The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP vs Rick Wade vs Christian universalism

So it begins.

A PROLOGUE ON ROB BELL FOR TOPICALITY’S SAKE OR SOMETHING
Rick Wade starts his 2012 article against Christian universalism, with a prologue discussing Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins”; so I’ll start my reply to RW’s article by stating my own position on RB’s book.

I think far too often RB is unfairly criticized for doing or ignoring things he doesn’t do or ignore; but I also think he is often criticized correctly for being (in effect) unfair to his opposition. More pertinently, I think everyone who notches him as a universalist is technically correct. (Although they should clarify he is a trinitarian Christian universalist, which they rarely do, which is unfair again.) On this I differ slightly with Rick Wade, who (in his first paragraph) thinks Rob Bell would be a universalist except for the problem of free will.

I agree with RW that RB claims, and seems (in the book) to think, he isn’t a universalist; but RW means that he isn’t sure Love wins – despite his own chosen title! Specifically, RW isn’t sure God succeeds in more than an ongoing stalemate with saving some sinners from sin. But RW does, in his book, strongly affirm both that God does intend and act to save all sinners from sin; and also that God persists at saving sinners from sin until He gets that done. Calvinists (broadly speaking) deny the former; Arminians (broadly speaking) including RW, deny the latter.

Both gospel assurances together, are minimum Christian universalism, where Christ (as RB affirms, including with a trinitarian Christology) is the agent of God’s salvation. I’m reasonably familiar with that, because I started out there myself, once upon a time, when I first became convinced that I should expect, as a corollary to trinitarian theism, both the scope and the persistence of God’s salvation of sinners from sin to be true.

Anyway, I appreciate that RW is trying to be fair to RB. Unlike RB, I do in fact believe that God eventually succeeds in saving all sinners from sin; but even if I didn’t think the Judeo-Christian scriptural witness reveals this in several places, I would still be betting on God to omnicompetently succeed at that. To slightly paraphrase Lewis from the Problem of Pain, when he wanted to disavow his own prior strenuous emphasis that a Christian should believe God will never give up acting toward saving sinners from sin: I don’t think it takes a particularly robust faith to trust that God (borrowing another related analogy from Lewis’ Mere Christianity) will checkmate His opponent sooner or later.

HOW THEODICY IS THE BASIC ISSUE FOR UNIVERSALISM EXCEPT IT EVIDENTLY ISN’T, UM, OKAY, MOVING ON NOW
RW starts by agreeing with theologian Albert Mohler that the basic issue for Universalism is theodicy, which RW (or perhaps they) define as the justification of God given the presence of sin. RW, affirming some version of eternal conscious torment, regards the question of a good God sending people to a place of conscious torment forever, to be a theodicy challenge, and the one pertinent to Universalism.

I agree with RW (very strongly, over against my own ‘teacher’ Lewis on this point, and along with Lewis’ own ‘teacher’ MacDonald not incidentally) that the scriptural witness does not, at least primarily, talk about people sending themselves to hell (although there I think there is at least a little testimony along that line, too). I agree with RW that God actively punishes impenitent doers of injustice, including after death.

I disagree however that the basic issue for any soteriology, including Christian universalism, is theodicy. I agree theodicy is an important topic, but I do not agree that theodicy is the basic soteriological issue: I can’t recall anyone of any soteriology, offhand, thinking that theodicy is the root of their soteriology. Perhaps such people exist; perhaps RW is one of them; but I suspect RW only regards theodicy as the basic issue for a universalist’s soteriology, not for his own soteriology.

And in fact, RW himself goes on almost immediately to report (as far as he goes) that theodicy isn’t the basic issue about universalism for universalists either! “They object [to apparent scriptural testimony on ECT, and to traditional interpretations of ECT] based primarily [i.e. “basically”] upon the belief that God’s love is fundamental to His character and is completely out of keeping with the traditional view of hell.” He also reports some emphasis on ECT being incommensurate with God’s justice.

But, that’s an appeal (however clumsily made, or however clumsily reported by RW for whatever reason) to a proper and coherent theology of God – not to theodicy!

At this point, because in fact different Christian (and for that matter non-Christian) universalists have somewhat different rationales from theology and the scriptural witness, I’ll proceed by comparing and contrasting RW’s efforts for and against Christian universalism with my own beliefs.

