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Hell

2009 December 31

Long after I’ve forgotten anything else Jimmy Allen ever taught me, I’ll remember his sermon on hell. It frightened me to death as a teenager; it lingers in my imagination as an adult. I’ve never heard anyone preach with more certainty than Jimmy did about hell — its reality, its eternity (described in a series of images . . . an ant walks around a metal orb the size of earth and by the time it begins to wear a path around that orb eternity has just begun . . .), and its torture. More medieval imagery than scripture, it was the opposite of Ambien: it could keep you awake all through the night.

It wasn’t until many years after I first heard that sermon — and I’ve heard it many times! — that I realized that there are other understandings of hell by “Bible-believing Christians.” Here are three options:

First, there is the literal interpretation that Jimmy presented. Hell is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is eternal, conscious torture. To some, it is because of God’s sovereign choices (Calvinism); to others, it is because of our choices (Arminianism).

Second, there is a view called Annihilationism. This is the position ably staked out by Ed Fudge in The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment. This view understands that hell is eternal, but not conscious. Those who are lost are destroyed/annihilated.

And third, there is Universalism. In this view, the scriptures about hell are to be believed — but not literally. They are images, drawn from the garbage heap of Jerusalem (named Gehenna), of a world where the reign of God is opposed. In the words of N. T. Wright:

“The point is that when Jesus was warning his hearers about Gehenna he was not, as a general rule, telling them that unless they repented in this life they would burn in the next one. As with God’s kingdom, so with its opposite: it is on earth that things matter, not somewhere else. His message to his contemporaries was stark, and (we would say today) ‘political.’ Unless they turned back from their hopeless and rebellious dreams of establishing God’s kingdom in their own terms…Rome would turn Jerusalem into a hideous, stinking extension of its own smouldering rubbish heap.”

Universalists believe that nothing is more powerful than the love of God, and that in his final triumph all will be reclaimed. Recent posts by Scot McKnight and Richard Beck might serve as an introduction to this reading of scripture.

56 Responses leave one →
  1. December 31, 2009

    I’ve learned that hell could also be being a Texas Rangers fan.

  2. December 31, 2009

    Trey – That’s just an adaptation of Sartre’s “hell is other people.”

  3. Becky permalink
    December 31, 2009

    The hell that has most resonated with me is described by C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce. A place where we stubbornly cling to self-indulgence instead of accepting ultimate joy in Christ. I think that could be applied to our time on earth like you say. I think it could also be applied to the after-life. I just know that I had never thought of hell before in the unique way presented by Lewis, but that it made a lot of sense to me.

  4. December 31, 2009

    Mike,
    appreciate this comment–Jimmy’s sermon sure was scary and I could see how people would respond to it–but over the last few years, Wright has challenged me to go back to Scripture on so many themes, (number one being my view of the after-after-life) that I do find his teaching on Hell to be worthy of a long look from Scripture.
    Some of the local ministers were just talking about his views–do you know if Wright believes in some form of annihilation of some? We couldn’t find any word on it.
    But, thanks for the post–
    here’s a question that has bothered me of late:’
    do some Christians(including myself) want there to be a literal eternal lake of fire so we can feel good about the eternal suffering of some?

  5. December 31, 2009

    Mike –

    I taught a class this summer at Southwest in Jonesboro, AR called Heaven and Earth. I ended up having to take two Sundays to address the issue of Hell. I used a combination of thoughts from Ed Fudge’s thought, to N.T. Wrights theology. I think the best thing that came of it was our classes understanding of the biblical word “Aionios” or “Eternal”

    It was very helpful to us to understand that when Jesus says “Eternal Punishment” he is not referring to a punishment that lasts forever, rather he is referring to the coming Aeon, the new age, the consummate kingdom. So, Fudge would say, that Jesus means “the punishment coming in eternity”. But the language describing the kind of punishment it would be is pretty clear – destruction, annihilation.

    I wrestle with the different understandings of Wright and Fudge. I tend to agree with Wright, but I think he has to deal with Jesus’ seemingly confident remarks about a kind of punishment that will come in future Aeon.

    Thoughts???

