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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).

Saturday, 29 August 2009

I am the Evangelical Universalist


About 2002 or 2003 I wrote a book called The Evangelical Universalist. It was not intended for publication but was simply a way of helping me think through some issues. Anyway, I was advised by a friend to send it to a publisher for review with possible publication in mind. So I sent it to Wipf and Stock who accepted it in their Cascade list and published it in 2006. SPCK then picked it up (not knowing who I was) and published a UK edition in 2008.

But why remain anonymous?
- Not because I was embarrased about my views (I would have loved to be more open about them).
- Not because I feared losing my job

I kept my identity secret in the first instance to protect my employer. Sadly there are some Christians out there who would not be at all happy to know that the Editorial Director for Paternoster is a believer in universal restoration. For the most part this is simply because they do not understand the position that I hold. They imagine that if I am a universalist I must believe propositions such as the following
- that all roads lead to God (Jesus is a way but not the way)
- that it does not matter how we live as we shall all be saved anyway
- that we must choose the parts of the Bible that we like and reject the parts that we do not.
- There is no Hell
- etc, etc
Of course, I don't believe any of those things. I am a relatively conservative evangelical Christian who seeks to found his theology on Scripture. I believe that salvation is in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. But the problem is that it takes a while to explain the view that I hold and it is easier to rush to judgment. I noticed this the other day in an old online article in Christianity Today about people it called 'evangelical universalists'. In fact the people in question were pluralists that attended evangelical churches. This confusion of universalism with pluralism is sadly common (even though a little reflection would show that universalism and pluralism address totally different questions). When many evangelicals hear the word 'universalist' in one ear they hear the word 'heretic' in the other. So I am starting on the backfoot. All the traditionalist has to do to prove (to their satisfaction) that I am unevangelical is quote a verse about Hell. Case closed. The Bible says it, they believe it, that settles it. For me to make my case requires a lot more work to overcome prejudices and misunderstandings. Anyway, I digress...

So to avoid unnecessary difficulties for my employer I kept my real name out of it until enough people had read the book to say, 'Well, he may not be correct but his view is not unChristian.' In fact, some might even say, 'Goodness gracious me! The boy's right!' (which, of course, I am :-))

(As an aside, it has always been my policy not to use Paternoster as a vehicle for the promotion of my own ideas. Consequently I have not used it, nor will I use it, to promote universalism. I have worked for Paternoster for 8 years now and have been a universalist the whole time so I hope that my track record will calm any fears on this front. We willingly publish books defending annihilation and eternal conscious torment - in fact we publish both. Paternoster publishes within the bounds of broadly evangelical Christianity and does not have party lines on pet topics).

My other reason for anonymity was that one of my books, Worshipping Trinity , is a more important book than TEU and I am keen not to undermine its important message. I am pleased that it has been having a positive impact on various churches. Sadly, I know that there are people out there who would avoid that book like the plague if they thought it was written by a so-called 'heretic'. Everything I ever wrote or said would be untouchable. I do not care about that as far as my reputation goes (what reputation? not much to lose, eh?) but I do care if it stops churches hearing a word of the Lord that they need to hear (and I do believe Worshipping Trinity is a word of the Lord).

So why confess my identity now? It was always my intention to reveal who I was when it seemed right. When the church might understand universalism enough to accept it as a Christian position (even if not the only one or even the right one). We're not there yet but we are closer than we were a few years back, so I thought, 'It's going to come out some time - better to reveal my identity myself than be 'exposed'.'

Of course, it may be too early. People may now avoid me, or stop inviting me to preach, or stop reading my books and Bible notes, or advise others to avoid me as dangerous, etc, etc. Well, so be it. God will have to look after me.

So let me concluse with the words I ended the book with:

"Let me ask you to hold in your mind traditional Christian visions of the future, in which many, perhaps the majority of humanity, are excluded from salvation forever. Alongside that hold the universalist vision, in which God achieves his loving purpose of redeeming the whole creation. Which vision has the strongest view of divine love? Which story has the most powerful narrative of God’s victory over evil? Which picture lifts the atoning efficacy of the cross of Christ to the greatest heights? Which perspective best emphasizes the triumph of grace over sin? Which view most inspires worship and love of God bringing him honor and glory? Which has the most satisfactory understanding of divine wrath? Which narrative inspires hope in the human spirit? To my mind the answer to all these questions is clear, and that is why I am a Christian universalist."

42 comments:

Richard said...

Turns out I was wrong thinking it was D A Carson or J I Packer then?

I did enjoy the book.

David Reimer said...

So ... Gregory of Nyssa, and George MacDonald, then?

If so, I suppose that puts you in good company!

James Pate said...
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James Pate said...

