Salvation 2.0: Part 3.8: Richard Beck, David Bentley Hart, and “God, Creation, and Evil,” Part 1

grace5Back on September 17, 2015, Richard Beck at his essential “Experimental Theology” blog wrote,

I have argued, for many long and lonely years, to any who would hear, that the doctrine (or hope) of universal reconciliation (UR) has more to do with theodicy than soteriology, more to do with addressing the problems of suffering than about salvation. More, I have argued that UR is the only coherent theodicy available to the Christian faith. The only coherent theodicy.

(I have advised Richard of this series and invited him to participate by posting here or by commenting.)

“Soteriology” is the theology of salvation — baptism, saved by faith alone (sola fide), that sort of thing. “Theodicy” is trying to figure out how a good God can allow evil. “Universal Reconciliation” is often referred to as Universalism — the idea that all people will be saved. There are many variations on the theme. For example, many conclude that Universal Reconciliation will only be achieved after a period of punishment — hence allowing for both perfect justice and love. And this appears to be Beck’s position.

You can read all of his blog posts on the subject (and you should) by clicking this link.

In this most recent article, Beck refers the reader to a thoughtful and challenging article by Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart, “God, Creation, and Evil.” Don’t be embarrassed if you need a dictionary to work your way through the article. I did. But it’s worth the hard work.

Here is Hart on YouTube presenting this same paper, with some additional thoughts ad libbed here and there —

Hart dismisses the conventional Calvinist view of God because a good God cannot create humans just to elect them to a hell consisting of perpetual, conscious torment. I agree. I’ve never found the Calvinist doctrine of original sin or the idea that God predestines some to an eternity of agony tolerable, much less logical.

Hart then rejects the view of hell found in much of the rest of Christianity — perpetual, conscious torment (PCT).

So, if all are not saved, if God creates souls he knows to be destined for eternal misery, is God evil? Well, why debate semantics? Maybe every analogy fails. What is not debatable is that, if God does so create, in himself he cannot be the good as such, and creation cannot be a morally meaningful act: it is from one vantage an act of predilective love, but from another — logically necessary — vantage an act of prudential malevolence. And so it cannot be true. We are presented by what has become the majority tradition with three fundamental claims, any two of which might be true simultaneously, but never all three: that God freely created all things out of nothingness; that God is the Good itself; and that it is certain or at least possible that some rational creatures will endure eternal loss of God.

I disagree, for several reasons.

* Hart assumes the innate immortality of the soul — which is Greek and not Judeo-Christian thought. The Bible teaches that immortality is a gift given by God to those with faith. Everyone else is mortal.

* Hart assumes that separation from God results in anguish disproportionate to justice. And although I’m confident separation from God will indeed be an acute form of anguish — I also believe God to be perfectly just. He will not allow any to suffer more than justice requires. For many, that won’t be much at all — if God were to ask for my opinion. In fact, I can think of no better outcome than letting God decide.

* Hart assumes that God is obligated to be more than just. That is, once someone has been justly punished, he must get to go to heaven and eternal bliss. Why? Why does Hitler get eternal bliss even though he was not only evil, he worked to defeat Christianity? Does God’s grace and love require this result? Well, the God of the Bible does not promise everyone eternal bliss. For example —

(Rom 2:6-11 ESV) 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

To Paul, “God shows no partiality” means that those who do evil will suffer “wrath and fury,” “tribulation and distress.” It’s only the one who “does good” for whom there will “glory and honor and peace.” I mean, how could Paul more plainly say that there are two very different, polar opposite fates?

I readily agree that God will be more than just — for those with faith. For the saved. For those who are indwelled by the Spirit. For those who follow the Son.

* What does Hart do with the spiritual beings that Jesus will defeat at the end of the age? Do Satan and the demons repent and participate in Universal Reconciliation? And if not, then God’s creation winds up with some very un-good beings that are never redeemed. If so, well, where in the scriptures do we find such a doctrine?

[I’m not done. My reflections on Hart’s article will require several more posts. After all, Universal Reconciliation is a growing theory, and I just don’t think that it works. Although, I confess, I may have gotten a little carried away in the detail of my response.]

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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10 Responses to Salvation 2.0: Part 3.8: Richard Beck, David Bentley Hart, and “God, Creation, and Evil,” Part 1

  1. Ben says:

    I’m very much looking forward to these next few posts. I’ve been reading your and Beck’s ideas about this subject for the last few years (along with those of others), and at this moment I find them almost equally compelling. I hope Richard will take you up on your offer to engage in a discussion here – I’d find that exchange very beneficial.

