Mission, creation and incarnation

I was grateful to Philip North for offering a response to my critique of his views on mission in relation to the incarnation, published in the Church Times. There is nothing quite like hearing someone’s point of view in their own words, and it has been immensely valuable to have this exchange. I offer here some final reflections, since I am not sure that Philip’s response actually addressed the questions I raised, and it highlighted some further issues.


Although Philip centres his discussion on the incarnation, it is striking that the eschatological parable of the sheep and the goats takes centre stage for him:

The heart of the difference is the way we read Matthew 25.31–46 (the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats) and more specifically who we consider the recipients of compassion to be in that parable.

I can see why Philip connects this parable with the incarnation, in the sense that the king in the story judges people on their response to their (unwitting) encounter with him in the person of those in need. But eschatology is much more central; as with the other material in this part of Matthew, the key reality is the certainty of eschatological judgement. And it turns out that eschatology is central to almost everything that the New Testament says about mission. When Jesus strides into Galilee, he proclaims that the longed-for kingdom of God is at hand, an event which, in first-century Jewish minds, was associated with the vindication of the righteous and the judgement of the wicked. It is therefore not surprising that the first response that Jesus invites of his hearers is that they should ‘repent’. And the practice of the early church follows this example: all the proclamations of the good news of Jesus involve mention of the coming judgement, and the need to be ready for it. Even the much vaunted example of Paul in Athens, held up as a model of ‘contextualisation’ of the gospel message in another culture, ends with this appeal:

In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17.30–31)

It would be easy to parody this approach in the form of street-corner Bible-bashers, crying out that ‘The end of the world is nigh!’ But a more serious question is to ask what has happened to the place of eschatology in our understanding of evangelism? As Paul demonstrates, judgement is not actually an alien concept to other cultures; our culture loves the reality of judgement, whether in light-hearted entertainment or the deadly serious business of calling for justice for those who have abused others.


In that context, I think we need to do better in our reading of Matt 25.31–46. Philip claims:

According to Ian, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger and the imprisoned are followers of Jesus rather than any human being in need. In other words, those who show mercy to others are serving Christ only if those they serve are consciously his followers.

It is patently obvious that the second point does not follow from the first; there are numerous injunctions in the gospels and the rest of the New Testament to care for those in need, and that we are serving Christ whenever we follow his example. I really don’t understand why my reading of this passage implies any kind of restriction. The question is not whether we should care for those in need; the question is whether that is what this parable is about.

A helpful article on the Patheos blog collective identifies the three main interpretive options: the universalist interpretive model (which Philip is following); the classical interpretive model (in which this is a parable about Christians helping other Christians); and the exclusivist interpretive model, in which it is about how the ‘nations’ respond to Jesus’ followers. (The author also notes the recent Dispensational reading, which we don’t need to consider here.) Of the universalist reading, the writer comments:

This interpretive model sees the call to serve one’s neighbor as universal. All people in all places are called to serve their neighbor. Anyone who is hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, or naked can be a vessel through whom Christ can be encountered and served.

This interpretation has been taken up in various forms by not only scholars and church fathers, but has been the interpretive model in a number of works of literature. Luz calls this vision of Christianity as “nondogmatic and practical,” and highlights a story by Tolstoy that communicates this interpretation in literature…

The rationale behind this theory has been summarized by Luz. He gives the following reasons for it: 1. Jesus’ model of life and teaching reflect this ethic of love 2. There is a less dogmatic focus on the identity of God and less exclusivity for salvation 3. There is focus on love which is seen by universalist interpreters as the fundamental test by which interpretations should be weighed.[6]

This interpretation has been used throughout the history of the church, but was a rarer interpretation up until the 19th century.

In an important article in Theological Studies in 1986, John Donahue notes the reason for the adoption of this reading:

In terms of the broader history of interpretation of this passage, Denny Burk summarises the research on this by Sherman Gray:

Gray argues that commentators over the centuries have interpreted “the least of these” in one of three ways: (1) a narrow reference to Christians, (2) a general reference to the poor, or (3) an unspecific identification of “the least of these.” Here’s a closer look at each historical period:

In the Patristic Period, you can find the narrow interpretation in Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Chrysostom, Jerome, Ambrose, the Venerable Bede, and (most notably) Augustine. Augustine’s towering influence is well-known. He refers to “the least” 44 times in his writings, and “nowhere does Augustine specifically state that ‘the least’ are the poor in general… it is obvious that the Christian poor are meant” (p. 69). Whereas some of the patristics are inconsistent in their references to “the least,” Augustine is consistent in identifying “the least” as Christians. Thus, “Augustine comes down clearly on the side of those who hold a restrictive viewpoint” (p. 71).

In the Medieval Period, the narrow interpretation is found in Anselm of Laon, who says that “the least” are not the poor in general, “but only those who are poor in spirit who, having put aside their own will, do the will of the heavenly Father” (p. 168). It is also in Bonaventure, who “clearly identifies ‘the least’ as Christians” (p. 175). The most influential theologian of this period is obviously Aquinas, and he also comes down clearly identifiying “the least” as Christ’s disciples (p. 180).

In the period of the Renaissance and Reformation, you can find this interpretation in a number of figures including Erasmus, Zwingli, Luther, and Calvin. Of course, the latter two are the towering figures of the Reformation, and so it is significant that both Luther and Calvin are clear that “the least” are Christians (pp. 203-206, 208).

The amount of evidence that Gray covers is vast and can hardly be reproduced in a single blog post. But we can summarize his findings with respect to the narrow view of “the least of these.” He concludes that if one sets aside references to the “least of these” that are unspecified, “then it is clear that the narrow interpretation of ‘the least’ is the predominant viewpoint throughout the centuries” (p. 349). The narrow view is held 68% of the time in Middle Ages and 74% of the time in the Renaissance/Reformation (pp. 349-50).

So the reading that I am offering is hardly new or novel, but is in fact the dominant way that this passage has been read. And there are good reasons for this in the text. In Matthew, Jesus is quite clear that the language of his ‘brothers and sisters’ refers to those who ‘do the will of my Father in heaven’ (Matt 12.50). In the discourse about mission in Matt 10, Jesus makes almost exactly the same point as is made in the eschatological parable, that how people respond to his followers defines their response to him: ‘Anyone who receives you receives me, and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me’ (Matt 10.40).


Philip’s next criticism is that the power relationship remains one-sided, since those bringing the gospel have ‘exclusive access to the Christian truth of the Incarnation’. I think that is an odd criticism for two reasons. First, this reading of Matt 25 accords very closely with Jesus’ descriptions of mission in Matt 10, Luke 9 and Luke 10—and it is a description of intense vulnerability on the part of those who have been sent. All they have is the news of the gospel, but that is indeed a treasure that they carry. Second, Philip appears to be suggesting that we should think of ourselves as having nothing of value to take to areas which have not yet heard about or responded to the gospel—and in this post-Christendom culture that we live in, the most common reality is that the majority of the population knows nothing of the basic facts of Christian belief, let alone understanding the implications and possibilities for their lives.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Rom 10.14)

Again, this is easy to parody—but how can we set aside or diminish the ‘proclamation’ element of mission, when Jesus’ last command to his disciples was to ‘teach them to obey everything I have taught you’ (Matt 28.20)? Of course, this must be in the context of careful listening and respectful understanding—but in order to communicate well, not because we don’t have something vital to say.

