In this third talk of our Hope and Hell conference, Robin paints a sweeping picture of the story of salvation beginning with creation and ending with the eschaton. He then poses the significant question—which fits best into this picture—hell or universal salvation?
This talk is quite awe-inspiring—not because it advocates universal salvation (which it does) but even more because it stretches our horizons beyond individual redemption into the purpose of the cosmos. In developing his theme, Robin draws heavily on the magnificent Patristic fathers and their grand conception of the irresistible goodness of God.
For months, I haven’t had the headspace to write as it’s been one of the toughest years of my life. However, I recently made such an exciting discovery, that I just had to tell you about it. To put it in context, I know hundreds of Christian Universalists in the US but only a handful in Australia (primarily due to the much smaller population). Therefore, I was delighted when Robin Parry told me about a reputable Australian group, Gospel Conversations, which discovered orthodox Christian Universalism this year!
They describe themselves as:
A monthly event and podcast exploring the richness of the gospel in a conversational forum. … Essentially we want to take God out of the religious box we put Him in, and position Him as Lord of Creation. That means recovering a much bigger picture of God and his project than a merely ‘religious’ program whereby the Christians are rescued from the earth and escape to heaven.
They’ve done over 8 hours of talks and a panel discussion exploring the issues (I’ve made a playlist) :
Hell is the question we all avoid but it is the corollary of hope. How do we fit the two together? Is the traditional model of hell right? Or scriptural? Could everyone get saved in the end? Tony begins to address these vexed questions by first examining the landscape of the debate – the language and assumptions, the possibilities, the history and the problems of all the usual positions. He ends by suggesting a better question to frame our thinking.
Our second talk builds a richer view of ‘judgment’. “What house is God building?” is a better question – and it immediately opens up a new view of judgment. Architects judge as part of their creative process. This positions ‘judgment’ out of the penal system and inside a creation system. Tony explores this new perspective in this talk.
Tony advances Gregory’s picture of the Restitution of all things. The question of ‘universal salvation’ needs to fall onto a big eschatological landscape not onto a narrow one. Only then does it make sense. That is what Gregory does. Tony gives us a detailed summary of his epic eschatological vision of creation in ‘On the Making of Man’ which explores the profound implications of being made in the image of God.
St Augustine laid the foundations for the doctrine of Hell in his epic tome the City of God. But did he get it right? Tony gives a penetrating diagnosis of where Augustine’s thinking had ‘code errors’ that distorted the gospel and predisposed him to the idea of hell as never-ending torment. Unfortunately, the church of Rome validated his thinking and excluded the broader eschatology that we are now beginning to realise was the orthodoxy of the Patristic Fathers.
Tony finally confronts the scary verses in this talk – the passages that at face value talk about hell, judgment and wrath. Traditionally they have so gripped the dark imaginations of the church that they have totally overshadowed the even clearer verses that declare universal hope. But we need to answer the question – What do the ‘Bad News’ verses really say about eternal hell? What do they really tell us?
As we continue to ponder the hope of ‘apokatastasis’, we confront some of the ‘so whats’, beginning with evangelism. At face value, it looks like a doctrine of ‘universal salvation’ makes evangelism unnecessary – why preach if everybody gets saved eventually anyway? Tony addresses this question by first changing the question – and then building a far bigger picture of ‘salvation’ into which we can place ‘evangelism’.
Our Hope and Hell series has raised a lot of interest; people like the ideas a lot but everyone has questions. We created a panel of three to address eight of these questions that our listeners sent in. In this talk, Ron, Andrew and Tony give their responses in a free-flowing, exploratory and honest dialogue. Mark Ridgway facilitates the dialogue.
I haven’t finished listening to them all yet but so far one of the highlights has been Tony’s summary of Gregory of Nyssa’s amazing vision of what God began in Creation and will complete in the New Creation. It’s a stark contrast to Augustine’s vision. Anyway, God willing, I’ll get to fly up to Sydney and meet them in 2019!
One of the things I appreciated growing up in the Reformed tradition, was Reformation Day1. Among other things, this celebrated the ideal that we should always be reforming the church, or at least be willing to consider our beliefs and practices, in light of Scripture.
I believe the Reformers made many important reforms. However, I think that they should have reformed their soteriology2 and eschatology3 further, back past Augustine4, to Gregory of Nyssa5 and Origen6. One of the reasons is because I believe these earlier Church Fathers’ interpretation is more in line with the Apostle Paul.
God willing, over the next few weeks I’ll be able to unpack this…