Karl Barth on Hell

“Should the teaching about hell be a part of the proclamation of the gospel? No, no, no! The proclamation of the gospel means, rather, the proclamation that Christ has defeated hell, that Christ suffered hell in our place, and that it has allowed for us to live with Christ and so to have hell behind us”

– Karl Barth (Gesamtausgabe, 25:111)

From here:

Barth has also been criticized for his alleged belief in universalism, however, Barth himself noted that insistence on necessary universal salvation impinged on God’s freedom and suggested it was beyond the church’s duty to speculate on the subject (Church Dogmatics 2.2, 417). “For Barth, the grace of God is characterised by freedom. On the one hand, this means that we can never impose limits on the scope of grace; and on the other hand, it means that we can never impose a universalist ‘system’ on grace. In either case, we would be compromising the freedom of grace – we would be presuming that we can define the exact scope of God’s liberality. So Barth’s theology of grace includes a dialectical protest: Barth protests both against a system of universalism and against a denial of universalism! The crucial point is that God’s grace is free grace: it is nothing other than God himself acting in freedom. And if God acts in freedom, then we can neither deny nor affirm the possibility of universal salvation.”

Barth says that,

“The proclamation of the Church must make allowance for this freedom of grace. Apokatastasis Panton? No, for a grace which automatically would ultimately have to embrace each and every one would certainly not be free grace. It surely would not be God’s grace. But would it be God’s free grace if we could absolutely deny that it could do that? Has Christ been sacrificed only for our sins? Has he not … been sacrificed for the whole world? … the freedom of grace is preserved on both these sides.”

For Barth, then, we can neither affirm nor deny the possibility that all will be saved. So what can we do? Barth’s answer is clear: we can hope (see CD IV/3, pp. 477-78).

“Peculiar Christendom, whose most pressing problem seems to consist in this, that God’s grace in this direction should be too free, that hell, instead of being amply populated, might one day perhaps be found empty.” (Short 149)

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