The Evangelical Universalist

July 27, 2006

Much of the most interesting work on universalism is coming from the more conservative side of Christianity, not from liberals and Unitarian Universalists. Case in point is this new book, which is supposedly written by a well known evangelical writer under a pseudonym “Gregory McDonald”: The Evangelical Universalist.

[Edited to add: Hmm, seems as if that link has broken. Try Amazon]

Can an orthodox Christian, committed to the historic faith of the Church and the authority of the Bible, be a universalist?
– Is it possible to believe that salvation is found only by grace, through faith in Christ, and yet to maintain that in the end all people will be saved?
– Can one believe passionately in mission if one does not think that anyone will be lost forever?
– Could universalism be consistent with the teachings of the Bible?

Gregory MacDonald argues that the answer is yes to all of these questions. Weaving together philosophical, theological, and biblical considerations, MacDonald seeks to show that being a committed universalist is consistent with the central teachings of the biblical texts and of historic Christian theology.

All this has caused quite a stir, with a post about it on Jason Clarke’s blog running to over 100 comments (including comments by the author).

Where is the comparable stir amoung liberals? We who solved the problem of hell by not refering to it, or to anything which reminds us of it, and thus threw out heaven as well?

[Edited to add: The author explains in the blog comments where his pseudonym comes from: “Gregory (as in ‘of Nyssa’) MacDonald (as in ‘George’)” Cute!]


5 Responses to “The Evangelical Universalist”

  1. Gregory MacDonald Says:

    Liberal universalims are often (though not always) of an insipid “God is too nice to hurt a fly” kind and have often (though not always) not been thought through in an integrally Christian way. They can reflect more of a secular kind of tollerance than a deep Christian eschatological hope. Such an option is not open to more conservative and (dare I say it) more orthodox Christians. So the kinds of universalism which occasionally arise from some more conservative, orthodox Christians tend to be surprising and interesting in that they are both both excitingly hopeful and yet seem to hold fast to the faith Christians hold dear. More than that the universalism arises from that faith.

    Christians typically oppose universalism and have a range of standard objections to it – in my book I argue that most of these objections, whilst they are legitimate criticisms of liberal universalisms, do not touch more ‘Christian’ universalisms.



  2. demas Says:

    Hi Gregory,

    Great to hear from you. While you are here, I’d like to ask a question – how much of your book do you consider new and original argument, and how much do you rely on past Christian universalists?

    Also I note that your book seems to have fallen off the Wipf and Stock website – have they decided not to sell it?

  3. Gregory MacDonald Says:


    Interesting. Quite a few of the little details are new (so far as I am aware). For instance, I argue that the book of Isaiah imagines a situation in which Israel’s enemies are destroyed and then all the survisors of the nations call on YHWH and are saved. This is an easy-to-conceive scenario and is a form of universalism for all who have not been destroyed. Now in the NT this scenario is applied to the afterlife in a way that creates a tension. Jesus expands the doom of the enemies in Isa 66 so that those in gehenna fulfil Isaiah’s words. However, in Philippians 2 Paul expands the promise of universal salvation from Isa 45 to include not just the living but also the dead. So the NT, by extending Isaiah’s teaching into the postmorten state creates a tension not found in Isaiah – some will be punished in gehenna and all will be saved. I argue that this invites Christians to ponder how both claims could be true. I see it as an invitation that my universalism provides a plausible Christian response to. That is just one of numerous little points along the way that most people would miss.

    The chapter on Revelation is not new in its most basic claim (I got the basic idea from others) but it is the most detailed attempt I know of to defend the universalist reading of Revelation.

    A lot of the ideas in the book will be found in the work of numerous scholars but I don;t think that their implications for universalism have often been appreciated. So my application of some of those ideas to universalism is (I think) new. I think that non-universalists may be surprised by how much of the biblical stuff they agree with.

    What I do think is new in bigger terms is the attempt to move beyond proof texting (you show me your text and I’ll show you mine). I seek to give the BIG story of the Bible priority as an interpretative context so that all the key texts are handled within that context. This, I hope, does advance the discussion. So the main new contribution is an attempt to provide a more plausible biblical-theological hermeneutic for universalists. We are often accused of taking texts out of context. I want to argue that the case for universalism is actually stronger when we don’t do this.

    However, inevitably, many of the arguments are not unique to me. The philoisophy is very influenced by Talbott, Reitan et al.



  4. Eystein Says:

    Hi! This is a question for Gregory; I hope you still visits this blog from time to time. First, let me say that I loved your book and I feel you have some of the most coherent and hermeneutically sound way of expressing your beliefs on this topic among Universalist writers. You have probably heard this question innumerable times: is it a particular reason why you use a pseudonym? The rumor goes that you are a well known evangelist; are you afraid of your reputation until the time is ripe, or is this your first work and you want a noticeable name to publish it under?
    Will you eventually reveal your identity? On another topic: can we look forward to more books on this most important issue?



  5. Hello Gregory et al,
    I am so grateful to Gregory for his work. I have spent 35 years in ordained ministry in the UCC and have had to work out many of the issues that Gregory addresses so effectively. I wish that Gregory’s work had been available when I was in Seminary at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and when I stood for ordination in the Essex South Association of the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC in 1971. My ordination paper was a very personal expression of my faith and theological commitments. I had chosen to be ordained in the UCC because I could not sign the required statements of belief that would effectively embalm my thinking in amber for my entire ministry. I realized that I had gone through a profound theological transformation in seminary. I had replaced the “revivalist” theology of my home church (Grace Chapel, Lexington MA) for a covenant theology. I knew that this was not a finish point but a beginning. The UCC seemed to provide a welcoming space for a minister on a personal and theological journey. I was somewhat anxious about how suspect I would be to old line UCC folk since I was coming from conservative evangelical seminary. During my ordination examination, after the reading of my paper, I was shocked to be challenged from the right rather than from the left. I had stated in my paper that although I depended on the authority of Scripture for my theology and thought that the Scripture taught eternal damnation, I was loath to accept that God would allow the eternal existence of evil in the evildoer and in the horror of hell. This contradiction was seized upon by several of the clergy in attendance and characterized as “universalism” with clear attitudes of rejection. My intuition was correct about the UCC and they voted unanimously to ordaine me anyway. Since then, I have continuously pursued my theological journey.
    I tell you all this as prelude to a response to the question as to “where are the liberals on this issue?” My experience of many of my fellow liberal clergy is that many have never actually been exposed to classic theology in their home churches before seminary nor in seminary, so the issue of universalism vs particularism never comes up. Others have been exposed to classical theology and believe, as I did, that it is the teaching of Scripture. They seem to be stuck with not daring to challenge the traditional teaching, since they seem to believe that they would be undermining the Protestant source of pastoral authority, the interpretation of Scripture. In many mainline churches, the so-called liberal clergy have not shared the scholarly liberal challenges to the so-called “inerrancy” of scripture. Liberal Protestant churches are dominated by folk born before 1945 who assume that the Liberal teaching of their youth is Scriptural. There are many who just assume that “good” people go to heaven and only “bad” people go to hell. They assume that they and most others of all faiths are good people.
    Before one is too critical of these folk, check with your local conservative evangelical. You may discover that most just assume that those who have accepted Jesus will be saved and they are not sure about those who have not. You will most likely discover that most of those in the Mega Churches have very little in the way of a theology. As my brother in law (an elder in one of these mega churches) says, “we are a mile wide and an inch deep.” That characteristic may speak to the truth about most of the Christian Church in general. It really does depend on Pastors to lead congregations in the theological task. Now if they will only read and share George’s book.

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