"Hell is making a serious comeback"

5 September 2023

PThU opened the academic year on 1 September with a symposium and ceremony about hell. Not your everyday topic. Or is it? "Mental distress has caused the imagery of hell to return in society," Professor Arnold Huijgen said during the speech with which he accepted his chair in Dogmatics on Friday.

Fired up in society

"In society, hell seems to be making a serious comeback," Huijgen said. "In the language of politics and cycling, as a metaphor for the worst and toughest, it has in fact never been gone. However, the prominence of hell in contemporary language and imagination does contrast with its absence in church and theology. Where hell is fired up in social speech, it seems to be extinguished in church and theology."

Fewer and fewer Christians believe that hell exists. Not only because they do not want to drive away their non-believing neighbours and friends, but also because they cannot reconcile the existence of hell with a loving God. Others, on the contrary, are deeply concerned about the salvation of their children and grandchildren, Huijgen said.

What is hell?

What exactly are we talking about when we're discussing hell? "Is hell endless and hopeless, is it willed by God, who is hell for, and does it actually exist or is it only metaphor?" In his lecture, Arnold Huijgen outlined three dominant positions on hell from the history of theology, and explored why hell deserves sustained theological attention. And what that attention should look like.