- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Zondervan; 10/30/04 edition (November 29, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0310240417
- ISBN-13: 978-0310240419
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Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment Paperback – November 29, 2004
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From the Back Cover
Of all the teachings of Christianity, the doctrine of hell is easily the most troubling, so much so that in recent years the church has been quietly tucking it away. Rarely mentioned anymore in the pulpit, it has faded through disuse among evangelicals and been attacked by liberal theologians. Hell is no longer only the target of those outside the church. Today, a disturbing number of professing Christians question it as well. Perhaps more than at any other time in history, hell is under fire. The implications of the historic view of hell make the popular alternatives, annihilationism and universalism, seem extremely appealing. But the bottom line is still God's Word. What does the Old Testament reveal about hell? What does Paul the apostle have to say, or the book of Revelation? Most important, what does Jesus, the ultimate expression of God's love, teach us about God's wrath? Upholding the authority of Scripture, the different authors in Hell Under Fire explore a complex topic from various angles. R. Albert Mohler Jr. provides a historical, theological, and cultural overview of 'The Disappearance of Hell.' Christopher Morgan draws on the New Testament to offer three pictures of hell as punishment, destruction, and banishment. J. I. Packer compares universalism with the traditional understanding of hell, Morgan does the same with annihilationism, and Sinclair Ferguson considers how the reality of hell ought to influence preaching. These examples offer some idea of this volume's scope and thoroughness. Hell may be under fire, but its own flames cannot be quenched by popular opinion. This book helps us gain a biblical perspective on what hell is and why we cannot afford to ignore it. And it offers us a better understanding of the One who longs for all people to escape judgment and obtain eternal life through Jesus Christ.
About the Author
Christopher W. Morgan is professor of theology and dean of the School of Christian Ministries at California Baptist University in Riverside, California. Author/editor of ten books and a teaching pastor of Helendale Community Church, he and and his wife, Shelley, have been married for twenty years and live in Helendale, California.
Robert A. Peterson is Professor of Systematic Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He is author or editor of twenty books, including Salvation Accomplished by the Son: The Work of Christ (Crossway, 2012), Our Secure Salvation: Preservation and Apostasy (P&R Publishing, 2009), and, co-edited with Christopher Morgan, Hell Under Fire (Zondervan, 2004).
Gregory K. Beale (PhD, University of Cambridge) is J. Gresham Machen Chair of New Testatment, Proferssor of New Testament and Bible Theology at Wheaton College Graduate School.
Daniel I. Block (D.Phil, University of Liverpool) is Gunther H. Knoedler Professor of Old Testament, Wheaton College.
Sinclair B. Ferguson (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is a professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary.
R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology. Described by Time magazine as the "reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement," Dr. Mohler can be heard on The Briefing, a daily podcast which analyzes news and events from a Christian worldview. He also writes a popular commentary on moral, cultural, and theological issues at albertmohler.com. He and his wife live in Louisville, Kentucky.
Douglas J. Moo (PhD, University of St. Andrews) is the Kenneth T. Wessner Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. His work centers on understanding the text of the New Testament and its application today. He has written extensively in several commentary series, including the NIV Application Commentary, Pillar Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, and the New International Commentary on the New Testament.
J. I. Packer (DPhil, Oxford University) is a member of the board of governors and professor of theology at Regent College.
