Thursday 5 June 2008

Here and there

  • Some free mp3 lectures by Orthodox theologians, including one by David Bentley Hart (it’s free, but you have to add it to the shopping cart and go through the checkout before it will download). And speaking of Hart, it looks like his new book will be appearing soon. Thanks be to God. (Update: More mp3 lectures by Hart here and here.)
  • An interview with Milbank on atheism: he has a lot to say about Charles Taylor, and also about “the political translation of the paradox of ‘Radical Orthodoxy’ and the beginning of its entry upon the political stage.”
  • Cynthia on Duns Scotus and natural law.
  • Halden on protology and eschatology.
  • And finally, one of the worst theological posts I’ve ever read: how to preach a comforting message of damnation. (At first I thought he was joking, but alas, it’s for real...)


John David Penniman said...

yes yes, of course...a hallmark of the Christian faith is that we take comfort and pleasure in the eternal damnation of others. Won't it be fun in heaven, when we can all sit back and revel in the fact that there are people suffering "down below?"

I don't know if you noticed, but the author of that post also has another post titled "Preaching Hell To Depressed Teens" (uhhh, seriously?). Additionally, if you follow the link to his personal blog, there is a whole list of posts on "Preaching Hell," "Politness and Hell," and my favorite "Taxi Drivers and Hell."

I have many friends who have experienced or subscribe to the "scared straight" method of evangelism...but it just makes me sad.

Brandon Jones said...

Ben, I thought I would add another link to a lecture Hart gave at Calvin. He presented some of his paper that will be published later this year from Fordham's Augustine and Orthodoxy conference. Some of the Q & A is also interesting. Hart gives his thoughts abut Palamas and supposedly "de-Hellenizing" theology.

Here's the link:

Anonymous said...

I'm rather leery of Milbank's politics (see Christopher Insole's compelling defense of key aspects of liberalism), so I read his interview with a skeptical eye. Where does he get the idea that numerous Muslims are finding their way to Christ? Last time I looked, he was denouncing Calvin as a kind of closet Muslim for his emphasis on divine sovereignty...

Anonymous said...

Scare them into heaven, goes right along with the free will, decision theolgy baloney that seems to be so prevalent these days. These bible thumpers have the Bible as their Pope and don't have a clue as to what it says.


Matt said...

Hi Ben, Brandon, and others,

Just wanted to share one more link to a David Bentley Hart lecture, with a response by Tim Brennan, cultural studies and comp lit prof at the University of Minnesota:

There are a slew of other good mp3 lectures here too (I was formerly employed at MacLaurin).

Shane said...

I swear to God I'm not purposefully trying to troll your board here, but I really don't see what's so wrong with hell or vengeance. I'm not saying the asshole you linked there has it right; I'm quite certain he doesn't. But I think recovering a theology of divine retribution would be extraordinarily salutary.

Why would it be salutary? Well, in the first instance, it would probably help make a bit more sense of what exactly it was that Jesus did on the cross. If God didn't ever really intend to punish anybody for anything anyway, why was the crucifixion important?

Second, basically everybody I know in theology (admittedly a limited set) ignores the book of revelation. I've been going to mainline protestant churches for years and have never heard a sermon on the book of revelation. I suspect that theologians and pastors avoid the book because it offends their liberal sensibilities. I mean their liberal political sensibilities--very few people in the modern world support retributive political punishment. "Rehabilitation" is the goal of modern political punishment (at least officially) and it would be disconcerting at least to have to tell your congregation that God was less enlightened in his views of punishment than they.

Third, I think we don't believe in divine punishment because we also don't understand why we should obey God. I'm not saying we should preach hell to get people to be good. (Although there may be some logic to that as an introductory step in moral formation.) I'm saying that if we understood why God's commands oblige us, then we perhaps could also understand why he would punish us for disobeying them.

So, here are three fundamental questions I think any theology of retribution should ask:

1.) Why does God command us to do x?
2.) Why should we do what God commands?
3.) Why would God punish us from disobeying his commands?

I don't think I've ever encountered anybody with really compelling answer to any of these questions. But they seem really important and worth further investigation.

Anonymous said...

