Jason Goroncy on Hell in 19th c. British Evangelicalism

Lately I’ve been reading fellow theo-blogger Jason Goroncy’s book Hallowed Be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All in the Soteriology of P. T. Forsyth. A proper review will be published in due course, but in the meantime, I thought that I would let you all in on an interesting paragraph that I found. This paragraph deals with the state of British evangelicalism in the 19th century vis-à-vis the related questions of hell, annihilation, and universalism. I find this passage particularly fascinating because the pendulum seems to have swung soundly in the opposite direction in contemporary North American evangelicalism. It was less than a decade ago, for instance, that one evangelical denomination replaced vague language about “eternal judgment” with the much more concrete phrase “eternal conscious torment.” So what Goroncy has to tell us here may lend some much needed perspective.

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?



Anonymous said…
"*Ed. note: Who determines this?"

Great question. Churches, creeds, confessions? Those things aren't in the wheelhouse of evangelicals, typically.

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