Revisiting Hell (RJS)

In the next chapter of The Reason for God Keller addresses a question that has been discussed repeatedly on this blog over the last few years: “How can a loving God send people to hell?” Given the amount of space that has already been devoted to this question, perhaps it would be better to skip the chapter. But there are some insights of value that Keller adds to the conversation.

To begin, the topic of hell comes up in a few different places in the Veritas Forum interview I’ve used to frame several of the discussions of Keller’s book. In this first segment Martin Bashir asks Keller if he believes there is only one God and and that there is only one way to approach that God. The answer begins with Jesus but wanders around to the question of hell.

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At one point in this segment Bashir asks about all those who are committed to other religions, and asks where Keller’s view leaves them. Keller responds:

(2:06-2:45)  Where they are right now that means if there is never any change they don’t get Jesus, if he is who he said he is then long term they don’t have God. On the other hand, you know all I can ever say about this is God gives me, even as a minister with the scripture, a lot of information on a need to know basis. And a need to know basis means here is all I can tell you: Unless you get Jesus Christ who created you to start with, unless you are reunited with him sometime there is no eternal future of thriving.

The segment continues through a number of related topics, but I highlight this because it provides an example of something Keller says several times when addressed about the question of hell. There are some things that we simply do not know for sure, and in wisdom and humility we should admit it.

A bit later:

(3:05-3:25) I have a need to know basis, this is the only thing I know, you need Jesus. I certainly know that God is wiser than me, more merciful than me. I do know when I finally find out how God is dealing with every individual soul I won’t have any questions about it.

(5:43-5:51)  But if you have a perfect God, a perfect King, who comes and suffers in Jesus Christ, then at a certain point I trust him.

Moving from the interview to the book … In chapter 5 of The Reason for God Keller organizes the discussion around the themes of judgment, hell, and love. He has a number of interesting observations here – taking his cue largely from C. S. Lewis.

Hell. First, lets dispel the common perception, both from the outside, and sometimes within the church itself:

Modern people inevitably think that hell works like this: God gives us time, but if we haven’t made the right choices by the end of our lives, he casts our souls into hell for all eternity. As the souls fall through space, they cry out for mercy, but God says “Too late! You had your chance, now you will suffer!” (p. 76)

A common image of hell in the Bible is that of fire. Fire disintegrates. Even in this life we can see the kind of soul disintegration that self-centeredness creates. … Hell, then is the trajectory of a soul, living a self-absorbed, self-centered life, going on forever. (p. 72-77)

but

… it is a travesty to picture God casting people into a pit who are crying “I’m sorry! Let me out!”(p. 79).

In a footnote he elaborates on the image of fire as it relates to hell, and on the humility we should take to our interpretations of the idea of hell.

All descriptions and depictions of hell in the Bible are symbolic and metaphorical. Each metaphor suggests one aspect of the experience of hell. … The Bible clearly proposes that heaven and hell are actual realities, but also indicates that all language about them is allusive, metaphorical, and partial. (p. 259-260)

Keller uses the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 as a biblical support for the kind of view he is presenting. The rich man, even in hell (or hades) goes on along the same self-centered track he took in life. This may not be the point of the parable, but it is a feature of the parable. In the view of both Keller and Lewis, hell is the result of God giving people up to their own desires, including their desire for freedom from God himself. It is a self chosen eternal consequence of failure to follow God. Because we are created by God, and for God, life without God is devastating … because it is without God. The person in hell is locked in the prison of their own self-centeredness forever into infinity.  He quotes Lewis from the Great Divorce and the Problem of Pain.

There are only two kinds of people – those who say “Thy will be done” to God or those to whom God in the end says, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice it wouldn’t be Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. (p. 79)

What Keller has to say about hell has certainly gotten flack from a number of different quarters. This isn’t a denial of the idea of hell. And it certainly isn’t universalism in any form. But it also doesn’t reflect the idea of sinners in the hands of an angry God desiring to send all into eternal conscious torment for the ancient sin of Adam.

The issue of judgment is even more important. Keller turns to Miroslav Volf and Czeslaw Milosz as he explores the importance of judgment coupled with love. A God of Love must also be a God of Judgment. How could it be otherwise? Think about it. If there is no judgment, there is no victory over evil and there is no basis for morality. Nothing in the present world matters – injustice will not be put to right, evil will never be punished. There is no real justification for statements of right or wrong. What difference does it make?

But… The Bible says that God’s wrath flows from his love and delight in his creation. He is angry at evil and injustice because it is destroying its peace and integrity. (p. 73) There is a God who will right all wrongs and settle all accounts, who has won the victory over evil, over pain and suffering. On this we rest – no need for vengeance and retaliation.

I believe in a God of Love. The idea of a God of love is unique to the Christian faith and, although less well developed perhaps, to the OT Jewish faith from which Christianity grew. The God of Love came to full revelation in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Keller notes that he, like so many others, found himself in college and in his early twenties questioning the faith he was raised in, especially troubled by Christians who stressed hellfire and damnation (see p. 81).  But as he explored more deeply, comparing different religions and conceptions of God, he found that the idea of a God of love is not a universal concept – it is a concept with deep roots in Christian faith. But the God of love in the bible is also the God who judges and sets all to rights in the end. This is part of what it means, then, for God to be love.

Of course the issue that then comes up is the apparent capriciousness of a God who designated for hell (i.e. Eternal Conscious Torment) the 8 year old eighth century Tibetan girl who died of pneumonia and the children who were sacrificed in pre-columbian Mesoamerica and South America to appease the “gods”, not to mention the people who lived and died at an old age within cultures at times and places where the message of the gospel was not available.  I don’t know exactly where Keller stands on this issue. He notes that the idea that everyone should have a “fair” chance is unique to our individualistic western culture. But I would counter that this very idea of fairness also arises from our Christian view of the world.

But … we are not the ones called to make any settled decisions about the fate of anyone. This is in God’s hand. The segment of the interview at the top of the post gives a taste of how Keller answers the question. In a later segment David Eisenbach brought up the question of hell once again, this time asking explicitly about those who don’t have access to the gospels, who don’t reject it because they’ve never had access.

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I must admit that Keller’s description of hell and judgment here were not what I expected from a conservative Presbyterian pastor when I first read The Reason for God several years ago.

Judgment is an essential element of the faith. So are justice and love. But the bottom line it that there comes a point when we simply have to rest assured when we finally find out how God is dealing with every individual soul, it will be right. After all, if God is the perfect King, if the Word came and dwelt among us, if Jesus Christ made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross … well then at a certain point we must just trust him.

Does Keller’s view of Hell make sense? Is it consistent with the biblical witness?

At what point should we simply avoid inflammatory comment and trust that God knows what he is doing?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

Note added – Most of this post deals with the book, The Reason for God and with Keller’s comments there. The interviews are a good addition, but we need to be aware that people will often want to revise and rephrase answers given in a live interview. This may or may not be true of some of the things Keller said here. But it doesn’t negate the major thrust.  It is also important to realize that both the book and the interview date from February 2008 and do not speak to any of the more recent controversies concerning the question of Hell.

  • Prodigal Daughter

    “Because we are created by God, and for God, life without God is devastating … because it is without God. The person in hell is locked in the prison of their own self-centeredness forever into infinity.”

    I like this idea. I’d prefer it to an eternal lake of fire, but what I prefer doesn’t matter. Here’s my question. I have friends who are atheists, who are the least self-centered people I know. Less self-centered than some Christians I know. How does this apply to them? Are we defining “self-centered” as a focus on self as opposed to God (and all others)? Or as a focus on man-kind as opposed to God (but not to the exclusion of others). I have found that there are people who, while not centered on God, are focused on other human beings. And I’m not sure how this version of hell applies to them?

  • Chas

    As I understand it he is attempting to communicate two main points about hell…1) that it is real and, 2) the fundamental experience of those in hell is that of being sealed in their own choice to be apart from God and the “misery” that brings. He seems unwilling to go much beyond that, especially as it relates to what he sees as hell’s metaphorical descriptions (fire, brimstone). I agree with him in that I see no need to go beyond those points…at least not today:-)

  • andrew mook

    it’s fascinating to me that keller sounds so much like rob bell in this interview.

  • http://www.krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    “But … we are not the ones called to make any settled decisions about the fate of anyone. This is in God’s hand.”

    God is not limited to a means of grace but we are. God has given us only one atonement to preach but how God fully chooses to apply that atonement is not made known.

    I also think we look at judgement from a highly individualistic perspective. If your are an oppressed people living under constant threat, then the idea of judgment and all things being set right is liberating. The difference between us and God is that I think God has a love for oppressors and a desire for their transformation that we do not.

  • Jeff

    Actually Keller has not added to the conversation that has been going on here. These things were already pointed out. I made the point myself as well as others as well as Rob Bell in his book that the rich man was still acting selfishly in hell. I like his ideas though but they were already discussed here

  • C

    His framing of heaven and hell as “trajectories” rather than just destinations is enlightening and seems very much in line with the way Jesus spoke about them. I’m really interested to read this.

