October 23, 2017

A Fight about the Finish

il_570xN.683721116_bo6pLadies and gentlemen! Welcome to today’s feature bout. We are excited to feature two young fighters at the top of their game. They come to the ring today to trade punches, each hoping to give hell to his opponent and to settle once and for all the significance of that biblical doctrine.

In this corner, representing the Gospel Coalition, in the fiery red trunks, it’s J.D. Greear. Greear is the lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina and author of several books that reflect the “new reformed” movement. Greear says he’s going the throw the Book at his opponent tonight, with “7 Truths about Hell.”

And in this corner, a journeyman scholar from overseas, who has combined theological studies and writing with pastoral and missional work in a wide range of contexts. His books and his blog, P.OST, represent a further development of the so-called “new perspective” in N.T. studies, with its emphasis on narrative theology: here is Andrew Perriman. Perriman hopes to exploit the biblical and theological weaknesses in his opponent’s position by throwing “7 Fallacies about Hell” at him.

Ding! Both fighters emerge from their respective corners, ready to fight about the finish.

Greear begins by throwing a hard right, straight from the reformed playbook, which says we should always start with God. “Hell is what hell is because God is who God is!” Greear asserts.

Hell is what hell is because the holiness of God is what it is. Hell is not one degree hotter than our sin demands that it be. Hell should make our mouths stand agape at the righteous and just holiness of God. It should make us tremble before his majesty and grandeur.

But Perriman blocks.

The obvious response to that claim is “Does it?” Does it really make us marvel at the righteousness and holiness of God? Honestly? Wouldn’t most people gape in horror? Wouldn’t most people draw quite the opposite conclusion—that a God who subjects people to endless torment must be a callous and contemptible cosmopath? How can we possibly expect people to be impressed by a doctrine of cruel and disproportionate metaphysical punishment?

Furthermore, he counters by saying Greear hasn’t proved his point at all with biblical texts and has actually made a stronger case for annihilation.

J.D. Greear is undeterred. With a swift combination he moves from the majesty of God’s holiness in the O.T. to the words of Jesus in the New.

…when you start reading the Gospels, you find that Jesus speaks about hell more than anyone else. In fact, if you count up the verses, Jesus spoke more about hell than he did about heaven. …If we want to avoid the idea of hell, we can’t ignore the problem by just focusing on “meek and mild Jesus.”

Perriman ducks, however, and escapes by following an entirely different line of interpretation.

Jesus certainly had much to say about the judgment of Gehenna, the judgment that would come at the end of the age, but he was not speaking about “hell” in the sense of a place of eternal conscious torment after death. The judgment of Gehenna is the judgment on Jerusalem and Israel that would come within a generation. It would entail immense suffering for the people—the suffering of siege, disease, famine, crucifixion, ferocious in-fighting and war—and not many would escape it. But this was a suffering that would end with death, not begin with death.

Boxing-Match-Between-Daniel-Mendoza-And-Richard-Humphreys,-29th-September-1790Chasing his opponent down, Greear moves in closer. It’s clear that he would also like to fight this bout on an intimate level, by appealing to the love of God and his purpose in creating people to know him forever. He puts Perriman in a clinch with two emotionally persuasive points: Hell shows us the extent of God’s love in saving us, and people are eternal.

Why did Jesus speak about hell more than anyone else in the Bible? Because he wanted us to see what he was going to endure on the cross on our behalf. On the cross, Jesus’s punishment was scarcely describable: this bloodied, disfigured remnant of a man was given a cross that was perhaps recycled, likely covered in the blood, feces, and urine of other men who had used it previously. Hanging there in immense pain, he slowly suffocated to death.

And then, Greear surprises the crowd with a blow from the left.

C. S. Lewis once noted that hell is a necessary conclusion from the Christian belief that human beings were created to live forever.

Wow! That was unexpected! The neo-Puritan summons a punch from the training manual of Anglican C.S. Lewis! That is usually quite effective. What will Perriman do in response to this?

He gives Greear a look, and it’s clear he’s impressed, but in the clinch he just keeps on raining body blows on the pastor.

As to the cross showing the extent of God’s love, Perriman delivers a blow to the gut.

The point is vividly made, but it simply doesn’t make the point.

Andrew Perriman is utilizing his narrative training to its fullest. He notes that Jesus took Israel’s punishment as a representative punishment, not a unique punishment. He was one among many Jews who suffered Rome’s punishment and would suffer during the upcoming war with Rome. The whole point of his death lay in identifying with God’s suffering people.

And then he fends off Greear’s left by asserting that C.S. Lewis was simply wrong! What courage that took! “The gift of God is eternal life,” he quotes, hoping to destroy Lewis’s argument for human immortality.

It’s at this point in fights like these that some fighters begin to wear down. But not J.D. Greear. First, he lands a strong left jab: “In one sense, God doesn’t send anyone to hell; we send ourselves.” Then he comes back with a right hook, hoping to put Perriman on the canvas: “In another sense, God does send people to hell, and all his ways are true and righteous altogether.”

Hell is the culmination of telling God to “get out.” You keep telling God to leave you alone, and finally God says, “Okay.” That’s why the Bible describes it as darkness: God is light; his absence is darkness. On earth we experience light and things like love, friendship, and the beauty of creation. These are all remnants of the light of God’s presence. But when you tell God you don’t want him as the Lord and center of your life, eventually you get your wish, and with God go all of his gifts.

…We may be tempted to rage at God and to correct him. But how can we find fault with God? As Paul says in Romans 9, who are we—as mere lumps of clay—to answer back to the divine potter?

We are not more merciful than God. Isaiah reminds us that all who are currently “incensed against God” will come before him in the last day and be ashamed, not vindicated (Is. 45:24), because they will then realize just how perfect God’s ways are. Every time God is compared with a human in Scripture, God is the more merciful of the pair.

When we look back on our lives from eternity, we’ll stand amazed not by the severity of his justice, but by the magnanimity of his mercy.

Ah, but Andrew Perriman doesn’t even flinch at this flurry of rhetorical violence.

We’re getting to the thin end of a very thin argument here, and again, frustratingly, we are offered the gospel of C.S. Lewis and his eccentric views about a self-inflicted hell rather than anything of biblical or theological substance.

And again, he blocks the “lumps of clay” blow by reminding Greear that Paul was talking to Israel in Romans 9, and that the judgment to which he refers has nothing to do with hell.

Oh, and we’ll have to go back to the replay to verify it, but it appears that  Perriman also landed a sneaky blow in this exchange: “What is it with conservative American Christians and their obsession with Lewis?”

article-2314081-0063E3B900000258-203_634x366The clock is winding down on this fight and each fighter has one more chance to put his opponent down. J.D. Greear decides to go with the “depravity” punch. But he disguises it by using a contemporary move that contains a strong appeal to the emotions.

