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).

Friday, 29 April 2011

"How Shall I Sing That Majesty" by John Mason

The words of this hymn are great:

How shall I sing that Majesty
which angels do admire?
Let dust in dust and silence lie;
sing, sing, ye heavenly choir.
thousands of thousands stand around
thy throne, O God most high;
ten thousand times ten thousand sound
thy praise; but who am I?

Thy brightness unto them appears,
whilst I thy footsteps trace;
a sound of God comes to my ears,
but they behold thy face.
They sing because thou art their Sun;
Lord, send a beam on me;
for where heaven is but once begun
there alleluias be.

Enlighten with faith's light my heart,
inflame it with love's fire;
then shall I sing and bear a part
with that celestial choir.
I shall, I fear, be dark and cold,
with all my fire and light;
yet when thou dost accept their gold,
Lord, treasure up my mite.

How great a being, Lord, is thine,
which doth all beings keep!
Thy knowledge is the only line
to sound so vast a deep.
thou art a sea without a shore,
a sun without a sphere;
thy time is now and evermore,
thy place is everywhere.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Reconciliation in the Holy Land — conference in Coventry

Musalaha is an amazing organization based it the Holy Land. It works in the area of reconciliation between Jewish and Palestinian people (in the first instance, reconciliation between Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians). They have been at this for many years and have done wonderful work. I hold them in high esteem. Here is a flyer for a two day conference in Coventry for anyone in the UK interested in reconciliation in general or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular.

The Madness of Saint Paul

Some years ago I read an excellent book manuscript by Richard Dormandy for a study of 2 Corinthians called The Madness of Saint Paul. It was an academic volume arguing that in 2 Corinthians Paul was in the process of recovering from a severe mental breakdown. I found the book to be full of fascinating ideas — exegetically stimulating and innovative, theologically constructive, and pastorally beneficial. Sadly that book has never been published. However, Richard Dormany has recently published an accessible, short version of that manuscript. I have not read it yet but I am sure that it will be very interesting. It very much sounds like the kind of book that church leaders and Christian counsellors ought to read. Here is a flyer for the book. And here is a link for a website for the book.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Guest post from C. H. Spurgeon. No pity for the damned. :-(

The righteous in heaven will be quite satisfied
with the damnation of the lost.

I used to think that if I could see the lost in hell,
surely I must weep for them.

Could I hear their horrid wailings, and see the dreadful
contortions of their anguish, surely I must pity them.

But there is no such sentiment as that known in heaven.

The believer shall be there so satisfied with all of God's will,
that he will quite forget the lost, in the idea that God has done
it for the best, that even their loss has been their own fault,
and that God is infinitely just in it.

If my parents could see me in hell they would not have a tear to
shed for me, though they were in heaven, for they would say,
"It is only just, great God; and your justice must be magnified,
as well as your mercy;" and moreover, they would feel that God
was so much above his creatures that they would be satisfied to
see those creatures crushed if it might increase God's glory.

Oh! in heaven I believe we shall think rightly of "men".
Here "men" seem great things to us; but in heaven they will
seem no more than a few creeping insects that are swept
away in ploughing a field for harvest.

From heaven's viewpoint, "men" will appear no more than a
tiny handful of dust, or like some nest of wasps that ought
to be exterminated for the injury they have done.

"Men" will appear such little things when we sit on high with God,
and look down on the nations of the earth as "grasshoppers",
and "count the isles as very little things."

Sunday, 17 April 2011

A thought on Palm Sunday and eschatology

In Luke’s Gospel Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem takes place over ten chapters (9:51—19:44), climaxing in the story in which Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey (19:28–40) — a deliberate messianic action designed to make associations with Zechariah 9:9.

What struck me this year is that Luke seems to envisage this action as a prophetic foretaste of a final, eschatological triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

This struck me as I was reading Luke 13:35. Jesus, whilst on his final journey towards Jerusalem, says, “Behold, your house [i.e., the temple] is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Now it seems clear to me that Jesus is not speaking about his near-future entry into Jerusalem here. This seems apparent for two reasons:

First, in Luke’s Gospel it is not Jerusalem that welcomes Jesus with the words of the pilgrim psalm (Ps 118:26), it is Jesus’ disciples clearly presented as a subset of the crowd (19:36–40). But in chapter 13 Jesus is speaking of the welcome that Jerusalem and the Jewish people in general would give him (note who the “you” is in 13:35).

