Rethinking Hell

Rethinking Hell November 10, 2018

To the many who have asked, here are my comments about the subject of hell that I’ve written and tweeted in the past.

* Whatever the nature of eternal punishment is — conscious torment or annihilation — this question has never altered my desire to bring people to Jesus Christ. Jesus is real Life, for the here-and-now, as well as for the future. So my motive for evangelism has never been to give people a fire-insurance policy.

* The greatest Christian minds differ on the NATURE, PURPOSE and SUBJECTS of hell (subjects = who exactly will go there). But whatever we can say about it, the NT is clear on two points:

1) it exists, and 2) it’s undesirable.

* I am not a universalist. I believe that all mortals must repent and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. With respect to those who have never heard the gospel, or those who have only heard a distorted version of it, I’m content to leave such matters into God’s hands. He is righteous, just, and merciful, and I trust Him.

* Add to that, I don’t believe that every mortal automatically receives eternal life upon birth (of the flesh). I can’t speak of what happens immediately after death. The Bible talks about a judgment after death, but it’s not crystal clear on what happens at the moment of death. People can only speculate.

* “Jesus is not one of many ways to approach God, nor is He the best of several ways; He is the only way.” ~ A. W. Tozer

* If there’s life on other planets & they need a Redeemer, Jesus of Nazareth is it.

* Some people will pass out after they see who makes it in the end. Angels will be running around all over heaven with smelling salts to wake them up (Luke 13:28, example). [I wrote this in Reimagining Church.]

* “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” ~ H. Richard Niebuhr, summarizing the gospel of liberal theology.

* Here’s my concluding statement on hell: When I’m finished exploring and declaring the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ with my brothers and sisters, I’ll get around to dissecting the anatomy of hell.

After I wrote the above, I found N.T. Wright’s observations on the subject. You’ll see that Wright makes many of the same points I have made above. He says,

My usual counter question is: “Why are Americans so fixated on hell?” Far more Americans ask me about hell than ever happens in my own country. And I really want to know, why is it that the most prosperous affluent nation on earth is really determined to be sure that they know precisely who is going to be frying in hell and what the temperature will be and so on.

There’s something quite disturbing about that actually, especially when your nation and mine has done quite a lot in the last decade or two to drop bombs on people elsewhere and to make a lot of other people’s lives hell. So I think there are some quite serious issues about why people want to ask that question.

Having said that, I am not a universalist. I’ve never been universalist. Someone quoted a theologian saying, “I’m not a universalist, but maybe God is.” That’s kind of a neat way of saying, “Ok, there’s stuff in Scripture which is a little puzzling about this, and we can’t be absolutely sure all down the line.”

But it seems to me that the New Testament is very clear that there are people who do reject God and reject what would have been His best will for them, and God honors that decision. How that works and how you then deal with the questions which result I have written about at some length.

I do think it’s good to stir things up because so many people, as I say, particularly in American culture, really want to know the last fine-tuned details of hell. And it seems to be part of their faith, often a central part of their faith, that a certain number of people are simply going to go to hell and we know who these people are.

This bring me to a new offering on the subject. It’s a book that argues with sophistication the “conditional” view of hell, which is essentially annihilationism opposed to eternal conscious torment. And I love the title, Rethinking Hell.

This is from the publisher:

Most evangelical Christians believe that those people who are not saved before they die will be punished in hell forever. But is this what the Bible truly teaches? Do Christians need to rethink their understanding of hell? In the late twentieth century, a growing number of evangelical theologians, biblical scholars, and philosophers began to reject the traditional doctrine of eternal conscious torment in hell in favor of a minority theological perspective called conditional immortality. This is view contends that the unsaved are resurrected to face divine judgment, just as Christians have always believed, but due to the fact that immortality is only given to those who are in Christ, the unsaved do not exist forever in hell. Instead, they face the punishment of the “second death”—an end to their conscious existence. This volume brings together excerpts from a variety of well-respected evangelical thinkers, including John Stott, John Wenham, and E. Earle Ellis, as they articulate the biblical, theological, and philosophical arguments for conditionalism. These readings will give thoughtful Christians strong evidence that there are indeed compelling reasons for rethinking hell.

If the subject of eternal judgment interests you at all, this is a book well worth reading on the subject.

Order Rethinking Hell on discount


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I’m an atheist. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Heaven and Hell exists. If Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Bryan Fischer, Tony Perkins, or any of the other right-wing fundamentalists are there, I will gladly and proudly walk my happy behind into Hell. At least in Hell, I won’t have to deal with those people.

  • Al Cruise

    Here are some observations from 40 years of street ministry. A fairly common thing that occurs in street ministry over time, is you inevitably end up being with people who are dying and being with them in their last moments of life. Often it can be because they are homeless and have no one, or estranged from family. In our group of outreach workers there is one lady, Marie, who is a professional nurse and trained in hospice care. Over the years she has been with 200+ people at their final moments of life. People tend to fall into three categories. 1. Quiet and silent, 2. In varying degrees of euphoria, seeing loved ones, and/or figures of light. 3. horrific agony. The following things did not seem to play a roll in what category people fell into. They are. What doctrine about God and the afterlife they believed in, being atheist and sexual orientation. I am not suggesting that I know what really happens after death , I do not, and I do not believe anyone else knows either. Marie shared a recent case where an individual who was a professed believer and Church elder [ evangelical Christian fundamentalism], dying in horrific agony. His last moments were screaming in terror and about seeing demons and fire coming through the windows, with his family fleeing the room. Many hospice care workers will share similar stories. I am not suggesting anything definitive about these experiences, I merely want to share observations and let you draw your own conclusions.

  • I have been thinking about this for a long time, given that hell gets thrown into the lake of fire along with death. The “smoke of their torment” Rev 14:11 seems to be limited the those connected to the “beast” whatever that will end up looking like!? The Bible makes it clear that we are dependent on His breath to keep living. Maybe the 1st death “You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire and return to their dust.” Psalm 104:29 is a model for the 2nd death? Maybe there is only one fire “for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:29 and as we are made holy by the blood of Jesus and His righteousness we can bear the weight of that eternal glory. I love your posts even though I have only read a few as yet. Bless you.

  • The most common questions I hear about hell aren’t related to what hell is like, but rather, “How can a loving God send people to hell?” I really struggled with how to answer that question until I read N.D. Wilson’s book Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl. Here’s a synopsis of what I think is a brilliant answer to that question: