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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Philosophy begins in wonder

“Wonder signifies that the world is profounder, more all-embracing and mysterious than the logic of everyday reason had taught us to believe. The innermost meaning of wonder is fulfilled in a deepened sense of mystery. It does not end in doubt, but is the awakening of the knowledge that being, qua being, is mysterious and inconceivable.”
Joseph Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2009), 115

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The problem of the resurrection of the wicked

Here is something I don't quite get. Perhaps someone out there will have some wisdom for me.

The Bible speaks of the resurrection of all the dead at the end of the age, followed by a judgement in which people are divided into two groups: sheep and goats, wheat and weeds, justified and condemned. Here is John 5:28–29 for a classic statement of this:
Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
OK so far.

But the Bible also speaks of our resurrection as fundamentally linked to the resurrection of Jesus. We will be raised because he was raised (a firstfruit of what is to come). Indeed, our resurrection life is a participation in his indestructable resurrection life. And the resurrection of our bodies will be our radical eschatological transformation into pneumatic, glory-filled images of God. It will be the completion of our humanity (Rom 8; 1 Cor 15, etc.).

Here is the problem—the resurrection of the wicked makes no sense if by resurrection we mean what the NT means when it speaks of the resurrection of life. How could a person not united to Christ and not participating in his eschatological life have a resurrection body of the kind Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 15? It computeth not.

So if we are to speak of a resurrection of the wicked, what kind of body will they have? If not a resurrection body, then what?

Augustine speculates all sorts of things in the City of God about super-dooper fire-proof, eternal bodies, specially built to endure eternal fire in hell. But these bodies sound too close to proper resurrection bodies that differ only in that they are located in the fiery hot place. That won't do. A body like that is a divine gift, granted in Christ. And a body like that is a redeemed body. One who has such a body has a completed human nature. If you fitted into that category you would not be in the fiery hot place in the first place.

So is the 'resurrection' body of the wicked a mortal, perishable body—one that must be cast aside for a proper resurrection body if one is to become a new creation?


Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The Joy and Freedom of Being a Sinner

I was listening earlier today to Nina Simone's 1969 recording of Blind Willie Johnson's 1927 classic, "It's Nobody's Fault But Mine." (I paid attention because, by coincidence, I listened to Eric Bibb's 2010 version yesterday.) Here is the Simone version:

Nobody's fault, but mine.
Nobody's fault, but mine.
And I said if I should die
and my soul becomes lost,
Then I know it's nobody's fault but mine.

Oh I got a father.
I got a father and he can preach
So I said if I should die
and my soul, my soul becomes lost,
Then I know it's nobody's fault but mine.

Oh I got a mother.
I got a mother and she can pray
So I said if I should die
and my soul, my soul becomes lost,
then I know it's nobody's fault but mine.

Oh I got a sister.
I got a sister and she can sing. Oh Yeah.
and I said if I should die
and my soul becomes lost,
then I know it's nobody's fault but mine.

And I said if I should die
then I know it's nobody's fault but mine
and I said if I should die
and my soul becomes lost,
then I know it's nobody's fault but mine

I confess that I found this such a breath of fresh air—a liberating song.

Increasingly, we spin identity-creating stories in which we are always the victims. Even if we do bad things it is because of our genes or what happened to us or our circumstances or the government. We are not to blame; we are not guilty. But while many seek to flee from notions of sin and guilt, I find them humanizing. Of course, there are mitigating factors—biological, sociological, and so on. And of course we need to take into account the circumstances. However, when the rubber hits the road, to be told a story in which I am a responsible moral agent with a free (albeit limited) will—that I can sin and be considered guilty for so doing—is to treat me like a human being with dignity. I am not simply an effect; I am an agent.

