Monday, March 7, 2011

To Deny Hell...

The below post is from one of my favorite bloggers Tim Challies; thought he had some good things to say about a topic that has had its ups and downs in terms of importance within the Church (which isn't the way it should be with something as vastly important as Hell). I really liked what one of the users said in the comment section about grace and justice meeting at the Cross. Let me know what you all think about hell; is it something you've considered? I hope so...

grace and peace,

Mark

reposted from Tim Challies: http://www.challies.com/christian-living/what-id-have-to-deny-to-deny-hell?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+challies%2FXhEt+%28Challies+Dot+Com%29

What I'd Have to Deny to Deny Hell

Hell
Everyone is talking about the existence of hell. Is hell a real place? Is it a literal place of literal torment? It seems that this issue snuck up on us a little bit. Just a month ago a book came out titled Don’t Call It a Comeback. In that book several of the “young, restless, Reformed” authors (myself included) penned chapters discussing issues pertinent to the church today: the gospel, the new birth, Scripture, social justice, homosexuality. These are some of the big issues in the church today and tomorrow. But there is no chapter on hell (the index shows only 2 references to it).


And yet here we are with discussion raging on the existence and nature of hell. This weekend, as I thought about this controversy, I allowed myself a little thought experiment. What would I have to deny in order to deny hell? If I am ever to come to the point of denying the existence of hell, what will be the doctrinal cost of getting there? Though I am sure there is much more that could be said, I came up with four denials.

I Will Deny What Jesus Taught

Jesus believed in the literal existence of a literal hell. It is very difficult to read Luke 16 (the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus) and arrive at any other conclusion except that Jesus believed in hell and that he believed in a hell of conscious torment of body and mind.
The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’
Jesus also believed in the permanence of hell: “[B]esides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” In Matthew’s gospel Jesus speaks of hell as the furnace of fire, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. He calls it a place of everlasting fire. This would be strange language for a man to use if he believed that hell did not exist and that it was not a place of horrible torment.
If I am going to deny the existence of hell, I will need to outright deny what Jesus teaches and declare that he is wrong, or I will need to obscure what is so plain. I will need to make all of Jesus’ language symbolic and all of the meaning something other than what is clear. I will need to deny what Jesus says.

I Will Deny the Plain Sense of Scripture

Time would fail me here to provide an extensive look at the concept of hell in the Bible; time would fail me to look at each of the words associated with hell. But one does not need to be an expert on the Bible or on its original languages to see that it teaches clearly that there is life after death and that this life after death will involve joy or torment, it will involve enjoying the loving presence of God or facing his wrathful presence. This is stated explicitly in Scripture and it is stated implicitly. It is in the Old Testament and comes to full form in the New Testament. Those who wrote Scripture believed that hell existed and made it plain in what they wrote.
If I am going to deny the existence of hell, I will have to do a great deal of redefining, a great deal of reinterpreting. As with the teaching of Jesus, I will need to change what is plain to what is symbolic, I will need to take what is clear and make it obscure. There is no getting around the fact that a plain, honest reading of the Bible teaches the existence of hell.

I Will Deny the Testimony of the Church

If I am to deny the existence of hell, I will be denying what has been the near-unanimous testimony of the Christian church through the ages. From the church’s earliest days until today, hell has been understood as a place of conscious, eternal torment. The Westminster Larger Catechism offers an apt summary of what Christians have long believed: “The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell fire forever.” Though this was formed in the days of Reformation, it depends upon the testimony of Christians who came before. And it informed generations that followed.
If I am to deny that hell is a real place, if I am to deny that hell is that kind of place, I will be turning my back on two thousand years of Christian history—on two thousand years of brothers and sisters in Christ who had great knowledge of Scripture. I’ll grant that there are times this is necessary; there are times that many Christians are wrong about many things. But such a decision must be made with great fear and trembling and only on the basis of overwhelming Scriptural evidence.

I Will Deny the Gospel

I cannot deny hell without utterly changing the gospel message. The message of Christ dying for the lost in order to save their souls will be meaningless. If there is no hell, there is really nothing to lose. And so heaven and hell must be brought to earth, they must be seen as present realities rather than future ones. The Baptist preacher J.L. Dagg said it well: “To appreciate justly and fully the gospel of eternal salvation we must believe the doctrine of eternal damnation.” If I am going to deny eternal damnation, I must radically rewrite the gospel. Gone is the gospel of sinners who have committed treason against God and who call upon themselves God’s just wrath. There are many gospels I can put in its place. But what is clear is that this gospel, this gospel of a substitutionary atonement must be a casualty. This gospel stands and falls upon the existence of both heaven and hell. Take away either one and you gut the gospel; it becomes meaningless and nonsensical.
If I am going to give up hell, I am going to give up the gospel and replace it with a new one.
Let me close with some words from the great theologian Robert Dabney. What he says here I believe as well. “Sure I am, that if hell can be disproved in any way that is solid and true, and consistent with God’s honor and man’s good, there is not a trembling sinner in this land that would hail the demonstration with more joy than I would.” It’s not that I want hell to be true, but that the Scripture makes it clear that it is true. It is not for me to dismantle the doctrine or to deny it; I am simply to believe it and to live and act as if it is true.


16 comments:

  1. “'Sure I am, that if hell can be disproved in any way that is solid and true, and consistent with God’s honor and man’s good, there is not a trembling sinner in this land that would hail the demonstration with more joy than I would.' It’s not that I want hell to be true, but that the Scripture makes it clear that it is true."


    I've heard something like this many times, and it can be really frustrating to someone with an anti-authoritarian streak in them. If the concept of hell troubles you, and if you wish it weren't true, then why are you worshiping the supreme being who you believe is at the top of the food chain here? If the man in charge is dolling out punishments that you basically concede are insanely disproportionate to the underlying crimes then doesn't rebellion become not only good but necessary?


    I mean, you could say that you know you're unable to stand against the supreme being and so you worship in order to save your own skin while you leave countless others to writhe in agony literally forever. But that looks like nothing if not a pathetic quisling's salvation that one should be ashamed of, rather than proud.
    It's disconcerting to see so many people invest so much in the concept of eternal suffering. Personally, I find imbuing so much of one's personal identity in something like that unseemly. I think there are Christians out there who agree with me.

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  2. I know human beings who realize that actions are more often than not based on where you live, who raised you, what race you are, what level of poverty you're born into and what your personality just naturally make you more inclined to do. To think that the supposed creator of all doesn't understand that. Hell believers make him sound like an ignorant vigilante.

    If you believe that non believers go to hell you realize how prejudice that is against those not born in predominantly Christian countries.......
    You say "only God can understand" then make up the rules.

    "It was written here" is not a good enough answer for any kind of belief and certainly not enough to justify action. There are aspects of the Bible you'd argue with, you just won't admit it. Unless you want to come out and say that the rules concerning slaves are viable. In the context of the civil war with your logic, slave owners had a good defense. W/e.

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  3. A) Choosing not to believe in something doesn't make it somehow go away. And you're forgetting something. God is sovereign, He made EVERYTHING, including us. So it's kind of pathetic and arrogant of us to assume that we know better than He does and we are somehow entitled to our own way. Rebellion is, simply put, totally pointless, not only because it's futile (God ends up winning in the end anyways), but because God loves us SO much. So much so, in fact, that He was willing to die for us. He took our punishment, paid the price for us, so that we douldn't have to. All He asks is that we believe in Him, that we confess/admit that we've sinned, repent, and place our faith in Him alone. It's pretty simple when you think about it. If that's not true love, I don't know what is. That's a far cry from some "superior being...doling out punishments that are insanely disproportionate..." God is so absolutely, infinitely good and holy, that the slightest sin/trangression against His law, against Him, places the offender infinitely far away from God's presence. That's what the real hell is, that true, unadulterated spiritual agony in which the individual is forever separated from the presence of God, cast out into the outer darkness, with no hope for reconciliation, ever. The major thing holding people back is pride. No one wants to admit that they've sinned or that they've done anything wrong, and that is ultimately their downfall.

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  4. The Bible does not specifically condemn the practice of slavery. It gives instructions on how slaves should be treated (Deuteronomy 15:12-15; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1), but does not outlaw the practice altogether. Many see this as the Bible condoning all forms of slavery. What many people fail to understand is that slavery in Biblical times was very different from the slavery that was practiced in the past few centuries in many parts of the world. The slavery in the Bible was not based exclusively on race. People were not enslaved because of their nationality or the color of their skin. In Bible times, slavery was more of a social status. People sold themselves as slaves when they could not pay their debts or provide for their family. In New Testament times, sometimes doctors, lawyers, and even politicians were slaves of someone else. Some people actually chose to be slaves so as to have all their needs provided for by their master.

