Purgatory

Around the traps …

  • Phil Baiden writes an appreciation of PT Forsyth.

  • The latest IJST (11/2) is out, and includes articles on:
    • ‘Development of Doctrine, or Denial? Balthasar’s Holy Saturday and Newman’s Essay’ (p 129-145), by Alyssa Pitstick
    • ‘The Descent into Hell as a Solution for the Problem of the Fate of Unevangelized Non-Christians: Balthasar’s Hell, the Limbo of the Fathers and Purgatory’ (p 146-171), by Gavin D’Costa
    • ‘One Commixture of Light’: Rethinking some Modern Uses and Critiques of Gregory of Nazianzus on the Unity and Equality of the Divine Persons’ (p 172-189), by Ben Fulford
    • ‘The Cruciality of the Cross’: P.T. Forsyth’s Understanding of the Atonement’ (p 190-207), by Theng-Huat Leow (Congratulations Theng-Huat!!)
    • ‘The Grammar of Pneumatology in Barth and Rahner: A Reconsideration’ (p 208-224), by Travis Ables

On fearlessly entering the borders of hell

‘When Hell and death and their wicked ministers saw that, they were stricken with fear, they and their cruel officers, at the sight of the brightness of so great light in their own realm, seeing Christ of a sudden in their abode, and they cried out, saying: We are overcome by thee. Who art thou that art sent by the Lord for our confusion? Who art thou that without all damage of corruption, and with the signs of thy majesty unblemished, dost in wrath condemn our power? Who art thou that art so great and so small, both humble and exalted, both soldier and commander, a marvelous warrior in the shape of a bondsman, and a King of glory dead and living, whom the cross bare slain upon it? Thou that didst lie dead in the sepulchre hast come down unto us living and at thy death all creation quaked and all the stars were shaken and thou hast become free among the dead and dost rout our legions. Who art thou that settest free the prisoners that are held bound by original sin and restorest them into their former liberty? Who art thou that sheddest thy divine and bright light upon them that were blinded with the darkness of their sins? After the same manner all the legions of devils were stricken with like fear and cried out all together in the terror of their confusion, saying: Whence art thou, Jesus, a man so mighty and bright in majesty, so excellent without spot and clean from sin? For that world of earth which hath been always subject unto us until now, and did pay tribute to our profit, hath never sent unto us a dead man like thee, nor ever dispatched such a gift unto Hell. Who then art thou that so fearlessly enterest our borders, and not only fearest not our torments, but besides essayest to bear away all men out of our bonds? Peradventure thou art that Jesus, of whom Satan our prince said that by thy death of the cross thou shouldest receive the dominion of the whole world’. – ‘The Gospel of Nicodemus, or Acts of Pilate’, in The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924), 20:1.

April Book Notes – 1

While there certainly remains a place for more lengthy book reviews, I thought it might be useful to just pen a few very brief book notes (and give some scores – ♦ – out of 5) on some of the more significant books I read each month. So here’s a few from April so far. As you can see, I’ve been following a definite theme.

Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz, The Kingdom and the Power: The Theology of Jürgen Moltmann (trans. John Bowden; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000).

This is one of the most helpful introductions to Moltmann’s thought available. Appreciative, but not uncritical at key points, Müller-Fahrenholz introduces us to the big themes in Moltmann’s major works. Recommended. ♦♦♦

Nigel M. de S. Cameron, ed., Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell: Papers Presented at the Fourth Edinburgh Conference on Christian Dogmatics, 1991 (Carlisle/Grand Rapids: Paternoster/Baker, 1993).

Like most collections of essays, this one is a bit hit and miss. The better essays are those by Trevor Hart, David Powys, TF Torrance and Henri Blocher. ♦♦½

Thomas Talbott, The Inescapable Love of God (Boca Raton: Universal, 1999).

See my review here. ♦♦♦

Robin A. Parry and Christopher H. Partridge, ed., Universal Salvation? The Current Debate (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2003).

