Who's in hell
before Rob Bell's book Love Wins (see
the Century review
by Peter Marty)
came out, conservative evangelicals lit up the blogosphere with their
insistence--against Bell--that God's condemnation of the wicked to hell is a nonnegotiable part of
But in fact, Christian tradition has been rather
reticent on the topic of hell. In a Century symposium a few years ago, Paul Griffith
maintained that hell exists but pointed out that the Catholic Church "has very little developed
hell-doctrine, teaching almost nothing de fide about who is in hell, whether
anyone is, what it's like to be there and so on."
In his book Dare We Hope 'That All Men Be Saved'? the Catholic theologian Hans Urs
Von Balthasar does not deny the existence of hell or argue for anything like universalism,
but he does show how nuanced the discussion of hell can be even within the parameters
of strict orthodoxy. Balthasar argues that the salvation of all is the will of God
(as scripture says) and that it is proper for the church to pray that God's will
be done. Therefore, he concludes, if the church is truly acting out of love and
hope, it can and perhaps must pray that all will saved.
Balthasar's approach would, I suspect, lead to
the same practical approach to the world as Bell's assertion that God's love "wins."
Perhaps the best wisdom on hell is summed up by
this old axiom: Only an ass would deny the existence of hell, and only an ox would
pretend to know who is in it.