I wanted to begin my rebuttal of Hart’s article entitled “Why Do People Believe in Hell?” (found here) with the following sentence:
“The idea of universal salvation is neither biblically, philosophically, nor morally justified. But for many it retains a psychological allure.”
(If you’ve read his article, he began his essay with the sentence: “The idea of eternal damnation is neither biblically, philosophically nor morally justified. But for many it retains a psychological allure.”). (Sorry for the snarky attitude, but Hart’s article really ticks me off).
You see, I’ve been reading through Dr. Hart’s newest book, That ALL Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell & Universal Salvation. If one wants to believe in universal salvation — that all not only can, but will, be saved — you pretty much have to get rid of hell. And that’s what Dr. Hart seeks to do.
1.This is a very personal issue for me, mostly because I got saved as a result of being afraid of going to hell. If hell doesn’t exist, or if it is something quite different than Christians have believed (like, the purging flames of God universally applied), then I got saved under false pretenses.
2.The very first book I wrote sought to defend the traditional doctrine of eternal conscious punishment in light of its erosion among Evangelical theologians (such as Clark Pinnock, John Stott, Michael Green, etc.). Some of my brethren have opted for substitute views like annihilationism (see the book Rethinking Hell). My contribution to the discussion was/is entitled The Other Side of the Good News: Contemporary Challenges to Jesus’ Teaching on Hell and covers the three primary “alternative views” (universalism, post-mortem conversionism, and annihilationism).
3. I am quite familiar with all of Dr. Hart’s objections to eternal hell. My Ph.D. is in historical theology (how doctrines have been understood down through church history). I have made it a practice in my scholarly life to read what I call “boiling books” (books that will make a conservative Christian hopping mad before he or she gets past the preface) so I can familiarize myself with the arguments of unbelievers. I am not reading Hart’s That ALL Shall Be Saved for my spiritual nourishment, but to see what his objections are to the clear teaching of the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E. (I can’t get rid of my snarkiness).
4. I believe the denial of hell as eternal conscious punishment minimizes the seriousness of man’s sin, makes a mockery of Christ’s atoning work, and eviscerates the very enterprise of missions and evangelism. Why seek to convert others to biblical Christianity if all will ultimately be saved? The universalist theologian Theodore Parker (d. 1860 -who is celebrated as an intellectual who “played a major role in moving Unitarianism away from being a Bible-based faith”) once quipped, “I believe that Jesus Christ taught eternal punishment — I do not accept it on his authority!” If the gospel is true and hell is real and Jesus is God the Son, that’s the dumbest and most dangerous thing anyone could ever say!
Here’s a copy of the letter I’ve written to the Opinion Editor of the New York Times. Let’s hope they’ll let me write a rebuttal piece. (to be continued)