Let’s just say a little bit about different routes that people take into universalism or, how is it that somebody might become a universalist? There are actually different ways—this is my version. I’m an Anglican and Anglicans have this thing: “The three legged stool, scripture, reason, and tradition.” This is how we do theology. But I became a Christian in a Methodist Church and as we’re in a Wesleyan building now, I should pay deference to that. There is a Wesleyan quadrilateral: scripture, reason, tradition, and experience.” So I’m going to be an Anglodist and put these together:
So this is the way I think about scripture, reason, and tradition. So “Scripture” is obviously Scripture. What I mean by “Tradition” is—it’s quite a wide-ranging thing—all the patterns of prayer and worship that we inherit by becoming part of the community of faith. It is doctrine, like the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s the doctrine of Scripture too. Your belief about Scripture being inspired and authoritative, that’s part of tradition, that’s not Scripture, that’s what tradition tells you Scripture is (and rightly so, I think). By “Experience”, I am talking about your own experiences but more than that, also the way in which we might draw on empirical sciences, for example, as we reflect about God. Or the social sciences, physics, or whatever, I’m including that in experience. The little arrows are my bit of “Reason” because I don’t think reason has its own domain. You don’t study Scripture and then study reason. Reason is how we reflect about Scripture, how we reflect on our experience, how we reflect on doctrine, and how we go back and forth between them. We use reason as we think, “How does Scripture relate to tradition?” and “How does it relate to experience?”, etc.
A healthy Christian approach to thinking about faith is going to involve all of these and it’s going to be a constant moving around between the poles. Back and forth, as you reason them with Scripture and experience and tradition. Back and forth, and it never stops so, sorry, this is gonna be the rest of your life.
All those people who got into Christian universalism through history involved all of these things. But particular poles were important for different ones of them—especially important as, sort of, routes in. One of those routes in—one of those poles—that has always been very important for people becoming universalists is the Bible.
For most Christian universalists, the Bible played a key role in the journey towards belief in universal restoration. I mean, after all, these guys are Christians! (and by “guys” I’m including girls as well—this is a generic “guy”) These guys are Christians and if they thought that this was unbiblical, they’re not really going to be too sympathetic to it, are they?
Let me just give you an example of one guy. I love this chap Elhanan Winchester—18th century Baptist, revivalist preacher. He grew up a very strict Calvinist. This was in North America and during the Great Awakening. He’s very strict—like he’s a hyper-Calvinist—but a real heart for the gospel and a real anti-slavery campaigner.
One day somebody sort of gives him this book, which is a German Pietist book but it’s defending universal salvation. He kind of looks through it and thinks, “Well, that’s interesting, never thought about that,” but he puts it aside. Then a few months later he’s at a friend’s house and he sees the book again. He picks it up and flicks through it and thinks, “Well, I’m not sure that’s a good argument, not sure what I’d say to that.” But again he puts it aside. However, it kind of gets under his skin, he just can’t get these questions out of his head. So whenever he goes around to talk to his Baptist minister friends, he sort of plays devil’s advocate and starts saying, “What do you think about this argument?” and all this, and he pretends to defend the view. He gets to the point where he said he was half a convert but really resisting it, to the point, that he would preach with great ferocity against this view—trying to persuade himself more than anyone else.
Anyway, it all comes to a head when he becomes the minister of the biggest Baptist Church in Philadelphia and it sort of gets out that he’s been asking these questions. He thinks, “I need to know what I think about this,” so he basically locked himself away with the Bible and just reads the Bible. “I just want to know what the Bible says, and whatever it says, I’m going to go with that.” After a few days he comes out and says, “Right, now I know, Scripture says this. From now on I’m committing myself to this, even if all my friends reject me, and they probably will.” And a bunch of them did, sure enough, but for him the key thing is Scripture. It has to be scriptural. We might think that some of his readings of Scripture are quirky and all that but the point is, this is the thing that drives him, this is what motivates him. That’s the case for a lot of these guys.
Charles Chauncey, another guy who was the minister of the first Congregationalist Church in Boston—a very important church. He became a universalist just through studying Scripture, I mean nobody—no universalist—influenced him, he’s just studying texts. 1 Corinthians 15 is the one that gets him into it. He’s a very careful exegete and scholar. He kind of gets into this and then starts reading other bits and the whole thing comes together for him that way. So for some of these guys, Scripture is really key.
Universalism is more controversial than it needs to be. I found when I first started to say things like, “Oh, I believe in universal salvation,” there was a lot of anxiety. Because people thought that that meant a whole bunch of stuff that it didn’t actually mean. So the first thing I had to do was to help people see what it did and didn’t actually mean, just to clarify the concept itself—that took a lot of heat out of the debate.
Once people realised that the gospel wasn’t at stake, well then we can sit down and have a talk about this. It’s actually really very simple, this is it in a sentence:
Christian universalism is the belief that in the end all people will participate in the salvation achieved for them by Christ.
If you notice there, we’ve got:
“salvation”, which presupposes some understanding of needing to be saved from something. So implicitly there’s some idea of some problem, some issue, sin, whatever.
“By Christ” so it’s got something to do with Jesus saving us—otherwise it’s not Christian universalism.
of course what makes it universalism is the “all people” bit.
and the “in the end” bit, that’s quite important.
What we’ll do is try and unpack all of this but in a nutshell that’s what I’m talking about. Let’s first of all get some sense of what Christian universalism isn’t.
Do all roads lead to God?
This is one of the concerns that people have with universalism and you can see why somebody might think that because the reasoning would go something like this: “Well look, clearly not everyone is a Christian and so if everybody’s gonna be saved, clearly all the different roads/whatever they’re taking—whether they’re atheists or whatever—they all go in the same direction, they all lead to the same place.”
But that’s not actually what we’re saying. What Christian universalists say is that Jesus leads to God, and eventually everyone will take that route. Now, there are still a whole bunch of questions around that question, as to what it would mean for someone to take that route but let’s put that on hold for now. What it is definitely saying is the only way to God is through Jesus, not all roads lead to God.
Is there no post-mortem punishment?
Now again, you can see why people might think this. They’re thinking to themselves, “Hey look, if everybody goes to heaven then nobody goes to hell.”
Ok, it depends what you mean by “hell” but leaving that concept of what Hell might be a little bit vague, this is not necessarily the case either. In fact, through Christian history almost all Christian universalists have thought that there is post-mortem punishment—the punishment after death. That participating in the fullness of salvation is not something that happens “as you die” but it’s something that happens “in the end”. So again Universalism needn’t mean rejecting post-mortem punishment.
Is the Bible wrong?
The reasoning goes like this: “Well, clearly the Bible teaches that people go to hell and so universalism can’t be true. If you’re saying universalism is true, then obviously you don’t believe the Bible.” Again—and I hope to develop this point somewhat more later—that is also not the case, most Christian universalists in history have been very committed to the inspirational authority of Scripture. The issue is to do with the interpretation of the Bible, not whether they believe it or not. So if we can relocate the discussion, it’s not about whether you accept or reject the Bible, it’s about how we understand and interpret the Bible.
Is sin no big deal?
