Monday, July 30, 2007

Gregory MacDonald responds to my previous post

Gregory MacDonald (author of The Evangelical Universalist) asked if I could post this simply as a comment on my posting rather make it a post of its own, but I thought it would be worthwhile to put this helpful response on the main blog page to discuss.

I'd be most interested to hear what people think of his response.

"Thank you for your intelligent and helpful response to my work and that of other Christian Universalists. Let me make the following comments by way of initial response:

You make the point very well that Paul makes a distinction between the judgment of believers in this age and the condemnation of nonbelievers at the end of the age. You'll get no argument from me on that front. You also note that the redemptive judgment texts appealed to in Paul fall into the category of texts about the judgment of believers in this age. That is correct. Indeed there is very little in your exegesis that I would wish to question. One thing I would pick up on is the distinction between those who have hope (believers) and those who have no hope (non believers). That distinction is Pauline but we must not forget that Gentile believers were also once "without hope" (Eph 2:12). That nonbelievers have no hope does not mean that salvation cannot be their ultimate destiny.

So, if I agree with you on almost everything you say, what of my claim that Paul was a universalist? Well, I don't think that my book ever claims that Paul was a universalist … at least, a universalist in the way that I am (though I freely confess to being somewhat ambiguous on the matter). Did Paul think of hell as corrective? He never comes out and says so. The argument in my book is slightly different. I am trying to do contemporary Christian theology grounded (in part) in Pauline theology and this requires me to extend some of Paul own teaching in ways that I think are fully consistent with it. So I think that Paul did envisage a universal salvation (and he was a robust universalist of sorts) and I think that he also envisaged a condemnation of unbelievers. He never tried to explain how those two ideas can be held together so I suggest a way of doing it (a way I find more helpful than alternative suggestions). Now I am well aware that when I do so I am not seeking to explain the way that the historical Paul did it. As I say, he was not writing systematic theology for our convenience and so he simply does not tell us how to do it. He may not even have thought it through himself – who knows? So perhaps you and I actually agree and may be in danger of speaking past each other. When I speak of hell as corrective I am not seeking to say what Paul said but what I think that I must say in the light of what Paul said. Now I argue that one can draw biblical support for this notion of hell as corrective from the wider biblical teachings on divine punishment (and I argue that God's punishment of Israel and the church is not utterly different from his punishment of unbelievers. The distinction between punishment of believers now and unbelievers in hell is one of degree but in kind they are not totally different). Thus I do draw a little (and only a little) on Pauline texts that speak of the correction of believers. This is not because I think that one can infer directly from such texts that hell is like that. Rather I think that such texts can play a role in a more general understanding of divine punishment and feed indirectly into a theology of hell. So I am transcending Paul's intent. Am I subverting it? I would be if Paul's teaching on final punishment ruled out any future deliverance. My point is that the only text that seems to do so 2 Thess 1:8-9 and I don't think that it needs to be read that way. However, if I am wrong in thinking that we can do justice to the breath of Paul's teachings in this area (i.e., that the distinction between the judgment of believers and unbelievers is more radical than I maintain) and that my suggestion entails a denial of some of Paul's teachings then I am wrong and another way needs to be found to hold the texts together. Hope that is of some help but I suspect that I have not really replied adequately.

Gregory MacDonald"

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Redemptive judgment in hell? Pt 3

This post needs to be read in light of the previous two in this series: part 1 and part 2. In the following I offer a quick critique of how some Universalists use/read Paul in relation to the question of redemptive judgment in hell.

The simple point to make in relation to the claims of redemptive judgment in Paul based on such texts as 1 Cor 3:11-15; 5:1-5 and 11:29-32 is that in the latter (11:29-32) Paul makes a division between a) the sort of redemptive judgment experienced by believers, and b) the condemnation experienced by nonbelievers.

'But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world' (1 Cor 11:32)

Paul, here, arguably makes a distinction between two judgments (cf. Schnabel, Der erste Brief des Paulus an die Korinther, 668-69). On the one hand the judgment of believers (paideuo,meqa) is educative and redemptive. The final part of 11:32, on the other hand, speaks of the condemnation and judgment of the world (katakriqw/menÅ), a theme Paul touches upon in 1 Cor 6:2 and well as Rom 3:6. Although there is some debate concerning the nature of the clause following the i[na the point made here is essentially untouched.

1 Cor 11:29-32 cannot, therefore, be appealed to as Pauline support of a redemptive judgment of unbelievers in hell. It will be noticed that the material in both 1 Cor 3 and 5 is evidence of redemptive judgment on believers. What is most surprising is Paul's confidence that the sinner mentioned in 1 Cor 5 will be saved on the day of the Lord (5:5). Many commentators import a 'hope' element into this verse to make it comply with their theology (Perhaps it is now more obvious why I cited 1 Cor 5:5 in critical dialogue with Chris VanLandingham's thesis, here).

Indeed, one can suspect a common thread in the undisputed Pauline corpus in terms of judgment when 1 Cor 15:23-24 is added to the mix. There Paul speaks of an eschatological order: Christ, the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. After this comes the end (15:24 – Paul here also speaks of the destruction of 'every ruler and every authority and power' – annihilation[?]). In 1 Cor 3:6 Paul speaks of believers judging the world. It would appear that Paul envisages a judgment of the world after that of believers. And this final judgment is the condemnation mentioned in 11:32. If this is correct then the inheriting of the kingdom of God is to be related to 1 Cor 15:24. To be remembered is that Paul envisages that there will be those who do not inherit the kingdom of God. This is the post redemptive judgment world condemnation exclusion from the kingdom of God (cf. 'Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived!' - 1 Cor 6:9; 'I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God' - Gal 5:21).

This division between the world, on the one hand, and believers, on the other is one Paul regularly employs, and does so with an eye on the eschaton. For example, 1 Cor 16:22 'Let anyone be accursed who has no love for the Lord. Our Lord, come!' (I prefer not to exclude an eschatological overtone in this Maranatha cry). Also noteworthy is Paul's rhetoric in 1 Thess 4. Some in the community had died and this had thrown many into confusion. Paul starts his argument with the following words:

'But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope' (1Thess 4:13).

