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Ressentiment and the “new universalism”

Everybody’s buzzing about the “new universalism” these days. For my part I’m rather surprised that its taken this long for this discussion to become such a trendy subject. The most rigorous, and in my opinion, most stringent evangelical proposals for universalism are not exactly new. Books like Thomas Talbott’s The Inescapable Love of God and Gregory MacDonald’s (Robin Parry’s) The Evangelical Universalist have been in circulation for years (five years for MacDonald, over ten for Talbott). Such examples could be multiplied, and sadly it seems that with its newfound popularity, the discussions about universalism seem bound to lose theological depth and become yet another arena for various pop Christian figures to go about posturing in one direction or another. The upshot of all this the unfortunate amelioration of quality in so many of the ensuing discussions, which is partly why I’ve been so disinterested in them.

A recent example of this phenomenon is a post lambasting the “new universalists” by James K.A. Smith. While there’s certainly a lot in his post that deserves comment, I’ll just confine myself to three, one about the way he sets up his dismissal of the new universalists, and then two about his two critique-summaries of the alleged pathologies that drive people to be such universalists.

First, Jamie deems the paramount question to be “what compels one to be an evangelical universalist?” What sort of “motivation” must such people have that would possess them to want to be universalists? So the important question is decidedly not “What argument has the most merit theologically, biblically, etc.?” but rather, “What sort of emotional pathologies must people have that make them want to be universalists?”

This is an interesting mode of analysis indeed. What makes it so super awesome is that now we need not even bother about any arguments being made, now all that is required of us is to sit back and speculate about what sort of insipid motivations these new universalists might have. Why take the time to take on a theological argument when we can just as easily accuse the proponents of that argument of being a bunch of gushing sentimental liberals who just can’t bear the thought of Gandhi in hell? I suppose ad hominem has always been the easiest form of argument.

The two sub-questions that Jamie then raises, as he somehow accesses the inner motivations the new universalists, regard “imaginiation” and “hope.” The first question he clearly has the most fun with. It is, of course, the allegedly iconic statement of evangelical universalists “‘I can’t imagine’ that a God of love would condemn Gandhi to hell.” This sort of reasoning Jamie deems to be unforgivably anthropocentric, reducing God to whatever makes us comfortable and conforms with our liberal sensibilities.

Of course, it would be harder to deal with the arguments of folks like Talbott, Parry (MacDonald), and others who don’t in any way argue that it’s just so yicky and mean that I don’t want to imagine somebody as nice as Gandhi in hell. The argument, in fact, is not about how good Gandhi is, but about what Christ’s cross and resurrection means about the nature of salvation and the nature of God. But those questions — you know, the real ones — are the ones that Jamie seems decidedly not interested in engaging.

Ironically, though, even as he ignores the true theological questions in favor of casting his opponents as bleeding-hearted liberals, Jamie decides that the appropriate counter-argument is simply to affirm the inverse of the one he has just lambasted. Thus, borrowing from yet another rather ill-thought out column by Ross Douthat, Jamie asks us if we’re really comfortable with the idea of Tony Soprano in heaven. Are we really down with the idea that bad, mean, wicked people are just going to be forgiven and accepted by God? What should we say about that?

Well first of all, lets get one thing straight: Tony Soprano is fictional character for God’s sake. So I really don’t expect him to be turning up at the pearly gates. Please, if we’re just going for cheap shock value can we just go all the way with the super cool rhetoric and make it Hitler? That’s what we mean, right? So now that that’s out of the way, it seems that the counter-question Jamie wants to pose via Douthat is “If we’re uncomfortable with Gandhi in hell, why aren’t we uncomfortable with Hitler in heaven?” The real irony of this line of argument however is that is no less anthropocentric and Feuerbachian than the (imagined) argument it is designed to counter. “I can’t imagine a God who would dare to place Hitler at the banquet table alongside those he murdered!”

The argument is loaded with indignation that God might dare to unilaterally act to reconcile Nazis and their victims, Klansmen and the blacks they lynched, etc. Now who’s projecting? Are we really to believe that a vision animated by the overriding hermeneutic of retributive justice where the good guys (us) win and the bad guys get their just deserts is somehow countercultural Gospel truth, standing against the all-too-human tendency to want a God of our own designs and makings who . . . saves us along with our enemies? Seriously?

The second question Jamie lodges relates to “hope.” Namely whether or not its ok to “hope” for something that is contrary to Scripture. Of course this line of argumentation begs the rather gargantuan question of whether the hope for the salvation of all creation is really so obviously unbiblical. Of course such questions are not engaged by Jamie’s post (and really we couldn’t expect that from a post). However it bears mention that works like Talbott’s, Parry’s, and others have done serious work, both in terms of textual exegesis and theological hermeneutics on the very questions that, at the outset of his post Jamie claims such universalists don’t care about. If one is interested in really knowing what is going on in this debate, it will be necessary to go beyond the latest Rob Bell craze, and really read the substantial work that is being done in the field. That would certainly help mitigate the multiplication of posts like Jamie’s that do little more than make meta-critiques that, in reality, have no real target to find.

The real problem, I believe, that the whole buzz about “the new universalism” represents — and it is particularly typified in Jamie’s post — is the refusal to engage these questions theologically. Instead it is all a matter of figuring out who the sappy liberal is, and finding a clever way to make the accusation. If people are really interested in exploring the theological issues at work behind the current hubub, they will need to look beyond the temptation to simply attack people’s motivations, and they will have to do more than watch that one Rob Bell video on YouTube. A good place to start would be to read some the actual work that’s been being done on this topic over a long period of time, which I’ve made reference to above. Then perhaps we could see some posts on the topic that at least get the questions right.

128 Comments

  1. I think you’re missing the point of Smith’s post. When he’s referring to the “new universalist” he’s referring precisely to Rob Bell type universalists, not the theologically robust ones like Talbot. That’s why he takes on the issues of motivation, specifically the imagining and hoping motivations.

    From my own experience with people who are interested in universalism from an Evangelical perspective, Smith is not off in terms of motivation. I highly doubt most Evangelical universalists real question is about the efficacy of the cross, or the possibility that enemy-love is central to the question of salvation. Most probably more concerned with the types of questions that Smith brings us, about ways to imagine a loving God, and what to hope for. I agree with Smith that these would be poor types of questions to ask.

    However, I do think you are right that Smith doesn’t even try to engage this seriously, missing out on the real theological arguments. Perhaps you should interact with Rob Bell and Talbot, say, and bring that sharp critiquing wit of yours to Bell but from a more theologically robust stance?

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 4:54 am | Permalink
  2. But, since Bell is not a universalist and has said that he is not (and his book shows that he is not), what would be the point in engaging Bell? And, anyway, how do you do that? He’s trying so hard to be a moving target!

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 5:15 am | Permalink
  3. Bob wrote:

    What’s your take on universalism, Halden? Would your thinking line up with VonBaltahsar’s work Dare we Hope?

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 5:24 am | Permalink
  4. Stephen wrote:

    I would also recommend (philosopher) Keith DeRose’s online reflections on universalism and the Bible: http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47/univ.htm

    He is very good there at not doing what Smith has done as far as ad hominem and Feuerbachian projection, seriously interacting with relevant biblical texts with philosophical rigor.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 5:45 am | Permalink
  5. CCP wrote:

    Perhaps this will seem irrelevant to discussions of ‘evangelical universalism’ (if that just means preaching the gospel to all, everywhere and always, sign me up!). But it seems to me that Halden is right to ask for arguments, regardless of whether he’s got Jamie’s point right or not (I haven’t read Smith’s piece). From where I sit, Halden is right: it all sounds Feuerbachian. Mostly because there is an absence of arguments from scripture as read in the tradition of the fathers, the schoolmen, and all those who have been counted faithful to the ancient trinitarian faith in modern times.

    The figures of Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar loom large in that last category. But it hardly seems to matter. Rarely do these “public debates” engage their arguments. And if they do, they often act as if support from Barth and Balathsar resolves the argument, without asking whether or not this fits with how the church fathers or schoolmen thought. Not that doctrine cannot unfold or develop, but it can’t just overturn willy-nilly — by desire, imagination, intuition, or hope — the collective teaching of centuries upon centuries of Christian wisdom with such confidence without argument.

    The Christian tradition has complex ways of speaking about salvation, but it has been fairly consistent, from very early on, that there is no salvation outside the one, holy, universal, and apostolic church. Christians have always been ‘ecclesial universalists’ — all will be saved by virtue of their participation in the body of Christ, the church. This is true east and west. The get-out-clause of apocatastasis of the east — which still maintains ‘extra ecclesiam nulla salus’ — probably is the best way to go if you want to argue for some sort of ‘evangelical universalism.’ I have no idea what Robin Parry or Talbott have argued. But it is clear that Bell and co., and the endless blogging of which Bell’s book is a type, is in need of arguments. And this is where I want to wholeheartedly endorse Halden’s wonderful and simple plea for argument rooted in a long conversation about redemption in Christ.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 5:49 am | Permalink
  6. Jon Coutts wrote:

    Spot on! I was surprised by his post because in it James Smith sounds more like Martin Bashir than a theologian. And in these charges of sentimentalism and ‘palatability’ I don’t even think they get their cultural assessment right. I mean, look at the stories we tell ourselves about “the fate of the wicked”. Even the child-friendly Toy Story 3 has Lotso the plush-toy-dictator destined to indefinite torment in a garbage dump outside the city (can you say gehenna anyone?). It seems like the last thing we can imagine is an actual reconciliation of all things, except in the sappiest sitcom terms possible. (Not that we should be able to imagine it. Surely it is a miracle of the risen Christ.)

    I’m not sure what to do with universalism myself, but I don’t think anyone is helped by these ridiculous arguments. Thanks for calling a spade a spade!

    (not to spam you or anything, but I elaborate on my Toy Story 3 illustration here: http://thissideofsunday.blogspot.com/2011/03/what-has-lotso-to-do-with-bashir-or.html )

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 5:58 am | Permalink
  7. Evan wrote:

    The Feuerbach/Soprano critique of Smith seems odd to me… beginning with Soprano: neither Smith nor Douthat seem to be bringing up Soprano to ask whether we’re “really down with the idea that bad, mean, wicked people are just going to be forgiven and accepted by God.” Douthat quite clearly says that Soprano can be forgiven… his point was about a hardening of sorts and an unwillingness to seek forgiveness. Smith’s point with Soprano, on the other hand, was that an appeal to Gandhi without consideration of Soprano runs the risk of a works-righteousness rather than a focus upon the need of forgiveness. While Hitler surely could have been used to make the same point in either case, I imagine Hitler wasn’t used because neither Douthat nor Smith were trying to make the point that you attribute to them: their whole point was that wicked people will be forgiven by God. The problem raised was whether a person is willing to seek forgiveness (Douthat) or whether the universalist is at risk of being more concerned about human works than God’s forgiveness of the wicked (Smith).

