Hans Urs Von Balthasar's short book, Dare We Hope: That All Men May Be Saved (With A Short Discourse On Hell), is an excellent introduction into the question Universal Salvation. Balthasar argues that Hell is a 'real possibility', however, there is good reason to hope that in the end, all people may be saved. The book is helpful to understand how to approach the Bible and the Church's teaching on these topics considering his conclusion. In his chapter in on the New Testament, Balthasar made a provocative, yet helpful statement on how to approach the teachings on Hell and Universalism in the New Testament:
"It is generally known that, in the New Testament, two series of statements run along side by side in such a way that a synthesis of both is neither permissible nor achievable: the first series speaks of being lost for all eternity; the second, of God’s will, and ability, to save all men. Before approaching particular texts, it is necessary to consider the fact that particular words of Jesus can be attributed with a high degree of probability to the pre-Easter Jesus, because in them he uses a language and images that were familiar to the Jews of that time (which does not mean, of course, that these texts, which have been preserved by the synoptic evangelists, are of lesser significance to us), whereas certain reflections by Paul and John clearly look back upon all that happened to Jesus—to his life, death on the Cross and Resurrection—and, in so doing, consider and formulate this totality from a post-Easter perspective.", - Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Dare We Hope, pg30
Balthasar provided and excellent visualization of these two parrallel statements in his comparison of Michelangelo's and Fra Angelico's depiction of the Last Judgment in art:
"Blondel rejects Dante's inscription on the door to hell: "To claim that this dungeon with its punishments is 'the work of primal and highest love' is to attribute to God a responsibility that the only the unrepentant have to bear"; he rejects in disgust the condemning gesture of Michelangelo's Christ and refers us instead to Fra Angelico, who depicts Christ, at judgment, as only displaying his wounds: "And at the sight of this, the unrepentant sinners turn away, beating their breasts to indicate that they hold themselves to blame." - Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Dare We Hope, pg115.
Balthasar also demonstrates some of the philosophical problems with the existence of Hell.
"This idea met with approval and frequent emulation. Such was the case, above all, with Saint Ambrose: “What is the outer darkness? Does a prison exist there, minelike excavations in which the offender is locked away? No; but rather, those who persist in remaining outside of God’s promise and order are in the outer darkness. Consequently, there is no actual gnashing of teeth or a fire that is eternally fed by physical flames; there is no bodily worm.” Then follows the comparison with the indigestible foods that cause fever in the body and the application of this to the sins of the soul, “which, so to speak, allows its constantly new sins to ferment along with the old, burned by its own fire and consumed by its own worm”. Jerome always speaks only of a spiritual fire, since the spiritual soul cannot be touched at all by a material fire. From all this it is clear, for one thing, that we cannot say that God has “created hell”; no one but man can be blamed for its existence. But then, too, that the idea of a self-condemnation of man—which, for G. Hermes, is nonsensical (“Who, then, will condemn himself, precisely if he is evil?”)—is most convincing where the hardened unlovingness of man runs up against the word of God’s absolute love. Why “will all tribes of the earth wail at the sight of him whom they have pierced” (Rev 1:7)?" - Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Dare We Hope, pg51-52
The book ends with a Short Discourse on Hell, which is a part two to the book, where questions and condenmantions! are addressed. One of which is on the question of "Joy over Damnation" and whether heaven and hell will look upon each other over a chasm like the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus:
"That the Parable of the Rich Glutton and the Poor Lazarus is not meant as anything more than an earnest warning to the living to have mercy on the beggar at their door is clear. Even if it is described in such drastic terms how the one tormented in the flames of Hades pleads for a drop of water from the fingertips of Lazarus, who is in the “bosom of Abraham”, the allegory should not evoke questions about the mental state experienced by Abraham and Lazarus at the sight of the tormented man: do they feel compassion, indifference, or. . .? In the context of the allegory, such a question is absurd. For its “intention is directed toward man’s salvation, not toward giving purely concrete information as such”; it “aims at saying something kerygmatic for his present life, something relevant here and now”. All New Testament and theological talk about hell has but one point: “To bring man to come to grips with his life in view of the real possibility of eternal ruin and to understand revelation as a demand of the utmost seriousness. The fundamental reference to this redemptive meaning of the dogma must therefore serve as both a boundary marker and an internal guideline for all speculation in this area” (J. Ratzinger).