So weirdly enough, I don't find the idea that I am a person who can be guilty of sin to be oppressive. Blaming myself is not necessarily bad—though, it can be bad in some circumstances—sometimes it is precisely the morally appropriate response. We get over guilt not by always denying it (I am the victim) but by recognizing and acknowledging it (when appropriate) and dealing with it. The gospel provides the story in which we find God dealing with our guilt and locates us in a narrative of reconciliation and forgiveness.

I am an agent with freewill and responsibility—one who is accountable and will be called to account. I am a human being.

Monday, 17 August 2015

An interview with Ilaria Ramelli on universal salvation in the early church

Last week I recorded an interview with Ilaria Ramelli on her work on apokatastasis (the restoration of all things to God) in early Christianity.

Here it is:

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Books I am working on (or may work on)

It seems that I have been consumed with various universalism-related projects of late:
  • the annotated edition of Thoma Allin's Christ Triumphant
  • a longish chapter for a Zondervan Four Views on Hell book, edited by Preston Sprinkle. This is simply an attempt to defend a universalist understanding of hell and to interact with those who have different understandings. The other authors are Denny Burke (eternal conscious torment), John Stackhouse (annihilation), Jerry Walls (Purgatory). We are just about to write the responses to each other. Should be fun.
  • a longish chapter for a Baker book on different types of Christian universalism, edited by David Congdon. Here I am looking at evangelical universalism in particular (as distinct, say, from patristic or Barthian universalisms). I think that the other authors are George Hunsinger, Morwenna Ludlow, Tom Greggs, and Fred Sanders, but my memory may be faulty here.
  • working on a co-authored semi-pop book with Ilaria Ramelli on Christian universalism from the Reformation to the present day. Currently I am in the eighteenth century. This one will take a while, even though it is not an academic texts for specialists. Still—I love history, so it is fascinating research.
I feel like my brain is a tad universalism-focused at the moment. My plan is that once these are done I will move on to other stuff. Perhaps:
  • a book on what I call arboreal theology: theology told through different trees in the biblical story
  • a book on Jesus' baptism
  • A book on Edom in Scripture—a biblical and theological reading. (It is a lot more interesting than you may suspect.) I am just itching to get stuck in to texts again.
  • a book on atonement. (I know everyone is at it, but I feel that one day I need to sit down and work out exactly what my atonement theology looks like.) 
  • A simple hermeneutical guide for appropriating biblical law today if one is a Jewish or gentile Christ-believer. (This has been at the back of my mind for many years.)
Those are the two things that are drawing me—especially the trees to start with, then perhaps Edom. (But who would read a book on Edom?)

However, looking into so much universalist history I keep thinking of new projects there
  • more annotated editons of classic texts (Stonehouse? Relly? Winchester? Jukes?)
  • a biography of John Murray—he's an interesting chap and ought to have one (even if he was a bit quirky)
  • a sequel to "All Shall Be Well" covering another batch of folk (alternatively, covering different traditions: Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Pietism, etc., etc.)
I guess that will keep me going for a few more years—probably long after I'm dead. Hmmm, I detect a problem there!


Friday, 10 July 2015

Thomas Allin universalist book now available in print and kindle

I popped into Weston-super-Mare this morning (on the way home from Glastonbury) to see the house in which Rev. Thomas Allin lived from 1877 until about 1901. It is, as you can see, a pretty snazzy pad.

But who is Thomas Allin and why should I care about his house?

Thomas Allin (1838–1909) was an Irish Anglican priest, a botanist, and a patristics scholar. But he is best known for his staunch defence of universal salvation, entitled Universalism Asserted (first published in 1885 and then going through nine editions by 1905). It is regarded by many Christian universalists as a classic.

In my opinion it is a very Anglican book. What Allin seeks to demonstrate is that reason, tradition, and Scripture —the famous three-legged stool — all converge in support of the claim that none will be forever lost. What is perhaps most distinctive about Allin's book is the detailed attention it pays to patristic literature. It was not the first study of universalism in the early church, but it is possibly the first detailed study of that topic.