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 6:49 am | Permalink
  8. Kenny c. wrote:

    The Motivation of the person is extremely relevant in these discussions and can’t be dismissed as a cause in theological thinking. To think that they can be dismissed, shows little understanding of what cognitive science suggests about belief formation. We just don’t have pure unmotivated arguments for or against universalism on only theological grounds, but strong personal framing of the issue, which causes us to think in the way that we do. Anyway what is your motivation in trying getting others to read the better theological works on universalism? If universalism is true who cares if it’s stout theology or weak pilsner, since consuming either will eventually lead you to the party.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 6:50 am | Permalink
  9. Evan wrote:

    …I might not have been clear: Hitler probably wasn’t used instead of Soprano precisely because Hitler is so often associated with the bad/mean/wicked arguments that you misattribute to Smith and Douthat. By using Soprano instead they’re trying to steer the reader away from misinterpretations of the sort you offer here.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 6:51 am | Permalink
  10. Thanks for this post Halden! I for one am frustrated for the same reasons you are with Smith’s post. I honestly expected more from a scholar of his stature. I wish he had driven deeper into the issue as well, examining the hermeneutical complexities that really underlie what is going on in the whole debate. When me moves so quickly to the meta issues involved in the discussion, he leaves out all the substantive theological/philosophical work done by Parry and Talbott and Jersak and Ansell and Greggs, all coming from an avowedly evangelical standpoint.

    If, Scripture is so clear that universalism is terribly wrong, why are all the critics so afraid to engage the issue on this level? Why do they instead choose to setup a straw man in the form of Rob Bell, whose exegesis is strained and whose point seems to be to raise the issue rather than offer any real answers. Is the motivation simply to revert to tradition as quickly as possible rather than allowing the mantra of reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God?

    I see traditionalism operating and not tradition, thus placing Scripture under tradition rather than vice versa. I wonder if all the critics realize that before Augustine’s domineering doctrine of eternal conscious torment won the day that annihilationism and universalism were equally valid options for Christians of the first few centuries. But this move again points up the selectivity that is going on in the discussion; both sides are starting from different points with tradition and Scripture. One side following the ECT strand of tradition creates their hermeneutical framework emphasizing the punishment and judgment texts of Scripture. The other with some church fathers and a minority report of fellow universalists throughout history, emphasizes the many, many passages that highlight that salvation is for all, that all things will be reconciled and such. And then, each side has to interpret the texts that seem to be divergent from their framework to somehow accord with it, but without silencing the voice of the “opposing” texts. Which brings us back to the starting point, the meta issue so to speak, to where and with what motivations we enter into the hermeneutical circle. And Smith is right to raise the meta questions, but to simply leave it there is theologically generalizing and ungenerous and creates an easy to dismiss argument.

    You’ve astutely pointed out that Smith’s accusations can easily be turned around on him and all other traditional, ETC thinkers: is it not possible they are anthropocentric, starting with an outdated, possibly humanistic theory of justice and silencing the “all” texts of Scripture? Because motivations may be muddled and misunderstood on either side, serious, hard exegetical work and exposition must be at the center of this discussion. And yet it hasn’t been and I wonder if it will be or if the tired accusations from neo-fundamentalist and neo-Reformed folk will continue without the more extensive and “dangerous” act of attempting to live under the Word of God rather than tradition. And that dangerous act of attempting to live under the Word of God (and not traditionalism), is exactly what brought Talbott, Parry, et al to view God’s salvific purposes in a wider way.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 6:56 am | Permalink
  11. CCP wrote:

    It is telling, in my view, that Keith DeRose does not reflect at all on how these New Testament passages are read by early Christians. There is certainly a philosophical coherence to the reasoning on display here, and so there is ‘argument.’ But in the early church there were lots of communal claims about how to let the scriptures be “self-interpreting” and work out their internal coherence (e.g. Pelagians, Donatists, Arians). Sola scriptura and philosophical reason are not sufficient for these sorts of questions; one needs to think in and with the tradition that is guided by the creeds and councils of the ancient trinitarian faith.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 6:58 am | Permalink
  12. John R wrote:

    Hi Halden,

    I’ve been a lurker on your blog for, well, I guess years now, and thanks for writing it; I really do appreciate it, and it really is worth it.

    I was also a bit confused at Smith’s post; it seemed uncharacteristically strident. Still, I’m not sure your critiques hit home.

    “Imagination” – Read his argument as reductio ad absurdum and it would necessarily have to be complicit in the faults he’s criticizing; it’s not a bug, it’s a feature. Agreeing that either is ridiculous undermines the compulsion.

    “Hope” – Talbott and Parry are no doubt different, but I have heard dozens and dozens of people utter those words, including seminary professors. So call it pastoral as opposed to academic if you like, but he’s engaging a very real and significant phenomenon.

    So, I’m sympathetic more broadly — yes, spot-the-liberal is an unhelpful game of whack-a-mole — but I don’t think you’ve countered what he said.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 6:58 am | Permalink
  13. For a brief overview of evangelical universalism check out:

    http://www.baptisttimes.co.uk/bellshells.htm

    This is an article by Robin Parry that debunks seven myths about evangelical universalism. Also, Thomas Talbott’s website offers a plethora of resources as well:

    http://www.willamette.edu/~ttalbott/

    These are the works that should be engaged by evangelical scholars and not Bell’s book. Bell is getting critiqued and discussed because of his platform, while these guys actually have the more robust thought!

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 6:59 am | Permalink
  14. CCP wrote:

    Douthat was rather ambiguous and sloppy about his point. I think it is rather difficult to say with confidence exactly what he meant.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 7:00 am | Permalink
  15. The history of universalism within the church is a little more complex than you seem to be admitting. From early on there were thinkers who adhered to the reconciliation of all things or pointed strongly in that direction. For example, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Gregory of Nyssa all espoused views besides the eternal conscious torment tradition that become customary in the church after Augustine. Augustine himself admits that many people held to belief in universal reconciliation during his time even as he strives to refute these views. Further, throughout history, there has always been a minority report of Christian theologians and pastors who held to universalists beliefs (see Gregory MacDonald, “All Shall Well” for brief essays on these thinkers up to modern times).

    All of that is simply to say that the tradition is complex, before and after Augustine’s voice trumpeted loudly over any view but that of eternal conscious torment. And, universalism, contrary to popular belief has never been formally condemned in an ecumenical council. Only Origen’s, neo-Platonic views of universalism were condemned and even that is disputed as to whether or not it was really part of the formal Second Council of Constantinople and not simply a pre-council meeting.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 7:13 am | Permalink
  16. CCP wrote:

    And what if universalism is not true?

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 7:13 am | Permalink
  17. CCP wrote:

    Forgive my ignorance, but what does ECT/ETC stand for in the above post? It was referred to as a “strand of tradition” so it seems important.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 7:17 am | Permalink
  18. Evan wrote:

    Really? I thought it was clear enough. He argued for a conception of Hell as an ultimate consequence of the free will to avoidance of forgiveness. What ambiguities remained for you that might suggest Douthat could be arguing that Soprano is too bad/mean/wicked to be imagined as in heaven?

    If there’s a modern-day analogue to the “Inferno,” a work of art that illustrates the humanist case for hell, it’s David Chase’s “The Sopranos.” The HBO hit is a portrait of damnation freely chosen: Chase made audiences love Tony Soprano, and then made us watch as the mob boss traveled so deep into iniquity — refusing every opportunity to turn back — that it was hard to imagine him ever coming out. “The Sopranos” never suggested that Tony was beyond forgiveness. But, by the end, it suggested that he was beyond ever genuinely asking for it.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 7:19 am | Permalink
  19. Eternal conscious torment, the traditional view of hell following Augustine. I mistyped it as ETC once. Sorry for the confusion! I should have put ECT in parenthesis following my first use.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 7:22 am | Permalink
  20. CCP wrote:

    Yes, well it is all “suggested” — rather than argued clearly is my point — but it does seem to suggest that hell is only locked from the inside. But then that would hold for Hitler as well, Judas Iscariot, Satan, etc. So I don’t think the distinction made about the special case of Tony Soprano holds. But again, I don’t think Douthat is the source we should be exegeting so carefully here. We need better sources!

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 7:39 am | Permalink
  21. CCP wrote:

    I see, thank you! As an Augustinian-Thomist, I have never heard of this strand of tradition!

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 7:41 am | Permalink
  22. CCP wrote:

    Or better, to be clear: I have never heard of this way of describing the views of Augustine and Thomas.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 7:42 am | Permalink
  23. Alan wrote:

    Kenny, yes, motivations are important, but like texts, motivations need to be handled with care. Smith skirts around the texts, trivializes hermeneutics as mere feelings, and centers the commentary on a straw-man presentation of motivations. I’d take a weak pilsner any day over this conglomeration of wood, hay, and stubble.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 8:04 am | Permalink
  24. Brad A. wrote:

    I’m wondering to what degree the latest controversy really revolves more directly around free will vs. determinism, to which the the question of “time limit” or permanence is a secondary concern. I’m not arguing this necessarily; I’m just curious.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 8:11 am | Permalink
  25. Robin Parry wrote:

    Halden,

    My reaction to Jamie’s post was the same as yours (he starts of by assuming that there is no biblical or theological case and moves on from that point thereby loading the dice) but you develop the point far better than I could have done. So thanks for that. You should alert him to your response.

    Robin

    p.s., I am a fan of Jamie Smith’s work.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink
  26. Wow. You can still fire of up a thread around here in no time. There is no way I can catch up on the comments but thanks for the increased response to that post. Yes these things may be off the cuff in the blogosphere but the premise and follow-up was really surprising.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink
  27. Evan wrote:

    I’m not sure what the meaningful difference is between “suggesting” and “arguing” with regard to his clarity.

    And what “special case of Tony Soprano”? I agreed with you already that the argument would hold for Hitler as well, and I don’t see how Douthat or Smith would disagree. The point that I made, speaking for Smith and Douthat, was that Hitler was probably not used simply as a practical way of avoiding the emotional readings that tie any mention of wicked types to flat commentary about disgust at the wicked. They clearly wanted to talk about forgiveness of wickedness, and so they focused on a character’s (and here I don’t see why Halden cares whether the character is fictional… it’s just serving a heuristic purpose) unrepetent wickedness, rather than his wickedness in itself.

    I don’t have any interest in “exegeting” Douthat “so carefully” either… but thankfully, one need not take any especial care to read him rightly. And that’s all I’m pleading for. There’s nothing wrong with preferring to construct and dismantle strawmen rather than to read and disagree with peoples’ arguments. Let’s just not confuse the two.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink
  28. Tim McGee wrote:

    Wow indeed David.

    I did expect more from Smith than to proclaim, without argument, that all universalist perspectives are so “naive” as to bypass theological engagement. It’s like saying all people on the other side are motivated by a desire for God-like knowledge and security and so turn to naive, literalist hermeneutics (which, since they are so naive, we needn’t even refute).

