Archive for universal restoration

World Machine Dream

David Priilaid hates descriptors, but 5 things that best describe him are:

  • He is an academic working at the University of Cape Town
  • He teaches entrepreneurship with a view that people have lost their voices and with insight can rediscover their “abilities to sing”
  • He is a post-anglican evangelical charismatic christian
  • Has experienced 10 years of Jungian psychotherapy and is a great fan of James Hollis
  • Loves Steely Dan, Bill Evans and a good glass of Cape Red at his right elbow

I had this dream in the early hours of Sunday 29 November.  The vivid and technicolor character of it made me feel that this was some kind of vision.  You as reader can be the judge.

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The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbott

Published in 1999, Thomas Talbott’s thesis has just come swashbuckling over my horizon. In it he attempts to present a Universalist reading of the Bible, and especially Paul, an ambition that for most evangelicals at least, would appear doomed from the outset. Read the rest of this entry »

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Lazarus and Inclusion

It’s been almost a year, Father, since my last rant about Inclusion.

This is not an official synchroblog, but there is nonetheless a certain synchronicity at play. I refer to these other blog posts of the last few days:

I was once a proponent of the doctrine of hell. And then, in embarrassment, confusion or laziness, a hell agnostic. I just swept the question under the carpet. But in the last 2 years or so, with a lot of excavation and deconstruction, I have come to see myself as an active hell refuter. Read the rest of this entry »

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soundandsilence stocktake

I’ve been blogging for 15 months now, and thought it time to review. As I approach 30,000 hits, a few memes are a’buzzin.

Firstly, I really want to thank each and everyone who has contributed and made this a meaningful conversation.

I remember struggling to come up with a title for the proposed blog. I chose “soundandsilence” initially because it related to music and to contemplation. But as things went, I wrote less about sound and more about light and imagemaking, not to mention much theological musing. I guess it might have been named lightanddarkness just as easily.

Anyway, here is a summary of what has gone on with some things I have learned.

My top 5 postings: Read the rest of this entry »

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towards radical inclusion

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” [Luke 9:50]

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.” [Luke 11:23]

Note – this post follows on from another on Emergent Africa

I have been exploring the idea of Inclusion for some months now. My starting point has been the end point: how do I envision life ending up? What is the nature of the hereafter: is it a divided or a united state? Those who have read along will see that I lean towards the idea of Universal Restoration, that is, that Love will in the end “draw all”.

This conviction is based upon :

  1. A particular (my) reading of Scripture, and a particular (my) view of G-d.
  2. A revelation of Grace, and the character of Love.
  3. Tradition, for example that of the Early Church, where the Universalism of Origen held sway.
  4. Logic; the inferences from the above matters of faith.

It’s worth noting once gain the variety of names for an inclusive eschatolgy (i.e. view of the future): Apokatastais, Radical Grace, Gospel of Inclusion, Universal Restoration, Advaita, the Reintegration of beings. I’ve leaned towards the use of “Inclusion” as it for me has the best implications for the present, and brings eschatology into focus in such as way that it affects us here and now.

One crucial assertion along the way has been this: How we act now is almost totally dependant upon what be believe about the future. If you believe in a divided finale (eg. most people are going to “hell”), you will live a divided life. If you believe in NO finale (there is no life after death), you will live a life without ultimate meaning. If you believe in a united finale, you will live an inclusive life. The word radical here denotes an understanding or belief that goes far enough to be relevant for all time, as well as beyond time.

So, my proposition is this: the general tenor of the New Testament, and the Life of Christ, suggests Inclusivity. Exceptions are evident and plentiful (e.g. “I come to bring division and a sword”; “what accord has darkness and light”, “between us and you a great chasm has been fixed”) but my current understanding means that when studied, and not taken simply at face value, what is revealed is a radically Inclusive God.

I have been puzzling over the Luke texts. Are they contradictions? It’s certainly a logical disjunct, worthy of any Zen koan. Or do they invite/force us to enter the mysteries of the sacred imagination rather than remain in that typical human mode, of logic and reason severed from feeling and imagination? Let’s go there, shall we?

“He who is not against you is for you”: Here we see the inversion of human categories and hierarchies, the inversion of the old dualism us/them and inclusion as the default state in the Kingdom of G-d.

“He who is not with me is against me”: Here, instead of justifying exclusivity, I see the risks of exclusivity being demonstrated. One can set up a kingdom with walls, but then one stronger than you may take you by force. But if you have no boundaries, you cannot be invaded.

