Reviewing David Bentley Hart

Reviewing David Bentley Hart October 2, 2019

[Abstract of this review by Geoff Holsclaw] My fundamental concern is that our humanity is at stake—our dignity (not just our freedom). And this is the reason moderates—and progressives—should reject David Bentley Hart’s universalism: he loses the unique beauty (and disaster) of the human person in his relentless pursuit of metaphysical clarity and coherence.

There are several reasons why a person like me would be interested in David Bentley Hart’s new book universalism, That All Shall Be Saved. And I’m going to outline those reasons, and explore Hart’s arguments in this review (for all the details, see my extended summary here).

What Exactly Are We Talking About?

Christian universalism, as espoused by Hart, is the view that hell is not eternal (it will only last for as long as it takes to purge evil from all of creation), and that all will achieve union with God so that God might be “all in all.”  I’ll unpack that in a moment.

But Christian universalism is to be distinguished from universalism in general, which says that “all roads lead back to God” because all religions really takes us on the same spiritual journey in the end.

Hart, and most Christian universalists, claim that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, are fundamentally necessary for the redemption of all things—and indeed, because Christ is the victor over sin and death, all things will eventually be reconciled to God (even if passing through the fires of hell, which are none other than the purifying glory of God).

Hart, however, is not very clear about his opponents in the book.

Hart treats 1) “infernalists” (his label for the “eternal conscious torment by God” view), 2) “hell is the place of our own making” (C. S. Lewis), and 3) conditional immortality/annihilation as if they were all the same view.  In the end his book really only manages to land serious blows against the infernalists, leaving the other two options mostly intact.

If you were hoping to read Hart as a way to get up to speed on the various debates about universalism, the different options or streams involved, or a detailed review of the biblical arguments for or against universalism, you will be sorely disappointed.

Why Am I Interested in This Book (and why should you be)?

I would consider myself a theological moderate or centrist, but evangelical nonetheless (even if that is a meaningless term these days).

I’m interested in Hart’s perspective because

  • I have friends wondering about or drawn to universalism.
  • My friends have friends drawn to universalism, and they aren’t sure what to think or how to respond.
  • As a strong advocate of the Christus Victor view of the atonement, I’m wondering if this also entails a final victory over sin that would be universalist in nature.
  • I’m curious how the same arguments I’ve used to criticize aggressive views of Penal Substitutionary Atonement and Predestination are used by Hart to argue for universalism.

In a sense, I’m wondering whether or not the shifts in my theological matrix (much less Reformed, less literal view of hell, and Christus Victor) should drive me toward universalism.

Why Moderates Will Like Hart’s Book

As a theological moderate I can see why others, and certainly why theological progressives, will love this book.

  • It offers merciless criticism of Reformed theology.
  • It seems to exposes the faulty (moral) logic of eternal damnation.
  • It gives the highest academic and intellectual firepower to a militantly universalist position.
  • And it seems to cover the essentials: God and creation, scriptural arguments, humanity, and freedom

Instant Classic? Probably (for the wrong reasons)

Many have already claimed Hart’s book will become an instant classic. And it probably will be, but for all the wrong reasons—or rather for all the right reasons when it comes to diatribe.

The book is unrelentingly pugilistic in tone (Hart loves using big words. Outside of using “pugilistic” just now [which means “one who boxes/fights”], I will refrain from such a pedantic practice).

Hart constantly beats down opponents through cheap shots and emotional appeals. Hart is fond of pointing out every supposed “communal self-deception” and “collective derangement” promoted by “moral idiocy” disguised as “spiritual subtlety,” all of which would be discarded as so much “degrading nonsense” and “sentimental obscurantism” if we all weren’t so committed to the fantasy of an eternal hell.

But thankfully all who already agree with Hart have “a properly functioning moral intelligence”, and all opposed probably have “one or two emotional pathologies”, or they are full blown “religious sociopaths” who are “psychologically diseased.”

It will be tempting for progressives (and moderates) to give in to these emotional appeals and calls to moral outrage.

But as I hope to show, rather than being the proof that we have retained a shred of humanity, to follow Hart as he darts down the universalist hole is ultimately to lose the humanity created in God’s image.

Four Meditations, but Really Only Two Arguments

After two introductory chapters (“Framing the Questions” and “Doubting the Answers”), Hart begins four meditations on universal reconciliation (again, see this for the details).

#1 Who is God? The Moral meaning of Creatio ex Nihilo

This meditation asks, Can we really call God good if God created even one finite being who is destined for infinite suffering? No, Hart answers, God would not be good if even one part of creation is damned. Rather, God would be a moral monster.

#2 What is Judgment? A Reflection on Biblical Eschatology

This meditation asks, Is hell as eternal conscious torment inflicted by God really in the Bible? No, Hart answers, it is a distortion and projection to find hell in the Bible.

#3 What is a Person? A Reflection on the Divine Image

This meditation asks, Can any human be saved if even one is damned? No, Hart answers, all of humanity must be saved in Christ or none of will be, for all are collectively created in/by/for Christ and this creation (of humanity) will have failed if even one is damned.

#4 What is Freedom? A Reflection on the Rational Will

This meditation asks, Can a rational agent freely reject God forever and therefore rightfully receive eternal damnation? No, Hart argues, it is incoherent for a rational agent to always reject its own good end, and God is humanity’s good end. Therefore we will eventually find our rest in the goodness of God, no matter how far or for how long we wander in sin away from that Good.

These four meditation require quite a bit of metaphysical unpacking to get at their theological freight—and would cause this post to be much longer than it already is.

But thankfully Hart’s four meditations boil down to just two main arguments.

The Two Arguments Hart Makes:

First Main Argument: God is good.  Therefore, all creation will come to its good end (or, no evil part will remain eternally in creation).

Expanded a little: If God is good then creation is good. But if any part of creation remains evil forever (or is annihilated), then God cannot be entirely good (only mostly good). But God’s goodness must be displayed through everything so that God might be “all in all.”

This argument assumes all creation was created for the ultimate end of divine union (Hart’s first meditation), and that humanity in particular cannot find rest apart from divine union (this is our created purpose according to Hart’s third meditation).

Second Main Argument:  Every rational nature (humanity) is only truly free when it wills its own good end.  Therefore, every rational nature will eventually will its own good end, which is found only in God (even if it takes the rational nature an extended stay in hell to purge encrusted layers of sin and evil).

Expanded a little: Because every rational nature will ultimately rest in God, eternal conscious torment is impossible (Hart’s fourth meditation). And happily the Bible confirms this by not talking about hell as an eternal place of conscious torment (Hart’s second meditation).

In both arguments Hart demands maximal metaphysical coherence and clarity.  For Hart, to follow the premises of God’s goodness and human freedom is to arrive on the shores of universal redemption.

We will leave Hart’s demand for perfect logical coherence and clarity to the side for now (except to say that usually it is heretics who demand such coherence and clarity, and that orthodoxy usually holds two truths together, like one God and three persons [Trinity] or one person and two natures [Christology]).

I will even concede that Hart’s logic is indeed impeccable, given the terms of the debate.

But it is the terms of the debate that I reject.  And it is why moderates (and progressives) should reject Hart’s universalism.

Hart loses the personal in the midst his logical metaphysical, which is all the more ironic given Hart’s antipathy for the Western style of theology that supposedly emphasizes natures over persons. 

Or said differently, Hart offers an inverted Calvinism where God determines that all will and must be saved, to the loss of human dignity and agency.

The One Main Problem: Image of God Lost

Hart gets humanity tragically wrong.

We should understand our theological anthropology (imago dei) through a biblical grid of what “image” means in Genesis.  But instead of this Hart runs his version of the “image of God” through Gregory of Nyssa’s (neo)platonic grid which reduces humanity’s goal and destiny to divine union (which is not wrong, but it is incomplete).

As Catherine McDowell’s The Image of God in the Garden of Eden has clearly shown (see also Middleton’s The Liberating Image), the imago dei is a two-fold reality (in a popular read, my wife and I also explore the journey of imago dei through the entire story of the Bible in Does God Really Like Me?).

