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Living In Grace

A Christ inspired work dealing with American Christian Culture in the New Century.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Losing Hell??? A Critique of an Emergent View of the Afterlife

There has been an uproar recently coming over the Internet from the Emergent Community and their opposition fueled by Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins, and the charge of universalism.  An entry located on Emergent Village Web log details the journey of one author's departure from historic orthodox Christianity to a more universalist approach to the doctrine of Hell.  In , What I Lost Losing Hell, Chad Holtz says, "I was raised in the church....I believed in an eternal Hell    ( rightly so )..(but) this all changed about three years ago....the past few years I have given thought to what I lost by losing Hell..."  Mr. Holtz is apparently unaware that by abandoning an orthodox view of Hell he is also abandoning an integral tenet of Christianity found in Scripture.


He goes on to describe what he feels he actually lost, in a positive light, from eschewing this doctrine:
1. I lost the idol of belief. Most of my Christian Life I believed that I was saved because of what I believed.
Anyone at anytime can make an idol out of anything that strikes them as being worthy of worship.  It is so easy and so pervasive to human nature that in Exodus 20 , where the Ten Commandments are given, the first five verses are dealing with idolatry.  The Good News about a correct understanding of the Christian Faith is that our faith is placed in a person, Jesus Christ, and not in our ability to muster up saving faith in and of ourselves.  Faith is a gift from God ( Eph 2:8 ), Christ is both the author and perfecter of our faith ( Hebrews 12:2 ), and because of this our faith should never be idolized as the saving agent in and of itself.  Failure to realize this neither negates the true saving power of faith found in the grace of God nor the reality of Hell.

2. I lost a very Powerful motivator: Fear.  No longer could I motivate myself to do good, to pray more, to go to church more, to be more charitable, etc., because a tormented eternity awaited me if I did not.

Fear is not now nor has it ever been a lasting motivator to perform any kind of sustained work.  Fear will only breed contempt, resentment, and eventually hatred for the one(s) who are eliciting it.  Fear of Hell is no different since an initial exposure to the doctrine itself may cause fear but in the end it will leave the one hearing it emptier than at the first.  It appears from the above statement that Mr. Holtz's security of salvation was found and defined by a works based righteousness and not the gift of grace found in Christ.  All of our works are like filthy rags ( Isaiah 64:6 ), no one is righteous or seeks God ( Romans 3:10-11 ), and it is not by works of righteous but by His mercy He has saved us ( Titus 3:5 ).  I am eternally thankful that I am saved by grace and not of works and that  His perfect love  has cast out all fear.

3. I lost the right to hate my enemy...I really hated my enemies...deep down I had a smug satisfaction that one day they would get theirs..This gave me comfort...
It is impossible to justify this attitude in light of the many Biblical exhortations to love both your brothers and your enemies.  It is this love of man coupled with God's command to go into all the world and make disciples that is antithetical to Mr. Holtz's portrayal of Christian Love.  God commended His love to us that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us ( Romans 5:8 ).  There is not one person past or present apart from the Perfect Christ ( save Adam and Eve before the Fall ) that has not been born into sin and as an enemy of God: While enemies though Christ died for us.  This is the love that we are to show one another, and to everyone we meet, for we do not know who will respond to this Love that God has so gracious bestowed upon us.

4.  I lost my place in a tribe.  When I lost Hell I lost my place in a holy huddle where I felt safe...Losing Hell mad me an outcast to the set of places I called church.
Much to Mr. Holtz's dismay there is not a Holy Huddle of Hell-fire and Brimstone orthodoxy that one must adhere to  to be in the " club ".  While much of Historic Christianity has taught the doctrine of hell he denounces, there are many while there salvation is apparently secure, varied from that standard.  Two notable mentions are Origen, who embraced a form of universalism, and C.S. Lewis who was a tad fuzzy on the afterlife while still believing in a literal Hell.  So instead of reconciling himself to the doctrines of scripture Mr. Holtz has chosen to align himself with a group on the fringes of Christianity.

One common thread occurring in defense of Rob Bell and others is the mistaken notion of God's love as being unconditional.  After searching several online Bible databases I never once found those two terms, unconditional and love, linked together.  God's love in the OT is manifested on a particular person ( Abraham ) which leads to the covenant formed between his descendants ( Israel ) and God and His love is given to us today through His Son Jesus Christ.  The " us " is what seemingly is throwing many off during these discussions, but who are these people included in the us, we, and our statements of the NT?

