The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Gregory MacDonald Really is Bad, part 2 (he trivializes evil

Sunday, July 6, 2008
[size=150]Gregory MacDonald Really is Bad, part 2 (he trivializes evil) [/size]
Steve continues his critique of me as follows:

(steve hayes writes:)
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.

Yikes! Best not to think too hard about the hypothetical case study! Eeeek! I don’t think I will sleep well tonight!!!

What is the charge here? That universalism trivializes every evil. But why on earth suppose that this is the case? Of course, in Steve’s caricature of my view it is. There I commit my evil act and then just go through the motions to get my “Get out of Jail” card. That trivializes evil. But that is not my view.

My view is that there is no forgiveness except through the atoning death of Christ and heart-felt repentance and faith on the part of the sinner. This forgiveness comes at the cost of Christ’s death on the cross. There is no trivializing of evil in that. The sinner is ashamed at what they have done and repudiates it. There is no sense in which their evil “doesn’t really matter.”

So unless Steve is prepared to say that if God forgives a repentant sinner then God has trivialized their evil I really do not see how his criticism can get off the ground.

I do not trivialize sin. I simply believe that where sin abounds grace abounds all the more.
Posted by Gregory MacDonald at 10:45 AM
Rachel said…
What I am getting from his arugement here is that forgiveness pre-mortem is called “grace” and forgiveness post-portem is called “trivializing evil.”

I think the bigger problem here, though, is that he seems to be in fact trivializing Christ’s work on the cross. If there is some subset of people that absolutely have to suffer for their sins, then does he think Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough to take away the sins of the world?

July 6, 2008 3:59 PM

Gregory MacDonald said…

That seems a very perceptive assessment to me. I think you are correct in para 1.

Re: para 2. Steve, of course, believes in limited atonement so he would not concede your second point. He would agree with me that all for whom Christ died will be saved so arguably he does not belittle Christ’s death but has a very strong view of it. We just disagree on the question of who Christ died for. He says ‘some people’ and I say ‘all people’. In my view it is not Christ’s death so much as God’s love that Steve’s view underestimates.

July 7, 2008 7:31 AM

Jason Pratt said…
Hey again, Rach’. {g}

{{If there is some subset of people that absolutely have to suffer for their sins, then does he think Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough to take away the sins of the world?}}

Being very familiar with his theological category or school, and having sparred with him before, I think I can fairly say that Steve does believe that Christ’s sacrifice was enough in principle to take away the sins of the world.

The difference is that Steve believes in practice God chooses whom He will and will not try to save; those whom He chooses, He persists at until they are saved from sin. The others He never even intended to save from sin. (So no fail on God’s part that they aren’t.) But in principle God did make it theoretically possible for them to be saved as well. He simply chooses not to try to save them.


July 7, 2008 11:57 AM

Bobby said…
I just found your blogspot today and I’m so excited about being able to communicate! After reading The Evangelical Universalist, I purchased 100 copies and am distributing them to anyone interested in Christian Universalism…it’s the best treatment of the subject I’ve seen!

I “lead” a house church where Christian Universalism is taught and we’re presently using your book as the basis for our discussions and study using Libronix to explore the Bible. Your entries and associated comments will be very helpful in answering some of our questions.

I want to discuss the Biblical basis for the doctrine of the Trinity and also the idea that this world is God’s grand demonstration rather than God’s grand experiment (my definition of the traditional view of why God created the world). I hope you will engage! Thanks!

July 7, 2008 3:09 PM

Denver said…
For years the one doubt that I couldn’t shake about my faith was: How can peoples’ eternal destinies rest upon finding the truth during a short life? Not only is it short, but then you have a ton of other competing religions and philosophies to throw everyone off the right course in the meantime (let alone our own personal hang-ups and limitations dealt to us by nature and nuture). Well, I stumbled up the idea of Christian universalism in Tony Campolo’s book Speaking My Mind. While he is not a universalist himself, he gave credit to it being a legitimate evangelical position. I had never even heard of the concept! I just, like most, associated universalism with unitarianism.

But when I began exploring the concept online I felt that most of the Christian Universalist arguments were so shabby and unconvincing. I was, at that point, a hopeful Christian universalist. But then “happened” to show your book The Evang. Universalist on their homepage. I snatched it up and was flabbergasted by it’s humble approach (unlike so many Christian universalist websites!) and reasonable exegesis of Scripture. So, I’m moving along to adding “dogmatic” to my “hopeful” status as I continue to study.

