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Universal Redemption and the Cosmos

posted by Scot McKnight

GregMacd.jpgRobin Parry’s major focus, in his book The Evangelical Universalist  , is a biblical case for (evangelical belief in) universalism (not the same as pluralism). He begins by looking at a major test case: Colossians (esp 1:15-20).

Here’s the text and one has to stand back to see the grandeur of the redemptive designs here:

1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation,

1:16 for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him – all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him.

1:17 He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him.

1:18 He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead, so that he himself may become first in all things.

1:19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son

1:20 and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross – through him, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

It would be easy to extend this for lines and lines but we can’t. A few observations:
1. Christ created “all things” and the “all things” that are also sustained by him. 
2. He is preeminent over all.
3. He “reconciled” the same “all things” through his death and resurrection.
Therefore, #3 teaches redemptive universalism in Christ.
Robin Parry (aka, Gregory Macdonald) then examines how some have attempted to explain these clear lines of thinking.
1. Some see a restoration of the created order, but that involves some saved and some damned.
2. Some see this as God’s desire but not necessarily the actuality. It is God’s intent (David Powys).
The next two focus on the potentiality of the reconciliation for all:
3. Some see the reconciliation of #3 to be conditioned by faith (Howard Marshall).
4. Some see the reconciliation of #3 only for those who are “in Christ” (NT Wright).
Parry’s counter has to do with the permanence of the defeat of the powers and the finality of not being “in Christ” in one’s life now. His emphasis is the universal macroscopic nature of salvation in this text. The Church is the harbinger of things to come.


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Richard

posted December 29, 2009 at 9:29 am


sidenote:
I’ve never quite understood the distinction between #3 and 4. Would this be understood as an Inclusivist vs. Restrictivist nuance?
re: “Parry’s counter has to do with the permanence of the defeat of the powers and the finality of not being “in Christ” in one’s life now. His emphasis is the universal macroscopic nature of salvation in this text. The Church is the harbinger of things to come”
I think a major hinge for this conversation revolves around a person’s understanding of the atonement. A Christus Victor proponent sees the threads of universalism more than a penal-substitutionary proponent.
I was encouraged when I read Parry’s book because I had come across Isaiah 25 as a I prepared a funeral sermon a few years back and I was schocked that I had never heard it spoken of in any Bible class or sermon. Poetic imagery aside, the kernel of it is that death will be swallowed up by God- talk about Victory! Kind of makes you wonder if death being the final barrier is our thinking or God’s/Scriptures? I’ll duck now before someone can throw Hebrews 9:27 at me.



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Marcus

posted December 29, 2009 at 10:02 am


I wonder if Parry would include Satan among those to be redeemed, or is he not part of the ‘all’ mentioned here? Revelation 20:10 seems to mandate that he not be. If so, then the ‘all things’ is qualified. While this doesn’t prove that some people go to hell forever or are annihilated, it does in my mind at least open the door to the possibility.



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Tim Hallman

posted December 29, 2009 at 10:14 am


“All things” means “all things”, right?
With just this poem of Paul’s, he makes it easy to draw the conclusion that “all things” includes not only “all creation” and “all creatures” but “all humans.”
The penal substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross seems to be sufficient to make peace with all rebels, even if they refuse to repent and believe in this life – this is the kind of conclusion Paul seems to intend through his writing to the Colossians.
He still urges, obviously, repentance and belief in this lifetime, and he spells out the necessity and rewards of such choices in this lifetime. But on the issue of evangelical universalism, using just this text, Paul makes a compelling case.



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dopderbeck

posted December 29, 2009 at 11:05 am


My question is this: why does “reconcile” preclude permanent judgment? If the sense of apakatallasso is bringing things back / making things right, isn’t the permanent exclusion of evil entirely consistent with this notion?
And does “all things” (panta) really and necessarily mean “all” inclusive of very person here? It does not always carry that “literal” meaning in scripture (see http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/pas.html)
I dunno, to situate this text in the broader narrative of scripture, it seems to me that the “reconciliation of all things” must involve the destruction / exclusion of some things that are finally oriented against God.



