The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Michael McClymond on Universalism

Melchi I’ve just read something on the Northern Baptists and I understand that they split from the Southern ones was because of the Northern Baptists refusal to appoint slave owners as missionaries. (and the rise of moderate Baptist in Southern Baptists arose from an urge to heal the wounds of the Civil War confederate nostalgia.

Yes it does seem that the spilt in the Northern Baptists in the 1940s concerned mission – because the conservatives no longer wanted to collaborate with ‘modernists’ in the mission field so they formed their own mission society. The fundamentalist/modernist controversy is not the same as the Universalist v. ECT controversy. There may be overlaps – because everlasting hell is one of the so called ‘fundamentals’ - but it is not the same controversy.

Regarding all of the Baptists in America, they trace their ancestry back to Roger Williams of Rhode Island and he has a revered place in Baptist history of the fundamentalists, the conservatives and the modernists. He was a great man – but certainly if Dr McClymond knew enough about him he’d have to trash him soundly (because of Roger William’s attitude towards Universalists like Samuel Gorton, his beliefs in religious freedom, his belief that the Old Testament law was null and void and in hope of a new revelation in the Age of the Spirit, and, of course, the fact that his defence of religious freedom was burned by the public hangman in England at the command of a Calvinist parliament); but I don’t think Dr McClymond would be that daring.

What I’ve confirms what you’ve read obviously :smiley: It’s good to know about these thing as a Brit.

As you’ve pointed out, it’s a shame the Tentmaker list of historical Universalists is flawed. Maybe somehow promoting the list on this site somewhere would be useful…maybe some of the bloggers for example could post it, to get it out there a bit.

Yes I think we’ve been a little more discerning here with our categorisation. Beyond this I’m uneasy about drawing too sharp a distinctions between sound’ and unsound’ universalists beyond the distinctions we’ve already made because I don’t necessarily think that Biblicism is the only; hallmark of authentic universalism. It’s precisely because large numbers of American Christians were not wedded to authoritarian Biblicism that denied the place of reason, experience and tradition that they were able to question slavery for example.

I’m unsure of the place of experiential visions in Christian understanding – although they have a huge role in Pentecostalism for example (against Dr McClymond’s false dichotomy). The Boehmenists do appear to have re-invented a visionary world that you find in the early Christian mystics like Dionysus the Areopagite and of course in Dante. The idea of visionary travel through the hellish, purgatorial and heavenly realms was not a new thing. I doesn’t appeal to me or happen to me – but I don’t think it right to interpret visionaries and chiliasts in a purely negative light. I think there is an intuitive and imaginative part of human experience which for example Calvinist presuppoisionalisim does not reach. I remember that Clark – one of the high priests of presuppositionalism interpreted the Logos of John’s Gospel as ‘IN the beginning was the Logic’ and there is absolutely no precedent for this interpretation in the Church Fathers. Sometimes the intuitive and imaginative outbursts at certain points in history tell us about underlying shifts that are happening independently of the visions – I certainly have a place for recognising this in my world view.

Very good point! :smiley: Though someone investigating universalism may pick and choose what recent or historical works they read, it is reassuring to think of a universalist “heritage”–to imagine an unbroken line of thought and belief stretching back to Origen or before even if that heritage is sort of cobbled together from universalist trends and individuals that may have developed independently.

Perhaps McClymond’s beef is not so much with ecclesiastical and theological threads leading directly to universalism, but as you alluded to before, cultural changes in America that he links to aberrant philosophical/theological threads. In other words, in his mind, heremeticism and “Gnosticism” is what early universalism was rooted in. Heremeticism/“Gnosticism” eventually led to current postmodernism, distrust of authority and other changes in American culture which leads to a “revival” of universalism from this fertile (but corrupt) cultural growth medium.

(Edited for spelling and clarity) :smiley:

I think that’s about the size of it Steve although he’s not precise enough to see the distinction between heremeticism (a.k.a. occasionally as ‘hermetism’ which is easier to spell :laughing: ) and Gnosticism (or any other important distinction). He is just giving a version of ‘The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back’ with bibliographies and footnotes at least in the lecture. In the lecture he is I reckon between 35% to 40% right in his historical facts. That’s just not good enough for someone who is using the prestige of Yale University. :frowning:

Btw Jason is obviously busy at the moment and/or bored with this thread :laughing: I think the only question we haven’t yet picked up on in Dr McClymond’s lecture concerns the apparent absence of universalist teaching in the Apostolic Fathers. I note that Jason has already made a stab at addressing this issue on two other threads (although perhaps he’d see things slightly differently now he has read Dr Ramelli’s great work)

And here’s a link for a discussion of the six schools of theology in the Early Church - another idea that Dr McClymond dismisses out of hand -

Precisely. I’m still steamed that the pastor tried to turn that into an anti-universalist thing, and that was 5 years ago.

