Hell


Of all of the books that have come out in response to Rob Bell’s book Love Wins it seems that Francis Chan’s book Erasing Hell is getting the most attention.

Here is Josh Loveless from Relevant Magazine interviewing Chan on why he wrote this book and how he felt about it:

In the wake of all the recent discussion on the doctrine of hell a couple of new books are coming out written in defense of annihilationism and universalism. As you know from my past posts and recent books reviews of other books on hell here and here I support neither of these positions. However, I believe in  being educated in all positions so believers can better defend their own position and more honestly confront the positions of others with integrity and accurate representation.

If you click on each book it will take you to the publishers page where you can read the book description.

Supporting Annihilationism

1. The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment. 3rd by Edward Fudge

The Fire That Consumes

Supporting Universalism

1. “All Shall be Well”: Explorations in Universal Salvation and Christian Theology, from Origen to Moltmann Ed. by Gregory McDonald

2. The Evangelical Universalist by Gregory McDonald

The Evangelical Universalist

3. Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hope, Hell and the New Jerusalem by Bradley Jersak

Her Gates Will Never Be Shut

If you pay attention to them, the very combination of the words ‘hell under fire‘ should make you pause and think. I suppose that was the intent of the publisher when they came up with the title. Well – it worked. What is ironic about the title Hell Under Fire is that fire is a word that Scripture uses to describe hell. I suppose the subtitle ‘Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment’ implies that the critical nature of modern scholarship towards the doctrine of hell is itself fiery. Do you see the picture forming here? Liberal modern scholarship is exacting its own fire on the traditional orthodox view of hell which includes the description of hell as fire. Is the picture getting clearer? Fire is being used to fight against fire.

Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment edited by Christopher Morgan and Robert A. Peterson is a riveting and clear defense of the orthodox position of hell that it is real, eternal and will include conscious suffering. The book has a powerful line up of contributors such as Al Mohler on Modern Theology: The Disappearance of Hell, G.K. Beale on The Revelation on Hell, Douglas Moo on Paul on Hell and J.I. Packer on Universalism: Will Everyone Ultimately Be Saved? The contributors do not mince words in their faithful defense of the historic position of hell. It is not an exaggeration to say that as these authors present the Biblical doctrine of hell they expose the inaccurate and unfounded claims of universalism and annihilationism. Every chapter in this book is worth commenting on but the focus of this review will only be on a few of them.

From the outset Mohler’s words are spot on when it comes to the consequences of redefining hell:

…No doctrine stands alone. Each doctrine is embedded in a system of theological conviction and expression. Take out the doctrine of hell, and the entire shape of Christian theology is inevitably altered (p. 16).

In chapter two Daniel Block presents the Old Testament contribution to the doctrine of hell. Block admittedly states that the OT teaches very little on hell. Block seeks to answer four questions: (1) How does the OT refer to the abode of the dead?, (2) Who occupies the netherworld?, (3) What conditions greet those who enter the netherworld and (4) What evidence does the OT provide for the Christian doctrine of hell as eternal punishment (p. 44)? Most notably are OT passages such as Ezekiel 32:22-23, Isaiah 66:1-17 and Daniel 12:1-3. “Ezekiel offers the fullest description of the deceased in the netherworld in his oracles against the nations (p. 53).” Isaiah clearly shows a contrast between the eternal state of believers and unbelievers and Daniel 12 points to a time in the future when men will see their eternal fate (p. 62). In conclusion to the OT doctrine of hell Block states:

…the general tenor of the Old Testament seems to reflect a conviction that people continue to live even after they die. Logic would suggest that any belief in the resurrection would be based on this supposition…..It is difficult to imagine a doctrine of resurrection without an understanding of the continued existence of the person in some (spiritual) form after death (p. 58-59).

In chapter three Robert Yarbrough handles the passages in the New Testament where Jesus talks about hell. Yarbrough minces no words when it comes to attempts to alter the Biblical doctrine of hell:

The problem is that if Jesus spoke as frequently and directly about hell as Gospel writers claim, then it may not be the Christina message that we end up proclaiming if we modify his doctrine of posthumous existence….If the historic doctrine of hell is to be set aside, it is most of all Jesus’ teachings that must be neutralized (p. 71-72).