There are those who 'have no hope'. The previous eschatological material in Paul would imply that this is more than a statement concerning the subjective state of certain individuals, and an objective matter relating to their destination (as also implied by Paul's continued talk of the hope of believers in relation to their destination). Believers, on the other hand, as Paul will continue to argue, have the hope of forever being with the Lord. The dead in Christ rise first, followed by those still left alive. It would appear that Paul's language in this passage should be taken to mean that Christ returns to skies of the earth and the believers rise up to meet the Lord. Then, the Lord returns to the earth with the believers to judge it. Then the business of judgment on those who 'have no hope' starts.

I realize that many Universalist will want to suggest a theological reading or objection at this or that point (and they may well be correct to do so. My point in these posts is to clarify the claims of some Universalists in relation to Paul and what Paul believed). Some may also want to reference passages in 1 Cor 15 and Rom 5 in support of their objection. However, if we are going to the Pauline texts attempting to use Paul in support of universalism or a more traditional or annihilationist reading then it needs to first be realizes one is then making a historical claim, an exegetical claim about how Paul is best understood. (Of course, some may claim that Rom 5:18-19 can be understood as authoritative without recourse to Paul's authorial intent. However, and first, I am reluctant to sweep the notion of authorial intent away – cf. Max Turner's article in Between Two Horizon's – and second, if one takes this route, one wonders how Paul's letters, and not just passages, are functioning as Scripture in this scenario – I will return to this point at another time) At this point I would argue that the brief outline I have sketched above concerning judgment in Paul is a plausible historical claim. For example, the Jewish groups that produced the documents found at the Dead Sea speak of the 'salvation' of the elect of the elect. Those who are safe are those 'in their group'. Those outside will suffer judgment and destruction. This is a pretty consistent picture throughout the texts. Paul fits very well against this backdrop and thus the Universalist is forced to make a reading on theological grounds that transcend and even subvert Paul's intent.

What all of this also shows us is that 2 Thess 1:8-9 is hardly the only problem text in Paul for Universalists.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Book review: Fee’s Pauline Christology Pt 1.

A review of Gordon D. Fee's Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 2007)

(My sincere thanks to the kind folk at Hendrickson for a review copy)

Believe it or not, this impressive volume is the first serious scholarly attempt to grapple with Pauline Christology and so fills something of a surprising void in scholarship. It is thus a delight to review this major event in Pauline scholarship on my blog.

Fee's introduction

His important introduction sets forth his program, and will thus here be overviewed with necessary detail. He first defines his understanding of a study of Christology as a study of the person, not the work, of Christ. While he admits that Paul didn't divide matters like this, he insists that the approach that has sought to bridge the two, narrative Christology, fails to deal with Paul's christological presuppositions. He notes his appreciation of this approach in that his study will not be dominated by titles but still wants to 'look at Christology on its own right and not to have it overladen with soteriology' (2 n. 2). Noting further difficulties with his approach, he asserts that: 'Our christological task is to try to tease out what Paul himself understood presuppositionally about Christ, and to do so on the basis of his explicit and incidental references to Christ' (3-4). He further notes that 'we are seldom reading Paul's argued Christology, but rather his assumed Christology' (4). 'Our best hope for getting it right, as it were, is to focus on those kinds of statements that are repeated throughout the corpus in a variety of ways' (4). Hence, Fee wants his study to be primarily exegetical, as a narrative Christology can overlook what does not fit the prior construction of the narrative. But this is not simply another study of so-called christological titles; he also wants to respect 'the grammar of the theological discourse' as L. Keck has urged (5). This leads to his definition of Christology: 'So Christology in this study has to do with Paul's understanding of the person of Christ, as it emerges in his letters both in explicit statements about Christ and in other statements full of shared assumptions between him and his readers' (5). By Paul here, he means the canonical Paul. This usage of all of the canonical 'Pauline' letters will safeguard, he argues, from the circular reasoning involved in authenticity claims.

However, Fee is also clear about the problems involved in a study of Pauline Christology, namely the theological difficulty of asserting a high-Christology in light of Paul's monotheism. Particularly noteworthy, in this context, is his following claim:

'[T]he attempt to extract Christology from Paul's letters apart from soteriology is like asking a devout Jew of Paul's era to talk about God in the abstract, without mentioning his mighty deeds of creation and redemption. Although one theoretically may theologize on the character and "person" of God on the basis of the revelation to Moses on Sinai ..., a Jewish person of Paul's era would hardly imagine doing so. What can be known and said about God is embedded in the story in such a way that God's person can never be abstracted out of the story' (8).

Furthermore, whatever else can be said in Paul one cannot so easily separate his Christology from his theology. Christology is, in other words, a focused theological concern (9). He concludes his approach:

'At issue in this book is the singular concern to investigate the Pauline data regarding the person of Christ in terms of whom Paul understood him to be and how he viewed the relationship between Christ, as the Son of God, and the one God, as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ' (8).

Rather surprisingly he continues to define a 'high' and a 'low' Christology entirely in terms of the question of pre-existence (9). In light of this he continues:

The first concern is to offer a close examination of the texts in the Pauline corpus that mention Christ ... Here the evidence seems conclusive that Paul belongs on the "high Christology" end of the spectrum.' (10)

It becomes clear that the question of pre-existence is one that will occupy much of Fee's analysis. Following this, Fee proceeds to detail what questions have busied scholars in the last century, namely the question of origins (Kramer, Bousset), titles (Cullmann), Wisdom Christology (Hengel), pre-existence (Dunn), conversion experience and Wisdom (Kim), and the divine identity and worship of Christ (Bauckham and Hurtado). Fee stated that he particularly wants to 'follow in the train' of Hurtado and Bauckham (15).