  2. Ellen says:

    I really don’t like it when a dictionary defines a word with a form of the word itself. Not helpful. Predilective?

  3. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Having a predeliction, that is having a tendency toward something

  4. Ellen says:

    Romans 2:6-11, How can we be sure this is talking about the afterlife? Could it be that it’s referring to the fact that a connection with God and following the laws He set into creation naturally produces these outcomes in life?

  5. Ellen says:

    Thanks, Jay!

  6. Dustin says:

    I am also looking forward to these post. Just a quick comment, I don’t think that he would prescribe to the Platonic view that immortality means not created as well as without an end.

  7. Richard constant says:

    Well j
    number one you got to ask what in the world is God doing.
    The simple answer is he’s cleansing His temple of all evil.
    he Accomplished that through the curse of Jesus the righteous for the unrighteous.
    we have our Messiah we have our new creation we have all of the things necessary to us to perform what the creator of this fractured universe.
    Or what I like to call a fractal of what once was, and what will be,that will be that perfect rest with God again.
    Or that New Jerusalem built upon that heavenly hill of Zion and all those other good words that all those people knew about when Jesus told them that, that’s what it was about. now then let’s read 2nd Corinthians 5 one more time.

  8. Richard constant says:

    then one other little ditty that we need to seriously take a look at what did Jesus do when he went up to the temple and cleanseD and then the question Is why?
    and then we have to look at what we do today and does any of that sound familiar.
    If it does we’ve got some serious difficulties and how God looks at us.
    how do you spell traditionalism.
    I for one know that I’m going to get judged.
    Based upon my capability to do what I am supposed to do to reciprocate what I have been given.
    I’m not going to fool Jesus he’s looking straight at my heart.
    not only that I’m not foolIng in the Holy Spirit that dwells in me.
    when we stand on dead doctrines rules of worship regulatory principle that saps the joy out of your heart.
    When a person walks into a building where were having a fellowship.
    And the membership comes across as a stoic bunch of hyper inbred throwbacks.
    Is that a place that I need to be to hear the good word of the good news of reconciliation.
    what a pain in the b.u.t.t. I spelled for those that have silk ears.
    we have so much information now.
    How in the world can anyone even think.
    That with God’s help the Holy Spirit that he’s giving us that we could not change this world change yourself change our fellowship change change change.
    That’s the only thing that’s consistent in this world in this cartoon that we live in is change.
    if we don’t change were stuck in tradition.

    .
    If we become stuck in traditionalism we become stuck in the teaching of the Pharisees and there’s no two ways around it.
    we become like our Father
    kind of like that song I’m too sexy for my shirt.
    We become too good for God tradition study that when a while and see what it get you unfortunately it should have you shaking in your boots
    being self deceived and deceiving others.
    I have another nice evening evening brother love here and what you got to say.

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Ellen asked,

    Romans 2:6-11, How can we be sure this is talking about the afterlife? Could it be that it’s referring to the fact that a connection with God and following the laws He set into creation naturally produces these outcomes in life?

    (Rom. 2:6-11 ESV) 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

    V. 7: “Glory” and “immortality” and “eternal life” clearly speak to the afterlife. “Glory” in the Bible generally refers to the presence of God. In fact, God’s presence in the Holy of Holies was called his “glory” or Shekinah.

    V. 8: “Wrath” is used by Paul repeatedly of the afterlife, esp. in Romans. The most recent reference before v. 8 is —

    (Rom. 2:5 ESV) But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

    “The day of wrath” and “judgment” and the future-looking “storing up” all speak to the afterlife.

    V.9: Paul actually is more likely to use “tribulation” and “distress” to speak of the current life. But the future voice suggests that he’s not changed subject. Moreover, the next time the subject comes up, he says —

    (Rom. 5:3 ESV) Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings [tribulations!], knowing that suffering produces endurance,

    The Greek for sufferings in 5:3 is the same word translated “tribulations” in 2:9 — and yet he is speaking of Christians in this age in 5:3 whereas he’s promised an end of tribulations for Christians in 2:9 — so 2:9 must be speaking of the afterlife.

    So it’s pretty clearly an afterlife passage.

  10. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dustin,

    You may be right that Hart does not believe in the existence of souls pre-birth — a fairly common view in America. There is nothing in his essay to suggest either way. Most Christians adopt the Platonic view of innate immortality but many do not adopt the idea of a soul’s pre-existence.

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