Five years ago? That was after ‘Love Wins’ I guess – and hence the slap down narrative that Steve has spoken of I guess?

I think one of the most ungentlemanly moves that Dr McClymond makes concerns the Freemasons and his hint that universalism and masonry just happened to coincide with the outbreak of violent revolutions that lead to modern totalitarian states. He does that unashamedly and it is such a low move.

He refers to the shift from Masons as basically a social club (which is sort of true of the English rite Masons of the seventeenth century I understand) to pretentious societies connected with religious esotericism and with high sounding terms/grades for higher levels of members and puts this all at the gates of a society known as ‘The Order of Elect Cohens’ founded by a Portuguese Jew Martinez Pasqualez who was up to no good on the eve of the French Revolution and was a Boehmenist universalist. This is all distortion according to the reputable histories I’ve looked at.
High Grade masonry was actually deeply conservative and supported the ancient regime in France. It arose when English and Scottish Jacobites introduced Free Masonry into France in a form that would appeal to the French aristocracy – hence the higher orders with chivalric titles and the new myth tracing the Masons back to the Knights of St John.

However, the Martinists of the Elect Cohens were not Boehmenists – and I’m not even sure they were universalists given that reuniting humanity with the divine source (that they believed they were facilitating by invoking angels) can often entail a belief that subhuman people don’t get a look in. Dr McClymond mocks at the pretensions of these ‘universalists’ for thinking they had a teaching which predated Moses – but however daft this is they were appealing the authority of Hermes Trismegistus who was believed wrongly to have predated and anticipated Moses by them and by other hermeticists who were not universalists.

One of them. Louis Claude de St Martin whom Dr McClymond mentions in passing did become a Boehmenist and a universalist but he then left the Elect Cohens and resigned from Scottish rite Masonry because he could not see that ritual, Masonic grads etc could possibly be necessary to a person’s relationship with Christ. It is a myth that he then founded his own order which results from a confusion of names - Matinez and St Martin).
And – here is the big irony – of course America was in no way polluted by Scottish rite higher grade masonry one would think from Dr McClymond. But that’s not so. Scottish rite masonry was huge with the French Troops who assisted in the American War of Independence under Lafayette (also a Scottish rite mason). These Frenchmen and English supporters of James Stuart were rock solid behind the ancien regime in France but were happy to cause mayhem for the British. And of course American Freemasons were important players in the War of Independent and there was close collaboration between American and French Masons with George Washington being initiated into the higher grades of the Scottish Rite, and the French Masons went back radicalised and some played a part in the French Revolution.

Och I’m running out of things to say now. But it is funny how American culture wars are fought on the basis of a very simplified view of American history. If Dr McCylmond had got round to the American connection in his rogues gallery he could have flashed up slides of -

Roger Williams (Apart from anything else he was a great friend of Sir Harry Vane who was a universalist)

George Washington – the high grade mason who once protected a universalist minister from dismissal from the forces

Or Benjamin Rush, Winthrop Sergeant or Christopher Murray

Or Abraham Lincoln who – although it is hard to say exactly what he believed is on record as expressing deep sympathy for Universalist beliefs

I don’t think this was going to happen. – I think the best he could have done for an unpatriotic American would have been Christopher Sower the Younger – the Dunker who was a royalist supporter and so when American independent troops were garrisoned in his printing house they used copies of his universalist bible (with universalist verses printed in bold) to line their boots with (an insult to him hater than to the bible or to his universalism I think). But then again Bishop Seabury – the Episcopalian who wanted to keep the Athanasian Creed with its damnatory clauses in the liturgy of the Episcopalian Church supported the Crown too. Funny old thing is history.

Well, actually the Love Wins book and subsequent fallout came a bit later. I guess this was more like 6ish years ago. It was in response to me giving him a copy of Hope Beyond Hell. He apparently skimmed it, looked at the bibliography, and summarily decided it was heresy that wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. He then proceeded to preach a four week sermon series against universalism. The first sermon, which was the only one I could stomach being present for (just barely) was so full of straw (men) and red herrings, I thought I was at the feeding of the 5000. This was the sermon during which he made the claim that the CBFMS came from the split with the Northern Baptists over their growing universalism and how it impacted the way missions were being done. But the official CB website doesn’t say this. It says what you mentioned earlier.

