God is Heaven, God is Hell: A Review of ‘That All Shall be Saved’

by Chris E. W. Green, Ph.D.

It took everything I have to write this review of That All Shall Be Saved by David Bentley Hart. Not because I didn’t like the book. I did like it, very much in fact. I found Hart’s arguments by and large persuasive, even if at times I was weary with his supercilious tone and too-quick dismissal of others’ views—especially Balthasar’s. As someone who lives with bi-polar disorder, I was especially unsettled by his comments about “diseased emotional conditions” (p. 29).

(As an aside, I have to admit that I worry Hart is at risk of becoming a caricature of himself as a pugilist, and I would hate for that to draw attention away from his theology. On the other hand, however, I have to admit that I very much enjoy Hart’s sense of humor, which has shown up not only in this book, like his other writings, but also in the various inter­views he has done since the book has been released. And that is why at least some of what others took to be condescension I took as droll self-deprecation. That is not to say that it was all self-deprecation, however. There was definitely some other-deprecation and self-congrat­ulation happening, too. And that I didn’t enjoy very much. At one point, I found myself wondering if Hart’s tone would change at all if he personally had undergone a change of mind on this issue, and knew from experience how difficult that can be.)

Anyway, as always with Hart, there were magnificent passages, magnificent both in form and content. Like this one:

Hell appears in the shadow of the cross as what has always already been conquered, as what Easter leaves in ruins, to which we may flee from the transfiguring light of God if we so wish, but where we can never finally come to rest—for, being only a shadow, it provides nothing to cling to. (p. 129)

Or this one:

The eschatological discrimination between heaven and hell is the crucifixion of history, while the final universal restoration of all things is the Easter of creation. (p. 104)

And of course there were penetrating insights everywhere—like this one: “for Paul the cross of Christ revealed the law’s wrath against sin, in that it was an eminently legal murder” (p. 25); this one: “the free will defense requires … a mythical sort of God” (p. 182); this one: “I am not even sure it is really possible to distinguish a single soul in isolation as either saint or sinner in any absolute sense” (p. 144); and this one: “We exist as ‘the place for the other,’ to borrow a phrase from Michel de Certeau. Surely this is the profoundest truth in the doctrine of resurrection” (p. 153). These provoked me to set the book aside to think. But perhaps best of all, there were a number of claims and observa­tions, some of them made only in passing—like the one about “casual callousness that is so frequent a concomitant of deep piety” (p. 11)—that made me set the book aside to think prayerfully—as only the best theology can do.

No, it took everything I have to write this review because I made the mistake of reading other reviews. In particular, the abysmal ones. No need to name names. There were, of course, a number of solid, even stellar reviews, which illuminated Hart’s book beautifully. But there were a few that were truly awful—poorly written and even more poorly argued. Many, if not all of these reviewers, obviously failed to grasp Hart’s arguments, either through negligence or incapacity, yet decided to write their reviews anyway. All that was annoying, to be sure, but that is not what bothered me, not really. Perhaps I am being unprofessional, or simply precious. But if I am honest, what really bothered me—left and leaves me sick—was that some of the reviewers seemed more than happy to go on thinking horrific thoughts about God, about the freedom God has given us, and about the evil that has arisen in defiance of God and freedom, thoughts that seem to me obviously unworthy of God and at odds with the gospel.

I do not agree with Hart when he says “the God in whom the majority of Christians through­out history have professed belief appears to be evil” (p. 73). (I would have agreed if he had said the majority of what Christians have professed about damnation appears to be evil, provided the emphasis was on the word “appears.”) Instead, I believe, as Hart himself elsewhere suggests, that what Christians as a rule have believed about hell—or at least what they have believed that they believe—is actually at odds with what they know to be true about God. Perhaps it is nearer the truth, then, to say the majority of Christians believe that God is good—and feel the best they can do is somehow hold this belief in tension with what they have been told is true about hell.

They feel bound to hold this tension because they have been told that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, which means we must never question what we are told about God’s ways. But, as Hart intimates, this way of thinking is stupefying, dehumanizing. We do not find truth by denying the questions that arise, especially not questions about the character of God, but by living with those questions courageously and patiently. We do not find truth by crucifying our intellect, but by yielding our minds and hearts to the crucified one. The ugly fact is, however, that many people are convinced they cannot trust themselves to question what they have been taught, which, of course, they take to be authoritative. And so, instead of losing their minds, they just keep the question close, unasked and unan­swered, waiting to be rescued. They are not stupid or faithless; they are confused.

But what some people are willing to say when they are denouncing apocatastasis (whether Hart’s or someone else’s) terrifies me. That is what takes the wind out of me. How can you respond when people are willing to say we cannot really know what it means to say that God is good? Or that eternal conscious torment is exactly what people deserve for not choosing God? Or that God respects our “freedom” so much he freely determines not do everything in his power to save us from sin and death? Or that the doctrine of hell is what grounds faith and animates faithfulness? It is possible to articulate a doctrine of hell, even an infernalist doctrine of hell, without implying that God is cruel, or that our words about God are meaningless, or that our freedom is in fact autonomy.

I want to emphasize the point: Hart does not reject the doctrine of hell. He does not deny the reality of damnation. He simply names the inherent limits of that reality—and the limitless­ness of the God who determines those limits. I think, as Hart obviously does, that the doctrine of hell is absolutely necessary, for at least two reasons. First, because it is a way of remaining aware of what we have done and can do to ourselves by resisting grace, by turning from the good. Second, because without it, God’s character is impugned. God cannot fail to do justice for those who were wronged, even as he has mercy on those who did the wrong. Hell, then, is not so much for sinners as it is for those who sinned against sinners, those who took advantage of others’ brokenness or oppressed them in their misery. God damns the abusers, the victimizers, the violators. And he damns them both for their own sake and for the sake of those abused, victimized, and violated. No wrong can go unanswered.

As Origen and Gregory of Nyssa and George MacDonald and Sergei Bulgakov, among many others, including Hart, have said, “hell” is the name for the process in which God separates sinners from their sins, destroying not only those sins but the evil that animates them. Florensky refers to it as a “fiery surgery” (The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, p. 175), in which “every impure thought, every idle word, every evil deed, everything whose source is not God, everything whose roots are not fed by the water of eternal life … [is] torn out of the formed empirical person, out of human selfhood” (p. 173). If this vision is right, then when hell has finished its perfect work, nothing will be left but godliness, or, better, nothing will be left but pure creatureliness, burning with the divine light.

I learned this first from George MacDonald, reading Lilith and then his Unspoken Sermons. Although I had been raised a full-bore infernalist—I heard countless sermons on the torments of hell, each one more graphic and ferocious than the last—reading MacDonald cured me, healed my conscience and my imagination, virtually overnight. In perhaps his most important “unspoken” sermon, “The Consuming Fire,” MacDonald insists, “love loves unto purity … Therefore all that is not beautiful in the beloved, all that comes between and is not of love’s kind, must be destroyed. And our God is a consuming fire.” MacDonald, I realized, had it exactly right: God is heaven and God is hell. Or, said differently, heaven and hell are nothing but relations to God. Hell, in particular, is the way God relates to us so that both we and those we have sinned against are delivered from our sins.

Eriugena insists that “it is not part of God’s justice but wholly alien from it to inflict penalties on what he has made.” Instead, God inflicts penalties, justly, on all that he has not made (On the Division of Natures V.36). That is, sin, not the sinner, evil, not the evildoer, is destroyed. Murder and abuse and rape and despotism and racism and lying, like all evils, are God-damned and forever eradicated. God does not merely “forgive” the rapist and then expect the one who was raped simply to accept that this forgiveness is just. God, somehow, consumes the sin itself, the evil that was done, so that both the victim and the victimizer are made whole.

Hart, of course, says all of this, or assumes it in what he says. But without necessarily finding fault with his book, I want to say more than he said. I want to say that only this doctrine of hell—hell as separation of the sinner from his sin, hell as the eternal eradication of evil and the once-for-all purgation of the created self—can answer the problem of evil. And that problem has to be answered. Personally, I believe that this doctrine of hell as purgative teaches us, better than anything else, that God’s forgiveness is not the triumph of mercy over justice but the triumph of justice in mercy. Jesus promised that those who mourn shall be comforted.

At the sentencing of Amber Guyger, the Dallas police offer who murdered Botham Jean, Brandt, Botham’s younger brother, crossed the courtroom to embrace her, to forgive her, and to encourage her to find Jesus. When the news broke, some were quick to celebrate it: “This is Christianity,” they said. “This is what the world needs.” Others were not so sure. J. Kameron Carter, for one, questioned it, posting this reflection to his Facebook page:

The verdict on the police officer in Dallas of 10 years in prison plus the show of grace and forgiveness by the brother of the murdered victim, just like after the massacre at Emanuel AME, requires that we ask some hard questions: What if “grace” and “forgiveness,” and their compulsory racialized perfor­mance in this society, are part of the antiblack world? What if they work in the interest of antiblackness? What if “grace” and “forgiveness” are already racialized? And, what if “grace” and “forgiveness” are part of what we must refuse? I know, these are profane questions. But what if the sacredness of “grace” and “forgiveness” precisely helps keep in place the structures that murder us? Rather than “grace” and “forgivenes­ses,” I’m increasingly interested in their non-performance because their performance, it seems to me, is part of what’s keeping in place the antiblack world.

Carter is right, I think, to question what we mean by “grace” and “forgiveness,” given how their performance plays in American society. And this, I believe, is the critical point: ultimately, grace, if it is truly grace, must accomplish more than mere forgiveness. Scripture is clear, God offers no amnesty to the wicked: “… yet by no means clearing the guilty” (Ex. 34.7). God insists on a reckoning, a reckoning that comes in the confrontation with the Crucified. And in that confrontation we finally see that God’s embrace of his creation actually makes all wrongs right, transfiguring what we have done and what has been done to us without simply undoing what has happened.

In his review of Hart’s book, Peter Leithart challenges Hart’s understanding of God’s goodness:

Would a good God create a world in which even temporary apostasy from the good is a possibility, where many or most will have to suffer excruciating purgation before they are fully united to God? Wouldn’t a genuinely good God have avoided all this temporal misery too? Wouldn’t a God who created a world without the possibility of defection, without the possibility of cruelty, be gooder than the Christian God? Wouldn’t such a being be the actual transcendent Good?

This may, to some, seem like a good question. Or at least one worth asking. But knowing what Leithart is doing with it, I find it to be a deeply troubling one. I won’t pretend to know how Hart would answer it, but it seems to me that the entire reason we must walk by faith and not by sight is that our experience calls God’s goodness into question. And so, yes, I do think it would have been better if there had been no defection or misery or cruelty. How could I not? My hope is that when God finally fully reveals himself, he will in fact do something about the defection, misery, and cruelty—all that went wrong with his creation. I trust that God is good, and precisely for that reason I cannot imagine accepting these horrors as somehow his work. If Leithart is right about what it means for God to be good, then we are of all people most to be pitied.

As Hart says, history—including our personal histories—must be crucified. Only so can they be resurrected into the life of God. And the eschatological crucifixion and resurrection are nothing if not the reconstitution of reality. In the end, all things are to be made new, which means, I believe, that the defection, misery, and cruelty Leithart describes will be changed, although obviously I cannot imagine how. I believe, even though I have no idea how it will be done, that in the end, our “works,” good and bad, will be re-worked, made by grace into what they naturally were not. We give glory to the one who is able to do “far more than all we can ask or imagine.” Whatever we imagine the end to be, whatever we might ask for it to be—and I know what I would ask for it to be—it will be better. “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard …”

Robert Jenson asks what makes final salvation in fact both final and salvation, and answers, “Precisely that we are set right with each other, that I have the joy of God’s rebuke for my sin against my brothers and sisters, and the joy of seeing the repair of my injuries to them, at my cost” (“The Great Transformation,” in The Last Things, p. 39). That, it seems to me, is what it means to hope Christianly.

I suppose this is for me the bottom line: we cannot justify God’s ways. Theodicy is impos­sible. But we can celebrate the God whose ways we trust will prove to be justifying. And we can trust that that justification, that rectification, when all is said and done, will include everyone and everything. I cannot imagine what else it would mean for God to be “all in all.” Or what else it would mean that “love never fails.” First God is hell, then he is heaven. And so we sing, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearch­able are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return? For from him and through him and to him are all things” (Rom. 11.36).