Second, there seems to be no point for Jesus to say, “Jerusalem will not see me . . . until . . . [drum roll] . . . I arrive there in a few days time.” Such a point would be utterly banal and contribute nothing to his words in chapter 13.

The point in Luke 13:35 seems to be that Jerusalem’s fate is now sealed — its temple is forsaken — and it will not see Jesus again (after his death, or possibly his ascension) until the eschatological time that God has appointed to “restore everything” (Acts 3:17–21, a text which has an end-time restoration of Israel in mind), including the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6–8).

So Jesus is not speaking of his forthcoming arrival in Jerusalem on a donkey. And yet . . . attentive readers, when they get to Luke 19:36–40, will not fail to make the connection between the two texts. Here, Jesus enters Jerusalem as Jerusalem’s messianic redeemer and, amongst the crowds, his disciples welcome him, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (a messianic modification of Ps 118:26).

It seems to me that the welcome of the disciples here is being presented as, for want of a better phrase, a prophetic foretaste of the welcome that, one day (at some point after the now-inevitable coming destruction Jesus speaks of so often in Luke), all Jerusalem would welcome its Messiah.

This puts the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (though Luke has no palms) in a new light. This is the first entry and, ironically, even though Jerusalem rejects him — failing to recognize “the things that make for peace” and “the time of [its] visitation” (Luke 19:41–44) — its very rejection of its Messiah, in the providence of God, become the very means by which it will be redeemed. The post-“crucifixion” “resurrection” of Jerusalem is writ small and guaranteed by the risen body of its Messiah. The risen Jesus embodies the future of Jerusalem and the Jewish people.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Friday, 15 April 2011

A thought on mercy (Reply to Crisp, pt 2)

In his article Crisp makes a point, often made by Calvinists, as one of the building blocks of his main article. I here offer a simple reflection on it.
Regarding “grace” and “justice” Crisp writes,
“The two notions are distinct. God may act in a gracious manner towards his creatures, but he need not act in this way, and there can be no requirement for him to do so, because it is of the nature of an act of grace that it is free and not obligatory. By contrast, divine justice is inexorable and must be satisfied on an Augustinian way of thinking. It cannot be set aside, passed over, or abrogated . . . If salvation is a work of divine grace, then God could create a world where no one is saved and this would be consistent with his divine goodness.” (pp. 16–17)
To what extent is this so?

The grammar of “grace” (and “mercy”) and of “justice” does differ in the way that Crisp suggests. Take mercy. An act of mercy is not owed. God is under no obligation to the object of mercy to show mercy. He has not failed in any obligation to the sinner, say, if he does not show mercy. Quite so.

But it may still be the case that there remains a sense in which God does “need” to act mercifully towards the sinner. Not because he needs to show mercy in order to fulfil some obligation to the sinner (the sinner cannot be owed mercy—such a notion is absurd) but perhaps it is the case that it is God’s “nature always to have mercy.” Perhaps it is the case that God is the kind of God who, to be true to himself, “needs” to show mercy. So it is imaginable that mercy is also necessary for God in spite of the fact that its necessity is not identical to the necessity of justice.

Whether that is so would be to be considered more carefully. My point is that the distinction made by Crisp, though valid, does not by itself allow us to conclude that God could, even in theory, create a world in which he failed to save any/some/most/all. Perhaps such a world is indeed impossible given the perfection of the divine nature. God is a merciful God. If he did not show mercy to anyone, while he would not have failed in any obligations to sinners, such a scenario would make the claim that “God is merciful” false. My theological instincts react against that idea.

My second concern is whether a world in which God saved no one is compatible with his goodness. Here I suppose that it depends on what one means by “goodness.” If one holds that “God is good” means no more than “God carries out all his ‘obligations’” (or something like that) then not saving any is compatible with goodness. But this seems a somewhat minimalist understanding of “goodness.” In Scripture God’s goodness seems to be a more robust notion that this. If God does not save anyone then he may not have failed in any obligation to sinners (who cannot “claim” salvation as a right!) but has he actually shown goodness to sinners? And if he has not shown goodness to sinners is he really good in any robust sense?