First, the divine image speaks of presence.  We were made for union with God as the divine “idols” placed within the garden/creation temple of God.

We are made for divine union.  Hart gets this part right.

Second, the divine image speaks of purpose. We were made to rule in and extend the kingdom of God.  Are are authorized co-rulers, even co-creators, of God’s kingdom.

We are made for kingdom extension.  Hart gets this part wrong, and therefore gets it all wrong.

Hart collapses human purpose into divine presence making his ontological commitments much more like cosmic monism (that everything lives/exists as an extension of the divine essence).  But a Christian theological anthropology (and doctrine of creation) must hold out extensive room for human co-creation.

Why It Matters: Lost Dignity

Universalism (and salvation for that matter) is not about God’s goodness or human freedom (the terms on which Hart, and many infernalists, set the debate).  It is about persons laboring with God or against God.

If humans are co-creators and co-rulers with God, then this changes all of Hart’s arguments.

It is about persons—and the dignity of a human being.

As When Helping Hurts and other works have made abundantly clear, removing all agency destroys dignity (and Hart is not really shy from admitting to determinism—once the ‘proper’ metaphysics is acknowledged).

But God didn’t just come to save us from the disease of sin, or to destroy death (which it true).  God also came to restore humanity a co-laborer in the kingdom, creative contributors to God’s cosmos.

Hart demands that all be saved or God is not good.  But this demand destroys the respect and dignity that God gave humanity—to create something, to add something to God’s creation that wasn’t there.

De-Creationg, Hell, and Annihilation

The possibility that the Bible holds out (but that Hart’s platonized metaphysical monism disallows) the possibility of co-creating with God, humanity could also create a zone of de-creation (anti-creation, anti-kingdom).  This is the creation of sin and evil.

Big picture, the ultimate horizon of this de-creation within God’s good creation seems to be either total implosion (annihilation) or a quarantining of this de-creation (hell of one’s own choosing).

Either could be viewed as God’s respect for the dignity of humanity’s ability to create.

Aligning Presence and Purpose: Heaven and Hell

Ultimately God will always align or bless the image of God in us by aligning our presence and our purposes.

On the one hand God will align our desire for God’s presence (divine union) and co-laboring in God’s purposes (kingdom extension). This is salvation in Christ, by the Spirit, within the Father’s family.

This aligning will be a blessing, and salvation.

On the other hand, God will also align us with our desire to be away from God’s presence (divine absence) and to follow our own purposes (self-loving kingdom).  This is the “hell of one’s own creation” or “annihilation” (and the former could still be called “eternal conscious torment”).

This aligning will feels like a curse, and damnation.

It seems just as plausible that God will respect our dignity (not just our freedom) in judging our ultimate destinies.  And because of this, something like hell seems to be part of the Christian story—as unseemly as we might think it to be.

By Geoff Holsclaw: a theology professor at Northern Seminary and pastor Vineyard North.


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  • Thanks Geoff. Very helpful.

  • Clay Knick

    Very nicely done, Geoff. Quite helpful. Looking forward to the new book.

  • fbcjoe

    thank you for your thoughts in this article. I do appreciate your warning about embracing Hart’s universalism and understand where you are coming from. I have to admit, I appreciated Hart’s book a bit more. It fed my soul and fueled my love for God and others more than reading this article. Blessings.

  • Patrick

    What is “The Gospel” according to Paul?

    When God promised “Abraham he and his seed would be a blessing to all the families of the earth”. How does God accomplish that and lose a large subsection of the families of the earth?

    What did The Lord Jesus claim He came here for? “To seek and to save that which was lost”. Jesus did not claim “I came to carve a path to My Father IF folks will follow Me” which is modern western Christianity. Did He achieve His goal? When Jesus claimed “When I am lifted up I will draw all to Myself”, how do we interpret that?

    What does Paul explain Jesus accomplished among other things? “He put away sin”. If any human survives in any form with a sinful/evil bent, then obviously sin was not “put away” or destroyed. It exists eternally. It’s effect on God’s good creation exists forever. In that sense, God loses doesn’t He?

    Does God “swallow up death” per Isaiah and Paul if death remains extant?

    “As in Adam ALL die, so in Christ ALL live”. Literarily, it’s hard to avoid that Paul is saying we all come into earth under sin and we all end up under grace/Christ.

    How about Paul claiming God will “be all in all”? Who is left out of all? The OT even has the inanimate mountains and trees praising God. Paul said all things “in the heavens, on the earth and under the earth” would be part of that didn’t he?

    How about “every knee will bow”? How about “all flesh will see the salvation of The Lord”?

    Why does Ezekiel think the fortunes of both Israel and Sodom ( her sister) will be restored in chapter 16?

    How about Isaiah 19? In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. 25 The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”

    How about there is not 1 word about eternal punishment in the OT? When God dispersed the nations at Babel, no warnings about such a thing? Maybe the NT eternal punishment passages need to be re- considered?

    On and on. Western Christianity has traditionally qualified these statements and accepted the “hell” type comments.

    In all of Greek literature, the term “aionios” never, not 1 time = eternal unless it is next to the word “Theos”. The Greek term used for eternal was “aiodios”. Consider the research of Ilaria Ramelli in “Terms for Eternity”.

    Every “eternal punishment passage” has “aionios”, not “aiodios”. Which in their lexicon meant “punishment from the eternal source/other world” not eternal in the time continuum.

    Augustine decided otherwise and we’re the heirs of Latin interpretation.

    In Isaiah 66, he predicts God by “fire and with His sword” will execute judgment on all flesh. Jesus recalled that passage when he said “we will all be salted with fire”. That is not about an eternal hell, it’s God purifying His creation.

    The sword is His Word in Hebrews.

    I think the case is way stronger for Christian universalism than not.

  • Rodney Reeves

    Thanks, Geoff, for your quick take on Hart. You might take a look at Zach Manis’, “Sinners in the Presence of a Loving God” (OUP), who argues that hell is not divine absence, but unmitigated divine presence.

  • Rodney, Thanks for pointing me to that resource. I’ll check it out. I’m definitely willing to rethink the presence/absence argument. I don’t think I’ve argued against all forms of universalism, but I have reservations about Hart’s version.

  • Hi Geoff, I’m a big fan of your work. As someone who espouses universalism, could I ask a few questions along with some reflections?

    First, I totally respect your robust defense of human dignity. And I agree, overly metaphysical defenses of universal reconciliation can be dismissive of anthropological concerns. But what I want to suggest is that I think we limit our imaginations on just how inventive and resourceful our omnipotent God can be, that one of the legitimate mysteries we can hold onto is how God can, indeed, save every soul while still preserving the dignity you so rightly defend. Why can’t that be our mystery, universal reconciliation and co-creation? This is my mystery, akin to the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Trinity. And it poses no stranger anthropological problems than the doctrines of election, grace, and predestination traditionally have. Augustine, to take one example, created some anthropological problems we’re still debating. It seems we’re all very skilled at embracing these sorts paradoxes and puzzles, until we get to universalism. Then we just shut it down. Why not add the puzzles and paradoxes of universalism to the theological zoo? We can have universal reconciliation AND co-creation.

    For example, speaking of Divine resourcefulness, my go to example is the movie Ground Hog Day, or even the Parable of the Prodigal Son, how, yes, God can allow us to be co-creators, but also allow those creations to bring us along on a developmental journey. We might have to imagine multiverses or something. And likely we can’t even imagine how this can happen, but that’s my point. Just because we can’t imagine God saving us all and preserving co-creation and dignity, doesn’t mean God can’t. Like all our theological mysteries, this is something we just have to take on faith. Because of Christus Victor, death has been defeated, God has all the time in the world to play the long game.

    Let me also reflect upon this quote of yours:

    The possibility that the Bible holds out (but that Hart’s platonized metaphysical monism disallows) is along with the possibility of co-creating with God, humanity could also create a zone of de-creation (anti-creation, anti-kingdom). This is the creation of sin and evil.

