Moltmann and the Annihilation of Hell

Jurgen Moltmann in his foreward of Nicholas Ansell’s The Annihilation of Hell – Universal Salvation and the Redemption of Time in the Eschatology of Jurgen Moltmann:

20150213_200619“A foreward is not an afterward and also not a critical review.  A foreward should open the door and point out the worth of a book so that it can be properly read and discussed.  Nicholas Ansell’s book on The Annihilation of Hell and Universal Salvation is so far-reaching and profound a theological and philosophical work that a brief foreward can’t really do it justice.  I’ll limit myself here to some biographical references, a few factual observations, and then an attempt to bring the theology of grace and the theology of faith into a theological dialogue.

Any theology of grace will be oriented for God’s sake to the universal triumph of grace.  Any theology of faith, however, will start from the human decision of faith and will result in the separation of believers from unbelievers.  The universalism of salvation, on the one hand, and the particularism of faith on the other hand, are on two different levels.  What is important is to closely connect them.

Since my theology studies in Gottingen, where I wrote my dissertation in 1952 on the “hypothetical universalism” of the Calvinist theologian Moyse Amyraut, who taught at the theological Academy of Saumer in the 17th century, the idea of universalism has not let go of me.  Amyraut’s idea, that the universal offer of grace is merely hypothetical until faith grasps it, I considered inadequate.  Then I read Karl Barth’s new doctrine of election which appeared in his Church Dogmatics 2/2 and became convinced by his theology of the cross:  On the cross of Christ, God took the guilt of sinners upon himself in order to give them his gift of grace.  I continued to think through this dialectical universalism of salvation and found in Christ’s resurrection from the dead the beginning of the destruction of death and thereby “the annihilation of Hell.”  Many Easter hymns in the German Lutheran hymnal celebrate the “destruction of Hell” by means of Christ’s descent into Hell and resurrection from Hell.  In the Orthodox Easter liturgy, the destruction of Hell through Christ is also celebrated.  Those who descend into Hell should “abandon all hope” according to Dante.  But the Christ who descended into Hell is the “hope of the hopeless” (spes desperatis).

I then took up an old desire of Karl Barth and Helmut Gollwitzer, namely to reform the doctrine of the LAst Judgment from the perspective of the crucified one who will come to judge the living and the dead.  Here I had the Old Testament notion of “divine judging” for help.  According to Psalm 96, God will come to judge the earth, and the earth will rejoice and the fields will make merry.  In this instance, “judge” means raise up, set straight, heal, and bring to life.  How could it be otherwise in the Christian anticipation of God’s Final Judgment and coming kingdom!  In fact the so-called “Final Judgment” is penultimate; what is truly final is the new, eternal creation in which God becomes “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).

At this point another thought came to me:  with the forgiveness of sins and the overcoming of death, God is concerned primarily with the expulsion of the godless powers of evil, of sin, of death, and of Hell from his beloved creation.  Isn’t our question as to whether all or only a few will be saved not an anthropocentric and in many cases even a selfish one?  For God, it is about God’s glorification of all his creatures.  The salvation of the new humanity is only a part of this.  If we look to the glory of God, then the universalism and particularism of human salvation are relativised.  The “annihilation of Hell” is an action of the cosmic Christ, whose reign is universal.  “Universal salvation” is only the human part of the “salvation of the universe.”

I must stop here, since I’m only writing a forward.  But you can see how stimulating this study by Nicholas Ansell has been for me.  I hope the same holds true for his other readers.  There is much to be gained by considering this work and then thinking further on one’s own.”

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Be the Light

I was walking the dogs recently and came across this lamp-post, an unusual vision that stopped me in my tracks. It is clearly an older light, probably not even working, neglected and almost over-run with, what my kids used to call “nature”!

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It reminded me of two possibilities for a believer in Christ:

First, positively, that it doesn’t matter what happens throughout your life, where you are placed, the one thing a Christian does is shine!  The weeds of nature may wrap around you with their lies and choking restrictions, but the Christian just keeps shining.

Jesus called His followers the “light of the world” in Matthew 5:14.  Paul urges the Christians at Philippi to “shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).  And John encourages an “abiding in the light” as he writes “the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8).

20150124_094002-1-3Second, negatively!  The street light had succumbed to the cares of the world.  The light wasn’t shining (admittedly is was day time – you shrewd reader)!  It looked tired and weary amidst a crooked and perverse generation, to use Paul’s words from Philippians.

