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)
January 23, 2020 at 9:39 am
Thank you for taking a stand for the truth, my friend. I was thinking of writing a response to his article, but it would seem much since I already reviewed his book.
His view of church history is almost intentionally selective. I also recently read Pusey’s book on eternal punishment where he devoted 120 pages to non-stop church father quotes on hell. There is no doubt that eternal hell was the majority view!
Plus, Hart’s book lacks Scripture! He only addresses what the Bible says on the topic in one chapter-but even then he merely quotes a bunch of verses without any comment or exegesis.
The entire book was all emotion. What it boils down to in Hart’s case is his unregenerate heart. He is unwilling to conform his mind to Christ and subject his intellect to His Word.
Thank you again for your post, and for your book on hell, which is well-documented.
Dr. Larry Dixon
January 23, 2020 at 10:12 am
Steve: Thanks so much for your kind words — and for reading my blog! I’m also grateful you’ve reviewed Hart’s book (which I need to do as well). Blessings on you, my friend. Larry
January 23, 2020 at 11:27 am
I tried to comment but either it wasn’t approved or some bug prevented it from being posted… If I said something offensive, I apologize, but I tried to be as friendly and amicable as I could!
The gist was:
WRT point #1: God uses our beliefs, right or wrong, to our good. It’s possible that, in God’s mercy, we could come to know Christ under “false pretenses.”
WRT point #4: it doesn’t seem helpful to cite Theodore Parker in a critique of DBH, since the two are not remotely the same theologically, philosophically, or in terms of ecclesial commitments. DBH is a committed Orthodox Christian, whereas Parker, in my opinion, has very little of substance to say to Christians.
Now, WRT Steve’s comment, to claim that DBH has an unregenerate heart because he doesn’t share your eschatological views seems… unfortunate to say the least.
Lastly, I also mentioned in my initial attempt to comment that DBH’s polemics are best read as an attempt to emulate the polemical styles of the early church fathers, for better or worse, and to read him a bit tongue in cheek helped me through The Beauty of the Infinite (a real masterpiece in philosophical theology, even if I don’t share all of his views!).
If you are curious about the scriptural basis of his views, there is some helpful material in the postscript to his translation of the New Testament.
This comment is a bit more bare-bones than the one I tried to leave yesterday, but its time for me to get back to my work! Hopefully this one goes through.
Dr. Larry Dixon
January 24, 2020 at 6:04 am
Good morning, Jacob.
First of all, I apologize that you had trouble posting your comment on my blog. I assure you I am glad to hear from you and don’t know why you had trouble posting. (Feel free to continue our conversation, if you wish, using my email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
1. You are certainly right that one might believe something wrong and yet come to faith.
2. I appreciate the point you make about connecting DBH to Parker. I was only making the point that one’s primary concern should be “What did Jesus teach?”
3. It’s always tricky to try to judge another’s heart, right? That “information’s unavailable to the mortal man” (Paul Simon, “Slip Slidin’ Away,” 1977). But unbelief can — and should — be critiqued, even about eschatological essentials (like hell).
4. Jacob, I also appreciate the point you make that DBH is being a bit tongue-in-cheek in what he is saying. I am only responding to what I think are his affirmations about the afterlife.
I would be interested in reading DBH’s notes in his NT translation.
I sincerely appreciate your taking the time to comment on such an important issue. Blessings. Larry
January 24, 2020 at 3:00 pm
I appreciate your concern that I may be being too harsh and judgmental by calling Hart an unbeliever. However, I do not think that I am going too far. Yes, if I was saying he is lost because he disagrees with my eschatology (amillennialism, personally), then that is dumb. Pre-trib, mid-trip, post-trib, is not an essential of the faith. However, saying that all men will eventually be saved goes far beyond eschatology and basically denies several core doctrines including the cross itself, and the necessity of faith. In addition, to come to his conclusions he has to twist so many Scriptures that it really bares the question as to whether or not he sees the Bible as an authority.
Further, universalist (which is heresy) or not, I have read Hart’s book, and in it he denies the Christian understanding of the cross (i.e. penal substitution). His explanation of the Christ’s work on the cross (SOLELY the conquest of satan) is entirely different than what the Bible describes. I explain his false gospel in my review of his book (see the link above).
Dr. Larry Dixon
January 25, 2020 at 6:43 am
Steve: I appreciate your response to Jacob. I agree that the central question is the Bible’s authority. Isn’t it interesting that those who deny hell as ECP (eternal conscious punishment) inevitably deny vicarious penal atonement? Readers, here is Steve’s link again for his review of Hart’s book: https://inthelasthour.com/a-christian-reviews-that-all-shall-be-saved-by-david-bentley-hart/ Thanks again for your comment, Steve. Larry