Seriously??? I knew from here that you were moving in that direction, but I didn't know you were already there. I like your work!

Robin Parry said...

Richard - thanks (and for the review).

David - like I always say - you know everything. Spot on! I am in very good company (though my opponents are in better company - Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, etc).

James - seriously.

Ryan said...

I'm glad you've come out of the closet, Robin. I guess you tipped your hand when you had those posts about hell. Well, I don't think you're a heretic, and I really enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work.

Don Hendricks said...

Glad the waiting is over. I had no clue, and am not familiar with your work previous to this book. Thank you for joining the voices of those who saw Christ as the Savior of the world. This perspective will have a place in the issues which create a new reformation of Christianity for our children and grandchildren. Thank you

Don Hendricks M.Div.
Sun Lakes, Az

Jason Goroncy said...

Robin, It'll be good to have everything back on the one CV again. Bless you brother.

Michael F. Bird said...

Robin, got to admire your chutzpah. This certainly was a surprise. I was sure that it was Oliver Crisp or Joel Green! PS, email me about timings for driving to BNTC!

John Lyons said...

Good for you!

T.N. said...

Dear Robin,

God bless you and "ALL" your books and writings.

Yes, the Kings and Nations will eventually join the New Jerusalem!

Yes, the 7th and last benediction of Rev. 22:14 remains open for all the sinners of the next verse!

Thank you, again, for publishing TEU.

Shalom,

T.N. (of the Edinburgh Art Museum Coffee Shop).

Dean said...

Robin-

Although I enjoyed your book, John Piper told me a tornado will soon pass by your office and tear off a shingle or two. Please accept this as God's warning to repent for your heretical beliefs in universalism.

Anonymous said...

Whoa! Didn't see that one coming! I've been thinking about getting the book for awhile, but was always a little afraid for some reason. Instead, since I've read this blog long enough to trust you as an author and passionate Christian, I'm definitely going to buy it now.

Josh Mann said...

Robin, I have major reservations about the use of pseudonyms in biblical scholarship. I wonder if you might be up for a discussion here. Interesting thesis, nonetheless.

James Goetz said...

Blessings:)

simon said...

Well, now I know that you wrote it, I shall buy and read it with greater interest since I have found other thiongs you've written to be a rel blessing. Thanks for your honesty. May God continue to use you

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't universalism also be consistent with the Biblicial view of faith, that is, it is a belief in things yet unseen. There is a them in scripture that those who believe and have faith without proof are more blessed (e.g., doubting Thomas). Hence, those who believe now, without full proof and by seeing only darkly, are blessed proleptically with some of the blessings of the kingdom and so have a much more abundant life than those who do not believe now. Also, those who believe now are also more blessed at judgment because they do not have to endure hell. Those who did not believe by faith, will, when in hell, see things clearly for God will be fully revealed to them. They will then eventually (may or may not be a long time) believe because they see clearly and fully what we only see darkly now. Hence their decision will still be "free" but made freely in the context of full knowledge, whereas those who believe now made their decision freely but in the context of much less knowledge.

Would not the pain of hell also be similar to that experienced by Ezekiel (if I recall correctly) who experienced the holy presence of God as painful (full sense of his uncleanness, and didn't he get a painful coal on his tongue or something?).

Regards,
#John1453

Robin Parry said...

Thanks all for your kind words.

Josh - anonymity is not ideal and does hamper discussion a little. But only a little. There is nothing to stop people critiquing the arguments in the book and ripping Gregory MacDonald's case to shreds. (I'm still waiting for a proper critique. I often think that I can come up with better objections to my case than any I have read so far).

GM had exprerssed willing to have online debates with people or email dialogues. The only thing he could not do was to do alive debate (for obvious reasons).

To be honest, I don't think that there is a lack of scholars out there who could not make a good job of picking holes in my case. Instead I think most critics thought that universalism was too far off the charts to bother wasting time on. Of course, if it becomes more of a threat then more helpful criticisms will appear. And that is all good for the health of the church.

Liam Byrnes said...

Wowzer, I was really holding out for John Piper to reveal himself for a moment there, ha! Enjoy this blog immensely, thanks for ending the wondering!

Craig Gardiner said...

I've made some comments on this at http://gatheringandscattering.blogspot.com/2009/09/univeralism-unmasked.html from which you can tell that i have appreciated this book along with your others very much. I just kind of liked the mystery of Gregory MacDonald.

Anyway you've got be rereading George MacDonald Fairy Tales now.

CrazyLoverWannabe said...

Count me among those you have convinced into the fold of "hopeful universalists."

I'm not ready to come out yet, though.

Baptist Bookworm said...

Nice one Robin!
I enjoyed the book, and what a joy to get back from Greenbelt (plenty of EU's there, thank God) and find it was you wot wrote it...
See you at BNTC.
Simon.