    I felt like Smith basically said universalists need some stern parenting, maybe a spanking (discipline those desires, son; just cause you wish it is true doesn’t mean it is; this is the way the family has always done it, who are you to do it differently?). Normally, he treats his interlocutors as adults with whom one should dialogue.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink
  29. Isaiah wrote:

    “Augustine himself admits that many people held to belief in universal reconciliation during his time even as he strives to refute these views. ”

    I am curious about this – can you reference this for me for further reading?

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Permalink
  30. Stephen wrote:

    CCP,

    DeRose is intentionally arguing from a Sola Scriptura/evangelical perspective.

    Also, as Randy Boswell notes below, the tradition is not unanimous on the issue, nor was it resolved by an ecumenical council. For that reason, I think that the sort of Scriptural study that DeRose does is important to work out which aspects of the ancient tradition should be emphasized going forward.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink
  31. CCP wrote:

    See Origenist controversy.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink
  32. CCP wrote:

    I think we are talking about the ambiguity of Douthat equivocally. You are saying that what he says is clear enough. I am saying that ending the piece with a question mark suggests that Douthat provides us only with a question, not an answer. I think the question is a good one to ask, but I don’t think Douthat provides us with any real help to answer it. It wouldn’t have passed as a PhD comprehensive exam answer (if you see what I mean). But like you, I don’t think we should spend much more time with him. I’d rather try to get some actual purchase on what went on in the Origenist controversy than whether or not Douthat passes logical muster or not.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Permalink
  33. “It is quite in vain, then, that some- indeed very many- yield to merely human feelings and deplore the notion of eternal punishment of the damned and their interminable and perpetual misery. They do not believe that such things will be. Not that they would go counter to divine Scripture- but, yielding to their own human feelings, they soften what seems harsh and give a milder emphasis to statements they believe are meant more to terrify than to express the literal truth.” (Augustine, Enchiridion, Ch XXIX, 112)

    You can access it here:http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pearse/morefathers/files/augustine_enchiridion_02_trans.htm#C29

    What’s funny about the quote is that its shows where Smith derived his sentiment about sentimental causes of universalism! At any rate, we see Augustine admitting that not everyone, indeed “very many” denied the view that would come to be known in tradition as eternal conscious torment in relation to hell. I don’t know that he was directly referring to the Origenist controversy here…his condemnation was in 543 by Emperor Justinian (at a local council) and further at the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 (it is disputed as I’ve mentioned if this was part of the council proper).

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Permalink
  34. CCP wrote:

    The first “origenist controversy” (in quote because it is not clear that Origen himself was “Origenist”) broke out in the deserts of Egypt, raged in Palestine, and ended at Constantinople with the condemnation of St. Chrysostom (392-404). The debates initially raged in the second half of the 4th century (in other words, during the time of Augustine’s conversion, rise to the priesthood and episcopacy). he is most definitely referring to this controversy in the Enchiridion citation. You are referring to the so-called “second Origenist crisis” in the church. What we are seeing now is, in a sense, a “non-identical repetition” of these older, debates in the church. We do well to re-acquaint ourselves with them with sympathy, patience, and careful discernment of what is at stake for them to aid us in seeing more clearly what is at stake for us…

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink
  35. Thanks for the clarification!

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Permalink
  36. Studiosus Sorenus wrote:

    We should probably be more surprised at ourselves for expecting anything more scholarly rigorous from a guy who once claimed that “redemption looks like the boyish grin of Brett Favre on a good night.”

    I mean, what else are we to expect when we’ve come so calmly to accept cultural propaganda as the proclamation of gospel and bad journalism as good theological commentary?

    Stopping by such blogs (especially those that that don’t allow comment) on occasion is about akin a good weekly visit to the zoo. Perhaps the elephants and tigers are up to some new tricks lately? And we can watch without even having to worry about conversing with the creatures!

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Permalink
  37. I don’t worry much about Hitler but I do worry whether I am going to ‘get into heaven’ (if indeed heaven is someplace you get *in* to). A lot of the time i think God can’t possibly stand the thought of me…but then…it occurs to me that my self-loathing and condemnation might be a kind of humility that God actually approves of! and then paradise here I come! (:-) Then I realize that I fu%#ed it up again because to admire one’s own humility is the worst kind of pride and I am surely damnation bound again (:-( A lot of the time I am like Seinfelds’ George Costanza. After it seems like he will finally become successful George finds a growth on his lip and and is sure God will never let him be happy and is punishing him with cancer. Jerry asks him why he is so worried since he doesn’t even believe in God, George replies, “I believe for the bad things.” Now “Scripture” (as JKA Smith calls it) has no more actual authority here than a Ouija board. There is no “authority of the scripture,” there is power. Tony Soprano understood this (so to speak). There is no “law,” in the sense of absolute Justice or Truth, there are manifestations of power (money and skin color, important friends and political connections, the inside scoop, the contingencies of the zeitgeist, nice teeth and a new suit, etc., I used to work in the prison system, I was the ‘social therapy coordinator for the black prisoners caucus’ I know a bit about how this works). The ‘law’ don’t mean shit. With enough power virtually any (white) person can be deemed innocent, and the same goes for heaven. (just substitute THD’s for lawyers, same same). Let me do a bit of prooftexting and just substitute hell in place of prison in Foucault’s writing here and you’ll see what JKAS is really talking about: “What is fascinating about prisons is that, for once, power doesn’t hide or mask itself; it reveals itself as tyranny pursued into the tiniest details; it is cynical and at the same time pure and entirely “justified,” because its practice can be totally formulated within the framework of morality. Its brutal tyranny consequently appears as the serene domination of Good over Evil, of order over disorder.” Now JKAS is clever focusing on motives, so here are some of the things I do and my motives. I talk to dead people, mostly family members and friends who have died, but Saints too. And I light candles for them and I ask them to pray for me. I put money in the candle box because I suspect that if I don’t contribute that somehow my prayers are less likely to be heard or answered. Some cathedrals in Europe have coin-operated, timed, electric, candle-shaped light bulbs instead of real candles. I understand the economic and ecological reasons for this but I don’t approve and I believe that ‘real’ candles are more spiritually efficacious. There are a lot of reasons why I do these things, but one of them is that I am frightened of God and I lack faith. On Good Friday though I had a lot of faith, I prayed the Jesus prayer and sang some songs I had written throughout much of the day, I cried at Mass. Sunday there were troubles and sickness and a bit of depression and I felt my faith slip away some. For Calvinists I reckon it don’t matter much, but i hope I die on day when I have lots of faith and God in mind (and I hope Jesus cuts me the same break he cut that guy nailed up to his right!–well, ‘scripture’ doesn’t actually say which side he was on, traditionally, i mean, well…anyway, he is named Zoatham in the codex Colbetinus, but then that too is, well…anyhoo, he is the patron saint of prisoners and undertakers, and a good bloke to have on your side, I wonder what happened to the guy on the left?). Obliged.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Permalink
  38. ken oakes wrote:

    I’m just glad Halden’s back.

    Friday, April 29, 2011 at 3:55 am | Permalink
  39. CCP wrote:

    I love the “concreteness” of this comment, and the way it reflects how embedded, how personal, and how communal these questions really are. We like to make it abstract (and there is a place for serious and sustained speculative theological labor) but these really are debates about how we should live.

    Friday, April 29, 2011 at 4:34 am | Permalink
  40. CCP wrote:

    And I hasten to add, how we do live.

    Friday, April 29, 2011 at 4:35 am | Permalink
  41. Nicolas wrote:

    Thanks everybody.

    re ECT, I’m trying to establish a convention among us.

    Where we are talking about the idea of “never-ending-ness”, let’s use the word “everlasting”.
    Let’s not use the word “eternal” as that word has a whole other nuance — like “belonging to the age to come” and the Platonic “outside of time altogether.”
    So I just want to appeal to everyone to express ECT as meaning “Everlasting Conscious Torment” and not “Eternal C. T.”

    Friday, April 29, 2011 at 7:48 am | Permalink
  42. CCP wrote:

    This is a key issue, of course. The orthodox Augustinian-Thomist account of evil (privatio boni) and its misdirection of the will needs to be squarely faced; as well as the need for a participationist metaphysic that is required for a proper understanding of the relation of divine and human agency.

    Friday, April 29, 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink
  43. CCP wrote:

    I respectfully decline the offer to use a polemically determined way of describing the Augustinian-Thomist tradition. I hope that doesn’t exclude me from the “we,” but I just wanted to highlight that getting some fragile consensus around your terms will not really advance the conversation.

    Friday, April 29, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink
  44. Nicolas wrote:

    Sorry I wasn’t clear.

    It’s simply a convention that would give us greater clarity: “everlasting” leaves no doubt that what’s being talked about is the idea of never-ending-ness.

    Look at the confusion caused when we say “I don’t believe in eternal punishment.” The listener rightly replies that Matt 25:46 talks about “eternal punishment”. Then we have to explain that it’s everlasting/never ending punishment we’re really objecting to.

    I’ve also noticed some believers in ECT talking about their belief in “eternal seperation”. This is actually a euphemism whereby they can avoid verbalizing the full horror of “never ending torment”.

    Hope this helps everyone see where I’m coming from on this one ???

    Friday, April 29, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Permalink
  45. CCP wrote:

    Let me retract the way that was put. While I agree that it is good to use common terms, (1) the distinction between everlasting and eternal isn’t doing any real work, and (2) it doesn’t help to reduce the traditional accounts of salvation by isolating one objectionable topoi (eternal punishment and speculation about what that means) with emotive language. I have no problem with criticisms of the traditional position (I like the way in which Barth and Balthasar reframe the Augustinian-Thomist line). But it seems that since halden has rightly been concerned with Smith’s polemical dismissal’s of your position, it is better to turn the other cheek, and not polemicize in reply (the other is cruel and heartless, whereas we are merciful like God).

    Friday, April 29, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink
  46. CCP wrote:

    We must have been writing at the same time. Again, I don’t think that’s the right way to make progress. Distinction making is good, but not this distinction. I’d much rather get some purchase on the question of whether human beings are really free to reject the call of God’s love (Brad. A’s suggestion below) than make distinctions that are designed simply to fend off scriptural authority.

    Friday, April 29, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  47. Marvin wrote:

    Does Ivan Karamazov HAVE to go to heaven? He clearly doesn’t want to go. Ivan, not Tony Soprano, is the fictional character I thought of when I read Douthat’s complaint that universalism=determinism.

    Friday, April 29, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Permalink
  48. Nathan Smith wrote:

    I think Halden may be flirting with universalism here. But who am I to try to judge his motivations for this post. ;-)

    Friday, April 29, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Permalink
  49. CCP wrote:

    If Halden is flirty universalist, I suspect that it’s this sort of logic that he’s attracted to:

    “The man who is isolated over against God is as such rejected by God. But to be this man can only be by the godless man’s own choice. The witness of the community of God to every individual man consists in this: that the choice of the godless man is void; that he belongs eternally to Jesus Christ and therefore is not rejected, but elected by God in Jesus Christ; that the rejection which he deserves on account of his perverse choice is borne and cancelled by Jesus Christ; and that he is appointed to eternal life with God on the basis of the righteous, divine decision….The revelation of his rejection can only determine him to believe in Jesus Christ as the One by whom it has been borne and cancelled.” Barth CD II/2

    Anyone (Halden?) care to comment?