And my beliefs on soteriology follow as logical corollaries (so I think, rightly or wrongly) from a coherent trinitarian Christian theism. I stress this not only as a factor of internal logic (though non-trinitarians will naturally expect my logic on soteriology, thus universalism, to be invalid thereby, even if I’m still correctly universalistic for other reasons), but also as a standard for interpreting the scriptures on soteriology. If RW and I agree (including from the scriptural witness) that orthodox Christian trinitarian theism is true (perhaps with some variations such as the filioque question, although as western Protestants I expect we agree on that, too), then we should not make arguments or interpretations for our soteriology which contradict ortho-trin (as I’ll abbreviate the doctrinal set going forward).

That means I’m going to strive to have a coherently ortho-trin concept of God’s love and justice.

So, when RW says (in his opening summary) that universalists object to any variety of ECT (and, not-incidentally, also to annihilation, although RW doesn’t mention this idea) that “God’s love is fundamental to His character”, I answer no: I object because God’s love is fundamental to the Trinity’s essential self-existent reality as the one and only ground of all existence. That’s a very much more technical position.

Relatedly, I don’t object to the impropriety of ECT punishment merely on the ground that “God is a God of justice”. I object on the ground that the one and only justice of the Trinity (as John says in his first epistle, there is no {dikaiosunê} than God’s {dikaiosunê}) is specific to ortho-trin theology, and ECT is “incommensurate” with that – not “incommensurate with our finite sins, as bad as they may be”. On the contrary, I fully agree that God disciplines sinners on any sin for as long as the sinner impenitently fondles his sin, even into the eons of the eons where applicable (which I agree will evidently happen, per revelation, for at least some sinners) – not only “as bad as they [the sins] may be”, but as (apparently) small as the sins may be! (That doesn’t mean I don’t recognize degrees of intensity to the chastisement. So does Jesus, in the first parable of the judgment warning block going into and through GosMatt 25. Presumably RW also agrees with Jesus on degrees of punitive intensity in the eschaton…? Some evil slaves are cut to pieces, notably for abusing their God-given authority over their fellow slaves; others who did not know what they were doing, receive only a few lashes, metaphorically speaking.)

HOW GOD SAVING SINNERS FROM SIN IS SUPPOSEDLY A BIG PROBLEM FOR THEIR FREE WILL BUT ACTIVELY PUNISHING SINNERS FOREVER ISN’T THE EXACT SAME SUPPOSED PROBLEM, OR RATHER LET’S NOT TALK ABOUT THAT, UNIVERSALISM IS JUST WRONG, THAT’S WHY, MOVING ON

In regard to universalism and free will, RW summarizes, “Either we will be overwhelmed by God’s love and turn to Him, or He will simply override our free choice and save us.” Now, RW does not have the slightest problem with the idea of God overriding the free will of the sinner to inflict ECT upon the sinner! – after all, RW has already started by opposing the idea that sinners (at least primarily) choose ECT for themselves. A sinner might settle for a bothersome situation that allows him to at least continue fondling his sin. (I’m using a figure of speech in Greek from near the end of RevJohn, where those outside the New Jerusalem in the lake of fire punishment continue actively loving their sins with philos, fond love.) But the sinner would naturally prefer to fondle his sin without being inconvenienced by anyone or anything for doing so!

But somehow, despite taking this position himself, and applying it to an ECT result, RW does not bother talking about how free will is a big problem for ECT because either the ultimately lost sinners will be overwhelmed by God’s justice (or wrath or whatever), or He will simply override their free choice and punish them forever.

Now, I don’t believe God simply overrides the sinner’s free choice and rewrites the sinner into being good instead of evil: God doesn’t treat His children as mere puppets. But neither do I complain about God overriding a sinner’s free choice by acting to discipline the sinner; or even by acting to heal the sinner from various effects which were contributing to the sinner’s sinning behavior. Creatures are creatures, after all, with creaturely limitations, whether we’re fallen, unfallen, or saved from being fallen.

But we’re also children, not mere puppets, of the Father of all spirits, so neither am I going to complain about God out-strategizing and outlasting a sinner as though such an “overwhelming” of the sinner (as RW puts it when criticizing one or another broad category of universal salvation) was some kind of bad thing unworthy of God. Surely RW remembers as well as I do that the scriptures testify to no rebel being able to resist God’s will (such as in Romans 9 among other places especially in the OT)? One way or another, we’re required to account for that, too, as part of a systematic theology and soteriology.