Robert W. Yarbrough (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is chair and professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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They explain in the Introduction, “Hell is under fire… the past fifty years have seen a noteworthy turn of affairs. Attacks on the historic doctrine of hell that used to come from without the church are now coming from within. This is especially true with regard to two aberrations: universalism and annihilationism. Listen as two contemporary evangelicals and 'Hell': A Hard Look at a Hard Question: The Fate of the Unrighteous in New Testament Thought], both scholars and churchmen, defend these views… The contributors to this volume are united in affirming the historic Christian doctrine regarding the final destiny of the unsaved: they will suffer everlasting conscious punishment away from the joyous presence of God. The contributors defend the traditional view because they believe that it is the teaching of Scripture.” (Pg. 11-12)
Mohler states, “Some theologians have questioned the moral integrity of eternal punishment by arguing that an infinite punishment is an unjust penalty for finite sins. Or… 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 equally deserve hell, except for salvation through faith in Christ.” (Pg. 39)
Daniel Block observes, “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. Would one really cease to exist at death and then be recreated at the time of the resurrection? Even if these texts assume that the deceased live on in Sheol… there is no hint in any of the [Old Testament] texts cited so far of the netherworld as a ‘hellish’ place where the wicked suffer eternal punishment. In fact, the Old Testament is not clear with respect to distinctions between the wicked and the righteous in death. Ezekiel paints imaginative word pictures of the gradations of existence in Sheol, but he never contemplates the fate of the righteous---only those condemned to an ignominious fate. We find hints of the netherworld and the afterlife as a place/time of eternal torment … as we know it from the New Testament in only two Old Testament texts: Isaiah 66:24 and Daniel 12:2.” (Pg. 59)
Later, he adds, “We might have expected Daniel to say that whereas the righteous awaken to eternal life, the wicked awaken to eternal death. Instead, the latter awaken to disgrace and eternal contempt… Prior to Daniel 12:2 we find no clear evidence of belief in hell, if by hell we mean a place of eternal torment for the wicked. It would be let to later revelation in the New Testament to develop this image.” (Pg. 63, 65)
Robert Yarbrough acknowledges, “It is possible, but by no means necessary, to interpret terms like ‘perish,’ ‘condemned,’ ‘judgment,’ and ‘death’ as excluding eternal conscious punishment. Jesus did not indulge in melodramatic description of coming horrors but was frequently content to let the normal language of mortal death suffice to refer to the eternal torment that he explicitly warned of in various Synoptic passages.” (Pg. 75)
Yarbrough says of Edward William Fudge [author of The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment,Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue), “Some of Fudge’s language can be set aside as overwrought rhetoric. The historic view does not view God as ‘an eternal torturer’… Similarly, ‘the glories of heaven’ will not ‘forever be blighted by the screams from hell.’ … Finally, to call Jesus’ apparent belief in conscious everlasting punishment ‘a grievous mistake, a horrible error, a gross slander against the heavenly Father’ is a risky charge in light of the Scriptures we have cited in the previous section.” (Pg. 78) He admits, however, that “Doubtless god could have chosen to do this [i.e., annihilate the wicked]; the question is whether Scripture means here [Mt. 10:28] he does or will so choose. It makes better sense to view Jesus’ warning a different way.” (Pg. 80)
In his chapter on Paul, Douglas Moo states, “In most English versions, the word ‘hell’ never appears in the letters of Paul. And for good reason: Paul never uses the Greek words usually translated ‘hell’ (geenna and hades). But this… is not about the word ‘hell’ but about the doctrine of hell. If that doctrine is defined as teaching about the ultimate destiny of the wicked, then Paul says much about it.” (Pg. 92)
He concludes, “To some extent, then, our purpose has been a negative one; to show that Paul teaches nothing to contradict the picture of hell the emerges more clearly from other portions of the New Testament. But the evidence we do have from Paul suggests that he agrees with that larger New Testament witness in portraying hell as an unending state of punishment and exclusion from the presence of the Lord.” (Pg. 109)
Gregory Beale acknowledges, “There is theological debate… about the nature of the Final Judgment. Does the portrayal mean the annihilation of unbelievers so that their existence is abolished forever? Or does it refer to a destruction involving not absolute annihilation but the suffering of unbelievers for eternity? The Old Testament context of Isaiah 34 could support the former view, since there the historical annihilation of Edom is portrayed. Since God’s judgment of Edom meant that she ceased to exist, the same meaning appears appropriate to Revelation 14:10-11. Accordingly, the image of continually ascending smoke in Isaiah 34 would serve as a memorial of God’s annihilating punishment for sin, the message of which never goes out of date… Likewise… in Jude 7 Sodom is ‘exhibited as an example in [others] undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.’” (Pg. 115)
