Posts Tagged ‘Hell’

Book Plunge: Heaven, Hell and Purgatory

January 26, 2015

What do I think of Jerry Walls’s new book published by Brazos Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

In the interest of fairness, I want it to be known that Brazos Press did send me a review copy and I consider Jerry Walls a friend.

When I first heard about Jerry Walls, I thought he was a Catholic.

Not because I’m anti-Catholic! Not at all! With my philosophy, I’m a Thomist in my philosophy and a reader of people like G.K. Chesterton and Peter Kreeft. I’d just heard that he’d written a book about Purgatory and thought that was the case. I was surprised a bit when I found out he was a Protestant just as I am. I suspect with this book out, some people would be surprised to learn that this is a protestant view of the cosmic drama, as he describes it.

But yes, Walls is very much Protestant. Picking out his position I find is interesting. The book is not about soteriology per se, but yet his strong position against Calvinism is noted. It’s more really about eschatology, but he is one of those rare people that you can talk about his position in eschatology and you don’t mean the one we normally mean, such as what is the view on the rapture or the Olivet Discourse. This is all about our personal eschatology. What happens to us when we die.

Walls is familiar with this seeing as he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Hell, and I can hardly imagine what it would be like to have to give a defense of your view that Hell is a justifiable doctrine. While I think it is, it is not the kind of position I would want to do a Ph.D. dissertation on, yet Walls did so and it looks like he managed to defend Hell in light of some of the best antagonism, so he has something to say.

Yet this time, he rightly starts with Heaven. What is Heaven. How will it be for us? Walls rightly shows that we Christians need to spend more time thinking about this doctrine. I do want to jump ahead to something he says at the end of the book about Heaven answering the question of if we will be bored in Heaven. I do that because frankly, hearing the way some Christians talk about Heaven, I think I would be bored endlessly if their descriptions were right. Too often we make Heaven sound like an eternal church service. (Never mind other baloney claims such as we become angels when we die) There’s a reason skeptics of the faith say that Heaven would be boring and if they’re in Hell, they’ll be with their best friends anyway.

Walls gets most of his information on Heaven from Scripture going to Revelation 21. He does not take it in a literalistic sense, but he does have it that this is powerful language. God who exists in Trinity is the central focus of our eternity. He is the basis. He is the one that makes Heaven, Heaven and he is the one that makes eternity to be eternity. Our origins are found in Him and our purpose is found in Him. As has been said, if you have a “God of the Gaps” mentality, you’re not really dealing with the God of Scripture.

Wells shows that this is not just pie in the sky nonsense to escape reality, but is facing reality head on. It is saying that all of our hopes and desires do point to somewhere. He does this engaging with numerous arguments from the skeptical side, such as those of Russell or Nietzsche. Heaven is the best explanation that we have of all of the data that we have. Heaven makes sense of our world.

Yet what about Hell? Why is there Hell? Walls works to show that Hell is God giving people what they have wanted for so long and for this, he is largely in debt to Lewis, who aside from Scripture I would say is no doubt the most quoted author in the book. The gates of Hell are locked on the inside. The people in Hell are the ones who ultimately choose they want nothing to do with the God of Scripture. I would have liked to have seen something in this section that would have dealt more with the conditionalist position which is gaining popularity. Walls could have done that in another book, but it would have been good to see something here.

From there, we get into Purgatory. Now this is where some Protestants could be raising up their intellectual shields in defense and preparing to go on the attack. It is understandable, but I agree with Walls that we really need to interact with this idea and not just associate it with Catholics. Catholics believe a lot of right things too after all and just because an idea was misused is no reason to throw it out entirely.

I will not go into the details of Walls’s argument other than to say it focuses greatly on sanctification and while I cannot say I’m totally sold on it yet, and I do not think Walls would want me to change my mind entirely after reading just one book, I can say I do think Walls has benefited us greatly by starting the discussion and one aspect I will say I am sure he’d be pleased with, is that it does get me thinking more about sanctification and how seriously we need to take it.

Walls also deals with the problem of evil, including from this the speaking of Ivan from the Brothers Karamazov. While Dostoyevsky who wrote the book was a Christian, these are some of the most powerful quotes you’d hear advocating the problem of evil that he puts on the lips of his atheist character. Many atheists should learn to realize that we know the problem very well and I think Dostoyevsky places it more powerfully than any atheist writing I’ve read on it.

