Editor’s Note: There is an absolute narrative often forced upon Evangelical Christians today – one that says eternal torment is the only possible afterlife for any who fail to believe in Jesus as God. This narrative is usually presented with the assumption that it has always been the sole belief of the church throughout history and that any deviations from this view are simply modern, liberal perversions of historic truth.
While we have already taken a thorough look at hell in the Bible, there is a lot more to this story, and that’s why today, we’re republishing a thorough discussion from Brad Jersak on the topic of hopeful inclusivism. Brad has a unique aptitude for making advanced scholarship accessible to the average reader, and he brings a refreshing honesty to theological discussion, happily presenting both the strengths and weaknesses in his arguments while simultaneously acknowledging viable alternatives. These exceptional qualities make him uniquely suited for a discussion of the afterlife as it relates to scripture, doctrine, and orthodoxy, and he has graciously allowed us to share his work with you today.
“That is all I ask of Orthodoxy—to permit me to hope.” — Fr. Aiden Kimel
After a decade of catechesis and struggle under the guidance of my spiritual father, Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, and godfather, David Goa, I was chrismated into the Orthodox Church in 2013. To some, the tutelage of these sages already disqualifies me, the rhetoric of unity of the Church notwithstanding. But I knew this. I proceeded with eyes wide open into the Orthodox Church despite her conflicts and dysfunctions. I proceeded because I felt drawn from my Evangelical foxhole into the harbor of Christian Orthodoxy, where I was exposed to a more Christlike God.
A key factor in the move was the assurance of some key Scriptures, catechisms and liturgies, along with a number of significant Orthodox saints, hierarchs and theologians, that Orthodoxy permits me to hope—that I could believe and teach my basic conviction (published in Her Gates Will Never Be Shut) of a humble eschatological hope, the possibility in principle of universal salvation—without being branded a heretic.
Not that I make the bold claims of St Gregory of Nyssa or St Isaac of Syria (their revised apokatastasis have never been anathematized). Nor do I insist on teaching the daring universalism of Fr. Sergius Bulgakov or David Bentley Hart as doctrine (although their arguments seem airtight).
My own project is far more modest. I ask and now assert that Christian Orthodoxy permits me to hope—permits a position elsewhere called “hopeful inclusivism.” Hopeful inclusivism says that we cannot presume that all will be saved or that even one will be damned. Rather, we put our hope in the final victory and verdict of Jesus Christ, whose mercy endures forever and whose lovingkindness is everlasting.