The Evangelical Universalist Forum

McClymond Challenge

I am a universalist pastor and received this letter and email link from a close Calvinist-Annihilationist relative of mine. Is anyone familiar with Michael McClymond’s book and videos well enough who can recommend a suitable response? And who do we have in the scholarly world that has written materials that can rebut academics like McClymond? I have Gregory MacDonald’s “The Evangelical Universalist” Parry Partridge’s “Universal Salvation? The Current Debate”, both books of which my relative has. Thanks.

"Universalism was NOT the teaching of the early church fathers. The first universalistic teachings came out of Gnostic teachings, NOT the Apostles’ teaching.

For those who have time, Michael McClymond wrote ‘The Devil’s Redemption: A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism’, a two volume in depth look at Universalism in Christianity and church history. He looks not only at the different times universalism has surfaced, but the different flavours and factors that played a role in it.

You can listen to an interview he did (which touches on Universalism’s gnostic roots) here:

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I am very familiar with Dr McClymond and his book. His contention that Christian UNiversalism initially arose from Gnosticism is in my view completely wrong and based on a misreading of evidence by an extremely clever but man but a man who is not skilled in how to read this sort of evidence historical evidence. Indeed I think the only piece of evidence he is not misreading in this part of his book is that Ireanaeus in ‘Against Heresies’ reports that Carpocrates taught that all souls will be saved; but even here I disagree with his interpretation that this is probably the clearest and most unambiguous evidence Gnostic universalism (it is by no means unambiguous - and indeed there is no reason to think that Carpocrates teachings can have had any influence whatsoever on Clement. I am happy to discuss any part of this argument with you - which mainly occurs in vol i, chapter 2. section 2.3 including footnotes. It’s a complex misreading that Dr McClymond makes - and I’d have to write a book myself to completely say what I think - and I’m not going to do that - becuase I’m not a book writer :smiley: But do ask me about any specific points from his discussion of early Gnosticism (for starters). I’d be delighted to tell you what I think (and I’ve checked his sources scrupulously)

All good wishes

Dick Whittington (a.k.a ‘Sobonost’ for any who might think my name is silly, or ‘Richard’ for any who might think ‘Dick’ is a bit rude:-D. I’m Engliahs and I live in London btw. I did teach history of ideas to undergraduates for some years, but I currently teach people with dementia - which I love but is a very different ball game :slight_smile:

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I appreciate the time you have taken to share your expertise. I am a Brit too (living in Sweden), Biochemist (Oxford) and Systems Analyst (London), former educator, and have written an Historical Atlas (unpublished, hobby of mine) and been in the ministry for 30 years. I have been a universalist from the beginning through never really tried to ‘do the theology’ until recently when a close family member converted to Calvinism-cum-Annihilationism and started stirring the pot at home and in our fellowship (very painful story). J.W.Hanson’s (rather dated) historical treatise was my induction but convinced me that the historical case was made. (How accuirate do you think that book is?)

I have since found another thread here which is full of info and am digesting that (Michael McClymond on Universalism) , especially what you and Arienite have written. If you ever write a rebuttal to McClymond’s book (or if anyone else ever does) let me know :slight_smile: Thanks again and any and all tips are welcome.

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Hiya fellow Brit 

Regarding the first thread on McClymond at EU.

thread with Arnelite, myself and Jason as main protagonists (which Michael McClymond mentions in his Acknowledgements b.t.w.) was in response to a lecture/slightly raucous piece of Universalist bating theatre Michael posted a number of years back in which he made alarming (and historically demonstrably false) allegations about universalists being very much involved with fomenting chaos and violent revolution and accused universalists today of being friends of totalitarianism and enemies of freedom(!!!) – and of course he claimed that Gnosticism is the well spring of universalism. There were lots of factual errors in the lecture – we talked through the simple errors of facts that stood out. But Michael’s lecture also alluded to a kaleidoscope of complicated ideas; and on that thread we were trying to piece together what on earth he could possibly mean – and most of our hunches were pretty good; but it is a wordy thread and we do go up some blind alleys from time to time. Anyway Michael hims3efl came on here to debate with us – and he says we helped him with his research (and we most certainly did). However. He adds that in the end our input only served to strengthen his arguments (and I cordially beg to differ)

But I don’t think that thread is too helpful now – his arguments are a lot clearer now the book has been published.

