About Me

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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Reflections on Rethinking Hell 2015

So the 2015 Rethinking Hell conference, held at Fuller Theological Seminary, is over and I am back at home in the UK.

Here are a few brief reflections on the conference.

1. The most immediately striking thing about the conference is that it was a genuine discussion between conditionalists (the conference organizers), traditionalists (or perhaps modified traditionalists), and universalists. There was a real spirit of genuine respect for one another as fellow siblings in Christ. There was real listening. There was therefore real openness to modify or change views in light of the conversation. That is unusual on such a hot topic.

2. The quality of the papers was really very good—at least the ones that I heard. There was some solid, biblical, theological, and philsophical reflections from some "top dogs." Very thought-provoking and enjoyable. The respect and love certainly did not stop people offering clear critiques of one another. (There were certainly a few worthwhile critiques of my own work.) This was not a conference of wooly thinking!

3. I really enjoyed meeting folk—pastors, professors, students, and plain thoughtful Christian folk. There was a great lunchtime discussion with some students about atonement—fascinating! There was banter with Jerry Walls—that guy is a hoot and full of fascinating ideas. There was the sheer joy of hanging out with Oliver Crisp—words cannot express how much I enjoy Oliver's company. There was Brad Jersak—such a lovely guy! And wondeful time chatting with Eric Reitan, Greg Stump, Jim Spiegel, Chris Date, Peter Hiett, David Instone-Brewer, Jordan Wessling, and a whole bunch of other folk (who will no doubt be upset that I did not mention them. Sorry—but my list is already too long).

4. It became clear to me that a more adequate exegetical response to annihilationism is still required and needs to be written. Annihilationism is a serious position that deserves a proper exegetical critique. (I think that there are very good theological and philosophical critiques, but the exegetical case needs more attention.) Alas, I don't have any time to do this in the next few years, but if God keeps me around long enough I may do it one day. However, in the meantime it would be a good project for a young scholar.

5. I also think that the universalist exegetical discussion of hell texts is an ongoing project and that we need a few more biblical scholars to do the work needed. Also, further reflection on theological heremeneutcis and how it relates to the issue of hell is needed. Quite a bit has been said here, but I feel in my gut that there is something really important that needs clarifying that is as yet murky.(Which is why I have not said what it is—I see men like trees walking.)

So—exciting times! Glad for the conversation and the provocation.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Thomas Talbott audiobook NOW AVAILABLE

The eagerly anticipated audiobook edition of Tom Talbott's book, The Inescapable Love of God (2nd ed.), is now available at Christianaudio.com. It will soon be available through other outlets (e.g., Audible) too.

The regular price is $19.98, but Christian Audio members can get it for $7.49 (or for free if they sign up for a thirty day trial)

You can get it here.

George Sarris does a fantastic job reading this one—I have listened all the way through and just hearing it read so well helped me to see new things in the book I had missed on previous readings.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Cover for my latest book: Thomas Allin, Christ Triumphant

Check out this super-cool cover for my latest book project—an annotated edition of Thomas Allin's nineteenth-century defence of Christian universalism.

This little baby was a LOT of flipping work!

More info to follow in due course.

Guest post from C. S. Lewis, Christian Platonist

"These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire: but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited."

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Rethinking Hell Conference—discount!

I am really excited about the fast-approaching Rethinking Hell Conference to be held at Fuller Theological Seminary, June 18–20.

There are some key folk representing all of the three main Christian views on hell there.

I mean, Jerry Walls! Wow. His new book, Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory (Brazos, 2015), is really excellent (though we disagree on the freewill defence). Given that Jerry defends eternal hell against universalism you'd be surprised how close our views are.

Oliver Crisp! Dudes! That guy rocks.

Eric Reitan and John Kronen! Weep for joy!

Brad Jersak! Sweet!

David Instone-Brewer on the rabbis. That one will be fascinating. David knows his rabbinincs.

And a whole host of other folk who seem to be genuinely interesting.

You can see the whole programme at the website here.