    Saturday, April 30, 2011 at 4:22 am | Permalink
  50. Evan wrote:

    I don’t worry much about Hitler but I do worry whether I am going to ‘get into heaven’

    This is what I find so troubling about the Hitler references… Hitler basically functions as a tax collector that is so horribly bad, we forget that by talking about him rather than ourselves, we fall into playing the part of the pharisee.

    Saturday, April 30, 2011 at 5:15 am | Permalink
  51. CCP wrote:

    Like.

    Saturday, April 30, 2011 at 5:24 am | Permalink
  52. Phillip Mutchell wrote:

    The devil figure in O Brother where Art Thou has the true theology ‘I guess we all get to heaven by and by’ just another way of saying all things will be reconciled in Christ.

    Saturday, April 30, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Permalink
  53. Isn’t it the same impulse that pretends to know who is saved and who is condemned, that pretends to know that God struck New Orleans with a hurricane because of it’s abounding homosexuality? Or that God was on our side in the first gulf war because we had so few casualties? What in our wildest, spoogified, self delusional arrogance could make us believe that we bunch of fu%$ked up, miserable, selfish, ignorant, sin infested bastards have the slightest notion about what heaven or hell is, and who is going there? The Scriptures? OMG, are you kidding me? See you all on the other side-so to speak-Obliged.

    Saturday, April 30, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Permalink
  54. Bobby Grow wrote:

    I thought this was the case as of years ago now; at least I can recall a time where our friend proclaimed this as his personal position.

    Saturday, April 30, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Permalink
  55. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Yep.

    Saturday, April 30, 2011 at 10:18 pm | Permalink
  56. CCP wrote:

    I often tell my students that the Church has not been in the business of picking out the damned in a crowd — but that it most certainly has been in the business of picking out saints in a crowd. That is not to say that evil cannot be named or recognized, only that the Church has been reticent to proclaim on the destiny of a person whose actions are habitually sinful.

    I think this is why a wise teacher once told a group of us students asking about the salvation of non-Christians that there is no one in the Gospels who asks such a question. The teacher noted that the only question that is even remotely similar to this is: “What must I do to be saved?” Questions of salvation and damnation are not abstract in the New Testament.

    All that being said, I do think there remains a place for theological speculation about the last things…that is, if you want to stand in any sort of historical continuity with Christian theology. It’s just that this sort of thing takes a great deal of learning, and perhaps a simple appeal to mystery is better than an untutored confidence about the last things. The question, “What must I do to be saved?” should never be far from us, whether we speculate in a tradition or not.

    Sunday, May 1, 2011 at 11:00 am | Permalink
  57. Geoff wrote:

    There is a big difference between knowing who exactly is saved and to know that explicit faith in Jesus is required for salvation. Universalists tend to conflate the two.

    Sunday, May 1, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink
  58. “The Scriptures? OMG, are you kidding me?”

    Ok, go have fun debating this question in your sociology of religion classes.

    Perhaps we could settle the debate while donning dreamcatchers in a mosque, lighting candles to saints and singing kumbaya.

    Monday, May 2, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink
  59. *repenting of snarkiness*

    Monday, May 2, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink
  60. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    So, is Professor Smith just refusing to respond to this or what?

    Monday, May 2, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink
  61. That’s Ok brother Ty (may I call you Ty?) a bit of snarkiness toughens us up and helps us to think things through more rigorously. Let my try and put another brand on this rambunctious theological heifer. The blessed second amendment states: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Now what do you suppose that means? All the guns you want anytime anywhere? Or no handguns in Wash D.C. if your not in a militia? (see: District of Columbia v. Heller 2010). Our good brother Scalia argues no problem just read the plain text! OK, case closed. But whoa there pardner, not so fast, those pussy assed, bleedin-hearts read it like pistols are just for the militia, and the gun-toten tea-partyers (noted for their skills with critical theory) say lock-and-load kindergarteners! Yes, Scalia concedes, sometimes there is a bit of ambiguity about “original intent, but then he argues now all you got to do is check out what the framers wrote elsewhere about what they might have meant in the Constitution, case closed (again)! Funny thing though, which framers are we talking about? And what if they don’t agree? (they don’t!), then whose and which writings have precedence? Jefferson or Adams, political treatises or essays, polemical tracts, letters, diaries, notes in the margin of diaries? third hand reports about discussions? (wasn’t it Ben Franklin who came up with “there is no outside the text” while he was whoring in France?). Some years ago I was working on a research project when some letters were discovered in an old attic that some scholars argued were George Washington’s. Well, there was a disputation about this so they were sent to many universities for ‘authentication,‘ but the damn universities didn’t agree! Which universities and how much prestige does each university comparatively have? Who were the experts and professors and what schools did they go to, Harvard or Petaluma junior college?; the whole thing is still being adjudicated! Now where in this entire process will we ever determine the “Truth” about those letters or the second amendment? I’ll tell you how, by a 5 to 4 decision the prohibition on guns was struck down and brother Scalia wrote the majority opinion, writing in part: “A purposive qualifying phrase that contradicts the word or phrase it modifies is unknown this side of the looking glass (except, apparently, in some courses on Linguistics). If “bear arms” means, as we think, simply the carrying of arms, a modifier can limit the purpose of the carriage (“for the purpose of self-defense” or “to make war against the King”). But if “bear arms” means, as the petitioners and the dissent think, the carrying of arms only for military purposes, one simply cannot add “for the purpose of killing game.” The right “to carry arms in the militia for the purpose of killing game” is worthy of the mad hatter.” Pretty compelling eh? ‘mad-hatter’ indeed! Yipee-eye-ay mother fu#%kers, guns for all! 5 to 4, that’s how ‘truth’ gets established. 5 to 4 is an expression of the authority of George Bush to nominate and confirm Supreme court justices which is a function of elective and democratic discourses, which are functions of campaigns and marketing strategies and the money to pay for them, which is another name for power which functions as ‘truth.‘ 5 to 4, 6 to 3, 8 to 1, 9 to 0, same same. Like I said above, “the law don’t mean shit.” Doing research, I found an interesting thing in one of George W’s diaries. He writes beautifully about the Ohio and Kentucky lands that he illegally made claims on while a Colonel in the British army, saying: “What a fertile and blessed eden this land is, all it needs to turn it into a paradise is for the forest to be cleared and the degenerate savages to be removed or extinguished and the hand of industry set upon it…” Poetry really. (Hitler wrote something similar about Poland and Russia, though less poetically) So, who is and who ain’t in heaven or hell? Ask a Shawnee or Delaware Indian (look for them in Oklahoma, that’s where the survivors were driven to) if they think brother George W made it in ahead of Adolph or Osama! How about the ordinary soldiers who just followed orders and massacred whole villages to make way for the missionaries and land speculators. What about the poor settler who was just trying to survive on 40 acres and got tired worrying about being ambushed. What about the sincere Christians that believed they were truly saving the inner soul by killing the ‘outer Indian,’ how about those that just voted for George W. and A. Jackson figuring they were the lesser of 2 evils. How about the otherwise God-fearing and compassionate militiaman that dashes the brains in of a Shawnee baby because of his interpretation of Psalm 137:9 “Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” (if only God had invented the internet sooner and our dear brother-in-arms had read your trenchant explication of this verse on your blog! My people would still be living just outside of Palermo eating figs and olives with a great tan instead of molding away here on Whidbey Island!). Oh and you might drop our brother Obama a note cause he just whacked Kaddafi’s 3 grandkids, I guess they don’t teach “contextual” criticism at Harvard. I mean is ‘dashing their brains out’ a metaphor or more of a simile? (do you think taking some courses on linguistics would clarify? Scalia thinks not) Then again, I voted for Obama, so I got some brain matter on my hands as well (not actual ‘brain matter’ Ty, let’s be clear, God (though not Jesus so much) is a bit of an “originalist’ about these things sometimes. Anyway brother Ty, ‘dreamcatchers’ aside, I hope some of this makes sense, please let me know, oh, one final thing, check this out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpDkYZWeeVg It’s from “The Unforgiven” where Eastwood whacks Hackman. Who do you think is morally superior in this movie? Sometimes I think Hackman (he was the sheriff, but he used to be an outlaw, though he’s the one with the badge now, ‘context’ my brother!) And sometimes Eastwood/William Money, “killer of women and children,” but of course, he didn’t *mean* to kill them children, he just wanted the oil, I mean gold. It’s nice that they both agree they will ‘see each other in hell,’ don’t you think? Now won’t they both be so surprised!!! (or not) Obliged.

    Monday, May 2, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  62. I’m glad the snarkiness was appreciated, I enjoyed yours! Seriously, you’re a funny guy (no snarkiness intended).

    I believe I understand your concerns: we can’t “be sure” of any one interpretation because other people disagree with us.

    I just don’t buy it. If exegesis is a hopeless practice, then oh that God had invented you earlier to tell all those pompous gasbags in the tradition to get off their hermeneutical high horses and stop with the exegesis already. Think of the ecumenical implications: the radically skeptical tradition would not need to be correlated with the hopelessly polysemous/impenetrable (depending on how hopeful you are) canon!

    And those poor Native Americans would never have suffered. But of course, then we’d never know about dreamcatchers!

    Monday, May 2, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Permalink
  63. …funny how?

    Monday, May 2, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Permalink
  64. wit, brother Dan.

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 6:36 am | Permalink
  65. Chris Donato wrote:

    “The upshot of all this is the unfortunate amelioration of quality in so many of the ensuing discussions, which is partly why I’ve been so disinterested in them.”

    Holy bingo.

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink
  66. CCP wrote:

    I agree with this, but what seems to be at stake in these discussions is whether or not there is such a thing as implicit faith at all. I am not too keen on ‘implicit faith’ but it needs to be considered, not least in light of infants and children. If “justification by faith in Jesus Christ” is necessary for redemption, and we admit that children are baptized on the basis of their parents’ faith, then we are working with some notion of implicit faith. When Thomas Aquinas admits of a “baptism of desire” (which for him most certainly has to do with catechumens who are preparing for baptism but die prior to it), he is also admitting of implicit faith. But when someone like Karl Rahner wants to extend implicit faith to all (his ‘anonymous Christians’), we have most certainly conflated explicit and implicit faith into a kind of universalism in which all are saved ‘by faith’. Making this Christocentric in Barth and Balthasar helps, but it’s still a cancelling out of the freedom of the creature.

    When Jesus tells the Centurion “believe and your whole family will be saved,” is there any implicit faith involved? Or does Jesus expect that the whole family will come to believe because of the Centurion’s faith?

    Anyone want to defend implicit faith?

