Friday, August 04, 2006

The Evangelical Universalist

Not so long ago, on my friend Jason Clark’s blog, I came across a book recommendation on universalism. Some of you know that Christian universalism is a question that has engaged me on and off, but I was all the more fascinated to read that the author is writing from an evangelical perspective and as a universalist. As an evangelical myself who has spent a considerable amount of time pondering this issue, I wanted to know more.

The book in question: The Evangelical Universalist, written by Gregory MacDonald (a pseudonym).

Not only that, I was amazed to read recommendations for this book written by excellent scholars such as Andrew T. Lincoln and Joel B. Green. Enough to get my serious attention!

For example, Lincoln writes:
“. . . [T]his passionate and lucid advocacy of an evangelical universalism . . . not only engages with key passages in the context of the overall biblical narrative but also treats clearly the profound theological and philosophical issues to which that narrative gives rise . . . readers . . . will find this book an excellent, accessible and indispensable aid in their own attempts to grapple with what its author describes as ‘a hell of a problem’ . . .”
While Green comments:
“. . . I was struck by the persuasiveness of many of Gregory MacDonald's arguments, not least since they rest in an unusually adept interweaving of biblical exegesis with relevant philosophical and theological considerations . . .”
‘An immediate must buy’, I thought!

In the following posts (though not necessarily in this order - and my impending holiday in Portugal will slow things up):

1) I shall briefly present to you my own (developing) position on universalism. I am not dogmatic on this, and by no means at the ‘decided for good’ stage. In other words, I am truly open to dialogue. Nevertheless, for what it’s worth, I’ll share some of my thoughts as I’m not a universalist. I just don’t feel the texts of scripture allow me to take that leap. But more on that later (though I note, I have not yet had a chance to read The Evangelical Universalist to convince me otheriwse).

2) Not only that, but, after contacting the author, he has kindly written a wonderfully helpful introduction and overview of his book for you, my readers. This will tell us why he wrote the book and what he hopes to achieve with it, and so on.

3) When I receive my copy in the post I will get my head down to reading it as quickly as possible, because I also hope to publish on Chrisendom a short interview with Gregory about the book. He has already kindly written some very though-provoking words to me, in dialogue with some of my concerns.

I think this is going to be a fascinating series! I’m especially looking forward to reading his treatment of the book of Revelation, which he tells me is perhaps the most detailed attempt to read it in a universalist way.



At 8/04/2006 5:37 AM, Anonymous John P. said...

i am excited to see where you take this. it should be interesting for sure, especially the section on Revelation.

oh, and by the way, a vacation in Portugal? Not fair. enjoy it, so that we can do so vicariously through you.

At 8/04/2006 8:04 AM, Anonymous byron smith said...

Yeah, I'm keen on this series.

And how (without revealing pseodonymous secrets) do you know GM?

At 8/04/2006 8:41 AM, Anonymous dan said...

Chris, man, it seems like you've always got mad hook-ups! I'll bump that book onto my "to read soon" list. I haven't done a lot of reading on the issue in the last year or so (I'm sitting pretty comfortably in the same camp as von Balthsar [and Barth?]) but I've recently re-entered discussions around this topic with some loved ones and this book sounds like a good refresher.

Grace and peace.

At 8/05/2006 12:27 AM, Anonymous Ben Myers said...

Sounds like an interesting series, Chris. How did you find out the author's identity (or is it widely known)?

It seems unusual to publish theology pseudonymously -- was he worried that the book could cost him his job or something?

At 8/05/2006 10:27 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks John, I’ll certainly enjoy it!

I only know of Gregory as I found his e-mail address on another blog. I have no idea who he really is.

Hi Dan,
Did you start that Barth reading group in the end? And what did you think of Moltmann’s treatment of the universalism question in The Coming of God?

Hi Ben,
“How did you find out the author's identity (or is it widely known)?”
I mentioned above to Byron, I simply found his (Gregory’s) e-mail address on another blog. I don’t know who he is in real life.

“It seems unusual to publish theology pseudonymously -- was he worried that the book could cost him his job or something?”

I’ll think I read on another blog post that he didn’t want to divert attention from his other more important books in that others wouldn’t read them if they knew he was a universalist. But he may one day reveal his identity.

At 8/05/2006 2:08 PM, Anonymous dan said...


(1) The Barth reading group currently consists of myself and one other fellow who I meet with on a regular basis. As of today we will have both finished Vol I.1 and moved onto Vol I.2 (it looks like it will take us a little longer to complete the Dogmatics than we first imagined!).

(2) I like a lot of what Moltmann has to say about universalism in The Coming of God and elsewhere (cf. his chapter on "the tortured Christ" in the Festschrift for David Kwang-sun Suh entitled Surviving Terror). Indeed, it was Moltmann who first significantly changed my perspective on this topic. However, just as you suggest in your most recent post, I cannot fully embrace Moltmann's position because it is a little too certain. While von Balthasar is a hopeful universalist, Moltmann strikes me as a certain universalist. Like you, and contra Moltmann, I think that reflections on this topic belong within the realm of hope, and not within the realm of certitude. We are saved in hope, and so we hope for the salvation of all (Ro 8).

At 8/06/2006 3:22 AM, Anonymous byron smith said...

Thanks - looking forward to the series.


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