Another misconception is that, “Clearly you don’t think sin is much of a big deal.” Again I can see how people get to this view, they’re thinking: “Well hold on, if everyone gets saved, then God must be kind of going, “Yeah, maybe you’ve murdered a few people, whatever, just come on in. I don’t mind about that stuff, brush it under the carpet.””
But again that’s absolutelynot what Christian universalists think or have ever thought. If any of these people took the time to actually read what these guys have said through history, they would see that this was never the case. Universalists take sin—and God’s transforming work by the Holy Spirit—very seriously.
Does it really matter how we live?
Yeah I get this, they’re thinking, “Hey, let’s sin. Do what you like. Have a fun life (cos sin is “fun”??) and then you’re gonna get to heaven anyway so it doesn’t really matter does it?” But again this is absolutely not what any Christian Universalist has ever taught or suggested. You will see—particularly if you looked at the church fathers and some of those Christian universalists through the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries—they’re really hot on holiness and the importance of becoming more like Christ. We’ll see why when we get to the last talk today.
Is God only loving but not just?
I would be a wealthy man if I got like 50 pence for every time someone said to me, “Oh, well Robin, what you need to remember is that God isn’t only loved but he’s also just.”
“Good gracious, I’m so glad you told me, I never would have thought of that! Phew, here I was made labouring under this illusion that God was just kind and cuddly, and not just.”
But this is again a complete misunderstanding, Christian universalists have always adamantly insisted that God is just. In fact, they build their case for universalism precisely on this and on the idea that God is holy. Yes, God is holy but God’s holiness and justice are loving holiness and justice. So we need to think, “What do we mean when we say that God is just?” and “What do we mean when we say that God is love?” But it’s never been a matter of picking love and rejecting justice and holiness—that’s never how it was thought about. It’s not how it’s thought about now—it’s just how people imagined universalists think about it.
So we don’t need to evangelise?
We will look at this a little bit more in talk 4. I understand why somebody might think that, “Hey, they’re gonna be saved anyway, why bother preaching the gospel to them.” Of course, what Christian universalists believe is through the gospel God saves all people. So if you believe that, it seems a bit odd to go, ” You don’t need to preach it to them. God’s gonna save everyone through the through the gospel so why tell people about the gospel.” That’s just weird, nobody would think like that and Christian universalists have not thought like that. In fact, many of them have been great evangelists and missionaries. In fact, some of the great mission movement people of the 18th century were universalists.
Above is my transcript—edited for readability—of an excerpt from:
How you conceive of the far future will control what happens in the near future. Now people talk about threats to humanity today: global warming, resource exhaustion, asteroid impact, overpopulation, whatever. I don’t think any of those things are the real threat to humanity today. Some of them are issues that need to be dealt with, some are overdrawn, but the real threat to humanity comes from bad ideas.
Humanity did not have catastrophes in the 20th century because of resource depletion, global warming, overpopulation, or asteroids. It had it because of bad ideas and in particular, one bad idea—with a number of variants to it. And that bad idea is that there isn’t enough to go around.
He explains how World War I and World War II are examples of nations acting on this bad idea—the former being “the seminal catastrophe of the 20th century that sets in motion most of the rest.” We pretty much created hell on earth.
It is simply not true that humanity is composed of nations or races in a struggle for existence over scarce resources—that is a false point of view but nevertheless, if it is embraced it has the capability of causing absolute catastrophe.
In recent years, he has heard scarcity again being given as a reason for an “inevitable” war—this time between China and America. To my relief and delight, he powerfully and succinctly refutes that logic:
Now, this is a false point of view. I mean the fundamental point of view is Malthusian, “There’s only so much resources… population increases, standards of living go down…” In fact, history shows the exact opposite—as the world’s population has gone up, the standard of living has gone up! Why? Because consumption depends upon production. Production is people times technology.
The more people there are, the more inventors there are, and inventions are accumulative—that is why people create resources. There’s no such thing as a “natural resource”, there’s only natural raw materials. They are turned into resources by resourceful people.
It’s not that we’re gonna get oil from Mars, it’s that we’re gonna disprove a fallacy. We’re gonna disprove this fallacy that there’s only so much to go around—that there’s a roof on the Earth. There’s not a roof on the Earth—Earth comes with an infinite sky and it’s wide open. And that’s The Case for Space.
While this was God’s intention, they acknowledge it’s often not how people think and act.
The story of the Hebrew scriptures [claim] that our “scarcity” problem isn’t caused by a lack of resources. Rather, the problem is our mindset that God cannot be trusted.
Once we are deceived into that mindset of scarcity, we can justify the impulse to take care of me and mine before anyone else. That leads to envy, anger, violence and a world where it seems like there is not enough.
Now, I’m excited that Zubrin encourages going to Space to “disprove this fallacy that there’s only so much to go around” but I’m even more excited that for thousands of years God has been working on proving that there is more than enough for everyone, as Mackie goes on to explain. Unfortunately, the the nation God initially engages doesn’t get it and become another example of war resulting from the idea of scarcity.
[The Israelites] act like [the land of abundance] is all theirs and like there is not enough. It leads to war and Israel’s self-destruction.
Thankfully, God is more persistent than us and made his surprising next move—poetically, giving us the most generous gift of all, himself, in Jesus.
Jesus lives with the conviction that there is enough. And that our generous host can be trusted. His mindset of abundance allowed him to live sacrificially and generously even towards his enemies.
Despite personally experiencing poverty, Jesus viewed the world differently:
[Jesus] would say things like this: Look at the birds. They do not store up food for themselves, yet they have enough. Or, consider the wildflowers. They are beautiful and abundant. And they do not stress about their existence. And you all should live that way, too.
Jesus encouraged us to follow him in trusting in God’s abundance.
That is why he said things like, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” Or, “Do not worry about your life.” He is inviting us to live by a different story. One that is built on trust in God’s goodness and love.
However, change takes time.
Jesus knows we are all hopelessly deceived by this lie that there is not enough.
We need to expose that lie, reforming our thinking to make this world less hellish and more harmonious for all.
So, that is what Jesus was doing when he gave us the gift of his life. Jesus’ death was the ultimate expression of God’s generous love.
We are all called to live in the light of this, whether that be building rockets to Mars or simply through our hospitality to those around us.
Yeah, and when you believe there is enough, you start seeing opportunities for generosity everywhere. With our time, money, and our attention.
Universalism is the belief that ultimately everybody will be saved. There are several different stripes of Universalists.
Some Universalists believe everybody has been reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. So you are reconciled to God—the gospel simply tells you something that’s already true—that you’re reconciled to God. And so the point of Christianity then is to tell people—who are already saved—that they are saved. But ultimately everybody’s going to be saved—that’s one kind of universalism.
It’s refreshing that Moore acknowledges that there are different types of universalism and that Christian Universalists believe that the reconciliation to God is “through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus“, rather than trying to dismiss them as pluralists—the “all roads lead to Heaven” cliché.
One of the challenges that anyone reading the Bible faces is that it frequently describes things as both “now/already” and “not yet”. For example, is the Kingdom already here or has it not yet come? Are we already seated with Christ or not yet? Is evil already defeated or not yet? (For more examples see inaugurated eschatology). Many non-universalist Christians have taught the “now/already and not yet” also applies to salvation, in which case, universalist Christians may agree, albeit extending the scope of that the salvation to all of Creation (e.g. Parry—Church: a foretaste of the age to come).
