The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Jason Pratt critiques Prof De Young's review of _The Shack_

Whew! Finally done with the analysis (first mentioned back in this thread). I’m sorry it took so long, but in my defense I was distracted for several weeks by working up a 76 page digest and analysis of scriptural data leading to trinitarian theism.

I’ve attached my notes as a .doc file. Early references in the doc to a ‘previous comment’ of mine, should go back to the thread linked above, where I wrote some initial impressions of Prof De Young’s “tenets of universal reconciliation”.

Readers expecting me to defend The Shack per se, can just move along now: I haven’t read the book, and (aside from some question of consistency in Pr.DY’s own report of its content) I don’t go into the question of whether Pr.DY’s representation is accurate.

Since Pr.DY provides a sort of position summary late in his review, and since I take the opportunity to comment on the position summary as a summary of my previous discussion in the paper, I’ll print that portion here in this comment as, y’know, a handy summary. :mrgreen: Details can be found in the doc file.

The material in quotes represents DY’s statement about WPY’s content; for purposes of my own commentary, I’m setting aside the question of whether this is accurate representation of WPY’s content, and taking the statements as-is. The parenthetical materials are my comments on each position.

1.) “God was co-crucified with Jesus.” (Could be modalistic, or otherwise heretical, but not necessarily. Certainly it is orthodox to affirm that “God” was crucified as Jesus; and there are orthodox ways to affirm that all three Persons, Father and Holy Spirit as well as Son, shared in the crucifixion of the Son. Indeed, trying to claim absolutely otherwise instantly introduces a heresy of schism in the substance instead!)

2.) “Love defines God.” (This is a technical question of essentiality, somewhat obscured by the fact that people tend to think of ‘justice’ as meaning ‘wrath’. Thus even though no orthodox Christian would dare say that ‘wrath’ defines God, non-universalists often end up meaning this anyway while trying to avoid admitting that God’s wrath must be contingent on God’s love. In any case, the coherent interrelationship of distinct Persons in a single essential substance is what distinguishes trinitarian (or at least binitarian) orthodoxy from any other supernaturalistic theism, including the heretical kinds of theism that DY rightly wishes to avoid. That’s a more technically complex way of stating “God is love.” Trying to get around or out of that position, is tantamount to trying to get around or out of orthodox trinitarianism. Christians who oppose the “orthodox” party have that option, in a way; but not those who are supposed to be affirming trinitarian orthodoxy.)

3.) “God cannot act apart from love.” (This is simply a corollary from the truth of trinitarian (or even binitarian) theism. The fact that it must also therefore apply to God’s wrath, may be “troubling” for non-universalism; but as an orthodox trinitarian universalist it certainly is no problem for me! DY shortly afterward seems to admit explicitly that this element is biblically correct (“Several of these statements above are biblically correct, for example 2, 3, 4, etc.”), but that doesn’t stop him from trying, like almost all non-universalists, to present some actions of God as being done apart from love to the object of the action.)

4.) “Jesus died for the whole world.” (DY oddly lists this as one of the “troubling” elements, despite affirming elsewhere that it is true. I certainly also affirm that it is true; and I affirm that it is troubling for non-universalists! (Calvinists have found it so troubling for non-universalism that they typically deny it!))

5.) “Power violates relationship.” (While I might quibble with element (1), depending on what is meant by it, this is the first element that I would agree with DY in rejecting. I would of course agree that any power directed toward violating relationships violates relationships, but I do not agree that all power violates relationships.)

6.) “The whole human race is at the center of God’s love purpose; God loves all his children the same, even the ones with whom he is angry.” (Aside from being testified to in various NT and OT texts, though mostly NT, this is again simply a corollary of the truth of trinitarian universalism. I wouldn’t necessarily phrase the first clause as put here, since it might be misunderstood to mean that humanity is the center of God’s own existence; but otherwise I could only deny this by tacitly or explicitly denying the truth of trinitarian theism.)

7.) “God does not punish people for sin.” (This is the second element that I agree with DY in rejecting.)

8.) “There is no hierarchy in the Trinity; it is a circle of mutual submission and relationship.” (This is the third element that I would reject. Unsure if DY rejects it as well, but probably so.)

9.) "God will use every human choice for ultimate good and the most loving outcome.” (Even most Arminians and Calvinists, in their own way, agree with this!! In fact, I typically only find them denying it when trying to deny universalism! But even though Calvs, Arms and Kaths {as I call universalists, ‘katholics’, not to be confused with the Roman Catholic Church, though they have universalists, too} have different ideas of what constitutes “the most loving outcome”, I still think I’d have to fairly admit that the other two groups are affirming the idea in principle.)

