Jerry L. Walls and Kyle Blanchette, On "God and Hell Reconciled"

Jerry Walls
As announced earlier I’m planning on reviewing every chapter in the new anthology on the problem of suffering titled, God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain,edited by Chad Meister and James K. Dew. [To read other entries in this series just click on the "God and Evil" tag below this post].

This time up is Jerry L. Walls and Kyle Blanchette's chapter, "God and Hell Reconciled" (pp. 243-258). The first thing to be noticed is that in this same book are two chapters that disagree with each other. The two authors of this chapter say of William Lane Craig's previous chapter that his "sophisticated" version of exclusivism "strikes us as implausible." (p. 249). *Cough* That's an understatement. But why would there be two chapters on hell in the same book that disagree with each other? The answer is obvious. It's because evangelicals are presently in the process of revising their theology, that's why. So what to do? Present both sides. The traditional evangelical exclusivist view, as defended by Craig, will keep exclusivists happy. More progressively minded evangelicals (an oxymoron) will be happy that the inclusivist view has now attained such a status it can be presented on an equal footing with the traditional view, although in previous decades it would have gotten adherents booted from the evangelical seminaries and pulpits. If the progressives eventually win (and I think they will) their views will be the new orthodoxy. Then amnesia will set in. Future students in evangelical seminaries will be taught this new orthodoxy as if it was always the truth. Bollocks! I'm hear to remind them that Christianity has always reinvented itself in the face of social criticisms and the advancement of learning, especially due to scientific advancement. This is just more of the same old same old gerrymandering we have come to expect from them.

Kyle Blanchette
I have written about the Omniscience Escape Clause before, that's often used to sweep many difficult questions for faith under the rug (see link). When it comes to hell the authors of this chapter respond to that objection in these words: "...there is a big difference between a claim being uncomfortable or difficult to grasp, and it being rationally untenable" (p.244). So far so good.

Basically, without going into detail, the unevangelized and/or non-believers like Gandhi probably will be saved. God gives optimal grace to all sinners where God does everything he can so that people are saved--short of overriding their freedom--such that only people who make a decisive choice to reject it will end up in hell forever. Rejecting the annihilation view ("the death penalty") postmortem conversions take place in hell, since God's justice is restorative and he does all he can to save them even in hell. The language in the Bible about hell is metaphorical for the punishment that sinners will receive from God. If the damned keep on sinning forever then they will stay there forever. The nature of hell is described by the authors as a prison with some freedom and some goodness in it too, depending on the character of the prisoner.

Okay? Didn't think so. ;-)

Evangelicals make pathetic scholars. That's why I call them pseudo-intellectuals. They act as if the canonical Bible just fell into their laps from the sky (except when writing about how we got it). When doing theology pseudo-intellectuals ignore all of the other surrounding cultural ideas and influences on the biblical writers, even on the Jews themselves during the inter-testamental period, as if they don't count. And why not? Because the biblical writers wrote down the God-breathed words to them, that's why. God, who is above culture and its influences, simply told them the truth. "We don't need no studying what other cultures taught or believed about hell, 'cause we got da truth here, baby, the whole truth. All we got ta do is eisegete, er exegete it, to fit the problems of today. Da Bible say it; we believe it (in our own way) dat settles it."

Nowhere in this chapter nor in the footnotes is there any reference to the development of the concept of hell among ancient Mesopotamians, early and later Jewish thought, nor Roman or Greek thought on the subject. It just didn't occur to Walls or Blanchette to research into it, or if they did, they didn't think it necessary to alert readers to this literature. Here, try just one book on it where you'll find other references for further reading: The Formation of Hell: Death and Retribution in the Ancient and Early Christian Worlds.

Typical evangelicals. They are pseudo-intellectuals, no question about it. Ideas develop over time and cross-culturally, especially as the Jews and early Christians were located in the midway point of the Fertile Crescent trade route. What a serious study of hell would show is that the doctrine of hell was not initially Jewish but was graphed on their faith through these cultural influences and later became part of the early Christian tradition. It looks like a man-made religious concept, not a divine one at all. Hell, conceived as punishment in the afterlife, is as mythical as the creation accounts in Genesis and the Adam and Eve story, period.

But let me comment on their view of God and hell, anyway. Walls and Blanchette's attempt to reconcile God and hell fais miserably for so many reasons I don't have the energy. Their attempt reminds me once again of what Dr. Stephen Law wrote: “Anything based on faith, no matter how ludicrous, can be made to be consistent with the available evidence, given a little patience and ingenuity.” [Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole.](p. 75). This is what they do, only they reinterpret key passages in the New Testament to fit their preconceived notions. They do this because they cannot give up their faith in the face of the realities of the Bible. For them it's a matter of maintaining their faith. In order to do this they must solve this puzzle. It's puzzle-solving that they are doing, not trying to figure out what is the truth. They must do so at all costs without sacrificing some key evangelical views or the Bible as God's word.

Who are the authors describing? Who would reject God's optimal grace if God does everything he can in order that people are saved? That it is crystal clear God is not doing everything in this world to save people is obvious. Come on now, hear your OWN words: "...there is a big difference between a claim being uncomfortable or difficult to grasp, and it being rationally untenable." Furthermore, who will prefer to stay in hell forever rather than turn to God? Listen, hell is either a painful place or it is not. If the damned prefer hell then it is pleasurable to be there, and if that's so, then heaven is hell. But if hell is painful then no rational person would prefer staying there, none. Only the brain dead would, the mentally challenged, the irrational. Is this how a perfectly loving God treats the mentally challenged, when from all reports in the Gospels Jesus loved the downtrodden the most?

Look, if I knew God was real and many virgins awaited me in heaven (oops, wrong religion), then I would easily and quickly confess my sins and legitimately repent from them. Who wouldn't? This would not be lip service to get a heavenly reward any more than Christians do this for a heavenly reward either (or do they?). No sin would be worth staying out of paradise because that's what paradise is all about, pleasure beyond one's wildest dreams. Have they even given a minute's thought about this, or are they mindlessly quote-mining the Bible and the theology they've developed based on their eisegesis of it?

Then there's this whole notion of "genuine moral freedom." I think most evangelicals were born with enough of a silver spoon in their mouths that they have never experienced life on the streets of the Bronx in New York city, or in Darfur. They need to seriously consider the nature and value of freedom. I suggest reading my friend Jonathan Pearce's good book, Free Will?: An investigation into whether we have free will, or whether I was always going to write this book, as a primer.

This is all I can take today.