Philip wants to dissolve a radical distinction between the sacred and the secular, because he sees that as being damagingly destruction to the environment and to our view of culture. But this is surely only the case if we let go of a robust theology of creation, and all humanity created in the image of God. It seems odd to me that Philip does not mention creation more. Scripture consistently says two things about the world—that it is made by God and loved by him, but also that the world has gone wrong and people have turned from God, and so we will one day face his judgement. Athanasius, in his exposition of the incarnation, does not hold back from the reality of this:

Repentance cannot remedy fallen nature: we are corrupted and need to be restored to the grace of God’s image, and no one can renew but he who created. He alone could recreate all, suffer for all, represent all before the Father. Once transgression had got a head-start, human nature ended up completely corrupted and deprived of the grace which we once had from being in the image of God. Our repentance was no longer enough to restore this grace and give us the new beginning that we needed. What was needed then? The Word of God, who at the beginning made all out of nothing. Only he could restore the corruptible to incorruption, while maintaining the justice of the Father towards us. He alone, being the Word of the Father and above all, was able to recreate everything, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be ambassador for all to the Father.

Athanasius knows how far we have fallen—and it is that which makes the incarnation both wonderful and necessary. And for Athanasius, it does not automatically redeem the world or transform it—but it makes that redemption and transformation a possibility. For Paul, the ‘now’ in Rom 8.22 when the world’s subjection to futility comes to an end is not the possibility offered by the incarnation, but the realisation of that possibility when we confess Christ as Lord (Rom 10.9) and the Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts (Rom 5.5).


Philip’s final objection is to the evangelistic image of colonialism.

To turn up with a large gang of people who believe they have a monopoly on the truth and who import a culturally alien message using language and concepts local people do not understand is not evangelism. It is colonialism. Our approach needs to echo the incarnational principle.

Once again, we find here an unhelpful parody. We do need to ‘echo the incarnational principle’, as Paul does when he seeks to be ‘all things to all people, that I might win some’ (1 Cor 9.22), but of course only Jesus is ‘incarnate’ as only he makes the journey from divinity to humanity.

But there is a wonderful irony in Philip’s example of the DIY SOS project that he took part in.

Where is Jesus in that scenario? Is his presence really restricted to those who happen to attend that small church? Or is he present in the incredible love and compassion of those, Christian or not, who gave so freely of their times and gifts to transform the lives of some of the nation’s most vulnerable people?

In this we are claiming that Jesus is present in the Muslim, in the Hindu, in the Sikh and in the atheist who is participating in this practical project. I think many of them would reject this idea, and see it as the worst form of spiritual colonialism as we claim for our faith something that they would rather keep for their own.

Such a universalist understanding of the incarnation and of Matt 25 is not warranted, and it is not needed.


Philip’s ministry is a gift to the Church, and I hope and pray that the work of the Estates Evangelism Task Group will bear fruit. But I also hope that it thinks through the theology of creation, fall and eschatology alongside the theology of incarnation and inculturation so that we can work together across all traditions in this vital ministry.


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116 thoughts on “Mission, creation and incarnation”

  1. I think many of them would reject this idea, and see it as the worst form of spiritual colonialism as we claim for our faith something that they would rather keep for their own.

    This is similar to the other thing I was thinking, which is that if there’s a concern about evangelists turning up saying, ‘Here’s something we know that you don’t!’ is in some way patronising, surely it’s even more patronising to turn up saying, ‘here’s something you already know but lacked the language and capacity to properly understand until we explain your own experiences to you!’

    I mean, simply telling me about something that happened in a distant place isn’t patronising: I learn about things that happened in places where I wasn’t all the time, whether that’s on the news or simply in a telephone call from members of my family spread all over the country.

    But telling me that I need your help to interpret correctly something I ‘really knew, deep down’? That’s patronising, because that is saying I cannot correctly conceptualise my own experiences until you explain them to me.

    But also: wasn’t the whole point of Christianity (and something it inherited from Judaism?) a rejection of the syncretism otherwise common in the ancient world (the Romans did it famously but they didn’t invent it)?

    In which case isn’t this modern syncretism that says Jesus is present in all religions and philosophies, again, well, heretical?

    So that’s two ways — syncretism and panentheism — on which this view seems to be prima facie heretical, unless, again, it can be explained why this isn’t panentheism and why it isn’t syncretism?

    Reply
  2. “In this we are claiming that Jesus is present in the Muslim, in the Hindu, in the Sikh and in the atheist who is participating in this practical project. I think many of them would reject this idea, and see it as the worst form of spiritual colonialism as we claim for our faith something that they would rather keep for their own.”

    No, that doesn’t sound like what he is claiming at all–their identities and personal beliefs are not erased by the presence of Christ in their _actions_.

    Reply
    • No, that doesn’t sound like what he is claiming at all–their identities and personal beliefs are not erased by the presence of Christ in their _actions_.

      Okay, explain this to me. The Muslim would presumably say that they are participating because they are obeying the command of Allah to help those less fortunate — a practical form of the almsgiving which I’m sure I recall being told was a pillar of Islam.

      Let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that we seem to have got turned around a full one hundred and eighty degrees from the parable of the sheep and the goats, where it is the people who are being helped who embody Christ, not the helpers.

      What does it mean to say to this Muslim, ‘Actually, your actions, that you are doing in obedience to Allah, also are infused with the presence of Christ Jesus’?

      I mean — is that not terribly offensive to a Muslim, who, after all, thinks that Jesus was merely a human being, a prophet, who lived and died thousands of years ago? Are you not, by claiming that he in his actions is in some way bringing the incarnate presence of Christ to the situation, implicating him in precisely that which Muslims find most abhorrent about Christianity: the deification of Jesus and therefore the denial of the most fundemental truth of Islam, namely that there is one God, Allah, and saying that anyone else is a God — especially Jesus —is the worst heresy?

      So can you explain to me how it is not incredibly offensive to a Muslim to claim that they are, by participating in this project, in some way embodying the divine grace of Jesus?

      Reply
  3. As a practitioner I fear we are getting into Angels on a pinhead debates in this. In the real world of our parish we offer practical help to anyone who is in need, we listen to their stories, we often learn from them, pray with them, receive blessings back from them, and when there is an opportunity we talk about Jesus and offer opportunities to discover more of the gospel. Sometimes upside down things happen like the time when a half drunk street homeless guy at a “sup kitchen” sits down with three Christian workers and prays a blessing on them in the name of Jesus. When it comes to sin and judgement I wonder if you are familiar with the line taken by Raymond Fung in an interview with a very young Chris Sugden in 1981 https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=j8s-j4jY-TEC&pg=PA10&lpg=PA10&dq=raymond+fung+sinned+against&source=bl&ots=hD0oc_-Dju&sig=ACfU3U2DLpKqxVNth2CM-57JmgFlhzT2XQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjkqbKrw_blAhVlR0EAHTmJAfsQ6AEwAnoECAQQAQ#v=onepage&q=raymond%20fung%20sinned%20against&f=false

    Reply
    • Gregg.
      I’d suggest that what you say is a far cry from from the stance of the Bishop, as is your linked article in the context of Hong Kong and seems to rely heavily on Fung’s story of conversion.
      Yes we are, all of us, sinned against in some way, but what is the Japanese concept of sin. It is an opening to bring sin and Jesus into the relationship, Jesus the most sinned against in all eternity, God himself.
      Sure, drunk people, the poor, can and do pray a blessing in Jesus name. But is that because Jesus is in them (they may be Christians for all we know) or is it because, you or someone else, in your own words, “pray with them, receive blessings back from them, and when there is an opportunity we talk about Jesus and offer opportunities to discover more of the gospel.”
      That is indeed a far cry, the opposite, from what what the Bishop is saying. I’d say it is a world, theological world view away. And from what he has written I’m not sure he’d “talk about Jesus…to discover the gospel.” This is practical, not dancing on pinheads. It is being a good neighbour with the gospel.
      Every human being being created in the image of God, but with a broken visage from the fall, does not equate to Jesus being in them.