One theologian who took the Book of Revelation quite seriously was Karl Barth's favorite American theologian, William Stringfellow. HIs book, An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land is a remarkable series of talks on divine judgment. But alas, Stringfellow was unrepentantly gay until the day he died, so he's undoubtedly now getting a taste of God's 'medicine' in hell. Does that mean his book is also a few isotopes shy of kosher?
I do glow according to my spouse after reading it!

Anthony Paul Smith said...

"Christian Socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat." As true then as it is now. Which is to say that it is very, very true.

Anonymous said...

what is Hart's book about?

Ben Myers said...

Thanks, Brandon and Matt, for those additional links: I've added them to the post.

And Anon, I have no idea what Hart's new book is about. Actually, I just checked the Eerdmans website, and there's some info there.

Anthony Douglas said...

For those of us who think we've read plenty worse theological posts, yet find it hard to believe we've read more than you...would you mind filling in what it was that annoyed you? I know Gordon can be blunt, but your response to it reads as ad hominem at the moment.

It should also be added, in fairness, that he's been working through the issues for a while on his own blog. That is, it's not meant to stand in isolation.

And Steve Martin may be comforted by knowing that Gordon wouldn't be interested in scaring people into hell, or pretending to be Arminian.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anthony,

Okay, here it goes, ad rem.

The exegesis sucks. To take just Psalm 22 (the exegesis on Genesis 4 is a joke), the dying Jesus cites the first verse - period. To assume that it stands for the whole Psalm not only takes the verse out of its Markan context, it interprets Jesus by the Psalm rather than the Psalm by Jesus, i.e. it is Christologically deficient. And then, intertextually, there is the slight problem of squaring Cheng's exegesis with Luke 23:34. Moreover, Jesus' stopping- short of the reference to the "day of vengeance of our God" in his own deployment of Isaiah 61:1-2 in the Jubilee Manifesto of Luke 4:18-19 demonstrates that our Lord is quite capable of critiquing torah by omission (cf. Matthew 11:5f.).

The pastoral/missionary motivation sucks. Since when
are Christians called to "comfort" the angry? Anger is to be extirpated, not soothed (cf. Matthew 5:21ff.).

The psychology sucks. Christian love desires the conversion of the oppressor, not his eternal torment or destruction. Taking comfort in the knowledge that evil-doers will get what's coming to them is an utterly pagan attitude, quite incompatible with the tranformed mind that is capable of loving one's enemies.

Finally, the presumption sucks. I mean Cheng's presumption that his message is "a great comfort to anyone who is angry about injustice" (my italics). Unlike Cheng's dead Abel, I suspect that the late Martin Luther King, or the living Desmond Tutu, would take no comfort whatsoever in his dys-evangel.

Ben Myers said...

Thanks, Kim — well said!

Honestly though Anthony, I didn't mean to sound ad hominem (and I don't know the author personally). I just meant that the post's theology is about as bad as it gets.

Anyway, the only thing I'd add to Kim's fine summary is that its kerygma sucks. Since when did damnation belong to the content of Christian proclamation? As though we were authorised to proclaim anything other than the Lord Jesus Christ!

Karl Barth says it best here: “How could the Word ... be a Word which contains both Yes and No and is therefore self-contradictory? How could it speak, like so much poor preaching, half of grace and half of judgment, half of life and half of death, half of the love of God and half of the power of the devil?” (CD IV/3, p. 230).

Anonymous said...

At the risk of adding fuel to Cheng's fire, it must be said that Barth's position on hell (along with Balthasar's) is fairly innovative in the tradition. Aquinas thought that it would be a comfort and a joy for those in heaven to be able to see the eternal torments of those bound for hell. Here's the relevant passage from the Summa:

On the contrary, It is written (Is. 66:24): “They shall go out and see the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against Me”; and a gloss says: “The elect will go out by understanding or seeing manifestly, so that they may be urged the more to praise God.”

I answer that, Nothing should be denied the blessed that belongs to the perfection of their beatitude. Now everything is known the more for being compared with its contrary, because when contraries are placed beside one another they become more conspicuous. Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned.

Now I'm with you, Ben, and Kim, in finding such a theology horrific. But the theological battle finds us on the side of innovation, not tradition. That as brilliant a theologian as Jonathan Edwards could share this view of hell with Aquinas gives me pause. What accounts for this cancer in the body of Christian theology, and its appeal to men (mostly, alas, men!) of faith? And why now, do so many of us find ourselves utterly appauled by it?

Ben Myers said...

Hi Egregious: yes, that's a good point.

On this point, I reckon Schleiermacher is a better guide than Edwards or Aquinas. For a start, Schleiermacher rightly consigns the topic of damnation to an "appendix" within his eschatology (thus indicating that the idea of damnation cannot form part of the positive content of Christian doctrine). And within that appendix, he observes: "If we now consider eternal damnation as it is related to eternal bliss, it is easy to see that once the former exists, the latter can exist no longer" (Christian Faith, §163).

Indeed, the obvious objection to Aquinas's view here is simply that there is something demonic—something strangely hellish—about a heaven in which the saints can enjoy a spectacle of endless torture. There's a perverse irony here: the thought of hell can bring me pleasure only if I am already in hell myself. (Which is why, in all likelihood, the only occupants of hell will be pious Christians: unless perhaps God's grace is sufficient even for us...)

Anonymous said...

Ben, thanks so much for sharing your piece on Tom's 'monstrous' theology. It is indeed, music to my ears and makes my heart sing a new song! Now if only I could afford the scalpers' prices and airfare to attend one of his upcoming concerts on his Glitter and Doom tour!

But why, Ben, why have so many Christian thinkers allowed themselves such a perverse thought? And what does Milton have to do/say of all this in your view?

Anonymous said...

Shane - or should we now call F&T's guest gunslinger Pale Rider? - as ever asks some penetrating questions. Here are a few sketchy answers.

First, Shane insists, the cross. I do too. But, contra Shane, precisely to contend that a punitive understanding of what happens on Golgotha is a mega-mistake. This is not the place to rehearse the arguments against the doctrine of penal substitution (not, note well, substitution as such). To Shane's specific point, I would simply say that on the cross Jesus suffers not a divine punishment for sin but the full weight of the effects of sin. But even were a retribtutionist reading of the cross correct, I would argue that there the matter ends, that so effective and complete is God's redemptive work that talk of further, future retribution is not only otiose but insulting. Or do we imagine the Lord saying, "I've settled the score - but don't piss me off again!"

Yes - Shane's second point - the book of Revelation may be taken to suggest such a God. And for fire and brimstone there is Matthew's gospel too. I think a socio-historical contextualising of these two texts mutes some of their thunder. And though admittedly ad hominem, I think that one should feel uneasy about the exegetical company one keeps, especially on Revelation: it is the favourite text of "make-my-day" Armageddonites. But even sane and sensitive readers like Miroslav Volf who argue that God - but only God - may use violence have a problem - namely Jesus himself - well put by Herbert McCabe:

"It is very odd that people should think that when we do good God will reward us and when we do evil he will punish us. I mean it is very odd that Christians should think this, that God deals out to us what we deserve ... since there is so much in the gospels to tell us differently. You could say that the main theme of the preaching of Jesus is that God isn't like that at all."

Finally, Shane's third point - I just don't get it. It strikes me as bad Christian pedagogy. What Barth called "the gospel at gunpoint" might make you fear God, but it won't get you to love him. Speaking personally, I certainly feel obliged to obey God, but out of gratitude, not fear; nor when - not if - I fail to meet my obligation do I expect God to punish me, for the God revealed in Jesus is not so reactive, he just continues to give and forgive. But perhaps my faith is too blithe and one day I'll be getting the father of all ass-kickings.

Anonymous said...


You will not be getting an ass kicking. You trust His promises. that's all He is after. He is after it so much...that He gives it to us.

You can no more talk someone into loving someone else than you can get someone to love God by painting a picture of their doom, if they don't.

Hell is real, and the punishment is deserved and real, but that is not the message. The message, as you said so beautifully, is that "God continues to give and forgive"... His enemies! That's the message that will foment authentic love.

Anthony Douglas,

Thanks for the comforting news!

- Steve Martin

Anonymous said...

I'm a von Balthasarian. But I'd say two things in defence of Thomas Aquinas here (ie against the opinion that his view is 'demonic'):

1) In the context, I think Thomas is talking about the completeness of the knowledge of the blessed in heaven. They will know God, and will know all things in God. So then the question arises, what even the sufferings of the damned? So Thomas plumbs for 'yes', and it's hard to see what else he could say - he can't limit the knowledge of the blessed in heaven, because they know all things in God, on his view, and thus humanly participate in God's omniscience.