Another kind of universalism says, “No, there is a hell but God is going to ultimately redeem everyone out of hell”—and some versions of this even the devil and his angels—that the love of God is so persistent that God will not rest until he has wooed back to himself even the most hardened sinner.
Again, I like that Moore presents a fair description. At the same time, I wouldn’t just say that “universalism says this” but that throughout the Bible God is constantly redeeming people out of hellish situations. Whether those situations are seen as “natural consequences” of evil or God’s punishment, the point remains that the pattern and precedent is of God not resting until he has wooed sinful people back to himself.
Universalism is appealing and it’s appealing to people for very good reasons. I mean the Satan never tempts us with something that is in and of itself evil—he has to find something that we want to be true or we’re drawn towards for good reasons and to simply to twist it out into something evil.
I agree with Moore that Satan does try to tempt us by twisting good things—I just don’t think that’s the case for universalism. It’s also an unhelpful argument because it could be used about almost anything. For example, one could claim any grace, or indeed Christianity itself, is simply “appealing to our compassion.” Or one could even assert that “Non-universalism is appealing because we instinctively like to see enemies destroyed—that it’s taking advantage of our desire for revenge.” Whether that’s true or not, I wouldn’t try to dismiss non-universalism on those grounds.
And with universalism, that is the fact that we’re supposed to be broken about the reality of hell. We’re supposed to be heartbroken for our neighbors and our friends and for those that we’ve never seen or heard about—who are dying apart from Christ. No one should take the reality of Hell with a lightness or with a disregard. Jesus doesn’t—he weeps over Jerusalem. So I think there’s often a good impulse behind someone who’s drawn toward universalism.
I think many universalists would agree, that our hearts should ache when we see lives spiralling downwards, that we be concerned about their future. At the same time, we don’t think anyone’s future is ultimately hopeless, as Christ works through Christians and the Spirit—in this age and the next, as I believe the following verse alludes to:
Problem is, it’s not true. The New Testament explicitly denies universalism.
Where?? What about the explicitaffirmations of universalism? For example, Colossians 1, Philippians 2, Romans 5:18, and 1 Corinthians 15:22.
Our Lord Jesus speaks repeatedly about the reality of Hell, about the gravity of judgment and about the eternality of Hell—that the fire doesn’t go out, that this darkness never ends. And that goes all the way through all the Apostolic writings, right up until the final book in our ordering of the Canon—the revelation that Jesus gives to John—in which those who are cast into the lake of fire… again it is—Revelation 20—an eternal suffering, an eternal punishment—the smoke doesn’t end.
As Moore said himself, many Christian universalists don’t deny the reality of Hell or the gravity of judgment. However, they believe that the Bible teaches that Hell is not everlasting—that many translations have mistranslated key words based on their theology (e.g. Is Aionios Eternal?).
Fire in the Bible is primarily a positive image. For example:
Regarding Revelation 20, universalists point to Revelation 21 where the same people appear to have been redeemed (see Book of Life).
So I think we have to have broken hearts about those who are lost but our broken hearts ought to motivate us not to denial but to action. That means we need to be taking the gospel with urgency to our neighbors and to those around the world. So that there’s a feeling behind our mission—that’s kind of summed up in what the Apostle Paul talks about in 2nd Corinthians chapter 5, “I am pleading with you, begging you—literally—as though Christ were begging through me be reconciled to God.” That’s the answer to the heart brokenness that we feel and the weight that we feel about the reality of hell. I wish universalism were true but Jesus tells me it’s not and he knows.
I admire Moore’s passion for the lost and the call for action now, rather than ignoring the plight of others. I think he is reflecting God’s passion and action (both on the Cross and through the Spirit) for each and every person. Encouragingly, in the same chapter Moore cites, the Apostle Paul says:
I wish universalism were true but Jesus tells me it’s not and he knows.
If we fallen humans wish that ultimately everybody will be saved, just imagine how much more our merciful Father wishes it—and as God never fails, He achieves it too. I sincerely wish that all Christians would hope and pray that this comes about soon. I’m excited that Jesus doesn’t just tell us he will achieve this amazing feat but actually demonstrates and guarantees this glorious future in his resurrection.
Below I’ve transcribed a video clip introducing Robin Parry and explaining why hell is such an important topic to explore.
We in Gospel Conversations got interested in hell rather intensely—or decided to be interested in hell—about 18 months ago. For a period of time before that, I personally was worried about the doctrine of Hell. Worried because it just simply doesn’t fit in with the broader Creation Gospel that we’d spent a long time developing and exploring in Gospel Conversations.
In Gospel Conversations we’re really trying to take God out of the religious box and put him in the big wide world. That meant starting to read the Bible in Genesis 1—not in Genesis 3—and seeing the resurrection as the recreation of all humanity. This is very, very good news. It’s a declaration—a hugely humanistic declaration—on what it is to be made an image of God—that’s all very optimistic… and then you put hell into it and it’s all very pessimistic. It isn’t just pessimism, it isn’t just an emotional conflict; it’s a logical conflict between a message of goodness and optimism and a message of exclusion.
So I decided last year to give a series of talks, which were exploratory because I didn’t really know what I thought. I think it’s a matter that’s genuinely ambiguous. As we did that and we stumbled across what’s commonly called the doctrine of Apocatastasis, which is the Greek word that Peter uses in his sermon in Acts 3 to describe the world reformation Christ has inaugurated.
We discovered that Robin Parry was one of the people who had been through a similar journey and then articulated—fairly thoroughly—from a biblical point of view this question he had explored himself—gone on the same journey. I thought (and not just me but many people) he—in a very reasonable way—put forward a balanced consideration of the question and a balanced support for universal salvation from an evangelical position.
So we decided to invite Robin out to our conference in July [20th and 27th, 2019, Sydney]. We’re very excited about that. Robin’s a good speaker but a gentle, open-minded, intelligent man. On the first Saturday we will listen to him talk and on the second Saturday it will be more interactive, with him and others, talking about the consequences of this re-paradigming or reshaping of the Gospel towards hope rather than hell.
It’s certainly something that we want to put on the agenda. It’s been on the agenda of the church for centuries and only recently got off the agenda of the church. We hope that a lot of people will come and listen because a lot of people worry about this but have no place to explore and discuss it. This is our our gift to all such people.
Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.
We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
He explained that we shouldn’t underestimate the power of that love because its source is God and its why we are here:
There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power, power in love. If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved. There’s power, power in love. Not just in its romantic forms, but any form, any shape of love. There’s a certain sense, in which when you are loved and you know it, when someone cares for you and you know it, when you love and you show it, it actually feels right. There’s something right about it. And there’s a reason for it. The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of Love. Our lives are meant to be lived in that love—that’s why we are here. Ultimately, the source of love is God himself—the source of all of our lives.
He backed this up with a quote from John:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, forGod is love.
1 John 4:7-8, NRSV
Sometimes the way forward seems impossible but because love is from God:
There is power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will.
