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Publisher's Summary

A stunning reexamination of one of the essential tenets of Christian belief from one of the most provocative and admired writers on religion today. 

The great fourth-century church father Basil of Caesarea once observed that, in his time, most Christians believed that hell was not everlasting, and that all would eventually attain salvation. But today, this view is no longer prevalent within Christian communities. 

In this momentous book, David Bentley Hart makes the case that nearly two millennia of dogmatic tradition have misled readers on the crucial matter of universal salvation. On the basis of the earliest Christian writings, theological tradition, scripture, and logic, Hart argues that if God is the good creator of all, he is the savior of all, without fail. And if he is not the savior of all, the Kingdom is only a dream, and creation something considerably worse than a nightmare. But it is not so. There is no such thing as eternal damnation; all will be saved. 

With great rhetorical power, wit, and emotional range, Hart offers a new perspective on one of Christianity's most important themes.

©2019 David Bentley Hart (P)2019 Tantor

What listeners say about That All Shall Be Saved

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The most important part...

For a book on such a weighty topic by an author of such exceptional knowledge and intelligence, this book was in real sense, entertaining. David Bentley Hart's incredible vocabulary and keen wit made what could have been a dry analysis a pleasure to listen to. The reading by Derek Perkins was also exceptional. I felt like I was listening to DBH himself, so fluidly did the words roll off his tongue. That said, I think it should be noted that listening to this book is quite acceptable if all one is seeking is an overall gist of DBH's thoughts on this subject. To really study them, one should have a readable copy (Kindle or hard copy). There is a great deal to reflect on here and to capture all of the references (Biblical and otherwise), one would have to keep pausing the audio to make notes.

I chose the former path - to listen and get the gist. I may still buy a copy to read. I certainly think it would be a worthwhile project but I must consider whether I would truly take the time to go through the entire book again (and again) when I essentially heard what I considered the most important part that I wanted to hear. I had already read some discussion of the book and wanted clarity about the part I considered most essential for accepting the author's premise.

While DBH's reasoning skills are extraordinary and quite persuasive, the part I needed to hear had to do with his opinion regarding the proper translation of the Greek term in the Bible that is typically handed on to us as "eternal". All of the reasoning in the world would, for me, have a tough time standing up to the possibility that it conflicted with what Jesus said. DBH indicated that he would have to abandon Christianity if it could be proved to him that the existence of an eternal hell was essential to the faith. I don't know that I could say the same thing. No matter how smart DBH is - or how smart I think I am (no comparison though, to be honest) - the God's Wisdom and Truth is greater. If I otherwise wholly believe in Christ and Christianity, I have to trust that what doesn't make sense to me can still be true and consistent with God as good and loving, even if completely mysterious to me.

I found myself reacting a bit to DBH's mocking tone about believing impossible things. Though DBH presents himself as a believer, it made me wonder if he was going to later produce books trying to convince me that there was no Virgin birth or that Christ did not really rise from the dead. Are these not "impossible things" to our human understanding? Yet I believe them - and I think for good reason - even though my mind cannot fathom them as truly "possible". Granted, I do not have the same "good reason" for believing in an eternal hell but neither am I going to toss out a Church teaching that seems to be supported by Scripture merely because human reason says it doesn't make sense.

I got what I came for. DBH produced - quite far into the book - a thorough enough discussion of the translations of the Greek to convince me that what has been translated as "eternal" is not and should not be unequivocally accepted as a proper translation. The Greek word may or may not mean a very long time but that is quite different from eternal. He also provided additional support to his argument by noting that some prominent Fathers of the early Church assumed that salvation was ultimately universal.

There is much else in this title that is worth pondering, e.g. punishment of the wicked as retributive vs. remedial, consideration of what the freedom in "free will" means, etc. It is definitely worth a read/listen by anyone with even the slightest interest in the subject.

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A hard book to listen to, and a hard one to ignore

Because of the deep nature of the theological material in this book, I think a print version is a better choice. The 30 second rewind is too much, and to give adequate study takes too much thought, too many pauses, and no way to fully absorb these controversial ideas.

Most Christians today would jump to quickly dismiss the book as claptrap. That is, unless they take the time to fully digest the logic presented. I personally thought I would immediately see through the anti-biblical beliefs of Mr Hart. Instead, I find myself wanting to discuss this with a few others. It's not easy to get past the overall logical points he makes.

