- The Annihilation of Hell: Universal Salvation and the Redemption of Time in the Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann by Nicholas John Ansell
In The Annihilation of Hell, Nicholas Ansell admirably weaves together almost fifty years of Jürgen Moltmann’s complex and evolving eschatological reflections to create a clear, comprehensive statement of his understanding of universal salvation. Sharing Moltmann’s perspective from within the Reformed theological tradition, as well as his sympathies regarding a “dogmatic” (as opposed to “hopeful”) belief in universalism, Ansell’s chief aim is to determine whether or not Moltmann’s understanding can achieve a “covenantal” universalism that is able to enter into meaningful dialogue with mainstream Protestantism (13). Ansell answers in a qualified affirmative, and, in developing such a response, analyzes in great detail the philosophical and theological framework within which Moltmann’s universalism operates. He then proceeds to offer his own critique of Moltmann’s thought, pointing out instances where Moltmann’s view remains either problematic or underdeveloped, as well as offering some of his own ideas to supplement Moltmann’s thoughts or to serve as an alternative.
While the whole of Ansell’s exposition of Moltmann’s thought is undoubtedly illuminating, of particular interest are the sections where he allows himself to critically engage Moltmann’s eschatology and offer his own contributions in advancing a project toward which both he and Moltmann share strong sympathies. In so doing, Ansell brings a very diverse set of philosophical, theological, and biblical voices into conversation, and allows them to interact with both Moltmann’s thought as well as his own; it is in his moderating these “conversations” that Ansell shows his clear command of the material.
Within his analysis, of particular interest is Ansell’s identification of Moltmann’s understanding of creation (and its potentially coercive effects upon the process of salvation) as the principal weakness of his own universalism, and Ansell’s own consequent insistence upon the need to maintain creational grace in order for any understanding of universalism to be considered “covenantal.” As Ansell states, “In covenant with God, our work does not supplement God’s work but is God’s work while remaining thoroughly our own” (382). Yet this is undermined by Moltmann’s “inability to affirm, unambiguously, that creation’s present alienation from God lies in the cosmic impact of human sin and not in its ontological or temporal finitude” (307). Moltmann insists upon a primordial Godforsakenness of time, which ends up conflating creation and the fall, and results in an understanding of humanity as essentially created with a freedom “for movement against God in history” that must wait to be transformed by the redeeming grace of the eschaton in order for God to be “all in all.” In response, Ansell understands humanity to be created with the freedom “for movement with God in history,” in which the grace of salvation simply allows each of us to become who we were actually called to be.
This, it seems, effectively corrects the more coercive consequences of Moltmann’s eschatology, thereby responding to the common criticism that universalism overrides human freedom, and in this way provides a strong argument in support of Ansell’s claim that, with some modification, Moltmann’s universalism should indeed be considered as covenantal. Ansell supplements these conclusions by responding to the claim that universalism is not biblical. He includes an intriguing exegesis of Jesus’s understanding and use of the word gehenna in the gospels, and how that word has been misinterpreted to understand an eternal supernatural state, instead of a more immediate prophetic warning of the destruction of Jerusalem (322–325). While fascinating, this brief study invites further investigation to fully coax out its fruits. [End Page 163]
The subtitle of this book refers the concept of universal salvation to the redemption of time. On this, both Moltmann and Ansell agree; yet while Moltmann understands redemption to be a reversal, Ansell persuasively understands it...