Fee then notes what he considers to be the basic matters of Pauline Christology. To do this he overviews the significance of three texts, 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:15-17 and Phil 2:6-11 and asserts that 'these three primary christological texts have embedded in them all the key elements of that Christology' (20).

He completes this extensive introduction by analysing his claim that Paul knew and used the Septuagint in his letters, a matter of considerable importance as Fee hangs much of his christological claims on the kurios = Adonai = Yahweh logic in Paul's use of the Greek translation of Israel's scriptures. He asserts: 'Paul and his churches show evidence that a text very much like the Septuagint was in use in the Jewish Diaspora' (21 n. 48). Would Paul's readers have been aware of this usage? If Luke-Acts is anything to go by, one would surely expect familiarity with the Jewish scriptures amongst the Gentile Christian populace.

All of this sets the groundwork for his exegetical section. The final section is a synthesis of themes uncovered in the exegetical section.

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Bible verse meme

Usually memes don't tug my chain, but having been tagged by both Jason and Frank I thought I'd venture out on this one.

I think the general idea, to loosely cite Jason, is to post the verse or story of scripture which is most important to you, which you find yourself re-visiting time after time.

My own bible verse choice has to make mention of the spirituality embodied in a few Psalms, such as 63, 84 etc. However, the verse I will finally pick is the one I chose as the 'marriage scripture' for Anja and I, the verse referenced on my wedding ring:

'One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple' (Ps 27:4)

My whole spirituality and Christian life has been formed on the importance of passionate love for God encouraged through desirous and extended meditation and beholding of the divine glory and majesty. This may sound very much like something Edwards, Piper, Scougal or Owen would write and it is indeed something very deep in my Christian life. There is nothing I enjoy as much as prayerfully contemplating the glory of God in the face of Christ, nothing more delightful, nothing that stirs up worship in my heart as deeply and profoundly.

And to be preachy for a minute (I was in prison last night for the sake of the gospel, after all), there is a terrible danger for many theologians to develop a snooty attitude such that the first and highest commandment (Mt 22: 37-38) is somehow left to one side, and compromise is given a spiritual name like 'balance' or justified as the inevitable consequence of learning (cf. also Rom 12:11). I've been guilty of that in the past and verses like Ps 27:4 bring me back to the heart of worship, to the Triune God who loved a sinner like me.

Drive-by Baptism competition

In the spirit of the 'Father Christmas' and 'Lords per Minute' competitions, I propose a friendly contest. The winner is the one who drive-by Baptises the most people before the end date of September the 1st. The winner also gets a book of his choice from his wishlist.

UPDATE: I am presently writing this from an internet connection in a Tübingen low security jail. Apart from the whole messy police thing at the end, I managed 5 tonight. I'm off to sing a few more hymns in my cell as one of the freshly baptised is shouting rude things at me from behind those three restraining policemen.

UPDATE: I got another one on the way back from the prison. She was a nun, but I thought I'd rebaptise just to make sure.

Josh McManaway: 26

Judy Redman: 8 (well I believe you!)

Chris: 6

Everybody else: 0

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Universal Forgetfulness

I forgot all about my universalism series... I'll pick it up in the next few days. Until then, check out Dan's post on divine vengeance.

Go West

Jim West (yes, that picture is definitely him – 'total depravity' doesn't even get close – the 'super move' is the funniest) had the nerve to publish a spurious interview with me last night. It ended with Jim absolving 'me' of sin. 'I' responded: 'OH THANK YOU! Now I can die in peace'.

Well, I really did die in peace. I went to heaven and was told Mozart was in hell because he was a Freemason. So I was sent back to proclaim unto thee the truth. Bultmann was also absent. Zwingli was kicking around somewhere avidly reading Wright's works muttering to himself: 'Of course, of course, why didn't I see that'.

But anyway, I digress.

It is not often that I've interviewed folk for Chrisendom. OK, there was the time with Richard Bauckham about his book, and then there was the one with Simon. This one with Jim West (who is now calling me a blasphemer – he didn't like me pointing out that Mozart is as overrated as, well, Bultmann) is more in the spirit of the latter.

To understand how this 'conversation' took place, you need to realise that it was an IM internet discussion.

A box popped up on my Windows desktop:

Jim: Chris, you there?

*Chris waits 5 minutes and hopes Jim will go away. Closes IM window*

Box pops up again:

Jim: Chris, I know you are there.

*Waits another few minutes. Gets on with work*

Jim: Chris?

*Chris makes a cup of tea*

*Comes back to the computer 5 minutes later*

Jim: I'm still here, and I'm going to keep on IMing you till you answer.

*Chris passes a few more minutes dreaming up potentially rude words from letters in the name 'Zwingli' – but doesn't get far. You great big hairy 'Gliz' was as good as it got*

Jim: Oh come on, Chris. I've got no friends.

*After finishing my second cuppa – about 20 minutes later – I had pity*

Chris: Hey, Jim, I just got back. You been there for long?

Jim: Ah, there you are! No, just got online myself.

Chris: Oh. Jim, I've gotta go – need to make a cup of tea. Later ...

*Chris quickly sets IM to 'invisible' again and thinks to himself what a Gliz that Jim West is.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Links and a video

From Alcoholics Anonymous to Evangelicals Anonymous!

If you can understand German, then do give this a listen to (together with the other 5 in the series). It is one of the funniest things I've heard in a long time. 'Panzer' is the Radio joker who calls random people up and asks for stupid things. But Szabo, his victim, is pure genius!

Ali G talks science with a creationst and a panel of scientists.

Finally, a few great music tracks on youtube. For those of you stuffy theologians who only listen to Mozart and all that primitive nonsense, grow up and discover the delight of chill/ambient. For example:

Telepopmusik - Breathe

Bliss - Dunia

Ecstasy by ATB

And the utterly delightful Bent - Swollen. This one ought to cure you ‘only Classical’ sorts. If Barth were still alive, he wouldn't be as enamoured with Mozart as he was. Balthasar probably would, but not Barth. He'd be a fan of internet radio chill and ambient stations.