Here’s a major question I’m wrestling with. Gregory, what is the point of this life in your perspective? When I held the traditional evangelical view I saw life as a ‘test’ ground where God was graciously giving us a human lifetime in which to choose to love Him or to reject Him. I always knew something was thin about that, because if that’s it, then why pursue social justice or emotional healing for people who are just going to hell for eternity?

Anyway, I’d love to know your thoughts.

Bobby, you hinted at the subject in your previous post (experiment vs. demonstration), so I’d love to hear your thoughts as well

July 8, 2008 7:01 AM

Gregory MacDonald said…

I am somewhat amazed and humbled that you have taken the book to heart so much. I do hope that your group finds it helpful. It is not offered as a final word but as my thinking so far. I can see that parts of it will need strengthening and my hope is that I might inspire others to go and do a better job than I have.

re: your idea of the world as God’s experiement. I’m happy to discuss that but you will need to explain what you have in mind. Don’t worry if I do not reply immediately - I am not able to get online every day (living in a cave)

re: the biblical basis for the Trinity. That is a vast question. Theologically you are usually on to a safe bet with Thomas F Torrance. His book “The Christian Doctrine of God” is very good (but heavy). But Torrance is very good on the Bible as well as the systematics. I also recommend Paul Molnar’s book on the immanent Trinity as a brilliant theological assessment of contemporary trinitarian theologies (but its focus is systematic not biblical exegesis)
From biblical scholars: Well in the 1960s there was a book on the Trinity in the NT (by a man called Arthur Wainwright if my memory serves me correctly). Since then biblical scholars have tended to focus on either Christology or Pneumatology so you’d need to read up on both. On Christology I would recommend the following scholars

  • Larry Hurtado (Lord Jesus Christ)
  • Richard Bauckham (various articles but also the little Eerdmans book “God Crucified”
  • Gordon Fee (big new Pauline Christology book from Hendrickson)

On pneumatology as it related to the Trinity: Well you’d have to read Gordon Fee’s “God’s Empowering Presence”. It has some great and relevant chapters towards the end.

On a more popular level there is some very helpful material on the biblical foundations for Trinitarian theology in Robin Parry’s book “Worshipping Trinity”.

Hope that is a start.


July 8, 2008 12:51 PM

Gregory MacDonald said…

That’s a good question. It is not a question that I am sure I am comfortable answering in the way that you frame it. You ask about my perspective on ‘the’ point of this life. I would hate to think that it could be boiled down to a single point. I am sure that there are lots of points to it - things that we could probably open up if we talked for a while and bounced ideas off each other. For instance, as Jesus noted, by having sinned much and been forgiven much we can learn to love much. That kind of idea lies behind the traditional felix culpa (good mistake) view of the fall.

Now one objection to universalism is that it makes this life inexplicable. If God will save us all in the end, so the objection runs, then why not take us directly to the end state? Why not create everyone perfect and place them in ‘heaven’/new creation? I deal with this objection in the book and you might find that the comments there are of some help (pp. 161-62).

But taking a different approach … my starting point is this: if God has set things up so that we must walk through this veil of tears before reaching the beatific state then he did so for good reasons.

But once we start specifying what God’s good reasons might have been that we are in the realm of speculation. That is OK and I have no problem with such speculations but

  1. we must always remember that we are speculating and not get over-attached to our suggestions.
  2. we must also hold in mind that if our attempts to figure out God’s reasons fall short we should not worry. My inability to figure out God’s reasons is hardly a good reason for thinking that he does not have good reasons (not unless I have lost all sense of proportion about the powers of my intellect).

So - let’s speculate (and perhaps we can bounce ideas around here). Why might God have taken us on this route to glorification?

Could there be goods for God’s creatures if they have to journey towards glorification rather than being created in that state (here I declare my view that Adam and Eve were not created in the end-state that God intended for humanity - we could discuss that if you wish). Are there benefits to us of being given the space for free choice, for sin (and thus for forgiveness and redemption), for pain (and thus for courage) and so on? Is the shaping we receive in this life doing something that could not be done on the ‘go straight to new creation’? Perhaps. The Bible is clear that the new creation will bear the marks of this life

  • the song of the redeemed who can worship the Lamb slain. That is a fundamental part of the wonder of the new age and without this life it would not exist.
  • the cultural treasures offered to God by the Kings of the Earth and the nations (Rev 21). Our work in this life is not discarded in new creation (on this see Darrell Cosden, “The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work”. Hendrickson)

To be honest this is a very big question and I’d have to give it a lot of thought. Added to that, I do not think that even if I gave it a lot of thought I could tell you the right answer. I’d just have some better guesses. However, the crucial point is that it is not a question that is universalist-specific. All Christians face the same question. Hope that this first stab at an answer is of some use.