      Reply
    • ‘In the real world of our parish we offer practical help to anyone who is in need, we listen to their stories, we often learn from them, pray with them, receive blessings back from them, and when there is an opportunity we talk about Jesus and offer opportunities to discover more of the gospel.’ Well, I would say exactly the same. I don’t think it is rocket science.

      But it is not ‘angels on pinheads’ because Philip appears to be saying something quite different from this: that we find Christ in the poor, regardless of their own position, that we are not actually taking anything to the situation, that the incarnation transforms the world regardless of whether or not that offer of transformation (which actually comes through cross, resurrection, ascension and the gift of the Spirit, who also receives no mention) has been understood or accepted. His position appears to me to set aside all the substantial mission material in the NT, which emphasises the need to communicate the gospel in an appropriate and contextual way.

      I find the idea that DIY SOS is doing the work of the gospel, regardless, is extraordinary. It is certainly inspirational, teaches us much, and is a ‘good’. But I don’t think it is Jesus.

      Reply
      • the incarnation transforms the world regardless of whether or not that offer of transformation (which actually comes through cross, resurrection, ascension and the gift of the Spirit, who also receives no mention) has been understood or accepted

        In the response to which this is a response, the author claims not to be a universalist, writing:

        ‘Just because Jesus imbues creation and is present in the poor and the hungry that doesn’t in any way forego the need for conversion, repentance and new life. Of course we need to acknowledge Christ as Lord and bend the knee before him. Of course we need faith to know salvation. And of course we need evangelists to bring people to that point of conversion.’

        But I’m curious about the phrasing, specifically ‘to know salvation’. Does that mean that faith is necessary to be saved (and those without faith are not saved) or does it mean that all are saved, but only those with faith know that they are saved?

        Can we get a clarification?

        Reply
        • “Can we get a clarification?”

          How would we get such a clarification for a question like “are all saved”? It’s an eternal question to which only God knows the answer. So I don’t know who would clarify it for you?

          Reply
          • What do you say qualifies someone for salvation?
            Who in your qualified post and position, view might possibly be saved?
            Who, to the contrary, would. Might not be saved?
            What do you base your opinion on?

          • PS Andrew,
            At least the Bishop has made clear his beliefs, unlike some in prominent positions or influence in the CoE, who hide behind their cloak of office.

          • How would we get such a clarification for a question like “are all saved”? It’s an eternal question to which only God knows the answer. So I don’t know who would clarify it for you?

            The question I’m asking isn’t, ‘are all saved?’ it’s ‘does the author of the response to which this is a response think that all are saved?’

            No one knows for sure, but we all have a view on the matter. Don’t we? So I’m wondering what the author’s view is.

            (I might wonder what yours is but I know you will never tell, you’ll just hide behind vague obfuscations, so it’s pointless even asking)

          • Oh my view has always been totally clear. Nothing *qualifies* anyone for salvation. Salvation is by God’s grace alone and ultimately I don’t think that is withheld from anyone.

          • P.s. I’m confused. Geoff says “At least the Bishop has made clear his views”. But S doesn’t seem to know what it is?

          • Salvation is by God’s grace alone and ultimately I don’t think that is withheld from anyone.

            Ah, so you admit you’re a universalist, then?

            That’s uncharacteristically candid of you. Thank you.

            I’d still like clarification form the author of the response though.

            (Is universalism the official position of the Church of England, then?)

          • “Ah, so you admit you’re a universalist, then?”

            It’s more that I’m a “If the life hereafter excludes people I love in this life then it can’t logically be heaven and I don’t believe in it and I don’t want to be there ist” and a “God’s love will pursue us to the end of the earth ist” 🙂

            “That’s uncharacteristically candid of you. Thank you.”
            I’ve always been totally clear about this.

            “(Is universalism the official position of the Church of England, then?)”

            Not really sure if there is a recent opinion from the CofE about it but if there is it will be bound to say something of a compromise that attempts to keep those who believe what I believe and also conservative evangelicals on board.

          • It’s more that I’m a “If the life hereafter excludes people I love in this life then it can’t logically be heaven and I don’t believe in it and I don’t want to be there ist” and a “God’s love will pursue us to the end of the earth ist”

            Let’s call the whole thing off?

          • We then have to decide whose interpretation of that wonderful song we prefer 🙂 🙂 🙂 (I quite like Louis Armstrong’s)

          • It shows I’m hardly in bad company

            All I’m interested in at the moment is whether you’re in the company of the author of the response to which this piece is a response.

            Can anyone ask for clarification on this point? Is said author a universalist or not?

          • Andrew,
            The question is not whether you are in Good company, as the comfort of that cohort, of intellectual esteem, is not good enough. You are not good enough, I’m not, no-one is. We all fall short. There is only One, Good enough. The rest is filthy rags, even if you wear the vestments of office, they are the Emperor’s suit of clothes, not hiding our nakedness.
            Universal, common Grace, is not saving grace.
            I take it that according to you, as long as someone is loved by someone else, they’ll Be saved – from what for what ?
            It is entirely foreseeable that you will parry this away with a verbal hand waving away.
            But, you are not Good enough. No one is.

          • I take it that according to you, as long as someone is loved by someone else, they’ll Be saved – from what for what ?
            It is entirely foreseeable that you will parry this away with a verbal hand waving away.

            Oh, I can tell you what his answer will be: it’s that as long as someone is loved by God they’ll be saved.

            Which is fine as far as it goes, but it isn’t what the majority of Christians have believed, and it isn’t what the Bible says.

            (But we also know that he thinks that whenever he and the Bible disagree, he is right and the Bible is wrong — it is, after all, merely a collection of flawed human writings).

          • Geoff: of course no one is good enough. Did I ever say they were? I’m not quite sure which bit of my reply is unclear:

            Oh my view has always been totally clear. Nothing *qualifies* anyone for salvation. Salvation is by God’s grace alone and ultimately I don’t think that is withheld from anyone.

            What are we saved from? Well that’s in the Lord’s Prayer. Ultimately, by God’s grace we are saved from our trespasses and we are delivered from evil.

          • Salvation is by God’s grace alone and ultimately I don’t think that is withheld from anyone.

            That’s not sufficient for universalism, though. For that you also have to believe that God ultimately will force everyone to accept His grace, whether they like it or not.

          • Well I’m sure there are many versions of universalism S but I didn’t actually claim to be one. You imposed it on me.

          • Andrew,
            1. 1Again, and again you have deliberate avoidance issues, this time with the use of theological, buzz words, and they are just that, unless you define them, teach, in this instance “grace”.
            1.2 Where does sin, the incarnation, life death and physical resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Christ, come into it in fact the Holy Trinity, of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in this lack of teaching on grace of yours.
            1.3 Is it free grace, or come at a cost to Jesus, to the Trinity? Does it encompass the necessity to be “born again, from above”, an irreducible commandment? What of those who aren’t?
            2 You must be dizzy as you spin around in full circles of blandishments and weightless, and scriptural untethered, opinions, in your posted comments on this site.
            Have another attempt. Poor indeed, sub standard, for a one of your capacity and capability.
            3 At least the Bishop has had the good “grace” to spend some time, setting out at a little length his belief, put up publicly, to be tested (as occured) something which you, in what some would see as high handed dismissal and superior cleverness do not deign to do.
            4 I almost forgot that you are ABBA’s disciple. Together after three, “Money, money, money” as a little rehearsal for your liturgy.
            5 By the way, I’m unsure why you have commented on these pieces of Ian, as they make no significant or substantial points, do not engage in the discourse between Ian Paul and the Bishop, but as is your wont merely lob questions, primarily at S, and even then don’t engage in the points he makes, the implication being drawn out that you support what what the Bishop sets out by (even though you don’t mention the incarnation or contend that Jesus is in all people).
            6 Do you agree with the Bishop in the main points he makes ,which are more fully teased out by Ian?
            Bye.