There are some very angry reviews out there for this book. I fear most of them were written by people who never really tried to read the book with an open mind. It's really hard to do that when you have spent many years believing in an eternal hell for evil people.

Carefully read, Heart may shake those long-held views. But I recommend a print version of the book, so you can make marginal notes and use a big black marker over parts you don't agree with.

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Wind bag

Mr. Hart works hard to make his point, but all too often he tries to impress his readers with his command of the language. This leads to many passages with needlessly complicated words and phrases.

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Thought-provoking with excellent narration

I greatly enjoyed listening to this book, and I plan to listen to it a second time. David Bentley Hart is not an easy author to read, and his vocabulary and erudition can make a book difficult to work through. I was very impressed with the narration here by Derek Perkins. He reads expressively, even with the most challenging vocabulary and detailed philosophical arguments.

Hart's argument in this book is compelling and addresses all of the key arguments that Christian theologians have put forward for an eternal hell over the centuries. He liberally appeals to the reader's (or listener's) instinctive sense of justice and morality throughout the book, but he backs up his frequent emotional appeals with cogent, well-argued philosophical and theological reflections. At the very least, his exposition of the views of some early Christian authors and the meaning of key Greek words in the New Testament opened a new vista for me about the core Christian message. What is salvation really all about, and what does it mean for individuals and all of humanity? The way he develops this point is deeply influential for me, and it will take a while to plumb the depths of meaning therein. I highly recommend this book, and the recording is excellent.

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Best Philosophical Case for Christian Universalism

Going back to the earliest sources of Christianity the author makes the best case for Christian universalism grounded in philosophy I have seen and I have read many a Christn universalist book. The dismissive air toward infernalist arguments is both succinct and charming.

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Best book I’ve read on Christian theology

DBH convinced me of what most atheists know intuitively: that God can’t be the good, omnipotent, eternal tormentor of rational souls.

He helped me understand what the New Atheists miss: that free will implies not autonomy to choose between equal alternatives but rather freedom from choice itself - willing effortlessly and without distraction to draw near to the Good, in accordance with one’s true nature.

He also explains the true meaning of Omnipotence. God is all power - the motive force behind that makes action possible, and the good that motivates every desire. It is impossible for a soul, insofar as it is rational, to desire anything but the good; therefore when a deranged person seeks through an evil action a limited good (the temporary pleasure of vengeance, for instance), it is motivated by the innate rational desire, however distorted through the prism of fallen consciousness, for the Good as such. God is both pokes of the magnet: both the beginning and end of all desire.

Beautifully read, too. Between DBH’s complex ideas, expansive vocabulary, and enviable diction, and the lilting English accent of the reader, this is an excellent sleep aid.

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An antidote for an infernal problem

The problem of reconciling an eternal hell with a God of infinite goodness has perplexed both theologians and everyday believers for almost two millennia. One would need a calculator to compute the number of books, tracts, and sermons devoted to this very topic.

Dr. Hart takes a different approach than most of his colleagues. According to him, the dilemma is itself an illusion, because there is no eternal place of torment to rationalize away. Those who believe otherwise are either deluded or evil.

This is not exactly a new position, as Dr. Hart is careful to point out in the text. Universalism, or the belief that all human beings will eventually make their peace with God, was taught and faithfully believed during the first five centuries of the Christian era.

According to Dr. Hart, the church began to lose its way beginning with Augustine, who in his masterpiece The City of God describes human history as a tension between two unalterably opposed forces: the kingdom of Christ and the domain of the Devil.

According to Augustine, these two empires are destined to do battle until the end of time, at which point God will consign the evil ones to eternal conscious torment and welcome his blessed ones into his presence forever.

Dr. Hart shouts a hearty "amen" to most of Augustine's thesis, except for the part about evildoers suffering eternal conscious torment. This, he says, is logically and morally incomprehensible. By all means, those who commit horrific evil should pay for their atrocities. But not forever. This is utterly unjustified, even for people as vile as Hitler or Stalin.

So what will ultimately happen to those who spend their mortal lives inflicting pain on others? Dr. Hart says that they will get what they have coming, in the torments of Hell. But, unlike the traditional view, in Hart's model Hell is akin to the traditional Roman Catholic concept of Purgatory, a place of purging where the punishments are designed not so much for retributive as for redemptive purposes.

Simply put, some of us, maybe all of us, will have to go through Hell to get to Heaven.