If you accept Jesus just to “get out of hell,” then you’d hate being in heaven, because only those who love and trust God will enjoy heaven. If you don’t love the Father, then living in the Father’s house feels like slavery. It would be like forcing you to marry someone you didn’t want to marry. The only way you’ll enjoy heaven is when you learn to love and trust God.

Only an experience of the love of God can rearrange the fundamental structure of your heart to create a love and trust of God. It’s not enough for God to take us out of hell; he must take hell out of us.

But Andrew Perriman sees it coming. And he is able to sidestep it once more, dodging this persuasive appeal by going back to his fundamental position.

Again, the argument tells us nothing about hell, but it highlights what is perhaps the core theological problem with this whole way of thinking—it is grounded in and perpetuates the view that Christianity is a religion of personal salvation, that it is all about getting people out of hell and into heaven.

Here we have one of the fundamental corrections that modern evangelicalism needs to make if it is to maintain any legitimacy as a biblical movement.

The object of the exercise is not to get people to heaven. It is to preserve the integrity and effectiveness of a new creation people in the world. In the biblical story, judgment and salvation are operative for the most part historically. A people is judged, a people is saved, nations are judged. The church subsequently—for complex reasons, not all of them bad—rewrote the corporate narrative around the individual and his or her personal spiritual interests. It has worked up to a point, but for the sake of both theological integrity and missional credibility, I think we now have to reinstate the historical grounding of the biblical narrative. Among other things, that means ditching the unbiblical doctrine of hell.

Ding! Ding! Ding!

Both fighters end up on their feet. This epic battle over hell ends with no knockout. That means the judges will have to decide the winner on points.

So we’ll turn over to you, the judges. What is your verdict? How do you call this fight?

Comments

  1. You asked for a call, you got it.

    A draw – as all these fights are. Because the starting principles on each side are left unaddressed and unexamined.

    Oh, and anybody who says C. S. Lewis is wrong deserves to be condemned to read only Left Behind books for the rest of eternity. 😉

  2. flatrocker says:

    Looks like two of the three judges have scored it equally as Justice and Mercy are deadlocked. It’s left up to the last judge to settle this. Judge Love has ruled in favor of….but first a word from our sponsor.

    Oh hell, one of these guys has got to go down. That last judge better get it right this time. I bet a big one on this.
    Stupid commercial, let’s get back to the fight.

  3. I don’t know what to say about the rest of Perriman’s argument, but his view of Jesus’ crucifixion is off. You wrote “Andrew Perriman is utilizing his narrative training to its fullest. He notes that Jesus took Israel’s punishment as a representative punishment, not a unique punishment. He was one among many Jews who suffered Rome’s punishment and would suffer during the upcoming war with Rome. The whole point of his death lay in identifying with God’s suffering people.”
    It was not just Israel’s punishment that he took, but the punishment of all people. And identifying with God’s people is not the whole point. Jesus’ death on the cross was also redemptive and provides reconciliation with God, which also makes it unique. And this is not just for Israel, but for all people.

    • Jon, how would you back that up from the Synoptic Gospels? Everything points to Jesus’ death having significance within the story of Israel. The angel tells Joseph that he will save his people (not all people) from their sins. You have to follow the story through to make sense of the inclusion of Gentiles, and even then I suggest that we understand Paul better if we say that Jesus’ death made it possible for Gentiles to be included in a redeemed people.

      On the point of uniqueness, I said only, in response to Greear’s point, that the physical punishment was not unique—indeed, it was par for the course. I’m not suggesting that the suffering of others held the same atoning value.

      • Andrew,
        I don’t disagree that Jesus’ death has significance within the story of Israel or that his physical punishment was different from what others who were crucified went through. My main disagreement was with the statement that “the whole point of his death lay in identifying with God’s suffering people”. Unless you unpack that statement to have more meaning (and maybe you did in your article) it sounds like the only reason Jesus died was to be able to say, “See guys, I suffered like you did.” I also don’t know why you want to exclude John, if you really believe John is part of Holy Scripture.

      • Not to get into the midst of the bout here, but I need a rule clarification. Why are you wanting a reference just from the Synoptics?

        • Jazziscoolithink says:

          That’s a good question. As Capon pointed out, the complex Christology of Paul had already been around for decades before Mark (or any of the Synoptics) was written.

        • The reason is that the Synoptics and John, for whatever reason, tell the story about Jesus to two quite different ways. The apocalyptic story that is told in the Synoptics, Acts, Paul, Hebrews, through to Revelation loses coherence if we attempt to weave John into it. I think we have to read John as a later theological reflection on the life of Jesus.

      • Andrew, At the end of Matthew Jesus says to make disciples of all the nations and to baptize them. If the only significance is the story of Israel I think Jesus makes clear his intent for ALL PEOPLES. I don’t need Paul to explain what Jesus clearly said.

        • The inclusion of the Gentiles and the worldwide message of the gospel is not something Perriman denies. He is simply arguing that we must take the narrative step by step. It is precisely because Jesus died as Israel’s Messiah, that the good news was able to extend to the nations.

          • Mike, maybe its where he starts his narrative. I found this more helpful ” The gospel begins with God’s promise to our parents, the head of the human race. “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.” This is the initial promise of the redeemer who would be born of a woman, who would crush the head of Satan by bruising His own heel. The location of this promise in history makes it universal. Israel is nowhere to be seen in this place or at this time. Andrew’s argument depends on his starting within the right historical framework.”.

        • Marcus Johnson says:

          Paul’s explanation is incredibly important though, and if we are going to make the argument that both Jesus’ statements as part of the narrative in the Synoptic Gospels and Paul’s writings are both divinely inspired, we don’t get to dismiss either of them. We have to reconcile both statements to each other, even if they seem contradictory.

          • Why? It sounds like you are taking a certain epistemology for granted. I would love to hear you elaborate.

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            Jesus’ sayings/narrative as recorded in the Gospels are both indispensable and foundational to the definition of the kingdom of God and the plan of salvation. However, the phrase “I don’t need Paul to explain what Jesus clearly said” is as confounding to me as someone claiming that we don’t need the Old Testament to understand what Jesus said. Much of Paul’s writings helped shape the Church’s understanding of who Jesus was and, by extension, what He said. While there are some faith traditions who may not acknowledge the authority of Pauline scripture, I don’t come from one of them. I wouldn’t necessarily say that that is an epistemology that I take for granted; it is, however, an epistemology that I personally affirm.

          • Robert F says:

            Yes, Marcus. To ignore what Paul had to say about the meaning of Jesus’ life is to is to lose a very important strand of the witness of the community to Jesus, and that’s a great loss, because all we have of Jesus’ life and sayings is through the witness of the community (Church).

