Systematic Theology


Evangelical Theology by BirdUnless you have been hiding under a rock for the last several years, biblical scholar, teacher and blogger (and comedian!) Michael Bird should be a name you are relatively familiar with. He has written on Jesus in Are You the One Who Is to Come? and Jesus is The Christ. He has written on Paul in Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission, and His Message and has edited Four Views on the Apostle Paul in the Zondervan Counterpoints Series. He has also written on Second Temple Judaism in Crossing Over Sea and Land and has even written a highly academic commentary on 1 Esdras which is part of the Septuagint. He is the editor of two journals and commentaries series. He has contributed to numerous journals, edited works and reference books, all of which you can view here.

There is no doubt the Bird is highly qualified to write and speak on a number of topics. His areas of focus range from the Historical Jesus, Paul, Christian origins and even biblical and systematic theology. It is to these last two areas that we now turn to, and which Bird has most recently written on in his highly anticipated Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction published by Zondervan. The question that might arise in the mind of some, and which already has, is, can a biblical scholar with his areas of study competently write a systematic and biblical theology? Has Bird gone through a midlife crisis and the biblical scholar become a theologian!? After all, there are a number of famous systematicians such as Turretin, Pannenberg, Barth, Grudem, Hodge, Berkhof, Bavinck and Erickson whom many of them have not published as many books as Bird, and of those they have, most of them are in subsets of systematic theology.

Has Bird stretched himself so far that he has become too thin?

Bird’s Uniqueness: An Evangelical Systematic and Biblical Theology?

I put a question mark at the end of the above heading not because I question Bird’s goal but because I want to bring due attention to what makes this book stand out from others like it. There is no doubt that there are many good systematic theologies out there that are written by evangelicals such as Grudem, Erickson and Geisler, just to name a few. But what Bird feels they lack as an evangelical theology is a focus on just that, the evangel – the gospel itself. Bird is not saying others are unevangelical but that they seem to miss as their focus what makes them what they are.

This is not to say other theologies by evangelicals do not mention the gospel or relate an aspect to the gospel. It is to say, however, that they are not writing their theologies with the gospel front and center in every loci of theological doctrine. For Bird, an evangelical theology must do just that. Bird says of his own work, “It is a gospel-centered theology for Christians who seek to define themselves principally by the gospel.” (21) And later, “Evangelical theology is a theologia evengelii – a theology of the gospel.” (45) True to form, Bird begins every section introduction with a short discussion of how the doctrine under consideration relates to the gospel. For example,

On the doctrine of God in part two,

If we are going to study the God of the gospel, we must study God as he is to us in the gospel: a triune being comprised of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In fact, I contend that the gospel itself establishes our primary contact with the doctrine of the Trinity. The operation of God as he is described as acting in the gospel intimates the triune nature of God. Only a triune God can do what is done in the gospel. (89)

On the doctrine of Christ in part four,

The centerpiece of the gospel is Jesus the Messiah. Jesus is so identifiable with the gospel that there can be no gospel without him. His identity as Messiah and Lord, the redemptive significance of his death and resurrection, set in the coordinating of God’s kingdom, constitute the core of the gospel message. In other words, the gospel sets before us both the work of Jesus Christ and the person of Jesus Christ. (343)

And finally, on the doctrine of the church in part eight,

The evangelical churches are those that have the gospel at the center of their proclamation and practice. The evangelical church is a community created by the gospel, a church that promotes and preaches the gospel, that cultivates the gospel in its spirituality. Its members strive to live lives worthy of the gospel, and at its center is Jesus Christ, the Lord announced in the gospel. (699)

Not only at the main headings does Bird relate the gospel to each section of doctrine, but he shows how each subsection does as well. Bird has given more than mere lip service to the gospel as that which binds all of Scripture and, therefore, theology together. “The gospel is the glue between doctrine, experience, mission, and practice. I submit that an authentic evangelical theology should be a working out of the gospel in the various loci of Christian theology and then be applied to the sphere of daily Christian life and the offices of Christian leaders.” (21) This gives him the content for his five step method for how theology should be done (81-82).

This gospel focus is also what makes this book a work of biblical theology because it is the gospel, as hinted at in Genesis 3:15 and consummated in Revelation 19-21, that runs throughout the entire Bible. It is the story of the Bible. After working through the various aspects, Bird defines the gospel as

The announcement that God’s kingdom has come in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord and Messiah, in fulfillment of Israel’s Scriptures. The gospel evokes faith, repentance, and discipleship; its accompanying effects include salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit. (52)

Though some may wince at the positive use of the phrase “canon within the canon,” Bird is not shy in saying that “the gospel is the ‘canon within the canon’ simply because the biblical canon is the scriptural expression of the ‘rule of faith.’ which itself is an exposition of the gospel.” (21)

Evangelical Theology as a Systematic and Biblical Theology

I think Bird hits a home run with his focus on the gospel at every angle, and therefore, has accomplished part of his goal in writing a biblical theology. So how does he do with the systematic aspect? In short, Bird touches on the major loci of theology with adequate depth and coverage for most sections but has some shortcomings in others.

Bird does a good job with the doctrine of God (chapter 2), eschatology (chapter 3), Christology (chapter 4), soteriology (chapter 5) and ecclesiology for the most part (chapter 8). I think Bird’s does his best work right out of the gates with his chapters on God and Christ. He masterfully shows how God as triune forms the heart and shape of the gospel and supports John Piper’s book, and now famous phrase, God is the gospel. He ties the gospel God as triune, creator, His character and attributes and His revelation to man. His chapter on Christ is equally impressive, and should be, as Bird has written a few books and many essays and articles on Christ previously. Chapter three on eschatology is decent and provides a fair and accurate treatment of the various views. Bird’s soteriology by in large follows the standard Reformed/Calvinistic view, with the debatable exception that he holds to the Amyraldian view of the atonement, which is actually dealt with in Christology (section 4.4.3). Finally, Bird’s ecclesiology is handled well. He seems to see more unity between Israel and the church than disunity (719-27 – which I like!). The only glaring omission from this chapter is a dedicated discussion of the offices of the church as deacon, elders and pastor/teacher. These are mentioned in several places but only as they are viewed by different forms of church governances such as Presbyterian or Episcopalian.

Chapters needing more work begin at the beginning with prolegomena (chapter 1). Though this is where Bird laid out his unique approach in focusing on the gospel, this also became its downfall as there is not enough else by way of a standard discussion on this area of first theology. The chapters on the Holy Spirit (chapter 6) and man (chapter 7) read and feel too short. Perhaps, in my opinion, what is lacking the most in the book is an adequate doctrine of Scripture. (Consider that Wayne Grudem spends almost 100 pages in his systematic theology in the doctrine of Scripture!) This is surprising since Bird has contributed to the recent book Five Views on Inerrancy. Bird places his very short discussion on Scripture under the discussion of the Holy Spirit “because the Holy Spirit is the one who inspired authors to write Scripture, who preserves the inscripturated revelation, and who brings illumination to those who read Scripture.” (638) Bird does not outright reject inerrancy and verbal inspiration (though he does sympathize with both) but he does express much hesitancy towards the terminology. He gives a list of reasons he is hesitant about fully affirming verbal inspiration (640-42) and on inerrancy he states, “If the Word of God is God’s own Word, then its veracity is safeguarded not by our efforts to harmonize any apparent inconsistencies or even by our sophisticated arguments for inerrancy, but by divine fidelity. That is to say, the truthfulness of Scripture is secured by the faithfulness of God to his own Word.” (645) At times Bird seems to use all the same phraseology of an inerrantist but just does not use the term itself.

Conclusion

In the end, though I don’t think Bird has written the next systematic theology that will replace Grudem or Erickson, he has written an overall fine book that will serve the church. What Bird has excelled at is defining the role and relationship of the gospel to systematic theology. This contribution alone is worth owning the book, and others in the future need to follow in his steps. The only other systematic theology I can think of that comes close to this approach is Michael Horton’s recent work A Pilgrim Theology.