As someone who believes that God’s love will succeed “when nothing else can”, I take the “died to save us all” (which Curry repeated) to literally mean that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, each and every person will be saved—healed, liberated, and lifted up.
[Jesus] sacrificed his life for the good of others, for the well-being of the world, for us. That’s what love is.
The highest good and well-being of others is to be in a mutually loving union with God. As Jesus demonstrated, this is a voluntarily self-sacrificial relationship.
When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
Setting things right (justice) and right relationships (righteousness) will flow out of this love.
When love is the way, there is plenty of good room for all of God’s children. Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all and we are brothers and sisters, children of God. My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new Earth, a new world, a new human family.
I agree that one of the implications of each and every person being a child of God is that we should try to treat people as family (see Everyone is a child of God).
The Christian vocation means being a brother or sister to everyone, especially if they are poor, and even if they are an enemy.
Curry concluded by going back to the initial passage and reflecting on the why love is like fire.
There was no Bronze Age without fire, no Iron Age without fire, no Industrial Revolution without fire. The advances of science and technology are greatly dependent on the human ability and capacity to take fire and use it for human good. … Fire makes all that possible. And de Chardin said that fire was one of the greatest discoveries of all of human history. He then went on to say that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love, it would be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.
God—the ultimate Royal—is often associated with fire in the Bible. Like God, fire is immensely powerful, it is essential to human civilization, it invigorates, it transforms, and it purifies (Surprising Fire). Praise God that the royal wedding proclaimed to the world that the Royal’s redemptive Love is unquenchable!
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that day the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed.
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
Jon: Peter, I think, talks about “the earth will be destroyed by fire”—something like that?
Tim: He uses images of fire, yes, and things melting. The things that are melting… there’s an interpretative translation challenge there, of whether it’s “elements” or whether it’s “the rebellious angelic hosts of heaven”… Either way, he uses fire imagery to talk about the purifying of Creation.
Jon: Ok. In the Flood narrative with the sign of the rainbow and God’s not going to [destroy all life again by a flood]. If the Flood represents Creation collapsing back on itself, that seems to be the paradigm of, “Start over—let Creation collapse back on itself and I’m going to pull out the remnant and start fresh”, and that’s kind of like: “let everything burn”, “Titanic’s going down”, “rapture people out”, “start afresh”. But it seems like the promise, the sign of the promise, in the Flood story is, “I’m not going to do that!”
Tim: “I won’t ever do that again”. Yes.
Jon: So is that just the end of discussion? That’s not going to happen, God isn’t going to do that.
Tim: Yeah, I think that is what that means. The reason he brings the Flood is that the heart of humans is screwed up all the time. Then the moment Noah get’s off the boat he repeats the same thing! God says, “You know what I know about humans… therefore, I’m never going to do that again.”
Jon: And if it was, “I’m never going to flood the earth again”, it’s kind of like, “Ok, thanks God, but you could burn the earth!” … But the Flood story is not about how God’s going to destroy the earth as much as it’s showing you the collapsing of Creation.
Tim: Yes, correct, that’s right.
Jon: And He’s saying, “I’m not going to do that again” So is it “I’m not going to flood the Earth” or “I’m not going to collapse Creation on itself”?
Tim: Yeah, I think it’s that. So when Peter brings up that narrative, he says, “Remember by the word of God the heavens existed and the Earth was formed out of water by water” [2 Peter 3:5] So the word of God, waters separate from waters, dry land.
“And through it the world was also destroyed—flooded with water.” [v6] God allows the waters to come back over.
“But by His word the present age—the present heavens and the Earth are being reserved for fire—kept for the day of justice for the destruction of…” [v7] I’m not going to finish the sentence but what in your imagination? …
Jon: Destruction of the land?
Tim: Yeah, the cosmos or something. [But] what he says is, “the destruction of the wicked”
Tim: The purifying fire is about the removal of evil, which maps on precisely to the nature of fire imagery in the prophets. God says he’s going to burn Jerusalem so that he can remove the wicked and restore the repentant remnant into the New Jerusalem, which is purified.
Or the best is Zephaniah chapter 3, when it’s like, “I’m going to assemble all nations and pour out my burning wrath and fire on them”, and you’re like, “Oh, no more nations—they’re done for”, and then the next sentence is, “so that they can call upon me with a pure speech”—“pure” being purified. So even the fire imagery is metaphorical.
Therefore wait for me, says the Lord, for the day when I arise as a witness. For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all the heat of my anger; for in the fire of my passion all the earth shall be consumed.
At that time I will change the speech of the peoples [the nations] to a pure speech, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.
Zephaniah 3:8-9, NRSV
Jon: It’s not about deescalating Creation into nothingness.
Tim: Then [Peter] goes on later on in the paragraph and talks about the Day of the Lord comes like a thief, the heavens pass away with a roar and then the “something” will be destroyed with heat and the land and all of its works will be… and then there’s a textual variant. One is “burned up”, the other one is “discovered” [“disclosed”], in which case, it’s another melting down to expose what needs to be removed. Like melting down metal so the dross comes up. For me at least, I think the most coherent reading is that the fire imagery is metaphorical because the things that are getting burned up isn’t Creation, it’s evil deeds.
Jon: Whether or not the fire is metaphoric, like is it getting to that this needs to be destroyed or does it need to be remade new?
Tim: Yes, so I think depending on the communication goals of an author. The Apostles will sometimes really want to emphasise the continuity between this age and the new age, and so John will talk about “I am making all things new” and this has the parallel in the resurrection narratives where Jesus is showing them his hands that have the scars and he has a human body, and they can recognise him most of the time. So the same Jesus they hung out with in Galilee is the same that is risen. So the point there is about the continuity and God’s not going to give up—He’s going to redeem this thing—the redemption from slavery imagery—Creation redeemed from slavery and decay.
But then there are other times, especially when the Apostles are focusing on the tragedy and the horror of what humans have done to the place and when they want to emphasise how that won’t be around anymore—God’s going to deal with that—what you find is that they typically use images or metaphors that emphasise discontinuity. So the world as we experience it will be burned.
Jon: “The sky will fade away”.
Tim: Correct. Again none of this is about video camera footage, it’s telling us something about the nature the world as we know it and the nature of the world to come. And there it’s evil won’t be allowed to pass through the Day of the Lord—it will stop and be removed.
My transcript above is of the last 10 minutes of Design Patterns in the Bible Part 4: Chaotic Waters & Baptism by Jon Collins and Tim Mackie (slightly edited for readability). I’m delighted that Tim views divine fire as purifying—eradicating evil deeds rather than evildoers themselves. I think the logical trajectory of this is that only evil will be entirely eradicated forever, which seems to leave no room for eternal conscious torment or annihilationism.
Below is my transcript of Ron Dart’s helpful video above—I’ve edited it slightly for readability.
I’d like to call this presentation, Jordan Peterson—Transcending Tribalism in Cloistered Virtues. A few decades ago when I was doing my undergraduate studies in the 1970s, I took a course on John Milton and (it was with the Jesuits, which was quite interesting because rarely do something like Milton and Jesuits come together) we did the standard texts: Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, Samson’s Agonistes, many of Milton’s fine poems. We also touched on one of his key prose works, the Areopagitica, and in one of the lines (amongst the many lines in the Areopagitica) Milton says:
I cannot praise a cloistered virtue that never sallies forth.