    De-creation, I’m assuming, ultimately has to lead to annihilation. We have to end up killing each other and ourselves, since existence itself is a creational good. So what we’d have to imagine is that, after death, God grants us the space and time to kill ourselves. Hell, basically, is suicide, quickly or slowly through some descent into self-destructiveness.

    But that doesn’t seem right. Why give us existence in the afterlife if all we’re going to do is kill ourselves anyway? Better to just let us stay dead when we die. That is, after all, the classic way Christians have viewed the expulsion from Eden: Death limits human evil. If this is the case, that leaves us with mortalism (which isn’t annihilationism nor C.S. Lewis’ view in The Great Divorce). In mortalism, we all die, the good and the wicked, but only the good are raised at the General Resurrection. Hitler, though, remains dead.

    I think mortalism is the only reasonable view to hold other than universalism. Very little of human dignity seems to be preserved in God keeping us alive in the afterlife just to give us all a chance to kill ourselves. A loving God, I think, would just let us die and stay dead.

    But if this is the view we land on, how does the mortalist deal with all the passages about hell and God’s judgment in eternity?

    I guess my point here is that I just don’t understand how a zone of de-creation in the afterlife is supposed to work, theologically speaking. I can’t see how human dignity is preserved in God prolonging life just so we can commit suicide. And honestly, that view isn’t all that theologically mysterious. It’s just weird. For my part, I’d rather embrace the mystery of an infinitely resourceful God who has defeated death (Christus Victor!), gracing us an infinite expanse of time to, slowly and gradually, walk back into the light.

    I do hope some of this makes sense.

  • Brian

    I don’t see why Hart does not agree with Jerry Walls when it comes to “Hell: the logic of damnation”? I think Walls makes the most sense by allowing for Post-Mortem repentance. He argues that the only way to uphold God as all loving, all powerful, and all knowing along with the existence of Hell would be by God granting optimum grace to every human being whoever lived. Due to circumstantial limitations for humans this optimal grace is not possible for everyone during their lifetime so… God allows people to know fully and completely the gospel on or before Judgment Day and allows them to repent and believe the gospel the-even if they had died beforehand. Hart obviously affirms Post-Mortem repentance to hold Christian Universalism but again, I agree with Walls that some people are self-deceived and simply will not genuinely choose Christ under any circumstances so there must be a place for them and that would be hell. They can get out of it any time and come to Christ but sadly I am not convinced that they will choose to do so.

  • T.S.Gay

    In Orthodoxy GK Chesterton relates that Christianity went in specifically for dangerous ideas. The idea of birth through the Holy Spirit, of the death of a divine being, of the forgiveness of sins, the fulfillment of prophecies, or judgment and annihilation. , are ideas which, anyone can see, need but a touch to turn them into something blasphemous. This in a chapter showing that Christianity had produced a new concept. That is… two contradictory passions held simultaneously. This he postulates is what makes Christianity so interesting and also so difficult. The instinct of Christianity holds many of these like warriors/passivists, or drinkers/ teetotalers or complementarians/ egalitarians or being merciful/being severe or the poetry of being proud/the poetry of being humble and so many more. In that vein I give the title of a book that I made up from an instinct I learned from Neal Punt. The title should be ” Who is saved: All are, some are not”.

  • Steve A

    Thanks Geoff, this is really helpful and insightful. Your comments that seemed to contrast Hart’s view of a God who can not stand anything less than perfectly good with human creativity particularly resonated. I thought of a child’s finger painting hanging on a refrigerator. Objectively it is far from perfectly good, but as an expression of creativity of a beloved one it is very valuable. Indeed– a house with many things like that is more “homey” than a cold, sterile, heartless place. A similar image it brought to mind is of the Lego Movie–the Dad liked the legos “perfect”–even if it took the dreaded Krackle to enforce that (a very deterministic world!), rather than living with the mess of child’s play which actually set the legos free.

  • danaames

    Geoff, thanks.

    I was received into the Orthodox Church 10 years ago, but I came to Hart’s conclusions (though not via all of the same reasoning) a few years before that, from my reading of Scripture and other early Christian writings, and thought and prayer, while I was still hoping to remain an Evangelical… Also contributing to my conclusion was reading N.T Wright deeply about the Jewish, particularly, setting out of which Christianity sprang. If the Jews did not believe in a place of eternal conscious torment, how did that end up as part of western Christianity? (Short answer: the many recently converted Germanic mercenaries that were sent to Rome to help the Pope in the 800s-900s, who still held to their old beliefs about the Valhalla and Niflheim/Muspelheim. I haven’t found any Eastern Christian literature dating from before that period that explicitly describes eternal conscious torment, and in the West it’s pretty much only Augustine.) All of the Patristic writings I have read leave the question of exactly what happens after the Judgment very open, and no dogmatic expression of ECT (or much of anything else, actually) is promulgated in EO. That’s one of the big reasons I ended up in EO: I am allowed to at least ponder the possibility of universal reconciliation, and we are actually encouraged to pray for the salvation of all.

    I am at a loss to understand how union with God could in any way be incomplete, though I understand your reasoning. I’m not sure if you understand Orthodox thought about the Kingdom of God, which is that it simply is – it doesn’t need to be extended. Christ is already on the throne ruling. What needs to be “extended” if you will is the knowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord and the understanding of what that entails, starting with the defeat of Death. The fullness of the Kingdom is not yet manifest, but it already exists, and we can enter into it and participate in it and be blessed by it and demonstrate it to others even now. Orthodoxy is not explicit about all the purposes for humans after Christ returns, but we do believe that we shall even judge angels… I don’t know of anything in the eschatological thought in EO that would separate presence from purpose; I think it’s not discussed because the partnership of the two is assumed, whatever specific things humans will be doing. Also, in EO the image of God in humans is never lost; it is the likeness of Christ, the GodMan, into which we must grow.

    Because of the freedom with which God has endowed humans, the possibility of de-creationing must exist, and indeed, EO teaches that if God had not intervened, human beings (and therefore eventually all of creation) would have been lost to Death. But because of the Incarnation (the ramifications of which are simply not considered in Evangelicalism) every human being who ever lived or will ever live is already united to God because of the Second Person as God assuming human nature. Because of this union, every human being also participates in the Resurrection, thus arresting the slide toward non-existence. A person can choose the de-creationing path, but since the Resurrection belongs to all, that person would be trying in vain to act against the future outcome which is already in place 🙂

    Hart makes an argument from logic, yes – but that argument is backed up by EOrthodox theology, and not just Gregory of Nyssa’s thoughts (which have never been anathematized).

    Annihilationism is repugnant to Orthodoxy because of its strong belief in God as the Giver of Life. Not only is it illogical, it impugns God’s goodness and what God went through to accomplish the rescue of human beings – and all creation – from Death.

    Dana

  • Percival

    Your parting dismissal of Annihilationism/Conditionlism is relatively short and completely inadequate. This would seem to confirm Holsclaw’s observation:
    “Hart treats 1) “infernalists” (his label for the “eternal conscious
    torment by God” view), 2) “hell is the place of our own making” (C. S.
    Lewis), and 3) conditional immortality/annihilation as if they were all
    these same view. In the end his book really only manages to land
    serious blows against the infernalists, leaving the other two options
    mostly intact.

    Would you care to say why you think it is repugnant, illogical, and impugns God’s goodness?

  • Percival

    Conditionalism, like ECT and NT Wright’s dehumanization view, is also compatible with inclusivism and the possibility of post-mortem repentence.

  • danaames

    I should think that was evident from the rest of my reply. Why would God take away that which he freely and lovingly gave to people, especially after all he went through to rescue us from the ultimate enemy, Death/non-existence? In Scripture, God is always inviting people to choose life. Non-existence is not a good. You may not agree, but I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t understand the idea.

    “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Jn 6.33
    “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Jn 6.51

    Salvation isn’t ultimately about morality; it’s about ontology, being the kind of person God created humans to be – which is the same mode of existence as God himself: humble, self-giving love for the good of others – and, as created, contingent beings, in gratitude. If we live like that, we will do that which is moral. God’s will for everyone is that they will be saved (healed/delivered so that we can live more and more in that mode of existence); will he not bring to pass that which he wills?