July 8, 2008 1:27 PM

Jason Pratt said…
Incidentally, if you hear of references to Morey’s book on the Trinity, I can aver that it’s helpful both in OT/NT exegetics and (to a certain extent) even metaphysics, if not as extensive as it could be. I would also strenuously recommend ignoring the first several chapters and his methodologically circular justification techniques.

For two largely completed portions of a metaphysical analysis arriving at orthodox Trinitarian theology (I haven’t yet posted up the two middle sections of chapters), you might try my Sword to the Heart series of entries at the Christian Cadre Journal. (Be aware, there are over 300 pages of material posted already in the series.) It also features universalism being arrived at as a logical corollary to orthodox Trinitarian theology. (Starting around here, if I recall correctly. As this is an ecumenical journal I don’t spell out the implications with total explicitness, but it’s there for those “who have eyes to see and ears to hear”.)

After I finish my third novel, I plan to start an exegetics journal examining scriptural testimony that could be considered for or against God’s hope and intention for universal salvation from sin. But that’ll be several months down the line.

Hope the other material can be of some help meanwhile, though! I’m a big proponent of ‘orthodoxy leads to universalism’ as a doctrine.


July 8, 2008 4:23 PM
Denver said…
I agree that the point(s) of life is not universalist-specific. I suppose, for me, universalism opened up a more legitimate way of approaching the subject, though. In certain traditional evangelical mindsets everything is motivated as a means to share the gospel: Have a good marriage…so that people will see Christ’s love for the church and be saved; be good at your job…so that people will respect you and want to ask you about your faith; be kind to your neighbors…so that you’ll open up an opportunity to share the gospel; feed the hungry…so that you can witness to them.

I’m not implying that these things are inherently wrong, but it felt like all of the ‘activities’ were simply means to an end and had no meaning in and of themselves. But, then again, if people are on their way to eternal hell, such mentalities can be justified. I knew a guy once that remarked that he didn’t spend much time with his family because they were Christians, so he’d see them in eternity. He’d rather go spend time with nonbelievers. Noble, kind of, and kind of not noble when you think about it.

The concept has similarities with the view you discuss in your book where “God allows the irreparable destruction of some people merely as a means to the blessing of other people.” In this sense as well, people are a commodity to get into heaven. And, if not all are going to make it, then it seems that God, as well as we, might as well cut our losses and use whatever we can (even at the expense of some) to get as many in as possible.

That being said, the hope that God will one day rescue all, allows one to believe that there is more to life than only evangelism. That loving my wife, while hopefully being a witness of course, is inherently significant. In fact, I find many more injunctions in Scripture about honoring daily relationships than sharing the gospel (in the traditional expository sense). Life, then, seems to have a strong developmental focus. We are to grow, to learn, to love, to understand, to be sanctified, “to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with [our] God”

And also for the nonbeliever, it allows that their life at present is not useless if they die in an unrepentant state, that “without the experiences in this life salvation would take much longer to be attained in the post-morten state.” Of course, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t work and long for these people to come to repentance in this life, but, in the knowledge that many will not, universalism opens up a more meaningful view of life for all.

On a side note, I would enjoy knowing what you meant by “Adam and Eve were not created in the end-state that God intended for humanity”

July 9, 2008 7:10 AM

Anonymous said…
Denver/Gregory. I would suggest the reason for our lives here and now has to do with God´s kingdom. God wants to rule the earth, and to include humans in that task (1 Mos 1). When humanity failed this task, God didn´t give up, but made a special (holy) people and later, when this people had also failed, anointed one human being who were obedient and thereby presented God´s coming kingdom/rule. Now the church has been given his Spirit so we can obey God and through this become a foretaste of the coming kingdom. God wants us to give ourselves freely to him and to establish God´s kingdom in a non-coercive manner, I think. Something like that.

Bobby/Gregory. Regarding the trinity, I would suggest studying the question with some openness. I don´t think believing in the trinity is necessary to be a follower of Jesus. (Yes, I know this places me outside of the evangelical camp and probably a heretic in most christians eyes…)
/Jonas Lundström

July 9, 2008 9:21 AM

Bobby said…
Thank you for allowing me to join the discussion. We don’t take TEU as the final word, but you’ve done the best work we’ve found on the subject. I think your arguments would be strengthened by incorporating idea of demonstration as God’s purpose for this world. Instead of this life being a test or experiment, it’s a demonstration that any possible scenario for human existence apart from total dependence upon God will eventually kill you. God calls each of us to play a unique role in His grand demonstration…some are negative (evil) roles and others are positive (good) roles and when the grand demonstration is concluded, we all go home and live happily ever after. The fairy tale ending is grounded in the truth of God!