  • Greg D

    I think Keller is surprisingly spot on. I don’t think we can categorically dismiss certain people to hell. God will judge each person individually. And, I’m not convinced God’s judgment is solely based on whether or not a person officially placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. I believe a person can exhibit the love of Christ, living his/her life like Christ, and not really know they are following the ways of Christ. And, it is I believe these people who God will say, “well done my good and faithful servant.”

    I am reminded of a story of a Hindu in India who lives his life much like the way we see Christ modeling His love in the Scriptures. Take a look at this and tell me this man is going to hell because he neglected to convert to Christianity.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P69IfsOhZAw

  • Rick

    Greg D-

    “I am reminded of a story of a Hindu in India who lives his life much like the way we see Christ modeling His love in the Scriptures. Take a look at this and tell me this man is going to hell because he neglected to convert to Christianity.”

    So we can be “good enough”, and not need the life, death, resurrection of Christ? What do mean by “neglected”? Did not know about the gospel, or refused it?

    I agree with much of what you, and Keller, say about uncertainty in regards to others, but we need to be careful too about what constitutes a “pass” from going to hell.

  • Greg D

    Let me be clear. And, perhaps I miscommunicated. I am not advocating a works based faith. What I was attempting to communicate is this:

    God judges the heart. If a man does good deeds only to gain favor with God, then his heart is obviously wrong. But, if his deeds are done truly out of the goodness of his heart by showing his love to others, then this is where I believe God will make His rightful judgment. And, I believe people can show the same genuine love and compassion that our Jesus showed to others, but not knowingly having yielded their lives to Christ. In other words, God is on mission and He can work through those of other faiths or no faith. Take for example Rahab the prostitute, Nebuchadnezzer, and many others in Scripture who did not ascribe to the God of the Jews and yet God still worked through them.

  • Kaleb

    I think the real question is can someone ‘have Jesus’, as Keller points out, but not yet know enough to call him by that name. Rohr would call this the cosmic Christ that is in all things and holds all things together. This is the Christ that is bigger than a time and a place and is interacting in this world in ways outside of our imagination.

    I think all Christians agree that without Jesus we are desperately hopeless and doomed. Any saving that is done will be by Jesus… The question is our description of who ‘has Jesus’ the correct one? Do we see the whole elephant?

    Could some people ‘have Jesus’ outside our interpretation and really have this God living in them and working through them in ways that Christians have had a hard time articulating?

    I can not help but feel this is the real question being danced around. Jesus seems to be awfully inclusive of the ‘others’ in the Gospels that I read… even to the point of forgiving an adulteress woman about to be stoned… no words or repentance… just go and sin no more. Jesus is the only one to open us up to this kind of reality of grace and forgiveness that causes us to change. I think it is a mystery who has this knowledge that we anxiously wait for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed.

  • adam

    I appreciate Keller on many topics and on sheer testimony as a pastor. However, I think that he is making two mistakes, (at least according to how he is being interpreted). 1. There seems to be a very clear, fundamental, difference between Hell (ET) and Hades (Intermediate-parable discussed). The lack of substantive distinction of parts here makes for a confusing and vague conclusion regarding the sum.
    2. His description truly is on the level of “love wins” when he describes Hell as God “giving” people the eternal destiny they have consistently desired through selfishness. God is not loving humanity so much that he cannot deny them what they truly want though he knows it will actually hurt them. If this is the perspective being offered then it is ridiculous and the attribute of love carries a higher percentage in the Essence of his being, then that of all other attributes and therefore, he must submit all other attributes to it, including wrath. This is unwise to say the least.

  • Phil Miller

    If this is the perspective being offered then it is ridiculous and the attribute of love carries a higher percentage in the Essence of his being, then that of all other attributes and therefore, he must submit all other attributes to it, including wrath.

    What percentage of God’s essence is wrath? It seems that Scripture is clear that God’s essence is love. It’s not love mixed with other things.

    What I’d say is that how we experience that essence can be subjective. This is why I think the way God’s essence is talked about by many Eastern Orthodox Christians is helpful. The love of God is a consuming fire, and for those that love Him, the fire is one of embrace and warmth. For those that reject Him, the fire is something that is painful and full of fear.

    I do think that Keller’s position sort of illustrates something that I notice a lot with Christians and systematic theology. It seems that rather than actually take their systematic theologies to their logical conclusions, Christians make all sorts of exceptions for things they don’t like in those systems. But even so, they still want to cling to these systematic theologies.

