“Gnosticism” and Universalism: A Review of ‘The Devil’s Redemption’

by David Bentley Hart

I had been hoping to avoid this eventuality for some months now; and, but for a certain sense of justice that it is proving impossible to suppress in myself, I suppose I could have continued attempting to avoid it. I know Michael McClymond, and for some years have been watching the slow evolution of the gigantic book that has now appeared under the title The Devil’s Redemption, in the rather grim way that one might watch a tsunami gathering on the horizon. McClymond is a historian of American Christianity, and a fairly decent one I imagine.

But at some point he got it into his head that this rather narrow range of expertise had prepared him to undertake a task that required training and skills in classical languages and history, late antique metaphysics and culture, patristics, Church history, theology, and philosophy that he most definitely does not possess. And the result has been a disaster: an immense book that is clearly a labor of love, or at least of passion, but that no competent specialist would mistake for a work of serious scholarship. It is a feat of stupendous energy, admittedly; but energy and capacity are not the same thing. In its short existence, the book has already become something of a joke in certain of the more rarefied academic circles. But, out in the great, more casually learned world of the general readership, one also sees it being cited again and again as a real authority against genuinely accomplished scholars (among whom I include myself), and then sees those scholars feeling obliged to reply to it as though the book really merited their attention. All of which is a gross disservice to those genuinely scrupulous scholars whose work should be taken seriously. And so, since I already have a reputation for bad manners, I feel it falls to me to say aloud what many of us have been whispering in private.

​How to describe McClymond’s book…?

​If ever (say, in a fit of morbid prurience, induced by a spell of malarial fever) you should decide to sample some of the books written by “Oxfordians”—those poor, pale, demented neurasthenics who believe that the Shakespearean canon was actually written by the talentless fop Edward de Vere—you will notice that none of them is marked by brevity. Invariably, they come in at around 1000 turgid pages. There is a certain logic to this. The more preposterous a conspiracy theory is, the more elaborate and tortured the argument it requires; the very absence of any real corroboration makes it inevitable that any attempt to prove its veracity will consist in nothing but the frantic accumulation of every hint of a shadow of an echo of evidence, however illusory. Precisely because it is obviously false, its “demonstration” is potentially infinite.

And this, I think, accounts for the sheer staggering size—1349 pages of small type, distri­buted across two heavy volumes—of McClymond’s book. It may even account for its frequent moral distastefulness—by which I mean that it is a book that seems obviously animated throughout by a desire to slander anyone with whom McClymond disagrees. No putatively academic book in my recollection has struck me as so offensive a collection of malicious misrepresentations, sinister suppositions, paranoid accusations, and willful distortions. It purports at once to be an exhaustive history of Christian universalism (the belief that, in the end, all persons shall be saved) and to provide an exposé of the largely secret “gnostic-kabbalistic-esoteric” tradition that supposedly accounts for the existence of that universal­ism. In both respects, the book is a failure—and not just any old failure. It is so inordinately inaccurate and wildly irrational in both its premises and its conclusions that it borders on “alternative history” fantasy. This is not scholarship. It is tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theory of the most cartoonish kind.

The most conspicuous problem with the book is that McClymond simply does not know enough about much of anything that he talks about in its pages. He obviously has next to no grasp of late Graeco-Roman antiquity, or of classical culture, language, philosophy, and religion. Neither, clearly, is he a New Testament scholar. And, without such knowledge, he is entirely unprepared for the task he has set himself. Moreover, he seems to have a very poor sense of where to go in the available literature for help (his understanding of late antique Judaism, for instance, seems to have been taken in its entirety from N.T. Wright, who may be deeply beloved by Evangelicals, but who is far from a trustworthy source on such things). McClymond’s guiding narrative is that the great universalist figures of the patristic period—even such giants as Origen and Gregory of Nyssa—were unwittingly influenced in their thinking by the ancient “gnostics” (a somewhat dubious category, actually, but that issue can be set aside here) and of some alleged gnostic metaphysics of a “divine fall” and redemption; and that something like this same gnostic theological scheme was reprised in various forms in later years (in Kabbalah for instance), and reached a kind of new early modern expression in the thought of Jakob Böhme (1575-1624), through whom the disease of universalism was transmitted to just about every later believer in a final reconciliation of all creatures with God (from William Law to George MacDonald to Sergei Bulgakov, and so forth).

Utter nonsense. And not even plausible nonsense. To begin with, there is the not inconsid­erable fact that neither the so-called “gnostics” of old (at least, in the explicit teachings of any sect we can identify) nor the kabbalists nor Jakob Böhme were in fact universalists. McClymond goes to absurd lengths to prove otherwise, but the more he strives, the more embarrassing the results become. His attempts to demonstrate the existence of at least some universalist gnostic groups, for example, consists in violently wrenching certain sentences from various ancient gnostic documents—documents that are explicitly non-universalist—out of their context, in order to give the impression that they are saying something they are not. There is, admittedly, one remark by Irenaeus regarding the “Carpocratians” that sug­gests that that sect might have envisaged an eventual salvation of all souls; even here, though, McClymond should have exercised some care. The meaning of the text is not as clear as McClymond thinks, most historians of the period doubt Irenaeus’s account of Carpocra­tian teachings, and even more doubt that the sect should be classified along with the “gnostic” schools. But that scarcely matters. The Carpocratians were univer­sally detested for their reputed antinomianism, and certainly influenced no one outside their own ranks. The suggestion that they would have influenced Origen is risible twaddle. And McClymond’s attempts to find “gnostic” motifs in figures like Origen or Gregory of Nyssa demonstrate a bizarre ignorance on his part of the scriptural sources of the language to which he objects (vide infra).

As for McClymond’s suggestion that ancient “gnosticism” recurred in Böhme’s thought, and through him entered into German Idealism, it is simply a category error. Here, he is desperately unaware of how out of date the picture he presumes is, and how clearly untrue. For a long time, admittedly, the general understanding of those late antique systems of thought and devotion that we collectively designate as “gnosticism” was shaped by the early work of a number of scholars (many of them German, such as Johann August Neander and, more crucially, Ferdinand Christian Baur) who chose to read those traditions through the violet-tinted spectacles of German idealism. Hence, it used to be accepted as almost a banal truism that the gnostic systems of late antiquity were built around one or another narrative of a divine fall, a cataclysm that somehow involved even God Most High, and taught the emergence of evil or defect from God’s own depths, all of which was then followed by a redemption that effected not only a restoration, but even an advance toward perfect fullness, within God himself. Supposedly, at the heart of these systems lay a tale of theogony, of God coming to himself at the far end of a refining process of tragic loss and comic rescue.

​This is simply false. It is a relic of a now thoroughly discredited historical narrative. It is also an anachronism, since the existence of such ideas would simply have been impossible in the first few centuries of the Christian era. This whole narrative was based upon a misunder­standing of the very concept of the “divine” in late antiquity, and of its immense diversity of connotations, and upon a failure to grasp the utterly inviolable distinction that was pre­served in all the late antique systems of spiritual salvation—the “gnostic” no less than any of the others—between the realm of the inaccessible Father, or “God” as specified by the definite article (ὁ θεός), or the One, or what have you, and the created or emanated “divine,” or celestial, or supercelestial, or “aeonian” realm. There were definitely schools and sects that spoke of a fall within the heavenly plenum, the πλήρωμα, and many told the tale of Sophia’s departure from that fullness as a result of her mad desire to know the Father in himself. But in those texts the πλήρωμα is not God, nor is it part of God in his transcendent nature, nor is the identity of God properly speaking involved either in its fall or in its redemption. God is beyond both the cosmos and the heavenly orders, fallen and unfallen alike; he is the always more encompassing reality that holds all other things in itself, even the highest cosmic sphere, beyond the reach of any other reality; in him all things live and move and have their being, but he does not dwell in or among them, or take his own life or movement or being from their histories in return. If anything, ancient “gnostic” literature emphasizes the remoteness of God from every cosmic or even heavenly process to a more extreme degree than did most later “orthodox” writers. To confirm this, one need only consult those “gnostic” texts that directly touch upon these issues. (See, for instance, Irenaeus, Adversus haereses I.1.1; the Nag Hammadi Corpus I.5.51.8-18; I.5.54.2-23; III.71.13-18; VII.5.119.15-16; VII.5.121.20-122.8; XI.2.25-4.19; the Berlin Gnostic Codex XXII.19-XXVI.15; XCI.4-7; etc.)

