Coppo di Marcovaldo, Hell (ca 1225 - 1274, Mosaic, Baptistry, Florence)
Folks, here’s a sneak preview of some work I did for the forthcoming Christian History magazine Handbook to Christian Thought on Hell. It’s not edited yet, but the guide, which will survey Christian thought on hell from the earliest church to the 21st century, will include something like what follows. If you are interested in getting the entire guide, which will be in a half-size (roughly 5 x 8.5) magazine format complete with timeline and illustrations, go to www.christianhistorymagazine.org and get on the mailing list.
The Middle Ages
The medieval period (roughly 500 – 1500 AD) saw a shift in emphasis from the early church’s focus on the biblical “Last Things”—the Second Coming of Christ, general resurrection, and final judgment—to a new concentration on the afterlives of individuals. Until the 400s AD and even beyond (as in the thought of Gregory the Great (540 – 604)), the “Parousia” (second coming and all its associated events) was still expected imminently, and so those who died in the intervening generations could be thought of as simply sleeping or awaiting the resurrection. There simply wasn’t much written during this early period about the immediate fate of those who died before Jesus returned.
However as the Second Coming came to seem, potentially, more remote, the question of the reward of the saved and the punishment of the damned heated up, and the doctrine of the immediate judgment of each soul at death came into more prominence. The Book of Revelation in particular, which tremendously influenced medieval culture, began to be pressed into service to imagine the shape of people’s fate after death. As we will see, this emphasis on the afterlife and its support from the Book of Revelation resulted in a lavishly visual and grotesque new genre of imaginative literature: the vision of the otherworldly journey, of which Dante’s Divine Comedy was the pinnacle. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Patron Saints for Postmoderns
Tagged Bede, Book of Revelation, Christian History magazine, Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy, hell, Middle Ages, Rob Bell, Second Coming of Christ, Thomas Aquinas
Nice of Bethel University to recognize the re-starting of Christian History magazine. Yesterday Bethel posted the following on their internal website. Note the upcoming handbook (July) and issue (September) listed at the end of the article. The CH team is excited to be bringing them to readers; if you’re not on the mailing list, visit www.christianhistorymagazine.org and you can get on.
I’m especially excited about the little “Christian History Handbook of Christian Thought on Hell” that the intrepid Jennifer Trafton is putting together right now for printing next month. It will include a full timeline of Christian interpretations of the scriptural evidence on hell, profiles of key thinkers and their ideas, and a bibliography for further reading. (And I get to do the medieval profiles on folks like Anselm, Aquinas, and Dante.)
I hope many in the church who have been prompted by “the Rob Bell controversy” to look more deeply into this doctrine will find in this handbook a helpful guide to key ideas and sources. In keeping with Christian History‘s usual style, the handbook is intentionally descriptive rather than evaluative or argumentative (a rarity in this field), so, we hope, a particularly helpful resource for those looking for unbiased information on a controversial topic.
[UPDATE: Looks like the following is also on Bethel’s public website, here.]
Reviving Christian History
June 10, 2011 | 9 a.m.
By Heather Schnese
Chris Armstrong, professor of church history at Bethel Seminary
St. Paul, is managing editor of “Christian History” magazine
The magazine Christian History, formerly owned by Christianity Today International, ceased publication in 2008 due to recessionary pressures. But Christian History is now being published again thanks in part to Chris Armstrong, Bethel Seminary St. Paul’s professor of church history. Continue reading
Hortus Deliciarum - Hell (Hölle) Artist: Herrad von Landsberg (c. 1180)
Christian History magazine is now considering putting together a sort of handbook, resource guide, or annotated bibliography on the history of Christian thought about hell. This should aid the research of folks whose interest in the topic has been stirred by Rob Bell‘s Love Wins, which has the Christian blogosphere buzzing and as of this writing sits as www.amazon.com’s #16 book.
So next to my desk is an ample box of books on hell, and many more will arrive soon through interlibrary loan–because when I started searching the online catalogues of Twin Cities’ consortium of theological schools, I discovered an interesting thing: most local library copies of most books on this topic are now marked as “out.” This is no coincidence. It’s amazing how much influence a single book (e.g. Bell’s) can have in stirring up conversation and research on a single topic!
So for now, this post comes in the form of a request: Oh erudite reader, what Christian thinkers, movements, books, articles, must we not fail to consult in constructing our proposed “Handbook on the History of Hell in Christian Thought”? I look forward to hearing from many of you.
Yours in the hope of heaven,
Folks, I know this is considerably “late to the party,” but I just discovered my friend Edwin Woodruff Tait’s recent review of Rob Bell‘s controversial Love Wins, and I believe it’s worth pointing you all to. This is in part because the kerfuffle over Bell’s book has not yet entirely died down, as thoughtful evangelicals (and many polemicists) are still discussing (hurling vitriol at) the book and its author. [For an excellent historical “backgrounder” on the issues raised by Bell in his book, see the article by Christianity Today managing editor Mark Galli here.]
First, the review link, so you can look at it yourself, and then a few clips.
The review may be read here. (And may I add: Edwin, I’m proud to know you!)
Now a few clips (of course, several links of several logical chains are missing in what follows–if you are interested in the whole argument, you should go to the link above):
As I understand this broader argument, it works something like this:
1. Salvation is God’s redeeming and transforming work in the world, overcoming our sinfulness and restoring us to a right relationship with God, one another, and creation.
This seems like it shouldn’t be controversial to me, but certainly many evangelicals speak as if
salvation was simply about having our sins forgiven and going to heaven. Continue reading
"Souls chained and tormented in hell," from Kalender of Shepherdes: a 15th-c. miscellany of religious, farming, astrological and medicine texts and illustrations
Well done, Mr. Galli! Mark Galli is the former editor of Christian History magazine and current (and long-time) managing editor of Christianity Today. He ministers in an evangelical Anglican church in the Chicagoland area. And he has just provided us with what I think is a helpful and charitable reflection on the significant minority position, among Bible-believing, gospel-teaching Protestants.
The position? That the traditional Christian doctrine of “conscious, eternal punishment” for the damned is out of kilter and should not be held as orthodoxy. Here’s a bit of Galli’s reflection, which was spurred by a recent book by the celebrated (and vilified) American pastor Rob Bell, and can be found in its entirety here: Continue reading