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Permalink
  67. CCP wrote:

    In John Milbank’s postmodern embrace of Giambattista Vico’s dictum that ‘the truth is the made’ (constructivism), Milbank tries (brilliantly) to use skepticism to undermine skepticism (somewhat esoteric, it must be admitted). Similar strategies were attempted in the 16th century, but I digress. It seems to me that if Mr. Imburgia is suggesting that everything can be deconstructed, he is certainly right. If he is suggesting that this is because everything is entirely constructed by humans, and thus in a sinful world, entirely subject to confusion, disagreement, and the will to power, then he is partly right. If he is suggesting that there is no truth that we have not made for ourselves (which I doubt he believes), then he is certainly wrong. But if he is suggesting that we are mostly blind to the way in which we cling to what we want to be the case, rather than what is, then he is at least partly right.

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Permalink
  68. Hey, thanks os much CCP, one “certainly right” and 2 “party rights” heck, I’ll settle for that, this is a smart, tough bunch here at ID! And it’s been fun too, at least until Halden get’s home and makes us clean up our mess and finish our homework! Obliged. (p.s. to brother Ty, Lets see, how should I put this…I just ain’t explaining myself too good…How about this, you know those Swiss Guards at the Vatican, the ones in the orange pantaloons with the blue stripes, they shoulder those 15 foot long pikes, those pikes are just for show nowadays, but that wasn’t always the case. I mean, they didn’t help much when Turkish, apostate Muslim, Ali Agca tried to whack Pope John Paul II did they? Some say it was a miracle that the Pope survived, what do you think? Then today the president of Peru, Alan Garcia, announced that he believes that the killing of Usama Bin Laden is the first miracle resulting from, and accountable to, JPII since his beatification! Well, I have my doubts about that, but if you shove one of those pikes up my arse I reckon I might reconsider LOL. So Ty you see where I am going with this; brother Ali Agca, he’s a Christian now you know, was once a member of the Turkish, ultra-nationalist, ‘Grey Wolves’ which were supported by the CIA btw, shoots the Pope 4 times, repents, converts, and that same Pope miraculously recovers, then dies years later, and in his beatific state guides CIA killer teams in the flawless assassination of Bin Laden! and it’s all true! blessings my brother).

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Permalink
  69. Charlie Collier wrote:

    Daniel Imburgia,

    If you can find some way to string 30,000 to 50,000 of your words together, I just must might be able to find you a book contract. It might be nice to have some sort of thesis, but if that undermines the hurricane of hilarity, don’t bother. Just give us the brain dump.

    Peace, Charlie

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at 8:49 am | Permalink
  70. Brad A. wrote:

    Make sure you assign Halden to the format-check.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at 9:14 am | Permalink
  71. CCP wrote:

    Wow.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink
  72. dan wrote:

    You know, I’m at a point where I tend to avoid conversations like these most days. It’s not the subject matter that bothers me. It’s how it is raised, and J. K. A. Smith’s post is a great example of a refusal to dialogue (in fact, his whole blog is a great example of that refusal, given that he prefers to pontificate and does not permit others to comment). That said, he seems like a nice enough guy. I saw him speak once and he bounced around like an excited little fellow. It’s good to see folks who are passionate about their studies.

    However, I do find it interesting that he wants to bring folks like Derrida, Lyotard, Foucault and perhaps (given his post) others like Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari, or Zizek, to church but doesn’t want to invite others like Talbott or MacDonald/Parry. I guess it’s trendy for Evangelicals engaging cultural theory to bring in the big guns from Europe… in order to use them to shoot others who have tried to live out some sort of commitment to that guy from Nazareth. Maybe Smith’s problem isn’t so much with those who stand outside of THE Christian Tradition (better capitalize all of that), but is with those who claim to stand inside of it while thinking critically about some issues he does not want to engage critically.

    In response to Smith’s thesis question (“Can hope be wrong?), I’m stuck wondering, “Can one be bothered to engage with Evangelicals”? Now, don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of really decent Evangelicals out there, and I’m sure that Smith has good intentions. However, it’s worth remembering that hell is paved with good intentions (a statement Smith might find a little more sweat-inducing that I do, given the differences in our Christian theologies… although I still think there is a lot of wisdom in the statement). But, shoot, some Evangelicals certainly don’t seem worth engaging. It’s too bad because the Evangelicals one can’t engage on various subjects — from hell to sexuality — are also the ones who tend to be happy to turn the lived lives of others in hells on earth. God knows, there’s a lot of disciplining going on out there and I’ve lost count of all the gay Christian kids I’ve met who were homeless because their loving parents felt they needed to have their desires disciplined. Alas, sometimes love seems to mean kicking people out — out of the family home here and now, and out of heaven in the sweet hereafter.

    Anyway, I’m drifting now so I better go. I guess I was feeling a little inspired by my boyfriend. Forget the book deal, Daniel, what you need is a “Torpedo of ‘Truth’” tour. I’ll be one of your goddesses.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at 9:44 am | Permalink
  73. CCP, I agree.

    Daniel, that was awesome.

    I’m a certain stripe of hermeneutical realist, so I don’t despair so much about the possibility of understanding Scripture. That’s all I’m getting at.

    Are we often blind to our own presuppositions and prone to confuse desire for truth? Sure. But we make too much of self-deception when it leads us to punt on the exegetical task.

    Forgive me if I go on clumsily telling people what the Bible says with all the hubris of a Peruvian President!

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink
  74. dan wrote:

    I reckon Daniel I. could offer forgiveness in this instance so long as he agrees with the notion that forgiveness is the (often necessary) precursor to repentance, and doesn’t follow from repentance.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Permalink
  75. Marvin wrote:

    I was re-reading the Life of Saint Martin of Tours today, and the following passage reminded me of this post:

    (S)ome of the brethren bore witness that they had heard a demon reproaching Martin in abusive terms, and asking why he had taken back, on their subsequent repentance, certain of the brethren who had, some time previously, lost their baptism by falling into various errors. The demon set forth the crimes of each of them; but they added that Martin, resisting the devil firmly, answered him, that by-past sins are cleansed away by the leading of a better life, and that through the mercy of God, those are to be absolved from their sins who have given up their evil ways. The devil saying in opposition to this that such guilty men as those referred to did not come within the pale of pardon, and that no mercy was extended by the Lord to those who had once fallen away, Martin is said to have cried out in words to the following effect: “If thou, thyself, wretched being, wouldst but desist from attacking mankind, and even, at this period, when the day of judgment is at hand, wouldst only repent of your deeds, I, with a true confidence in the Lord, would promise you the mercy of Christ.” O what a holy boldness with respect to the loving-kindness of the Lord, in which, although he could not assert authority, he nevertheless showed the feelings dwelling within him!

    Those universalists–bless their little hearts–they may not have the weight of scripture on their sides, but their hearts are in the right place!

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  76. Amen Marvin, CC thanks but no thanks, and great to hear from you again DanO. No book deals for me I hate writing anything longer than a blog post. But I might be up for a blue grass/gospel music tour! Get a big tent, preach some Ellul, Yoder, bit of solovyov and Haurewas, get Roger Flyer to join up, you can preach, I’ll sing and take up the collection! When I first went to college I wanted to be a writer till I figured out how much I disliked rewriting and editing. Now I’m just a hillbilly songwriter (looking for a mandolin and/or lap steel guitar player btw if you or someone you know is interested in joining a group let me know, I got a lot of good songs!). And with any time left I paint Icons (I will post a photo of my new “Lady of Guadalupe” constructed entirely out of holographic vinyl soon as I git er done). Now Tyler, when it comes down to it I am just a simple, Bible believing somnabitch! and I can thump the Bible with the best of em, especially when I’v had a bit to drink, which I don’t much no more. But enough talk, here’s the words to a song I used to sing, written in 1909 but just as true today!

    I believe the Bible, it taught me how to pray,
    
Jesus heard and answered, took my sins away
    ;Gave me peace and pardon, wrote my name above,
    
Glory hallelujah! for His wondrous love.
    Refrain
    I believe the Bible, O it is divine!
    
Heaven’s golden sunlight in its pages shine;
    
Lights my way to glory, and I’m surely going thro’
    ;
I believe the Bible, for ’tis ever true.

    I believe the Bible, it teaches me to sing,

    Moses’ song of vict’ry o’er the tyrant king;

    Or with Paul and Silas, midnight brings release,
    
Glory hallelujah! for His perfect peace.
    Refrain
    I believe the Bible, of holiness it speaks,
    
Gracious gift of Jesus to the one who seeks;
    
Tells of keeping power, ’neath the cleansing flood,

    Glory hallelujah! for the precious blood.
    Refrain
    I believe the Bible, it teaches me to run
    
In this royal highway till the prize is won;
    
Shows the crown awaiting, if I win the race,
    
Glory hallelujah! for His saving grace.
    Refrain
    I believe the Bible, and then the world will see
    
We have been with Jesus more like Him to be;
    
With His Word abiding in our hearts made new,

    That will prove the blessèd Book is always true.

    No bullshit, I believe every line of that song! ‘proving it true’ that’s the sticky part ain’t it? A somewhat different version almost as good can be heard here. Well dear brothers Obliged, and keep looking up and listen for the shout!!

    (we are really running wild here without adult supervision Halden, sorry)

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Permalink
  77. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBLzkT3Loy0

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Permalink
  78. Halden wrote:

    So this is what it feels like to be proud parent looking on.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at 10:25 pm | Permalink
  79. CCP wrote:

    So Fritz Bauerschmidt makes academic claims to be a Hillbilly Thomist (Flannery O’Connor’s Thomas Aquinas), but I think I have now found the real McCoy! Eager to see your icon.

    Thursday, May 5, 2011 at 5:54 am | Permalink
  80. CCP wrote:

    Balthasar had his Johannesgemeinschaft, Doerge has his Inhabitatio Dei.

    Thursday, May 5, 2011 at 6:15 am | Permalink
  81. Christian wrote:

    Snap!

    Thursday, May 5, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Permalink
  82. CCP wrote:

    One of my students writes, in relation to the problem of ‘anonymous Christians,’ John Henry Newman’s work on conscience, and the virtues of those ignorant of the Gospel: “If the Church believes that salvation comes through Baptism, surely it is better to be safe and attempt evangelization rather than risk pagans’ of good conscience being damned…conscience is meant to direct us to the truth of Christianity…only the evangelized conscience can be the complete conscience.”

    Friday, May 6, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink
  83. roger flyer wrote:

    Daniel strike again.

    Friday, May 6, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink
  84. roger flyer wrote:

    He said “I’ll be back.” And The Terminator has returned.

    Friday, May 6, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink
  85. roger flyer wrote:

    Gasp!

    Friday, May 6, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Permalink
  86. roger flyer wrote:

    Have you asked Jesus into your hart?

    Friday, May 6, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Permalink
  87. roger flyer wrote:

    I mean ‘heart’…Daniel ‘dear’.

    Friday, May 6, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Permalink
  88. roger flyer wrote:

    Brilliant!

    Friday, May 6, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Permalink
  89. roger flyer wrote:

    I just bought a mandola, brother…any plans to travel to Minnesota’s boundary waters for a round of Kum Ba Yah?