It is not too late to book. In fact, I think that there is currently a $25 discount code available.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The value of matter (John Damascene)

“I do not worship matter: I worship the creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who willed to take his abode in matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. . . . Because of this I salute all remaining matter with reverence.”

John Damascene (Imag. 1.16)

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Rethinking Hell Conference 2015

I am really looking forward to the Rethinking Hell conference in June. They have very generously invited me to speak in defence of universal salvation (and, if I am feeling a little naughty, in critique of annihilation). I think I'll be given a thorough though gracious grilling!

There are some good folk there. I am especially looking forward to seeing some old friends, but also looking forward to making new ones.

Must say that I am impressed by the folk at Rethinking Hell, even though we have very different views on the subject of hell.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

"It is finished!" What is finished?

I have always been told—and have always believed—that when Jesus cried, "It is finished!" he meant that his work in bearing the sins of the world was completed.

But it struck me about ten minutes ago that there is a problem with this: when Jesus uttered those words he was not dead (obviously). But the church affirms that Christ died for our sins. So it cannot literally be true that his cross-work was completed when he said those words. That was not finished—at least not in every respect.

This has some bearing on what we say about Christ's descent into Hades. This ancient belief has received a range of interpretations over the centuries, but the most basic division in the interpretations is between (a) the views in which Christ was thought to be among the dead as the victor proclaiming his triumph and (b) those in which he was among the deceased as one who "stood" in solidarity with the dead, suffering death's humiliation and Godforsakenness. Now one argument against the latter range of views is that Christ's humiliation ended on the cross—after all, he said that it was finished. So the descent could only be a victorious descent.

But if the words "It is finished!" do not mean that Christ has no more sin-bearing then the way is opened up to see the descent as an integral part of Christ's humiliation—his being dead.

That said, I see no reason why we need to play off (a) and (b) against each other. I think that the descent is a pivot element in the story and can be seen both in terms of humiliation and exaltation, cross and resurrection. That's for another time.

Anyway, here is my question: what is finished?

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

St Ephrem on God and human concepts about God

"The divine cannot be named. . . . For no one has ever breathed the whole air, nor has any mind located, or language contained, the Being of God completely. But sketching God’s inward self from outward characteristics, we may assemble an inadequate, weak, and partial picture. And the one who makes the best theologian is not the one who knows the whole truth . . . [b]ut the one who creates the best picture, who assembles more of truth’s image or shadow." 
(Commentary on the Diatessaron 1.18–19; quoted by S. Brock, The Luminous Eye, 50–51)

"Let us give thanks to God, who clothed Himself in the names of the body’s various parts: Scripture refers to His “ears,” to teach us that He listens to us; it speaks of His “eyes,” to show that He sees us. It was just the names of such things that He put on, and, although in His true Being there is not wrath or regret, yet He put on these names too because of our weakness.

Refrain; Blessed be He who has appeared to our human race under so many metaphors.

We should realize that, had He not put on the names of such things, it would not have been possible for Him to speak with us humans. By means of what belongs to us did He draw close to us: He clothed Himself in our language, so that He might clothe us in His mode of life. He asked for our form and put this on, and then, as a father with His children, He spoke with our childish state.

It is our metaphors that He put on—though He did not literally do so; He then took them off—without actually doing so: when wearing them, He was at the same time stripped of them. He puts one on when it is beneficial, then strips it off in exchange for another; the fact that He strips off and puts on all sorts of metaphors tells us that the metaphor does not apply to His true Being: because that Being is hidden, He has depicted it by means of what is visible . . .

A person who is teaching a parrot to speak hides behind a mirror and teaches it in this way: when the bird turns in the direction of the voice which is speaking it finds in front of its eyes its own resemblance reflected; it imagines that it is another parrot, conversing with itself. The man puts the bird’s image in front of it, so that thereby it might learn how to speak. This bird is a fellow creature with the man, but although this relationship exists, the man beguiles and teaches the parrot something alien to itself by means of itself; in this way he speaks with it.

The Divine Being that in all things is exalted above all things. in His love bent down from on high and acquired from us our own habits: He laboured by every means so as to turn all to Himself." 