I anticipate that this comment will elicit the response that God may have shown goodness to sinners in the form of common grace but not in the form of saving grace.

My first thought is that the logic of the Calvinist argument would lead one to say that God's failure to show even common grace to any sinners (for it too is not owed) is compatible with his goodness. So this response does not get to the heart of the problem (i.e., that God can be good without being good to anyone). But let's set that aside for now.

I suppose that in this scenario God has indeed been good to sinners — I have no intention of minimalizing common grace — even though he saves none of them. However, whilst he would have been good, he has not been GOOD. Saving them from eternal destruction is an act of greater goodness than making their lives here and now, on balance, good. So I guess that my point is that God’s goodness is a great, divine goodness and it is this robust goodness God must show to sinners to be true to himself.

Suppose that God has two sons dying of cancer (as a result of their own fault). God would be showing undeserved goodness to them to give them food and drink and friends, etc., but, of course, it is within God's power to heal them and to heal them is an act of even greater goodness. My point would then be this: if God showed common grace to all but saving grace to none then that may be consistent with his goodness but does not seem compatible with his GOODNESS. We may be inclined to say that God is good but not that he is GOOD.

This objection is compounded significantly if we move the discussion from divine goodness to divine love. (It is interesting that Crisp's article discusses the compatibility of hell with divine goodness but has no discussion of its compatibility with divine love. Yet surely love is a fundamental divine attribute as far as Christians are concerned.) Can we say that God is, in his very nature, love if, having chosen to create the world, he fails to love sinners? Here is my own view — no. But that is a discussion for another day.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

A few thoughts on a new argument for particularism

Oliver Crisp is a fabulous contemporary analytic theologian in the Reformed tradition. Recently he published an article in response to a universalist critique of non-universalist Augustinian (the Reformed tradition is a sub-set of Augustinianism).

Oliver Crisp, “Is Universalism a Problem for Particularists?” SJT 63.1 (2010) 1–23.

Now Crisp is very clear that traditional Augustinianism is logically compatible with universalism. God could, if he wanted, choose to save all people.

This, however, raises a problem of evil for traditional Augustinians who deny universalism (i.e., almost all of them) because “if God could, on the basis of Augustinian principles, have elected all humanity to salvation and did not, God does not appear to be good” (p. 2).

In the past, a fair few Augustinians have sought to handle this problem by claiming that both the glory of God’s justice and wrath and the glory of God’s mercy and grace need to be displayed in creation. So, the argument runs, to display the glory of justice and wrath God has to punish some in hell with the infinite punishment that their sins deserve.

But, the problem here is that the cross of Christ — on the penal substitutionary view of atonement defended by those Augustinians who deploy this argument — perfectly displays God’s justice and mercy. So, in fact, God can perfectly display the glory of his justice and wrath in creation (on the cross) without the need to send anyone to hell. So, as it stands, this argument seems to provide no requirement for God not to save everyone.

Crisp has suggested a response to this defeater. He calls it the “strict justice condition.” It runs as follows:
The Augustinian might argue, it is important that the display of divine justice has some connection to desert. Were Christ to be the only human person upon whom the divine justice was visited, as a vicarious substitute for sinners (as per Augustinian universalism), this would not have the right connection to desert because Christ does not deserve to be punished — he acts vicariously (and sinlessly) on behalf of sinful human beings deserving punishment. There has to be some connection between the display of divine justice and the idea that (at least some of) those upon whom divine justice is visited are deserving of punishment. (p. 22).
I offer a few reflections here upon this attempt to defeat the defeater.

First, if God has to display the glory of his wrath by punishing at least one deserving sinner in hell then this argument only shows that God has to punish one sinner in hell. That should be enough to display the required glory. So in terms of the original argument particularists would still be left with a problem of evil if any more than one person was sent to hell. I am assuming that most particularists imagine that there will be more than one. So, unless there is an argument as to why God has to punish some/many/most in hell to show his glorious justice, this argument will not do as much work as particularists may hope. (Crisp does have another argument which, if I have time, I’ll blog on in another post).

