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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!,
Gregory MacDonald opens this excellent book with a personal story. One day, in an evangelical church, Gregory MacDonald stopped singing. God did not deserve his singing. God did not deserve to be loved - "I was having a doxological crisis - wanting to believe that God was worthy of worship but unable to do so. The crisis was brought on by my reflections on hell."(p.1). The author said in one interview that this book was originally written just for himself, and it is certainly a personal work.
The first chapter ("A hell of a problem") discusses philosophical objections to the traditional doctrine of hell as eternal conscious torment (ECT). Discussions include the problem of infinite retribution and the joy of the redeemed MacDonald certainly cannot be accused of not giving ECT its best defence. Reference is made to all the major evangelical systems (Calvinism, Arminianism, Molinism and Open Theism) and their best defenders of ECT (including William Lane Craig, Oliver Crisp and Jerry Walls). MacDonald then briefly discusses the role of philosophical argument in Christian theology, arguing that while Scripture remains the highest authority, philosophy, history, reason and experience should also guide our interpretation of Scripture. Thus the philosophical arguments against ECT should give us a "hermeneutical bias" against such interpretations.
The next four chapters attempt to make an exegetical case for Evangelical Universalism. MacDonald's view is perhaps not what one would expect. He believes that one's eternal destiny is not fixed at death (this is the only major Christian doctrine that MacDonald denies in the book) but rather those already in Christ pass into heaven and those not found in Christ pass into hell, a place of suffering. However, those in hell are free at any point to accept Christ at which point they pass from hell into heaven. MacDonald is speculative here, but says that it is possible that the resurrection of all the dead will occur once all have been redeemed. Passages discussed include Colossians 1 (where the case is strong) and Revelation (where I felt the case was less strong). Refreshingly, the book does not focus on "proof texts" but provides a discussion of the biblical metanarrative from Adam to the Church. "...we have argued that in Jesus Christ God has acted to save Israel and, thus, to save the world. On the cross he takes upon himself Israel's exile and Humanity's expulsion, both conceived in terms of a divine curse. His resurrection anticipates the return from exile the Jews longed for and the restoration of humanity and creation. Christ is thus, on the one hand, the Messiah representing the nation of Israel and, on the other, the second Adam representing the whole of humanity. In his representative role nobody is excluded. Christ does not merely represent a limited group of people within Israel and the nations. Christ's death is not merely on behalf of some elect grouping within the wider family of humanity. He represented all, and his death was for all without any exceptions. In his resurrection, the whole of creation is reconciled, and the whole of humanity is redeemed." (p. 104f.) These biblical chapters have a particularly interesting take on the Suffering Servant songs in Isaiah.
Chapter 6 is when MacDonald steps back from making a positive case for Universalism and instead defends his views against the "hell texts". The hermeneutical bias discussed in chapter 1 is stretched a little, but, as MacDonald points out, no less so than other evangelical systems' readings of their own `problem texts' is stretched, such as Hebrews 6:4-6 for Calvinists. The honesty throughout the book is striking.
The book finishes off with some replies to remaining objections, including an interesting discussion of mission that is truly inspiring. The final paragraph is magisterial: "In conclusion, 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 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 honour and glory? Which ahs 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." (p. 166f.)
I only have a single truly negative comment; the book lacks an index which has certainly made this review harder to write! Also, a scriptural index would be appreciated. Some readers will find the book hard going, the `average pew sitter' (I have never met one of these, though surveys continue to insist that they exist) would find it difficult. However, those with a basic grounding in Christian doctrine, philosophy of religion and biblical studies will be fine and those without can easily skip over sections without missing too much (though they might find Thomas Talbott's book "The Inescapable Love of God" more useful). This book is not an easy read.
A final word then about the author. He has chosen to write under a pseudonym, which while a shame, is understandable and has several advantages. He can open discuss things on the internet with normal uneducated folk like me (evangelicalunversalism DOT com SLASH forum) and the writing style is excellent. This is a stunning book and I hope it has a similar effect to John Stott coming out as an annihilationist. Universalism will not become the major view, but with any luck it will be accepted as a genuine evangelical option.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Material To Make us Think...,
A few years ago I 'came out' as a supporter of Evangelical Inclusivism believing that all of us evangelicals who have serious scriptural misgivings about much of evangelicalism's support for exclusivism really should be prepared to 'nail our colours to the mast' - come what may.
