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Announcing the newest release in our well-received Popular Encyclopedia series--The Popular Encyclopedia of Church History, an ideal resource for anyone who want a clear, user-friendly guide to understanding the key people, places, and events that shaped Christianity. General editors Ed Hindson and Dan Mitchell have extensive experience with producing reference works that combine expert scholarship and popular accessibility.

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Christian theism is, of course, more specific than that, and Christian theists typically make the following two-fold assumption: first, that the highest possible good for created persons true blessedness, if you will requires that they enter into a proper relationship or even a kind of union with their Creator, and second, that a life wholly apart from any implicit experience of God would be a terrifying evil see note Although most Christians would probably agree with this, some may want additional clarity on the nature of the union and the separation in question here.

But in any case, whereas heaven is in general thought of as a realm in which people experience the bliss of perfect fellowship and harmony with God and with each other, hell is in general thought of as a realm in which people experience the greatest possible estrangement from God, the greatest possible sense of alienation, and perhaps also an intense hatred of everyone including themselves.

The ideas of heaven and hell are also closely associated with the religious idea of salvation , which in turn rests upon a theological interpretation of the human condition. Even the non-religious can perhaps agree that, for whatever reason, we humans begin our earthly lives with many imperfections and with no conscious awareness of God.

We also emerge and begin making choices in a context of ambiguity, ignorance, and misperception, and behind our earliest choices lie a host of genetically determined inclinations and environmental including social and cultural influences.


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As young children, moreover, we initially pursue our own needs and interests as we perceive or misperceive them. So the context in which we humans emerge with a first person perspective and then begin developing into minimally rational agents virtually guarantees, it seems, that we would repeatedly misconstrue our own interests and pursue them in misguided ways; it also includes many sources of misery, at least some of which—the horror of war, horrifying examples of inhumanity to children, people striving to benefit themselves at the expense of others, etc. But other sources include such non-moral evils as natural disasters, sickness, and especially physical death itself.

Clearly, then, we all encounter in our natural environment many threats to our immediate welfare and many obstacles, some of our own making and some not, to enduring happiness. So one way to organize our thinking here is against the backdrop of the following inconsistent set of three propositions:. If this set of propositions is logically inconsistent, as it surely is, then at least one proposition in the set is false. In no way does it follow, of course, that only one proposition in the set is false, and neither does it follow that at least two of them are true.

But if someone does accept any two of these propositions, as virtually every mainline Christian theologian does, then such a person has no choice but to reject the third. So that leaves exactly three primary eschatological views. Because the Augustinians, named after St.

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So here, then, are three quite different systems of theology. For if we think of such separation as a state of being estranged or alienated from God, or if we think of it as simply the absence of a loving union with him, then 3 is equally consistent with many different conceptions of hell, some arguably milder than others. It is equally consistent, for example, with the idea that hell is a realm where the wicked receive retribution in the form of everlasting torment, with the idea that they will simply be annihilated in the end, with the idea that they create their own hell by rejecting God, and with the idea that God will simply make them as comfortable as possible in hell even as he limits the harm they can do to each other see Stump This lack of specificity is by design.

For however one understands the fate of those who supposedly remain separated from God forever , such a fate will entail something like 3. Alternatively, anyone who rejects 3 will likewise reject the idea of everlasting torment as well as any of the supposedly milder conceptions of an everlasting separation from God. Now when the Fifth General Council of the Christian church condemned the doctrine of universal reconciliation in CE, it did not, strictly speaking, commit the institutional church of that day to a doctrine of everlasting conscious torment in hell.

But it did commit the church to a final and irreversible division within the human race between those who will be saved, on the one hand, and those who will be hopelessly lost forever, on the other. If there is to be such a final and irreversible division within the human race, just what accounts for it? These two very different explanations for a final and irrevocable division within the human race, where some end up in heaven and others in hell, also reflect profound disagreements over the nature of divine grace. Because the Augustinians hold that, in our present condition at least, God owes us nothing, they also believe that the grace he confers upon a limited elect is utterly gratuitous and supererogatory.