          • Geoff: I’m afraid I find you rather rude and unnecessarily personal when we have never met. Please desist from that kind of approach.

          • Well I’m sure there are many versions of universalism S but I didn’t actually claim to be one. You imposed it on me.

            So you’re not actually a universalist? Well, I guessed such clarity and candour was too good to be true.

          • S: please don’t twist things or misrepresent me. My view is clear. You can easily read it above.

            Eternal salvation is up to God. What I believe is that Nothing *qualifies* anyone for salvation. Salvation is by God’s grace alone and ultimately I don’t think that is withheld from anyone. It is irrisistible in the end. That is quite different to forcing it upon people.

            It was you who used the term universalist. I don’t care for or about labels.

          • Eternal salvation is up to God. What I believe is that Nothing *qualifies* anyone for salvation. Salvation is by God’s grace alone and ultimately I don’t think that is withheld from anyone. It is irrisistible in the end.

            That’s universalism, isn’t it? So you are back to being a universalist now?

            You are, you aren’t, you are, you aren’t… you love doing the rhetorical hokey-cokey.

            That is quite different to forcing it upon people.

            No it’s not. If I don’t want something, and yet I cannot resist it, then it is forced upon me, isn’t it?

          • As I’ve said, I don’t care for or about labels. I did not use any term or label. I leave it up to you to decide. I’ve made it quite clear what I believe. It could not be clearer.

          • As I’ve said, I don’t care for or about labels.

            Oh, I see.

            Well, it’s good to know that you, also, would absolutely refuse to label yourself as a Christian.

          • Nice try. But Christian obviously isn’t a label or brand. For that you have to go to Anglican, or Baptist, or Methodist etc.

          • But Christian obviously isn’t a label or brand

            It’s a label for a someone who holds a particular set of beliefs, just like atheist, Muslim, Unitarian, Platonist, Cartesian, Marxist, or, indeed, ‘universalist’.

            So if you reject the label of universalist, which is a label which absolutely fits your expressed beliefs, then how can you claim the label of Christian, which fits your expressed beliefs… shall we say, less well?

          • I’m not rejecting universalist – I’m saying I’m not really interested in what you call me. Big difference!

          • I’m not rejecting universalist

            So you are a universalist, then? ‘Universalism’ correctly describes your position? Or do you deny that?

          • S: you can’t seem to decide. First you say I’m a universalist. Then you say I’m not. Then you say it fits me exactly! Why can’t you decide?
            I’ve told you what I believe, and that I can’t be bothered with labels. That’s the end of the matter.

          • S: you can’t seem to decide. First you say I’m a universalist. Then you say I’m not. Then you say it fits me exactly! Why can’t you decide?

            No, I’ve been consistent: you’re a universalist. You are the one who first accepted, then denied it.

            I’ve told you what I believe

            And what you believe matches the definition of universalism, doesn’t it? Or is there some way in which you think it doesn’t match? I presume not or you’d have mentioned it.

            and that I can’t be bothered with labels

            You can’t be bothered with some labels. You’re happy with claiming others, like ‘Christian’. Why is that? What’s the difference? Who advised you it might not be a great idea to go around admitting to being a universalist?

            That’s the end of the matter.

            Yep: you’re obviously a universalist and yet for some mysterious reason you don’t want to own up to it, and would rather look shifty and duplicitous instead. End of.

          • Oh and as I said earlier, I’m in good company

            You’re really not. But as I wrote above, all I’m really interested in at the moment, is whether you’re in the company of the writer of the response to which this article is a response.

          • Andrew, do your theories ever differ from your preferences? Or is the world actually constructed to your personal specification?

          • “all I’m really interested in at the moment,…”

            Well S I gave you the contact details for the bishop ages ago. If that’s ALL you are really interested in why haven’t you checked?

            And if universalist does fit then I’m delighted to be in the company of Origen, Schleiermacher, F D Maurice, John Robinson, John Hick (my wonderful personal tutor as an undergraduate). A collection of some of the greatest theological thinkers ever.

            Christohper: yes

          • Yes to the first question or the second?

            How to reconcile your agnosticism of ‘only God knows the answer’ with saying ‘I am a universalist’? It is not possible to hold both.

            To be a universalist in one’s hope is many miles distinct from being a universalist in one’s theory.

            I have found it a given that many liberals will be universalists, because the overlap between what they want and what they claim to think is so large in all things. This is what stops many listening to them, and is the point they need to attend to if they want more to listen. What is the connection between wanting something and theorising that that thing is true? None at all. Wishful thinking is the phrase that springs to mind.

          • Christopher: saying that only God knows the answer to the question of eternal salvation is no agnosticism at all. It is theism, very clearly.
            I find it astonishing to think that anyone would presume to know the mind of God. That’s simply believing in oneself and not really trusting in God – and what I’ve seen of your approach so far in many areas certainly matches that.

            As to universalism. RIchard Bauckham’s excellent short survey makes this helpful observation:

            “Since 1800 this situation has entirely changed, and no traditional Christian doctrine has been so widely abandoned as that of eternal punishment.[3] Its advocates among theologians today must be fewer than ever before. The alternative interpretation of hell as annihilation seems to have prevailed even among many of the more conservative theologians.[4] Among the less conservative, universal salvation, either as hope or as dogma, is now so widely accepted that many theologians assume it virtually without argument.”

          • And if universalist does fit then I’m delighted to be in the company of […] John Hick

            And are you also n the company of John Hick in believing that:

            ‘we see the idea of divine incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth as a metaphorical idea. Jesus embodied, incarnated, to a considerable degree the love that he experienced in the heavenly Father, the heavenly Father of us all. But he was not God’s son in the literal sense of having no human father but being miraculously fathered by God the Holy Spirit’

            Do you, like John Hick, say the Nicene Creed ‘in inverted commas’?

            Quotations from: http://www.johnhick.org.uk/article16.html

          • Ah yes the University of Birmingham let him become a very evil professor and he gave all of his students potions so that they would all follow him blindly and be under his spell………….it was exactly like Harry Potter S

          • Ah yes

            That’s not an answer, is it?

            You being his student has nothing to do with it. The point is you called him one of ‘the greatest theological thinkers ever’.

            So I’m wondering. Do you agree with his positions in the talk I linked to — yes or no?

            And do you really think that someone who denies the literal truth of the incarnation, who says the Nicene Creed ‘in inverted commas’, can be described as any kind of ‘great theological thinker’, let alone among the greatest?

          • No. ‘Ah yes’ wasn’t the answer. The whole of my paragraph was the answer.
            And what I actually said was * they* were collectively some of the greatest theological thinkers ever. Which they were. Doesn’t say they were infallible though does it? They weren’t. And Professor Hick and I disagreed about the incarnation actually.

            And of course yesterday you told me I wasn’t a universalist. You were categorical about it.

            “That’s not sufficient for universalism, though. For that you also have to believe that God ultimately will force everyone to accept His grace, whether they like it or not.”

            So you can’t quite make your mind up

            That’s not sufficient for universalism, though. For that you also have to believe that God ultimately will force everyone to accept His grace, whether they like it or not.

          • No. ‘Ah yes’ wasn’t the answer. The whole of my paragraph was the answer.

            It didn’t answer the question, though, did it?

            And Professor Hick and I disagreed about the incarnation actually.

            See, that’s an answer. And I am glad to hear it.

            However, I still am interested to know how you can describe someone who was so disastrously wrong on the incarnation — hardly a mere detail! — as a ‘great theological thinker’. And that’s before we even get to the heretical syncretism (I assume you’re not going to try to claim he didn’t teach syncretism?).

            And of course yesterday you told me I wasn’t a universalist. You were categorical about it.

            “That’s not sufficient for universalism, though. For that you also have to believe that God ultimately will force everyone to accept His grace, whether they like it or not.”

            But you do believe that God ultimately will force everyone to accept His grace, whether they like it or not. You said so:

            ‘God’s grace […] is irrisistible in the end. ‘

            If I don’t want something, and yet in the end I cannot resist it, that means it will be forced upon me. So by your own statements, you must believe that God’s grace will ultimately be forced upon everyone whether they like it or not.

          • S: where does it say that academic theologians even have to be Christian? Being a great theological thinker is about academic ability, not faith allegiance.

          • S: you need to read John Robinson on the relationship between free will and universalism.

            Was John Robinson a Christian?

          • When I said agnosticism, I was, clearly, not referring to agnosticism on the existence of God. I was referring to agnosticism on universalism, which you later (inconsistently?) said you believed in.

            Richard Bauckham is surely right that universalism prevails among the liberals ‘either as hope or dogma’. Hope could, of course, scarcely be more distant from dogma. I hope that a giant Milky Bar tree is outside. I would not be so bold as to make that vain hope part of a system of belief.

          • Being a great theological thinker is about academic ability, not faith allegiance

            Can one have ‘academic ability’ and yet get the basics wrong? Could someone be a ‘great mathematician’ and be unable to integrate 1/x?

          • “Was John Robinson a Christian?”

            I believe so but unlike you, I always prefer to leave that judgement to God.

          • “Can one have ‘academic ability’ and yet get the basics wrong? ”

            So you would say that Geza Vermes, for example, did not have academic ability and was not a great biblical theologian?

          • “Was John Robinson a Christian?”

            I believe so but unlike you, I always prefer to leave that judgement to God.

            That’s a very odd preference. To whom do you prefer to leave the judgement over whether someone was a Marxist — Lenin?

          • You can’t compare apples and oranges S. And I didn’t realise that either Lenin or Marx were on a par with God!

            What was your answer about Geza Vermes?

          • You can’t compare apples and oranges S.

            Who’s doing that? We have two terms which denote the world-view someone holds. If we can determine by reading what someone writes and listenign to what they say whether they hold a Marxist world-view, as I assume you accept we can, then why can’t we do the same and determine whether they hold a Christian world-view?

            And I didn’t realise that either Lenin or Marx were on a par with God!

            You’ve never talked to a Marxist then.

            What was your answer about Geza Vermes?

            Never heard of her-or-him.

          • Being a Christian isnt about holding a world view. It’s about being a follower of Jesus Christ. Bishop John Robinson was. So are you. So am I.

            Your claim about academics is rather redundant now then.

          • Being a Christian isnt about holding a world view. It’s about being a follower of Jesus Christ.

            No it’s not. There’s an overlap, sure, but the two aren’t identical. Take, for example, the disciples. They were followers of Jesus Christ (obviously) but they couldn’t have been Christians because Christianity hadn’t yet been invented.

            Bishop John Robinson was. So are you. So am I.

            Was John Hicks? Can you be a Christian if you don’t think Jesus was God incarnate?

            Your claim about academics is rather redundant now then.

            I never claimed I was a great academic.

          • No. What you claimed was that to be a great academic theologian you had to take a particular view – the same view as you – of the incarnation. Clearly that’s wrong as it would rule out any academic theologians of other faiths and none.

          • What you claimed was that to be a great academic theologian you had to take a particular view – the same view as you – of the incarnation. Clearly that’s wrong as it would rule out any academic theologians of other faiths and none.

            Ah right. So you think it’s possible to be a great academic theologian and yet get the very basics of theology — which is, remember, the study of God — wrong?

            Would you describe someone as a ‘great historian’ if they thought that King Arthur defeated Napoleon? Or a ‘great biologist’ if they thought that snakes were mammals?

          • I suggest you look up Geza Vermes

            I can’t, I’m afraid, the only person I can find by that name is not a theologian at all but a historian and linguist, so that can’t be the one you mean.

          • No. He’s a biblical scholar and “described as the greatest Jesus scholar of his time. Vermes’ written work on Jesus focuses principally on Jesus the Jew, as seen in the broader context of the narrative scope of Jewish history and theology, while questioning and challenging the basis of the Christian doctrine on Jesus.”

          • Vermes’ written work on Jesus focuses principally on Jesus the Jew, as seen in the broader context of the narrative scope of Jewish history and theology

            So he doesn’t study God. Theology is the study of God. He’s a historian. That his specialist subject happens to be the human aspect of Jesus rather than, say, Henry VIII or Oliver Cromwell doesn’t make him a theologian. A theologian studies God.

          • And Jesus is God.
            Hence that is what he is studying.
            And of course if he isn’t, then John Hick isn’t either.
            But im sure you will know better.

          • And Jesus is God.
            Hence that is what he is studying.

            Not if he’s only studying the trees — Jesus’s earthly aspect — and totally missing the wood — His divinity.

            Which it sounds like he did, totally.

            So he’s not a theologian and he’s certainly not a great theologian — I mean, he can hardly be considered a great studier of God if he studied Jesus for his entire life and managed to miss the fact that Jesus was God!

            I mean, if he was a theologian that would make him a terrible theologian! One of the worst theologians ever! If he totally missed what was right in front of his nose!

          • And of course if he isn’t, then John Hick isn’t either

            John Hick was at least a theologian, because he studied God, not history.

            He was also a terrible theologian too, of course, because he got it all wrong.

            But he did at least study the subject of theology, which the other guy with the name didn’t, apparently.

          • That is the classic Andrew answer, which I shall requote often:

            ‘Christopher, you miss the point entirely but no matter.’

            Now can anyone tell me what that means?
            Or which particular point I missed?
            Or in what way?
            Or why he did not explain? (In the manner of Molesworth who answered an exam question with the words ‘larfably easy’ and nothing else.)
            Or what gave him the idea that there was only one point in play, when clearly there were more?

            So, to repeat:

            What I said was that agnosticism on the existence of God was different from agnoticism on the topic of universalism.
            It had been clear from context that I had meant the latter. Andrew had taken me to mean the former. That was my point there.

            On Prof Bauckham’s review of the recent popularity of universalism, my point was that hope cannot be coupled with dogma, not even slightly, because they are so distant from one another. Which I illustrated with the picture of the Milky Bar tree for which I still hope but in which I am not so bold as to believe.

            So on both points I was saying something fairly obvious. Which of the 2 points was being referred to? And what did I get wrong there? (Prediction: the question will not be answered, unless by something evasive like ‘Oh Christopher, you wouldn’t understand….’).

          • Prediction: the question will not be answered, unless by something evasive like ‘Oh Christopher, you wouldn’t understand….’

            Or an invitation to discuss in private.

            I’m sometimes tempted to take up one of these invitations to discuss in private, and then of course publish my recording of the ensuing conversation.

          • Christopher: you did not express yourself at all clearly and if you had bothered to read what I said in the first place you might not have made such a basic error. I was very clear, and not at all agnostic. Let me repeat it once more:

            “Oh my view has always been totally clear. Nothing *qualifies* anyone for salvation. Salvation is by God’s grace alone and ultimately I don’t think that is withheld from anyone.”

            Now whether this is called universalism or not, I really don’t care. That is not agnosticism. It is, as I carefully explained, not bothering about labels. But my view is absolutely clear. That is the point you missed.

            S: your view about the academic ability of two scholars, John Hick and Geza Vermes, is contrary to academic opinion. Clearly you do not understand that it is possible to take a view different from your own and make it cogently. Fortunately the academy takes a different view to you and both scholars made their life’s work in their theological studies. Biblical studies is a branch of theology, the bible dealing with words of God.

