Destined for Joy Book Review


Fr. Alvin F. Kimel’s Destined for Joy: The Gospel of Universal Salvation is an invaluable reference for anyone interested in Christian Universalist apologetics. The fedora-wearing Fr. Kimel, a retired Orthodox priest, is the founder and chief blogger of the widely followed website, Eclectic Orthodoxy (https://afkimel.wordpress.com), and this 425-page opus is a compilation of the best of his thinking over the past decade.

In his introduction, Fr. Kimel makes an assertion which contains the very heart and soul of the Gospel message, fundamental to Christian Universalism: “God is love, and his love will triumph. He will never rest until he has realized his salvific will throughout the cosmos and in the heart of every sinner.” The rest of Destined for Joy is a working out of that message in the context of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.

Part One, “The Greater Hope and the Absolute Love of God,” begins with a chapter on a seventh century Church Father, St Isaac the Syrian, whose works have only recently become available in translation. While Fr. Kimel has much more to say about the Church Fathers, this chapter firmly grounds the unconditional, universal love of God in Tradition. “There exists with Him a single love and compassion which is spread out over all creation,” St Isaac writes, “a love which is without alteration, timeless, and everlasting.” The notion of some humans being predestined for damnation was blasphemous to St Isaac, unthinkable.

However, as Fr. Kimel notes, “[m]ost Christians balk at the description of the divine love as truly unconditional.” Surely, they object, a “free response of faith and repentance before the moment of death” is necessary. He explores this issue in a chapter titled “The Radical Gospel of Unconditional Love,” and notes that “[t]hose who confess the universalist hope” –from Church Fathers like St Gregory Nazianzen to contemporary theologians like David Bentley Hart—“vigorously protest against the conditionalist portrayal of deity,” not based on their interpretations of any particular verse in Scripture, “but rather upon a profound apprehension of the God they have encountered in Jesus Christ…The unconditionality of the divine love…can never be just one option among many options. Nor may it be qualified, subordinated, or dismissed in the name of dogma—it is the dogma.”

Other chapters in Part One elaborate on the “absolute love of God” through the writings of George MacDonald, Robert Jenson, James and Thomas Torrance, and Robert Farrar Capon, among others. Fr. Kimel also includes his thoughts on preaching the Gospel of Universal Salvation and a terrific chapter discussing the meaning of aiōnios, which of course is critical in understanding whether or not Jesus was referring to everlasting (eternal)punishment in passages such as Matt 25:46. It’s a thorough essay in which Fr. Kimel quotes extensively from several authorities, and doesn’t pretend that the answer to the meaning of aiōnios is simple or unambiguous. Therefore, “proponents of the greater hope commonly invoke the character of God to guide their interpretation,” and, as Fr. Kimel quotes from Robin Parry, “[a]ny interpretation of Gehenna must be compatible with God’s ultimate triumph over sin and the fulfillment of his loving purpose of redeeming all his creatures.”

Part Two, “The Greater Hope in History,” focuses on “important universalist figures from the premodern period.” St Isaac again plays a major role, along with Julian of Norwich. The concluding chapter of Part Two, “Did the Fifth Ecumenical Council Condemn Universal Salvation?” is a monumental achievement, the result of years of research. As Fr. Kimel notes, “many Orthodox and Roman Catholics…invoke the authority of the Fifth Ecumenical Council (A.D. 553), citing the famous fifteen anti-Origenist anathemas: ‘Apokatastasis [universal salvation] has been dogmatically defined by the Church as heresy…case closed.’” Fr. Kimel makes it clear this claim is not historically well-founded.

Part Three, “The Gospel of Universal Salvation” explores the universalist arguments of modern theologians, notably including Thomas Talbott, David Bentley Hart, Eric Reitan, and Sergius Bulgakov. One of the best aspects of this section is its discussion of the free will objection to Christian Universalism. As Fr. Kimel writes in his chapter on Hart’s thinking in a chapter title “Doomed to Happiness,” “Under the present fallen condition of ignorance, delusion, and disordered passions, we only apprehend the Good partially and defectively through the prims of finite goods…but if we were ever presented with a full and perfect apprehension of the Good…we would recognize it as the true and final happiness for which we yearn…We are not free because we have multiple choices available to us; we become free when we choose well, thereby achieving the happiness for which we are divinely destined.”

In his Afterword to Destined for Joy, Hart writes “…the tragedy of the mainstream belief in eternal torment is not only because of the grim vision of reality [it] cultivates in many souls, but also because of the far richer, far more radiant, far more beautiful vision it has stolen from them.” This volume does a superb job of making that beautiful vision clear.

Available from Amazon: Destined for Joy: The Gospel of Universal Salvation: Kimel, Alvin F., Jersak, Bradley, Hart, David Bentley: 9798841664772: Amazon.com: Books

Jess Lederman

Jess Lederman is the founder and managing editor of The Works of George MacDonald (worksofmacdonald.com), a website devoted to books, articles, art, and music about, or inspired by, George MacDonald’s sermons, lectures, poems, prose, and prayers. He’s also an award-winning author who writes about the “struggle, passion, and adventure of faith.”

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Rev Jimbeau Walsh

    All this is explored beautifully and in a very comprehensive manner in the automatic writings of James R Padgett received from Jesus and many others between 1914-1923. While I commend the writer and his book Destined for Joy, I also recommend The True Gospel Revealed Anew vols-1-4 which are 100% in alignment with Christian Unitarianism, it’s truths, and beyond.

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