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The History of Hell

The Christian History Institute, publisher of Christian History magazine, has produced a brief survey and resource guide on the history of Christian thought about hell. Given the current debate about hell, it is a helpful resource.

You can view or download the pdf here.

The challenge of the New Evangelical Liberalism

Whether or not J. Gresham Machen was right, that modern liberalism represents a different religion from Christianity, it is definitely a mindset that offers enormous danger to the church. The January/February issue of the 9Marks eJournal examines the new evangelical liberalism and the current marginalization of the Gospel in some quarters of the church today. There is plenty of good reading, from the issue of evangelical scholarship and ambition by Carl Trueman (Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at WTS) to an article by R. Albert Mohler (president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) on how the reformulation of the doctrine of hell to remove its intellectual and moral offensiveness is a good test case for the slide into liberalism.

For those that are passionate about the Gospel and the health of the church, the eJournal is a helpful collection of essays that reaffirm the necessity of faithfulness to God’s Word in our Gospel-proclamation and witness.

Download the PDF or read the articles online:

THE MINDSET OF THE NEW EVANGELICAL LIBERALISM

How to Become a Liberal Without Attending Harvard Divinity School
What kind of pastor is susceptible to liberalism? One who loves self, and even the sheep, more than he loves the Good Shepherd.
By Michael Lawrence

The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
Why do evangelical academics so crave worldly acceptance?
By Carl Trueman

Air Conditioning Hell: How Liberalism Happens
Liberalism happens when we try to save Christianity from itself.
By R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

The Neo-Liberal Stealth Offensive
The gospel’s most dangerous adversaries are not raving atheists. They are church leaders with gentle, friendly, pious demeanors.
By Phil Johnson

CASE STUDIES IN THE NEW EVANGELICAL LIBERALISM

What’s Happening to InterVarsity?
A long-term InterVarsity vet takes a hard look at some disturbing trends in this historically faithful campus ministry. 
By J. Mack Stiles

Is the God of the Missional Gospel Too Small?
When we say that a gospel that addresses systemic injustice is “bigger” than a gospel of “sin management,” what are we saying about the worth of God’s glory?
By Jonathan Leeman

What Would Athanasius Do: Is The Great Tradition Enough?
Is this new rallying point for Christian unity all it’s made out to be? Not if you want to preserve the gospel.
By Greg Gilbert

Notes from the Future: Evangelical Liberalism in the UK
Want a sneak peek at the future of evangelicalism? Then listen in as a British brother takes a look at the past and present of liberalism in the UK.
By Mike Ovey

Social Gospel Redux?
Are some evangelicals preaching a renewed social gospel?
By Russell D. Moore

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE ON THE NEW EVANGELICAL LIBERALISM

What Can We Learn from the History of Liberalism?
Historic liberalism was a response—the wrong one—to Christianity’s credibility crisis.
By Gregory A. Wills

Who Exactly Are the Evangelicals?
Is an evangelical simply “anyone who likes Billy Graham,” as one historian put it?
By Michael Horton

More Than a Feeling: The Emotions and Christian Devotion
Casting an eye toward recent evangelical history, Darryl Hart suggests that a wrong emphasis on emotions has been—and can still be—a path to liberalism.
By D. G. Hart

Evangelism and Social Action: A Tale of Two Trajectories
What do twentieth century ecumenism and twenty-first century evangelicalism have in common? More than you might think.
By Bobby Jamieson

MISCELLANEOUS BOOK REVIEWS

Book Review: The Rabbit and the Elephant: Why Small Is the New Big for Today’s Church, by Tony and Felicity Dale and George Barna
Reviewed by Aaron Menikoff

Book Review: Why Join a Small Church?, by John Benton
Reviewed by Aaron Menikoff

Hitler and the Atheistic detractor of Hell

BarryLeder 

How unfortunate that such nonsense has already made its way as far as New Zealand. America is losing its edge in Christian zealotry.

apologeticsnz 

Attack the man; ignore the issue. Great debating tactic!

BarryLeder (3 months ago) Show Hide

Rob, I was not debating. By your own admission, there would be nothing restraining you from taking my life were I to succeed in convincing you that the Christian ‘worldview’ is an epic failure on the logic and morality front. My post was merely an observation.

apologeticsnz 

Your “observation” however is loaded with morality. “Unfortunate” according to whom? “Nonsense” according to whose viewpoint? “Zealotry”? I think you are confusing me with Richard Dawkins and his mates. 

I am just stating what seems to me to be obvious: “In a world without God, all things are permissible”. If this is not true, then show me why it isn’t.

BarryLeder 

It was ABSOLUTELY loaded with morality. But lets not start with the assumption that God as a given is moral. While I don’t believe there is sin, transgression against God; I do believe there are moral wrongs.

Those moral wrongs arise out of the nature of our existence where life is fragile and resources are scarce. While there may not be a supreme emforcer, that lack of an enforcer is not what establishes or prevents a moral right or wrong.

Now my question back to you is why is your concept of God more moral than Hitler? Unless you are Jehovah Witness or Mormon, your conceptual God probably would send Anne Frank to hell for eternity. Hitler only did it once. Seems the Christian worldview is in a very weak position to criticize the actions of Hitler.

 

MY RESPONSE:

These are really good questions BarryLeder. Also really emotionally charged ones. Because I think good questions deserve good answers, let us deal with your question with clear logic.  

If I were to argue minimally for theism (not the internal consistency of the Christian world-view, not the Biblical doctrine of inerrancy, not the doctrine of hell) then you would still have the problem of dealing with apologeticsNZ’s original question. How do you get morality on atheism? 

So based on the premises that – (1) if God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist, and (2) objective morals do exist, the logically inescapable and necessary conclusion is that God exists. 