In the culture we live in today, there are many people, whether religious, ideological, intellectual, they live with their cloistered virtues, and they don’t sally forth into other terrain where they encounter people who think different, see differently, and if they do, they usually marginalize, subordinate, demonize. Those are various ways of ignoring or not heeding different perspectives.
Jordan Peterson has very, very much come on the stage in the last two years, specifically, he’s been working on much of this thinking for decades. In the last two years, he has stepped on the stage and certainly speeches his speech insightfully, evocatively, challengingly. He’s received, as a result, an immense amount of public attention, probably more than any other Canadian in the last couple of years. He’s taken the role in a more popular way than someone like Charles Taylor had historically, or George Grant before him. He’s become a media darling for good or ill, but he’s nonetheless become a media darling in terms of someone to interrogate, someone to applaud, and there are different reactions to Jordan Peterson.
What I’d like to briefly touch on in the next few minutes is how he transcends the tribalism of different ideological outlooks and cloistered virtues of the progressive and trendy left or the reactionary conservative right, and he’s attempting articulate a third, nuanced, and more thoughtful way, which cannot be easily capitulated to any of the tribes as a were in the culture wars.
There tend to be three attitudes towards Jordan Peterson when his name comes up in discussion. I might add that certainly in the last few months, I’ve had more students who’ve come to me regularly wanting to discuss Jordan Peterson or wanting to write papers on Jordan Peterson or get class presentations on Jordan Peterson, than probably any other public figure in a consistent way. So there’s obviously an interest, even from a sociological perspective, in what he’s saying, what he’s articulating, and how people, for good or ill, are responding and reacting to Jordan Peterson. To ignore him on the public stage of thought and issues is to live with cloistered virtues, to live with one’s head buried in the sand. He’s a person that cannot be missed in that sense. As I said, there’s probably three reactions to him at the present time.
Within Canada largely, we’re seen as a liberal culture on the cutting edge of progressive liberalism and there’s a whole range of content issues, which I’ll touch on briefly, which define progressive were cause de jour liberalism. Jordan Peterson has dared to question that tribe or that clan, with its own definition of what is right and what is good, and one reaction from that clan to Jordan Peterson has been to demonize him, to caricature him, to dismiss him, to see him as a scapegoat, to see him as the alt-right or the light right, to see him as a man of white privilege. I mean there are various ways that one castigates or shuns the person, those who don’t fit in the tribe. He’s been compared to Martin Luther, by some, who dared to question the Catholic Church. Well, Jordan Peterson has dared to question, as it were, the modern “Catholic Church” of liberalism because, in that sense, an ideology is just a secular form of the Church. It’s had its own way of defining itself, what are the important issues, who’s in, who’s out, depending on whether you salute or genuflect to the trendy issues of the particular denomination or a tribal outlook you belong to.
To help understand a lot of Jordan Peterson’s thinking, he did a degree in political science in Alberta. His background is Alberta, then went on to do finally a degree in clinical psychology. In the last 20 years, he’s taught at the University of Toronto.
But some of his early work was very, very much on the way totalitarianism works and particularly forms of totalitarianism—we saw a former USSR under Stalin or Mao in China. We in the West and we’ll often talk about the various forms—we’ll see Germany and Hitler, Mussolini in Italy, Japanese nationalism. But underneath it is a concern he has with groupthink—that you’ll get people in groups who don’t know how to think outside of that group or if they do, they fear doing it for fear of ostracization and the implications of that.
Now obviously in the larger political authoritarian or totalitarian tendencies of the right or left, the consequences are rather tragic in the lives lost are horrendous. But the underlying way of seeing, in terms of a certain idea or mapping one’s worldview (this is his first big, book—came out in the late ’90s—on forms of mapping reality), is an attempt to explore how ideological outlooks define who’s in and who’s out and the implications of that (even though in the larger political ones the consequences are much more tragic and certainly in a liberal democracy they’re more benign, those worldviews still exist). A way of saying, “My group is right, my tribe, my clan, my cloistered virtues”, and if one doesn’t accept or genuflect or sign the password or the Shibboleth to get in, then a person is excluded from that particular tribe.
Now the dominant ideology in the liberal West (large elements certainly in Canada, our own Liberal Party, which is in power and Justin Trudeau, which would be a part of that), in that sense, embodies a form of progressive liberalism, which means on a whole variety of issues, you know where you stand and no one dares to differ with them. Let me just touch a few to just highlight this particular tribe or family and then what happens if one dares to differ with them.
At one crude level where Jordan Peterson has challenged the new atheist. There’s a whole understanding of secular liberalism, predicates crudest level of what we would call the right wing of the Enlightenment—that a certain view of science is the only way to know and that’s an empirical way of knowing, and that view of science defines what is reality and if something cannot be demonstrated through an empirical research, objective way of knowing, then it’s not real. That particular approach plays a dominant role, say in the universities in the public square, then tends to demean religion and so then you get these clashes, these clashes between science (as understood in a certain way, of which people like Sam Harris and Dawkins and many others are apart) and religion, which can’t seem to compete at that level. If you’re part of that sort of secular liberalism tribe, then people from religious backgrounds can feel inferior, they can feel marginalized, they don’t know how to quite compete at that level, and that’s one way in which that secular liberalism dominates.
But if you move to a more moderate form of liberalism (what we would call pluralist liberalism and which you can really see this played out once again), “okay, we’re open to spirituality” and when we have public events, we’ll bring First Nations people and you can beat their drums and do their prayers or if it’s some form of oriental origin, you can do the bowing at a public event. But to have a priest or a minister come in to do a prayer…? No, no, no! So very open to alternate spiritualities other than Christianity. So this sort of religious pluralism is open to some forms of spirituality but tends to marginalize others. Needless to say, those forms of sort of political correctness and culture wars have very much been a part of treating Christianity and religion in a secondary manner.
In the larger culture wars, Jordan Peterson will be having a big debate this spring in Vancouver with Sam Harris on, “You want to talk scientifically, well whose definition of science, okay? So you want to exclude religion, but can you explain consciousness in terms of a pure material investigation of the world that we live in?”. So then these particular new atheists want to talk as if their definition of science is the only way to understand science. But Jordan Peterson obviously is well-trained in science as well, the science of consciousness and the subconscious and the unconscious, so then it gets into a discussion of whose definition of science, which methodology are we going to use and things like that.
There are other elements in what Jordan Peterson is going to go after, in what’s called the politically correct world of the progressive left. Whether it’s identity politics or whether it’s gender politics or whether it’s white privilege, whether it’s Empire and colony, whether its power and powerlessness. There’s a whole world of discussion at the public university in which certain things are legitimate to talk about and other things that if you do think, then you must be a troglodyte or live in the Catskills. I mean even things like, say abortion, which is often seen as something on the right, it’s all right to talk about pro-choice but not pro-life. When it comes to euthanasia, “yep, pro-choice” but not questioning who are we to define the family in terms of a man/woman. These become ideological constructs in terms of social conservatism. Jordan Peterson has come along and essentially said, “Why do the liberal and progressive left only define what is good in those terms?”, and in one sense, it’s not very liberal of a liberal not to critique liberalism.
