Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Damned Nonsense and Additional Musings Part I

A friend on twitter, Joshua Walters recently invited me to read a blog series he plans on doing about Universalism and it's (antagonistic?) relationship with other streams of orthodoxy. He's already begun to deal with Tom Talbbot, a Christian philosopher best known for being one of the most vocal proponents of trinitarian universalism. At least, Talbott is unafraid to say that he is. The few universalists that I know don't say much about their position, as let's face it, jobs are scarce these days.

For the sake of formatting, Joshua's material will be in italics, while mine will be normal.
Thomas Talbott is a professor of Philosophy at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.  He is best known for his work The Inescapable Love of God, which biblically and systematically argues the case for Universalism. In this post I will explain what is known as "Talbott's Triad."
For the most part I agree. I do, however, wish to calrify that Talbott doesn't offer a systematic defense of universalism in the same sense as one dealing with every objection. In fact, the closest study we have in terms of universalism is Robin Parry's "The Evangelical Universalist" and even then, I don't consider it to be a systematic defense for universalism. Though it is quite good.
Many people will argue that the weakness of the Universalist view is that it overlooks the 'clear teaching of Scripture.' But upon further inspection it appears that both Calvinism and Arminianism also overlook the teaching of Scripture, namely the texts that proclaim the scope and finality of Christ's victory. (Note: ideological sawdust in the mind's eye will blur certain textsWhat Talbott makes clear is that there is no 'flawless' position on salvation and the Bible can be used to support multiple views.
I think the concept is correct here. I recall calvinist Matt Chandler mentioning that, while he wasn't going to give up his view, he found the verses in Joshua about "choose ye this day" to be a bit of a pebble in his shoe. However, one has to acknowledge that the goal of the universalist should be to provide as best an explanation for their view, and this means offering tenable exegetical and theological considerations against eternal torment and annihilationism.

I know Joshua doesn't mean this, and I agree with him and Talbott. In order to systematize the Bible, one cannot take every single verse at it's most literal face. To do so gives us days without light (Genesis 1) and a multitude of stars falling from the sky (Revelation 12). Everything requires an explanation according not only to the Greek, but to personal intent on the part of the writer.
The question that I share along with Talbott is Why do universalists get spurned when it seems that Calvinism and Arminianism are equally at fault for neglecting Scripture? The conclusion that Talbott draws is that something other than biblical exegesis is behind the visceral reaction against universalism. I will discuss this in post #5.
A good question. More often than not, trinitarian universalists often get lumped into the category of pluralists. Of course, universalists can be pluralists but I don't think it necessarily leads to that. In my own experience, though I cannot be counted (yet?) as a dogmatic or "strong" universalist, I haven't considered pluralism nor have I found inclusivism to be a sustainable option. I have yet to read Pinnock, so I am leaving that option off the table. As far as I am concerned, exclusivism blended with universalism seems to not only maintain the centrality of the christological necessity of salvation, but also works as a means of excluding other such views as pluralism.

However, I'm not quite convinced that Talbott is correct to paint such options as devious intent. It could just be that people have overlooked certain texts because of the simplistic meaning of literal english words like "hell" or "eternal" or "all." But, I'm going to bite my tongue because Talbott is also probably correct about some folks with devious intent.

So, yes and no.
About one year ago Scot McKnight  - who is an awesome NT scholar and prolific author/blogger - offered a fairly deficient critique of Talbott's Triad. His only criticism to Talbott and Universalism is that it depends on the belief that human beings may be saved after death. You can read that post here.
I love Scot McKnight, and I think McKnight is far more fair towards universalism than most evangelicals. I know McKnight is familiar with Eastern Orthodox literature on the 'harrowing of hell' and even those unusual verses about Christ descending into hell, which is reflected in the Apostles Creed. I haven't found Howard Marshall or McKnight's thoughts on 1 Peter 4:6 compelling, and am inclined to see those verses as indicating the possibility of post-mortem confession unto salvation.

I wouldn't make a doctrine out of it, but I d not think one should overlook these verses or their place in history.

You can read Joshua's post here.

--Nick

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate what you've noted here about the fact that the task of the universalist (and any theologian for that matter) is to explicate their view as best as possible, not to prove or proselytize. this has become more clear to me recently as i continue to learn how to "hold" my beliefs.

    and I also appreciate what you say about hermeneutics. One CANNOT systematize the teachings of Scripture without emphasizing certain texts over others - there is no "flat" reading. I am thankful that God has given us this task instead of a clear book of "answers." The fact that we have a kind of creative choice in how we interpret the text is, I believe, the foundation of our faith.

    Yes, universalists often get lumped in with pluralists, which is so funny to me because I believe that universalists are the ones who take CHRIST most seriously and make Christ the center of their soteriology (perhaps bold statement, but it seems true to me).

    Looking forward to further dialogue about all the #DamnedNonsense.

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