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Category Archives: Anti- Evangelical Universalist

Albert Mohler on “Doing away with Hell”

Doing Away with Hell? Part Two

Originally Posted Here

The doctrine of hell has recently come under vicious attack, both from secularists and even from some evangelicals. In many ways, the assault has been a covert one. Like a slowly encroaching tide, a whole complex of interrelated cultural, theological, and philosophical changes have conspired to undermine the traditional understanding of hell. Yesterday, we considered the first and perhaps most important of those changes — a radically altered view of God. But other issues have played a part, as well.

A second issue that has contributed to the modern denial of hell is a changed view of justice. Retributive justice has been the hallmark of human law since premodern times. This concept assumes that punishment is a natural and necessary component of justice. Nevertheless, retributive justice has been under assault for many years in western cultures, and this has led to modifications in the doctrine of hell.

The utilitarian philosophers, such as John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham argued that retribution is an unacceptable form of justice. Rejecting clear and absolute moral norms, they argued that justice demands restoration rather than retribution. Criminals were no longer seen as evil and deserving of punishment but were seen as persons in need of correction. The goal — for all but the most egregious sinners — was restoration and rehabilitation. The shift from the prison to the penitentiary was supposed to be a shift from a place of punishment to a place of penance, but apparently no one told the prisoners.

C. S. Lewis rejected this idea as an assault upon the very concept of justice. “We demand of a cure not whether it is just but whether it succeeds. Thus when we cease to consider what the criminal deserves and consider only what will cure him or deter others, we have tacitly removed him from the sphere of justice altogether; instead of a person, a subject of rights, we now have a mere object, a patient, a ‘case’.”

Penal reforms followed, public executions ceased, and the public accepted the changes in the name of humanitarianism. Dutch criminologist Pieter Spierenburg pointed to “increasing inter-human identification” as the undercurrent of this shift. Individuals began to sympathize with the criminal, often thinking of themselves in the criminal’s place. The impact of this shift in the culture is apparent in a letter from one nineteenth century Anglican to another:

“The disbelief in the existence of retributive justice . . . is now so widely spread through nearly all classes of people, especially in regard to social and political questions . . . [that it] causes even men, whose theology teaches them to look upon God as a vindictive, lawless autocrat, to stigmatize as cruel and heathenish the belief that criminal law is bound to contemplate in punishment other ends beside the improvement of the offender himself and the deterring of others.”

The utilitarian concept of justice and deterrence has also given way to justice by popular opinion and cultural custom. The U.S. Constitution disallows “cruel and unusual punishment,” and the courts have offered evolving and conflicting rulings on what kind of punishment is thus excluded. At various times, the death penalty has been constitutionally permitted and forbidden, and in one recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, the justice writing the majority opinion actually cited data from opinion polls.

The transformations of legal practice and culture have redefined justice for many modern persons. Retribution is out, and rehabilitation is put in its place. Some theologians have simply incorporated this new theory of justice into their doctrines of hell. For the Roman Catholics, the doctrine of purgatory functions as the penitentiary. For some evangelicals, a period of time in hell — but not an eternity in hell — is the remedy.

Some theologians have questioned the moral integrity of eternal punishment by arguing that an infinite punishment is an unjust penalty for finite sins. Or, to put the argument in a slightly different form, eternal torment is no fitting punishment for temporal sins. The traditional doctrine of hell argues that an infinite penalty is just punishment for sin against the infinite holiness of God. This explains why all sinners are equally deserving of hell, but for salvation through faith in Christ.

A third shift in the larger culture concerns the advent of the psychological worldview. Human behavior has been redefined by the impact of humanistic psychologies that deny or reduce personal responsibility for wrongdoing. Various theories place the blame on external influences, biological factors, behavioral determinism, genetic predispositions, and the influence of the subconscious — and these variant theories barely scratch the surface.

The autonomous self becomes the great personal project for individuals, and their various crimes and misdemeanors are excused as growth experiences or ‘personal issues.’ Shame and guilt are banned from public discussion and dismissed as repressive. In such a culture, the finality of God’s sentencing of impenitent sinners to hell is just unthinkable.

A fourth shift concerns the concept of salvation. The vast majority of men and women throughout the centuries of western civilization have awakened in the morning and gone to sleep at night with the fear of hell never far from consciousness — until now. Sin has been redefined as a lack of self-esteem rather than as an insult to the glory of God. Salvation has been reconceived as liberation from oppression, internal or external. The gospel becomes a means of release from bondage to bad habits rather than rescue from a sentence of eternity in hell.

The theodicy issue arises immediately when evangelicals limit salvation to those who come to conscious faith in Christ during their earthly lives and define salvation as anything akin to justification by faith. To the modern mind, this seems absolutely unfair and scandalously discriminatory. Some evangelicals have thus modified the doctrine of salvation accordingly. This means that hell is either evacuated or minimized. Or, as one Catholic wit quipped, hell has been air-conditioned.

These shifts in the culture are but part of the picture. The most basic cause of controversy over the doctrine of hell is the challenge of theodicy. The traditional doctrine is just too out of step with the contemporary mind — too harsh and eternally fixed. In virtually every aspect, the modern mind is offended by the biblical concept of hell preserved in the traditional doctrine. For some who call themselves evangelicals, this is simply too much to bear.

We should note that compromise on the doctrine of hell is not limited to those who reject the traditional formulation. The reality is that few references to hell are likely to be heard even in conservative churches that would never deny the doctrine. Once again, the cultural environment is a major influence.

In his study of “seeker sensitive” churches, researcher Kimon Howland Sargeant notes that “today’s cultural pluralism fosters an under-emphasis on the ‘hard sell’ of Hell while contributing to an overemphasis on the ’soft sell’ of personal satisfaction through Jesus Christ.” The problem is thus more complex and pervasive than the theological rejection of hell–it also includes the avoidance of the issue in the face of cultural pressure.

The revision or rejection of the traditional doctrine of hell comes at a great cost. The entire system of theology is modified by effect, even if some revisionists refuse to take their revisions to their logical conclusions. Essentially, our very concepts of God and the gospel are at stake. What could be more important?

The temptation to revise the doctrine of hell — to remove the sting and scandal of everlasting conscious punishment — is understandable. But it is also a major test of evangelical conviction. This is no theological trifle. As one observer has asked, “Could it be that the only result of attempts, however well-meaning, to air-condition Hell, is to ensure that more and more people wind up there?”

Hell demands our attention in the present, confronting evangelicals with a critical test of theological and biblical integrity. Hell may be denied, but it will not disappear.

 


 

 

 

Nouwen on free will and the “Good News” of Hell

“Is there a hell? The concepts of heaven and hell are as intimately connected as those of good and evil. When we are free to do good, we are also free to do evil; when we can say yes to God’s love, the possibility of saying no also exists. Consequently, when there is heaven there also must be hell. All of these distinctions are made to safeguard the mystery that God wants to be loved by us in freedom. In this sense, strange as it may sound, the idea of hell is good news. Human beings are not robots or automatons who have no choices and who, whatever they do in life, end up in God’s Kingdom. No, God loves us so much that God wants to be loved by us in return. And love cannot be forced; it has to be freely given. Hell is the bitter fruit of a final no to God.”

– Henri Nouwen

(taken as a quote from this source)

 

Mark Galli from Christianity Today responds to the Rob Bell Book

Here is a book review and response on some of the topics we are investigating on this site.

 

 

Mark Driscoll on the Doctrine of Hell

Copied here from the Mars Hill Page/ Mark Driscoll

What are some of the major objections to the Doctrine of hell?

“A loving God would not send billions of people to a horrible hell.”

In a very important sense, God doesn’t send anyone to hell. The only ones there are those who have rejected his revelation, choosing to suppress the truth he made plain to them. God made people in his image, after his likeness, with the power to say no and to reject the universal revelation of himself. Subsequently, sinners have no one to blame but themselves if they are damned.

To get to hell, someone must reject the God who shows them his goodness and out of love for all “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything,” reject the Spirit who will “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment,” and reject the crucified Son who said, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Obviously, God has been exceedingly gracious to sinners.

“Heaven and hell are the result of his love and justice.”

People who reject Jesus in this life will not rejoice in him after this life. Hell is only for those who persistently reject the real God in favor of false gods. So in the end, people get to be with the god they love. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, either people will say to God, “Thy will be done,” or God will say to them, “Thy will be done.” Not only is God loving, but he is also just. Heaven and hell are the result of his love and justice.

“A loving God would be more tolerant.”

People who judge God need to really consider if they would be more pleased if God were tolerant of everyone, including rapists, pimps, pedophiles, and even those who have sinned against them most heinously. The idea is completely absurd and unjust. Not everyone in hell is a rapist, of course, but everyone there chose sin over God throughout his or her entire life. …

“Tolerance would denote both approval and support of evil.”

A loving God protects his children from sin and evil by separating them. In this way, God is a father who is tolerant of all who obey him and are safe for his children. But he is intolerant of those who sin against him and do evil to his children. Subsequently, God is intolerant in a way that is like our own cultural intolerances of those who drink and drive, steal, rape, and murder; we, too, demonstrate our intolerance by separating such people from society. To call such actions on God’s part intolerant is shameful, because tolerance would denote both approval and support of evil.

“Hell is mean.”

To understand what love is, look at what Jesus did at the cross. He suffered and died for the ungodly, for sinners, for his enemies. Or, to say it another way, Jesus suffered and died for mean people. A God who will suffer and die for mean people is not mean. In fact, such a God alone is altogether loving; to be condemned by a God of perfect love shows how damnable our sin truly is.

Do people who have never heard about Jesus go to hell? That and more, after the jump:

“Eternal torment in hell is an unjust punishment for people who sin for a few decades.”

Some argue that the punishment of sinners is annihilation. This means that after someone dies apart from faith, they suffer for a fitting period of time and then simply cease to exist so that hell is not eternal in duration. In question is the nature and length of the punishment.

