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).

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.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Eriugena on God's garments

Following my post on creation as God's garments, here is something from John Scotus Eriugena (823–877).
Indeed, the garment of the Word is visible creation, which preaches Him openly and manifests His beauty to us. The Holy Scriptures have also been made His garment, which contains the mysteries. 
(Commentarius in Sanctum Evangelium secundum Johannem I, xxix)

Eriugena distinguishes between the Incarnation of the Logos (Word) in Jesus, "by which He joined human nature to Himself in a unity of substance" and the quasi-incarnation of the Logos by which He is "rendered thick" and "visible" in both creation and Scripture.

So the Logos is "incarnate"

  • in creation, 
  • in Scripture, 
  • but most supremely in Jesus. 

For Eriugena, in order to stress the uniqueness of Jesus, the word "incarnation" is reserved for the final mode. The other modes are quasi incarnatum. (Eriugena also rightly consider the deification of human beings in the eschaton to be a quasi-incarnation of the Logos.)

Still, again we find this interesting metaphor of God revealed indirectly in the shape of his garments. So the garment image predates Thomas Carlyle. Indeed, I think  that it predates Eriugena, who was commenting on Maximus the Confessor. I'll need to check that out.

Arminians and Calvinists "battle" over Christmas carol

Christian philosopher and Arminian theologian Jerry Walls has rewritten a certain well-known carol to enable Calvinists to sing it without the stress of mental reservations. Here is Jerry's version.

Joy to the chosen! their Lord has come;
Let them receive their King;
Only their hearts prepare him room
For the others cannot sing
For the others cannot sing
For the others, the others cannot sing.

Note to the world: the Sovereign reigns
And men he does employ
Like fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Controls them as his toys
Controls them as his toys
Controls them, controls them as his toys!

So long let sin and sorrows grow
As murderers shall kill;
For he ordaineth everything
By his secret, hidden will
By his secret, hidden will
By his secret, his secret hidden will.

He rules the world by sovereign might
And makes the nations prove
The glories of omnipotence
And wonders of his wrath
And wonders of his wrath
And wonder, and wonder how this is love. 

Ho ho ho.

Jason Huff, a pastor from Greenwood, Indiana, has responded with a Calvinist rewrite for Arminians. Here is Jason's hymn.

Joy to the world . . . the Western world
The rest? Eh . . . not so much.
‘Cause everybody here
Gets several times to hear
But not those in Nepal
Because we dropped the ball
Our free will has stopped God from coming near.

Joy to the ones who get to choose
The Prime Directive states
To interfere
With free will is not dear
In fact, it’s really mean
For God to intervene
Except when we really, really want Him to.

Joy to the world, the choice is yours
God waits and waits and waits
He cannot do a thing
A puppet on a string
Until you make the call
Then He’ll give you it all
Unless you waver, then all bets are off.

Maybe each side has thoughtful points
Perhaps some truth to both
We do not understand
All bits of our God’s plan
Let’s not tie all our fate
To cantankerous debate
Join hands over Christ’s birth and celebrate!

Very funny.

I suggest that we draw from the insights of both and just stick with the universalist version:

Joy to the world! The Lord is come

Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing 

Joy to the world! The Saviour reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods
Rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy 

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as, far as the curse is found

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonders and wonders of His love

Friday, 12 December 2014

Creation as the "living garment of God"

“Or what is Nature? Ha! Why do I not name thee God? Art not thou the ‘Garment of the Living God’? O Heavens, is it, in very deed, He, then, that ever speaks through thee; that lives and loves in thee, that lives and loves in me?” 
Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Restartus (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1893), p. 130.
In “The Knowledge of God the Creator” (Institutes I.V.1), Calvin offers the following comment on Psalm 104:
Therefore the prophet very aptly exclaims that he is "clad with light as with a garment" [Ps. 104: 2 p.]. It is as if he said: Thereafter the Lord began to show himself in the visible splendor of his apparel, ever since in the creation of the universe he brought forth those insignia whereby he shows his glory to us, whenever and wherever we cast our gaze."
Thanks to Thomas Hastings for these quotations (both taken from his excellent study on the twentieth-century Japanese evangelist and social reformer Kagawa Toyohiko—Pickwick, forthcoming). Here is Kagawa himself:
[S]omeone may ask this question: Are God and the universe one? And are God and human beings one? Pantheism takes that stand. But I am not a pantheist. I am an advocate of the Holy Spirit. No, beyond that I am one who rejoices in the Spirit-filled life.  
Is the child living in the womb identical to the mother? Although conceived in the mother, the child is a different person from the mother. The mother transcends the child. Still, the child is living in the mother. And the child comes from the mother. In like manner, the absolute God transcends human beings while embracing human beings, and human beings are created by God. 
We can think of the relation of God and the universe in the same way. The material world is not itself God. But God transcends it, dwells in it, and through it manifests himself. I wonder if it is not most appropriate to think of the material world as the garment of God.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A Christmas carol rap song (God rest ye merry gentlemen)

I must confess—I think that this is good.
I am a bit of a sucker for rap (must be my name)

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Gregory of Nyssa on 1 Corinthians 15:28

I recently read Gregory of Nyssa's In Illud: Tunc et Ipse Filius. It is a short but fascinating piece on 1 Corinthians 15:28.

“Then the Son will be subjected to him who has subjected all things to himself.”

This was a text that some were using to argue that the Son cannot be equal in divinity to the Father, because he will be subjected to the Father.

Gregory's response, following Origen, is that the Son here is submitting to the Father as a human being; indeed, as the representative human being. As such, his submission to the Father is a submission to God on behalf of all humanity, nay, all creation. Creation submits in Christ's own submission. And so, when creation is subjected in Christ, God will be all in all.

I think that this is exactly right—not simply as a quirky-but-interesting later spin on the text. I think it is what Paul is getting at. 

Given that, it is perhaps not surprising that 1 Corinthians 15:28 was the most commonly appealed to text among the early Christian defenders of apokatastasis