In spite of being 130 years old, it remains of continuing value. That's why the guy interests me—a fellow Anglican universalist is a soul I share something with.

I decided that it would be worth giving Allin's classic text a new lease of life, so I have created a new edition, all beautifully typeset and with a snazzy cover (and based on the ninth and final edition by Allin). In addition, this new version of the book contains:
  • an introduction to the life of Thomas Allin and the context in which he worked (including nineteenth-century debates on hell in the Church of England). Allin is a very elusive figure and I am unaware of any other attempts to start gathering together what we know about him. 
  • copious annotations throughout to explain references in the main text and clarify the sources Allin was using.
  • a bibliography of the texts Allin used—at least, the ones that can be positively identified.
  • lots of subtitles to break the argument down into its sections and help readers follow the train of thought (the original chapters were solid blocks of text and losing the forest for the trees was very easy)
  • updated certain features (e.g., converted all Roman numerals into Arabic numerals)
So it is, I think, the most useful edition of Allin's work available—and certainly the nicest to read.

Well, the good news is that the book is now available (under the title Christ Triumphant). 
It is 406 pages long and is published by Wipf & Stock (2015). 

The retail price is $49, but it is available on the publisher website here at 20% discount at $39.20. 

Amazon.com are selling it at full price here. They do not yet have the kindle version, but should do soon.

Amazon.co.uk seem to have the kindle edition, though not yet a print edition. (Weird—the exact opposite of Amazon.com) This is a mere £6.42 and can be found here. However, be warned that with the kindle version the annotations in the footnotes will be a bit of a pain to access. Still, you'll get the introduction (and Thomas Talbott's foreword).

My advice is that the print edition is the best—because of the easy to access annotations—but I appreciate that if it is the main text that you are after then the kindle is just the job.

For those who are interested, the image on the front cover is a section of a painting entitled "The Great Day of His Wrath," which was painted by John Martin (1789–1854) in 1851–53. It caused something of a sensation when it was displayed. It's a massive beast of a painting. I saw it in the Tate Gallery in London when I was seventeen and it blew me away. So I am very pleased with Mike Surber's excellent cover design.

Anyway—spread the word. 

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Could we with ink the ocean fill . . .

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
This is verse 3 of Frederick Lehman's hymn "The Love of God" (1917). This verse is apparently an adapted translation of a Jewish poem by Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai (1050). It seems that the hymn-writer found it scribbled on the walls of a patient's room in an insane asylum after the death of its occupant. Whatever its origins, it is a wonderful and unusually striking piece of devotional writing. Thanks to Brad Jersak for using it in his great new book A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel (CWR Press, 2015).

Rethinking Hell —for those who missed it

Those of you who missed the rethinking hell conference can catch up with different parts of it in different ways.

There is audio for ten of the breakout sessions on the Rethinking Hell website here.

Then there is video of some of the sessions on YouTube on the Rethinking Hell channel here.

The plenary sessions (Oliver Crisp, Chris Date, David Instone-Brewer, Robin Parry, Jim Spiegel, Jerry Walls) and key breakout sessions (Eric Reitan, Jordan Wessling, William Tanksley Jr./Chris Date, and Brad Jersak) are available on DVD only. The 4 DVDs cost $35 (inc. p&p) and can be bought here.

So there you have it. You can attend every sessions of the conference for a mere $35. Bargain buckets!

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Reflections on Rethinking Hell 2015

So the 2015 Rethinking Hell conference, held at Fuller Theological Seminary, is over and I am back at home in the UK.

Here are a few brief reflections on the conference.

1. The most immediately striking thing about the conference is that it was a genuine discussion between conditionalists (the conference organizers), traditionalists (or perhaps modified traditionalists), and universalists. There was a real spirit of genuine respect for one another as fellow siblings in Christ. There was real listening. There was therefore real openness to modify or change views in light of the conversation. That is unusual on such a hot topic.

2. The quality of the papers was really very good—at least the ones that I heard. There was some solid, biblical, theological, and philsophical reflections from some "top dogs." Very thought-provoking and enjoyable. The respect and love certainly did not stop people offering clear critiques of one another. (There were certainly a few worthwhile critiques of my own work.) This was not a conference of wooly thinking!

3. I really enjoyed meeting folk—pastors, professors, students, and plain thoughtful Christian folk. There was a great lunchtime discussion with some students about atonement—fascinating! There was banter with Jerry Walls—that guy is a hoot and full of fascinating ideas. There was the sheer joy of hanging out with Oliver Crisp—words cannot express how much I enjoy Oliver's company. There was Brad Jersak—such a lovely guy! And wondeful time chatting with Eric Reitan, Greg Stump, Jim Spiegel, Chris Date, Peter Hiett, David Instone-Brewer, Jordan Wessling, and a whole bunch of other folk (who will no doubt be upset that I did not mention them. Sorry—but my list is already too long).

4. It became clear to me that a more adequate exegetical response to annihilationism is still required and needs to be written. Annihilationism is a serious position that deserves a proper exegetical critique. (I think that there are very good theological and philosophical critiques, but the exegetical case needs more attention.) Alas, I don't have any time to do this in the next few years, but if God keeps me around long enough I may do it one day. However, in the meantime it would be a good project for a young scholar.

5. I also think that the universalist exegetical discussion of hell texts is an ongoing project and that we need a few more biblical scholars to do the work needed. Also, further reflection on theological heremeneutcis and how it relates to the issue of hell is needed. Quite a bit has been said here, but I feel in my gut that there is something really important that needs clarifying that is as yet murky.(Which is why I have not said what it is—I see men like trees walking.)

So—exciting times! Glad for the conversation and the provocation.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Thomas Talbott audiobook NOW AVAILABLE

The eagerly anticipated audiobook edition of Tom Talbott's book, The Inescapable Love of God (2nd ed.), is now available at Christianaudio.com. It will soon be available through other outlets (e.g., Audible) too.

The regular price is $19.98, but Christian Audio members can get it for $7.49 (or for free if they sign up for a thirty day trial)

You can get it here.

George Sarris does a fantastic job reading this one—I have listened all the way through and just hearing it read so well helped me to see new things in the book I had missed on previous readings.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Cover for my latest book: Thomas Allin, Christ Triumphant

Check out this super-cool cover for my latest book project—an annotated edition of Thomas Allin's nineteenth-century defence of Christian universalism.

This little baby was a LOT of flipping work!

More info to follow in due course.

Guest post from C. S. Lewis, Christian Platonist

"These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire: but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited."

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Rethinking Hell Conference—discount!

I am really excited about the fast-approaching Rethinking Hell Conference to be held at Fuller Theological Seminary, June 18–20.

There are some key folk representing all of the three main Christian views on hell there.

I mean, Jerry Walls! Wow. His new book, Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory (Brazos, 2015), is really excellent (though we disagree on the freewill defence). Given that Jerry defends eternal hell against universalism you'd be surprised how close our views are.

Oliver Crisp! Dudes! That guy rocks.

Eric Reitan and John Kronen! Weep for joy!

Brad Jersak! Sweet!

David Instone-Brewer on the rabbis. That one will be fascinating. David knows his rabbinincs.

And a whole host of other folk who seem to be genuinely interesting.

You can see the whole programme at the website here.

It is not too late to book. In fact, I think that there is currently a $25 discount code available.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The value of matter (John Damascene)

“I do not worship matter: I worship the creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who willed to take his abode in matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. . . . Because of this I salute all remaining matter with reverence.”

John Damascene (Imag. 1.16)

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Rethinking Hell Conference 2015

I am really looking forward to the Rethinking Hell conference in June. They have very generously invited me to speak in defence of universal salvation (and, if I am feeling a little naughty, in critique of annihilation). I think I'll be given a thorough though gracious grilling!

There are some good folk there. I am especially looking forward to seeing some old friends, but also looking forward to making new ones.

Must say that I am impressed by the folk at Rethinking Hell, even though we have very different views on the subject of hell.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

"It is finished!" What is finished?

I have always been told—and have always believed—that when Jesus cried, "It is finished!" he meant that his work in bearing the sins of the world was completed.

But it struck me about ten minutes ago that there is a problem with this: when Jesus uttered those words he was not dead (obviously). But the church affirms that Christ died for our sins. So it cannot literally be true that his cross-work was completed when he said those words. That was not finished—at least not in every respect.

This has some bearing on what we say about Christ's descent into Hades. This ancient belief has received a range of interpretations over the centuries, but the most basic division in the interpretations is between (a) the views in which Christ was thought to be among the dead as the victor proclaiming his triumph and (b) those in which he was among the deceased as one who "stood" in solidarity with the dead, suffering death's humiliation and Godforsakenness. Now one argument against the latter range of views is that Christ's humiliation ended on the cross—after all, he said that it was finished. So the descent could only be a victorious descent.

But if the words "It is finished!" do not mean that Christ has no more sin-bearing then the way is opened up to see the descent as an integral part of Christ's humiliation—his being dead.

That said, I see no reason why we need to play off (a) and (b) against each other. I think that the descent is a pivot element in the story and can be seen both in terms of humiliation and exaltation, cross and resurrection. That's for another time.

Anyway, here is my question: what is finished?

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

St Ephrem on God and human concepts about God

"The divine cannot be named. . . . For no one has ever breathed the whole air, nor has any mind located, or language contained, the Being of God completely. But sketching God’s inward self from outward characteristics, we may assemble an inadequate, weak, and partial picture. And the one who makes the best theologian is not the one who knows the whole truth . . . [b]ut the one who creates the best picture, who assembles more of truth’s image or shadow." 
(Commentary on the Diatessaron 1.18–19; quoted by S. Brock, The Luminous Eye, 50–51)

"Let us give thanks to God, who clothed Himself in the names of the body’s various parts: Scripture refers to His “ears,” to teach us that He listens to us; it speaks of His “eyes,” to show that He sees us. It was just the names of such things that He put on, and, although in His true Being there is not wrath or regret, yet He put on these names too because of our weakness.

Refrain; Blessed be He who has appeared to our human race under so many metaphors.

We should realize that, had He not put on the names of such things, it would not have been possible for Him to speak with us humans. By means of what belongs to us did He draw close to us: He clothed Himself in our language, so that He might clothe us in His mode of life. He asked for our form and put this on, and then, as a father with His children, He spoke with our childish state.

It is our metaphors that He put on—though He did not literally do so; He then took them off—without actually doing so: when wearing them, He was at the same time stripped of them. He puts one on when it is beneficial, then strips it off in exchange for another; the fact that He strips off and puts on all sorts of metaphors tells us that the metaphor does not apply to His true Being: because that Being is hidden, He has depicted it by means of what is visible . . .

A person who is teaching a parrot to speak hides behind a mirror and teaches it in this way: when the bird turns in the direction of the voice which is speaking it finds in front of its eyes its own resemblance reflected; it imagines that it is another parrot, conversing with itself. The man puts the bird’s image in front of it, so that thereby it might learn how to speak. This bird is a fellow creature with the man, but although this relationship exists, the man beguiles and teaches the parrot something alien to itself by means of itself; in this way he speaks with it.

The Divine Being that in all things is exalted above all things. in His love bent down from on high and acquired from us our own habits: He laboured by every means so as to turn all to Himself." 

(Faith 31; as quoted in S. Brock, The Luminous Eye, 60–62)

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Thomas Talbott audiobook coming soon!

Here is a heads-up:

A fantastic new audiobook version of the second edition of Thomas Talbott's The Inescapable Love of God (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2014) will be available to buy very soon from all the usual outlets of spoken-word books (and distributed by christianaudio.com).

It is fabulously narrated by the actor George Sarris, a veteran of audiobooks.

The retail price will be $19.98.

I have heard the whole thing and can highly recommend it.

Watch this space!

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Heresy of Hell

I am currently preparing a snazzy new, annotated edition of Rev. Thomas Allin's 1885 classic, Universalism Asserted. Anyway, I just wanted to float one of Allin's objections to hell past your discerning gaze and see what you think of it.

Allin is very concerned with being true to the catholic faith of orthodox Christianity and perhaps his chief concern with hell is that it is, in his view, incompatible with orthodoxy!

At first blush that claim seems absurd, given that most orthodox Christians since the sixth century at least have affirmed eternal hell! So a little clarification is in order. Allin does not mean that those who affirm hell are unorthodox. Rather, his point is that eternal hell is a cuckoo in the nest that is a live threat to the rest of the chicks.

Perhaps an illustration: if hell continues to all eternity then sinners continue in their resistance to God for all eternity, sin continues forever, evil continues forever. As such, we end up with an everlasting cosmic dualism in which good and evil are co-eternal. Even if God can imprison sin in an eternal chamber in some corner of creation, he has not undone and defeated it, but merely contained it. But such an idea threatens to undermine some central Christian convictions about God and evil.

Allin also argues that a hell from which there is no ultimate restoration—whether that be eternal torment or annihilation—would undermine the doctrine of God (his love, his justice, his goodness, his omnipotence), the victory of Christ, the power of the atonement, and so on and so forth.

Of course, those who believe in hell also affirm God's love and justice, omnipotence, the atonement, divine victory, etc. But, Allin's point is that when they do so they either have to add in qualifications that serve to undermine the very beliefs that they affirm or they have to simply ignore the contradictions in their belief set and talk out of both sides of their mouth at the same time.

Given the oft-heard, though incorrect, assertion that universalism is heretical, what is interesting is that the heart of Allin's case, though he does not put it in these words, is that in order to maintain a consistent and healthy Christian orthodoxy one ought to jettison belief in eternal hell. Hell, in other words, is bad for orthodoxy.

Who said Anglicans were wishy-washy!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Rev. Thomas Allin, Anglican Universalist

I am currently preparing a lovely new edition of Thomas Allin's classic text, Universalism Asserted (1st ed., 1888).

Thomas Allin (1838–1909) was an Anglican clergyman from the west of Ireland. In 1877 he moved with his wife, Emily, to Weston-super-Mare on the Somerset coast—not too far from where I live. It was there that he wrote and published his impressive defense of universalism.

In preparing this new edition I have been struck again by how theologically astute Allin was. His work is a model of good Anglican theologizing, organized around the three theological sources of reason, tradition, and Scripture.  And he very carefully weaves the three together into an integrated and impressive case for universalism.

His first section offers some devastating philosophical critiques of the traditional notion of hell and of annihilationism. His second section is a very impressive survey of universalism in Christian history, showing just how prevalent it was among the orthodox of the early centuries. The final section opens with a consideration of how the whole of traditional Christian dogmatics fits together more coherently when set within a universalist framework. It then considers, albeit not with the exegetical rigor one may desire, a wide range of universalist texts, before showing how the so-called hell texts are not supports for the Augustinian tradition on hell at all.

Scholarship has moved forward in all of the areas Allin handles, but the advances, for the most part, are consistent with his basic instincts back in the nineteenth century.

I don't know much about this guy—not even what he looked like—but I'd love to have met him. I think he ranks as one of the great nineteenth-century writers on eschatology.

(More on the new edition in due course—it is a lot of blooming work, so I am not yet sure of the actual schedule, but I am hoping it'll be out this year. It'll be with our Wipf and Stock imprint.)