Is Everyone Going to Be Saved in the End?

By Mark A. Kellner
Posted September 23, 2019

Writing in The Christian Century magazine, David Bentley Hart—a prominent theologian and Templeton Fellow at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana—has suggested that at the end of time, God is going to save everyone, regardless of their beliefs about Jesus or whether they have repented of their sins in this life.

Hart says that while Jesus did speak of a final punishment for the wicked, “there are a remarkable number of passages in the New Testament, several of them from Paul’s writings, that appear instead to promise a final salvation of all persons and all things, and in the most unqualified terms.”

A member of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Hart also believes references to everlasting torment and punishment are best understood as allegories—metaphors for concepts God and Jesus were trying to convey to a first-century congregation largely comprised of non-scholars. He writes, “There is a general sense among most Christians that the notion of an eternal hell is explicitly and unremittingly advanced in the New Testament; yet, when we go looking for it in the actual pages of the text, it proves remarkably elusive.”

Hart also maintains that instead of providing readers with an unambiguous warning about the destiny of the unrepentant, “the New Testament provides us with a number of fragmentary and fantastic images that can be taken in any number of ways, arranged according to our prejudices and expectations, and declared literal or figural or hyperbolic as our desires dictate.”

While acknowledging that “Jesus speaks of a final judgment,” Hart insists that the wording of Jesus’ statements include “metaphors of destruction, like the annihilation of chaff or brambles in ovens, or the final death of body and soul in the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna). Others are metaphors of exclusion, like the sealed doors of wedding feasts.”

Hart also comes out unequivocally against never-ending punishment: “Nowhere is there any description of a kingdom of perpetual cruelty presided over by Satan,” he writes.

Having published his own translation of the New Testament into English, Hart cites a number of Scriptures that he claims support the notion of a “universal reconciliation”—also known as Universalism—between God and sinners at the end of time, such as 1 John 2:2: “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”

Hart’s reasoning is that if Jesus “is the propitiation … also for the whole world,” then that “whole world” will eventually be saved.

“Reimagining” Revelation

For those who say such a conclusion would have to ignore the book of Revelation, Hart says it’s not a question of ignoring, but rather reimagining, what the Bible’s last book means. He claims that the final judgment described by the apostle John “will nevertheless be succeeded by a new age in which the gates of the restored Jerusalem will be thrown open and precisely those who have been left outside the walls and putatively excluded forever from the Kingdom will be invited to wash their garments, enter the city, and drink from the waters of life.”

Call it the ultimate “get out of jail free” card, if you will.

It’s beyond our scope here to answer every point Hart makes in his 3,000-word essay, which is adapted from his recent book, That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation. The publisher describes the book as “a stunning reexamination of one of the essential tenets of Christian belief from one of the most provocative and admired writers on religion today.”

It’s interesting that Hart’s understanding of punishment not being eternal is in line with what many Christians have come to understand. However, Hart diverges from those other Christians when he says the punishment isn’t really punishment since the “reprobate” class will ultimately attain heaven.

The Accepted Time

What does the Bible really say?

The apostle Paul, writing to the believers at Corinth, is specific: “[N]ow is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). If there’s an “accepted time” in which one can be saved, then presumably there’s a time after which salvation is no longer possible.

For instance, the living are implored by God to do what they can while alive: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). The opportunity to be saved happens during one’s lifetime.

Why? As the Bible says, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). It appears that Hart is mistaken in believing that the verdict of this judgment is something other than everlasting punishment—in the sense that the sentence, once carried out, is irreversible.

Of course, we certainly agree that no one will burn in hell forever, but Hart’s views could potentially add confusion to those who are already unsure about what happens after we die. That’s why we invite you to visit our website helltruth.com, which offers straight-forward, easy-to-understand articles, videos, and Bible lessons that will help you better understand God’s plans for the saved and the unsaved.

Pastor Doug Batchelor’s “The Good News About Hell” is also an excellent resource that will answer the concerns you might have about this topic. You can also check out Joe Crews’ Can a Saved Man Choose to Be Lost? to answer the question whether we’re all shackled to eternal life with God, whether we want to be or not.

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