    Dana

  • Percival

    Thanks for the reply, Dana. You ask “Why would God take away what he freely and lovingly gave to people?” The free-will answer is that He doesn’t, but that people can reject it. What those people reject is not existing forever, which is something that is not possible outside of union with the immortal God. What they may reject is that very immortal union. A conditionalist may affirm, like you, the universal efficacy of the cross and the universal gift of salvation without asserting that all must receive that salvation.

    Your last question is what Hart tries so hard to parse “Will he (God) not bring to pass that which he wills?” I think the answer must be no. If God will some day get everything he wills, why put off that reality until the future? Would that kind of effective will also not be effective now? Will God undo and erase all the times we have failed to do his will? Yes, God will wipe every tear from our eyes, but he will not erase the suffering that caused those tears. That would make all our suffering and all our faith through trial meaningless AND render meaningless the cross through which we share in the sufferings of Christ. Is every instance of evil also God’s failure? If Gosd always gets what he wants, why wasn’t that true last year, last week, and yesterday? Putting this kind of principle into force only in the future is a kind of special pleading.

  • Jay Johnson

    Well said.

  • Michael Dodaro

    If freedom is real, it seems that it must persist even in the eschaton. Everyone survives, but everyone remembers the atrocities of the former life and maintains the possibility both for intransigence or reformation. There would be some similarity to the pathos of rejecting grace in this world but more horrific in a world where the truth about everything is known to everyone.

  • CO Fines

    Hi Dana~ So nice to run across you here. ~Charley

  • Chrissy

    Why is it necessary to hold up “the dignity of humanity” as some a priori assertion? How is human dignity in danger when all Hart is saying is that eventually, the goodness of God will outlast anybody’s freedom (and dignity)? Hart’s argument would practically stay the same if he added an addendum throughout his claim of universal redemption that “all will be saved ‘for the purpose of being co-creators and extending the Kingdom'”.

    It seems to me you are doing (as well as everyone else who makes an argument) the same thing Hart is doing. Everyone sets the board to what they “believe” is the proper way to set it: chooses their terms, choose their opponents, and then moves on with their argument for/or against something.

    Question 1: is God good? (followed by what does good “actually” mean; can good mean cruel?)
    Question 2: What is your experience as a father? If you knew you had the ability to “save” your child from destruction would you? Or for dignity sake would you let them destroy his/her self? It is hard to imagine that God is “up” in heaven sad because he wasn’t able to “save” certain people… (please, this is a simple illustration to point to simple intuition, do not stretch it out to absurdity)

  • danaames

    Hi Charley!
    D.

  • Chrissy

    There is a different from God getting “everything” he wants and God getting “everyone” he wants. When you move time into the “eternal realm” the concept that God will absolutely get his will in outlasting and outloving everyone single human being into free surrender, is not the same thing as arguing that God always gets his will in every situation…. AND I would assume you would hold to the idea that in the “new heavens and earth” that God gets his perfect will every time…. So you what’s your point???

  • Chrissy

    Wow….. that was terrible English……sorry! Typing fast and not rereading never pays off. Hopefully you can put it together. 🙂

  • danaames

    Why put off that reality until the future? Precisely because our suffering is not meaningless, and because Christ shares our sufferings. Of course every instance of evil is not God’s failure. God knows what he is doing by allowing us so much time; right now, at least, it is not given for us to know all the whys about that. If we didn’t believe God is good and wise, if we didn’t trust that goodness, we should just refuse the ticket like Ivan Karamazov did.

    When Christ at the Judgment reveals all the truth about who we are, we will see the consequences of our failing to love. We may try to push that vision away, but no longer will we be able to because we will know as we are known, and that will be the torment for us. God has infinite patience and will wait on us until we all bend the knee. That’s what Love does.

    I used to believe as you do, Percival, and there is a way to interpret Scripture that can back up that belief. Orthodoxy doesn’t interpret Scripture that way, and I ceased to do so a long time ago – mainly by reading it more closely, and considering what it means for God to be truly Good.

    Dana

  • Tom R.

    Dana, I really enjoyed reading the wealth of information in your comment! I have been reading about Orthodoxy for a little while now, having become interested when reading that some of the early Jesus movement leaders converted. Regardless if I do convert or not, I share the same understanding now that you have found. Interestingly, David Bentley Hart’s book is the third book I am reading about Patristic Universalism within the past month – I had found two others with the same conclusions written by Evangelical authors while waiting for the Kindle edition of Hart’s book to come out. What books by Tom Wright were you referring to? I have a few which I haven’t touched or finished 🙂

  • Flint8ball

    Why doesn’t the bible provide clear direction and perspective? There are so many iterations. How is one to know which, if any, is correct?

  • a r tompkins

    wow – lots of big words! real esoteric philosophy here! Too bad that while you find time to pontificate on the marvels and mysteries of God and our eventual (or not) salvation, real suffering, of humans and so many creatures on this planet, persists in ways too horrible to imagine.

    You must consider the possibility that there are no gods, or any that care about human wellness. You must consider that you are here, on this planet, a freaky product of this universe, and not much more. You must consider that, don’t you?

    After all, as Epicurus said three centuries even before Christ grace the Earth with His Divine Presence:
    “If God is willing to end suffering, but not able, then God is not omnipotent;
    If able but unwilling, then God is malevolent;
    If able and willing, then whence does suffering come?
    If neither able nor willing, why call it God?”

    That’s it in a nutshell, is it not?

  • CO Fines

    Geoff, very well done review! This is complex and you have done a good job of summarizing. Unfortunately you are correct in your pointing out the general atmosphere of obnoxious diatribe. I agree with the general thrust of the book but would not recommend it to anyone else just because of its uncharitable tone, which I find unchristian, even as Jesus called some people sons of snakes. I was lucky to score a library loan and it did not make me want to buy the book.

    Interesting that you are speaking to moderates and progressives. I would characterize myself as a radical conservative, as I would Jesus, and I would also lay claim to being a universalist, small “u”, but do not agree with the general understanding, as well as Hart’s, that all MUST be saved. I regard the spiritual law of free will as being very close to the top of universal principles, and in my understanding if my will is truly free, this extends to those who would spit in God’s face given the opportunity. You can’t have one without the other. As to the ultimate resolution of these matters, I am content to leave that up to God, and find it presumptuous beyond measure to dictate the details of the outcome to our Maker. In the meantime, whether disciple of Augustine or our friend Hart, pardon me, you’re stepping on the toes of my God-given free will to follow my particular path.

    First argument: “God is good.” Yes, absolutely, as in absolute truth. No argument. This is the second line of my very short personal creed. The first line reads “God Is.”

    Second argument: “Every rational nature (humanity) is only truly free when it wills its own good end.” Several problems here. First it assumes that all human beings are rational. Second it assumes that rationality is the highest human attribute, a grievous error given us by the Greeks and the so called Enlightenment. I do not see anything stopping someone with the utmost in intelligence and determination choosing to oppose God out of rational principle to the bitter end. I would imagine most Satanists believe they are choosing the best possible way for their own good end. I believe they will be given every opportunity to change their mind and some or all will, but no one will be forced against their will.

    This is too long. The best part of the book is scripturally tearing down the abomination of eternal conscious torment without dismissing the reality of restorative hellfire. I think T.S. Gay may have summed it up best below: “Who is saved: All are, some are not”. I would amend slightly, “some maybe not.”

  • Chrissy,
    Thanks for your response. And indeed you are right to direct attention to the underlying premises: What does it mean that God is good? Hart’s set up his metaphysical machine a certain way and on it going toward universalism. I set mine up differently. I don’t in the end want to end the discuss with we all just get to think what we want. I think in a sense we are more responsible to the biblical revelation, and my sense is that Hart’s version of Eastern Orthodoxy is less interested in that. That’s why I’m Protestant, and he isn’t.

