About Me

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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).

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Is Bell really a universalist?

A few people have asked me this question.

It is a bit of a slippery question. Ch. 4 of the book seems to be going down that route right until the end and then there is a sudden switch, grounded in human freedom, away from the idea that we can know whether all will be saved or not. It is somewhat confusing in light of the rest of the chapter because earlier on he seems sympathetic to the idea that God's love can melt even the hardest heart.

So I guess his view is this:
1. universalism is a valid Christian view, not heresy
2. there are good theological reasons for universalism (he thinks that God desires to save all, sent Christ to die for all, and that there are good reasons to hope that God will achieve his purposes)
3. human freedom means that we cannot know for sure that God will achieve all his purposes.

So I think I'd call him a "hopeful universalist." That mode of universalism (if you consider it to be a kind of universalism) is not uncommon.

I ran out of words in my Baptist Times article and so did not get on to the issue of distinguishing "hopeful" from "confident" universalism. So I simply spoke of RB as a "universalist" which, without the above mentioned distinction, might be a tad misleading.

But this is just my take on the issue but I hope it offers a little more clarity.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Bell's Hells: Seven Myths about Universalism

Here is a link to an article I wrote in the Baptist Times this week. It is simply an attempt to clear some ground for a more fruitful discussion.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Martin Bashir's Excellent Question

Here is the latest video doing the rounds:

Martin Bashir interviews Rob Bell:

Martin Bashir asks the brilliant question,
"Are you a universalist who believes that everyone can go to heaven regardless of how they respond to Christ on earth? . . . Is it irrelevant and is it immaterial about how one responds to Christ in this life in terms of determining one's eternal destiny?"

That is perhaps the most interesting and cleverly phrased question I have seen raised so far in this discussion. Genius! Rob Bell struggled to answer it and I suspect most people would struggle to answer a question like that in the midst of a live interview.

Let me suggest some reflections on it (and I am not reflecting on how Bell should answer but on how I would).

Bell seemed to be pulled in two directions ("it is important" and "it is not important") but could not clarify how he could have his cake and eat it. I think that Bell's instincts were right and the genius of the question lies in the way it is hard to answer in a way that the audience would understand.

The universalist believes that the eternal destiny of everyone is determined by God's action in Christ. So how a person responds in this life does not determine that destiny. God determines that destiny in Christ. So the most straightforward reply to Bashir (for a universalist) is "Yes. Your decisions may delay your participation in salvation but, in the end, they will not thwart it. So everyone will be saved even if they do not respond to Christ in this life"

But, of course, to say "Yes" in answer to the question will give the misleading impression that the universalist thinks that
(a) whether one responds to Christ is unimportant
(b) whether one responds to Christ in this life is unimportant.

And neither (a) nor (b) are true (for reasons I have explained elsewhere). (Which is why Bell tried to say that responding to Christ was very important).

So the universalist would have to make clear that
1. Sure, your eternal destiny is not in your hands, it is in God's (thank the Lord!)
2. How you respond to Christ is still essential and
3. Responding to the gospel in this life is still important.
That is not an easy message to get across fast in a live interview, especially when you have to take into account that most of the audience will be hearing you through a grid of traditional preconceptions.

So top marks to Martin Bashir on a genius question.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Did ancient Judaism have the concept of a heavenly temple?

OK—This post is more of a question.

1. I have often heard NT scholars speak of the idea of a "heavenly temple" in Second Temple Jewish texts. It is the "temple above", the true temple of which the Jerusalem temple is simply a pale counterpart.

2. It is often said by OT scholars that the Jerusalem temple is a microcosm of the cosmos. In this microcosm the "holy of holies" represents heaven, Yhwh's dwelling, while the other compartments represent the sky/heavens and the land and sea, etc..

Now, if 2 is the case I would expect heaven to be like the holy of holies (i.e., full of the presence of divine glory and heavenly beings and worship). But I would not expect there to be a whole temple in heaven.

However, theology is often messy and so if the evidence suggests that some Second Temple Jews did thing of a whole heavenly temple (with all the different courts and altars and priests, etc) then so be it.

But, it struck me that some of the texts I had heard used to support the notion of a heavenly temple did not speak of anything nearly so full-blown as a whole temple. This made me wonder whether we had misread the evidence.

However, Second Temple Jewish lit is not my speciality. So I was hoping that someone could just tell me where I can get the full evidence for a heavenly temple.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Audio File of talk by Robin Parry on Christian Universalism

A few months back I did a talk at a Pioneer church in Stourbridge (Chawn Hill Church) on the topic of Christian Universalism.

Anyway, I just discovered that the talks are available online so, if you wanted to listen, check it out.

Going Deeper: Universalism, Part 1 (talk thingy)
Going Deeper: Universalism, Part 2 (Questions and 'Answers')

As a rule I do not listen to recordings of my talks but I did listen to five or ten minutes of this one. There is a strange Somerset accent thingy going on in places. What is that about?

Robert Gordis on Job

The poet’s ultimate message is clear: Not only Ignoramus, “we do not know,” but Ignorabimus, “we may never know.” But the poet goes further. He calls upon us Gaudeamus, “let us rejoice,” in the beauty of the world, though its pattern is only partially revealed to us. It is enough to know that the dark mystery encloses and in part discloses a bright and shining miracle
Robert Gordis, The Book of God and Man, 134

Monday, 7 March 2011

Refreshing: Penn Gillette on Proselytism

Humble and honest words. I think Penn Gillette's reflections on prosyletism are "spot on."

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Praise and Concerns about C4s "The Promise"

I have now watched all four episodes of C4's drama "The Promise."

It is an exceptionally powerful and moving drama about the pain surrounding the birth and continuing existence of the State of Israel. I have much to say in praise of it . . .

. . . and yet I find myself with a real unease. Not so much with what was in the drama so much as what was not in the drama. Story-telling is inevitably selective and the things one selects to include and exclude shapes the effect of the story on its audience.

Over the episodes the drama increasingly takes sides (against Israel and for the Palestinians) and this climaxes in episode four.

To take one example, the presentation of the massacre at Deir Yassin, an Arab village, on April 9, 1948. This really did happen—over 100 Arabs were killed (exact numbers are controverted)—and it was outrageous. I have no qualms about it being presented in the drama and no interests in defending those who committed this act. But my qualms are that it was presented as simply an action of "the Jews" and that it was representative of the tactics of "the Jewish army" at this time.

But things are not so simple.

1. The massacre was carried out not by the Haganah or on the authority of the Jewish Agency in Tel Aviv (the official organs of what was to become the State of Israel) but by the Jewish paramilitaries, the Irgun.

2. The massacre was not typical of Jewish military action in Arab villages. That is why it stands out as such an iconic and horrible event. (And, we ought to remember that prior to this there had been decades over which Arab attacks on Jewish villages had delibaretely targeted civilians. This was only mentioned in passing in "The Promise" leaving the misleading impression that all the attrocities were originated by "the Jews")

3. The official Jewish organizations (the Jewish Agency and the Hagganah) immediately condemned the massacre and sent a formal apology to the King of Jordan. Indeed, Ben Gurion used it as leverage to disarm, by force, the Jewish paramilitary groups.

My point is simply that by presnting too one-sided a story viewers unaware of the wider picture will come away with a "clear" picture that is far too simplistic.

The more I read about the history of the conflict in the Holy Land (from both sides of the debate) the more I feel that it is deeply ambiguous and not at all straightforward.

The way in which stories are "heard" will vary depending on the prior assumtions and knowledge of the audiences. And story-tellers have a social responsibility. If "The Promise" had been made by Israelis for an Israeli audience I would have no problems. It could serve as a prophetic critique in such a context by providing a different perspective on things than may be mainstream. But such a drama shown in a context in which many are already quite anti-Israel (as in the UK) will only reinforce existing feelings.

I would have felt much happier if the drama had not become increasingly clear regarding who the goodies and who the baddies are. In my perspective (which is always on the move) there were few good guys and few bad guys in this tale. I see light and dark and all the shades in between on both sides of the divide.

Whilst this wonderfully-told drama was very well researched, did display some genuine nuance, and was full of powerful sequences, it was—in the current political climate—not nearly nuanced enough.

Lexie—debut album out soon

Lexie is a local Worcester girl we've known since she were a wee bern. But for such a little person she has a very big voice (though, in this song, she is not doing the "big voice" thing).

Check it out then buy the album.