Yarbrough first walks through the Gospels to see what Jesus actually said concerning hell. It is clear that Jesus said too much about its reality, eternality and conscious unending punishment to pass it off as temporary and merely used as a scare tactic. Throughout his chapter Yarbrough interacts a lot with Edward W. Fudge, noted annihilationist. Yarbrough honestly engages Fudge’s argument of several passages presenting Fudge’s position is his own words. Fudge believes that while hell is real it will only be the experience of some for a short period of time (p. 77-78) and that “the traditionalist notion of everlasting torment in hell springs directly from that non-biblical teaching (p. 83).” That non-biblical teaching is Greek Platonic philosophy. After addressing the second claim Yarbrough  responds by saying,

To demonstrate Plato’s influence it would be helpful to see at least a fair number of patristic authorities explicitly adducing Plato to help ground their interpretation of Jesus’ teaching on hell. To my knowledge no one has produced such a study…..If our aim is to be faithful to Scripture, we must face what Jesus’ teachings have been understood to assert by most biblical interpreters over many centuries, cutting across a wide assortment of confessional and denominational settings…..the frequent first move of discrediting the historical view by accusing it of early and Platonic origin lacks credible basis (p. 87).

In chapter four Douglas Moo deals with Paul on hell. This is perhaps the strongest chapter in the book. From Romans 1:18-2:11 Moo wonderfully points out that,

“Death,” “condemnation,” “wrath,” and the :curse” a;; descend on human beings as a result of Adam’s sin. Human beings are, therefore, already in a state of “perishing.” This condition is fixed forever for those who do not respond to God’s grace in Christ and the work of his spirit. But it is also clear that the condition that follows final judgment is an intensified form of what unbelievers now experience (p. 93).

Moo’s statement here points to what he calls an “inaugurated eschatology” of judgment. People come to death as already condemned because of our relationship to Adam (p. 94; Rom. 5:12-21). Moo also aptly notes that “Paul and his readers assumed the doctrine of hell as so basic that he did not need to provide extensive evidence for it (p. 95).” Moo addresses passages like I Cor. 15:20-28,Rom. 5:18, Col. 1:20 and 2 Thess. 1:8-9.  Moo’s conclusion on Paul’s doctrine of hell is that he “presents the judgment that comes on the wicked as the necessary response of a holy and entirely just God. For Paul, the doctrine of hell is a necessary corollary of the divine nature (p. 109).

In chapter six Christopher Morgan looks at the doctrine of hell from a biblical theology stand point in the New Testament. He looks at three picture of hell in Scripture:

  1. Punishment is frequently portrayed as retribution, judgment, suffering, and torment by fire.
  2. Destruction is often described as perishing, death, or the second death.
  3. Banishment is commonly pictured as separation from the kingdom of God, exclusion from the presence of God, or being cut off from something living (p. 136)

Morgan bear out these three pictures in a number of ways. First, he walks briefly through every book and writer in the NT and touches on their passages on hell. Then he fleshes out the three pictures of hell from the NT. Finally, he concludes by interpreting these three central pictures of hell. Morgan states that these pictures characterize hell as eternal (p. 148).  They also “interweave with biblical portraits of God” as Judge, warrior and King (p. 149-50).  Also, the three pictures of hell “flow naturally from biblical portraits of sin,” they “also appear to illustrate the biblical doctrine of the atonement,” they “stand in contrast with biblical portraits of salvation,” and they also “stand in contrast with biblical portraits of the kingdom of heaven (p. 150).”

In chapters eight and nine J.I. Packer and Christopher Morgan address the positions of universalism and annihilationism respectively. Packer point out that “most universalists concede that universalism is not clearly taught in the Bible (p. 171).” However, “it is argued that the biblical revelation of God’s love to his world entails a universal salvific intention, that is, a purpose of saving everybody, and that sooner or later God must achieve that purpose (p. 171).” For annihilationism, or as it is preferred to be called, conditionalism, Morgan defines it as “the belief that God has created all human beings only potentially immortal. Upon being united to Christ, believers partake in the divine nature and receive immortality. Unbelievers never receive this capacity to live forever and ultimately cease to exist (p. 196).” Perhaps the best argument against this view is found in Revelation 20:15 which reads, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (p. 218).”