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HOW EVEN THOUGH THESE BELIEFS THAT ORIGEN REALLY REALLY HELD, YOU GUYS, AREN’T WHERE MODERN CHRISTIAN UNIVERSALISTS GET THEIR IDEAS, AND WEREN’T BELIEVED BY OTHER ANCIENT CHRISTIAN UNIVERSALISTS, THEY’RE STILL IMPORTANT SOMEHOW FOR UNDERSTANDING AND CRITICIZING PEOPLE WHO DON’T BELIEVE THOSE ERRORS SO WE’LL TALK A LOT ABOUT THEM ANYWAY and, uh, also Origen wasn’t condemned for his universalism at that Ecumenical Council after all, much less Christian universalism per se, BUT I SWEAR HIS ERRONEOUS BELIEFS ARE STILL RELEVANT TO TALK A LOT ABOUT!

On RW’s discussion of “Universalism in the Early Church”, I will readily agree that Hanson (and those following him) who taught that Universalism was the majority doctrine for the Church’s first five hundred years, are exaggerating. However, I disagree that only “a few prominent church fathers” were universalists. This is a terrible exaggeration in the other direction. There were many other Christian teachers than Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Gregory of Nyssa, who were prominent and famous at the time, who taught that we should expect at least all humans and even all rational creatures (i.e. rebel angels) to be saved from their sins. This arguably even includes RW’s own cited Irenaeus, although he does at least seem to agree that the rebel angels will not be saved; but he has several statements emphasizing the total (and actual, not merely potential) salvation of humanity, as part of his arguments on the greatness of Christ.

RW is also misleading (though following other scholars on this point) about the Fifth Ecumenical Council’s anathemas, properly attributed to the Emperor Justinian. While included in a region Synod prior to the Ecumenical Council, and while read at the Council, they were not included in the resolution of the Council, which did name Origen along with some other persons – not on the basis of their universal salvation, although Theodore of Mopsuestia was well known as also being one (for example), but on the basis of their supposed aberrent Christologies. I say “supposed” because while some were non-trinitarian, the universalists in the group had also long been (and in the case of the late Theodore had recently been) lauded as staunch defenders of trinitarian orthodoxy. This was one main reason why, although Pope Vigilius was willing to agree to the anti-universalist anathemas (not aimed at anyone by name), he did not at all agree with the Council figuratively digging up heroes of the faith (Theodore especially) to put them on trial unable to defend themselves when they had died in communion with the Church.

Justinian certainly got his anathemas against universal salvation (among other things) attached to the Council, but there is little evidence that the Council at that time agreed to anathematize universal salvation per se – not least because they appealed to Gregory of Nyssa’s Christology as properly orthodox, whom RW acknowledges to have been a Christian universalist! To be fair, RW is well aware of this point, and brings up the disparity himself: if the Council was aiming at Universalism as the real enemy, why didn’t the Council anathematize Gregory of Nyssa?

This whole topic would require a tome (such as Dr. Ramelli’s massive study on patristic universalism, which now needs some critical followup). My point is only that RW is oversimplifying the situation in favor of his position. That includes charging Origen with a merely spiritual, not bodily, resurrection, and a misunderstanding of how he regarded the pre-existence of souls and their fall into human bodies. Origen’s position isn’t any different, ultimately, than that of a typical Southern Baptist preacher on this topic: Adam and Eve had bodies (Origen stresses over against his Platonic opponents that all creatures have bodies, and only God is purely spiritual); those bodies were unfallen and spiritually superior to what we have now, although still different from the angels; Adam and Eve were the only created humans at that time; they rebelled against God and so were given radically transformed bodies; which we, their descendants, now inherit with various problems including a built-in inclination to sin; and in the resurrection our bodies will be raised and restored, to be transformed in nature to spiritualized bodies. There is no cycle of fall and return, as with the Platonists; and the return does not involve resolving back into ultimate Godhood as with Platonists. Richard Baukham’s summary, quoted by RW at length, is equally somewhat misleading on these points. Nor did Origen see this earthly life as hell, any more than any other Christian regards our condition as an ongoing crisis-effect from the original sin.

Now, there are some differences of various sorts “between Origen and Universalists today” – most Protestant universalists would disagree with his proto-Catholicism for example. But the differences are not what RW makes them out to be, between Origen and orthodox Christian belief about the relationship of creatures to God. Is RW prepared to go on and claim a similar lack of “Christian metaphysics” for St. Athanasius, the super-fan of Origen who authorized Origen’s immediate disciples (Pamphilius and Eusebius of Caesarea) to prepare a defense of Origen’s Christian orthodoxy in the wake of the Arian controversy?! Ath shows every sign of agreeing with Origen’s rationales, and uses them in his own greatest works, including his treatise “On The Incarnation of the Word”.

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This is some good stuff, thanks.

HOW CHRISTIAN UNIVERSALISTS ARE GETTING THEIR NOTION OF APOKATASTASIS FROM THINGS I’M NOT GOING TO TALK ABOUT IN THE SCRIPTURES until maybe later who knows BUT RATHER FROM ORIGEN’S MISTAKEN NON-CHRISTIAN PLATONIC PHILOSOPHY IDEAS EVEN THOUGH ADMITTEDLY THEY DON’T GET THEIR IDEAS ABOUT APOKATASTASIS FROM THERE EITHER BUT THEY’VE GOT TO BE CONNECTED TO SOME NON-CHRISTIAN ERROR SOMEHOW!

Still, as I noted before, while RW has an understandably but highly mistaken view of Origen’s ‘anthropology’, RW does understand that modern Christian universalists (and other ancient ones like Gregory Nyssa, although RW doesn’t recognize Origen’s ultra-fan GNyss using Origin’s anthropology) don’t (usually) agree with the anathematized concepts of incarnated fallen pre-existent souls and a non-bodily resurrection, much less a cyclical absorption of lesser spirits back into God. “The important question is, is it true or not that everyone will necessarily be saved by faith in Christ?” he asks.

For the concept of apokatastasis, a term which has strong relations to the Christian Greek term for the coming resurrection, anastasis, RW traces the idea back to Malachi 4:5-6 (the final verses of the scroll) where God sends Elijah on a conditional quest to call people to repentance lest God strike the land with a ban of destruction. Universalists do refer to Malachi, especially toward the end, and in relation to the ministry of John the Baptist, but not typically in this regard because, like RW, we recognize that this prophecy was conditional and fulfilled with John the Baptist. This is not the eschatological apokatastasis which Christian universalists are talking about (unless they are also full preterists, regarding all prophecies including forthcoming punishments, if any, from God to have been fulfilled with the fall of Jerusalem – which I do not), and it isn’t what Peter is talking about in Acts 3:21, where the term is most primarily used. Moreover, in the Matt 17:13 reference provided by RW, Jesus indicates that the restoration (or apokatastasis) of all things is still on the way, even though Elijah’s coming has already been fulfilled in John the Baptist. (I think there is some legitimate question over whether the disciples are correct that Jesus meant John the Baptist, since it is Messiah and ultimately YHWH Who shall restore all things; this may be a high Christology statement from Jesus based on Elijah’s name, connected to Jesus’ nearby beginning of warnings that He must go to Jerusalem to die by crucifixion. But I can work with the traditional understanding, too, as long as we can agree that the prophecy can be fulfilled multiple times, including in the RevJohn prophecy about the two witnesses during the coming reign of the ultimate Antichrist.)

Now, of course, RW cannot simply agree that the coming apokatastasis (and its connection to anastasis, the resurrection) means the conversion of all mankind. But his citation of “one scholar” (apparently Hans-Georg Link from his article on Reconciliation in the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology) for an alternate explanation is kind of muddled: “[The restoration of all things means] the restoration of all things and circumstances which the OT prophets proclaimed, i.e. the universal renewal of the earth.” But that would include all rebels coming to be loyal to God! – and RW offers no further qualification. Certainly Peter provides this in restoration in connection to repentance and the times of refreshing. True, those who don’t listen to Jesus (as God, per the contexts of the underlying Hebrew of Peter’s citation of Moses and the coming Prophet) shall be destroyed from among the people, but that can hardly be the final result of “the universal renewal of God’s creation”!

HOW ORIGEN DEFINITELY BELIEVED IN THE INFINITE CYCLIC REPETITION PHILOSOPHY WHICH UNDERLIES THE NON-CHRISTIAN STOIC AND PLATONIC NOTION OF APOKATASTASIS THAT POISONED HIS UNDERSTANDING OF THE SCRIPTURES, ACCORDING TO THESE PEOPLE WHO, UH, I JUST NOTICED TOTALLY REFUTED THAT IDEA WITH A LAME ATTEMPT AT CONNECTING THEM ANYWAY, SO SHOULD I GO BACK AND CHANGE MY ARGUMENT FROM SUSPICIOUS INNUENDO BY CONNECTION WITH ORIGEN THROUGH SOMETHNG I NOW REALIZE HE DIDN’T BELIEVE? …? uh… well… uh… …

RW goes on to wrongly attribute to Origen (even though there is not only nothing in Origen for this, but plenty in Origen against it!) the Greek cyclical notion of infinite returnings of undivine creation back into the divine singularity; and indeed that is not what is being talked about in the Bible, OT or NT, when the apokatastasis is used; nor do Christian universalists regard that as such. RW thinks emphasizing Origen’s supposed unorthodox errors by appealing to this un-Christian notion of apokatastasis is important to understand – but RW has already acknowledged this notion has nothing to do with Christian universalism per se!

Moreover, RW inadvertently cites Ludlow (one of his main sources for misunderstanding Origen) acknowledging that Gregory Nyssa followed Origen’s understanding of 1 Corinthians 15, which RW correctly cites as a testimony appealed to by Origen and Nyssa, and by Christian universalists today – without realizing that he himself has already acknowledged that GregNys did not have the type of non-Christian Platonic understanding of universalism which RW is attributing to Origen!

RW wants to claim that Origen was interpreting 1 Cor 15 wrongly by means of non-Christian Platonic ideas, but his own reference solidly indicates that wasn’t happening.

At this point, having seen that Origen could not have been using a non-Christian Platonic idea, RW acknowledges, “Origen didn’t believe in endless cycles as did the Stoics…” (and the Platonists of Origen’s day, whom Origen attacked on precisely this point, not incidentally.) But RW has forgotten that he has already gone far in trying to paint Origen as properly condemned for holding such an idea, itself the foundational basis for the non-Christian apokatastasis of the Stoics and the Platonists!

So, did RW not edit his own work?? – when he got back around to reading his detailed exposition of Origen’s supposed unorthodoxy again, why did he not correct that to say that obviously this was an incorrect understanding of Origen and that Baukham and Ludlow must be mistaken, along with the Ecumenical Council condemning Origen?

This might be only an editing goof – RW wrote a long paper after all, and maybe he just never edited it. But evidently he must have realized here that Origen didn’t believe what he thought Origen believed: wouldn’t that have reminded him that he had spent a lot of effort trying to convince his readers that Origen believed the non-Christian Platonic notion of restoration? – an error he insisted was important even though he acknowledged that it had no importance to the beliefs of Christian universalists today, and of antiquity like GregNys? Wouldn’t that be reason to go back and change his position earlier in the paper (perhaps reducing the content along the way to avoid confusion)?

Perhaps he saw his mistake and intended to go back and be fair to Origen’s beliefs, and then from one thing and another simply forgot to do so – God knows, these things happen – and then never went back to edit his own paper, or perhaps he did and forgot that he had corrected himself on Origen while reading his mis-presentation of Origen, until he got to his own correction about misunderstanding Origen, and then resolved to go back and fix his mistakes, but never got around to doing so. I’m bending over backward here to find a plausible explanation for why RW never fixed his own error in this paper!

But if he had intended to fix his error, when faced with the correction from his own cited source, then having acknowledged Origen did not believe in the foundational cycle upon which non-Christian apokatastasis depends, RW would surely go forward refusing to try to connect universal salvation to this error, since his only connection amounts to an argument of suspicious innuendo by connection to Origen’s supposed belief about the infinite cycle of divine fragmentation and restoration.

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HOW IMPORTANT IT IS, TO UNDERSTAND THE CONNECTION OF CHRISTIAN UNIVERSALISTS TO A NON-CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY I ADMIT THEY DON’T BELIEVE THROUGH SOMEONE I’VE BEEN TELLING MY READERS BELIEVED THESE IDEAS ALTHOUGH NOW I HAVE TO FAIRLY ADMIT MY OWN SOURCE JUST TOLD ME HE DIDN’T, BUT IT’S JUST REALLY REALLY IMPORTANT YOU GUYS TO HAVE SOME CONNECTION THROUGH ORIGEN TO THIS NON-CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY SO I GUESS I WON’T GO BACK AND CHANGE ANY OF THAT AND STILL HINT THROUGH SUSPICIOUS INNUENDO THAT ORIGEN HAS A NON-CHRISTIAN METAPHYSIC AND, UH, HEY MAYBE HE WAS NEVER A CHRISTIAN UNIVERSALIST ANYWAY, OR RECANTED IT LATER, HAVE YOU EVER CONSIDERED THAT, SO THERE, SEE, THIS HAD TO BE IMPORTANT AFTER ALL, LET’S MOVE ON QUICKLY ALONG NOW

But then what happens? RW continues onward, trying to still tie the appeal of Christian universalists to 1 Cor 15 (and other scriptures), to that non-Christian position.

Even though RW himself has cited evidence fatally undermining RW’s own attempts at tying Christian univeraslism to this non-Christian philosophy – even though RW himself fairly admits (I fairly acknowledge) that Origen and other Christian universalists are “intend[ing] to be faithful to the things of God” – he can’t let it go.