  • Rick

    Greg D-

    Thanks for the clarification.

    “but not knowingly having yielded their lives to Christ.”

    In regards to those in other faiths, there is still is the issue of denying Christ, if they are aware of Him. If God draws all to Him (John 6-whatever degree “draws” means), and if people are condemned if “they have not believed in the name….” (John 3), then it would seem that those in other faiths must at least be seeking more than what their faith provides. They cannot deny Him when/if they hear of Him.

  • Joe Canner

    Greg #9: Thank you for that explanation. I, too, am troubled by the idea that those who are genuinely seeking to love and serve one another are doomed to eternal punishment because they failed to acknowledge the work of Christ or because their theology was a little mixed up on the faith/works divide. I’d like to believe that Jesus didn’t just come to this earth and die so that his life and death could be some sort of boundary marker, but rather that he his life and death had some profound effect (directly or indirectly) on how we live our lives.

  • adam

    Phil #12:
    First let me say, I wish I hadn’t said, “ridiculous” at all. It was rude.

    In reference to my previous comments, I do not think that God has varying “percentages” at all in his attributes. I would stand in the Reformed tradition of God being “simple and spiritual” not compound and composite. That is, God is all that God is in all of his ‘God-ness’ all of the time (eternally). We on the other hand are ‘compound and composite’ made up of various parts in degree or kind (cells, blood, marrow etc).
    Theologically, this means that God is not in anyway in conflict within himself, but is, by his very essence, self-consistent in all his actions. Thus, love cannot compel or force him to “override” his wrath. Wrath and love are held in complete self-consistency, which has been displayed, not solely, but amply, in time at the cross event of Jesus.
    Because of the cross (wrath and love) the love of God is now savingly experienced in Jesus the risen Lord rather than subjectively in warmth.

  • Kenton

    Yay, Tim Keller!

    For the most part, I’d agree with those who say that this is basically the same as Love Wins theology. (So much so, that I can’t believe John Piper hasn’t tweeted “Fareweller Tim Keller” out yet.) OTOH, I think there is some nuanced difference between what Keller is saying and what Bell is saying. I think Bell is making a statement akin to “Relax. God’s going to work all of this out in the end. Gandhi is not in torment just because he died a Hindu.” Keller seems to be saying, “Well, yes, Gandhi did die a Hindu and I don’t know how God deals with Hindus. They may be in some sort of trouble here, but, wait, isn’t God merciful?”

    In other words, there’s a certain sense of “playing both sides of the fence, here.” While Bell seems to have jumped in feet first, Keller is testing out the waters. I’m sure TK’s heresy trial will be a lot longer than Bell’s, and he may be able to get a hung jury if not an outright acquittal. I’m just glad there are more prominent folks like TK moving in the same direction.

  • phil_style

    @ Rick, an intersting point you raise about persons of other (or no) faith when you say “In regards to those in other faiths, there is still is the issue of denying Christ, if they are aware of Him…They cannot deny Him when/if they hear of Him.”

    If I was to explain to someone that Jesus saved them by his death and resurrection and that on the third day he rose in two separate bodies, one physical and one spiritual, would that be enough information for them to be condemned for neglecting that (unorthodox) Jesus?

    My point is, how exact (or how orthodox) does the Christology that they hear have to be before they would be condemned in their rejection? Can bits of orthodoxy be left out or does it all need to be included? can unorthodox embellishments be part of the story that a condemned person is held to account for? If there is a certain basic level of information they must have been exposed to, then we run the peculiar problem of the onus being on the evangelist for the salvation of others.

  • http://werenotportugal.tumblr.com Tiago Cavaco

    Generally I disagree on this blog. Not today. Great job!

  • RJS

    Kenton, adam, Jeff, others,

    It is important to remember here that Keller is not responding to Bell in any shape or form. The book The Reason for God was published Feb 14, 2008 (five years ago today) and the Columbia interview I’ve linked was Feb 19, 2008 according to the Columbia Veritas site. Love Wins was published March 15 2011 – three years later.

    Keller might clarify things a bit differently today given the conversations of the last two years. I think he likely (almost certainly) has some significant differences from Bell. But it is also important to realize that Keller is essentially following C.S. Lewis and some other thoroughly orthodox Christian thinkers.

  • http://www.stevehusting.com/doubtbusters Steve Husting

    @#1: “Are we defining “self-centered” as a focus on self as opposed to God (and all others)?” Get back to the main issue: The two kinds of people in the world are not self-centered vs. God-centered, but those who come to salvation through Jesus and those who don’t. Jesus is the main thing, not our occupation with something. If our main occupation is loving God and doing His will, then we are in the right place.

