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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hell’s Bells

Some brief thoughts on my interactions with Rob Bell supporters and so-called “evangelical” annihilationists

ozzyJust returned from my trip down to San Diego, so I have to get into my groove a bit before the blog is up and running normally.

In the meantime, my pastor was moved to jump on the Rob Bell pig pile and wrote up a few posts. The posts in order are,

Rob Bell: A Brother to Embrace or a Wolf to Avoid?

Rob Bell: “Evangelical and Orthodox to the Bone?” Hardly

Rob Bell’s Unbelief in His Own Words.

I had the occasion before I left for a week, to engage the few Bell supporting annihilationists in the comments of the first post. It was quite stimulating. My encounters helped me realize the need for Christians to develop a robust theology on hell, and then prepare themselves to defend it biblically.

Allow me to outline my observations I made from my interaction with the eternal conscious torment deniers:

- The annihilationists I interacted with seem not to realize how serious man’s sin truly is. Or at least they haven’t pondered it too much. I believe one commenter wrote something like, “The punishment doesn’t fit the crime.” Which I take it to mean this person believes creatures living in complete anarchy against their eternal Creator’s moral laws are just having a little fun and shouldn’t be punished too severely. Isn’t punishing these folks in conscious torment forever by their Creator a tad over the top? It’s just not fair.

- That leads to the fact these annihilationist have an extremely low view of God’s holiness and justice. That goes without saying. If you believe the continually flagrant breaking of God’s moral law isn’t that big-a-deal, obviously you don’t think God will be moved to judge such treason with any severity.

- Other annihilationists reject my accusation, however. They believe sin is serious and God will judge it severely, hence, this is the reason God extinguishes the existence of the wicked.

- But if we are going to say the wicked eventually get “extinguished,” we are forced into two options:

A) Either denying outright what the Bible teaches regarding the wicked man’s consciousness continuing after he dies, or B) appeal to bizarre, convoluted selective exegesis.

Some cases in point:

- Certainly the annihilationists I debated believe the righteous who receive eternal life will continue to be conscious after they die, but for some reason, the wicked won’t. They are to be extinguished. The eternal punishment of the wicked is contrasted with the eternal life of the righteous. See for example Matthew 25:46; John 5:28, 29; and Acts 24:15. If the righteous will continue to consciously experience their eternal life, why won’t the wicked continue to consciously experience their eternal punishment?

- The word “death” is suggested to mean extinguish or go out of existence, rather than “separation” as the Bible teaches.

- Likewise, the word “destruction” is redefined to mean “total extinguishing” rather than “loss” or “valueless” as the Bible teaches.

- The parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 is dismissed as a symbolic tall tale. The annihilationist claims it is a parable, and everyone knows parables are to be understood symbolically. That is true to a degree, but a couple of problems:

First, how exactly does a symbolic parable prove the annihilationist’s thesis regarding wicked men not having consciousness after death? All of the sudden, because the parable is “symbolic” it doesn’t mean what it so plainly states? At face value, reading Luke’s account of the rich man’s torment, why would I conclude anything else BUT that wicked men are conscious after they die and suffer torment?

Second, when Jesus spoke in parables, he utilized real life illustrations. You don’t see Jesus appealing to Disney-esque talking squirrels or fairy godmothers to make His spiritual point. Thus, even though one may argue the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable, it is a parable drawn from real experience.

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14 Comments:

Blogger Mark said...

Nice reporting on your observations. Perhaps a little more on the whole parable-interpretation-thing at the end?

7:26 AM, April 21, 2011  
Blogger keo said...

I'd be interested to read a summary of your "robust theology of hell." When I look at the Greek and Hebrew, I'm surprised to note that there isn't even a word for hell in the OT, and no SINGLE word in the NT that SOME translators have rendered as "hell" in English (many translators haven't even translated those words as "hell").

Without a word for it existing in the pre-translated Bible, it's amazing that the Roman Catholic church constructed such an extensive theology about it -- from which most Protestants seem to have derived their theology.

Also fascinating is the fact that Paul's gospel throughout his epistles never mentions hell -- by any of those Greek words that some have translated "hell."

7:35 AM, April 21, 2011  
Blogger Escovado said...

Hmmm...I never heard of Rob Bell until now. I guess I just don't get around much anymore. He sounds like yet another person who doesn't beileve that God says what he means and means what he says.

7:52 AM, April 21, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Keo,
I may do that.
As for Paul's teaching on the subject, Acts 24:15 and 2 Thess. 1:9 aren't good enough for you? Let alone Jesus's words in Matthew 25:46.

8:21 AM, April 21, 2011  
Blogger David Regier said...

I've been waiting for a post with that title since this whole kerfuffle began. Thanks for being the one.

8:25 AM, April 21, 2011  
Blogger keo said...

Fred,

Neither of those verse uses the word hell, which was my starting point. Resurrection, yes. Justice, yes. But no hell. And that's it? Just those two verses? It doesn't strike you as interesting that the gospel throughout Acts and Paul is never couched in terms of hell?

Yes, more on interpreting parables would be interesting. No squirrels or fairies, but Abraham's bosom? People in hell and heaven having conversations together? Physical water and souls with tongues and fingers? What part of "real experience" or the OT are those details from?

8:48 AM, April 21, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Keo writes,
Neither of those verse uses the word hell, which was my starting point. Resurrection, yes. Justice, yes. But no hell.

Okay, no word hell. But let’s take Matthew 25:46. What do you think Jesus meant by “everlasting punishment?” It’s contrasted with “everlasting life.”

Continuing,
And that's it? Just those two verses?

There are more than just two verses. You are aware of that, right? I mean, it’s not like people haven’t written on this subject before.

Continuing,
It doesn't strike you as interesting that the gospel throughout Acts and Paul is never couched in terms of hell?

It may be helpful for you to define “everlasting punishment” before we go out to other passages.

Continuing,
People in hell and heaven having conversations together? Physical water and souls with tongues and fingers? What part of "real experience" or the OT are those details from?

They are revealed “real experiences.” Jesus is telling us about the afterlife. Similar to prophetic events. But answer the question I asked in the post: Even if this is a parable, how exactly does it NOT tell us about the conscious torment of the wicked after death?

9:19 AM, April 21, 2011  
Blogger keo said...

Fred asks me: What do you think Jesus meant by “everlasting punishment?” It’s contrasted with “everlasting life.”

Even though it doesn't say anything about a specific place (hell), it *sounds* pretty straightforward: that there is punishment -- for not feeding the poor, mind you. Matthew 25 is an odd parable to use for an afterlife doctrine, however, given that eternal life is conditioned on works rather than belief, here.

Fred says: "I mean, it’s not like people haven’t written on this subject before."

Oh sure, lots of people have written lots of things. Unimpressive. I was commenting on the curious fact that Paul, unlike many evangelicals, never mentions a hell place by name. I'm talking about the actual text, not the traditions of men that have grown over the years.

Fred says: "It may be helpful for you to define 'everlasting punishment' before we go out to other passages."

Not sure that's my role, Fred. You're the one suggesting that a robust theology of hell can be drawn from the Scriptures. While waiting to hear more, I'm just trying to focus on the fact that we have inherited a RC doctrine with a lot to say about a place that is not even given a consistent name in the Bible -- even in the smattering of verses where it is metaphorically or parabolically suggested.

Fred demands: Even if this is a parable, how exactly does it NOT tell us about the conscious torment of the wicked after death?

Well, if that wasn't the POINT of the parable, for example. Does the parable also teach us, doctrinally, that the poor will be rewarded with eternal life and the ungenerous punished (Matthew 25 again)? Or that folks in the two places can communicate? Or that Greek mythology is correct about Hades -- the actual word used in this parable, by the way. These are interpretive decisions, justified or not by an understanding of how to interpret parables correctly. I suspect that Luke 16:31 and criticizing the Pharisees was the main point of this parable.

Must we draw a critical doctrine on hell from parables and metaphors, however? Is that the source material? That would be fascinating but alarming.

10:25 AM, April 21, 2011  
Blogger DJP said...