Regarding Hanson -
Funnily enough McClymond does not mention John Wesley Hanson – he mentions Hosea Ballou 2nd (1828) and Richard Eddy (1880s) but not Hanson. Ballou’s book is a first history of universalism, but it was written before historians were expected to engage in/communicate assiduous study of primary sources in their writings (Ballou mainly simply summarises and interprets other historians who he sees as authoritative rather than engaging with primary texts). Eddy’s book only briefly mentions the early history of universalism in the introduction to what is actually a study of the history of universalism in America. Yes, I think that is an oversight on Michael McClymond’s part that he fails to mention Hanson’s far better and more influential history from the late 1890s (and he should look to it before his second edition). .

Hanson’s is a wonderful history for its time, and is based on genuine research in primary sources. Of course some of his ideas have dated – I noticed that he accepts some writings purportedly by Irenaeus as genuine which were proved to be forgeries shortly after he published for example. Also he recycles Ballou’s confident suggestion that the Gnostic teacher Valentinus was a Universalist (which he was not - and Ballou’s assertion is based on a misreading of Irenaeus which is easy to show). But against McClymond – he never suggests that he sees Gnostic Universalists as his forbearers. Yes I think Hanson is wrong that Valentinus was a Universalist – the Valentinian texts we have today show that his tradition was not Universalist – and I think he is wrong that Baisilides taught universalism and I’m not convinced about Carpocrates. However Hanson’s point is that the orthodox Church Fathers when condemning the \Gnostics never condemn their universalism; the condemnation was focussed on other aspect so their teaching.
But Hanson really marshals his evidence well; and I guess the only book that really takes us comprehensively up to date in terms of research is Ramelli’s ‘Apokatastasis’ (which Dr Mcclymond massively disapproves of).

Tom Talbott has written a rebuttal of the bits of Devils Redemption that are about his ideas – and I liked his little essay. Robin Parry has written a brief response – and I was less keen on Robin’s response. Illaria Ramelli also a few years back issued a response to McClymonds review of her book which is Appendix D in Devil’s Redemption – and it was a withering response and rightly so in my opinion. I’m sure she will respond to the book some time soon.

“The Devil’s Redemption” was only released a few months ago (June, 2018), so any published book in response to it may be years down the road. I am not aware of any universalists planning such a rebuttal, or if any consider the (IMO poor) quality of it even worth such a reply. A thorough detailed answer could be encyclopedic. The following thread has a number of replies to portions of the book since its publication date:

In that thread you’ll also find a url to a 2015 response Dr Ramelli issued to McClymond’s critique of her tome, the same critique which appears in McClymond’s 2018 two volume work. Here is a direct link to it:

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What I find difficult is that academic reviews are often written for other academics - there is a certain loftiness in the genre. I remember reading Dr Ramelli’s review of Mcclymond and being disappointed that at key points she refers to other journals in which she has addressed issues raise - rather than addressing them in her response for example. So I still find I have to try and sort things out for myself.

One of the problems with McClymond in my view is that he persistently misreads and sources - and that takes some detail to demonstrate. Here’s something I wrote on another thread about an example of him misconstruing a source. I’m also working on a demonstration of why an assertion he makes in a footnote that Simon Magus taught universalism is plain wrong and plain unscholalry. And there’s plenty more I can say …



(Here is another little informal essay about Michael McClymond’s hypothesis expounded in his Devil’s Redemption that Christian Universalism originates in Egyptian Gnosticism in the second and third centuries C.E.

‘The Devil is in the detail’ as the old saying has it. And this time I want to look again at a detail from Dr McClymond’s argument; that is, his assertion that the Gnostic Dialogue known as Pistis Sophia is useful supporting evidence for his hypothesis.

