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

Ken Anada 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…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg Goode said…
Hello Robin,

I am deeply sympathetic to the idea of evangelical universalism. With a background in Pentacostal Christianity, I'm finding the idea very new, but fascinating and compelling. I plan to explore it. I hope to locate an affordable copy of "The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis."

Also, I appreciate your video response to the question about the reconciliation of abusers and oppressors. I had the same question, as well as a question about people who lived before Christ and others who have actively rejected Christ's message.

That is, can you sketch a bit more about how the reconciliation of sinners would work? Presumably you would keep Hell? Then would God work with the sinners in Hell until they confront and feel the weight of their sin, and repent? Would the process be analogous to what now happens on Earth when people repent? If so, I can see how this would answer my question.

I would appreciate it if you can either sketch out even a scenario for me, or direct me to some relevant reading.

Thank you so much!

--Greg Goode
Robin Parry said…

I would keep 'hell' (in scare quotes). I do think God would work with those in 'hell', leading them to acknowledge their sin and turn from it.

In the Zondervan Four Views of Hell (ed. Preston Sprinkle) book I present how I conceptualize hell in my response to Jerry Walls. I see it as the presence of God as it is experienced by those who are not ready to encounter it. They experience it as a burning fire. If one hates the presence of God it is hell (punishing fire), but as one changes one's orientations towards God, it is experienced as purgatory (purifying fire) and then as heaven.

Have you read Thomas Talbott's Inescapable Love of God? That may offer some helpful thoughts. For a novel, I would recommend George MacDonald's Lilith. Lilith's experiencing of 'hell' is theologically profound. My The Evangelical Universalist may also help.
Greg Goode said…
Hi Robin,

Thanks for your quick answer! I see that I resonate with Thomas Talbott's approach (sets of three propositions, etc.), as I too have training as a philosopher. I think I'll start my study with _Four Views of Hell_, _The Inescapable Love of God_, and The Evangelical Universalist_.

Thanks again,

--Greg Goode
Daniel Ripperton said…
Greg Goode,

With regard to those of your starting places that I've read, The Inescapable Love of God and TEU are both lovely! You're in for a treat!

Fr. Aidan Kimel's list of Essential Readings in Universalism is also
helpful as a guide to the Universalist woods (https://afkimel.wordpress.com/essential-readings-on-universalism/). Happy studying! [smiles]



Daniel Ripperton said…

Were there any misprints reported in "All Shall Be Well"? The page that should be page 222 in my copy (toward the beginning of Tom Talbott's essay on George MacDonald) is completely blank for some reason.

Greg Goode said…
Daniel, thanks for Aiden Kimel’s reading list. Very substantial reading, just my kind!!!
Robin Parry said…

That must be a dud-copy of the book. I have not come across other copies that that page missing. You can get a replacement copy if you contact whoever you bought it from. If it was Amazon then they will need to supply a replacement. If it was from the W&S then contact them and they'll supply one.

Unknown said…
I seem to have some peace this week for perhaps the first time in my 67 years, working through your book.

When the nations enter the gates, what is the "splendor" they bring?

I never would have thought you would look like Dr. Who of the Tom Baker cast, but I see you're a fan.
Stella Kelson said…
This comment has been removed by the author.

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