Dr. Michael McClymond’s great and thorough book, THE DEVIL’S REDEMPTION: A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism, won the Academic Theology Book-of-the-Year Award from The Gospel Coalition!
For more on the remarkable Dr. McClymond, click on https://www.amazon.com/Michael-James-McClymond/e/B001H6QXKM/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1 .
Earlier Radio with Michael …
To hear … “Dr. Michael McClymond: his book on Jonathan Edwards named Christianity Today’s “Book of the Year” … click on … https://haroldhendrick.com/2013/04/06/dr-michael-mcclymond-st-louis-coauthor-christianity-today-book-of-the-year-on-jonathan-edwards/ … and …
To hear … “McClymond, Michael May 8, 2007 Encounter” … click on … https://haroldhendrick.com/2007/06/04/mcclymond-michael-may-8-2007-encounter/ .
In the heresy of theological universalism – an effort to undermine sound biblical teaching — one does not need to be concerned about going to Heaven. According to universalism, everybody is going there. Since everyone is going to Heaven, including the worst of us, expect to see, “rub shoulders,” and ” hang out” with Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin (each responsible for killing millions), and the late President of Uganda, Idi Amin (“… Popularly known as the ‘Butcher of Uganda,’ he is considered one of the most brutal despots in world history.” [Wikipedia])
And, according to universalism, one can ignore a volume of Scriptures, such as …
- Separation of the “sheep and the goats” of Matthew 25:31 – 46;
- “And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has (eternal) life: he who does not have the Son does not have (eternal) life” (I John 5:11,12)
- Parable of the ten virgins as told by Jesus: five were ready and five were not. (Matthew 25: 1 – 13)
- Jesus said: “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?” (Matthew 23: 33)
- “ … the rich man … died and was buried. In Hades, [the rich and unrepentant man] lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom” … (Luke 16: 22, 23)
- “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after this, the judgment …“ (Hebrews 9:27)
- “… the Lord is … patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.” (II Peter 3:9)
- “ … just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them … indulged in gross immorality …are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 6)
- “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
In the teachings of universalism, why is the blood of Jesus, crucified for our sins on the cross, even needed? Why did He need to die … if everyone is going to Heaven?
But the Word of God says: ”But God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” Romans 5: 8,9
Quotes from other sources …
Kevin Vanhoozer says, “Important issues require important books, and McClymond has produced what I suspect will be the definitive treatment of Christian universalism for years to come.”
Selected comments mostly from Professor Michael McClymond about his book and related issues to universalism.
(Vanhoozer) “I suppose the first thing to say—besides “Wow”—is “Congratulations” and “Thank you.” What a massive achievement. Your book runs to 540,000 words, covers 1,376 pages, and cites around 2,500 sources (in Greek, Latin, French, German, and English). The bibliography alone runs to 90 pages in small print and double columns. What was the motivation and the process for investing so much of your scholarly life into a definitive treatment of universalism?”
(McClymond) “I had first encountered the teaching on universal salvation in a New Testament course that I took as an undergraduate at Northwestern University. My attitude then (as now) was that the professor teaching the class certainly had the right to hold to universalism as a personal belief, but not to be teaching us that the apostle Paul taught universalism. Simultaneously with that course, I was in a reading course with a professor of classics going through the Epistle to the Romans line by line. So I became the pesky student in the back of the classroom who was often shooting up his hand.
“When I later studied at Yale Divinity School, I wrote what proved—for me—to be a seminal essay comparing Origen and Karl Barth on the question of universalism.
“But several years ago what really surprised me was not Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins (2011), with its well-worn and hackneyed arguments. Instead, I was startled by the multitude of people I thereafter encountered holding that universalism was biblical and evangelical teaching. From my study of historical theology, I was well aware of the intense controversies in the early centuries over Origenism, and of the pushback against Karl Barth’s position on universal election from Emil Brunner and others in the 1950s.”
Skeptics “… should consult (my) book, which offers an abundance of evidence and citation—in nearly 4,000 footnotes.”
“… When writing in the 1940s, (theologian Karl) Barth had essentially no precedent from earlier theological history for his assertion of universal election. So one has to ask: How could Barth be correct over and against all the earlier theologians? One must, I believe, adhere to a cult of theological genius to believe that a thinker who lived and wrote some 1,900 years after the completion of the biblical canon somehow “discovered” a major doctrine that no one had ever previously seen in the text of the New Testament.
“ … the 20th century rise of universalism occurred in stages.”
“From the 1990s onward, the theological leading edge has left inclusivism behind and has become fully engaged with universalism. From this point onward, universalism has become a “Catholic thing,” and purportedly also an “evangelical thing” and perhaps a “Pentecostal thing” too.
“The issue of final salvation seems to be as much a live issue today as it ever has been. In March 2018 the reported statement of Pope Francis (as recorded by Francis’s atheistic journalist friend Scalfari) that “there is no hell” but rather “the disappearance of souls” gives the impression that the pontiff holds to annihilationism—a position that earlier Catholic scholars rejected.
“While there may be no necessary correlation between universalist theology and leftist politics, there is a common tendency in both to engage in wishful thinking rather than hard-nosed observation of human folly and depravity. Just as dictators all around the world (e.g., Bashir al-Assad in Syria) are not ready to relinquish their power when other people tell them too, so too the sinner against the Lord may not be ready to give up control of his or her own life when told the message of God’s love.
“My book does not attempt an analysis of the Western cultural situation, but I would say that we are living in a society characterized by make-believe. We act as though our government can borrow money without paying it back, we play video games and films to launch us into alternative universes, and we watch sexually explicit films that offer a temporarily gratifying yet deeply distorted picture of physical intimacy. There are a lot of “opiates” going around—and don’t just mean oxycontin or fentanyl. Given the social context today, it is not surprising that some Christian teachers have become purveyors of an “opiate” called universalism.
