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, 22 September 2013

Wonderful Halloween poem

Halloween: Trick or Treat? from 10ofthose.com on Vimeo.

It seems to me that a large amount of Christian poetry is just smush

This poem is not — I LOVE it.

Not only does it see some value in halloween; it seeks to set it in Christian context and does so fabulously.

It's a great video too.

Monday, 16 September 2013

The mystery of God and God-talk

My friend Kelvin suggested an interesting analogy today for the nature of God-talk. Kelvin is a mathematician and sees maths everywhere so the following is no surprise.

Take the set of all numbers between 0 and 1.
There are an infinite number of numbers in this set.
There is no biggest number in the set (any number that you specify will always have a higher number)
However, the set is bounded by 0 and 1.
1 is not a part of the set but stands outside of it.

He suggested that God is like the number 1. "He" exists outside the set of all our creational attempts to speak of "him" none of which can be identified with "him". But just as some numbers in the set of numbers between 0 and 1 are closer to 1 than others so too some God-talk bears a closer similarity to God than others. Nevertheless there is always an infinite gap between our talk of God and God-himself (because for any number between 0 and 1 there are an infinite number of numbers between that number and 1).

I thought that was quite an interesting analogy. It has its weaknesses (as all analogies do) but it possibly has something to contribute to the perennial discussion on human conceptions and the Creator God.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Goroncy on Forsyth: post 5: Universalism

The final bumper chapter in the book is a magnificent analysis of universalism (and its denial) in Forsyth. In a nutshell, the chapter argues that the logic of Forsyth's whole theology drives headlong towards a universalist eschatology. In spite of this, Forsyth explicitly denied that we can know that all will be saved (although he also denied that we can know that all will not be saved). Goroncy examines Forsyth's rejection of universalism and argues convincingly that this rejection actually ends up undermining central elements of Forsyth's theology. As such Forsyth would have been better off biting the bullet and embracing universalism.

It is a rigorous, well-written, and fascinating chapter that (to my mind) makes a convincing case that Forsyth's theology was at its heart fundamentally universalist (in spite of Forsyth's own denials of this).

Some important threads in that argument include:

1. Forsyth's belief that Christ died for everyone (not just for a subset of humans) and that his death "is not merely potentially universal in scope but is so actually and efficiently" (Goroncy). "In the Cross the world was doomed to — salvation. All were shut up unto sin, that there might be mercy on all." All humans are already saved in the cross.

2. Forsyth's rejection of double predestination. Forsyth thought that a doctrine of double predestination posited two wills in God, indeed two gods. Instead, he argued, Christ is the one and only source and expression of God's one holy and loving will. In Christ the whole human race has been "foreordained" and "fore-saved" and "justified."

3. Forsyth's rejection of the "miserable doctrine" of annihilationism. To Forsyth annihilation of sinners is no solution to sin but simply a giving up on creation, an admission of divine failure.

4. Forsyth's employment of universal grammar. He speaks of Jesus as turning "a universal curse into a universal blessing," "universal grace," the universality of reconciliation, redemption, salvation, regeneration, etc. This kind of talk pervades his writings.

5. Forsyth's teaching that the cross brings about a new beginning. What God did in the cross was fait accompli: everything is decided in the cross. "Here alone, history's telos is finally unveiled, the eschaton arrived, evil's death warrant signed, the end's beginning begun, God's decisive move made, all things recapitulated into the triumph of holiness which is the last reality" (Goroncy). Get this quote, for instance: "In the universal Christ the world is chosen for salvation, and is saved in principle, and shall be saved in fact."

6. Forsyth's revising of the doctrine of election. For Forsyth election is first and foremost the election of Christ. There is no election behind the election of Christ. And there is no other divine decree lurking behind the back of God's decree in Christ. The election of the church and Israel is derivative — we are elect in Christ (and elect for service). And Forsyth anticipates a day when the church will include "humanity as one whole." The church for now is a foretaste of the age to come in which all will participate in election. The gospel's object is "no longer to save a group out of the world, but to save the world itself." We are "foredoomed to faith" and "saved ... before we could be consulted."

7. Forsyth's belief that the redemption of the world carried on being worked out after death. Even "the lake of fire is regarded no longer as out of His dominion, beyond the circle of His grace and love. It is His, to be used for his divine purposes" (F.D. Maurice). It is not that sinners can pay for their own sins. Rather, the "crisis of death opens the eyes." The suffering is the suffering of self-discovery. Everlasting torment is hell is not a live candidate for Forsyth's theology. "Damnation is not preached enough, but from a Christian Gospel eternal and destined damnation is excluded." More strongly: "Preach the eternal, unappeasable wrath of God upon lost souls and you offer men a devil to worship."

Yet Forsyth, as Goroncy goes on to show, explicitly denied that we can have any confidence that God would save all people. But, as the final section of the chapter argues with great skill and persuasive power, this hesitancy threatens to unravel the core of Forsyth's theology. In the end God will settle for noting less than the hallowing of his name by all creation. This has been achieved already in Christ and it will come to pass.

The purpose of a world created by a holy God must be holiness, the reflection and communion of his own holiness. Can God secure it? ... That is the ultimate question in life. ... And to that question Christ and His cross are the answer, or they have no meaning at all. They reveal in their foregone victory the omnipotence of holiness to subdue all natural powers and forces, all natural omnipotence, to the moral sanctity of the Kingdom of God. And if they do not reveal that we are left without any ground of certainty about a holy ending for the world at all. ... It is a tremendous claim. And the improbability of it is either a pious absurdity; or it is the quiet irony of a God who has it already done in the hallow of His hand.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Goroncy on Forsyth: part 4: Anthropology and holiness

Chapter 4 considers the moral nature of humanity in the thought of P. T. Forsyth. The normal caveat implies: all I offer here is a summary of some aspects of the chapter.

To Forsyth humans are fundamentally moral creatures, capable of making responsible choices and accountable for their actions. Humans were created for holiness that they may mirror God's holy love back to him. This requires a reorientation of our love.

Forsyth adopts the notion of "conscience" — our moral centre — to describe "the most human and universal part" of each person. We are a conscience, and it is in our conscience that we "are made or marred." Conscience gives voice to our moral nature and reveals that forgiveness alone is not enough: we need judgement!

The crisis of human conscience is answered in Christ. Indeed, it is our corporate sanctification in Christ (rather than our biology) that constitutes the unity of the human race. Human unity is a graced unity, a gift. Conscience is not the foundation of our human unity — on its own it bares witness to our guilt and division; the foundation is the deliverance from guilt and forgiveness granted us in Christ. It is the redeemed conscience that unites us as a species; not our conscience per se, but Christ in our conscience. As such Forsyth offers a Christological account of the unity of humanity: we are not constituted as one in Adam but in Christ.

Given the centrality of the human moral core, of conscience, for Forsyth it follows that his account of salvation focuses on the sanctification of the conscience. The healing of all things follows on from the healing of the heart. And only Christ can handle the soul's moral reconstruction. Our will is the one thing we have not and cannot (of ourselves) surrender to God. Our conscience is sanctified in Christ and by the Spirit we are enabled to participate in that holiness, that new conscience, that new creation. Christ gives us a new moral self, a new conscience, a new relation to God and others. Of course, the journey of participating in and experiencing this new conscience is not smooth. It is not automatic nor a unitary process "but a series of new departures, crises and invasions" (Goroncy). The new humanity does not replace the old humanity but grows up within it without destroying the old. "In Him our old selves are not lost and parted with, but renewed. It is new birth; but it is we, our inalienable, identical selves, who are born again."

Sanctification is a gift of grace to us in Christ and the Spirit. However, it requires our response, our faith. Indeed it takes us on a voyage of suffering
"God has given men feet not wings, and the order is fight not flight. We reach heaven step by step, fighting all the way. What we need most of all for this life is the courage of the prosaic." Such fighting involves suffering, not as the price of glory, but as the way to glory.

The final chapter concerns universalist eschatology. More on that in the next post.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Haunting and beautiful song from Damien Rice — "Cold Water"

Goroncy on Forsyth: post 3: Atonement

Chapter 3 is a very long and complex chapter concerning incarnation and atonement. I offer here just a few summary comments on some of its content.

For Forsyth everything is seen from the perspective of the cross and in the cross holiness comes into focus. Goroncy summarizes Forsyth's view on holiness and atonement as follows,
Christ in his cross (i) positively satisfies God's holiness from sin's side; (ii) negatively satisfies holiness by bringing holiness' antithesis under judgement, and (iii) creatively satisfies holiness by creating a new humanity wherein holiness is echoed, prized, and praised.
God redeems by bringing his kingdom and that kingdom is inaugurated in Christ; indeed, one could say that Jesus in his radical obedience — climactically his obedience even unto death — is the kingdom. It is on the cross that the redemptive kingdom of God is founded; a kingdom that is not of this world but that is for it.

May your name be hallowed: answering the prayer from God's side
God's name must be perfectly hallowed in creation or the moral fabric of reality is compromised. Sin lays siege to the order of reality and God cannot ignore it so there must be atonement. The problem is that humans cannot self-atone. Rather, "God alone can satisfy the moral order God never disturbed, and pay the cost God never incurred" (Goroncy). This he does on the cross.

May your name be hallowed: answering the prayer from sin's side
Jesus is holiness incarnate, "God's holiness in human form." As such he took on our fallen flesh (Christ made sin for us) and in the power of the Spirit offered the fitting human response to God's holiness.

Christ stoops down to the level of a servant in his divinity not from his divinity. This kenosis, this self-limiting, is a revelation of divine power (not weakness) and a demonstration of divine freedom and love. Indeed, the kenosis revealed in incarnation is the externalization of an eternal kenosis within the Godhead; it is a revelation of the nature of who God is in Godself. But God cannot set aside holiness and remain God and so Christ is holiness incarnate.

Forsyth's atonement theology weaves the strands of triumph, satisfaction, and regeneration into a single chord united in Christ's obedience. For it is Christ's obedience (which is both the divine obedience of the Son to the Father and the obedience of a human to God) that is the thing that atones in each of the three motifs. Jesus' whole life was a life of freely willed submission to God — he went to the cross with his eyes wide open. And it is the holy obedience of Jesus that atones, "that turns an execution into a sacrifice" (Goroncy). It was not some magical power in the act nor the amount of pain he suffered nor even his death per se that was salvific — it was his self-surrender to God in his suffering and death. "A holy God could be satisfied by neither pain nor death, but by holiness alone. The atoning thing is not obedient suffering but suffering obedience."

Jesus is thus the word of God's faithfulness and love to humanity and the pledge to God of humanity's faithful response to divine love. He is God's yes to humanity and humanity's yes to God. Human holiness is a result of Christ's human holiness; it is an "amen" spoken by us to Christ's hallowing of God's name.

"Christ's death ... is God's perfect recognition of God's own holiness, meeting God's own charge against us and bearing God's own judgement against sin" (Goroncy). On the cross Christ exposed sin in all its sinfulness and confessed the holiness that ruins sin. He draws sin to himself like a magnet, bears it, and carries it to its own execution. God makes himself identical to his antithesis (sin) in order to annihilate it. What God judged was not Christ but sin on Christ's head — "The Saviour was not punished, but He took the penalty of sin, the chastisement of our peace."
By confessing holiness of sin's behalf, as it were, Christ does not redeem sin or transform it into something else. . . . Rather, the confession itself is sin's suicide. The logic at work here is this: The moment that sin confesses holiness, sin is expunged. By equating (with both paradox and metonymy) Christ with sin (rather than only with the sinner), Christ's death is the death of sin. (Goroncy)

This is the climactic eschatological judgement day at the end of the age. "In the Incarnation, God took humanity, blessed it, broke it, and then gave it to himself sanctified" (Goroncy).

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Goroncy on Forsyth: post 2: "The Moral is the Real"

Chapter 2 is very long and nuanced and I cannot possibly hope to convey much of its content. It locates Forsyth's creative and positive understanding of holiness against the backdrop of negative Victorian views (holiness as "thou shalt not ...") or a fixation on divine otherness that lacks Christological focus.

Holiness, in the first instance, applies to God; God is ontologically holy. This holiness cannot be grasped apart from revelation for divine holiness has no parallel in the created order (so it can never be defined). We see holiness as it is revealed in the divine economy, primarily in the incarnate Logos but also in the sending of the Spirit and in the church. Divine holiness is not a divine attribute distinct from, say, divine love. Rather it is the core of divine being made manifest in love, mercy, grace, and judgment. (Forsyth was uncomfortable with the language of divine attributes — what we think of as divine attributes are really God himself considered from a certain angle.) "Christianity is concerned with God's holiness before all else; which issues to man as love, acts upon sin as grace, and exercises grace through judgement." So speaking as some do of the need to do justice to both God's holiness and his love, as if these were distinct things that had to be brought together, would betray a major misunderstanding of both holiness and love. Thus Forsyth speaks of God's "holy love". Holy love is:
the tenderness of the Holy, which does not sooth but save. It is love which does not simply comfort, and it is holiness which does not simply doom. It is holy love, which judges, saves, forgives, cleanses the conscience, destroys the guilt, reorganizes the [human] race, and makes a new world from the ruins of the old.
Where is such love to be found? In Christ, and climactically in the cross.

But before we go there Goroncy shows how rooting holiness in the Creator provides an ontological underpinning to the moral order in creation. God seeks an echo of his holiness in the world: the "purpose of a world created by a holy God must be holiness, the reflection and communion of His own holiness." But creaturely holiness is an echo of and correlate to God's and should not be thought of as the same thing scaled down: "For the creature to be holy is to be for God; for God Himself to be holy is to be God."

The moral order grounded in divine holiness is "objective and universal" and "inheres in the very nature of reality." Sin is the resistance to holiness, the refusal to be for God, and as such it belittles God, perverts creation, devalues salvation, and impoverishes human dignity. Sin cannot be defined but is an insane mystery, the true cosmic horror of which is made manifest in Christ's cross. Sin is God's utter antithesis and it can never be reconciled nor simply ignored ("Any compromise is a victory for sin"). In the end there is a simple choice: "Die sin must or God!"

Goroncy emphasizes just how seriously Forsyth took sin and judgement. He had no time for the fluffy liberal God who was touchy-feely love. Rather, "Love is not holy love without judgement." So we need to make space for talk of God'swrath — the act of holy love against sin.

And self-healing is impossible so we need atonement if creation is to reach its telos, its complete sanctification. Indeed the end of creation, its complete holiness, revealed in the Second Adam, is what helps us to understand the original creation; creation theology does not precede christology, soteriology, and eschatology but is shaped by them. According to Forsyth God only created this world because He knew that He possessed the power and will to redeem it. In creating He committed himself to incarnation and cross. Sin may be original but grace is more so.

Terrific new book by Jason Goroncy on Holiness in the Theology of P. T. Forsyth. Post 1

Jason Goroncy's new book, Hallowed Be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All in the Soteriology of P. T. Forsyth (London: T. & T. Clark, 2013) is outstanding. Not only does it display an unusually wide and deep knowledge of its subject matter and a discerning and well-conceived engagement with it but it is also unusually well written. The book is a reworking of Goroncy's PhD (from the University of St Andrews) but it does not read like many PhDs. Rather it reads like a book penned later in the career of a seasoned author. To some extent this is assisted by Forsyth's own beautiful rhetorical style (Forsyth's written and preached theology was smooth and passionate and intellectually stimulating) but Goroncy's own writing is full of great turns of phrase that fire the imagination as well as the intellect.

In a nutshell, the book examines the theology of the Congregational minister P. T. Forsyth through the lens of sanctification. The hallowing of God's name, argues Goroncy, is the very core of Forsyth's thought.

Chapter 1 offers some orientations to Forsyth as a theologian (a "positive" theologian, a "biblical" theologian, a "systematic" theologian, a "cross-centered" theologian) and to his rhetorical style. Then things really kick off with some serious theology!

In posts over the next few days I will give a glimpse into different chapters in the book.

Monday, 9 September 2013

T. F. Torrance on the finished work of Christ

This . . . reconciliation encounters me telling me that I am
already reconciled to God in Christ, already died for, redeemed and forgiven. It tells me that already the great positive decision of God’s reconciling love in my favour has been taken, and it can no more be undone than Jesus Christ can be undone, than the incarnation can be reversed or obliterated, or the cross made as if it had never taken place. . . . I am already included in the finished work and already part of Christ, for it was my nature, my humanity, my flesh of sin, that he assumed and made one with himself in his one person.
T. F. Torrance, Atonement, 167.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The dangers of apologetics

Apologetics, the defense of the faith, is an important activity but in my experience it is one that has many hidden dangers lurking in the nearby bushes. Indeed, apologetics can become a barrier to mission.

First, there is a danger of deciding the questions we feel people ought to be asking rather than looking at those they are asking. For instance, one student mission I was involved with was based around a set of evangelistic meetings that focused on issues such as, “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” and “Are the Gospels reliable?” Now these are important questions that require sensible answers but they were not burning issues for most of the students.

The opposite side of this coin is avoiding the questions that people actually are asking about the faith (e.g., why do you treat gay people badly? Why has Christianity inspired so much violence in its history?), perhaps because they are harder to answer in such a way that Christians come out looking good.

Second, at least in the mainstream, there is a tendency to give crass and simplistic solutions to genuine and complex issues. For instance, I have been in seminars in which we have been told ‘the answer’ to give if we’re asked why God allows suffering. The ‘answer’ we were provided was trivial nonsense. The impact of such ‘solutions’ on intelligent and sensitive people (Christian and non-Christian) is to reinforce the suspicion that Christian faith is stupid and callous.

Third, there is the danger of a ‘battle’ mindset descending upon Christian apologists, especially those who do know what they are talking about and can ‘wipe the floor’ with their opponents. I have seen very gracious atheists brutally demolished and mocked in debates. Such apologetics is utterly counter-productive. As Kierkegaard says, this intellectualist approach, which thinks ‘Christianity is an objective doctrine and it makes no difference how it is served, . . . has abolished Christianity.’

Fourth, the pressure created by apologetic contexts is that we feel that we have to go in to discussions with non-believers with the answers all pinned down, closed to the possibility that we might learn something new. (Even Alpha with its healthy encouragement of open conversation has over-prescribed end-points for the discussions.)

Fifth, there is a tendency in some circles to think that the route to faith is an intellectual one. The problem with a faith that lives on brain alone is that it is ever vulnerable to the latest fads in the academy. One man I knew became a Christian because of apologetic arguments but his faith thereafter was one crisis after another depending on which book he had just read.

Do not misunderstand me; I am committed to a reflective and informed faith and to attempting to offer intelligent and helpful answers to genuine questions. And I believe apologetics can play a role in the journey to faith. One of my students, a very bright atheist, spent a lot of time carefully considering the arguments for and against Christianity. In the end, he had an unexpected existential encounter with Christ during his revision but the credibility of the arguments for Christianity played a ground-clearing role in making faith a live possibility. But, when apologetics goes bad (by giving the wrong answers or the right answers in the wrong way or to the wrong people or at the wrong time) it does more harm than good.

The key apologetic for Christianity — far more important than knowing the right answers to hard questions — is love. Communities of faith that embody the kindness of God in cruciform ‘works of love’ are deeply attractive and are themselves evidence (not proof) of the truth of the gospel.

‘[T]he life of the church is its witness. The witness of the church is its life. The question of authentic witness is the question of authentic community’ (Norman Kraus).

I myself became attracted to Christianity because of the quality of relationships I witnessed among members of a Christian youth group. Without that I would never have been open to consider any attempts to show the intellectual integrity of the faith.

Intellectual apologetics embedded in the context of lives committed to God’s love for the other is a beautiful and fitting adornment. But apologetics divorced from lives of love is like a gold ring in the nose of a pig. Apologetics is never just about being right; first and foremost it is about living right.