  • Ben Thorp

    It reminds me a bit of (IIRC) John Piper’s statement “At judgment either you will say to God ‘Thy will be done’ or God will say to _you_ ‘Thy will be done’”

  • http://www.stevehusting.com/doubtbusters Steve Husting

    Reading all these posts on who would go to hell and who wouldn’t, it seems people are trying to excuse particular people because of their good deeds. It’s clear from Romans 3 that “there is NONE that doeth good, no not one,” so the theology in the above posts is highly suspect. All are guilty. All have sinned. All need salvation through Jesus, no matter their works.

    This tells me that God wants to bring eternal life to people, not a world with nice people in it doing nice things, which is what several posters here seem to imply. Eternal life is like marriage; it’s a love relationship with God. God wants nothing less. And as long as our love is being poured out to other than God, then He is being cheated out of the greatest prize to Himself and to all of humanity.

  • http://www.krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    Wasn’t on of Bell’s points that eventually no one is lost? I don’t think Keller is saying that.

  • Rick

    Phil_style-

    Good questions, and certainly challenging ones. I think they need to have the Nicene Creed memorized.

    But seriously, I will quote C. Michael Patton on this:
    “•Belief in God (there is no such thing as an atheistic Christian)
    Issues pertaining to the person and work of Christ:
    •Belief in Christ’s deity and humanity (1 John 4:2-3; Rom. 10:9) (Although I, Rick, do not think they necessarily have to have that fully explained initially)
    •Belief that you are a sinner in need of God’s mercy (1 John 1:10)
    •Belief that Christ died on the cross and rose bodily from the grave for our sins (1 Cor 15:3-4)
    •Belief that faith in Christ is necessary (John 3:16)”

    Now, that being said, I am approaching the topic from the standpoint of what (how much can be rejected by such individuals?

    “…we run the peculiar problem of the onus being on the evangelist for the salvation of others.”

    That is what I am getting at with my mentioning of the “draw” passage in John 6. If God is drawing those to come to Him, and if Jesus Christ is the Truth (the gopel of who He is and what He did), can people reject such critical truth?

  • Phil Miller

    It reminds me a bit of (IIRC) John Piper’s statement “At judgment either you will say to God ‘Thy will be done’ or God will say to _you_ ‘Thy will be done’”

    C.S. Lewis said this. I doubt Piper would put it like that.

  • Adam

    A fundamental question here is how does one “choose” God? Most of the time that choosing is described as church only activities (baptism, church attendance, sinner’s prayer) but I think Romans 2 describes the God choosing differently.

    Romans 2: 14-16 (Message)
    When outsiders who have never heard of God’s law follow it more or less by instinct, they confirm its truth by their obedience. They show that God’s law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within them that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong. Their response to God’s yes and no will become public knowledge on the day God makes his final decision about every man and woman. The Message from God that I proclaim through Jesus Christ takes into account all these differences.

    All this talk of who goes to Hell and who doesn’t seems to be trying to take the judgment seat for ourselves.

  • adam

    RJS:
    My point is not that Keller’s view is in coordination with Bell’s. I recognize the respective conversations, and how they are not particularly addressing the exact same question in the exact same time to the exact same people. My point is that for others in this thread to see an emerging connection between the two men’s logic in use during similar (not exactly same) conversations is correct. And troubling.
    A second note I think that needs to be made here is that many evangelicals feel that to cite C.S. Lewis is to somehow cite ‘perfection’ in all matters of theology. While I appreciate Lewis, and even more so, Stott, I do not think that citing either makes for an air tight case in all matters, particularly here on Hell. Regardless of how ‘orthodox’ particular Christian thinkers (historic or otherwise) are on certain matters citing them where they stray does not change the matter-they erringly strayed.

  • Nick

    http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2011/09/13/keller-on-salvation-outside-of-christ/

    Scott, I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to use Tim Keller’s Veritas Forum interview as a spring board into a view of hell/judgment that he doesn’t hold too. I would affirm much of what he says in Reason for God, but the hopeful universalism you are pointing to is an incorrect thesis for your post.

    “What I did that night, however, was to bring up that Deuteronomy 29:29 principle (though not quoting the text) when I felt people struggling with the teaching that all are lost if they don’t believe in Christ. I said, “This is what the Bible says, but I and we don’t know everything there is to know about this.” Almost immediately I sensed that was a wrong thing to do. And afterward my whole team, including my wife, said the same. By saying, “Maybe there’s more to it than we can see now—but this is all we are told,” I was giving people the impression that I thought maybe there is another way of salvation.