    But to your point about father’s and children, then example does make my point. Did God set up a world in which he intended to treat us as infant forever, needed to intervene and save us from danger? I don’t think that was the metaphysical end (or the “final good” God had in mind). When my boys were infants I cared for them as if they were helpless (and irresponsible). When they were teenagers I gave them more responsibility and allowed them to experience the consequences of their actions. When they become adults then I will treat them with dignity and respect their decision and way of life, even if I disagree with it.

    I think the “moral imagination” that universalists use in the parent-child metaphors is to perpetually infantalize humanity.

    So I disagree with your assertion that Hart could just add an addendum to his argument, because that addendum would fundamentally change his premises, it would change his argument.

  • Tom, I would love to know which other books you read. While obviously I don’t support Hart’s form of universalism, I’m interested in other views.

  • Tom R.

    Hi Geoff! The two are “Patristic Universalism” by David Burnfield, and “Hope Beyond Hell” by Gerry Beauchamin. The first is available to read if you have Kindle Unlimited, and the second is free. As I mentioned, both state they are Evangelical.

  • Percival

    Sorry Chrissy, I don’t see the difference in reducing the claim to God getting everyone he wants instead of everything he wants.

    As for the new heavens and the new earth, it seems that for universalists there could actually be a long time when people will still refuse to receive God’s salvation. Will that be during the age of the new heavens and the new earth or does that age not begin until the last holdout gives in? I don’t think we know enough about how that age will work to say whether God will get His perfect will every time. I assume we will still have autonomy to make a variety of decisions which will be pleasing to God. I don’t know if each one of those decisions will also be “the perfect will of God” (a phrase I am not entirely comfortable with).

    My main point is that conditionalism/annihilationism cannot be dismissed as repugnant and illogical. God’s goodness is not impugned by allowing people to perish if the alternative is that they persist in rebellion and blindness. And for all we know from the Bible, those seem to be the only two alternatives. If God were able to create humans with free will and also remove all consequences of that free will, it seems He would have done that already. The big story of the Bible is that there is grace and there will be justice, but our actions and our faith now have real eternal consequences.

  • danaames

    Tom, Wright’s first 3 “big books” (Christian Origins) were epic for me: “The New Testament and the People of God”, “Jesus and the Victory of God”, “The Resurrection of the Son of God”. Totally rearranged the furniture in my theological house. Though I didn’t want to be anything but an Evangelical, Wright made it possible for me to entertain looking at Orthodoxy, which came out of left field at me. (Wright’s about 85% there in his thought, steeped as it is in the 1st Century, though I don’t expect him to do anything but remain a faithful Anglican).

    Also look at Hilaria Ramelli’s “A Larger Hope?” (Wipf & Stock). Much more affordable than her magisterial “The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis” and covering the same info on a more popular level. Her “Terms for Eternity” is also pertinent.

    Dana

  • Tom R.

    Geoff, forgot to add that “Patristic Universalism” was eye opening for me as I had not read much about this topic. I would have been more apt to consider annihilationism, having seen a good defense for that not that long before, but think “Patristic Universalism” made a better case from the evidence.

  • Tom R.

    Dana, thanks! I’ll be checking those books out. Your transition had to be interesting! I appreciate the depth of intellect I find on both sides – as you mentioned, C.S. Lewis was instrumental for you. I found this interesting – a review of Hart’s book by three people I follow – one Orthodox, and the others Evangelical.
    Hope this is of interest! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6o2w3oHMM_k&list=PLQ_qClbzdAG9p51JwoMbFpsZKGZx2eOS_

  • Iain Lovejoy

    I am not sure your argument from human dignity and the necessity of us being co-creators makes sense as an objection to universalism, at least the “hell as universal purgatory” version that Hart espouses.
    I am presuming that you are not arguing that only those who are eternally damned to hell can retain their human dignity as co-creators with God, that the saved lose their humanity and agency in being saved, and, by being saved, have therefore created nothing?
    The point of (Hart’s) universalism is not that humans can’t do (or create) bad things and suffer the consequences, but that those consequences are never permanent. Your argument relies on the assumption that there will come a point where a person who has created a hell for themselves is obliged to cease creating and must live permanently with that which he has created, whether he wants to or not. The universalist assertion is that there is no such point: that God will never abandon anyone to their fate. We will eventually abandon our self-created hells voluntarily as God enlightens us as to what they are, and shows us what we can have with him. It is difficult to see how a person who reaches heaven through hell has any less a mastery of their fate or any less dignity or agency as one who has never diverted from the straight way in the first place.

  • Marshall Pease

    The problem I have with DBH is personal and applies also to what I conventionally hear about Heaven. Looking back on my life (relatively healthy septuagenarian here) it seems just stupid. I will stay hereabouts as long as God finds me useful (as co-creator or errand boy), but I don’t feel particularly useful to myself and I have no interest at all in being Marshall “forever”. I don’t wish to spend more time with my deceased relatives. I am a hopeful annihilationist: I would drown in God.

    But I think the main thrust of DBH’s argument is that the Western Church bound itself to incoherent historical forms that require “holding two [mutually contradictory] truths together”. This is a well-known technique for stoping thought, and it leads to moral outrage like infants condemned eternally not to mention war and slavery. Our collective moral nature progresses within history, ie wrt human rights; our collective theological nature should likewise be permitted to progress. Simply a facet of co-creation.

  • Steven

    I don’t think God set up a world where he intended to treat people as infants forever, but it does seem possible that he set up a world where he always treats people in ways appropriate to the level of maturity they have (progressive revelation, divine accommodation, etc). If a father had two sons, one who grew up to be mature and responsible and one who grew up incredibly self-destructive, I can certainly imagine the father making a distinction in how he interacts with the two sons (the prodigal son parable, for example). Certainly the father could allow his son to go down a path he knows is completely irrational and will ruin the son’s life forever or even kill him, but then the question would be… If the father knew all this was going to happen to the son beforehand (which God supposedly did), why did he have the child? Open theists and universalists seem to have the most consistent answers to these kinds of questions.

  • Brian

    I agree. And those three views of hell are not compatible with an all loving, all knowing, and all powerful God without the human possibility of post-mortem repentance… it seems to me.

  • brad

    $73 on Kindle??? Is there another way to get a glimpse of Manis’ argument?

  • Patrick

    Percival,

    There’s a possibility the freewill idea for humanity isn’t textually sound thinking.

    Paul appears to paint the picture that humanity is born into slavery to sin/death/evil. Our will is freed upon God freeing it when He does what He did for Peter and the 12 or with Paul at Damascus. Remember what Jesus told Peter, “You didn’t choose Me, I chose you”.

  • Chrissy

    Thanks for the response Geoff. I see what you’re saying. However, I’m not so sure I agree with you. It has nothing to do with a perpetual “infantilizing”. I want to believe in my heart that when your 80 and your boys are 50. That if they were in drug addiction, a cult, terrorist group, etc. (any thing that causes destruction on others and on themselves). AND, you know that you could “do” something about it to “bring” them out of it. I believe in my heart you would “do” whatever you could and not just throw your hands in the air on account of “human dignity”; with which their actions are destroying more human dignity than your act of “doing” something ever could. I would challenge you to think through the paradigm and remove all ideas of perpetual infants while remembering that “human dignity” is being violated and diminished more by the actions of the individuals than is possible with God determining to never give up.

  • Brad Jersak’s Her Gates Shall Never Be Closed is super helpful. He prefers not to use the term “Universalism” for reasons I share (the totalizing logical that you resist here), but gets at the deep perplexing and, in my opinion, the deep heart of Christ and the Church.

  • In the Scripture, God also uses death as a punishment, or bare minimum the end of bad decisions. It’s true that God also saves people from death, but if we’re restricting ourselves to the Scriptures, death is definitely something the Scriptures portray as being in God’s hands to dispense.

    You’re free, of course, to say that the Scriptures are wrong when they portray God in that way, but it would take a very careful act of selection to say that the Scriptures consistently portray God as someone who isn’t willing to let people die and stay dead.