And yes, Walls has an answer. Of course, those interested in this need to get the book so they can see it.

We move on from there to morality and if there is a grounds for it in atheism. Walls of course argues that there isn’t and looks at some of the best theories out there attempting to explain this. Of course, if there is no ground for morality, then it’s quite difficult to raise up the problem of evil unless you want to say that it is an inconsistency for Christianity but when you abandon Christianity, lo and behold, there is nothing that is truly good or evil.

Finally, there’s a section that includes theories on the possibility of someone being reached even after they die. This is an interesting idea, but again, I’m not really sold on it. I wasn’t really sold on Walls’s approach to Hebrews 9, but I do think he’s certainly right to show that if Scripture does contradict any idea that we have, then we have to come to terms with the fact that that idea is wrong.

So while I do not agree with all that Walls says, I have to say this is an excellent book to get you thinking. It will put in you a desire for the state of Heaven and get you thinking seriously about sanctification and holiness. I do not doubt that even with that conclusion, that Walls will be pleased.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Two Views of Hell

January 16, 2015

What did I think of Fudge and Peterson’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

twoviewsofhell

My wife got me this book as a Christmas gift just going through my Amazon wish list I suppose. (And God have mercy on her since I have two just for books and one of them is completely full.) So naturally, I went through the book as soon as I could. I will admit my bias. I hold to a view of Hell that would be closer to traditionalism, although most traditionalists I think would not really hold to my view.

The book starts with the view of Fudge who holds to annihiliationism. I think Fudge would prefer it not be called that and today it’s more often called Conditionalism or conditional immortality. To be fair also, Peterson would prefer his viewpoint not be called traditionalism since it can look like one believes just because it is a tradition. I think it’s best for us as we consider the merits and problems of the book to look at the claims of the positions and not just their titles as we might just have to stick with those. Such is the nature of the beast.

The book starts with Fudge’s case. I found it in many ways an interesting look. I do agree with the criticism later on that a number of passages I do not think really are talking about what I prefer to call the after-death. I think Fudge did put forward a good argument and he did try to stay focused on the Bible. I do understand that as he went through each section of Scripture with an emphasis on the NT understandably and tried to cover as much ground as possible.

Peterson’s critique I thought of this section was good, but lacking in some areas. I do think too often Peterson had relied too much on a more futurist eschatology. I also did think it was problematic to say that Fudge went too much into the Greek. I understand the fear of writing to laymen, but the thing to do on Peterson’s side is just answer what he considers a bad usage of Greek with a good usage of it. I happen to think Peterson and Fudge neither one did well on their critiques.

Then Peterson made his case and he made his slightly different, but I understand why. He started off from a historical position. Many of the greatest minds in church history have denied annihilationism. Of course this isn’t a slam dunk. Peterson himself would not say it is. What it does mean is that if you are going against that kind of consensus, you had better have some good evidence for it.

Next Peterson makes his case from Scripture. In this, he goes to ten passages and tells the time frame and setting of each one and responds to the annihilationist interpretation, namely that of Fudge. I found this section to be quite well-written, though again there were times I think a more futurist interpretation was included in the text, but few if any texts depended on that.

Finally, Peterson shows how this impacts other doctrines and the best case was in Christology. What happened to Jesus on the cross when He died? Did He cease to exist? Did His humanity go away. These are questions that have to be answered and if Fudge holds that Jesus ceased to exist after He died, then I think that we are entering into some very serious issues at this point.

After that, we get to Fudge’s reply and honestly, this was for me the low point of the book. I have admitted my bias at the start, but when I read the text, I was trying to keep in mind that in some ways, Fudge was critiquing the view that I held. How would he do?

It didn’t help when the first sentence is “Robert Peterson now has done his best to defend the notion that God will keep sinners alive in Hell forever to torture them without end.”

Is there really any need for this? You would get the impression from Fudge that Peterson is practically roasting marshmallows watching unbelievers burn and celebrating it. I suspect Peterson would say that even if he thought Hell was a literal furnace, and he doesn’t, that he gets great sorrow from this. Fudge’s first sentence then in his reply was a let down for me and brought motives into play rather than dealing with the arguments.

Fudge also did this in pointing to how Peterson has to hold to the tradition that he is in and Fudge does not. His denomination is one that says Scripture is the final authority. That applies to Peterson as well I’m sure. If you asked him which was the final authority, he would no doubt say Scripture. The problem when we get often to just the Bible is that it is not just the Bible. It couldn’t be. The Bible is not a text in isolation. We have it translated and we have to interpret it with the works of the leading scholars. I seriously doubt Fudge has done all the textual work and linguistic study and such to translate and interpret every passage in the NT. He too relies on the minds of others. To not do this is to in many ways make us our own Popes.

This also troubled me when I read Fudge talking about Peterson referring often to uninspired writers. This is the kind of thing that I see from fundamentalists on the internet and it is troubling. What matters to me is the claims. It is not if the author is inspired or not. Jesus in his own culture used language from the Wisdom literature of the intertestamental period and some of which we find in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was not inspired, but so what?

And of course, the claims of being influenced by pagans is something that I would like to see more research on. Color me skeptical of this since I regularly see claims about Christian ideas being influenced by pagans be it from the Christ-myth camp or be it from Christians who want to say that holidays like Christmas have borrowed heavily from the pagans. It’s too easy to just throw out the idea of “pagan.”

So like I said, I think Fudge just did not do well in his critiques of the traditionalist position. There was too much emotional content that frankly I think does not belong in a debate like this. I realize this is difficult, but it just doesn’t. Too often too many times I see the ideas presented with speculation on what is better. Conditionalists will say “We do not have God keeping people alive forever just to punish them. Unbelievers get turned away by this.”

Well if an unbeliever is going to be turned away and not look at the evidence for a claim like the resurrection just because of something they don’t like, it’s their own fault frankly. You do not say “I do not like the claim, therefore the evidence behind the claim must be false.” One investigates the claim. If one finds that Jesus did not rise, then who cares? It’s not going to change my mind if Muslims change their doctrine of the after-death concerning unbelievers. I don’t care either way.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, traditionalists can say to conditionalists that you’re just giving unbelievers what they want. They just cease to exist. It looks like they get off easy. Again, I understand the sentiment there as well, but so what? The evidence for the resurrection changes because someone gets off easy? Conditionalism is false because it is believed that someone gets off easy? We end up speculating on this point and miss going with what the text itself really says. Now if we become convinced of either view in the text, then we can ask “Why did God do it X way instead of this?” That can be a fascinating way to learn, but it should not be used as a debate point.

In looking at the book as a whole, while both sides were interesting to read about, I think the book could have been better served with a more point-counterpoint position. To have each side present their whole case and then one counter to that is a bit overwhelming. It would have been better I think to have perhaps discussion on history and then on interpretation and then on ramification. It could have been longer had this been done, but I think the content would be better.

This is still an interesting read to see both sides of the issue and I can recommend it there.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/29/2014: Raising Hell

November 27, 2014

What’s coming up on the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

We’re going to be entering new territory on this week’s episode. I’m going to be trying my hands at moderating a debate. The debate will be a Christian debate on the nature of Hell. Is it eternal conscious torment of some kind or is it rather going to be annihiliation where the wicked simply cease to exist.

Arguing on the side of annihilation is Chris Date of Rethinking Hell and the Theopologetics Podcast.

Mr Chris Date

Chris Date is the host of the Theopologetics podcast, as well as a steward of and primary contributor to the Rethinking Hell project, and co-editor of the 2014 Cascade Books publication, Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism. A software engineer by trade, he believes theology and apologetics are for every average Joe in the pews, and not just for pastors, philosophers, PhD’s and the erudite in ivory towers. Formerly a traditionalist, he was not seeking an alternative to the traditional view of hell but became convinced by sound exegesis and systematic theology that the Bible teaches conditional immortality and annihilationism. He has since defended the view in several moderated debates and on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable? radio program on Premier Christian Radio UK.

Arguing on the other side will be J.P. Holding.

J.P. Holding

James Patrick Holding is President of Tekton Apologetics Ministries. He holds a Masters degree in Library Science and has written articles for the Christian Research Journal and the Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal.

Date’s writing on this can be found in his book Rethinking Hell whereas Holding’s can be found in his ebook What In Hell Is Going On?

I will be seeking to be a fair middleman in this debate asking questions of each of the participants. Each one has also sent me various talking points. Naturally, there’s no way that we can get to everything. Furthermore, each of the participants in this debate will be allowed to dialogue with one another and ask the hard questions of the other’s position that they want to.