          • I was hoping you could elaborate on “We have to reconcile both statements to each other, even if they seem contradictory.”

          • Robert F says:

            Dr. F,
            My own feeling is not so much that we have to reconcile them as we have to take them both seriously as strands of witness to Jesus on the part of the community that gathered around him, a community that apparently did not have an entirely monolithic experience and understanding of him. And the greater antiquity of Paul’s letters than the finished gospels means that we have to put a lot of weight on what he has to say, and look for ways of making sense of his testimony and the testimony of the later gospels together, and as much as possible not in opposition to each other. I think Perriman’s interpretation builds on opposition rather than integration.

          • Robert F says:

            I think the early church had far more plurality in its experience and understanding of Jesus than we usually acknowledge or recognize. I think that this plurality existed within boundaries, but that it existed nonetheless. An integrative theology would listen and respond to this plurality, not pitting one against the other, but looking for a larger whole in the synergy generated between them. I don’t think this interpretation does that.

        • This goes some way towards explaining my understanding of how the story of Israel came to have significance for the nations of the Greek-Roman world: http://www.postost.net/2015/05/why-did-jesus-instruct-his-disciples-not-preach-kingdom-god-gentiles-samaritans.

      • I’d go back farther than the Synoptics – back to Abraham’s call. It is in his Seed that all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. Israel’s call was to represent God to the nations and to bring forth the Messiah, not for the nation’s own benefit only but for the blessing of the whole world.

  4. Robert F says:

    Right now, off the coast of Southeast Asia are thousands of Muslim refugees in small boats who are attempting to flee persecution in majority Buddhist Myanmar. They have been abandoned by the world; no country is willing to take them in, or help them. There boats are being turned back to sea by the Asian nations along the coast, and by Australia. The US is not helping either, since it is interested in maintaining its friendly relations with Myanmar by not embarrassing them. It is entirely likely that many or most of them will die at sea.

    These people are not Christian. As they face their final days on earth, and a watery death, do they have an eternity in hell to look forward to? Will they not inherit eternal life because they are not part of the new creation people that Jesus established in the world? Is God unconcerned with their welfare? What is Jesus Christ saying to them? Is he saying anything at all?

    • The real crux of this issue, in my mind, is that our contemporary sensibilities simply can’t ethically accept that a person’s destiny – especially an evil one of eternal conscious torment – could be unilaterally decided by an Other. And I think this ethical impulsion is a good thing. Because when we look at situations like the one you describe, how could we possibly justify traditional hell with a loving or good God?

    • Judgement by definition is restricted by law. Mercy is unlimited by love. The two are not equally armed.

      The boat people are victims, eternally safe in God’s hands. Those who forced them there, or we who abandon them to a watery death, are the one’s defying the mandates of God.

      Rescuing them is still an option.

    • I think the traditional answer to this (all who don’t believe in Christ are lost) gets bogged down in a future narrative that ignores the present narrative. The Kingdom of Heaven, which has arrived on earth, is present for people such as these. That is the point of heaven. Because of man’s hard-heartedness, the works of satan appear to maintain a foothold. To collude with these works is, and leads to, hell. I would equate the Kingdom with the church, except it’s clear that the church is frequently not embodying the Kingdom. That doesn’t mean the Kingdom fails, it means the church fails. But heaven is strong enough on earth presently to come to the rescue of such as these. The question is, who wants the Kingdom, as it would be on display if these refugees were rescued? Surely it would take a great sacrifice. Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.

      But if someone really needs to talk about the post-mortem future, this is how it goes for non-believers, as far as I’m concerned:

      “He will render to each one according to his works…There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, tthe Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.” (Romans 2:6-10)

  5. Perriman 69, Greear 64. I agree with Greear’s idea that we should start our thinking with God. However, it is because of what Scripture, specifically Jesus, reveals about God’s character that I can not accept his view of Hell. Although I am not a committed universalist, I do flirt with the idea…

  6. Robert F says:

    It’s important to remember that Perriman is not just fighting with a representative of the Gospel Coalition, but with all of historic Christianity, including the Roman Catholic Church and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Eastern Orthodoxy.

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      So, not a boxing match, but tag-team?

      Or pile-on?

    • Clay Crouch says:

      The doctrine of eternal conscious punishment wouldn’t be the first thing historic Christianity has gotten wrong.

      • Jazziscoolithink says:

        True, but Christ as the redeemer of the world is a pretty big thing for the vast majority of Christianity to get wrong.

        • Clay Crouch says:

          While I couldn’t agree more, I’m not sure how you are relating that to the doctrine(s) of hell.

          • Jazziscoolithink says:

            My understanding of Perriman’s theology is very limited (what is it called? Narrative theology?). But I kind of get the sense that he is challenging the concept of Christ as the redeemer of the world. So, while I think I’m with him on the hell/Gehenna stuff, I have a harder time giving up my understanding of Pauline Christology.

        • Just for the sake of clarity, I’m not saying that Christ is not in some sense the “lamb that takes away the sin of the world”. It is that this is not the story that is being told in the Synoptic Gospels”. And even Acts-Paul-Revelation the argument is much more about judgment and rule of the nations than about salvation. Gentiles become part of a redeemed people, but the object of the exercise is that the God of Israel will be recognized as sovereign over the nations because of Jesus. The mistake we make all the time—not least in making sense of Jesus’ judgment of Gehenna—is reading the New Testament story through the lens of personal and individual salvation. I think we have to read the New Testament as the continuing story of a people.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        But it keeps the tithing units in line.l

    • Dana Ames says:

      Well, not really. EO never had an “old perspective on Paul” because it never had a Reformation like the West’s. The overt historical connection to Israel was not emphasized, and so has been forgotten, but the connection in terms of worship practice is very strong, and is apparent to anyone who studies it. And EO does not posit any “places” like the “heaven” and “hell” of the so-called “traditional view” – that’s a big reason I’m there.

      Dana

      • Robert F says:

        But in the EOC, isn’t the possibility of existing eternally in the loving presence of God without being prepared to do so understood as a state tantamount to what we are calling “Hell”?

        • Dana Ames says:

          It is painful because of what is inside each of us that prevents us from receiving God’s love, not because it is God who is torturing anyone. And though the word “eternal” is used in the sense of time, some very holy saints have posited that it is to be understood in the sense of “an age” – therefore, may not be everlasting, and their teaching on this has never been anathematized. Farther than that, the Orthodox Church does not go, because scripture doesn’t go there. There is very little dogma in the Church about this.

          Dana

          • Robert F says:

            Then Perriman is not fighting with the EOC.

            Thank you.

