About Me

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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Saturday, 26 June 2010


Helsinki Consultation on Jewish Continuity in the Body of Messiah June 14-15, 2010.

Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus) from England, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Russia, and the United States met in Helsinki, Finland, on June 14-15, 2010. As scholars belonging to Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, and Messianic communities, they began a conversation on Jewish continuity in the Body of Jesus the Messiah. They issued the following statement:
We thank God for bringing us as Jews to the knowledge of Jesus the Messiah, and we express a debt of gratitude to those from the Nations who have transmitted the knowledge of Christ from generation to generation. While we seek to speak on behalf of those who share our Jewish identity and faith in Christ, we have no official mandate from our respective communities. In what follows we are expressing our own deeply held convictions.

At this unprecedented event, we have experienced the depth of our bond, and at the same time we have wrestled with the diversity of our ingrained theological and cultural constructs. In spite of church divisions, we have come together as Jews who believe in Jesus. We hope that sharing the fruit of our common efforts will benefit our brothers and sisters in Christ. We do not aim to issue a definitive declaration, but to initiate an ongoing process of discussion.

There are many Jewish people in the body of Christ. We believe that this reality reflects God’s intention that Israel and the Nations live as mutual blessings to one another. In fact, the Church in its essence is the communion of Jews and those from the Nations called to faith in Christ.

In light of this truth, we think that the life of Jews in the body of Christ has theological significance for that body as a whole. Their presence serves as a constant reminder to the body that its existence is rooted in the ongoing story of the people of Israel. This story resounds throughout the celebration of the liturgical life of the community. We believe that this story finds its center in Israel’s Messiah. We believe that Jews within the body are a living bond between the Church and the people of Israel. Accordingly, we would like to explore concrete ways in which Jewish people may live out their distinctive calling in the body of Christ.

Finally, we wish to express to our Jewish brothers and sisters who do not share our faith in Jesus the Messiah that we consider ourselves to be part of the Jewish people and are committed to its welfare.

Signed in a personal capacity by:

Boris Balter
Steve Cohen
Richard Harvey
Mark Kinzer
Antoine Levy
Iulia Matushanskaja
David Neuhaus
Vladimir Pikman
Jennifer Rosner
David Rudolph
Anna Shmain-Velikanova
Olivier Zalmanski

Friday, 25 June 2010

PRESS RELEASE: Helsinki Conference on Jewish Continuity in the Church Unites and Challenges

The FIRST ecumenical conference of Jewish believers in Jesus in modern times met in Helsinki, Finland June 14-15 2010 to affirm their Jewish identity, their faith in Jesus and their desire for unity.

Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Messianic scholars – all of them Jewish - met to discuss the global growth of Jewish believers in Jesus in a conference jointly organized by Messianic Jewish Theological Institute (MJTI) and the Helsinki Studium Catholicum. They issued a statement affirming the significance of Jewish continuity in the Church, as an ongoing link between its historic beginnings, its present life, and its future hope.

Dr. Mark Kinzer, President of MJTI, said “this was an unprecedented conference bringing together Jews who believe in Jesus as Messiah from a very wide range of communities and traditions. We met together to discuss the presence of Jews in our respective congregations and the issues we face. The increasing number of Jewish followers of Jesus is a phenomenon of great importance, impacting the worldwide Church as it rediscovers the Jewish roots and character of its faith. The presence of Jews in its midst is a resource and means of blessing that the historic churches can not afford to ignore.”

Father Antoine Lévy, OP, Director of the Helsinki Studium Catholicum, affirmed the continuing identity of Jews in their various Christian congregations and offered his own perspective on the unique condition and calling of Jewish disciples of Christ. “We exist, and despite 2,000 years where the Church and the Jewish people have been separated and often hostile to each other, we are a living bond that demonstrates the Messiah Jesus’ own solidarity with His people, as much as the richness of the heritage of Israel that has been opened up to the Church made up of Israel and the nations.”

Fifteen scholars and theologians from eight countries met for two days of open conference and two days of working sessions to issue a document, the Helsinki Statement (SEE TOMORROW'S POST). Topics discussed included Jewish identity in the Messiah; responding to anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism; the place of Messianic Jewish worship and observance; the Jewishness of Jesus; the biblical, theological and historical background to the present situation of Jewish believers in Jesus; and future plans. The papers presented are due to be published in the journal Kesher, an academic journal of MJTI. A similar event is planned for 2011.