The latter position, of course, is the classical Calvinist approach, although not entirely confined to that. It states that only those who were called by God during the Old Testament era, such as Abraham and Moses, and all Elect Christians since the time of Christ can be saved. Those who were believers before the coming of Christ are included in the efficacy of His sacrifice; there is salvation in no other name but that of Christ. Outside of these groups, there is no salvation. All those who live and die without accepting Christ will go to Hell whether or not they ever had the opportunity to hear about Him. This theological position is also sometimes called 'Restrictivism' - according to this approach to the Scriptures the great majority of Mankind will certainly not be saved. In the classic Calvinist form, God is not bound to save any but only chooses to save His 'elect' - this is the teaching of 'limited atonement.' The rest of humankind are entirely cut off from His grace; yet they remain without excuse and fully deserving of eternal torment and punishment.
Increasingly I came to see that such an extreme position is unscriptural which led to me writing my 2002 article, An Evangelical Inclusivist Defends Evangelical Inclusivism. This is a broader and, to my mind, a much more biblical position to adopt on the redemption of men and women. It recognizes that the hard-line Hyper-Calvinistic position did not take numerous Scriptures into account and ends up in being a representation of a God who is hardly a God of love. So I obviously did not move to this new position of inclusivism without thinking things through very carefully both theologically and philosophically, yet I was able to retain my broad support for Calvinism, I hasten to add: four point Calvinism - not five point! There is no doubt in my mind that 'limited atonement' is just not scriptural; the New Testament is clear that the sacrifice of Christ is available for the entire world - not for just a small group - as in five-point hyper-Calvinism.
So obviously this is an area of some interest to me. Bearing the foregoing in mind, I read Gregory MacDonald's The Evangelical Universalist with much interest and anticipation. Lamentably, this is not the writer's actual name which quickly gives me a slight problem. To use a pseudonym is not really to 'tie your colours to the mast,' although, I am sure, the writer had good reasons to use this approach. I always like to know something of a writer's past, where he has come from, the views he has held, his previous theological reflections - here, however, one cannot do that. So, in considering this book, I felt very disadvantaged by knowing absolutely nothing of it's author, nor is anything really given away within the text. Is this the work of a student? (it seems not) Is this the work of an experienced pastor? Is this the work of a retired pastor? All I was able to glean from the text is the writer does not appear to come from a reformed/Calvinist background. On page 111 of my paperback version (within chapter five), the writer does appear to let slip that he supports a literal millenium, but obviously refuses to construct any of his arguments on that concept (very wisely, in my opinion).
The writer goes much further than myself. He maintains that none will be lost and that all will finally be saved. That, I would submit, is bold indeed. I myself believe that the great majority of men and women will finally be saved and I have solid scriptural authority for stating that position, finding it somewhat amazing that traditional Christian theology has carelessly 'read over' so many reassuring Scriptures on this topic. MacDonald, then, goes much further than this, venturing into an area of far less scriptural support therefore relying quite heavily on philosophy, on 'shape' and on logic. He is very clear and fair about this and his humble approach in which he admits that he could be wrong in the various details is very attractive. His approach, though, clearly first set out as being an emotional one (as he reveals in his Introduction), with the theology coming later. I cannot truthfully say that emotion had no part in my own approach to 'evangelical inclusivism,' but my initial and primary concern was the Scriptures which established evangelical theology simply had no place for, nor understanding of. One day I thought: Why are we simply ignoring so many of these Scriptures?
Let me state right now that I believe that all evangelicals, especially preachers and church leaders should read this book very carefully. You will almost certainly find that you don't agree with all of it but you will also find much in this book which will 'shake up' your theological assumptions and cause you to look again at Scriptures you thought that you knew, but maybe did not know as well as you thought! Always deeply respectful of Scripture, MacDonald's challenge to all of us should be taken seriously.