A lot of his work, in terms of looking at things like Neo-Marxism, post-modernism, and progressive liberalism has upset the ruling elite or the family compact or the Mandarin class in terms of the issues he’s written. What they tend to do then is to caricature, they dismiss, they demonize, they turn him into a scapegoat. In the recent interview with Cathy Newman in Channel Four, which has caused a huge reaction amongst many, you can see her constantly trying to stump him from within that trendy progressive left and him quite astutely and acutely knowing how to respond to her caricatures of them. She thought she knew what he stood for, but he’s much more subtle and nimble than that particular way of thinking.
One of the things, probably the first thing, as I mentioned earlier, just as he saw certain forms of authoritarian or totalitarian thought politically, so he sees the whole culture wars of political correctness is just a more benign form of groupthink. If you dare to break from the ranks, there’s going to be consequences. He certainly feels the ire and the consequences of that liberal elite or, as I mentioned, the family compact. He understands that world well because he’s lived within it for much of his adult academic and intellectual life, and so he speaks of what he knows. He’s not someone who stands outside the public educational institutions. He lives within them and he knows their agendas.
He’s dared to deconstruct progressive liberalism and many progressive liberals or ideological liberals or postmoderns, they love to deconstruct everything—except their own agenda, so it’s very dishonest. Or you might want to ask why don’t deconstructionists deconstruct deconstructionism? He’s dared to do that and carried it a step further. He points out very clearly, even though they talk the language of liberty and individuality, there is a groupthink, there is a clan, there is a tribe here. And those who dare to question it will feel the same ire as anyone would in a larger political system when you dare to differ with the party line.
Now the dilemma that often he has faced is that for people who think just dualistically black/white, right/wrong, my-tribe/your-clan—that very Manichean dualism—”Well then, if he’s critiquing the progressive left, then he must be a Herald and a pioneer and the Messiah of the alt-right or the light right!” Of course, many on the right have tried to co-opt Jordan Peterson for their agenda and see him as one of the family, and in that sense, they’re just as dualistic as the progress progressive left in that sense, the alt-right. Again and again, they’ve tried to co-opt him, whether it’s Rebel Media or whether it’s even the Canadian Christian College in Toronto (and there are a variety of other organizations), which have really cheered him on in his critique of that progressive liberalism and its seeming inability to critique itself. Even though it uses the language of critical thinking, it only swings the sword one way—to the right. It doesn’t allow the blade of that sword to come and also critique the left. It’s what Jesus would talk about, mote-beam syndrome, as we could always see the beam and the other’s eye and we either don’t see the mote in our own eye or we just see a mote but not a beam.
What he’s really highlighted is that tendency of mote-beam thinking, and the other always has the beam and we have the mote—if we have that at all. But those, as I mentioned before, who only see ideological perspectives (certainly within liberal democracy) as liberal progressive or reactionary conservatives, think, “Well, if he’s deconstructing liberal progressivism with all of its agenda and its laundry list of issues, therefore he must really be a prophet of the right or a Herald or a pioneer of the right.” He’s made it very clear again and again when they attempt to co-opt him or bring him into their household as a part of the family, that he’s quite as willing to deconstruct the alt-right and the light right as he is the left because at the heart of a lot of his thinking is the commitment to critical thinking—and the sword of critical thinking swings both ways. It will swing in terms of the alt-right, the light right, and any forms of reactionary right or conservatism.
So the left and the right don’t quite know what to do with him because even though the content of their perspectives is different, the way they see reality is often similar in terms of right/wrong, black/white—almost a comic book way of approaching reality. Someone who slips through that net becomes a little too elusive and they don’t know how to deal with him in that sense.
In attempting to understand Jordan Peterson, it’s important to see that underneath his concern is, on the one hand, a fear of groupthink and the importance of responsibility of the individual to think for themselves if they’re going through situations in life that are difficult and try not to blame mom and dad, not to blame circumstances. Not to blame but each person is very responsible for making choices that bring them a more meaningful life.
But he’s more than just sort of a “power of positive thinking” sort of a person. There’s much more to him than that. He believes there are structures of reality and to the degree we ignore those myths or structures, we, in fact, do our soul, our society, our families, great hurt and harm. And this is why he has done a great work on examining the great religious texts of the pasts.
In one sense, it’s probably important to understand he’s very much a Renaissance thinker. He can’t be reduced to a discipline in the academic world or a silo, in saying, “Oh, you’re a clinical psychologist, that’s all you can talk about, that’s all you know, so who are you to talk about philosophy, theology, social issue, political correctness?” Well, in fact, much of his work transcends the tribalism of disciplines, to begin with, as well as transcends the tribalism of the culture wars or the cloistered virtues of these different tribes that will not sally forth into the bigger world and actually engage different perspectives in a thoughtful, listening, and mediating way. Remembering, he spent years as a clinical psychologist and counseling and he has the ability know how to listen and listen very well in that sense, and be sensitive—to call forth people to live their lives in a meaningful manner, that they don’t blame others for their state and station in life, and that each and all are responsible for their decisions, and, yes, there are influences that can impact them, but they can’t use those influences as a justification for their continuing problems in the present, in the future. They have to work through those to move forward. He uses different analogies, but one is the analogy of the chess game.
He points out that life, like a chess game, has rules and if you violate those rules, there’s no game—just like violating rules of anything. Freedom is only found to move the pawns, the rooks, the Kings, the Queen within a framework. And the problem with certain types of liberalism is it highlights the role of freedom but there are no rules by which you can decide how to use your freedom or there’s no content to freedoms. It’s like Janis Joplin once said, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to do.” He’s acutely aware of the ideology of liberalism with its highlighting of individuality, liberty, open-ended notion of human identity, but absolutely no markings or care in terms of how to use liberty and freedom and an open-ended notion of human nature.
It’s as a result of that—over really the last 20-30 years of his life—he has tried to look at what are the great stories of civilizations that in fact give us the rules by which we play the game of life, which doesn’t mean there’s not great freedom but there’s freedom to move within, as it were, these rules. At the present time, and certainly in 2017 (which has come as a shock to a great many people who assumed we live in a secular age and nobody who thinks beyond a Sunday school that would want to go to public forums where teachings in the Bible were being done outside of the church), he’s literally packed out lecture theaters in Toronto (which is seen as one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Canada) with lectures on the Bible! This has sort of stunned those who take the temperature of culture and postmodernity—”Certainly no one cares about the Bible anymore and who would sit in lectures on the Bible other than maybe people in Bible school or seminaries or churches or synagogues or things like that.” He’s obviously speaking to a generation of people in which the markings are gone, in which the quest for meaning has become so diluted and thinned out, they don’t even know where to look anymore.