Speakers from Europe, Russia, Israel and the United States included Father David Neuhaus, SJ, Patriarchal Vicar General for Hebrew speaking Catholics, and Boris Balter, Researcher in Physics at the Russian Academy of Sciences and member of the Judeo-Christian circle "Bridge of Friendship". Conference papers were given in English and Russian.

For more information contact:
Dr. Mark Kinzer: +1 -530-334-6584
Messianic Jewish Theological Institute
PO Box 54410,
Los Angeles, CA 90054

Antoine Lévy O.P.: +358 (0)50 304 2778
Studium Catholicum
Ritarikatu 3 B A 4
00170 Helsinki

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Lamentations commentary

I know what you're thinking! You're thinking: "Oh! That book looks interesting! I must read a copy when it comes out!"

And you're right!

Coming to all good bookshops near you

Friday, 18 June 2010

Is God an Egotist?

"If, as a matter of fact, only divine holiness brings life and only divine glory brings joy to humankind, God's directing of human creatures to himself is no egoism. On the contrary, to conceal from human creatures knowledge of the true fount and glory of goodness would be to rob them of both the meaning and the joy of creaturely existence."

Stephen N. Williams. "Theology in the Book of Joshua." In J. Gordon McConville & Stephen N. Williams, Joshua. The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010, 140.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Robert Jenson on Trinity

Here's one of those "I-wish-I'd-said-that" quotes:

"Trinitarian theology does not have a point, it is the point."

Robert W. Jenson, “What is the Point of Trinitarian Theology?” In Trinitarian Theology Today: Essays on Divine Being and Act, ed. Christoph Schwöbel (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1995), 31.

Weinandy on the Trinity

The Father begets the Son in or by the Holy Spirit.
The Son is begotten by the Father in the Spirit and thus the Spirit simultaneously proceeds from the Father as the one in whom the Son is begotten.
The Son, being begotten in the Spirit, simultaneously loves the Father in the same Spirit by which he himself is begotten (is Loved).

Thomas G. Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship: Reconceiving the Trinity (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1995), 17.

Thus, all three Persons of the Trinity, within their relationships, help constitute one another.

My thanks to Myk Habets for drawing my attention to Weinandy's book.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Postscript: Universalism as Theologumena

Universalism occupies a middle ground between dogma and heresy. It is neither a teaching that all orthodox believers are expected to adhere to (in the way that the Trinity, or the union of deity and humanity in the one person of Christ are), nor one that they must avoid.

Perhaps the most appropriate category to employ is that of theologoumena. Theologoumena are pious opinions that are consistent with Christian dogmas. They are neither required nor forbidden.

To see universalism in the category of theologumena means that one cannot preach universalism as “the Christian view” or “the faith of the Church” but it also means that one may believe in it and develop a universalist version of Christian theology.

It is common for theologians to suggest that if apokatastasis is a matter of theologumena then, although one is permitted to hope that God will save everybody one must not go beyond this tentative faith to believe that God certainly will save all. Why? Because, it is suggested, to do so is presumptuous. I must politely disagree.

There are plenty of matters which are theologumena about which a believer may hold strong convictions. For instance, if universalism is theologumena then so is its denial, yet I have rarely heard it suggested that a firm conviction that some people will be lost forever is presumptuous or in some way out of order. Indeed most Christians throughout history have had precisely such a conviction and have felt at perfect liberty to preach it.

When I say that universalism, like its denial, is theologumena I mean simply that it is an issue about which Christians can legitimately disagree within the boundaries of orthodox Christianity. So whilst I have no problem with some universalists affirming no more than a hopeful universalism I can see no good reason to suppose that Christian orthodoxy requires such hesitancy.

Speaking for myself, I have no qualms about saying that I am a convinced universalist. I do believe that the proposition, “God will save everyone through Christ” is a true proposition and consequently I think that those who disagree with it are mistaken. However, what I don’t believe is that those who disagree with it (i.e. almost everybody) are unorthodox, unchristian, unkind, unspiritual, or . . . unclever.

Similarly, whilst I have never preached or taught universalism in a church context, if I were to do so I would not claim, “This is the Christian teaching” or “This is fundamental doctrine” or “This is the faith of the Church”. I would say, “This is an issue on which devout Christians disagree but here is what I believe and this is why I believe it. You must judge for yourselves, before God, what you think . . .”

