Examining Universalism III: The Biblical Teaching (cont’d)
Before he closes out this section, Packer says he can make four comments on the material, the verses put forth to prove everlasting hell/punishment. First, he says, “it has been suggested that they [the passages threatening eternal punishment, Matt 25:31-46; Rev 20:10, 15; Matt 12:32; 2 Thess 1:8-9; Heb 6:2; 9:27, et al] are not informational at all, but that Christ and the apostles spoke them as in effect a horrific bluff…in order to drive them into faith and faithfulness out of fright.” He says this attitude or reason for giving these texts does not fit the context. My first comment is “suggested by whom?” Who does he have in mind that suggests that Jesus and the apostles were trying to scare people into heaven? This attitude flies in the face of many NT scriptures that talk about salvation by faith and God opening the mind to accept spiritual things, most notably the Gospel. It also flies in the face of the fact that nowhere in the Bible do we see anyone preaching a Gospel message that includes avoiding eternal punishment in hell. Look at Peter’s “sermons” or Paul’s teachings, or any other writer and not once is their preaching like we hear today. Preaching today typically follows a pattern of preaching a topic or passage, explaining it, and either along the way or at the end, a plea is given to avoid hell, by believing in Jesus and the work of the cross and resurrection, and obtain heaven as your final reward. Where is the teaching of hell in the Gospel, or Good News, as it is called? How can the Good News be good if it entailed first preaching everlasting punishment? Unfortunately, Packer does not enlighten the reader to who it is that suggests a view like this.
Second, Packer states that if “anyone who, for whatever reason, thinks these passages [see list in previous paragraph] inconclusive regarding eternal punishment for the impenitent must answer the question: How could our Lord and his apostles have made this belief any clearer?” He says that Jesus could not be more clear that he means eternal punishment for the impenitent. Packer says there is no doubt that this was exactly what Jesus and the apostles meant. Well, if it was so clear, why are there so many different theories or explanations of these passages that make sense and actually bring together so many other Scriptures and ties together all of God’s past, present, and future? I have already addressed these passages in depth in previous chapter reviews. But, the long and short of it is, if you have only short legs to stand on, meaning very little proof that your doctrine is coherent, then you make statements like Packer’s. His lack of explaining the terms aionios and kolasis, especially from the universalist understanding, is disingenuous. It is hardly worthy of him to not help the reader understand why these terms are such a big deal to an evangelical/Christian universalist. However, it is much easier to preach to the choir and get a nod from your audience when you only give your own viewpoint/understanding/doctrine to the audience who mainly agrees with you. In my opinion, Packer would do the reader a huge service by explaining why or how the universalist thinks, especially the universalist of today, and then showing proof why this is not rational, coherent, logical, does not fit with the story line of Scripture.
My conclusion so far, for this entire work, is that it wasn’t written to convince the universalist that he is wrong doctrinally, nor to sway those sitting on the fence trying to make honest sense out of the Bible. No, I believe this book was solely written to appease the proponents of everlasting punishment and to bring back into their ranks those who have begun questioning hell. This is a kind of, get in-line (see all the heavyweight authors!) or get-on-out type of book. But, this is merely my impression, and the reader of this review, and hopefully the book as well, will carefully look into the doctrine of hell or everlasting punishment, and through reason, draw their own conclusion as to what God is speaking.
The third comment was about annihilationism. He states that annihilationism must be read into the texts and cannot be read out of them. He says that universalism and annihilationism are really two different sides of the same coin. The coin is that fact that one way or another, hell needs to be emptied for God to be acceptable. I have already stated that I do not believe in annihilationism, though I do understand better why someone would hold to that view. I do take issue with his treatment of both views as essentially the same. No sir, I think if you did any serious reading to understand universalism, you would separate the two as distinct, rather than conveniently lumping them together to try to make quick work of both of them. I may or may not treat this is the next chapter which covers annihilationism. I am still deciding on whether to cover it or not. You will know this in the future.
Fourth, he says that the idea that God can’t deal with sin and the impenitent with everlasting punishment is wrong. He says that those who believe that everlasting punishment violates God’s attributes and does not resolve the moral problems created by evil and human sin don’t understand that eternal punishment is the solution to the problem of evil. He says eternal punishment vindicates God’s justice and the manifestation of His righteousness and that God should be praised for this. He says we are to be joyous that God will (has) taken final action against evil and that our joy over His taking action, condemning people to eternal conscious torment in hell, will cause us everlasting joy. So let me get this last point right; we who will be in heaven for all eternity will rejoice over all those burning in hell forever and we will praise God for His everlasting punishment of those people in hell? And, if we truly understood God, and His holiness, we would not rebel against people being punished in everlasting torment forever, we would be joyous about it? Packer uses Rev 18:20 and 19:2 as his justification for the joy and celebration. What I have read in those verses is merely about God’s dealing with sin, but not about everlasting punishment. Yes, God will judge people. Yes, there will be a heavy price to pay for unrepentance and sin against a holy God. I do not deny this nor does anyone I know who is a Christian or evangelical universalist. The rest of the book of Revelation explains the eon for which a millennium occurs and also the eon for which Satan and his angels are confined to the lake of fire. It also shows the restoration of the nations and what leads up to the end of the Scriptures and time, 1 Cor 15:22-28.
I am going to leave this section as is, and let you digest some of what he has said and what I have written as well. If you have questions about the conclusions I have come to and why, let me know. If you also question what Packer has written or need some clarification on his writing in his chapter, ask away. If I receive none, I will go ahead and proceed on to the next section, The Universalist Thesis.
Blessings to you!