(Faith 31; as quoted in S. Brock, The Luminous Eye, 60–62)

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Thomas Talbott audiobook coming soon!

Here is a heads-up:

A fantastic new audiobook version of the second edition of Thomas Talbott's The Inescapable Love of God (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2014) will be available to buy very soon from all the usual outlets of spoken-word books (and distributed by christianaudio.com).

It is fabulously narrated by the actor George Sarris, a veteran of audiobooks.

The retail price will be $19.98.

I have heard the whole thing and can highly recommend it.

Watch this space!

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Heresy of Hell

I am currently preparing a snazzy new, annotated edition of Rev. Thomas Allin's 1885 classic, Universalism Asserted. Anyway, I just wanted to float one of Allin's objections to hell past your discerning gaze and see what you think of it.

Allin is very concerned with being true to the catholic faith of orthodox Christianity and perhaps his chief concern with hell is that it is, in his view, incompatible with orthodoxy!

At first blush that claim seems absurd, given that most orthodox Christians since the sixth century at least have affirmed eternal hell! So a little clarification is in order. Allin does not mean that those who affirm hell are unorthodox. Rather, his point is that eternal hell is a cuckoo in the nest that is a live threat to the rest of the chicks.

Perhaps an illustration: if hell continues to all eternity then sinners continue in their resistance to God for all eternity, sin continues forever, evil continues forever. As such, we end up with an everlasting cosmic dualism in which good and evil are co-eternal. Even if God can imprison sin in an eternal chamber in some corner of creation, he has not undone and defeated it, but merely contained it. But such an idea threatens to undermine some central Christian convictions about God and evil.

Allin also argues that a hell from which there is no ultimate restoration—whether that be eternal torment or annihilation—would undermine the doctrine of God (his love, his justice, his goodness, his omnipotence), the victory of Christ, the power of the atonement, and so on and so forth.

Of course, those who believe in hell also affirm God's love and justice, omnipotence, the atonement, divine victory, etc. But, Allin's point is that when they do so they either have to add in qualifications that serve to undermine the very beliefs that they affirm or they have to simply ignore the contradictions in their belief set and talk out of both sides of their mouth at the same time.

Given the oft-heard, though incorrect, assertion that universalism is heretical, what is interesting is that the heart of Allin's case, though he does not put it in these words, is that in order to maintain a consistent and healthy Christian orthodoxy one ought to jettison belief in eternal hell. Hell, in other words, is bad for orthodoxy.

Who said Anglicans were wishy-washy!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Rev. Thomas Allin, Anglican Universalist

I am currently preparing a lovely new edition of Thomas Allin's classic text, Universalism Asserted (1st ed., 1888).

Thomas Allin (1838–1909) was an Anglican clergyman from the west of Ireland. In 1877 he moved with his wife, Emily, to Weston-super-Mare on the Somerset coast—not too far from where I live. It was there that he wrote and published his impressive defense of universalism.

In preparing this new edition I have been struck again by how theologically astute Allin was. His work is a model of good Anglican theologizing, organized around the three theological sources of reason, tradition, and Scripture.  And he very carefully weaves the three together into an integrated and impressive case for universalism.

His first section offers some devastating philosophical critiques of the traditional notion of hell and of annihilationism. His second section is a very impressive survey of universalism in Christian history, showing just how prevalent it was among the orthodox of the early centuries. The final section opens with a consideration of how the whole of traditional Christian dogmatics fits together more coherently when set within a universalist framework. It then considers, albeit not with the exegetical rigor one may desire, a wide range of universalist texts, before showing how the so-called hell texts are not supports for the Augustinian tradition on hell at all.

Scholarship has moved forward in all of the areas Allin handles, but the advances, for the most part, are consistent with his basic instincts back in the nineteenth century.

I don't know much about this guy—not even what he looked like—but I'd love to have met him. I think he ranks as one of the great nineteenth-century writers on eschatology.

(More on the new edition in due course—it is a lot of blooming work, so I am not yet sure of the actual schedule, but I am hoping it'll be out this year. It'll be with our Wipf and Stock imprint.)