The word “demonstrate” is found in the NASB95 11 times. Once in Ecclesiastes; once in Acts; and nine times in the writings of Paul…it’s definitely a Pauline concept. Romans 3:5 says that our unrighteousness demonstrates God righteousness. God used Pharaoh to demonstrate His power. Without God’s strengthening (hardening) his heart, Pharaoh would never have been able to resist God. Since God is omniscient, demonstration seems to make more sense that testing or experiment. God uses both good and evil for His purposes (Isaiah 45:1-7) and when the demonstration is concluded, He’ll destroy evil. Jay Adams has done a wonderful job of supporting the idea of demonstration in his book The Grand Demonstration. Sadly, he believes that God has predestined some to be saved (the positive roles) and others to be tortured forever (the negative roles). He’s right about the Sovereignty of God, but so wrong about God’s ultimate purpose of reconciling all things to Himself.

July 9, 2008 10:03 AM

Bobby said…
I’m guessing we’re in the same camp. I don’t think the trinity is solidly Biblical…more later.

July 9, 2008 10:07 AM

Anonymous said…
Bobby. Do you have a blog or something like that? Or an email?

July 9, 2008 2:03 PM

Bobby said…
I tried following your blogspot, but I’m not bilingual! My email is You might want to look at my comment on Gregory’s latest post about the Trinity.

July 9, 2008 10:54 PM

Gregory MacDonald said…

you are absolutely right. I think that you will find books in the Dutch neo-Calvinist tradition with its focus on a Christian worldview and an affirmation of the value of all dimensions of human life and all of creation ‘before God’ to be right up your street. I highly recommend Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton’s “The Transforming Vision” (IVP) and Darrell Cosden’s “The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work” (Hendrickson). Both would very much reinforce the rightness of your instincts.

July 13, 2008 9:49 AM

Gregory MacDonald said…
Anonymous and Bobby

I found your suggestions very helpful. I was especially interested in Bobby’s ideas of ‘demonstration’. I do think that there is mileage in those directions.

Thanks both

July 13, 2008 9:51 AM

Bobby said…
Since I’ve been “shot down” on the Trinity, can we talk more about the idea of demonstration?

July 13, 2008 11:06 PM

Gregory MacDonald said…

Demonstration? Sure. Go ahead.


July 17, 2008 9:52 AM

Bobby said…
I sort of already did…the paragraph below is copied from my earlier post (7/9/):

The word “demonstrate” is found in the NASB95 11 times. Once in Ecclesiastes; once in Acts; and nine times in the writings of Paul…it’s definitely a Pauline concept. Romans 3:5 says that our unrighteousness demonstrates God righteousness. God used Pharaoh to demonstrate His power. Without God’s strengthening (hardening) his heart, Pharaoh would never have been able to resist God. And without Pharaoh’s opposition, God could not have demonstrated His power for all the world to see. Since God is omniscient, demonstration seems to make more sense than testing or experiment. God uses both good and evil for His purposes (Isaiah 45:1-7) and when the demonstration is concluded, He’ll destroy evil. Jay Adams has done a wonderful job of supporting the idea of demonstration in his book The Grand Demonstration. Sadly, he believes that God has predestined some to be saved (the positive roles) and others to be tortured forever (the negative roles). He’s right about the Sovereignty of God, but so wrong about God’s ultimate purpose of reconciling all things to Himself.

As you can tell, I’ve been “smitten” with both you and Jason especially and would really like to hear your ideas about whether “demonstration” is a better description of what we see God doing in this world than either “testing” or “experimenting”. I think Christian universalism and demonstration seem to explain God and His activities in this world better than any other scenario. I look forward to your comments.

July 17, 2008 11:04 PM

Jason Pratt said…

I think the word you’re looking at in Rom 3:5 is {suniste_sin} (with the long eta represented by an underscore after my e there).

That’s a great word, found mostly in the Pauline epistles (in the NT), though also a couple of other places in the NT. Literally it means together-stand (which is how it is used in Lk 9:32, standing together with Christ); but analogically it can be used for cohering together (as the Earth does in 2 Peter 3:5.) Not surprisingly in Paul it has close connections with the common term {dikaiosune_}, and its cognates; which means ‘fair-togetherness’, and is typically translated in English as “righteousness”. You’ll already have noticed that this term is also used in the verse. {g}

This is not an easy word to translate, but it doesn’t really have the meaning of ‘demonstrate’, in the sense you seem to be thinking of. ‘Agreeing with’, ‘commends’ or ‘approves’ would be better.