OK, my video is hardly ground breaking stuff, but a few days ago we had a thunder storm the likes of which I've never before seen. After a while it started to hail, and some of the stones were honestly as big as Table Tennis balls. I wish I'd had the presence of mind to make a video of the hail while it was falling, but I was too fascinated by the sound the hail was making on our windows and car to think about that. I made this video shortly after the storm finished. In it I show how the hail punctured a big hole though our mosquito net. I couldn't believe it!

Well I thought it was interesting!

Quote of the day

"Faith is to bet on the ultimate validity of joy"

(Peter L. Berger, Questions of Faith: A Skeptical Affirmation of Christianity, p. 6)

This is hardly a comprehensive definition, but it nevertheless delightfully captures something profound about the risk and hope of faith

An idea for rainy evenings

I don't know if others are like me, but if it has been a really rainy day I'm often sorely tempted to drive through the large puddles that gather on the side of roads next to the pavements (sidewalks) on my way home. If Anja is with me, I normally get bullied out of going where the spirit leads – through the puddle – but things are even more tempting if an unsuspecting pedestrian happens to be in the potential vicinity of the consequent 'tidal wave'.

I'll never forget the look on one chap's face in St Andrews as I looked back in my rear view mirror. Boy did I get him good!

Now, my point in writing this post: You've heard of 'drive-by shootings' I suppose?

For those boring, rainy evenings, I've developed a missionary and liturgical exercise to help wile away those tedious hours and at the same time to spread the joy of the gospel.

Namely, I wanted to recommend an evening of 'drive-by baptisms'.

All that is necessary for the performance of this rite:

  • A rainy evening with lots of puddles near pavements full of pedestrians
  • A car (preferably one fast enough to flee disturbed victims, er, baptism candidates, and one reliable enough not to break down at what could be a very inopportune moment).
  • Priestly costumes – or at least some kind of appropriate headwear.
  • A large crucifix
  • Brother Josh McManaway helpfully suggests the addition of appropriate bumper stickers on the car for added effect. For example: "God is my Pilot"; "He made me do it!"; "Car + Puddle = Baptism" etc.
  • A copy of 'Tilling's Drive-by Baptism Liturgy' ©™
  • Someone to drive, and someone else to repeat the liturgy from an open window on the pavement side of the car at the candidate. Optional extra would include a third person to perform the sign of the cross from the back window at the candidate.

Instructions as to the performance of the rite (including a free copy of 'Tilling's Drive-by Baptism Liturgy' ©™):

  1. The idea is to park next to a long stretch of road where you know there are plenty of puddles and pedestrians. In the interest of interreligious and ecumenical dialogue, this road could be situated near a Mosque, Synagogue or alternative Christian denomination of your choosing.
  2. Wait until the chosen baptism candidate pedestrian (hereafter the BCP) is almost aligned with a suitably large puddle.
  3. The driver then needs to get the timing right. This is crucial. Everything hinges on getting the poor bugger, er, BCP, covered by a convincing wave of dirty puddle water.
  4. Having thusly "baptised" the BCP, the second minister of the gospel then needs to perform the liturgy. To do this the driver needs to slow down a little so that the BCP can respond to the liturgy. Then the minister in charge of the liturgy needs to hold his upper body out of the open car window (or sunroof), hold high the cross, and repeat in a clear and loud voice:

    'In the Sacred Discharge of the Evangelistic Functions of the Most Holy Church, I hereby declare you Baptised in the Name of God, and include you into the world wide family of the Redeemed and Sanctified. And stop looking so angry you wet and filthy looking half drowned sinner. You've just been redeemed for goodness sake, you ungrateful worm! As it is written, "How beautiful are the wheels of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:15)'

  5. At this point, the optional third minister can then perform the sign of the cross and mutter something about how Paul intertexually reworks material from Isaiah 52:7 and Nahum 1:15 in Romans 10. But speed-talk.
  6. Note: All must be wearing priestly looking headwear and should look suitably solemn.
  7. Drive away. Fast.
  8. Hold a thanksgiving meeting for helping turn the tide against secularism, and for re-Christianising the world once again with an altogether different tidal wave of baptismal power.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Backhanded compliment of the day


Answer to the Quote of the Day

What I forgot to mention is that if any attempts at guessing the author of the citation in the last post got it wrong, then the forfeit is to fork out for a trip to the Bahamas for me.

And you ALL got it WRONG.

Bahamas, grass skirt, etc. here I come!

The mystery author was none other than Gordon Fee, and the citation comes from his new book Pauline Christology. I will be reviewing this terrific volume next week in a few posts, and I look forward to explaining why I think it is a very important work.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Just a quickie

Not being too loaded on time tonight I'll keep this brief.

First, do check out the quality exegesis at Scotteriology on the important 'I say that you are Peter – a rock' logion. I think you'll find his insights shockingly convincing.

Second, can you guess the author of the following nugget? The first one to guess correctly wins a holiday in the Bahamas:

'[T]his historical event that was humanity's loud "No!" to Jesus of Nazareth was in fact God's louder "No!" to human sin; but through resurrection, God pronounced an exclamatory "Yes!" to everything that the historical Jesus had done through his death for sinners'

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Creationism or evolution - a rant

An intermission in my usual posting for the following rant:

I realise that I've been giving some of my conservative Christian friends a rough ride here recently with my 'devil's advocate' position with regard Universalism, and so my apologies that this post does little to change the situation. Please don't misunderstand me in the following; it is among creationist Christians that I spend most of my time, and many are of course wonderful people, personal friends, and not to mention deeply devoted Christians who inspire me with their love. However, and I'll just spit it out, when I watched the first 40 minutes of this 'documentary' (read: 'conservative propaganda') it made me furious.

Yes, it was another 'vs.', this time creation vs. evolution. I suppose the 'vs.' should have alerted me ...

