The Rev. Derek Parker -- a good friend and frequent commenter -- wrote me an email this morning that summed-up my feelings about the Rev. Bill Sinkford's most recent letter as the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association. (I've been slammed with other work, thus my non-posting.) You can see it here.
With his permission, this is his note (lightly edited) and it the first ever BitB guest blog entry:
Bill Sinkford, in his www.uua.org posting on atonement and social activism brought up Hosea Ballou. He implies that the Treatise on Atonement teaches that we are saved through our good works. That wasn't Ballou's point.
Ballou wrote that we were all saved because of the supreme power and good moral character of God. Good deeds are merely our inspired response to God's goodness.
There's just something odd to me about citing Ballou's text, but trying to by-pass the main point of Ballou's theology. Universal salvation is not the result of our own self-righteous works; but the result of Divine sovereignty and Divine character. Sinkford's implications seem to me, to be an attempt to pave over Universalist soteriology with a humanistic-Unitarian (and very American) theology of salvation via our own good works. At the very least Sinkford has terribly misunderstood Ballou, and reversed the cause-effect relationship in Ballou's writings on atonement. And this only begs the question for me, how many good works do I then need to do in order to be in some sense saved? Unless you answer zero, most of the other answers to that
last question are hardly Universalist. As a Universalist I know I was born saved, by the grace of God.
What do you think?
My only difference with Parker is that I don't think the Unitarian theists and Christians would have said much different, seeing as they come from rationalist Arminianism. In time, you get a works morality and a works meritocracy, neither of which is properly Universalist. (I'm certainly no Unitarian any more.) Indeed, Sinkford's comments fit better with his observation of Yom Kippur, and had he left it at that I wouldn't have thought to comment, but this interpretation of Ballou beggers reason.