10.) “Because of love Jesus has never acted in his capacity as ‘Lord and King’ to take control of his world.” (Not yet anyway. And admittedly there are kinds of control that would not count as loving–Arms and Calvs certainly agree with this, when (which is typical, though not always the case for Arminians) they don’t consider the control of those in hell by God to be loving toward them. But I agree with DY that the biblical picture is of God putting down rebellions, God’s longsuffering patience notwithstanding. I would say, biblically, He is doing this for sake of love and “fair-togetherness”, and with those ends in view. Some Calvinists and Arminians might even agree with that. Just not with those ends in view toward certain people.)

11.) “Submission is not about authority and it is not about obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect.” (I agree with DY in rejecting the false category exclusion here; though we reject it in very different ways. DY, like most non-universalists, believes that sometimes submission is not about the fulfillment of relationships of love and respect. I believe that relationships of love and respect are exactly what God is aiming for, as a human sinner might not be aiming, in the submission and obedience to His authority.)

12.) “The Triune God is in submission to humans to form a ‘circle of relationship’.” (In the sense that the Son, representing the Father, does not come to be served but to serve, that’s obviously true. However, it’s dynamically true: the authority to serve is greater than the authority to be served, and should be submitted to for proper coherence in relationships. Trying to pretend that the authority as such doesn’t exist, ends up perverting the relationship as surely as trying to make the authority to be served greater than (or worse, and more normally, even exclusive to) the authority to be served.)

13.) “God loves all his children the same forever.” (This is element (6) extended. I might not agree with “the same”, depending on what is meant by that; but obviously Calvs are going to deny “the same” in the sense of intending saving action toward some children, and most Arms are going to deny “forever” in the case of those who end up hopelessly damned. Some Arminianistic theologians, like C. S. Lewis, would try to affirm that God is still loving the hopelessly damned as much as He possibly can, given their condition.)

14.) “Mercy triumphs over justice because of love.” (I would deny that justice per se is being triumphed over by mercy, as I would deny that there is any schism of purpose between mercy and justice. DY and I would consider the “over justice” to be a misquote, too, though for somewhat different reasons. The “because of love” I consider to be blatantly obvious where mercy triumphs over anything (such as sin), whether it happens to be stated as such right that moment in the text or not. I also consider it to be a proper statement of description concerning any action of the Triune God Who Himself is love.)

15.) “God will not judge anyone, having done judgment at the cross.” (I agree with DY in rejecting this position.)

16.) “There is not {sic?} eternal torment or punishment.” (I certainly affirm the wrath of God, and that any torment or punishment into the age to come is coming from God, and that there is certainly punishment on the way, at least some of which may be described as ‘torment’. Obviously I don’t believe that this punishment is hopelessly endless. I do believe it will continue until sinners are led to repentence and to the giving up of the final farthing. I do not believe there is any way for impenitent sinners to escape the punishment; and that even penitent sinners are not ‘escaping’ the punishment in any way!)

17.) “No institutions have ever been created by God or Jesus. They are all false.” (I agree with DY in rejecting this position.)

18.) “Jesus joins people on their multiple roads to God in their transformation into children of God.” (I could agree with this, if it is also being affirmed that Jesus must do so in order for the road to actually lead to God. The good shepherd goes out after even the hundredth sheep. If the statement is intended in a way that implies or explicitly requires that all religous ideas are equally true about God, I definitely reject that. I have no problem agreeing with even many non-universalists, such as Lewis, that God acts in other religions to lead people to salvation.)

19.) “God purposes every thing he does as an expression of his love.” (This is element (3) restated positively instead of negatively.)

20.) “God is fully reconciled to the whole world apart from requiring faith.” (In the sense that God has already done, and already does do, everything on His part toward this goal, I agree. So do Arms, when they bother to think about it. Calvs would deny the “whole world” part, but would affirm that this is true in regard to the limited number God intends to even act toward saving from sin. We don’t have to go to God first for Him to reconcile to us. We do, however, have to accept that reconciliation for the interpersonal relationship between us and God to be fulfilled; and again, I am agreeing with Arms and Calvs both on this.)

21.) “In Jesus God has forgiven all humans for their sins against him, but only some choose relationship.” (A Calvinist would disagree with the “all” part, probably; but an Arminian ought to be specifically agreeing with this! The distinction between the Arminian and a universalist who agrees with the Arminian on this, is that one party thinks God will give up eventually on at least some who don’t choose relationship, and one party thinks, like the Calvinist, that God won’t give up on anyone He intends to save.)

