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Finally getting back around to this thread (it's been a busy week). Given the damage caused by the divine-love-sends-people-to-hell theology that McClymond promotes, I think it's a moral responsibility to criticize pieces like this.
Let's begin at the top with what I can only assume is an editorial mistake, where McClymond says that universalism is the doctrine that people will "spend an eternity with heaven in God," as opposed to "in heaven with God." Not an auspicious start.
But I can't help but point out how already McClymond already assumes that eternal salvation = "going to heaven." So much bad theology, crude mythology, and poor exegesis wrapped up in such a notion. But we don't have time to dwell on all that here.
Something I find hilarious about this interview is the number of times McC makes what he thinks are slam dunks against universalism that unwittingly serve as dunks on traditional "orthodox" Christianity as well.
Take this one, for example. McC seems to think it's a mark of universalism's incoherence that there are conflicting ideas about what it is. Never mind this is one of the most common complaints about all theology. There are as many biblical interpretations as there are exegetes.
Or take the next paragraph, where he says that universalists have "never been able to resolve" the tension between "immediately going to heaven" and postmortem purgation, as if this issue has been resolved among the "orthodox." (Spoiler alert: it hasn't.)
I love the story of the **undergrad** McC deciding that the claim of his Northwestern prof Dr. Perry, an ordained Methodist minister and author of several books, "did not seem credible" to him. Let's all groan together. Every teacher knows students like this.
The interview jumps the shark in the next paragraph, where McC admits that a factor in writing this book was a DREAM he had "about a dozen years ago" about God's coming judgment. That's right, the man concerned about sticking to explicit church doctrine is citing dreams.
McC then says he was appalled by the indifference shown to Rob Bell's book. First of all, does McC not remember the collective spasm of outrage and shock expressed by evangelicals at the time?? Bell effectively lost his job. The editor of CT wrote an entire book in response.
The only indifference was on the part of real scholars of Christianity who couldn't care less because...it's Rob fucking Bell. Who cares what a megachurch pastor publishing free verse sermons says about heaven and hell? It's barely worth writing a book review about.
The only people who care about Rob Bell are his fanbase and evangelicals who are deeply afraid of "losing the culture," who react to every possible threat in ways that are outrageously out of proportion to the situation. (Y'all remember the danger of Magic: The Gathering?)
McC's claim that Barth's doctrine of election is what made the explosion of interest in universalism possible is completely backwards. Barth didn't make univeralism possible; universalism made Barth possible. Barth is the symptom, not the cause.
Schleiermacher had a robust Reformed universalist theology up and running over a century before Barth. But that aside, the larger issue here is the modern collapse of the classical plausibility structure in which traditional views of divine & church authority made sense.
In a world before the industrial revolution and modern communication, it was possible to live in a hermetically sealed cultural environment in which the world was simply the way things had to be (by divine decree) and your local priest effectively spoke for God.
You want to know why you have an explosion of universalism and why the church is in decline today? It's because of cultural pluralism and the fact that we live in a more intercultural and diversely populated world than ever before. We can't help but encounter difference.
When everyone looks and acts just like you, the odd person out seems like the problem (maybe they were cursed, or they're a witch, or they were elected by God for damnation). But when everyone is different, suddenly the system that demands uniformity seems like the problem.
Universalism is such a threat to evangelicals these days because they are desperately trying to regain cultural supremacy when the world makes such supremacy impossible.
This is the irony of McC stating that universalism is a "symptom of deeper problems" in the culture. That's true! If you think that diversity and pluralism is a problem, which of course is the underlying subtext of this whole debate.
Universalism is the "opiate of the theologians"? Well I say that exclusivism is the opiate of fearmongering, culture war evangelicals who realize that the only way they are going to preserve their social power is by scaring people into the pews.
McC makes the bizarre claim that people are endorsing universalism in order "to win new adherents." Never mind stories like that of Carlton Pearson and others who lost their churches over this. And I lost my job, a job I loved, for writing a book on universalism.
What's more puzzling is his statement that "perfect love appeared in history—and he was crucified." The most charitable reading of this is that universalism is not going to win people over, but we already knew that.
The scarier possibility is that McC seems to be saying, "If loving and accepting all people isn't going to make our churches successful, then let's not even bother. Let's just double down on our exclusivism and preach hell even harder!"
McC claims universalism conflicts with the NT's narrative of the gospel provoking some to belief and others to hatred. It's also in conflict with the NT's claim that Christ brings life where Adam brought Adam or that God confines to disobedience so God may be merciful to all.
Making reductionist claims about the Bible as if the NT says one thing and then using this claim to determine the "orthodoxy" of any competing position is not just sloppy scholarship. It's basic dishonesty about the complexity of the faith.
Forgot to include the above quote. What's also interesting about this is the idea of a theologian making theological claims based on how human beings respond to the gospel, as if that response indicates something eternally true and necessary. That's a larger method question.
Also, I see a typo in the above. "Adam brought death" is what I should have said. Going a little too fast here.
As for whether universalism is the "last rung for evangelicals falling off the ladder," I don't care whether it's the last rung or the first rung so long as they fall off! (Also, Kevin DeYoung? And McC wants us to take him seriously??)
Skipping to the end, McC concludes by talking about the practical threats posed by universalism, which only serve to reinforce my argument that the issue here is fear about the loss of cultural influence and power. McC asks: What about evangelism? What about self-denial?
McC says that Christianity is about living "godly lives," which presumably he defines in moralistic terms as avoiding sex and being a good straight monogamous person. Maybe, just maybe, that's not what the gospel is about. 🤷🏻‍♂️
I would happily define living a "godly life" as being engaged in the revolutionary overthrow of racial capitalism and cisheteronormativity, but I'm guessing that's not what McC has in mind. 😉
McC is also deeply concerned that universalists aren't going to send out missionaries to the ends of the earth and mobilize thousands of people to get the "message of final salvation" out to everyone. Fine by me! I think our energy would be better spent elsewhere.
McC ends the piece with a strong dose of fallacious reasoning (argument from consequences), just as he begins his book with fallacious reasoning (genetic fallacy). Universalism begins from a bad root and ends with bad consequences. Therefore it must be wrong.
McC seems completely fine with this line of argument. Eschatology, he says, is important because of what it incentivizes or disincentivizes.
If we're going to play that game, then consider that universalism incentivizes being fully accepting and embracing of your Muslim, Jewish, atheist, agnostic, #exvangelical, etc. neighbors. If that's not an incentive to you, we have bigger issues to talk about.
Ultimately, what this interview reveals is not that McC is doing great work (he's not), but that evangelicalism is fundamentally united by its belief that most people are going to hell and they alone hold the key to eternal bliss.
30 years ago you could have said that biblical inerrancy/authority was the linchpin still holding things together, but I don't think that's true. Evangelicals are turning to the rule of faith and ancient tradition to provide the grounding that exegesis was unable to give.
You might say that anti-LBGTQ, anti-abortion cultural politics is the cornerstone, but these have been shifting goalposts. A 150 years ago it was the temperance movement. In some corners it was anti-freemasonry. Later anti-socialism, anti-divorce, anti-abortion, etc.
The cultural politics of evangelicalism is the moralistic manifestation of its underlying belief that most of the world is condemned by God and they alone are the beacons of morality and truth. White Christian supremacy is the core evangelical doctrine & hell is integral to that.
That's all I really want to say about this interview. McC isn't very interesting in his own right. What's more important is *why* evangelicals continue to lose their mind about universalism and what that reveals about their own theological and cultural insecurity. END
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