hell: a final word, reviewed (part 2)

 

Understanding the Bible is not a simple matter. Contrary to how I was first taught, not just “anyone with one eye and half sense can quickly understand it.” Indeed, there is little that is truly “simple” about it.

Of course, a great deal of the difficulty comes from the many misunderstandings that surround it. No small amount of my life has consisted of shedding false understandings. What I was told the Bible taught and what I found it to actually teach has often been two very different things. This has been true of topics as widely varied as divorce and remarriage, just war, poverty, and the work of the Holy Spirit, not to mention the very character of God himself.

However, coming to awareness that there was actually a decided difference between my understanding of a matter and that of Scripture has often not been a quick or easy matter. In most instances, it has taken years of study and prayer, coupled with people crossing my path and challenging my thinking, to change my views. For some of those changes in perspective I have paid a personal price, sometimes quite high, but it has led to a clarity and grounding in my conscience that is priceless.

My development in understanding the ultimate end of the wicked has followed this same difficult path and I know that I am not alone in this matter. Further, I know there are many Christians who remain secretly – and needlessly – tormented and unsettled on this subject. And why? Precisely because it touches on the character of God and the nature of human beings.

Though it may come as a surprise to some, there are a variety of views of hell among those who claim faith in Christ and who hold to the Bible as God’s communication with humankind. These views fall essentially into three categories: the traditionalist perspective, the universalist position, and the conditionalist (aka: annihilationist) understanding.

The traditionalist perspective is dominant. It’s understanding of hell is that those who will not submit to, and are, therefore, not saved by Christ, will suffer everlasting torment in hell. Hell is for people and people will quite literally be tortured there by fire forever.

Universalists take the opposite position, that no human will be tormented in hell forever, for all will ultimately be saved by God. Rob Bell’s recent book Love Wins (HarperOne, 2011) is perhaps the best known recent description of, and argument for, the universalist view.

While these two views might seem to cover all of the bases, there is, however, a third view, the conditionalist (aka: annihilationist) understanding of things. The conditionalist’s perspective is that while God will certainly and actively punish the wicked, they will ultimately suffer the ultimate punishment, being annihilated. The wicked will, one day, entirely cease to exist.

Here, allow me to introduce a personal note. Though my parents were not Christians, I was raised to believe that there is a God, that there is only one God, and that this one God is very good. Though it was not the evidence offered to me by my parents, the evidence for such that proved most persuasive for me on these matters was found in creation itself. Nature spoke, and still speaks, volumes to me of God.

Across the years, only two things have seriously challenged my belief in such a God and one of those was the teaching and preaching on hell to which I was exposed in church when I began my journey with Christ. What I was taught the Bible said about hell came across as a strong contradiction of the character of the God I thought I had come to know, and continued to seek through the Scriptures.

My personal conflict, my secret quandary, was completely resolved upon the publication (1982) and my reading (about 1986) of Edward Fudge’s book The Fire That Consumes. Words simply cannot express my elation upon my discovery and digestion of this work. It’s description and development of the conditionalist perspective of God and Scripture not only fully addressed all of my questions, but did so in a compelling way. Now in its third edition, that book continues to provide strong light and guidance for me on the subject that challenged my heart and mind so early on in my walk with God’s Spirit. I owe Edward William Fudge a debt I can never repay and few days go by that I do not thank God for this brother of mine in Christ.

However, for years I’ve longed for the essence of that large volume, The Fire That Consumes, to be distilled into a much briefer and more readily readable format that I could confidently share with family and friends. And so, I’m thrilled to say that very longing has been fulfilled with the publication of Edward’s work entitled Hell: A Final Word. The serious Bible student or academic can appreciate the content and format of The Fire That Consumes, while everyman can easily engage Hell: A Final Word. This is the volume many of us have been waiting for and it does not disappoint. Thank you Edward, and thank you, Lord!

The text of Hell: The Final Word is divided into quickly readable portions, the vast majority of the text (pp. 13-172) being divided into fifty-one chapters. There is no multitude of footnotes in this work as was the case with The Fire That Consumes. In fact, there are no footnotes at all, just twenty-four brief endnotes (pp. 187-188).

There is nothing left dangling or assumed in the reasoning presented. Every stone is turned over and considered and no stones are thrown. The argumentation is coherent and tight, linear and clear, without in any way being argumentative. Grace and graciousness is pervasive in all of Edward Fudge’s work and this book is by no means an exception. Indeed, it is not only a true pleasure to read but, unlike most detailed presentations of Biblical teaching I have seen, is truly “a page turner.”

