Jason Goroncy on Hell in 19th c. British Evangelicalism
Jason Goroncy, Hallowed Be Thy Name (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013), 180–81. As usual, bold is mine.
Certainly from about 1800, debates concerning the final fate of the impenitent were hotly contested (and not only by Unitarians who took a particular interest in such) and question of an apokatastasis, annihilationism and the possibility of post-mortem probation were all posed as theologically viable options for Christians. Along with reworked doctrines of election, justification and atonement, there were, also, no shortage of theories of punishment that flirted with deterrence, prevention and purgatorial rehabilitation schemes. Part of the fall-out of such debates was a substantial abandonment of the traditional doctrine of eternal punishment. Nevertheless, hell remained – at least officially[*] – a component of Christian dogma, predominantly serving as a moral sanction and witnessing to the abiding magnitude of ultimate ethical axioms. . . . There was . . . a growing sense even among evangelicals that the doctrine of everlasting punishment be not given undue weight. Generally, evangelicals continued to endorse the reality of hell, but even one as conservative as C. H. Spurgeon was able to quote approvingly Henry Ward Beecher that the future of the impenitent was God’s business and not ours. Evangelicals, by and large, no longer dwelt on hell’s prospects, or to its attendant details, and certainly did not relish them. Increasingly, there prevailed an italicizing of God’s love and a hope that ‘there may be some transcendent manifestation of the Divine grace in reserve, of which as yet we have no hint’.*Ed. note: Who determines this?