I believe Genesis is the inspired Word of God, let me make that clear, but I reject creationism for a number of reasons:

  1. It is a disputed exegesis of Gen 1 which could well refer to the creation of order out of chaos, not creation ex nihilo.
  2. It fails to account for the various different 'creation accounts' in scripture, not least in the Psalms.
  3. Nobody was there at creation; there is no formula ('thus say the Lord, this is what happened...') to indicate it was prophetic material either. It is a theological exposition of creation, not a scientific one. This hints at a broader issue: Scripture is part of our human situation and so stays within the horizon of the fully human. I firmly believe scripture is inspired by God and more than merely a witness to religious experience, but it is still human. I wouldn't be surprised if the writers and redactors of Gen 1 and 2 really thought that was how the universe was formed (from chaos?), but that doesn't make it scientifically correct (questions that were not, strictly speaking in the modern sense, on their agenda)
  4. The fundamental message of Gen 1, which I gladly affirm, is that in the beginning, was God (cf. Küng, The Beginning of All Things), and it tells us of the relation between this God and his creation (gender inclusive language gives me the willies, sorry). Science can neither prove or disprove this.
  5. Science can, however, raise serious doubt against the biblical account 'of creation' if one insists on understanding it as a scientific explanation. For example, the age of the earth, the flood, the existence of humans together with dinosaurs etc. And no I don't find the human footprint together with dinosaur footprint as found in the USA convincing. If evidence was so important, they why not take the masses of conflicting evidence against creationism seriously?
  6. Evolution, on the other hand, eloquently explains a variety of data from different scientific disciplines. For example:
  • Biogeography shows that closely related species appear particularly frequently in neighbouring regions because they descend from common ancestors
  • Palaeontology shows by means of fossils that closely related species are often found in neighbouring strata as they are related to one another by evolutionary descent
  • Embryology shows similar phases of development in very different animals, because the embryo is the later animal in a less developed stage and this betrays the form of its ancestors
  • Morphology can classify animals by common anatomical features and differences in species, genres, families, orders, and realms. The new molecular biology confirms this: all living organisms contain two forms of a particular molecule (DNA and RNA) that fix the blueprint for all living beings (bullet points from Küng, The Beginning of All Things, 88)

Indeed, I think the modern science of DNA pretty much confirms evolutionary theory. And by the way, to speak of it as a 'theory' is not to undermine it as science:

'Darwinian theory has generated an enormous amount of research in which the theory of evolution is being tested in animal, plant and microbial populations under carefully controlled laboratory conditions. By choosing living organisms with rapid replication rates it becomes much easier to investigate the effects of environmental changes, crowded ecosystems and reproductive strategies on changes in genotype and phenotype. Although Darwin thought that evolution works "silently and insensibly", and was therefore not amenable to normal methods of scientific investigation, it is now possible to test his theory in ways that he never dreamt, not least in computer modelling in which Darwinian predictions can be tested over thousands of generations' (Rebuilding the Matrix, Denis Alexander, 306).

Besides, '"Bare facts" divorced from theories do not occur in science'. Therefore to talk of passionate commitment to "evolutionary theory" is not a contradiction in terms. Calling a scientific model of explanation a "theory" is not to demean it' (ibid.). By the way, to call evolution a religion is, in my humble opinion, nonsense.

Many of these pro-creationist programmes are, so far as I am concerned, free to carry on preaching their message. I became a Christian after hearing a creationist present evidence for the trustworthiness of the bible, for which I am eternally grateful, as in the process I entered a relationship with Christ. I am now convinced that the creationist position is wrong, but hey, so is much that appears on TV. However, when the above 'documentary' reads from Rom 1 at the start of its programme as if the text was a prophecy concerning evolutionists, I find the border between the acceptable and the outright wrong transgressed. It's like the thousands of homeschoolers in the States teaching their children evolutionary theory is 'stupid' when they've probably never read Darwin, nor attempted to understand the findings of modern DNA science. Here is another documentary for more on the 'stupid' issue ...

I have a theory that evolution is so infamous in the evangelical scene in the States as there is little else of importance to worry about. Could it be a symptom of comfortable life near the heart beat and blood pulse of pax Americana? Arguably partly so.

Equally, to say that evolution is to be accepted and that therefore the bible is wrong is to negate the many options open to understand evolution as a Christian. It makes a value judgment about all levels of the biblical text in light of just one reading option, namely that it must be a scientific description one finds in Gen 1, or it is wrong. But such a view is a hermeneutical sledgehammer in the flowerbed; a graceless skinhead at a poetry recital. There is much that could be said against the trumped up arrogance of some evolutionists but that is a rant for another occasion.

Yes, I believe evolutionary theory is correct. Yes, I believe in God the creator of heaven and earth. Yes, I believe Darwin, despite errors, was basically correct. Yes, I believe that Gen 1 and 2 is the inspired Word of God. Yes, I believe humans evolved from lower life forms. Yes, I believe we are made in the image of God. Not it is not about creation or evolution, but creationism and evolution.

But I don't care too much if you don't agree with me. Many of my family and close friends are unconvinced by my words and don't take my position on this matter. However, when a documentary starts claiming that evolutionists are the fulfilment of turning from God to creatures, that gets my blood boiling!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Jim is at it again!

No, not heresy this time, nor has he called me Beelzebub or such like.
And no, not some twitch of Zwinglianity or Bultmanianism either. Nor a rant about sermon books or homeschooling!

In fact, the Jim West Fan Club (the JWFC)is herby reconvened to celebrate the Doctor’s generosity once again and sing the club anthem.

This time he has kindly sent me a copy of Gerd Theißen’s new volume: Erleben und Verhalten der ersten Christen: Eine Psychologie des Urchristentums which I joyfully picked up from the Zollamt today!

Many, many thanks again, Jim. This exciting work will prove very useful for my own doctoral work!

*does a little dance*

An Interview

Over on Pisteuomen T Michael W Halcomb interviews the wonder student, Josh McManaway. Do have a read.