I can find virtually nothing I dislike about this work. Perhaps I would rather have seen the quiz (pp. 177-186) serve as a tantalizing introduction instead of appearing as something like at appendix. This Q & A alone is worth the price of the book.

The inclusion of a handful of discussion questions every few chapters would have made this work all the more instantly adaptable to use in a small-group or Bible class context.

I would like to have seen references to other works aside from those of Fudge in the chapter entitled “For Further Study” (pp. 175-176), but those who truly want to delve into things deeper need only turn to The Fire That Consumes and will find more than ample references there.

And some of the people I intend to steer toward this book would likely prefer to do without the autobiographical aspects of the work and would rather the author just stick straight to the issue at hand. However, I see the autobiographical style as a tremendous plus, especially to those reading it who have a history in the religious heritage in which Edward Fudge and I are of a part (Churches of Christ).

In sum, this book, like Fudge’s earlier work, The Fire That Consumes, is first rate. It’s precisely the sort of book I will happily be steering people toward for a very long time to come. I can easily see it as a resource for a mini-series in Bible class or for sermons, too. I hope this book finds its way into the hands of a great many, both those who believe already and those who are yet to believe. Would that every Christian would read it.

In short, I say: may this book live long and prosper, and may the same hold true for its author.

hell: a final word by Edward Fudge, reviewed (1)

 

It is with both joy and sadness to see the publication of Edward Fudge’s book Hell: A Final Word (Leafwood Publishers, 2012). It brings joy to me for I know the work of his mind and pen will certainly stimulate my thinking on an important teaching of the Bible. It brings me sadness, however, for as Fudge reveals:

“Since 1982, I have written two separate books and one major revision on the subject of hell. The book in your hand at this moment will be my last book on the subject.” (p. 17)

This brief review of Hell: A Final Word will consist of two parts: first, some excerpts from the book and second, my take on it all. Let’s get right to it. First, in today’s post, the excerpts.

I will tell you this – with no desire to exaggerate or to be controversial – that no one before or after could have been more astounded at the things I found throughout the Bible during the course of my study. (p. 17)

Hell is real. Hell is bad. Hell is punishment. Hell is separation from God. Hell is eternal. (p. 21)

… what does the traditional doctrine tell your mind and heart about the character of God whom you love and worship, the same God you sometimes beg in prayer to relieve your own suffering and that of others? (p. 32)

Can you consider it possible that the majority interpretation of hell as conscious everlasting torment is not the teaching of Scripture after all? … Does the Bible really teach that God finally will keep people alive forever in hell just to suffer torment that never ends? … If that is not what scripture teaches, is it not a slander against the heavenly Father almost too heinous to describe? (p. 34)

Jesus uses the word “hell” (gehenna) eleven times and is the only person in the Bible who uses it at all to speak of final punishment. It is important to know what Jesus says about hell. (p. 36)

No one will go to hell because God made them go. … No one will go to hell based solely on Adam’s sin. … No one will go to hell merely because he or she was born in a particular place and not in another. … No one will go to hell because of “missing” the true church. … No one will go to hell for accidentally misunderstanding some doctrinal point while sincerely seeking God’s will. (pp. 40-42)

Every author I found who promoted and defended the traditionalist view … generally believed four fundamental pillars to be true. … (1) The Old Testament says nothing about hell. (2) Between the time of the Old and New Testaments, the doctrine of unending conscious torment developed from Old Testament principles. … (3) New Testament writers follow Jesus and teach unending conscious torment. (4) The immortality of the soul requires unending conscious torment unless those in hell are restored to God and join him in heaven. … Either these pillars are true or they are not. (p. 65)

If we ask what the Old Testament says about hell, meaning a place where people are kept alive to be tormented forever, the answer will be “nothing.” … But if we go to the Old Testament asking what it says about the end of the wicked, we will meet our first great surprise. (p. 67)

… when Jesus was teaching, there was no such things as “the Jewish view” on hell, but rather there was a variety of opinion on this subject. … Jesus’ teaching on final punishment, as on other subjects, was rooted in Old Testament revelation, which it sometimes advanced but never contradicted. (p. 86)

When the biblical authors talk about final punishment, they use words and phrases so often and so regularly that those words and phrases can rightly be called “key words.” But whenever the good people who argue for the majority view talk about biblical texts that contain those key words, they find it impossible to let those words mean what they most naturally seem to say. (p. 90)

