

The Salvation of all Men (1784) is a very impressive work - one of the more impressive works from the history of universalist theology. It provoked a book-length response from Jonathan Edwards himself entitled The Salvation of all Men Strictly Examined: and the endless punishment of those who die impenitent, argued and defended against the objections and reasoning of the late Rev Doctor Chauncy, of Boston, in his book entitled "The Salvation of all Men". See what I mean about snappy titles! At least you knew what the book was all about! It does what it says on the can. (for those who are interested you can download both books online. Here is Chauncy and here is Edwards).

Anyway, all I wanted to do was to draw attention to one of Chauncy's arguments regarding 1 Corinthians 15. The relevant text reads (in the ESV)
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order:
Christ the firstfruits,
then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.
25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For "God has put all things in subjection under his feet." But when it says, "all things are put in subjection," it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

Against the majority view Chauncy argues that Paul sees a temporal gap - perhaps a very long one - between the end of v. 23 and the start of v. 24 (p. 208). He reasons that Paul has in mind the Second Death when he speaks of 'death' in v. 26. Consequently, until the Second Death is destroyed (which is effected when all those condemned to Hell are redeemed) Christ has not defeated death.

Now I find CC's case unconvincing as an attempt to exegete what Paul meant (not least because his arguments, which I will not set out here, depend on interpreting Paul's meaning through the Book of Revelation).

However, there might be a theological argument from CC's reading of Paul that is suggestive. CC reasons that the grounds for thinking that death is an enemy would also apply to the Second Death - indeed more so. If death is an enemy of Christ that needs to be destroyed then the Second Death is more so. Both are divine punishments on sin that cause humans to fall short of God's ultimate intentions for them. If one was inclined to agree with such logoc then Paul's argument in 1 Cor 15 would require an extension beyond what Paul was talking about (i.e., the first death) so as to apply to the Second Death. In other words Paul has provided a theological argument that has an even bigger implication that he draws out explicitly (but one fully consistent with his universalist intro in 15:22).

Now CC also has a fall-back argument in case any readers have not been persuaded that Paul is speaking of the Second Death. It too is interesting. He points out that the kind of resurrection that would count (for Paul) as a defeat for the first death is not a mere restoration to life. Rather only a resurrection to glory and immortality would do the job. 1 Cor 15 makes that clear: only when 'the corruptable shall have put on incorruption' shall it come to pass that 'death is swallowed up in victory'. So until all have attained such a resurrection it cannot be the case that the first death has been fully defeated (and 1 Cor 15 requires that it is fully defeated).

Now this is an interesting argument - one I have never considered before. I am not sure that it would count as a straightforward exegesis of what Paul 'had in mind'. But it surely counts as a sensible reflection on the implications of Paul's reasoning. I don't think that Paul's concern in 1 Cor 15 was the salvation of all. I do believe that he asserted the salvation of all in 15:22 but his focus is on how that applies to believers. The damned don't appear in his scheme except in the gaps and by implication. But I think that CC helps us see how a theological reading of 1 Cor 15 that takes Paul's logic seriously can lead in universalist directions.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Who is Gregory MacDonald?

Will I reveal my real identity? Yes.

When? Not in the immediate future but certainly in the medium term future.

But to quash some rumours

1. I am not Donald Carson.
2. I am not Greg Boyd.
3. You have almost certainly not heard of me, so don't get too excited! (This means that I am also not the Cookie Monster)
4. I am not hiding my identity to protect my job.
5. I am (mostly) not hiding my identity to protect my reputation (although I would be lying if I said that this was never a factor in my thoughts).
6. I am not hiding my identity because I am scared of facing my critics.
7. I am not hiding my identity because I cannot recall my real name.

I am hiding my identity for two reasons
(a) to protect my employer from hassle
(b) to protect the ministry of other books that I have written which God is using to bless Christians that would - sadly - not look at them if they thought I was a heretic (which I am not).

