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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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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.
They interact with the latest, widespread scholarship within more liberal veins of Christianity (and increasingly more conservative ones) that opts for either annihilationism or universalism. I would recommend this for pastors, lay leaders, and anyone interested in hearing the full arguments for hell - Whether coming from a pro or con position. HUF is a worthy opponent, a counter-balance of any arguments against the traditional doctrine of hell.
Hell Under Fire is one stop shopping for anyone wrestling with the doctrine of hell because of the thoroughness of the writing. The reader should feel that every subtopic is covered well, or is at least footnoted for an easy on ramp to more study. I would recommend this book over Hell on Trial, as editor Robert Peterson incorporates much of the material in his HOT into this book.
The book is particularly strong addressing the Biblical warrant traditional hell, probably because of the super abundance of scripture passages that point to the traditional view that the burden of proof rests with those who would deny the doctrine.
Likewise, the authors make a convincing case that while the traditional view of hell is sobering, it is just and actually promotes justice on earth.
As we should expect from Christian scholars, the authors are gracious with their opponents but firm in their views on truth.
Could be better:
Those with a problem with God's sovereignty over evil and salvation (free will) will probably still have those beefs after reading this. To be fair, these were not the main issues the authors were addressing. Also, no worldview can explain evil without problems (atheists can, but can't call evil 'evil' because they have no divine "ought" that creates moral absolutes- nor can they explain good... but I digress).
For a more winsome, challenging presentation of these issues, see Tim Keller's The Reason for God, particularly the chapters on Evil and Hell.
This book is well worth the money and I'm sure it will be a treasured book in anyone's collection regardless of their Christian denomination.