2) A reference to the Summa isn't given. Is it from Part III? If so, it's lifted from Thomas' Sentence Commentary and copied in there to round out the Summa, after his death. I always thought that Thomas view on this is only in his Sentence Commentary though not being a Thomist I'm not an expert! We're likely looking at something Thomas wrote in the equivalent of his PhD thesis!

I wonder how many of his will get their PhD thesis quoted in a blog and denounced as demonic in 800 years time?

Aberdonian von Balthasarian

Clark West said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Thank you for the challenge. Yes, it is from Part III, though I don't see why that counts against its authenticity. He certainly could have retracted it before he died had he felt it was not his mature view.
What troubles me most is your statement that "its hard to see what else he could say". Well, plenty, or perhaps a lot less! It seems to me here is where the demonic lure of a scholastic theo-logical consistency held sway. Balthasar admits that this is near-demonic in Thomas, no? And he resists it with a passion. Now, as you probably know, Balthasar's view of hell is bringing his own orthodoxy into question in some rather high places.
And it is not as if Thomas is idiosyncratic here. As I mentioned, it was Edwards' view as well (and a mature one at that). So I don't think its fair to say that we're picking on the youthful musings of a great theologian. RAther, as you say, it seems to follow nearly inexorably from a certain set of theological presuppositions and a scholastic method. That is what I am calling into question. My own sense is that this scholasic theo-logic is particularly tempting for academic theologians, and one can see it today all too frequently. It is a theology divorced from spirituality (as one of my favorite Anglican theologians, himself a Balthasar expert, Mark McIntosh, will argue), a divorce with some precise historical roots. As I see it, it was Balthasar who was trying to heal that split, integrating the mystical and the spiritual (von Speyr) with the theological. It can be debated, of course, how successful this was.

Saturday, June 07, 2008 6:42:00 AM

Ben Myers said...

Egregious, speaking of Tom Waits' tour: I reckon "Glitter and Doom" has got to be the best-ever name for a tour. And his press conference about the tour is absolutely priceless!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I loved the 'press conference'. Sorry Australia isn't on his list of destinations. So I suppose I shouldn't complain about the 'spotty' coverage stateside--and his explanation makes it impossible to be mad at the old bawler!

Dave Belcher said...

Ben, furthering the discussion of Milbank and Red Toryism per this most recent interview, I have posted another reflection...still no evaluation, just a synopsis really. But, I do think that some of what I was hinting at and wondering about in my first post and in teh comments has been confirmed with this recent interview. Here's the new post. Peace.

Anonymous said...

I'm fascinated by Milbank's seeming swerve to the right on the issue of sexuality (see Halden's and others comments over on Inhabitatio Dei on this turn); I wonder whether it has been influenced by his mentor Rowan Williams' seeming turn to the right on this score as well. There is a story here, I suspect, that has not yet received adequate attention from theologians re: what has caused Williams, who has written the single most important piece of progressive theology of sexuality in some time to move (almost imperceptibly) to the right. I suspect it is a residual anti-Americanism (which one can see in his Writings in the Dust) combined with an increasing frustration with the theological liberalism of ECUSA and its house of bishops' refusal to fall in line with his own ecclesiological convictions.
Does anyone know if either he or Milbank have addressed this shift in print at any length?

Anonymous said...

Saint Egregregius - St Thomas didn't write the end bit of part III of the Summa. His disciples put it in after his death, from the Sentence Commentary.

I don't call the columns of First Things 'high places'.


Anonymous said...

That's helpful. Thanks, Aberdonian.

Anonymous said...

St. Egregrious, you may have been writing in the heat of the moment, as one does in comboxes, when you appear to say that Thomas Aquinas' theology was divorced from spirituality? The rediscovery of the fact that Thomas' spirituality was at the heart of his theology is one of the great gifts to us of 20th century medieval scholarship, like that of Chenu, Gilson, and Torrell. If you've missed it, I'd strongly encourage you to read Torrell's biography of Thomas, one of the great books of the last couple of decades. The idea of the vision of God by the blessed in heaven was at the heart of Thomas' spirituality and theology. As he saw it, the blessed in heaven know all in knowing God. If he had been a baroque scholastic of the Catholic or Protestant traditions, he might have invented a roccoco way round this when it came to the hard question, do they know the torments of the damned. For Thomas, it wasn't a question of 'abstract' logic, it was a question of truth.

In the Europe of the time, every West Portal of every Cathedral in Europe showed Christ in Judgement, separating the damned from the saved. In every little church, there were frescos of the last J. on the walls. To this day, every so often someone scrapes away the whitewash and paint laid on some tiny British church in the Reformation, and finds another Last J scenario. It wasn't just part of scholastic logic. It was part of the spirituality of the time. It seems difficult to deny that the great Cathedrals of Europe were the expression of the spirituality of the time, as were the scholastic summas.

Shane said...

To respond quite briefly to several of the excellent points raised above.

First, I agree with Kim's analysis of the post linked through earlier that provoked the question in the first place.

Second, I appreciate St. E's having put that text of Thomas on the table. I suspect that she got this from Nietzsche. There's a section in "the Antichrist" I believe, where Nietzsche quotes this passage from Thomas and claims that all the talk about divine retribution is merely a pretext for the poor to express their réssentiment of the strong and powerful.

I think this is an important, because we want to avoid what Nietzsche calls réssentiment. However, I am very suspicious of Nietzsche's genealogies and suspected pretenses.

Third, the pedagogical function I'm referring to is not the threat of hellfire and damnation. Spiders suspended by a single gossamer thread over the abyss and so on. All I mean is the familiar moral pedagogy practiced by everyone who has raised a toddler. "Don't do that." "Why?" "Because I told you not to." "Why?" "Because I will punish you if you do."

You can explain why an action is bad for your child to do, but they cannot understand that explanation even if you were to give it to them. Therefore you have to rely upon sheer authority and the threat of punishment to get your kids to do what they ought to do.

(Incidentally, I also believe that God's commanding you to do (or not do) an action gives you a real obligation to do that action, even without an explanation--as, for instance, in the prohibition of homosexuality, but that's a contentious example and beside the point here.)

Third, I'm glad that St. E also points out that you all stand on the side of the innovators in the tradition.

As innovators in the tradition, I think the onus is on you to make your case that your view is biblical. As with all good theological arguments, this one too should be settled exegetically.

But, I have a lingering doubt here. What exactly is it that we should be looking for in our exegesis? How are we going to pose the question to the texts? We clearly need more than just prooftexts that God got really made in exodus 6 . . . etc. It's entirely possible that these expressions are figurative or metaphorical, and so I think what we really need to figure out is some sort of more synoptic question to ask.

Here's my suggestion. Let's try to seek the "whole counsel of God" from the general tenor of scripture about the nature of justice? Is it commutative? Is it retributive? Is there any indication in the text of a difference between God's justice and our own?

At that I'll leave it to the enterprising exegetes to clear us a path.

Anonymous said...

No, Shane, I did not get it from Nietzsche, whom I like, but don't read very much (Nietzsche quotes Thomas' famous view of the heavenly gaze into hell in Genealogy of Morals, by the way). It was Balthasar himself who pointed me to this idea in Aquinas. It is standard practice to refer to the Supplement of the Third Part of the Summa as Thomas' work, which Balthasar regularly does. Though Aberdonian is technically right as to the editorial insertion, there is no reason to think that the thoughts Thomas wrote down in his commentary on the Sentences of Lombard and that the editors used after his death to round out the Summa, are unfaithful to his mature vision. Balthasar certainly attributes the ideas of the Supplementum to Thomas, so I go on pretty good authority I think.
As for Thomas' spirituality, I am inclined to agree with Rowan Williams' assessment of the spiritual richness of the angelic doctor, though I confess the questio style of theologizing leaves me a bit cold.
But, as both Williams and McIntosh suggest, it does not take long for the Thomists and the tradition of Scholasticism to beat the life out of Thomas and give birth to the sterile rationalism of the 'Thomists' , a problem that runs up to the present day. It is that to which I refer, Aberdonian. Nevertheless, I do think it hard to reconcile the logical conclusions of question 97 in the supplement with a God of love. Here, in my view, Thomas goes utterly off the rails. And my continuing question is how it could have gone so badly off, as it has continued to go in much Christian theology. Since you are a self-professed Balthasarian, I'll simply quote one of my favorite passages from GL III on how Dante marks a deeply significant shift in Christian thinking about hell, one that Balthasar traces forward to the remarkable 'metamorphosis' of hell in Peguy.
"However, perhaps it is that Augustine and Thomas had just not reckoned with the possibility of a man, with his living body, descending into Hell, and there meeting, face to face, the individual souls of the damned, his former friends and enemies, the great and admired men of Antiquity and Christendom, popes and emperors. In the realm of abstract thought the aesthetic justification of Hell could be carried out without special difficulty, but not so easily when Scholastic theology was transformed by a layman [Dante] into existential theology.”

Shane said...

By no means am I committed to Thomas Aquinas always being right about everything. But, on this question that I have been pondering, I think Thomas still has much to teach us.

Three points.

First, Thomas's discussion of divine justice (Ia, q. 21) follows his discussion of divine love (Ia, q.20). The bedrock certainty that God loves all creation is the proper framework within which the question of God's justice must be raised.

Second, that God's justice is true justice, related to his wisdom (q. 21, a. 2). God does not lash out in anger and he always has a full, comprehensive perspective from which to judge justly.

Third, that God's mercy does not conflict with his justice. This is too good not to quote at length: "God acts mercifully, not indeed by going against His justice, but by
doing something more than justice; thus a man who pays another two hundred pieces of money,
though owing him only one hundred, does nothing against justice, but acts liberally or mercifully.
The case is the same with one who pardons an offence committed against him, for in remitting it
he may be said to bestow a gift. Hence the Apostle calls remission a forgiving: "Forgive one another,
as Christ has forgiven you" (Eph. 4:32). Hence it is clear that mercy does not destroy justice, but
in a sense is the fulness thereof. And thus it is said: "Mercy exalteth itself above judgement" (James
2:13)." (q. 21, a. 3 ad 2).

I'm not sure if we want to be Thomists in our view of divine punishment, but it strikes me that Thomas has much more to say on the topic than people seem to be willing to give him credit for.

Anonymous said...

Shane, I agree, we have much to learn from Thomas, as I continue to learn. Balthasar himself, though disagreeing utterly with the vision from Thomas which I have shared, uses the thought of Thomas himself in service of his revision to a Christian theology of hell. Here's an example, from his book Dare We Hope that All Men Be Saved? (p. 214-215):

“Thomas Aquinas taught that ‘one can hope for eternal life for the other as long as one is united with him through love’, and from which of our brothers would it be permissible to withhold this love? Or could we really believe Dante when he inscribes above his door to hell: ‘I was created by divine power, supreme wisdom and primal love’ (Inf. III), only to have stand by and watch afterward what goes on in his hell?”

“Should we not, rather, follow the Church Doctor Catherine of Siena when she admitted to her father confessor, the blessed Raymond of Capua: ‘If I were wholly inflamed with the fire of divine love, would I not then, with a burning heart, beseech my Creator, the truly merciful One, to show mercy to all my brethren?’…How could I ever reconcile myself, Lord, to the prospect that a single one of those whom, like me, you have created in your image and likeness should become lost and slip from your hands?”

Geoff Ziegler said...

"Since when did damnation belong to the content of Christian proclamation? As though we were authorised to proclaim anything other than the Lord Jesus Christ!"

I confess to being a bit bewildered by this statement. Whatever one might think of Gordon's post, it's difficult for me to get around the declaration (meant to comfort the Thessalonians!) in 2 Thess 1:6-9 that Jesus himself will come "with flaming fire to inflict vengeance...the punishment of eternal destruction" on those who do not obey his gospel. Whether we find the notion palatable or not, it seems that damnation has been considered to be part of the proclamation of the Lord Jesus Christ even as early as the apostolic age.

Anonymous said...


it's 'ressentiment'

(with a minor stress on the 'sen' and a major stress on the 'ment')

Teresita said...

Geoff: Whether we find the notion palatable or not, it seems that damnation has been considered to be part of the proclamation of the Lord Jesus Christ even as early as the apostolic age.

Only as a contrast.

Rom.8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

Shane said...


Désolé, désolé.