Well I guess non-fundamentalism was impacting how missions were done in the eyes of fundamentalists; this much seems true (and all of this happened before what Dr McClymond refers to as the ‘moratorium on mission’ due to Karl Barth’s alleged influence). The missionary is the hero of the evangelical fold. But lots of Churches who were not Protestant fundamentalists were engaged in missionary activity throughout the period of Western missionary expansion. It seems to me that missions that were based purely on the urgency of saving the natives from the mouth of hell rather than sharing the gospel of grace actually often did do a lot of harm. I remember reading a report once about the American New Tribes mission – I believe this is a North American organisation that seeks out every last tribe in the rain forests of South America. They had come across a tribe named the Panari who had not heard the Gospel. They preached at them with no results so they decided to up the ante. They revised the Gospel to tell these people that they the Panari had actually historically killed Jesus Christ and that God was going to burn them forever for this. And then they got a result. A few terrified converts; the breakdown of a whole culture and way of life; people drifting into alcoholism and prostitution. The stuff I’ve read on the New Tribes Mission tonight seems to confirm this story (although I think they’ve probably benefited from critics and modified their ways now) but I don’t want to go on another investigative journey; I just note that stories of missionary heroism will sometimes contain window-dressing and sometimes the suppression of truth to ‘save face for Jesus’ can be tragic.

The history of missions is a complex one. Christian missionaries often brought genuine grace and civilising values with the best of news to cultures and people that were in great need of these. They often engaged sensitively in dialogue with the people they interacted with (some missionaries sided with native people against colonialists). But the idea that fundamentalist missions were/are always wonderful and grace filled things with methods beyond question seems to me to be questionable.

One of the debates in the contemporary mission field is that (thanks to wiki) -

Space saving

I watched the Ministerial Reflections on the Doctrine of Hell". In this video several accusations are made against universalism.

Top five:

  1. Universalism denies the love of God, when they deny the wrath of God.

  2. Universalism has no sense of urgency to share the gospel.

  3. Universalism authors of books re-arrange scripture and deny scripture .

  4. Universalism eventually results in denial of God.

  5. Universalism eliminates the awe of God in cooperate worship and having a sense of gratitude.

There is a good wiki article on the modernist v. fundamentalist controversy in American - it seems that the critique of missions goes back to a 1930s publication entitled ‘Rethinking Missions’ rather than to Karl Barth’s universalism which was a liberal pluralist document rather than an Evangelical Universalist one. … ontroversy

I note that this is what Calvinist modernism looked like -

Was this the thin end of the wedge?

Hi Wendy

Have a look on the McClymond discussion thread where we’ve discussed this in some detail and see what you think. :slight_smile:

It starts here -

Thanks for the link. Do I understand he has a book coming out ? Curious what arguments will be included.

Well Wendy they will be the sort of arguments rehearsed in the discussions and in his initial lecture - all transcribed with comments on these two McClymond threads. They will be more refined but basically the same arguments - it is improbable that they will be different arguments that contradict the discussions and the lecture.

Oh, yes. Very much so. Some of the Western church has begun to realize the error of her ways in this regard; in the past, missions (particularly from the U.S.) have had a very colonialist approach, and they are seeing the fallout from this and realizing that we often made things worse rather than better…
Unfortunately, the same tainted gospel is often being preached, even though many have gone a long way toward changing how the approach looks. At least, they’re trying not to damage those being evangelized in those imperialistic ways anymore.

If you think Calvinism is exempt from Boehme’s appaent influence read the following regarding the influence of the Boehmenist theosopher Franz Xaver von Baader on Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd … index.html.

I also note that James D. Heiser The American evangelical Lutheran Bishop who wrote on ‘Prisci Theologi and the Hermetic Reformation in the Fifteenth Century’ and it’s pernicious influence on toleration and the democratisation of religious truth in American piety, also edited a polemical early Lutheran tract against ‘The Judaising Calvin’ fully approving of the substance of the polemic.


I posted this because of a very useful enquiry that Steve made. I guess my point is that it is a bit rich of Dr McClymond to infer that GMac was somehow an heretical Boehmenist. Boehme did not believe in apocatastasis and if GMac was influenced by William Law, William Law did not get his doctrine of apocatastasis from Boheme. Also I have found out that in some of his writings Boehme advocates substitutionary atonement – so again William Law’s turn against PSA which did influence GMac is not purely a result of his Boehmenism (Law was also widely read in the Greek Fathers and not a slavish follower of Boehme anyway). And – here’s a pretty point; Abraham Kuyper - a towering figure in High Calvinism – was actually influenced by a Boehmenist in his anti-materialist views of the natural world; just as GMac was (and C.S. Lewis was – although Lewis was inspired more by the medieval Neo-Platonists who shared much in common with Boehme).

Wonderful, Dick! :smiley:
Thanks for digging that up. McClymond’s argument is getting weaker and weaker…

I wonder what McClymond’s views on John Milton are who was also strongly influenced by Boehme? I suspect Milton’s Paradise Lost figures heavily in his views. McClymond wrote a book about the theology of Jonathan Edwards (who was likely influenced by Milton) with Gerald McDermott who quotes from Paradise Lost in a footnote to this anti-universalist which has been discussed on this site before. [Article on The Gospel Coalition website discussing EU)

Oh…and I think I’ll name the next dog I get “Dooyeweerd”, or would that be cruel? :wink: