Foundation for Life

ChoristerChorister Shipmate
Just read this comment on a thread elsewhere about going to chapel: "Great memories of a childhood well lived, no matter what your beliefs, chapel and church built a foundation for a good life." Agree? Disagree? Discuss.
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  • PigwidgeonPigwidgeon Shipmate
    Nope. It's amazing that I'm still a very regular, active Episcopalian. I started going to Sunday School, and later church, when I was three years old. At first it was all right, but not great. But when I got to be about eight or nine, the same girls who bullied me at school and at Girl Scouts were also in my Sunday School class. More bullying. We moved when I was eleven, so I hoped for some pleasant changes. School was much better, but our church was in the next town over. I was the only one in my Church School class who didn't go to their school (and of course never understood their conversations about teachers, fellow students, etc.). Then a parent volunteered to start a youth group! But... instead of basing it completely on grade level, it was "You can join if you're in eighth grade and at least 13 years old." I was a year younger than my classmates, so once again I was the odd one out. Now my classmates were also discussing youth group activities -- in which I could not participate. Finally, when I was 14, my family changed congregations (still always Episcopal)! I was suddenly an accepted member of the group. The other kids talked to me! I was very involved with youth group and Junior Altar Guild. I had friends! I went on to college and was very involved in the Episcopal chapel there. I think that's the only reason I'm still active in my church -- and was employed in various national, diocesan, and parish jobs over the years. I had various problems with that over the years as well, but you couldn't tear me away from my church now. I really don't know how I would have survived 2020 without my wonderful current congregation. But I will never, ever give credit to my first two parishes.
  • Ethne AlbaEthne Alba Shipmate
    Talking with my sister this past week about Just this very thing!

    We were both brought up the same, I have a kinda sorta functioning faith and she does not.
    Yet her belief remains that we Were bought up to be decent and caring and that came down to weekly attendance at a public act of worship.


    Would any Other habitual activity have had the same apparent outcomes?
    Maybe!

    Maybe any habit ( church , cricket, chess, cooking) , if taken part in a community manner - maybe it does make for a more sociable , rounded , responsible person?
    I dunno
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    edited May 3
    Chorister wrote: »
    Just read this comment on a thread elsewhere about going to chapel: "Great memories of a childhood well lived, no matter what your beliefs, chapel and church built a foundation for a good life." Agree? Disagree? Discuss.

    I sort of agree, in the sense that I'm glad I was raised in a religious environment, because I think it gave me a window on a vital aspect of human existence. As someone who never reads fiction, I am not really in any position to call other people philistines, but I can't shake the feeling that those who lack an interest in religion are missing something in their lives.

    (Of course, the devil on my shoulder is telling me that I only think that way because the religious upbringing indoctrinated me into believing religion was important to begin with.)
  • Lamb ChoppedLamb Chopped Shipmate
    I can't even parse that sentence(s). Great memories of a childhood well-lived? Mine sucked, both at what little church exposure we got (minimal) and elsewhere. And yet I'm very content with my life now. I suppose that has nothing to say to the point, though...
  • ChoristerChorister Shipmate
    I'm not sure that my early Sunday School experience gave me much, apart from the fact that I loved stories and loved hymns, which predisposed me to find it more enjoyable than for many children. A lot of it seemed more 'thou shalt not' rather than building up and affirming. And the instruction to 'turn the other cheek' was less than helpful in the rough and tumble of the school playground. But I do count myself fortunate that, in later childhood, the choir allowed girls to join. The whole experience of being a chorister (those who sing pray twice), and the deep friendships which were formed, has stayed with me for life, even though my voice isn't up to singing much these days (when we are allowed!).
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    I was christened as a baby in the local C of E church but I have never been a member. The only services I have attended in a C of E church have been weddings,Chistenings or funerals. As a child I sometimes attended Sunday school in a Methodist church and an independent church. As an adult I attended independent churches but not till my late 30s.

    Growing up, Christianity was not a big thing in my life but I did get a GCE pass in Scripture.

  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    Eclectic influences. Thinking back on my childhood, we were not only saturated with Christianity but with folklore and faery. As a bookish child, my first and deepest love was for the classical pagan myths of Green and Rome, along with Grimm's fairy tales.

    I was sent at the age of five or so to a Dominican Catholic convent in Gweru (Zimbabwe) and my abiding impression of Catholicism was that You Are Never Alone. I had a guardian angel, the saint of the day, the Blessed Virgin Mary and her flower altar in the church, prayer cards, scapulars, medallions of St Christopher and other saints, rosaries, the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, the Communion of Saints and a tiny bottle of holy water to take home along with a picture of the Sacred Heart aflame. When the bishop died, we had classes cancelled for the day and attended the Requiem Mass listening to the great booming of the Dies Irae. That still gives me goosebumps.

    At home I set up a Marian altar in the living room and sang a German song about how the Child Jesus made little clay birds that flew away when he clapped his hands, while his Mother and grandmother Anne wept for joy to see him do his first miracle. My father, an expat Scottish socialist agnostic, was appalled, so I was sent to Presbyterian Sunday School.

    There we all sat in a big sunny hall and sang Jesus loves, this I know/ For the Bible tells me so, heard Bible stories and were given stewed tea from the urn along with floury baps and tablet. Close Dancing was a Bad Thing but we were taught to do the Highland reel after Sunday school, and at the end of the year we performed in a play about Bonnie Prince Charlie. I drew a large picture of Jesus in his nightgown tying millstones around the necks of adults who tried to spoil the faith of children

    I wouldn't have missed out on any of it.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    edited May 4
    MaryLouise wrote: »
    At home I set up a Marian altar in the living room and sang a German song about how the Child Jesus made little clay birds that flew away when he clapped his hands, while his Mother and grandmother Anne wept for joy to see him do his first miracle. My father, an expat Scottish socialist agnostic, was appalled, so I was sent to Presbyterian Sunday School.

    I had the same sort of experience, but in reverse. Raised Catholic, but my UCC(*) father thought that such a milieu was deficient in biblical lessons, so he bought me a kids book called Children's Stories From The Bible, and would read me a story at bedtime each night.

    I can still remember how non-chalantly he told me about the Angel Of Death coming down to off the first-born sons in every Egyptian family, and I've sometimes wondered if he saw anything awkward about having to explain that one. (Granted, I also have a clear memory of that being a lesson in our post-V2 Catholic elementary school, though I'm guessing it wouldn't have been for my mother's generation.)

    (*) United Church Of Canada, my dad being from the Presbyterian stream.

  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    Incidentally, that book also had the absolute coolest illustration of The Writing On The Wall that I have ever seen, a two-pager featuring a huge flaming hand. It pretty much ruined my experience of any other representation of the same event, all of which have been crushing disappointments.
  • AnteaterAnteater Shipmate
    I'm surprised anyone would expect a single verdict to be valid. As a child in church you could expect anything from sexual abuse to inspired mentoring, and presumably every shade in between.

    My own experience was sheer boredom, until I got a bit of kudos because we got prizes for memorizing tracts of Scripture. My sense of justice was shattered when I was disqualified having memorised the shortest 20 verses in the Bible, which in fact were not easy (sort of Uz begat Buz begat Zog etc).

    We switched to the JWs when I was 10 and it was so much better as I was expected to think and engage in debates on all sorts of subjects. I have mentioned before that though I BY NO MEANS recommend the Witnesses, they don't do everything wrong, and the fact that they treat children as intelligent beings able to engage alongside adults in Bible study is for me a Good Thing.

    In Churches I have attended, I have found that Sunday schools tend to have a more fundamentalist teaching that the main Church, as teaching is often delegated to immature people who tend to have extreme views. I have never liked S School and still don't.
  • I would suggest that Sunday schools are not run by people who are delegated, but volunteers with an agenda.
  • HugalHugal Shipmate
    Anteater wrote: »
    I'm surprised anyone would expect a single verdict to be valid. As a child in church you could expect anything from sexual abuse to inspired mentoring, and presumably every shade in between.

    My own experience was sheer boredom, until I got a bit of kudos because we got prizes for memorizing tracts of Scripture. My sense of justice was shattered when I was disqualified having memorised the shortest 20 verses in the Bible, which in fact were not easy (sort of Uz begat Buz begat Zog etc).

    We switched to the JWs when I was 10 and it was so much better as I was expected to think and engage in debates on all sorts of subjects. I have mentioned before that though I BY NO MEANS recommend the Witnesses, they don't do everything wrong, and the fact that they treat children as intelligent beings able to engage alongside adults in Bible study is for me a Good Thing.

    In Churches I have attended, I have found that Sunday schools tend to have a more fundamentalist teaching that the main Church, as teaching is often delegated to immature people who tend to have extreme views. I have never liked S School and still don't.

    Why do you associate lack of maturity with fundamentalism? That is just as bias as some saying traditional services are boring
  • I still recall with amusement the children at one church I attended returning from Sunday School and sharing with the congregation that they had been learning about Mother Nature. You could see the curate trying to formulate an appropriate response somewhere between nodding and smiling, and reaching for bell, book and candle.
  • chrisstileschrisstiles Shipmate
    Hugal wrote: »
    Anteater wrote: »
    I'm surprised anyone would expect a single verdict to be valid. As a child in church you could expect anything from sexual abuse to inspired mentoring, and presumably every shade in between.

    My own experience was sheer boredom, until I got a bit of kudos because we got prizes for memorizing tracts of Scripture. My sense of justice was shattered when I was disqualified having memorised the shortest 20 verses in the Bible, which in fact were not easy (sort of Uz begat Buz begat Zog etc).

    We switched to the JWs when I was 10 and it was so much better as I was expected to think and engage in debates on all sorts of subjects. I have mentioned before that though I BY NO MEANS recommend the Witnesses, they don't do everything wrong, and the fact that they treat children as intelligent beings able to engage alongside adults in Bible study is for me a Good Thing.

    In Churches I have attended, I have found that Sunday schools tend to have a more fundamentalist teaching that the main Church, as teaching is often delegated to immature people who tend to have extreme views. I have never liked S School and still don't.

    Why do you associate lack of maturity with fundamentalism? That is just as bias as some saying traditional services are boring

    I assume in part because those circles are often characterised by an approach that rejects question or any kind of serious interrogation of belief.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Anteater wrote: »
    In Churches I have attended, I have found that Sunday schools tend to have a more fundamentalist teaching that the main Church, as teaching is often delegated to immature people who tend to have extreme views.
    That’s not at all the case in my experience. (And in my experience, when it comes to Sunday school for children and much adult Sunday school, denominational curriculum is used.) But that’s just a reminder that our personal experiences are anecdata—certainly valid in and of themselves, but not necessarily capable of being extrapolated to reach broad, general conclusions.

  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    I think Sunday schools etc. might appear to be more conservative, but not always because the teachers really are more conservative, but because they think a literalist approach is best for teaching small children.

    My Catholic elementary school taught a literalist reading of the Creation and the Fall. By the time we had gotten to middle school, we were being taught evolution in social studies class, straight with no religious chaser.

    My guess would be that the curriculum planners wanted the young children to learn the basic underlying theology of Genesis(God created man, man chose sin etc), and figured that having to explain the concept of a "metaphor" would be too much of a distraction. So they saved the hard science for the higher grades.

    (Granted, this analysis might be more applicable to Catholic schools, since the RCC has not taught for a while that people need to believe the Genesis account as literally true.)
  • AnteaterAnteater Shipmate
    Hugal:
    Why do you associate lack of maturity with fundamentalism? That is just as bias as some saying traditional services are boring
    Well certainly it is an opinion, but based on a quite close knowledge of fundamentalist circles, which is where I started my christian path, specifically in an (only-just) Open Brethren Assembly. And I would now judge my then self as immature, both intellectually and emotionally. And I would say the same of Jehovah's Witnesses, my previous religion.

    The symptom is a totally worked out, all loose ends tied up, and detailed set of beliefs and practices many of which are intellectually indefensible. Again an opinion. If you would defend views like Young Earth Creationism or the detailed working out of apocalyptic writings as giving us a blueprint to the future, then I disagree. I was also a totally committed Calvinist and I believe this is only possible with an under-developed empathy, and I now view what I then believed as ethically illiterate.

    The point about some people in Sunday school is that their views did not reflect the message put out by the church. Of course, this was a fault of the leaders in the church.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    edited May 5
    Anteater wrote: »
    I was also a totally committed Calvinist and I believe this is only possible with an under-developed empathy, and I now view what I then believed as ethically illiterate.
    Well, I was sort of with you up to this point. But really? I’m not sure what sort of Calvinism you were totally committed to, but if it involved an under-developed empathy and was ethically illiterate, it’s a sort that’s totally foreign to me—and I come from a long line of committed Calvinists. It sounds like it might be a sort that would be unfamiliar to Calvin, too.

  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Chorister wrote: »
    Just read this comment on a thread elsewhere about going to chapel: "Great memories of a childhood well lived, no matter what your beliefs, chapel and church built a foundation for a good life." Agree? Disagree? Discuss.

    What an incredible privilege. With commensurate helplessness. Unless they did something sacrificial with it that actually worked.
  • AnteaterAnteater Shipmate
    Nick Tamen:
    Well, I was sort of with you up to this point. But really? I’m not sure what sort of Calvinism you were totally committed to, but if it involved an under-developed empathy and was ethically illiterate, it’s a sort that’s totally foreign to me—and I come from a long line of committed Calvinists. It sounds like it might be a sort that would be unfamiliar to Calvin, too.
    Well I admit that for a while, I came under the spell of Hermann Hoeksema (he of the Triple Knowledge) and he would be viewed as hyper Calvinist, but this was only for a short time. Mostly I accepted that Calvinism was of all varieties of Christianity, the most apparently self-contradictory, and I believed that it was important not to try and whittle away at the idea that God wants all to be saved. As per Jim Packer.