@St. E.,

Sure, let's always hope for the salvation of others. I think we are justified in saying, in the universal, that God can justly damn sinners. But for any particular person, "God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy."

As I understand it, this is Barth's position, and I like it quite a bit. But that is not universalism. We may hope for everyone's salvation, but this does not mean our hopes must be fulfilled!

Shane said...

@ Lilith, read on down a bit.

Romans 9:

"What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15For he says to Moses,
"I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."[f] 16It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. 17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth."[g] 18Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. "

Shane said...

" . . . 22What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— "

Anonymous said...

Not in the universal Shane, but yes, in the particular case I do agree. If God were to choose to damn me to hell, I would have no cause to claim injustice. Of that I am certain. But I will not, cannot, extend that thought to another human being.
And when you write, 'sure, let's always hope for the salvation of others', and follow that with quote after quote from Paul on damnation, (curiously leaving out Romans 11:25-36) then forgive me for feeling that your heart just isn't in that hope. But perhaps I am wrong; my heart is itself unclean.
Anyway, here is another quote I love, from Verweyen, found in Balthasar's Dare We Hope 'That All Men Be Saved':
“Whoever reckons with the possibility of even only one person’s being lost besides himself is hardly able to love unreservedly…Just the slightest nagging thought of a final hell for others tempts us, in moments in which human togetherness becomes especially difficult, to leave the other to himself.”

Anthony Douglas said...

I'm probably not adding much here, but thought it worth observing that there is a distinction between preaching hell for the purpose of conversion and preaching it for the purpose of teaching the faithful. My impression is that Gordon was speaking about the latter.

Even if I'm wrong, I very much doubt he'd use it as 'gospel at gunpoint'; although I'd still see some value in using it to get a start. I've known many nonbelievers with a keen sense of fairness, for whom a God who just forgives everyone willy-nilly is an issue. For that particular audience, opening from the point that God is just is simply the best way to explain just what grace is.

Pieter Pronk said...

“Whoever reckons with the possibility of even only one person’s being lost besides himself is hardly able to love unreservedly…Just the slightest nagging thought of a final hell for others tempts us, in moments in which human togetherness becomes especially difficult, to leave the other to himself.”

Do you think Jesus reckoned with the possibility of even one person being lost? Do you think he loved unreservedly? (yeah, the what-would jesus-do-cliche, but it can be helpfull sometimes)
Or maybe, do you think Paul reckoned with the possibility? Or any other writers of the books of the Bible?

Btw, can't the opposite of the above citation also be true?
"Whoever doesn't reckon with the possibility of even one person being lost is tempted to leave the other to himself."

Anonymous said...

Pieter, these are difficult questions, and I appreciate them a great deal. I see what you are saying--that the possibility of another's being lost could well be just what motivates us to reach out to the other, presumably in love. And by this logic, one could say that it was this fear of the possibility of hell for others that motivated the evangelism of Paul, even the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
'Perfect love casts out fear'. My own sense is that, however subtle a difference it may be, it is hope for the other's salvation, rather than fear over his damnation, that is the heart of love's sacrificial action. The key phrase from the Verweyen passage is, for me, "in moments in which human togetherness becomes especially difficult". When our utmost efforts of bringing others to God fail, when our love is rejected, scorned, even attacked, if our heart's are not resolutely hopeful for the one persecuting us, it will be so very very tempting to 'leave' our persecutor be in his or her violent isolation. Then our 'nagging thought' that this person is destined for hell (which was our initial motivation for reaching out to them) will seem to be confirmed by their unjust persecution of us, and the possibility of hell for them will seem, in our wounded eyes and hearts, to be a reality.
Here anguish and torment of the heart can only be sustained in a hopefulness, rather than a fear, that nothing, not even hell itself, will separate us and our brother from the love of Christ. This is not a certainty of salvation, which is not what I am advocating (I am balthasarian here), but a hope that is willing to enter the hell of the other in love, rather than flee it out of fear that we will be caught up in the loneliness, despair and torture of love's refusal.

Shane said...

"then forgive me for feeling that your heart just isn't in that hope."

Well, at it wouldn't be a good theological debate with at least one ad hominem.

Sometimes I wonder why I even try.

Anonymous said...

Your words have struck their target. Thank you.

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