Argument from Authority using Brian Daley

In Devil’s Redemption ., vol. i, c. 2.3, para. 1, Dr McClymond opens his case with an argument from authority as follows:

Brian Daley notes that ‘’positive punishment for those who reject the saving gnosis’’ is not a prominent theme in gnostic treatises. While certain passages mention punishment, ‘’other Gnostic documents speak, more encouragingly, of a purifying punishment of each soul after death… The Pistis Sophia describes in some detail the purification of all departed souls – even sinless ones – in fire, until they are judged worthy to drink ‘the water of forgetfulness.’’ Another major text, the Tripartite Tractate, suggests that much time will be needed for the perfection that has been achieved in the: Logos to be accomplished in his members; only when all are perfected will the Logos and his body be ‘restored’ to the Pleroma.’’

The book cited is The Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology . This book is still regarded as a standard authority on the range of opinions held by the Fathers on eschatology. However, even a standard authority is open to question. Daley’s expertise was certainly not in Gnosticism – and when I read the quotation from him in Devil’s Redemption I began to feel uneasy.

For starters, ‘’Positive punishment’’ (a term taken from Behaviourist Psychology) seems an odd phrase to use for eternal retribution – but this must be what is meant because in Daley’s full text he cites The Apocryphon of John as one example; and, indeed, in this Sethian Gnostic tract apostates from gnosis are condemned to eternal torment (see, Apoc. John., 27 – and see endnote for further reason for unease).

However, Dr McClymond – via Brain Daley - seems to be leading us confidently through implicit contrast to believe here that the Pistis Sophia is a Universalist Gnostic text that does not contain any passages concerning ‘’positive punishment of those who reject saving gnosis.’’ So with my suspicion aroused I consulted the primary source and found that this is not the case. In Book III of Pistis Sophia the Saviour thunders:

‘’Say to those who will abandon the teachings of the First Mystery: woe to you for your punishment is severe beyond all men. For you will remain in great frost, ice and hail in the midst of the dragon and the outer darkness, and you will not be cast into the world from this time henceforth forever, but you will perish in that place. And at the dissolution of the All universe you will be consumed and become non-existent forever’’ (P.S., Book III, c. 102, p. 260)

The woe oracle against apostates is immediately preceded by the Saviour’s statement that those who ‘’teach erroneous teachings and all those who learn from them’’ will be punished severely and then annihilated. Later in Book III the Saviour also says that those who receive the Mysteries and then fall again into sin and are unfortunate enough to die in their sins without repentance will also be consumed and some to nothing (see P.S. Book 111, c.121 p.308).

This is all in Book III of Pistis Sophia . However, Daley is referencing Book IV when he writes that –

The Pistis Sophia describes in some detail the purification of all departed souls – even sinless ones – in fire, until they are judged worthy to drink ‘the water of forgetfulness.’’

So I want to be fair to him; but after checking Book IV I have found that not all departed souls are purified – some a simply tormented and then annihilated; that the fire is an instrument of retribution (as is snow and hail) –and it is rather water which becomes a boiling like fire that purifies; and that the water of forgetfulness (‘lethe’) is not a gift given according to worth – rather it is a draught given to souls that are about to be reincarnated (normally so as to undergo further punishment in the circumstances of their reincarnation). The draught of ‘lethe’ is given so that souls forget their previous lives and their period of punishment and purification in the underworld; this is a stock image in classical mythology.

I want to leave no shred of doubt about the lack of Universalist credentials in Pistis Sophia here; so I’m now going to list the fates of sinners spoken of in Book IV.

Those that are punished, purified and – in all but one case – punished again through circumstances.

The man who curses will be punished by fire and by avenging archons, purified in the boiling fire waters, drink from the waters of forgetfulness and then be reincarnated as a person who is ‘’troubled in heart’’(P.S., Book IV, c.144, p. 374)

The man who slanders will be punished, purified and given amnesia in the same way but in this instance reincarnated as a person who spends their time being oppressed. (Book IV, c.145, p.376)

The proud and scornful man will be punished, purified and given amnesia in the same way but in this instance reincarnated as a person in a ‘’lame, crooked and blind body’’ (P.S., Book IV, c. 146, p. 337- 378)

The robber and thief who dies unrepentant will be punished, purified and given amnesia in the same way but in this instance reincarnated as a person in a ‘lame and ugly body so that everyone continually despises it (P.S., Book IV, c. 146, p. 379)’;