Rom 3:5 isn’t easy to translate as a sentence, either. The best attempt I’ve seen so far runs: “Now if a righteousness of God commends the injustice of us, what shall we be saying?” (Or, “Yet if God’s righteousness commends our injustice…”)

Often, translators connect the “commends” to “our injustice”. But that doesn’t make any sense and it makes St. Paul’s subsequent protests inscrutable; for his whole point (immediately before this) is that the faithfulness of God is not nullified by the unbelief of those (especially among the Jews) who disbelieve, nor (immediately after this) does God’s faithfulness to those who are unfaithful to Him mean that God is being unjust to bring wrath on those who are unjust (who in this context are especially those who are unfairly judging against God, so as to disbelieve).

In other words, St. Paul has been complaining that unfair people are not commending the fair-togetherness of God. So why would he immediately switch in verse 5 to stating that our unfairness is commending the fair-togetherness of God? Rather, God’s fair-togetherness involves standing-together-with, being faithful toward, even those who are unfair. If we, who are all sinners (as Paul goes on shortly afterward to famously declare), cannot rely on God’s faithfulness toward us, despite our injustice, then we have no hope at all. Nor is God being unjust Himself by bringing indignation on us: His wrath, which is true, does not in any way abrogate or countervene His faithfulness toward us. (The Hebraist makes much the same point more extensively in the Epistle to the Hebrews.)

In a somewhat extended fashion, it could be also said, that the fact that God allows us to be unjust at all, much moreso that He allows us to continue existing despite our injustice, ‘demonstrates’ the fair-togetherness of God after all: He isn’t giving up on us, and intends to keep acting toward reconciliation with us. Which would go with the gist of this passage, too. But I still wouldn’t translate the verse “our injustice demonstrates (much less ‘commends’) the righteousness of God”.

Unfortunately, I’ve got to do a bunch of ‘work’ work today, so I’ll have to wait about commenting on the concept you’re actually thinking about, and which I haven’t really discussed yet. (Clarifying the translation doesn’t mean your basic idea about demonstration is wrong; it only means that that particular verse isn’t primarily concerned with illustrating the principle of ‘demonstration’ per se.) I’ll try to get back to it sometime this weekend, maybe Sunday morning.


July 18, 2008 10:38 AM

Bobby said…
Thank you so much for taking the time to educate me…your efforts will not be wasted! Unlike you, I have never studied the original languages and rely on Libronix to help me wade into these areas. I’m trusting that the Holy Spirit can lead even me into more of the truth. I have plenty to study for now, but look forward to more from you and Gregory soon!

July 18, 2008 11:23 AM

Jason Pratt said…
Drat–I was working on other things, and it suddenly occurred to me that I should have clarified that I’m certainly not blaming you in any way for the Rom 3:5 translation (whether of the word or the whole sentence). It’s something most readers aren’t aware of, so they do the best they can with the material available. Definitely nobody’s fault for doing that.

The actual translators and I might have a beef–or not; they may be more aware than I am that the verb suffixes match the grammar for “injustice” rather than “righteousness”. If that’s the case, I can understand why they’d make what would subsequently be pretty much a wild guess about how stand-together/commend/approve should be translated (e.g. as ‘demonstrate’ instead.) Knoch, whom Ray and I both like, bites the bullet and renders it ‘commend’ anyway, as does Green in his version of the Textus Receptus, which btw I provisionally recommend even though it’s the TR. {g} I still check Green by the UBS/Nestle-Aland (and Metzger’s report for the rationalization in choosing among variant texts), but I like his two literal translation attempts. (No textual variants in this verse to speak of, btw.)

Anyway, I got back here too late to reassure you that I wasn’t trying to diss you for using ‘demonstrate’ there. Sorry.


July 18, 2008 12:23 PM

Bobby said…
No “diss” taken…perhaps Romans 9:22 might be a better “proof text” for demonstration?

July 19, 2008 11:13 PM

Jason Pratt said…

Sorry for the delay. I ended up spending eight hours Sunday trying to write a discussion on GosJohn historicity issues (in favor of historicity), for someone else. Which I’ll probably consider to have been a total waste of my time. But I thought I ought to try, since I haven’t corresponded with him in several years.

Before I talk about other potential scriptural texts, in regard to demonstration-theology, let me go back a minute and consider the metaphysical characteristics of the theology.

If I’m quoting you correctly, “God’s purpose for this world… [is] a demonstration that any possible scenario for human existence apart from total dependence upon God will eventually kill you.”

Now, I can easily agree and understand that one of God’s purposes is to demonstrate that any possible scenario for human existence apart from total dependence upon God will eventually kill you. And I can understand and even agree with this purpose being built-into the creation of the world.