I consider this an important debate as it affects not only our evangelism but also our salvation in that we need to know what we are saved from and what we are saved to. (I in no way consider believers in conditionalism to be heretical or outside of salvation simply because they are conditionalists and of course the same goes for the traditionalist view) That in turn affects our view of God. We’ll be dealing with the many classical questions I hope as well. What about those who have never heard? What about the babies?

We will get into the meaning of words and concepts in the Bible. What does it mean to say that the punishment of the wicked is eternal? What does it mean when we hear of destruction? What does it mean when the text says that the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever?

This will be the first debate I have ever hosted so I hope that I will do a good job and I hope that any biases I have in the debate will be able to be suppressed. I also want to remind everyone that a debate is a starting spot. If any listener is driven to further study of this important issue by this debate, then the goal will be accomplished.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Rethinking Hell

June 2, 2014

What am I thinking about Rethinking Hell? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Several of us don’t want to rethink Hell. To be frank, we don’t want to think about it to begin with. Hell is one of those topics we’d rather not think about until we meet someone who does a hideous crime. This could be something such as an act of terrorism, child abuse, or just as hideous to many of us, someone cutting us off in traffic.

But Hell is a reality. This is something evangelical by and large agree on. There is a Hell and you don’t want to go there. But what is the nature of that Hell? Ah. Now that is the question and that is the question of Rethinking Hell. The traditional view is some kind of eternal torment. There are some who will think of Hell as consisting of actual flames, but this is still a minority view. The main point of the traditional view is that people will eternally exist in some kind of separation from God.

Rethinking Hell wants us to consider that that view is false.

This largely came about through the work of people like Fudge with “The Fire That Consumes” and with the admission of John Stott that he holds the same position, though he wasn’t as forward with it as others. The view is known as evangelical conditionalism. The idea is that God alone has immortality and others have it as a gift. If you do not have that immortality, then eventually, God will do away with your existence.

I am not fully convinced of this view, but at the same time I want it to be clearly stated that I do not doubt the contributors to this volume are less of Christians than I or anyone else is because of this. If these people are outside of the fold, it is because of other reasons. I do not think that having a view of Hell that I consider to be wrong to put one outside the body. This discussion is good for evangelicals. It is one that we should be having. Unlike certain other evangelicals, I prefer to have open discussion on issues of disagreement.

While I am not convinced, this is without a doubt the best case I have read. Still, there is a downside that sometimes it can get repetitious. This is not the fault of the authors so much as this is a collection across time and space. It’s not that they contacted writers who agree and asked them all to write something. The authors have taken writings from people past and present and put them all together so there will be some overlap. (There will be times when you wonder just how many times something can be said about such and such a passage.)

I do wish there had often times been more looking at the Greek and Hebrew words. Sometimes this does happen, but the English translation can often be lacking. There were many times that I was wanting to see a more in-depth look at a word. What is exactly meant by destruction, for instance? As I said, this sometimes happened, but I wanted to see it happen more often.

The whole book does not consist of emotional appeals, which is good, but I did find that when it happened, it didn’t really impress me too much. Some could wonder about how our sin could warrant a certain punishment, but I wonder if we are really seeing the gravity of sin. Every sin is ultimately an attempt to be God. It is wishing that God was dead and that you were on the throne instead. Now I might not like the fault of someone eternally separated from God. No one should. For that matter, I don’t like the thought of someone ceasing to exist! If we were going with what I’d like, it’d be universalism, but it is not the case.

I also would have liked to have seen more on the honor/shame culture of the Biblical writers. I find that too often we have misunderstandings of ideas and words because we impose a Western mindset on them. I would like to look at the passages in question from that perspective. (For instance, I think in the ancient world something was said to not exist when it did not have a function even though it could have ontological existence. Could this affect our view of Hell?)

I found it concerning as well to see Greek philosophy be mentioned. Why? Because while it can be said that some Christians imposed a view of an immortal soul from Greek philosophy, I find that too often, Greek philosophy can be a whipping boy. This works for anti-Christian groups as well like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Trinity supposedly came from Greek philosophy. Jesus mythicists use this as well with the idea that the Christians just copied from the pagan cultures by being influenced by them that much. These kinds of statements do put me on guard.

Finally, with regards to the Old Testament, it is said that much is not said about Hell. This is true. At the same time, not much is said about Heaven as well. If we are to get our view of the afterdeath in that way, then we will end with a bleak afterdeath in the OT. My own thinking is not much was said due to progressive revelation and that frankly, the Israelites were more interested in day to day living and did not have a heavy forward focus.

Still, I do think that this book is worth engaging and will definitely raise good questions. I suppose I would end the way Ben Witherington ended his essay in the book. I am friendly, but not convinced.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A View On Heaven and Hell

December 4, 2013

What is the basic nature of the afterdeath? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Recently, an atheist told me of how they left Christianity and one large problem was Hell and ethics. A Christian has asked me about why it is that the Christian system of rewards and punishment seems arbitrary. These two are connected.

Let’s start with the second one. Is it being arbitrary? Let’s consider that the idea is that someone can repent on their deathbed and get eternal life whereas someone who does good all their life and never comes to Christ gets eternal death. Why is that?

God’s standard in righteousness is we must match up to Him. We must be seen to be on His side entirely. When we declare Jesus to be Lord, we are in essence siding with God and God declares us to be in the right then based on that. This meets his standard of perfection. That’s not an arbitrary standard. Holiness has always been required and one must have the perfect holiness bestowed on them from God.

What if one does not have that?

Well God is fair then. What does He do? He judges them by their works. Those works have to add up perfectly.

Let’s consider that the idea was simply more good than bad. This is vague and in fact arbitrary. If you have to do so much good, how much? Is it a point system? How many points do you have to have? How many points does each good act give? How many points does each bad act deduct? The whole idea would be entirely arbitrary!

What about the deathbed conversion? Yes. God will grant someone eternal life, but not the same eternal reward. There are degrees of Heaven and degrees of Hell based on how one responded to God overall. Yet the problem is those who say they will come to God in the end have no guarantee that they will do so. The more they live in rebellion against God, the harder it will be for them to bend the knee because each action is affecting the way that they will live their life.

We know this from experience. If you treat women as objects, you will be more likely to engage in watching pornography. If you watch pornography, you will be more prone to sexual behavior outside of marriage and with an allure of risk to it. This could even lead to greater evils like rape. No one becomes a rapist or a murderer or some great evil overnight. They start on a continuum. No one also becomes a saint overnight. They start with doing good in their own lives.

This is also why we have to act contrary to our feelings and desires at times. We all know if we all acted according to our feelings and desires we would live in a world of chaos. Road rage would be abundant as we all have strong feelings about “that idiot behind us and that idiot in front of us.” Wives would have to fear constantly being raped by their husbands since by and large, men have a much higher sex drive than women do. Dieting and exercise would be unheard of. Suicide would go through the roof when depression strikes. Part of being a person of virtue is learning to foster in oneself proper emotional responses (Insofar as its possible) and proper desires. Christianity also helps with this.

I do not want to give the impression that Christianity is determined by how Christians live or even that the great message it was meant to give us was an ethical system. Jesus is King and ethics is part of any Kingdom, but it is not primary. Being good persons will not restore creation or destroy the problem of evil. Yet we are told to be subjects of King Jesus and work to eliminate evil and that means fostering virtue in ourselves.

But what about the nature of Heaven and Hell? Well my view is a bit unique.

The view I hold at this point though not sold on it entirely, is that much of the language is apocalyptic in describing the nature of Heaven and Hell in the Bible. That part is not so controversial. The next part will be more so and what the end point view I see of Heaven and Hell is.

I actually think that God rules on Earth entirely in the end. We don’t go to Heaven. Heaven comes to us. For the unbelievers, I don’t think they go to Hell. I think Hell comes to them. How is this so?

Because the two are the exact same place.

What?

Yep. We will all live on an Earth filled with the manifest presence of God.

Those who have been building in us the character of God and living as subjects of the King Jesus and seeking to serve Him will adore being in His presence. We will love it. We will be ecstatic. We will be around the greatest good in existence that we have sought all our lives!

That is Heaven!

And the others?

These are the ones that have been resisting God all their lives by not submitting to King Jesus. They may have done good works, and indeed all people do some, but they have not done the ultimate good of bowing the knee to Jesus. They have resisted God’s desire for them to reflect His image. In the end, they will be surrounded by the manifest presence of Him who they have sought to resist and avoid all their lives and there will be no escaping from His presence.

That is Hell!

Note that none of this means this system is true. Whether or not the question of Heaven and Hell is true depends on if Jesus rose from the dead. As I said to the non-Christian, the abandonment of the faith should only rest on the question of the resurrection. The only reason to not be a Christian is because you are convinced Jesus did not rise from the dead.

I understand people have a lot of ethical problems with Hell and there are a number of good works that can help with that, but let’s remember that it is not a primary question. N.T. Wright recently on Unbelievable? said that it is strange that America seems so obsessed with the devil and hell. Paul talks so much about righteousness and new creation and this is what we focus on. Most amusing was hearing him say “Come on people! Get a life! A biblical life!”

Heaven and Hell are important, but these questions are secondary and only matter after the primary question, the resurrection. Answer that first.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Love Still Wins

September 30, 2013

Do I think Tony Watts has a case against Rob Bell. Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I was sent an advanced copy of the book “Love Still Wins” for a review. In preparation for debate as I told the author, it would have to wait. I had one other book before it and then I was able to get started on this one.

It was a topic I take very seriously. My wife had been a great admirer of Rob Bell for some time and I’d heard some of his videos which I thought had excellent points. I had also read Love Wins and while there were some valuable ideas in there, overall, the theme was dangerous. The biggest problem I had was I don’t know where Bell stands. If he’s a universalist, could he just come out and say it? He never does. Of course, I find it even more problematic that he’s not come out in support of redefining marriage.

I appreciate that Tony Watts, the author of Love Still Wins, has written a response to Rob Bell. Watts and I reach the same conclusion in that Bell’s teaching is wrong. I’m not sure if I’d go as far as Watts to say heresy. I have seen the debate several times as to whether or not universalism is a heresy. This has even been among conservative Christians who don’t hold to universalism.

Despite our agreement on the conclusion, I did think there were some matters that were lacking in the book. First off, I do think the style that Watts writes in is not going to be one that reaches people who are followers of Bell. Watts writes in a more “preachy” manner than anything else using biblical terminology. You see terms throughout such as referring to the regenerate and unregenerate. I know what that’s talking about, but I wonder how many readers who aren’t as skilled theologically will catch on. It is terminology one doesn’t often hear used today and terminology that I think will be a turn off.

Second, I find some of Watts’s language to be ambiguous. Watts writes on page 19 about popular culture and I was a bit puzzled at this. Popular culture was never defined. For instance, if a message is made that is geared towards sports fans, is that using popular culture? Is it wrong? How about books that have come out about the Gospel According To X, where a pop culture series is looked at for Christian themes. Would Watts have a problem with this? I don’t know.

Third, some of Watts’s case itself in hermeneutics I found to be troubling. Watts tells us that we need a plain or literal interpretation that would be according to the ordinary sense. But plain and ordinary for who? A 21st century American? A 19th century Englishman? A 17th century Japanese man? A 12th century Frenchman? A 5th century German? A 1st century Jew? All of these will have a different idea about what the “plain meaning” of the text is. (It’s also worth pointing out that the term literal really means “According to the intent of the author”.)

In fact, this gets us into the other big problem I had with this part. Watts says an important part of a sound hermeneutic is to have a distinction between Israel and the Church. As an orthodox Preterist, the reasons I found given to make that distinction were incredibly lacking. Most any Preterist would be able to explain these easily. In fact, I find the dispensationalist hermeneutic to be one incredibly damaging. Consider how many people are said to be “prophecy experts” today and yet when they speak about Middle Eastern events, they always turn out to be wrong. How many people have come and gone that were “The Antichrist”? Yet at the same time, these same people will go after the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and rightfully so, and use as one of their arguments that their prophecies are always wrong. Of course, I believe all prophecies of Scripture are true, but I don’t agree all interpretations are true. Because of this idea being put in there, which I find completely pointless to the overall scheme of defending the doctrine of Hell, I found myself unable to appreciate much thinking that I did not really trust Watts’s hermeneutic and wondered that if these passages were being misapplied, how many others were?

In fact, some statements he put up of Bell’s along these lines I found myself agreeing with. He claims that Bell thinks any view that claims objectivity is warped and toxic, with this quote especially. “The assumption is that there is a way to read the Bible that is agenda- and perspective- free…. When you hear people say that they are just going to tell you what the Bible means, it is not true, they are telling you what they think it means.”