III, Ch. XXIII, sec. But the Arminians reject such a doctrine as inherently unjust; it is simply unjust, they say, for God to do for some, namely the elect, what he refuses to do for others, particularly since the elect have done nothing to deserve their special treatment. The Arminians therefore hold that God offers his grace to all human beings, though many are those who freely reject it and eventually seal their fate in hell forever.

But for their part, the Augustinians counter that this Arminian explanation in terms of human free will contradicts St. A universalist, of course, might insist that the Augustinians and the Arminians are both right in their respective criticisms of each other. It is as simple as that. Nor should one suppose that this Augustinian understanding of limited election is totally bereft of contemporary defenders. Neither is it possible, he appears to argue, that God should love equally all of the persons whom he has in fact created.

Two critical problems arise at this point. First, why suppose that the deepest love for others in the sense of willing the very best for them always requires identifying with their own interests? Why else would Christians believe that God often chastises or corrects those whom he loves? And second, why suppose that God cannot identify with incompatible interests anyway? Indeed, why cannot a single individual identify with incompatible interests or conflicting desires of his or her own?

But why, then, cannot a loving mother, for example, care deeply about the incompatible interests or immediate desires of her two small children as they squabble over a toy and care about these incompatible interests, however trivial they might otherwise have seemed to her, precisely because her beloved children care about them?

The impossibility of her satisfying such incompatible interests hardly entails the impossibility of her identifying with them in the sense of caring deeply about them. In any case, the vast majority of Christian philosophers who have addressed the topic of hell in recent decades and have published at least some of their work in the standard philosophical journals do accept proposition 1 and also reject, therefore, any hint of Augustinian limited election.

Behind the Augustinian understanding of hell lies a commitment to a retributive theory of punishment, according to which the primary purpose of punishment is to satisfy the demands of justice or, as some might say, to balance the scales of justice. And the Augustinian commitment to such a theory is hardly surprising. For based upon his interpretation of various New Testament texts, Augustine insisted that hell is a literal lake of fire in which the damned will experience the horror of everlasting torment; they will experience, that is, the unbearable physical pain of literally being burned forever.

The primary purpose of such unending torment, according to Augustine, is not correction, or deterrence, or even the protection of the innocent; nor did he make any claim for it except that it is fully deserved and therefore just. Such is the metaphysics of hell, as Augustine understood it.

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For many Augustinians view the agony of hell as essentially psychological and spiritual in nature, consisting of the knowledge that every possibility for joy and happiness has been lost forever. Hell, as they see it, is thus a condition in which self-loathing, hatred of others, hopelessness, and infinite despair consumes the soul like a metaphorical fire.

So why are Christians required to love even those whom God has always hated? Edwards and other Augustinians thus hold that the damned differ from the saved in one respect only: God has freely chosen not to lavish his grace upon them in the same way that he does lavish it, in their view, on the elect. So why, one may wonder at this point, do the Augustinians believe that anyone—whether it be Judas Iscariot, Saul of Tarsus, or Adolph Hitler—actually deserves unending torment as a just recompense for their sins?

The typical Augustinian answer appeals to the seriousness or the heinous character of even the most minor offense against God. Anselm illustrated such an appeal with the following example. Suppose that God were to forbid you to look in a certain direction, even though it seemed to you that by doing so you could preserve the entire creation from destruction. If you were to disobey God and to look in that forbidden direction, you would sin so gravely, Anselm declared, that you could never do anything to pay for that sin adequately.

So either the sinner does not pay for the sin at all, or the sinner must pay for it by enduring everlasting suffering or at least a permanent loss of happiness. But what about those who never commit any offense against God at all, such as those who die in infancy or those who, because of severe brain damage or some other factor, never develop into minimally rational agents? These too, according to Augustine, deserve to be condemned along with the human race as a whole.