          • Dana, i think the EO churches are wise in this regard, among others. I did a lot of reading re. various xtian views on what the West calls hell a few years back, and find that what resonates with me most is what the EO (vvariously) has to say. I wish this and some other things would gain ground in the West, but am thinking that i can be a kind of conscientious objector when it comes to believing in eternal conscious torment. Cannot see how either that or annihilationism have anything to do with a good and loving God.

  7. I had a dream once. My wife and I were in Heaven, and were reviving old acquaintances and having a splendid time. then, in the distance, we saw the last person we had ever expected to be there; a sour-souled persimmon of a woman, a relative of my wife’s who had caused both my wife and her family no end of torment during her long and self-absorbed life. When she saw us, her eyes lit up with malice and anticipation.

    “Oh, the Mother of God has let all sorts of riffraff into this place. I suppose there’s no telling her no, but you know, I made it here entirely on my own merits. Yes, dear, I made it here all on the strength of my own moral discernment and unerring good sense. That’s what they told me. Still, I am delighted to see you here.”

    The look on my wife’s face made me realize that heaven for one person and hell for another could easily be the same place.

    • Aye, but ye misunderstand me. The question is whether she is a grumbler, or only a grumble. If there is a real women- even the least trace of one- still inside the grumbling, it can be brought to life again. If there is one wee spark under all those ashes, we’ll blow it til the whole pile is red and clear. But if there’s nothing but ashes we’ll not go on blowing them in our own eyes forever. They must be swept up.

      • But Mike, I’ve been told that C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce is not about heaven or hell; it is about purgatory…a completely different subject.

        • It seems to me Lewis saw purgatory as preparatory; to either heaven or hell: “And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say, ‘We have never lived anywhere except in heaven’, and the Lost, ‘We were always in Hell.’ And both will speak truly.”

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        I was thinking more along the lines of “if you will not forgive others their trespasses, neither will will your Father in Heaven forgive yours.”

        The dream came about after a long argument with my wife as to whether she had forgiven Mrs. Grumble or not. I certainly hadn’t, as it is far more difficult to forgive someone who has hurt someone you love than it is to forgive someone who has hurt you.

        • I feel you, Mule. Once long ago I helped a friend found a church. He was the founding pastor and I was the chairman of the board of elders. We were friends; or so I thought up until the day he sexually assaulted my then 16 year old daughter. Then the rest of the board held a faux “Restoration Process” so we could “get beyond” his indiscretion and be about the business of saving souls. Thus was my post-evangelical journey begun. My daughter has mostly recovered but it was a long time before she could even go to a church much less trust a pastor again. And you are right; that is a difficult passage of scripture to contemplate much less obey.

          • Jazziscoolithink says:

            I lost a friend to similar circumstances. My 16-year-old family member was raped by a youth worker, who had ties to one of the church’s elders. When I brought this up with my friend, the youth pastor, he shut me out, cut off all communication. I’m still bitter about his utter cowardice along with the ethical failure of that whole church. I realize that my bitterness doesn’t help anything, but there it is anyway.

          • Burro [Mule] says:

            I meant that it would be hard for Heaven to be Heaven if there was somebody there who you believed didn’t deserve to be there.

            I’m sorry for what happened to your daughter and to Jazz’ relative.

            For what it’s worth, I witnessed a “Restoration Process” that actually worked. Hotshot preacher caught in bed with bimbo. Wife divorces him, kids hate him. He marries the bimbo, who cleans out his bank account and disappeares. Hotshot comes back to the Assemblies of God with his tail between his legs. The district brass puts him in a five year program (!!!!!) that nobody expects him to complete. He completes it and returns to the ministry, where he is doing remarkably well, albeit with a second wife.

            But yeah, they usually go non-denom or pull the kind of crap you mention.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Both Jimmy Swaggart & Ted Haggard not only went non-denom after being caught with prosties, they founded their own Independent Denominations with themselves as Popes.

          • Robert F says:

            “But yeah, they usually go non-denom or pull the kind of crap you mention.”

            That’s what my father-in-law did. Whenever his pastoral indiscretions were discovered, he just moved on to another independent Baptist church. He started out with an evangelical denomination, but they actually had rules and disciplines that he had no intention of abiding by. So the wolf in sheep’s clothing moved from independent flock to independent flock.

  8. Clay Crouch says:

    I find his final argument the most compelling and the one on which all of his others can hang.

    • Clay Crouch says:

      Permian’s final argument.

    • I’d say that the gospel is certainly about more than “individual salvation” (how that is defined varies widely) but it’s certainly not less. Looking at these issues in terms of actual real individuals is an essential part of the overall story. Otherwise you risk creating a detached, impersonal analysis of “biblical data”.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Evangelicalism (with its Revivalist heritage) has tunnel-visioned on a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation. And in doing so lost sight of reality in lieu of Fluffy Cloud Heaven.

  9. …If we want to avoid the idea of hell, we can’t ignore the problem by just focusing on “meek and mild Jesus.”
    Unfortunately, a lot of Greear’s rhetoric contains this kind of straw-man (or is it red herring?), which makes taking him seriously a bit of a challenge. Perhaps Perriman deserves a different sparring partner?

    • kerokline says:

      Yeah, I agree, this is a bit of a weird match to begin with.

      My family goes to summit, so I’ve encountered JD quite a bit. He’s a wonderfully funny guy, very well read, but you have to understand… he’s not the “theology” guy. He’s the every-man, and that’s how he views himself. His favorite theologian is Spurgeon! Think about that.

      It also helps explain his love of CS Lewis, who’s theology could charitably be described as “not fitting well with the neo-Calvinist theology” JD tends to adhere to.

      • StuartB says:

        I went to Summit with the fundamentalist charismatic church. At the time, I loved it. It was the one time in those 5 years I thought the group was actually being intellectual and thinking and reasoning through things. Summit style things appeal to me. Was also one of the few who passed the Bible quiz on the first try (the test was too easy)(and I think it was just me and another who passed…), and had a perfect 9.75 or whatever it was score on keeping our room clean (won a Bible I finally sold off a few months ago, had never used it).

        But now, I see Summit for the conservative indoctrination camp it is. I’d avoid the majority of speakers and thinkers there, and seriously question and rebuke Noebel himself. There’s much he has to repent and apologize for from all his damaging rhetoric over the years. He’s up there with Hal Lindsey.

        Overall, the experience was pleasant and fun, but hindsight is a killer.

        • StuartB says:

          Another comment about Summit in relation to today’s post: that’s where I first heard Mark Cahill speak.

          Immediate detest and reaction. That man is a manipulative SOB who gives zero actual shits about Jesus and other’s souls. He’s an emotionally manipulative sophist and a cancer in the body of Christ. If you do research on him online, you will a sea of destruction in his wake. He’s destroyed lives, churches, and who knows what else.