Monday, 23 February 2015

Freaky McFreaky

Stare at the swirling thing

Then look at the painting

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

On being consumed by your meal

When we eat food we take something from outside out body and incorporate it into our body. What was once something distinct from our body becomes a part of it. However, the Eucharist meal does something very weird and backwards.
"Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf" (1 Cor 10:17)
When Christians share in the Eucharist they eat bread and, of course, it becomes a part of their bodies. But in the process, the bread—the body of Christ—also consumes them. By partaking of the body of Christ they are united to that body and are constituted as part of it. 

That is . . . very strange!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

A mild gripe about Catholic rhetoric

One issue I come across a lot in copy editing books concerns capping or not capping the word "church." For those of you who care, the rule we follow is this:
The word church is only capped in (a) the names of denominations (e.g., The Church of England), (b) in the names of individual congregations (e.g., St. James' Church), (c) in quotes that cap the word.
So, whether speaking of a local church or the universal church, one does NOT cap the word, unless referring to the name of the church. That is not some universal rule, dropped from heaven. It is simply the rule that we and many other publishers follow.

Now authors often follow an older convention of capping the word "church" when referring to the universal church, and this is usually simple for me to "fix" . . . .

The exception to that rule is in Catholic texts.

The issue there is that many Catholic writes use the word "church" (when referring to the universal church) to mean the same thing as "the Catholic Church." There is often no distinction made in speech and writing between churches in communion with Rome (The Catholic Church) and the universal church; no distinction between small "c" catholic and big "C" Catholic. So the discussion will often progress as though the notion of the universal church is exhausted by the Catholic Church.

For my job as a copy editor this means that one is often unsure whether the "church" in question is the church or the Catholic Church, so one does not know whether or not to uncap the word. My gripe is not over the trivial issue of differing conventions on capping. My gripe is that this small matter draws attention to how this way of talking effectively treats those parts of the church that are not Catholic as if they do not exist. It feels like banishment through being ignored.

I appreciate, but almost certainly not adequately, that this rhetoric is motivated by Catholic ecclesiology and there are principled reasons why Catholics may wish to retain it. (I also know that simply adopting older conventions on capping church would resolve the copy-editing dilemma.) But the broader issue would remain.  How should Catholics talk about the universal church granted the lived reality of the church today. The universal church is a lot bigger than the Catholic Church. I appreciate that Catholic theology has moved a very long way towards thinking helpfully about churches outside the Catholic Church. This is great. My issue is more to do with this particular way of talking, a way that perhaps perpetuates less helpful ways of thinking about non-Catholic churches.

OK, now I'll sit back and await the flack.


Monday, 19 January 2015

A quick response to Peter Leithart's review of "The Biblical Cosmos"

Peter Leithart, one of my academic heroes, wrote a kind review of The Biblical Cosmos on The First Things website here. I am very pleased with the essentially generous assessments he made of the book. On the whole, he was positive, but he raised four "fundamental questions"/objections, and so I at least owe it to him to attempt some kind of brief answer.

I will tackle them in reverse order.

His fourth fundamental question seems to be that he thinks that the opposition I set up between ancient and modern cosmologies is undermined by the amount of relevance I find in ancient cosmologies for the modern world. He seems to be approving of the insights I find in the ancient biblical cosmos; his problem is with the opposition I see.

My response is simply that the opposition and the ongoing relevance operate at different levels.

The opposition I set up operates at the physical cosmographic level. It is between the ancient biblical view (in which the world is flat, with a solid dome above the sky, beyond which is a cosmic chaos ocean; in which the dead live in sheol, beneath the earth; in which heaven is literally above the sky, and so on) and modern scientific views. At a literal level, we simply do not think about the cosmos in those ways any more. To my mind this is simply the case, and I cannot retract that opposition,

The relevance operates at the metaphorical and metaphysical level.

I may simply be missing Peter's point, but I can see no tension or conflict between the opposition and the relevance I defend.

Peter worries that my understanding of science is naive because I give the impression that we have rock-solid science when science is in fact porous and ever-shifting.