Robin A. Brace. UK Apologetics.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Evangelical Universalist,
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This is an excellent book. It deals with the important topic of God's ability to bring everything and everyone to fruition in Christ, and does so with great care in handling the relevant biblical texts. It takes a position that the author acknowledges is not widely shared today but has been accepted in the past. The different views of others are fairly and graciously discussed.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read,
This book opened up my eyes to a doctrine that I had always assumed to be out of the bounds of orthodoxy. Although NOT yet fully convinced of the position the author argues for, I found his philosophical reasoning clear and compelling, and his arguments from Scripture to be first rate based on solid exegesis rather than wishful and fanciful interpretations. The clarity of his writing and the orderliness of his case makes it a joy to read - and is an example of theological reasoning that is both humble, gracious and yet thorough and critical. It is quite simply, one of the best works of theology I have had the pleasure of reading (In that it takes so seriously the Scriptures, Church tradition and reason). I mailed the author afterwards and stated categorically that he had convinced me that it was indeed possible to be an Evangelical and a Universalist - something I would not have believed possible before engaging with this book. It has caused me to think again on a difficult issue. I hope it has a wide readership - it deserves to.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The evangelical universalist,
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I thank God for this book.
At last I have found a book by a theologian who has been able to discern the universalist scope of the gospel of Christ without ditching half the Bible in the process.
A must-read for anyone who like me has been struggling with the twin doctrines of the wrath of God and the mercy of God with the basic conviction that in the end mercy must win because of God's nature as revealed in the life and death of Christ. Gregory Macdonald manages to see a path through the wood without hacking down too many trees
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Controversial Theology!,
OK - I wrote this book. I am afraid that I had to give it a star rating so I picked 5 just to get your attention. You can now ignore it. Here is the blurb from the back FYI.
Can an orthodox Christian, committed to the historic faith of the Church and the authority of the Bible, be a universalist?
Is it possible to believe that salvation is found only by grace, through faith in Christ, and yet to maintain that in the end all people will be saved?
Can one believe passionately in mission if one does not think that anyone will be lost forever?
Could universalism be consistent with the teachings of the Bible?
Gregory MacDonald argues that the answer is yes to all of these questions. Weaving together philosophical, theological, and biblical considerations, MacDonald seeks to show that being a committed universalist is consistent with the central teachings of the biblical texts and of historic Christian theology.
". . . [T]his passionate and lucid advocacy of an evangelical universalism . . . not only engages with key passages in the context of the overall biblical narrative but also treats clearly the profound theological and philosophical issues to which that narrative gives rise . . . readers . . . will find this book an excellent, accessible and indispensable aid in their own attempts to grapple with what its author describes as "a hell of a problem. . ."
Andrew T. Lincoln, Portland Chair in New Testament Studies, University of Gloucestershire
". . . I was struck by the persuasiveness of many of Gregory MacDonald's arguments, not least since they rest in an unusually adept interweaving of biblical exegesis with relevant philosophical and theological considerations . . ."
Joel B. Green, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Asbury Theological Seminary
"Gregory MacDonald's defense of universalism is well argued logically, theologically, and especially biblically . . . Evangelicals, among whom MacDonald would count himself, will find him a civil and insightfully critical dialogue partner."
Thomas F. Johnson, Professor of Biblical Theology, George Fox University
"With this wonderful book, Gregory MacDonald joins the growing body of Evangelical Christians who now accept a doctrine of universal reconciliation. But I know of no one who has set forth an equally clear, thorough and compelling case for a universalist reading of the Bible as a whole . . ."
Thomas Talbott, Professor of Philosophy, Willamette University in Salem, Oregon
Gregory MacDonald is a pseudonym.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Balanced and thought-provoking,
I long since ditched belief in hell as everlasting conscious torment and have for a long time been an annihilationist. This book, however, pushes things one step further along the road.
Its spirit is good. There is no tub-thumping or 'Everybody's wrong except me'. The author faces up frankly to the problems his position throws up for people with more traditional views and he does well at answering them, without a trace of dogmatism.
The key issue for most Protestant readers will be the challenge the book brings to the idea that a person's eternal destiny is sealed and unchangeable from the moment they die. The author believes that hell - which he presents as real and terrifying - will quickly convince its occupants of their folly in rejecting Christ in their lifetime, and that a God of love and grace will provide room for them to repent and find an exit into eternal bliss, one that they will all in fact take.
He has a good grasp of Calvinistic doctrine, and questions many of its tenets with good grace, offering universalistic alternatives.
This is a book for the educated reader; it's not popular in style. But for the Christian with a sound grasp of the Bible's overall shape and message, and some appreciation of hermeneutics, it will come as a breath of fresh air. If, as John Robinson declared, 'God has yet more light to break forth from his holy Word', this book could be an instance of it.
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The Evangelical Universalist: The biblical hope that God's love will save us all by Gregory MacDonald