    Some people claim that the following passage from the Holy Bible condones rape:--"If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl's father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated (anah) her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives." Deuteronomy 22:28-29 NIV. There are two points to note here. First, even though the verse may seem to be instructing the rapist to marry the victim the passage nowhere sanctions, condones or even approves of rape. This is simply a gross misreading of the text. The injunction is intended to instruct the Israelites on how to deal with and address a rape situation "if" and "when" it occurs. Second, by taking a careful look at the context and consulting the original languages of the Scriptures a strong case can be made that this is citation isn’t even addressing a rape case at all. We must remember that the Holy Bible was not written in English. The OT was written in Hebrew, with parts of it being written in Aramaic. The NT was written in Koine or common Greek. This means that if we want to know whether an English translation has faithfully and accurately translated the inspired author’s intended meaning we must turn to the original language of the sacred text. Once this is done, it will become quite apparent that the Holy Bible does not sanction rape at all. If you take into account the entirety of the Bible as well, you find strong condemnation of all sorts of sexual immorality. It is never condoned. This is why reading the Bible and studying the verses in context is extremely important. What happens if I string together the two verses from Matthew 27:5b and Luke 10:37b? Bad call right? I can even make Richard Dawkins look like a believer by quoting him out of context. With regard to reading in context, you do this with everything you read, not just the Bible.

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  5. There are at least 17 mistakes critics make concerning Bible difficulties.

    Mistake 1: Assuming that the unexplained is not explainable. I will say this, no informed person would claim to be able to fully explain all Bible difficulties. I make no such claim.

    Mistake 2 : Presuming the Bible guilty until proven innocent.

    Mistake 3 : Confusing our fallible interpretation with God's infallible revelation.

    Mistake 4 : Failing to understand the context of the passage.

    Mistake 5 : Neglecting to interpret difficult passages with clear ones.

    Mistake 6 : Basing a teaching on an obscure passage.

    Mistake 7 : Forgetting that the Bible, although divinely inspired by God, is a human book with human characteristics, due to the human authors God worked through.

    Mistake 8 : Assuming that a partial report is a false report.

    Mistake 9 : Demanding that New Testament citations of the Old Testament always be exact quotes.

    Mistake 10 : Assuming that divergent accounts are false accounts. (i.e. two different geneaologies for Christ are Mary's and Joseph's, respectively. But most people just see that and automatically think, aha! an error!)

    Mistake 11 : Presuming that the Bible approves of all it records. It is a mistake to assume that everything contained in the Bible is commended by the Bible.

    Mistake 12 : Forgetting that the Bible uses non-technical, everyday language. To be true, something does not have to use scholarly, technical, or so-called "scientific" language.

    Mistake 13 : Assuming that round numbers are false. Another mistake sometimes made by Bible critics is claiming that round numbers are false. This is not so. Round numbers are just that----round numbers.

    Mistake 14 : Neglecting to note that the Bible uses different literary devices.

    Mistake 15 : Another mistake made by Bible critics is that they forget that only the original text, not every copy of Scripture, is without error. A number of folks in the last century or so have taken substantial liberties with the translation and even tried to insert their own works/revelations and/or add meaning/text that was never there to begin with.

    Mistake 16 : Critics confuse general statements with universal ones.

    Mistake 17 : Last but not least, critics forget that later revelation supersedes previous revelation.

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  6. ".. you do not take moral issue with the instructions on how to treat slaves because it is a different kind of slavery...... wait I can't breathe."

    We humans don't decide what's right and acceptable or what's wrong. It is not our place to decide right and wrong. If God allowed a certain kind of slavery under a certain set of rules, that is okay. Also (and I mean no disrespect by this), did you read the rules that are given about slavery in the Bible? Did you know that there is a year of jubilee? Please see
    http://www.rationalchristianity.net/slavery_ot.html . (I'm not saying that that page is perfect, or error-free.)

    Well, I'm not sure how to make that a link, but I suggest that you try going there. :)

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  7. You people will delete my comments and not what he just posted? Are you kidding me.....

    That is the single most disgusting, degrading, ignorant statement I have ever heard anyone make.
    Do you blog writers agree with him?

