The following is part of a series on Hell, partially as a response to the Love Wins controversy. To catch up, go here.
As I stated in the first post, this section will be mostly based on Sharon Baker’s Razing Hell.
Stanley Grenz in Conversation with Baker
Now that we have explored the issue of hell through the work of Sharon Baker, it will be helpful to compare her “Jesus lens” to another theologian, in this case: Stanley Grenz. Grenz wrote a comprehensive introduction to the study of theology called Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living. His primary “lens” for understanding theological issues is simply “community.” His explanation of this intrigues me in light of the subject of hell, judgment, and wrath.
…[W]e will order our theological reflections around the concept of “community” understood as the goal of God’s program for creation. God is at working our world, we declare. And God’s purpose in this activity is the establishment of “community” – a reconciled people who enjoy fellowship with him, with one another, and ultimately with all creation…. God’s goal for creation is “community” – a redeemed people dwelling in a renewed creation, enjoying the presence of the Triune God (Ibid.).
Although this is not explicitly the “Jesus lens” it surely is a restorative vision of who God is and what God is up to in and for the world. Community fits Baker’s vision of the final judgment. For her, those that were wronged by the one in God’s fiery presence will experience those wrongs in the process of purging. The goal in this moment of wrath is that a person will become (to use Grenz’s word) “reconciled… with him [God], with one another, and ultimately with all creation” (Ibid.). Based on the grid of community, the compatibility between the two authors seems highly likely on multiple subjects, including Judgment Day.
Add to the lens that Grenz sees the Triune God as a community of self-giving love. In the same breath, he wants to make sure that readers understand that God is also wrathful. This is not opposed or in tension with love (as some are tempted to do) but rather God’s wrath flows from love. As Grenz states: “…[W]rath is the best description we have for the way in which God’s love encounters sin… [it] transforms the experience of divine love from the bliss intended by God into wrath” (48). Similarly to Baker, wrath is an expression of Divine love. But beyond this area of agreement, along with agreeing in many ways about God’s reconciling vision, Grenz and Baker part ways. Clarity comes through in this statement:
Whoever rejects the divine design and seeks to undermine the community God wants to establish suffers the outworking of this wayward course of action. God continues to love them. But if they spurn that love they experience God’s love in the form of wrath. And the spurning of the love of god eventually leads to the irrevocable, never-ending experience of the wrath of the eternal Lover. We call this situation “hell” (49).
In this quotation we begin to get clues about Grenz’s perspective on hell as eternal punishment.
Baker and Grenz agree that judgment will be based on the actions of a person. This is not to the exclusion of sin, but that deeds committed out of a sinful condition are what ultimately separate humanity from God; that is, without Christ (101). Hell, then, is a reality for those who enter judgment without Christ. But even for Christians “judgment will be a purging” (280).
After ruling out universalism and annihilation, Grenz affirms the traditional view of hell, with one modification. He agrees with Baker that the flames of judgment are metaphorical, but disagrees about their meaning. Where Baker rightly understands the flames as a refining fire, Grenz moves in the direction of the tradition. He states: “‘Fire’ refers to the anguish generated by the awareness that a person has invested his or her entire life in what is perishable and temporal, rather than imperishable and eternal” (287). From his viewpoint, such devastation will be experienced forever and ever as the wrathful expression of God’s love. This is a drastically different final outcome from the one proposed by Baker and from anything that I consider authentically biblical.
. Stanley J. Grenz, Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 23. The following citations are in text.