This risk amounts to the risk of rejecting G-ds rule; if one does not take an active part in this Kingdom, he will be subject to the laws of survival, to decay, to the second law of thermodynamics (the law of increasing entropy, or disorder). The closing thought in the passage is “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” The only justifiable exclusion I see is the willing self-exclusion of rejecting this Kingdom.

I’m not saying I hve thie all wrapped up, remember, or that I have a watertight system of Universalism, but I am on a road of discovery. Many things remain unanswered, such as the Anger of God, the mechanism of salvation for the disobedient, or readings suggesting exclusion.

The “Kingdom of God” is not a human category, subject to human reason, limitation and decay, it is preclusive. To “preclude” means having essential nature, is uncreated, has no cause. For example, essential “holiness” precludes sin; essential oneness precludes all that divides. The Kingdom of Satan (whose strength is the law and the accusation) is created, so cannot stand. The law brings death.

The apparent exclusion (“Not with me is against me”) Jesus applies to himself (as Judge), but the implicit Inclusion (“Not against you is for you”) he applies to his followers. Elsewhere, the reaper is explicitly commanded NOT to separate wheat and tares.

So in reponse to the 2 texts from Luke, I see 2 principles at work

  • G-d’s preclusive nature, G-d’s will for ultimate reintegration as demonstrated by Jesus, the gathering of things, Inclusion as default.
  • The tendency of creation to disintegration, death, and the scattering of things. Exclusion is a by-product of the created order, and not, as many would have, a charateristic of G-d.

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Punishment

“I thought that Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat”. [Perry Smith, "Capote"]

“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”  [Book of Hebrews]

“I want to feel that I have lived my life.” [Gabriella, "As it is in heaven"]

In the last week I have seen two contrasting and strangely related movies.

smith-capote.jpgFirstly, “Capote” starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman in which famous American author Truman Capote writes a brilliant novel, “In cold blood”, based on the senseless murder of a Midwestern family. In which he develops a close relationship to the condemned but is unable to transcend his spectacularly selfish motivations, and leads him into a web of deception where the salvation of a man becomes subject to the needs of an authors ego.

Secondly, “As it is in Heaven” depicts the return of a famous conductor to the village of his birth. He is ill and weary, and seeks involvement with music in such a way as to experience its magic in community, rather than on the grand stages of the world. He becomes involved in the Village Church’s choir and soon finds life erupting in the middle of a stale, brittle, protestant religious subculture. This life is accepted to varying degrees; blessing ensues for the majority, but some attempt to remain outside of the circle of grace. Those who come off worst are either deeply damaged victims or deeply pious, and form the distinct minority.

kills2.jpgAll around us, tabloids bay for “justice”. They create an appetite for the consumption of the punitive spectacle. This allows us to place a divide between ourselves and an evil which is “out there”.

There are 2 kinds of justice, retributive justice and distributive justice-compassion. (For extensive treatment of this theme see Sea Raven’s blog) True justice consists not of what man meets out to man either directly in anger, vengeance or vigilante activity, or institutionally via the justice system (law, law enforcement, courts and jails).

Rather this has to do with Love, whereby the blessing of G-d is distributed, rather than the wrath of God re-tributed. “Tribute“, the common aspect of the words, means something given or returned. In our tributes, do we give out blessing or meet out punishment?

Love is the ultimate punishment. Even if we do not find love, or we reject it in this life, Love will find us. It won’t “hunt us down” as though we will be able to hide, it will inexhorably reel us in. 

Our encounter with Love, once the deceptions of this world (vanity, fear, anger, myopia, materialism) are stripped away, and we “know as we are known”, will purge us. The torment described in the Lazarus tale in Luke’s gospel (which many mistake for God’s punitive condemnation to “hell”) is the torment of hard transformation.

The word for torment in this passage comes from the Greek βάσανοσ which talks of a standard, or touchstone. This is the standard of Love and Truth. The transformation which is forced on the rich man is by radical change of circumstances (such a physical death or traumatic loss), rather than a willing and ongoing co-operation with the transformative spirit. Punishment in the Kingdom of God is a by-product of transformation, not the wrath of some insecure, schitzophrenic deity who delights in “Eternal Love” on the one hand and “Endless Punishment” on the other.

In “Capote”, an opportunity to reveal selfless Love to a desperate and deeply damaged criminal, goes to waste because the one given the chance has chosen to “gain the world”, and thus “looses his soul”, as well as that of the one whom he might have helped.