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Gregory MacDonald

posted December 29, 2009 at 12:08 pm


Dopderbeck (#4)
a couple of thoughts
1. In these verses the ‘all things’ that are reconciled in Christ are the same ‘all things’ that are created in Christ (i.e. all created things … not just some).
2. The problem with the suggestion that ‘reconciliation’ is consistent with permanent exclusion becomes clearer when one asks this question:
“If God sent everyone to Hell is that consistent with his reconciling all things through the cross?”
On the suggestion that that you float (i.e. that the reconciliation of a creature is compatible with its being sent to Hell) then the answer to the question I posed above is ‘Yes’.
But most people will feel that the correct answer is ‘No’. And if you think that the answer really is ‘No’ then it is clear that instinctively you think of reconciliation as a salvific notion (which it surely is).
Such is my view at any rate.
Robin



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JoanieD

posted December 29, 2009 at 12:14 pm


To answer Marcus and dopderbeck: I read Robin’s book but I don’t have it here at my office. If memory serves me correctly, I think he says near the end of this book that evil, sin, death may are all destroyed at the end of time, but he holds out the possibility that even Lucifer, whom tradition holds is a fallen angel, may be reconciled to God. So beings that brought on evil, sin, death would be saved but the negative things they brought into existence ceased to exist.
If I an incorrect in how Robin portrayed this in his book, I hope he will correct me.



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Gregory MacDonald

posted December 29, 2009 at 12:22 pm


Marcus (#2)
A good question. It is interesting to contrast two different streams of evangelical universalism in the 18th C on this question. On the one hand, we have the like of Paul Siegvolk (a psuedonym), George De Benneville, and Elhanan Winchester. They all argued that the scripture required the salvation of all fallen angels, including Satan. Col 1 was part of their case. Winchester even wrote an extended poetic description of Lucifer’s final humbling, repentance, and salvation (obviously imaginative). His view on Rev 20 was that Satan would be punished unto the ages of ages (i.e., for many thousands of years) and would in fact be the last creature to be reconciled. His argument was that punishment ‘unto the ages of ages’ did not require punishment forever and ever.
On the other hand, James Relly and John Murray believed (so far as I can tell) that all humans would be redeemed and that all fallen angels would not be. That their eternal punishment is our liberation. But I am not sure whether they deal with how this fits with Col 1.
The logic of Col 1 is that ALL creatures will be saved. Rev 20 seems to suggest that some will not be. What to do?
1. Re-read Col 1 in the light of Rev 20? There may be different ways to do this. (see Scott’s post for some)
2. Re-read Rev 20 in the light of Col 1? There may be different ways to do this. e.g. Winchester’s way (punishment ‘unto the ages of ages’ but not ‘forever and ever’), or perhaps to say that Satan is damned forever but Lucifer is saved (the old has passed away and the new has come), or to see Satan as a non-personal aspect of creation rather than a personal being.
3. Allow both to stand in tension (and perhaps remain agnostic on the answer).
I am not sure which way to go but I am strongly inclined to do something in option 2. Option 3 is a fall-back. Option 1 has little appeal to me.
Robin



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Marcus

posted December 29, 2009 at 12:59 pm


Thanks Robin, I appreciate the time you took to respond and you frame your response clearly and helpfully. I’m not persuaded by option two, though. Option 3 is not a bad fall back, though. The Bible is filled with similar tensions. Balancing them is very difficult.
I’m not an expert in Greek, so I’m not sure what the best way is to translate Rev. 20:10. How well defended is the view in the commentaries?
The other option seem to be somewhat difficult to defend. Satan being damned and lucifer saved strikes me at first glance as a bit dualistic. It seems like special pleading to me to suggest that he had an evil nature that was not part of his true ‘personhood’ that could be punished forever without him being punished forever (but perhaps I am not understanding the point correctly).



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dopderbeck

posted December 29, 2009 at 1:15 pm


Gregory (#5) said: “If God sent everyone to Hell is that consistent with his reconciling all things through the cross?”
I respond: I don’t think that’s a fair rhetorical question, as it assumes the atonement has no effect at all.
The proper question is whether the “reconciliation of all things” is consistent with the permanent exclusion / destruction of evil. I think you agree that this is so, insofar as you view “hell” as purgative in some sense. If the purpose of “hell” is to eventually bring every person into alignment with Christ, then at least in some sense what is “burned away” so to speak in hell is all that which is evil. So in your universalist eschatology evil is just as permanently excluded as in a non-universalist eschatology. (Setting aside for the moment the question of the “ontology” of “evil”…)
The ultimate question, then, is whether after the permanent exclusion of evil anything remains of some entities that have been oriented towards evil such that they are subsequently capable of participating in the good. Particularly as “reconciliation” in Col. 1 seems to center on the proper revealing / final establishment of the headship of Christ, I’m still not sure why this must be so.
I think we also need to consider the resurrection and the second coming of Christ in addition to the cross here. This becomes clear in Col. 3. The victory of Christ is complete in Col. 3 when he returns and his bride is visibly and finally united with him and it is evident to all that everything is subject to him. Again, I’m not sure the overall framework of the epistle here supports the idea that “reconciliation” involves some remainder for all entities after purgation.



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