Dr. Hart builds a strong case for this view. In the process, he deconstructs the numerous assumptions that underlie the traditional view of Hell. He explores the nature of personhood, the concept of freedom, and the role of Christ in redeeming humanity.

I want to keep this review brief, so I shan't elaborate on Dr. Hart's arguments. Instead I will focus on how his critics have responded to the book. I have noticed three typical "rebuttals" of his position, which are as follows:

1. The free will defense: This view says that God honors the freely made choices of his creatures, even when those decisions lead to eternal suffering.

This view is shaky on its surface and disintegrates upon closer examination. After all, no sane earthly parent would let his child run into a burning building simply because she wanted to. He might allow her to suffer a blister on her finger, just to show her why it's a bad idea. But "honor" her irrational choice to destroy herself? Only a lunatic or a sadist would follow that fallacious logic.

2. The argument from church history: This essentially says the Universalism must be false because of the church's long history of proselytizing. Why devote so much effort to spreading the Good News if eventually everyone will end up in the same place?

This argument rests upon the assumption that the only value that Christianity offers is its "get out of Hell free" pass. Since the assumption is false, so is the argument.

3. "Dr. Hart is smug and self-congratulatory; plus, he's a Socialist. So he must be wrong:" This is nothing but the old ad hominem argument, which has been repeated ad nauseum since the days of Aristotle. I won't bother refuting it since it doesn't deserve the effort. Suffice it to say that even a pretentious jerk can be right on occasion.

In other words, Dr. Hart's detractors, so far as I can tell, rely on straw man fallacies, appeals to consequences, or ad hominem attacks, all of which tells me that they have no answer to his arguments.

The question is 'why." Why would people who profess their love for all humanity be so resistant, so unalterably hostile, to the idea of Universalism?

Dr. Hart speculates that their true motivation is the desire for a "positional good."

In other words, it's no fun going to Heaven unless everyone you hate is going to Hell.

As someone who has spent his entire life around "Christians," I have no doubt whatsoever that Dr. Hart is correct in his appraisal. There are no more hateful, spiteful, or malicious people on earth than those tender-hearted followers of the gentle Savior who gave his life for humanity.

As proof, I refer you to any or all of the online message boards populated by people of faith. If there is a Devil, then he speaks through the mouths and keyboards of his most vociferous opponents.

Sadly, I must include Dr. Hart himself in their company. He is every bit as smug and self-congratulatory as the infernalists whom he takes to task in this otherwise excellent book.

In the name of combating pride and puritanism, he reveals himself over and over to be a proud puritan.

This is evident in the many personal attacks he launches throughout the text. Other reviewers have pointed to specific quotes of this nature in the book, so I won’t duplicate their efforts here.

However, I would say that Dr. Hart should spend a little less time pointing fingers and a lot more time looking in the mirror.

Other than this single, regrettable defect, I have nothing but praise for this book. It offers a much-needed remedy to a reproachable illness. I only wish that the good doctor would avail himself of the prescription he offers so heartily to others.

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Can one Defeat God?

Hart is able to reveal a logical treatise that will leave the reader asking one’s self, “why did I ever believe in Eternal Conscience Torment?” To believe in ECT Hell is to believe in a god who can be defeated.... nicely done Hart!

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The Book Is a Masterpiece, the Reader Is the Best

Thomas Talbott once wrote, "If one is looking for an explanation of why so many within the evangelical community, even among the more elite scholars, are woefully ignorant of how universalist interpret the New Testament and put theological ideas together, one need only consider how few of them have ever encountered a vigorous and sustained defense of the doctrine of universal reconciliation. Hart gives that vigorous and sustained defense and more to anyone willing to withhold judgment until having heard both sides of this important matter.

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Heavenly lobotomy?

This is a truly fantastic book full of many consequential ideas to consider.

The reader is exceptionally good.

The perspective I brought to the book was that of a conservative seminary graduate with 6-years of full time preaching experience in churches, and nearly 45-years of knowing Jesus.

Some questions, mine not the author’s (but addressed by the author):

Prior to creation, did the Trinity decide to set up a humanity knowing people would not be perfect/rational and that the price they would make them pay for that imperfection/irrationality would be eternal conscious torment?

Father: ...and what will we do if they decide not to love us back?

Son: Hey...I know...we can mercilessly torture them for all eternity!

Holy Spirit: #awesomeness!

Does God give all the heaven-bound a partial lobotomy so that when they get there they have no remembrance at all of all their unbelieving friends and neighbors who are now screaming in agony forever?