Bird treats other theological traditions fairly and shows a real awareness and familiarity with church history. He is thankfully very in tune with and supportive of the various creeds of the church which he turns to throughout the book. Evangelical Theology is not your typical systematic theology as it seeks to weave systematics with biblical and historical theology (primarily through the creeds) to create a more rounded source of theological discussion. The book is peppered with sidebars (often very extensive) in which he seeks to draw attention to certain issues at hand. True to form, Bird mixes his humor throughout the book which makes the reading all the more enjoyable.

NOTE: I received this for free from Zondervan in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts and words expressed are my own and I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

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Of the writing of systematic theologies there is no end. Each person who writes one does so from the conviction that they have something to contribute to the discipline and in the hopes that their work will serve not only their generation but many generations to come. While there are a great many systematic theologies that have and will continue to serve the church, the contentious reader will observe that systematic theologies have their limits. To a greater or lesser degree, systematic theologies, because of their goal, can become systematics for the sale of systematics. That is, in an effort to systematize Scripture(s) in order to show the biblical support for a particular doctrine, systematic theologies can become too much like reference books on theology that pay little to no attention to the unfolding story in which these doctrines have been developed. There needs to be more systematic theologies that work in concert with biblical theology.

To this end Michael Horton has recently written his systematic theology called The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrim’s on the Way by Zondervan. Horton has previously written several works on systematic theology relating the concept of covenant to different areas: Covenant & EschatologyLord & ServantCovenant & Salvation and People & Place. Horton has also written God of Promise: An Introduction to Covenant Theology which deals specifically with the idea of the covenant as the basis for God’s dealing with man especially within the redemptive framework. The Christian Faith seeks to condense these previous works and make them more accessible to the layperson, pastor and student.

Notable Features

First, as mentioned earlier, The Christian Faith is an intentional work of biblical systematic theology. It is a systematic theology that has a respective eye on the unfolding of the major doctrines of Scripture. With Vanhoozer and Sayers in mind Horton writes, “The drama determines the big questions as well as the answers. The doctrines are convictions that arise in light of the drama (p. 15).” Horton’s goal, which he achieves, is to present the reader with the doctrines of Scripture that systematics deal with by allowing the unfolding drama of Scripture to determine their shape and structure. Horton is reluctant to use the oft repeated word ‘metanarrative’ to describe the storyline of Scripture. His fear is that this has been hijacked by postmodern’s and enveloped into making Scripture just another story. “For the Greek philosophers, the myths of the gods were ‘just a story’ – the dispensable husk that hides the kernel of timeless truth (p. 17).” Rather, says Horton:

The prophets and apostles did not believe God’s mighty acts in history (meganarratives) were dispensable myths that represented universal truths (metanarratives). For them, the big story did not point something else beyond it but was itself the point (p. 17).

Some may quibble with Horton on this but he may be onto something here.

Second, as a systematic theology Horton does the reader, both new and seasoned, when he defines exactly what the task of systematic theology is. It is the drawing together of three stages: (1) “teaching the vocabulary and rules of speech of Christianity (grammar),” (2) “investigating its inner consistency and coherence as well as comparing and contrasting it with rival interpretations (logic),” and (3) this is all done “so that we can defend our faith in an informed, compelling, and gentle manner (rhetoric) (p. 22).” The goal of number three influences the subtitle of the book, A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. Here again we see Horton trying to steer clear from systematics for the sake of systematics. This is doctrine for life and not just for the sake of the compilation of doctrinal facts.

The third notable feature of this work is the pervasive use of the theme of covenant. This is certainly to be expected from Horton given his theological bent and previous works (see above). Much in the tradition of Meredith Kline, Horton sees Scripture as one big covenant between God and man. “There can be no covenant without a canon or canon without a covenant. In fact, the covenant is the canon and vice versa (p. 155).” Thus, in chapter four Scripture is referred to as a “covenant canon (p. 151).” As a canon Scripture is a rule and as the relationship with God’s people develops, God reveals more ‘rule’ with each new covenant he establishes with man (p. 152-53). Through covenant God creates the life and shape of his people.

