Goroncy on Forsyth: post 5: Universalism

The final bumper chapter in the book is a magnificent analysis of universalism (and its denial) in Forsyth. In a nutshell, the chapter argues that the logic of Forsyth's whole theology drives headlong towards a universalist eschatology. In spite of this, Forsyth explicitly denied that we can know that all will be saved (although he also denied that we can know that all will not be saved). Goroncy examines Forsyth's rejection of universalism and argues convincingly that this rejection actually ends up undermining central elements of Forsyth's theology. As such Forsyth would have been better off biting the bullet and embracing universalism.

It is a rigorous, well-written, and fascinating chapter that (to my mind) makes a convincing case that Forsyth's theology was at its heart fundamentally universalist (in spite of Forsyth's own denials of this).

Some important threads in that argument include:

1. Forsyth's belief that Christ died for everyone (not just for a subset of humans) and that his death "is not merely potentially universal in scope but is so actually and efficiently" (Goroncy). "In the Cross the world was doomed to — salvation. All were shut up unto sin, that there might be mercy on all." All humans are already saved in the cross.

2. Forsyth's rejection of double predestination. Forsyth thought that a doctrine of double predestination posited two wills in God, indeed two gods. Instead, he argued, Christ is the one and only source and expression of God's one holy and loving will. In Christ the whole human race has been "foreordained" and "fore-saved" and "justified."

3. Forsyth's rejection of the "miserable doctrine" of annihilationism. To Forsyth annihilation of sinners is no solution to sin but simply a giving up on creation, an admission of divine failure.

4. Forsyth's employment of universal grammar. He speaks of Jesus as turning "a universal curse into a universal blessing," "universal grace," the universality of reconciliation, redemption, salvation, regeneration, etc. This kind of talk pervades his writings.

5. Forsyth's teaching that the cross brings about a new beginning. What God did in the cross was fait accompli: everything is decided in the cross. "Here alone, history's telos is finally unveiled, the eschaton arrived, evil's death warrant signed, the end's beginning begun, God's decisive move made, all things recapitulated into the triumph of holiness which is the last reality" (Goroncy). Get this quote, for instance: "In the universal Christ the world is chosen for salvation, and is saved in principle, and shall be saved in fact."

6. Forsyth's revising of the doctrine of election. For Forsyth election is first and foremost the election of Christ. There is no election behind the election of Christ. And there is no other divine decree lurking behind the back of God's decree in Christ. The election of the church and Israel is derivative — we are elect in Christ (and elect for service). And Forsyth anticipates a day when the church will include "humanity as one whole." The church for now is a foretaste of the age to come in which all will participate in election. The gospel's object is "no longer to save a group out of the world, but to save the world itself." We are "foredoomed to faith" and "saved ... before we could be consulted."

7. Forsyth's belief that the redemption of the world carried on being worked out after death. Even "the lake of fire is regarded no longer as out of His dominion, beyond the circle of His grace and love. It is His, to be used for his divine purposes" (F.D. Maurice). It is not that sinners can pay for their own sins. Rather, the "crisis of death opens the eyes." The suffering is the suffering of self-discovery. Everlasting torment is hell is not a live candidate for Forsyth's theology. "Damnation is not preached enough, but from a Christian Gospel eternal and destined damnation is excluded." More strongly: "Preach the eternal, unappeasable wrath of God upon lost souls and you offer men a devil to worship."

Yet Forsyth, as Goroncy goes on to show, explicitly denied that we can have any confidence that God would save all people. But, as the final section of the chapter argues with great skill and persuasive power, this hesitancy threatens to unravel the core of Forsyth's theology. In the end God will settle for noting less than the hallowing of his name by all creation. This has been achieved already in Christ and it will come to pass.

The purpose of a world created by a holy God must be holiness, the reflection and communion of his own holiness. Can God secure it? ... That is the ultimate question in life. ... And to that question Christ and His cross are the answer, or they have no meaning at all. They reveal in their foregone victory the omnipotence of holiness to subdue all natural powers and forces, all natural omnipotence, to the moral sanctity of the Kingdom of God. And if they do not reveal that we are left without any ground of certainty about a holy ending for the world at all. ... It is a tremendous claim. And the improbability of it is either a pious absurdity; or it is the quiet irony of a God who has it already done in the hallow of His hand.


Tom Nicholson said…
6. Forsyth's revising of the doctrine of election.

I once heard the suggestion that Forsyth is actually the architect of the "elect in Christ" and not K. Barth.

Just wondering if Goroncy said anything like this?
Robin Parry said…

I could not say whether he was the architect, probably not. (One must also consider Schleiermacher.) But he did anticipate a lot of ideas that Barth later developed. Goroncy does have a section on election.

Anonymous said…

Were you aware of this?

Robin Parry said…
Thanks anonymous

I read his book on the descent into hell. I was not aware of this speech. Thanks
Anonymous said…

This comes from a Mormon journal; nevertheless, it still provides some valuable historical scholarship regarding the doctrine of Christ's descent into Hell. Thought you might find it interesting.

Robin Parry said…
Thanks anonymous, it looks interesting

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