    I hope this clarifies things for those of you who have rightly been concerned. Some commenters said I should correct and renounce what I said. But they assume I didn’t—actually I did, immediately, several years ago.

    I admitted my mistake and haven’t answered in that muddy way again. For the record, I didn’t know the interview was being recorded. When it pops up on the internet it’s a humbling reminder that I don’t always get things right. Nevertheless, I was on a study week when Justin Taylor put it up on our TGC website, and I should have seen it sooner to tell him that my answer at that point was a mistake and didn’t at all represent my teaching on that subject over the years.”

  • Adam

    I seem to have a doppleganger. Hmmmm.

  • Phil Miller

    Wasn’t on of Bell’s points that eventually no one is lost? I don’t think Keller is saying that.

    Not really… Bell didn’t take a firm stand one way or the other.

  • http://www.stevehusting.com/doubtbusters Steve Husting

    @#26, Adam: “A fundamental question here is how does one “choose” God?” Remember that Romans is dealing with salvation from the point of view that we are unrighteous, and we’ll be righteous through faith in Christ. So, one “chooses” God when one admits one’s need of this salvation, that apart from believing Jesus one is not good enough. The sentence of death has already been passed, and before the judgment seat, all will be guilty before God.

  • Adam

    @Steve #30

    I don’t think that’s the right interpretation and misses most of what Romans 2 is all about. Especially the statement “the sentence of death has already been passed”. Romans 2 is saying that christians should focus more on how they themselves are living and should STOP worrying who is in and who is out.

    Read Romans 2:17(at the bottom) and replace Jewish with Christian. And I would pay special attention to 2:13 “Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God.”

    Romans 2:1 Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again.

    Romans 2:3 You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook?

    Romans 2:5-8 You’re not getting by with anything. Every refusal and avoidance of God adds fuel to the fire. The day is coming when it’s going to blaze hot and high, God’s fiery and righteous judgment. Make no mistake: In the end you get what’s coming to you—Real Life for those who work on God’s side, but to those who insist on getting their own way and take the path of least resistance, Fire!

    Romans 2:13 Merely hearing God’s law is a waste of your time if you don’t do what he commands. Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God.

    Romans 2:17 If you’re brought up Jewish, don’t assume that you can lean back in the arms of your religion and take it easy, feeling smug because you’re an insider to God’s revelation, a connoisseur of the best things of God, informed on the latest doctrines!

  • Phil Miller

    The sentence of death has already been passed, and before the judgment seat, all will be guilty before God.

    It seems that if you’re going to base a theory of atonement on Romans, you have to take seriously Paul’s contention in Chapter 5 that Christ’s death completely took care of the death sentence.

    Romans 5:18 – Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.

  • RJS

    Nick,

    First, Scot didn’t write the post – I did.

    Second, most of the post relates to and quotes the book, not the interview. It doesn’t surpirse me at all that Keller would want to clarify some of what he said in the interview – most of us would in such a situation.

    Third, I think the most important thing in the interview is (1) everyone needs Jesus, and (2) we don’t know everything.

  • Kenton

    RJS (#19)-

    D’Oh!

    And looking at Nick’s post (#28), it seems like TK was able to avoid the heresy trial by his testimony in the grand jury. :( I gotta wonder, though, how much of the VF was “freudian slip”. It just seems like those aren’t the things you’re going to come out and say unless you’ve been thinking along those lines. Perhaps in the aftermath TK is bowing to the guild and is just keeping his mouth shut?

  • Nick

    Thanks for the reply, @RJS. Sorry I thought you were Scot (for some reason). @Kelton (#35), have you ever felt extremely uncomfortable when asked about hell? Maybe like you would come across as a bigot if you affirm what Scripture teaches? It seems like that is what TK went through, not a “freudian slip.” He also apologized and avoided the heresy accusation before he got to the “grand jury” (ie. TGC).

    Thanks for the comments. I’m out.

  • TomH

    Mystery is such an uncomfortable concept – - but I suggest that it may “win the day”

  • RJS

    Nick (#36)

    Irrespective of what Keller does or does not think – I have, as I said in the post, a real problem with some common views of hell. I think sometimes “we don’t know” and a touch of humility is the only appropriate approach. This is really what I heard Keller say, and if he recanted on it I am sorry. It isn’t about coming across as a bigot, it is about a view of God consistent with the entire sweep of scripture.

    I do not think that scripture teaches ECT for all who did not hear of Jesus during their life. I do think scripture teaches that we need Jesus, we need God, and we need to align with his plan.