As a postscript, a final word: Some readers of this book are going to be tempted to come away from it thinking about Hart, concerned with whether they like or dislike his tone, whether they agree or disagree with his arguments, whether he is a “great” theologian or not. But we would do better to come away from it thinking about God, asking ourselves whether what we are saying about God is in fact worthy of him and whether what we are saying about hell is worthy of the gospel. If we do that, we will have rightly received the gift Hart has given us, received it, in fact, with all of its faults, as a gift from God.

*  *  *

Dr Chris Green is Professor of Theology at Southeastern University and the author of The End is Music (an introduction to the theology of Robert W. Jenson) and Surprised by God. Three years ago he contributed an article to Eclectic Orthodoxy: “The Problem of Hell and Free Will.”

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103 Responses to God is Heaven, God is Hell: A Review of ‘That All Shall be Saved’

  1. brian says:

    The best review I’ve read on Hart’s book. This is the sensibility the gospel should bring to us all.

    Liked by 5 people

    • bgoodness says:

      Agreed. Chris does an excellent job of delineating the arguments down to their essence, and therefore highlights his own understanding of the book. Definitely the best review I’ve read on the book so far, as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. DennisW says:

    ” …’hell’ is the name for the process in which God separates sinners from their sins, destroying not only those sins but the evil that animates them…”

    In other words, Universalists, as has been pointed out before, simply transform Hell into Purgatory.
    And then accuse so-called “infernalists” (which would be the majority of Christian believers and thinkers for most of the past 2000 years) of having a deficient understanding of God, goodness, and of free will.

    It is psychologically interesting to see all the tortuous logic and theology Universalists resort to in order to asuage their fears of damnation by simply eliminating the possibility and pretending the problem doesn’t exist. No one is damned, nor can be! – Hallelujah!, Kumbaya! Fear eliminated. Nothing but blue skies ahead. [Oh, but it’s still supposedly important and meaningful to be a Christian in such a Universalist world…because…why? Oh, you can “commune with the living God,” it’s still the Truth, etc… But it doesn’t really matter in the end if all will be saved anyway, no matter what. Belief in Universalism reduces Christianity to meaniglessness.]

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ben oenophiliac says:

      I can see you’ve been following the argument closely and intelligently, and that you’ve read the book. I can also see big pink bunnies playing in the clouds.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      “Bu it doesn’t really matter in the end if all will be saved anyway, no matter what.”

      You simply don’t know what you’re talking about. No one is saved “anyway” or “no matter what.”

      Liked by 1 person

    • Grant says:

      I will not debate much with you Dennis as I have become convinved that you are not here to discuss in good faith (whether this is intentionally or through ideological devotion I do not know). You have kept presenting caractures and strawmen of universalist positions, included ad hominens (including here in your second paragraph), poisoning the well and potential genetic fallacy. You are not practicing the principle of charity and seem to refuse to engage Hart’s actual arguments but confirm your own assumption of infernalism. If so, tgen nothing right now will either convince you or even give you pause if you currently refuse to give anything a fair hearing.

      If I have you wrong, then I’m sorry but this has been my impression of your engagement through a number of posts up till now (please refrain at least assuming peopke’s psychological disposition or other who you don’t know, it’s quite insulting and you have basis for any such assertion).

      But to your first statement it is by no means infernalism has been the majority opinion for the near 2000 years of Christian history, St Basil is reported as saying most (at least in his area) were of the opinion that punishment would not ve forever, St Jerome (no friend to universalists) reportedly said that the main interpretation of Ninevah’s repentance in Jonah was the final repentance of the devil and demons and Dt Augustine reported many universalists were among thr faithful (and this in the Latin West). Both universalism and annihilationism were once much larger views and infernalism was not the one dominant view in the first half of the first millennium. You can debate why that changed but there it is (that is more for anyone else reading this).

      I won’t reply any further, again sorry if I have judged you wrongly but that has veen my impression I’m afraid.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        I’m afraid you may be right, Grant. The trolling and silliness stops as of now.

        Like

        • Chittwood2 says:

          I’m afraid my suspicians about your Blog were right all along. Anyone who dares question the Universalist Dogma (without a Ph.D. in philosophy or religion, disdain for the “appalling ignorance” of Fr. Lawrence Farley, etc. together with a deeper understanding of what the Fathers “really” meant) is only up to “trolling and silliness”.
          I would no longer be coming here if the E-mail notifications would stop. Please see that they do.

          Like

          • Patrick says:

            Chittwood,

            Hart’s argument is that Hell is ontologically absurd (essentially) and linguistically meaningless (practically).

            I won’t speak about Protestants, but most people who attend weekly or daily liturgical celebrations, be they Latin or Greek, believe in popular superstitions. It’s evident to me that the overwhelming mass of people who respond to Hart have no idea what he’s talking about. The arguments careen overhead.

            Understanding the arguments does not require a doctorate, despite their being relatively sophisticated. But if you wish for people like Hart to take you seriously, you ought to demonstrate that you do, in fact, understand them.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Chittwood2 says:

            Patrick:

            I had to post here because there was no “reply” button below your post.

            I most certainly DO understand Hart’s argument. Better than that, I also understand the arguments and the WITNESS of dozens of holy Orthodox Fathers over the first millenium, quotes of which I have provided links to on this blog. NO ONE offered comment or disputation on any of those comments. Instead they mostly offered the same condescending tripe you just offered to me – that unless I “understand Hart” I can’t be taken “seriously”. I understand the concept of Irresistable Grace, that concept which makes Hart and others like him a Neo-Calvinist to some degree. I also understand the Gnomic Will as elucidated by St. Maximus. (I have six books on his writings from Andrew Louth to Lars Thunberg to Paul Bowder.) I also understand the Natural Will.

            But taken “seriously” by whom? A man whose great learning, illness, predelections and yes, arrogance, offers to teach us what the Church has never approved in concilliarity for two milleniums? A broken-hearted priest who simply cannot allow himself to entertain the possibility that his departed son will never accept the communion of Christ? A group of tag-alongs who enjoy thinking themselves more understanding, compassionate and merciful that most Orthodox over the past two-thousand years? (Not to mention far more erudite than a bunch of ignorant infernalists.) Thank you, but no thanks.

            (BTW, I did NOT “like” your post and have no idea why it shows that I clicked on the “like” button of your reply.)

            Like

          • Chittwood2 says:

            Patrick,
            I did “explain” why I disagree with Hart but I don’t see the post. We’ll just have to wait and see if the moderator will allow it.

            Like

          • Patrick says:

            Chittwood,

            Chill out on the likes, man. Who cares if you accidentally liked my post? You seem to live in cage of indignation.

            Declaring that one understands Hart’s arguments does not entail the demonstration thereof. I will say, though, that referring to Hart as a Neo-Calvanist isn’t possible to take seriously.

            You need to entertain some humility, brother. Maybe take a break from the Internet.

            In fact, I think I’ll do the same. Cheers.

            Like

      • Ellis says:

        Well said Grant. I had forgotten about Augustine’s comment.

        Like

      • DBH says:

        Chittwood2,

        Hart a neo-Calvinist? Wow, that’s really penetrating stuff. Gregory of Nyssa too, I guess. Yep, you’ve understood him, we can see.

        As for speaking of brokenhearted persons, what breaks my heart is that anyone would have written those coarse hardhearted lines. You had better consider your own state of soul, I suspect.

        Owning books about Maximus is not the same thing as owning a mind capable of understanding them.

        Liked by 3 people

    • Lyndon says:

      Or maybe you presuppose to understand what all the words like Goodness, Heaven, Hell, Damnation, Free Will with overconfidence? Green certainly wasn’t afraid to say these things exist, least of all that they aren’t problems. There was no rug to sweep them under in this, saying there ‘…universalism reduces Christianity to meaninglessness’ seems overstated and a strawman.

      Like

  3. Jedi Scribe says:

    Reblogged this on Symmetria.

    Like

  4. Ben Oinophiliakos says:

    A very moving review. I am especially happy that you paid attention to the second meditation. People seem to keep skipping over it, but it’s crucial. That dumb review in First Things claimed Hart’s only scriptural argument is that one verse from 1 Timothy, which makes me think the reviewer either didn’t read the book or just didn’t want anyone else to.

    I thought that second meditation was amazing. Maybe if he’d written it as a 450 page systematics tome, people would have noticed what Hart did in it. All those reflections on the two eschatological horizons and on the crucifixion of history and the Easter of creation really made me see clearly for the first time how Origen and Nyssen could use 1 Corinthians 15 as the frame for their whole picture of creation and salvation. And the way it uses John’s gospel, with the immanent eschatology, as a way of dealing with the synoptic little apocalypse. Maybe it was all too compressed for most readers to notice how amazing an argument it is, but I don’t know of many theologians who could give you that rich a scriptural meditation so economically.

    I don’t see the problems with the book’s rhetoric that other people seem to see there. He never blames anyone for holding bad ideas, he just says we Christians have forced ourselves to hold those ideas because we think we have to. But I don’t see any problem with calling a depraved idea, like the eternal torture of unbaptized babies, depraved. I think we let each other off the hook on these things too much as it is. I bet the First Things reviewer wouldn’t have written such a weird, disconnected, hysterical review if he hadn’t been made uncomfortable by the book’s frank language. He’s probably never had a serious Christian scholar force him to justify himself for believing things that really are pretty horrid when you look at them honestly.

    Actually, I feel that way about all of Hart’s alleged polemicism. I don’t see the problem. He never goes after soft targets. There’s always a moral anger. The New Atheists treated all believers with contempt, so he flung it back at them. Okay, not nice, but not nasty either. People who believe in predestination to eternal torment are guilty of child-abuse in teaching young people to believe that that’s what reality is like. So why not fling the horror of such beliefs back at them? Make them justify themselves, again and again, until they realize they can’t. It’s all in the game. Challenge evil ideas with passion. Don’t pretend they’re acceptable.

    There’s a phrase that this reviewer cites, from early in the book: “the casual cruelty that is so frequent a concomitant of deep piety.” That’s what get Hart angry. And that’s what he’s trying to get us to see, I think.

    Anyway, again, this is a beautiful review.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Patrick Halferty says:

    Affirming and accessible! I really appreciate Dr. Green’s writing style. He writes on a level accessible to little ol’ me. Thanks for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Fr. Alexis Baldwin says:

    Well, Dennis W is actually right. This is about some hang up or fixation on some certain thing. Its not theology and it’s certainly not the Teaching of the Holy Orthodox Church.

    If God burns or purges all sin, regardless, then we just all become robots. God forces His Divine Love on us. We have no choice.

    Rather, in short, the teaching of the Church is that, by our sin, we are moving towards destruction. Christ saves us from this destruction; we are not annihilated. Now, we don’t necessarily have well being. Those in Christ experience His Grace as Love. Those not in Him experience His Grace to their own ill being.

    Dr. David Bradsaw effectively angers all this nonsense being paraded around the internet (and the false teaching about salvation being spread now seemingly through DBH and his followers). Read this excellent and correct work by Bradshaw:

    https://anothercity.org/is-there-no-repentance-after-death-2/

    Relevant passage from article:

    “It will be noted that Maximus says specifically, “all things without exception cease from their willful movement toward something else.” Evidently, what he says here applies to the damned as well as the blessed. He makes this explicit in Ambigua 65. There we learn:
    To those who have willfully used the principle of their being contrary to nature, He [God] rightly renders not well-being but eternal ill-being (τὸ ἀεὶ φεῦ εἶναι), since well-being is no longer accessible to those who have placed themselves in opposition to it, and they have absolutely no motion after the manifestation of what was sought, by which what is sought is naturally revealed to those who seek it.33
    As Maximus makes clear elsewhere, in saying that God “renders” eternal ill-being to the damned, he actually means that the same divine presence that is experienced by the blessed as bliss is experienced by the damned as torment. The difference is due solely to their own freely formed disposition. So Maximus explains in Ambigua 42 that God “offers Himself wholly and simply to all—worthy and unworthy—by grace through His infinite goodness, and . . . endows each with the permanence of eternal being, corresponding to the way that each disposes himself and is (διατέθειταί τε καὶ ἔστι).”34
    We face here something of a puzzle. Both the blessed and the damned enter into the full presence of God as the Good. Precisely because He is the Good, they both attain, in some sense, the object of their desire. Yet to the blessed the experience is bliss, whereas to the damned it is torment. Why?
    The answer lies in recalling that it is necessary not only to observe the Good as an external object, but to participate in Him. It is in this respect that the blessed and the damned differ sharply. The passage just cited from Ambigua 42 continues:
    For those who participate or do not participate proportionately in Him who, in the truest sense, is and is good, and is forever, there is an intensification and increase of punishment for those who cannot participate, and of enjoyment for those who can participate.35
    The underlying thought is that to be capable of participating in the Good requires oneself becoming good, to the extent that is within one’s power; and likewise, to fail to become good, or (worse) to become positively evil, brings with it an incapacity to participate in the Good. This is an axiom of patristic ontology that has roots in classical philosophy and was developed fully by the Cappadocians.36 Maximus in effect adds to it that the capacity to participate or not is fixed at death, precisely because the full manifestation of the Good makes further morally formative action impossible.”

