Just a couple of further reflections on Capon, subsequent to the observations made here by the other contributors (for which many thanks).
Capon really is a big of an enigma. At the beginning of his book on the parables, Kingdom, Grace and Judgement, he makes a big play about believing the Bible – the whole Bible, OT and NT – to be the inspired Word of God, calling it an “essential precondition of [his] biblical study”. He talks about how it is forbidden to neglect “even the oddest bit of Scripture”. He then goes on to say how we mustn’t impose our own preconceptions on the Scriptures, mustn’t “let our own mindset ride roughshod over what actually lies on the pages”.
He sums all this up in saying that “openness … is the major requirement for approaching the Scriptures”.
So far so fair, so sensible, you might say.
His central thesis in KG&J is that the Bible is really all about the mystery of the Kingdom of God, and how God doesn’t go in for straightforward ‘right-handed displays of power’ – the big stick, if you like – to achieve His ultimate purposes. Rather He chooses to use mysterious, ‘left-handed power’ – which is basically not power at all, in the sense in which the word is normally used – as exemplified in the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.
I think he’s spot on here. Not only did Jesus preach non-violence, God clearly doesn’t – or rarely, at least – intervene in human affairs to prevent evil or suffering through displays of raw power. (This is precisely what we are discussing over on the ‘does God cause evil’ and ‘Q&A with Derek Flood’ threads.)
And Capon is brilliant on parables such as the Prodigal Son, for example, which he argues, quite correctly in my view, ought to be called the Forgiving Father, saying that we miss the point almost entirely (as Jesus said we would!) when we put the focus on the repentant son.
Likewise with the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. These parables are, to my mind, some of the strongest Biblical ‘evidence’ in favour of UR. In them, God is portrayed as somebody (a shepherd, a woman) who has lost something very valuable to Him (a sheep, a coin), and who goes out and looks for those things until he finds them! And of course, sheep and coins, being dumb animals and inanimate objects respectively, can do absolutely nothing to help themselves be found. Jesus’ message here is crystal clear – unless and until God comes to look for us, and finds us, we are lost. Perished. We can do precisely nothing to help ourselves.
But. But …
Not only does Capon then go on to employ, as John says, “extreme” eisegesis in places, to make every single parable conform with his hermeneutical framework. But worse, he puts our salvation back into our own hands, saying it is ultimately a question of our faith response to God’s finished work in Christ.
Hence the ‘universalist but not universalist’ paradox in my original quotation. Capon is adamant that faith is not a work. But as others have pointed out, surely if there is anything, anything at all, that we have to do to be saved, then that thing is in fact a work. It is, in fact, despite all God has done for us in Christ, still our choice, our responsibility to save ourselves.
And I agree with John that Capon seems to want to say that there is no condemnation for anybody, anywhere, ever. But the Bible does indeed appear to say that this no condemnation applies to those who are “in Christ”. Okay, maybe because of what Christ did for us, as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, we are all already “in Christ”. Is this what Capon means? Is he correct? And if he is, whence the necessity of our genuine faith in Christ for salvation – surely a foundational Biblical concept?
Is it a question of the old three stages of salvation thing – ontological (actual, achieved once and for all for everybody everywhere by Christ’s sacrificial life, death and resurrection), noological (us coming to know that and believing it, and hence ‘activating it’ in our lives) and sacramental (it all coming to glorious fruition in the eschaton)?
All the best