RW realizes from Ludlow’s lackluster explanation (that Origen and GregNys reasoned about the submission of all things to the Father being “akin to the return of all things to their original state, in a manner loosely analogous to the Stoic astronomical return”), that Origin did not believe in the foundational endless cycle. The analogy isn’t only “loose”, RW realizes it’s totally mistaken! Nevertheless, Origen must for RW have a “metaphysically problematic” “framework for understanding universal restoration”. Based on what? – based on literally nothing now! The thinnest thread of suspicious innuendo has been snapped!

But RW still insists on the non-connection being not only real, but important, and damagingly important.

I don’t like attributing malice to authors; but at the very least this can only mean RW feels in his heart that it’s necessary to oppose Christian universalism by essentially lying to his readers about Origen. The connection through Origen to non-Christian ideas must, for RW, be true, even when he has acknowledged the connection can’t be true, and wouldn’t be important anymore even if it was true. Otherwise he would have abandoned his case of suspicious innuendo from Origen at this point, even if (somehow) he forgot to remove it from his paper previously written.

Putting it another way: as RW goes on to say, “What was really scandalous was [Origen’s] suggestion that all created beings – including Satan and the demons – would be restored to unity with God.” Well, then Origen must have based his beliefs in a non-Christian Platonic philosophy that RW knows Origen didn’t believe. What other explanation could there be for this scandal? There has to be some “metaphysically problematic framework” for Origen somewhere; who cares that this couldn’t be it? Just leave all the statements about Origen believing this in there. That will explain the scandal.

Or, perhaps Origen didn’t believe that scandalous belief after all, as RW allows next, after realizing that Origen couldn’t have believed what RW has tried hard to make the reader believe Origen believed. In fact, Origen did not recant his belief in the salvation of Satan and the angels back into loyalty to God; rather, he explained that he had never taught the return of the demons to their places of authority, i.e. he had never taught the Greek notion of cyclical restoration or anything metaphysically close to it. RW probably isn’t in a position to evaluate this subtlety or the data for it, no more than he is in a position to evaluate how Origen always taught, not only in his later life, the demonic powers would be destroyed in “eternal fire” – by which Origen meant they would stop being rebels and become humiliated loyalists, faithful to God again. (There is also some evidence of later non-universalists ‘helping’ Origen’s texts in transmission to save him from criticism while keeping his trinitarian arguments, which formed the backbone of trinitarian apologists for centuries to come.)

Having libeled Origen sufficiently to establish that he might not have been a universalist after all, but if he was then his universalism must have had some connection to a non-Christian philosophy that RW now realizes Origen did not believe but wants his readers to still connect with Origen (so that there is no reason to change or remove prior statements about Origen believing such things); RW hastily finishes and moves on to other topics.

(…and so shall I…)

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Thanks for this engaging and detailed critique of a paper I’m admittedly not familiar with. You’ve clearly been gifted with dedication and articulation. Sounds like Mr Wade likes to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, as they say.

If you’re right, I might need to curb my enthusiastic evangelism that UR was the prevailing soteriology of the early church, a claim to be honest I’d always been somewhat suspicious about. Seems to me that UR would always be a ‘narrow path’ marginalised position, not least because you’d be an ass to teach it (allegedly) and that kind of oeconomy may have created the void needed for the devil to fill with ECT.

As an epilogue to this side of his argument, do Origen and his supposedly non-Christian, Platonic, deterministic infinitely cyclical pantheism, ever show up again as being important to RW’s case? No. Nothing is ever built from this “importance”, other than the shiftiest whiff of innuendo by association to something Origen actually fought against as the person in charge (during his presidency of the Alexandrian catechetical university) of teaching Christian teachers how to teach orthodox Christianity.

Which in a way is just as well: RW’s case doesn’t have to depend in any real way on his opening argument. He only has to make his readers feel, even for no reason he can validly or factually present, that Christian universalism must have some ultimately un-Christian foundation.

Hi Jason –

Just passing and enjoyed this. I reckon as well as logical errors we also have a problem of faulty use of sources here.

It seems pretty much clear from his bibliography that Rick Wade of Probe Ministries has not read any works by Origen (even in translation) for his hostile essay against universalism and universalists. He uses a single secondary source for his contention that –

‘’Origen’s scheme conforms to a Platonic pattern of understanding the world as part of a great cycle of the emanation of all things from God and the return of all things to God. Despite the appeal to such texts as 1 Cor. 15: 28 (‘God shall be all in all’ this has always been a favourite universalist text) the final unity of all things with God is more Platonic than biblical in inspiration.’’

This is from ‘Universalism; an historical survey’, a neutral (as opposed to ‘hostile’) essay giving a brief synopsis of the history of Christian universalism by Richard Bauckham, Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of St. Andrews published in 1978.