          Avoid him at all costs. If I ever have to listen to him or his snapping fingers ever again, I would be violent.

        • kerokline says:

          I was confused by your comment, so I had to look it up.

          Summit Ministries (Noebel et al) is not Summit Church (JD Greear)!

          Summit Church is a SBC aligned mega-church in Raleigh / Cary / Durham North Carolina. They aren’t affiliated with Summit Ministries. They used to have minor ties with Mars Hill (and JD has obviously styled himself and the church similarly) but I believe they officially are not related.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Who will restore those years of my life that Hal Lindsay’s locusts have eaten?

  10. Jazziscoolithink says:

    Perriman seems to be the clear winner to me–even though I may disagree with his conclusion (which is, correct me if I’m wrong, annihilationism?). Richard Rohr made a statement that I heard recently that I’d love to get some evidence for if there is any. He said something like, “the majority of early Christianity believed in universal salvation.” Or maybe it was the desert fathers and mothers… Either way, his point was that Christianity was much more hopeful in its beginning. Anyone heard something similar?

    • Yep I’ve heard similar. Rob Bell quotes Augustine, saying that ‘a great many believe in the universal salvation.’ That’s not necessarily a majority (and is most relevant for the time of Augustine’s life), but it deserves being considered.

      • Jazziscoolithink says:

        That’s what I’ve heard too, Ben. I like Rohr’s statement, but I need it to be substantiated before I can make the claim with any confidence.

        • There are very many in our day, who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments. — Augustine (354-430 A.D.)

          I think this is the Augustine quote that you’re referring to.

          Of course this doesn’t represent Augustine’s views – his position is best summed up as massa damnata.

    • Dana Ames says:

      Not “universal salvation” as we think of “salvation.” Universal restoration would be more accurate in modern terms. There is certainly not the “hellfire and brimstone” language anywhere in the writings of the Eastern Fathers, particularly before the Schism.

      The farther back I went reading the orthodox Christian documents (as opposed to Gnostic, etc.) the more I had to readjust my understanding of “the traditional Christian view” – of practically everything. It was a bit disorienting, but in a really good way…

      Dana

      • Jazziscoolithink says:

        Right. Salvation involved communities more than it did individuals. God made covenants with Israel, not individual Israelites. So, the new covenant, as I understand it, is with all of creation more than it is with individual creatures. If that’s the case and if God keeps God’s promises, then universal salvation/restoration is inevitable.

  11. Marcus Johnson says:

    Neither side wins and, in the end, a draw is called, because they only swing at empty air until they pass out from exhaustion. I’m of the opinion that, in most of these debates, the only significant difference between the opposing sides are that they believe in different premises. Otherwise, they’re basically two sides of the same coin, never facing each other as much as standing back to back, facing outward and swinging.

    As soon as the conversation started with a discussion of God’s justice, apart from a discussion of God’s purpose of restoring the entire earth, I saw a no-win. We have to start this discussion with an understanding of what Jesus’ death and resurrection meant, and we have to divorce ourselves from this impulse to reduce salvation to a purely individual transaction. My problem with the whole debate is not that either side is “Biblically accurate,” because they both are. My problem is that the conversation is backwards, and Perriman’s final comment should have been his first.

    • Clay Crouch says:

      I sort of thought that was the main point of his final argument. His blog post (linked at the beginning of the post) fleshes this out a little more.

    • Pretty sure that the order of Perriman’s comments was dictated by the order of Greear’s.

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        Which is what my problem is with Perriman: not that I fully disagree, but that he engages Greer on Greer’s terms and epistemology, when Greer is starting from the wrong point in the conversation.

  12. StuartB says:

    How do you call this fight?

    Only Perriman seems to be coming from a place of genuine Biblical authority with proper interpretation and understanding of Scripture in any sense (traditional, historical, cultural, etc). Greear, on the other hand, seems to be repeating party line, going through the same points after points we’ve all heard previously in exhaustive detail; there can be nothing new under the sun for him.

    So who won? Well, much like my high school debate about the KJV Only position (of which I was opposed), the answer is of course Greear, because hell is REAL ™ and TRUE ™ and SHUT UP because you are going there.

    I know which side I want to win now. It took me years to question Ultimate Reality and TRUTH ™, and has woken me up to an important question:

    Why don’t more Christians sincerely want hell to not exist? There’s a glee behind the doctrine of hell that scares me. You never hear people with remorse about hell existing, maybe sometimes about people going there (usual personal/political enemies or rhetorical tactics in evangelism), but I’ve never heard anyone sincerely say “I wish hell did not exist”, and especially saying that out of a deep, genuine love for others.

    No, hell is convenient and necessary. And REAL ™.

    • StuartB says:

      Hell is a doctrine of the magistrate.

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      I wish Hell did not exist, if only because I wish that we were other than we are. I wish everybody were Orthodox. Honestly. Even the Orthodox. It would be a step in the right direction.

      I have enough anger and resentment simmering at a low level to en-Hell the whole universe.

      Maybe someday will Chaplain Mike will be brave enough to write about Anger and Lust the way he did about Fear recently.

      • I think that’s a good working definition of “salvation” – to be other than we are.

        Lord have mercy.

        • Dana Ames says:

          I used to think that, except again, the farther back in history I went to read orthodox Christian writings, the more they held up the notion of Being Fully Human as the ultimate goal that went along with Union with God. All the evil we do is evidence of our INhumanity.

          If we were to be other than we are, the Second Person could not have become incarnate…

          Dana

          • No, I get what you’re saying Dana.

            I didn’t mean for it to be viewed as a fully functional definition – just thought that the positive/restorative aspect of what it’s saying is helpful. Not a statement about original sin or total depravity.

      • Well, here’s something on anger from a few years ago — http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/it-never-helps

    • A few years ago, some folks who were commenting on a blog i read daily started going on *gleefully* about whether those in hell will burn physically, or if the burning was some kind of mental torment.

      At which point i felt like getting sick, literally.

  13. I think both authors are off base, what we have here looks like a shouting match between progressive and conservative extremes. On one hand, you have someone who practically denies any substantive doctrine of atonement, and on the other hand, you have a misrepresentation of the crucifixion as analogous to hell itself. By that standard, many men have already suffered hell on earth. Though the pain Christ bore was excruciating, it was not exclusive, and many have suffered physically as he, though not necessarily from a position of complete innocence. I don’t see how brutally destroying Christ shows us how much God loves us. It shows us how much he hates sin. Christ himself shows us the love by enduring the cross, but to pin this on the Father who is painted as mighty and majestic is to deny the significance of the Son in understanding the true nature and character of God. Greear, like all good Calvinists, is arguing from a “theology of glory”: Look at how awesome God is, he is majestic, therefore submit to him or you deserve what you get. Very Jonathan Edwards, very medieval, very fundamentalist. It’s almost like he is rejoicing over the doctrine of hell, insisting it is good, right, and salutary for such a place to exist and for it to be well populated.

    He is showing us a picture of the character of God that does not start and end with Christ. Jesus mourns over sinners who perish. Greear’s theology does not. Even Spurgeon himself said (I believe it was him) that no man ought preach the doctrine of hell except through tears. That a person can teach this as a glorious magnification of God’s majesty without pause to acknowledge the sorrow of the suffering servant who died for the sins of the world is simply callous. We see the true nature and character of God in the crucified Christ, not in the glorious majesty of the Father. The Father has cursed the creation with sin and death. The Son bears this curse on our behalf. One of those statements is good news, but Calvinists generally tend to treat the other as it.

    Nonetheless, I am far more sympathetic to his cause. When Perrimnn writes

    He notes that Jesus took Israel’s punishment as a representative punishment, not a unique punishment. He was one among many Jews who suffered Rome’s punishment and would suffer during the upcoming war with Rome. The whole point of his death lay in identifying with God’s suffering people.

    he has lost me completely. To assert that Christ didn’t die for my sins, to win for me forgiveness, life, and salvation, is a denial of the Gospel itself. If you have to go this far to argue against hell, perhaps what you really don’t like is Christianity itself. I can respect an argument for annihilationism that stops short of that. But this completely crosses the line. Jesus didn’t die just for Israel (unless you subscribe to covenant theology and limited atonement), he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He didn’t die merely as a symbol of solidarity with humanity. His death literally saves us. Of course, if you don’t like what he’s saving us from, then I can see how even this good news proclamation would be offensive to you.

    • Again, Miguel, you have to read his statement about Jesus’ death in the context of the complete narrative. I probably did AP a disservice by only summarizing that part of his argument. 1 John 2:2 shows the narrative order: “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” In the context of today’s post, AP was merely making the same argument as you — that plenty of other Jews “went through hell” — and that Jesus represented them in his death.

      • Well I can certainly agree with that, that’s a really good insight. I must have confused your summary with his own words, because the thing that crosses the line, as far as I’m concerned, is saying “the whole point of his death…” The whole point was to save sinners, to redeem a broken humanity. Into this we can delve to discover an infinite layer of deeper or additional metaphysical or symbolic meaning, which is where I believe this insight belongs.

        I just have this allergic reaction (you can’t have missed it 😛 ) to the kind of rationalism that pervades progressive theology in order to censor it of anything contemporary sensibilities find offensive. It’s playing games with the words of Christ. This, apparently, is not that, and I’d write off the entire argument against hell the same way if it didn’t have some significant historical precedent. “The History of Hell in Christendom” would be a good topic for me to learn more about. I lean towards the traditional view, but struggle with how eternal punishment matches with the proportional justice of the God who said “eye for an eye,” and if it is indeed disproportionate, how it must square with a perfect justice (which I recognize we are incapable of understanding or attaining to). I think part of the answer lies in understanding the depths of evil contained in the “cosmic treason” of sin, but I find the topic generally to be rather mysterious. I don’t think we need to reform the church on this one, but we certainly should call for a more thoughtful conversation on it.

        Ultimately, in our doctrine of hell, I think we need to be careful that we haven’t theorized such complete blueprints about it that it dwarfs our knowledge of heaven. Scripture is much more elaborate on that second one, and we ought to start our theology of the afterlife there, emphasizing what can be known about that, and then wrestle over whether the other option is meant to serve as inverse mirror or foil of paradise.

        • David H says:

          I’m still struggling myself with this whole issue, but something I did hear in regards to your eternal punishment remarks is the idea that sin is as bad as it is, not just because of the act itself, but “who” the act is committed against. For instance, doing wrong to an animal, while it can potentially lead to some sort of punishment, is not the end of the world. But God is infinite, beyond any thing or any one, and so committing a crime against Him is like committing an infinite crime so to speak. I don’t know if I fully accept that line of reasoning, but it does at least offer an explanation.

    • It sounds like what you really have a problem with is the narrative hermeneutic that’s being employed. Perriman’s narrative hermeneutic isn’t necessary to hold to conditional immortality though.

      • Yes, I can own that. It’s utterly foreign to me, and seems to resemble a hermeneutical school of gymnastics (which doesn’t necessarily make it bad or wrong). If that is completely necessary to understand why Hell is unbiblical, I can understand why most of the church seems to have missed that for so long. I’m certainly interested to learn more about it, though. I just wish people like Perriman would quote more theologians from other centuries. That would definitely cause me to take their arguments more seriously. If it is indeed a new teaching, count me out.

        So if he isn’t holding to conditional immortality, and he rejects eternal punishment, where does he stand? The only other option I’m aware of is universalism, but I’d be interested to learn about any other alternatives.

        • He does hold to conditional immortality. The hermeneutic that gets him there is just different than other proponents of CI – John Stott for example.

  14. StuartB says:

    Do you think the incarnated God, Jesus Christ, was able to walk around this earth and know and feel that a majority of people he saw or came into contact with would be burning for all eternity in hell because of His love?

  15. Chap Mike, I’ve tried posting comments a few times – they don’t seem to be going through. Anything caught up in moderation?

  16. Winner? I’m not sure. While they have different hermeneutical starting points, they just don’t seem all that different to me. Retribution is the last word. From Perriman’s post:

    **It is one thing to say that a person who has suffered rape or child abuse “needs to know that there is a God of such holiness and beauty that his reign can tolerate no evil”. It is quite another to suppose that the victim needs to know that her abuser will suffer eternally in a hell that is “not one degree hotter than our sin demands that it be”. The justice of God in the end is satisfied by death, not by endless torment.**

    At the end of the day both of these operate off the same principal – that biblical “justice” is synonymous with “retributive punishment”. God is “satisfied” by death. It’s the nature of the punishment that differs – a matter of a few isolated verses, some atonement theology, and defining a few key words like Gehenna & eternal (and it’s variants) but IT IS punishment that ultimately “satisfies” God and manifests “justice”.

    • The hypothetical person in the above quote who has suffered rape or child abuse – what does the eschatological punishment (whether ECT or annihilation) of the perpetrator really do for them? What if the victim ends up in hell too? If someone steals my phone, what does the punishment of the thief really do? “Justice” would be for me to get my phone back.

      Or what does the annihilation or eternal torture of Hitler do for the millions that he tortured and killed? The fact is that most Christians think that his (mostly non Christian) victims are right there with him in hell (or as a pile of ash). Their lives are ultimately just as meaningless.

      I realize that this is just a debate over the nature of “final punishment” – all other considerations aside (you could have two double predestination hyper Calvinists having this same debate).

