Every now and then someone writes a book that sets the record straight, and the world is never the same again. They communicate a powerful truth like no one else can (or at least has up until that point). David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved is such a book.
Hart is very clever; he’s weeding out the disingenuous early in the book. He’s doing a similar thing to what Jesus did when he spoke in parables. The fool won’t get far because the fool is not interested in trying to understand anyone they disagree with. Hart will influence the wise. And I think that will make all the difference.1 (To some Christians, Hart comes across as arrogant. He does so because he mocks the doctrine of eternal torment. But if it is a false doctrine, doesn't it deserve to be mocked?)
I honestly believe that God will use this book (and four other books that Hart has spoken approvingly of—Thomas Talbott's2 The Inescapable Love of God, Once Loved Always Loved by Andrew Hronich, Grace Saves All: The Necessity of Christian Universalism by David Artman, and Destined for Joy by Alvin F. Kimel3) to reform the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Churches, and cause many who do not know God to begin to seek him.
Out of all the books that have been written over the last 100 years, That All Shall Be Saved will prove to be one of the most important. (And I'm talking about all fields, including economics, philosophy and science; meaning it will have a bigger impact on the world for good than almost any other recent book.)
The following interview is about why Augustine's view of God came to dominate western theology.
And here is an interview about Hart's translation of the New Testament.
Note: Hart has also written a very insightful book about how the new atheists are nowhere near as honest and fair as the old atheists. See here.
“Jesus buying and selling!” said Wingfold to himself. “And why not? Did Jesus make chairs and tables, or boats perhaps, which the people of Nazareth wanted, without any admixture of trade in the matter? Was there no transaction? No passing of money between hands? Did they not pay his father for them? Was his Father’s way of keeping things going in the world, too vile for the hands of him whose being was delight in the will of that Father? No; there must be a way of handling money that is noble...” (Taken from Thomas Wingfold, Curate by George MacDonald, 1824-1905)
Clearly Hart believes that a Christian businessman or woman ought to look after their customers, and yet charge enough to pay workers a fair wage, while being able to feed, clothe, and shelter their own family. This is not an easy thing to do. But it is a noble way of handling money. (We must not be quick to judge a seller of goods. The price of a product might not be too much for a business to charge, but it may be more than I'm willing to pay.)
Hart makes some very good observations about our consumerist culture, a culture in which many Christians have been taken captive. (Though he's a little naive about other cultures. He would do well to read Mark Durie's book, The Third Choice.)
“But for money and the need of it, there would not be half the friendship in the world. It is powerful for good when divinely used.” (Taken from the following sermon in George MacDonald’s book Thomas Wingfold, Curate. 'Ye can not serve God and mammon .' )
But since a lot of businesses do not even attempt to do the right thing, we need to ask the following question, “Should individual businessmen and women have the right to decide how much they will sell their products for, or how much they will pay their workers in the first place?”
Perhaps the government should determine how all wealth should be distributed. (The government has a very important role to play in society. For example, we have to have workplace health and safety laws because we know that without them, workers would be placed in unnecessary danger far more often.)
And didn’t the early Church distribute wealth?
It is true that the early Christians shared everything in common, but their giving was completely voluntary (see 2 Cor 9:7). If a person didn’t like it they could leave. (Which was easy to do, because the Christian community resided within the larger community. It's also important to note that the Church enforced no punishments apart from excommunication. An excommunicated person was free to work wherever they could gain employment, or if they were able they could start their own business. For more on excommunication see here.)
All Christians shared their possessions with those in need. The wealthy among them opened up their homes to be used as large house churches and sold possessions to help the poor. There is no record of the poor selling their possessions (as few as they were), to be distributed by the Church.
There was no central body in the Church which determined how much each person should work or how much they should give. Though believers lived together and shared things in common, they still worked for others and in some cases ran their own businesses. (See Acts 18:1-4. There is no record of anything being produced by the body of believers. And therefore there was no central body that determined how much of any given item the community or individuals should produce, or how much any item would be sold for.) And even though Christians were not told how much each individual should work, they were told by Paul that if anyone did not work (when they were capable of doing so), that they should not eat (see 2 Thess 3:6-10).
Paul also placed the care of the poor on individuals before placing it on the community of believers. He told Christians that they should take care of their own family members when able to do so instead of burdening the Church with their care. (See 1 Tim 5:3-15. Throughout the New Testament, the responsibility of taking care of the poor is placed on individuals before being placed on the community of believers.)
"Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." - 1 Tim 5:8
Not only does the New Testament place the responsibility of taking care of the poor on the individual before placing it on the community of believers, it never places that responsibility on the government before placing it on the Church. (However, the State does have a role to play in helping the poor. See Was Jesus a Socialist? with Robert George and Ron Sider.)