​There are, it is true, texts that tell of this God generating creation through the ἔννοια, the “thinking” or “intellection,” that is with him in the beginning, just as Christian orthodoxy has always spoken of God the Father as creating through his λόγος in the beginning. There are texts also that speak of the Father knowing himself reflectively, either by seeing himself in himself, as his own mirror, or in the luminous water of life that is his own eternal immacu­late light (Irenaeus, I.1.1; Berlin Gnostic Codex XXVI.15), just as later orthodox trinitarian theology will speak of the Father’s λόγος as his own eternal self-knowing. But in none of these texts is there any hint that the Father enters into, suffers, or recovers from a divine fall or crisis “within the godhead,” or that his creative or emanative self-manifestation is in any sense his discovery of his own inherent potencies. Again, we must not confuse talk of the “divine” in late antiquity for a privileged discourse regarding only the truly transcendent God, or talk of the “divine realm” of the heavenly beings above as somehow other than creaturely. In fact, in all the spiritual systems of the time, the Father (or the One, or the Monad, or ὁ βυθός, or so forth) remains untouched by his creatures, even the most divine or angelic among them, and comes into relation with lower reality only indirectly, through a lesser intermediary, or several lesser intermediaries: the Angel of Mighty Counsel, the λόγος, νοῦς, the hierarchy of pleromatic hypostases. In all these systems, as well, there is a tale to tell of a catastrophe in the heavenly or aeonian or pleromatic or “divine” places above: the fall of the rebel angels under the leadership of Semyâzâ or Samael, the fall of spirits through the aetherial spaces of the celestial spheres, the mutiny of the spiritual principalities and powers who preside over this world, the expulsion from Eden (often allegorized as a pre-temporal apostasy of spirits), the rupture of the pleromatic harmony, the truancy of Sophia. In every case, however, God in the proper sense remains immune to all becoming and all change, and innocent of every evil.

​Here, in fact, is one of the most grating of McClymond’s oversights. It is obvious he is not accustomed to reading the New Testament in the original Greek, and certainly not in light of the spiritual and speculative terminology of its age. Hence, he seems utterly unaware that certain motifs and turns of phrase that can be found in both “gnostic” texts and the writings of patristic universalists are similar to one another not because the former influenced the latter, but because both derive their terms directly from the New Testa­ment. What we call the “gnostic” schools should probably be seen as extreme expressions—bedizened with often tediously opulent mythologies, some perhaps only allegorical, many probably not—of a dualistic theological register that is already present, in an only slightly more muted and qualified form, in the earliest Christian documents, and that is especially conspicuous in the Pauline corpus and in the fourth Gospel. As does much of the New Testament, the “gnostic” narrative tells of a cosmic dispensation under the reign of the god of this aeon (2 Corinthians 4:4) or the Archon of this cosmos (John 14:30; Ephesians 2:2), and of spiritual beings hopelessly immured within heavenly spheres thronged by hostile archons and powers and principalities and daemons (Romans 8:3, 39; 1 Corinthians 10:20-21; 15:24; Ephesians 1:21; etc.), bound under and cursed by a law that was in fact ordained by lesser, merely angelic or archontic powers (Galatians 3:10-11, 19-20). Into this prison of spirits, this darkness that knows nothing of the true light (John 1:5), a divine savior descends from the aeon above (John 3:31; 8:23; etc.), bringing with him a wisdom that has been hidden from before the ages (Romans 16:25-26; Galatians 1:12; Ephesians 3:3-9; Colossians 1:26), a secret wisdom unknown even to “the archons of this cosmos” (1 Corinthians 2:7-8) that has the power to liberate fallen spirits (John 8:31-32, etc.). Now those blessed persons who possess “gnosis” (1 Corinthians 8:7; 13:2) constitute something of an exceptional company, “spiritual persons” (πνευματικοί), who enjoy a knowledge of the truth denied to the merely “psychical” (ψυχικοί) among us (1 Corinthians 14:36; Galatians 6:1; Jude 19). By his triumph over the cosmic archons, moreover, this savior has opened a pathway through the planetary spheres, the encom­passing heavens, the armies of the air and the potentates on high, so that now “neither death nor life nor angels nor Archons nor things present nor things imminent nor Powers nor height nor depth nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:38-39).

​Where the so-called “gnostic” systems, then, clearly depart from this more general narrative morphology is not in the room they make for universalism. Quite the reverse. It is in their willingness to amplify the provisional or qualified dualism implicit in this vision of things into a complete ontological schism, such that creation is conceived of as having no natural relation to God at all, even in his eternal intentions. Not only is lower reality the work of a lesser or intermediary kind of divinity; it is wholly the product of an alienation from God. As a result, here in the land of unlikeness, below the turning spheres of the planetary heavens, all is governed by cosmic fate, εἱμαρμένη, rather than by divine providence; and, far from achieving his essence through creation, in time, by way of a fall and return, the true God is so far beyond the reach of cosmic eventuality that this world has no ontological relation to him at all, not even of the most tenuously analogical variety. In place, then, of the metaphysics of participation adopted by “orthodox” tradition, these schools provided only a mediating mythology of absolute estrangement, a grand epic of exile and ruin followed by rescue and restoration. At least, so we are told by contemporary sources, and so their own literary remains largely seem to confirm (though who can tell how much of this language is ultimately figural?). Still, throughout the whole of that tale, in every school, God—hidden forever in his hyperouranian and inaccessible light, infinitely removed from time and nature and history—is eternally the same. It is not his story. He has no story.

​All of which is only to say, again, that the notion of a secret gnostic current in Christian thought extending from Valentinus (c. 100-c. 160) to Böhme is a fantasy. It is also an irrelevancy, since (again) no one within that supposed genealogy was a universalist. And, even if they had been, it still would not matter, because it would explain nothing. In a sense, McClymond’s book, in addition to being a rather squalid attempt at assigning guilt through association, is little more than a monstrously hypertrophied specimen of the most logically elementary of genetic fallacies: post hoc, ergo propter hoc. There is, you see, no mystery here to be solved. We know why all of the most important universalist thinkers believed what they believed, and it has nothing to do with extrinsic influences. Origen, Didymus the Blind, Gregory of Nyssa, Isaac of Nineveh, Evagrius of Pontus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Diodore of Tarsus, and so on, right up to George MacDonald, Paul Evdoki­mov, Sergei Bulgakov, and all the rest explained themselves quite fully, and so there is no need of some absurd conspiracy narrative.

All of them, before all else, were simply following the story they thought they found laid out in scripture. Those of them who were able (as, again, McClymond clearly is not) to read the Bible with a real knowledge of its language and the conceptual world in which it took shape were simply certain that universalism was its final word. Origen interpreted the whole deposit of scripture in light of 1 Corinthians 15, as did Gregory of Nyssa after him. The latter, in fact, produced perhaps the most majestic, coherent, compelling, and theologically sophisticated reading of the New Testament’s soteriology, cosmology, and eschatology in the history of Christian thought. It is also the least “gnostic” interpretation imaginable.

