Recently I commented on a post by Dr. Larry Chapp on his back and forth with Ralph Martin on the number of people who will end up in Hell. My response to this was as follows, from Bossuet’s Elevations:
As far as the number of people who are going to Hell, probably the best response comes from the great Bossuet, Elevations on the Mysteries, XVI ,5:
“It is commonly believed that there were three, because of the three presents which they offered. The Church does not say and why does it matter to us to know? It is enough that we know that they were of a number known to God, of the few, of the little flock that God chooses. Look at the vast expanse of the Orient and that of the whole universe. God first calls only this small number; and, when the number of those who serve him is increased, this number, though great in itself, will be small in comparison with the infinite number of those who perish. Why? O man! Who are you, to question God and ask the reason for his advice? Take advantage of the grace offered to you, and leave to God the knowledge of his counsels and the causes of his judgments. You are tempted to disbelief at the sight of the few who have been saved, and you quickly reject the remedy presented to you. Like a foolish patient who, in a large hospital where a doctor would come to him with an infallible remedy, instead of abandoning himself to his direction, he would look to the right and left what he would do with others. Unhappy man, think of your salvation, without showing off your crazy and prideful curiosity over the rest of the sick. Did the Magi say in their hearts: let us not go, because why also does not God call all men? They went, they saw, they worshipped, they offered their presents: they were saved.”
To which Dr. Chapp replied:
If I believed that to be a true expression of Christian Revelation, I would cease being a Christian.
My reaction to that: “Huh?”
You learn very early online that people not understanding something doesn’t stop them from responding to it, and vehemently in many cases. I try to avoid that but sometimes my responders/trolls get the best of me. Let’s see if we can make this best of this mystery.
First, if Dr. Chapp were more familiar with Ralph Martin and the whole Catholic Charismatic Renewal, he would have more ammo to make his own response. Martin’s idea that most people go to Hell is a piece with the remnant theology that dominated the Renewal. It led to the covenant communities and ultimately to the Sword of the Spirit, which Martin himself, realizing that they were over the top, fell out with. I’ve come back at Martin myself and won’t go further with that.
Second, the whole debate over the number who will end up in Hell is one of the most distasteful parlor games in all Christianity, especially when it’s applied individually. God only knows this. It is impossible for limited, finite creatures to have this knowledge. That’s doubtless for the best, I don’t think that we could be trusted with this information. In that respect it’s on par with the Reformed concept of election and knowing the signs thereof.
At this point I’m tempted to say that we have a point-of-view issue. My experience tells me that, with seminary academics and those trained by same, that’s a sure way of getting them to go postal on you. Irrespective of their theological framework, be it rigidly traditional (no matter what tradition you’re talking about) or whether they have drunk from the dregs of modern or post-modern thought, they’re like the fundies: their way is God’s way, and woe to the person who challenges them on that.
But that’s what we’re dealing with here. Chapp and Martin debate the number of people going to Hell; Bossuet deflects our attention from that question towards “What are you going to do about your eternal destiny?” Bossuet is not an original thinker, but he’s capable of distilling some very complex theology into a simple format, as he does in the earlier Elevations. In this case, however, he’s more in a pastoral and soul winning frame of reference. This may be alien to Chapp’s view of things, but it is what it is.
In some ways, it’s like the difference between engineers and scientists. Scientists seek to understand how things work as they are; engineers seek to use that knowledge to fix things and solve problems. Chapp is trying to take the former course, but as you might expect I prefer the latter.