Monthly Archives: March 2013

Hell Under Fire – Chapter 1 Review

Modern Theology:  The Disappearance of Hell by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

Mohler’s chapter is broken into sections as listed: Background: Hell in Christian History, Hell as Question: The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, Hell As Scandal: The Victorian Crisis of Faith, Hell as Myth: Twentieth-Century Theology and the Problem of Evil, Hell As Reality…,Hell in the Balance: What is at Stake?

I want to make some comments on most of these sections and then a summary comment on the chapter as a whole. I am not sure whether I will look at each chapter this way, but for right now I think I should. These authors are all heavyweights in the Christian world and there is, at least for now, much to point out concerning their views. Let me start with the first section, Background: Hell in Christian History.

Mohler begins his chapter by lamenting that the traditional view of hell (as I use the term hell, unless otherwise noted, I will mean a place of conscious eternal torment) is disappearing and suddenly. He states, “Take out the doctrine of hell, and the entire shape of Christian theology is inevitably altered.” He states that the doctrine of hell is based in the New Testament texts and the earliest preachers and theologians believed hell as God’s judgment on sinners. Jesus explained hell and the early Christians followed what He taught about it. A quote is given by Thomas Oden from Oden’s Systematic Theology stating that the patristic fathers were agreed that hell was eternal and God created it to destroy sin completely and forever.

Oden notes in that same volume that eternal fire and eternal punishment are very common and though being tested through the years, still have not been redefined. Augustine is then quoted from Concerning the City of God Against the Pagans, as saying that Matt 25:46 supports the concept of eternal punishment and eternal life.

Mohler then shares a few paragraphs about Origen, how he leveled the first major challenge to the doctrine of hell. He states that Origen was a universalist who believed that ultimately all people would be saved and that God’s punishment was restorative not retributive. And then, we are taken directly to the Council of Constantinople in 553AD where the council deemed universalism to be anathema. Since Origen held to universalism, he was anathematized by the council as well.

Mohler goes on to state that this view was held all the way through the Reformation by the majority of the church. Jonathan Edwards was lauded for his fiery sermon on hell (The Torments of Hell Are Exceedingly Great in Sermons and Discourses) and Robert Schuller is now becoming the norm in Christianity today with his steadfastness against hell and eternal torment.

The reason I wanted to spend a little more time on this opening section is because of the foundation that Mohler is trying to lay. In a few short pages, in summary, he proclaims that hell (remember conscious eternal torment) was preached by Jesus, the Apostles, the disciples, patristic fathers and codified in 553 AD by the Council and subsequently believed by most of the church up to and beyond the Reformation. He seems to imply that there was a lone voice of dissent (Origen) though not specifically stated (though no other examples of ante-Nicene nor post-Nicene fathers who believed in universalism). In Mohler’s defense, he does state on page 17 that Origen “was the pioneer of a form of universalism” and maybe by this statement one could assume that others followed.

I understand his space was limited, but that, I believe, is a major problem with books such as this. The disappearance of hell is looked at in a shallow way, with really no scriptural support given for the view of eternal torment in a place called hell. There is no tracking of universalism through those centuries (mostly the Dark Ages) to contrast with the “majority” belief in hell, nor are other views such as annihilationism contrasted either. My hope is that as the book proceeds, the reader will be given insight into the definitions of such key terms as eternal, hell, everlasting, punishment, etc.

My challenge is several. Should a believer, especially a new one or a nominal one, take these statements by Mohler, Oden, Augustine or others as truth? How were these conclusions arrived at by Mohler? Where can the reader go to find out what the actual early believers thought about hell, the patristic fathers, those who served on the councils? My suggestion is for the reader to go online and download many early texts from sites such as www.earlychristianwritings.com. Reading the materials offered at these types of sites is not without caution. We must realize the texts are not scripture. However, they can give valuable insight into the thoughts of some during the early days to help form a broader picture of Christianity and beliefs held in those early years.

