Running Heads

From the editors of Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications at Wipf and Stock Publishers

Author: Robin (page 1 of 19)

Underneath are the everlasting arms

The thought I find most helpful when the weight of the world tries to perch upon my shoulders is the simple notion that God has not placed the future of creation into my hands. It is not my job to make the world turn out right. God carries that burden and God ensures that “all shall be well.” It is a constant and unspeakable relief to know that God holds creation in his hands and will beautify it.

The power of Wipf & Stock book covers—funny review

Fail posting

I sat here for fifteen minutes and couldn’t think of anything worthwhile saying, so . . .

Fail Army for 2 Oct 2015.

Far from the best, but Fail Army is always worthwhile

“Is it I?” Being vulnerable before Jesus

And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.”  They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?”  (Mark 14:18–19)

I must confess that I was struck by the attitude of the disciples here when I read this story this morning. My reaction would have been akin to Peter’s when Jesus told him that a threefold denial was on the way—”No way, Lord! Not me! I’d never do that!” It is easy to get defensive.

The disciples here are not like that. Each one considers the possibility that it could be him. No denials. No protestations of devotion. That shows quite a level of self-awareness and honesty. It’s as if they think, “Yes, much as I hate to admit it, I could imagine myself capable of that given the wrong circumstances.”

“Is it I, Lord?”

Daylight Saving—Movie Trailer (funny)


Charles Chauncy (1705-1787) on ‘death’ in 1 Corinthians 15

I just had a weird experience. I was looking on the internet for information about Rev. Charles Chauncy when I came across a blog post that I found very thought provoking. The weird thing is . . .  I wrote it (back in August 2009). I had forgotten that I had written it and I had forgotten that Chauncey had said the things he said. I’d also forgotten the ideas it provoked in me. So, I hereby give it a second lease of life.


Charles Chauncy was minister of First Church in Boston for decades. He was very influential and is best known as an opponent of the Great Awakening (standing against men like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, et al). So that does not make him an obvious person for an evangelical to turn to for inspiration.

However, Chauncy was a firm Bible-believing Christian and whilst he sadly came to doubt and then reject the classical doctrine of the Trinity we must stress that he did so because he believed it to be unbiblical (it was not uncommon in this period for Bible-based Christians to reject the Trinity as unbiblical).

Anyway, of interest here is that Chauncy became a universalist because he believed it to be the only view consistent with Scripture. In 1762 he preached a sermon entitled “All Nations Blessing Christ,” which was the first hint at this new view. But the main work he wrote is a very scholarly (I’m not joking about the scholarly part) book published anonymously in 1784 entitled The Mystery hid from Ages and Generations, made manifest by the Gospel-Revelation: or, The Salvation of All Men: The Grand Thing aimed at in the scheme of God (they loved short and snappy titles in those days)

The Salvation of all Men (1784) is a very impressive work—one of the more impressive works from the history of universalist theology. It provoked a book-length response from Jonathan Edwards (son of the famous Jonathan Edwards) entitled The Salvation of all Men Strictly Examined: and the endless punishment of those who die impenitent, argued and defended against the objections and reasoning of the late Rev Doctor Chauncy, of Boston, in his book entitled “The Salvation of all Men”. See what I mean about snappy titles! At least you knew what the book was all about! It does what it says on the can. (for those who are interested you can download both books online. Here is Chauncy and here is Edwards).

Anyway, all I wanted to do was to draw attention to one of Chauncy’s arguments regarding 1 Corinthians 15. The relevant text reads (in the ESV)

22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order:
Christ the firstfruits,
then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.
25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

Against the majority view Chauncy argues that Paul sees a temporal gap—perhaps a very long one—between the end of v. 23 and the start of v. 24 (p. 208). He reasons that Paul has in mind the Second Death when he speaks of ‘death’ in v. 26. Consequently, until the Second Death is destroyed (which is effected when all those condemned to hell are redeemed) Christ has not defeated death.

Now I find Chauncy’s case unconvincing as an attempt to exegete what Paul meant (not least because his arguments, which I will not set out here, depend on interpreting Paul’s meaning through the Book of Revelation).

However, there might be a theological argument from Chauncy’s reading of Paul that is suggestive. Chauncy reasons that the grounds for thinking that death is an enemy would also apply to the Second Death—indeed more so. If death is an enemy of Christ that needs to be destroyed then the Second Death is more so. Both are divine punishments on sin that cause humans to fall short of God’s ultimate intentions for them. If one was inclined to agree with such logoc then Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 15 would require an extension beyond what Paul was talking about (i.e., the first death) so as to apply to the Second Death. In other words Paul has provided a theological argument that has an even bigger implication that he draws out explicitly (but one fully consistent with his universalist intro in 15:22).

Now Chauncy also has a fall-back argument in case any readers have not been persuaded that Paul is speaking of the Second Death. It too is interesting. He points out that the kind of resurrection that would count (for Paul) as a defeat for the first death is not a mere restoration to life. Rather, only a resurrection to glory and immortality would do the job. 1 Cor 15 makes that clear: only when “the corruptable shall have put on incorruption” shall it come to pass that “death is swallowed up in victory.” So until all have attained such a resurrection it cannot be the case that the first death has been fully defeated (and 1 Cor 15 requires that it is fully defeated).

Now this is an interesting argument—one I have never considered before [RAP on 30 Sept 2015: and one I had completely forgotten until this morning]. I am not sure that it would count as a straightforward exegesis of what Paul ‘had in mind.’ But it surely counts as a sensible reflection on the implications of Paul’s reasoning. I don’t think that Paul’s concern in 1 Cor 15 was the salvation of all. I do believe that he asserted the salvation of all in 15:22, but his focus is on how that applies to believers. The damned don’t appear in his scheme, except in the gaps and by implication. But I think that Chauncy helps us see how a theological reading of 1 Cor 15 that takes Paul’s logic seriously can lead in universalist directions.


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.

An interview with Ilaria Ramelli on apokatastasis (universal restoration)

Here is an interview I recorded last week with Ilaria Ramelli, perhaps the world authority on apokatastasis in the early church.


Some 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 Thomas Allin’s Christ Triumphant (just published by Wipf & Stock)
  • 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 toemenrt), 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!


C. S. Lewis on post-Christian culture

“They err who say ‘the world is turning pagan again.’ Would that it were! The truth is that we are falling into a much worse state. ‘Post Christian man’ is not the same as ‘pre-Christian man.’ He is as far removed as virgin is from widow: there is nothing in common except the want of a spouse: but there is a great difference between a spouse-to-come and a spouse lost.”
—CS Lewis, Letter, March 17, 1953

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