David Bentley Hart, That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019).
David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved is a direct, unwavering rejection of the doctrine of eternal conscious torment, but also the ‘softer’ versions like annihilationism. Oddly, for many Christians (those Hart calls ‘infernalists’) there are few doctrines as precious as the belief in an eternal hell. Many Fundamentalists hate this book: do a quick Google search! On the other hand, I found it to be less a rejection and more of an embrace—an embrace of a God who is ‘the Good’ in this God’s very nature; an embrace of a God who won’t let even one evil or misfortune go without resolve as all things are reconciled back to this God.
In ‘Part 1: The Question of an Eternal Hell’, Hart spends two chapters dismantling (in my opinion) defenses of the compatibility between an eternal hell and a good God. In some sense, his abrasive rhetoric shows little interest in convincing the ‘infernalists’. Instead, he’s preaching to the (admittedly, very small) choir of Christians who either affirm the doctrine of universal salvation/reconciliation or who are seriously considering it but need to hear a voice that’s as filled with righteous indignation as often is heard from defenders of the doctrine of eternal conscious torment.
In ‘Part 2: Apokatastasis: Four Meditations’, Hart works through these four meditations: (1) Who is God?; (2) What is Judgment?; (3) What is a Person?; (4) What is Freedom?. Those who come to this book prepared to reject his arguments will do so. Those who come to this book prepared to consider his arguments, or like myself come ready to fully embrace them, will encounter a presentation of God that aligns with the Christian tradition while also being incredibly beautiful and hope-inspiring.
Some of the more important observations that Hart makes have to do with his meditation on personhood. Hart’s ideas echoed concepts on personhood in Buddhism that teach that we are all interconnected. As someone who teaches comparative religion, this resonated with me. In short, Hart argues that if even one person were to rot in hell forever, no one could be fully saved because there’s no me without you. His example would be a parent whose child was damned forever. If God wiped away that parent’s memory of the child, then the parent would enter eternity having lost something of their personhood. If God allowed them into the heavenly state as indifferent toward the suffering of their child, then we might ask how they are redeemed in any meaningful way. If like some theologians have suggested the parent rejoices in God’s justice and in their own salvation, well, this is just disturbing. Ultimately, our salvation is tied into the salvation of others. While there’s much more to say about this book, my advice is read it, especially if you’re a Christian who wants to embrace your religious tradition but fears that you can’t because of the doctrine of hell as it has been presented to you.
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