Kurt said...

You were the main editor for "Universal Salvation? The current debate" by TT so, weren't your views already known?

crisp family said...

Well, well. You finally did it. I wonder what made you choose now? Perhaps the fact that your secret identity was becoming more difficult to sustain. It isn't easy being a theological superhero, I guess.

@ Michael Bird: you thought I'd written it?! I wonder why. Actually, I'm very flattered that you thought I might be able to write a book as accessible and thought-provoking as this irenic essay.

Daniel Hill said...

You know, I thought it was you, Robin, until I heard you on _Unbelievable_ on Premier Christian Radio. It sounded nothing like you at all. Their voice-disguise software is absolutely brilliant!

Anonymous said...

So how do we know you're not just claiming to have written it? Where is the evidence?

Daniel Hill said...

`I am Spartacus' etc.

James Goetz said...
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James Goetz said...

"No, I am Spartacus."

TN said...

Well, if Daniel and James (above) are claiming to be Sparticus, then so will I -- I wrote The Evangelical Universalist!

Actually, I know Robin will have no trouble proving he's Sparticus if he wants to try!

philgroom said...

Good to see you coming out, Robin: respect!

I think my recent post on hell kinda puts me out there with you... or would if I believed in the immortality of the soul or whatever you want to call the supposedly indestructible essence of humanity. But without that belief ...

graham old said...

Wow, I had no idea!

Robin, you may remember that I e-interviewed you about your book a while ago, on Leaving Munster. I loved it then and I love it now. In fact, I'd have to say that you are completely wrong in thinking that 'Worshipping Trinity', is a more important book than TEU. but, hey, you can't be right about everything!

I'm really pleased you feel able to come out of the closet now.

NathanColquhoun said...

I just finished the Evangelical Universalist, then came online to see more about Gregory Macdonald. This is awesome...

Anyway, we are doing a series on Heaven, Hell, New Jerusalem and the overall narrative of God's plan at our church here in Ontario and this book has been extremely helpful on a number of fronts. While I doubt everything will be accepted with open arms this has really given some meat to my arguments and now when people laugh at me and make fun of my beliefs i can give them your book ;)

But seriously, thank-you so much for writing this book. It was excellent.

Robin Parry said...

Thanks all

(Graham - of course I remember you. Give my regards to Mark Norridge)

Keith DeRose said...

Just found this tonight. I didn't realize you had revealed your identity. Hope doing so hasn't caused any trouble. Great book!

Robin Parry said...

Keith

Thanks.

Well no trouble that caused me any concern and no trouble that I am currently aware of.

All is quiet of the western front.

Robin

http://www.a-zcomics.com said...

I have yet to see a proponent of Endless Torment doctrine who does not run to Matt. 25 for support. I think that Thomas Talbot handles that passage pretty well in his book, The Inescapable Love of God, but I think the real answer is found in James Stuart Russell's book, the Parousia of Christ.If Russell is correct, which I believe to be the case, then the parable of the Sheep and Goats deals with how Jesus deals with nations not personal eschatology.

Anonymous said...

Finally an answer the reconciles the age-old debate between Calvinists and Arminians. Thanks for such an enlightening work.

Chad

Celestial Fundy said...

Hi Robin,

I read on Michael Heiser's blog that the author of that book had revealed his identity and guessed it might be yourself.

I have not read the book I am afraid.

I read 'Five Views on Election' and and thought Thomas Talbot had some good arguments for universal restoration, but I felt he did not should have dealth with some of the passages that are held to teach everlasting punishment.

I think some conservative evangelicals can sometimes have an unpleasent allergic reaction to universal restoration and make some unhelpful noises.

Every Blessing in Christ

Matthew Clarke

charles slagle said...

Dear Robin,

Thank you for your labours of love and also for making your identity known when you sensed God leading you to. My name is Charles Slagle and my wife Paula and I ministered in England between 1984 and 94. In 94 George MacDonald's writings confirmed universal salvation to me and the knowledge of God's unconditional and committed love delivered me from many years of chronic depression and addiction. www.sigler.org/slagle tells the story. It's so exciting seeing this message spread, and thanks again for helping that happen! You have been in my prayers and will continue to be. Hang in there, and God bless you, bro! -Charles (and Paula)

Robin Parry said...

Thanks for the kind words Charles

pyGrant said...

Hi Robin,

I was amused to see you wrote the following in late 2009:

"To be honest, I don't think that there is a lack of scholars out there who could not make a good job of picking holes in my case. Instead I think most critics thought that universalism was too far off the charts to bother wasting time on."

I am guessing Rob Bell's "Love Wins" book has shoved this topic right up the theological agenda ;-)

All the best from NZ, Grant