Another challenge is this: Why jump from Jesus and a few passing comments about the early fathers (with no substantiation) to nearly 500 years after Jesus’ time? History records seven ecumenical councils that were held from AD 325 – 787.  The one Mohler references the one in 553 AD being the fifth, Constantinople I.  He states that universalism was deemed a heresy at that council.  So, if universalism was such a heresy, blasphemous enough to warrant anathemas on the belief and all those who held it, why was it not addressed earlier? Origen lived from around 184-253 AD and wrote between 203-250 AD. Why would the church take 300 years to deem universalism anathema?

As I will write about in forthcoming articles, I believe the reason for the lack of support and lack of a verdict for so many years is that many, if not most, of the early church (Apostles, disciples, early fathers, etc) believed in the ultimate reconciliation of all mankind to the Father. As you read some early works for yourself, and read the New Testament without traditional denominational  glasses on, I believe you will find a different story or outlook on “hell” than what you have been taught.

I encourage you to look into the beliefs of such men as Eusebius, member of the Council of Nicea AD 325, Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory Nyssa, members of the Council of Constantinople I AD 381 and Council of Ephesus AD 431 respectively.. This should give you plenty to study and then, if adventurous, comment to this post and I will send you some links to other works that I will be writing about in the future, but ones that you could read now.

Mohler continues the chapter citing events and beliefs by various groups from the 1600’s forward to the 20th century.  He shows how English society changed and began finding the belief in hell uncouth for a civilized society.  He shows the rise of the Socinians and Arians and how the Enlightenment produced philosophical thought that denied hell.

One notable point he made referred to Victorian society.  He states, ” The Victorian cult of the family featured a particular ideal of the father as a loving, respected, upright, reserved pater familias.  Such a father would discipline his children, but never too severely.  Eventually the sentimental indulgence of the father would bring punishment to an end, leading to reconciliation.  When this vision of fatherhood was extended to God, hell as eternal torment became unthinkable.”  Now, my point is, isn’t this pretty much the way the Father is spoken of by Jesus and Paul and the writer to the Hebrews? (Matt 7:11/Luke 11:13; 2 Cor 1:3; Rom 8:15-17; Eph 4:6; Heb 12:9, et al.)

Charged language, such as the description of a quote by John Wenham decrying unending torment as sadism, not justice, is met by Mohler as impassioned, almost hysterical language.  Those like Mohler believe that what is at stake is nothing less than a challenge to the authority and supremacy of God and His justice.   Mohler asks the question, “What’s at stake?”  He says, “The answer MUST be found in understanding the impact of cultural trends and the prevailing worldview on Christian theology.”  My answer would be to understand the text of scripture and see how the ealry Christians lived out their beliefs.  Did the early believers live in fear of eternal torment and with joy about the afterlife and their own final redemption and reconciliation with God?  So far no case has been made from scripture (by this I of course mean the Bible, most specifically the Old Testament Hebrew scriptures, Septuagint, and Greek New Testament, particularly and any modern versions that literally translate those texts instead of church tradition) nor from any believers from the first 500 years of Christianity, except a quote or two from Augustine.  If you read Augustine’s life and history you may not be so prone to quote him and depend on his theology so heavily.

“What happened to evangelical convictions about hell?”  Mohler gives three issues in answer to that question.  First, he says the evangelical view of God changed   He laments that God’s love is no longer holy.  In other words, it is more important today to have a God of love, ooey-gooey love, the kind that would never pass out a retributive justice or send someone to eternal torment in hell.  Second, is the very issue of justice.  He says retributive justice has been under attack for a long time.  Criminals no longer need justice, they need correction, he states.  He says evangelicals have bought into the idea that criminals need a cure, not prison sentence.  Third, the problem is modern psychology.  Modern psychology has made everyone a victim and no one responsible for their own behavior (sins).    Fourth, he says that the current understanding of salvation has no place for a fear of hell like it used to have,  He says people used to be afraid of going to hell and so would do what they could to avoid it by living more chaste lives.  Salvation is now a release from bad habits, not inherent sin.  He finally states that this redefinition of hell has changed our concept of God and the gospel.  And these authors apparently must rescue God and his hell from those who would diminish it.