Gregory MacDonald responds to a question

In light of something Cliff Martin wrote here, I sent the following question to Gregory MacDonald, author of the Evangelical Universalist:

I wonder what you think of the passage Mark 14:20-21 'He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread
into the bowl
with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born"'.

If the Universalist case it accepted, how could it possibly be better for Judas never to have been born? Penny for your thoughts …

Here is Gregory's response for you to think about:

Here is how I would provisionally approach the text you quote - as an example of what I refer to as the rhetoric of wrath: Hyperbole for dramatic effect. Jesus was a master of it as were the prophets. Here are some examples from Jeremiah of it at work

"Moab will be destroyed a nation ... Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab in the days to come" (48:42, 57)

"I will pursue [Elam] with the sword until I have made an end of them ... Yet I will restore the fortunes of Elam in the days to come" (49:37, 39)

I'm not suggesting that these are exact parallels or what Jesus had in mind or anything of the sort. My point is simply that biblical authors can declare judgement in ways that look final but which are not. So I guess I would take that as a line of inquiry to pursue - if I had the time (which I don't). My inclination is not to take Jesus' words as strictly literally true and that to press them that hard - as if they were statements from a professor of analytic philosophy - is to over-read them.

Of course, my critics will accuse me of under-reading Jesus and of not taking his words seriously. Well, I do take it as a very strong warning about a very real and dreadful punishment so I think that I do take it seriously. However, in the end it will depend on the wider theological frameworks within which we reappropriate Jesus' words. It is that that will incline us one way or the other. I'm a universalist so I naturally am inclined to see Jesus' words in that light. I fully understand why others would not do so.

My initial thoughts run as follows: I am quite sure that he is right about the importance of the wider theological framework. I am not sure, however, 1) if his theological framework reflects the beliefs and teaching of the authors of the NT, nor 2) if we should use a theological framework in such a harmonising way. What think you?


Monday, July 16, 2007

Guest post: Gregory MacDonald


I am pleased that you have returned to the issue of universalism and are planning to offer a critique of some of my arguments and to propose an alternative. Wonderful! You will be the first person to offer an informed critique of any of the points in the book (the previous criticisms that I have read on the web all came from people who had not read the book so they were less then informed!). I look forward to it although I see you are a master of suspence - making me wait for post 3 to find your critique! I have taken a bet with myself that I can guess what it is - but it's a good Christian bet because I won't end up in debt when I lose it!

Anyway, it is great that you are seeking to iron out the flaws in my argument and so on (this was not intended as sarcasm). Perhaps your alternative will be better than my own and that will be a great help. Andrew Lincoln was not persuaded by my approach to the hell texts - his way of handling them is different.

Or perhaps I am right (I do actually think I am right about hell even if I am not convinced I exegeted every text correctly ... Darn! I'm too honest for my own good!). I guess I ought to point out to your readers that my case for hell as a place from which one can be redeemed is not primarily based on the texts in Paul that you refer to in post 2. They are no more than suggestive. Indeed, if I restricted myself to Paul I am not sure how strong a case I could make. Nevertheless, I can see your methodological reasons for limiting the biblical data set in this way. I also appreciate the methodological reasons for focusing on historical questions before exploring the theological implications. I'll be interested to see how the discussion goes.

I ought to point out that some universalists such as J.A.T. Robinson saw the 'hell' in the hell passages as the end of any person who went there. He would not imagine that the biblical texts could allow a redemption from hell. His way of handling the tension between universal salvation and hell texts differed from my own. Someone ought to reprint his book some day. Whilst I don't agree with it all it does have some good stuff in (it was written before his 'Honest to God' phase).


Gregory MacDonald

Author of The Evangelical Universalist (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2006)

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A sermon on ‘doubt’

Last Sunday I preached a sermon on the place of doubt in the Christian life. I personally found the research for the topic most helpful - a good sign! A particular an eye-opener was an examination of Ps 88.

If you fancy a listen then click here (mp3 – approx 10MB), or read my script here (pdf). Yes, it is all in German and the audio is not from the Sunday service, but a podcast recorded in my living room – necessary as the church audio system didn't function on Sunday. I hope the (evil secular) music playing in the background doesn't disturb too much ...


Friday, July 13, 2007

Debate with a Universalist

Tom Talbott (universalist) vs. Eric Landstrom (evangelical)

I tend to find this 'vs.' business slightly tiresome. It makes it sound like a boxing match, and hardly facilitates a search for unity in diversity! Perhaps we should reformulate the synoptic problem as 'Mathew vs. Mark' etc. No? No, I didn't think that would go down as well. What about author of Exodus 34:7 vs. Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Jer 31:29-30; Ezek 18:2)? No? Or what about 'Paul vs. Peter – the rumble in Antioch'? Ok, I'll stop typing and go to bed.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

‘That would be an ecumenical matter’

Does the Pope need to spread a bit more ecumenism on his toast for breakfast? I leave it for you to decide.

'The unity of the church has nothing to do with the mythological magic of the number one'

(Hans Küng, Die Kirche, 325)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


I am, I'm sorry to admit this, only now starting to discover the joy of daily liturgical prayer. I have copies from the library of the Common Worship:Daily Prayer and Celebrating Common Prayer (plus my own beloved Evangelisches Gesangbuch).

I wonder if anyone has any recommendations or thoughts about the various liturgical prayer books they may have used? What did you like/dislike about them? What have proven to be the most useful for you and why? I would appreciate opinions as I am rather new to this.

Here are the best links I've uncovered in my research:

Ego link of the day

"the master of all book reviews, Chris Tilling ..."

I really like him!

Meeting Küng

I had the joy of finally meeting Hans Küng, today. I wrote a summary article of his book, Der Anfang alller Dinge - the first draft of which appeared on this blog last year - and e-mailed it to him months ago. He wrote in response saying that my review had 'die Substanz des Buches hervorragend wiedergegeben'. This certainly made me a happy man! In his generosity he kindly gave me a signed copy of the new English translation of the book, The Beginning of All Things.

We didn't speak for long at all as he was awaiting a visitor when I arrived. When he emerged we simply shook hands and exchanged a few words. I thought: 'He is smaller than I imagined'!

I know, I know. It's probably a bit sad what turns us theological types on. But we all know you are probably just jealous!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

God is Love

o` qeo.j avga,ph evsti,n (this is a good example of Colwell's Rule, by the way)

Interestingly, these words have proved to be a real stumbling block for many Christian theologians. Recognising certain 'dangerous' implications many have sought to 'explain away' the significance of this statement in the name of their theological systems. I urgently refer to Talbott's powerful critique of Edwards, Packer and Calvin at this point in his book The Inescapable Love of God, pp. 109-118. What many of these theologians have done with these words of scripture is quite frankly unbelievable. They claim that God is love but ... [cue to insert theological move to explain force of statement away] that it doesn't say everything about God, or that it is only true about God for Christians, that 'God is love', to cite Calvin, 'does not speak of the essence of God, but only shows what he is found to be by us [i.e. the elect]' (from his Catholic Epistles commentaries).

Of course it doesn't say everything about God! Who ever claimed it did? After all, even the author of 1 John states 'God is light'. And would we want to argue that to say God is holy or righteous is only true about God for Christians? As for Calvin, he contradicts himself hopelessly stumbling over his own reasoning in his struggle with this statement. Would he also want to say that the statement 'God is holy' is only true in terms of how God is found by us? Is God holy and righteous with us, but unholy and unrighteous with others? And of course this text is a statement about God's, for want of a better word, nature or essence. The text couldn't be any clearer.

Of course, exegetes tend not to have any problem seeing what is going on:

'John does not say that "God loves" (as in vv. 10, 11, 19), but that "God is love" … God is not only the source of love (v 7a), but love itself. Thus the assertion "God is love" means not simply that love is one of his activities, but that all his activity is loving … God's judgment (his wrath), for example, is just as much a reality as his love … But theologically these cannot be opposed to each other' (Smalley, S. S. Vol. 51: Word Biblical Commentary: 1,2,3 John, p. 239)

God not only loves but is love. So it says in 1 John 4:18 and 16, anyway, the declaration of one who claims: 'We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life' (1:1). Having heard and seen and touched this Word, 'the "we" of authoritative testimony' (see Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, chapter 14!) writes 'God is love'. The one addressed and captivated by God's redeeming Word to us in Christ rejoices in the truth that 'God is love' without any 'buts'.

Let's stop trying to explain 'God is love' away in the name of our theological systems, and rather let our systems sit humbly before this Word as God addresses humankind in Christ Jesus. As for theological problems ... I prefer to simply exegete and let the cards land where they want.

Now the kicker question: Is God love also for those in hell? *grins*


Monday, July 09, 2007

Religious Documentaries online

This post comes with an honest health warning: Don't click on the link below if you suffer from discipline problems when it comes to time wasting and internet TV! I'm serious! (Matt 5:29-30)

Here is a list of numerous streamed TV documentaries for your viewing pleasure, with quite a few religious ones to boot. Included are:

Banned From The Bible (not yet seen)

Creation Vs. Evolution (not yet seen and probably won't. I used to be a creationist, by the way)

Battle For The Holy Land (I really enjoyed this one. I sometimes wonder if the Palestinians today exist in a way comparable with the Jews under Rome in the time of Jesus)

Jehovah's Witnesses Exposed (not yet seen and doesn't sound like it will pull my chain. It's the 'exposed' bit that puts me off.)

Jesus Camp (A real mixed bag this! 'Creationism has all the answers', 'there is no such thing as global warning', 'stupid if you believe in evolution', 'alive churches need to be charismatic'?!?! It's that sort of thing that makes me think that home schooling is a mistake. But their zeal and passion is something to admire – and something us theologians would do well not to mock.)

Who Wrote the Bible? (This is a documentary programme featuring, among others, Mark Goodacre [no, I've never heard of him either], A. McGrath, Peter Head, and Tom Wright. While some of it was interesting, I was a little unimpressed to be honest. It came across as the struggles of an ex-fundamentalist coming to terms with the reality of scripture, and not finding it as he expected it to be. Unsophisticated and exaggerated either/ors led, I suspect, the presenter down an unhelpful alley – though his final words were spot on. The preacher at the end was very scary!)

Küng’s Memoirs

I have been really enjoying Hans Küng's My Struggle for Freedom, the first volume of his memoirs. It is a great read, difficult to put down. And as I've been a little ill recently, it has made for good company. The Continuum translation is a very smooth job, and I've found it an inspirational, at times amusing and an always informative read all in one. He has informed me that the second volume, Umstrittene Wahrheit (Debated Truth), will be released September this year – definitely one to purchase.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The power of a question

Just a quick post. I'll respond to comments later.

"How can an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God create billions of people knowing most will be tormented in hell forever?"

From Hope Beyond Hell, by Gerry Beauchemin. This helpful pro universalist book is free online here.

Those of us, like myself, who do not consider ourselves Universalists ought not to brush such questions to one side too quickly.


Vote for my Barth Poem

Polls are open! A serious word of advice: I wouldn't bother actually reading my poem, and definitely don't read any of the others as a 'comparison' (2 Cor 10:12). Just take it from me that the rest are trashy buckets of verbal slop, while mine is a lexical ballet, a veritable party in the mouth to recite.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Profile picture

I am hoping the new profile picture offering will make people think I am profound, sensitive, poetic and intelligent.

*Everyone who knows me can wipe that smile of their faces*

It was taken this weekend during a visit to Hohen Neuffen, the biggest ruined fortress in southern Germany. It is well worth a visit. Here is an aerial view of the area (utterly beautiful, I think you will agree):

Redemptive judgment in hell? Pt 2

To address the first bullet point (under point 4 of the first post in this series) I will now list the verses cited in Paul used to imply a restorative judgment of God in hell on those not yet 'in Christ' (all NRSV) together with comments by MacDonald and Talbott.