II, Ch. I, sec. Augustine and Calvin both believed, then, that God justly condemns some who die in infancy; indeed, if their innocence required that he unite with them, then the ground of his decision to do so would lie in them and not in his own free decision to do whatever he pleases in this matter. As these remarks illustrate, the Augustinian understanding of original sin implies that we are all born guilty of a heinous sin against God, and this inherited guilt relieves God of any responsibility for our spiritual welfare.

Augustine thus concluded that God can save whomsoever he wills and also damn whomsoever he wills without committing any injustice at all. For the Augustinians, then, the bottom line is that, even as our Creator, God owes us nothing in our present condition because, thanks to original sin, we come into this earthly life already deserving nothing but everlasting punishment in hell as a just recompense for original sin.

Although this Augustinian rationale for the justice of hell has had a profound influence on the Western theological tradition, particularly in the past, critics of Augustinian theology, both ancient and contemporary, have raised a number of powerful objections to it. One set of objections arises from within the retributive theory itself, and here are three such objections that critics have raised.

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According to most proponents of the retributive theory, the personal guilt of those who act wrongly must depend, at least in part, upon certain facts about them. A schizophrenic young man who tragically kills his loving mother, believing her to be a sinister space alien who has devoured his real mother, may need treatment, they would say, but a just punishment seems out of the question.

Similarly, the personal guilt of those who disobey God or violate the divine commands must likewise depend upon the answer to such questions as: Have they knowingly violated a divine command? To what extent do they possess not only an implicit knowledge of God and his will for them, but a clear vision of the nature of God? To what extent do they see clearly the choice of roads, the consequences of their actions, or the true nature of evil?

Second, virtually all retributivists, with the notable exception of the Augustinian theologians, reject as absurd the whole idea of inherited guilt. So why, one may ask, do so many Augustinians, despite their commitment to a retributive theory of punishment, insist that God could justly condemn even infants on account of their supposedly inherited guilt? The implication of such language, which we also find in Augustine, Calvin, and a host of others, is that humankind or human nature or the human race as a whole is itself a person or homunculus who can act and sin against God.

XIII, Ch. The reasoning here appears to run as follows: Humankind is guilty of a grievous offense against God; infants are instances of humankind; therefore, infants are likewise guilty of a grievous offense against God. But most retributivists would reject this way of speaking as simply incoherent.

II, sec. One can even understand the claim that we are morally responsible for doing something about our inherited defects, provided that we have the power and the opportunity to do so. But the claim that we are born guilty is another matter, as is the claim that we are all deserving of everlasting punishment on account of having inherited certain defects or deficiencies.

So even though the Augustinians accept the idea of divine retribution, they appear at the same time to reject important parts of the retributive theory of punishment. Third, if, as Anselm insisted, even the slightest offense against God is infinitely serious and thus deserves a permanent loss of happiness as a just recompense, then the idea, so essential to the retributive theory, that we can grade offenses and fit lesser punishments to lesser crimes appears to be in danger of collapsing. Many Christians do, it is true, speculate that gradations of punishment exist in hell; some sinners, they suggest, may experience greater pain than others, and some places in hell may be hotter than others.

I, Ch. But many retributivists would nonetheless respond as follows. If all of those in hell, including the condemned infants, are dead in the theological sense of being separated from God forever, and if this implies a permanent loss of both the beatific vision and every other conceivable source of worthwhile happiness, then they have all received a punishment so severe that the further grading of offenses seems pointless.

Once you make a permanent and irreversible loss of happiness the supposedly just penalty for the most minor offense, the only option left for more serious offenses is to pile on additional suffering. But at some point piling on additional suffering for more serious offenses seems utterly demonic, or at least so many retributivists would insist; and it does nothing to ameliorate a permanent loss of happiness for a minor offense or, as in the case of non-elect babies who die in infancy, for no real offense at all.