Is the reader willing to totally suspend his or her assumptions (you can always re-embrace them later) or will the reader be held captive to the belief that, indeed, mercy does - not - triumph over judgment?

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  • MR J.
  • 11-14-19

Brilliant and persuasive

Not an easy subject to be tackling, but DBH’s arguments are compelling and seem irrefutable. I have considered myself a ‘hopeful universalist’ for some time, but this book gives me more confidence, with sound theological, philosophical and historical backing, to ‘come out’ as a universalist. If you’re intrigued, on the fence, set against or already on side, this is a book definitely worth reading. DBH writes with his usual exquisite selection of words-I’ve-never-heard, but also with a fresh level of humour I’ve not previously noticed in his work. Well read for the audio also.

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  • Corinne
  • 10-02-20

MAKES PERFECT SENSE!

I feel so honored to have read this book because it just makes so much sense! He is insanely smart and I didn't understand some of the vocabulary but every point he makes just brings me to life and gives me so much clarity!

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  • Graham
  • 10-02-19

Graham Roberts-- great stuff!

Morally obvious. Meta physically necessary. Like he says - it shouldn't even need writing a book about, but I am glad he took the trouble. Plus, he is hilarious, in only that way which an exasperated, dry humoured, grumpy old git can be.. Excellent stuff all round. One more 'shadow' hurried away by the light of love and reason.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 08-08-21

This book changed my mind

I wasn't a universalist. I listened to the arguments. Now I am a universalist. So I guess the book did its job. DBH raises many issues I hadn't thought of and this book certainly makes you confront the absurdity of eternal punishment. Well worth the effort.... even if ultimately, you don't agree with his conclusions. But the case he makes is compelling!

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  • Keenan
  • 07-04-20

A perfectly crafted argument, but exactly what you expect

I doubt they anyone going into this has any misgivings about what the author believes, or where the conclusion will lead.

He does a brilliant job of laying out a (nearly) watertight argument against the idea of hell as a place of eternal torment, or eternal separation from God, or even as some sort of metaphorical description of annihilation.

It still does not escape from the fact that Jesus talks in metaphors of eternal fire, and of gnashing teeth and all the rest, but the author addresses this very reasonably and honestly - and as you’d expect lands on the side that this is metaphor, or mistranslation etc.

I personally feel convinced, but I expect that’s because I innately believed the premise going in.

Regardless, a genuinely spectacular book, well read, and incredibly useful. Would highly recommend.

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  • Phil
  • 07-04-20

Speaks with authority

Great book for those who, while still in the grips of orthodox paradigms, are yet humble enough to seek a better and more accurate understanding of scripture with regards to the topic at hand. To those already free from juvenile misconceptions of religion, this book provides a collection of arguments carefully referenced in scripture and thus could be used for formulating sermons. To those afflicted by personal fears and losses related to the topic, this book might provide solace and comfort so you can rest assured all is, and shall be well.

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  • Ciaran Kieran
  • 05-07-20

An unflinching powerhouse. Wonderful.

I can't put into words what this book means to me. I found it life-changing. An inescapably coherent, demolition of a lifelong stronghold. Thanks for your efforts David Bentley Heart.

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  • D. Matcham
  • 10-05-19

DBH's latest classic.

Witty, erudite and above all convincing. Even if it won't convince everyone, the logical force of his argument (that if God is good, and if goodness means what we think it means, then eternal conscious torment is not on the cards) will make many people sit up and listen.

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  • Justin
  • 09-22-21

good arguments, but longwinded

David has a great philosophical intelligence, but in his developmental literiture, I'd say he's lot touch with how to present his arguments to the layman. This book might not be aimed at the layman, but nonetheless i have to mention this for future listeners. Every sentence seemed to contain a word that, only the highest of educated people would understand, unless one had a dictionary at hand. He tended to repeat himself quite a bit too. Its a shame, because i feel that in his effort to be extremely specific, the average listener would only end up having a vague idea of his arguments unless they paused every 30 seconds to learn a new word. I got a much better understanding listening to his youtube videos.
The arguments he presents are great, but i feel that the book was only aimed at those who already believe what he does - or it was for those in philosophy class with a greater linguistic knowledge than the average person.

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  • John
  • 01-22-20

Universalism

A wonderful series of meditations on why hell as eternal punishment is absurd. I totally agree. I recommend to all to read and meditate on what DB Hart writes!