            Please please take me up on the invitation to meet. ( of course I realise you never will, not wishing to be anything less than completely anonymous for fear of being known )

          • Clearly you do not understand that it is possible to take a view different from your own and make it cogently.

            Of course I understand that. But the point is that if you make a wrong view cogently, you’re still wrong, aren’t you?

            Please please take me up on the invitation to meet. ( of course I realise you never will, not wishing to be anything less than completely anonymous for fear of being known )

            I never will because there is no point in disagreeing without an audience. Who would judge which of us had won?

          • Andrew, I am always more than happy to meet with you or with anyone else as I am very central in London.

            Be it known that biblical studies and theology are highly suspicious of each other. This is, because of the current state of the subjects (the first is a proper subject and the first is but not always, since it can become speculative and ideological) but need not be the case. Plenty do bestride both (Wright, Bauckham, Carson, Paul) – however, very many do not, and the disciplines needed for biblical studies in 90% of cases have nothing to do with theology. They are similar to the disciplines needed for Classics.

          • Read:
            ”This is because of the current state of the subjects (the first is a proper discipline; the second is, but…)”

            It is true that theologian is quite the wrong description for Vermes. Can a historian and/or linguist suddenly develop the skills for theology or vice-versa? However he will sometimes have operated in tandem with what are sometimes called ‘theology’ departments or even under their auspices.

          • 20.11.19, 18.01
            You write ‘It’s an eternal question to which only God knows the answer.’.

            If you stand by this, there are 2 possibilities

            (a) you do not know the answer, and therefore classify as agnostic within this comment though not within others – hence my isolating a contradiction;

            (b) you do know the answer, in which case you and God are one and the same.

          • Christopher: thank you. Let’s aim to meet when I’m next in London or equally if you are ever in Devon.
            Andrew

          • Christopher: thank you. Let’s aim to meet when I’m next in London or equally if you are ever in Devon.

            Christopher: I eagerly look forward to listening to the recording.

          • I feel confident of Christopher’s ethics S!

            Re Theology vs Biblical Studies. It isn’t quite that simple a distinction. Theology is far too broad a term and is simply a catch all. As an undergraduate studying theology you don’t take an exam in ‘Theology’. You take an exam in Systematics, or Patristics, or Church History, or Ethics, or Mission, or Doctrine or Greek, or Hebrew, or Old Testament or new Testament, or comparative religion etc. Those are the various tools that might make one a theologian. Biblical Studies is also broad – most specialise in being scholars of New Testament or the Hebrew bible. Most undergraduates will study something of all of these subjects and more. It’s unlikely in England that one would study simply biblical studies as an undergraduate at any mainstream University. A simple look at the Oxford University website will give a clue to what is involved.

            And nothing will change the view in the academy that Geza Vermes was a first rate scholar and first rate academic – and I am sure Christopher will agree with that.

          • As an undergraduate studying theology you don’t take an exam in ‘Theology’.

            So what? Thats’ the same as any undergraduate subject. You don’t take undergraduate exams in ‘Chemistry’ or ‘Physics’ either, you take them in Spectroscopy, or Organic Chemistry, or General Relativity, or Quantum Mechanics. You don’t take undergraduate examples in ‘Mathematics’, either you take them in set theory, or linear algebra.

            And nothing will change the view in the academy that Geza Vermes was a first rate scholar and first rate academic – and I am sure Christopher will agree with that.

            I never said he wasn’t a ‘first rate academic’, I’m not qualified to judge. he may well have been a first rate historian. But what he wasn’t, as far as I can tell, was a theologian.

          • S: Hmm…what you said was:

            “Can one have ‘academic ability’ and yet get the basics wrong?”

            Which I presume means you are questioning his academic ability.

          • Oh and actually Vermes received his “doctorate in theology” from the Catholic University in Louvain in 1953.
            He studied in Budapest and in Louvain (Belgium), where he read “Theology and Oriental history and languages,”
            So I think he was a theologian too.

          • Which I presume means you are questioning his academic ability.

            Yes, I was questioning his academic ability as a theologian. Not his academic ability in any other field.

            If you were to claim someone was a great mathematician, and I pointed out that they couldn’t integrate, so even if they were a mathematician they couldnt’ have been a great one, then I’d be questioning their academic ability as a mathematician, but in no way would I be suggesting that they couldn’t be, say, a great ASNC scholar.

            Oh and actually Vermes received his “doctorate in theology” from the Catholic University in Louvain in 1953

            Perhaps he studied theology in his youth, then, but it certainly wasn’t what he was known for, at least according to the article you cited.

          • Academic ability is academic ability is academic ability. Even if it was biblical studies it was academic ability.
            And if he was a awarded a doctorate in “theology2 it rather makes him an able student of “theology”. They don’t just give doctorates of “theology” to anyone do they?

          • Oh and look what else…..
            Vermes befriended and worked with Paul Demann, a scholar, like him, of Hungarian Jewish origins. Together with a third collaborator, Renee Bloch, they battled doggedly against the anti-Semitic content in Catholic education and ritual of the time. The Second Vatican Council would later accept many of the trio’s “theological arguments”.

            That’s not linguistic arguments. Or historical arguments. Or biblical studies arguments. But theological ones.

            I rest my case 🙂

  4. Once again, our fundamental disagreement is highlighted: Some of us believe that because of Adam’s sin and our own sins we all face from birth onwards the wrath and condemnation of God and that amidst multiple desperate human needs the need to be delivered from that wrath and condemnation must be the supreme eternal need, relatively infinitely more important than all other needs, harrowing and important though those other needs are, and that the only way to be delivered is to submit to Christ in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection, to submit in repentance, faith, love, obedience and fear. Some of us don’t believe that.

    Phil Almond

    Reply
  5. Good, and all needing to be said, though myself I don’t recognise Philip North’s theology as Christian at all. ‘Incarnation’ is a lovely word, but it does not appear in the Bible. It derives its meaning from John 1:14, where what was made incarnate is the Word. Philip has abandoned the Word. His understanding of the gospel is not ‘the word of God and the testimony of Jesus’ (Rev 1:9, 6:9, 12:17), the ‘power of God for salvation’ (Rom 1:16).

    The gospel proclaims (1) forgiveness for our sins on the day when we are judged and (2) the kingdom of God who is coming soon. This is the gospel Jesus proclaimed, and he proclaimed it to the poor (Luke 7:22). As James says, ‘God has chosen the poor of the world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom’ (Jas 2:5). To suppose that the rich are receptive to the gospel because their material needs are satisfied whereas the poor are not receptive because their material needs have not been satisfied is the opposite of what the New Testament itself presents as the norm.

    The whole concept of ‘poverty’ in the UK, where adult and childhood obesity (resulting from poor self-esteem and overconsumption of food, especially expensive ready-made poor food) is more prevalent in poorer households and where some consider more than 14 million to be living in poverty, itself cries out for critical examination. Those who know God well, who have his wisdom, are in fact uniquely equipped to challenge the demeaning sentimentalism that keeps the poor poor. The Church should be making clear what true poverty is and what true riches are, and directing everyone to that vision of humanity.

    To be clear, I don’t share Philip Almond’s understanding of wrath and condemnation.

    Reply
      • A question about what the ‘wrath of God’ means. There’s a similar statement in Eph 2:3.

        You helpfully cite Rom 5:16-18, which links the human condition back to Adam. In relation to John there is also John 3:16, which says that believing in Jesus means that we do not perish. God’s ‘wrath’ or anger – something of a technical term here – was expressed in the garden of Eden. Because of his transgression Adam was doomed to go on living until the time came for him to return to the dust from which he was taken. He was not created immortal; he had to choose eternal life, and in disobeying God he made the wrong choice, forfeiting eternal life: he died. Life had been given conditionally, and now he would not live forever; life was taken away. Adam did not die immediately, and he still had children; the human race, which was all in the loins of Adam, continued to live. While his descendants all died unconditionally, each of them still had this choice to make, whether to obey or to disobey, whether to live by faith or by the flesh. This was meaningful because after the judgement in the garden there would be another judgement at the end of life.

