“If God wills that all should be saved, does that mean that all will be saved? We cannot say that. We know that God has given men freedom to choose good or evil. We cannot say that it is impossible that men should finally choose evil. Christ has given us many terrible parables in which we have a picture of men finally cast out of the light and love of home into the outer darkness. He has also used the name Gehenna to describe this final destruction. Gehenna was the name of the valley where the rubbish and filth of Jerusalem was deposited. It was a place where there were always fires burning. It was a symbol to Him of the possibility of men becoming finally useless and fit only for burning. We cannot exclude this possibility from our minds, if we wish to remain true to Jesus mind…Jesus does not answer our theoretical questions about Hell. But He bids us recognize that the door into life is narrow, and that it is possible, and indeed terribly easy to miss it. In the end this is certain: that what opposes the love of God must be done away with….But at the end we cannot deny the possibility that men – even the majority of men – may be left outside. If they are left outside, it will be because – like the elder brother in the parable – they are not willing to share the Father’s fellowship on His terms. His invitation is to everyone. ‘He that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.’ But when we begin to speculate about the question of eternal loss we are quickly in regions where we do not know the answer. We can only give heed to the words of our Lord: ‘Strive to enter in by the narrow door’.” – Lesslie Newbigin, Sin and Salvation, pg. 119-120.
Love Wins…but for Newbigin what chastens the dispositional character of his theology when it comes to answering questions about hell is the reality that we cannot start with secular axiologies and then move on to define for the Divine what “love” is. God’s character in the biblical narrative lays the boundaries for that, especially as that character was demonstrated in the death and resurrection of the beloved Son. What that means is that even if the boundaries of God’s love are at times deeply troubling or appear terribly antiquated (or worst), those are nevertheless the boundaries we have to work with if we are going to be true to the biblical story.
Newbigin’s theology had a humble epistemology beneath it, which itself was built upon a deep understanding that God is not like us and as Newbigin said above we cannot exclude possibilities from our minds that God Himself has not allowed us to exclude in the biblical narrative. And yet somehow in having such a firm position he still was able to speak and think with great humility and openness to mystery regarding what the end will actually look like. Unlike some popular authors/pastors and their critics today (see Boyett’s collection of quotes), Newbigin in his day was able to marry theological clarity with epistemological humility for the sake of catholicity because for Newbigin a divided Church or a Church that had discarded the biblical narrative was in the end a defeated missionary. (Some writers thankfully are still modeling this.)
The way to eternal life was for Newbigin and Jesus narrow, so let humanity enter it through Christ, and as humanity enters it let those who are following Jesus along that narrow way pour out their lives so that the world may enter it as well.
“In the end this is certain: that what opposes the love of God must be done away with…“