    Fr. Alexis Baldwin

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    • Benny Oinophiliakides says:

      And another commentator who wins a prize for having an opinion without having read the book.

      David Bradshaw? Really?

      And who cares what Maximus may or may not have believed? That’s not part of Hart’s argument.

      Like

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      “As Maximus makes clear elsewhere, in saying that God “renders” eternal ill-being to the damned, he actually means that the same divine presence that is experienced by the blessed as bliss is experienced by the damned as torment. The difference is due solely to their own freely formed disposition.“
      Yup. DBH covers that in his book which you haven’t read, to the extent that this truth is core part of his argument. You are embarassing yourself.

      Like

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Fr Alexis,

      The Eastern Orthodox church has not dogmatically determined the duration of Hell – an appeal to authority, at least for us Orthodox, doesn’t hold.

      Will you read That All Shall Be Saved and return here with a substantive rebuttal of the arguments that the author sets forth? I believe Fr Kimel will be gracious to feature your rebuttal in its own post. The “axiom of patristic ontology” the capacity of participation in the Good that you mention, this sounds like it would be worth exploring. But first read Dr Hart’s book so we all don’t waste time.

      Like

      • Fr. Alexis Baldwin says:

        The only reason its assumed that I have not read DBH’s book TASBS is only, simply because I am not fawning and falling over the work and the writer of said work with all the fury of a teenage fan boy rushing the open doors of the local ComicCon on its first day.

        Not that is would matter whether I had or had not read the book (or anything) by DBH. As he’s made clear here, you either have read the book and agree with him (in fact, he claims this is the only choice; which ironically parallels his equally false conclusions of Salvation, ie that we have no real choice save one) or you simply haven’t actually read the book, you blithering idiot! (and yes, you should feel this way if you disagree or critique the unassailable and inimitably brilliant DBH). Any criticism of said writer and his definitive book simply means you’ve not read the work closely enough. Start over and actually try this time, you imbecile!

        I pray others would in fact read the various comments that DBH has littered the internet with, revealing his intent and foundational thoughts which form the basis of his works as a writer, especially concerning his advocation of the false teaching of universalism.

        Given DBH’s response to others critical reviews of his writing, and the amazing hand-waving and demeaning assaults of his internet fans, why would I or anyone ever be interested further in writing against him?

        Personally, I’d rather spend my time spreading the Gospel and teaching others what the Church actually teaches. It is in fact, the oath I took at the holy altar when I was ordained as a priest in the Holy Orthodox Church. I aim to guard the Truth with my life. You see, this is the enormous difference, at the moment, between DBH and myself; I’ve been blessed and ordained by the Church to teach and DBH has not. (Of course, this assumes that DBH will not ever be ordained. In that case, he’d be charged with the same vocation and calling as myself).

        There can be no doubt (and I will say this right now) that DBH would annihilate me in any kind of philosophical conversation. And undoubtedly, the man’s intellect dwarfs mine. It’s true, I’m a simply southern priest who lives in the sticks. But, when I laid my head on the altar and the bishop placed his hands on me and ordained me to the Holy priesthood, it was not my intellectual capacity alone that was being considered. Of the many things considered though, I can assure you, faithfulness to the actually teaching of the Church was. I live (and i’ll die) for what the Bride of Christ, the Church proclaims. And her teaching is without error. The Church is perfect. My spiritual father, Fr. Alexander Atty always said this and I believe it too, because that’s what it means to be an Orthodox Christian. As Fr. Atty said, an Orthodox Christian upholds the teaching of the Church. Period.

        Now, I have no knowledge of exactly why DBH is so fixated on pushing universalism; i’ve no clue exactly what his hang up is. Whatever his reasons, the Church doesn’t need to change, we need to be changed. Our lives need be transformed. The Church already holds the fullness of the Truth; either one believes this or one does not.

        Universalism is a heresy. If DBH wants to bandy it about in a philosophical attempt to stir peoples thoughts, fine, whatever. This heretical teaching has no place in the Church and the Church has definitively determined this. I find no embarrassment in living according to what the Church teaches, nor did I find any in upholding and defending what she teaches either.

        Like

        • Patrick says:

          No substantive rebuttal, then. Got it.

          What I find most telling about this whole spectacle is the number of Orthodox priests (or people pretending to be) coming out of the woodwork to call DBH a heretic. I don’t think you all realize how insecure you look.

          Liked by 1 person

        • TJF says:

          It’s truly amazing how many of my fellow Orthodox seem to have western mindsets. You would love a magisterium and a supreme universal authority to crush your enemies. The East, to my knowledge, has always upheld that priests and monks are no better or worse than lay people.

          Like

          • DBH says:

            Well, notice how many of them have surnames that suggest they did not start out Orthodox. Obviously not an accusation, coming from someone with my name. But let’s be honest, many American converts to Orthodoxy thought they were converting to a communion that has an exact doctrine on everything, and don’t like hearing otherwise. Eastern nebulosity depresses them. They certainly would be annoyed at how many cradle Orthodox, priests and bishops among them, believe that universalism is one perfectly acceptable view. Because of the ecclesiastical contacts I have, it’s old news to me. And, alas for those who wish it otherwise, we have no magisterium and no Enchiridion Symbolorum to tell us otherwise. Thus our friend Baldwin, in declaring something a heresy, becomes a little pope of his own.

            It is good of Baldwin, however, to admit–albeit tacitly–that he has not read the book. And he is right: I make no bones about it. Until some critic proves to me that I am wrong, I am going to keep believing that those who attack it have not bothered to understand it. Where he is wrong is in claiming that I call my critics blithering idiots. One often hears it said that I say such things, and yet, for the life of me, it’s hard to find an example in print or on the web.

            But it’s fun to pretend, I guess.

            Liked by 3 people

          • Fr. Alexis Baldwin says:

            Dear DBH,

            Thank you for taking some time to respond to my posts. All this is all well and good. My ecclesiastical contact is the Archpastor of the Diocese in which the altar I serve at is; His Eminence Archbishop Alexander and the Diocese of the South of the Orthodox Church of America respectively.

            Archbishop Alexander quite publicly, recently affirmed that universal salvation is not a viable view. It’s not permissible to hold this as Church teaching. Though I am a convert from Roman Catholicism, I have no interest in being nor having a Roman Catholic pope. I left all that behind already. I gladly follow my Archbishop. Where the Bishop is, there is the Eucharist, there is the Church. Know what I’m saying?

            What does your Hierarch say about you teaching universal salvation? Perhaps we could be treated to his direct, positive endorsement of your belief?

            Regarding me calling out heresy, I fail to see how my surname has anything to do with this. There have always been converts in the Church, some even becoming great theologians. As for me personally, i’ve taken an oath by my priesthood to, among other things, uphold church teaching, protect the faithful from heresy, to work to bring back those gone astray:

            “I promise to uphold the teachings of truth and other pastoral instructions according to the teachings of the Holy Orthodox, Catholic and Apostolic Church and the Holy Fathers; to endeavor with my mind, heart and soul to protect the souls of the faithful entrusted to my care, against every heresy and schism, and to labor with every means available to return to the True Flock of Christ those who may have strayed from His path.”

            In case anyone is interested, they can quite literally see (as in the above) the various aspects/promises that all Orthodox priests take an oath to live and strive for here:

            https://www.dowoca.org/files/docs/compliance-and-ordination/Priesthood-forms.pdf

            Well, I not only signed these, but the Bishop ordained me! So, here I am. Convert surname and all.

            Like

          • Patrick says:

            Alexis,

            No one here takes issue with your ordination (at least I’d be surprised if they did), probably even the Protestants.

            There’s a reason David can make such accurate sweeping generalizations about American converts (and I would say they apply to Catholicism as well as Orthodoxy). You’re chasing an idol, man. It’s plain as day to me, and likely to a lot of other people, maybe even people in your own congregation.

            Don’t build a cage around your heart, brother.

            Like

        • Ben WIne-guy says:

          Father Baldwin,
          Can you please name one entirely respectable modern Orthodox scholar who believes the Church definitively condemned universalism as such in the past? All the ones I’ve read, including Metropolitan Kallistos, say otherwise. Fr. Behr certainly doesn’t think it’s a heresy. Even scholars who aren’t universalists, as far as I can tell, don’t make the sort of claim you make. They’d have to say St. Gregory of Nyssa was heretic, as well as a lot of other Orthodox saints. Abba Silouan seemed to believe it was possible, or even probable, that hell would be evacuated. I know St. Isaac of Nineveh was an East Syrian figure, but the Orthodox seem universally to recognize his sainthood. No bishops ever condemned Paul Evdokimov or Olivier Clement or countless others. So what are you saying? That you know something that all those Orthodox authorities don’t?

          Like

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Ben, it’s a controverted question, and it’s easy enough to name modern Orthodox theologians who believe that the larger hope has been definitively rejected. Dumitru Staniloae immediately comes to mind.

            Like

          • Ben Oinophiliakos says:

            But controverted is good enough. It’s a matter of debate, not of hard and fast evidence.

            And Staniloae doesn’t actually have any historical evidence as far as I can tell. He writes about hell, and seems to know a lot about what it’s like (he’d have been a good horror novelist), but the scholarship on dogma just isn’t there. There are just appeals to holy tradition. But that turns out to mean what you want it to mean. Usually, it means just the majority of the institutional voices at some crucial moment.

            Like

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Roman Catholic Canon Law makes a useful qualification which it would be salutary for the Orthodox to adopt when discussing apokatastasis: “ No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident“ (749.3). Some Orthodox today, perhaps even many, believe that the condemnation of apokatastasis lacks the “manifestly evident” (see “The Dogmatic Status of Apokatastasis”). If I’m right, then it is still possible, or at least should be possible, for Orthodox theologians to discuss this question without being branded as heretics.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Patrick says:

            To that end, don’t you think many Catholic theologians (I’m thinking about Ratzinger and Wojtyla as two of the most noteworthy) basically treat it like theologoumenon in the West as well? Certainly while they were in the academy, but even while holding office too.

            Liked by 1 person

        • DBH says:

          Archbishop Alexander has no authority to define heresy either.

          Like

    • BolusOfDoom says:

      “Rather, in short, the teaching of the Church is that, by our sin, we are moving towards destruction. Christ saves us from this destruction; we are not annihilated. Now, we don’t necessarily have well being. Those in Christ experience His Grace as Love. Those not in Him experience His Grace to their own ill being.”

      I’m a former Calvinist who’s warming up to Eastern Orthodoxy, but this business of Jesus resurrecting people to hopeless damnation has got me confused. Why do it when He can just leave them asleep in the blessed calm of non-being? I.e. “the anaesthetic from which none come round” according to the poet Philip Larkin. In my mind, annihilation beats endless ill-being six ways from Sunday. Ever had Propofol for a colonoscopy? That stuff is amazing. I wasn’t there and didn’t mind.

      Like

    • To the owner/moderator of Eclectic Orthodoxy: I haven’t read DBH’s book. Are my comments all right?

      I don’t see that if God purges all sin then we necessarily become/are made robots. What if human beings are such that when they see the Good to be Good they naturally will to the Good and union with Good? A robot is manipulated externally or arbitrarily. Whether or not it is possible to do so, being incapable of completely and eternally defying one’s nature is not even remotely like being a robot.

