Tag Archives: David Bentley Hart

Can Persons Be Saved?
Part Three of an Interim Report on That All Shall Be Saved

by David Bentley Hart

Read part one and part two of series.

Before resuming my “itinerary” of the argument of That All Shall Be Saved, one additional point seems worth stressing. Though in the last installment the issue was raised of whether God intends or permits evil, the book’s argument has nothing to do with the traditional problems of rational theodicy. The question is not “Why does God permit evil if he is both omniscient and omnipotent?” or “Why is the possibility of evil necessary for creation?” or even “Is this the best of all possible worlds?” All of those are perfectly interesting queries in their proper place (or so I hear); but that place is not this book.

It is a good mereological rule that to try to understand the whole in terms of its parts and to try to understand the parts in light of the whole are two very different operations of reason (induction and deduction, to be precise). It is one thing to attempt to judge the relative goodness or badness of a discrete evil in relation to some final purposes we cannot see, but another thing altogether to judge the goodness or badness of a supposedly total narrative that pretends to describe the whole rationality of all its discrete events. The former judgment can never be more than conjectural; the latter is a matter of logic. There may logically be such a thing as an evil that is redeemed in the greater good toward which it leads; there is no such thing as an unredeemed evil that does not reduce any good end toward which it might lead to a mere relative value. In the former case, it is logically possible that evil may be non-necessary in the ultimate sense, but a real possibility in a provisional sense—though even then only as a privation that will ultimately be effaced from the “total picture.”

Continue reading

What God Wills and What God Permits
Part Two of an Interim Report on That All Shall Be Saved

by David Bentley Hart

Pantocrator, Bible of St. Louis

In my previous installment of this report, I addressed the final phase of the argument put forward in That All Shall Be Saved, which concerns the nature of rational freedom and the question of whether the idea of a hell of eternal torment can plausibly be defended as an expression of the free will of creatures. In reaching the answer to that question—“No,” to be precise—I asserted it as a given that “God cannot positively will evil precisely because he is infinitely free.” But I gave no indication the precise significance of that claim within the context of the book’s larger argument. So now I want to retreat to the beginning of my promised “itinerary” of that argument. Normally I would be unwilling to recapitulate a case I felt I had already made with sufficient clarity; and obviously I cannot condense the book’s logic into a few paragraphs. But on this occasion a sufficient number of misconceptions have taken root around the book, and I think I should try to clear some of the undergrowth away if I can. 

There are two questions that define the path the book’s reasoning takes, and every step along the way falls between them: First, can the God who either imposes or permits a state of perpetual conscious torment for rational creatures really be not only good, but (as reason and faith alike say he must be) Goodness in itself? And, second, could finite creatures possessed of real freedom (as opposed to a mere voluntarist power of spontaneous movement toward any end whatsoever) actually freely reject God eternally and, by the exercise of that liberty, merit perpetual torment?  And, again, the answer to both questions is “No.” Other questions of equal import are also addressed, but these two dominant questions give the argument its shape. That said, the argument unfolds by way of roughly half a dozen major themes, which must be held together if one is to make sense of the book as a whole.

Continue reading

What Is a Truly Free Will?
Part One of an Interim Report on That All Shall Be Saved

by David Bentley Hart

Woman with a tiger

I should explain. I am in the process of preparing a kind of “interim report” on my recent book That All Shall Be Saved, in preparation for a number of public events, and perhaps in anticipation of a second edition of the text. And the editors of Public Orthodoxy have kindly offered me a venue in which to issue installments of that report, in the hope of refining it in the process. A good part of that report will consist in a kind of itinerary of its overarching argument. When writing the book, I had not properly appreciated how deep an emotional attachment some of us have to the idea of a hell of perpetual torment for the derelict and unenlightened. And so I had not imagined that the final product would provoke critiques so dazzlingly unrelated to my actual argument that I would be obliged repeatedly to recapitulate the book’s basic structure. Such, however, has been the case.

In the normal course of things, of course, an itinerary begins at the beginning and ends at the end. But I want to leap ahead. The book is organized around roughly half a dozen themes, the last of which concerns the nature of human freedom and attempts to defend the reality of an eternal hell as a correlate of that freedom. This part of the argument has proved the most difficult for some readers to grasp, and so I want to dilate upon at a somewhat more deliberate pace than the others. Hence it is also the one with which I should like to begin.

Continue reading

Marcionism, Allegorical Exegesis, and the Question of Universal Salvation

by Roberto J. De La Noval

Origen of Alexandria

The publication of David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved has provoked no small amount of controversy since its release. Though Hart’s argument for universal salvation encompasses diverse arenas of thought—theological anthropology, the moral meaning of creatio ex nihilo, the phenomenology of human volition—it is his treatment of the Scriptures that has provoked some of the most interesting pushback. When he was challenged a few weeks ago by one critic to consider whether the violent actions of YHWH in the Old Testament might not make us question our moral certainties about the immorality of eternal torments, Hart provided a reading of the Old Testament depiction of God which not only surprised but even scandalized many. Based on the conclusions of scholarship on the development of ancient Israelite religion, Hart concludes that YHWH is depicted in the Old Testament as exhibiting signs of moral development up to the period of Second Temple Judaism, when the marriage of Hellenistic philosophy and Judaism gives us a picture of God as Goodness Itself. And so the violent actions of the developing God in the Old Testament cannot be taken as totally determinative for a Christian understanding of God’s character, which finds its definitive revelation instead in Christ.

For this Hart was immediately accused of being a Marcionite, despite the fact that he explicitly rejected Marcion’s attempt to separate the God of Israel form the Father of Jesus Christ. What explains this severe reaction? Continue reading