The man who has not committed sin and has continually done good deeds, yet has not found the mysteries will go to the underworld, but only for the mildest of correction rather than for vengeful punishments. He will be purified , given the waters of amnesia - and then will also be given a cup of wisdom and sobriety to drink so that when reincarnated this will act as a spur for him to seek wisdom so as to inherit the mysteries of eternal light (P.S., Book IV, c.148 , p. 383)

Those who are tormented and then annihilated

The murderer who has never committed another sin will be punished by tormenting demons in the places of frost and snow will be judged and then be lead to the ‘‘outer darkness’’ to await the time when the ‘it will be destroyed and dissolved’’; (P.S., Book IV, c.146, p. 378)

The continual blasphemer will be dragged around by the tongue, punished with fire and then taken to the outer darkness to await being ‘’destroyed and dissolved’’; (c. 14 pp. 379-380)

The pederast is tormented by demons then taken to the outer darkness to be ‘destroyed and dissolved’ (P.S., c.147 pp. 380-381).

Those that make a dish of lentils mixed with sperms and menstrual blood and then eat it declaring: ‘we believe in Esau and Jacob’ – are judged by the Saviour to have committed the sin surpassing all others. These will be taken directly to the outer darkness to be consumed and perish in ‘the place where there is no pity’ (P.S., c. 147 p. 381)

Election and determinism

In both Book III and Book IV there is always hope for the person who has committed every possible sin but then discovers the mysteries of light, can become one of the elect and not sin again. However, the elect are limited in number:

‘’… when the number of perfect souls exist I will shut the gates of light. And no one will go within from this hour… [after this even those souls who find the mysteries of light] will come to the gates of light and they will find that the number of perfect souls is completed… Now those souls will knock, at the gates of light, saying: ‘O Lord, open to us.’ I will answer and say to them: ‘I do not know you, whence you are.’ And they will say to me ‘We have received from thy mysteries, and we have completed the whole teaching, and thou hast taught us upon thy streets.’ And I will answer and say to them: ‘I do not know you, who you are, you who do deeds of iniquity and evil up until now. Because of this go to the outer darkness.’’ (P.S. Book III, c. 125, pp. 315- 16)

Also there is a strong vein of astrological determinism running throughout the Pistis Sophia . For example, in Book IV towards the close the Saviour comments:

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘’If when the sphere turns, Cronus and Ares come behind the Virgin of the Light, and Zeus and Aphrodite come into the presence of the Virgin … all souls which she will cast into the cycle of the aeons … become righteous and good, and they find the mysteries of the light… If on the other hand Ares and Cronus come into the presence of the Virgin; while Zeus and Aphrodite are behind her… all souls which will be cast into the creation of the sphere in that hour become wicked and ill-tempered…’’ (P.S. Book IV, c. 148, p. 384).


Now perhaps that was overkill – but I think it is fair to say now that Pistis Sophia is not relevant as evidence of ‘Gnostic universalism’ and that I can assert this beyond a shadow of a doubt. Brian Daley made a mistake – and I can hardly blame Dr McClymond for that. However, it is important to check authorities when citing them. I note that Pheme Perkins - another authority cited at the beginning of Vol. I, c. 2 of Devils’ Redemption by Dr McClymond for, in his view, explicitly affirming Gnostic universalism - actually gives the quotations from Pistis Sophia Chapter III referring to the torment and annihilation of apostates and of false teachers and their followers on pp. 138-9 of her book, Gnostic Dialogues . This is the very book that Dr McClymond cites as authoritative – so that lessens my sympathy for this mistake.


Daley, Brian E., The Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology , Cambridge, C.U.P. 1991 (p. 27 Chapter 3, Rergaining the light; eschatology in the Gnostic crisis

McClymond, Michael J., The Devils Redemption, Two Volumes, A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism , Grand Rapids, Baker Academic 2018 (Kindle DX version retrieved from

Perkins, Pheme, The Gnostic Dialogue , New York, Paulist Press, 1980

Schmidt, Carl, Macdermot, Violet, Pistis Sophia , Leiden, Brill 1978.