Bauckman was himself using secondary sources about Origen, rather than primary sources – so we are two steps removed from Origen in Rick Wade’s essay - and the reconstruction of Origen’s Peri Archon used by English speaking scholars in the 1970s was the one by G. W. Butterworth and published in 1936, based upon the earlier (1913) critical edition of Paul Koetschau, the German scholar.

Butterworth lists four main sources which served as the basis for his and Koetschau’s “reconstruction” of Origen’s text:

i. The Philokalia, a compilation of Origen’s works made by the Cappadocian Fathers Basil and Gregory Nazianzus.
ii. A letter by Emperor Justinian to Mennas Patriarch of Constantinople containing numerous extracts from the De Principiis, which subsequently formed the basis for Origen’s eventual condemnation.
iii. The fifteen Anathemas against Origen decreed at the Council of Constantinople in AD 553.
iv. iv. Various fragments taken from Antipater of Bostra, Leontius of Byzantium, Theophilus of Alexandria, Epiphanius, (Jerome) and others.
Of these four sources, only the first is a potentially neutral or favourable witness. The remaining three are openly hostile to Origen.

So Butterworth’s English edition of Koteschau’s German reconstruction incorporates Justinian anathemas – amongst other hostile material – as if these represent the original thoughts of Origen.

It is almost certain that the secondary sources used by Bauckman were reliant on Butterworth. This means that Rick Wade’s ideas about Origen’s universalist ideas being Platonic rather than Biblical c=is not only based no faulty logic but on the use of a secondary source which in turn uses secondary sources that cite a faulty and hostile reconstruction of Origen’s Peri Archon.

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Thanks, Sobor!

I don’t fault someone for relying on normally-trustable sources for information (which we all have to do), and then drawing inferences thereby – the conclusion, if wrong, isn’t their fault.

What’s goofy here is that RW seems to understand that his own sources end up undermining his attempted point, which he tries to keep anyway! – undermines his point so thoroughly in fact that he has to punt to the theory that maybe Origen didn’t believe in universal salvation after all. But RW still wants to keep some kind of association with the Platonic infinite cyclical pantheism idea, even though he acknowledges there is no connection between that and what Christian universalists, modern and ancient, believe.

That’s just weirdly pernicious. I appreciate he’s trying to be fair, but I have to wonder if he sent a first draft of his article off somewhere to someone who hammered on his attempt to connect Kath intrinsically to non-Christian Platonism; and so he felt obligated to include the corrections but did so in a grudging way while trying to keep his point – a point he then abandons as not being important to work with going forward anyway, after (still) repeatedly insisting its importance to his audience.

It sort of reminds me of Barth Ehrman’s infamous debate with William Lane Craig on Jesus’ Resurrection, where in almost the same sentence he tried to convince the audience that a theory of Jesus’ body disappearing which he himself stated he didn’t believe for a minute and regarded as totally implausible, should be accepted by the audience as so plausible as to be a legitimate alternate theory that they could accept for belief.

Anyway, up next whenever I get around to posting it: RW insists that Jesus must have been hopelessly punished forever in hell in rebellion against God, never to be restored to God in any way, with no intention by God to ever restore Jesus, and that this is important for our salvation by joining with Jesus the enemy rebel against God – or words to that effect. (Clearly RW isn’t thinking about the implications of what he’s insisting must be true.)

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Yes his reasoning is so very convoluted Jason old chum . I’d speculate that RW (who is obviously a clever man) had not really studied the subject of the history and theology of Christian Universalism in any depth before researching this article. He did his research before Rob Bell’s book had come out and was perceived by the evangelical old guard to be in need of refuting pronto (and the niceties of whether Bell at this point was advocating for a wide hope or for universalism also got lost in the rush). As we know, the reason for the sense of urgency was because Bell’s book was perceived as a betrayal of normative evangelical beliefs by an evangelical pastor and as dangerous because of it possible appeal to other evangelicals who also might want to break ranks on this issue).

So I would think RW did his research in a big hurry. He has tried to consult scholars who are not evangelical, but for the most part he is quoting from secondary sources with only negative selection bias as his guide I reckon. And this is a very contorted process that in the end leads to distorted and ‘egregious’ argumentation.