22.) “Love burns from people every vestige of corruption.” (Arms and Calvs typically agree with this, too, when they bother to think about it. And I am unaware of any Arms or Calvs who think sin isn’t corruption!–but Arms and Calvs also both typically agree that we are saved from other corruptions as well, eventually, than those which are, or result from, our particular intentional sins.)

23.) “Everyone will confess that Jesus is Lord of all (without mention of faith.)” (Actually, it is DY and other non-universalists who strenuously try to claim that at least some people will confess that Jesus is Lord of all without faith! Christian universalists, including myself, typically aver that this confession by all creation involves faithful subordination to Christ as Lord, as the Son Himself faithfully submits to the Father.)

••••••• {end of excerpt}

Now that I’ve finished this, I hope to catch up on discussing the Trinity for a while.

(Edited to add: I uploaded a newer version on Aug 1, 2009, which of course reset the download-counter.)
JRP critiques Prof De Young.doc (138 KB)

Update: I figured out this morning how to leave a courtesy alert to Prof. De Young about this paper, inviting him for dialogue with Gregory or Tom or whoever he may wish, on the topic of evangelical/orthodox universalism (or some subtopic thereof.)

I have a question for you on #8, Jason. Isn’t this what orthodox trinitarianism essentially teaches or at least implies? (Specifically), that the three-in-one are co-equal? This is how I’ve always heard the trinitarian doctrine stated… It seems to me that if they are co-equal, then there must be no hierarchy. (I know Wm. Paul Young is clearly a trinitarian of some stripe, and so I believe this is what he was referring to.)

Incidentally, what I’ve heard some trinitarians say to try and work around this, is what they call “functional subordination vs. ontological equality”. This seems to me a bit of fancy footwork to get around an apparent contradiction in the doctrine as stated vs. what the scriptural picture indicates; a bit like trying to eat their cake and have it too…

I went into some more detail on this in the actual notes (though scattered around here and there).

There is no scriptural indication (that I can recall anyway) to the effect that the Father submits to the Son; but scads of testimony, OT and NT both, that the Son submits to the Father. Meanwhile, the Father and the Son send the Spirit; but while the Spirit may occasionally lead the Son there is no indication that the Father submits to the Spirit.

Consequently, although there is co-equality of the substance, there is authoritative hierarchy among the Persons (as well as some kind of generative hierarchy within the ontology of the substance, although Eastern and Western Orthodox differ as to the precise details there.)

I’m sure WPY’s rejection of hierarchy is well-meant, mainly because he’s trying to avoid and repudiate human abuses of hierarchialism, including in the Church. But on a scriptural level, his rejection has to be rejected; and I would say also on the basis of technical metaphysics, too (although that’s far less obvious and a lot more complicated–moreso than I’ve gone into here in this comment.)

Forgot to add: I’ve uploaded a new version of the full critique doc, with minor tweaks. (Fixed some mis-spells, added a few minor things.)

Yes, I often think we don’t give people enough of the benefit of the doubt on these things. While perhaps technically incorrect, Young’s intent was clearly well-meant. (I have read the Shack; It was one of the books instrumental in my journey toward universalism.)

By generative hierarchy, do you mean that the Son was “created” in some sense? This is the only way I can envision a meaningful distinction within the ontology. I agree with you that there is definitively an authoritative hierarchy present in the scripture. Even when Jesus is given all power and authority, it still was bestowed by the Father (hence, given). Jesus himself makes it clear in no uncertain terms that the Father is greater, even calling Him his God. This brings me back to my original question. Is the trinitarian doctrine stated as co-equality of the persons? If there is hierarchy within the ontology of the substance, even; then why is the doctrine stated as co-equality? This seems to create more confusion than it clears. It seems kind of like saying they’re equal, but they’re also not equal practically, when the position is explained. I have to admit that this sounds like a contradiction (at least in the doctrine).

Crap… I had a fairly extensive reply written up this morning before going to church, but then for no clear reason my computer switched to ‘destructive overwrite’ mode instead of adding characters to the sentence; and while trying to fix this, I lost the post altogether.

(Serves me right for not waiting until I got to the office, so I could write out a reply in a separate document where I can save it every paragraph or so as I go…)

Anyway. I doubt I can sufficiently reconstruct what I had written, now. But I’ll try to write something.