I was also confused by the relevance of the premise; the rarity of descriptions of retributive punishment specifically for apostates in Gnostic texts does not necessarily suggest Gnostic universalism. And while the Valentinian Gnostic text known as the Tripartite Tractate cited at the end of this quotation does not anywhere threaten torment for apostates, it is certainly not Universalistic in any meaningful sense. It states that there are three classes of human beings; the pneumatics (spiritual humans), the psychics (humans with animal souls) and the hylical (purely material humans). Unlike other Valentinian sources the Tractate does not assume a hard deterministic framework – it teaches that people are not born into these classes. However, it teaches that they become fixed in their class by their responses to the Saviour – and it does unequivocally state that the hylicals who reject Christ are doomed to annihilation. It is not in any way a universalist text (see, Trip., Tract., 118). Those who are perfected in the Logos over time and then restored to the spiritual realm of the Pleroma are the psychics (see Trip., Tract., 122)



In order to make sense of and evaluate Michael McClymond’s proposition that Christian universalism originated in the Gnostic heresies of the second and third centuries - and I’m afraid this one is hard work :smiley: - it’s important to have some grasp of what Gnostics believed – beliefs that they expressed in elaborate mythological narratives that had some. Here is my ‘cack-handed’ attempt at a summary schema:

  1. Before the beginning, is the Divine Source – sometimes named FOREFATHER. The Source is beyond all comprehension and without comparison. However, we can affirm that it all good; indeed it is the GOOD. And in the beginning the Divine Source brings forth a multitude of exalted spiritual beings from itself. These emanations are woven of pure intellect – they are never actually described in Gnostic myths, not even in terms of physical analogy and this absence reinforces their ethereal nature. The most we are told of them is that they are gendered – some male and some female and often paired together. They also have names – like Forethought, Wisdom, Truth, Logos etc., - so they are abstractions and, in a sense, thoughts in the mind of the divine source; but each has some kind of independent existence and will. These beings are known as AEONS (yes that is the same Greek word that orthodox Christian writers use to describe a vast but finite period of cosmic time – so the Gnostic use it to mean something very different). The full complement of the aeons is known as the PLEROMA – a word which denotes fullness and perfection. (The groovy adjective form of PLEROMA is PLEROMATIC).

  2. The youngest of the Aeons becomes overpowered by the desire to fully comprehend the unknowable Divine Source. This Aeon is often feminine and named SOPHIA (some Gnostics of the Valentinian Gnostic school saw the story of the woman with the issue of blood in Luke’s Gospel as an allegory of the rupturing of the Pleroma by Sophia that is eventually healed by Christ). Her act of hubris ruptures the perfection of the Pleroma which loses some of its light as Sophia falls from it and, as she falls, auto creates copies of the divine world sevenfold. These copies manifest in increasingly disfiguring forms as copies become copies of copies. Solphia then begets the DEMIURGE a being who is ignorant of the Divine Source and the Pleroma and falsely believed himself to be the highest God.

  3. The Demiurge creates the physical cosmos which is the nadir of the fall from the Pleroma in which the copying of the ideal forms of the divine world becomes most chaotic, disfigured and debased. He also creates ARCHONS who are the spiritual powers that rule over the world. These are often described as having monstrous animal forms. So Creation and Fall for most Gnostics were seen as a single event.

  4. The Demiurge and his Archons also creates mankind but is only able to create a physical being or at best a psychic being with a dim intimation of higher worlds to control and oppress. He is incapable of creating spiritual beings because spirit originates in the Pleroma. But then some of the pleromatic light which haemorrhaged as Sophia fell descends to earth and becomes trapped there in at least some human beings who are the pneumatics. (The fall of the light is expressed either/or – both/and - as an evil entrapment by the Demiruge and his Archons, or as a ruse brought about by the now repentant Sophia who guides the light into human beings so that they can grow up to one day undo the works of the Demiurge.

  5. Jesus is sent as a Divine Messenger from the Pleroma to reveal the spiritual destiny of humanity. Their destiny is to return to the Pleroma.

