Tuesday, September 25, 2012

David Congdon, "Paul, Evangelicals & The Problem of Universalism"

David is quickly becoming a blogger that I keep returning to. Like a bad habit. Here are his thoughts about the aforementioned title. He's got a book coming out on Universalism, and he works at IVP. He's a charming fellow. Go check him out.

1. The Problem: Rom. 5:12-21

Few passages have exercised such a profound influence on the shape of Christian theology as Rom. 5:12-21. Moreover, as William Barclay notes, “no passage is more difficult for a modern mind to understand”[1]—though, of course, not only modern minds. The famous so-called Adam-Christ typology in these verses has vexed interpreters for centuries, particularly the universal dimension of “πάντας ἀνθρώπους” (Rom 5:12). In his treatise, “On Marriage and Concupiscence,” Augustine states that Paul does not mean “that Christ removes to life all those who die in Adam.” He then offers this interpretation:

[Paul] said “all” and “all,” because, as without Adam no one goes to death, so without Christ no man to life. Just as we say of a teacher of letters, when he is alone in a town: This man teaches all their learning; not because all the inhabitants take lessons, but because no man who learns at all is taught by any but him.[2]
Calvin, for his part, offers the standard Protestant interpretation in his commentary:
[T]he benefit of Christ does not come to all men, while Adam has involved his whole race in condemnation; and the reason of this is indeed evident; for as the curse we derive from Adam is conveyed to us by nature, it is no wonder that it includes the whole mass; but that we may come to a participation of the grace of Christ, we must be ingrafted in him by faith.[3]
Augustine and Calvin reflect the general consensus of the Christian tradition, which has insisted that passages such as Rom. 5:12-21 and 1 Cor. 15:21-22 are not to be interpreted as favoring a universal salvation.

Recently, the issue has become more acute among English-speaking Protestant evangelicals, who have been unimpressed with the options historically available to them: (1) a so-called Arminianism which locates salvation anthropologically in the free decision for Christ, and (2) a so-called Augustinianism-Calvinism which locates salvation in the decretum absolutum of double predestination. Two notable examples of this ongoing conversation include Universal Salvation? The Current Debate,[4] which takes its cue from the work of philosopher Thomas Talbott, especially his book, The Inescapable Love of God,[5] and The Evangelical Universalist,[6] a recent pseudonymous publication that seeks to offer a biblically grounded position on universal salvation. In these works, as well as in other articles, Rom. 5:12-21 is a central passage. While patristic theologians like Origen[7] and Gregory of Nyssa[8] and modern theologians like Hans Urs von Balthasar[9] are frequently mentioned, Karl Barth is often at the center of these discussions both as a theologian and as an exegete. Barth is often accused of (or praised for) being a universalist, generally with reference to his later theology post-Church Dogmatics II/2.[10] Few, however, consider Barth’s exegetical insights into Rom. 5. By first examining the arguments for and against a universalist interpretation of Rom. 5:12-21, I argue that while Barth’s interpretation of Romans does justice to the central concerns of each side in his formulation of a dialectical anthropology in the “shadow” of a “consistent eschatology,”[11] there are certain aspects to the Pauline text itself which Barth does not touch upon that are important in the debate over universalism.
1. William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), 78.

2. Augustine, “On Marriage and Concupiscence,” Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1.5 (New York: Christian Literature Publishing, 1886), Book II.46, 302.

3. Commentary on Rom. 5:17.

4. Robin A. Parry and Christopher H. Partridge, eds., Universal Salvation? The Current Debate (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003).

5. Thomas Talbott, The Inescapable Love of God (Parkland: Universal Publishers, 1999).

6. Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2006).

7. See Origen, On First Principles, trans. G. W. Butterworth (London: SPCK, 1936).

8. See Gregory of Nyssa, The Catechetical Oration of Gregory of Nyssa (Early Church Classics), trans. J. H. Srawley (London: SPCK, 1917); On the Soul and the Resurrection (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 2.5), trans. W. Moore (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988). See also M. Ludlow, Universal Salvation: Eschatology in the Thought of Gregory of Nyssa and Karl Rahner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

9. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dare We Hope ‘That all Men be Saved?’ with A Short Discourse on Hell (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988).

10. Oliver Crisp, in particular, has presented a cogent argument for why Barth’s theological positions in the Church Dogmatics necessitates universalism. Of course, on purely logical grounds, Crisp is entirely right. But of course Barth’s concern for divine sovereignty and his rejection of human logic as the highest value in theology prevents him from drawing the conclusion of universalism. See Oliver D. Crisp, “On Barth’s Denial of Universalism,” Themelios 29:1 (2003), 18-29.

11. See Bruce L. McCormack, Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology: Its Genesis and Development 1909-1936 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 207-40. 
For my part, Romans 5 is quickly becoming the standard text by which Universalists stake their claim. Talbott offers his opening argument based on the exegesis of Romans 5, though it should be noted that Robin Parry builds his (cogent and compelling) case around Colossions 1:15-20.

Also, having just read David's opening, I'll confess that I simply don't know what to do with Romans 5. I will read through the remainder of his arguments and see what happens.

Something else I am considering (and this would have to be explained via a scholar like Parry, Talbott and Condgon) is Paul's use of 'anthropos' in Romans 5. Is he referring to simply humanity (or specifically a human being) or is it more specific? 'Anthropos' seems to have a wide lexical use, and doesn't necessarily mean the "historical" Adam. Could it just mean "human?" Or is Paul singling out the "original" human, Adam? We shall see what happens. I'm loving this so far.

Fan boy moment: I also own Barth's commentary on Romans. I shall read his section on Romans 5 and see what comes about.

For the entire post, enjoy it here.


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