No; I’m talking about the self-generation of God, as a self-existent entity. (Indeed as the only possible self-existent entity.) It gets awfully technical from there; but very roughly speaking, the concept is that the Son is the begotten Person of God Self-Begetting, and the Father is the begetting Person of God Self-Begetting. The Son’s willingly active surrender to the Father concludes the circuit of self-existence, so to speak–the Son doesn’t rebel against the Father or otherwise try to exist as an independent entity–but the Son doesn’t beget the Father and the Father isn’t begotten by the Son.

You could talk about it in terms of God eternally ‘creating’ Himself, I suppose; but theologians usually reserve the term ‘creation’ for not-God entities generated by God. In terms of that distinction, the Son is “begotten not created” in the ontological economy of the Trinity.

On the other hand, orthodox trinitarians believe the human nature of the Incarnate Son is and was a ‘creation’ of God, just like any other human nature. So insofar as the two-natures doctrine goes (although there are a few theologically trinitarian groups who reject the two-natures doctrine, in order to protect what they consider to be a denial of the divinity of Christ), the Son Incarnate is both the uncreated begotten God and also created Man. “Having and continuing to have the {morphe_} of God” and also taking upon Himself both the {morphe_} (essential reality) and the {schemetai} (external form) of Man, as St. Paul puts it (in several ways throughout his epistles.) The Hebraist (whoever he was) rings some interesting variations on this theme during his epistle, too; for example, Christ is made by God but is also the maker of all things (including the maker of Moses) with the honor due as such–an honor due to God alone.

(The 76 page digest I compiled several months ago (which can be found here), has a lot of material along this line–to which, substantially more could be added.)

Not in the sense of co-identity; that would be modalism. (i.e. the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are only modes of the one Person of God, like being Husband, King and Judge.)

Not in the sense of authoritative hierarchy, either, obviously. (It can be a little fuzzy sorting out how the Spirit relates to the other Persons in the authoritative hierarchy, but no one thinks the Spirit has authority over the person of the Father.)

Nor in the generational relationship within the ontology of God’s self-existence either: the Father is begotten of none (as the creed puts it), the Son is begotten of the Father, the Spirit proceeds from the Father (at least; also from the Son, per the filioque. A large part of the Eastern Orthodox insistence on rejecting the filioque, is to protect the doctrine of the ‘arche’ of the Father: a doctrine western trinitarian scholars agree with, too.)

Nor is the human nature of the Incarnation to be considered co-equal with the nature of God (including the divine nature of the Incarnation–although there are some minority trinitarian groups who do go this route, if I recall correctly.) Thus, as the creed puts it, “equal to the Father in regard to His deity, inferior to the Father in regard to His humanity.” The equality is an ontological claim here, though, not one of the other kinds of equality.

So, as you well put it: “If there is hierarchy within the ontology of the substance, even; then why is the doctrine stated as co-equality?”

In effect, the doctrine is affirming that God, though multiple persons, is a single entity; and the doctrine is denying that there are multiple Gods. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all God, but they are all only one God not three (or two) Gods.

There are category distinctions in the kinds of ‘equality’ being affirmed or denied. The logical confusion comes when different kinds of theoretical or actual equality are confuted with one another.

The solution is more complexity to the doctrinal set, not a simpler doctrinal set, unfortunately; which easily leads to problems in understanding it, too. Not anyone’s fault, just how it is. :slight_smile:

Fortunately, being a sheep and not a goat does not require sussing all this out and being able to keep it all straight in mind! :smiley: Technical metaphysics isn’t for everyone. Still, there are real logical consequences to whether one or another doctrinal set is true or not; so it’s worth trying to perceive as much of what is actually true as possible, in order to put our actions in communion with the Truth.

(I’ve been very slowly building an analysis leading eventually to orthodox trinitarianism, establishing universalism as a logical corollary to this, in my SttH/Bite-Sized Metaphysics series; which I’ve had to take a break for, the past few weeks, in order to finish another project. But I just finished it this morning and posted its last entry, so I can get back to this soon. :slight_smile: )