This is a well chosen collection of essays and authors on a timely and important topic for evangelicals. It seeks to engage with Talbott’s thesis of dogmatic universalism which Talbott outlines in the first 3 chapters. His chapter on ‘Christ Victorious’ expands on what I believe is an underplayed theme in his The Inescapable Love of God, and so I was encouraged to see it included here. Biblical, philosophical, theological and historical responses are then offered. Talbott responds briefly in the final chapter. The best responses are those offered by Eric Reitan, David Hilborn and Don Horrocks. Overall, it’s a helpful discussion. It needs an index, but the book is worth buying for the bibliography alone. It’s 18 pages! ♦♦♦

Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2006).

This is the most well argued exegetical treatment on the subject of universalism currently available. It’s well written, and the combination of ‘MacDonald’s’ cogency of argument, respect for the Biblical texts, and personal humility as to his claims makes his advocacy of evangelical universalism most attractive. Those who disagree with his position will find here a case worthy of as humble response. Good bibliography, but no index. ♦♦♦♦

Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2007).

A beautifully-written reflection – it’s almost a poem – that deserves the widest readership. ♦♦♦♦

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? With a Short Discourse on Hell (Fort Collins: Ignatius Press, 1988).

While this wee book is not particularly well written (it may be better in the German), it’s almost impossible to put down, and it really does have not a few flashes of magnificent insight. Von Balthasar’s overall thesis regarding a hopeful universalism is attractive, even if not at every point convincing. His aggregating of quotes reminded me of Bloesch’s work (which I love). A good read. ♦♦♦½

Lindsey Hall, Swinburne’s Hell and Hick’s Universalism: Are we free to reject God? (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003).

This is a helpfully lucid outline and critical response to important themes in the theology of Richard Swinburne and John Hick. While her own position is considerably more Hickian than perhaps most evangelical universalists will be comfortable with, Hall is to be commended for avoiding stereotypes and for offering a cogent contribution to an increasingly voluminous discussion on the question of Christian universalism. ♦♦♦

Richard Bauckham and Trevor Hart, Hope Against Hope: Christian Eschatology at the Turn of the Millennium (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1999).

Richard Bauckham and Trevor Hart pair up again for this project that arose out of number of conferences and the result is a stunning collection of six essays on Christian hope – its context, its value, its basis, its power, its praxis, and its goal. Bauckham and Hart set out not merely to expose modernity’s myth of inevitable progress and postmodernity’s Nietzschian anti-metanarrative and deconstruction of mimetic imagination, but do so by laying before our eyes the broad and graced vision of God’s promises begun in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and fully realised in the new creation. Inspired by the work of Jürgen Moltmann (to whom the book is dedicated), this is a book that requires careful and reflective reading, stopping regularly to view the terrain, and then returning to again and again to grapple with its implications. This is one to buy, read, keep and re-read. [NB. This may be a biased note as Trevor is my doctoral supervisor]. ♦♦♦♦

Purgatory Help

This post is a solicitation for help. One of Forsyth’s more interesting and contentious notions is what fundamentally amounts to a Protestant reappraisal of purgatory. He suggests that ‘We threw away too much when we threw purgatory clean out of doors. We threw out the baby with the dirty water of its bath’, and he remains convinced that ‘there are more conversions on the other side than on this’.

In the coming months, I plan to do some thinking about this conviction of Forsyth’s , and about purgatory and its Protestant versions more generally.

I am aware of, but have not yet read, Hendrikus Berkhof’s, Well-Founded Hope (I’m keen to hear from anyone who has read this), and Jürgen Moltmann’s discussion in The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology. I am also conversant with the fine study by Geoffrey Rowell, Hell and the Victorians, and some of the support for at least a modified version of the doctrine by George McDonald, Donald Bloesch, Gabriel Fackre, Stephen Davis, and a spattering of odd references here and there.

But what else (books/articles) should I be reading?

‘On the next day, as had now become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kindred in the sepulchres of their ancestors. Then under the tunic of each one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was the reason these men had fallen. So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin’. (2 Maccabees 12:39-45)