      Bottom line though, there is a positive, restorative, “setting things right” side to divine “justice” that has to be part of the discussion as it has the ability to shape narratives and how words are defined.

      • Dana Ames says:

        Yup.

        D.

      • Robert F says:

        Hitler’s first victim was himself. If in God’s love and mercy Hitler can still turn to himself and recognize and repent of the horrors he worked on others by first violating himself, then redemption remains open to him. But redemption, in my opinion, requires the presence of the real person to be redeemed; when we stop being ourselves, and avoid being ourselves, we are moving toward hell.

        • Robert F says:

          And only unreal people (beings?) can reside in hell, which means that hell itself is unreal.

      • It doesn’t work regardless because under christian doctrine there’s nothing to stop Christian abusers from ending up in heaven anyways.

      • David H says:

        Although, on the flip side, what does Hitler being rewarded with the same bliss as others in heaven do for those millions of victims of his evil? What “justice” would that serve?

        Then again, I think back to the parable Jesus told of the laborers in the field, how some worked longer than others, yet they all still received the same payment at the end of the day (even though the ones that worked longer argued it was unfair).

    • Aplogies to all for any duplicates that pop up on the discussion board – my posts weren’t going thru.

    • Jazziscoolithink says:

      Agreed. Retributive justice is just not compatible with the God who is love. Eternal counciously torment in hell and annihilationism are unworkable with the Christ who harrows hell.

    • Robert F says:

      Mike H, Yes.

      I think hell and retribution ended at the cross of Jesus. I think the apocalypse and the last judgement happened on the cross of Jesus. I think mercy and grace and forgiveness rule with Jesus’ victory on the cross, and his resurrection. I think the last word of the old age, and the first one of the new, has already been spoken, and it is “Forgive.”

  17. petrushka1611 says:

    If you accept Jesus just to “get out of hell,” then you’d hate being in heaven, because only those who love and trust God will enjoy heaven.’ – Greear

    It’s astounding that he’ll even put restrictions on people who get into heaven. Guh.

  18. I read the post but only about a third of the comments. My apologies if anything I say is a restatement.

    First, I would counter Perriman with the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus from Luke 16. The rich man also died, and in hell he lift up his eyes. While statements like “cast into outer darkness” and “where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth” from other parables require interpretation, the rich man in this parable is in a real place that Jesus identifies as hell. He seeks relief from the torment of flame. He desires to warn his surviving family members about the place called hell but is not allowed to do so.

    Secondly, and neither of our fighters touched on it here. some would make a distinction between hell and the lake of fire. At the end of Revelation, after the judgement, death and hell are cast into the lake of fire. Some will claim that all language in Revelation is figurative, but if you argue that it doesn’t really mean what it says then you burden yourself with explaining what it does mean. And if doesn’t mean what it says, why does the Bible say it? If Revelation is “out of bounds” because we have no way of discerning anything from it, I would argue that God would not have given it to us.

    I rule in favor of “Hell is real and people really go there. For eternity.” Whether or not you can conceive of God creating such a place or condemning anyone in such a way is beside the point. The inhabitants of Jerusalem couldn’t conceive of God letting his city nor his temple fall to Babylon even after Jeremiah warned them it would. Their ideas about what a just God would and wouldn’t do proved unfounded when he did what he promised.

    • I don’t think it’ll matter to your overall point, but it’s death and “hades” (equal to the OT “Sheol”) that are tossed into the “lake of fire”. And the parable of the rich man is also “hades”. Many translations now differentiate between hades and “hell” (which is typically a translation of “Gehenna”).

      Why none are willing to stick with “Gehenna” in their translations I’m not sure. Have my suspicions.

    • Dana Ames says:

      The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is not meant to be an illustration of the afterlife, although Jesus uses afterlife imagery that would have been familiar to 1st century Jews. Jesus makes his point a few verses earlier:

      11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

      He then tells how the Pharisees have gotten it wrong about money (Luke gives us an aside that at least these Pharisees were lovers of money), interpretation of scripture, and divorce, and hard on the heels of that Jesus launches into the parable to drive home his point about money. The whole section has to be considered as the context for the parable.

      The parable is about loving money so much that you fail to love both God and your neighbor, and in so doing put the lie to your religious practices: “what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” If you don’t love God and your neighbor NOW, you should not expect to be afforded the benefits of “the righteous” (as the Jews understood “righteous”) later. The rich man was not demonstrating the faithful love of God to Lazarus while they were both alive, because in reality the rich man was not righteous at all – no matter how much he tithed his dill, mint and cumin.

      Dana

      • The greater context is about loving God and neighbor, and Jesus tells the rich man and Lazarus parable against the Pharisees. Agreed. But… are you saying that even though the rich man died and went to hell in the story, Jesus didn’t really believe in hell? Are you saying Jesus “used afterlife imagery that would have been familiar to 1st century Jews” even though there is no hell and no one will be going there?

  19. Stephen says:

    Mike, over the last week or so you’ve been throwing red meat to the wolves on this forum. Are you trying to get all this out of our system so we can move on to more profitable subjects for discussion? Well honestly, at this point in my life I find theology to be a big bore. So I’ll pass on this one except to offer up Matthew 25 and the idea that our ultimate fate is tied up not in petty doctrinal or denominational squabbles but in how we treat other people. (Sometimes I amuse myself with the image of heaven being full of Jains and Bhakti Hindus wandering about looking confused while being watched over by Angels scratching their heads wondering where all the Jews and Christians are.)

    No, I’m going the non-controversial route (heh heh heh) and tackling

    “What is it with conservative American Christians and their obsession with Lewis?”

    First of all I will say I’m a great admirer of Prof Lewis. HIs final novel TiILL WE HAVE FACES is one of my true deserted island books. I also admire THE GREAT DIVORCE and his moving memoir A GRIEF OBSERVED. I have a recording of Monty Python’s John Cleese reading SCREWTAPE which is a very fine performance. And the voyage to Malacandra and Perelandra is not easily forgotten.

    I think most evangelicals approach Lewis through his fiction rather than his apologetics. But all his books are clear and well written. It’s easy to confuse apologetics with theology and Lewis’ popular apologetics make a lot of sense to folks who don’t know any theology. Lewis is someone you can point to who was a serious thinker who practiced a conservative Christianity that steered clear of interdenominational squabbles. There’s something there for everybody. And he does have a lot of interesting things to say even if you disagree with his ideas.

    True the seams are showing somewhat. His arguments in MERE CHRISTIANITY don’t really work and popular apologetics can only take you so far. But he was someone trying to think it through and that is admirable under any circumstances.