  • Rick

    TomH-

    “Mystery is such an uncomfortable concept”

    That is true for some. However, the opposite is true for others- “mystery” is the more comfortable concept.

  • http://firstbaptistnewark.com Mark Farmer

    “If Jesus is who he says he is” begs the enormous question of the nature of the gospel accounts. Dale Allison’s book, Constructing Jesus (which I learned of on Jesus Creed), for example, shows how difficult it is to claim that we know what Jesus actually said. So many people in the pews have been left in ignorance of this huge assumption that Keller is making in his reply to the initial question. But his reply has no value unless the basis on which he makes it – actually knowing what Jesus said – can be justified. I know the arguments for the historicity of the gospels. But the more I have worked on this question, the less I am convinced by them. Becoming aware of the processes by which the gospels came into being dissolves an enormous number of otherwise unsolvable issues.

  • RJS

    adam (#27)

    You noted :

    A second note I think that needs to be made here is that many evangelicals feel that to cite C.S. Lewis is to somehow cite ‘perfection’ in all matters of theology. While I appreciate Lewis, and even more so, Stott, I do not think that citing either makes for an air tight case in all matters, particularly here on Hell. Regardless of how ‘orthodox’ particular Christian thinkers (historic or otherwise) are on certain matters citing them where they stray does not change the matter-they erringly strayed.

    I don’t think we should cite any human to make an airtight case on anything including Hell. We should listen to a range of voices. That is … we should not follow Piper, we should not follow Carson, we should not follow Lewis, we should not follow Keller, we should not follow Stott. They are all, every last one of them, limited voices of wisdom.

    On the issue of Hell … I think the loudest and most insistent voices are the most troubling (this is my opinion, don’t put it on anyone else). Any one who takes any degree of satisfaction in the idea that there is a small group of “saved” and a vast vast majority of souls damned to everlasting torment needs to spend more time (as I’ve heard Scot quote someone else as saying) on their knees before God, and digging into the whole sweep of scripture.

  • http://firstbaptistnewark.com Mark Farmer

    As I listen to Keller try to spin the logic of his position, I am struck by the contrast with Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. Keller is assuming the greco-roman soul-sort narrative as the lens through which he reads the Bible. McLaren’s alternative narrative, drawn from Scripture, suggests that the whole question of heaven and hell is a false one that has done and continues to do much damage. Fifteen years ago I would have been wholly with Keller. But there is a better, truer place to stand in the name of Christ. It is a place where there are no qualifications to the statement that God loves everyone equally and without end. It is a place where the focus is not on unverifiable beliefs about a life after death, but about how we treat people here and now.

  • http://www.stevehusting.com/doubtbusters Steve Husting

    @#32 Adam,

    2:19 tells us that all the world will become guilty before God.

    2:20 tells us that no flesh will be justified (be declared righteous) by its works before God.

    2:21ff tells us that the righteousness of God will come through faith in Jesus. Over and over righteousness is mentioned throughout Romans, and through faith righteousness is imputed. I thought that was pretty clear.

  • Carol P.

    Shouldn’t we allow God to be the judge on precisely how much “response” per “draw” is necessary for eternal life?

  • Phil Miller

    I reading some Gordon Fee recently, and he says that he tells his student they need to read Romans as if the Reformation never happened. What he means by that, of course, is that they need to try step away from the idea that Romans is Paul’s grand tome on justification by faith, and they need to try to look at what ideas Paul was trying to originally convey in writing the letter.

  • http://www.stevehusting.com/doubtbusters Steve Husting

    Could there have been a good reason Romans helped bring about revival in the Reformation?

  • Adam

    @Steve #43

    Romans 2:19-21 say no such things. And the idea of the paragraph is summed up in 2:24.

    (NIV)
    As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”[b]

    (Message) The line from Scripture, “It’s because of you Jews that the outsiders are down on God,”

    (NIV)
    19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal?

  • Kenton

    Gosh, Nick (#36)-

    Just as it was getting good you bail??? Bummer! You didn’t even stick around for an answer to your question! Where are your manners? ;)

    To answer your (rhetorical?) question, yes, I have felt uncomfortable when asked about hell… when I thought the essence of hell was “souls falling through space as they cry for mercy.” But shouldn’t that beg the question of why? Why is God turning a deaf ear to them? Would a loving parent sit by and let their child beg for help and do nothing? Justice, schmustice, if my kid is suffering, I do what I can to bring healing. I don’t think God loves Gandhi any less than I love my kid. So… how do you process all that? God says it, I believe it, that settles it, get over it? “Too bad, so sad, Mohatmas- and can you PLEASE for the love of God stop that awful screaming? We’re trying to enjoy our bliss up here!”