If however you are meaning to say that this is the primary purpose for the creation of this world, then I’m left with wondering who this was supposed to be demonstrated to. Rebel supernatural entities? I could buy that to some degree, but it looks a bit redundant as the primary purpose for creating yet-another-natural-system for derivative entities to exist and operate in. Some other Independent Fact besides God? Then we have other more fundamental metaphysical matters to be discussing (not least of which is that multiple IFs would not be able to interact with one another without an overarching shared field of existence of some kind, in which case they aren’t IFs after all.) Non-rebel derivative entities? Eh… again, it seems kind of cruel to create a situation where problems are not only expected but encouraged, primarily to teach a lesson to persons who are already loyal entities. And God (whether or not the singular God is multiple Persons) hardly needs to demonstrate this to Himself.

My main complaint then is only about the apparent scope of the purpose–which you might not have intended to be so, um, scopy. {g}

After that, I only have a minor problem with (this kind of) demonstration being one of the purposes of God in regard to a created system and its (and/or other) derivative entities. Specifically, the way you’ve presented it doesn’t seem to take evil with full seriousness.

If God calls me to fulfill an evil role (or more-evil-than-general-fallenness, let us say), then either I’m actually evil and doing things wrong, or I’m only pretending to be evil (like I’m playing a character in a role-playing game or a drama) when in fact my actual character is something else. Or I’m actively being deluded, by God no less, into thinking “evilly”, when in fact (since “delusion” is required) I’m not really that evil. (And what does that say about people who appear to be ethically better? Is God not deluding them about their real character as much?)

I write novels, so I understand how the complex and striking ethicality of fictional characters can be a great way to illustrate and discuss certain principles with readers-of-the-story. But those are only fictional characters; they aren’t real persons. Even if a cast of real persons reads the characters, they’re playing fictional characters or anyway not who they really are (assuming historicity for some characters perhaps). The demonstration concept, if it’s only a demonstration (which might not have been what you meant), seems to undermine the reality of personal responsibility for our choices concerning what we have to work with.

What I mean is that if there’s nothing more to our apparent ethicality than “we all go home and live happily ever after after the grand demonstration is concluded”, then none of us have personal responsibility for the things we’re doing, good or bad–but especially the bad. All the talk of repentence and reconciliation and the positive pleasure of God in our loving cooperation and His wrath when we insist on screwing things over–it’s all a stage play. It doesn’t mean anything, except in some metaphorical sense that could potentially apply ‘for real’ one day (except I suppose we all learn our lesson.)

It just kinda goes against the grain of taking our ethicality seriously now, today.

In principle (and in practice) I’m very much in favor of ethical demonstrationism being a factor of the story-of-our-kosmos leading into the day of the Lord to come. But I think it’s important to take our story as a real story, a real history. I can easily understand God allowing me to sin because, having loved the potential capability into me with the engendering of free will, He refuses not to simply stop loving me; and I can easily understand and accept God allowing (much moreso actively instituting!) the penalties of that sin to work out in me in order to demonstrate to me something I ought to really learn. But I can have all that without my ethicality being some mere role that I’m playing. (Heck, I can and do have it in my own fictional work. {g} I mean without the characters ultimately being only stage-characters in relation to their real selves.)

In short, if demonstration is a true purpose of God (and I’m certain that it is, in many ways), the doctrine needs to be understood (and carefully presented) in a way that doesn’t denigrate our real choices as real, responsible people.

Which may have been what you were intending all the time. But your phraseology left me wondering, so…

Now, going back to particular scriptural examples.

{{God used Pharaoh to demonstrate His power.}}

Among other things. I wouldn’t put power-demonstration at the top of the list, though it’s in there, too.

{{Without God’s strengthening (hardening) his heart, Pharaoh would never have been able to resist God.}}

I don’t disagree, exactly, but there are two principles here being fused together. If God did not give us the ability and freedom to act, including in sin, we would not be able to sin: our sin is an abuse of the grace of God, which God does take His own responsibility for, but we’re expected (as real persons really sinning) to do the same. In that sense, however, I do agree that our resistance-to-God actually depends upon God. (Put another way, Satan cannot possibly ever win and achieve his goal of being-like-the-most-High. His rebellion itself is dependent in several ways upon God, and that’s always going to be true. As to how demons can insistently deceive themselves about this, my novels give some excellent examples, I think. {g})

On the other hand, the Pharoah story shows us a case where a man isn’t merely resisting God. He’s actually intending to do the right thing, but then God Himself creates obstacles preventing him from doing the right thing.

One question here, which I don’t recall the scriptures ever directly addressing, is: how is God providing this obstacle? Is God simply toughening up Pharoah’s heart in some fashion alien to Pharoah’s character? That would be horrifyingly evil for God to do; the equivalent of mental rape. But if God is bringing forth something still in Pharoah’s character, and strengthening that, and is doing so for purposes of saving Pharoah from that character flaw eventually, then ethically that makes more coherent sense for God to be doing (even though in the short run sin will be the result).

This kind of bringing-out-flaws for purposes of helping the flawed person as well as for other purposes (even though tragedy is the result in the relatively short-term), would count as ‘demonstration’ I think in the fashion you were talking about. (Though the scope of the purpose wouldn’t be ‘why God created Creation at all’.) It would also, however, count as “testing” in the fashion that the Biblical languages are talking about.

Most often, when Biblical authors are talking about what we translate as “testing”, they’re actually meaning something more like what we’d call “refining”. It can be treated as “testing” in our sense of discovery, from the perspective of the derivative creatures who know about the testing (including the one being tested); but as you say it cannot mean “testing” in that sense to an omniscient entity. It can however mean “refining”, both for the derivative entity and for God, in relation to the life-progression of that derivative entity.

Not-incidentally, and as you probably already know (though others reading this thread may not): Isaiah 45 is the home of the famous saying borrowed by St. Paul in that crucial ninth chapter of Romans, “Shall the clay say to the potter…?”

As might be expected, the rabbi makes use of the phrase not merely in itself, but as a context-marker that he expects his students and listeners to pick up and run with. What is the context of that saying in Isaiah? Not that God will be throwing away sinners whom He has foreordained to be waste and has grudgingly carried along until He can throw them away; but that He will be rescuing sinners (namely Israel) from the people whom God has sent to oppress them for being sinners (namely Cyrus–one of the ‘anointed ones’ of God!), and thereby bring all people (every knee bowing and every tongue swearing) to be loyal and trusting followers of God.

Yes, there is waste and desolation now; but God stresses that He did not create the world for waste and desolation, but for habitation–similarly the land and the people of Israel, who have rebelled against Him and been wholly ruined as a result. But God is not restricting these promises of restoration to Israel alone; but to all people.

The rebuke of St. Paul, then, quoting (what we call) Isaiah 45:9, then, either ought to be kept in its context–where God is rebuking a people wholly ruined that they ought to trust God has something better for them, who are not only His creations but His very children–or else exegetes should be prepared to explain why St. Paul is doing something extremely different than Isaiah here and is correct to be doing so.

Not necessarily impossible that that might be the case, perhaps; I’ve seen cases where an NT author midrashes OT verses to apply to something rather different than the original context, and I can understand why that might be legitimate to do. But it’s terribly ironic that the contexts of the Isaianic quote are very universalistic–when exegetes, especially Calvinists, have routinely thrown up that quote to me in order to forestall complaints about God hopelessly condemning someone (especially ones God ordained to be adversaries). The original context is absolutely the reverse of hopeless condemnation of anyone, pagan or Jew. Punishment, yes. Hopeless condemnation, absolutely not: God rebukes people with the clay/potter simile precisely for figuring God has no intention to save wholly ruined and punished people!

And so we arrive at whether Romans 9:22 might be a better prooftext for demonstration theology than 3:5.

“Now, if God, wanting to display [or demonstrate?] His indignation, and to make His powerful doings known, carries with much patience the vessels of indignation *, adapted for destruction *, this is so that He should also be making known the riches of His glory on vessels of mercy *, which He readies beforehand, into glory: us, whom He also calls *, not only out of Jews but out of pagan-nations also.” (vv.22-24)

Is this demonstration? Yes, very obviously! (Aside from the contextual use, the verb could be translated ‘demonstrate’ without being particularly janky.)

Does it teach that this is a (or the) main purpose of God creating Creation at all? No, it doesn’t discuss that concept. Some extremely important concepts, including in relation to demonstration; but not that concept. The demonstration is in carrying vessels of indignation with much patience, and in creating those vessels per se.

(Which doesn’t mean the concept is wrong; it just means that this particular portion of scripture isn’t talking about that kind of demonstration-scope.)


July 21, 2008 1:31 PM

Bobby said…
Thanks…I think! Excuse me while I grab a SCUBA to keep from drowning! It will take me some time to respond. I love the way you make me think and study more! Later…

July 23, 2008 12:52 AM

Bobby said…
Thanks again for taking the time to consider “the demonstration theory”. Your observations about whether demonstration is the primary purpose in creation and who might be the beneficiaries of such demonstration were excellent and made me consider aspects not previously considered. If demonstration is not the primary purpose in creation, then what is? Perhaps the participants cannot know the primary purpose?