In “As it is in Heaven”, the village pastor is forced by circumstances away from his illusions of pious grandeur, coming close to killing both himself and the one who channeled life into his world, a great depiction of Hard, and yet incomplete Transformation. As for the majority, they were only too happy to be happy…

How do we view punishment? In determining the answer to this question, surely the chief focus needs to be on the models given us which pertain to mans ultimate destiny, not our more base and short term addictions to retribution? And can we apply all our thoughts about punishment to every case, especially that of ourselves?

Most of us will manage to stay on the right side of the law throughout our lives. But can we see that the punishment all of us will encounter will the the purging fire of Love? The quote from the book of Hebrews is not aimed at the criminal, the sinner or the miscreant, although one might think so based on popular preaching.

Don’t do the mistake of coming to this scripture through the filters of a retributive culture or theology. The uncovering is achieved via consummate love, and its painful or “punitive” elements are only the result of our need to be made whole. The entire process is by grace, not a work of our own righteousness.

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Incarnation, Inclusion and Hell, part 1 – a question.

I’ve just got my haircut in Cape Town. I get bored, so I asked the 5 people in the salon “Do you believe in Hell?”. Answer: 5 unswerving affirmatives.

Hell is a hot topic. Arf arf. Tomorrow, Friday 13th, US audiences get to see a special entitled “Hell: Our Fear and Fascination” on ABC. For further background to this issue in the context of this debate, see the posts on Universal Restoration and The Scandal of Carlton Pearson. You will see some of the bile and retro-bile associated with it in the latter. (And this includes my own; we’re all affected by this disease.)

Let me give you a little background to a question you may not see much relevance in. Theologically speaking, this last year has been an adventure for me. I’ve broken into new territory, and things are beginning to work together, to resonate in a very profound way.

The 3 areas that have come into my field of vision are these

1. Creation Spirituality. This was introduced to me via Matthew Fox’s “Original Blessing”. This is is a spiritual tradition going back to the earliest writers of creation accounts, including the Yahwist (author of Genesis), David, Jesus and Paul, and having a profound expression in the 11 – 13 Centuries in writers and saints such as Meister Eckhart, St. Francis of Assisi and Hildegard of Bingen. The tradition also espouses many other faiths as well as the new science. It has been misunderstood by the casual and uninformed observer as simply “New Age”.

2. Emergent church and alternative worship. This started to form as I deconstructed by own disaffections with worship as practiced by various (not least Charismatic) church traditions. However Brian Malaren is perhaps its leading prophetic figure. I have yet to read his “Generous Orthodoxy”. My view or EC/AW has been informed by fellowships associated with alternativeworship.org, specifically UK ventures Greenbelt Festival , Vaux  (1998-2005) and Grace . “Incarnation” is the key concept holding together a loose, diverse and heterodox grouping.

3. Universal Restoration. This was a line of enquiry started by my closest friend, who suffered much anxiety over the notion of “hell”. It led to the likes of Martin Zender, Tentmaker and Carlton Pearson. Essentially UR contests the 1500 year old doctrine of eternal damnation, based on the myth of Fear, Gods character and the misreading of scripture. “Inclusion” might be UR’s watchword.

Now, Creation Spirituality has been a big influence in the Emergent Church, and this link is reasonably well established. The theme of Incarnation runs throughout these 2 streams.

But what has seemed to be quite separate has been how Creation Spirituality and Emergent Church relate to Universal Restoration. When I saw that Carlton Pearson was talking at the “Sacred Activism and the power of Inclusion”  conference in Tulsa Oklahoma (The so-called “Buckle of the Bible belt”), I thought – this must be the missing link. Wisdom University is based in San Francisco and emerged from Matthew Fox’s now defunct University of Creation Spirituality, giving it a Creation Spirituality pedigree.

I ordered several recordings from the conference, which I have now listened to; I think Podcasts are also available (I’ve not hear them yet). I am now convinced that there a profound connection exists, but am not aware of too many explorations of the link between Incarnation and Inclusion, so I will introduce my view on this in this and related posts.

Let’s try define 2 key terms as briefly as possible.

Incarnation: the belief that we know God through Gods working in the World, not apart from it. Its mystery is alluded to in the scripture “In the world but not of the world.” There is an excellent debate on this hosted by Matt Stone.

Inclusion: The belief that all people (and all of creation) will be saved, and that none shall be excluded or punished for eternity. Note, Judgment and free will still exist, in case you think I am disappearing down a new age rabbit hole. This view is evolving, and I don’t have it all neatly tied up, but good scholarship indicates the “official” Church may just have been in heresy for the last 1500 years. Paul alludes to the truth in 1 Tim 4:10 “The savior of all men, especially those who believe”.