      Liked by 5 people

      • DBH says:

        Dear Ms. Nightingale (and how I hope that’s really your name),

        You are, of course, entirely right. You’re probably too wise to need my book.

        Liked by 4 people

      • Fr. Alexis Baldwin says:

        Raina Nightingale,

        Sorry if my use of the word robot isn’t clear. It’s impossible for a human being to become a robot. I use the word metaphorically.

        If at the last judgement (or after some determinate amount of time in so called temporary hell) God purges all your sin, you see the Good and naturally will to the Good and union with the God, how exactly are you receiving and enacting your will in any actual way? IN this scenario, God enacts Salvation upon you, whether you are actually capable of receiving His Salvation. He forces His Love upon you. The You in You becomes rather irrelevant.

        This is really one major issue with this configuration of universalism. Our ability to receive God’s Love is never addressed. The argument seems to solely rely on the idea that God’s Goodness is simply irresistible because we “finally will see the Good as it is”. But, to see God how He Is, to know God, THE Good, this is experiential. We can’t literally know God as He knows Himself. To do this would be to be God. IN other words, you’d have to be of One Essence with Him to Know Him as He Is.

        So the question is, how is it that those of us human beings who reject our Creator’s Love here on Earth, who refuse to repent here, how is it that we could able to receive God’s Love? If it does not involve our will already being properly prepared, the very simply, What choice do we even have?

        Like

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Fr Alexis, David Hart addresses the question of human freedom at goodly length in his book. Given that this thread is devoted to his book and to Chris Green’s review of it, perhaps you could redirect the conversation to Hart’s treatment of free will and share with us your criticisms.

          I really must insist that our discussion remain focused on Hart’s book and Dr Green’s review. I’m sure you (and hopefully everyone else participating in this comment thread) understand.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Iain Lovejoy says:

          “If at the last judgement (or after some determinate amount of time in so called temporary hell) God purges all your sin, you see the Good and naturally will to the Good and union with the God, how exactly are you receiving and enacting your will in any actual way?”
          It appears that not only have you not read Hart’s book, you have also read nothing about universalism at all. The whole point of the thing is that “hell” is both the state of rejection of God from which God redeems us and the process we go through by which sin is purged and we come to repentance and redemption is achieved. The whole argument is that if hell is not remedial it is simply pointless cruelty. You on the other hand seem to think universalists argue for a bit less pointless cruelty followed by an unrelated magic waving away of sin.
          What puzzles me is that I understand that even conventional non-universalist Orthodox understanding of hell is that it isn’t an arbitrarily inflicted punishment but a natural development of a person’s own slide into sin, and that God does indeed act to purge us of sin (with our cooperation) and reverse this course (albeit not necessarily post mortem) yet his doing so now makes us “robots”?

          Like

        • I don’t see how it is a good metaphor. A robot’s ‘lack of choice’ is only superficially similar to the thing being discussed here.

          I think I understand what you’re saying. It seems to me there are at least somewhat compelling arguments both for the idea that it is possible for some to not be saved and that all can only be saved.

          I think the intended idea, though, is not that God “enacts Salvation upon you, whether you are actually capable of receiving His Salvation” but that human beings are incapable of rendering themselves completely incapable of receiving Salvation. I don’t see how the You in You becomes rather irrelevant, but perhaps those words (the ‘You in You’) mean something to you which I cannot guess at? (I thought the idea was that the You in You, being essentially good, is drawn to goodness and thus, once finally uncovered and freed, will choose the Good?)

          Nonetheless, I’m not completely insensible to what I believe is your main point here: what if a free choice for God, for Goodness or Love, free in the sense that the opposite (nothing, hatred) could be freely and irrevocably chosen instead, is a Good? And if the creature can freely and irrevocably choose to hate God, to hate Goodness, (even if the purpose of this ability is that he should choose God with with this particular kind of freedom) then what is the guarantee that the creature will not do so (irrevocably reject God)?

          Like

    • DBH says:

      Fr. Baldwin,

      I hope this reaches you. As you are a priest, and seem to have some real sense of mission by virtue thereof, let me make an entirely sincere and I hope charitable appeal to you.

      I admit I am somewhat weary of hearing that my rhetorical habits will put some readers off. I am wearier still of gross distortions of my rhetoric in this particular book, of the sort that Douglas Farrow indulged in (mostly, I expect, as a diversionary tactic). I insult no one in the book, except those who choose to be insulted. I speak very harshly of certain cruel ways of thinking of God, but I am clear that I believe we speak that way—we, that is, not some other group, but all Christians—because we have been forced into impossible positions by things we think we must believe (but that I think we ought not believe). But I see it as just an excuse not to follow the argument when critics complain that I appear to be arrogant when I have the temerity to be candid about just how appalling I find some ideas, or when I make a joke that is obviously a joke. (Some of those abominated ideas, incidentally, the ones specific to Western tradition, you will find denounced in even stronger terms by quite a few very popular Orthodox figures of recent decades. So let’s be fair here.) (At least my British readers never complain about such things.)

      I admit also that I have not read any critical review of the book yet that actually demonstrates an understanding of the argument. That is not an arrogant claim either, however. It simply happens to be the fact of the matter. This topic provokes so much passion that it would not matter how I went about arguing my position—those opposed to it are almost certain not to follow it. No one who has read the book intelligently could then read Farrow’s or McClymond’s review and not recognize that they never once address the actual text. So why should I pretend that my critics have even done me the courtesy of being real critics?

      So let me say this: The book I actually wrote is in fact quite a complex, deliberate, and sincere argument, animated by a genuine sense of moral obligation and concern. It also works entirely within the tradition. It was written in good faith. Anyone who reads it in good faith will find that—whether they agree with it or not—he or she is not reading a series of blunt, arrogant assertions, accusations, and appeals to sentiment. So, I ask you as a fellow Christian and as a priest, to set aside your prejudices about the topic and about me, to read the book very carefully, making a real effort to follow each step of the argument. If you reject it, then so be it. But, I assure you, what you may end up rejecting is not the book you seem to think it is.

      I also encourage you to delve into the scholarship of those Orthodox thinkers (including some priests and bishops) who have a very different reading of Orthodox dogmatic tradition. Whether we want it to be or not, Orthodox tradition is huge, diverse, sometimes vague, and entirely ungoverned by any responsible central executive power.

      God bless you.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Fr. Alexis Baldwin says:

        To our moderator, thank you for allowing and enduring my exchange. Im apologize for one last response that is not on topic, but I felt it was important to offer this response.

        Dear DBH,

        Thank you kindly for your thoughts. Thank you for your further explanation and your patience in engaging me more thoroughly. Many thanks for your sincere exhortation and invitation. Your is offer compelling. Though I know there are those who might scoff at it, I can’t see that response as reasonable, if one wishes to be honest. I can easily see though, that the one who is honest, sincere, and faithful in the search for Truth would never scoff at such an invitation as yours, but that their response to the question of “will you read carefully and delve more deeply?” would be “I shall”.

        God Bless you too!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. DBH says:

    “I worry Hart is at risk of becoming a caricature of himself as a pugilist…”

    And here I’ve spent the better part of my life trying to become a caricature of H.L. Mencken.

    Thanks for the review, and for going back to the essentials that I may not have dwelt on enough in the book. I wanted it to be short and to the critical point. But perhaps there were things that needed t be clarified about the “fire of love.” You know, you yourself ought to consider writing a full book on the matter.

    I am afraid my style will never change. I think of myself primarily as a writer. What I write–fiction, literary criticism, works of political theory, works of philosophy, studies of Asian religion and literature, theology, what have you–varies greatly, but the prose is non-negotiable.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Ben Oinophiliakos says:

    By the way, the first lecture on Christian eschatology I ever heard at the University of Virginia was in a class Hart taught in Religious Studies on Death (in all the world religions). he gave all his lectures titles in the syllabus, and the title of that one was “Hell and Heaven are both in God.” The title shocked me so much that I was almost tempted to skip it. But when I heard it everything began to make sense for me in a new way.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Invoking my magisterial authority, I hereby declare that anyone who wishes to debate Hart’s arguments on Eclectic Orthodoxy must in fact have read his book. If you haven’t read it, then please refrain from commenting until you have remedied that deficiency. Thank you for respecting this solemn decree.

    Liked by 5 people

  10. Jess Lederman says:

    What a delight to read this very worthy meditation inspired by Hart’s writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. joel in ga says:

    “it seems to me that the entire reason we must walk by faith and not by sight is that our experience calls God’s goodness into question.”

    Does this experience include others’ experiences in the past, in particular those experiences recorded in the OT? Must we not walk by faith while reading the Bible too, affirming that God’s acts as recorded in those Scriptures acknowledged by our Lord, His apostles, and the Church were fundamentally good and not the acts of an evil god as Hart contended in his reply to Leithart?

    Like

    • TJF says:

      Do you really believe God literally ordered people to commit genocide?

      Like

      • joel in ga says:

        “Genocide” is a pejorative term. I would not use it in connection with God’s acts, since it seems to imply that God’s relation to His creatures is on the same level as our human relation to our fellow creatures. God is Lord of all, and we are not.

        Wiping out the Canaanites by means of the sword is no different in principle than wiping out the wicked by means of that Flood wherein only eight souls were literally saved, according to the apostle Peter, who was, of course, well acquainted with the Gospel of God’s universal and unfailing goodness.

        Like

        • John A Stamps says:

          Did you in fact read DBH’s book?

          Liked by 1 person

        • TJF says:

          So, it’s ok if God does it? Do as I say not as I do morality?

          Like

          • joel in ga says:

            In the case of taking vengeance on sin, that is the case. According to the NT, vengeance is the Lord’s, and we are not to avenge ourselves.

            Like

        • apoloniolatariii says:

          Joel,

          You actually need to read some Old Testament scholars on these things. Start with James Kugel’s How to Read the Bible and The Great Shift. That’s just a start.

          Like

        • donald says:

          If one group of people kills every member of another group, including the children, there is a term for that. It is called genocide. If you take the OT as literal history, God ordered people to commit genocide.

          This illustrates the practical down to earth moral problem with the infernalist position. Sooner or later, and historically it was sooner rather than later, somebody uses the doctrine of hell to justify some atrocity committed by one group of humans against another. It is almost inevitable. If God thinks it is right to see some people as worthy of eternal torture, anything we do to heretics will seem like a kindness if it prevents people from going to hell.

          I think this is part of why so many modern day Christians who are not universalists try to make the doctrine less cruel, so that the damned are simply annihilated or else they exist in mental torment but entirely by their own choice. The traditional infernalist position is hard to separate from all the religious wars and tortures and persecutions carried out in its name.

          Like

          • donald says:

            I should add that I realize Joel in GA wasn’t doing this directly, but it is not an accident that he refers to OT accounts of genocidal slaughter as a defense of the doctrine of eternal hell. It all fits together.

            Liked by 1 person

          • joel in ga says:

            As George MacDonald remarked, It is amazing from what a mere fraction of a fact concerning him, a man will dare judge the whole of another man.

            I was not “referring to OT accounts of genocidal slaughter as a defense of the doctrine of eternal hell.” I am a universalist. My contention is that we should understand that the God of the OT is the same God as the God of the NT, as the Church has long affirmed.

            Like

          • Donald says:

            Joel, if you spend more than five minutes on the internet you will find that people are always going to be making mistakes about your views based on some comment you made. I am used to it myself. In this case, if you weren’t making some sort of connection between the mass slaughter of the Canaanites and the doctrine of hell then it isn’t really clear why you brought it up. But your post gave me a reason to express my own point. And that point is this–a belief that God ordered His followers to slaughter children fits in nicely with the idea that He sends people to an eternal torture chamber. It is not at all surprising that for centuries people believed that the governing authorities had the right to torture, persecute or murder heretics. They thought it was an act of mercy given the fate of people who might be led astray by those heretics. It was even an act of mercy to the heretic, who might repent while in the act of being killed.

            I understand the philosophical issue you raise–it’s the problem of evil. But without trying to solve it, I think it does make it worse if one believes that God personally ordered the murder of children. Yes, children die horribly in God’s creation without His direct order and I have no insight into this, but if God actually gave the order to His people to slaughter children, then what message is He sending to his people? Well, the message that was received is that the followers of God can commit the most ghastly of crimes if they think that God wills it.