What offends me about his broad brush is that my views, and the views of many like me, are swept aside, lumped together with all manner of unbiblical philosophies and discounted because they offend the majority of believers today.  I have heard the statement so often that if you come up with an understanding of biblical text that no one (meaning more often than not, few)  has ever held, you are most likely misunderstanding the text and are in dangerous (hear, heretical) territory.  At that point you MUST fall in-line with the traditional rendering (meaning the denominations’ take on the text by their preeminent scholars) or face discipline and/or expulsion.  Well, if Jesus had succumbed to this same illogical thinking we would never have had a Savior who went to the cross to pay mankind’s penalty for sin.  We would have had a weak-spined, defeated man who just sat down and shut up when it came to the Pharisee’s teachings.

 

Well, so much to say, so little space. I will continue the review soon. If you have questions or comments, please feel free to ask away. I cannot guarantee that I will respond immediately, but I will get to each one as soon as possible. Until next time, adieu, auf wiedersehen, God bless you.

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Hell Under Fire Book Review – Introduction

At the request of a brother and follower of this blog, I am going to undertake the task of doing a book review on the book Hell Under Fire by General Editors Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson.  The Subtitle of the book is Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment.  This book is a compilation of articles written by the following contributors as their articles/chapters appear in the book:

Introduction by the General Editors

Chapter 1 – R. Albert Mohler Jr. on Modern Theology: The Disappearance of Hell

Chapter 2 – Daniel I. Block on The Old Testament on Hell

Chapter 3 – Robert W. Yarbrough on Jesus on Hell

Chapter 4 – Douglas J. Moo on Paul on Hell

Chapter 5 – Gregory K. Beale on The Revelation on Hell

Chapter 6 – Christopher W. Morgan on Biblical Theology: Three Pictures of Hell

Chapter 7 – Robert A. Peterson on Systematic Theology: Three Vantage Points of Hell

Chapter 8 – J. I. Packer on Universalism: Will Everyone Ultimately Be Saved?

Chapter 9 – Christopher W. Morgan on Annihilationism: Will the Unsaved Be Punished Forever?

Chapter 10 – Sinclair B Ferguson on Pastoral Theology: The Preacher and Hell

Conclusion by the General Editors

We all come to Christian works with some sort of bent or tradition that we adhere to.  It is hard to set aside our presuppositions and moorings to be totally objective when doing reviews of other works.  I acknowledge that and I fully expect to be taken to task over my own presuppositions as they surface throughout this review.  I will try to minimize them but not apologize for them.  With your input and sound biblical reasoning, I am open to the truth of the Word of God as found in the Bible.  I encourage you to engage with me in “iron sharpening iron.”

My bent right now is toward challenging the traditional thought of an eternal punishment for those who do not believe in Jesus Christ during this life.  I have moved through Dispensational beliefs to Reformed beliefs and now beyond any system of belief to seeking the truth of the Bible, and as much as possible, devoid of traditional beliefs stemming from the organization of the Roman Catholic church in /  around the period of 500 AD to the present traditions of Protestantism as born out of the Reformation.

To be transparent, I am a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY where I lived for 2 years as I finished my MDiv in Theology.  One of the contributors, Al Mohler, was my Sunday School teacher for one of my years there.  My family and I attended, but never joined, Highview Baptist Church (East Campus) and were nominally active in ministry there.  I have been the solo/senior pastor of three churches, one each in Colorado, Illinois, and Utah.  I have a very strong burden for the truth of God and have no time any more for anyone who will not openly and honestly desire to search the Scriptures with an open mind, seeking God’s truth, not a denomination’s “truth.”  I will be happy to answer questions you may have about my past or my beliefs but do not want to take up more space here, possibly obscuring the review itself.

Now to begin the review itself.

Introduction

The General Editors waste no time in getting right to their belief about hell.  Four paragraphs in they state that hell is under fire, and it is under fire from those WITHIN the church, whereas most previous attacks came from without.  Then they expose their feelings on these attacks.  They say there are two main attacks, or as they put it, ABERRATIONS:  universalism and annihilationism.  Without any substantiation, they begin by using charged words rather than stating a problem, engaging the facts on both sides, and coming to a conclusion based on the facts in evidence.  This, I believe, sets the tone for much of the rest of the book.  Most, if not all, of the authors have substantial positions to defend.  By this I mean, they have established ministries that they receive their livelihoods from, which can, but not always, lead to a coloring of opinions on doctrinal positions.  I am not indicting any of them specifically, but will let their writings speak for themselves.

