Robert Farrar Capon, The Fingerprints of God (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000), paper, 178 pages)

(This is a book promoting universalism, that all will be saved; review by the Rev. Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D.)

While on vacation this past summer, someone suggested that I read this book. At first I did not recognize the author, but then it came back to me that he was a universalist, believing that all are saved, or perhaps only a few opt out. I decided to read it. I will spend more space interacting with the book than in my normal book reviews as this author has come up before. I will do this review in four parts: the author, his thought, his theology, and the implications of his thought.


Capon is a capable scholar, knowing the original languages of the Bible, Hebrew and Greek. (I teach both in seminary: Moreover, he reads the early fathers and can interact with them in their original languages of Greek and perhaps Latin. I read them also, and can handle their Greek (though not the Latin so much) with my language tools.

He describes himself as a “mix of conservatism and liberalism” (p. 161), which, as I trust we shall see, is mostly liberalism. Actually, I would say that Capon is more postmodern than classic liberal, for the old line liberals at least believed in truth, just not biblical truth, but truth according to man’s reason alone. Indeed, the super-scholar J. Gresham Machen, who taught at Princeton in the 1920s, wrote a classic work titled Christianity and Liberalism, where he demonstrated that liberalism is not Christianity at all but basically Enlightenment humanism foisted on the Bible. But I get ahead of myself.

Capon’s Thought:

Ask a fish if he is wet, and you would probably get this answer: “What is wet?” Likewise, our culture is basically postmodern, and hardly one in a thousand is aware of it. We take our culture and its thought patters for granted. There is hardly a news media person or politician who presents any argument based on principle, but it is all expediency. Expediency argues basically from end to means, which means if the end is good, so are the means to get there. One might say that abortion is wrong because it lessens the number of people to support the welfare rolls. The conclusion would be that if that objection were taken out of the say, killing babies would be ok. An argument from principle would be that at conception babies are made in the image of God, that God considers that image so valuable that if one human murders another then he must forfeit his own life (Gen. 9:6). The first position thinks only of what’s in it for me while the second considers each life inherently valuable. The first is postmodernism.

Another example is the modern destruction of the family. Casual sex―not to mention same sex unions―is the norm today, and people dare anyone to say anything about it. Even Christians live together before marriage, and arguments run like this: “We love one another.” “We intend to get married.” “We can make ends meet better living together than apart.” The principle, though, is the sanctify of the family, which God defines as one male and one female making a covenant with one another for life in the presence of the appropriate witnesses. A new family is constituted by vows before witnesses, an unconditional commitment first made, then living together. (See my book, NOT Ten Suggestions, the chapter titled “What Is Marriage?” This chapter may be downloaded free.)

But before we go very far, we must define postmodernism and then see if Capon’s thought is such. In postmodernism, each person creates his own reality as he interprets it. It is like the three umpires calling balls and strikes. (Millard J. Erickson, The Postmodern World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002), p. 40.) The first one said, “I call them as they are.” The second one boasted, “I call them as I see them.” The third one trumped the others: “They are not balls or strikes until I call them.” The first one would be a Christian world view; the second one the old liberal view; and the third the modern view of no truth. But at least the first two views hold to truth, but the last view (“They are not balls or strikes until I call them”) only holds to truth according to me. In other words, there really is no truth, only points of view, which is why we find in postmodern theology the never ending dialogue with those who disagree, for arriving at truth is not the point. It is the dialogue that is important.

Also, one finds in postmodernism that unity is not in truth, for how can there be such unity since each person has his own truth, but unity is found in some group. For example, the main line Episcopal Church, of which Capon was a long time pastor, denies that the Bible is truth and maintains that the church is a group that will define truth for its members. Thus, when they consecrated a practicing homosexual as a bishop, most of the Anglican world rightly made an issue out it. The Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA, now arrogantly calling themselves THE Episcopal Church, TEC) just wanted to dialogue, not to reach a solution. They wanted “tolerance” (the watchword for the postmodern culture) for their new view, but were extremely intolerant toward orthodox Christianity.

Postmodernists deny any group to have a monopoly on interpreting reality. They deny that there is a metanarrative (their word, an overarching story that makes sense of everything, world view) that can interpret morality, God, or truth, but that each group has its own interpretation with each individual in turn having his own view. But it gets worse.

Postmodernism has degenerated into deconstructionism (promoted by French philosopher Derrida), the last stage of postmodernism, for it maintains that language has no meaning, that words are only symbols of the moment that we can interpret any way we choose, especially written language. Deconstructionism is especially given over to figurative interpretation, or to images, for one cannot take straight forward statements seriously since logic gets in the way. In the theological world, we call such statements “propositions,” which Capon denies repeatedly, but does so by using propositions. That means there is no history, for that involves the objective meaning of words to tell a story. Of course, how can its proponents even write against objective meaning without assuming the laws of logic, which are transcendent and have objective meaning? It is like the famous words Lewis Carroll put into the mouth of Humpty Dumpty:

“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

Carroll was a philosopher, and he meant that words have no objective meaning.

Thomas Oden, a former liberal and postmodern scholar at Duke University, has written on postmodernism (Two Worlds; and chapter two in The Challenge of Postmodernism). He has now been converted to Christ and to orthodox theology by reading the early fathers. He has said that postmodernism is characterized by

  • Autonomous individualism (The individual reigns supreme; the corporate nature of sin, of society, and of the church is denied. We hear such nonsense as “What I do in private does not affect what I do in public,” which is a lie as one takes the same character with him in both venues. This is the denial of personal accountability, for it is always someone else’s fault.)
  • Narcissistic hedonism (Pleasure is the ethic, what the hippies used to say: “If it feels good, do it.” One is free to use one’s body as he pleases, such as abortion, homosexuality, drugs, playboy, and so forth.)
  • Reductive naturalism (What you see is all you get. This means that one can only know for sure what one sees or observes in a laboratory. Of course one can’t see the laws of logic or the laws of science, but that is overlooked.)
  • Moral relativism (We have now “values,” not moral absolutes, and people are absolutely sure there are no absolutes. Even Christians now speak of “values,” which is why I wrote NOT Ten Suggestions primarily for Christians.)  (For the whole review, please click here for the pdf file.)

2 thoughts on “Robert Farrar Capon, The Fingerprints of God (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000), paper, 178 pages)

  1. I don’ t see Capon as universalists but as a Lutheran in the purest sense. Capon is a universalist in that he believes that in Christ God has saved all men whether the accept it or not. Like Luther Capon teaches salvation is not something dependent upon good works or being predestined but totally by grace. All men are saved some just have not accepted they are saved. The prodigal son storys is he best example of Gods grace. The father freely forgives the son before he even confesses or repents. history has added to the gospel the necessity of good works or obedience or holiness or special status with Ho

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