When it comes down to the bottom argument in Robin Parry’s (aka, Gregory Macdonald’s) book The Evangelical Universalist we find an argument about God’s love.
So far we’ve seen his case rest squarely on the impermanence of one’s state as a result of death and, perhaps even more logically crucial, on the inescapable love of God.
Do we underestimate God’s love?
He argues, with JI Packer, that God’s love is seen in how God acts in the Bible. Parry argues that we know God’s love, in the first instance, as a result of learning to love in this world — and he’s not being a liberal here — but even more particularly by examining what the Bible says.
God’s love is elective and covenantal. Furthermore, God’s love is compatible with God’s wrath and discipline and punishment and exiling Israel. And he’s big on not making God a God of love and a God of justice/holiness but a God of holy love and loving holiness. God always acts in love, and this leads him to his big point:
God’s love for Israel is compatible with Israel’s punishment but not with their eternal punishment (102). In the end, there is grace and love and life. God’s love is cruciform and Christ died for all. God’s wrath, then, is a means to an end: discipline and restoration. For Parry, hell is the severe (but) mercy of God.
Thus, “I suggest that the problem is not that the universalist sentimentalizes God’s love and forgets his wrath but, rather, that the traditional theologians underestimate God’s love and unhelpfully disconnect it from his justice” (104). And I want to add a problem here that I see in this whole issue: for many of the traditionalists, and I consider myself one, the issue paradoxically becomes one of works. That is, it wouldn’t be fair to give humans the option of repenting at the hands of God’s severe mercy. Since when has grace been fair? Well, this is a thought that has come to me many times when observing this discussion. I remain unconvinced of Parry’s case, but he’s presented his call reasonably well.