​Or, then—leaping far ahead—we know why George MacDonald was a universalist too, and it had absolutely nothing with his reading of Böhme. The explanation is laid out with comprehensiveness and clarity in his Unspoken Sermons and other works, and those reasons are all resplendently scriptural and theologically untainted by any hint of a more hermetic narrative of divine becoming. There is no secret here to be exposed—no Earl of Oxford, no second gunman on the grassy knoll, no faked moon-landing, no Area 51, no “da Vinci code.”


And then, perhaps the most disastrous aspect of McClymond’s book, there is the incessant “debate” with the theology of Bulgakov that is in fact no debate at all. It was brave of McClymond to attempt to critique a figure of such colossal intellectual gifts, but foolish as well; McClymond was clearly far, far out of his depth. He gets everything wrong—magnifi­cently, extravagantly, insanely wrong. On every point of doctrine, metaphysics, and theology, McClymond misunderstands, misstates, and gets horribly lost among Bulgakov’s arguments. At one point, in fact, he even attempts to prove that Bulgakov believed in some ground of Godhead more original than the Trinity by quoting a sentence that, in context, is Bulgakov’s statement of the position that he is explicitly and elaborately rejecting. This is a mistake that would be an embarrassment for an undergraduate. And, alas, this sort of scholarly inepti­tude is typical of McClymond’s entire book. As is a no less disastrous ineptitude on McCly­mond’s part in making arguments of his own. Philosophy is not (to put it mildly) one of his strengths.

​And, in the end, everything is distorted by McClymond’s ridiculously parochial assumption that the version of Reformed Christianity to which he adheres—a simplified Evangelical distillate of the teachings of a sixteenth-century sect, whose view of scripture would have been unintelligible to those who wrote it—is true, authentic, pure Christianity, self- evidently correct and faithful to God’s revelation. Aspects of Christian thought that have belonged to the tradition from antiquity, and that can be drawn from scripture much more surely than the sort of Reformed dogmatics he presumes, he treats as alien and heretical corruptions.

​Anyway, one could go on interminably, I suppose. The proper critique of this disaster of a book would have to be as long as the book itself. And, frankly, it does not deserve even the attention I have given it here. Sometimes, the most pitiless candor is the only possible form honesty can take. There are countless genuine laborers in the fields of sane and scrupulous and at times unrewardingly tedious patristic studies and Christian history and philosophical and systematic theology, men and women who have devoted themselves to the most exacting standards of scholarly rigor. It is a crime against their honorable and difficult work, and a dereliction of intellectual probity, to pretend that an absurd, bloated, sprawling Victorian-Folly of a book like this, built around a demented conspiracy theory, is anything but the congeries of delusional nonsense that it is. It is Dan Brown “scholarship” (though with footnotes and bibliography). And there comes a point of absurdity at which polite periphrasis is discreditable and perhaps a little wicked.

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64 Responses to “Gnosticism” and Universalism: A Review of ‘The Devil’s Redemption’

  1. Tom says:

    “Anyway, one could go on interminably, I suppose.”

    Can’t even suppose that, Dr. Hart. You’re a universalist! ;o)

    Liked by 1 person

    • DBH says:

      Ah. Good point.

      Sorry for the exasperated tone there. Reading it myself, I see I must have been a wee bit piqued. I expect my salvation “as though by fire” may have got a bit longer now.

      Liked by 7 people

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        But what about epektasis?!

        Liked by 3 people

      • I hear that John Tetzl is making his way through town. Perhaps we could take up a donation for Dr. Hart?

        Liked by 1 person

      • joel in ga says:

        Another Calvinist, Peter Leithart, comments on universalism, specifically Dr. Hart’s: https://theopolisinstitute.com/leithart_post/77497/

        Like

        • DBH says:

          Must you?

          Like

        • To his credit, Leithart (who is something of an oddity even in conservative Reformed circles) raises fair, but not insurmountable questions in this review. It lacks the blatant mischaracterizations of McClymond and cuts to the heart of how Dr. Hart’s view of Scripture (shared with Nyssa, et. al.) differs from the more or less classical Reformed view.

          But, again, while I take a more Barthian view of Scripture, even from a classical Reformed framework, as Leithart notes, it is nearly impossible to make any straightforward argument for eternal damnation from the OT. Not only this, but one must also overcome the fundamental proportionality of justice in the OT and it’s most frequent rehabilitative modus operendi (namely to bring about repentance and restoration) by proving the NT authors had a disjunctive relationship with their own tradition on the matter of justice. Even in evoking the flood and conquest passages, one cannot simply take this at face value whatever history is or isn’t represented in the text. These motifs in the NT are, without fail spiritualized and refer to the eradication of evil from creation, not necessarily the eternal ruin of individuals.

          Reformed Christians, and I am one, will continue to struggle to paint a coherent biblical narrative of an everlasting hell even on the basis of Sola Scriptura (a slogan that has proven rather hollow after 500 years), because Scripture itself offers no such coherent picture to begin with. Some kind of theological reading of these texts is required because there is no bare meaning in the OT that can prove the case. The question then becomes whether or not a theological reading (allegorical or otherwise) is a valid one and maintains a coherent witness to God’s revelation in Christ.

          Liked by 3 people

          • DBH says:

            Thanks, Jedidiah. I actually don’t see any good questions in Peter’s piece, because–of course–I am not a literalist or fundamentalist. Neither late antique Judaism nor early Christianity labored under the burden of feeling they had to affirm or justify the myths of ancient Israel (or Canaan) regarding either the King of the gods El Elyon or the war-making storm-god YHVH. As both names progressively became names of the one God in Judaea and surrounding precincts, and as Judaism came progressively into being, the true picture of God emerged more and more into the light. And certainly first century Judaism was already dependent upon allegorical readings of the Old Testament before Christianity came along. I cannot imagine how a literalist like Peter makes sense of his faith at all.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Dr. Hart,

            Having read your response to Leithart, and your comment here, I would say that I might read the Hebrew Bible through a slightly different lens, but come to the same conclusion as you. I have been heavily influenced by 20th Century biblical theologians like Eichrodt, Von Rad, Barr, Childs, and Breuggemann who are operating from both a historical-critical lens and a theological one (though I would say none are really taking the allegorical method into consideration). Part of the problem with the classical Protestant (particularly within Reformed orthodoxy) view of scripture is that the perpescuity of Scripture is in its ‘literal’ reading. This ends up in all manner of disastrous interpretive quagmires that the 20th century dialectical theologians, as listed above, and Barth in particular sought to repair.

            I think what is interesting about Leithart’s comments, even if they aren’t really relevant to your work in TASBS, is that they are telling of the particular difficulties that literalists face when trying to read Scripture theologically – or more particularly Christocentrically. Because of an ingrained insistence on Sola Scriptura in its most literal sense, much of your view of Scripture is both dismissed and misunderstood.

            These things said, even the literalist will struggle to paint a coherent infernalist understanding of Scripture, because the concept itself is totally absent in the Hebrew bible and the New Testament. Even in the most strongly annihilationist texts in the OT, say in Zepehniah, we find startling statements of total reconciliation. So, however static or dynamic one views the development of monotheism in the OT and how this builds into the NT, the evidence for the infernalist position stands on a set of prooftexts that cannot be defended contextually or in view of the synchronic theological motifs that run through the entire Hebrew canon.

