Is There A Hell?

Mar 18th, 2011 | By | Category: Christian Life, Heaven & Hell

There is quite a stir going on right now about the anticipated publication of Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins:  A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  It is scheduled for release on Tuesday, 29 March 2011.  I have not seen an advance copy and therefore have not read the book.  So, I reserve any detailed comment about Bell’s argument or the content of his book.  The publisher’s statement adds fuel to the controversy because it seems to hint that God’s love will triumph over His justice:  Hell is perhaps not what we have been taught.  Is Bell going to embrace a universalism, which means that ultimately everyone will be saved?  I do not know.  But Rob Bell is part of the increasingly controversial Emerging Church movement, which, broadly speaking, is cultural Christianity, giving less emphasis to sound doctrine (the theme of this edition of Issues in Perspective) and more to being culturally relevant and in tune with all that is going on.  I await the publication of Bell’s new book before I say anything more specific.  However, I believe it appropriate to follow theologian Albert Mohler in examining why hell, as a doctrine, is becoming increasingly unpopular in this Postmodern culture.  Mohler contends that hell “as a place of everlasting punishment bears that scandal in a particular way.  The doctrine is offensive to modern sensibilities and an embarrassment to many who consider themselves to be Christians.”  Why is hell so unpopular and so offensive to the Postmodern culture?  Mohler suggests four reasons:

  1. The postmodern view of God has changed.  The Bible’s view of God is too restrictive of human freedom and offensive to many.  Recent evangelical revisionists promote an understanding of divine love that is never coercive and would never permit God to send impenitent sinners to eternal punishment.  “They are seeking to rescue God from the bad reputation He picked up by associating with theologians who for centuries taught the traditional doctrine.  God is just not like that.”  A God like that is “vindictive,” “cruel,” and “more like Satan than like God.”  God’s love always triumphs over His justice.
  2. There is now a changed view of justice.  The concept of retributive justice has been the hallmark of law for over 5,000 years.  It assumes that punishment is a natural and necessary component of justice.  Utilitarian philosophers (e.g., John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham) rejected restorative justice and argued that justice demands restoration.  “Criminals were no longer seen as evil and deserving of punishment but were seen as persons in need of correction.”  C.S. Lewis responded to this new definition of justice:  “We demand of a cure not whether it is just but whether it succeeds.  Thus when we cease to consider what the criminal deserves and consider only what will cure him or deter others, we have tacitly removed him from the sphere of justice altogether, instead of a person, a subject of rights, we now have a mere object, a patient, a ‘case.’”  Dutch criminologist, Pieter Spierenburg, argues that “The disbelief in the existence of retributive justice . . . is so widely spread through nearly all classes of people, especially in regard to social and political questions. . . [that it] causes even men, whose theology teaches them to look upon God as a vindictive, lawless autocrat, to stigmatize as cruel and heathenish the belief that criminal law is bound to contemplate in punishment other ends beside the improvement of the offender himself and the deterring of others.”  Therefore, retribution is out and rehabilitation is in and this has affected the understanding of hell.
  3. The advent of a psychological worldview has also affected postmodern understandings of hell.  The unintended consequence of some aspects of modern psychology is to deny or reduce personal responsibility.  “Various theories place the blame on external influences, biological factors, behavioral determinism, genetic predispositions, and the influence of the subconscious—and these variant theories barely scratch the surface.”  The victim mentality has triumphed in many sectors and it is simply unthinkable that God would hold people accountable and send them to hell!
  4. The concept of salvation has changed:  “Sin has been redefined as a lack of self-esteem rather than as an insult to the glory of God.  Salvation has been reconceived as liberation from oppression, internal and external.  The gospel becomes a means of release from bondage to bad habits rather than rescue from a sentence of eternity in hell.”  Researcher Kimon Howland Sargeant holds that “today’s cultural pluralism fosters an under-emphasis on the ‘hard sell’ of Hell while contributing to an overemphasis on the ‘soft sell’ of personal satisfaction through Jesus Christ.”

Mohler concludes that “The revision or rejection of the traditional doctrine of hell comes at a great cost.  The entire system of theology is modified by effect, even if some revisionists refuse to take their revisions to their logical conclusions.  Essentially, our very concepts of God and the gospel are at stake.  What could be more important?  The temptation to revise the doctrine of hell—to remove the sting and scandal of everlasting conscious punishment—is understandable.  But it is a major test of evangelical conviction. . . Hell demands our attention in the present, confronting evangelicals with a critical test of theological and biblical integrity.  Hell may be denied, but it will not disappear.”  Jesus talked more about hell than anyone else in the New Testament.  If we take Jesus seriously, we will need to take hell seriously.

See Mark Galli in ChristianityToday.com (2 March 2011) and AlbertMohler.com (1 March, 8 March and 10 March 2011).

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4 Comments to “Is There A Hell?”

  1. Joe Ramirez says:

    To refuse to preach about hell is out of the question. God will not send anyone to hell, the people who refuse to believe and accept God at his word, choose to send themselves to hell. Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. 2Peter2:4-9 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgement…. The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust to be punished…
    God will not excuse us because we think that he will not do what his word tells us he will do!

  2. steve rathkopf says:

    Instead of “go to hell” what will people say now, “go to your therapist”?

  3. gr8commission says:

    Osama Now in Heaven: “Love Wins”. http://youtu.be/pks7DZxBRq0

  4. rkling says:

    premise one, join
    premise two, join OR fry for the rest of eternity in hell

    It seems as if we have two premises, one which appeals to your desires
    the other which touches your fears

    which premise is the teachings of a HIGHER one?