Second, and this may not worry Crisp, I simply do not accept the premise that God must display his wrath in creation. I think that it is, at best, pure speculation. Worse, to my intuitions it just seems implausible. The implication of such an idea is that God could not create any world that did not contain sin, because, to be true to himself, in all worlds he creates he must display the glory of his wrath and that requires that he create a world in which there is sin so that he can punish it. Perhaps that is the sober truth but it does seem less than obviously true. Is God only capable of creating worlds containing sin? Is it not enough that God be just and that he display his wrath if there is sin? But, perhaps the Calvinist will simply say that they have different intuitions here.

Third, the Crispian defence appears to me to potentially problematize the notion of penal substitution. The doctrine of penal substitution (should one wish to embrace it) has to be stated with great care because it can so easily fall into deep problems. One classic objection to the doctrine is this: the claim that God satisfies his justice by punishing Jesus for our sins instead of punishing us is absurd. To punish an innocent person instead of the guilty person does not satisfy justice. In fact, it is downright unjust.

Now, I may be mistaken but it seems to me that the only hope of making a doctrine of penal substitution plausible is to forget “legal fictions” and to seek to make a case for some kind of strong ontological union between Christ and human sinners. Christ is ontologically identified with sinners in some strongly realist sense (the details of which I will leave to others). So when Christ suffers in our place he is not innocent. He may have been sinless but, through union with sinners, he “became sin for us.”

So I would imagine that the suffering of Christ must have “the right kind of [ontological] connection to desert” or penal substitution would not work at all (and Calvinist Augustinianism would need to do some major systematic rethinking). So why is the cross not sufficient? Why is it not rightly connected to desert?

When Crisp speaks of Christ’s sufferings not having the right connection to desert I suppose that he refers to an epistemological connection. Maybe it is not clear to creation that the cross is about punishment on sin because no one will ever have seen Christ sin. So to make this clear God has to punish someone in hell to display the glory of his justice. In other words, maybe the cross “embodies” the glory of God’s justice and wrath but does not “display” it clearly enough. Interesting suggestion. But would not a prophetic explanation of the cross do the trick in terms of overcoming this epistemic gap? God could explain what sinners deserve and what Christ is suffered on their behalf. The Spirit could open our eyes to perceive the display of divine justice in the cross. If that is possible then the cross could do the job not simply of being the manifestation of divine wrath on sin par excellence but it could also be recognized as such. The glory would be displayed perfectly and none would have to be in hell.

Monday, 4 April 2011

William Blake, "The Reunion of the Soul and the Body at the resurrection" (1808)

William Blake, The Reunion of the Soul and the Body at the resurrection (1808). Engraving after Blake by Louis Schiavonetti for Robert Blair’s poem, “The Grave”: “the Body springs from the grave, the Soul descends from an opening cloud; they rush together with inconceivable energy; they met, never again to part!”

Saturday, 2 April 2011

"God has a very big body": Discuss

I was thinking yesterday about Old Testament passages that picture God as a giant person. It was common in the ancient Near East to picture gods as having giant proportions. The OT did likewise:

1. There is Isaiah's vision in the temple in which the skirt of Yhwh's robe fills the temple (Isa 6:1). That is a big robe!

2. There is the fact that the throne of God in the temple is over 5.3m square (1 Kgs 6:23–28). That is a big seat!

3. There is the story of when God passed by Moses and hid him in the cleft of a rock. As he passed by he shielded Moses with his hand (Exod 33:21–23). This seems to be a very big hand.

4. There are passages like Psalm 24:7–10
Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
the LORD mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
The LORD Almighty—
he is the King of glory.
Here the large temple gates need to have the tops removed because while they are big God is so big that he cannot fit through them.

All this is quite strange to me because I never think of God as having any size at all. God is spirit. So what to do with such images? I don't think that we can read them to suggest that God literally has a giant body—I am not aware of anyone in the Christian tradition that does this.

The Bible often speaks of God's "face", "eyes", "ears", "hands", "arm", "hand", "back", etc.

I suppose that we must take such images to be instances of divine "accommodation" to human understanding. They communicate that God can be related to. He is, in some ways, like us. We are in his image (Gen 1:26). Yet he is also very much not like us. His eyes see all, his ears hear all, his arm is not too short to save, when he stretches out his hand no one can resist him. He is giant.

But it is still a tad odd (though I am sure it was not odd to ancient minds).

What do we do with the idea that God has a body? Is there any sense in which this is more than metaphor? It is hard to think so but I would be interested to hear from anyone who thinks otherwise.