  6. Salvation comes to humans through direct insight/gnosis into this truth that is mediated though the Saviour which allows the Gnostic to slip free from the entanglements of matter and to ascend upwards through the seven planetary heavens created by the fall of Sophia back to the Pleroma.

We need to be aware that there are a variety of Gnostic systems. All of the above is true in only a very general sense and false in specific instances. For example in some Gnostic systems the source is a Dyad rather than a single one. In at least one instance it is masculine Logos who falls from the Pleroma rather than feminine Sophia. In some Gnostic myths the Demiurge is pure evil while in others he is merely ignorant and is actually redeemable. And as a final point, in some Gnostic myths Christ is a purely spiritual visitor from a world of spirit, o others he is a spirit who actually takes on flesh and is contaminated in so doing, and in at least one case he is a human being who happens to have been the first human being to remember that he like all human beings is divine, with home beyond the stars.

But the big question for us is about whether the evidence suggest that any Gnostics were Universalists and, if so, can they be shown to have influenced clement and/or Origen?


We need to clarify this one – and here is my best attempt at the definitions relevant to our discussion

1.Weak sense
Salvation is offered to all regardless of social class, gender, ethnicity etc., although it is not achieved by everyone.

  1. Strong sense
    Salvation (however this is conceived) will eventually be achieved by all beings. This ‘all’ can mean either:

  2. a) All humans (human centred universalism); or -

  3. b) All humans and all other intelligent beings such as fallen angels and including the devil or theological/mythological equivalent (radical universalism).

  4. Strong sense version of Christian universalism
    The eventual eviction of moral evil and its consequences - death, corruption etc., - from Creation and the conversion, purification and salvation of all beings. It will encompass both the material and the spiritual when accomplished. This salvation is achieved by the one God of Creation in Christ through the Incarnation. And, additionally, this ‘end’ is imagined as a state of ever closer communion with God; although God will fill all things, the distinction between Creator and creatures will not disappear.


Apart from being discerning about whether specific primary and secondary sources are being interpreted properly we also need to ask:

  1. Is there textual evidence from Gnostic sources of the second and third centuries of Gnostic’s holding to weak or strong forms of Universalism? We need to be fairly sure that any sources predate or are contemporary with Clement and Origen – later sources cannot be counted as an influence.

  2. Is there textual evidence from non-Gnostic sources from our period of study Of Gnostics holding to any type of Universalism? If so, how reliable is the evidence if it comes from the hostile sources of orthodox Christian Hereseologists? And, are Christian Heresiologists hostile to any Gnostic groups specifically because they think they teach universal salvation. How extensive is the evidence for the above (does it suggest a widespread belief or a limited, obscure one)?

  3. Do we have any evidence from the writings of Clement and/or Origen that they may have been wittingly or unwittingly influenced by specific Gnostic Universalist teachings?

  4. If Clement and/or Origen can be shown to have ideas in common with any Gnostics, were the Gnostics who they have some commonality with actually Universalists?

  5. Finally - even if we have to discount discussion of the Biblical case for universalism from this investigation (because the early Christians differed about how to interpret biblical texts on the scope of salvation) – are there any other more compelling explanations for the genesis of the tradition of Christian Apokatastasis than McClymond’s Gnostic hypothesis (and does McClymond deal adequately with any competing hypotheses)?


O’Regan, Cyril, Gnostic Return in Modernity, Albany, State University of New York Press, 2001

Perkins, Pheme, The Gnostic Dialogue, New York, Paulist Press, 1980

Perkins, Pheme, Gnosis and the Life of the Spirit: the Price of Pneumatic Order, in Voeglin and the Theologian. Ten Studies in Interpretation, ed. John Kirby and William M. Thompson (Lewiston, N.Y.: Mellen, 1983), pp. 222 – 39

Wild, Robert, A Catholic Reading Guide to Universalism, Oregan, WiPF and Stock Publishers, 2015

Wink, Walter, Cracking the Gnostic Code; the Powers in Gnosticism, Atlanta, Scholars Press, 1993.