    Friday, May 6, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink
  90. roger flyer wrote:

    Ummm…sort of, without the dirty diapers.

    Friday, May 6, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  91. roger flyer wrote:

    Yeah baby.

    Friday, May 6, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Permalink
  92. roger flyer wrote:

    Ivan might reconsider once he saw the glory! ;)

    Friday, May 6, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Permalink
  93. roger flyer wrote:

    Spoilsport.

    Friday, May 6, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink
  94. Almost everyday brother Flyer! (though it’s got to be a hard journey up the dark Congo river for Jesus everyday, ‘the horror’). Gettin back to the original post by Halden, I read today that “61% of americans believe Osama is in hell right now”! makes me wonder how seriously to take that whole ‘binding and loosing‘ business Jesus talked about. Hoping we can meet up and play some music at the conference Halden is sponsoring this fall, I think it’s called, “Emergent Apocalypticism, Radical Orthodoxy, Opus Dei, and the ontology of Limbo: Aristotelian Subalternation and the Ultimate Fate of the Unsubmerged.” Obloged.

    p.s. been humming that tune of yours “The Kingdom of God is Within” all week, thanks.

    Friday, May 6, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Permalink
  95. What can happen when you call a Sicilian “funny.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_ff46b58Hk

    We are a small, swarthy people not known for our sense of humor. Obbligato

    Friday, May 6, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Permalink
  96. Hey Halden, I was just visiting JKAS’s blog, http://forsclavigera.blogspot.com/ and I think he may have dissed you! Imagine that! You should be so excited, it’s like having Bono spit on you, sure it’s spit, but its Bono’s spit! I gotta say that’s a good looking blog he’s got over there. And the guys a professor, Phd for sure, written a bunch of books–I own 2 (remind me again, where did you go to school, I don’t see that in your bio?) I’m just saying the guys smart, funny, good looking (that’s a real picture he’s got posted there, makes one wonder why you only have a cartoon replica of yourself…?). You know he makes some good points too, I mean really, what kind of people have the time to waste on writing blog comments? (we’re talking “1200,” “1600,” “3200” word replies! he counted them hisself, he wouldn’t just ballpark something like that, I got a feeling he’s a stickler for such things, no, he counted them up, I mean don’t y’all have anything better to do than to waste this good man’s time by making him count up all the words of your pathetic responses? (well, you really only wrote one and I wrote like 5 but he didn’t say anything about me so I think/hope he’s ok with what I wrote, he didn’t mention me to you did he?). He is so thoughtful as well, rather than having to wade through all these bullshit comments like you have to, he just turns the comments off so as not to hurt the feelings of the little people he don’t have time to get back too, imagine, he feels “guilty” if he don’t reply to his readers, now that is a considerate blogmaster! (how many times have I written here and not gotten so much as a word of recognition from you? and do you feel guilty?). So, my brother (well, i reckon were brothers but I may have to take a closer look at some of your ideas around here) I am going to have to move ‘fors clavegeria‘ up in front of ‘ID‘ in my blog queue (what is it with all you protestants and your latin and greek names for you blogs? get yourself into an honest-to-god religion, with magisterial hats if you want to use the old-timey eccleeziastical lingo!). Nothing personal Halden I have just been converted to ‘Clavegerianism’, by “reason” alone with none of that fuzzy ‘morally associational,’ “zeitgeist-universalism” B.S. y’all been peddling around here for too long. See you in Hell, Obliged, Daniel.

    Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Permalink
  97. Halden wrote:

    Daniel, my dear friend, as long as you keep commenting I don’t care if I’m at the bottom of yours blog queue. Comments such as your cover a multitude of blog-prioritization sins.

    Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Permalink
  98. Halden wrote:

    And for the record, I spend most of my days wallowing in guilt over my lack of response to yours and many other people’s fine comments.

    Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Permalink
  99. CCP wrote:

    Ok, Charlie Collier, I am now truly convinced that “hurricane of hilarity” well describes Daniel Imburgia…a blogological satirist and prophet if ever there was one! I’ve been won over.

    Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 7:49 am | Permalink
  100. dan wrote:

    I would like to point out that Smith’s little tantrum affirms my restatement of his thesis question (I imagine him fuming away in the airport lounge, swinging his little legs like crazy — cute, right?). I asked if it is worth conversing with some Evangelicals. Smith’s response: please don’t talk to me!

    Also note the way in which he asserts that he doesn’t really care what others think or say (“I can live with people thinking I’m wrong, so the dynamics of shame that functions in the blogosphere doesn’t really bother me. I’ve got other fish to fry”), while employing 1500+ words (I counted!) to make that point.

    So, hey, maybe I should be a little more blunt: it’s not so much that Smith’s point was wrong (which it was), it’s also that it was stupid (this is what makes it not worth engaging… sort of a blind leading the blind thing, because smart people who say stupid things are especially blind to their stupidity, whereas stupid people who say stupid things are generally more open to dialogue). I think the unspoken point here is that Smith can’t handle people thinking him both wrong and stupid.

    Zut alors! C’est dommage mais c’est la vie.

    Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 8:29 am | Permalink
  101. Tim McGee wrote:

    I read his response. I had recently looked back over the blog review of Kerr’s book (on church and pomo). He also said he didn’t have a dog in that fight (or something like that). I wonder why he keeps spending time blogging about ideas he doesn’t think are worth investing time or energy into considering. And, it’s one thing to say that most people make decisions on something other than logical argument and another to imply that reasons are to be taken seriously in general but that universalism unfortunately lacks such arguments and so the only thing that matters are these other motives. So most of his response actually fails to address the concerns expressed here (and one wonders whether Smith could develop his thought reflexively and articulate what kind of “moral association” has led him to his position–it certainly isn’t the clear teaching of Scripture since that would presume an overly rationalistic account of belief formation).

    Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink
  102. CCP wrote:

    Presumably the theological issue at stake is *more important* than how one Christian philosopher has responded? I must admit that I find the ad hominem here (and there) more than a little discouraging…I don’t like it in myself, and I don’t like it in others.

    Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Permalink
  103. dan wrote:

    The theological issue being whether or not it is worth engaging with Evangelicals?

    Sorry to discourage you in a discussion prompted by hope! The truth is that Smith is acting like a bully in his post and I have little patience for those who will use their power in that manner. See, for example, his disparaging remarks to D.W.Congdon. Congdon wrote a really thoughtful and kind response and all Smith can do is brush him off as a “dude” who is “the master of overkill” (the master, not just a master!) while also pointing out that Congdon needs to complete his PhD (a not so subtle reminder that Smith himself is well beyond that stage of the academic status game). That’s shameful behaviour in my books, so I’ve got no real problem dropping a few ad hominem comments.

    The blind aren’t going to begin to see based upon the words of others, regardless of the attitudes projected in those words. It takes divine intervention to heal the blind. Ad hominem remarks aren’t anything close to that, but they’re probably going to be just as useful or useless as any other kind of comment.

    Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Permalink
  104. CCP wrote:

    I can understand a little venting; and I take it that there is a history to this “conversation” with Smith that well precedes my participation. It is obvious to me that Prof. Smith has not handled himself well with respect to this community. If he treated students in doctoral seminars this way, he wouldn’t last too long in the academy either. But I don’t think he actually trains doctoral students, which might be a good thing considering his impatience.

    So, when the venom has dissipated, the theological question at stake seems to be about catholic-evangelical-orthodox disagreements about what we might hope with regards to the salvation of ourselves, and of all humanity. Perhaps for some the question is whether that conversation can even be had, but that seems to be a strange sort of conversation about a conversation. (I think it is not accidental that this thread follows the thread concerning ‘the end of ecumenism.’)

    It doesn’t pay to repay people for their sins.

    Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink
  105. CCP wrote:

    I think my main plea is to make the conversation a little less about Jamie Smith, and a little more about God and redemption in Christ.

    Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  106. CCP wrote:

    So towards that end — if anyone cares to read a theological text — here’s a bit from Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, Supplement, Question 99 (“Whether by divine justice an eternal punishment is inflicted upon sinners”). It is worth reading the objections and responses to objections, where he deals directly with Eastern apocatastasis, but I will just reprint here his main ‘responseo’. Throughout this question, he is repeatedly invokes Augustine (of course) and Gregory the Great (eastern), showing how the Greek view inclines to the Latin view.

    Here’s Thomas:

    I answer that, Since punishment is measured in two ways, namely according to the degree of its severity, and according to its length of time, the measure of punishment corresponds to the measure of fault, as regards the degree of severity, so that the more grievously a person sins the more grievously is he punished: “As much as she hath glorified herself and lived in delicacies, so much torment and sorrow give ye to her” (Apocalypse 18:7). The duration of the punishment does not, however, correspond with the duration of the fault, as Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xxi, 11), for adultery which is committed in a short space of time is not punished with a momentary penalty even according to human laws [Cf. I-II, 87, 3, ad 1]. But the duration of punishment regards the disposition of the sinner: for sometimes a person who commits an offense in a city is rendered by his very offense worthy of being cut off entirely from the fellowship of the citizens, either by perpetual exile or even by death: whereas sometimes he is not rendered worthy of being cut off entirely from the fellowship of the citizens. wherefore in order that he may become a fitting member of the State, his punishment is prolonged or curtailed, according as is expedient for his amendment, so that he may live in the city in a becoming and peaceful manner. So too, according to Divine justice, sin renders a person worthy to be altogether cut off from the fellowship of God’s city, and this is the effect of every sin committed against charity, which is the bond uniting this same city together. Consequently, for mortal sin which is contrary to charity a person is expelled for ever from the fellowship of the saints and condemned to everlasting punishment, because as Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xxi, 11), “as men are cut off from this perishable city by the penalty of the first death, so are they excluded from that imperishable city by the punishment of the second death.” That the punishment inflicted by the earthly state is not deemed everlasting is accidental, either because man endures not for ever, or because the state itself comes to an end. Wherefore if man lived for ever, the punishment of exile or slavery, which is pronounced by human law, would remain in him for ever. On the other hand, as regards those who sin in such a way as not to deserve to be entirely cut off from the fellowship of the saints, such as those who sin venially, their punishment will be so much the shorter or longer according as they are more or less fit to be cleansed, through sin clinging to them more or less: this is observed in the punishments of this world and of purgatory according to Divine justice.