Christopher Morgan summarizes, “If hell did not consist of conscious suffering, it is hard to see how it could in any meaningful sense be worse than death, be worse than earthly suffering, be filled with weeping and gnashing of teeth, or be a place of misery. These images demonstrate that people in hell will be perfectly aware of their suffering and just punishment… This punishment is ETERNAL. The fire is eternal, the smoke of the torment rises forever and ever, and the instruments of suffering are eternal… The continual nature of the punishment is shown in Revelation 14:11, where it is said that the wicked ‘will have no rest day or night.’ Jude 7 speaks of the ‘punishment of eternal fire.’ The endlessness of this punishment is also confirmed by the forceful pronouncement in Revelation 20:10, ‘They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.’ It is hard to imagine a stronger affirmation of endless punishment than that.” (Pg. 144)
J.I. Packer cites texts that are used to support Universalism, but then comments, “First, the universal terms in these texts … are all limited or generalized by their context in such a way that it is nowhere possible to maintain that every human being everywhere, past, present, and future, is being clearly, specifically, and inescapably spoken of as destined for salvation. The most that standard commentaries find in these passages is that God will save his elect and restore his world, and that the summons and invitation of the gospel of Jesus Christ is equally applicable to, and valid for, everyone to whom it comes. What more universalists read into the texts cannot be read out of them.” (Pg. 187)
Packer continues, “universalist speculation about God and eternal punishment is more than a little incoherent. The basic assertion is that God in love purposes everyone’s salvation and will somehow make it happen. But how can it happen if, as most universalists believe, human freedom excludes full divine control?... Universalists cannot answer this question unless they are crypto-Calvinists after all.” (Pg. 189)
Christopher Morgan asserts, “The conditionalists’ arguments concerning the word ‘eternal’ are unconvincing. Even if ‘aionios’ only refers to the age to come in passages concerning hell (which is highly unlikely), then the question still remains ‘How long is the age to come?’ Since life in the age to come is ongoing and the extent of the destinies of the righteous and unrighteous are kept parallel in Scripture… then it seems most tenable to conclude that hell is ongoing. So the conditionalists’ first argument … cannot demonstrate conclusively the belief in the annihilation of unbelievers in hell but can only claim its remote possibility.” (Pg. 202-203)
Morgan rejects John Stott’s argument [in Stott Evangelical Essentials: A Liberal Evangelical Dialogue] that “the ultimate eradication of the wicked seems to be a better victory than endless punishment… But a better approach is to ask: What do the Scriptures teach about the final victory of God? The Bible seems to teach that God’s ultimate victory is compatible with the endless punishment of the wicked… This may not ‘sound right’ to Pinnock, Stott, or the other conditionalists, but it is unmistakable that at least Satan, the beast, and the false prophet will be in hell forever.” (Pg. 217)
While strongly defending the traditional view, this collection also gives reasonably fair treatment to the opposing views. And this is the book recommended by conditionalists as the “best book defending the Traditional view.” It will be “must reading” for anyone seriously studying the doctrines of Hell, Conditional Immortality, or Universalism.
Too often in modern evangelical scholarship and preaching, the biblical teaching of hell as eternal conscious punishment is conspicuously absent. Taking its place is a me-centered gospel message of sugar and spice and everything nice. Often used as an expletive, hell has had its place in orthodoxy usurped by such emotive heresies as Universalism and Annihilationism. Hell has become nothing more than a bad dream, a scary story mothers tell their children to keep them honest, and at best, a defunct and embarrassing doctrine from a primitive age, proven erroneous by modern theological intelligentsia.
The editors and contributors of Hell Under Fire beg to differ with those attempting to sweep hell under the carpet of theology. In what amounts to a compendium of modern, orthodox, evangelical scholarship, the contributing authors of Hell Under Fire outline exactly how the doctrine of hell has been traditionally understood, what the Bible has to say about hell, and how believers are to handle the various affronts to the doctrine of hell. The format of the book is rather simple - each author contributes an essay based on their own academic specialty, concerning the doctrine of hell; the editors acquiesce the information into a smooth ebb and flow, palatable for scholars and laypeople alike. Although all nine contributors to this book are well respected and learned men, regretfully, space dictates that only three of them receive mention.
R. Albert Mohler opens the book with his essay Modern Theology: The Disappearance of Hell. Mohler traces the idea of hell as ever present on the minds of the ancients right up to the time the death knell was driven in the Victorian Era -paving the way for subsequent liberal philosophers and theologians to eradicate hell from public consciousness.
Mohler's treatment on the history of hell is as much fascinating as it is enlightening. In a relatively short space, he manages to give a complete picture of how hell went from a first-level doctrine to a caricature of its true nature. Using no fewer than ninety-six references, Mohler takes the reader on an odyssey of historical theology as if it were effortless for him. Mohler seeks out and examines the varied and many philosophers that have both affirmed and denied the actual existence of a physical place called hell (respectively), all the while keeping an eye on Scripture as his truth compass. Indeed, Mohler's final words should ring loud the ears of the readers, "Hell may well be denied, but it will not disappear." Hell Under Fire would be worth the read if only for Mohler's flawless exposé of ancient and current thinking in the church concerning hell.