In the final chapter of the book Sinclair Ferguson offers some concluding pastoral remarks. Ferguson admits honestly that the very thought of an eternal hell of suffering for people is “emotionally intolerable (p. 220).” However, we must grapple with the reality that “hell exists; this is the testimony of the Scriptures, of the apostles, and of the Lord Jesus himself (p. 220).” Ferguson calls preachers of the Word to preach at least four things about hell from Scripture:

  1. Hell is real.
  2. Hell is vividly described in the pages of the New Testament.
  3. Hell, though prepared for the devil and his angels, is shared by real human beings.
  4. Most important, in expounding and teaching the biblical teaching on hell, we must emphasize that there is a way of salvation (p. 226-28).

His final words provide the preacher of the Word with great encouragement as we preach the biblical doctrine of hell:

Hell is at the end of the day the darkness outside; dense like a black hole, it is the place of cosmic waste. Who can contemplate this for long? Who, indeed, is sufficient for these things? The question is surely rhetorical. None of us is sufficient. But our sufficiency is to be found in Christ, the Savior, the Perfect Man, the Redeemer, the Judge. We must constantly remind ourselves that it is the Savior who spoke clearly of the dark side of eternity. To be faithful to him, so must we (p. 237).

Hell Under Fire is a much needed corrective to much of the teaching within evangelicalism today on the doctrine of hell. This book needs to be read by every pastor and student of the Word. Read this book with Bible in hand and allow the Word of God to shape your heart and mind on the doctrine of hell.

On July 5th David C. Cook publisher will release what is scheduled to be the fourth book length response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins. The book is titled Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity and the Things we Made up by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle. You can pre-pay for the book now from David C. Cook for $14.99.

Here is the publisher description:

In this groundbreaking new book, Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle take on the topic of hell and our eternal destiny, with a sense of humility and a deep respect for the inspired Word of God. They will address questions such as “Will everyone be saved?” and “Does God Get What He Wants in the End?” as well as reviewing in depth, everything Jesus said about Hell.

However, the authors warn that we have to guard ourselves against “a heartlessness” when we talk about this theology and this doctrine, because ultimately this about people. Chan and Sprinkle lay all the evidence on the table and present all the facts from Scripture, so that people can decide what to believe for themselves.

The chapters are as follows:

  1. Does Everyone go to Heaven?
  2. Has Hell Changed? Or Have We?
  3. What Jesus Actually Said About Hell
  4. The Rest of The New Testament on Hell
  5. Now What?
  6. What if God……?
  7. COMING SOON

You can download the Introduction here and below is a teaser video by Chan himself:

The doctrine of hell is perhaps one of the most distinguishing theological beliefs of Christianity and the Bible. Though this is true, there is certainly no unanimity as to what Christians believe the Scripture teaches about hell.

When is comes to drawing out what the Bible teaches about hell Christopher Peterson and Robert Morgan are no strangers. They are referenced in almost every book on the subject and have been involved in a number of other related edited works dealing with the Biblical doctrine of hell. Just last year they condensed some of their work into a short book called What is Hell? for the Basics of the Reformed Faith Series published by P&R.

What is Hell? is a short succinct discussion of the Biblical doctrine of hell. Peterson & Morgan believe that despite the confusion with some on what hell is, Scripture is pretty clear that it exists and is a place where unrepentant sinners will spend eternity. In my estimation the authors approach the doctrine of hell from a conservative evangelical vantage point. They take Scripture seriously when it comes to its teaching of hell and present a clear convincing case that we should take hell seriously.

Peterson & Morgan begin their short book by addressing the of quoted statement, “Would a loving God really send good people to hell (p. 8)?” In short order they walk through Romans 1-5 and show that this is the wrong question to ask. In fact, Paul himself seemed to ask a very different question – “How could a just and holy God ever declare guilty sinners to be righteous in his sight (p. 8)?” In these few pages the authors turn the tables on the first question by showing that we are all sinners who do not deserve God’s mercy. Salvation is merciful because we don’t deserve it. We don’t deserve it because we have rebelled against God our creator.

Hell in the Bible

Peterson & Morgan convincingly show that all of Scripture speaks of hell especially the New Testament where it is mentioned by every author and in every book. Some of the clearest and extensive passages are Matthew 25:31-46, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 and Revelation 20:10-15.

There are at least five distinct ways in which Scripture speaks of hell:

  1. Punishment – This is the primary description of hell in Scripture and shows that “hell is the place where people suffer the just penalty for their moral crimes (p. 10)” and “reassured God’s people that ultimately evil and evildoers would be defeated (p. 14).” Some relevant passages for hell as punishment are Matt. 25:31-46, 2 Thess. 1:5-10 and Rev. 20:10-15.
  2. Destruction – In Revelation 20:14 and 21:8 John speaks of hell as destruction when he describes it as “the second death.” That hell is referred to as destruction does not mean people or their souls are annihilated (as annihilationists would claim). Rather, as Moo abely describes, “Destruction and its related words in the New Testament ‘refer to the situation of a person or object that has lot the essence of its nature or function (p. 15).” Relevant passages include: Matt. 7:13-14; Jn. 3:16 and Rom. 6:23.
  3. Banishment – As banishment, hell is a place of “separation, exclusion, or being left outside (p. 16)” as seen in Revelation 22:14-15. It is pointed out that Jesus himself will be the one to banish unrepentant sinners as see in passages like: Matt. 7:21-23 and Matt. 25:41.
  4. Suffering – With descriptions of hell as “unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12) while “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” (Rev. 14:11 and as a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12), there is little doubt that people will consciously (p. 18) experience real emotional/spiritual and physical suffering in hell (Jn. 5:28-29).
  5. Eternal – Perhaps the most sobering aspect of hell is that it is as eternal a fate for unrepentant sinners as is the experience of heaven for repentant sinners. Frequently the eternality of hell is juxtaposed the eternality of heaven in passages such as: Dan. 12:2; Matt. 25:46 and Jn. 3:16.

Hell and Theology

While some may find it hard to theologically reconcile the reality of hell with some of the aspects of God’s nature, Peterson & Morgan show that it is in fact quite coherent and even necessary. God is loving yes, but his attribute of love does not extinguish any of his other attributes such as his wrath and justice. Peterson & Morgan write,

Our loving God is also just, holy, good, and, because we rebel against him, wrathful. God’s love does not drive his justice. The implementation of God’s justice does not undermine his love. God’s love and justice cohere, as do all his other attributes (p. 24-25).

God cannot be solely defined by one attribute nor can one attribute be used to minimize or trivialize any of his other attributes. God is all of his attributes all of the time.

The authors further show how the doctrine of hell is coherent with the Christian worldview, as just punishment for sin and is complementary to the teaching of Jesus.

Hell Shapes our Lives

Admittedly, the doctrine of hell is not the most exciting doctrine to discuss among believers let alone with unbelievers. This should not deter us from teaching and preaching it from Scripture. When we do it should cause us to turn to praise for our salvation, drive us to our knees in prayer for the lost and push us into the streets with desire to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ – who is both a judge of sin and sinners and a friend and savior of them as well.

When it comes to the place of hell in our teaching, preaching and evangelism Peterson & Morgan aptly point out that as horrible as hell is sin is worse:

That people go to hell is a tragedy. It is tragic that sin entered the world through Adam. It is tragic that humans continue to rebel against God…..the horror of hell should bother us….but the problem is not hell, and the problem is not God. Sin is the problem, and it is what should repulse us (p. 31-32).

What is Hell? is a great introduction to the Biblical doctrine of hell for those who are confused about its teaching or who are looking to study it for the first time. For further reading on the doctrine of hell pick up Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment edited by Peterson & Morgan.

Jonathan Edwards was arguably America’s greatest theologian. He produced some of Christianities greatest classic works and has influenced some of modern Christianities most influential leaders. His works were both timely and have proved to be timeless.

In recent years the Christian church has seen an Edwards resurgence. The works of this famed pastor and theologian are being reprinted and read by Christians of all kinds. This is an encouraging thing to see. As with the works of many other great theologians of the past, Edwards should be read by all Christians.

Unfortunately, anyone who has read his works will attest to the fact that Edwards is not an easy read. The language is old and at times very thick. Arguments can be long and require a concentrated mind that too many of modern Christians do not have. In an effort to help the church read Edwards with more understanding Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney have written The Essential Edwards Collection. This five volume work condenses some of the many ideas Edwards is famous for. This collection falls into five categories:

  1. Jonathan Edwards Lover of God
  2. Jonathan Edwards on Beauty
  3. Jonathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell
  4. Jonathan Edwards on The Good Life
  5. Jonathan Edwards on True Christianity

Perhaps the most timely focus of Edwards teaching and preaching was on heaven and hell. While many Christians have not read Edwards works, most of them will be able to recall that he is most famous for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” This sermon was famous in part because Edwards read the sermon word for word as he preached it.

To help us gain a better grasp of Edwards teaching and preaching on hell, Dustin Neeley interviews Owen Strachan about Jonathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell:

This second video is Strachan and Sweeney giving a short overview of The Essential Edwards Collection:

“Is it morally right to celebrate bin Laden’s death?”

This is the question John Blake on CNN’s Belief Blog asks in relation to how people should respond to bin Laden’s death.

To say that there will be mixed emotions about the death of Osama bin Laden is an understatement. Those who supported him and his family are weeping and morning over his death. On the other hand, much of the world, America especially, will be rejoicing that a bit of due justice has been served thanks to the American Navy Seals team.

As a Christian I have to ask myself how I should respond. You might wonder why I would even have to ask that question. After all, bin Laden was behind the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in NY and has been the leader of one of histories most hardened terrorist groups.

I have to ask myself this question because I realize that if it were not for the grace of God seeking me out through His Spirit and applying the atoning shed blood of Christ on my heart I would suffer the same fate as bin Laden – spending eternity in hell separated from fellowship with God because of my sin. And yes we can know that he is there.

I will not go so far as to dance in the streets shouting “Ding dong bin Ladens dead, bin Ladens dead, bin Ladens dead, ding dong the wicked bin Laden is dead”, as I picture myself as one of the Munchkins from Munchkin Land in the Wizard of OZ. At the same time I cannot suppress the inner desire to rejoice in some way that justice has been served and God has brought it to be through the government He has put in place (Rom. 13).

While there are many Christians offering suggestions for how Christians should respond to bin Ladens death, I thought I would point you one from Christopher Morgan. I have just finished reading two books co-edited by Christopher Morgan on the Biblical doctrine of hell: What is Hell? and Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment.

I think Morgan clearly and rightly communicates to Christians how we can faithfully and in a God glorify way respond to Bin Ladens death. He starts and ends with these words:

As I watched the news reports, various passages came to mind–everything from Jesus’ teaching on loving and praying for enemies, to James’ forceful picture of a future slaughterhouse coming upon oppressors of God’s people. The more I reflect on it, the more I realize that my internal tension is similar to another one I have felt many times before–a tension related to the biblical doctrine of hell……..

Though the comparison is by no means perfect, and though it is on a much smaller scale, I tend to think that we can rightly grieve that Osama bin Laden opposed the true and living God and will be punished accordingly. But we also can rightly rejoice in the defeat and judgment upon people who are evil–and he was clearly evil and deserving of every punishment earth can give. The dancing in the streets may not merely be American nationalism, but an appropriate response to the partial display of human justice as we await the final and perfect display of divine justice in the coming age.

In my own words I would summarize Morgan’s words as such: Let our rejoicing over bin Laden’s death be tempered by the sobering reminder that he will experience eternal separation from God in hell forever and so would I but not for the grace of God in Christ Jesus towards me. Let this be an opportunity to turn our hearts to praise for our salvation which we do not deserve, drive us to our knees in prayer for our neighbor and prod us to me more vigilant to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ – a friend of sinners and their only hope of salvation from the eternal consequences of their sins.

You can read the whole thing here.

You can also read some other reflections in a similar vein from the following:

Justin Buzzard

Zack Neilsen

Denny Burke

Kevin DeYoung

Resurgence

John Piper

D.A. Carson

Doug Wilson

Al Mohler

Tom Gilson @ Evangel Blog

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 837 other followers