        In Revelation God’s wrath is quintessentially expressed when he pours out on the earth the bowls of his fury (thumos) at the end of the age, because man has not responded to his mercy in the gospel, has shed the blood of his messengers and continues to worship idols. But while there may be an equivalent for every generation in the lake of fire, the wrath so represented is still a temporal judgement – boils on the skin, the destruction of marine life and all sources of fresh water, intolerable heat from the sun – and after the seventh bowl the fury of God is finished (Rev 16:17). It is wrath in this dual sense – the temporal visitation of God’s wrath on the planet and the time-limited punishment of wickedness in the lake of fire – that Paul refers to in Rom 2:5-9.

        So what ultimately matters is not the first death, to which we are all subject, but whether we escape the second death (Rev 20:14). As has been discussed by others on this page, the second death is permanent loss of life, the denial of eternal life, preceded to varying degrees by weeping and gnashing of teeth.

        Reply
        • Steven
          Thanks for replying. But – “To be clear, I don’t share Philip Almond’s understanding of wrath and condemnation”. I don’t quite get what exactly in my understanding (my post of Nov 20) you disagree with. is it that you don’t agree in eternal retribution for the unsaved?
          Phil Almond

          Reply
          • No, I don’t think Scripture supports ‘eternal retribution of the unsaved’. As that phrase does not seem to me particularly clear, let me clarify that I don’t think that it is the lot of anyone to be tormented for all eternity.

  6. Regarding the parable of the sheep and goats: the NT writers consistently associate harming believers with harming Christ himself. When Jesus confronts Paul for persecuting the churches he says “why are you persecuting me?”. By sinning against a brother we sin against Christ (1 Cor 8:11-12). As believers are messengers and representative of Christ this makes total sense: “Whoever listens to you listens to Me; whoever rejects you rejects Me.”

    Reply
    • Yes, but more than that, we are literally his brothers. He is a son of God, and those who are in Christ are also sons of God (Luke 20:36, Rom 8:14, Gal 3:26). Therefore all are brothers (John 20:17).

      Reply
      • Amen to that Steven,
        And joint heirs, in Union with Christ. Almost beyond belief, but deep contemplation is profoundly affecting. Astonishing.
        But the Bishop’s theology could embrace the idea that everyone is in Christ, or Christ is in everyone.

        Reply
    • The wicked, yes (e.g. Rev 22:15) – I take ‘destruction’ to mean ultimate annihilation.

      We can learn a lot about God’s justice by studying God’s Law, not unreasonably (?). Some are condemned to death for their wickedness, others punished less severely, in ways we can recognise as just ourselves. Will not God be just in accordance with the law/justice that he himself has revealed? Adam and Eve were not condemned to unceasing torment when they sinned; nor even was Cain, despite his murder. Should apologists for Christianity really be thinking, apparently without hesitation or moral compunction, that it is just that all humanity – everyone who has not accepted the gospel (whether because he rejected it, or he lived before Christ’s advent, or it never reached him) – should burn forever in conscious hell? Thankfully, no judicial system on earth reflects this justice (as perceived), and I am probably not alone in thinking that any such Judge would be a monster no better than Satan himself. As I have hinted, such a notions also do not reflect well on those who would defend them.

      This issue has been discussed recently and at some length in comments following:
      https://www.psephizo.com/reviews/how-do-we-make-sense-of-the-wrath-of-a-loving-god/
      … so perhaps we had better leave it there for now.

      Reply
      • “Thankfully, no judicial system on earth reflects this justice (as perceived), and I am probably not alone in thinking that any such Judge would be a monster no better than Satan himself. As I have hinted, such a notions also do not reflect well on those who would defend them.”

        Thank you Steve. This is put extremely well.

        Reply
      • 1 So to you, Andrew, this is merely Hick-up in history.
        2 As demonstrated by S above Hick, a heretic theologian,
        2.1 theologians who are de facto anti-Christ, theologians who are syncretistic, 2.2 who don’t see that Christ became sin, who took on the wrath of God and judgment fore us, as substitute within the trinity,
        2.3 who really don’t believe the unique Triune God of Christianity,
        2.4 who really doesn’t believe the historical incarnation, life, death and physical resurrection:
        2.5 theologians who today describe God in crude terms as a “child abuser”,
        2.6 who see God as an amalgam of all religions and consequently the the universality of salvation for all.
        3. Perhaps it is little wonder that you have not really engaged with the topic of the blog, dealing as it does with incarnation.
        4. Andrew you really do sidestep all of the main points I’ve put to you above.
        5 It’s not surprising if you are a Hick-upian, or Robinsonian but would not claim an identification (a label if you will) as Christian.

        Reply
        • Geoff: you simply continue to be rude and personal. If you would like to stop hiding behind some anonymous pseudonym and have a proper conversation then please do be in touch.

          Reply
          • See below, Andrew.
            Please answer the questions I’ve put to you, many times.
            Another is below.
            It’s marvellous that you can liken anyone who holds Phil Almonds view, akin to Satanic. Is that rude?
            Goodbye.
            I look forward to replies on the substantive points, but I can foresee a response, if any.

          • Re your questions about John Hick. I’m not a disciple of John Hick and not here to defend him or otherwise. The same with John Robinson. The same with Origen. The same with Geza Vermes. But it is beyond doubt that they were all great theologians whether or not you or I agree with them.

      • Steven
        I make a number of points in reply:

        We have to wait until the Day of Judgment to find out what happens to Adam and Eve and Cain. In my original post I wrote, “Some of us believe that because of Adam’s sin and our own sins we all face from birth onwards the wrath and condemnation of God…”. In your November 22, 2019 at 12:53 pm post it is not quite clear to me whether you agree with that. If you don’t agree, I don’t see how you avoid what to me is the conclusive force of the John and Romans texts I mentioned. If you do agree then this is the terrible truth for all people, whenever they were born and whether they have heard the gospel or not.

        Nobody believes and preaches “without hesitation or moral compunction” the truth of eternal retribution. Everybody would prefer it not to be true. We only believe and preach it because, like all the other hard truths in the Bible, we bow before the One who has revealed it, acknowledging that He is the Judge of the seriousness of sin and what sin deserves.

        As Fallen human beings it is inevitable that “no judicial system on earth reflects this justice”.

        We are told “it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” It really matters whether retribution is eternal. If retribution stops followed by annihilation, well, then (not to trivialise a dreadfully serious and sensitive personal subject) – that might not be a very dreadful prospect. Also, if, as Stephen Travis asserts (and Ian Paul agrees) ‘The outcome of being unsuccessful at the judgment is exclusion from relationship to God’ and, quoting Tillich, ‘Judgment is an act of love which surrenders that which resists love to self-destruction…’, then that might not be a very dreadful prospect either. But eternal retribution is a dreadful prospect.

        I wonder whether Annihilationists have never felt that their sins deserve eternal retribution.

        Phil Almond

        Reply
        • Phil

          It could be that, as a result of our fallen nature, our understanding of justice gets warped, so that Calvinism’s Jekyll-and-Hyde version of God – kind to those whom, by irresistible election, he saves but unspeakably nasty to those he does not – is actually a projection of that fallenness rather than a true picture of God. As I indicated, if you are interested in learning about God’s justice, you might go to the Law, well summarised in Matt 7:12.

          You say that the reason no judicial system on earth punishes every infraction of perfect goodness with unceasing torment is man’s fallenness – if he were not fallen, the justice would be infinitely harsher. I can’t help thinking that this reflects something very dark, not to say black, in your soul. Beware, because if that is your notion of justice, you will be judged on the same basis (Matt 7:2).

          Regarding Adam and Cain, by all means evade the question of whether they are saved under your scheme, and perhaps judgement is also best suspended on the question whether others who lived before Christ’s advent will be tormented in eternal fire. However, you don’t in fact evade the Adam question, because you reiterate: “Some of us believe that because of Adam’s sin and our own sins we all face from birth onwards the wrath and condemnation of God…” Therefore in your scheme Adam has gone to hell. That is indeed a ‘hard truth’.

          Indeed you are implying that even before a baby has had a chance to sin, even at birth, he will face the fires of unending torment unless saved by belief in Jesus. If he dies before he has the capacity to respond to the gospel, should he be told it – at age 10 or whenever – that is also too bad. That, you say, is how God’s justice works.

          To be frank, I don’t think you are bowing before the One who has revealed what you think the Bible reveals. You haven’t demonstrated the biblical truth of what you are clinging onto. You don’t show any evidence that the nastiness of your theology – which turns God into Satan and which you yourself would (purportedly) prefer not to be true – is prompting any openness to a rethink, in dialogue with others. Rightly or wrongly, what I perceive is a false righteousness: “I am right, because my theology, hard though it is, is biblical, and God will commend me for believing in it, however vile it may appear. But you others – you don’t believe, you are unfaithful to his word, you don’t take sin seriously.”

          You repeat the phrase ‘eternal retribution’, but if this is an allusion to Matthew 25:46, the phrase is ‘eternal punishment’, where ‘eternal’ is aiwnios, meaning ‘age-long’, not necessarily unending (as previously pointed out), and ‘punishment’ is kolasis. There is a discussion of kolasis at https://forum.evangelicaluniversalist.com/t/kolasis-punishment-or-torment/2827/2. My view is that ‘punishment’ is a fair translation. The punishment will involve pain and, for some, eventual extinction.

          In your opinion, anything less than eternal pain ‘might not be a very dreadful prospect’. Again, you are not engaging your capacity for fellow feeling when you urge your dreadful theology. Is not the idea of enduring crucifixion for just one minute horrific to you? To most people, myself included, the idea that, to satisfy divine justice, one should have to endure it for all eternity does not bear thinking about.

          Should you be ignoring the faint protest in your heart (‘Everybody would prefer it not to be true’) when you find yourself imputing to God the attributes of Satan? I compare your picture of God to the biblical picture of Satan because Scripture allows me to exercise, without fear, my natural, God-given sense of what is right and just. This is what Abraham did, and he was not rebuked. Nor was Job.

          Are you also not just slightly troubled that, in your theology, Jesus did not pay the full price for our and Adam’s sins, because he endured the pain for only 6 hours? I suppose you have some way of dealing with the problem, but I hope it’s on the basis of some deeper insight than just “We bow before the One who has revealed it.”

          I have explained what, biblically, the ‘wrath of God’ refers to: it is (1) the period yet to come when God pours on the earth the seven bowls of his wrath – a temporally finite series of physical events that devastate the earth (Rev 16) – and (2) the day of judgement after death when the wicked receive the due punishment for their sins (Rom 2:8). As above, the latter is also finite. It is up to you whether you reflect on these scriptures, but please don’t insinuate that I am ignoring Scripture by resisting your version of it.

          I have written on these questions elsewhere on the web, and if interested you can go there for further discussion, e.g.
          http://www.earthhistory.org.uk/the-last-days/revelation-15-16
          http://www.earthhistory.org.uk/the-last-days/revelation-20

          My view is that the wrath of God in sense (1) is very close. It is therefore not a matter of merely academic interest.

          Reply
          • Thank you so much Steven for your very careful and extremely helpful analysis.

            Charles Foster’s recent article about Iwerne is also extremely helpful at analysing the connections between conservative evangelical views about hell and a darker side of humanity. Worth reading all of it but here is a sample:

            “The theology was banal, stern, and cruel – a set of suffocatingly simple propositions held with steely eyed zeal. Its insistence on penal substitution and nothing but penal substitution embodied and tacitly encouraged the notion that ultimate good depended on violence. Without penal substitution, John Smyth would have had no thrashing shed in his back garden.

            We loved hell, and needed it. We were glad that it was well populated – particularly by people who hadn’t been to major public schools – because that emphasised our status as members of an exclusive club of the redeemed. If hell hadn’t existed, or had been empty, we wouldn’t have felt special. We were elected – socially and theologically – and proud of it: if everyone were elected, it would make a nonsense of election.”

          • Steven,
            Satan? worship …a different god…! Not a new topic, but an old recycled trope
            1 Here is an article by Fred Sanders,
            http://scriptoriumdaily.com/fight-calvinists/
            It is a topic loosely discussed here:
            2 and a discussion on this https://mereorthodoxy.com/casting-across-pond-calvinists-worship-another-god/ with Drs. Andrew Wilson and Alistair Roberts, which place this topic (Satan… another god?) within the framework of all of the writings of Calvin, including commentaries and his Christological emphasis.
            3 For a more detailed casting across the water, covering the points you raise, in objection , relating to justice here is an article review of annihilationism by J I Packer: https://thirdmill.org/newfiles/ji_packer/Packer.Annihilationisminreview.html
            4 Here is an article by Richard Baukham, “Universalism: a historical survey”, https://www.theologicalstudies.org.uk/article_universalism_bauckham.html which may have been referenced by Andrew Godsall
            5 Much could be said about the faith of Abraham and Job, in the whole canon context.
            6 Maybe Steven, you couldn’t, in fact shouldn’t, worship with Philip Almond and with thoroughgoing whole life belief join together in saying the Apostle’s or Nicene Cred together, unlike some pluralist universalists, or “stand” together in a glorious worship at the return of Christ!

  7. Hick,
    This is from Hick:
    “Human beings coming together within the framework of an ancient and highly developed tradition to open their hearts and minds to God, whom they believe makes a total claim on their lives and demands of them, in the words of one of the prophets, ‘to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God’ (Micah 6:8). God is known in the synagogues as Adonai, the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; in the mosques as Allahrahman rahim, God beneficient and merciful; in the Sikh gurudwaras as God, who is Father, lover, Master, and the Great Giver, referred to as war guru; and in the Hindu temples as Vishnu, Krishna (an incarnation of Vishnu), Rama, Shiva, and many other gods and goddesses, all of whom, however, are seen as manifestations of the ultimate reality of Brahman; and in the Christian churches as the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And yet all these communities agree that there can ultimately only be one God!” (Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, p. 38).”
    Is this what you subscribe to, in your belief Andrew?

    and Dr Sam Storms brief response
    https://www.samstorms.org/all-articles/post/a-brief-response-to-john-hick

    Reply
  8. And a bit more from the Dr Storms article:

    One argument Hick uses in trying to make his point has been especially troublesome for a number of Christians. I want to cite it and then offer a brief response. Here it is:

    “I have not found that the people of other world religions are, in general, on a different moral and spiritual level from Christians. They seem on average to be neither better nor worse than are Christians. Clearly in saying this, I am presupposing a common criterion, a general sense of what we mean by the human goodness that reflects a right relationship to God. This is the universally recognized sense of goodness as consisting in concern for others, kindness, love, compassion, honesty, and truthfulness” (39).

    I have six things to say in response to Hick’s argument.”

    …. see his article.

    I’d emphasise the presumption of Hick that is “a right relationship with God”-
    “I am presupposing a common criterion, a general sense of what we mean by the human goodness that reflects a right relationship to God.”

    I’m unsure on what he based this presumption and it seems to set aside the uniqueness amongst all religions of the Triune God of Christianity.

    Reply

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