Friday, June 20, 2008

Idolatrous universalism



Hi. I thought I would offer just one correction to your comment that, "Rather, as MacDonald makes clear, if he thought the Bible taught that God eternally damns some sinners, then he would cease to believe in God. So, by his own admission, he’s not prepared to believe in a revealed God. That’s what makes him an idolater."

I am surprised that you think that I made this clear - surpised because it is not my view. What I say in the book is that if, after we have looked again with an open mind, Scripture REALLY does not fit with universalism then so be it - we need to go back and try to make the philosophy work (as task I consider exceptionally difficult, as you know).

The philosophical-theology in my book serves to drive us back to the Bible and ask whether or not we have misunderstood it. It is not a substitute for revelation. Now, as you know, I argue that Scripture is indeed compatible with universalism. So reason and revelation are compatible. Phew!

You accuse me of placing reason over revelation but you made no mention in your review of chapters 2-6 which are entirely devoted to discussions of the biblical text. So perhaps your review was a little misleading on that front. I don't expect you to agree with my interpretations of the Bible because, in your view, your systematic theology is water-tight. OK - I am not going to try and persuade you otherwise. However, I do think it misleading to accuse me of sidelining revelation when you ignore the fact that the bulk of my book is biblical exposition all predicated on an evangelical understanding of Scripture. Indeed my version of universalism is predicated on God's self-revelation in Scripture.

Now I may be mistaken but am I am idolater? That is an exceptionally serious charge. I really do not mind you thinking that I am wrong but I am not so impressed with the false-god charge. Let me tell you about the false god that I worship. He is the holy Trinity - revealed in Christ, taught in Scripture and proclaimed by the church in the creeds. If that god is a false god then which one should I be worshipping?


6/20/2008 4:50 AM

1.In the programmatic opening chapter of your book you make the following sorts of autobiographical admissions:

“I can recall one Sunday morning when I had to stop singing for I was no longer sure whether I believed that God deserved worship. For a believer, that is a moment of despair. Ever since I had been a Christian, I had never waved in my conviction that God loved people, but on that Sunday I didn’t know if I could believe that anymore. I was having a doxological crisis—wanting to believe that God was worthy of worship but unable to do so. The crisis was brought on by my reflections on hell” (1).

“The problem was that over a period of months I had become convinced that God could save everyone if he wanted to, and yet I also believed that the Bible taught that he would not. But, I reasoned, if he loved them, surely he would save them; and thus my doxological crisis grew… He may love me, but does he love my mother? I was no longer sure. Could I love a God who could rescue everyone but chose not to? I could and did go through the motions, but my heart was not in it. And that was what happened—I sang and prayed; but it felt hollow and so I stopped. I no longer loved God, because he seemed diminished” (3).

True, you then spend chaps. 2-6 trying to make an exegetical case for universalism. However, these come with a tacit disclaimer. Given what you said in chap. 1, you will only believe in the self-revelation of God in Scripture on condition that Scripture teach universalism. Your faith in Biblical theism is contingent on universalism. That’s the escape clause in your contract.

So, you subordinate the authority of Scripture to your extrascriptural preconception of divine worthiness.

2. And, yes, that’s the very definition of idolatry. You begin, not with revelation, but with your preconception of God. If the Bible happens to agree with your preconception, then that’s a bonus point for Scripture—but if the Bible teaches everlasting punishment, then you jettison Biblical theism.

So you most definitely assert the primacy of your extrascriptural preconception. For you, the Bible is expendable. You were able to reinterpret Scripture consistent with your preconception. But had you been unable to do so, then—by your own admission—you would no longer be a Christian.

Actually, I wouldn’t dignify it with the label of “reason.” It’s simply emotion. The bathos of the bleeding-heart, limousine liberal. It’s a secularized Christian conscience. You’re very compassionate behind your tinted windows.

3. You say I’ve leveled an exceptionally serious charge against you. But there are no exceptionally serious charges in universalism. Universalism trivializes every evil.

If universalism is true, I could flay you alive with a penknife, say three Hail Marys after I die, or do 1000 hours of postmortem community service, then head for heaven. In universalism, all is forgiven since all are forgiven.

4. It’s just a coincidence that you’re theism happens to be as nominally orthodox as it turns out to be. The Trinity doesn’t conflict with universalism, so you just so happen to affirm the Trinity.

Your universalism is heretical, and where your remaining theology is orthodox, it’s orthodox by chance. Like being accidentally innocent of murder because the gun misfired.

5. As a universalist, you fail to appreciate either divine mercy or divine justice. You lack a basic grasp of law or gospel.

What God should you be worshiping? Of course, I’m a Calvinist, so you already know where I stand—but in answer to your question, I don’t mind stepping outside the Reformed stable for a moment. You’d do well to worship the God of Athanasius, Chemnitz, Pascal, and J. C. Ryle.


  1. Do you think it is possible for a regenerate person to be an idolater (i.e., the person subordinates the authority of Scripture to an extrascriptural preconception of divine worthiness [even if only temporarily]), or does regeneration somehow make the sin of idolatry impossible? Thanks.

  2. Idolatry is a major sin. There are degrees of sinfulness. One can be sinful and still be saved. I can't point you to the invisible line of no return. I didn't draw it.

  3. Steve,

    Have you seen this:

    Christians: No One Path to Salvation

    The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life last year surveyed 35,000 Americans, and found that 70% of respondents agreed with the statement "Many religions can lead to eternal life." Even more remarkable was the fact that 57% of Evangelical Christians were willing to accept that theirs might not be the only path to salvation, since most Christians historically have embraced the words of Jesus, in the Gospel of John, that "no one comes to the Father except through me."

    I'm nauseous.

  4. Steve

    Ouch! No velvet glove there! I will reply in due course on my own blog if you don't mind. Thanks for taking the time to offer your thoughts.