    Peace –

    Joe

  6. December 31, 2009

    Three books that helped shape my perspective on this issue:

    First, Brian McLaren’s The Last Word, and the Word After That. This is a work of fiction, but draws the central issue of the debate into sharp focus – can we really trust that God is good?

    Second, Gregory MacDonald’s The Evangelical Universalist – a really amazing work that lays out the argument for Universalism from a bible-based perspective. For McLaren and MacDonald, the question is not whether hell exists, but whether it gets the “last word.” In other words, does hell have an exit?

    Third, NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope. Be clear: Wright is NOT a universalist. However, if you read his section on hell carefully, you will see that even he is intrigued by the enigmatic text in Revelation in which, after the great judgment, the kings of the Earth continue to flow – seemingly – out of the lake of fire and into the New Jerusalem.

    I fall into the camp of hopeful universalism. While I don’t believe it should be taught/adopted as formal doctrine, I believe it is appropriate to hope and pray for universal salvation.

  7. Tim Jolly permalink
    December 31, 2009

    I had heard recently that Mr. Allen had himself been reconsidering his views on hell. I’m no scholar on the subject, but have read enough to realize I am no scholar on the subject. May need to go read or reread some of the titles mentioned above, any others that would be beneficial as well?

  8. Richard permalink
    December 31, 2009

    Another way one can think about the positions is how they use the metaphor of fire:

    Heat (Pain) = Torment
    Burning (Destruction) = Annihilation
    Refining (Purification) = Universalism

  9. December 31, 2009

    Richard – You suppose there are any YouTube clips available of your first sermon — the one you preached on hell? http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2007/11/death-and-doctrine-part-2-on-why-hell.html

  10. Richard permalink
    December 31, 2009

    Unfortunately I don’t think so. As I stood there crying–so sad that most of humanity was going to burn for eternity–I’m sure my parents and the congregation thought I was losing my mind.

    I’m sure that early emotional trauma affected how I see things today.

  11. December 31, 2009

    I recently took at class at Harding Grad on the Book of Revelation taught by Dr. Rick Oster. I was surprised at his strong belief in a literal hell, not literal fire, but hell none the less. Here is a quote from an email he sent me.

    “Thank you so much for your kinds words of encouragement regarding the Thursday night class. Certainly the teaching of the doctrine of Hell does not rest easily upon the ears of our current culture, including our Church of Christ culture. There are many theological “defenses” that can be given, but beneath all those we must continue to point out that Jesus himself affirmed this doctrine and belief more than any other person in the New Testament. You and I did not author those parts of Scripture and the Church of Christ did not create the many teachings and parables of Christ about Hell. So, what spiritual convictions did Christ hold to that enabled/led him to teach this with such conviction and frequency? If we can get to these underlying convictions, then we might make some progress in appreciating/affirming/preaching this New Testament teaching about Hell.”

  12. Ellie permalink
    January 1, 2010

    So many things get forced through by playing the “I know this isn’t politically correct card.” I know this isn’t politically correct, but women need to be silent in church. I know this isn’t politically correct, but hell is conscious and eternal.

    The reason so many are rejecting the literal, conscious view of hell is because of what N. T. Wright says: these teachings aren’t about an eternal lake but about the world here and now and God’s kingdom here and now.

    An increasing number of orthodox Christians are rejecting the medieval interpretations.

  13. January 1, 2010

    Mike,

    Thanks for mentioning The Fire That Consumes. For more info about that, printed interviews on the subject, online audio/video seminar (free), summaries of the Scripture case for the view presented, and a very surprising (and dare I say, entertaining) Quiz, anyone can go to http://www.EdwardFudge.com/written/fire.html . By the way, JIMMY ALLEN says in his autobiography (Fire In My Bones, 2004) that he hasn’t preached his hell sermon in 25-30 years and that he is now open to the idea that at least some who got to hell might not suffer conscious torment forever. N.T. WRIGHT speculates that rejecting God throughout life so dims the image of God that people who go to hell have become less than human (“once were human but now are not”) so that he ends up with a sort of unending torment that is also a sort of annihilation of the divine image-bearing human being. BRIAN McLAREN has a good point, I think, in saying that while Scripture does not allow us to affirm universalism, it does give us grounds to wish it to be the case since it says that God does not wish for any to perish and we should all be like God in that regard. Other CoC folks who came to the same view I hold have included Homer Hailey, Jim McGuiggan, Alton Howard, and my old college buddy LaGard Smith. Outside our tribe, that list includes John Stott (now an “agnostic” on the subject), Michael Green, Clark Pinnock, John Wenham, E. Earle Ellis, Dale Moody and too many others to name. Have a blessed 2010 brother! God’s best to you and yours! — Edward