  • Rodney Reeves
  • Yes, Chrissy, those are great counter-examples. And yes, I could enter in and “save” them from addition by taking them to a clinic, I could snatch them out of a cult, but there is also a chance that my son would hate me for it–believing that what I had done was evil in removed what they perceived as their only true good thing.

    So what of this strange situation where they are “saved” by resent it? This is the possibility that Hart, and universalists as I hear them, seem to omit. The demand that all WILL/MUST be saved (as a convinced universalist like Hart claims–not like a hopeful universalist who hopes/expects all will be saved but doesn’t know it) seems to force that face that even God will change their minds.

    So a loving God forces us to be saved, and he forces us to like it? Now who is twisting what “love” means into a monstrosity?

    I’m much more comfortable claiming that “God invites us into salvation and invites us into the joy of relationship.” This invitation might very well be received by all (a hopeful universalism), but Hart’s demand that it be so or God is a monster actually makes God into a different kind of monster.

  • danaames

    You’re right about what is portrayed in Scripture, of course. The context must be considered; usually it’s idolatry of some sort, and there’s certainly a message there. We always have to consider that the OT is the Jews’ commentary on their own history with God; we have to ask ourselves why a certain incident or portrayal of God is there, and if there is anything about the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Christ that points to that instance. If so, the typology is the most important takeaway; if not, there may be a deeper meaning that is valuable for us, or there may not be.

    What I’m talking about re the lack of a place of fiery torment constructed by God is the Jewish thought of Jesus’ day (which can’t be found in the Bible but which explains Paul so very well – see Wright!) and the meaning of the Greek, also in the context of the writings. Those things have to be factored into the interpretation of Scripture. It’s interpretation I’m talking about, not the bare words. No argument at all with the bare words. The question is, why are those words there, in that place in the narrative?

    Dana

  • Yes, agreed.

    I also agree the NT doesn’t teach that there’s a place of eternal fiery torment that everyone goes to when they die, although that idea is present in some form in the Judaism of Jesus’ day, as 4 Maccabees illustrates. The righteous sons are dying unjustly under the tyrant for the sake of the nation, but they will rise to live forever, whereas Antiochus Epiphanes will burn forever. And definitely “Gehenna” had taken on a much broader, darker, fiery, mythical context in Jewish thought.

    But that aside, I agree with you the NT does not teach that, when we die, we go to a place of eternal fire.

    Why I wanted to pipe up, though, was that you dismissed annihilationism on the grounds that God is consistently portrayed in the Scriptures as being against death. But he isn’t. Even in the New Testament, the impending destruction of Jerusalem is viewed as an act of God. The coming judgement of God both on Israel and the nations is something to be -saved from-, and the outcome from it is death.

    It just seems inconsistent to me to say that the “pro life” verses are an accurate portrayal of God’s view of death, but the “pro death” verses are allegories that have no connection to God’s actual disposition.

  • danaames

    Should have used some commas:
    “What I’m talking about, re the lack of a place…constructed by God, is the Jewish thought…”
    Nonetheless, glad you agree with me about the NT not presenting such a place.

    Yes, God is seen as using death in the OT, and certainly judgment fell on Jerusalem, involving death. Again, we need to look at why that is presented in the OT. And remember, Jesus warned that his followers should flee, Matt 24.15ff – and many did, and so were saved. But the point I was making is that death is not our ultimate end. St Paul says it is our ultimate enemy, and that it will be fully and finally defeated, 1Cor 15.22-27

    “…for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end (or “the rest”, textual note) when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”

    I think annihilationism developed because people didn’t want God portrayed as so bad that he would consign people to ETC, extinction being preferable to that kind of suffering. I think it is a wrong interpretation of the Scriptures used to justify it, and it goes against the teaching in the NT, especially that of Jesus himself: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Jn 10.10.

    Dana

  • disqus_8WWcZAybA8

    I don’t understand why you think Hart’s view of human nature excludes the “purpose” you speak of as part of the Divine image. Hart is drawing directly from Maximus the Confessor’s understanding of the will, which Maximus developed in the context of the monothelite controversy, in conversation with other Eastern Fathers who wrestled with the question of the will, God’s goodness as creator, and the surd of evil. I think there are problems with Maximus’ categories, but I don’t see how a lack of human “purpose” or dignity is one of them. Can you explain?

    I’ll have some posts on the Ecclectic Orthodoxy blog next week exploring some of my concerns about Maximus’ theological anthropology. In short: it still (IMHO) owes too much too Platonism and brings the goodness of the present material creation into question. But I don’t think that reflects a lack of human dignity. The purpose of human existence, for Maximus, is theosis, and what could be more dignified than that?

    I also don’t understand why you would critique the effort to seek clarity through reason. Theology is faith seeking understanding. If what you want to say is that it’s good to seek clarity through reason but that reason ultimately will fall short, not least when exploring the mystery of the last things, I’d agree. But if you just want to say the reality of things can be a big contradiction, that’s not a good theological method, I think.

  • danaames

    Phil, I replied to you yesterday but it seems the comment got lost in the ether. Will try to reconstruct.

    First, I should have used commas here: “What I’m talking about, re the lack of a place… constructed by God, is the Jewish thought …” But I’m glad you also see that it’s not there in the NT. I think annihilationism arose because people couldn’t stand the thought of God consigning people to ECT, and annihilation was considered better than that kind of suffering.

    Again, in the OT one has to ascertain why those instances where God uses/allows death are there in that Jewish commentary on their own history with God. Also, it’s simply not logical that God would allow the created being he calls “very good” to end up being destroyed forever. God allows death, and even uses it, but that’s not the last word, even the in OT – see Job 19.25-26.

    The NT is very clear. Christ says, “I came that they may have life, and that more abundantly.” In 1Cor 15 St Paul writes, “…as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end,[g – textual note reads “or ‘the rest'”] when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Death is seen as our ultimate enemy, and that is what will be destroyed, not humans (or the rest of creation, see Rom 8).

    Dana

  • Osse

    I would add that I don’t get this idea that God punishes sinners because He respects their dignity. Is that in the Bible? It sounds more like a modern liberal- sounding rationalization.

    I am a universalist who thinks God punishes people in part because we deserve it and in part to bring us to our senses, but there is nothing dignified about my sinning and nothing to respect about my choice to sin.

  • Steven

    But (much like Hart’s explanation in the book) wouldn’t your son’s choices of self-destructive drugs or cult membership have been irrational choices that he would understand as having been bad for him if he really could grasp the full truth? No universalist I can think of would say God forces anyone to be saved and like it. They would say something like, It just so happens that we were made for union with God and an enjoyment of that union, so that will ultimately happen because it is the ultimately rational choice that will be made by every rational creature once they’re rationality is allowed and able to fully flourish.

  • Percival

    Well Dana, you said:
    “I think annihilationism arose because people couldn’t stand the thought
    of God consigning people to ECT, and annihilation was considered better
    than that kind of suffering.”

    This comment seems to assume that ECT predates Annihilationism. That’s just not the case. All 3 views were around during the time of Christ. In fact it seems that universalism may have been the view that rose latest because the Greeks assumed the immortality of the soul for theological and apologetic reasons. The Hebrews had no such assumptions.

    Conditionalism/Annihilationism also affirms and fully embraces the “all” verses and the complete elimination of evil. It is only the ECT view that keeps hell and rebels around for eternity. The triumphant declaration “Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” is fulfilled when all things are put under the feet of Christ.

  • Hi Dana,

    Annihilationism did not arise out of a philosophical struggle with the idea of Hell. It is a very old position, arguably the oldest position, as it was the Jewish default for a significant period of time. The idea of a resurrection is something that develops later in the OT, and even then, is largely cast in terms of restoration of a shattered Israel. “Death” is plenty bad enough in terms of God’s judgement, and the OT consistently depicts God’s wrath as death, primarily the political action of armies or oppressive powers. The concept of living on was embodied in the directives to have plenty of children and hold onto the land, so that someone might “live” in perpetuity through the continuation of their line.

