Unitarian Theology papers online

Just boosting a post by David Steers, a Non-Subscribing Presbyterian minister and the editor of two journals, Faith and Freedom and the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society. When he promotes two collections of papers on Unitarian theology, I listen; you may also download PDFs of them there.

The papers were presented at conferences in 2016 and 2017.  Why the conferences?  Answered in the introduction of the first volume by convener Jim Corrigall:

The idea for a Unitarian Theology Conference arose out of discussions among ministers-in-training and newer ministers, who  were all concerned by the lack of serious theological discourse within  our Unitarian and Free Christian denomination. It’s fair to say we felt frustration over the inability of our faith community to give a coherent answer to such basic questions as: who are we as a faith community? and: what is our purpose?

The papers may also be seen as videos at ukunitarian.tv.

I look forward to reading those, and wonder aloud why our larger denomination on this side of the Atlantic hasn’t done something so useful.

We are not powerless

As we approach Christmas, and before our collective attention span shrinks as short as the daylight, I want to put a concluding thought on the series of posts around Unitarian Universalist social engagement, though I expect to come back to the theme.

The big takeaway is that we are not powerless. Political and social influence are valuable, but we need to remember that our sense of self, and thus ultimately our power, does not derive from these. As human beings, we share an imprint of the living God; our hope rests on our common origins and common future. For these, our political and social actions are tools for a greater good. Tools, but not ends.

It’s no wonder that behind the recent killings of a set of black boys and men, particularly by police officers, that the theme of dignity and worth arise. And the shocking indignity of the killings, plus the overall callousness of the official response, only widened the conversation, here to include black girls and women, there to dead Gazans.

Substituting “all lives matter” for the call “black lives matter” — as sometimes happened — was a simultaneously true and false action. False because, in the moment, it was important to accent the peril that black people particularly face. And true, because of the underlying and unspoken fear that a régime of unaccountable violence can all too easily become universal, or near universal, as global wealth becomes more and more concentrated.

But I think of St. Lawrence, the early Christian deacon and martyr, who when asked to cough up the treasure of the church to Roman authorities, presented the poor. These are the treasure, he said, and for which he was tortured to death.

We are the treasure of the church, beloved by God and full of worth. Poor in this sense — for when some few have so much wealth and power, who isn’t poor? — yet not helpless. Though a cultivated will, though the blessings of mutual care and — yes — the multiplication of social and political engagement we can plainly assert our own value.

But this understanding is how we unlock this power, and as religious people we owe it to others to continually proclaim its truth.

Brooks: on not under-estimating sin (before we "rediscovered" it)

Another passage from Elbridge Gerry Brooks’s Our New Departure, pages 85, opening his chapter on sin. I wish this was more simply written, but it makes me think of more recent preachments on the “re-discovery” of sin among Unitarian Universalists. But Brooks shows this dynamic isn’t new and cautions about flying from one pole of opinion to another — and then confronts us across the years: once you find sin to be real, what are you going to do about it?

It is the penalty of all reform that those who wage it, opposing one error or abuse, necessarily incur the risk of swinging into another. Perhaps this has had no more striking illustration than is furnished in the rebound from the exaggerated doctrines of the sacrificial theology concerning sin, — as to its infinite enormity, on the one hand, and as to the vindictive and horrible punishment by which only can God duly attest His hatred of it, on the other. Not to enter into the broad field thus opened, however, it is enough now to ask whether we, as a people, have not shared in this extreme rebound. Arraigning and controverting these doctrines, have we not had speculations among us, and even definitely declared conclusions, the inevitable effect of which, logically, has been either to make sin an inconsiderable affair, a slight disturbance which is to be beneficently overruled, or to deny that there is really any such thing? Have there not been periods in our history, indeed, when such theories have to no small extent determined the burden of our pulpits, and the thought of our people? And do they not yet quite largely mingle in the opinions that prevail among us?

But are such theories morally healthful? Are they favorable to quickness of conscience, or to a propelling and inextinguishable sense of obligation? Do they tend to distress us with a rebuking consciousness of the guilt of sin, or to induce humiliation and penitence on account of it? In few words, are they fitted spiritually to arouse and stimulate anybody? to fill anybody with a loathing and abhorrence of sin?

