Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Blogging heaven and hell: 8

Mike blogged about Robin Parry's book The Evangelical Universalist and mentioned a couple of his main points. However, I feel that a few more could be touched on. Parry makes several claims. One is that scripture passages disagree - we have scriptures on both sides of this debate. It is simply a matter of which verses one decides to give priority too. Parry argues that four key texts teach universal salvation.

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. Rom 5:18

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 1 Cor. 15:22

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

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil. 2:11

Parry goes on to argue that these texts do not disagree with the teaching of the Bible on judgement and hell, if we understand that hell does not last for ever. Judgement is corrective and restorative, rather than eternal and destructive. Parry acknowledges that it is retributive, but comments that it is both retributive and restorative at the same time. One example of this would be in 1 Tim. 1,
Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.
Justice is both being handed over to Satan and it is corrective. A similar but clearer statement is made in 1 Cor. 5:5,
hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

Second, Parry argues that God's justice must accord with our sense of justice. Here I divert from Parry and explain in my own words what I think he is saying.

We must think of God as a moral and ethical being. If we saw someone doing something that would lead to their death, we would forcibly prevent them from doing this action. We would forcibly prevent someone from committing suicide if we could. How much more then should God forcibly prevent us from doing something that would send us to an eternity of torment.

We would not stand by and watch our own children commit suicide and simply say that they had chosen it. If we cannot pattern our most loving and ethical relations after our sense of who God is, then of what value is our understanding of God.

So for Parry, universal salvation along with a consuming and corrective judgement for sin, best suits the scriptures and best meets what we understand the Bible to be telling us who God is.

The last point for Parry is that universal salvation best fits the metanarrative of the Bible. He sees the Bible as being composed of three central narratives. The first is the fall of humanity from immortality, the second is the exile of Israel, third is the death of Christ. Christ rises from the dead, Israel is restored o the land and humanity is saved from eternal death.

I would add to this that a strong argument for universal salvation is that in the Hebrew Bible there is no direct teaching of eternal conscious torment. If in fact, Old Testament sinners were punished with eternal conscious torment, it would have been without being warned of their fate. It appears that they were simply told that they would be destroyed.

So my question is whether Christ came to bring salvation to the few and eternal conscious torment to the many, or if he came in order that all may be saved.

I have a strong concern that this is a matter of exegetical stalemate, and I regret to see evangelicals presented with the notion that only one side of this debate is valid and tenable. I am personally agnostic on this issue, but I was impressed by the passages that Parry presented and the coherence of his argument.


Robin Parry said...


Thanks for your kind words. I would also add that, for me, broader theological factors are key. For instance, seeking to make sense of how divine love and justice are compatible, how divine love and sovereignty cohere, how we can make sense of the notion of God's eschatological victory.

The other key factor—and this is not clear in my book—is the resurrection. For me the resurrection of Christ (the representative of all humanity) is the foundation of all Christian eschatological hope. Given his representative role I see the future of humanity inscribed in his risen body. So, for me, any ending to the story which is not resurrection is tantamount to saying that it is not Christ who determines the shape of the future. It is something else (sin, death, etc.).

So the biblical texts you mention are key but only when situated within the wider metanarrative (as you say) and within the context of wider theological concerns.

Suzanne said...


Thanks so much for dropping by. I found your explanation that the body of Christ represents humanity to be quite in line with some of the other literature contemporary to the NT.

I hope others will see how important it is to be open to change in areas where there is an exegetical stalemate, where there is clearly more than one way to prioritize the passages, and see what fits into the narrative of God's dealings with humanity.

Pam said...

All very interesting. I had an immediate question:

1 Cor. 5:5,

"hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord."

Sounds like there is something to be saved from, which happens on the day of the Lord. What would this, then, be referring to?

Robin Parry said...


I think it refers to eschatological judgement. I am not denying that there is end-time judgement and wrath. My claim is simply that we ought not to assume that such judgement is necessarily the end of the road for those judged. As so often in Scripture we see wrath and then mercy, judgement and then restoration.

But, as the prophets always said, do all you can to avoid judgement in the first place!


Pam said...

Now that I'm a "grown up", I'm finally reading the bible for what it actually says -- not nearly as cut & dry on some topics as much of christian culture has made it out to be. I have some tough questions. I feel like I've been snowed in a way, all these years having been presented such a neat & tidy box of information in such a non-questioning, non-scrutinizing, happy-go-lucky culture. I'm more than a little miffed by it all.

Muff Potter said...

I too have a question about:

"...hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord..."

What is being referenced here? The animating spirit (nephesh) the Almighty breathes into everything living? Or is the reference to the soul?

If the reference is to the "soul" that we know in our English tradition, it should be pointed out that in the Hebrew tradition, no such bifurcation exists; body (flesh) and soul are an integral unit, and it is only the breath of life (nephesh) that departs the body upon death.

Adrian and Sandra said...

Thank you for thiss