Presumptions and Possibilities―Her Gates Will Never Be Shut―Part 2

My last post began a series of posts on Brad Jersak’s book, Her Gates Will Never Be Shut (HGWNBS). Brad starts the first chapter looking at how globally, in both religion and culture, images of “fire and brimstone, dungeons and torture, demons and judgment”1 are deeply embedded. It’s no surprise that non-believers often think all religions are bound up with fear and violence.

Brad describes being fearful of the fate of his dear unchurched relatives as he was growing up in an evangelical church. But as he knew of no alternative to the eternal conscious torment doctrine, he did his best to try to accept it and teach it to others.

However, thankfully when he was 25 he read Evangelical Essentials: A Liberal Evangelical Dialogue by David Edwards and John Stott. He trusted Stott more than anyone else at the time, and so this meant Annihilationism became a valid, biblical alternative. This lead to the him to discover that, throughout Church history, there has been more than one legitimate eschatology (view of the end times/age to come). He broadly categorises the views as Infernalism2, Annihilationism3, or Universalism4. In HGWNBS he gives examples of passages typically cited to support each interpretation. He then rightly says,

All of these points reflect theological concerns for representing God’s character aright, pastoral concerns for guarding God’s flock in the truth, evangelistic concerns for presenting the Gospel with integrity, and biblical concerns for faithfulness to Christian Scripture. So how is it that we’ve come to such differing positions?
Her Gates Will Never Be Shut page 5

In answer to this he suggests how we arrive at our view of hell often depends on:

  1. Our view of God
  2. Our view of Atonement
  3. Our approach to Scripture
  4. Our personal need (biases)

He unpacks each of these before proposing that, by design, Scripture is polyphonic (has multiple voices) so that none of us can be dogmatic. Instead there are “magnificent tensions”5. For example, the Bible affirms that God allows humans to make choices, even those with severe consequences. But that this seems to be in tension with the Bible’s teaching that God is free to relent, forgive and restore whomever He likes.

My argument for hope over presumption is just this: the Bible doesn’t allow us to settle easily on any of these as “isms”.
Her Gates Will Never Be Shut page 7

So where does that leave us? Setting aside preconceptions as best we can, what does the Bible actually teach us about judgment and hell when we read it carefully and take it seriously? Not “what do I imagine about hell?” or “what do I wish about hell if it were up to me?” … Is there a way to approach the subject of hell that doesn’t presume or negate any of these positions, one that accepts the reality of judgment but hopes that somehow everyone might one day be reconciled to God?
Her Gates Will Never Be Shut page 8

I agree, I think it’s important to keep the Bible central.

Rather than painting themselves into universalist or infernalist [or annihilationist] corners, a great many of the Church Fathers and early Christians found refuge in the humility of hope. They maintained the possibility (not the presumption) of some version of judgment and hell and the twin possibility (not presumption) that at the end of the day, no one need suffer it forever… that Jesus’ plan to save the whole world might actually work.
Her Gates Will Never Be Shut page 8

Likewise, I think it’s important to consider what Christians before us have thought and taught, particularly those who were natively fluent in the Bible’s original languages, something that no one is any more.

In short, I do not intend to convince readers of a particular theology of divine judgment. I hope, rather, to recall those relevant bits of Scripture, history, and tradition that ought to inform whatever view we take on this important topic. That said, the data summarized herein did lead me to four conclusions, which you may or may not share after all is said and done:

1. We cannot presume to know that all will be saved or that any will not be saved.

2. The revelation of God in Christ includes real warnings about the possibility of damnation for some and also the real possibility that redemption may extend to all.

3. We not only dare hope and pray that God’s mercy would finally triumph over judgment; the love of God obligates us to such hope.

4. Revelation 21-22 provides a test case for a biblical theology of eschatological hope.

Her Gates Will Never Be Shut page 10

  1. I agree we shouldn’t presume but I think we can actually be confident in this sense:

Many Christians think or feel that confident universalism is presumptuous, for we cannot claim to know the end. And while there is a lot that we do not know about the end, we do know this: “Christ is risen!”. And that’s enough, because God has revealed the destiny of humanity right here and for me that’s what it means more than anything to be an Evangelical Universalist. It means to find one’s universalism in the Evangel and to be confident in my universalism I would say is not presumptuous because I’m not claiming anything more than that in Christ humanity rises again and returns to God.
Robin Parry at the Rethinking Hell Conference 2015

  1. I think the revelation of God includes warnings of damnation, just not everlasting damnation because I don’t think God will fail to redeem everyone.
  2. Amen!
  3. I look forward to sharing his excellent analysis of Revelation 21-22 later on in this series.