    Obviously, as Israel develops her testimony, her experience with God, and her struggles with God’s actions and justice, the idea of resurrection becomes stronger, albeit something that still happens corporately much later in time. There were even significant chunks of Jews in Jesus’ day who still did not believe in a coming resurrection.

    That’s not to say those people were correct, but just to illustrate that the idea that dead people stay dead is a longstanding theological position.

    I think you are largely reading a theological abstraction back into Jesus and Paul’s words about life that fits a Greco-Roman thought pattern, but not necessarily a first century Jewish one.

    Even so, I could just as easily say the NT is “very clear” that there are people who will not be raised to eternal life at the end. “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” – Rev. 20:14

    That passage is “very clear” that when Death and the grave are destroyed, so is a certain group of people.

    Anyway, the main point I’m trying to get across is that I think you’re too dismissive of annihilationism. It is grounded in Scriptural texts, same as your position. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with it, but at least be fair to it.

  • danaames

    Phil – and Percival,

    I do admit that I am not up on the history of annihilationism, other than what I’ve heard in the past few years. I’ve given it a listen in that time, and decided it was not in keeping with the character of a good God who created the universe out of nothing. If that’s dismissive, so be it. I’ve done a lot of reading, praying and thinking in my +63 years. I may be wrong, but not because I haven’t studied and deeply considered these things.

    I am Orthodox, so I come at this from, yes, an Eastern Christian understanding. The Greeks may have believed in immortality of the soul, but the Christian Greek Fathers did not. There is continuity of thought from the first Jewish Christians all the way through the Apostolic Fathers (have you read them?) to the Cappadocians and beyond. In their view, God is the only one who is immortal, and he graciously grants immortality to humanity because he created us to be able to bear it in communion with him. Because of the Second Person uniting himself with human nature (everything about us that makes us human) in the Incarnation, every human being is united to Christ in his Resurrection – he has bestowed it on all. If you don’t agree with this, fine. You’re Protestant, not Orthodox. In addition, Orthodoxy has never based any doctrine on the book of Revelation – too figurative to engender anything besides speculation.

    One can completely eliminated evil through destruction; it will also be completely eliminated when every soul wants and loves God above all. No destruction involved. God is that good, and that patient.

    Jesus Christ is Lord and he has conquered death – that is the Classical Christian view. Scriptural texts can be used to support lots of positions and arguments. As I have written in comments many times, it’s not the bare words of Scripture but rather their interpretation that is the issue with all of these problems. I don’t agree with the interpretation supporting annihilationism or ECT. I try to explain why, that there’s a different way to look at these things.

    Dana

  • danaames

    See my reply to Phil.

    D.

  • I’m not trying to get you to agree with annihilationism. I merely want to illustrate that it is a very old and respected position within the Christian church, and not something antithetical to the Scriptures at all, although it may be antithetical to your theological tradition.

    I have read many of the early and Eastern fathers and find them to swiftly depart from the Semitic worldview that produced both Jesus and the Scriptures in favor of philosophy and mysticism that is more befitting their worldview. This isn’t necessarily wrong; we all have to make sense of the Scriptures within our circumstances and discover what those Scriptures have to say -to us- which may be different than what it said to the apostles or Jesus’ original audience. But we do have to keep this in mind when we talk about what the Scriptures do and don’t “clearly” say.

    Incidentally, I feel similarly about the Western tradition. This happened early in church history long before the East and West schism.

    I do not think it’s good to ascribe infallibility to any Christian tradition, whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant, and this is where you and I probably fundamentally part ways. For me, the EO position is open to critique, and to you, it isn’t. Theological claims either agree with the EO tradition or are wrong by default. This has come up several times with you in discussion, and while I think you are a very pleasant person to talk to and have no doubt that you have the Spirit of Christ within you, ultimately the discussion just isn’t going to go anywhere. I either have to agree with the Eastern fathers or I’m just wrong, no matter what I say or what evidence I bring to light, and when I do, you just accuse me of ignorance. If I “really knew” the Eastern tradition like you did, then I’d just agree with them.

    I would just encourage you not to trade one source of ironclad certainty for another source of ironclad certainty. All these voices have something to teach us. ECT, annihilationism, and universalism ALL appeal to the Scriptures. I think one of these is more consistent with the worldview of the Scriptures than others, as do you, but I want to be fair that even the people I disagree with are still coming from a position of trying to believe what the Bible says.

  • Dan Kline

    “My fundamental concern is that our humanity is at stake—our dignity (not just our freedom). And this is the reason moderates—and progressives—should reject David Bentley Hart’s universalism: he loses the unique beauty (and disaster) of the human person in his relentless pursuit of metaphysical clarity and coherence.” The unique beauty and disaster of the human person is in the lives we must lead – because unless you’re a Mormon, the one choice you do not have is whether or not to be born – and if God does not have metaphysical clarity and coherence, who cares?

  • Peter Bateman Mockridge

    I wonder what sort of barriers Jesus erected (i.e., ORTHODOX) to those who sought him out? Love God, love your neighbor may be barriers for some, and whether such folks can be “saved” and from what are mysteries about which others, ever since shortly after Jesus died, have speculated, but which, nonetheless, remain unknown and unknowable.

  • danaames

    That’s interesting, Phil. I feel the same way when discussing things with you. That must mean we could be good friends IRL 🙂

    I’m not interested in an ironclad certainty, and I definitely believe that people with whom I don’t agree are coming from a position of trying to correctly interpret Scripture. I apologize if I’ve said anything that would indicate otherwise; I have always taken people’s sincerity in that for granted.

    EO doesn’t claim infallibility; we don’t even use that term. Of course the EO position can be critiqued; what I’ve found is that it stands up to the critique, as long as one is comparing apples with apples, so to speak – that is, with an understanding of what EO theology is saying in its own terms and using its own definitions. It’s the same as asking those critiquing Western theology to do so on its own terms, in its own vocabulary and definitions.

    I think the ground for Biblical interpretation is knowing as best we can what the disciples and Jesus’ audiences would have thought as they heard him – though it took the walk to Emmaus for them to begin to see all the links, make all the connections… I’ve found continuity and commonality between the Semitic understandings and the Patristic writings. The Fathers used the Greek language to open up those Semitic understandings in order to answer the questions of thoughtful people in the Greco-Roman culture. (And much of the mystical worldview actually comes from the early Syriac Christians, who spoke a variant of Aramaic; there was a lot of exchange of ideas in the Eastern Christian world – it wasn’t all Greek/Constantinople.) Evidently, I’m not very good at painting that picture so that people can see it.

    I believe God meets us where we are, no matter our level of understanding, because he is good and loves mankind.

    Dana

  • Carla Congrove

    God WON’T “change their minds.” God will lead us into more and more knowledge of truth and more and more understanding of love and of good and evil until we change our own minds. We aren’t finally saved until WE, of our own will, change our minds (repent and have faith). The whole process comes about through God’s grace.

  • garymccaslin

    What if hell is a mental construct of wise ancient people who, even though they were using the very best available but still pre-scientific minds, simply did not have the information to begin to understand our world and the Universe as 3rd graders are able to understand today? Everyone reading this article has that sacred information but too many churches are still preaching old, worn out dogmas. Hart’s book only reinforces ancient ideas and arguments about the varieties of Universalism. Who cares? The truth is there is only mystery after death and I will rest in the simple promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God/Christ. Nothing. Let’s drop these arguments that are only driving people away from churches and preach and live the two great commandments: Love God and love your neighbor.

  • Turbulance

    No, there are many different translations. Some good, some bad. The message however remains the same. They all agree on the state of humanity, i.e. fallen, a d the need for redemption through Jesus. The only translation, which does not, is the Jahova’s Witness scriptures the New World Translation, which has been edited to support their particular view of salvation, which incidently is a total invention based on an old heresy i.e. Arianism.

  • gingoro

    I would like to hear Scot on this topic. I am in the process of reading Stackhouse on this topic although he is not dealing with this particular book.