Sometimes as Christians we can succumb.  The choking lies of Satan become too much, even when the vile serpent quotes Scripture at us as he did to Jesus in the wilderness, we know that in doing so he, the father of lies, knows the Bible better than we do.  And so we believe his lies, and the weeds choke, and our guilt condemns.

Maybe our light flickers, with degrees of brightness.  That’s surely a more realistic picture of the Christian life, not quite “dimmer-switch Christianity”, but not far off.  Our mood or whatever transient event that shapes our mood is the controller on the dimmer-switch of our life and determines our level of faith, our ability to shine, our sheer pressing in to Christ despite the garbage that grows around and on us.

Jesus called His followers the light of the world because He is the Light of the world.  Light just is, and darkness doesn’t stand a chance in the presense of light.

Just as a light on a hill cannot be hidden, the Light of the world on the hill of Calvary cannot be hidden.  Even in death and buried in a tomb, the Light is working to bring about a resurrection that will transform everything.

I guess for me, the challenge of this old lamp was a reminder that the Gospel will always have enemies and opponents.  Light exposes darkness no matter how lovingly we do it.  I am called to shine!

In one sense, it simply doesn’t matter what grows all over it, just don’t let it be because your light has gone out.  “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Jesus is the Light of the world.

You are the light of the world.

So shine!

Bare Meetings

Below is a section of a Charles Spurgeon sermon from 1856 (he was only 22 years old)!!

The sermon is based on a text in Habakkuk 3:2 “O Lord, revive your work.”

I am putting on this blog because it sounds a little…..familiar don’t you think?

Once you’re done with laughing out loud, you may weep in silence……

Charles Spurgeon said,

“Look at our prayer meetings, with only an exception here and there, there are, possibly, six old women present;  scarcely ever do enough male members come to pray even four times a year.

chspurgeon_youngerPrayer meetings they are called; they ought to be called “bare meetings”, for they are barely attended…….

…. Let me ask you, instead of grumbling at your minister, instead of finding fault with the different parts of the Church, let me ask you to cry out, “O Lord, revive your work.”

“Oh!” one says, “Oh, that we had another minister!  Oh, that we had another kind of worhip!  Oh, that we had a different sort of preaching!”

Just as if that were the simple solution; but my prayer is, “Oh, that the Lord would come into the hearts of the men you have!  Oh, that he would make the forms you use to be full of power!”

You don’t need fresh ways or new structures; you need life in those that you have.

There is a locomotive on the railroad tracks; but the train will not move.  “Bring another locomotive,” one says, “and another, and another.”  The locomotives are brought, but the train still does not move.  Light the fire and get up more steam, that is what you need; not new engines.

We do not need new ministers, or new plans, or new ways, though many might be invented, to make the Church better; we only need life and fire in those we have.

with the very man who has emptied your Church, the very same person that weakened your prayer meetings, God can yet make the Church to be crowded to the doors, and give thousands of souls to that very man.

It is not a new man that is needed; it is the life of God in him.  Don’t be crying for something new; it will no more solve your problem than what you now have.

Cry out, “O Lord, revive your work.”

And he said all this and more in

1856Not much change there then!

Press on, brothers and sisters, and preach the Gospel as the singular urgent priority.

Pathetic Illustrations

“The great appeal of Christianity, from which all else flows, is to the conscience, and, in the actual situation, to the sinful conscience.  It is easy to make any assembly we may address cry with a few pathetic illustrations. . . . But, to follow evil to its inmost cell, to track the holy to the heart of things, to touch the devious and elusive conscience of a world, to rouse, to renew it – that is hard.”

So wrote P. T. Forsyth in ‘Congregationalism and Reunion’ (p. 16).

blueforsyth-5He is addressing the preacher and preaching’s importance.  “With its preaching Christianity stands or falls’ he stated boldly in his Yale lectures (from whence ‘Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind’ was birthed).