Definition of cack-handed

1 British : left-handed sense 1

2 British : clumsy, awkward

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Clumsy, awkward - but unbowed in this particular instance old friend :slight_smile:

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I just had to research - i.e., Google it - 'cause I’d not heard nor read it previously. :slight_smile:
The toolkit is going to be very helpful, thanks.

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If pressed, I’d have to describe myself more as an inclusivist than a universalist. I watched the McClymond vi\deo but have not read his book. That said, I object to what I perceive as his position on many grounds, including these 3:
(1 )McClymond is wrong in his assumption that the preexistence of the soul is not a doctrine assumed in the Bible and ancient Judaism.
(2) There is no clear evidence for pre-Christian Gnosticism. McClymond overlooks the significant of the extraordinary diversity of Gnostic systems, The issue of universalism is not even a legitimate issue for the vast majority of these systems.
(3) The claim that Gnostics influenced the Alexandrian School lacks foundation.


It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything international Dave - and keep fprgetting how I easily fall into London idioms :smiley: So glad you find the toolkit helpful - I think it is very important that since McClymond’s allegations concern most people here that the conversation about them shouldn’t be confined to them that can speak in shorthand about them. I feel that very strongly :slight_smile:

I agree ‘B’ :slight_smile: - and the only problem then is that McClymond needs to be refuted on the details - and he’s long on detail :smiley: With me posting here on this topic - after a three year break in which I’ve hardly given it a thought - I’m indicating that I haven’t changed my mind about him at all.

Regarding the question of Pre-existence, there is another Professor at St Louis University who Dr Mcclymond calls a world class Origen scholar who has helped him in his work. That is Dr Peter Martens. Dr Peter Martens has posted an essay on Pre-esitence in Ealry Chirstianity and in Origen at (‘Embodiment, Heresy and Hellinization’) which is more broadly sympathetic to Dr Ramelli’s views than Dr McClymond’s.

Thank you!

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I would encourage you to read Robin Parry’s first response to Michael McClymond’s book here.

Thomas Talbott has also written an excellent response here.

Allow me to applaud the detailed work of Sobornost once again!

Hopefully, Kenanada’s post is visible and linkable now to all readers. The system got confused when he copy-posted the same thing to more than one thread so quickly, and thought he was spamming.

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Let me also add, which I have probably mentioned years before when Dr. McC was visiting, that as someone heavily involved in historical apologetics, his procedures have always rung a weird bell of resemblance to me. For I have seen those methods (and to some extent goals) before, from anti-Christian scholars and gadflies who tried to use Gnostic writings as the primitive basis inspiring the doctrinal details of a supernaturalistic and trinitarian Christianity! – how “Jesus” became “God”, to borrow the title of a more recent popular work.

I’ve been eyerolling at that mess since the early 90s. So I am less than sympathetic when I find Dr. McCly cheerfully making similar arguments – not of course with that particular goal, but along a related line.

(Having said that, let me clarify that I don’t have his 2-volume work yet, so I can’t comment on it directly. And with my plate being too full already, I’ll probably leave that for other people. Though I can’t help but be perversely curious about any references to our exchanges, or to my own work, directly or indirectly… :sunglasses: )


Hello Jason -

None of us are acknowledged by Michael McClymond individually. We are ‘thanked’ as part of the collective ‘bloggers’ who did him the ‘honour’ of critiquing his lecture when he entered the ‘lion’s den’ at EU (and he gives the site address out).

He also calls us ‘members of the online universalist community’ and a paragraph later refers to ‘members of the online near death experience community’ which is also reasonably funny.

Regarding how much our conversation here influenced him, that is difficult to assess. Certainly I think you actually introduced him to Illaria Ramelli’s work. Obviously – given the conversation was long ago - I recognised bits where I might have had some influence more easily. For example, I did notice that while Bonhoeffer was used as a stick to beat universalists with in his Youtube lecture Bonhoeffer is not used polemically in the book; rather, the article I cited here to demonstrate Bonhoeffer’s sympathy with Apokatastasis has been used in the book. Likewise the article I cited about Teilhard de Chardin against Michael’s assertion in the lecture that he was a universalist is referred to in the book.