    But it was quite fundamentalist Calvinism, Not that it got heavily into prophecy, but it kept to a hard line on Salvation Heaven and Hell, and pretty consistently refused the many get-outs that you hear even in conservative evangelical circles, to lessen the impact of people going to Hell without even having heard of Christ.

    So if your Calvinism is that of Maralynne Robinson, or Thomas Torrance or even Barth, then I withdraw my remark. But if it is of John Piper or R C Sproul I maintain it.

    My claim that it is ethically illiterate is based firstly on the idea that even with moderate calvinism, it leads to an ethics of absurdity and secondly on the view that endless punishment is intrinsic to love justice and compassion.

    The absurdity lies in the fact that the ultimate truth of a person's worth has no relation to any acts of good or evil, but solely on the decision of God which is totally arbitrary. It is specifically stated that God's will is to show that it depends not on any good or evil that a person has done but solely on the arbitrary choice of God. I know that the reply will be that the Bible makes it plain that ethics matter, but in what? Many, including me, believe it matters in business success. And it makes life better. Obviously. But the ultimate truth must be the verdict of God, and for this ethics are excluded. Even Calvinist's don't believe that God subjects people to endless punishment unless the verdict of Pure Justice is that they are irredeemably evil.

    The second idea is based on one of Bentley-Hart's arguments. If you take seriously the idea of creation ex nihilo, then nothing is present in the final unfolding when God is all in all, due to a constraint on God. What is, is what God wills - certainly to a Calvinist. And if that includes eternal conscious torment via non-redemptive punishment planned precisely to reveal God's glory, then this is essential to what God is. And since God is love, it is included in that.

    Some, it used to be Martin, will say that this applies to all religions who teach ECT, and that the excuses as to what will happen to the millions who never had a chance are just weasel words. And largely, to be honest, I agree.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Many thanks for the detailed explanation, @Anteater. I appreciate it.

    Anteater wrote: »
    Well I admit that for a while, I came under the spell of Hermann Hoeksema (he of the Triple Knowledge) and he would be viewed as hyper Calvinist, but this was only for a short time. . . .

    So if your Calvinism is that of Maralynne Robinson, or Thomas Torrance or even Barth, then I withdraw my remark. But if it is of John Piper or R C Sproul I maintain it.
    I’m a lifelong Presbyterian (of the PC(USA) tribe). The Calvinism* in which I’ve spent my life is that of Robinson, Torrence, Barth and many others like them. Folks like Piper and Sproul and Hoeksema—who might as you say be called hyper-Calvinist or fundamentalist Calvinist, and whom I tend to think of as “selective Calvinists” or even “distorted Calvinists”—seem to me to make a mess of Calvin, and I’m not willing to let them lay exclusive claim to what Calvinism looks like. Not that I’m saying Calvin got it all right—that would not be a very Reformed* thing to say—but I think they largely fail to get Calvin right.


    *As I’ve noted before, most Calvinists in my experience—at least those not of the Piper and Sproul variety—refer to ourselves and our particular stream of Christianity as “Reformed,” not as “Calvinist.” Calvin is certainly a huge influence in the Reformed tradition, but not the only one and not an infallible one. But even Wikipedia will redirect “Reformed” to “Calvinism.”

  • I grew up in a very unreligious family. My father was a very lapsed Catholic and my mother had attended C of E churches during a very unhappy childhood. I wasn't baptised as an infant (quite unusual for the time, I was to discover) and I first entered a church when I was 15. As a result, I had none of this "foundation" that so many other people had. When I started attending church, everything was new to me - including all the Bible stories that other people had done many times in Sunday School.

    I guess that the lasting impact of this has been that I've always been aware of the outsider and how strange churchy things seem to such people. I still remember clearly how confused I was in church to begin with. Do I sit or stand or kneel? So often churches talk about welcoming the stranger but in reality they expect strangers to conform to their way of doing things and behaving. In a new church, I often think to myself "what would the 15 year old me make of this?"

  • Lamb ChoppedLamb Chopped Shipmate
    That's why I've always been glad of my status as an outsider and convert. It allows me to have a foot in each world now, which is helpful for a writer and a missionary.
  • I'm on the opposite side of the equation - feeling utterly inadequate to the task of sharing my faith because I really have no idea what it's like to be without faith, and no idea what someone who is unchurched might find confusing or intriguing, inspiring or off-putting, numinous or just plain weird. Words that to me are freighted with meaning from years of pickling in liturgy, hymn and scripture may well seem so much overly verbose guff to someone less familiar.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    @Anteater. Largely?!
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Many thanks for the detailed explanation, @Anteater. I appreciate it.

    Anteater wrote: »
    Well I admit that for a while, I came under the spell of Hermann Hoeksema (he of the Triple Knowledge) and he would be viewed as hyper Calvinist, but this was only for a short time. . . .

    So if your Calvinism is that of Maralynne Robinson, or Thomas Torrance or even Barth, then I withdraw my remark. But if it is of John Piper or R C Sproul I maintain it.
    I’m a lifelong Presbyterian (of the PC(USA) tribe). The Calvinism* in which I’ve spent my life is that of Robinson, Torrence, Barth and many others like them. Folks like Piper and Sproul and Hoeksema—who might as you say be called hyper-Calvinist or fundamentalist Calvinist, and whom I tend to think of as “selective Calvinists” or even “distorted Calvinists”—seem to me to make a mess of Calvin, and I’m not willing to let them lay exclusive claim to what Calvinism looks like. Not that I’m saying Calvin got it all right—that would not be a very Reformed* thing to say—but I think they largely fail to get Calvin right.


    *As I’ve noted before, most Calvinists in my experience—at least those not of the Piper and Sproul variety—refer to ourselves and our particular stream of Christianity as “Reformed,” not as “Calvinist.” Calvin is certainly a huge influence in the Reformed tradition, but not the only one and not an infallible one. But even Wikipedia will redirect “Reformed” to “Calvinism.”

    Ordered Robinson's first, Housekeeping, for my wife's birthday. The Torrances and of course Barth occupy the heights of academic theology. I particularly admire the works of C. Baxter Kruger, a Ph.D. student of James Torrance at Aberdeen. All good universalists :smile: or as close as you can get, like your good self Nick.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Many thanks for the detailed explanation, @Anteater. I appreciate it.

    Anteater wrote: »
    Well I admit that for a while, I came under the spell of Hermann Hoeksema (he of the Triple Knowledge) and he would be viewed as hyper Calvinist, but this was only for a short time. . . .

    So if your Calvinism is that of Maralynne Robinson, or Thomas Torrance or even Barth, then I withdraw my remark. But if it is of John Piper or R C Sproul I maintain it.
    I’m a lifelong Presbyterian (of the PC(USA) tribe). The Calvinism* in which I’ve spent my life is that of Robinson, Torrence, Barth and many others like them. Folks like Piper and Sproul and Hoeksema—who might as you say be called hyper-Calvinist or fundamentalist Calvinist, and whom I tend to think of as “selective Calvinists” or even “distorted Calvinists”—seem to me to make a mess of Calvin, and I’m not willing to let them lay exclusive claim to what Calvinism looks like. Not that I’m saying Calvin got it all right—that would not be a very Reformed* thing to say—but I think they largely fail to get Calvin right.


    *As I’ve noted before, most Calvinists in my experience—at least those not of the Piper and Sproul variety—refer to ourselves and our particular stream of Christianity as “Reformed,” not as “Calvinist.” Calvin is certainly a huge influence in the Reformed tradition, but not the only one and not an infallible one. But even Wikipedia will redirect “Reformed” to “Calvinism.”

    Ordered Robinson's first, Housekeeping, for my wife's birthday.
    If she likes it, I also highly recommend Gilead.

    All good universalists :smile: or as close as you can get, like your good self Nick.
    Like Barth, not a term I generally claim or apply to myself, for reasons I’ve described before.

  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    edited May 9
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Ordered Robinson's first, Housekeeping, for my wife's birthday.
    If she likes it, I also highly recommend Gilead.
    If she doesn't like it I recommend Gilead. Housekeeping is more enigmatic.

  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited May 9
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Many thanks for the detailed explanation, @Anteater. I appreciate it.

    Anteater wrote: »
    Well I admit that for a while, I came under the spell of Hermann Hoeksema (he of the Triple Knowledge) and he would be viewed as hyper Calvinist, but this was only for a short time. . . .

    So if your Calvinism is that of Maralynne Robinson, or Thomas Torrance or even Barth, then I withdraw my remark. But if it is of John Piper or R C Sproul I maintain it.
    I’m a lifelong Presbyterian (of the PC(USA) tribe). The Calvinism* in which I’ve spent my life is that of Robinson, Torrence, Barth and many others like them. Folks like Piper and Sproul and Hoeksema—who might as you say be called hyper-Calvinist or fundamentalist Calvinist, and whom I tend to think of as “selective Calvinists” or even “distorted Calvinists”—seem to me to make a mess of Calvin, and I’m not willing to let them lay exclusive claim to what Calvinism looks like. Not that I’m saying Calvin got it all right—that would not be a very Reformed* thing to say—but I think they largely fail to get Calvin right.


    *As I’ve noted before, most Calvinists in my experience—at least those not of the Piper and Sproul variety—refer to ourselves and our particular stream of Christianity as “Reformed,” not as “Calvinist.” Calvin is certainly a huge influence in the Reformed tradition, but not the only one and not an infallible one. But even Wikipedia will redirect “Reformed” to “Calvinism.”

    Ordered Robinson's first, Housekeeping, for my wife's birthday.
    If she likes it, I also highly recommend Gilead.

    All good universalists :smile: or as close as you can get, like your good self Nick.
    Like Barth, not a term I generally claim or apply to myself, for reasons I’ve described before.

    Ooooh, I count Barth, in, like Jesus, as universalist.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Many thanks for the detailed explanation, @Anteater. I appreciate it.

    Anteater wrote: »
    Well I admit that for a while, I came under the spell of Hermann Hoeksema (he of the Triple Knowledge) and he would be viewed as hyper Calvinist, but this was only for a short time. . . .

    So if your Calvinism is that of Maralynne Robinson, or Thomas Torrance or even Barth, then I withdraw my remark. But if it is of John Piper or R C Sproul I maintain it.
    I’m a lifelong Presbyterian (of the PC(USA) tribe). The Calvinism* in which I’ve spent my life is that of Robinson, Torrence, Barth and many others like them. Folks like Piper and Sproul and Hoeksema—who might as you say be called hyper-Calvinist or fundamentalist Calvinist, and whom I tend to think of as “selective Calvinists” or even “distorted Calvinists”—seem to me to make a mess of Calvin, and I’m not willing to let them lay exclusive claim to what Calvinism looks like. Not that I’m saying Calvin got it all right—that would not be a very Reformed* thing to say—but I think they largely fail to get Calvin right.


    *As I’ve noted before, most Calvinists in my experience—at least those not of the Piper and Sproul variety—refer to ourselves and our particular stream of Christianity as “Reformed,” not as “Calvinist.” Calvin is certainly a huge influence in the Reformed tradition, but not the only one and not an infallible one. But even Wikipedia will redirect “Reformed” to “Calvinism.”

    Ordered Robinson's first, Housekeeping, for my wife's birthday.
    If she likes it, I also highly recommend Gilead.

    All good universalists :smile: or as close as you can get, like your good self Nick.
    Like Barth, not a term I generally claim or apply to myself, for reasons I’ve described before.

    Ooooh, I count Barth, in, like Jesus, as universalist.
    I know you do. But as we’ve discussed, Barth did not count himself as a universalist. Not everyone adheres to your categories, Martin. :wink:

  • ChoristerChorister Shipmate
    Jeanette Winterson would contest that it is an ideal start to life. But then her mother was obviously very disturbed - those difficulties would probably have occurred anyway, even in an atheistic household.
  • Chorister wrote: »
    Jeanette Winterson would contest that it is an ideal start to life. But then her mother was obviously very disturbed - those difficulties would probably have occurred anyway, even in an atheistic household.

    I see from the Books thread in Heaven that you have been reading her memoir Why be happy when you could be normal?

    Maybe it's the preconceptions with which I approached the book, but I was struck by the fact that, although there were clearly a lot of things wrong with her religious upbringing, she had some positive things to say about the church culture she grew up, the education, community and sense of purpose that it gave people. As I say, though, I think I had assumed her to be a much more anti-religious writer than she actually is.
  • AnteaterAnteater Shipmate
    Nick Tamen:
    Folks like Piper and Sproul and Hoeksema . . seem to me to make a mess of Calvin, and I’m not willing to let them lay exclusive claim to what Calvinism looks like.

    Conservative Calvinists that I know of (like Martin Lloyd-Jones, Jim Packer et al) all continue steadfast in the belief that the non-elect suffer eternal conscious torment, and it is this view of people being predestined to such a horrific future with no possibility of any other fate which has been the main attack point against Reformed Christianity, and this despite the fact that Calvin added nothing to Augustine in this regard, and ocontemporary RCC doctrine could be as predestinarian as anything Calvin wrote, although I believe dissent from this was tolerated.