            So, as far afield that these matters are to the core arguments you are making in TASBS, these are the immediate objections that many in the literalist camp (varied as their ‘literal’ readings of the text may be) will raise. The question of universal salvation would be an interesting topic for an Old Testament scholar to take up, because however developmental the various sources in the OT are, I think their cumulative witness does bear out a strong case for international (if not universal) redemption in its loftiest visions of the eschatological horizon. But, these are rather ancillary to the issues you are raising, and my sense is the only arguments that answer yours are a strident Thomism or Calvinism, whose moral and theological incoherence you have amply argued against in the book.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. mrcronch says:

    Dr Hart, Sir, you’ve made my day. But you do yourself a disservice, methinks: you say “reputation for bad manners”; I say “renown and refreshing propensity not to sugar-coat the truth in faux piety”. Swift would have been proud. Bravo!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Andrew says:

    It’s no conspiracy theory to say that Orthodox thinking about Gehenna since Florensky is entirely dependent upon several decades of speculation about Sophia and a handful of quotations from Isaac the Syrian, but mostly the former. Prior to Florensky or maybe Dostoevsky, Orthodox universalism simply wasn’t there for over a millennium. It is not out of place to wonder a bit about what this Sophia is exactly and whether it is a good idea to embrace it for the sake of being authentic if you will as an Orthodox Christian who embraces universalism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TJF says:

      Well DBH’s argument has nothing to do with Sophiology, so… Returning to patristic and scriptural sources of the faith is never a bad thing.

      Like

  4. Derek A. Michaud says:

    Thank you for saving me from the apparent agony of reading this book.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Tom says:

    Dr. Hart is in the house, swingin’ Thor’s hammer,
    His rhetoric? Ain’t got no stammer,
    Just landed Mickey-C in the slammer. Check it out…
    Schoolin’ folks in they ABC’s, showin’ up bad history,
    Any doubt about it to a sane heart? This Hart ain’t got no maybe.
    Gnostic connections? No Sir.
    Done put Mickey-C’s arguments in the pot and gave it a big stir,
    Boiled it down, poured it out. Turns out it was just a big blur.
    Fourteen hundred pages and footnotes galore,
    But when the dust settled, the logic’s a bore, nuthin’ in store.
    Aye Mickey, don’t be tryin’ to draw gnostic lines to the Nyssen,
    Hart’s in the house – ain’t so ‘nice’ and he’s ‘see’in’
    All the holes up in yo book. Ain’t letting it in this heya house,
    Snappin’ shut down on it like it was Mickey Mouse.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. apoloniolatariii says:

    So I was thinking about buying Mcclymond’s volumes because some people told me to, but then I read his review of Hart’s That All Shall be Saved. I thought to myself, “If this was one of my students writing this, I would give him a D or C, depending on the curve (I try not to give Fs in general).” I was very disappointed. And then I read Hart’s review which is a bit harsh, but after reading Mcclymond’s review, I had the human-animal instinct to say, “He deserves this.” Ok, it might still be harsh, but the point is, I am not going to waste money on Mcclymond’s book.

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Dr McClymond reviewed Ilaria Ramelli’s ‘The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis.’ The journal gave Ramelli an opportunity to respond to his review. Do read it if you have not read it already.

      Liked by 1 person

      • apoloniolatariii says:

        I’ve read it. I loved Ramelli’s response! The last paragraph was awesome.
        And the fact that Douglas Farrow would recommend Mcclymond over Ramelli, who is one of the best patristic scholars today (the best Origen scholar for sure), made me laugh a lot.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          I was surprised that Theological Studies invited McClymond to review Ramelli’s monograph. He’s not a patristic scholar or a scholar of ancient philosophy and religion. I’m sure that Ramelli’s interpretations of the various writings she reviews can and should be critiqued. Given how much ground she covers, it’s unlikely she’s right about everyone and everything. But the only people who can know this are those who are experts on these people.

          Like

          • apoloniolatariii says:

            Yes, one should criticize her writings, but one should really be on her level in order to do so, which very few people are. I disagree with Ramelli on some things, but I always do it with fear and trembling!
            I have never met anyone who can speak well from one language to another, from Italian to English to Latin to Greek, which I was following her very well, and then she went Coptic and Syriac on me. But it was very very moving for me to see her speak of Origen speaking of Christ as the Divine Physician.

            I wonder whether Mcclymond ever spoke to her or sent her his manuscript before publishing it.

            Like

      • Andrew says:

        Wow, I’m really looking forward to that third projected volume in her series.

        Like

    • DBH says:

      Maybe a bit harsh on my part. And a bit quick and dismissive and vexed, as well. But sometimes the provocation justifies the vehemence.

      Let me explain, I met McClymond over five years ago, and we got on. We were both on faculty at SLU that year, as I was a visiting chair. I had intended just to ignore his book. But his persistent attacks on scholars and thinkers like Ramelli and Milbank and Talbott, and the ridiculous caricatures he limns of those he dislikes in his book, and the wildly silly arguments he makes about figures like MacDonald and Bulgakov and Barth, and in fact the slanders he propagates, finally overwhelmed whatever hesitancy I felt about publicly expressing my disdain for his work. I actually have not read his review of my book and would not bother to do so under any circumstances. I learned fairly early on–through our conversations and exchanges of emails about the project that became The Devil’s Redemption–that McClymond simply lacks the training and the skills that a competent scholar would have needed to pursue the work he envisaged. But some kind of deep conceitedness prevents him from having any sense of his limitations. He does not even have the basic linguistic knowledge that would be required as the most minimal preparation for such a work. He also can neither follow nor form a coherent philosophical argument; in fact, he has perhaps the poorest philosophical capacity I have ever encountered in any academic colleague; but he seems to think he’s quite a crack logician (God help us). He was trained, if I recall, as a chemist, and then switched to American Religious History (an honorable but largely philosophically undemanding field). To have launched himself into debates on topics better left in the hands of New Testament scholars, classicists, scholars of late antiquity and the Middle Ages, scholars of Judaism, experts in systematic and philosophical theology, philosophers as such, and so forth, was a remarkably foolish thing to do. But he is so evangelically committed to his Reformed beliefs and to the good news of everlasting torment that he is sure that he has a mission to complete. It’s all rather embarrassing. And, again, it’s an insult to real scholars who know what they’re doing, and who are genuine specialists in the fields that McClymond likes to blunder into at regular intervals, to pretend that he deserves the time they feel obliged to give him.

      (PS. For what it’s worth, I admit it, I have considerable sympathies for certain “gnostic” schools, and for Kabbalism, and for talk of “divine sparks,” and for Renaissance hermeticism, and so forth. I have sympathies for all sorts of things that would make McClymond uneasy and that he would not be able to reconcile with his brand of meat-and-potatoes Protestantism. I believe that there are all sorts of legitimate expressions of spiritual and speculative hopes and fears, and that going into hysterics over things that sound fancy and daring and non-Reformed is evidence of a vast ignorance of the history of Christian thought. But none of that has anything to do with the issue of universalism. McClymond’s book is–at its best–an ocean of red herrings.)

      Liked by 8 people

      • Dennis says:

        “For what it’s worth, I admit it, I have considerable sympathies for certain “gnostic” schools…”

        I’ve been interested in hearing more about your thoughts on Gnosticism – and particularly various non-canonical Gospels, such as the Gospel of Thomas (though I believe there is some question among scholars whether it is truly “Gnostic” or not), the Nag Hammadi texts, etc. – ever since I tracked down the epigraph to your New Testament translation and discovered it was not pulled from the NT itself, as I had originally thought, but from the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus text of the Gospel of Thomas.

        I thought it odd that neither the source nor a translation of the quote was given in the epigraph. Should we read anything into that epigraph regarding your stance on the validity and status of various non-canonical Gospels and other texts, or did you just happen to like that particular quote from the Gospel of Thomas?

        Like

        • DBH says:

          What you SHOULD read into that I hesitate to say. What you MAY read into it, however, without injustice, is my conviction that “orthodoxy” and “tradition” are valuable categories only to the degree that they are subject to constant reconsideration, reconstruction, and interrogation. Any tradition merely received in its entirety is one that, in a sense, has never really been received at all.

          Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            Oh, and, yes, there are aspects of the Christian past that may have been neglected or suppressed by the Empire’s Great Church orthodoxy that we ought to try to understand and, if need be, repristinate. I don’t regard tradition as something inert and non-porous.

            Liked by 3 people

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            This is a fair consideration – I understand this to have been the task of ecumenical conciliarity, a task undertaken self-consciously so, at its best occasions anyways.

            Like

          • Dennis says:

            Fair enough. Thanks for the reply.

            Like

  7. Robertson Gramling says:

    The bit about Bulgakov saying that there’s Divine essence “behind” the Trinity really is especially bad (Is Mcclymond quoting, perhaps, from the end of the Comforter?) because Bulgakov rejects this over and over. It’s funny, though I guess I could’ve read much the same from so many theologians, Bulgakov saying in the Bride of the Lamb that the arche of Triune divinity is God the Father always has stuck with me—there’s no God behind the Father and so none behind the Son either. Perhaps it also was a light that began to dispel some shadows of tri-theism in me.
    I also wonder if part of what so provoked Dr. Hart is the pure character, even holiness, of those McClymond so slanders. All of us who have read MacDonald or Bulgakov I’m sure have the sense of reading an irrepressibly pure heart that knows no other expression than defenseless honesty—which comes pretty close to a definition of beauty in my book. I remember reading somewhere some Bulgakov scholar saying that if Bulgakov weren’t manifestly such a genuine man one could mistake him for displaying a certain affectation. But the more you read him the more you realize how far removed he his from that sort of thing. Is there any conversion story that resonates more with the modern heart than Bulgakov’s telling of his own? Of that glimpse of the light of the gospel, of Christ, that reawakens the possibility of life itself just when the darkness of despair, so incubated by a vain intellectual culture, had threatened to make walking shadows of him? I feel that in my bones. And in Bulgakov’s case, being the son of the priest, there’s that added emphatic sense that he’s recovering what’s already been given. Sorry I’m waxing on a bit; and so I won wax still further on about MacDonald’s piety seeping of the page. But, yes, if you’re going to critique this great lovers of Christ don’t slander them with gnostic conspiracy theories.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Christopher Schelin says:

      Amen and, also…just don’t slander anyone. I appreciate DBH’s charitable stance toward those on the esoteric “underside” of the Christian tradition. It’s both intellectually lazy and morally incompetent to homogenize the 2nd century “gnostic” sects, Hermeticists, Boehme, etc., and then demonize them as the boogeymen who got *everything* wrong.

      Like

      • Robertson Gramling says:

        Indeed. Although, I do wonder: if McClymond’s heart really does bleed Reformed red what does he make of whatever’s not the “underside” of the Christian tradition—the top of the tortoise shell, so to speak. Is it a few select writings from Augustine and everyone else is a hellenizing hack? This may display my general ignorance of reformed treatments of the tradition between like 80 AD and the Church’s release from the Babylonian captivity in the 16th century, but it does seem like there’s a rather large lacuna there. By which I mean, Luther’s understanding of faith—and more conspicuously God’s righteousness—just wouldn’t have flown with the vast majority of the Church fathers—though I don’t wanns say he’s imply wrong on every account. And this goes only more so for the traditions that sprung up after him trying to found a church on his telling of the gospel. Who are the non-reformed heroes of his story that he marshals? Or is it that enlistment and enshrinement is simply secured by being against universalism and that wider departures from Reformed dogma are passed over in silence? Maybe I should just read the book, but, especially given the length, not much of what I’ve heard on this site and elsewhere makes it seem worthy of reading.

        Like

    • DBH says:

      D’accord.

      Like

    • DBH says:

      By the way, yes, McClymond quotes from the end of The Comforter, which he seems to think is a defense of the notion of an impersonal divine ground more primordial than the Father. As you note, Bulgakov’s position–as fully expressed in those very pages–is that the Father is the fons Deitatis.

      Like

  8. spiltteeth says:

    What do you supose DBH meant by the mythologies probably not being allegorical?

    “What we call the “gnostic” schools should probably be seen as extreme expressions—bedizened with often tediously opulent mythologies, some perhaps only allegorical, many probably not—of a dualistic theological register that is already present…”

    I assume there are entire histories of spiritual activities we have no notion of, and whose realities may have been glimpsed, and worked into, various religious narratives outside orthodox Christianity, is this is what he means ? That some texts are indeed likely to have recorded actual spiritual events ?

    Like

  9. Tom says:

    I’ve been thinking most of the day whatt “plausible nonsense” might be. ;o)

    Like

  10. Iain Lovejoy says:

    Just so I’m clear, on balance would you recommend Dr McClymond’s book or not?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Dr. Hart,

    I’m sure you’ll continue to receive blowback from every tradition. But, what is curious to me is the amount of ink being spilled by conservative (generally Calvinistic) evangelicals against your book. These are not circles that are generally quick to interact outside of their own sphere of influence – generally content with their cankerous debates with other sub-standard evangelical groups or those slipping into the icy grips of progressive Protestantism (the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversies never really left the evangelical raison d’etre). However, many otherwise evangelical and even Reformed Christians have been giving your work a lot more attention over the past few years, and evangelical writers/scholars like Talbott and Parry have also received a fair amount of attention. I take some of the bad-faith reviews and discussions about your work as nothing less than a circling of the wagons.

    McClymond’s diatribe (hard to call it a review) posted at The Gospel Coalition makes NT Wright’s review of your NT Translation come across positively erudite and chummy – a feat that is almost unthinkable. But, beneath their bluster, and petty protests about rhetoric, which is a ploy to make the debate into a debate about the debate so they can absolve themselves from substantive engagement with the logic of TASBS is, I believe, a deep seated anxiety that there are formidable threats to the prestige of the institutions over which they wield an enormous influence (and make a good deal of money in via a regular conference circuit and built in book sales) emerging from a growing number of serious scholars writing on all aspects of universalism across multiple Christian traditions. Protestants like Tom Talbott and Robin Parry have taken the label of universalist and moved it out of the world of accusation and heretical innuendo and into a level of theological inquiry worth critical engagement. There’s a growing cadre of otherwise conservative evangelicals from all corners of the nebulous tradition ranging from Charismatic, to Methodist, to even Reformed individuals that are giving the topic serious consideration. Hence the need for leaders in the infernalist camp (which I am sure is also echoed in Catholic and Orthodox circles) to engage in take-down pieces in order to maintain the status quo.

    Speaking from personal experience, while I had softened on the question of universalism over five years ago, I did not become gripped by the moral urgency of the matter until I read your essay “God, Creation, Evil” sometime in 2016. I know that you are oft criticized over your rhetoric, but it was your rhetoric, along with the nature of the arguments themselves that I found so gripping. So, the well-worn tropes about your alleged pugilism, are to me a farce. The Reformed tradition is not a squeamish one, it is marked by roiling debate today as it always has been since its inception – which I find to be a strength. If one genuinely believes a thing to be true, they should be willing to defend it with passion. So, the complaints about rhetoric ring incredibly hollow, because those who make the accusation do not hesitate to employ blistering criticism when it suits them. Rhetoric with powerful effect, when used in service of truth and conscience is not something one ought to shrink away from. Your insistence on universal reconciliation has combined both a rationality and a passion that are, to anyone who reads with an open mind, indications of a deeper sensitivity to ascribe to God only what is truly in him – and while I am sure the efforts can seem tiresome, there are a great many of us who are in your debt for the skill and compassion that suffuse your efforts.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Grant says:

      Sadly I think the interests of maintaining certain status, institutional structures and forms, keeping influence and at times the financial as we as political (whether within a confession or more broadly) have a powerful effect driving the anxiety of some for not only bad faith reviews but the broader reception of even the suggestion of universalism (McClymond’s book and further actions online being a good example of this).