Most conspicuously Michael has dropped his assertion that universalists were/are fomenters of chaos and friends of totalitarianism. (The source of that one was Eric Voegelin who argued that modern Gnostics are people who can’t deal with an imperfect world and so try impose an abstract perfection on which needs must result in violence as they try to ‘immanentise the eschaton’). Michael was strongly challenged about that here. He now writes of universalism as more of a personal pathology; he argues that key Universalists had especially unhappy lives; Origen’s father was martyred and he had to watch some of his pupils being martyred etc.; Elhanan Winchester was afflicted by the early deaths of two of his wives and a subsequent unhappy marriage; John Murray suffered from depression etc. Therefore these universalists had to imagine a future in which everyone would be happy to compensate for their unhappiness. So Universalists now don’t necessarily want to make the eschaton immanent, rather they are pathologically unable to come to terms with their unhappiness now and so imagine the real eschaton in terms of cloud cuckoo land thinking.

I think you may be on to something in thinking that Michael in his attempt to frame universalism as gnostic has paradoxically been influenced by currents of thought that were originally about de-mytholgising the ‘supernatural’ from the biblical narrative (I reckon you must be thinking of the ‘Gnostic Redeemer Myth’ that Bultmann popularised).

The school of thought that Michael uses most derives ultimately from Ferdinand Christian Baur – the nineteenth century Hegelian theologian who saw ancient Gnosticism as rather a good thing. For him it was a creative assertion of individual freedom, and the avant-garde of Pauline Christianity in the dialectical struggle with stultifying institutional Peterine Christianity. Baur also importantly argued that there was a Gnostic return in modernity in the writing of Jackob Boheme who was the distillation of the Protestant spirit.

In the twentieth century the conservative political thinker Eric Voegelin agreed with Baur’s analysis but not with his celebration of the gnostic spirit. Rather he used Baur’s analysis to give a critique of modernity that ended up being very imprecise and paranoid. Everything and anyone could be smeared as being ‘Gnostic’

Recently the Catholic theologian Cyril O’Regan of Notre Dame University has tried to use Baur’s insights again – and has done an in depth study of the works of Boehme in this connection. However he uses Baaur’s insight neither to celebrate nor to rant and rave, but to lament the gnostic return in modernity. He’s a difficult writer but tries to be very precise regarding what he means by’ the gnostic grammar’ of modernity drawing only from Valentinian sources. And he certainly does not include universalism as part of his gnostic grammar. Now Michael has taken over the authority of Cyril O’Regan’s critique of the gnostic return, but has bolted on universalism to this on the grounds that some of the third generation followers of Boheme became Universalists (O’Regan has not and would not make this move, for various reason). He has then reverted to the imprecision and paranoid style of Voegelin (as his two theories of the pathology of universalism outlined above demonstrate).

That’s enough for the moment. I am a man of little wit, but I think that the prize for wittiest joke I’ve seen about Michael must go to Alvin Kimel. When Michael published his review of Illaria Ramelli’s tome, Alvin published Michael’s CV over at Eclectic Orthodoxy – which basically revealed that Michael is a historian of modern Christianity (and mainly modern American Christianity) and therfore his judgements on Patristic scholarship will be inexpert. And Alvin ended his post with the Latin tag ‘Caveat Emptor’ which I understand means ‘Buyer Beware’. Additionally the tag seemed most appropriate that this tag should be quoted to poke fun at a review of Ramelli’s book by a non-specialist with the learned title ‘Origenes Vindicatus vel Rufinus Redivivus’. An additional level of fun here was that Michael took Dr Ramelli to task for her translation of a Latin letter by Augustine – which she rebuffed with her linguistic expertise successfully.

But I will say that although unlike Alvin Kimel I think McClymond’s book is worth taking very seriously. I was actually very dissatisfied with Robin Parry’s review which goes to the opposite extreme in recommending the outstanding quality of Michael’s scholarship. There are good things that can be said about the book – but Robin is actually misleading people in saying this. They might buy the book expecting deep scholarship. They won’t find it.


I’ve removed this post to work on it further and put it on the internet as a proper academic essay :slight_smile:

Well, I …being a big fan, of the works of Jacob Boehme…would like to see more, on how his ideas…fit into your finished essay product.