Surprise: perish and destroy can mean just that. … Surprise: teeth gnashing means anger, not pain. … Surprise: eternal fire destroys forever. (pp. 92,95,107)

“These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt. 25.46) … What is permanent in eternal salvation? The thing that continues forever is the salvation that results, not the process of saving that produces that result. … Eternal judgment is judgment that ends. Eternal punishment results from punishing that stops, and destroying will not continue without end, but the destruction that results will be everlasting. (pp. 101,103)

… the punishment of the wicked consists not only of dying the second death itself and experiencing every pain suffered in the process of dying, but also the loss of every good blessing, every godly companion, and of every moment that might otherwise have been enjoyed in a new heaven and a new earth forever without end. (p. 106)

It is not “eternal” because it burns forever, for it does not burn forever. It is called “eternal” fire because it destroys forever. (p. 109)

In one sense, Paul says more about hell than anyone else in the Bible. Rather remarkable, since he never uses the word “hell.” That raises an interesting question. If Paul does not use the word “hell,” yet still says the most about it, what kind of language does he use …? … die, perish, and destroy. (p. 127)

This is the only text [Rev. 20:7-10] in the whole Bible that speaks of anything being tormented forever. The statement applies to the devil, Beast, and False Prophet, neither of which is a human being. Scripture nowhere says that any human being will be tormented forever. Jesus does say that the wicked will suffer “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46), which Paul explains to be “eternal destruction” (2 Thes. 1:9). (p. 140)

When Death is thrown into the Lake of Fire, Hades is also thrown in. … When Death is gone, so will be the place or state of the dead. That is Hades or Sheol – which is also cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:14). … For Hades to be thrown into the Lake of Fire simply means its total and everlasting destruction. It is annihilated. (p. 142)

It is … impossible to square the traditional doctrine of hell … with statements throughout the Bible that teach the final extinction of the wicked: the total, irreversible annihilation of the whole person. (p. 145)

… If the traditional view in not found in the Bible, where did it come from? I found that answer in Tertullian and the supposed immortality of the soul. (p. 146)

Scripture is clear that only God possess immortality (1 Tim. 6:16). He alone lives eternally and is his own source of life. God’s life does not depend on anyone other than himself. That cannot be said of any creature in the universe, including us human beings. For us, immortality is God’s free gift to the redeemed (Rom. 2:6-8). We live in hope of “the promise of the life that is in Christ” (2 Tim. 1:1). The Bible says nothing of immortal souls. (p. 150)

The first question is “What does the Bible say?” Only then can we legitimately talk about the desirable or undesirable effect of a doctrine on our work or that of other people. (p. 167)

The same generation that produced such illustrious scholars as F.F. Bruce and John W. Wenham, also included Dale Moody, E. Earle Ellis, Homer Hailey, Philip E. Hughes, John Stott, Stephen Travis, Michael Green, and I. Howard Marshall. To a man, these all publicly rejected the traditional hell and its unending conscious torment. … Respected evangelical scholars from my own generation … also rejected the traditional hell … Among these are Clark Pinnock, John McRay, Claude Mariottini, Christopher Marshall, Tom Robinson, Richard Bauckham, and N.T. Wright. (p. 170)

Hell: A Final Word by Edward William Fudge (Leafwood Publishers, 2012)

this went thru my mind

Archaeology & backgrounds. Man alive, talk about a double punch! Just this past Sunday morning while preaching from Matthew 5:27-30, I made reference to the Valley of Gehenna as Jerusalem’s “trash dump.” Then this week I come across this post by Tedd Bolen entitled The Myth of the Burning Garbage Dump of Gehenna. I’ve read and heard of the “Jerusalem trash dump” business from careful scholarship for many years now, so, needless to say, this came as a great surprise to me. That was the first punch. What was the second? My scheduled sermon topic tomorrow morning is … wait for it … lying. Doh! No kidding.

If you’re even half as interested as I am in what life was like in the places where Christianity first got a foothold in the ancient world, you will likely be very interested in a new blog that is about all thing related to the ancient city of Corinth. It’s called simply Corinthians Matters. The site’s self-description reads: “This site is devoted to the archaeological and historical research and study of Corinth and its territory.  The site is also designed to educate the public on the ongoing archaeological work of the sites and microregions of the eastern territory.” This site is the work of David Pettegrew, an “Assistant Professor of History at Messiah College near Harrisburg, PA where he teaches classes in Greek and Roman History, Late Antiquity, Historical Mediterranean Archaeology, and Latin.”

Bible. Did you know that Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby, is a long-time Bible collector? Read more in this CNN article entitled Eyeing a national museum, a collector’s bibles hits the road.

Bible interpretation: The “most loved verse” of most, Philippians 4:13, is the subject and Timothy Archer comes right out and says what needs to be said. This may be the most important post you’ll read of those listed here simply because it reminds us that unless Scripture is understood in its context, it will be misunderstood and misused. Spot-on, brother. I Can Do All Things. Incidentally, this verse is a good illustration of why I’m a fan of the Common English Bible. The CEB renders Philippians 4:13 quite well, capturing its meaning in its original context: “I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.”

Church. It seems as though this must be “National Write Some Exceedingly Good Stuff About Church Week.” Quite a number of fine pieces came through my Google Reader this week about church. Following are three of the best. Dan Bouchelle’s post entitled Too Busy to Bother Driving is required reading. Here’s an excerpt:

“Most churches are busy doing all manner of things. … if not truly important things. But, rare is the church that has a true biblically informed operational vision that guides all they do and gives them the framework to decide what not to do. Everyone with a good idea and the willingness to put some time in can develop a program that consumes church time and resources. … The core problem, I think, is that there is no real consensus about why the church exists. The congregation came into being sometime in the past but no ones seems to remember why because vision leaks. It has been years, if ever, since the entire leadership gathered around the Word and prayerfully asked and studied critical questions like the following …”

Dave Jacobs makes an equally important point in Not All Healthy Things Grow and Reproduce. Who will believe his report, though? I, for one.

Wade Hodges hit the nail on the head as well with his post Before You Go: Leave Your Ideal Church Behind.

And without a doubt, if the post Church in China to Risk Worshipping in Park doesn’t humble us, I shudder to think what it would take to do so. See ya’ Sunday, right?

Computing. Do you subscribe to any e-mailings from businesses who use Epsilon? I do. And if you don’t know if you do, then you’ll definitely want to read Mike Lennon’s post Massive Breach at Epsilon Compromises Customer Lists of Major Brands as well as Kim Komando’s advice on the matter.  Jason Stellman’s Googling Ourselves to Death reiterates a point I’ve made earlier here. We all need reminding. And speaking of “all” and “reiterating,” this infographic regarding Web Use Through the Generations just doesn’t ever get old to me. Why? It speaks volumes of how people communicate and how they learn things, things we do well to be aware of if we want to communicate Christ to people and ways that can be effectively heard.

Death & dying. Rob Moll’s piece entitled The Art of Dying addresses a crucial question: “How should the Christian community respond when a member is told he or she has a terminal illness?”

Hate. This ol’ world is not in short supply if it. Unfortunately, it’s not in short supply among many who claim faith in Christ, either. Two posts I saw this week give additional application points to a subject I dealt with the Sunday before last (anger). They are Julie Clawson’s piece entitled Embracing Creation Theology and Rubel Shelly’s FAX of Life entitled People Who Burn the Quran.

Humor. Wish I had wrote this piece. Top Ten Signs Your Pastor Has Caught You Napping During His Sermon. You think this is funny being one who sits in the pew, you ought to read this as a preacher. Pretty funny!

Kindle. “Free” is one of my favorite words and books are one of my joys in life, so when PC World clues me in on how to Find Free and Discounted Kindle E-Books I couldn’t help but take notice. If you have a Kindle, eReaderIQ is a good thing to know about.

Pornography. My sermon last Sunday morning (Toward a Life Without Lust) dealt, in part, with the subject of porn. Jonathan Stormented’s post Cruciform Sex is good stuff along this same line.

Sabbath. Michael Hyatt’s ten minute video interview of Craig Groeschel has some good thoughts on God’s expectations for us in terms of the use of our time and the application of the Sabbath today. If you’re just too busy for ten minutes (well then, you really need this lesson on the Sabbath!), skip to the 6:30 minute mark of the video and go from there. We study the fourth of the Ten Commandments (“keep the Sabbath holy“) in most of our adult Bible classes tomorrow at MoSt Church. And there’s a superb, brief excerpt entitled Busyness from one of Eugene Peterson’s first books, Working the Angles, a classic on ministry.