This is a good answer, but I think it demonstrates that this doctrine is excessively complex. One constantly has to explain contradictions that arise within it and continue to break things down into more rather than less complexity in order to continue to keep the doctrine consistent without sliding off into modalism. One issue I have is that Jesus Christ is referred to in the scripture as the Son of God, but nowhere is he referred to as God the Son. Also, if Jesus Christ was really God in the sense that he is an actual part of God that was uncreated in any sense, then who was running the universe when Jesus died? I thought the scripture was emphatic that God is immortal and cannot die? It seems to me that we have a huge dilemma then, because if we claim that Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully man, then God can die. Either that, or we have to say that he didn’t really die, only his human component died, which creates some serious problems soteriologically.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problems with the divinity of Christ in the aspect of his status as the incarnate word, but I have trouble with such things as him being referred to as the firstborn of all creation; some translations even say the firstborn of all creatures. What does that mean if it does not mean he was “created” in some sense? If you are the firstborn of some class of things, then that indicates to me that at least in some sense, you belong to that class of things. What does it really mean to say that God is self-begetting? I find this concept nowhere in scripture; I only find the eternal (in the modern sense) uncreated existence of God. It seems to me that logically, either the Son always existed as part of the “godhead” in some form in the standard trinitarian sense, or he was created as the first “creation” of God; certainly in a unique class of his own and in a unique way, but still created all the same; then everything else was created through him. He was obviously begotten in the sense of his incarnation as the Word of God, His perfect representation of the Father, but I fail to see how we can say he was fully God in the sense that the Father is, particularly in light of his actual death.If he was not actually dead, then what was he raised from and by whom? When Jesus actually calls the Father “my God”, I fail to see how we can extrapolate from this by any stretch that a being that is God can have a God, even in a functional subordination sense. Functional subordination is “the Father is greater than I”. I simply however cannot wrap my head around the logic of any sort of ontological equality when one being who is supposedly God calls another his “God”. What this indicates to me is two separate beings, one proceeding forth directly from another in this case certainly, but not the “same” being in any sense.
My word is not me; it comes forth from me and is “part” of me in a sense, but it is not me. Likewise, my son is part of me in a physical sense in that he was made out of components partly from me, but that does not make him me. In other words, my son has me in him (in the physical sense in the case of this example), but that does not make him part of my being. No one would say, here is Ian the son of Tim and he is also Tim the son…

The passage that I think perhaps makes the overall picture the most clear to me is the one where it says; there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ.

Very well articulated Melchi - I have many of the same problems as you comprehending this but find it hard to put into clear words.

Duh? :laughing: :slight_smile:

Real things are, sometimes, very complexly detailed in their characteristics. (I read that in a book once. :mrgreen: ) And certainly the scriptural testimony is extremely complex.

Or into other things, too.

But this puts the process rather backwards. It isn’t a question of continuing to break things down into more rather than less complexity in order to keep from sliding off into another doctrinal type. The complexity of the doctrine comes from the complexity of the assessed data set (scripturally speaking) and from assessing and synching together various topics of metaphysical logic (philosophically speaking). Modalism (for example) is rejected for being too simple in relation to scriptural testimony and/or for not taking into account enough philosophical topics. (Obviously modalists wouldn’t say so!–but my point is that this is the shape of the dispute between them and other theological schools within Christianity, as well as vice versa.)

We’re kind of getting away from the main topic of this thread, by the way: this isn’t a critique that DY (or I) would have of The Shack. (I only got into some of the technical details of trinitarianism, in order to answer why I would agree with DY on one point concerning authoritative hierarchy in the Trinity–which is the kind of hierarchy being mainly rejected by WPY, apparently because he thinks it’s inherently tyrannical.)

Briefly, though: no, I don’t recall that particular phrase being used in the NT, either. Nor do I use that particular phrase all that much myself!–which is certainly no good evidence of my beliefs on the topic. :wink: Nor, for that matter, do I recall the phrase “God the Father”, per se, being used all that often in the NT.

I do however recall hundreds of other pieces of information in the New Testament, amounting in the aggregate, small pieces and large, to “God the Son” being an accurate description.

(“God the Father”, too, on very similar grounds. :slight_smile: By which I mean, grounds more pervasive than simply finding the phrase “God the Father” somewhere. I still don’t recall any clear examples of this, although my memory seems to think there are a few. The examples are certainly not prevalent. But even if there aren’t/weren’t any examples of that phrase in the NT, I wouldn’t count its lack as being significant.)

Far from a problem for orthodox trinitarian theologians, who affirm that Jesus was fully man (and so who belongs “to that class of things” too). :slight_smile:

I’ve discussed this in some detail already; and I discuss it in more detail in other places, with some frequency.

Your other questions aren’t bad ones either; but to keep from wandering off topic much farther I should address them elsewhere. In fact, I’ve already addressed pretty much all of them in my threads on objections to trinitarianism from scripture and from philosophy.

But I’ve added a few more entries to those threads, now. :slight_smile:

I just happened to catch the posts in the “from scripture” thread just before I saw your post here. Thanks for that info.
If you should happen to post answers to my other good questions, I’ll look for them in the “from scripture” thread rather than here. :wink: