Category Archives: Universalism Salvation

Natural Law and Evangelical Universalism

Thinking about Natural Law today. Here’s a quote from Budziszewski’s, “Evangelicals in the Public Square” and some of my thoughts.

“According to Calvin, the law of God—as well as human statute law, when it is well modelled on the law of God—functions in three ways: (1) as a mirror, because by exhibiting God’s standard of righteousness, it makes fallen humans aware of their sins and imperfections; (2) as a curb, because it restrains the unregenerate through fear of penalties; and (3) as a teacher, because it instructs the regenerate in the requirements of sanctity. Surprisingly, Henry’s retrospective on The Uneasy Conscience makes plain mention of only the second use: “Even at its best, of course, statute law does not impart moral power, but rather compels obedience under the threat of penalty. He does follow this statement with an obscure hint of the third use: “But if law lacks moral force in public life it is not because regenerative powers cancel it. But because secularist society has lost sight of law’s revelatory foundation and heritage.” –J Budziszewski: Evangelicals in the Public Square

Later Budziszewski says that as a mirror, the law has two branches:

1. When God at last condemns man, man cannot claim ignorance of the standard by which they are judged.
2. The law prompts us to flee to God as refuge.

Now this is the Holy Spirit using even such things as the laws of the land to convict us of falling short. In other words, statute law can serve not as a means of salvation but as a preparation for it. That is, tell me, if you bomb a marathon, the more vividly you conceive of the law that it is wrong to murder, would you not the more sharply feel your sin?

Also, if sin is mis-relating between God and man, does this not work itself out in ethical imperatives? In other words, part of my mis-relating to God and man is ultimately not loving God and man. What does it mean for me to not love God and man? Faith without works is dead, right? I ultimately mis-relate to God when I don’t follow through on the ethical imperatives about loving God and my fellow human. For example, again, if I love God, I will not murder. I may even try to save a life. Why? Because I do it out of love for God and my fellow human being. If I don’t follow this imperative then I’ve mis-related to God.

Now, I can still believe in Universalism (of the Evangelical type via the likes of Thomas Talbott and Robin Parry and Eric Reitan) because whatever brought me to that point of deep mis-relation needs some surgery to remove or purge me of that which does not make me fit for Heaven.

The Rule of Countercultural Witness: Analyzing What Warrants It

I was reading Charles H. Cosgrove’s book, “Appealing to Scripture in Moral Debate: Five Hermeneutical Rules” The five rules he represents in the book are:

A. The Rule of Purpose
B. The Rule of Analogy
C. The Rule of Countercultural Witness
D. The Rule of Nonscientific Scope
E. The Rule of Moral-Theological Adjudication

As with many books, I don’t always start at the beginning, but rather somewhere the topic is most relevant to what I’m interested in. Well, in this book, that was in the chapter entitled, “The Rule of Countercultural Witness.” The reason this piqued my interest was because of what I think is going on presently in evangelical Christianity –using the presupposition of countercultural witness as a guiding motif in biblical interpretation and practice. This is no different from Christians, for example, using, the Lion motif as opposed to the Lamb motif in their political theology as pointed out by Mark Noll in his book, “Adding Cross to Crown.” Of course, Christians of all stripes have blind-spots. All of us highlight one motif above others ie., don’t we do something similar to this in worship on Sunday mornings where we sing about Jesus being King as opposed to another motif, say, being a lowly servant?

Well, essentially, the rule of countercultural witness basically says that there are dominant norms and values in culture and society and a countercultural witness is that “tendency” which, “…tacitly or expressly assumes, reinforces, or asserts a moral position…against the dominant norms and values of their home culture or environment.” That is to say, that the revelation of God (the true/pure/unmediated word of God) is against all ideologies or against those norms that are oppressive.

According to this rule, there are three theological tenets that are involved in the formulation of the rule:

A. Revelation is against ALL ideology. It is not against culture per se (you can’t have revelation without culture), but against those institutions that “serve the powerful in ways that harm the powerless.”
B. The Bible is the locus of authentic countercultural witness. Scripture teaches that God is the vindicator of the oppressed.
C. Scripture is not to be equated with revelation. It is a fallible human witness and thus carries codes of oppression as well.

At this point Cosgrove breaks down the rule into an equation:

“To say that countercultural voices or tendencies should be given special weight means that they have a presumptively greater claim on Christians than do culturally-affiliating tendencies. The rule works as follows. Where A and B accord authority (weight) to the Bible and where A argues to B that X in scripture “merely reflects the dominant culture of the time” A wants B to infer that X should be given little weight as a witness to divine revelation according to the following tacit logic: (i) divine revelation is inherently anti-ideological; therefore (ii) authentic witness to divine revelation is anti-ideological; for that reason, (iii) authentic witness is typically countercultural in form. Alternatively, where A argues to B that Y in scripture “goes against dominant cultural values ” A wants B to infer that Y has a presumptively greater claim than X as a witness to divine revelation.”

So we begin to see what is going on here. There is what Cosgrove says is an “epistemological privilege” given to the oppressed. We see it with regard not only to the poor but in black, Latin and feminist theologies. What this means is that somehow the oppressed have, in the minds of those who work with this assumption/rule, “a privileged location for discerning truth” because they are the ones who are struggling for liberation from that place. Essentially, one “cannot adequately understand the poor, the marginalized,the powerless, without incorporating the view from below.”

I’ll end this for now, but in the next post, I’ll refer to Cosgrove’s analysis of the rule as it relates to culture and cultural relativity.

Cynicism: Who’s to Blame?

Was thinking about the issue of cynicism. There is quite a bit to be cynical ABOUT these days. But that is precisely the point of this post. While I shake my head and facepalm myself in embarrassment towards a lot of what goes on “out there” I wonder if it also possible that cynicism resides WITHIN me, the cynic as well. Before looking at this a little more I want to share a story from Andrew Byers book, “Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic Saint.”

“Most of us do not actively seek to embrace cynicism. We fall into it. I fell rather hard in the sixth grade. It was 1986. That was the first year we had lockers, and their metallic clang and bang added a new hallway sound. Vocab quizzes replaced the elementary spelling tests, but most of the new words in our mouths were of the “dirty” variety, and we whispered them awkwardly for laughs and furtively wrote them on our desks in #2 graphite. Newly awakened hormones spawned a feral hallway energy distinctively unlike that of the fifth grade hall. Cliques of “cool” and “uncool” were beginning to solidify. You could almost smell the pungent aura of territorialism in the halls between each class. It was the last year of outdoor recess. It was the year Wanda Turner had a “period” (whatever that was). It was the year when the boys and the girls were taller than I. It was my first experience of corporal punishment in the school system. It was the worst year of my life.

And in that year I fell in love.

She and I were good friends, but she was in love with him. You know the one: the guy who had a bit of height on him, no acne and that roguish charm that girls find so irresistible. The role of quarterback was given to him without dispute for every football game at recess. When a girl became “It” in freeze tag, there was hardly any point for the rest of us boys to run—we knew who she would be chasing. He wore the latest Swatch for a timepiece, and as I recall he knew how to efficiently “tight roll” his denim pant legs just above his sneakers. And there was of course the gold chain glimmering in the V-shape imposed onto his tanned chest by the polo shirts. (They were definitely made by Ralph Lauren and not the imitation brands.)

I did not stand a chance.

Strangely enough, he and I were friends. In the previous year the teacher had sentenced him to move his seat from the back of the classroom in order to sit by the shy, squeamish kid who was too harmless to pose any trouble. That was me, and due to his spatial relocation we developed a bit of a friendship. But now, a year later, he had effortlessly secured as his girlfriend the one dazzling gem who had become the object of all my romantic hopes. One night he called me and confessed to cheating on her. (I was never sure what this entailed during the middle school years, but it always sounded so sinister.) The next day, his betrayal was the big scandal, and my chance had come to rise to the surface as an alternative suitor. All day long I stood by the distressed damsel as a valiant guardian against all male evils, repeatedly hinting to her that should she choose to “go with” me, she would never have to face the pain of mistreatment again. By lunchtime it seemed as though the entire sixth grade class was involved in this thrilling imbroglio. Then at the end of the day, through the clang and bang of the hallway lockers, she broke the news to me with laughter that it was all staged—our classmates knew about my (supposedly secret) crush, and they just wanted to see how I would react to the fictional scenario. The spectacle I had provided went beyond their grandest expectations.

For years to come I was a romantic cynic. There are much darker adolescent tales out there than my unpleasant little introduction to teenage romance. The story is provided to make the point that cynicism often arises from painful disillusionment—when the rug gets violently jerked out from under us, when the wool long pulled over our eyes is yanked off. The moment of the defining injury is often abrupt, having the effect of an explosive collision that tosses us into some pit. When we open our eyes after the impact, we find ourselves in a dark place staring up into a light we once enjoyed—and to which we feel we can never return. Sometimes the painful disillusionment is not abrupt but subtle, gradually developing within us over time like the imperceptible infiltration of a slow-working virus. Then one day it occurs to us that we have become all too familiar with a darkness we never knew took us over, and we barely recognize the light. Then again, was it really “light” from which we fell? Disillusionment is the dispersal of illusions. What we violently collide with before the sharp plummet into cynicism’s pit is usually a disturbing reality. If the downward movement is more gradual, then our cynicism has resulted from accepting a series of disquieting truths over a period of months or years. Cynicism arises from an embrace of reality. But since illumination often hurts, it can become an embittered embrace of reality. 1 eventually recovered from my bout with romantic disillusionment. (And I should point out the fact that the young teenage girl in the previous scene is now serving Christ nobly on the mission field.) There is a form of disillusionment that is much more potentially devastating than that of crushed romance, though. What if we are disillusioned by the church—that one safe harbour of community on which Christians are told to rely when all else comes crashing down? What if we become cynical toward the faith that is supposed to sustain us through all life’s trials? Even worse, what if the object of our disillusionment is not the thirteen-year-old dream girl we adore, the spouse we treasure, or the church that (supposedly) nurtures us, but the God we worship?”

Other than wondering what the jock is doing these days (possibly a miserable failure?) or if the girl is doing OK and whether we should wish ill fortune upon them, the important point that Byers brings out here is the psychological aspect of cynicism and not so much the reality “outside” of the cynic. The interiority not the exteriority.

I’m not suggesting that the rug does not get pulled out from under us. That we don’t suffer from painful disillusionment. Rather, that “light” from which we fell….is it REALLY light or is it a false high expectation? Either way, there is both a reality/exteriority side and a psychological/interiority side to cynicism. If this is the case, then maybe the “problem” of cynicism to some extent resides with(in) us and not others and because of this, is something that can help us to understand our own (displaced) anger towards others.