He concludes the chapter by saying:

To summarize our direction, I quote Hermann-Josef Lauter [Pastoralblatt, p123].

Will it really be all men who allow themselves to be reconciled? No theology or prophecy can answer this question, but love hopes all things (1 Cor 13:7). It cannot do otherwise than to hope for the reconciliation of all men in Christ. Such unlimited hope is, from a Christian standpoint, not just permitted but commanded.

Her Gates Will Never Be Shut page 10


1. Jersak, Bradley. Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hope, Hell, and the New Jerusalem. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009. Page 1.
2. The belief that some/many/most will be eternally consciously tormented, either by their own perpetual self-destruction or by God’s wrath.
3. The belief that some/many/most will cease to exist permanently, either as a result of their own self-destruction or of God’s wrath.
4. The belief that everyone who God has created will be forgiven, reconciled and restored by/to God.
5. Jersak, Bradley. Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hope, Hell, and the New Jerusalem. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009. Page 7.

A Polyphony? Her Gates Will Never Be Shut―Part 1

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 4.00.18 PM
“Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hope, Hell, and the New Jerusalem” by Bradley Jersak

When I pick up a book, I almost immediately turn it over and read the back. In this case the blurb is a good summary and therefore seems like an appropriate place to begin this blog series.

Everlasting hell and divine judgment, a lake of fire and brimstone―these mainstays of evangelical tradition have come under fire once again in recent decades. Would the God of love revealed by Jesus really consign the vast majority of humankind to a destiny of eternal, conscious torment? Is divine mercy bound by the demands of justice? How can anyone presume to know who is saved from the flames and who is not?Blurb on back of Her Gates Will Never Be Shut

I like Brad Jersak’s approach. These are honest questions, which I have certainly contemplated over the years growing up in the evangelical tradition.

Reacting to presumptions in like manner, others write off the fiery images of final judgment altogether. If there is a God who loves us, then surely all are welcome into the heavenly kingdom, regardless of their beliefs or behaviors in this life. Yet, given the sheer volume of threat rhetoric in the Scriptures and the wickedness manifest in human history, the pop-universalism of our day sounds more like denial than hope. Mercy triumphs over judgment; it does not skirt it.Blurb on back of Her Gates Will Never Be Shut

Likewise, I’ve seen many people understandably swing to the opposite extreme of “anything goes”, or sadly even give up on God entirely. I think pluralism is a better way to describe it, although realise that frustratingly many people (thankfully not Brad) consider all universalism to be that.

Her Gates Will Never Be Shut endeavors to reconsider what the Bible and the Church have actually said about hell and hope, noting a breadth of real possibilities that undermines every presumption. The polyphony of perspectives on hell and hope offered by the prophets, apostles, and Jesus humble our obsessive need to harmonize every text into a neat theological system. But they open the door to the eternal hope found in Revelation 21-22: the City whose gates will never be shut; where the Spirit and Bride perpetually invite the thirsty who are outside the city to “Come, drink of the waters of life.”Blurb on back of Her Gates Will Never Be Shut

While Brad isn’t an Evangelical Universalist, I still found what he had to say very helpful. Indeed I find looking at things from different angles usually clarifies my own thoughts. I agree with him that we can easily fall into the trap being over confident and presumptuous, so I appreciated his encouragement to try to be humble. I think that when we look at the Bible, especially in our English translations, we do get the impression that there are multiple views being expressed, a polyphony as he puts it. This does make it harder to settle what we’re meant to believe about the age to come. However, as a potential way forward, he highlights some insightful connections within the Bible, some of which I’d never noticed before. Over the next few blog posts I’m going to try to summarise them for you, hopefully inspiring you to read his more detailed case and to reexamine the Bible for yourself.