Since you take pains to ABSOLUTELY agree that moral values do exist, then it must be the first premise you disagree with. But you have given no reason why you think that objective moral values can exist apart from God. If your reason is they arise from the nature of existence then your ethics must be rather flowery. What is it about the nature of our existence that makes things right or wrong? I can’t think of any moral value fertiliser can teach me? Without a transcendent ground to pin your assertions of the existence of right and wrong, you end up with moral values being amoral. Ethics is reduced to subjectivism, which is unliveable.

Now if I were to argue for more than just theism, then your question comes into play. That makes it clear that your really not arguing against the existence of God, and not even the morality of God (since if the above moral argument is successful then it gives us good grounds to believe in a personal and morally perfect being), but only the doctrine of hell. 

In effect your argument is that God’s omni-benevolence and all-compassionate love is incompatible with his sending people to hell. As I said before, this is an emotionally charged question, and I think not so very difficult an intellectual objection to dismiss. This is evident when you consider that as a purely intellectual problem it is just as problematic that a just and holy God can send people to heaven, but who rejects Christ for that difficulty?

You rightly discern that one could adopt the doctrine of annihilationism as a strategy. I could also adopt the idea that hell is not eternal but a type of temporary pergatory. This would take all the power out of your objection to your belief in a moral God. But in fact I do not accept the particular doctrines, and consider the Bible to be faithfully reporting the truth when it says there is a literal hell. I also think that most descriptions given are figuratively describing a place of eternal conscious torment from being separated from God. What a horrible belief! How is one to make sense of these two seemingly contradictory tenets of Christian belief, namely God’s love and that he sends people to hell? 

Well look closely at the objection. These aren’t explicitly contradictory. Therefore there must be some implicit assumptions smuggled in to make it contradictory. What are these assumptions? I’ll be generous and supply what I think they are. (A) That God is able to create a world in which all people will be freely saved. (B) That God is willing that all people be freely saved. 

But because you want to say that it is impossible that a loving God can send people to hell, you must prove assumptions (A) and (B) necessarily. I’m really glad I don’t have to bare that burden of proof!

As for (A) It is at least possible that a world in which all people are freely saved is unfeasible for God. As for (B) It is impossible for God to make people freely choose him. Just because God is omnipotent doesn’t mean he can do the logically impossible. Also it is possible that the only possible world in which all people are freely saved, is a world in which only one person exists, and I don’t see why those who reject God’s salvation should have a sort of veto power over God and his plan to create a world in which, on balance, more people are saved than lost. What if one man’s atheism was the cause of one man’s salvation? That world would be balanced. So its clear that it is far beyond the detractor of hell’s scope of knowledge to declare with any certainty that there exists a contradiction between God’s love and his sending people to hell. 

But does God send people to hell? A better understanding of what the Bible teaches is that God does not send people to hell, but it is we who send ourselves to hell for not accepting the provision made for us through Jesus Christ. God’s mercy and justice are reconciled at the cross. There we see how Christ’s blood was poured out for us as an atoning sacrifice, allowing sinful man to have relationship with a holy and just God. There we see the wrath of God for our sin, poured out on Jesus, who willing gave his life showing his love, and the extreme lengths he will go to rescue you. 

In a very real sense, God is not to blame for the free actions of those who choose not accept his Son. He had made every effort to show himself to man, and it is now up to man to see how he will respond. 

Given the universality of sin, and the uniquness of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, it stands to reason that the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ. It is this exclusivity that is so repugnant to our modern sensibilities. Nevertheless, it is the clear testimony of scripture. 

The first thing to remember that this view was just as controversial in first century polytheistic Rome, if not more so, than it is today. The second thing is we must distinguish between truth and taste. What is repugnant to our ears is not a measure to test what is true. The third thing to remember is that it is not only Christianity that makes exclusive claims, but every religion, from Muslim to Hindu to Taoist to Mormon – everyone – even the inclusivist excludes the exclusivist. Truth presupposes exclusivity.

This exclusive claim of the Christian uncovers another problem. For if Christ’s death is the only way for salvation of everyone who believes, then the multitudes that have not heard the gospel are not even given the opportunity to respond. They cannot believe in faith and be saved for no one told them they must. The inhabitants of heaven are people who were saved as a result of historical and geographical accident of birth. How can we make sense of this? 

There are two solutions that spring to mind. 

The first is that God has a way of spreading the gospel and the good news of his Son that is not dependant on people. This idea, in fact carries scriptural data to back it up. 

According to Romans 2 people who never hear the gospel are not judged according to the same standard as those who did hear the gospel. Rather they are judged on the basis of their response to the revelation they are given, in nature and in conscience. It is clear that Job and Methuselah were saved even though they were without the gospel, were not a part of Israel and were without the law. 

There are also plentiful stories, particularly coming from Islamic nations, of people seeing dreams and visions of Jesus preaching to them the Christian gospel though they have never heard had any contact with it before. Sometimes whole villages have the same dream simultaneously and as a community convert before any missionary arrives.

Paul, while on his way to persecute and kill more Christians, became a convert of Jesus himself. One doesn’t need a missionary to receive the gospel, but God is powerful enough to send a missionary to you if he knows you will respond to the message. If there are no missionaries that will go, he is capable of stepping off the throne himself as he did with Paul.

The second solution is that God knew before the foundation of the world, who would accept and would reject him and his marvellous message. Thus he providentially arranged the world so that the gospel would reach all who would freely accept it, if it was heard, and place those who in every possible set of circumstances would reject his salvation in a time and place where hey would not hear the gospel. If God has middle-knowledge this a very plausible explanation, especially given Paul’s message to the people of Athens in the Areopagus (see Acts 17:26). But this solution doesn’t have to be true or even probable – it just needs to be possible and it breaks the force of the objection completely.