Annihilationism is simply not what the Bible teaches. Daniel 12:2 says, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Jesus teaches the same thing and speaks of those who “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Grammatically, there is no difference here between the length of time mentioned for life and that for punishment; rather, there is simply eternal life and eternal death.

“Satan will not reign in hell. It is a place of punishment that God prepared for the Devil and his angels.”

The Bible tells us that “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image” and “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” The word “forever” (Greek aion) means unending.

This is why the Bible speaks of hell as conscious, eternal punishment. One summary of the Bible’s teaching on the pain of hell says:

  • Those in hell suffer intense and excruciating pain. This pain is likely both emotional/spiritual and physical (John 5:28–29).
  • Hell is a fate worse than being drowned in the sea (Mark 9:42).
  • It is worse than any earthly suffering—even being maimed (Matthew 5:29–30; Mark 9:43).
  • The suffering never ends (Matthew 25:41; Mark 9:48).
  • The wicked will be “burned with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12).
  • Those in hell will be thrown into the fiery furnace and will experience unimaginable sorrow, regret, remorse, and pain. The fire produces the pain described as “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30).
  • The intensity of the suffering seems to be according to the wickedness of the person’s behavior (Romans 2:5–8).
  • Hell is utterly fearful and dreadful (Hebrews 10:27–31).
  • This punishment is depicted as “coming misery,” “eating flesh with fire,” and the “day of slaughter” (James 5:1–5).
  • Those in hell will feel the full force of God’s fury and wrath (Revelations 14:10).
  • They will be “tormented” with fire (14:10–11).
  • This suffering is best understood as endless since the “smoke of their torment rises forever and ever” (14:11).
  • This suffering is constant because it is said that those in hell “will have no rest day or night” (14:11) and
  • “will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (20:10).

In summary, annihilationism is not biblical. For this reason, it was condemned by the Second Council of Constantinople (AD 553) and the Fifth Lateran Council (1513).

Today, though, it is becoming popular to hope that sinners will eventually repent and everyone will end up in heaven. This is universal reconciliation, the ancient view of Origen. However, there is not a shred of evidence for post-mortem repentance. The continual teaching of the Bible is that we die once and are then judged, without any second chance at salvation. As one clear example, Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

Do people who have never heard about Jesus go to hell?

Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Peter preached, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

The conclusion is simple: there is only one way to the Father and that is through Jesus Christ. All other religious roads lead to false gods and a real hell.

But there are many ways to Jesus. While the norm is responding to the preached Word of God, there are biblical examples as well as life experiences where God gives special revelation of the Messiah to unsaved people in other forms, including direct speech, dreams, and visions. God called Abraham directly. He gave Pharaoh dreams. He spoke to the treacherous prophet Balaam in a vision so that he prophesied about the Messiah. He appeared to Cornelius in a vision, which resulted in him being saved.

“Jesus said, ‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’ … But there are many ways to Jesus.”

There are many such stories. The reality is that anyone who is searching and willing to respond to the goodness of God as Cornelius did will receive special revelation. God is perfectly able to bypass the “normal” channels to accomplish his purposes.

No one who comes to the Lord will be cast out. As Paul says:

For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Therefore, while there is no salvation apart from faith in Jesus Christ, there is also no reason to overlook the creativity of God to get the gospel out. His creativity includes using us to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth as pioneering missionaries to unreached people groups and generous givers to ministries that translate the Bible into new languages.

Parts of this post are adapted from the book Doctrine, written by Pastor Mark and Dr. Gerry Breshears.

 

Irenaeus on Conditional Immortality

“It is the Father who imparts continuance forever on those who are saved. Life does not arise from us or from our nature. It is bestowed according to the grace of God”

– Irenaeus Against Heresies

 

Clark Pinnock on Free Will and Hell

“Christian belief in hell is (oddly enough) part of the good news when understood in the context of a relational theology. It safeguards the mystery that God wants us to love him freely. We are not robots devoid of significance who end up in God’s kingdom whether we want to or not. God loves us and wants to be loved in return. But love cannot be forced; it has to be freely given and hell represents the possibility of even saying ‘no’ to God finally. Hell is not God’s choice so much as it is ours. ”
– Clark Pinnock-  The Nature of Hell

 

Augustine Quote on Traditional Interpretation of Hell

“Is it not folly to assume that eternal punishment signifies a fire lasting a long time, while believing that eternal life is life without end? For Christ, in the very same passage, included both punishment and life in one and the same sentence when he said, “So those people will go into eternal punishment, while the righteous will go into eternal life” (Matt 25:46) If both are “eternal,” it follows necessarily that either both are to be taken as long lasting but finite, or both as endless and perpetual. The phrases “eternal punishment” and “eternal life” are parallel and it would be absurd to use them in one and the same sentence to mean “Eternal life will be infinite, while eternal punishment will have an end ” Hence, because the eternal life of the saints will be endless, the eternal punishment also, for those condemned to it, will assuredly have no end.”

St. Augustine, City of God