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  8. Your comments were deleted because they weren't contributing to a respectful, scholarly discussion and were simply lambasting another user. Vulgar language, insinuations of stupidity simply because you disagree or other disrespectful actions will not be tolerated. We're not out to censor, just to moderate. We reserve the right to set a standard for commenting and will exercise it if need be.

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  9. You don't think that someone flat out saying a type of slavery is moral is disrespectful and vulgar? What because its dressed in fancy words surrounded by citations from the Bible? I'm disgusted.

    ReplyDelete
  10. "...you fucking idiot)..."
    "Wait you CANT be this dumb. It's not possible. "
    "Oh stop it no one is this dumb.... "
    "Only an idiot would read that post and nod their head. I literally can't breathe..... "

    That's what we consider vulgarity.

    If you're going to disagree with someone, it's best to not resort to ad hominem attacks on their intelligence and character; you lose all credibility and don't actually posit anything in the process. They can have their view just as well as you, what we're concerned with here is having a discussion. If you have a strong stance on an issue, make a compelling argument for it using rhetoric and reason.

    As for our opinion, keep reading our blog (soon, especially) and you'll be able to see our opinion on the issue at hand.

    Furthermore, while it is true that the internet provides a good deal of desirable anonymity, we would prefer for the sake of an intellectually honest discussion that users reveal at least their first name. This goes for ALL users; we hope that our readers believe strongly enough in what they say they do so that they won't be afraid of ascribing at least their name to a post.

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  11. In the interests of full disclosure, the first three anonymous posts were mine. Mark, I'll hit you up on fb to verify.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Andy D. said...

    I posted the most recent anonymous comment. Mark, I'll verify with you on Facebook too. I was unaware that first names were requested. :)

    ReplyDelete
  13. You don't think that someone flat out saying a type of slavery is moral is disrespectful and vulgar? What because its dressed in fancy words surrounded by citations from the Bible? I'm disgusted.

    ReplyDelete
  14. ".. you do not take moral issue with the instructions on how to treat slaves because it is a different kind of slavery...... wait I can't breathe."

    We humans don't decide what's right and acceptable or what's wrong. It is not our place to decide right and wrong. If God allowed a certain kind of slavery under a certain set of rules, that is okay. Also (and I mean no disrespect by this), did you read the rules that are given about slavery in the Bible? Did you know that there is a year of jubilee? Please see
    http://www.rationalchristianity.net/slavery_ot.html . (I'm not saying that that page is perfect, or error-free.)

    Well, I'm not sure how to make that a link, but I suggest that you try going there. :)

    ReplyDelete
  15. “'Sure I am, that if hell can be disproved in any way that is solid and true, and consistent with God’s honor and man’s good, there is not a trembling sinner in this land that would hail the demonstration with more joy than I would.' It’s not that I want hell to be true, but that the Scripture makes it clear that it is true."


    I've heard something like this many times, and it can be really frustrating to someone with an anti-authoritarian streak in them. If the concept of hell troubles you, and if you wish it weren't true, then why are you worshiping the supreme being who you believe is at the top of the food chain here? If the man in charge is dolling out punishments that you basically concede are insanely disproportionate to the underlying crimes then doesn't rebellion become not only good but necessary?


    I mean, you could say that you know you're unable to stand against the supreme being and so you worship in order to save your own skin while you leave countless others to writhe in agony literally forever. But that looks like nothing if not a pathetic quisling's salvation that one should be ashamed of, rather than proud.
    It's disconcerting to see so many people invest so much in the concept of eternal suffering. Personally, I find imbuing so much of one's personal identity in something like that unseemly. I think there are Christians out there who agree with me.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Since you consider the PARABLE of the rich man to be undeniable "proof" of the existence of hell, and "proof" that YOUR interpretation of the gospel and salvation are correct, please show me where in this story does Jesus say that the rich man is in "hell" because of his unbelief, or that Lazarus is in "heaven" because of his faith.

    If we are to take this story literally, as you claim it must be taken, the only conclusion that could be reached is that rich people go to hell, and poor, sickly beggars go to heaven.

    I assume then that you have given away all your worldly goods, have infected yourself with AIDS, and have taken up residence on Bill Gate's doorstep - begging for a handout.

    God will be so proud.

    ReplyDelete