    It is not always clear where progressive reformed thought stands on this, but it often seems to be a bit coy about making a clean breast of what they think. So, have modern reformed christians moved away from eternal conscious torment, as a group, or has it all just become optional? There seems a tendency to say things which totally imply universalism but then loudly proclaim that they cannot say it for certain. They can long for it (because they are compassionate) but aren't sure that God is merciful to the same degree as themselves. Or maybe they're mainly annihilationist, or even don't believe in the afterlife.

    I firmly agree with David B-H that few people really believe all this ETC stuff. They may say they do but it's more that they try to support it as a known attacked doctrine. As in the case of a friend of mine who gob-smackingly once said to me that she hadn't yet come to a conclusion whether God (whom she loves) was going to eternally punish her children (who decided were not of any recognisable christian faith). I don't think anyone can cope with that degree of cognitive dissonance if they were to take it seriously. Mind you John Piper manages it, as he is in writing saying that he accepts the possibility that God has eternally predestined his own children to eternal torment, at which he just bows before His Majesty. Complete madness.

  • ChoristerChorister Shipmate
    The emphasis for most Christians these days seems to be God is Love, which is fine by me.
  • AnteaterAnteater Shipmate
    Chorister:
    The emphasis for most Christians these days seems to be God is Love, which is fine by me.
    Let me explain why this doesn't work for me just by itself.

    As I stated previously, most conservative Christians believe as strongly as you do that God is love but also that in his case this is compatible with sending people into eternal conscious torment. Some would even have him predestining them to it.

    Now to most people, sending people to eternal torment with no hope of remission, is not normally thought of as being of the essence of love, and many people are aware that this is part of what Christianity has always taught. So we need to be clear and not just say God is love so everything will work to the good of all. You may well believe that. But it is not the historical message of the Church. According to what virtually all western Christians believed 100 years ago, and what many believe today, things turn out really really badly for many.

    Let me draw a parallel. East Germany was called the German Democratic Republic. However, it is obvious to everybody that it was not a democratic state as most in the west understand the term, which means that anyone seeking to advocate it, needs to do more than say: This is a democratic country. They need to overcome the objection that it is not democracy as we know it when it is a one party state.

    In the same way, just saying God is love, without addressing how he treats all people, not just the elect, won't cut it with most people. People get really evasive and start sounding like politicians when you ask for a clear answer to the question: What will happen do those who do not believe the Gospel. I think people are entitled to a clear non-nonsense answer.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    The usual response is to say "God's love isn't like human love because he's God so it's only an approximation and the best human word to describe it but it's not the same...." and then whiffle on to give you the impression that actually the best human word to describe the "love of God" as they understand it would be "hatred".
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Anteater wrote: »
    Nick Tamen:
    Folks like Piper and Sproul and Hoeksema . . seem to me to make a mess of Calvin, and I’m not willing to let them lay exclusive claim to what Calvinism looks like.

    Conservative Calvinists that I know of (like Martin Lloyd-Jones, Jim Packer et al) all continue steadfast in the belief that the non-elect suffer eternal conscious torment, and it is this view of people being predestined to such a horrific future with no possibility of any other fate which has been the main attack point against Reformed Christianity, and this despite the fact that Calvin added nothing to Augustine in this regard, and ocontemporary RCC doctrine could be as predestinarian as anything Calvin wrote, although I believe dissent from this was tolerated.

    It is not always clear where progressive reformed thought stands on this, but it often seems to be a bit coy about making a clean breast of what they think. So, have modern reformed christians moved away from eternal conscious torment, as a group, or has it all just become optional? There seems a tendency to say things which totally imply universalism but then loudly proclaim that they cannot say it for certain. They can long for it (because they are compassionate) but aren't sure that God is merciful to the same degree as themselves.
    Thank you for post, @Anteater. I apologize that it has taken me a while to give it the attention it deserves and then to respond.

    I can’t speak for all forms of modern or progressive Reformed folk; my main familiarity is only with my particular stream—the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). I would say a more-or-less Barthian understanding is what predominates. Barth, of course, held in tension two ideas—salvation is a free gift of God to which we have no claim of right, and “theological consistency might seem to lead our thoughts and utterances most clearly in [the] direction” of universalism. (Church Dogmatics, IV.3.2) Just prior to this portion of Church Dogmatics, he wrote:
    If we are certainly forbidden to count on this [universal reconciliation] as though we had a claim to it, as though it were not supremely the work of God to which man can have no possible claim, we are surely commanded the more definitely to hope and pray for it as we may do already on this side of this final possibility, i.e., to hope and pray cautiously and yet distinctly that, in spite of everything which may seem quite conclusively to proclaim the opposite, His compassion should not fail, and that in accordance with His mercy which is “new every morning” He “will not cast off for ever.” (Lam 3:22f,31)
    I think that is where the PC(USA) largely falls these days.

    I’m not sure it’s quite the right characterization, though, to say “They can long for it (because they are compassionate) but aren't sure that God is merciful to the same degree as themselves.” YMMV, of course. I’d say they/we are quite sure God is more compassionate than we will ever be, and that is part of the basis for our hope. But there is, I think, an unwillingness to simply ignore what the Bible, Jesus specifically, has to say about judgment, or to say “God must save all,” since we maintain that salvation is a free and gracious gift. So, as with Barth, judgment and universal salvation are held “in tension or even in paradox,” in the words of a statement adopted in the 1970s by the General Assembly of the former Presbyterian Church in the United States (the old “Southern church”).

    It is true that this view is suggested or hinted at but not fully fleshed out in most contemporary confessional documents, though no contemporary confessional document I know of comes anywhere close to suggesting eternal conscious torment, either. There are a number of reasons for this, I think, some of which are totally unrelated to this issue.

    Perhaps the clearest expression of the current view was in “A Declaration of Faith,” submitted by the 1976 General Assembly of the PCUS to the presbyteries as part of a proposed new Book of Confessions, similar to that adopted by the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America almost a decade earlier. The new Book of Confessions was not ratified by the necessary three-quarters of presbyteries. (My recollection is that it was ratified by a majority, but fell just short of the super-majority needed. I can’t confirm that, though.) There were a variety of reasons the new book, including the Declaration, didn’t achieve ratification. Nevertheless, the 1977 General Assembly of the PCUS “adopted” the Declaration “as a contemporary statement of faith, a reliable aid for Christian study, liturgy, and inspiration,” but without constitutional confessional standing. The 1985 General Assembly of the reunited PC(USA) did the same. So while it doesn’t have full confessional standing, it does have some approval in the church.

    The Declaration says:
    God’s mercy and judgment await us all.

    In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus
    God has already demonstrated his judging and saving work.
    We are warned that rejecting God’s love
    and not caring for others whom God loves
    results in eternal separation from him and them.
    Yet we are also told that God loves the whole world
    and wills the salvation of all humankind in Christ.