    We find also other reasons given by the saints why some are justly condemned to everlasting punishment for a temporal sin. One is because they sinned against an eternal good by despising eternal life. This is mentioned by Augustine (De Civ. Dei. xii, 12): “He is become worthy of eternal evil, who destroyed in himself a good which could be eternal.” Another reason is because man sinned in his own eternity [Cf. I-II, 87, 3, ad 1]; wherefore Gregory says (Dial. iv), it belongs to the great justice of the judge that those should never cease to be punished, who in this life never ceased to desire sin. And if it be objected that some who sin mortally propose to amend their life at some time, and that these accordingly are seemingly not deserving of eternal punishment, it must be replied according to some that Gregory speaks of the will that is made manifest by the deed. For he who falls into mortal sin of his own will puts himself in a state whence he cannot be rescued, except God help him: wherefore from the very fact that he is willing to sin, he is willing to remain in sin for ever. For man is “a wind that goeth,” namely to sin, “and returneth not by his own power” (Psalm 77:39). Thus if a man were to throw himself into a pit whence he could not get out without help, one might say that he wished to remain there for ever, whatever else he may have thought himself. Another and a better answer is that from the very fact that he commits a mortal sin, he places his end in a creature; and since the whole of life is directed to its end, it follows that for this very reason he directs the whole of his life to that sin, and is willing to remain in sin forever, if he could do so with impunity. This is what Gregory says on Job 41:23, “He shall esteem the deep as growing old” (Moral. xxxiv): “The wicked only put an end to sinning because their life came to an end: they would indeed have wished to live for ever, that they might continue in sin for ever for they desire rather to sin than to live.” Still another reason may be given why the punishment of mortal sin is eternal: because thereby one offends God Who is infinite. Wherefore since punishment cannot be infinite in intensity, because the creature is incapable of an infinite quality, it must needs be infinite at least in duration. And again there is a fourth reason for the same: because guilt remains for ever, since it cannot be remitted without grace, and men cannot receive grace after death; nor should punishment cease so long as guilt remains.

    Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink
  107. CCP wrote:

    Objections?

    Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink
  108. dan wrote:

    The “conversation about a conversation” fits nicely into discussions of missiology. ;)

    Anyway, I don’t think I’m repaying anybody for any sins. I’ve just got this thing about those who follow Jesus but use power in a bullying manner. Regardless, your point about Smith is well taken. I already apologized to Halden for my impatience, while giving both Halden and Congdon props for handling JKAS in a much more appropriate manner. So, here’s my open apology to everybody else for diverting this thread. Kudos to those who still have the patience to discuss important matters with any and all. I admire y’all.

    Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  109. CCP wrote:

    Correction: I was confusing myself with another question Thomas was treating another Gregory…honest mistake because in the objections and replies to objections he really is trying to show how Greek views can be seen not to contradict with the Latin view…but this Gregory here is indeed Pope Gregory (though he was born on Constantinople I think!).

    Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Permalink
  110. CCP wrote:

    Like

    Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Permalink
  111. CCP wrote:

    Thomas’ responseo to the fourth article of this same question deals with whether *Christians* might also be part of this number who are eternally punished:

    I answer that, According to Augustine (De Civ. Dei xxi, 20,21), there have been some who predicted a delivery from eternal punishment not for all men, but only for Christians, although they stated the matter in different ways. For some said that whoever received the sacraments of faith would be immune from eternal punishment. But this is contrary to the truth, since some receive the sacraments of faith, and yet have not faith, without which “it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Wherefore others said that those alone will be exempt from eternal punishment who have received the sacraments of faith, and professed the Catholic faith. But against this it would seem to be that at one time some people profess the Catholic faith, and afterwards abandon it, and these are deserving not of a lesser but of a greater punishment, since according to 2 Peter 2:21, “it had been better for them not to have known the way of justice than, after they have known it, to turn back.” Moreover it is clear that heresiarchs who renounce the Catholic faith and invent new heresies sin more grievously than those who have conformed to some heresy from the first. And therefore some have maintained that those alone are exempt from eternal punishment, who persevere to the end in the Catholic faith, however guilty they may have been of other crimes. But this is clearly contrary to Holy Writ, for it is written (James 2:20): “Faith without works is dead,” and (Matthew 7:21) “Not every one that saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of My Father Who is in heaven”: and in many other passages Holy Scripture threatens sinners with eternal punishment. Consequently those who persevere in the faith unto the end will not all be exempt from eternal punishment, unless in the end they prove to be free from other crimes.

    [[[One can see here how important the idea of a the 'church militant' was for medievals, because it really was like a battle for holiness that must be fought, with God's help...salvation is really something which gets worked out with fear and trembling for them]].

    Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Permalink
  112. Brother Dan,

    You are the blogosphere comment thread equivalent of Ted L. Nancy.

    Regards,
    Brother Ty

    Monday, May 9, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink
  113. CCP wrote:

    Ok, some prompts to try and invite comment before I fall quiet on my foray into the blogosphere:

    All the church fathers, even Origen, Didymus the Blind, Gregory of Nyssa, all agreed that there was going to be divine punishment. The question of apocatastasis (total restoration for all those punished), before it was condemned at the Synod of Constantinople, was about the eternality of divine punishment.

    So the east-west disagreement is not about whether or not there is divine punishment, but whether it has an end or not.

    With new universalism vs. traditional views, it seems that the whole question of divine punishment and time is completely out of the picture.

    It seems that on the new universalist side, the question turns on the overwhelming love of God in Christ, whose love will finally be victorious to the point that as every knee bends at his name, so shall every knee be redeemed.

    And it seems that on the present traditionalist side (sure, let’s take Jamie Smith as an exemplar) the defense turns on (a) the freedom of human agency to reject God’s love in perpetuity, and (b) the fact that universalism (apocatastasis) is what we all want, and therefore must be Feuerbachian, and therefore wrong.

    Is this (a) a decent understanding the disagreement? And (b) does it help to examine some patristic and medieval views?

    Harnack once wrote that all the Reformers believed (at heart) in Apocatastasis, which is hard to believe…but I think it’s clear that most Christians in modernity want to believe in Apocatastasis. Barth and Balthasar gave the most sophisticated Reformed and Catholic articulations of how to make this work with the received tradition of the West. It seems to me that new universalism tries to reinvent a wheel that it hasn’t properly investigated. Needless to say I think a return to patristic and medieval sources should be part and parcel of how we think theologically about these questions…and it seems that blogs are nearly as good as seminar rooms for communal learning about disagreements in the tradition.

    Obliged (hats off to Mr. Imburgia).

    Monday, May 9, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Permalink
  114. Robb wrote:

    CCP,

    “It seems to me that new universalism tries to reinvent a wheel that it hasn’t properly investigated. Needless to say I think a return to patristic and medieval sources should be part and parcel of how we think theologically about these questions.”

    Agree. I also think Gavin D’Costa has done something to this effect – tracing the liturgical tradition’s response to the question of hope, along with exploring “the limbo of the just” and the liturgical prayers for those who have died…and he includes some vonB.

    Monday, May 9, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Permalink
  115. CCP wrote:

    I’ve said too much, but I think prayers for the dead is precisely one of the things that we should be paying attention to. And yet evangelicals do not really have a tradition of praying for the dead — perhaps giving thanks, or in a jokey way (good old Jim McClendon is enjoying his martinis in heaven) — and there is certainly a connection here to be made between how evangelicals and catholics pray differently, and how we think about eschatological issues of heaven, hell, purgatory, etc. So it makes sense to me to find those texts that might push against our own preferred view within the Christian tradition with that of another (let’s say a reader habitually prefers Origen or Barth or Balthasar, then they should also spend some time discerning their disagreement with an Augustine or an Aquinas). There is always theological Balkinization, though we usually do that well enough without having to practice much at it. Better to get at some rich theological texts — and D’Costa would be good to look at too — and think through them together. I have the sense that the moment might have passed for this issue, understandably tired out by the Smith histrionics, but you’ve a great theological community here and you all have really substantial theological minds. I’ll keep checking back to learn from you all.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink
  116. Bobby Grow wrote:

    CCP,

    Have you read Gregory MacDonald’s (Robin Parry’s) The Evangelical Universalist? His is the most cogent and even compelling (mostly, exegetical) proposal for a Christian Universalism that I’ve ever read. I’m quite trad, and he really bothered me (in a good way).

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Permalink
  117. CCP wrote:

    I don’t really think I am a doctrinal chooser, I leave that to church councils and the like…but I love to try and understand what the church believes everywhere and always. If Robin Parry’s book disturbs in all the right ways, advances understanding, throw up a good representative chunk of it here for discussion. Perhaps discussing the strongest case for evangelical universalism (I still don’t know what that means or if those words do adequate descriptive work) is a better approach. Can you find a representative sample that bothered you in the best way?

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 6:59 am | Permalink
  118. Bobby Grow wrote:

    CCP,

    If you click on my name that will take you to my blog, my most recent post provides a sample and chunk from the book. Yet, his argument is so intricate, and detailed, that it is somewhat impossible to adequately sketch in a blog post (or by a simple quote); nevertheless I attempt to provide a little coverage through my post. Parry admits that his work falls in the realm (of course) of theolougemena. He uses “Evangelical Universalism,” more for rhetorical purposes, and really a hook to pique interest (unfortunately that didn’t work as well as Love Wins! ;-). Anyway, if you have a chance you can check out my post.

    I take it you’re Roman Catholic, then . . .

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink
  119. CCP wrote:

    This is the selection Bobby refers us to:

    I want to give you an example of how he gets around the idea that ‘Hell” in these texts represents a place of Eternal Conscious Torment (the trad view). But before I do that I should provide this caveat: Parry’s version of ‘Evangelical Universalism’ still holds to a literal ‘Conscious Tormentuous’ Hell, he just believes that it is temporary (with the purpose of being an educative [convicting/convincing] place, and not a purifying place [like a Roman Catholic purgatory]); even though he believes its temporary, he still believes its a terrible terrible place to be avoided! With that caveat in place lets look at how he interprets Revelation 20:10-15 (of course I won’t be able to provide but a taste of his thinking, even so, the following quote is going to be a bit lengthy):

    However [in response to his the apparent problem that chptr 20 poses for an Universalist interpretation], John moves on to a vision of the New Jerusalem in 21:9ff., and it is here that we find what looks very much like a universalist hope. 21:12-21 give a very elaborate description of the walls of the City. In the ancient world the walls of a city were essential for the protection of the inhabitants, but that this is not the function of these walls is clear from the fact that the wicked are no longer in a position to attack the city, and thus the gates are left open perpetually (21:25). So what is the wall for? Rissi maintains that it serves as a boundary marker between those inside the City (the redeemed) and those outside the City (who inhabit the lake of fire). This interpretation is supported by 22:14-15, in which the risen Jesus says: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” To be outside the city walls is to be in the lake of fire (21:8); and nothing and nobody unclean can enter the city, but only those written in the Lamb’s book of life (21:27). It is the City wall that marks the boundary between the two: “a sign of separation.” So far, this hardly seems encouraging for the universalist; but then we read in 21:23-27:

    The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut (indeed, there will be no night there). The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who dose what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

    Now we have a vision in which the nations, whom we have already established have been thrown into the lake of fire, enter the New Jerusalem via the permanently open gates! There is a continuous flow from outside of the City (clearly the lake of fire in the light of 21:8; 21:27; 22:15) into the City. In John’s visionary geography there are only two places one can be located — within the city enclosed in its walls of salvation (Isa 60:18) or outside the city in the lake of fire. The gates of this New Jerusalem are never closed. Given that those in the city would have no reason to leave it to enter the lake of fire, why are the doors always open? “In John’s interpretation of the prophetic message [of Isa 60] by means of the Jerusalem vision the motif of the open gates is given a quite new, and positively decisive significance for his entire hope for the future. . . . John announces nothing less than that even for this world of the lost the doors remain open!” In the oracle of Isaiah 60 on which this vision is based we read that the gates were left open for the purpose of allowing the nations to enter (60:11), and that is the case here too: the open doors are not just a symbol of security but primarily a symbol of the God who excludes no one from his presence forever. [first set of brackets, mine] (Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist, 114-15)

    Prior to this, MacDonald has already provided an elaborate biblical theology of the Old Testament; in it, he provides a few distinctions (which also then end up appealing to a chapter where he does a biblical theology of the New Testament). It goes Israel, the Church, the Nations; without providing too much detail: Israel is chosen to mediate salvation to the nations (of which they are apart) — they fail — but a single Jew rises up from among them (Jesus) and provides salvation to them and the Nations; out of the Jews and the Nations (in the present era, since Pentecost) we end up with the Church (those who believe pre-mortem). Parry identifies the Church as the “first fruits” of Christ’s resurrection; this “first fruits” idea carries into the eschaton. In Revelation the Church are those people representative of every tribe, tongue and nation; but they are just samples from the Nations, the Nations are the rest of the world now condemned to Hell (in Revelation 20). Picking up on a motif that MacDonald has already established from his work in the O.T., the Nations all eventually get saved (see Isaiah 45:21ff and cf. with Philippians 2:8-10); which then coincides with the quote I just provided from Parry above. The Nations all finally come into and through the “open” gates of the New Heavens and Earth, the New Jerusalem (the idea from MacDonald, is that eventually, over time, each person in Hell will be convinced [just as many of us are now] of their need of a Savior — at this point they will bow the knee in faith [Parry argues that no-one ever has said that Jesus is Lord by force nor without the Spirit cf. I Cor. 12.3] and be welcomed into Heaven).

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink
  120. CCP wrote:

    Problem one here occurs immediately:

    “Parry’s version of ‘Evangelical Universalism’ still holds to a literal ‘Conscious Tormentuous’ Hell, he just believes that it is temporary (with the purpose of being an educative [convicting/convincing] place, and not a purifying place [like a Roman Catholic purgatory]); even though he believes its temporary, he still believes its a terrible terrible place to be avoided!”

    What is clear is that Parry, as he is represented here does not understand purgatory. There are essentially two strands, and both owe something to Augustine. Augustine says in the City of God that in this life all human beings suffer. The causes of this suffering are twofold: to punish the wicked or test the faithful. Thus even in this life, suffering is seen to have either hellish (punishment) or purgatorial (purification) intention.

    Thomas Aquinas, in thinking about the difference between the fires of purgatory and the fires of hell says that they share the same flames, but like Augustine, says that the flames are put to different ends. Purgatory and Hell are always carefully differentiated. As well, it seems that for both of them, hell is eternal, while purgatory is not. Purgatory always has an end, and is not eternal.

    Catherine of Genoa develops the notion of purgatory being engulfed by the flame of Christ’s love (like angels bringing coals to purify the lips of prophets), and the subsequent tradition (polemically described by Parry as the eternal conscious torment tradition) pretty much follows Catherine of Genoa, and tends to interpret Augustine and Thomas in light of this “flame of love” notion of purgatory, which really is educative, and substantially strengthening the Christian for the face to face vision of God (whom Moses knows, no one can face and live).

    What Parry describes as hell sounds like what much of the tradition calls purgatory.

    I submit this as a substantial objection to this brief snippet from Parry. And I welcome correction.

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Permalink
  121. Bobby Grow wrote:

    CCP,

    Parry does not make this a substantial piece of his puzzle, but he does not draw a distinction between how he views hell as educative vs. a more purifying understanding (so he’s obviously trying to distinguish his view from a perception that he might hold of the goal of purgatory — he doesn’t really develop this line that much though). As a protestant Parry won’t have the concepts of both Hell and Purgatory available to his lexicon, but I do find your points of interest since Parry tries to underscore the Patristic pedigree that various forms of “Christian universalism” has (he names: Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximus).

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Permalink
  122. Bobby Grow wrote:

    *I should say “does draw a distinction between how he views hell . . .*

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Permalink
  123. CCP wrote:

    It is an odd distinction to make (between the pedagogical and the purgative — as a teacher I can tell you there is no difference).

    If the quote you provide is not representative, it would be good to see one that was more representative of his position (a good representative quote can always be found in a good argument).

    I don’t think it will do to let a Christian off by saying certain terms are not in their lexicon. Perhaps your average lay person can afford to be naive, but if you write Christian theology, you need to know the whole history of terms, and know where one stands vis a vis other Christian positions. I suspect that Parry does know this — but this selection does not demonstrate that well and in fact makes it seem that he does not understand how the eschatological thinking of the church developed over time, east or west.

    Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 5:47 am | Permalink
  124. Bobby Grow wrote:

    CCP,

    There is a quote that I could provide where he speaks to this more, but I’m not going to devote anymore time to it (folks should just read his book). Yet, his book is not a dogmatic or systematic theology book (in fact that’s one of the weaknesses of his presentation to me, no dogmatic argument . . . just some analytical philosophical stuff to open the book up). So you may well be disappointed, I don’t know. His argument is exegetical, and I think I pretty accurately capture his gist on educative/purging reality (he does not make that a hard and fast distinction though, but prefers to emphasize your pedagogical). I never said my quote wasn’t representative, it is representative of his exegesis on Rev. 20:10ff. Like I said, there is a section that I could quote, I’m just not going to devote the time to that (you’re a scholar, you can p/u the book and read it in its whole context as readily as I). Clearly we can’t let someone off (the lexicon point), yet, that was an evaluative statement made on my part in re. to how it seems that Parry handles that point (or leaves it undeveloped, which he does, at least in this book . . . maybe his edited book “All Is Well” does better at this). The impression given, CCP, is that however the past developed this idea (as important as it may be), it is not a central touchstone for Parry’s personal and exegetical argument. The impression is, is that Parry references the Patristics that he does, in order to provide more credibility to “Christian Universalism” in general; and then the argument of the book taps into this “minority” theolougemena present in the history of interpretation, and tries to give it a more stout exegetical defense for the 21st century — and I might add, unique from the forbears he references (in certain ways, I think he prefers the way Gregory of Nyssa approached this out of the 3 listed).

    Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Permalink
  125. From Papa Benedict:

    “If there were such a thing as a loneliness that could no longer be penetrated and transformed by the word of another; if a state of abandonment were to arise that was so deep that no ‘You’ could reach into it any more, then we should have real, total loneliness and dreadfulness, what theology calls hell.
    …In truth – one thing is certain: there exists a night into whose solitude no voice reaches; there is a door through which we can only walk alone – the door of death.  In the last analysis all the fear in the world is fear of this loneliness.  From this point of view, it is possible to understand why the Old Testament has only one word for hell and death, the word sheol; it regards them as ultimately identical.  Death is absolute loneliness.  But the loneliness into which love can no longer advance is – hell….This brings us back to our starting point, the article of the Creed that speaks of the descent into hell.  This article thus asserts that Christ strode through the gate of our final loneliness, that in his Passion he went down into the abyss of our abandonment.  Where no voice can reach us any longer, there is he.  Hell is thereby overcome, or, to be more accurate, death, which was previously hell, is hell no longer.  Neither is the same any longer because there is life in the midst of death, because love dwells in it.  Now only deliberate self-enclosure is hell or, as the Bible calls it, the second death (Rev 20:14, for example).  But death is no longer the path into icy solitude; the gates of sheol have been opened.”  (Introduction to Christianity, p. 300, 301). I have been trying since I read this a week ago to make a country song outa this (maybe if I tried singing in German?). The upbeat ending is problematic too. Say what you will, that second paragraph is pure Johnny Cash! Obliged. (p.s. what rhymes with ‘theolougemena’).

    Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Permalink
  126. CCP wrote:

    Now only deliberate self-enclosure is hell or, as the Bible calls it, the second death (Rev 20:14, for example).

    That seems to be the tesimony of much of the Christian tradition…that there is a hell, but that it is only locked from the inside.

    This is a nice selection from Intro to Xty…which is quite early, but vintage and true. I have not read it yet, but I understand that the pope implicitly distances himself from Balthasar in his recently released second book on Jesus (especially in relation to the cry of dereliction). But this is the right way to view these eschatological matters…one reads this quote in particular in light of his detailed study of bodily resurrection, heaven, hell and purgatory in his master-work, Eschatology.

    Friday, May 13, 2011 at 5:32 am | Permalink
  127. Byron Smith wrote:

    I realise I’m only a couple of weeks late to this party, but it seemed worth mentioning that your first point (about skipping the substantial content of an argument and jumping straight into speculation about possible emotional pathologies behind it) was called “Bulverism” by C. S. Lewis in an essay of the same name. It’s a useful shorthand.

    Monday, May 16, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink
  128. Mark Regier wrote:

    Curious that Parry references the Corinthian text to demonstrate that the “every tongue confess” motif on the last day will be the work of the Spirit.

    First, I must ask whether it is impossible for the Spirit to speak this utterance of submission through a condemned sinner?

    If we turn to the Old Testament, we see both Balaam and King Saul (both respectively “condemned,” if I can risk some anachronistic language) making confessions of faith or “prophecies” (I’m assuming for Saul’s case that prophecy cannot be done without including an explicit or implicit confession of the God of Israel). The Spirit cloaked both of them; both were still rejected of God.

    Is it impossible that the same would be the case for the final day?

    Secondly, Parry uses the Corinthian text, which is clearly implied for the present situation of distinguishing spirits in the ekklesia, to interpret the eschatological decree found in the Philippian hymn. I don’t fault him for doing so. But does this not imply that he sees a distinct soteriological continuity between the present and the future day? The Holy Spirit on the final day, as is the case with the Holy Spirit now, is the SOLE presupposition of confessing Jesus’ lordship.

    This continuity is excellent, but does it carry further? If not, then why? What I mean to say is that (as has been pointed out here), Parry construes Hell as a place of instruction, an agonous but educative experience by which the sinner comes to perceive his/her lostness and eventually chooses to enter the open gates of the New Jerusalem.

    It seems that soteriological continuity abruptly halts at the gates of Hell. People are not saved today by torment, nor by an education of the will (pelagianism), but by the simple electing grace of Jesus Christ. Neither by effort nor by desire, but by God’s mercy. But Parry’s Hell does not offer such a gospel. It offers Law and Wrath; it requires the subject to go through an extensive period of rehabilitation (oh how closely we are stumbling onto a synthesis of grace and merit here!!) before he/she may enter into the Holy presence of God.

    Why has Parry allowed the Corinthian text to speak a pneumatological word for the future, but forbidden the other necessary elements of the gospel Paul preaches for the present day?

    All of these questions can only be preliminary for me. I haven’t read Parry’s book, but now I want to. Now I have an arsenal of questions that I can joyously discard, test, or confirm as I pick up this work. Makes reading far more fun!

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

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