I didn’t mean to imply that evil is not serious nor that humans have no responsibility for their behavior, however, since none of us had the choice in being born “sinners” that does seem to impact the situation. Maybe “learning our lesson” is more important than we’ve thought. I’m not sure “free will” is possible, even with God, who seems to be bound by His character. Given parameters beyond our control, I do believe that we have volition and when confronted with a choice where I do seem to have some control, I should make the best decision and embrace the responsibility for my choice.

{{In short, if demonstration is a true purpose of God (and I’m certain that it is, in many ways), the doctrine needs to be understood (and carefully presented) in a way that doesn’t denigrate our real choices as real, responsible people.}} I couldn’t agree with you more!

Your observations about God’s dealing with Pharaoh were, as always, well reasoned and wonderful! And your comments on Isaiah 45 and Paul’s use in Romans 9 were exceptionally helpful!

When I asked if Romans 9:22 was a better “proof text”, I was using the quotation marks to indicate that I was being cynical. I don’t think there are any proof texts for the theory of demonstration. I don’t even think demonstration is God’s only purpose in creation, but I do think the concept is very helpful in trying to understand, both historically and at present, what we see in our world and in the Biblical account.

Again, thanks for stimulating my thoughts and helping to further clarify my beliefs!

July 25, 2008 10:43 AM

Jason Pratt said…

{{If demonstration is not the primary purpose in creation, then what is? Perhaps the participants cannot know the primary purpose?}}

I know the generic (though certainly Biblicaly based) answer is, “for the glory of God”. That isn’t necessarily helpful, though, which is why people go on to try to answer in more detail. {s}

St. Paul, in one of the Epistles (I’m working fast today, but I think it’s in an early chapter of Colossians), says that all things were not only created in and through Christ but for Christ. (Jesus has some similar things to say about that in GosJohn.) Which, insofar as Christ is related to the Shekinah (the Glory of God that tabernacled with Israel), is an interesting follow-through to what “for the glory of God” means! {g}

Again, in 1 Cor 15, in the middle of explaining why the resurrection of Christ is so important for Christian hope, Paul (referencing Psalm 110) says that once Christ has subjugated everything to himself he will similarly present himself in subjugation to the Father so that God will be all in all. (This is a highly universalistic passage, by the way, as you may recall us mentioning elsewhere. It also has connections to what Jesus says in several places of GosJohn.)

Speaking specifically as an orthodox trinitarian, what I am positive about is this: that while creation was not necessary for fair-togetherness (as this was already true within the relationships of the Persons to one another), any action taken by God other than self-generation would be a willing self-sacrifice of some kind resulting in the creation of a not-God system and not-God entities. Once that is done, God either must act (in justice and in love) toward completing a unity of fair-togetherness with all creation, or else He will be acting finally in contravention to the active principle of His own self-existence (which would be the same as permanent suicide. Which, though technically possible, we can be absolutely sure is not going to happen ever, or we wouldn’t be here now to be talking about the topic.)

That doesn’t mean undoing creation (which would be pointless, and not fulfilling love and justice with it anyway); and it doesn’t mean bringing creation to be an independently existent entity like God (which is impossible). It means all of us as persons, and God as the Persons of God, interacting with one another according to our natures in love and fair-togetherness; and the bringing of all things to life and rational personality and love, in the Spirit (insofar as this is possible, which I expect is very extensively possible.)


July 26, 2008 11:57 AM

Auggybendoggy said…
Is it me or has Steve truly read the book. He says I’m illiterate?

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.

Does EU say anything about Hail Marys? Does EU say anything about community service then to heaven?

This is simply a misunderstanding of GM’s view. It would be far more powerful for Steve to adress the issues that GM raises rather than creating a misrepresentation.

The last part of this quote “all is forgiven since all are forgiven” seems true to me. So I think he is correct about this. However to think that evil enters the kingdom of God (I know he’ll say he never said that) would be incorrect.
The UR position I understand from GM (and Talbott) is that God is seeking to perfect everyone. Thus only those who enter by faith and are made perfect by God enter the kingdom of heaven.

Thus it seems the real issue for Steve is the timeline of forgiveness.

It seems like men like Adolph Hitler ooooops I mean SAUL cannot be saved. Was Saul a murderer like Adolph? Was Saul a Blasphemer like Adolph?

Thus calvinism comes full circle, Did God pick Adolph to hate and Saul to love?

Steve needs to be a bit more percise just as he wants people to address his statements more accuratley.


August 17, 2008 11:42 PM ****