  • Ken Steckert

    How would you be a better God? Do you think all would call you good that live? These are questions I cannot answer without honestly acknowledging whatever a God would do, there will always be ones finding fault.

  • Flint8ball

    Translations are definitely part of the issue. The contents of the canon (what’s in/what’s out) was itself guided by bias, struggle for power and influence etc…by men, even before we get to the issue of interpretation.

  • Heith Bar Alan Wetzler

    Geoff, re: monstrosity—Hart makes no claim that God “forces u to like [him/his love].” Moreover, love properly, rationally, and truthfully recognized for what it inherent IS cannot be called anything but what it is=love. Moreover, you seem to be suggesting that, in God’s design to give us ultimate freedom, he allows his love and purposes for humans to essentially fail a significant portion. This unnecessarily props up a weird notion of ultimate freedom against God’s loving will.

    To properly engage Hart, you’ll have to show how it would be possible for a completely free, unaffected will to categorically deny the ultimate Good. Back to your point—if ultimate freedom and human dignity (to choose to co-create) are God’s priority then how would that end be achieved if humans, with the pretense of freedom, reject God’s Good, demonstrating that they are in fact NOT free, but still enslaved to a twisted rationality or economy of values?

  • Heith Bar Alan Wetzler

    Exactly.

  • Heith Bar Alan Wetzler

    Agreed. Also, I reject the notion that somehow God really cares whether his children “hate” him for rescuing them, given eternity. If any of my sons, even as adults, were making harmful choices and I had the opportunity to intervene and save their life, I absolutely would. Let them hate me for a while (which is a weird presumption anyway, as it suggest that somehow people would still have a twisted perspective on what is good and bad).

  • a r tompkins

    given all of the unnecessary suffering of so much of this creation of the gods, then it’s hard to imagine a more indifferent, if not malicious, set of gods. look around man!

    epicurus said something like this:
    Is God willing to end evil but can’t? Then it is not omnipotent.
    Is it capable but doesn’t? Then it is malicious.
    Is it capable and willing? then whence evil?
    is it neither capable nor willing? then why call it “God”?

    I think that sums it up – can you do better?

  • Ken Steckert

    You simply repeated what you stated initially without addressing my questions at all.

    If there is a God who cares about humanity, how does God eliminate evil without annihilation? As renowned atheist Richard Dawkins states, there is a “selfish gene” in us all, and I do not understand Dawkins to be stating that as a good thing, but as something that causes continual conflict among humanity. And I would say that conflict eventually works itself out in evil ways. So to me, unless humanity is annihilated, there will be evil. So if there is a God, the fact that humanity continues on, indicates to me that God has a mercy and grace that cannot be measured.

    So my question remains – how would you be a better God?

  • a r tompkins

    And who/what created the “selfish gene” in the first place, and why? One could make a case that whatever did is sadistic.

    I never claimed I would be a better god. I maintain only that the gods religionists believe in have created a world of living things where suffering is the predominant state. This is better explained by evolution. Evolution is cruel. Evolution is indifferent. Evolution is conflict. I don’t even “like” evolution in that sense. But it’s either you accept that evolution rules, or you have to believe the gods themselves are gone, dead, indifferent, or cruel.

  • Ken Steckert

    Yes, one can make a case that a sadistic being created humanity for misery.

    One can also make a case that God created humanity with the ability to choose, and humanity chose selfishly.

    To me Epicurus is far too simplistic a response to how God must be if there is a God. Epicurus does not give evidence to me that he wrestles with how to be a better God. The ways I come with “better” in the sense of eliminating evil is either annihilation or elimination of freedom to choose. And both of these in my mind eliminate love.

    It is paradoxical for sure, but it seems to me evil must be allowed to exist for love to exist.

  • a r tompkins

    no one is talking about how to be a “better god” – we’re talking about the eminent obvious flaws in the one you’re selling.

    Here’s your theory.

    1. Before there was anything, there were gods. or a god. depends.
    2. Gods have limitless power to create, limitless power to understand all of the implications of everything they create. Else, why would you call them “gods”?

    3. They created living things, designed with selfish genes. Selfish genes that would lead to struggles, violence, suffering beyond comprehension.
    4. Knowing full well these creatures would inevitably suffer, they went ahead and designed life like that anyway.

    5. In other words, so far as we know, there was no suffering as we understand it today, until and unless the gods created beings that would themselves suffer and cause others to suffer.

    6. And gods continue to let this world of strife, pain, loss, sorrow exist, and you call that “compassion.”

    Whether you actually DO choose whatever is by no means a given. Evidence mounts that your DNA and mine are programming machines, and your day-to-day choices are not choices at all even though you may “feel” like you’re choosing. What IS certain, is that there is a LOT of suffering. Some suffering has been reduced, like dying by a simply-cured infection, or any of a million viruses, and on and on, not by religions or holy books, but by science. Do you know anything about history?

    What am I missing?

  • a r tompkins

    “evil must be allowed to exist for love to exist” – what a specious, ridiculous, obtuse thing to say.

  • a r tompkins

    Because the bible is written by humans, to sell different versions of gods, and so on. If there are gods, and they had any influence on the way their messages were conveyed to humanity, they sure did a crummy job.

    While it is not possible for all of these iterations to be correct, because so much is mutually exclusive, it is possible that all iterations are wrong. that is entirely possible.

  • Ken Steckert

    Agree that no one else is talking about a better god. But for those who use the existence of evil as a reason for disbelieving in god or stating that the existence of evil means god is evil, I think it is a question deserving of consideration. Why I still believe in the God of the Bible is because when I have doubts, and there are many reasons to doubt this God being truth, I cannot come up with how to “do it better.” And if there is a god, who are we to expect we can begin to understand the whole of all that is to make such a simpleton dismissal as Epicurus?

    The reason I put that to me it seems evil must be allowed to exist for love to exist is because, as I also stated, the only options I see to eliminate evil is annihilation or elimination of choice … or never creating beings with a choice. When I love someone (obviously I am referring to other-centered love), I do not eliminate their choice. Yes, with a two year old son, I did eliminate choices; however, as he got older, I gave more freedom of choice. To me, if I had not relinquished control, the person I would have been loving was me and not him.

  • a r tompkins

    your thesis, that suggests I can’t feel profound love, joy, pride, exuberance, etc, etc for myself, for my relationships with family members, friends, and even strangers, WITHOUT at the same time living in a world with an overabundance of horrible suffering, is insulting, ridiculous, preposterous, and infuriating. If this is your god-driven perception of how things MUST be, then you sir are pathetic. To imply that the only way I feel love for my kids is by knowing that somewhere else in the world some little girl is being raped or murdered by her mother’s meth-addicted boyfriend is itself wicked. You sir are wicked. Religiosity has made you a madman.

    Last night I watched my usual Wednesday night “Nature” show on PBS. Always a great show. And apparently you don’t know this, but life is a tenuous and in general a cruel yet amazing struggle for survival. I didn’t invent this system, and I don’t think I necessarily “like” it, but it *is* nature and here we are. In almost every interaction between prey and predator, there are those that live to tomorrow, and those that don’t. Either the prey is caught and ripped to shreds while still alive, or the predator fails to make the catch, and just might starve to death. This is evolution.

    Want a better god? OK – here’s an idea… If I was the gods, I’d have designed a world where critters, including us, derive all of their energy directly from the sun, like plants do. We’d all have little solar panels on top and energy storage cells for nighttime, or whatever. And there would be no birth defects, no mental illness, no suffering. That’s your better god right there. Easy-peasy.

    Go away, psycho. Stop insulting me and putting your ignorance on display for the world to see.

  • Ken Steckert

    I never insulted you and never implied anything you mentioned in the first paragraph.

  • a r tompkins

    suggesting that I, or anyone else, is not capable of “choosing” to experience joy without being able to “choose” evil is an insult to logic, integrity, and nature itself, of which I, and you, are a part. If anything, any joy I feel in the accomplishments of the people I love and share life with, is only attenuated and harmed by knowing others in the world are suffering. Believing, as you apparently do, in pure nonsense – that without “evil” we would not know “good” – is insane.