      We already see this elsewhere in many other ‘culture war’ fault-lines just how much anxiety and paranoia abounds, where love is scarce, and joyful and confident faith in short supply, but fear and desire to control and dominate are in full display.

      Just as politics had a significant part in the acendancy of infernalism as the dominant view, it remains a strong factor in it’s maintenance (being treated as a or the touch stone of the faith, rather than Christ Himself). Thankfully with the structure of Christendom past, they can’t attempt to get secular authorities to persecute those they disagree and dislike and enforce their vision at the point of sword and fire, thankfully the Holy Spirit has prized Christians from forms of Christendom Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant, I hope such never returns so we are never seduced by the power used in the current age again (to our own harm and many others).

      Liked by 1 person

      • DBH says:

        Power is always what’s at stake. Never truth. On the whole, you know, religion really is a wicked thing. There are no benign institutions. There are only persons of better or worse spiritual character operating within the embrace of institutions. And, when an institution becomes a pillar of political or social stability…

        Unfortunately–believe me, I used to write for First Things before I concluded that they were beyond hope–it is precisely the return to the throne-and-altar accommodation that many traditionalists long for. Thank God for atheism, secularism, and cultural nihilism: those good guardian angels sent by God to protect Christians against themselves.

        Liked by 2 people

    • DBH says:

      You’re very kind. And, for goodness’ sake, feel free to say such things in any forum you can, since I want people to read this particular book.

      The complaints about rhetoric all strike me as disingenuous anyway. Nowhere in the book do I abuse anyone as such or attack believers. I am merely very frank about the beliefs the tradition has taken on board over the centuries, even in the works of thinkers whose brilliance would have prevented them from espousing such beliefs but for the corners into which they had painted themselves. The late Augustine is a perfect example.

      What the “rhetoric” complaints really mean are: if I find a belief “cruel” or “repellant” or “absurd” (say, the belief that babies who die unbaptized descend to eternal torment), I am supposed to say instead that they are “problematic” or “dubious” or “troubling.” This allows my interlocutors to defend their adherence to such beliefs in a way that never really has to acknowledge the true moral scandal they contain. But, of course, the idea of eternally burning babies is not merely “troubling,” and no Christian with a conscience should be allowed to get away with regarding it as such.

      Liked by 1 person

    • TJF says:

      I don’t know. I definitely see this as a double-edged sword. It definitely worked for me, as I used to be a “Traditionalist” FSSP attending Latin Mass Catholic and pretty much a rigid Pharisee who delighted in sermons on hellfire, etc. All that changed when my unbelieving grandfather died and I wanted nothing more than to see him happy in the next age. Reading Dr. Hart’s work and seeing how strongly he held to his opinions was very refreshing, it also helped that he was usually correct, too. The man does his research. His passion and firm commitment to his conscience and knowledge, based on what one can tell were countless hours of research, were shocking and lend credibility to his claims. On the other hand, I’ve given his books out to friends of mine (atheists, infernalists, etc.) who haven’t gotten more than a few pages in because they felt like they were being patronized, talked down to, etc. It’s gotten to the point, where if I talk to them about ideas I’ve learned from Dr. Hart, then just because they came from him, that makes them morally suspect, since he comes across as so offensive to them. I’m saying this frankly from a place of love, since his writing has completely changed my life for the better and I want his work to spread like wildfire, but being so harsh in tone, it definitely does a disservice, at least in my limited experience. I’m not trying to be so presumptive as to tell Dr. Hart how to do his work. I’m merely saying that I do actually see something to the rhetoric critique. If somebody is already indisposed to an idea, then when you come at them in a hostile manner what do you expect? Of course they are going to say F you and not listen to you. Most of us would do the same. You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. It definitely shocks me when, as a great admirer of the beautiful style and work or Dr. Hart, you see him saying things like: “I delight in the casual abuse of Thomists.” I shared that article with an Thomist friend and he said to me: “Aren’t christians supposed to not get joy out of abusing others?” and so he wrote the whole article off. (I know the irony in this statement as many Thomists believe in the saints delighting in the sufferings of the damned, but that makes it worse. A universalist who condemns such a view as morally obtuse and heinous engaging in rhetoric that promotes treating others badly. It definitely leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth and shows double mindedness aka hypocrisy; at any rate it doesn’t show to me agapeic love). I know we all have our problems, and please forgive me for being judgmental if I am doing so. I am merely being a devil’s advocate and I can say that even though I don’t fully agree with the opponents’ conclusions regarding the rhetoric, I definitely see where they are coming from, not just in this work, but in all his works as a whole.

      Like

      • DBH says:

        Hmmm. I regard them as fragile and humorless children. If one does not hear the note of irony and self-mockery in that remark about Thomists, then one should simply be patted on the head and ignored.

        American (midwestern) niceness is a wonderful formula for boring prose, which is the gravest sin imaginable. As a good Marylander, I would never betray the spirit of Mencken by affecting a pastoral tone.

        More to the point, these claims about the rhetoric of the book are simply false. No one is insulted in the book. Repellant beliefs are called repellant, but so what? What should one call the belief that babies who die unbaptized suffer eternal torment?

        Like

        • TJF says:

          I understand. You call it like you see it, in no uncertain terms. It does seem like you make a distinction between insulting beliefs and not insulting people. I guess the problem lies in people identifying themselves so wholly with a worldview or beliefs that it feels like an attack on them. Perhaps you are right and people need to be shocked into seeing the truth. They need thicker skin and pussyfooting around is just a waste of time and energy. Just thought I’d try to see things from their perspective. Thanks for taking the time to answer me Dr. Hart!

          Like

          • DBH says:

            It’s kind of you to be concerned. But all my instincts run the opposite way. The gospel of burning babes—that really is morally odious, but you can’t get that through to people, and really force them to see it, except by refusing to be diplomatic and disingenuous. Believe me, the reason my book makes reviewers react as Farrow and McClymond do is because it’s the first time they’ve really been forced to defend such beliefs against a candid assault, and at some level they’re uncomfortable with those
            beliefs. I know both men.
            Doug I’ve known for 20
            years or so. And we have
            been friends. He would not have written anything that crude, clumsy, and ultimately dishonest if he had not been shaken.

            Liked by 1 person

          • TJF says:

            I hear you. I still hang out with some of Trad Catholic friends. A while back, one of
            them informed me that his wife had a miscarriage and he was concerned that the unbaptized baby would be burning in hell. Around this time is when my world was shaken and I started to read some of your works like The Doors of the Sea and your famous essay that is now the first meditation in TASBS, and then I read the Second Part of St. Isaac’s homilies and Gregory of Nyssa’s On the Making of Man and On the Soul and Resurrection as well as Unspoken Sermons by George MacDonald. I wasn’t fully convinced then and was still afraid until recently to “come out” as it were as a universalist (TASBS has now given the courage to do so, so many thanks are due to you). At any rate, I asked why he would believe such an absurd thing. He told me that St. Augustine was, well, a saint and a much better man than he was. Who was he to contradict a man of such colossal intellectual gifts and holiness? Who was he to question God’s inscrutable counsels? The response floored me, but I realize I had thought the same thing. If any piece of your System comes crashing down, then it feels like your whole world comes crashing down and chaos ensues. At the time I just shook my head and said, “I don’t know. Guess we will find out.” We seem to be peculiarly good at believing insane things in order to comfort ourselves, even though those beliefs don’t comfort us at all. I suppose your candor is what pushed me in the right direction. Perhaps I should be less concerned with “intellectual humility” and more concerned with being direct and frank. Thank you for responding to me once again and thank you for all of your work. It truly has changed my life for the better, and been a real pleasure to read as well. Many thanks! God bless you.