    • Robert F says:

      ” So I’ll pass on this one except to offer up Matthew 25 and the idea that our ultimate fate is tied up not in petty doctrinal or denominational squabbles but in how we treat other people.”

      An idea which leads to questions like these: Exactly how well do we have to treat other people to secure a blessed eternal fate? Do we have to treat them well 24/7? Do we have to give whatever we have to anyone who asks for it, or do we just have to give something once and a while, when we are able and without discomfiting ourselves too much? Should we sell all we have and give the proceeds to those in need? What if we are treating people poorly but don’t recognize it because of a psychological blind spot? How much of treating other people well is enough to make sure we don’t end up in the fiery place?

      Yes, this idea leads to all kinds of religious questions. I like the idea if universalism is the ultimate fate of everybody, and we all get it right in the end; I don’t like it if our treating others poorly can lead to eternal hell, because then I would really need answers to my religious questions, which would really be doctrinal answers, and I’m not sure I could get those answers and/or fulfill the requirements they would impose on me.

      • Stephen says:

        Robert you’re inviting me to commit theology, something I was trying to weasel out of doing. I offer no systematic view. But there is nothing less systematic than the Bible. I think the attempt to derive a single consistent view from the Bible is pointless and even misguided. We can’t seem to derive the obvious lesson from this lack of consistency.

        I don’t know and I can live with not knowing.

        I was raised in a “faith not works” tradition. You were condemned not because of anything you had done but because of lack of belief. The unacknowledged assumption was that nothing you did really mattered. You could live an evil life but be saved on your deathbed and alternatively you could live a moral life but still be condemned to hell if you didn’t believe in Jesus. No surprise I never heard a sermon derived from Matthew 25 which directly contradicts the “faith not works” view derived of course from Paul.

        Matthew 25 says yeah what you do does matter. But I am not trying to derive some metric of salvation from it. I just find it provocative and well… inspiring.

    • Robert F says:

      If you think about it, the idea that our ultimate fate is determined by how we treat other people is actually a religious doctrine. As your comment alludes to, religions like Hinduism and Buddhism an Jainism hold this doctrine as essential to their religious beliefs and practices (though they, too, have “petty doctrinal” squabbles about how it all works). They are all realistic enough about human nature and the human condition to recognize that if our eternal fate is tied to how we treat others, it will take many lifetimes for each of us to attain to the level of purity that will secure our eternal blessedness, however they conceive it.

    • Mere Christianity is early, and not, imo, representative of the thinking of the man who wrote Til We Have Faces – also a fave book of mine.

      Since Lewis was CofE, and fairly high at that, he was removed from denominational squabbles like the ones you mention. His being a career academic at Oxford further distanced him from this kind of thing, though obviously not from academic politics. Still, it was and still is a rarefied atmosphere. And he was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a theologian, which is a good thing, though his rather peculiar statement about homosexuality in ancient Greece (in The Four Loves) makes me think that he was perhaps wilfully blind not only to ancient Greek history and culture, but to the atmosphere at both Oxford and Cambridge during his lifetime. Which is baffling to me, but there it is.

      • And perhaps wilfully blind – or with a major blind spot – in. re. other things as well. (I lost the thread a bit there.)

  20. I’m sure Andrew will be back to engage with this discussion (he’s 6 hours ahead of us), but if folk would like to engage his thoughts more, even beyond his blog, these 3 books would be helpful:

    1) The Coming of the Son of Man (link: http://amzn.to/1c3Jlp1)
    2) Hell and Heaven in Narrative Context (link: http://amzn.to/1Ae2nF5)
    3) The Future of the People of God (link: http://amzn.to/1Ae2Reb)

  21. My ruling on this contest is that there’s no way to clearly and confidently determine a winner. From all the scriptural references to Hell and Hades and The Grave and Outer Darkness and the Lake of Fire and the Second Death and some burning garbage dump outside Jeruselem, I’m not too sure a consistent and purely scriptural theology on the topic can be produced from the source materials — not without some slight of hand, anyway. Judaism at the time of Jesus was very much divided over topics like heaven and hell, bodily resurrection, and the afterlife. Beyond some cryptic statements here and there, OT scripture doesn’t give enough information for a definitive theology regarding what happens to people after they die. And while the NT writers obviously believed in a reality beyond death and that God is in charge of that reality, I don’t think even they had it all mapped out in a neat detailed theological construct. Is there a difference between the Outer Darkness in Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins and the rich man’s place of torment in the Lazarus story? What does it mean when Death and Hell are thrown in the Lake of Fire in Revelation? What does Second Death really mean? I’m an imaginative guy, and I could come up with a thousand different answers and cook up some theological mumbo jumbo, complete with pet scriptural passages, to go with all of them. But if you ask me honestly what I think the Bible teaches about Hell, then the only honest answer I can give is: I don’t know.

  22. Without necessarily passing judgment on Greear’s conclusion, his reasoning is, like so much street-level evangelical thinking, basically an exercise in collecting Bible verses and principles at will and arranging them to his fancy, in such a way that has a logical internal consistency, but essentially drifts off the pages of the BIble and into outer space. A Christianity that is built on such reasoning processes cannot be called Biblical Christianity.

    I don’t necessarily say this to impugn every aspect of eternal conscious torment, but just to say that not only the destination matters, but how you get there.

    Perriman seems to be more sound in this article. I agree with his assessment that (can’t remember if it was in the article, or in a comment) that you have to follow the narrative step by step, not simply jump to the conclusion, and then back-load your convictions into the narrative in order to make it intelligible in your favor.

    Greear’s assertion that Jesus talked more about hell than about heaven is simply wrong. Everything Jesus ever said is about the Kigndom of Heaven. The subject of condemnation and judgment is one topic within the subject of the Kingdom, which Jesus addresses when necessary.

    Also, his implication that people who are re-writing the hell doctrine simply want the “meek and mild” Jesus, is straw man, and is really a shortcut out of seriously defending his position by only engaging the weakest part of a doctrinal debate. The New Reformed folks seem to like to do this. I don’t know if that makes them an overly simplistic bunch, or just uncharitable towards those they debate with, by not addressing the most serious and robust challenges head on.

    One thing it strikes me that needs to be remembered about the CHristian view of condemnation, is that it is specifically in place as a tool against tyranny and injustice. Not just some generally evil state of depravity that every human being is in (although I essetially believe in total depravity). No, hell and judgment exist to encourage and vindicate a persecuted church, to give hope to a people who look out into the socio-political landscape and see “the wicked prosper” and cry out “Why?”

    It is not just a generalized response to the evil that is in everyone, as if the justice of God is some equation that needs to be balanced in order to be truly God. This is why whenever judgment is spoken of in Scripture, it is spoken of in terms of “deeds’ and “works” etc. Not simply a “state of the heart” or a faith commitment.