Book Review: The Annihilation of Hell

PrintTitle: The Annihilation of Hell: Universal Salvation and the Redemption of Time in the Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann

Author: Nicholas Ansell

Bibliographic info: 484 pp.

Publisher: Wipf and Stock, 2013.

Buy the book at Amazon or from the publisher

With thanks to Wipf and Stock for the review copy!

This study by Nicholas Ansell, a revised version of his doctoral disseration completed in 2005 at Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. Over the past several years now, I have read through a lot of Moltmann’s writings and literature written on Moltmann’s though, and this  is undoubtedly one of the most valuable pieces of work I’ve read on Moltmann. This is a fantastic theological read for anyone interested in the questions of hell, death, the final judgment, and universalism.

In a nutshell, this study explores the theme of universal salvation in Moltmann’s eschatology, placed within the overall structure of Moltmann’s theological project. After a thoughtful foreword by Jürgen Moltmann, Ansell begins with a chapter that discusses the annihilationist alternative to hell, with special reference to The Mystery of Salvation (a report of the Church of England’s doctrine commission of 1995). The second and third chapters discuss Moltmann’s philosophy of time, such as his concept of the future as futurum and as adventus (i.e. phenomenal, historical becoming and transcendental, eschatological coming). Ansell also spends some time in this chapter responding to some common objections to universal salvation in Moltmann. The fourth chapter tackles the relationship in Moltmann’s thought between nature, grace, glory, specifically in regard to the Arminian and Calvinist understandings of salvation. The fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters each place Moltmann in dialogue with various other thinkers, such as Hendrik Hart, Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, N.T. Wright, and Miroslav Volf. This is followed by a concluding chapter in which Ansell seeks to answer some possible objections to universal salvation in Moltmann, particularly the question of: “can Moltmann’s theology help us envision a truly ‘covenantal’ universalism?” (I won’t spoil the fun by telling you the author’s results… you’ll just have to go read the book!) And, finally, there is an interesting appendix (on exegetical issues in Revelation), a bibliography, and an author index.

One of the things I appreciated about this study (apart from the fact the author did a nice job elucidating some of Moltmann’s puzzling statements on time, the eschaton, etc), is that even though the focus of this study is on Moltmann, there are other theological partners that Ansell engages, including Ernst Bloch, James Olthuis, Walter Benjamin, and the others listed in the previous paragraph. Heck, there is even a chapter devoted to reading Moltmann in light of the debate between Barth and Brunner on the nature of grace. Some of the thinkers Ansell brings into dialogue with Moltmann are ones I myself would not have thought of, such as the neo-Calvinist philosopher Hendrik Hart, whose philosophy of time Ansell compares with Moltmann’s.

Another feature of this study I particularly enjoyed was the copious amounts of footnotes and the wealth of valuable material to be found in them. Truly, the footnotes are impressive and show the depth the author achieved in this study.

A Christian theology book which looks at hell and universal salvation is naturally going to put off a lot of people from ever considering reading it. But if the topic of universal salvation is not something that would dissuade you, then I would heartily recommend this book for anyone interested in Moltmann, Christian universalism, or just for anyone who desires to read a study that weaves together historical theology, neo-orthodoxy, postmodern theology, biblical studies, philosophy, and more.

This study is a valuable theological resource and it will make me keep an eye out for anything the author produces in the future. Highly recommended!

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