My point in the sentence that Peter quotes concerns the structure of scientific explanations. I was not intending to make any claims that modern science has actually uncovered the most basic laws of physics, simply that the nature of its explanations is such that it cannot get beyond such a level in its mode of explanation. I am very well aware that science is incomplete and porous, etc.  Admittedly, in that "problem" sentence I did phrase things in a simplified way, but this was simply to avoid getting bogged down in what I had thought were contextually unnecessary qualifications. As far as I can see, nothing in the book's argument is changed by adding the necessary nuances to that sentence.

I actually say very little about science in the book, but I would say this: that while science is always in flux, it is mind-bogglingly unlikely that it will revise any of its conclusions that have a bearing on my argument. These conclusions being that the earth is not flat, that the earth orbits the sun, and so on. So I cannot see how this question is a "fundamental question." It feels to me like more of a minor nuance. But perhaps I have missed the point of the objection. If so, I apologize.

Peter correctly observes that from a phenomenological viewpoint we do in many ways still inhabit a cosmos like that of Scripture. The world feels static and flat to us; the sun seems to orbit the earth, and so on. That is true, but I make this very point in the book on a couple of occasions. So I am not sure that we are even disagreeing about anything here. Perhaps Peter is simply objecting to my stress on the differences between ancient and modern cosmologies. I do stress the differences, but this is simply because the audience for whom I write rarely even notice the differences, and so that is where I have chosen to draw their attention. I am not sure what else to say about that.

The most helpful fundamental question raised concerns whether I am over-confident in thinking I know what ancient Israelites thought about the physical structure of the cosmos. This is a tricky issue. It is the case that there is a lot that we cannot be sure about regarding ancient biblical cosmologies. All we have are the texts that we have and we cannot be sure that they represented the views of everyone. Furthermore, we cannot always decipher the meanings of some of the texts, which can be infuriatingly obscure. Other texts are poetic and it is somewhat unclear how literally to take the imagery. (A point Peter makes well.) It is quite likely, given the historical and cultural gap between the Bible and now, that here and there in the book I have over-interpreted this or that image. Nevertheless, I don't think that things are so unclear that we must simply fall back into a global agnosticism about biblical cosmology. I still think that the overall shape of the world-view is clear enough and is as set forth in the book. I tried to detail the case for it (and my case is not simply mine, but that of the majority of OT scholars, so if I err on this score then so does most everyone else). Thus, while I do think that Leithart offers a helpful and valid warning, I remain convinced that the main building blocks of my presentation are more or less correct. Even if, for instance, the language of pillars or corners was not taken to refer to literal physical pillars, but picks up on the cosmos-as-house idea—and that may very well be—little of substance is changed in the overall picture. I think that the case I make still provides solid grounds for the three-decker cosmos, the flat earth, living stars, and so on.

Essentially, I think that Peter is keen to minimize the gap between biblical and modern views on the physical structure of the cosmos, while I think that it remains pretty wide. But the point of my book is that it is in its very strangeness that the biblical cosmos is so helpful and theologically relevant, so I do not think that the gap I see is a threat to biblical theology.

In the end, I think that on the issues that matter, such as the cosmos-as-temple, Peter and I are rather close to each other. I am grateful to him for taking the time to offer his reflections on the book. I hope that my response has not been needlessly reactionary.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Frank Schaeffer on humility in the face of truth beyond words

Author Talk: Frank Schaeffer from PPLD TV on Vimeo.

There is genuine compassionate wisdom in Frank's words here, even though I do not agree with parts of it, or I might make the case differently.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

"The Biblical Cosmos" video promo

My youngest daughter Jess has very kindly created a short video promo for my latest book, The Biblical Cosmos. Thanks to Ellison for doing the voiceover.

The book is available from Wipf and Stock (for $21.60) or Amazon.com ($23.44)/Amazon.co.uk (£13.22) or anywhere worthy.


You can read a free sample of it here.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Christmas in universalist perspective—an Advent podast

The guys at Nomad Podcast asked if I'd record some thoughts on Christmas from a Christian universalist perspective. Must confess, my first thought was "Yikes! I don't have anything to say!" But then I thought, "well, why not!" So I did it. You can hear the recording here.