That All Shall Be Saved has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that some very intelligent people can convince themselves that they believe some very foolish things; I’ve praised Hart’s book, and I think he has some very interesting insights, even though I think Hart himself believes some very foolish things and falls into the trap of readily giving his opinion on things he knows little about. (This is a common problem amongst intellectuals. See here). He seems to have gained all his ideas about economics from philosophers and theologians. I doubt that he has read many (if any) books on economics by professors of economics. (Theology is Hart’s area of expertise; economics is not. Thank God he mentions nothing about politics in That All Shall Be Saved. In his quest for cosmic justice, Hart sometimes advocates for policies that result in injustice and poverty and incredible waste (see here). All political systems reward some people financially and punish others—including communism. (See here. To see what you have to do to be financially rewarded in a communist state read chapter 8 of Capitalism by George Reisman. For some of the problems associated with a centrally controlled economy see "Part 1: Prices and Markets" in Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell. For the argument why an economy which is not designed is more efficient and beneficial to the poor (though more complex) than an economy which is designed and centrally controlled see The Fatal Conceit by F. A. Hayek. We must be careful in our quest for justice that we do not promote policies that are unjust. See The Quest for Cosmic Justice.) As brilliant as Hart is he knows little about the best way for the government to help the poor. The kind of policies he is advocating lead to corruption and cause countries to go bankrupt, then there are more poor and they suffer far worse. (A Venezuelan expatriate identifies the policies that destroyed Venezuela. At the very least, if a government implements the kind of policies Hart is suggesting, their economy will be hampered. The more the economy is hampered, the lower the wages and the greater the unemployment. He is right to oppose crony capitalism, but crony capitalism and capitalism are not the same thing, see here.) Yes, consumerism will always be associated with capitalism; but none of the alternatives to capitalism provide individuals, and society as a whole, with the same level of freedom and prosperity. (Communism is the most obvious example of an economic system which leads to cruelty and oppression. The horrors of the Gulag Archipelago were the natural consequence of such a system. Anyone who doubts this ought to read The Government Against the Economy by George Reisman.3 In this book he explains why government price controls completely destroy economies. The more price controls a government has, the more rapid the destruction (see here). If you read the preface to Reisman’s book Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics, you’ll quickly gather that Reisman was a child prodigy. So like Hart, he is a very intelligent man. But he has this advantage over Hart; he is emeritus professor of economics who has been reading books on economics since he was a child. If you’ve never read a book on economics, and do not have the time to go into such depth, I highly recommend "Part 1: Prices and Markets" in Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell and an article by Reisman (which is mostly an extract from chapter 8 of Capitalism. See here.)4 It's good that Hart wants to help the poor, but he needs to take a closer look at what is causing the poverty in the first place. (And he should accept that liberals and conservatives care about the poor. They just disagree about the best way to help the poor. See here.)
If we understand why the poor are poor, we will be in a much better position to help them. The following helps explain much of the inequality we see in the world. Race, Culture, and Equality. (For a more in-depth look at the disparities between the wealth of nations, and why this is so, see Wealth, Poverty and Politics by Thomas Sowell.) One thing we can do to help the poorer nations of the world is to stop taking their most talented people. Those countries need their doctors, engineers etc far more than we do (see here).
1. Os Guinness gave some very good advise on how to deal with with ideas and beliefs you think are false.
'"See where it leads to," St. Augustine advised in dealing with falsehood. Follow it out to "the absolute ruddy end," C.S. Lewis remarked with characteristic Englishness. Push them to "the logic of their presuppositions," Francis Schaeffer used to say' (Os Guinness, 2000, Time for Truth ).
One of the reasons some Christians will not give Hart a fair hearing is because they think that if Hell is not eternal, few will preach the gospel. But the Bible is clear; people are only saved through the Gospel (Jesus is the Gospel). Those who believe that some will be saved from going to Hell, and also believe that others will be saved out of Hell, tell people about Jesus because they know they cannot be saved without hearing the good news.
2. Hart speaks very approvingly of Talbott in the following video The Influence of Thomas Talbott and recommends his book three times in one of his interviews with David Artman in The Grace Saves All podcast. (See Ep. 113 David Bentley Hart responds to Alan W. Gomes critique of That All Shall Be Saved )
3. John Behr had this to say about Kimel's book
An extensive and considered collection of essays, written and reworked over many years, on the topic of universal salvation, touching upon all aspects from the proclamation of the gospel to the historical controversies it provoked (and provokes) as well as the pastoral compassion it entails. This is an excellent entry point into the ancient topic of 'apokatastais' and the claim that God will be 'all in all'.
—Fr. John Behr, Regius Professor of Humanity, University of Aberdeen, and author of books including John the Theologian and his Paschal Gospel, The Way to Nicaea and The Mystery of Christ
4.“Every commentator on current affairs who is not a fully trained economist ought to read this book if he wants to talk sense. I know no other place where the crucial issues are explained as clearly and convincingly as in this book.” - F. A. Hayek, Nobel Laureate, in Economics for 1975
5. I read it in less than an hour.