So none of this is to suggest that the issue is a matter of indifference, nor that Christians should not debate about the issue—even vigorously. It is simply to relocate the discussion from being a debate between “the orthodox” and “the heretics” and to see it as an in-house theological disagreement. Indeed to see it as an issue that Christians, whilst they might disagree over it, should not divide over it.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Is Universalism Heretical? Part 4

In conclusion, it seems plausible to suppose that theologically orthodox versions of universalism can exist. However, one result of the ambiguity about whether the Council had condemned all forms of universalism or simply Origenist apokatastasis was that from this point on Christians avoided anything that looked remotely Origenist. In the western church this impulse was reinforced by the enormous influence of Augustine’s theology which was emphatic about the eternal conscious torment of the lost.
Some such as Maximus the Confessor (580-662) seemed to fly close to the wind at times but always pulled away before getting too close to the ‘dangers’ of apokatastasis. Those, like Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), who seemed to incline towards universalism did so very circumspectly. The thinker who came closest to a version of universalism was Irish Christian neo-Platonist John Scotus Eriugena (815-877) but even here it is not totally clear that he went all the way. Thus it was that universalism more or less disappeared from the scene of orthodox Christianity until after the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers opened the door for individual believers to interpret the Bible for themselves and, amongst those that did, a few came to affirm some kind of universalism.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Is Universalism Heretical, part 3

Before considering the implications these anathemas for universalism we need to say a word about how accurately they represent Origen’s thought. Origen’s ideas were always controversial but to understand both sets of anathemas we need to understand that in the three hundred years between his death and the Fifth Ecumenical Council his ideas had been picked up and developed in more radical directions that one finds in Origen’s own work. Indeed, arguably Origen himself would have agreed with some of these anathemas. It was the theology of these Origenists—people such as Evagrius of Pontus (346-399)—rather than that of Origen himself that was condemned by Justinian and the Council. But neither the Council nor the later church made this distinction between Origen and Origenism—he was the seed from which the plant had grown, even if it had mutated as it developed—and thus Origen was condemned for the theological views of his heirs.

That aside, the critical question is: what did the Council intend to condemn? Universalism per se or a specific kind of universalism? So what exactly did the Fifth Council condemn?

1. All forms of universalism? It seems that many thought that this was so. The fact that a lot of medieval theologians were very cautious about any affirmations of universal salvation suggests that the general opinion was that the Church had condemned universalism.

2. The proposal that one can assert all will definitely be saved? Balthasar, in his works on universal salvation, insists that all that the Council rejected was the notion that we can assert universal salvation with absolutely certainty. He argued, as do many modern theologians, that one can certainly hope all will be saved but that certainty is not permitted in light of the anathemas.

3. A version of universalism that taught a universal return of pre-existence souls to an original state. This was arguably Origen’s view but its exclusion does not rule out different versions of apokatastasis.

In defense of view 3 let me make the following observations:

First, it is clear that when apokatastasis is condemned in the fifteen canons it is always done so in association with other, problematic, ideas. Thus in anathemas I and XV the concern is with apokatastasis as linked with the idea of the pre-existence of souls and an eschatology which sees a simple return of souls to an original unity. In anathema XIV it is apokatastasis as associated with an immaterial, pantheistic eschatology. But this is not a condemnation of universalism as such. Rather, it is a condemnation of universalism as linked into a wider, theologically problematic, system of thought. Even Justinian’s anathema IX—an anathema the status of which is ambiguous given that it was not a product of the Ecumenical Council—which looks like a blanket condemnation of all universalism might, in context, be taken as a condemnation of Origenist-universalism. Certainly when the Fifth Ecumenical Council turned Justinian’s earlier anathemas against Origen into fifteen approved anathemas they nuanced it in that way. If Justinian intended a blanket condemnation of universalism that was not what the Council agreed to.

Second, in support of this interpretation we may note that Gregory of Nyssa was known to teach a version of universal salvation that denied the problematic notion of the pre-existence of souls. Neither Gregory nor his teachings are ever condemned. Indeed, Gregory was highly revered as an orthodox theologian—named the “Father of the Fathers” by the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787—and remains so to this day. One contemporary Orthodox theologian wrote to me as follows:
Bulgakov points out, quite astutely I think, that Gregory of Nyssa’s version of apokatastasis, which is more developed and less ambiguous than that of Origen, has never been officially condemned. This means, I suppose, that any Orthodox theologian has, shall we say, a canonical loophole to speak of the apokatastasis a la Nyssa, not a la Origen—an apologetic move that Bulgakov makes.

According to Bulgakov, the doctrine of eternal hell does not have the status of a dogma in the East. Bulgakov wrote a very important essay, “Dogma and Doctrine”, in which he argued that strictly speaking, the Seven Ecumenical Councils have endorsed only two main doctrines—the trinity and incarnation with some corollaries, likes the status of Mary and the veneration of icons—and that most other central beliefs are to be relegated to the status of theologoumena [issues over which individual Christians may hold different personal opinions]. I must admit that I am more inclined to accept Bulgakov’s minimalism, than the dogmatic maximalism which characterizes, for example, the scholastic tradition in the West.

Third, when the Fifth Ecumenical Council condemned Origen by name in canon XI, the context suggests that Christology and not apokatastasis was the primary concern.

Finally, we might add that none of the central claims of orthodox Christianity, as embodied in the rule of faith or the Ecumenical Creeds, is incompatible with universalism. So universalism is certainly not unorthodox in the sense of being contrary to essential dogma. Indeed some universalists have embraced universalism precisely because they feel that it enables them to better hold together important Christian beliefs which stand in awkward tension on more traditional notions of hell (e.g., divine love for creation and divine providence over creation).

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Is Universalism Heretical? Part 2

The worry concerns the Fifth Ecumenical Council—the second to be held in Constantinople—in 553. The council of one hundred and fifty seven eastern Bishops and eleven western Bishops was primarily called together to try and form an official consensus position on Christology—one that would continue to affirm the Chalcedonian definition (which a lot of people then had rejected), but do it in terms that would be more acceptable to those who were uncomfortable with it: affirm it as emphasizing the personal, divine unity of subject in the two natures of the incarnate Word. There is no doubt that the Council condemned Origen by name in its eleventh anathema:
"If anyone does not anathematize Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Apollinaris, Nestorius, Eutyches, and Origen, as well as their impious writings, as also all other heretics already condemned and anathematized by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and by the aforesaid four Holy Synods and [if anyone does not equally anathematize] all those who have held and hold or who in their impiety persist in holding to the end the same opinion as those heretics just mentioned: let him be anathema."

But no mention of apokatsatasis is connected with this condemnation nor in any of the other thirteen anathemas. In the context of the other anathemas, the concern is quite possibly Christological (by this time Origen’s Christology was thought to be problematic, in part due to misunderstandings of his work).

However, outside the main sessions of the Council it appears that some fifteen additional anathemas against Origen were appended. We should also note that ten years earlier, in 543, the emperor Justinian produced nine anathemas against Origen. Both lists, which overlap considerably, concern other supposed teachings of Origen that by then were considered risky or misleading. The idea of apokatastasis is one of these: that at the end of history, all created intellects will be restored to their original condition of union with God.

It is useful to look at the relevant anathemas. From the Council’s fifteen anathemas consider I, XIV and XV:

If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration (apokatastasis) which follows from it: let him be anathema.

If anyone shall say that all reasonable beings will one day be united in one, when the hypostases as well as the numbers and the bodies shall have disappeared, and that the knowledge of the world to come will carry with it the ruin of the worlds, and the rejection of bodies as also the abolition of [all] names, and that there shall be finally an identity of the gnōsis and of the hypostasis; moreover, that in this pretended apokatastasis, spirits only will continue to exist, as it was in the feigned pre-existence: let him be anathema.


If anyone shall say that the life of the spirits shall be like to the life which was in the beginning while as yet the spirits had not come down or fallen, so that the end and the beginning shall be alike, and that the end shall be the true measure of the beginning: let him be anathema.

Of Justinian’s earlier nine anathemas the directly relevant ones are seven and nine:
If anyone says or thinks that Christ the Lord in a future time will be crucified for demons as he was for men, let him be anathema.

If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration (apokatastasis) will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Is Universalism Heretical? Part 1

One not infrequently hears the claim that universalism is heretical. More often than not those making such claims simply mean that the doctrine is, in their opinion, both wrong and dangerous. But sometimes they mean that the doctrine was formally condemned as heretical by an Ecumenical Church Council. As the declarations of early Ecumenical Councils were taken as binding by both eastern and western churches they set the standard for orthodoxy in all mainstream Christian churches—Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant. If universalism was formally condemned by such a Council then it is, strictly speaking, unorthodox. Not merely unorthodox in the sense of “unusual” but in the sense of “not conforming to Christian faith as understood by the Church.” That might not worry some sectarian Christians but this is a genuine concern to Christians who seek to remain within the bounds of orthodox Christian faith. Even Protestants, though they do not see the decisions of the Councils as utterly beyond question, will still seek to take them very seriously. So the issue does matter. I am no patristics scholar but I will say a few words about how I see the issue in a four-part extended post.