Exatly how and when I will reveal my identity remains a mystery. Mostly that is because I am still considering how best to do it. To be honest most of me wants to say, 'Gregory MacDonald is really [Jon Bon Jovi?]' but whenever I get close to doing that God seems to foil my plans so I suspect that he has other plans re: timing.

I must also confess that there is a naughty little boy in me who likes to play with a pseudonym. I am much more interesting when you don't know who I am. But fun and games can only last for a season.

More later

Rick Warren (whoops!)

All Will Be Well. Book update.

Here is some more information about the forthcoming book.

The goal is to have chapters on different Christian theological thinkers who were (or arguably ought to have been) universalists. (By 'ought to have been' I mean that whilst certain thinkers denied being universalists, the logic of their 'systematic theology' pointed in universalist directions. I have people like Barth and Forsyth in mind.) The chapters would seek to show how universalism fitted into their wider theological ‘systems’, explore what aspects of their wider theology led them in that direction and to offer some evaluative comments on the strengths and weaknesses of their universalist theology.

In a nutshell, the thought is that instead of simply noting that they were universalists, or treating their universalism as an item on a list of things they believed, the aim is to treat it in its wider theological context so as to join the dots with the rest of each thinker's theological ideas.

So here is the outline

(Gregory MacDonald)

3rd-15th Centuries
Origen (c.185-c.254)
(Tom Greggs)

Gregory of Nyssa (330-394)
(Steve Harmon)

Julian of Norwich (c.1342-1416)
(Robert Sweetman)

17th-19th Centuries
The Cambridge Platonists – (Peter Sterry and Jeremiah White, 17th C)
(Louise Hickman)

Elhanan Winchester (1751-1797)
(Robin Parry)

Friedrich Schliermacher (1768-1834)
(Murray Rae)

Thomas Erskine (1788-1870)
(Don Horrocks)

George MacDonald (1824-1905)
(Tom Talbott)

20th Century
P. T. Forsyth (1848-1921)
(Jason Goroncy)

Sergius Bulgakov (1871-1944)
(Paul Gavrilyuk)

Karl Barth (1886-1968)
(Oliver Crisp)

Herbert Henry Farmer (1892-1981)
(Christopher Partridge)

Jaques Ellul (1912-1994)

John A. T. Robinson (1919-1983)
(Trevor Hart)

Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
(Father Edward Oakes)

John Hick (1922-)
(Lindsay Hall)

J├╝rgen Moltmann (1926-)
(Nik Ansell)

I am very excited about this project. To the best of my knowledge a project of this kind (surveying the theology of a range of universalists and almost-universalists) had never been attempted before.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

New Gregory MacDonald book in 2010/11

OK, I know it is a long time off but there will be a second Gregory MacDonald book in late 2010 or early 2011. In fact, I am not writing this one but merely editing it.

The book is provisionally entitled

"All Will be Well"
Universalism and Systematic Theology

The publisher will be Cascade Books.

Essentially there will be a range of chapters on various Christian theologians who happened to be either (a) dogmatic universalists, (b) hopeful universalists, or (c) almost universalists. (By 'almost universalists' I mean theologians whose systematic theology pointed to a clear universalist conclusion but they pulled away from the implications of it and denied being universalists. I have in mind people like P.T Forsyth and Karl Barth.)

The idea is to get scholars who know the work of the selected theologians well and to invite them to reflect on the way in which universalism was integrated into their theological 'system' (for want of a better word). The goal is to see different ways in which universalism has found a home within Christian theology and to offer some kind of assessment of these ways.

The kinds of people we shall be looking at include, amongst others, Origen, St Gregory of Nyssa, Schliermacher, Thomas Erskine, P.T. Forsyth, Sergius Bulgakov, Karl Barth, H. H. Farmer, Jaques Ellul, J.A.T. Robinson, Hand Urs von Balthasar, Karl Rahner, John Hick, Jurgen Moltmann.

We have a great line up of authors (to be revealed once the line up is complete).

This is, as far as I am aware, the first book of its kind and we hope that it will be of service to both the academy and the Church.

I am very much looking forward to the editing process. I think that there will be a lot I will learn from the team of scholars we have.