  14. Geezer permalink
    January 1, 2010

    I wonder if God executing his wrath on wickedness could really be a good thing – surely not. After all “God is love.” How could a loving God not forgive our peccadilloes? Don’t we hate to even think that God executing wrath on anyone, and especially having done so, at least in his own mind, from eternity past will actually happen. After all, I am only human and fall short so frequently – if I want forgiveness for me shouldn’t I also think it a good thing for everyone else?

    Sorry, just thinking out loud. Pls consider it a rhetorical question.

  15. Terry permalink
    January 1, 2010

    I have thought for a while that hell is thinking only of yourself and your wants and wishes. To put the prayers for others and their plight and the consious feeling of how can I help formost in your mind makes you see better, actually gives you a purpose, and you feel the love of God and pass it on. It is confusing in that sometimes when you fall out of the that thought, you feel very alone and have to consciously get back on board.

  16. Ellie permalink
    January 1, 2010

    What kind of God is that who punishes people forever? Forever? What kind of people is it who want to learn to appreciate this teaching? Appreciate the teaching about hell? No wonder so few want any part!

    A God who will punish those who’ve made a mistake? those who didn’t understand scripture correctly? those who had invalid baptisms? those who had the misfortune of being born into a family/culture that isn’t Christian? those who weren’t “chosen”? those who worshipped improperly?

    It’s sermons like these that have vacuumed the joy out of so many lives. We’ve created people who live and die in fear!! And yet we fool ourselves into proclaiming that this God is love.

  17. January 1, 2010

    Ellie, agree, agree, agree. Reading scripture thru the pain of the present changed my view of what is said about hell, as well as the sourcebook for those viewpoints. Until we understand the political/social context of both the time of Jesus and the time when canon came together in its present form, we will be locked in an almost irresolvable conflict that pits what we know about now with what we read about then. More and more I am drawn to the Lord’s Prayer (“thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”) as the prime source of all my eschatological thinking. The way I figure it, God’s got our backs on the next life. The question is, do I have God’s back on this one?

  18. clint permalink
    January 1, 2010

    Why do we think God is like us?
    In the beginning God created man in His image. In the end man created God in his image.
    What scares me most is seeing God through my eyes.
    Great post Mike, it makes me stop and consider God’s wonders.

  19. January 1, 2010

    This topic seems to be informed more from our emotions that the teachings of Jesus. What is Hell exactly? I have not a clue. Is it real? Jesus sure seems to think so. I wish someone would engage my post containing the quote from Dr. Oster. Happy New Year.

  20. Ellie permalink
    January 1, 2010

    lc – I’m guessing people are a bit uncomfortable responding to him, since it’s hard to imagine that he meant for a personal email to be quoted on a widely read blog. I could be wrong. Having said that, I think some of us have already responded to the sentiments of his quote. No one here is denying that Jesus spoke about hell (though there are others who might deny that — it partly depends on how you understand Scripture and how much the writers shaped the story); what we’re saying is that the traditional, fundamentalist, literalist interpretation of Gehenna misses the mark of what he was speaking about. See the NTW quote above.

  21. January 1, 2010

    “Reading scripture thru the pain of the present …”

    Well said, Larry James, as usual.

  22. January 1, 2010

    Ellie;

    The only reason why I quoted from Dr. Oster’s email is that it was so general in nature and not personal. From his comments in class he seemed to focus on the word Tartarus and not Gehenna. You would have had to have been in the class. Until I took his class I was totally convinced of the validity of the work of Fudge and others. Dr. Oster just forced me to rethink things. There is nothing in his email that he did not openly teach in class.

