1 MAY 1992, Page 21

Sir: Considering the fact that most of Chris- tianity's greatest

minds have taken the real- ity of hell with utmost seriousness until the last 100 years, wouldn't it be wise to side with Augustine and Aquinas and Luther and Calvin and Jonathan Edwards and C.S. Lewis (to name a few among so many) and to say that John Patten, rather than so many of his recent detractors, may be on to something?

It is unfortunate that so much of the criti- cism of Mr Patten has focused on the idea of hell as a deterrent, since the doctrine of eternal consquences, as Baron Friedrich Von Hugel liked to call it, has a much more important role in Christian thinking: hell serves as the alternative to salvation. Mr Patten recognised this by calling for a recovery of redemption and damnation. The two belong together: to deny hell is implicitly to repudiate the need for redemption. If men and women do not need redemption, the centre of Christiani- ty, the cross, loses its crucial significance and the Church loses her sense of urgency and moral seriousness. It is no accident that as hell has disappeared God's offer of sal- vation has increasingly been couched in terms of 'solving your problems' and 'find- ing fulfilment,' etc. Mr Patten dodges a central problem, however, by never defining the damnation which Britain needs to recover. Given the successful moral critique of the traditional teaching of hell as eternal punishment in the 19th-century as well as the continued impact of modern science, it is clear that some aspects of the traditional view may need to be modified at the end of the 20th- century. But the gospels are full of many awesome statements about final judgment which the church cannot continue to avoid.

The gospel of Christ can only grip people with real power when they understand not only what salvation is, but what it is not.

Kendall S. Harmon

24 Princes Street, Oxford