            Like

          • Donald says:

            “I understand the philosophical issue you raise–it’s the problem of evil”
            Actually I am oversimplifying. You are claiming, I think, that God can’t be judged by merely human standards. But it comes back to the problem of evil–why is there so much suffering in the world? It doesn’t help, in my opinion, to say that God can kill whoever He pleases in any fashion that He pleases, which is how I interpret references to Canaanite genocide and how it’s not genocide if God ordered it. Well, yeah, it really would be. It’s not just that God created a world and people choose to do bad things and the laws of physics allow for horrible suffering and animals kill each other and so forth. The cherry on the top is that God supposedly ordered His people to murder children. I could imagine that there might be some sort of free will defense or something deeper and probably beyond my philosophical pay grade that would explain why God chose to make this universe, but the Canaanite genocide is a step too far.

            Like

        • Iain Lovejoy says:

          We know from archeology that neither the destruction of the Canaanites nor the flood happened as described in the Bible.
          To read the flood narrative as history is to entirely misread it, since its point in the Bible is to re-imagine the existing flood stories of the time to re-assert the goodness and providence of God into a narrative that would otherwise make him a capricious monster. Other flood narratives have the gods becoming angry or fed up with mankind and desiring to be rid of a nuisance. The Bible’s narrative tells us instead that the disaster was made necessary by mankind’s own destructive sinfulness destroying the world (the Hebrew verbs for what mankind were doing to the earth and what God does to mankind are identical) making it necessary to wash away their destructive behaviour and start again with a remnant who will continue God’s saving work. Peter in the NT is specific that the flood is a necessary baptism to wash away mankind’s sin, and also that through Christ (via Noah) ultimately antediluvian mankind are saved also. That we now know that the flood was not, in fact, a worldwide event at all only assists the Bible’s endeavours in asserting the providence of God despite it.
          The book of Joshua was (so I understand Biblical scholars tell us) written in exile after the destruction of Israel. Apparently archeological evidence of the general survival of the Canaanites tells us that the story of their total destruction is not historical but an elaboration after the event to make a point, and can’t therefore be asserted as necessarily a historical account of a command of God at the time. For a people surviving in exile after the destruction of their country the twin points of the story as told must be that if Joshua and his little band could defeat the vast armies of the Canaanites it describes, it can’t be that Israel’s destruction is due to the might of it’s enemies or the weakness of God, but because Israel abandoned Him, and that if Israel has been spared the Canaanites’ fate and survives in its exile, this must mean that God has not abandoned them, and will one day restore their home.
          Reading the Bible as history rather than theology will trip you up every time.

          Like

          • Grant says:

            This is so, and I’d like to expand a bit as well. Whatever the author(s) of the epistles of Peter (whether St Peter himself or some now unknown author(s) ) thought of the historicity of the story of the flood we don’t know, we have no access to the state of mind or their understanding they had when they wrote it. And it doesn’t matter, since in neither case is that the point the writer(s) utilizes and interprets the flood narrative. As Iain suggests the first interprets it as concerning baptism where we are rescued by that baptism out of the wickedness, sin, death, chaos and destruction and brought into the new life and creation in Christ, into the ark that is Him and the Church, and that in this the whole creation is being made anew, humanity (represented by Noah and his family, all animal life, and with their landing all the world from the ark saved and restored, with the promise fixed by the rainbow, that the world will no more be damaged and destroyed by by the evil and death destroying it, an eschatological promise). The second epistle it is to remind believers that God will (again remaining within a similar frame of reference) save and restore the Cosmos from all wickedness and bring an end to evil, death, ungodliness and chaos that damages his creation, and as He was faithful and saved them, His promise to end evil, bring justice and restore all is true and not to falter or be troubled by seeming delays. In both cases the story is interpreted as about Christ and for the Church (as Christ reveals and Hebrews instructs) and is interpreted again as Hebrews instructs about believers and the life of Christ now, not concerning events past (whatever the author believed over their historicity or not). It is entirely incidental and irrelevant to their use as Scripture by the authors, and cannot be understood to be some NT endorsement of God mass killing people or all creation (to do so is to wrench these verses out of context, to say something they are not saying nor addressing).

            We are consistently told that the OT is about Christ, is for us the Church and was written for us, that to not read it about and through Christ is to read it through a veil and not to understand what it says at all, to be blind and to not hear, that all those before strained to see the Lord, because they tried but didn’t fully understand. To then attempt to place the OT over against the NT in this way is to break basic Christian approach and exegesis, the New interprets the Old, never the other way around, it must be interpreted in and through Christ, an OT verse, passage or book cannot be set on it;s own against anything sense in the full revelation of Christ, who is the Word of God, only in and through Him do we read it as Scripture at all as St Paul reminds us (and as the image of the Transfiguration shows, we only see Moses and prophets clearly in His illuminating light). As the Lord says, none have seen the Father but through Him, and none knew Him till they knew Him, and as St John tells us, through Him alone came grace and truth, including the truth of the Scriptures as Scriptures.

            With this mind, we cannot just place events that depict God mass killing people, including children and babies, firstborn children, ordering His followers to massacre whole people whether in Canaan or the order given to David and so on, on their own against the revelation of Christ and who He shows His Father to be as if it has without being seen and interpreted through Christ as of equal weight, And we have no choice but to either accept this chimera monster of God with two faces, merciless killer and self-giving saviour, to endorse as holy his killing and ordering of killing of babies and children (in one case to judge killing children, the most twisted logic ever). To do this is to commit the fault of Marcion, to read the OT Scripture apart from Christ, not about Him and for us, to read it through the veil and not understand it, and to horribly misinterpret it and to either through it away as obliviously blaspheming God, or worse to accept those slurs and continue to attribute them to God, both still stem from the same error, Again, we only know and can see God through Christ, this includes the OT, which cannot be read at ‘face value’ precisely because of this, which is the guiding principle through the NT.

            In order to reject the events depicted in Joshua called genocide (again on a surface reading) you relate that that since God is Lord of all and operates at a different level to us creatures ignores that Christ directly relates our acts to one another in relation to how the Father relates to us and all creation. It is He which endorse that we act towards each each other as the Father is towards us, and to emulate in our finite way the Father’s relation to us. And He then reveals that this relation is that the Father loves without reserve, blessing righteous and the wicked alike with sun, rain and all goodness, and that to be perfect like the Father is to always forgive, to love all, help the poor, hurt and downtrodden, to bless, forgive and do good to our enemies always, never to hurt and in this way we emulate the Father. And He demonstrated in His Life this, showing the Father in Himself (to see Him is to see the Father), He healed all, even His enemies who came to crucify Him, always released and forgave, put away the sword and condemned it’s use (the same who supposedly commanded it earlier) and called out as High Priest for the Father to forgive us because we don’t know what we do. This is the Father, and only through Him do we see and understand Him, you cannot attempt to use trump this with OT stories that aren’t read through the revelation of Christ, without it you read it through a veil and do not understand what it says, no see Him and in Him the Father at all. Again, it is a basic of Christian exegesis that the Old is interpreted by the New, and cannot be used to trump the revelation in Christ, in fact it is only in the revelation of Christ we can truly understand or read it at all.

            God is as the Lord reveals Him to be, and so simply no, He does not order the killing of anyone, let alone children, and we are in fact commanded to understand our life as Christians and growth in holiness directly in terms of how the Father relates and loves us and creation (and therefore if He did command the killing of a whole people, that would indeed be genocide and also a direct contradiction of who Christ reveals God to be).

            And if you Joel will continue to believe that God commands genocides, that is who you believe God to be, then it follows that is who you are commanded to emulate, but what means do you object to other extremists who believe God commands the death and slaughter of others? We see this enough today, never-mind the past, how would you counter them as wrong, how do you know God hasn’t commanded their death, even that of children, what means do you know? That you consider such an act wrong, but you just defended that if God authorities it, it becomes holy? This leads to dark and complete amoral nihilism, where evil becomes good because God commands it, the dominion of pure, merciless power, even what we think of as good is just because it’s God’s mood for that today. Such a being cannot be called the Good nor Love, but a Eldritch monster. And as said, it flies against the one who reveals the Father and guides just how we engage with the OT.

            Luckily as Iain says so well, the genocides of Joshua didn’t happen, anymore than the mass slaughter and destruction St Gildas reports in Britain in The Ruin and Conquest of Britain when the Saxon revolted and attack the Romano-Britons happened (as archaeology there too shows no mass destruction of towns or ending of occupation in fire). Nor did a global flood wipe out humanity at some point, and to attempt to approach the OT as a plain history is the same as attempting to do so with the Iliad for whatever conflicts might have happened in Turkey, or Arthurian legend as an accurate picture of 5th and 6th century Britain, it is a fools errand. But worse, it is simply not to read it as Christian Scripture at all.

            And I wonder, not only is the instinct of some, most clearly in young earth Creationists, to ignore and misrepresent evidence rather then following truth tragic for ones who claim to follow the Truth. But I wonder just what are they trying to save, a God which slaughters people children included, and has to be placated by Moses while in a tantrum killing thousands, and so on. It becomes very disturbing, and when marshaled into defending the greatest evil yet, endless torture and an eternal holocaust and concentration camp, the causal callousness that this line of thinking can bring is truly horrifying. And the zeal that some will go to defend that maintenance of belief in such a horror is truly breathtaking sometimes.

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          • Mark Deckard says:

            Those are all great points, however if the mainstream Evangelical world is to be brought along in this great unraveling of the sweater (as they would see it) we have to answer some particularly important questions that your construct evokes. Namely, how do we relate to God through a book which has been shown to be something less than infallible? How do we avoid spiritual anarchy and how do we know when we have allegorized too much? How do we work around Jesus treatment of the flood as historical fact? “As in the days of Noah so shall it be at the coming of the Son of man” is pretty hard to ignore for the common reader. As well they are far more prone to a pulpit preachers claim to the plain reading than to even know about these lengthy complicated reinterpretations. Why the bible appears to trick us is really the forbidden question. Why was the creation narrative constructed in such a way to evoke an understanding of the natural world in ways that now appear childish and superstitious in light of proven science, if in fact that narrative was inspired by God? And how do you explain this to a blue collar Christian with a high school education?
            I ask these questions as a very open minded Evangelical pastor who is feeling more and more trapped in a popular and expected interpretive framework that I myself am growing out of. These are the sermons that would turn sheep into wolves over night and the shepherds eaten carcass would be found in the morning. What good does that do anyone?

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          • Grant says:

            Well in part of why I left Protestantism since I sola Scriptura didn’t seem coherent nor tenable to me Mark (so perhaps I’m not the best person to resolve this dilemma 😉 ). But to be fair, I see it often enough in Catholic and Orthodox circles as well to realize more than just Protestant seem to import this approach.

            My first response to this fair question is to say to book is not infallible, in and of themselves their just ancient texts (and now translations and interpretations of ancient texts). Their are inspired only when their is an encounter between the reader and the text in and by the Spirit, illuminating that mind and heart and revealing the true meaning of the Scripture, as part of musical symphony, revealing Christ and showing what it truly has to say, lifting the veil. To quote Hart concerning this, it will yield a true, though neither necessarily exclusive nor the only reading, but a true one. Now as you say, potentially anarchy can result, it part that is part of the wildness we go into (to quote Lewis, He isn’t a tame lion 🙂 ), but as Timothy tells us, it isn’t the Scriptures but the Church that is the foundation and pillar of truth, which can be expanded on in a number of ways. However something many Orthodox, Catholic and some Protestants might agree upon is the broad tradition as the life of the Christ in the Holy Spirit, experienced and lived by in by baptism and through the Eucharist and communion of love that gives provides the context and contours to approaching the text as embedded in that communion and life, and provide both the language and approach to reading the Scripture as Scripture. Also to this, what has been understood perhaps inadequately by the Church, such as the Nicene Creed helps express that life and understanding and helps guide our readings and what we see in Scripture.