Assuming, however, that there might really be such a vantage point from which to survey the abyss between heaven and hell, would not a conscientious theologian still have to ask himself the question of how the blessed feel when they see certain of their brothers and sisters roasting in hell? The question arises, of course, only if, first, there are such people in hell and, second, one can see them from within heaven, or at least miss them there.
At the end of the Book of Isaiah, there is a description of how those who were saved in the apocalyptic, magnificent (earthly) Jerusalem walk out through the city gates; they “look on the bodies of the men that have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (Is 66:24). In place of “abhorrence”, the Septuagint has “sight [to see]”, and the Latin translation by Jerome reads: “et erunt usque ad satietatem visionis omni carni” (PL 28, 848), which translates literally as: “and they shall be a sight for all flesh to look upon till satiated”—a rather dark passage. Be that as it may, there are comparable passages in the Old Testament, for instance, Psalms 58:6, 10: “O God, break the teeth in their mouths;. . . The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.” [..]
The point is not to paint a pathetic picture of such situations but rather to pose the absolutely sober, unavoidable question: Under the aforementioned hypothesis, is every human, every Christian, bond—designated as communio sanctorum—simply annulled? And more profoundly, as seen from the viewpoint of God himself: Does God no longer love the damned, for whom, after all, his Son has died? Or—if I may revert to the hypothesis that I developed earlier—do the absolute naysayers burn in the fire of the absolute divine love that also embraces them, and what sort of effect does such a situation have on God?" - Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Dare We Hope, pg202-207
Often it is alleged that Genesis 1-11 is an eye-witness account, and even if Adam was not there in the beginning of Genesis 1-2, then God was certainly there as an eyewitness. But this will not do! Karl Rahner explains why it is a travesty to treat the proto-history of Genesis 1-11 as merely an expressive eyewitness account in this excellent quotation:
"Negatively it can probably be said quite simply that the account of creation in all its parts is not an 'eye-witness report' of what happened, by someone who was there, whether it be God or Adam who is thought of as the reporter. Or, to express it in more learned fashion, the account of creation does not depict the event which it reports with the actual observable features of its occurrence. Consequently it is not the report of someone who is describing and is in a position to describe a visible event of an historical kind because he was present and saw how it happened. If that were the case, then the figurative trappings and modes of expression which are present would be meaningless there. Nor would a reader expect them, if the occurrence to be reported had its own actual observable historical and therefore at all times intelligible and communicable features and provided the reporter were present at the event. Nor are the figurative modes of expression simply to explained as didactic devices designed to assist a primitive hearer's comprehension, for even to him much could have been differently said without prejudice to his understanding. To put the matter once again negatively, we can and indeed must of course affirm that what is contained in the account of creation as a proposition actually affirmed, is true, because God has revealed that content. But that statement does not imply the proposition that what is narrated there is reported by God in the manner in which it is expressed, because he was present at the event reported and is giving an eye-witness account even if it is one with some rather metaphorical features" -Karl Rahner, Homisation: The Official Teaching of The Church on Man in Relation to the Scientific Theory of Evolution, pg 34-35
Karl Rahner is one of my favorite Roman Catholic theologians, and he has written an excellent book discussing the controversial questions regarding Origins and Evolution. Read the complete book online: "Homisation: The Official Teaching of The Church on Man in Relation to the Scientific Theory of Evolution." (mirror)
Jonathan Edwards is deeply loved today and widely admired by Evangelicals, and it may come as a surprise and shock to many, especially his Baptists fans to discover that he affirms Infant Baptism as the true and correct form of Christian Baptism! First, I will share a bit of background on Edwards and then a few quotations from his Miscellanies on Infant Baptism.
There has been a watershed of work due to the rediscovery and reawakening of Jonathan Edwards, who was a Puritan Congregational Reformed minister in the early 18th century. He is one of the greatest theologians in American history and in time will be considered among the great doctors of the Church. He was largely unknown and forgotten, and suffered with a horrible stigma as a fire and brimstone purtianical (tyrannical?) preacher due to his famous sermon that ignored the Great Awakening, titled: "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". However, there has been an Edwardsian Renaissance due to the infamous book infamous book "Jonathan Edwards" by Perry Miller, a Harvard University historian. Edwards became widely popular among Evangelicals through the preaching and myriad of writings by Baptist pastor John Piper such as, "God's Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (With the Complete Text of The End for Which God Created the World)". In last last decade that has been a watershed of work done on Edward's advanced ideas that had hitherto been buried in old notebooks in chicken-scratch writing, but is now freely available at the Yale Jonathan Edwards Center (and the following quotations are from that website).