I can do all things through Christ who strengthened me.

[Paul] had a broad vision and a comprehensive grasp, and his thirty years’ ministry as an ambassador of Christ attests his intelligence not less than his zeal. He was grandly equipped for his work, not alone by his exalted faith and consecration, but also by his rare intellectual skill and strength, and his acquisition of wisdom gathered from various sources. But with all his genius and learning he held to one straight course. He preached Christ crucified He believed that the Crucified One would come again to earth, that he would incorporate himself in believing hearts, becoming their inspiration and blessedness. If at the first he seemed to look for this second coming of Christ as an outward manifestation, he soon came to realize its spiritual import and to dwell upon its vitalizing presence within the soul. “Christ liveth in me,” said Paul, “and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God.” * * * “I can do all things through Christ who strengthened me .”

From “The Fullness of Christianity,” by the Rev. Henry W. Rugg: the occasional sermon delivered before the Universalist General Convention, held in Washington, D. C. on October 24, 1883.

On sanctification

The task of Universalist saints was to actualize the potential for perfection made available to humans by Christ the creator, former, and restorer. Each soul received its own unique form of the truth and individually grew towards sanctification. The communion of saints, therefore, did not exist to provide a means of grace or a standard of authority. Rather, it was a pilgrim community that enabled those who knew the truth to identify one another in gospel liberty and to aid one another in the travel towards sanctity.

Stephen A. Marini’s Radical Sects in Revolutionary New England, p. 147. Citing Hosea Ballou’s Treatise on Atonement, 1805 ed., p.220.

More James Relly texts online

The Lord be praised! The original works of James Relly, the preacher of universal salvation and John Murray’s minister, have been miserably hard to find. I republished his Union (PDF) a few years ago, but — apart from a few awkward moments in front of some scanned microprints, a late monograph and a collection of hymns — have never seen anything else. And I have tried.

That is, until last night, when I found high-quality scans at OpenLibrary.org, presented in a format that’s pleasant to read on a screen. A nice variety of other Universalist and Unitarian imprints, beside, but this is the lost treasure.

Bound into a single volume:





My bit for Trinity Sunday

I’ve seen more Unitarians, Universalists and Unitarian Universalists make comment — positive, thoughtful or inquisitive comments — about the doctrine of the Trinity in the last few days than I’ve seen in my twenty-five years as a (Unitarian) Universalist. (Parenthetical, because I do believe in the Trinity now, but it’s not the sort of thing I lead with.)

So these references are more than today’s observation of Trinity Sunday, but I’m at a loss to say what that cause is.

The least I can do is add in a strange and — until the age of Google Books — little seen South Carolina work. So little seen that I couldn’t even get a copy when I was working on my (unfinished) thesis on Southern Universalism in 1992-3. But now you can read…

The Evangelists manual; or A guide to Trinitarian Universalists: Containing articles explanatory of the doctrines, tenets and faith of the Associates of the Primitive, Apostolic Church of the Trinitarian Universalists, in the city of Charleston. : To which is prefixed five introductory sections. And the eighteen articles of the Church, concluded with thirteen propositions, and an appeal to the Christian world. : With a copious index. (1829)

Historical note: Paul Dean was their minister for a few months. They dubbed him bishop, to the cocked eyebrows of the Universalists up north.

Reading for June 2011

I’m a miserably slow reader, so it’s a good thing I’m taking the bus to General Assembly (and that I don’t get motion sickness.) In no particular, order. this is far more than a month’s worth. Perhaps more than two.

First edition of Ballou's Treatise on Atonement available for download

It’s been years since I’ve read in full Hosea Ballou’s influential masterwork, the Treatise on Atonement, from the last print edition (UUA, 1986) which itself was reproduced from a mid-nineteenth century edition.

But this was the revision of the mature Ballou, and I’ve been meaning to read the more direct and homspun theology of the thirty-four year old man who wrote the first edition, published in 1805.

For some years, I have owned an original 1811 “surreptitious” or “pirate” edition, which has the same text, but it’s hard to cuddle up to a book that’s two centuries old.

Fortunately, I’m more than happy to read a book on a screen, and Google Books has a copy of the 1805 original available for download.

Which I have. Go and do likewise.