    We live in tension between God’s warnings and promises.
    Knowing the righteous judgment of God in Christ,
    we urge all people to be reconciled to God,
    not exempting ourselves from the warnings.
    Constrained by God's love in Christ,
    we have good hope for all people,
    not exempting the most unlikely from the promises.
    Judgment belongs to God and not to us.
    We are sure that God’s future for every person
    will be both merciful and just.
    The study guide for the Declaration notes that salvation is thought of not in terms of “place” but of “relationship.”

    Likewise, the Study Catechism adopted by the 1998 General Assembly of the PC(USA)—again, adopted and approved, but not with full confessional status—includes these questions and answers:
    Question 48. How do you understand the words that "he will come again to judge the living and the dead"?
    Like everyone else, I too must stand in fear and trembling before the judgment seat of Christ. But the Judge is the one who submitted to judgment for my sake. Nothing will be able to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus my Lord. All the sinful failures that cause me shame will perish as through fire, while any good I may have done will be received with gladness by God.

    Question 49. Will all human beings be saved?
    No one will be lost who can be saved. The limits to salvation, whatever they may be, are known only to God. Three truths above all are certain. God is a holy God who is not to be trifled with. No one will be saved except by grace alone. And no judge could possibly be more gracious than our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

    I realize that this may not be enough to satisfy everyone, much less to squarely repudiate the likes of Piper. It is, though, where I, and I think most of us in the PC(USA), find ourselves. It’s not a “fingers crossed” hope that God will be compassionate to all; it’s a more of a confident hope, I think. Not, perhaps, unlike hope in the resurrection.

  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Many thanks for the detailed explanation, @Anteater. I appreciate it.

    Anteater wrote: »
    Well I admit that for a while, I came under the spell of Hermann Hoeksema (he of the Triple Knowledge) and he would be viewed as hyper Calvinist, but this was only for a short time. . . .

    So if your Calvinism is that of Maralynne Robinson, or Thomas Torrance or even Barth, then I withdraw my remark. But if it is of John Piper or R C Sproul I maintain it.
    I’m a lifelong Presbyterian (of the PC(USA) tribe). The Calvinism* in which I’ve spent my life is that of Robinson, Torrence, Barth and many others like them. Folks like Piper and Sproul and Hoeksema—who might as you say be called hyper-Calvinist or fundamentalist Calvinist, and whom I tend to think of as “selective Calvinists” or even “distorted Calvinists”—seem to me to make a mess of Calvin, and I’m not willing to let them lay exclusive claim to what Calvinism looks like. Not that I’m saying Calvin got it all right—that would not be a very Reformed* thing to say—but I think they largely fail to get Calvin right.


    *As I’ve noted before, most Calvinists in my experience—at least those not of the Piper and Sproul variety—refer to ourselves and our particular stream of Christianity as “Reformed,” not as “Calvinist.” Calvin is certainly a huge influence in the Reformed tradition, but not the only one and not an infallible one. But even Wikipedia will redirect “Reformed” to “Calvinism.”

    Ordered Robinson's first, Housekeeping, for my wife's birthday.
    If she likes it, I also highly recommend Gilead.

    All good universalists :smile: or as close as you can get, like your good self Nick.
    Like Barth, not a term I generally claim or apply to myself, for reasons I’ve described before.

    Ooooh, I count Barth, in, like Jesus, as universalist.
    I know you do. But as we’ve discussed, Barth did not count himself as a universalist. Not everyone adheres to your categories, Martin. :wink:

    Oooh, missed this. Ohhhhhh yes he did. In Christ.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    edited May 19
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Many thanks for the detailed explanation, @Anteater. I appreciate it.

    Anteater wrote: »
    Well I admit that for a while, I came under the spell of Hermann Hoeksema (he of the Triple Knowledge) and he would be viewed as hyper Calvinist, but this was only for a short time. . . .

    So if your Calvinism is that of Maralynne Robinson, or Thomas Torrance or even Barth, then I withdraw my remark. But if it is of John Piper or R C Sproul I maintain it.
    I’m a lifelong Presbyterian (of the PC(USA) tribe). The Calvinism* in which I’ve spent my life is that of Robinson, Torrence, Barth and many others like them. Folks like Piper and Sproul and Hoeksema—who might as you say be called hyper-Calvinist or fundamentalist Calvinist, and whom I tend to think of as “selective Calvinists” or even “distorted Calvinists”—seem to me to make a mess of Calvin, and I’m not willing to let them lay exclusive claim to what Calvinism looks like. Not that I’m saying Calvin got it all right—that would not be a very Reformed* thing to say—but I think they largely fail to get Calvin right.


    *As I’ve noted before, most Calvinists in my experience—at least those not of the Piper and Sproul variety—refer to ourselves and our particular stream of Christianity as “Reformed,” not as “Calvinist.” Calvin is certainly a huge influence in the Reformed tradition, but not the only one and not an infallible one. But even Wikipedia will redirect “Reformed” to “Calvinism.”

    Ordered Robinson's first, Housekeeping, for my wife's birthday.
    If she likes it, I also highly recommend Gilead.

    All good universalists :smile: or as close as you can get, like your good self Nick.
    Like Barth, not a term I generally claim or apply to myself, for reasons I’ve described before.

    Ooooh, I count Barth, in, like Jesus, as universalist.
    I know you do. But as we’ve discussed, Barth did not count himself as a universalist. Not everyone adheres to your categories, Martin. :wink:

    Oooh, missed this. Ohhhhhh yes he did. In Christ.
    Can you tell me where Barth identified as a universalist? I’d be interested in seeing it. In everything I can recall reading from him on the subject, he did not identify as universalist, for the reason I’ve given.

  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited May 19
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Many thanks for the detailed explanation, @Anteater. I appreciate it.

    Anteater wrote: »
    Well I admit that for a while, I came under the spell of Hermann Hoeksema (he of the Triple Knowledge) and he would be viewed as hyper Calvinist, but this was only for a short time. . . .

    So if your Calvinism is that of Maralynne Robinson, or Thomas Torrance or even Barth, then I withdraw my remark. But if it is of John Piper or R C Sproul I maintain it.
    I’m a lifelong Presbyterian (of the PC(USA) tribe). The Calvinism* in which I’ve spent my life is that of Robinson, Torrence, Barth and many others like them. Folks like Piper and Sproul and Hoeksema—who might as you say be called hyper-Calvinist or fundamentalist Calvinist, and whom I tend to think of as “selective Calvinists” or even “distorted Calvinists”—seem to me to make a mess of Calvin, and I’m not willing to let them lay exclusive claim to what Calvinism looks like. Not that I’m saying Calvin got it all right—that would not be a very Reformed* thing to say—but I think they largely fail to get Calvin right.


