So!–having now eaten supper (and, um, slept; and eaten breakfast; and attended church & Sunday School; and eaten lunch; and gotten back to the office… )
Some points as they occur to me:
1.) My main reply to Lawrence’s commentary was (at the time I was first hearing it) and would be: well, yeah, exactly! I agree! So… why isn’t this universalism again?
And that’s an important question to consider; because obviously Lawrence thought his commentary excluded universalism being true. (“So I wouldn’t read that text in terms of universal salvation.”)
2.) The principalities and powers are being disarmed and made a public spectacle of, in a triumph procession (similar, one supposes, to a Roman triumph procession). This is obviously a punishment of some sort. But this is only a problem if universalism necessarily and only involved salvation from punishment. There are plenty of places (OT and NT both) where imagery of this quality is used in regard to sinners whom God nevertheless is saving and restoring fellowship with. Indeed, it’s very close to the metaphorical imagery behind the famous finale to the 23rd Psalm, where “surely goodness and mercy will X me for all the days of my soul/life.” ‘Follow’ is almost a mistranslation; the term is very much stronger than that in Hebrew. We might say “hound”; but in the OT it’s typically the term for pursuing to overthrow, as a king would pursue a rebellious army to throw them down. Many people are not aware (and maybe would prefer not!) that when we pray the 23rd Psalm, and apply that promise to ourselves, we’re basically asking God to do exactly for us what Lawrence is referring to concerning the rebel cosmic powers in Col 2!
Or again, from the 51st Psalm, “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice! …] You do not want a sacrifice or I would give it; you are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart!” (vv. 8, 16-17) The latter two verses are part of a normal liturgy for most Christians (those of us who have a regular liturgy); but it is talking about God triumphing over us in our sin.
Lawrence in short is (rightly or wrongly) importing in a notion here, that God will despise the broken and humbled hearts of the powers and principalities He is triumphing over. Which is more than a little peculiar, because that verse (2:15) (and I can hardly stress this enough) IMMEDIATELY continues a sentence about our salvation from sin by means of the cross. He deals graciously with all our offenses, erasing the handwriting of the decrees against us, which was hostile to us, and has taken it (that handwriting of the decrees against us) away out of the midst, nailing it to the cross, stripping off the sovereignties and authorities–with boldness He makes a show of them, triumphing over them in it.
Notice how the phrase “stripping off the sovereignties and authorities” (or “the principalities and powers” as the terms are also translated) is actually part of the preceding sentence. We are being saved on the same ground that they are being humbled. The humility of the powers may not quite be complete–not in their own hearts yet–in this “scene”, but that is the sole distinction between them and we who are circumcised, buried and raised again in Christ. (In Whom we are complete, Who is the Head of every sovereignty and authority! That was only a few verses back. Just as we are complete in Him, He is also their ‘federal Head’ as theologians like to put it–which implies their own forthcoming completeness in Him at least!)
3.) Lawrence is well aware that the verses (including in chp 2) are about “bringing peace to this universe again”; “bringing back everything into reconciliation with himself”; “heaven (!!) has been brought back into a divinely created determined order.” By context Lawrence shows he isn’t thinking about God Himself being disordered and rebellious, but about rebel heavenly beings.
4.) So how is it that these rebel heavenly beings have been reconciled to God (a term which always means our salvation, as he surely must be aware) along with all the universe; these heavenly beings have been brought back into a divinely created determined order; these heavenly beings have been returned to cosmic peace; these heavenly spiritual enemies have been conquered so that they are now back into reconciliation, i.e. atonement, with Christ Himself which results in peace to this universe again–
–and yet somehow this doesn’t involve the salvation of those rebel heavenly beings, too!?
No, they aren’t being saved from punishment, but so what? That only counts against universalism if punishment is necessarily hopeless; but we know from many other scriptures that God’s punishment is not necessarily hopeless.
Lawrence actually agrees that the triumph of Christ (and, implicitly, Christ’s punishment of the rebel powers) brings the rebel powers back into peace with God Himself. Yet somehow this must not mean they are saved from sin! How are they now (or now to be) at peace with God, yet still rebel sinners (in their hearts if not in their freedom to affect events)?
Lawrence will have to construe things in such a way that intransigent sinners, still in rebellion against God, are nevertheless to be considered at peace with God again and in harmony with God again.
Fortunately, not my problem. I’m a universalist.
(Note that in principle, it doesn’t really matter whether the principalities and powers are personal spirits or not; though I think they’re supposed to be, since the underlying terms are actually that of personal rulers. For any non-universalistic theology, some sinners must either still exist in rebellion against God or else be wiped out of existence altogether, while also being brought back into fellowship and peace with God and with other persons and with God’s whole creation. Or else, the testimony from Colossians has to be rejected or strongly re-construed in some other way.)
To be fair, Lawrence may think he knows how some personal entity can be in hopeless continual rebellion against God (at least in their souls) while also being at peace and union with God; but wasn’t in a position to explain how this happens, during the brief time of this interview. I’ll be curious to see if he addresses the subject in his book this year! (Maybe we’ll get to have him as a guest in protracted dialogue with Robin?)
Meanwhile, on some other topics from the radio show:
5.) As usual, the Mark 9 Gehenna statements are referenced without finishing out with verses 49-50. Well, yeah, including Jesus’ explanation for the purpose of Gehenna would kind of blow the thesis, I guess.
I’m always deeply amused when this happens; also when (as Lawrence does) the proponent prefaces this with some variation of “We have to go back to what Jesus said on the topic.” Okey-doke! Jesus said… more than up to v.48 on the topic.
Then I remember how much trouble ignoring (or even outright rewriting!) those final verses has caused in Christendom throughout history; and I am rather less amused.
“So as I look at these sorts of things,” Lawrence continues, specifically referring to the Mark 9 verses he just stopped short with, “what I want to do as a good Biblical exegete, is I want to fit [Lawrence’s emphasis] everything into my theology and the doctrines that I would embrace. So, in reading a text in isolation, and then not being able to embrace everything else, leads to an eisegesis rather than an exegesis of the Bible.” Uh huh. The unintentional irony is inexpressibly thick here… I mean, people who quote GosMatt on this, at least have the excuse of not having the Markan finale right there immediately at hand where they don’t even have to look up contexts from similar sayings elsewhere.
(In Lawrence’s defense, Robin, in his somewhat extensive reply, doesn’t say something like, “so then go on to verses 49 and 50.” So Lawrence doesn’t have an opportunity to reply to that. In Robin’s defense, he does reply along the line of: yeah, and the wider exegetical contexts do indicate salvation through and after punishment.)
6.) I’m a little fuzzy on where the hope for the tormented is being mentioned, immediately following the description of their torment in Rev 14. (Robin, did you have something particularly in mind there?)
7.) Lawrence rather misses the point (made pretty well by Robin, though it could have been made in even more detail) about how the exact same phrase “kings of the earth” is used to describe those entering into the never-closed gates of the New Jerusalem. He never seems to realize that the same phrase is being used; he talks about them being from among the nations instead. (Which is true enough, of course.) I can see better now why Tam was so frustrated with that.
8.) I did think Lawrence did a very good job probing at various tenuous portions of Robin’s position. (I could go into more detail about that, but I’d rather let people listen to him do so himself. )
Lawrence’s book isn’t available yet for pre-order from Amazon (US nor UK either one.) But I hope Robin will let us know when it’s ready for order! (Especially since, after all, Paternoster will be publishing it in the UK. )