Multiple words for hell, therefore hell may not exist. Hm....

Interesting. Psychologically, not hermeneutically.

10:38 AM, April 21, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Keo states,
Even though it doesn't say anything about a specific place (hell), it *sounds* pretty straightforward: that there is punishment -- for not feeding the poor, mind you.

The reason for the punishment is irrelevant. But the text is quite specific as to a place, Matthew 25:41 says, "...into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels."

continuing
Matthew 25 is an odd parable to use for an afterlife doctrine, however, given that eternal life is conditioned on works rather than belief, here.

You don't believe eternal life is conditioned upon works? "Be perfect as my father in heaven is perfect" Mt. 5:48, and Rms2:6 ff., and of course Revelation 20:12, "...and the dead were judged according to their works, by the things written in the books."

The only thing is, no one can be perfect or do anything good to merit eternal life on their own. The Christian has Christ exchanging our sinfulness for his righteousness 2 Cor. 5:21. Hence, the reason why the Gospel is "good news."

Continuing,
I'm just trying to focus on the fact that we have inherited a RC doctrine with a lot to say about a place that is not even given a consistent name in the Bible -- even in the smattering of verses where it is metaphorically or parabolically suggested.

Really? And the fact that hell is called everlasting fire, that the devil and his angels will be there, is not good enough?

Finally,
I suspect that Luke 16:31 and criticizing the Pharisees was the main point of this parable.

And how exactly does this criticism dampen the force of the over all subjects and events outlined in the parable?

12:08 PM, April 21, 2011  
Blogger keo said...

Fred said: "The reason for the punishment is irrelevant."

Really? Why someone receives eternal life or punishment is irrelevant?! I think that's pretty important. And Jesus in Matthew 25 says nothing about an exchange, simply that some receive life for their works and others receive punishment for theirs. I believe in the exchange, but that doctrine is not here in this passage. Hence, my caution for prooftexting on the afterlife from this passage.

More importantly, and back to the starting point on parables, on what basis do you decide that this "detail" is irrelevant, but the detail about Jesus' Hades in the Rich Man / Beggar parable looking like Greek mythology's Hades is clear doctrine on the structure of the afterlife? Again, what is your clear hermeneutic for understanding parables that informs your decisions about what to discount and what to interpret literally? Surely not conformity to your prior assumptions?

Fred added: "And the fact that hell is called everlasting fire...."

The fact that men later coined the term "hell" and started using it in place of the words that are actually in the text, you mean. The Bible doesn't call hell everlasting fire, because there really is no word "hell" in Hebrew or Greek. This is my starting point, and I don't see how this is debatable, frankly. You're defending a tradition -- which *may be* warranted with proper support. I'm hoping to hear a sound defense of this tradition, though, rather than just insistence that the Catholics got hell right (and purgatory wrong) just because most people now lump together several different words that had specific and unique meanings in the Bible. Translators don't have carte blanche to make up new words when they want, or to make the text conform better to their own denominational paradigms, do they?

Maybe this doesn't bother you, but I'd prefer to read the Bible with as few added layers of man-made interpretation as possible.

1:08 PM, April 21, 2011  
Blogger Sir Aaron said...

And here I thought the doctrine of hell was already developed. The Bible is clear that (1)that everyone has sinned. (2) Sin is ultimately against God. (3) The punishment for sin is death. (4) Since God is eternal the punishment is also eternal; and (5) hell is an eternal place of torment where the unbelieving are sent after physical death.

To deny the doctrine of hell is not only heresy but essentially a denial of the gospel.


Wayne Grudem does a pretty good job of discussing hell in Systematic Theology and another great book is Dr. Robert Morey's Death and the Afterlife. The latter goes through the various words used and discusses in great depth how God, in Scripture, gives progressive revelation about the afterlife (including the existence of hell).

So bottom line: We might need a thorough review, but we hardly need to "develop" a theology.

6:13 PM, April 21, 2011  
Blogger thomas4881 said...

Revelation 20:12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

8:48 PM, April 21, 2011  
Blogger thomas4881 said...

Matthew 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

10:00 PM, April 22, 2011  

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