  1. John 3:16  "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."  The world is not every person indiscriminately and there is a contrast of those who believe ( eternal life ) and those who don't ( perish ).
  2. John 13:34 " A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another ."  YOU love ONE another as I have loved YOU.  Particular and specific love
  3. John 14:21"He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him."  The Father loves those who loves the Son and keeps His commandments. 
  4. John 16:27 " for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father. " Because you love Jesus the Father loves you
  5. Romans 5:5 " and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. " The Holy Spirit is not given haphazardly to everyone but indwells believers and God pours His love out into the hearts of those who have the Holy Spirit.
  6. Romans 8:35 " Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? " Again the us he is writing to are the believers found in the Church at Rome.
Another objection found is the use of hyperbole to describe Hell by Jesus.  Eternal Fire, Outer Darkness, Total separation from God, and Gnashing of Teeth are statements when taken at face value seem contradictory but we must not error when evaluating them.  Do we say that Hell is not real because of the hyperbole? Or do we come to the realization that Hell is infinitely worse than can be described or imagined?  The second option is much more linked to Scripture and the Historic Faith of the Christian Church.

If God has saved us from what were we saved if there is no judgment or Hell?  Maybe that can be answered later.

God bless

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5 Comments:

Blogger sally apokedak said...

Good post. I noticed Ligonier had a bunch of posts on hell on the blog yesterday. Worth studying. http://www.ligonier.org/blog/hell/ The poor fellow who lost hell also lost a holy and just God, I think. He lost the Bible, for sure, and agreement with Jesus.

I popped over from Spec Faith. Nice blog.

March 16, 2011 at 3:35 PM  
Blogger Luther said...

Thanks Sally. E.Stephen introduced me to Spec Faith and I have really enjoyed you guys writing over there.

I go to Ligonier often as I greatly respect Dr. Sproul.

Yes He also lost any sense of justice and Holiness that God has every demonstrated.

March 16, 2011 at 3:57 PM  
Blogger Mel Avila Alarilla said...

Yes, as the Bible says, "so whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1Corinthinas 10:31). We must live our lives in order to please God and glorify His name in whatever we do. Thanks for the post. God bless.

March 20, 2011 at 4:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi,
"those who believe ( eternal life ) and those who don't ( perish )" --that is it right there isnt it? Just like God told the first couple, if they disobeyed the punishment was death. And then they would return to dust. Not any mention of eternal torments.

March 26, 2011 at 12:41 AM  
Blogger Luther said...

hello Anonymous.

Where in God's first statement of death was annihilation mentioned. When then sinned did they die physically at that moment? No they did not and the death of the soul/spirit is not extermination of existence ( although some do claim that ) but is described as the separation from God.

Luke 16:23
"In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom."

In the story of Lazarus and the rich man, did the rich man cease to exist upon death? Or was he found in torments seeking relief although unrepentant?

Mark 9:43
" If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire,..."

The fire is unquenchable and warned as such.

2 Peter 2:3-9 (New American Standard Bible)

3and in their (A)greed they will (B)exploit you with (C)false words; (D)their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

4For (E)if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and (F)committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment;

5and did not spare (G)the ancient world, but preserved (H)Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a (I)flood upon the world of the ungodly;

6and if He (J)condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an (K)example to those who would (L)live ungodly lives thereafter;

7and if He (M)rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the (N)sensual conduct of (O)unprincipled men

8(for by what he saw and heard that (P)righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds),

9(Q)then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the (R)day of judgment, "

Hell is a place of torments ( see previous passage )reserved for those deserving judgments. If they are reserved in torments (hell) for their wickedness what gives us the right to assume that their ultimate judgment will be less than the initial?

12And I saw the dead, the (AO)great and the small, standing before the throne, and (AP)books were opened; and another book was opened, which is (AQ)the book of life; and the dead (AR)were judged from the things which were written in the books, (AS)according to their deeds.

13And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and (AT)death and Hades (AU)gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them (AV)according to their deeds.

14Then (AW)death and Hades were thrown into (AX)the lake of fire This is the (AY)second death, the lake of fire.

15And if anyone's name was not found written in (AZ)the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

I will readily grant that much of Revelation is symbolic, hyperbolic, and possibly allegorical but if the language used is so over the top what make us think that the reality will be less. Or are we to think that God will receive glory from being unjust?

" Hell, then, is the trajectory of a soul, living a self-absorbed, self-centered life, going on and on forever." Tim Keller

March 26, 2011 at 9:16 AM  

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