What I love about the “great appeal of Christianity”, is the way Forsyth knowingly and quite deliberately mocks the sentimentalism that must have characterised much preaching in his day (as in our day!) – the “pathetic illustrations” designed to provoke tears in the hearer, and heart warming puppy-love towards the speaker/preacher!  When I first read that line, I laughed out loud.  How we see this in our day, and no doubt I may even stand accused myself of such Gospel-mockery – the Lord forgive me!

relating-faithAs Forsyth was, we need these prophetically-empowered, theologically astute voices in our day too – because the problem persists.  One such voice is Anthony Thiselton, Emeritus Professor of Christian Theology at Nottingham University.  In the outstanding book ‘Relating Faith’ (mentioned on this blog before), Dr Rob Knowles, a theologian shaped by the life’s work of Thiselton, we see how “pathetic illustrations” and their ilk, are the mockery of the pulpit and the church:  When Christianity becomes a “mere vehicle of self-affirmation, peer group self-promotion, or triumphalism that espouses a notion of “God” that amounts to a projection of human desires and interests”….we discover “neo-pragmatic pastors who ape chat-show hosts and design their sermons in such a way as to create a pragmatic rhetorical effect and win ‘local’ audience applause.  With every effusion. . . . . greeted with a storm of ready-made applause”, however, “[t]he result is vanity and self-sufficiency” (p. 103).

Pathetic illustrations are designed to accomplish exactly that.

But the challenge from Forsyth is laid plain:  Preaching is to track evil to its heartless and beastly core.  It is to similarly trace to the heart God’s holy things, to expose, to touch, to point out in loving but salvific tones, the devious and elusive conscience of the world.  It is nothing but the hard graft of Gospel proclamation.  And it is hard!

If ever it were easy, I doubt it is being done at all.

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Goodbye My Boy

What joy you gave, from pain so deep;

A miracle in progress, a work of art!

Flesh of my flesh, not quite but still,

You may as well have been.

Goodbye my boy!

* * *

Sometimes a year comes and goes,

Lost to the mists of time, forgetful minds and ordinary lives.

But 2014 will always be,

Etched in the mind, carved in the heart!

The year we met you, unforgetable.

Goodbye my boy!

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Theatrical Withdrawal

The shocking thing about suffering is not that it happens, but that we are shocked when it happens.  The suffering can of course take many forms: bereavements, illness, chronic sickness, depression, pain, cold and flu, to name but a few!

Although there is a place for time alone, space to think and pray, why is it, that in many Christian churches, people feel the need to absent themselves from the life of God’s people?  Why do so many think that a theatrical withdrawal is what biblical faith is all about?  Why do we feel that when we do go to church we get tired of explaining about our illness, whilst on the other hand, when we do withdraw, we lament that nobody cares or calls.

It is a fact that what is often presented in our lives is not the reality of either us or our situation.  A man who lost a father at the age of five, will likely have profoundly complex and yet dysfunctional emotions and expectations in later life when a relative dies.  In this sense, people can be very ego-centric in grief and suffering – and that is not to minimalise the suffering, merely to unmask the complexity of emotion and feelings underneath.

If sickness determined whether we continue with church and/or God, then surely God would have no lovers and all churches would be empty!  But no!  Church is full of repentant sinners, broken people, unhealed, chronically sick and often desperate….but they are there, with God’s people, together, worshipping God for God’s own sake, for God’s sake!  Those who theatrically withdraw forget that other people are living their lives too, and in their egocentrism, they  neither see nor care.  In fact, this not seeing nor caring, is a form of robbery – robbing God of what they were called to be within the community; denying the gift of themselves to others among the people of God; and all because of an egocentrism that is ring-fenced from genuine biblical scrutiny, Holy Spirit healing & trust, and Christian fellowship.

Is it a type of super-spiritual sulking?  I think it can be, though it may not be.  And this sulking can and often is a smokescreen for the real reality behind the perceived or egocentrically managed (false) reality.

In his book, Games People Play, Eric Berne suggests that in groups, which of course include churches, there is a whole range of ‘gameplaying’ going on; something false about most people or groups, and for anyone inclined pastorally, the greatest freedom can be found in recognising the script, seeing what is false, refusing to play to their script and speak prophetic biblical truth, life and health into all situations.

And that speaking might mean withdrawing from that dysfunctional dynamic, remaining silent, praying for people whilst refusing to be played by their scripts.  Some may accuse you of not caring or not loving, of not being a proper pastor.  They would, because they haven’t yet seen the dysfuntion of their script, because they are waiting for a particular response that is becoming of a theatrical withdrawal.  All the while they think it is about their present situation or illness, but it rarely is.  It is often about what is unresolved from their past, and the pastor’s role is to disclose this undisclosed menace, and pray the Holy Spirit is there in it all, bringing healing and wholeness.
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