The Miscellanies 911. BAPTISM OF INFANTS.
God, in his institutions in his church, has respect to the state of his church in its future ages, many times. Thus baptism is calculated for the state of the Christian church in the millennium, when parents will truly give up their children, and so fully, that they shall generally be accepted, and their children will be sanctified in their infancy. That is the proper, appointed season of the application of redemption, the elect season, wherein there will probably be an hundred times more of the application of redemption than in all preceding ages put together; and therefore, the ordinances and means of application are especially calculated for that season.
- Jonathan Edwards , The "Miscellanies," 833-1152 (WJE Online Vol. 20) , Ed. Amy Plantinga Pauw
The Miscellanies 932. PROGRESS OF THE WORK OF REDEMPTION. (Add this to No. 911.)
The glorious times, the proper and appointed season of the APPLICATION of redemption. This is spoken of as the proper time of the first resurrection, Revelation 20:6, and also the proper time of the marriage of the Lamb, and the bringing guests to the marriage supper, Revelation 19:9.
- Jonathan Edwards , The "Miscellanies," 833-1152 (WJE Online Vol. 20) , Ed. Amy Plantinga Pauw
Moïse Amyraut (1596 – 1664) was a Huguenot, as my own ancestors were as well, and this name means French Calvinist. Moses Amyraut was of the school of Saumer, and this man is interesting because of his modified Calvinism, that allowed for Hypothetical Universalism and hence became the eponymous founder of Amyrauldism.
A favorite theologian of mine, B.B. Warfield, consider Amyrauldism an "a logically inconsistent form of Calvinism and therefore an unstable form of Calvinism." I found Warfield's harsh dismissal of Amyrauldism provocative, regardless of whether I agree or not with Warfield, what he wrote in his "Plan of Salvation" against Moses Amyraut is famous.
I've had renewed interested in Amyrauldism, after learning that Jürgen Moltmann had studied him for his doctorate, and I've had great interest in the universalistic forms of Calvinism due to the influence of Karl Barth. Continue reading...
At many times, John Calvin's describes the ontology of Scripture using the same vernacular as contemporary statements such as the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy, as well as dictation theories such as Plenary Verbal Inspiration that makes strong assertions about the Scripture's inerrancy, infallbility, and identity with the Word of God. Despite the similarities at times, when reading Calvin's voluminous commentaries, there are many times when Calvin makes conclusions that these statements and theories would never allow. This is especially true in that Calvin is willing to identify and work through certain kinds of errors he encounters in the scriptures, and is comfortable understanding the Scriptures being both human writings and the divine Word of God -- where these modern statements and theories strive endlessly to deny that any errors, as such, exist. Among the categories of errors in Scriptures, Calvin includes intentional and unintentional misquotations, technical inaccuracies, historical errors, scientific errors, cultural accommodations and even theological errors! All of these types of errors do not undermine or discredit Calvin's firm belief that although the Scriptures are a human document, they are also the inspired Word of God, and working through these difficulties are matters of little consequence to him and do not undermine or disable the Word of God revealed in them. Continue reading...
B.B. Warfield is famous for his endorsement of Evolution from within the Reformed Church Tradition, and his ability to distinguish the agnosticism of Charles Darwin from Darwin's work as a Naturalist. All of Warfield's writings on Evolution have been assembled in an extremely helpful book edited by Mark A. Noll and David N. Livingstone, "B.B. Warfield: Evolution, Science and Scripture (selected writings)". The book contains Warfield's review of Darwin's letters and selections of his writings on the topic of evolution. One of the most helpful articles is Warfield's essay, "Calvin's Doctrine of Creation" where Warfield claims that "Calvin's doctrine of creation is [...] an evolutionary one." Continue reading...
How are we to understand the two famous Creation narratives in Genesis 1-2, considering the scientific knowledge we have of the cosmos today? If we were to read Genesis 1-2 as a straight forward scientific account, we'd come to conclude that the Sun is the greatest luminary in the cosmos, and that the Moon is the second greatest, and both of these luminaries exceeding all the stars in the universe? Is such a literal torchering of the text necessary when exegeting Genesis? John Calvin says of course not!
RSV Genesis 1:16, "And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also."