Another feature of the book is chapter three where Horton deals with the doctrine of Scripture as revelation. While “God is the object of theology” he is also “its self-revealing subject (p. 113).” There is a symbiotic relationship between God and his covenant word/canon – Scripture. To Horton, revelation is more than just words to man from God about himself. There is not God up there and his word down here. The words of Scripture, especially the OT, were first spoken to man. Revelation is personally given to man. “In revelation God is present in personal address (p. 117).” But more than a means for God to reveal himself to his covenant people, revelation “creates the reality of which it speaks (p. 122).” Contra to the reflective aim of truth in the Greeks mythical nature of metanarrative, revelation is means where “the truth literally incarnates itself in history. God’s speech does not merely interpret history; it creates it (p. 123).” As the Word of God, revelation (Scripture) exists in the form of Christ, proclamation and the canon of Scripture as the final 66 books of the Old and New Testaments (p. 135-36).”

A final noticeable feature of the book is the section and chapter structure. There are six parts and all refer directly to God himself. A careful read of the part titles indicates seemingly intentional following of the Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation (CFRC) structure of Scripture (with some additions) as commonly held today by many theologians. Part One deals with knowing God and how God reveals himself to us and we can know him. Part Two addresses the nature of God himself and what he reveals to man about himself through nature and Scripture. Part Three begins the CFRC grid and deals with the God Who Creates. Part Four continues with the God Who Rescues. Part Five interjects with the God Who Reigns in Grace and deals with the believer, the Kingdom, the church and its sacraments. Part Six is the final part and concludes the CFRC structure with the God Who Reigns in Glory and discusses the unifying eschatology of Scripture.

Conclusion

The Christian Faith has so much going for it that I only have one critique. While the book is a biblical systematic theology I would have liked to see more biblical development within each chapter and not just from section to section. Begin the chapter on Christ by briefly returning to the chapter on the trinity and walk through the doctrine of Christ from before Genesis to Revelation. I hope that what Horton has done here will be picked up by the next generation of systematicians and improved upon.

NOTE: This was published with permission by Sharperiron.org.

We live in an American culture where it is fashionable to make Jesus everything you want Him to be. Unfortunately, the Jesus of too many American’s, and Christians none-the-less, is not the Jesus presented in the Bible. If the Burger King slogan “Have it Your Way” were to have a Christological bent, then the slogan for the Jesus of America would be “Jesus, Have Him Your Way.”

The Deity of Christ (Theology in Community Series) ed. by Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson is a clear call amidst the often confusing voices claiming to present the Jesus of the Bible and history. Amidst the quagmire of the ‘everyone Jesus’ and in a world where Jesus has been reduced to my homey and ‘BFF’, this book brings us back to the center of Christology. This book draws us to one of the most foundational attributes of the Jesus Christ the Son of the living God – his deity.

In the opening chapter, The Deity of Christ Today, Stephen J. Nichols bounces off the work of Stephen Prothero and argues that we have gone from a creedal Jesus, to a human Jesus that is close and ended up with a Jesus that has liberated itself from Christianity and the Bible (p. 27). Stephen points out that there have been many attempts within our American culture to present Jesus. Movies like The Passion of Christ, consumerism and our nifty slogans and even politics where Jesus is somehow on everyone’s side, show us that our cultural attempts to display Jesus have left us with “personal Jesuses who look far more like their makers than like the Jesus of sacred Scripture and the historical creeds (p.31).”

So how do we save ourselves and our culture from the Jesus of our own making? Nichols suggests that we need to get back to the tradition of the creeds and the tradition of Scripture. We need the creeds because they have helped to solidify the teaching of Scripture pertaining to, of many things, the deity of Christ. While creedal tradition can help we must ultimately rest our understanding of Christ on Scripture. When we rest on Scripture we cannot help but conclude that Jesus is God.