It’s much appreciated that you take this stuff to bits for us and expose its convoluted higgledy piggledy-ness. :-):smile:

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Hi Jason -

I thought the article accessible from the link below might interest you regarding Origen; including it coverage of biased translations of the Peri Archon, and the error of viewing Origen as having Hellenised (and therefore distorted) Christianity (The author, I think, would agree with Ramelli’s view that it is more helpful and accurate to see Origen as Christianising Hellenistic culture and ideas, and that this included correcting Plato, for example, on reincarnation, eternal cycles, the unending punishment of the most serious sinners in the world to come etc.). You may not agree with all of it - but I think you might find the information on the issue of translations of Origen quite helpful as it is set out in the essay.

I first came across the issues of Butterworth’s translation of the Peri Archon when reading an essay on Origen and the Gnostics by Hans Jonas written in 1958 which depended on Butterworth’s translation of Koteschau’s reconstitution for its conclusions (and cited with favour by Mike McClymond for example). For starters Butterworth’s Peri Archon can be tested against what Origen actually says in his Commentaries - which is often completely at variance with the reconstruction from hostile sources. Hans Jonas did not know the Commentaries and was only beginning to become acquainted with the Nag Hamadi Gnostic texts when he wrote his essay; hence his essay suggested a lot of common ground between the Gnostics and Origen which scholars today would question . The consensus seems to be that Origen’s Platonism was inspired by Philo the Jaw rather than directly by Plato or by the Gnostics

Anyway old chum, here is the link :slight_smile: :

Philo of Alexandria makes sense as a source, though I hadn’t thought of that before.

Dr. McCly worked from a super-flawed report of Origen? WHY AM I HAVING A HEART-ATTACK FROM NOT-SURPRISE?!? :scream::rofl:

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You’re very good at section titles, Jason.

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Hi Jason,

Butterworth’s edition of Peri Archon is the one given in the bibliography of Devil’s Redemption along with a German edition that I assume is a version of Koteschau reconstruction (but I’m not 100% sure).

Mike McC can read German – that was made clear a few years back in our discussion here when he asked us if any of us could do so (which we couldn’t). I remember that he then told us that we were ‘wrong guys, wrong, wrong, wrong’ in our view of Origen because an essay by a German, Lutheran scholar, Holgar Strutwolf proved that Origen’s universalism was derived from Gnosticism.

I still can’t read German :-/ – but I can draw two conclusions from Holgar Strutwolf’s essay that are are solid:

It is true that if Origen was to be influenced in writing the Peri Archon by the speculations of the Valentinian Gnostics. If he was going to derive his system from Gnosticism it would have been from the Valentinians (as opposed to the Sethians etc…) because it was the Valentinains whom he know and debated with and his sponsor Ambrose was an ex-Valentinian.

Agsint this we can rightly assert that Origen is arguing against the beliefs of the Valentinians throughout his works. Indeed, much of his commentary on John’s Gospel is written against the Gnostic commentary on the same Gospel by the Valentinian Heracleon. But there is always a possibility that Origen might actually absorb elements of what he was fighting against into his system unknowingly (as is arguably the case with Augustine and Manichaeism).

However, the major scholars of Origen today see him as a Christian (middle) Platonist arguing the case for a specifically Christian Platonism (according with biblical revelation) against non-Christian Platonists – and the Valentinian Gnostics were an extreme variant of middle Platonism. And as I’ve said Philo’s Alexandrian Jewish Platonism was the forerunner of Origen’s Christian Platonism.

So it is quite legitimate to cite Strutwolf in a discussion of Origen’s influences. However, it is not legitimate for Mike to cite this essay as evidence that Origen got his Universalism from the Valentinian Gnostics. It cannot be, since none of the Valentinian Gnostic texts are universalist – those are ‘The Treatise on the Resurrection, The Gospel of Phillip, the Gospel of Truth, the Tripartite Tractate, along with the substantial excerpts from Theodotus, Heracleon and Ptolemy (cited by Clement, Origen and Epiphanius respectively). These texts all speak of the annihilation of the hylicals and of the psychics who choose ignorance (and I have a least read these in translation). And I doubt that Strutwolf makes this claim that Origen got his universalism per se from the Gnostics – and I know that Hans Jonas does not make this claim in his essay about Origen’s Peri Archon.

What RW, to a smaller extent, and Mike,to a very large extent, have in common IMHO is that
Both are every intelligent;

Both are writing with what they think are the noblest of purposes – to defend the truth and save people from the damnation which results from drinking the Kool Aid of Universalism;

Both have an extraordinary capacity for negative selection bias (and Mike also has an extraordinary capacity to accuse those he opposes as having positive selection bias when he himself is most guilty of selection bias)

By cherry picking of sources on the basis of negative selection bias – rather than the use of sources based upon a real understanding of these sources – both indulge in logical somersaulting and in the misdirection of the reader.

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