ISBN 9780281059881 (0281059888)
SPCK, 2008 (201pp)
Not surprisingly, this book has attracted a certain amount of controversy as evangelicals who thought they knew what they believed struggle to come to terms with a new — some would say impossible, but is anything impossible for God? — way of looking at things. Not a review, then, but an interview with the author, who kindly agreed to answer my questions over the ether… but not by webcam! So, without further ado:
Who is your target readership? Are you writing for academics, church leaders or laypeople?
I wrote, in the first place, for myself. I was not intending to get the work published but I simply wanted to think the issue through and get clear what I thought. A friend suggested offering it for publication but I originally wrote for an audience of one. It is a little on the academic side so I hope academics will find it of some use (and, from feedback I have received, they seem to) but non-academics will follow a fair bit of the discussion so long as they make the effort to concentrate (plenty of non-academics have contacted me to say how helpful they found it).
What do you mean by ‘Evangelical Universalist’?
I mean a Christ-centred, trinitarian, gospel-focused person with a high view of Scripture who also believes that God will eventually reconcile all people to himself through Christ.
Why Universalism rather than ‘Conditional Immortality’?
I believe in conditional immortality – but I also believe that God will eventually bring it about that all people meet the conditions and will thus be granted the gift of immortality.
If you mean, “Why universalism and not annihilationism?” then I would simply say that I think that God will save all people and that this might be tricky if he has annihilated some of them. In other words, my key reason for not being an annihilationist is that I am a universalist and I cannot be both. (That said, I suppose that it might be possible to make a case that God could reconstitute those he has annihilated at some future point – if one can overcome the well worn philosophical problems of temporal gaps and personal identity. If so then it may be possible to believe in literal annihilation and universalism.)
If you then ask, why be a universalist? I’m afraid you’ll have to read the book. (See how I turned that into a teaser? Crafty, eh?).
Where on earth (or heaven or hell) did you get your ideas?
No one source. On the philosophy side Thomas Talbott and Eric Reitan were key. On the Bible it is a bit more eclectic. I drew on all sorts of sources and just put them together in a different way. One very influential source was N.T. Wright. He’d be mortified by that as he has argued several times at length against universalism. But his links between Adam, Israel and Christ were key in my thinking.
If everyone’s going to be saved anyway, why bother proclaiming the Gospel?
Because that is how they get saved – by accepting the gospel. I have an extended discussion on this in the last chapter of the book and there I say … you’ll have to read it (ah ha! that crafty teaser trick again!)
Why are you using a pseudonym? Is it because you’re not convinced by your own arguments? Or because you know how loving [ahem] Evangelicals really are?
It’s because I am John Piper! (That’s a joke by the way – don’t contact him and ask!)
I am convinced by most of my arguments (some of them need improving but I am hoping some more capable people might do that on my behalf – I am just one person and I don’t have much time these days to develop the case in better ways).
The reason is that I do not wish to undermine the work that God is doing in the churches through my other books. I suspect that if my identity was known then some of those who would be helped by those books would consider them guilty by association and not read them. I do not especially care about people hating me – I think I can live with that so long as I retain some friends – but I do not wish to undermine some messages that are more central to my ‘ministry’. So it is, if I read my motives aright, pragmatism in the service of the kingdom. On top of that, the little boy in me does rather enjoy the ‘game’ of being incognito. It adds spice to life.
Which other books have you written?
I could tell you… but then I’d have to kill you!
[That’s a joke too… I think! – Ed.]
The Evangelical Universalist
First published in the USA by Cascade/Wipf & Stock, 2006
ISBN 9781597523653 (1597523658)
Phil Groom, May 2008
Phil Groom is this site’s Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He’s a regular contributor to Christian Marketplace magazine and is the manager of London School of Theology Books & Resources. Any opinions expressed here are personal and should not be taken as representing the views of London School of Theology or of any other group or organisation.