Saturday, December 30, 2006

Reading over the holidays

Over the holidays I've read Barna's Revolution and Cole's Organic Church and found the former to be pretty disappointing in terms of what Barna is known for - facts and figures, and the latter to be helpful if a bit self-serving to the author (too many first person pronouns!).  I'll begin teaching a class on Revolution on 7-Jan based on these books hopefully salted with Life Together by Bonhoeffer.

Yesterday, though, I started "Gregory Macdonald's" The Evangelical Universalist and so far, is that this is a great, if dense, read.  I have done a pretty extensive amount of reading in Christian philosophy and epistemology for a lay person and Macdonald quotes from all the folks I've read - Hasker , Sanders, Polkinghorne, Swinburne, Plantinga, Craig, Marilyn Adams (one of my favorites re:evil/suffering), etc.  He lays pretty heavy homage to Thomas Talbott, who I have not read, but intend to.

(BTW, "Gregory Macdonald" is a pseudonym cobbled together from the names of two great universalists - Gregory of Nyssa and George Macdonald.)

Macdonald is thoroughly evangelical, essentially holding all the tenets of the great creeds and taking exception to only two features of common Christian tradition: (1) the thanatocentric model of human existence and choice, and (2) the idea that those in Hell suffer there forever.

He claims there are three propositions we must consider (simplified here):

(1) God desires/wills that all should be saved
(2) God has the power to see his redemptive desire/will is successful
(3) Not all will be saved

Macdonald points out that Calvinists accept (2) and (3), but reject (1) - claiming God does not desire that all should be saved, but only the elect.

He then states that Arminians accept (1) and (3), but reject (2) - claiming God has wiling forfeiting the ability to force free agents to choose as he would desire.

He argues that Christian  universalists accept (1) and (2), but reject (3) - claiming that God will ultimately save all of humanity.

He mounts several compelling arguments against the traditional view of Hell for both the Calvinist and Arminian views as well as two general concerns with eternal, conscious torment - namely (a) the justice of such an extreme punishment for any and all sin, equally; and (b) the irreconcilability of the redeemed's ultimate joy and happiness with the knowledge of the eternal torment of those they love (or, alternately, the unreasonableness of God's honesty and love with the idea that he prevents the redeemed from knowing/remembering the fate of those they love).

He then sets about to argue that of the three (3) views listed above, each must wrestle with difficult biblical passages based on which of the propositions they accept or reject.  The only difference in the universalist position is the rejection of (3), which he argues and attempts to prove is no more biblically/textually problematic than rejecting (1) as the Calvinists do or (2) as the Arminians do.

I'm about halfway through the book and hope to make some additional blog posts on the topic soon.


Adam Gonnerman said...

I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on the book. I've traded e-mail with the writer and almost bought it, but opted for "God Does Not Foreclose" instead. Also a good read, but I'll have to go through it a second time, slowly, checking the verses he cites. The best book I've read thus far was the one by Thomas Talbott. EXCELLENT.

Danny said...

I'm currently about half way through MacDonald's book (wish I knew who he really is). I think you'll really enjoy Talbott's "The Inescapable Love of God". It was Talbott's book that got me seriously considering the viability of Christian Universalism.