'For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw – the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire' (1 Cor 3:11-15)

'It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father's wife ... you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord' (1 Cor 5:1, 5)

'For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world' (1 Cor 11:29-32)

MacDonald claims:

'Divine judgments in the present are usually seen as reformative and educative (Heb 12:5-11; Tit 2:11-12; Rev 3:19; 1 Cor 11:29-32), though they are usually destructive (Acts 5:1-11). I Corinthians 5:1-5 is an interesting case study ... My suggestion is that we see the punishment of hell as fundamentally the same kind of punishment, albeit a more intense form' (136-37).

Commenting on 1 Cor 5:5, Talbott writes:

'So here, anyway, destruction is explicitly a redemptive concept'. Alluding to Paul's comments in Rom 11:32 that 'God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all', he continues, arguing that: 'we should, I believe, interpret all of the biblical ideas associated with divine judgment as redemptive ideas' (97).

In the next post I will suggest a point that speaks against the Universalist line of reasoning. This will lead into another proposal, in following post, that addresses the second of the bullet points in the previous in this series (under point 4). To make it clear, my purposes at this point are not theological but rather exegetical, with implications left to one side as best I can. I will work with the texts and the arguments of the Universalists first as a historical claim before I turn to matters theological.

OK, maybe the graphic is poor taste.


The Revocation of Independence Day

"To the citizens of the United States of America, in the light of your failure to elect a competent President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective today.

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths and other territories. Except Utah, which she does not fancy"

To read the rest of this wonderful news, click here.

Liturgical prayer for July the 4th:

"God, please remove Will Smith from my head whenever I think of Independence Day, and make me bountifully generous to all biblical studies related blogs run by English people as a sign of my racial dependence and inferiority. Amen."

Happy Independence Day to my readers in the US.

Aliens really do exist, guv

Given the theological depth of my posts tonight (I'm tired), I'll finish off in the spirit I started. Here is all the proof you need for the existence of aliens: the Roswell Alien landing theory has been revived by a deathbed confession. I theologised about Aliens before, if you remember. I tend to think it a great injustice that films represent aliens as looking like blobs of snot on stilts. And while snot and poetry is on the menu, that reminds me of this post.

More links

Sean Winter has some good thoughts on Universalism here, and I am persecuted for my poetic sensibilities here (by Halden Doerge who called me 'Beelzebub' in the process, which isn't really very nice when you think about it). Do trot over and vote for my Barth poem; it is the best by miles.

Finally, King Congdon has written a helpful post on inerrany here.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007


A good number of internet searches that land here every day tend to involve 'hell' in one way or another. And I mean 'every day' as literally as Genesis 1's Yom. Some of them are rather disturbing actually – especially the 'visions of demons in hell' variety.

Now this may sound cynical, but why am I not surprised that such searches as the following are often all in caps:




I tend to suspect that my posts weren't really what they were looking for.

Monday, July 02, 2007


Alan Brandy is up and running again with his new blog here:

Dr Stephen Cook has done a fine job with this month's Biblical Studies Carnival.

Brant and Liz Pitre welcomed their fourth child, Mary Beth, into the world. Many congratulations to both of you!

Well, there is so much more to link to but I'm really not very good at listing that sort of thing. Instead, I leave you with a word of wisdom for your Sunday.

Have you ever had to leave a sermon just before the end of the service because you desperately needed the toilet?

Sure you have.

However, have you also found that at the end of the service, a number of older folk tend to make a beeline to the loo and that they get a bit grumpy that it is blocked by your own good backside?

If so, my advice in a nutshell: Leave the toilet door unlocked so that when they burst in and open the door all unfriendly they are forced to see you crapping, then next time they may think twice about being so after-sermon-loo-territorial.

With this, Chrisendom herby moves sensitively into the world of pastoral advice on ecclesial conduct.

Redemptive judgment in hell? Pt 1

Judgment on the unbeliever in hell – a brief examination of the Pauline evidence in relation to the claims of biblical Universalists

This small series will not attempt an examination of all universalism exegetical proposals – that would necessitate a book and far more time than is allotted me at the moment. Instead, I will focus upon a couple of critical points, in relation to universalism in Paul, that have suggested themselves to me as I have read through Gregory MacDonald's The Evangelical Universalist, and Thomas Talbott's The Inescapable Love of God.

A typical argument used by 'biblical universalists' (by which I mean entirely orthodox Christians who maintain their universalism together with a high view of scripture), is as follows:

  1. To use Sven Hillert's terminology, there are both 'final division' texts and 'complete and final unity' texts in Paul; both eternal separation from God texts, and universalism texts (two Reihe of texts as Balthasar claims – anybody who denies this hasn't read Paul closely enough!).
  2. A straightforward understanding of both of these groups of texts cannot be both correct at the same time.
  3. Those who don't want to conclude that the bible is muddled will then argue that the universalism texts are less ambiguous and clearer than the separation texts, and ergo the 'final division' texts must be understood differently.
  4. This final point is undergirded by two important claims:
    • God's judgment is not retributive without also being restorative (sometimes retributive may be played against restorative understandings of judgment by Universalists). To justify the restorative nature of God's judgement in Paul – with a wider view cast on the nature of hell's punishments, reference is made to 1 Cor 3:15; 5:5 and/or 11:29-32 (cf. MacDonald, 136; Talbott, 94-98)
    • There is only one major 'final division' text in Paul in comparison to the many clear universalism texts (2 Thess 1:9). So MacDonald argues: 'There is only one passage in Paul that, at first sight, really does seem to teach that the damnation of sinners is irreversible' (151)

While some of us, suspecting that we should acknowledge the distinction between the signifier and the signified of religious language and appreciate its 'eschatologically becoming' nature, may want to step out of this logical speeding car before we hit junction (c), in the following post I shall follow this argument through to the two bullet points, and briefly suggest a couple of critical remarks.