On page 12, the second page of the introduction, they state that “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.” (emphasis mine)  Now, I agree that this position is both historic and believed by Christians for many years.  What I want to challenge is the notion connoted by historic Christian doctrine that that was the only belief, or the most predominant belief in Christian history stemming from the Apostles of Christ, through the early church fathers leading up to the council at Constantinople in 553 AD.

The next part of this review will focus on Chapter 1, Al Mohler’s chapter which, as the introduction by the general editors states, “laments the departure of many people, including evangelicals, from historic Christian teaching concerning hell.”

Until next time, God’s blessings to you.

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Welcome!

Welcome to the Valley of Vision Las Vegas.  In our valley, there are many spiritual people and many churches striving to do what they think is right according to the truth they hold.  Their truth is from different sources, but here we will concern ourselves with the truth as the one true God has laid out through The Word, Jesus Christ.  Where is this found?  It is found in only one place and that is the Bible.  We are not concerned with church traditions that have skewed the original truth of God and made it into a whole new cloth.  The only concern we have is putting forth the love of God, the depth of that love, and how all people have hope in Christ.

This valley is starving for truth, hence the picture of the lone tree standing in a wilderness.  We will be that one lone tree, bearing lots of fruit, in this wasteland called the Las Vegas Valley.  We will be the one to plant more fruit trees in this valley to populate this valley with more vision for the one True God, His Son, Jesus the Savior of mankind, and the hope that only God can give.

Why are people, seemingly very religious people, rotting on the vine (branches)?  We believe this is so because of the lack of truth here in Las Vegas.  If those who claim God as their Master and Jesus as their Savior were truly being satisfied, there would be far less fighting, back-stabbing, in-fighting (sparring between those who believe they are Christ’s), and far more of God’s truth being preached.  There would be less church tradition being taught and more of the the truth in the Bible being taught and sought.

When sincere people, seeking sincere answers to their most troubling questions of life and death find nothing but fear, less hope, and more works-based philosophy as answers, they are looking to the wrong “leaders” and the wrong books.  I have been there and done that!  I have been in the pulpit spewing forth the same falsehoods that most others propound.  I have given the same answers they have because that’s how I was taught.  My seminary education afforded me an opportunity to make it in full-time ministry.  My ticket, though not fully, denominationally-stamped, was nonetheless a ticket to somewhere I hadn’t been, but had dreamed of for years. After teaching and preaching for many years, I, too, still had nagging questions that others could not answer according to the Bible, but only from tradition.  This was not satisfying and left me like so many; hungry for the truth that I knew was out there.

Where do people go after they die?  Why do some go to heaven and some to hell?  Why had no one, in my whole Christian life of 20+ years, ever really sat me down and told/taught me what the Bible had to say about, hell, Satan, the after-life, the Gospel, how salvation works, what will happen in the end (biblically), why should I be hopeful, etc.  I was given traditional, denominational answers, but there has never been any explanation for the apparent contradictions that these philosophies bring out.

Well, I hope this becomes a place where people can truly find peace, joy, and hope.  I hope this blog becomes the place many will find answers to their most nagging questions, and if not answers, at least pointed in the right direction to find them.  I hope to touch on a lot of very controversial modern beliefs, traditional beliefs, that have entrapped the unwitting in its nets and dragged them down into the depths of the sea of despair.

Will I succeed?  Maybe.  But I am a child of the Most High and a joint-heir with the Savior Jesus Christ and I have all confidence in them that what they want brought forth through me will come forth!  Let all who have honest questions and those who have the truth come and feed us here and be fed by us here that all of us may grow up in the Lord.

What is forthcoming on this blog?  I will be publishing our beliefs, book reviews, and teachings on what some call the Greater Hope in Jesus.  Beyond that I am not sure, but I am open for direction.

Until next time, may God’s love encompass every fiber of your being!

 

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