J. I. Packer uses his real estate to explore the false doctrine of Universalism with his essay titled, Universalism: Will Everyone Ultimately Be Saved? Universalism is a theory thought to have sprung from the early church father Origen. The theory states that the salvific intent of the atonement was so universal, that all humans will be saved through Christ and eventually come to a harmony with God and reside in his Heaven, regardless of one's decision to acknowledge Christ as Lord and God during their natural life; this includes Satan and his angels. Packer is quick to point out that the vast majority of proponents to Universalism attach a great deal of emotional baggage to the theory. Interestingly, Packer notes that Universalism is far from being a unified theory; rather it is comprised of many small, varied versions of the theory. One of the most theologically perplexing ideas put forth by Universalism theologians is that the ultimate expression of God's agape love is not necessarily the person of Christ, but the desire that God would not allow any to ultimately parish.
After surveying the primary scholarship of Universalism and breaking down the major tenants of the debate between universalists and those holding the historical view of hell, Packer correctly asserts that advocates of this false doctrine are simply trying "to circumvent the seemingly clear New Testament witness to the eternal destiny of those who live and die without Christ." Packer concludes that Universalism is appealing only prima facie. The chance that all would not parish, but have eternal life is at the heart of evangelism. The notion of all people achieving salvation, regardless of their earthly attitude toward Christ is so counter-biblical, so distorted from the teaching of God about himself revealed in Scripture, that it must be rejected with extreme prejudice. Packer adds that if the church neglects hell, the world will not "know the truth about holiness, the judgment, the plan, the love, the Christ, and the salvation of our God."
"To speak of hell is to speak of things so overwhelming that it cannot be done with ease... the thought of hell... can carry no inherent attraction to the balanced and coherent human mind... yet hell exists; this is the testimony of the Scriptures, of the apostles, and of the Lord Jesus himself." With these solemn words, Sinclair B. Ferguson begins his essay on Pastoral Theology: The Preacher and Hell. The doctrine of hell has been debated since the first century and has been repeatedly vindicated by orthodox thinkers and councils. The problem as Ferguson sees it is that the debate must stop at the pulpit. If ministers of the gospel are honoring God, have reconciled their own sin and sheer dependence on the mercy of Christ, then they cannot but help preach with fear and trembling "the righteousness of God, the sinfulness of our sin, and the absolute justice of God's condemnation of us" as seen in the doctrine of hell. Hell must be preached, and regularly at that.
Ferguson spends time examining how the pastor must have his own life in order before he can preach with any credibility on such a topic as hell. After a brief discussion on the pastor's role in preaching on hell, Ferguson examines the most common reactions by hearers to lectures on hell, with scriptural rebuttals. Ferguson then poses a series of four important questions and answers concerning the doctrine of hell:
1. Is hell fair?
2. What of those who have never heard of the gospel? May we entertain a "larger hope" that many who have never heard the gospel will be saved?
3. What are we to say at funerals of unbelievers and to their relatives?
4. How can I ever be happy in heaven if I know that there are people in hell -including people I have loved?
Ferguson correctly concludes the inquisition, with the statement that there are aspects of God that cannot be fathomed this side of eternity. The only answer for believers in regards to Heaven and hell is to "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."
Weaknesses are hard to come by in this sort of work; if they exist at all, it is in the arguments of the authors themselves -which they are entitled to, as per the nature of such a work. Several of the authors tend to get a little long-winded at points, but this quickly passes as the reader becomes engaged with the subject matter. Didactically, Morgan and Peterson could have established harder lines between several of the essays to keep one subject from spilling over into the next, avoiding some redundancy. Perhaps each essay's contingency on another's topic makes coalescence unavoidable.
Hell Under Fire is a fantastic resource for one beginning research on the vast topic of hell in the modern context, using it as a encyclopedic source. However, the book is also a sound handbook for those familiar with modern scholarship reinventing eternal punishment, using it as a refresher or supplement to existing research. Although the contributors are a veritable who's who of evangelical scholarship, Hell Under Fire is palatable for layman as well as serious Bible students. This book can earnestly be recommended to any who wish to understand hell as essential to an orthodox doctrine of the Christian faith and its essentiality to evangelism.