In a provocative, famous and illuminating selection of John Calvin's commentary, we encounter Calvin's extremely helpful approach to Genesis 1-2. I've quoted this at length below with some [...] omissions, and the most interesting words in bold below. Continue reading...
Should Genesis 1-2 be used to define our Doctrine of Creation? Alister E. McGrath's excellent three volume study on the relationship between Theology and Natural Science contained an excellent quote demonstrating that beginning with the first two chapters of the Bible, due to it's prime real estate location in the book of the Bible has caused problems in the development of the Doctrine of Creation that has not been a problem for other Christian Dogmas. McGrath uses an excellent quotation by Emil Brunner to demonstrate this point, and concludes that if we began our study of the Doctrine of Creation in John 1:1 instead of Genesis 1:1, we would have avoided much of the controversies in this Doctrine of Creation that we haven't encountered by avoiding this path with other Dogmas.
Scripture, when rightly interpreted, leads to Christ; Christ can be known properly only through Scripture. As Luther put it, Christ is 'the mathematical point of Holy Scripture', just as Scripture 'is the swaddling cloths and manger in which Christ is laid'. John Calvin made a similar point: 'This is what we should should seek . . . throughout the whole of Scripture: to know Jesus Christ truly, and the infinite riches which are included in him and are offered to us by God the Father.'
Considerations such as this raise a question of considerable importance. Emil Brunner raises this in a very focused form - namely, whether Genesis 1-2 is the foundational statement of a Christian doctrine of Creation:
"The uniqueness of this Christian doctrine of Creation and the Creator is continually being obscured by the fact that theologians are so reluctant to begin their work with the New Testament; when they want to deal with the Creation, they tend to begin with the Old Testament, although they never do this when they are speaking of the Redeemer. The emphasis on the story of Creation at the beginning of the Bible has constantly led theologians to forsake the rule which they would otherwise follow, namely, that the basis of all Christian articles of faith is the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. So when we begin to study the subject of Creation in the Bible we ought to start with the first chapter of the Gospel of John, and some other passages of the New Testament, and not with the first chapter of Genesis." (Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of Redemption. pg6.)
- Alister E. McGrath, "Scientific Theology: Volume 1: Nature", pg143
Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology: Convergences and Divergences, edited by Sung Wook Chung, arrived via Interlibrary Loan, and after reading it, I have some comments about the best essays in this book, and will politely skip over the ones that I graciously that I did not, so to speak, enjoy. The hallmark of this book is Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer's essay, "A Person of the Book? Barth on Authority and Interpretation." I recommend buying this book, even if it were for this essay alone, because I appreciated it so much! Additionally, the essays by Alister E. McGrath, "Karl Barth's Doctrine of Justification from an Evangelical Perspective" and Oliver D. Crisp's essay, "Karl Barth on Creation", were also almost as helpful as Vanhoozer's essay. And one surprisingly good essay, by an Assemblies of God minister, Frank D. Macchia on "The Spirit of God and the Spirit of Life: An Evangelical Response to Karl Barth's Pneumatology" concludes my list of excellent essays in this book. There were many things that helped me in the other essays, however, these four were the most useful, in this order. Continue reading...
Jürgen Moltmann discusses Calvin and Luther's positions on prayers for the dead, and explains why he prays for the dead. This audio clip is from the fifth session of the 2009 Conversation with Jurgen Moltmann by the Emergent Village. To listen to all the audio for that conference, see my previous post.
"Well what do you want to pray for? There's a long tradition of prayer for the dead. This was the medieval Catholic tradition, the prayer for the dead. Luther said to pray three or four times for the beloved dead and then stop and hand it over to God because they are included already in the prayer of Christ. And Calvin, said no, don't follow the old Catholic tradition. I think I am praying for the dead, because the dead are not dead. They died but we cannot say that they are dead now. For Martin Luther, it was, they are sleeping until the day of resurrection. For Calvin, they are watching over us, they are with us, in their own way. And I think this is the truth of the so-called ancestor cult in Asia. The dead are not, in a modern sense, dead and gone and annihilated and away. They are present. If we believe Romans 14 that Christ is the Lord over the Living and the Dead, then we have a community with the dead in Christ, and a community of hope, because we were raised from death together. And therefore, we must overcome this modern understanding of death as annihilation. We should learn from the ancestor veneration in africa and asia again. And this would help, then you may pray for your grandmother."