            The other principles would be ones the NT itself recommends, as Christ reveals on Emmaus and seems the guiding principle of all the NT authors, the OT is about Him, and testifies to Him. Everything does, and so has to be read in and through Him (as the image of the Transfiguration shows, we can only see it, and have the veil as St Paul indicates lifted in this way), and so we must see and read it this way, as commentary on Him and His Life and the Gospel, and what He said and did, and to who He is and reveals the Father is. To knowing as Hebrew declares that they are for us, and that is their purpose, and so reference the Church (so for St Paul the crossing of the Red sea is baptism, Sarah and Hagar represent the law against trust in the faithfulness of God in Christ and so on, and indeed the flood used in the Peter epistles, again relating to baptism and God’s faithfulness. This actually brings in the Lord’s own use, while He references the time of Noah, relating to the story as with the author(s) of the Peter epistles it is an assumption read into the text that this would mean either author of the Gospel (or Christ) understood this story to have historically happened or insisting that it we must read it that way, because as with the Peter epistles this is not how it is interpreted and applied. Instead, the story is used to interpret the current situation in Judea at the time (and to some extent through this current age), very similar to the 2 Peter, people are feasting and ignoring and not understanding the signs. But God’s judgement and salvation are at hand, and they might risk not understanding nor seeing it, the Lord’s use of it is just the same as His use of Jonah, where Jonah in the whale is about His burial and resurrection (which is followed by the repentance and salvation of Ninevah, which St Jerome said was commonly interpreted in his day as representing the culmination of all being saved, even the devil and his demons).

            Again people didn’t read texts as flatly as we sometimes do now, whether it was representing the accurate history or not read within the tradition and life of the people of God, through Temple and life of week and celebration and ceremony it became more than just the words of the page, but their understanding of themselves as Israel and in and through that the oracles of God to be reached for. It is true, but that doesn’t make it historical true, that is a reading moderns often import into the text.

            And with Christ we know, and as Cleopas can see the scales drop and with burning hearts come to see it showing Christ if we let the Spirit show us. And this culminates in the very act of communion of love and breaking of bread where they recognize Him (again a pointer to the Eucharist and Eucharist Communion). This perhaps context and normalization, also we look to Christ and again how He reveals the Father, the Christ who rebukes the sons of Zebedee for wanting to call down fire on a disbelieving town in that action reveals that God doesn’t reign fire down on people to burn them alive (so the story of Sodom and Gomorrah must be interpreted in another way, since that surface reading neither testifies to Christ nor the Father He reveals, the illumination of the Holy Spirit must be in accordance with Christ), He who removes the sword from St Peter’s hand does not command any of His children, let alone His disciples to kill and commit genocide. He who prays for the forgiveness of all, who heals all and says to be like the Father we must love and give to all, forgive and love our enemies, bless for curses, return love for harm (and as He says, ‘you have heard it said, but I say to you’ , ) is not One who wipes out enemies or those who fall. He also reveals that holiness heals and restores, doesn’t kill, so those who die touching the tabernacle, this cannot be taken that God’s holiness destroys, it is death that holds us from God that is destroying us, His holiness frees (even the 10 commandments are to be read and understood through the Sermon of the Mount and our Lord’s teachings, not the other way around, He illuminates what they really mean and drive at, it is all about Him). Just as He is the Ark, and the flood is synonymous and linked to the wickedness drowning and destroying the world, of death bring the world to chaos (sea being symbol of the chaos and the tend to non-being) and also baptism and the passing of the old into the new.

            But yes, centred in Christ and conforming the readings to Him, and within the life of the Church in the Eucharistic Communion (indicated also in the Emmaus road narrative) in which we live in Christ by the Spirit as the Church is foundation, respecting the broad understandings that embedded living as understood (such contained in the Creed). Of course here come difficulties of the borders and understanding Tradition and magisterium and so on, and the need to ever as Jacob to wrestle and understand that tradition received (in order to truly receive it) anew and understand it’s truth and heart and what the Spirit says, but that is a whole other though related discussion.

            But it must always be true to the One who reveals who the Father is, both in His Life revealed and in His Life lived by the Spirit in the Eucharistic Communion, and of course in the love given to the other (as Matthew 25 tells as, linking Eucharist and the other, particularly the other that is in need whether that need is self-caused or not, prisoners being on that list too :), and of course if we are Christ when we selfless love and help another, that is the revelation of the Father, again of who He is, as we see Christ we see the Father).

            I’m not sure if that helps you at all, but it is a feeble attempt to at least outline an approach, and to say that this is the approach I see begun and used clearly in the NT and continued in the life of the Church, in which ‘literal’ interpretations has simply repeated Marcion’s error. The only difference being, instead of throwing away that image of God reflected, they have attempted to bolt it onto Christ forcing some twisted double-faced janus image of God, a chimera monstrosity of sorts. One that cannot be called with much meaning Love as such.

            Don’t know how much that might help you, particularly within certain evangelical circles (trust me, I remember them well), but that is the approach I see. And typological and allegorical readings are necessary, but as long as they cohere with Christ as revealed in the Gospels, and to Him revealed within the life of the Church, I think the promise of the Holy Spirit to guide in all truth will safe guard against false readings obscuring the truth. We must ever choice Sarah not Hagar 😉 .

            Liked by 1 person

          • Mark Deckard says:

            Thank for your generous help. I am literally going to copy and paste this onto my notes and think about it a lot. There seems to be an almost unspoken scandal of reform being perpetrated by Christ in the his deliberate actions and words you pointed out that seem to stand so antithetical to Old Testament problems by His own design. Sometimes I wonder if Jesus was rescuing us from the Old Testament misrepresentations of God in a way that did not do too much violence to the wheat that grew among the tares. Dare I speculate the parable could apply in that way? Again thank you for your time and patience.

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          • Grant says:

            Another thought particularly in relation to people of high school education, I think first don’t underestimate them, perhaps don’t talk down but help let them see how St Paul is working with these stories, or the Peter letters, let them here Emmaus again and use that the point to the Eucharist and that Christ is the Word of God (not Scriptures, He is the Word of God). Let them see how St Paul uses typology and allegory (evangelicals have a built in admiration for St Paul so let that help lead into this).

            Something else may be to restore myth to people, this has been a means of investigation and knowing of reality by communities since man arose, as a way of understanding reality and conceptualizing it in a manner that cannot be done in any other way. Perhaps bring them to reflect on Greek myths, Arhturian legends and consider why they are not bothered to consider these as not literally true and yet are still sources of truth, Bring in the connection strongly intertwined between John’s Gospel and both creation accounts, to the declaration of Christ as ‘behold the man’ and to St Mary Magdalene mistaking Him the Lord at the Resurrection for a gardener to see how the six day of God creating man in His image and likeness is complete in Christ (it’s an ongoing work), and so He is the true gardener (and the spiritual or celestial Adam to the Adam of earth, of decay and death). And indicate how linked there and too our own rhythms of week is showing not a once creation but God’s creative work overall as a revelation of creation’s nature, and the promise of where it is going (the seventh day yet to come, yet already here in Christ). To read the Flood narrative as about Christ and also about themselves, about baptism and new life in Christ, of drawing out of the water of death into new life, and the promise of the restored creation, or say Sodam and Gomorrah about life in Christ, of turning and leaving the destruction of death, and not trying to hold onto it (as with Lot’s wife). And so on, preachers do this part all the time, relating the story to current concerns and for people to see themselves and their current lives of faith in relation to the story at hand (particularly OT ones). Show it is about them, much as lessons would be drawn from Greek legends, or Arthurian stories.

            Perhaps bring in Tolkien and Lewis and MacDonald, these are great guides for moderns to understanding how myth works, how it relates truth and an understanding of both creation and humanity (and of course God) in ways pure historical and the measured observation and limited conjecture of the scientific disciplines never can. More than that , how it actually illuminates and enriches those things, enfold what models we have currently for say evolution of life, but into the picture painted of John 1:1 and John as a whole and through that the picture painted in the first creation account. It enables meaning and depth to be seen beyond the flat level given by the tv program they watched, or just to watch a nature program with that in mind, without feeling they have to feel embattled or under assault against what ‘the Bible proclaims’.

            Because in the end, that conflict will come either way, and they will either form a fragile or brittle faith based on reacting against anything that threatens some point of ‘literal’ interpretation, or will feel some clever person then them has explained their faith away and they will drift away or their children. Even more so when you bring in the moral problems highlighted above, those will become more urgent, something certain agencies will use to relentlessly portray faith as superstitious and ‘outmoded’. They are wrong, but such flat thinking on both sides leads to this, and I don’t think it requires high degrees, simply life lived towards love, and an reopening of wonder and myth, an innate mode of understanding humans have used since our dawn, to reintegrate this properly back into a congregations’ heart and soul, again centred in Christ,

            I guess in the end, make Him centre, and life in Him centre and I believe it will help to see through these things, in the end anyway.

            Not sure if that helps either, but I realized I hadn’t really addressed your last issue very well, hope this stab rectifies that a little 🙂 .

            And perhaps use a different vocabulary then I tend to reach for, not that I’m much of a match for most people here, but use the vocabulary that is natural to you and to them, and bring them into these discussions. Make it a journey for you all together, at least dipping their toes in, see where it can go, they likely will end up teaching you more then the other way around 🙂 .

            Liked by 1 person

          • Mark Deckard says:

            Thank you, good advice. Several strategies you mention are things I have been led by the spirit to do already. I am fully a Universalist but only a select few in my church know. They think my preaching has gotten better but they don’t know why. Tee hee. I plant many new kinds of questions in their mind that require them to think outside tradition. I have gotten away with phrases like, “Some people think the Adam and Eve story is metaphor. Well all I can say is that if it is a metaphor it was a story divinely inspired by God to tell us something very important in terms we needed to understand.” Nobody blinked. I emphasize the scope and vastness of Gods love in ways that kind of logically cut off their ability to imagine ECT. I emphasize the harrowing of hell as Jesus freeing people who died from hells grip. Nobody blinks. Nobody protests. So what you are saying is a wonderful confirmation. But there is still a minefield. All it takes is one Pharisee to stir everybody up if you slay the wrong sacred cow or gore his favorite ox. So far the Lord has been gracious in his guidance. I depend on Him desperately.

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          • Grant says:

            To be honest Mark you have my profound respect for what you are doing and trying to do. It can’t be easy when you the people of your congregation in your care, to judge what they can accept and how to deliver it, what spiritual food they can receive. To know what will build them up in love and to grow in. Christ, to judge what will heal and not hurt.

            I think it sounds like you are doing a fantastic job, many probably wouldn’t accept universalism now if stated outright or some of the ways we have talked about above of only seeing God in the OT through Christ. For many certain ideas or seen as tied to their current identify and could be perceived as an attack. To steamroll them into compliance would not be loving and you are meet them where they are, which takes allot of discernment. Take a leaf out of Our Lord’s book and use parables, stories and points of references they are familiar with to open them to thinking and considering such things in their heart.

            I often think we remain like the disciples in the Gospels before the Resurrection and that revelation, in we so often don’t know who Christ really is, and mistaken assumptions about what He is doing and what He is about, and who the Father is. I think much of Church history has been characterized by this, conforming Him to our assumptions and references rather than who He reveals Himself and the Father to be.

            So God bless and be with you always in this vocation you are called to, you’ll have my prayers for what they are worth 🙂 .

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  12. Fr. Greg Blevins says:

    Wow.

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  13. Pingback: Book Review: That All Shall Be Saved – Thomas Creedy's Blog

  14. Mark Deckard says:

    The second guessing of Brandt Jeans forgiveness holds a certain center of gravity in this review at least for me. His act of radical grace is real world evidence of something that is easily lost in the abstract. What does Christian grace look like in its purest and most unhindered form? And when viewing that form, what makes it so utterly Christian?
    The striking aspect of Brandt’s speech on the witness stand is how it is a humanly impossible position. Left to himself with no understanding of the gospel of Christ, there is no reason for a man to reach such a state of absolution towards such a guilty person. But even though many have the gospel and hope in it for themselves and those they love, how many have reached a maturity in its love so as to hope so much for someone so worthy of judgement due to crimes against themselves and those they love? It all brings to mind what Paul said.
    “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” How do we fit the unsatisfied retribution of justice in that statement? Christ death did not seem to change Gods mind towards sinners but rather it revealed Gods heart and mind as it had always been. The cross was a demonstration of the existence of divine love towards those who did not deserve it. Furthermore I have been searching for an answer to a question that bears asking here. When Jesus prayed on the cross for those who murdered him, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Was that a prayer that got answered? Did that prayer reach the Fathers ears with as much viability as all the prayers Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane? Should we consider that the High Priest of humanity, in the midst of suffering far worse than the garden of the olive press, was merely speaking in a delirious state of pain or that he in fact was in full on priestly form interceding for those who pierced him? If this is a prayer that in fact the Father would willingly answer (and how could he not?) then this has vast implications for our understanding of the necessity of punishment on behalf of the victims. Can we imagine the Father saying, “I’m sorry son, I appreciate your forgiveness, but I have to think about your mother and your followers who love you so much. Your murderers must go to hell for the sake of rectifying the injustice done to them.”
    It would seem to me that we must be liberated from the temporal restrictions that human justice is encumbered by when considering Gods justice. We are limited in power to protect the public and reform the criminal. God is not. Once His Lordship is granted, immediate transformation begins and creates a literally new creature. If this takes place in hell, why would the punishment of the sinner be any less interruptible as its inevitability was interruptible by the grace given on earth?