They are looking for those hints, those clues (without slipping into a dogmatic conservatism or, on the other hand, a form of relative liberalism in which nothing goes), and say there are these broad rules that, as it were, can point the way into the future. He looks at the Bible in these lectures in terms of not a simple either literal way in which you’ll get sort of creationists (remember, a lot of his work is from evolution of biology, so he’s not going to certainly read Genesis, which he’s done a lot of lectures on thus far, in simple young earth notion of creation versus evolution. He takes seriously the role of evolution—what it has to offer), but he also doesn’t look at the Bible in terms of the way some biblical scholars will, in terms of the historical, as it were, “Was there a flood?”, “Can we find Noah’s Ark or Jericho?”, “Do we have the archeological digs?”, “Do these things…?”—that doesn’t interest him. He’s very interested in a psychological reading. He’s been influenced by Carl Jung and, some would argue, Kierkegaard, and a whole variety—again, it’s his Renaissance nature. There’s a quite a wide range of sources he draws from—he draws from them thoughtfully. He wants to look at how do you map the Bible in terms of the meaning it offers to the soul, the community, to society, and what are the great themes.
I’d like to look at two briefly. Let me take one in terms of just how to read the Bible, say elements of Genesis or Exodus, which gets beyond either a simplistic literalism or an unhealthy just doing historic digs to find sites or places or archeological, places like that, manuscripts and this is supposed to verify these places existed or stuff like that. I mean “genesis” in the Greek is “the beginning”—it’s the beginning of all myths (remember, “myth” is not an untruth, it’s “myth” in this classical sense, it’s the perennial truth wrapped in the garment of a story). The great myth of Western civilization, which you’ll find in other civilizations, is the Eden myth.
Underneath the Eden myth is the notion of the tree. Of course, you don’t read the tree as a mere literal tree. One of the great symbols of the human soul is the tree and the tree, by its very nature, the question is, “What is it rooted in?”, “What sort of soil is rooted in?”, and any tree produces fruit. The story of the Eden tree is that humans have many desires and we’re told in that passage those desires are good, enjoy them, pick from there to be enjoyed, they’re nutritious for the soul. They’re nutritious for the soul, but don’t pick from the fruit of certain desires because there’s going to be consequences, and one is going to lose one sense of who one is.
The story of Eden is, in fact, people use their freedom in a way that they lose their freedom and hence, the “East of Eden” that John Steinbeck will talk about, and then the rest of the human journey is being banished from who they really are, the real image and likeness of God, living east to Eden, but always longing for the homeland again. You can see this mythic structure played out in this Edenic myth in that sense, which is the foundation myth of the West—it’s liberty and order. And what is the order? Just as in a chess game that allows a game to be played. But what’s the order of the human soul in society that gives life meaning.
The other would be the Exodus myth, it could be again read in the Jewish story of slavery/bondage, being freed from a Pharaonic empire, across the desert into the promised land. That can be read at one level. The other level is that when we are east to Eden, we are in slavery to false desires, to fantasies, to imaginations. We were very, very much victims of turning to mirages for meaning and they can give us a sense of order, direction, but they don’t fulfil, they leave us restless. We’re enslaved but there’s a certain security and predictability. Exodus, the “ex” (“out”), “odus” (“the way”), is about the story that people have to go through to leave that which is secure but in bondage, so that they can be free but insecure in the journey. The whole story of Exodus being read from a mythic perspective, it’s psychologically and spiritually extremely insightful, the price that has to be paid and then the journey to the desert. Of course, most never in time reach the promised land, but it’s the journey of letting go and the desert is the place of all those distractions and diversions are taken away and then “Oh, who am I when all that’s taken away?”
Jordan Peterson in his lectures in Genesis, he’s really trying to get at, in many ways, and he’ll take key biblical figures, the Cain, the Abel, the Adam, the Eve and he’ll read them metaphorically or mythically—that, of course, is what appeals to people beyond the simple literalism or “Can we find these sites in the Middle East or the Near East that the Bible talks about to prove for us that the Bible somehow was valid?” In drawing from people like Carl Jung, archetypes and myths, he’s sort of a more popular version of Joseph Campbell—doing the same sort of thing. He looks at the mythic hero who’s trying to find their way beyond that which enslaves, that which is ideology, that which prevents people from being free and finding their true and unique individuality on the journey.
Perhaps a criticism that could be levelled at him is he’ll critique the right and the left in terms of its ideology as if he himself is not coming out of an ideological perspective. Very important to understand a lot of his underlying principles are very much classic forms of liberalism, the individual versus the community or the state, and the state can oppress the individual has to fight for their own freedom. Now he’s not daft enough to see the state or community as always negative and the individual as always good, but often when they’re pitted against one another, he’ll often see the individual hero as having to find their way against these oppressive structures.
In his conversation, interestingly enough about the Church, he finds that he’s often asked if he’s a Christian, if so what kind of Christian, if he’s doing these lectures on the Bible “well, he must somehow have some interest in religion?” and he talks about the danger, as it were, of groupthink in the Church as if people in the Church all think the same way, no more. He has enough experience obviously in a public university, and to know they don’t all think that. Actually, he’s been marginalized within that context, and no community is homogeneous unless it’s extremely ideological.
Whether you’re in education, church, politics, sports, policing, culture, any of these communities are highly layered, so there’s always the danger of saying well, the church or the political party or the education is collective, but anyone who lives in them knows they’re layered. He tends to in his own thinking prioritise as what we call first-generation liberalism with the individual against the community, liberty against order, even though you can see him again, again grappling with that tension, which is, I think, to his credit and he’s aware of it.
I think the more he explores obviously biblical themes you get beyond the stories, you get under the myths into the principles that the myths are all about, that inevitably you’re into these huge, huge tensions in world philosophical thought in terms of liberty and order, individuals, community, unity, diversity without divisive. These are all significant and the role of thinking which of course is very important for him. Critical thinking in this. Property rights are very important to him and again, in some ways, he reflects a more sophisticated version a bit of his Alberton upbringing in that sense when you start getting underneath that, some of the liberalism which defines that.
And in that sense, I started off with Milton because Milton was the quintessential sophisticated liberal of his time, as Bunyan was the cruder liberal of his time in Pilgrim’s Progress and the hyper-individualism of Milton and of the populist one of Bunyan. It shares that sort of first-generation liberalism.
To sum then, I think it would be important in reflecting and evaluating the Jordan Peterson to recognize very clearly he is attempting to transcend the tribalism of the ideologies of his time, the dominant ideology in Canada, and large elements of the liberal West, whether the democratic tradition in the states or the liberal party or the NDP in Canada is very much a family or it’s a tribe which has a laundry list of issues that come from certain principles, whether it’s as I mentioned earlier post-modernism, postmodern feminism, whether it’s gender issues, whether it’s identity politics, whether it’s a certain uncritical support to a Neo-Marxism, whether certain views of abortion, euthanasia, family, certain views of the environment, certain views of war and peace, and crime and punished.
You can list 20 to 25 issues in terms of that progressive trendiness or cause de jour liberalism, and there’s obviously good in that. When it becomes a frozen ideological perspective, then you’re intellectual totalitarianism. Does that mean Jordan Peterson then uncritically genuflects to the right? No, they’re exactly the same. The dualism of the right is not much different than the dualism of the left. You know but the hero is, you know who the enemy is. It’s sort of the Captain America mentality. He then turns beyond the dominant ideologies, and this is why he’s interested in the Bible in a much more nuanced read of it (it’ll be interesting to see where he goes as those lectures unfold). And the fourth part would be interesting in terms of getting Jordan Peterson as he goes along to actually begin to critically reflect on his own ideological principles and both the strength of those principles, and perhaps the Achilles heels and blind spots of those principles. As I mentioned earlier, I started with John Milton’s Areopagitica, cannot praise a cloistered virtue that never sallies forth, the right and left tend to be tribal. They have their cloistered virtues and those who disagree with them are in the world of vices usually.