To some (perhaps Anglicans, Anabaptists, leftfield Catholics, and Universalists) this might appear a non-issue, but to many others, including those emerging from the Charismatic, Evangelical, Protestant and Catholic worlds, hell has always been a prerequisite for faith.

I will at a later stage attempt to round up thought on this, but for part 1, I pose a question, and it is this:

Is it possible to adhere to the Incarnational without a proper acknowledging of the Inclusive; can you hold to Incarnational teachings of the Emergents and Creation Spirituality whilst still holding a belief in Eternal Punishment aka Hell?

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undefined liturgists – “held”

Main ScreenHoldingWe Loved

 Constantia, Cape Town 24/06/07

A small gathering of 9 adults (and 13 under-10′s) met in and around our living room to celebrate/experiment with a liturgy called “held”.

Exploring the idea of “God in all and all in God”, we used image, recorded music (Crowded House’s “Fingers of Love”, Massive Attacks “Protection” and Stereo MC’s “Connected”), scripture, song, Eucharist, and statement-response to explore the sub-themes afloat, forsaken, letting go, lifted and sustained.

HoldingHoldingThe overall feeling was positive if somewhat muted, as everyone weighed up a new approach. The classic alt-worship question “But is it worship?” was not explicitly broached, and discomforts included the chaos of kids, distaste with the too responsorial or the too dancey.

For the most part, however, contemplation prevailed. But there was a surprising outburst of theological energy over lunch, and a robust debate around Universal Restoration v Eternal Damnation ensued.

Hmmm…

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The scandal of Bishop Carlton Pearson

Carlton PearsonCarlton PearsonCarlton PearsonCarlton PearsonI mentioned in my post about Universal Restoration  the story of Bishop Carlton Pearson. For those who have any interest in the debate concerning beliefs around eternal destiny, aka Heaven and Hell, this man’s journey is significant.

Pearson was branded a heretic by the Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops in 2004, for his version of UR, called the “Gospel of Inclusion”. For the sake of his doctrine (read “faith”), in giving up hell, he found that his congregation fell by over 90%, he was forced to give up his church building, and he virtually lost his entire ministry.

Most painfully, he fell out with many friends and loved ones including the great (in pentecostal-charismatic terms) Oral Roberts who saw him as a son. He paid a heavy price to break away from the 1500 year old ideology of Ultimate Fear, and embrace a radical expression of Grace.

The scandal of Carlton Pearson is qualitatively different to what we have come to expect from the Church. Crucially it has not involved hypocrisy, as in extramarital liaisons, pedophilia, embezzlement, or substance abuse. No, the scandal of Pearson is not unlike the scandal of Christ, who took on the religious-political-cultural establishment for the sake of G-ds rule of Love and Justice.

Take a listen to Carlton’s Story on This American Life.

Watch the MSNBC coverage.

Browse to the website for his church, New Dimensions

Pearson links on Universal Restoration website Tentmaker.

His involvement with Wisdom university in his hometown Tulsa, Oklahoma, at a seminar called Sacred Activism and the Power of Inclusion.

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Universal Restoration

That even the wicked shall at last
Be fitted for the skies;
And, when their dreadful doom is past,
To life and light arise.

I ask not, how remote the day,
Nor what the sinners’ woe,
Before their dross is purged away;
Enough for me, to know

That when the cup of wrath is drained,
The metal purified,
They’ll cling to what they once disdained,
And live by Him that died.
–Anne Bronte, Extract from “A Word to The ‘Elect‘” (1843) 

I try to avoid doctrine. I have studied it, believed it, found it wanting, rejected it. It is the proverbial wineskin which becomes unworthy of new wine. I am interested in the essence of things, and doctrines, or more specifically, dogma, gets in the way of new truths. 

But I now need to make an exception to my post-modern, neo-bohemian ideals. I want to take a good look at a doctrine which I have come to understand as a sort of Mother of all Doctrines. Ladies, Gentlemen, and all created things, this concerns you; I speak of the Doctrine of Universal Restoration. It goes by many other names too, like Universal Salvation, the Doctrine of Inclusion, Radical Grace, or Apokatastasis. 

If you have had a look at my blog entry “A Worthy Worship 6 : In work, play, church, world, in all”,  which concerns dualism, you will remember I suggest that dualism the root of all that separates us from G-d; you might if you wanted to camp it up, call it the Cardinal Sin. And Eternal Damnation is the ultimate dualism. You can’t get more separated from G-d than by being in never ending torment for all eternity. 