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    • Tom says:

      “Namely, how do we relate to God through a book which has been shown to be something less than infallible?”

      Mark, this comment of yours I’m quoting is from farther up the thread. There was no ‘Reply’ option that far in, so I’m posting it here. A simple answer to your question would be: By (a) relating to God through Christ and not a book, and by (b) relating to the book through Christ as the only ‘infallible’ presence of God in the book. That means some of what’s in the book gets exposed as false (that God commanded genocide for example). Israel got God wrong sometimes, and we know this only because we read in light of and through Christ. So what it means for Scripture to be or function as God’s word as to start and end with Christ, i.e., the truth of Scripture is what it reveals when read/understood in light of Christ.

      Forgive the plug – but here are my own musings (as a lifelong Evangelical): https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/what-is-the-bible-part-2/

      Blessings,
      Tom

      Liked by 4 people

  15. BolusOfDoom says:

    Right on. Even if sin is trained out of us per George MacDonald, we’re not robots. Soldiers get training in all kinds of minutiae and lifestyle and aren’t robots. I trained my Golden Retriever not to poop inside and he’s still pretty free-spirited. Heck, I even trained my toddler not to bite.

    God trains us all the time with weird stuff he throws at us. Our Father will keep at it till He completes the job.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. BolusOfDoom says:

    The thing that gets me about “infernalism” is not that people defend it, but don’t defend it in a way where they wish it weren’t true, like bad news. If infernalists thought it all the way through, they would shout from the rooftops, “I regret to inform you that you’ve been born into a Cosmos where the majority of our species will suffer endless ill-being. Save yourself if possible!”

    The only people who’ve thought it through are guys on the street corner wearing sandwich boards and Jack Chick.

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  17. J. Jackson says:

    Let’s see where the real impasse is here and see if it can be done with charity:
    DBH has laid out a logical proof for universal salvation, and he has claimed that its incontrovertible. For those who have read the book and reject his conclusions ON LOGICAL GROUNDS (let’s simply bracket Tradition for argument’s sake), 1) do you disagree with his consrtual of Creatio ex nihilo? If so, where and how? 2) Do you disagree with his scriptural translation/exegesis (and the inherent historical/cultural understanding therein? If so, where and how? 3) Do you disagree with his construal of the human person as made in the image and likeness of God as a relational being, and thus without such relations not a person at all? If so, where and how? 4) Do you disagree with his definition of freedom? If so where and how?
    ***If you can tackle any one of these issues and show where the logic is faulty, then your job is done. DBH’s subtle argument is arranged in such a way, I think, that if anyone one part fails, then the whole thing collapses, and then problem solved. But if you can’t do that, then we have negotiate another path. For the sake of argument, let’s say his logic is perfect. Then, DBH, I think your interlocutors would ask this of you:
    Even if analogical reasoning for universal salvation is tight, incontrovertible, are there other aspects of intellectual life in the Church (for a human person, by your own definition, is relational and this relationship is mediated–for the Orthodox Christian–through the Church and Her saints) that perhaps are understood as being higher that discursive knowledge? Let’s skip apophaticism, and go right o ascesis and prayer. Your interlocutors may suggest that while your logic works, we do not depend on logic for other aspects of knowing in the Church (especially if we understand highest theological “knowing” to be relational–i.e., participatory with God). Take the Ascension of Christ–where Christ is bodily assumed to sit at the right hand of the Father outside of time. Take the Eucharist (at the Epiclesis or at the chalice) or Baptism–both of which, we are taught, mystically unite us to God. Rather, we look to our saints’ experiential knowledge of God to guide our analogical understanding. And in many things, our saints disagree (indeed, just a cursory glance at various liturgical texts offers us both language of universal reconciliation and toll booths–I know how much you love these, DBH). In short, I think the objections to the book at hand is that it circumvents writings in the church by saints who don’t envision universal salvation and replaces their “higher” theological knowledge (ascesis and prayer) with logic.

    It’s almost banal to say that one “hopes” for the salvation of all. Would any here who object to DBH’s book object to the “hope” for the salvation of all? If not, would it then be possible to say, at the very least, provided one doesn’t provide a logical refutation of DBH’s argument, that DBH’s irrefutable logical argument for universal salvation could then provide us with an even greater hope? And if that’s the case, then maybe a little gratitude is in order–that maybe he isn’t working against Church teaching but squarely inside of it, giving us a logical grasping at the hope the Church preaches within its rich polyphonic Tradition.

    Perhaps it’s the same sort of “hope” Julian of Norwich stumbles upon:
    “And in this syte I mervelid gretely and beheld our feith, merveland thus: Our
    feith is growndid in Goddys word, and it longyth to our feith that we believe that
    Goddys word shal be savid in al things. And one peynt of our feith is that many
    creatures shal be dampnyd – as Angells that fellyn out of Hevyn for pride which
    be now fends, and man in herth that deyth oute of the feith of Holy Church,
    that is to say, thei that be ethen men, and also man that hath receyvid Christen-
    dam and livith uncristen life, and so deyth out of charite – all these shall be
    dampnyd to Helle without end, as Holy Church techyth me to belevyn.
    And stondyng al this, methowte it was impossibil that al manner thyng should
    be wele as our Lord shewid in this tyme. And as to this I had no other answere
    in shewyng of our Lord God but this: “What is impossible to the is not impossible
    to Me. I shal save My worde in al things, and I shal make al thing wele.” Thus I was
    tawte by the grace of God that I should stedfasty hold me in the faith as I had
    afornehand understonden, and therewith that I should firmly believe that al thyng
    shal be wele, as our Lord shewid in the same tyme. For this is the great dede
    that our Lord shal done, in which dede He shal save His word in al thing, and
    He shal make wele al that is not wele. And how it shal be don there is no creature
    benethe Criste that wot it, ne shal wetyn it, till it is don, as to the understondyng
    that I toke of our Lords menyng in this tyme.”
    ***I changed the Middle English in a couple of places for clarity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • DBH says:

      Blast. A peacemaker. Bless you, I guess. But some clarifications. You write:

      “DBH has laid out a logical proof for universal salvation, and he has claimed that its incontrovertible.”

      Ah, no, a misunderstanding. My claim is a negative one, and only in that sense irrefutable: My claim is that Christianity does not hold together as a coherent system of thought except in its classical universalist form. Otherwise, one or another (and so by extension every) cardinal term of Christian faith becomes equivocal and thus vacuous. I do not claim that I have proved universalism. I have merely demonstrated that Christianity’s plausibility as a total coherent vision has only ever been enunciated by the misericordes.

      Also, there are other arguments you don’t mention: the nature of proportional judgment, the possibility of a finite agent contracting a knowing culpability sufficient to earn damnation, the possibility of analogical language in theology…

      I also do not concede that the failure of one part of the argument induces the collapse of the whole.

      And, above all, I do not concede that any supposed “higher knowledge” or special experience unique to a saint can contradict the deliverances of reason. Such experiences can go beyond what reason can know, and discover mysteries hidden from profane eyes. But it cannot contradict reason.

      As Jeremiah warns, You have healed the wounds of my people lightly, crying “Peace, Peace,” when there is no peace.

      Liked by 2 people

      • earsofc says:

        DBH,

        Say I published a book (which I did) arguing for Universalism along very similar though not identical lines as what you draw in your book (I actually think if Calvin is right nihilism ensues.) Where would one send such a thing, if one wanted to gift you with it?

        Like

      • earsofc says:

        Also, if interested, I could send you the PDF. My email is pcm2fchris at gmail.

        Like

      • J. Jackson says:

        “As Jeremiah warns, You have healed the wounds of my people lightly, crying “Peace, Peace,” when there is no peace.”
        ***Stop being so cuddly, David.
        I wasn’t trying to bring peace. I was simply asserting that your opponents, provided they hold to some “hope” in the salvation of all (and if they don’t, then I’m not sure how they can bear to listen to the Octeochos during Matins or prayers at Kneeling Vespers), owe you a great deal of gratitude. Their hope may now become even stronger. That is not peace. In fact, it may very well be infuriating. And I imagine you may find no solace in helping someone find even greater hope in universal salvation since it is a position that you find grating, unreasonable (or whatever derogatory descriptor). The orthodox believer may find himself stretched over an abyss of belief here, with your profound, air-tight logic on one side and a Tradition that doesn’t fully accord with that vision on the other. At the end of the day, David, even Zarasustra allowed the camels to be happy.

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        • DBH says:

          No. I didn’t find that hope grating. I found Balthasar’s dialectical method somewhat exasperating. Like Gregory, I don’t think we’re dealing so much with paradox as with different frames of ultimate reference. But I didn’t mean to sound as dismissive of Balthasar as perhaps I inadvertently did. It’s just a little sad that–since it’s fairly clear what he believed–he invariably let institutional decorum triumph over moral courage in this matter.

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          • Don Erickson says:

            I’d dare say the greatest threat, if we want to call it that, to the institution called the church is less the internal struggle between hopeful universalists vs. faithful universalists. The greatest threat is the loss of a generation of young people not able to embrace an institution or representatives therein that preach eternal conscious torment, annihilation, or even admit the possibility of such. This generation, largely unchurched, intuit the cognitive dissonance and contradiction, and no resorting to tradition undoes this — I’d further dare say — godly intuition. Until I found an organization like the Christian Universalist Association, I was unable to embrace a Christian church because of its lack of courage when it comes to fully embracing God’s radical love. There’s that old saying, “when there’s a will, there’s a way…” not merely a hope. How could this NOT apply to a God who is Infinite Love?

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          • J. Jackson says:

            I think with Von B it was a pastoral consideration. I get that and can appreciate it. You would not make a good priest, David. Take that as a compliment if you will.

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          • Don Erickson says:

            Sorry, my first comment should have been a reply to J. Jackson’s initially. This reply is also to J. Jackson’s comment about DBH’s pastoral bona fides. The following comment may sound trite, but thinking about it, it really isn’t. It speaks to the core issue of the life of the church. If the choice when facing a tender context is between 1.) a priest/pastor with a Mr. Rogerish manner who contradictorily believes or even considers as possible that some will suffer in hell eternally because God chooses such and 2.) a layperson who writes books whose rhetoric sometimes becomes pointed yet whose aim is to teach that God finds a way to restore all, I’ll take #2, at least most of the time. That there are not enough priests/pastors who preach universal reconciliation is a genuine issue. The lack thereof serves as a barrier to the church. The conscience of so, so many who want theological courage in this matter keeps people at home on Sunday morning.

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  18. Don Erickson says:

    It is rather simple to me. And I simply cannot understand how this can be defied. God is Love. God is Father. So God is a loving father. A loving father allowing the eternal conscious torment or annihilation of even one of his children is anathema to the life of a loving father.

    What’s more, if this loving father is also the creator of the system that makes him a father, that system would naturally be loving in essence. To use a rather rough analogy, if I had the capacity and wisdom to engineer a child (in a purely moral way without any lasting ill effects), yet engineered my child in a way that allowed for the endless choosing of self-torture and self-harm over the heaven of love, especially when a model of willfulness always choosing the latter exists in the Son right next to me, you’d rightly question whether I was a loving father/creator from the beginning. Why would a loving father/creator that is also all-knowing create something for his pleasure only to have it end in his displeasure? Something has to give in this setup. Or this isn’t the set-up as DBH argues.