(Vanhoozer) Some (though not all) contemporary universalists (like Robin Parry) try to ground their theology in whole-Bible, canonical exegesis. But you argue that universalism inevitably entails a “hermeneutics of diminishment.” What does this mean?
(McClymond) ”To repeat my argument from the book: In universalist interpretations of the Bible, one often finds the surface-level meanings of the biblical text disappear and are replaced by something else.
“To my mind, Robin Parry has gone furthest toward developing an argument for universalism, based on the entire Old and Testaments, in his book The Evangelical Universalist. Yet the exegetical problems in that book are manifest, as I have sought to show in my book. I can honestly say (and as a friend of Robin’s) that reading The Evangelical Universalist convinced me more fully than before that an exegetical case for universalism simply cannot be made on the basis of the whole of the Bible, interpreted in more or less grammatical-literal terms. To uphold universalism, one has to evade certain scriptural texts, either by means of non-obvious spiritualization (e.g, the “fire” not as punishing but as purifying) or simply through a fiat rejection of bothersome verses.
(Vanhoozer) “One of the most interesting themes through your massive work is the idea that the universalist has the mindset of a “metaphysical rebel.” In fact, you say that a better one-word explanation for universalism is “metaphysics,” not “love.” Can you explain the role of metaphysics in the motivation and appeal of universalism?”
(McClymond) “In the sphere of theology, the metaphysical rebel might begin a statement with the words: ‘If I were Creator of the world. . . .’ To which I would want to say: ‘Stop! Don’t finish that sentence.’ None of us is the Creator, and I don’t believe that any of us human beings is in a position to lay out on our table the various possible worlds that God might have created, and then evaluate these alongside of the actual world, and draw conclusions as to how much wisdom God did or did not exhibit in the creation of the world we presently see. A good deal of universalist reasoning is highly speculative and rests on the assumption that we—or at least some of us—are sufficiently knowledgeable and intelligent enough to adjudicate these questions. John Kronen and Eric Reitan, in their book God’s Final Victory, argue that it would be wrong for God to provide salvation only to those who believe in Christ, since salvation for believers and unbelievers alike would maximize God’s salvific purposes (see The Devil’s Redemption, p. 1,037 n. 83). For this reason, they suggest that faith cannot be a prerequisite for salvation. This is the kind of counterfactual or blue-sky speculation that originates in human reasoning that has become wholly independent of divine revelation in scripture.
“Debates over universalism thus raise questions about theological method. On my view, Christian thinkers are almost wholly dependent on Scripture for all that they might affirm regarding postmortem judgment and final salvation. But that is not the position that many Christian universalists would maintain.
“Is it possible for someone to retain a basically sound evangelical framework, with universalism added on? Or does it necessarily require a reworking of one’s entire theological system?
“Let me tell an historical story, which contains a moral.”
“Just before the Civil War, the Universalist Church in the USA is said to have been the sixth-largest denomination in America. But what happened to this now-forgotten church? Arguing that God does not punish anyone, the theologians of this church (e.g., Hosea Ballou) rejected the idea that Jesus on the cross underwent punishment for the sins of humanity. The atonement was the first domino to fall. This theological alteration set the Universalist Church on a path toward rejecting Christ’s divinity. For if Jesus was not our sin-bearer on the cross, then why would he need to be divine? Ironically enough, by the early 1900s many of the Universalist church members no longer believed in an afterlife. Some members were signatories of the secular Humanist Manifesto during the 1930s. Once heavenly salvation was declared for everyone, people stopped believing in it. In the 1960s the Universalists finally merged with the Unitarians to form the Unitarian-Universalists (or UU). Yet the vitality of the universalist movement in America had been waning since the time of the Civil War.
“’What then is the moral?’ The story suggests that universalism is a church-killing doctrine. If the doctrine undermined the sixth-largest denomination in the USA, then what effect might it have on major churches today, should they tolerate or formally embrace this teaching?
(Vanhoozer) It’s possible that some reading this are universalists or tempted toward universalism. What would you say to them directly?
(McClymond) “Here is another passage that resists a universalist reading. … I believe, is that hope [from the Scriptures] ought to be based not on human reasoning but on God’s promise. When we raise the question of final salvation, we have to ask: What relevant promise is contained in Scripture? Is there a divine promise in the Bible to the effect that God will save everyone?
“The ‘eternal fire’ to which Jesus refers in the Gospel of Matthew was not made in the first instance for rebellious humans but was ‘prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Matt. 25:46). The first unnerving implication of this verse is that certain intelligent creatures made by God—i.e., the fallen angels—will certainly and finally be separated from God. The second unnerving implication is that some human beings—the ‘goat’ in this passage—come finally to share the same fate as the fallen angels. It is hard to escape the force of this passage. Likewise, when Jesus was directly asked the question—’Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?’—it would seem then that Jesus had a great opportunity to preach a universalist message, but failed to do so
“To me it would be spiritually hazardous to tell those who have consciously rejected Christ that beyond the present life there will be further opportunities to respond to Christ—opportunities of which Scripture says nothing.
“Beginning with God’s command to Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree in the garden, the whole of Scripture contains a message concerning ‘two ways’—a way leading to life or reward, and another way leading to death or punishment. Because this idea of the ‘two ways’ is so deeply rooted in the Bible, I would say that a church congregation that is Bible-preaching and Bible-reading will simply not entertain the idea of universalism. That this doctrine is as widespread as it now is, is a measure of how small a place the Bible occupies in the sermons of many preachers, and in the reading and study habits of many churchgoers.”