In The Deity of Christ there is much that is to be commended. In his chapter, The Deity of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels, Stephen J. Wellum rightly points out that it is Scripture that gives us the material from which we formulate our articulation of Jesus and not the fashionable opinions of the day. Wellum states,

Scripture provides not only the raw data for understanding who the historical Jesus is but it also provides the God-given interpretive framework, structure, and categories by which we grasp his identity and thus construct an objectively grounded and warranted christology. In this way, Scripture serves as our epistemological norm for understanding who Jesus is apart from all historical-critical reconstructions of the text (p. 64).

Wellum’s no nonsense words set the foundation for the rest of the book. It is Scripture and not man’s culturally changing opinions that shape and inform our understanding and presentation of Jesus.

Of particular notice is Stephen J. Wellum’s chapter entitled The Deity of Christ on the Apostolic Witness. Among many things, Wellum does an excellent job explaining the christological aspects of Philippians 2:5-11. His explanation of the kenosis is spot on and even well informed readers will find it helpful.

Concerning Christology within church history, Gerald Bray presents an even handed description and explanation of the churches formation and articulation of the doctrine of the deity of Christ. Bray’s discussion is a dose of good medicine for those who want to cast doubt on whether the early church fathers ‘invented’ the deity of Christ. Bray rightly points out that their debates were not hinged on questioning the deity of Christ but rather they assumed and affirmed the deity of Christ. “The issues debated during the decades of classical creedal formation were more about how belief in his deity should be expressed and harmonized with monotheism then whether he was divine at all (p. 169).” Concerning the correlation between the churches formation and development of the doctrine of the deity of Christ Wellum’s words are worth quoting at length:

If human beings had invented the deity of Jesus, we would expect them to emphasize his miraculous deeds as the main evidence for this, and the more improbable the miracles were, the better. There would have been little reason for them to have added the more mundane details found in the Gospels if they had not been part of Jesus’ claims about himself. The conclusion must be that Jesus taught these things about himself, and it was for that reason that his disciples worshiped him as God. For all their reflection on the person and natures of Jesus Christ, none of the fathers of the church ever believed that, in confessing the deity of Christ, he was adding anything to the teaching of Jesus himself. Their aim was to explain the evidence that had been set before them in the historical events of the life, death and resurrection of the man whose claims they believed and whose teaching the followed.  What that explanation was is the substance of the development of the doctrine of Christ in the history of the church (p. 175-76).

The concluding chapter by J. Nelson Jennings tackles the ever timely issue of the preeminence of Christ among the religions of the world. Jennings challenges the church and the missionary abroad to proclaim Christ as God in the flesh and as the only God worthy of worship. Christ is not whoever each religion worships for this demolishes the necessity and imminent need of missions, not to mention the many aspects of the doctrine of Christ and salvation. “Rather, the relationship between Christ’s deity and Christian missions consists primarily in Jesus Christ the ascended God-man orchestrating, empowering, and intruding into people’s lives through his followers’ cross-/intercultural witness (p. 267).” In regards to religious pluralism, Jennings addresses its foremost contemporary proponent John Hicks. Hicks contends that there are many ways in which people can find a point of contact through which they can be saved and know God – not just Jesus. Hicks further believes that each religions communication of truth demonstrate the many ways in which divine truth can be believed and found (p. 278). Jennings rightly counters Hicks by reminding us that man does not have to search in his own for his own truth formation of God and salvation. The Bible clearly teaches us that God has come in the flesh for all through the incarnation of Jesus Christ (John 1 & I John 1). The counter claim to religious plurality is the incarnational reality that Jesus is God!

Overall, The Deity of Christ is an engaging, insightful and reader friendly guide through the multifaceted doctrine of the deity of Christ. This is not an esoteric work but rather a book that is aimed at the laymen, pastor, Sunday school teacher and student of the Bible. This book serves as both a refresher course on the deity of Christ as well as a timeless reference guide to explaining many of the great Christological passages and phrases of Scripture. As the third contribution to the Theology in Community series from Crossway, The Deity of Christ is a welcome addition to the much needed area of contemporary expressions of the doctrine of Christ. This book will serve the church well for years to come.

Other book in the Theology in Community series are:

  1. The Glory of God
  2. Suffering and the Goodness of God

NOTE: I received this book for free and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

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.