All of which brings one to what Marilyn McCord Adams and many others see as the most crucial question of all. How could any sin that a finite being commits in a context of ambiguity, ignorance, and illusion deserve an infinite penalty as a just recompense? See Adams , Another set of objections to the Augustinian understanding of hell arises from the perspective of those who reject a retributive theory of punishment.

According to Anselm and the Augustinians generally, no punishment that a sinner might endure over a finite period of time can justly compensate for the slightest offense against God. Anselm thus speculated that if no suffering of finite duration will fully satisfy the demands of justice, perhaps suffering of infinite duration will do the trick. In the right circumstances punishment might be a means to something that satisfies the demands of justice, but it has no power to do so in and of itself. It is no use laying it on the other scale. Why not? Because punishment, whether it consists of additional suffering or a painless annihilation, does nothing in and of itself, MacDonald insisted, to cancel out a sin, to compensate or to make up for it, to repair the harm that it brings into our lives, or to heal the estrangement that makes it possible in the first place.

So what, theoretically, would make things right or fully satisfy justice in the event that someone should commit murder or otherwise act wrongly? Whereas the Augustinians insist that justice requires punishment, other religious writers insist that justice requires something very different, namely reconciliation and restoration see, for example, Marshall, Only God, however, has the power to achieve true restoration in the case of murder, for only God can resurrect the victims of murder as easily as he can the victims of old age.

According to George MacDonald, whose religious vision was almost the polar opposite of the Augustinian vision, perfect justice therefore requires, first, that sinners repent of their sin and turn away from everything that would separate them from God and from others; it requires, second, that God forgive repentant sinners and that they forgive each other; and it requires, third, that God overcome, perhaps with their own cooperation, any harm that sinners do either to others or to themselves.

Augustinians typically object to the idea that divine justice, no less than divine love, requires that God forgive sinners and undertake the divine toil of restoring a just order. But MacDonald insisted that, even as human parents have an obligation to care for their children, so God has a freely accepted responsibility, as our Creator, to meet our moral and spiritual needs.

God therefore owes us forgiveness for the same reason that human parents owe it to their children to forgive them in the event that they misbehave. And if the time should come when loving parents are required to respect the misguided choices of a rebellious teenager or an adult child, they will always stand ready to restore fellowship with a prodigal son or daughter in the event of a ruptured relationship.

We thus encounter two radically different religious visions of divine justice, both of which deserve a full and careful examination. So in that sense, our human free choices, particularly the bad ones, are genuine obstacles that God must work around as he tries to bring his loving purposes to fruition.


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And this may suggest the further possibility that, with respect to some free persons, God cannot both preserve their freedom in relation to him and prevent them from continuing forever to reject him freely. The basic idea here is that hell is essentially a freely embraced condition and the self-imposed misery it entails rather than a forcibly imposed punishment ; [ 7 ] and because freedom and determinism are incompatible, the creation of free moral agents carries an inherent risk of ultimate tragedy. So even though the perfectly loving God would never reject anyone, sinners can reject God and shut him out forever; they not only have the power as free agents to reject God for a season, during the time when they are mired in ambiguity and subject to illusion, but they are also able to cling forever to the illusions that make such rejection possible in the first place.

But why suppose it even possible that a free creature should freely reject forever the redemptive will of a perfectly loving and infinitely resourceful God? In the relevant literature over the past several decades, advocates of a free—will theodicy of hell have offered at least three quite different answers to this question:. Each of these answers illustrates in its own way how an argument for some controversial philosophical or theological thesis can often include a premise that is no less controversial, or sometimes even more controversial, than the thesis its proponents aim to support.

More than articles give you:. A comprehensive overview of church history and its key turning ponts from Acts 2 to todayA sense for how the church and its teachings have developed over the centuriesFascinating biographies and details about the men and women, move-ments, and ministries that have influenced the chirch and the world around it.

The Popular Encyclopedia of Church History The People, Places, and Events That Shaped Christianity

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