  23. January 1, 2010

    Rick Oster’s statement that Jesus says more about hell (“gehenna”) than anyone else in the NT is literally true, since the word “gehenna” appears only 11 times in the NT referring to final punishment and all those are from the mouth of Jesus. Not only so, all 11 statements are made to Jews (never to Gentiles) and always to Jews in or around Jerusalem.

    The fact is that the term “gehenna” was meaningless to anyone else (apart from intertestamental literature, mentioned below), since it was a literal place outside Jerusalem used as the city dump, a place of constantly smouldering (not blazing) fires and maggots (“where the worm does not die and the fire is not extinguished”), a place noted for putrifying smells and sights. It was a symbol of rejection as refuse. Its connotations were of something loathsome but not fearful, disgusting but not painful, destruction and not torment (see Isaiah 66:24 in context).

    During intertestamental times, “gehenna” was developed as a symbol for the final fate of the lost,with three views found among Jews (same as now): unending conscious torment, annihilation and restoration. We have to go to the biblical texts to see what Jesus says about it, which includes that it is an element of the Age to Come, a symbol for total, irreversible and comprehensive destruction,where soul and body are destroyed, where things are “burned up,” all of which is summed up as “eternal fire” (fire of the Age to Come and fire with everlasting effects) and “eternal punishment” (which Paul defines as “punished with everlasting destruction” and Revelation calls “the second death”).

    “Tartarus” is a different subject altogether, mentioned only once in the NT regarding angels presently imprisoned waiting for judgment. “Tartarus” is a term borrowed from Greek mythology and it is not associated in the NT with human beings or with final punishment post-judgment.

    We do not have to take all this language “literally” to take it seriously (same as “streets of gold” at the good place). This is evocative eschatological symbolism intended to encourage people to take seriously present choices and life patterns, not intended as a National Geographic photo-article for tourists or a spiritual version of Stephen King intended to satisfy morbid curiosity.

    Again to draw from our friend Brian McLaren, it is important to notice WHOM Jesus warns about hell, and WHY he says people end up there — both subjects which, generally ignored and commonlyabused, have done most of the damage for which “hell” as a topic often gets the undeserved blame. For a summary of that , see the gracEmail at http://www.edwardfudge.com/gracemails/hell_the_point_of.html .

    We cannot dismiss traditional teaching of hell as a place of unending conscious torment merely because WE don’t like it (and what sane person really does?) or even because it seems to SLANDER the character of our merciful and just heavenly Father who is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ (which it does). We CAN (and SHOULD) dismiss the traditional understanding of unending conscious torment, however, because it is not taught anywhere in Scripture and because Scripture throughout teaches that those who are ultimately separated entirely from God the source of being finally will cease to be (as surely as an ember taken from the fireplace will lose its fire and go out).

    Our message is not “hell” (of any variety) but “life in Christ” (now and hereafter). The good news is that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, tha t whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. He does not want any one to perish but for all to come to repentance. No one will accidentally go to hell because of an error in logic as they tried to learn how to please God, or because they stopped at a church where they found people praising God, teaching the Bible and overflowing with fruit and gifts of the Spirit but the place just happened not to have “Church of Christ” on the sign.

    Hell is the final alternative for those who would rather perish than be in fellowship with God — whom God finally allows to have what they prefer.

    If you are willing to risk being thoroughly surprised by generally-unknown scriptural data (some would probably say “trivia” but they do so thoughtlessly), take a look at the QUIZ ON HELL at http://www.edwardfudge.com/hellquiz.html .

  24. Ellie permalink
    January 1, 2010

    That would be a very short lecture, then. Tartarus is only in an obscure passage in 2 Peter 2.

  25. January 1, 2010

    Ellie:

    I did not mean to imply that he only talked about that one word. I will retrieve my notes from class and have more to say. This is a very serious subject to me, and I have not made up my mind, and am always looking for light on difficult issues. Perhaps I will be able to get Dr. Oster to comment directly.

  26. January 2, 2010

    Why must “hell” be God’s punishment upon the “sinners”? Could “hell” simply be the reality of its inhabbitants rejection of God as the source of life?

    I used to think that this discussion was pointless because my (our) goal was not simply to avoid hell but to live in community with God and his people. To that end, whether I spent eternity in a lake of fire, as an annihilated being, or something else in hell, I would have still lost out on God’s redemptive gift of salvation. However, I now realize that the claims we make regarding the doctrine of hell/divine punishment are also a claim made about the nature of God and therefore such a claim should be important to us all.

    Having said that, I am woefully unread on the issues of this subject. I know enough to know there are several different positions which all seem to have reasons for both their acceptance and dismissal. I do know that N.T. Wright is a solid New Testament Scholar who should not be too easily dismissed because we may not like his position. Likewise, while Dr. Rick Oster is not well known like Wright, Oster is also a solid New Testamet Scholar who should not be easily dismissed either And there are many others whether a Scholar, Preacher, or just someone with a vested interest in the subject who should not be dismissed because they hold a posistion that seems rather archaic and conservative or novel and liberal. Unfortunately, we all (myself included) tend to gravitate to only those who advocate what we already want to be true.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

    P.S. I have read all of the blog comments and thought that it has been a very helpful and informative discussion. I wish all blog conversations where there is such a diversity of viewpoints would proceed as this one has.

  27. Trey permalink
    January 2, 2010

    I had Jimmy Allen for a preaching class and he showed us the infamous Hell sermon on video tape one day when he was out sick.

    Trust me, it is just as terrifying on tape.

  28. January 2, 2010

    I know enough about hell from scripture and from life to understand that it is to be avoided at all costs, and that God thinks so too … the cost was His Son’s blood.

    Hell wasn’t prepared with us in mind, but for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). But that’s not to say that there aren’t some who – like Satan – would rather, as John Milton put it in Paradise Lost, “reign in hell than serve in heaven.”

    However you read it or view it or imagine it or prefer not to think about it, I tend to have the same attitude toward hell as Robert Frost does toward the controversy over how the world will end in his little poem Fire and Ice:

    Some say the world will end in fire,
    Some say in ice.
    From what I’ve tasted of desire
    I hold with those who favor fire.
    But if it had to perish twice,
    I think I know enough of hate
    To say that for destruction ice
    Is also great
    And would suffice.

    Whether eternal conscious torment or comparatively merciful obliteration or final exoneration after a Purgatorio-esque period of self-recrimination – any hell should be bypassed, no matter how straight and narrow the Way or how few find it.

  29. January 2, 2010

    I haven’t read any comments on this post, so I apologize if I repeat anything that was already said.

    N.T. Wright has said both in lectures and in print that he does not agree with universalism. On the other hand, he has a difficult time imagining a concentration camp in the midst of God’s New Heavens and New Earth. His understanding regarding Gehenna is quite literal, that Jesus was referring to the dump outside Jerusalem and discussing the judgment that ultimately came on Jerusalem in 70 AD. Yes, he believes there is yet a judgment to come. And yes, I tend to agree with Rev. Wright.

  30. January 2, 2010

    Rick Oster’s statement that Jesus says more about hell (”gehenna”) than anyone else in the NT is literally true, since the word “gehenna” appears only 11 times in the NT referring to final punishment and all those are from the mouth of Jesus. Not only so, all 11 statements are made to Jews (never to Gentiles) and always to Jews in or around Jerusalem. No wonder, because gehenna was a literal place outside Jerusalem used as the city dump, a place of constantly smouldering (not blazing) fires and maggots (”where the worm does not die and the fire is not extinguished”), a place noted for putrifying smells and sights. It was a symbol of rejection as refuse. Its connotations were of something loathsome but not fearful, disgusting but not painful, destruction and not torment (see Isaiah 66:24 in context).

  31. January 2, 2010

    During intertestamental times, “gehenna” was developed as a symbol for the final fate of the lost,with three views found among Jews (same as now): unending conscious torment, annihilation and restoration. We have to go to the biblical texts to see what Jesus says about it, which includes that it is an element of the Age to Come, a symbol for total, irreversible and comprehensive destruction,where soul and body are destroyed, where things are “burned up,” all of which is summed up as “eternal fire” (fire of the Age to Come and fire with everlasting effects) and “eternal punishment” (which Paul defines as “punished with everlasting destruction” and Revelation calls “the second death”).

  32. January 2, 2010

    Again to draw from our friend Brian McLaren, it is important to notice WHOM Jesus warns about hell, and WHY he says people end up there — both subjects which, generally ignored and commonlyabused, have done most of the damage for which “hell” as a topic often gets the undeserved blame. For a summary of that , see the gracEmail at http://www.edwardfudge.com/gracemails/hell_the_point_of.html . No one will accidentally go to hell because of an error in logic as they tried to learn how to please God, or because they stopped at a church where they found people praising God, teaching the Bible and overflowing with fruit and gifts of the Spirit but the place just happened not to have “Church of Christ” on the sign. Hell is the final alternative for those who would rather perish than be in fellowship with God — whom God finally allows to have what they prefer.

  33. January 2, 2010

    We cannot dismiss traditional teaching of hell as a place of unending conscious torment merely because WE don’t like it (and what sane person really does?) or even because it seems to SLANDER the character of our merciful and just heavenly Father who is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ (which it does). We CAN (and SHOULD) dismiss the traditional understanding of unending conscious torment, however, because it is not taught anywhere in Scripture and because Scripture throughout teaches that those who are ultimately separated entirely from God the source of being finally will cease to be (as surely as an ember taken from the fireplace will lose its fire and go out). If you are willing to risk being thoroughly surprised by generally-unknown scriptural data (some would probably say “trivia” but they do so thoughtlessly), take a look at the QUIZ ON HELL at http://www.edwardfudge.com/hellquiz.html .

  34. January 2, 2010

    I really should have gotten Dr. Oster’s permission before I posted his email to me, and I have written him an email of apology which I hope he will accept. I also hope he will weigh in on this fine discussion, but with his commitment to finish his massive commentary on the Book of Revelation I am not holding my breath. I also wonder if Edward Fudge has ever had the opportunity to discuss the matter at hand with Rick Oster? I would love to listen to that discussion. I have no interest in hearing a debate, but when two men of such high scholarship and Christian manners seem to disagree on a subject I think it would be wonderful to hear such a discussion.

  35. January 2, 2010

    I would encourage us all not to dismiss either N.T. Wright or Richard Oster (both solid NT scholars) or other well informed contributors such as Edward Fudge. We need to understand every position and why such a conclusion is reached by those who hold it before we can either accept or dismiss it. Unless we do that, we are simply searching for someone or something to offer well-articulated support for our already forgone conclusion (dogma).

    I appreciate Edward Fudge pointing out whom Jesus was speaking to when he spoke of hell and whom he was not speaking to. The hearers in the historical context goes unnoticed too often when proof-texting scripture to support a specific conclusion.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  36. January 2, 2010

    Dr. Oster is a wonderful guy, one whom I respect deeply and often disagree with. The great thing is, he typically disagrees with me, too, and we’re still siblings in Christ.

    (Trust me; you should ask him sometime about our discussions on women’s roles. But we’re both Mac users, and that’s what really counts. ^_^)

    I know that this statement will be (possibly vehemently) disagreed with, but I think there’s room to disagree on hell, heaven and a whole shebang of things. I’ve never been to either. Not entirely sure I think focusing on either gets anything done here, to be honest.

    I don’t serve God because I fear hell and hope for heaven. I serve God because God is God, whether I am ever anything but dust.

  37. GRH permalink
    January 3, 2010

    It seems to me that the imagery Jesus uses about hell is similar to that used by John in Revelation to describe heaven; both are metaphorical, intended to evoke feelings more than give descriptions. The larger question is that of eternal separation. The New Testament writers seem quite convinced that there are those today who are outside of God’s kingdom and that those same people are in danger of remaining outside of God’s kingdom for eternity. This is part of what drove them to preach the good news.
    Whether the imagery is eternal fire or eternal ice, life without God is a garbage dump. The Great Divorce imagery of C.S. Lewis was less about suffering and more about misery.
    As to the idea of hell as punishment, I think that is about as accurate as the notion of heaven as a reward. Our lives are being shaped today for tomorrow; Chistians “walk with God” now in anticipation of a fuller communion in eternity. You might say that others “walk away from God” now in anticipation of a more drastic separation in eternity.
    I have said enough for my first post. I will put my hand over my mouth and listen.

  38. Kent Dickerson permalink
    January 3, 2010

    I am enjoying the discussion on hell. It makes me think it is time for my re-looking at the subject. I believe a much more profitable study should be made by all of us on heaven. I have greatly enjoyed five books by Randy Alcorn that first got me to look seriously at the subject biblically and then stretched my imagination in works of fiction. Jesus said before the ascension, “I go to prepare a place for you”. Why have we thought so little about what that might mean? I find I think a great deal about it now. It has certainly helped my “Kingdom thinking”.

  39. Lisa permalink
    January 4, 2010

    I agree with GRH.

    What does it matter if it’s a literal lake of fire, or a garbage dump, or even a nice place with trees and a swing set? Hell is where God is not.

  40. Kathryn Bashaw permalink
    January 4, 2010

    As a former student of Jimmy Allen’s, I’m all too familiar with his sermon/s on hell. Thanks for a great post, Mike. I look forward to studying more about theses other two perspectives on hell.

  41. troy permalink
    January 4, 2010

    What gives us the right to label a specific place as hell? Should we not accept all cultures and celebrate our differences? Just because it does not have the unbridled consumerism, wealth, and temperate climate we enjoy does not make it any better or worse.

    In the same way…Satan has gotten a bum deal. Can he really be blamed for the sins of the world. Surely we have made him that way by flaunting our faith, hope, and love.

    Being a PC Christian is so much fun!

  42. Francis permalink
    January 5, 2010

    troy – It might help if you actually read some of these other materials rather than attacking other people based on your own insecurity. The point is that scripture has many different, conflicting comments about hell and salvation. Your sit in judgment on your own salvation because you insist on your interpretation of scripture as dogma.

    The point was made previously that we weren’t to be concerned about our salvation, because Christ already guaranteed it so we could focus on living out the kingdom life in this age. When we put words into the Lord’s mouth and attempt to dictate the terms of salvation, that is when we blaspheme God and become Pelagianists who don’t need the sacrifice of God. It’s not about being politically correct. It’s about trusting God’s plan for salvation.

  43. Ellie permalink
    January 5, 2010

    Thanks for that reply, Francis. I have found that the weakest expressions of the Christian faith are often made through the vacuous attacks on “PC Christianity.” That’s a code way of saying, “I’m a fundamentalist, I’m right, and I’m too insecure to reexamine.”

  44. troy permalink
    January 5, 2010

    Wow…this is a tough crowd. Usually the name calling doesn’t start until after my second or third comment.

  45. Francis permalink
    January 5, 2010

    I didn’t see any name calling, but if it helps you avoid the topic at hand, then by all means start the name calling accusations.

  46. troy permalink
    January 5, 2010

    Both of you called me insecure. I have not even stated my views on hell, and the two of you judged me without hesitation. The point that I was making is that the only acceptable viewpoint that may be stated with any certainty is that those who state their views with certainty are knuckle-dragging morons. That type of PC thinking is self-destructive.

    Whether Jimmy Allen changed his views on hell or not, he’s not afraid to state his beliefs with certainty. The sermons that frighten me the most are the ones that are forgotten by the time you get to your car.

  47. Richard permalink
    January 6, 2010

    I read a poem last night by Wendell Berry that perfectly captures my thoughts about hell. The poem, entitled “Dante,” is very short. Here it is:

    Dante

    If you imagine
    others are there,
    you are there yourself.

  48. January 6, 2010

    Awesome Poem… Wendell Berry continues to amaze me.

  49. January 7, 2010

    I really appreciated Keith’s comment. I don’t know what Hell is or isn’t, and I don’t think God intended for us to spend all day sitting around trying to figure it out. It’s bad. Let’s avoid it.

  50. January 8, 2010

    Brother Fudge, I have a copy of your book and plan to read it, but just wanted to say I really appreciate your commitment to truth and scripture expressed in this comment:

    “We cannot dismiss traditional teaching of hell as a place of unending conscious torment merely because WE don’t like it (and what sane person really does?) or even because it seems to SLANDER the character of our merciful and just heavenly Father who is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ (which it does). We CAN (and SHOULD) dismiss the traditional understanding of unending conscious torment, however, because it is not taught anywhere in Scripture and because Scripture throughout teaches that those who are ultimately separated entirely from God the source of being finally will cease to be…”

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