    *As I’ve noted before, most Calvinists in my experience—at least those not of the Piper and Sproul variety—refer to ourselves and our particular stream of Christianity as “Reformed,” not as “Calvinist.” Calvin is certainly a huge influence in the Reformed tradition, but not the only one and not an infallible one. But even Wikipedia will redirect “Reformed” to “Calvinism.”

    Ordered Robinson's first, Housekeeping, for my wife's birthday.
    If she likes it, I also highly recommend Gilead.

    All good universalists :smile: or as close as you can get, like your good self Nick.
    Like Barth, not a term I generally claim or apply to myself, for reasons I’ve described before.

    Ooooh, I count Barth, in, like Jesus, as universalist.
    I know you do. But as we’ve discussed, Barth did not count himself as a universalist. Not everyone adheres to your categories, Martin. :wink:

    Oooh, missed this. Ohhhhhh yes he did. In Christ.
    Can you tell me where Barth identified as a universalist? I’d be interested in seeing it. In everything I can recall reading from him on the subject, he did not identify as universalist, for the reason I’ve given.

    Oh no! You're right!!

    ‘I don’t believe in universalism, but I do believe in Jesus Christ, the reconciler of all.’ Quoted in Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth: His life from letters and autobiographical texts, trans. J. Bowden (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976), p. 39

    A deliberate reference to Paul in Colossians 1:19, ‘God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to himself all things’.

    And so am I.

    He was a Christian universalist; election is of all in The Messiah, The Chosen One, The Elect, The Christ. For Barth, all are included in Christ.

    The Humanity of God

    ‘One should not surrender himself in any case to the panic which this word [universalism] seems to spread abroad, before informing himself exactly concerning its possible sense or non-sense.’

    ‘One should at least be stimulated by the passage, Colossians 1:19, which admittedly states that God has determined through His Son as His image and as the first-born of the whole Creation to “reconcile all things (τά πάντα) to himself,” to consider whether the concept could not perhaps have a good meaning.’

    ‘This much is certain, that we have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ. Our theological duty is to see and understand it as being still greater than we had seen before.’

    pp. 61-2

    Where do you say Barth draws the line?
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    It seems to me like Barth drew the line at the point in what I quoted above: “[W]e are certainly forbidden to count on this [universal reconciliation] as though we had a claim to it, as though it were not supremely the work of God to which man can have no possible claim.” When he said, as you quote, “I don’t believe in universalism,” I think he was trying to draw a line that respected God acting out of grace and that rejected any idea that we can simply expect universal salvation as a given, any more than we can expect a “right” to be included in a completely loving parent’s will.

    Barth was “accused” in his lifetime of being a universalist, and as you note, he explicitly said he didn’t believe in universalism. Clearly, there was something about the term “universalism” that he saw as not completely consistent with his thinking.

    Now, we may say he was being coy, that he was working with a different (more restrictive?) definition of “universalism,” that he was just trying to thread the needle so as to avoid the “smear” of universalism and that it’s a difference without a distinction, or that he was a crypto-universalist. But I think we do him and his rigorous, detailed thinking a significant disservice by simply saying, without any qualification, “Barth was a universalist” when he specifically said “I don’t believe in universalism.” His thinking may end up at the same place as traditional universalism, but if he saw a distinction in the path to that destination, we shouldn’t characterize his position as though he didn’t.

  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited May 20
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    It seems to me like Barth drew the line at the point in what I quoted above: “[W]e are certainly forbidden to count on this [universal reconciliation] as though we had a claim to it, as though it were not supremely the work of God to which man can have no possible claim.” When he said, as you quote, “I don’t believe in universalism,” I think he was trying to draw a line that respected God acting out of grace and that rejected any idea that we can simply expect universal salvation as a given, any more than we can expect a “right” to be included in a completely loving parent’s will.

    Barth was “accused” in his lifetime of being a universalist, and as you note, he explicitly said he didn’t believe in universalism. Clearly, there was something about the term “universalism” that he saw as not completely consistent with his thinking.

    Now, we may say he was being coy, that he was working with a different (more restrictive?) definition of “universalism,” that he was just trying to thread the needle so as to avoid the “smear” of universalism and that it’s a difference without a distinction, or that he was a crypto-universalist. But I think we do him and his rigorous, detailed thinking a significant disservice by simply saying, without any qualification, “Barth was a universalist” when he specifically said “I don’t believe in universalism.” His thinking may end up at the same place as traditional universalism, but if he saw a distinction in the path to that destination, we shouldn’t characterize his position as though he didn’t.

    I wouldn't dream of it. All roads lead to Christ. Salvation without Christ is meaningless. It's His name after all. All are elect in The Elect One, righteous in The Righteous One. As Barth believed, accepted and taught unequivocally, orthodoxly. Love never fails. It removes all doubt.
  • AnteaterAnteater Shipmate
    Nick Tamen:
    This could become a private debate, but it is one which interests me greatly, so for now I don't want to take your post as final.
    salvation is a free gift of God to which we have no claim of right
    (Barth)
    Barth to me is perversely coy. He famously refused to declare clearly whether Methusaleh live to be 969 (or close). Why has he this obsession with God's total freedom? Presumably, as Calvinists like to say, we had no just cause to grumble if God had saved nobody. Above all else, we have to preserve the freedom of God. Man has no rights.

    Well this means to me that Barth (and presumably yourself) do not see the condemnation of any of His creatures to a life of eternal suffering as in conflict with God's nature. Otherwise belief in universal restoration is no more a limit on his freedom that belief that he does not lie, or turn into a swan to rape a desirable girl.
    But there is, I think, an unwillingness to simply ignore what the Bible, Jesus specifically, has to say about judgment, or to say “God must save all,”
    As I'm sure you know, Universalists take God's judgement seriously, as well as punishment, but emphasize that any punishment is solely for the aim of refining and reforming. In fact I think you can argue that because a restorative justice is so much more understandable than a retributive justice, we are less unwilling to talk about it.
    No one will be lost who can be saved.
    This is a truly remarkable statement from a reformed statement of doctrine. It locates the problem in the individual, and just seems like a retreat into the Arminian free-will argument without saying so. If you believe in the reformed doctrine of Irresistible Grace (which I suppose I still do), the only constraint lies in God's will.

    Anyhow, let me leave you with one though to ponder from DB-H. I wish I could whole heartedly recommend his book "That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation" although I still would generally recommend it. He has two issues as a communicator. The first is his love of insult towards those who he believes, really, are idiots. So (maybe not in this book), I have heard him describe Calvin as a moral cretin, and I don't think this helps. Then he delights in the use of obscure academic words, where there are perfectly serviceable alternatives. So a bit of a smart-arse. However, I think the following is very thought provoking.

    Let us assume that despite God's best efforts, there are some who he cannot save and must end up forever in hell, enduring a miserable existence. Presumably one would say that God took a sort of risk, and there were some losers. (CS Lewis speaks frankly of God's partial failure here). What this means is that the real people you should thank for your bliss are the people in Hell, rather than Jesus Christ, because although he suffered for 3 days "for the joy set before him", the damned suffer eternally as the result of God's plan, so that you can have the bliss of heaven. They are the unfortunate collateral damage.


  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited May 20
    @Anteater. A truly merciful incompetent God would just euthanize them surely? Allah is such.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Thank you for another thoughtful post, @Anteater. I agree the subject is interesting, though I confess I may be quickly getting out of my depth, if I haven’t already passed that point. :smile:

    And thank you for the David Bentley Hart suggestion. I haven’t read anything by him (and I admit I had to figure out who you meant by “DB-H”), but I’m glad to have the recommendation. I’ve gained a great deal of insight from Orthodox perspectives.

    First, yes, I do know that many if not most Universalists take God’s judgment seriously. (I say “many if not most” because my experience is that lots of folk, Universalist and non-Universalist alike, seem to gloss over God’s judgment altogether.) I’m sorry if it seemed I was suggesting otherwise. I was just trying to get at how I think Barth approached that issue, not suggesting that it is the only way to approach it.

    As for “No one will be lost who can be saved,” mainstream (that is, not counting smaller very conservative groups like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church) American Presbyterianism formally moved away from strict adherence to “Dortish” understandings of limited atonement and, perhaps to a lesser extent, irresistible grace a century or more ago. Aspects of a traditional view of irresistible grace are perhaps held in tension along with some aspects of a more Arminian view, I’d say. We seem to be in a period where we’re content to hold ideas “in tension,” accepting that neither is fully adequate but believing (hoping?) that together they point to something else. Clearly, that approach doesn’t work for everyone, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to see some fudge in it. But there we are.

    And fwiw, I think what goes with the statement “No one will be lost who can be saved” is “and we trust that all can be saved.”

    As for coyness, I can see the basis for the criticism of Barth as being coy. I don’t see his position on this topic as coy, mainly because coyness doesn’t strike me as part of his personality. Rigorous thought, precision and acceptance of paradox, on the other hand, do seem to be part of his woof and warp. So when he draws a line at saying he’s a universalist, I take it that there has to be some idea or principle that he thinks will be blurred if he doesn’t draw that line, not that he’s just trying to have his cake and eat it too.

    I’m far from being an expert, but it seems to me that line has less to do with preserving the freedom of God, per se, and more to do preserving the grace of God, perhaps along with the idea of God as “wholly other.” If salvation really is a matter of pure grace, then I think Barth’s take was that we cannot totally discount the possibility that God can choose (could have chosen?) to withhold that grace. In light of what we believe has been revealed to us about God and God’s nature, that possibility may be so remote as to seem inconsistent if not non-existent. But it seems to me he thought that possibility cannot be ruled out completely, nor can we say what God “must” do, without making salvation something other than a gift of grace.

    And I do think it’s clear that Barth had a problem with the idea that humanity has a “right” at play here, because again he’d say if we have a right, then it’s not grace.

    Others might, of course, draw that line (assuming that they see a need to draw a line to start with) differently, such as by affirming that God has chosen to save all. But I think the way he solved it is the way that made sense to him and preserved consistency of thought for him.

    It seems to me that Barth’s distinction is a distinction that might be reflected in the statements “I know that God will save all” (or perhaps “I believe that God will save all”) on the one hand, and “I trust that God will save all” on the other. I’m admittedly more comfortable with the “trust” statement.

    But I know well that one size doesn’t fit all, and I tend to start from the assumption that no one totally understands. Certainly I don’t. I’ve also come to believe no one “does theology” in a vacuum or on a blank slate. Certainly Calvin didn’t, and Barth didn’t either. We’re all starting from particular issues, questions or struggles, and that shapes where we go and where we end up. Perhaps that’s one reason the Reformed tradition resonates with me; at its best it assumes we don’t have complete understanding and that we’ll get things wrong, and it encourages us to continue to struggle with questions like these. Perhaps I find more value and wisdom in the struggling and the questioning than in “correct” answers.

    I any event, the older I get, the more “trust” becomes the operative and useful word to me—much more so than “know,” “think” or even “believe,” at least in the sense of assent to ideas. (Perhaps not coincidentally, the Brief Statement of Faith adopted by the PC(USA) after reunion is framed in terms of “trust” rather than “belief.”) I have no clue what if anything, awaits us on the other side of death. All I can do is trust.

    So I trust God. I trust Jesus. I trust that nothing can separate us—and I understand that to mean all of us—from the love of God made known to us in Jesus. And I trust that the love of God made known to us in Jesus will not rest until all are safely home.

    Apologies for the long-windedness.

  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    That last paragraph looks suspiciously universal reconciliation (aka salvation) in Christ Barthian. I mean, I can't FAULT it Nick!
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    I've been following the discussion on Barth closely here. Barth's influence on the ecumenical church struggle against apartheid in South Africa was significant: his insight that any church identified with nationality, race or culture was ideologically captive undermined the Dutch Reformed Church 's biblical and theological defence of apartheid and led to a new understanding of the confessing church in Germany and the Barmen Declaration. In the same way, his non analogia entis and understanding of God as 'Wholly Other' challenged Catholic teachings on natural law (and natural revelation) and led many progressive Catholics to question any explicit identification with liberation theologies or movements. In the closing fragments of Church Dogmatics, Barth pointed out that the role of the church under tyranny was not just to pray for the State but to revolt against the disorder created by the State.

    I'd find Barth problematic for different reasons now, but that uncompromising ethical and Christological stand shaped many of my generation.
  • DooneDoone Shipmate
    Very clear, thank you @Nick Tamen.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    edited May 21
    Thank you, @Doone. And thank you for the very interesting perspective @MaryLouise. I’ve said before how Barth was influential in the American church environment I grew up in, and I’ve known about his involvement in the Confessing Church and Barmen, but I’m not as familiar with the ways in which he was influential in South Africa. I’m glad to be introduced to that. (And I too find him problematic in some ways.)

    FYI, both the Barmen Declaration and the Belhar Confession have formal confessional status in the Presbyterian Church (USA), Belhar having been added to the Book of Confessions in 2016. Belhar also has formal confessional status in the Reformed Church in America.

  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    @Nick Tamen I didn't know that about the Belhar Declaration. It all seems so long ago now, those student years of reading Bonhoeffer on 'costly grace' and engaging in civil disobedience.

    And then everything changed in the 1990s and we were reading contextual theologies about feminism, queer rights and black theology, dealing with different issues -- as I suppose Barth found when the battle against Nazi tyranny in Europe shifted to the global tensions of the Cold War. The title of this thread might have been Foundations for the Unexpected!
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