    Sorry. Not for me. I used to be on board, but I had to get off.

    I’m sure that’s going to lead to an accusation that I don’t “affirm what scripture teaches.” I’d disagree with that too.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    “Fire disintegrates” + “going on forever” = _____________

  • Phil Miller

    “Fire disintegrates” + “going on forever” = _____________

    Some tasty barbecue?

  • http://www.stevehusting.com/doubtbusters Steve Husting

    @#47 – Oh, brother, my bad! I meant chapter 3, not chapter 2!

  • Adam

    @Steve #51

    That makes more sense. But I still think it’s a misreading.

    You said “3:19 tells us that all the world will become guilty before God.” The emphasis here should be put on the section before your quote “it says to those who are under the law”. It says to the Jews (christians). This sentence is not trying to prove the whole world is guilty, it’s proving to the Jews (those under the law) they are not exempt. This is in line with all of chapter 2.

    “3:20 tells us that no flesh will be justified (be declared righteous) by its works before God.” I think we should clarify that it says “works of the law” and not just “works”. To interpret 3:20 as you have, it becomes a direct contradiction to Romans 2:6-7 and Romans 2:14. The nuance here is that faith is something that must be lived out, not a mental exercise (James 2:18) And Romans 2:14 is communicating that people who have never heard of the law are fully capable of obeying the law because the law is not a religious system, a text, or a thing to be studied; it is inherent to life itself. (conscience)

    “When outsiders who have never heard of God’s law follow it more or less by instinct, they confirm its truth by their obedience. They show that God’s law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within them that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong.”

    So when we get to 3:21-22, we have to read faith, not as a mental game, but as a way of life because 3:31 doesn’t let us ignore the law’s commands on how we live. “31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” I think this very clearly states that “rightly believing” christians are in severe danger of judgement because they do not live by the law they preach.

    So, back to the question of this post and views on hell and my original comment, the point is that we are not the ones that decide who is in and who is out. Much in line with Keller’s “need to know” comments, we are commanded to spend more of our energy looking to our own faults and our own work and we really need to stop caring what God will do with those other people. Romans 2:24 “As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you (christians).”

  • http://www.stevehusting.com/doubtbusters Steve Husting

    #52 Adam:

    Wow! So clear. Thanks for setting me right!

  • phil_style

    @Jeff, #49 “Fire disintegrates” + “going on forever” = _____________

    How can something be eternally disintegrated? Once the integrity of something is compromised, it ceases to exist as that identifiable structure. One can only say, at that point, that such a structure is destroyed. Therefore, the answer to your equations is thus:

    Fire disintegrates, going on forever = permanent annihilation.

  • Jeff Y

    Great summary, RJS. Couple of observations:

    The point above from Romans 2:14-16 is one I was going to make. Everyone is saved in and only through Jesus Christ. But, Romans 2 (Gentiles who do not have the law are judged on the basis of conscience) seems to indicate that those who never have knowledge of Christ will be judged fairly and have hope. I don’t doubt Keller sees some aspect of this as legitimate. There are some who argue that if one is searching for Christ – then they will find him (e.g., Acts 16). Who knows.

    While I think McLaren makes some good points that temper some of the Platonic Dualism that plagues our thinking on heaven/hell – I don’t think he is correct in his analysis of the whole of Scripture.

    Ultimately I think RJS’ point at the end is the right one – we can trust, because of Jesus, that God will make the right decision and it will be just, merciful, loving and fair.

  • Jeff Martin

    RJS #19,

    You said Keller would offer some new insights right now, even though it was said in 2008. But he doesn’t because we have been discussing this topic for a while.

  • RJS

    Jeff,

    Maybe the insight is simply that one need not be a “heretic”, a naive postmodern “youngster”, or an Anglican to have some trouble with a harsh conservative approach to the question of Hell.

  • Josh Gould

    Keller’s understanding of inclusive and exclusive miss the point of each term. I understand when he says that everyone is exclusive because we all have our own beliefs systems and what have you. But this isn’t what people are saying when they use those terms. Inclusive and exclusive are used outwards towards others. So if I say that my belief systems excludes everyone who doesn’t subscribe to it from salvation then that’s an exclusive system. If I say that my “exclusive” beliefs allow salvation to anyone regardless if they subscribe to it or not, then that would be inclusive, because it includes everybody.

    That elephant analogy is interesting. I like it


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