            Liked by 2 people

        • paul higgins says:

          I am extremely interested in your response, if any, to Farrow’s review article?

          Like

  12. Tom Talbott says:

    By all the accounts I have heard, Michael McClymond is a charming fellow, great fun over a cup of coffee. So how is it, I have asked myself more than once, that he could have fallen into so many confusions that you would not expect even from a college freshman? I’ll give but one example of such an embarrassing confusion. In several different contexts I have formulated an inconsistent set of three propositions for the purpose of classifying theologians according to which of these propositions they finally reject. And yet, McClymond identifies this inconsistent triad as “Talbott’s philosophical argument for universalism.” Here is part of what I wrote by way of a reply:

    “In any case, given that the above set of propositions has no conclusion and no premises, and given that it is lifted from a chapter entitled ‘Three Pictures of God in Western Theology’—a chapter in which I do not argue for (or against) any of the positions identified therein—how on earth, I wonder, could McClymond have confused this inconsistent triad with a philosophical argument for universalism. . . . I would consider this a minor slip-up, one not even worth mentioning, had McClymond not repeated this claim several times and had he not written the following: ‘we may be suspicious of Talbott’s argument for universalism [i.e., my inconsistent triad] because the argument proves too much—that is, more than Talbott might wish’ (p. 951). But again I must ask, what on earth does McClymond think the above set of propositions in fact proves? If it is indeed logically inconsistent . . . then that proves one thing and one thing only; it proves only that at least one of the three propositions is false.”

    Now McClymond is not a stupid person. So why is it that he should sometimes come across as so incompetent? I think his set of acknowledgements provides a clue. Here is how he begins: “It takes a village to write a book. Academic writing requires assistance. Researchers today seem to be more dependent than ever on others.” Later on he praises a student for “locating primary and secondary sources unknown to me, reading and summarizing materials, and often adding his own comments and interpretations as well.” Could it be, then, that McClymond too often relies on the work of others concerning material that he has not mastered himself? For my own part, I see no way he could have misinterpreted so badly my remarks concerning the unpardonable sin, had he actually read the section in which I made them. For why I say this, see the section entitled “An Egregious Distortion” at the following URL

    https://willamette.edu/~ttalbott/McClymond4.pdf

    Liked by 1 person

    • apoloniolatariii says:

      If it is really true that Mcclymond has depended too much on others, I just find that lazy. In the first place, it seems takes away the joy of research. I am not saying that you cannot rely on research assistants, but if it is true that he relied too much on others, it seems that getting something published with a bunch of citations was more important than truth itself. Furthermore, it is a stark contrast with Ilaria Ramelli who reads the sources in their own languages and took her a long time to publish her findings. What Mcclymond has done, it seems to me, if this is all true, is that he already had an a priori idea of his position and then read it into the sources. It’s just lazy. And sad.

      Like

  13. QUOTE: “But at some point he got it into his head that this rather narrow range of expertise had prepared him to undertake a task that required training and skills in classical languages and history, late antique metaphysics and culture, patristics, Church history, theology, and philosophy that he most definitely does not possess.”

    Hahahahahahaha!!!! That describes the majority of Protestant and a fair number of Roman Catholic theologians (although I will admit to them being far, FAR better educated than the average Protestant) Throw into this mix the average Protestant who thinks that because he has memorized a few Bible verses and has attended every service at St. Bluster’s Holy Anabaptist KJV 1611 Only Church and you have the state of the American church. Watching some of the inane commentary I see on certain Protestant forums creates two things in me: a screaming migrane at the level of stupidty being exposed, and world-class embarrassment to admit that once upon a time, I was doing the same thing – talking about stuff as far above me as is the sun and yet acting as if I was the source of all knowledge.

    Of course, the average pew-sitter is not to be blamed for this. He is indoctrinated from the day he gets “saved” with the idea that what his pastor is teaching is pure gold. Only later are some of us fortunate enough to discover the Early Fathers (which event usually leads to conversion) or someone like David Bentley Hart, who takes no prisoners when it comes to opposing theological puffery. We do the best we can, we are told that we are “standing up for Jesus” when in fact we are facilitating nonsense on a grand scale, and we go away feeling good about ourselves and never seeking the real depths of words like “God is love” and the true meaning of St. John’s declaration.

    My hope is that DBH’s book will be the beginning of a return to sanity from the warped Medieval God created by the Western theologians.

    Like

  14. Geoffrey A McKinney says:

    From Dr. Hart’s article:

    “[Gregory of Nyssa], in fact, produced perhaps the most majestic, coherent, compelling, and theologically sophisticated reading of the New Testament’s soteriology, cosmology, and eschatology in the history of Christian thought.”

    The major works of St. Gregory of Nyssa, translated and annotated by David Bentley Hart, would be of inestimable value.

    Like

  15. joel in ga says:

    I don’t know about about McClymond but DBH’s response to the critique of another Calvinist, Peter Leithart, was about the most pathetic thing I have read in years, sorry to say, and I say that as one who debates atheists on reddit all the time and has seen a fair amount of pathetic responses.

    For one thing, Leithart’s critique deserved a clear answer, especially since his objection was clear and very limited in scope–how is temporal suffering consistent with the goodness of God when eternal suffering is not consistent His goodness. The obvious answer, which DBH does not even hint at, is that temporal suffering serves a beneficial purpose, the reform of the sinner, while such a positive telos cannot be predicated of eternal suffering.

    Instead, DBH goes on an astonishing rant against taking the OT at face value, deriding it as fundamentalist while at the same time calling in the fanciful textual theories of liberal, if not apostate, Protestant scholarship to dismiss the accuracy of what the OT says about God and His judgments of old. As his crowning absurdity DBH calls this ultra-modern liberal view patristic. Funny, I have read a bit of the Church Fathers, and I never got the impression that they viewed the God of the OT as evil, as DBH explicitly affirms. Then, like Democrats faulting Trump for mischiefs of which the Democrats are even guiltier, DBH crowns this last absurdity itself by comparing Leithart’s reading of the OT to Marcion’s.

    Decide for yourself who is channeling Marcion here:

    “Most of the Hebrew Bible is a polytheistic gallimaufry, and YHVH is a figure in a shifting pantheon of elohim or deities. In the later prophets, he is for the most part a very good god, yes, and even appears to have become something like God in the fullest sense. But in most of the Old Testament he is of course presented as quite evil: a blood-drenched, cruel, war-making, genocidal, irascible, murderous, jealous storm-god. Neither he nor his rival or king or father or equal or alter ego (depending on which era of Cannanite and Israelitic religion we are talking about) El (or El Elyon or Elohim) is a good god.”

    Like

    • TJF says:

      Where does DBH say this at?

      Like

    • Grant says:

      There is nothing that strange in any of these assertions Hart advances here. The principles here comes straight from the NT, in the Gospels and the epistles, particularly those of St Paul. Throughout the synoptic Gospels no one gets who the Lord really is or what is going on, despite what is said, what is done, in the end most of Israel turns away, the disciples have no idea what is going on (even those witnessed the Transfiguration) with St Peter coming close with the declaration that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, but then when the Lord declares His coming Passion and St Peter refuses this, he is declared satan. He still didn’t get it, the empty tomb did not let them know what was going on, it was at the meeting with Christ, where we the meeting with Cleopas on the road to Emmaus the Lord (still unrealized by them) opens the Scriptures to them as being all about Him, that is what they were and are as Scripture and inspired text ever about, and then at the breaking of the bread the finally see a realize who He is, when they realize Scripture points to and is about the Word of God. And this continues to be continued throughout the New Testament, it is in part what is revealed in the Transfiguration in which Moses and Elijah, Moses and the prophet who represents all the prophets, indicates, we see and understand them and comprehend what is being said only in light of Christ and the Gospel. Through the Acts this comes up, St Stephen explains the Scriptures as testifying to Christ, to the Gospel according to St John that tells us that the law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Christ Jesus, which includes the law, prophets, psalms and the writings, St Paul going on to tell us that the as yet unbelieving Jews read the Scriptures (then the OT) through a veil, not understanding what they said, because Christ is He who both reveals what the OT is saying as Scripture and indeed is what it is referring to.

