A response to Michael McClymond's theological critique of universal salvation

This year has seen the publication of the most thoroughly researched critique of Christian universalism ever published—Michael McClymond's two-volume work The Devil's Redemption: A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018). This is a landmark publication—a major academic achievement by a very capable scholar. No academic study of the subject will be able to ignore it.

I will offer a response to one of Michael's core historical theses in my forthcoming book on universalism in the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. (There I will argue that he somewhat overestimates and misconstrues the influence of Jacob Böhme on universalism from the late seventeenth to the early twentieth century.)

For now, here is my response to his core theological objections to universal salvation. I argue that none of his arguments succeeds in theologically undermining Christian universalism.


Anonymous said…
Thank you so much for doing all this work.
Curt Parton said…
I received an email yesterday from Academia.edu notifying me of your paper. I haven't yet read McClymond's book (it's a little pricey), but your response is gracious, fair, and---to me---edifying. I appreciate the clarity you bring to McClymond's points of criticism, and you seem to be very effective in showing the problems and fallacies with his theological reasoning, although in fairness I haven't yet read his work. Does he persist, in this book, in seeking to refute many of Ilaria Ramelli's conclusions regarding the widespread existence of Christian universalism in the church fathers? Thanks for all your work on this. I look forward to your upcoming book!
Malcolm said…
Great paper Robin. I was waiting for the answer regarding his critique - if grace is grace, God need not give it; and therefore he be dsave none. I was happy to see you did finally give it (though I think it could have been made stronger): grace comes with our *creation.* God need not create any of us; but assuming he does it can still be necessary that he save us. That is, although God need not grant grace, the opposite of him not doing so is not our damnation, but our non existence. The antithesis is not, if grace is free, you are either saved or lost, but, you are either saved or not-saved: ie not created in the first place.
Robin Parry said…

In the book he traces the developments in the interpretation of Origen within the academy, noticing that patristic scholars are getting more and more sympathetic to him. He then argues that we need to revert to the older scholarship which is much more suspicious of him. So he is aware that he is bucking the trend, but he tries to build his case. This means he has to take on Ilaria, which he tries to do. I will leave it to Ilaria and others to respond as that is not my area. The appendix to Ilaria's new book offers a first response from her to his critique of her work. She will have more to follow.

Robin Parry said…


wayne said…
Robin - thank you so much for all you do to promote and defend the Truth of Biblical Universalism! I was so delighted to find (today) your review of McClymond's book that I just came across a few days ago.

I am 63 years old - was raised in the home of a Southern Baptist pastor - transitioned to Reformed/Calvinist in my early 20's - on to seminary and an M.Div. then pastored a conservative PCA church for about 10 years. Somewhere in all those years my heart was slowly moving toward the hope of Biblical Universalism. Jan Bonda's book ("The One Purpose of God") and your Evangelical Universalist played no small part in solidifying this belief and conviction.

All said, I still feel Scripture leaves us with an incomplete and paradoxical take on these matters so that each individual or institution will be left to decide which perspective will serve as the "magisterium" into which the rest are (sometimes awkwardly) fit. But I for one find the larger hope more commensurate with the infinite greatness of God, who is Love.

When I am confused by the "fog of war" on this verbal front - I return to this compelling thought:
1. God's Word will not return to Him void - but will accomplish all His desire (Is.55:11)
2. God desires all to be saved (1 Tim.2:4)
3. God sent forth His Word (Jesus) to accomplish His desire - That Word of love will endure all things - It cannot and will not fail! (1 Tim. 4:10)

May God continue to bless you and your family!
Wayne Fair
Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Robin Parry said…
Thanks, Wayne

in the hope

Unknown said…
Hi Robin,

I am so grateful for all the work that you do defending Evangelical Universalism. Your efforts in this regard have truly changed my life. You have transformed my view of God and helped me to make some sense of the pain and suffering in the world and the existence of evil. Universalism - it seems to me - is the only belief system that can adequately defend the character of God as eternal love.

I have struggled for decades with the prospect of family, friends and most of humanity facing a horrific eternity. The thought was terrifying and seemed so incompatible with a good God, a loving God, a praise-worthy God, an ethical God. It seemed to be the antithesis of a gospel (good news).

I am also thankful that you have the knowledge and intellectual capacity to respond to your critics. Many of us would be lost in trying to refute arguments raised by the likes of Dr. McClymond. You,Thomas Talbott, Illaria Ramelli, Peter Hiett, David Bentley Hart et al are truly our heroes. The kindness and humility you extend towards those who disagree with you are truly marks of Christ likeness.

All this to say that you are very much appreciated for all the amazing things you do!

Thanks, Dave
Robin Parry said…

Thank you for your kind and encouraging words.
Blessings on your journey.

Mark Deckard said…
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