Who's in hell

May 3, 2011

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.


Thank you, David.

I also took heart and hope from Urs von Balthasar's profound book as I wrote my essay on "A Wideness in God's Mercy" for Universal Salvation? The Current Debate.

Yes -- but, let's be clear,

Yes -- but, let's be clear, among Catholic theologians, the orthodoxy of Balthasar's "Dare We Hope" is questionable.


Thanks David, the last sentence, escpecially,made me chuckle.


Cynthia K. Hileman


Who's in hell?

A thoughtful article. But what are we going to do with Jesus's repeated insistence that there is a way that ends in destruction?

Last words

Jesus does indeed have strong words for those who turn aside from the abundant life to which he bears witness.  But the gospels don't end with those words; they end with a Savior who is crucified for sake of those who fall short of his way, for whatever reason, and who is then raised from the dead.  While we cannot presume to know who is in heaven, or in hell for that matter, we should hope well for all.  God is full of surprises, after all, and in God's scales mercy far outweighs anger.  Recall the story of Karl Barth, who was once asked, "Is it true that one day in heaven we will see again our loved ones?" To which Barth responded with a chuckle, "Not only the loved ones!"

Thanks David

Thanks for the post, David. If we delve into the depths of theological debate I know that we end up with a wide range of notions about hell. As we know, though, none of us has ever been there. No one really knows what it is, where it is, or who is there, and no one wants to learn about it through experience.

Jesus taught us about the choices that we make on earth by using a parable which included a rich man in hell. Hell is there, but I think that the church has been right to focus on the decisions we make every day--decisions that lead to grace and glory. Jonathan Edwards and "sinners in the hands of an angry God" have their place, but Paul was right when he wrote to the Philippians: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."

Bell's Hell? Well...

I don't disagree with David's comments but I think it should be pointed out that Bell's book--which I recently finished--stereotypes conservative evangelicals in a rather demeaning way.  And many of his characterizations of them are simply inaccurate. 

The concept of God

I dunno... are we allowed to notice  that the fundamental concept of God as someone above the domed firmament with a high-powered rifle aimed at YOU, unless you do or believe the right thing, is the product of a very different era and view of the cosmos?  In 2011 is this truly still the only acceptable way to think about God?  I'm also struck by the enthusiasm of those who contend for hell and endless punishment, and wonder if it is related to the evangelical support for endless wars, but that's probably unfair and off topic.

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