Christian Universalism

mcCLymondChristianity Today is running an informative interview with Saint Louis University theologian and religious historian Michael McClymond on Christian universalism.  The interview, conducted by Paul Copan of Palm Beach Atlantic University, is based on his new book The Devil’s Redemption: A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism.  Here is a taste of the interview:

What prompted you to write on the topic of universalism?

There were several stages in the process. As an undergraduate at Northwestern University, I had a religious studies professor—the late Dr. Edmund Perry—who insisted that Paul taught universal salvation in Romans and 1 Corinthians. I was taking Greek at the time, and the professor’s claim did not seem credible to me. When I attended Yale Divinity School, I wrote a comparative essay on the eschatologies of Origen and Karl Barth—a short piece that I now recognize as the tiny seed from which The Devil’s Redemption later sprang.

Another factor is a dream that I had about a dozen years ago. Without going into too much detail, this was an unnerving encounter in which I saw God’s coming judgment arriving in the form of an overpowering storm; people in the path of the storm were pleasantly chit-chatting when they ought to have been seeking cover. The dream left a lasting impression. It suggested to me that we’re unprepared—both inside and outside of the church—for the return of Christ.

When Rob Bell came out with Love Wins in 2011, what struck me was not so much the book itself, with its well-worn arguments, but rather the widespread approval the book elicited, together with the collective yawn of indifference on the part of most who didn’t approve. I came to the conclusion that Karl Barth’s affirmation of universal election in the 1940s (in the second volume of his massive Church Dogmatics) had inaugurated a widespread turn toward universalism in mainstream theological circles, that this trend had gained momentum over the last half-century, and that the time was overdue for a wide-ranging appraisal of this teaching.

Read the entire interview here.   You can buy the book, in two volumes, from Baker Academic at the whopping price of $90.00.

5 thoughts on “Christian Universalism

  1. The self-contradictory nature of Universalism — at least the version of it espoused by Rob Bell and others like him — is starkly highlighted in the linked interview of Bell by Martin Bashir. (Note: it is a related, albeit more fundamental contradiction than the one which you emphasize.)

    Watch Bell squirm, obfuscate but fail to answer — because he cannot — the straightforward question: is one’s response to Christ in this life irrelevant to our eternal destiny?

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    • Tony,
      I appreciate you posting that clip of Rob Bell. What a lightweight! I give very high marks to Martin Bashir, the interviewer. He did not let Bell weasel out on the tough questions. It is incredible how someone like Rob Bell can be taken seriously. The media outlets which are giving him a free pass need to study Bashir’s probing style.
      James

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  2. I am a Byzantine-rite Catholic, and I don’t even accept the Western doctrine of original sin (inherited guilt); I am a lot closer to Orthodoxy on this issue. I consider John Calvin to be an shameful arch-heretic on par with Arius, whose damnable heresies of total depravity double predestination is in total contradiction and diametrically opposed to the Incarnation of Christ. I consider Univeralism to be the only morally responsible reaction to embrace of the Calvinist heresy, and Karl Barth is one Calvinist theology who I refuse to curse.

    With all this said, I can’t see how Univeralism can be anything other than self-contradictory. If there is no Hell, and God gives salvation to all (regardless of whichever Western theological system one adopts, my logic applies), then all people spend eternity with God, including people like Maximilian Robespierre, Napoléon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, Donald Trump, etc. Can any serious minded person think that people like this who consciously chose the evil and rejected God would actually enjoy spending eternity with a God who they hate?! Wouldn’t this be its own type of eternal damnation, its own type of Hell?!

    Univeralism, in my mind is an attempt to make the Calvinist heresy morally responsible, because Calvinism without Universalism is ultimately the proclamation of a fundamentally evil deity, whose rejection is the only morally responsible course of action. Thank God though, that John Calvin is the only Western Christian born after 1054 to be condemned a heretic even in the Eastern Orthodox Church! Still, total depravity is theologically unsustainable in the face of the Incarnation of Christ; double predestination is a rejection of the Incarnation of Christ, and Universalism is self-contradictory.

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    • Christian,
      Your inclusion of Donald Trump within the list of genuine mass murderers trivializes their actions and is a puerile rhetorical device.
      James

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      • What do you call the denial of relief services to Puerto Rico other than genocide by attrition?! Nazi Trump’s lack of emergency response and relief efforts to Hurricane Maria victims in Puerto Rico was genocide directed at Hispanics and Catholics who are American citizens. Trump already has joined the league of Augusto Pinochet!

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