The particular reads of the Bible and can open us up to a much more vibrant and more in-depth understanding of the contributions of myth and its role in terms of freeing individuals to see actually the landmarks that have been laid down in history through stories, through narratives, when these sacred texts are read in a certain way. Then the fourth point would be is Jordan Peterson depending on how he goes along his journey would be to reflect on perhaps the ideological framework within which he lives, but he does not substantively criticize because it’s one thing criticize various positions. The task of a healthy thinker is to know how to be self-critical as they go along on their journey.
To end, absolutely important … Well first of all, absolutely important that people don’t put their heads in the sand and ignore these bigger public issues of which Jordan Peterson is very much on the stage articulating. That would be the first thing, either religiously or politically or culturally, and not sort of slip into a religious ghettoism in that sense, but enter into the larger public fray. Secondly in Peterson, to know how to see the immense good he’s contributing in terms of deconstructing both forms of liberalism, the sort of trendy liberalism and reactionary conservatism, to look at his unique … I won’t say it’s unique because the historic Church has read the text this way and he’s just making it more popular from a clinical psychologist’s point of view.
Then the fourth point would be to reflect on, for those who are interested in critical thinking, to be posing before Peterson himself, what does he see as the ideological construct and the house he inhabits by which then he reads the Bible and which he critiques the progressive left and the reactionary or conservative right.
There is more to come—there is the fullness. There is coming a day when, as Paul says in Romans 11, the deliverer will come from Zion and “all Israel will be saved.” Not just the current remnant of Messiah-believers, but also those who at the moment reject Jesus. There is a day coming when, as the book of Revelation says, the kings of the earth and all the nations will bring their treasures into the New Jerusalem through its ever-open gates to worship God and the Lamb.
Now we see salvation in part, then we shall see it in full.
So currently we see a division within Israel and the nations between the redeemed and the lost, between the elect according to grace and those who are not, but one day there will be no such division. And then the promises associated with the birth of the Messiah will be filled full, or full-filled.
My second theme can be explained much more simply. Remember that Christmas is also about the incarnation—the Word made flesh, “eternity contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man.” For the Church, the real and complete humanity of Jesus is really important. The Church Fathers said: “that which has not been assumed has not been healed.” What they meant was that Jesus had to be human to heal our humanity. If he had not taken on our human nature then he could not transform it in himself.
Now Jesus is, of course, a particular human being. He is a real, solid, flesh and blood and bone and spit human individual. But more than that, he is a representative person. As the Messiah of Israel, he represents the whole nation of Israel before God. He is Israel-in-miniature. He embodies its story of exile and restoration in his death and resurrection. In the same way, he is the second Adam—the fountainhead of a renewed human race. In his humanity, he represents all humans before God. The story of humanity in its expulsion from Eden and its subjection to death is played out in his crucifixion. But then his resurrection is not simply about himself—it is on our behalf, the behalf of all of us, Jews and Gentiles. The resurrection of Jesus is the resurrection of humanity in him. It is the future of the world inscribed into the risen flesh of the Son of God. And it is here, in this risen and ascended human being that my hope for universal salvation is grounded. How can we know that God will one day deliver all? Because God has already declared his hand in the resurrection. It has been done—so it will come to pass.
And all this promise was wrapped up in the life of a little human baby in a manger in Bethlehem.
That, at least, is something of what may be a little distinctive about a universalist’s understanding of Christmas.
The fact that the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus focus on Jesus as the Messiah of Israel (who has been sent to redeem and rule Israel), needs to be seen in the light of the bigger biblical picture.
Super-briefly—Israel was chosen from amongst the nations for the sake of the nations. God’s plan to redeem the whole human world was focused through his work for the nation of Israel. However, Israel herself was sinful and in need of redemption before God could bring to pass his saving purposes for the world. In the visions of the prophets, the new age was one in which God would first rescue his covenant people and then the nations would abandon their false gods and come and worship the God of Israel alongside Israel. And that’s the story we see in Luke’s gospel-story. Jesus is all about the salvation of Israel, and, precisely because of that, he is all about the salvation of the nations. That’s why the song of Simeon links the two. Once Israel is saved the nations can be saved. And that is why Luke’s bigger narrative in the story that runs across Luke-Acts moves from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. First Israel, then the nations.
Now, while the good news announced by the angels is not for “all people,” it is for “all the people”. We should note that it is for “all the people” (i.e., all Israel). The focus of the redemption in the speeches of Luke’s birth narrative is Israel as a whole, rather than simply some within Israel—read them and check it out. The intended beneficiaries of the Messiah’s activity are all Israel. The focus is Israel-as-a-whole.
Similarly, the hints at blessings for the Gentiles simply pick out “all nations” as the target (i.e., everyone who is not a Jew).
So what at first seems to be pretty parochial turns out to be surprisingly all-encompassing.
Now, of course, one cannot simply read full-blown universalism off these texts. It would be perfectly possible to speak hyperbolically of the salvation of all the people Israel and all the nations in a situation in which some individuals are not saved for one reason or another. The focus of the text is the two groups, not every individual that composes them. (Although, even then, it presumably speaks of the salvation of at very least the of the individuals that compose the two groups. If only a tiny remnant of Israel benefits from the Messiah, it would be more than odd to refer to them as “all the people.”)
So while this theme is compatible with universalism and could even be taken to suggest it, it does not demonstrate it. However, if one is already a universalist for other reasons—as I am—then these birth stories do indeed bring encouragement for an eventual global restoration.
But we must not see the journey in any simple and direct way. All the Gospel writers are well aware that Jesus actually causes division in both groups. Though many in Israel accept him, even more reject him; though many Gentiles embrace the good news, many more resist it. So any universalism that we see in the Christmas story would have to be able to incorporate this important element of the story.
Now the model of universalism that I developed in my book (The Evangelical Universalist), recognizes that the journey to the destination of the salvation of all Israel and all the nations takes a complicated route. I argued that the NT holds in tension the idea of the kingdom of God here now and its future fullness. The new creation has begun, but it is yet to come. It is now, but it is not yet.
This tension, this overlap of the old age and the new age, helps us to understand the story of the salvation of Israel and the nations, which was promised in the Christmas story.
The Jewish Christ believers in the Jesus communities are a microcosm of saved Israel; and the gentile Christ believers in the Jesus communities are a microcosm of the saved nations. So in the ekklesia, i.e., the community of Christ, we can already see the promised redemption of Israel and the nations. When Jews and Gentiles, redeemed by Jesus, gather together as one in Christ to worship God, then we see the promises of the prophets fulfilled. Israel is saved. The new age has dawned. The Spirit has been poured out. The nations are coming to acknowledge the God of Israel. This is what the Messiah has achieved.