Jim, what do you think? I'd like to hear you thoughts on this article called "The Comeback of Hell".
Okeedokee, then, here are some of my thoughts, bro. :)
A Bible teacher in the Northwest asks for comment regarding the statement of Jerry Walls of Asbury Seminary, who wrote: 'We cannot be moral without God, and we cannot have God without hell. Hell needs to make a comeback' Christianity Today 6/16/97, "Can We Be Good Without Hell?"
Let me start off by saying that I don't reject the concept of eternal condemnation, but I think it has been terribly misread, misquoted, misapplied, misunderstood, etc. If I could have thought of some more "mis-" words I would have included them here. :)
The fact that the article was entitled "Can We Be Good Without Hell?" says an awful lot about the legalistic mindset of this supposed "Biblical" view. You know, it's the "let's scare the hell out of them" approach ... as if the threat of burning forever in flames inspires the natural mind to become favorable toward God. The irony of this whole thing is that those who preach on "hell" almost always miss the context of the specific passages in question and instead lean toward a "cross-reference" - or systematic - approach using as many verses as possible to support their "obvious" conclusions.
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Many conscientious Christians, dedicated to evangelism and deeply committed to the authority of Scripture, simply cannot conceive that the God who loved sinners so much that he gave his Son on the cross for their salvation intends to preserve the lost alive for the sole purpose of torturing them throughout endless ages. These people hesitate to teach on hell -- not for lack of biblical boldness, but from a nagging suspicion that the traditional understanding of hell is not biblical.
"to preserve the lost alive for the sole purpose of torturing them throughout endless ages". Wow! I remember a film made back in the 70's called "The Burning Hell". It was "God awful"!! It took many of the commonly used "hell-fire" passages and constructed a "scare-fest" in an attempt to get people saved. It showed people burning and then people getting everlastingly eaten by worms and people with running, puss-filled sores, etc, etc. And then there was this terrible sounding Baptist choir singing songs about hell and burning!! This perspective (which also used to be mine) suggests that it is being "Biblical", but it is really?
If this perspective was so "Biblical" then:
* where does it leave room for "the GOODNESS of God that leads men to repentance"?
* it suggests that our God is in the business of endless torture.
* why doesn't Paul mention "hell" in the whole letter to the Romans (or most any of his writings)?
* it suggests that He is powerless to do anything about it since it is the sinner's choice
* it also makes witnessing about presenting the logical choice of
A) the bad place, or
B) the good place, and not really about Jesus at all.
* it suggests that the evil we needed to be delivered from is this terrible place of torment, instead of needing to be delivered from what we used to be.
* why does it establish a platform to preach against sin, instead of preaching Christ?
* why do so many use it to suggest that everybody has eternal life, but that some spend it in hell while others spend it in heaven?
But no one has eternal life except Christ, and therefore those who have Christ have life. Those who don't have Christ don't have life.
* it assumes that "eternal life" refers to an amount of years and/or a place instead of a relationship (John 17:3)and a person (1 John 1:2).
<<< A return to simple scriptural language concerning final punishment looses these hesitant tongues. God will raise the saved unto immortality and incorruption, but Scripture breathes not a word about the wicked receiving either (1 Cor. 15:50-58). The lost will be raised, to be sure -- but to condemnation rather than to live forever (John 5:28-29). Judged and banished from God's presence, they will be expelled into the Lake of Fire, which is the Second Death (Matt. 13:40-43;.25:30, 41; Rev. 20:14-15; 21:8).>>>
This might be closer to what they really mean here: "A return to simple scriptural language understood within the confines of the systematic understanding of the bad place for bad people"! I understand why lots of people are rethinking the religious concepts of "hell". Each passage of either "hell" or "condemnation" need to be considered within its specific context. The usual context of the "hell" passages were directly pointed at the religious hypocrites, those who outwardly appeared pretty good, but these passages are mostly preached at those who are outside the systems.
The miraculous work of Christ is not the focus of the traditional interpretations, but instead the focus is upon this "choice" or this "wise decision" or the "change of lifestyle" that needs to be made. In context, many of these passages are revealing the inability to change or to "save" the old life, but instead, that it is only fit for condemnation; while at the same time it is being declared that the life that has been saved from its own condemnation is the miraculously created new life of Christ.
Jesus warns of everlasting punishment (Matt. 25:46), and Paul tells us exactly what that punishment will be. It will be everlasting destruction (2 Thes. 1:9) -- at the hands of God who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell (Matt. 10:28). We cannot possibly say it more plainly than this: "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).
Jesus' point in Matthew had to do with the hypocrisy of the religious mind. In other words, it was about those who CLAIMED they were doing God's will, but were in fact, simply SELF-righteous. Religion talks about hell and it focuses on the obvious evildoers, while it seems that Jesus spoke of hell almost exclusively regarding the religious leadership. He was in no way suggesting that those outside the system were "safe" from condemnation in any way, but it does beg the question as to WHY He spoke of "hellfire" in that way since the "Church" has turned the picture around toward everybody but themselves. Also, since Sodom and Gomorrah stand as a tribute of what it means to be condemned to destruction why do we assume that the word "eternal" has to describe an ongoing torture? As I see it, S & G were eternally destroyed ... gone forever by the wrath of God.
Against such a backdrop of eternal death, the gospel promise of eternal life shines all the more brightly. Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Those are our only alternatives, and now is the time to make them plain to a world so desperately in need of life.
This concept of "eternal death" lacks any real connection to what it means to be "dead in sins", but is more akin to the mythological concepts of the Norse, the Romans and/or the Greeks with their "Eternal bliss" versus "eternal torture". It paints a picture of some who "really deserve" this suffering, but most who will have to be tortured forever because they made the one wrong, all-important decision of their lives. Simply stated, most who preach on "hellfire" don't think that the majority deserve to go there, but hope to persuade them to agree by doing the thing necessary to avoid this terrible destiny. Nothing Paul wrote comes even close to that. Instead, he wrote of an evil that was inside and NOT outside humanity. And the common sense thing for any person to do would be to judge bad to be good, and good to be bad.
No, no, the dark backdrop against which the gospel shines brightly is the darkness of the thing that lost its light. I don't appreciate "grace" because I get to go to the really good place instead of the really bad place when I die, but because the thing I was had been killed on the cross, and the thing I am is the very righteous life of Christ. I don't think I have ever heard this suggested in "hellfire, damnation" messages. The "life" is not a place it is Christ. Damnation is already upon the old creation, and there is no hope for it.
I know this leaves a lot of questions unanswered, so I hope you don't think this is an end-all commentary. I still have a lot of questions myself, but I'm finding that many of them have been part of a systematic approach as opposed to an in-context approach. It's funny how many of the questions just don't come up outside of the systematic "cross-reference" based study. :)