      The Gospels are all written with this consciousness and awareness, the usage the authors use of the OT is with this mindset in place, where verses that in no way on face reading refer to Christ or have any Messianic import are immediately seen and read about Him, as indeed the Lord Himself again displaying this practice within does, such as He reference to Jonah concerning Himself (that is what it is about). St John’s Gospel is framed with the creation myths front and centre, and it is Christ and the Gospel to which they refer and are commentaries on, it is always and only what they are ever referring to. St Paul’s use of Scripture is full of this understanding, the use of typology and allegory fully utilized, as is his reading of Scripture against their face value in light of Christ, for example the coronation psalm of Psalm 2 which promises violent conquest by God’s anointed smashing and destroying His enemies is completely reinterpreted and turned on it’s head in terms of the Cross and Resurrection as the defeat of all evil forces by His self-giving love and the redemption, rescue and free all things from the fallen powers (including the powers themselves) until it is death that is destroyed by all things raised out and beyond death, or the submission of all things to God in Christ, indicated on face reading as a violent and forceful event, instead this is the moment of liberation when God becomes all in all. Where we are told that none can call Christ Lord from their heart unless by the Spirit to salvation and freedom. The Exodus is read in terms of baptism when the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea and so on. This approach and basic logic runs throughout the NT, the OT is about Christ, is to be read about Him and understood through the prism of what He reveals, He alone reveals the Father, and as He told the disciples prophets, holy men and kings wanted to see what they did and did not, not because they clearly foresaw Him, they did not as a plain reading (if there is such a thing, since even so called plain reading is always done within a pre-existing interpretation that determines how it is read and understood) indicates but rather they grasped after God as best they could but didn’t really understand as the grace and truth of God had not yet been revealed, as St John tells us plainly.

      The Church followed this point and it is shown throughout their use of the Scriptures, in the Fathers, or in the use of Scripture in prayer or liturgies, see the understanding that the crossing of the Jordan relates to Christ’s Baptism, or see St Origen, St Gregory of Nyssa and St Augustine’s treatment on the Plagues of Egypt and so on, and fit within the conceptual paradigm and approach towards the OT (about Christ and testifying to Him, and concerning the Gospel and a commentary on the NT), Christ is the key that lifts the veil and illuminate the OT, and indeed as St Paul says, only when read through, and about Him does it indeed becomes inspired Scripture.

      In this historical concerns relating to the OT are both incidental and irrelevant, but more so to read the OT at ‘face-value’ is not to read it at all, and certainly not as Christian Scripture (our Jewish friends would vigorously disagree of course :), ) . And to put the OT over the NT and the Gospel is a complete distortion of the Christian approach to the OT from the beginning.

      The problem with Marcion wasn’t what he rejected (as it is with many heresies) as such, in rejecting the ‘plain’ reading of OT Scripture and the picture of God it depicts in many places as rightly conflicting with who the Father is revealed in Christ, it was not truly reading it as Scripture in the manner revealed by Christ. Reading it with the veil still on, and so not to read it at all, to see what the tradition that developed within and through the Jewish people really referred and pointed to was, the oracles of God they carried were actually talking about, awaiting the interpretation that is Christ, the cornerstone that fits it into place. He is the key to putting the Mosaic together into the image of the king.

      To do as Leihart does here, is to truly commit Marcion’s error at least in part, and leads to a number of Christians of all traditions into many moments of moral foolishness of accepting that the God revealed in Christ kills children and commands the genocides of whole races of people, commends the spearing of unarmed women and has violent tantrums where he kills thousands until Moses placates Him enough (and that is just touching the surface). This is explicitly contradicted by Christ, who in the Sermon of the Mount says ‘you have heard it said, but I say to you’ meaning not just now things that were allowed one way are now this way, but this is how things really are. He reveals that the Father blesses the good and wicked alike, calls on us to be perfect as the Father is by loving our enemies and blessing those who persecute us or are against us, because that is what the Father is like. He takes the sword out of St Peter’s hand and heals the ones coming to arrest Him, denying the use of the sword, He on the Cross calls on all to be forgiven which is the will of the Father revealed. He brings the judgement of God which in St John He reveals is the Cross ‘now has come the judgement of God, now shall the ruler of the world be cast out’ pointing to the Cross where as St Paul tells us he reconciles all things to God, challenging the power of the world with a different power, that of self-giving love, and brings all things into submission and confirmation to Himself (which is to freedom of their true nature in forgiveness and reconciliation) until death is destroyed and God is all in all.

      Anything reading of OT that contradicts what is revealed in Christ is simply not to read it as Christian Scripture at all, and leads Christians of all traditions to producing grotesque pictures of God, of some twisted double-faced Janus image, and thus ironically falling into the very error of Marcion. And doing such things and defending the indefensible and without meaning blaspheming God by calling Him one who commands genocides and much evil, which St Gregory of Nyssa rightly saw could never be said of the God revealed in Christ (in his commentary on the Exodus plagues).

      And this is by far the biggest problem, without getting into all the foolishness of some Christians having to twist their minds and attempt to defend as historical narratives what simply aren’t, and denying the evidence coming from history and archaeology (and not just liberal ‘Protestant’ scholarship) in order to demand the OT be read as chronological history (most just isn’t). The evidence just doesn’t allow for any Exodus events happening in any way as depicted in Exodus (to say noting of common mythic and ancient literary motifs at play in it, say the finding of Moses by Pharaoh’s wife), Ramses II the pharaoh who commonly would be the Pharaoh of Exodus didn’t die in the Nile, died at 91 years of age, we have his body found in his tomb and it’s now in a museum, and nor did any other Pharaoh around him suffer such fates. Nineveh never turned from their path of conquest as depicted in the book of Jonah, Esther is not likely to be historical, the archaeology of the Levant shows that the conquest (thank God) never occurred as depicted in Joshua, nor assuming their was a David (I assume there was) is it likely it was as depicted (he and Saul if they existed could have been rival kings and kingdoms). Many elements in Exodus concern much later conflicts between the Temple in Jerusalem and Judea with the kingdom of Israel and nothing to do with the times referred too. I could go on, but it simply leads Christians into various levels of cul-du-sacs, and essentially into the position of various levels of denying truth (which is tragic given they serve the One who is Truth), and to various conspiracy theories explicitly or implicitly implied. At it’s worst it ends with the young earth Creationist movement and not just the denial of the yields of the evidence from astronomy, cosmology, geology, paleontology, archaeology, genetics, anatomy and so on, but to twisting that evidence and information with very dishonest and selective representation to convince the uninformed. It is quite shocking from Christians and quite reprehensible.

      But ultimately that isn’t really main problem, to read the OT at ‘face-value’ is to no read it as Scripture at all, and while lead to a twisted and grotesque visage of God as a double-headed Janus, against who He is revealed in Christ, and is as Hart points out, to read it as Marcion actually did.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ben Wine Addict says:

      He already answered that issue in his response to Shinji Akemi.

      Like

  16. Wayne Fair says:

    Please do not miss Robin Parry’s excellent (and devastating) critique of McClymond’s book:
    https://www.academia.edu/37667049/A_Response_to_Michael_McClymonds_Theological_Critique_of_Universalism

    Like

  17. Pingback: Misreading David Bentley Hart on Universalism - Stretch Theology

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