In a nutshell, UR is the belief that all things, that is all people and all of creation, will one day be restored by, and reunited with G-d through Christ. A flagship scripture (amongst many) suggesting UR is from 1 Tim 4:10: “we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe”.  

This implies, then, that no-one will suffer eternal punishment. All of the writers I have read espousing UR are adamant that there will be judgment, however. It’s just that the judgment has the purpose of restoration not punishment. The doctrine was generally accepted by the early Church via the likes of Origen. But after the Roman Coup whereby the church was taken over by Empire, by the Roman Empire, it was declared a heresy in the 6th Century. 

The notion of “hell” – the threat of Eternal Damnation – took over as the official Church’s position on the destination for all who didn’t tow “God’s” (That is, the Church’s) line. The doctrine of Eternal Damnation ensured that the people remained loyal and kept the Church in its place of power. The underlying tool? Fear. The sale of indulgences was perhaps the height of this manipulation. Hell could be avoided, for the right price. And by consigning your loved ones to purgatory, the market could be milked even further – not even death was not the final word. 

For example, John Calvin describes hell as: “Forever harassed with a dreadful tempest, they shall feel themselves torn asunder by an angry God, and transfixed and penetrated by mortal stings, terrified by the thunderbolts of God, and broken by the weight of his hand …”  And the Reverend C. H. Spurgeon: “When thou diest, thy soul will be tormented alone; that will be a hell for it, but at the day of judgment they body will join they soul, and then thou wilt have twin hells, thy soul sweating drops of blood, and thy body suffused with agony.” (Both quotes taken from Tentmaker article The Inventors and Perpetrators of Hell)

Amazingly, the idea and threat of Hellfire remains very strong today in the “Christian” and even “Post-Christian” world. It is in fact a fundamental feature of our psychology, even if it exists as residue, it is woven into the fabric of Christianised society. It lurks deep in the recesses of our makeup, a fundamental Archetype. According to an msnbc online poll of 17684 responses (as of the time of writing) the question “Do you believe in Hell?” received  60% yes, 31% no vote. 

To start to get a grip on the subject, we need to take a close look at the Biblical usage of the English words/concepts, “Hell”, and “Eternal” (As is Everlasting punishment/damnation). As translated in the King James Version, the New International Version, and others, “Hell” is an amalgamation of several quite separate words, Hades, Tartarus (Greek), Sheol and Gehenna (from Hebrew). “Hell” itself is from the Anglo Saxon “Helan” and simply means “concealed”, as in helmet, hull, hold, cell, or cellar. See the pithy handbook “Martin Zender goes to Hell”. And the word translated “Eternal” (“Ainos”), meaning timeless, was originally a word meaning the opposite, that is, an Age, or A time. 

This look at Scriptural origins is of course is a small scratch on the surface of a very large and very perilous affair. But I have done enough scratching to be convinced that there is something to the doctrine of Universal Restoration. A good deal of information on the belief, scripture, people past and present, is to be found on Tentmaker  minstries website . A good summary is to be found on wikipedia , which lists around 10 of the most representative scriptures from each camp.  

One of the most high profile cases of “UR conversion” in recent times is that of Bishop Carlton Pearson, a conservative 4th generation Pentecostal preacher based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Read and watch his story . His is a testimony to what I call “Costly Universalism”, a man who had the world at his feet, discovered UR, was actually branded a heretic, lost 90% of his congregation, his church building, and his ministry, but not his soul. But his real importance, it seems, is only now emerging. He will deliver a keynote address at the upcoming Conference entitled  Sacred Activism and the Power of Inclusion” in May 2007. I have a feeling in my bones about this movement. Take a look at this slideshow  on to get a taste of prophetic sociology. But I digress… 

As an Evangelical by tradition, the implications of UR fascinate me. If the Kingdom of God is to include everybody and everything, there can be no end to the celebration. Worship, in fact all of life, becomes all encompassing. Most of the categories that preoccupy us so drop away; religion, race, nationality. We are freed at a deep level from a defensive to an inclusive, generous approach to life.

Is the ultimate reason for Gods love the escape from hell? It seems ridiculous that a Creator, who is and gives Life, would define themselves in such negative terms. Is this my logic taking me for a ride? Is it wishful optimism? Or is it an intuitive, gut feeling about the nature of things? 

How is it possible to aspire towards unconditional love while even the merest threat of eternal damnation hangs over our, mine or anyone else’s head (for we are all connected), or simply lurks in the recesses of our minds? So long as that threat is there, we cannot truly and freely love, our quest is in vain, for it is not a love which conquers all.

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