02 May 2011

Smith takes on 'new universalism'

I have not thus far weighed in on the controversy surrounding the publication of Rob Bell's Love Wins. But I will call attention to an astute analysis of the "new universalism" by Calvin College's James K. A. Smith: Can hope be wrong? On the new universalism. I was especially struck by the following paragraph, addressed to those who persist in believing that "I-can't-imagine-a-God-who-[fill in the blank]" is a persuasive argument:
The "I-can't-imagine" strategy is fundamentally Feuerbachian: it is a hermeneutic of projection which begins from what I can conceive and then projects "upwards," as it were, to a conception of God. While this "imagining" might have absorbed some biblical themes of love and mercy, this absorption seems selective. More importantly, the "I-can't-imagine" argument seems inattentive to how much my imagination is shaped and limited by all kinds of cultural factors and sensibilities--including how I "imagine" the nature of love, etc. The "I-can't-imagine" argument makes man the measure of God, or at least seems to let the limits and constraints of "my" imagination trump the authority of Scripture and interpretation. I take it that discipleship means submitting even my imagination to the discipline of Scripture. (Indeed, could anything be more countercultural right now than Jonathan Edwards' radical theocentrism, with all its attendant scandals for our modern sensibilities?)

1 comment:

Marc Vandersluys said...

I would suggest that Smith is not entirely on the mark by suggesting that the new universalism is based on essentially on an "I can't imagine" premise with no interest in a close reading of scripture.

While the two statements Smith focuses do crop up, many people considering or supporting a universalist position do so precisely because of what they read in scripture. They do so because they see tensions in scripture which they are not satisfied to resolve by defaulting to the traditional hell passages and giving them the power of a trump card.

I read your post shortly after you put it up and meant to comment then, but forgot. Today I read an interesting post at Scot McKnight's blog in which a pastor-theologian suggests that the "I can't imagine" argument does have some merit. Here's the link: http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/05/25/jeff-cook-to-francis-chan/

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