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  19. Don Erickson says:

    To me, it is rather simple. God is Loving Father and Creator. 1.) The life of a Loving Father/Creator and 2.) the eternal conscious torment of a majority of his greatest creation, his own image on earth, are simply contradictory. Both cannot be true. What’s more, 1.) an all-loving AND all-knowing father/creator who created ex nihilo out of love and for his pleasure, and 2.) a creation that ends in the acutely unloving and displeasurable reality of eternal tormented for the height of that creation again are simply contradictory. In addition, if a system is engineered whereby the greatest fit of engineering meets the fate of eternal hell, then must we not question not only the expertise of the engineer but also his presumed loving nature? And the notion of free will is not an exit ramp here. Why? Because the Engineer has the unbegotten model of willfulness that ever chooses the good directly next to him, i.e., in the Son. In other words, a system is easily conceived that both honors human willfulness and the final good. That the Creator would reject such a conception of human willfulness and final good in favor of final neutrality instead of final good in his OWN creation for his OWN pleasure again seems contradictory.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Bolus Of Doom says:

    Don Erickson: “That there are not enough priests/pastors who preach universal reconciliation is a genuine issue. The lack thereof serves as a barrier to the church. The conscience of so, so many who want theological courage in this matter keeps people at home on Sunday morning.”

    In case anyone thinks that’s an abstract concern, I’m a former five-point Calvinist who believed in double predestination starting in my teens. It was abhorrent, and I don’t want to do with either forensic, penal substitution-style Protestantism or Catholicism. Nor do I want to worship at an anything-goes Drag Queen Story Hour progressive UU church. My reading has led me to Eastern Orthodoxy, the original Church, where salvation is more ontological than forensic, and where universalism isn’t endorsed, but at least tolerated. So, I’m thinking I should “come and see” a liturgy at an EO mission only 13 miles from me in Azle, TX. But then Fr. Baldwin says,

    “My ecclesiastical contact is the Archpastor of the Diocese in which the altar I serve at is; His Eminence Archbishop Alexander and the Diocese of the South of the Orthodox Church of America respectively. Archbishop Alexander quite publicly, recently affirmed that universal salvation is not a viable view. It’s not permissible to hold this as Church teaching.”

    This EO mission is square in the Diocese of the South. The Archbishop visited the mission not two years ago. Oof. Do I show up knowing what I believe is impermissible? Do I show up knowing I have to backslide into infernalism to submit to Church discipline? Do I go church shopping like a Protestant again? This is not an abstraction for me.

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Not to worry! You are safe! The OCA is safe! The Diocese of the South is safe! The pastor of St Ambrose Mission in Roanoke is Fr Sam Gantt. He does not preach nor teach universalism. I have no official connection to St Ambrose Mission nor with the OCA nor with any Orthodox parish. I am officially retired.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bolus Of Doom says:

        Oops, Fr Kimel. Fort Worth TX to Roanoke VA would be quite the Sunday morning drive.

        I just find it funny that even in the Universal Apostolic Orthodox Church, I’d still have to church shop to not be a heretic for believing what some of the Church Fathers believed.

        Like

    • Andrew says:

      I don’t know where you might find an Orthodox hierarch affirming universal redemption. I’m not sure how important this is, to be honest, unless you are a priest who holds these views and you are at odds with your bishop.

      I find this very encouraging, maybe you will too. The author is a highly respected monastic within the Patriarch of Antioch:

      araborthodoxy.blogspot.com/2013/01/fr-touma-bitar-on-eternal-perdition.html?m=1

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      • Andrew says:

        Also there is Fr Roman Braga, a priest who served for years in the Romanian Episcopate of the OCA. He reposed a few years ago and is thought of as a saint by many. I’m going out on a limb here but I think he came pretty close to affirming a faith akin to universal redemption. Perhaps not, but you look for scraps of hope where you can find them in our situation. See his book length interview Exploring the Hidden Universe and the hour long interview on the DVD Beyond Torture which is about the Pitesti prison where he was held for several years.

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      • Bolus Of Doom says:

        “I find this very encouraging, maybe you will too. The author is a highly respected monastic within the Patriarch of Antioch:”

        Thanks, that’s a good read.

        “I don’t know where you might find an Orthodox hierarch affirming universal redemption.”

        Finding one that tolerates universal redemption would be good enough for me. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” would be fine with me too. It sounds like Archbishop Alexander of the Diocese of the South doesn’t even tolerate it. I guess I could just show up and shut up, the best plan for any group activity.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Andrew says:

          I actually doubt you will find any hierarch who encourages faith in universal redemption. This is nothing new. Ecclesial power has been tied up with denying it for a very long time. Faith in universal salvation is more or less a laypersons stance at this point, (even if you are a Priest) and a prophetic one. There are some questions bishops can’t answer even if they wanted too.

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          • DBH says:

            In public or in private? In private, I know more than a few. Alas for the rule of discretion.

            I have never cared for the clergy concealing its views from the laity. But, then again, the laity tends to conceal its views from the clergy as well. The actual proportion of believing Christians who don’t really believe in an eternal hell is far greater, I think, than many suspect.

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          • Mark Deckard says:

            If the average congregation could be trusted to at least disagree agreeably, disclosure would be an easy leap. But as it is we secret Universalist pastors live in an underground environment where we aren’t exactly sure who would go after our head. Once branded a heretic what then? Not everyone is in a position to restart their career trying to wash off the scarlet H. Consider Carlton Pearson. I view him as a cautionary tale as to how NOT to come out as a Universalist. The rejection he suffered and the wounds inflicted upon him seems to have pushed him into a new age unitarian stream. In the Evangelical world heresy is not a technical term like it is in orthodoxy. Here it is a cheap and easy slander used at every point of doctrinal disagreement. We would do well to have that term qualified properly in the collective vernacular.

            As for me there are a few in my church who know I am favorable to the questions Universalism asks and also answers. It comes down to whether or not we are willing to pull up the wheat with the tares. Sometimes more good and less harm can come from growing side by side. I feel a sense of sovereign guidance in this respect. Universalism has changed the way I preach and for the last 14 months people have sensed a greater clarity and depth of grace in both my pulpit ministry and my leadership style. Yet I feel that some have left because they are no longer able to feed on the surface algae of evangelical angst which is associated with culture wars and conservative ideology.
            Slowly we are weaning off of Penal Atonement and finding a loosening of that long tolerated internal tension by examining Jesus as the victor instead of the vindictive.

            Anyway, I loved your new book and your New Testament. I will be collecting more of your work. You have expanded my mind and my heart like few others.

            I sometimes wish and even have prayed often that you and some others who seem to be at the forfront of this renaissance with you might form a organizational foundation on which churches might start forming and being planted. Otherwise universalist pastors and laity will continue to dwell in the basement of churches handicapped by secrecy and disapproval.

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          • Don Erickson says:

            I am a bit of a datafile and remember reading about a survey in regards to the subject. A 2014 Pew Religion survey confirms that, mirroring Americans in general, ~40% of Mainline, Catholic and Orthodox Christians are “misericordes” (my new favorite word!) on the matter of hell. And that is without the qualifier of eternal conscious torment in the survey question. (If hell is explained as ECT, I’d say the number of misericordes increases.) That at least the Mainline and Catholic churches (the data on the Orthodox church is less clear) struggle most acutely with steep decline is not surprising, in my opinion. The lack of clarity and courage when it comes to the crucial question of beginnings and endings is a huge turn-off. Avoiding whether the Christianity we spout has a coherence or incoherence to it is no small matter. Such avoidance certainly isn’t the sole reason for decline. But I’d say it is not to be underestimated.
            https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/10/most-americans-believe-in-heaven-and-hell/

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  21. Corey Ford says:

    Wonderful review. It’s what I would want to say if I were articulate enough. I’ll re-read this devotionally as a meditation to remind me, God is good.

    Liked by 3 people

  22. dianelos says:

    Dear Chris,

    Thank you for the heart felt review. I too am flabbergasted by the unfairness and indeed callousness of several of the negative reviews of BDH’s latest book. The good news is that it shows he did touch those readers, and their angry reaction may be their first step towards recognizing their mistake.

    But I wish to come back to what is essential in our discussion. You write:

    “As Origen and Gregory of Nyssa and George MacDonald and Sergei Bulgakov, among many others, including Hart, have said, “hell” is the name for the process in which God separates sinners from their sins, destroying not only those sins but the evil that animates them. Florensky refers to it as a “fiery surgery””

    I find that this idea (which is especially powerful in Eastern Orthodoxy) is certainly much better than the common idea of ECT (eternal conscious torment). Still I think it does not make sense when one considers its merits. For it’s not like God would put us in this life in a condition in which we are given the opportunity to freely choose the good, to freely love God, to freely repent of our sins – and then in the afterlife the same God would put us in a condition where he would violently cleanse us of our sinful nature. This idea comports with the passages of the gospels that would seem to speak of ECT while avoiding the never-endedness of the common infernalist belief, for presumably God’s cleansing fire would need a limited time to do its work. Thus this idea offers a good intermediate intepretation of the text, but does not really make sense. We know from proper experience that love entails a certain fundamental respect for the beloved, so when we look we see that God who gives us so much respect and freedom in this life will not in the afterlife submit us into cleansing fire whether we want or not.

    The right answer I believe, one that makes sense and also comports with scripture (and thus satisfies those who think it must), is the simple idea that after biological death we shall remain on the path of repentance. After all the path of repentance is the axis around which the drama of the whole of the human condition plays out; it is the path which in the one end is bound to perdition by the fallen state of creation and in the other end is connected to God through Christ’s incarnation. What will be different in the afterlife is that the presence of God will be much more evident than in the current one, an existential fact that those who enter the afterlife in a more virtuous and charity filled condition will experience as a great joy, but those who enter the afterlife in a more unrepentant and sinfully egoistic condition will experience as extremely painful. For when in the presence of their maker and of their victims they realize what they have done, the pain of their contrition will be felt like burning fire. I am not dogmatically claiming this. Let us imagine the reaction of an exploiter or a murderer or a rapist when in the afterlife they realize God’s beauty and understand the pain they have caused to their victims who will also be there. Weeping and gnashing of teeth very well describes how it will be for them. But we can also see that in the afterlife it will much easier for them to freely choose to repent, and how the pain they feel will indeed cleanse them. Here I am not just speaking of the super-evil. Those among us those who failed to follow Christ’s new commandment of universal and selfless love – that is almost all of us – will also suffer dearly, albeit to a smaller degree, our suffering will be tempered by the realization of the nearness of heaven and the perfection of the eschaton.

    On this understanding, which I am convinced is the right understanding, the afterlife will be its soteriological nature essentially the same as this one – only greatly amplified: The process of repentance, with all the shame and pain and humiliation but also with the sense of liberation and empowerment and joy we already know it entails, will be experienced in the afterlife in a highly intensified manner. Because then we shall know; God and the pain of those who failed to love will not be as hidden as in this life.

    As the authors you quote correctly realized, hell and heaven will not be different places but different ways of experiencing the same afterworld in which humanity will find itself after leaving this one. But the human condition will stay one characterized by freedom. God will not employ violence to propel creation towards atonement. It is not in his nature. And we, made in his image, have enough sense of the divine to realize that this is so.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Matt says:

    Great review, thanks! This is going to seem like a very left-field comment, but I have this sense (and it could be projection) that the real heart (and I mean DBH’s affective “heart” and not the intellectual core) coreof the book is found in the sections about the analogically Fatherhood of God and parental personhood (p. 153). For me, this explains DBH’s heightened belligerence (that and an editor with voyeuristic blood-lust?). The great intellect (and arrogance?) is also merged with a “not without my son” Papa-bear brutality that’s is perhaps the flip-side of Lewis’ “not without my son” ghost in the Great Divorce. Like I wrote above, maybe I’m projecting.

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  24. Ben Wigner (pronounced Winer or Whiner) says:

    To be honest, I’m kind of sick of people talking about an arrogant or dismissive tone in the book. I’ve read it three times and there’s no such tone. I don’t see anyone demeaned or casually brutalized. I see a lot of righteous indignation at cruel ideas we’ve been taught to swallow. But so what? Those ideas are truly horrible. DBH’s sin seems to be that he comes out and tears away the veil of sanctity from some really cruel notions and exposes them candidly. People who find that arrogant are the ones who should be embarrassed. The only tone I hear, from first page to last, is fierce compassion. He’s one of the misericordes. Hard hearts hear that compassion as an accusation. Then again, hell is just love experienced as wrath. So maybe it all makes a point.

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