Now the only part I disagree with is that they could be telling you what the Bible means. Some interpretations are right after all! Yet if Bell’s point is that we all come to the text with prior agendas and perspectives, he is absolutely right! I as a Preterist am tempted to read passages that way and interpret them according to that prior framework. The same for a dispensationalist. It also applies for a Calvinist or an Arminian and for a Young-Earth Creationist and an Old-Earth Creationist. We will never learn from Scripture if we come to it always presupposing our interpretation is correct. One part of good objective Bible Study is to try to see past your own culture. (That includes seeing past your idea of what the plain and normal sense is.)

Another passage he gives where I agree with Bell is when he says that Bell writes that “To think that I can just read the Bible without reading any of my own culture or background or issues into it and come out with a ‘pure’ or ‘exact’ meaning is not only untrue, but it leads to a very destructive reading of the Bible that robs it of its life and energy.”

I agree with this. The Bible was written in a high-context society. When Paul writes his epistles, there is already an oral tradition going around that did not need to be repeated. The Bible is written assuming you understand much of the culture, language, figures of speech, geography, etc. Consider the book of Revelation. Revelation rarely rarely quotes an OT Scripture, but it has been said that about 2/3 of the book is alluding to various OT passages and if you do not understand the genre of apocalyptic literature, you will horribly misinterpret Revelation, especially if you go by what the “plain sense” of it is.

This doesn’t mean that objectivity is not possible. It means that if we want to be objective, we must work at it. We must seek to understand the culture of the Bible even better. (Something most critics also fail to do.) When I learn about the world Jesus lived in even more, I will better understand the NT.

I find this in contrast to Watt’s view where he writes about Sola Scriptura on pages 20-21. I hold to this view if it’s properly understood. If by Sola Scriptura, you mean the Bible is the final authority, which Watts does say, and that nothing that we hold in Christianity to be true can contradict it, no problem. If you mean though that the Bible is sufficient in itself for understanding, I disagree. Reading the Bible in a cultural vacuum will get messages out of it that the authors never intended.

Fourth, I found that it seemed to me like Watts was often saying “It just is” in response to a question of “How is it right for God to send people to Hell?” On page 137 we read “God has spoken on the matter of hell, and despite our inability to reconcile it with what we might call ‘love’ does not matter.”

Well actually, I think it does matter a great deal. This kind of reply I think is just a silencer saying “Even if we can’t reconcile it, He’s God and He’s love and He can do what He wants.” I happen to think the charge is real and one that is worth answering. I wrote in the side of the book at this point “How does love win?” Does love win just because we say it does and wins by definition then? Why can’t Bell say the same thing? He’s right by definition. He can say “Love does not do this. Therefore, love wins.”

I wonder what kind of view Watts has. For instance, he says on page 123 that more will be lost than saved. This is based on Matthew 7. Yet what about Revelation 7? Revelation presents us with a great multitude no man can number. I consider Matthew 7 to be based on an immediately reply to Jesus’s ministry and not to the long term. Note that even in the next chapter Jesus talked about many coming from all directions to the feast of God. With Watts having a multitude going to Hell, I found myself wondering “How does love win?” Add in that this is especially so that this is because of the “divine decree.” Does that mean for Watts, God has decreed that more would be lost than saved. Why?

I also found myself unsure about Watts’s stance on those who’ve never heard. My position is simply that the judge of all the Earth will do right. Watts rightly emphasized the importance of preaching and pointed to Romans 10 with “How can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Yet a verse Paul quotes there is this one:

“Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”

This is from Psalm 19. What is the voice in that passage? That voice is the voice of general revelation. I find pointing to a passage like Acts 4:12 to be problematic. No one can be saved apart from the authority of Jesus Christ, which is what is meant by the name. Does that mean they have to know the name entirely? I’m honestly not sure. I keep these facts in mind.

The Bible tells us we are to do the Great Commission. There is no justification for not doing it so we can’t use the idea that God can get a message out another way as an excuse.

The Bible also says that the judge of all the Earth will do right.

What about those who’ve never heard? Get them the gospel as soon as you can, but at the same time, realize that if there was no way we could have done it, He has His own ways. (This has been seen in dreams and revelations in other places.) In the end, no one on the last day will be able to say to God “It was not fair.” I conclude ultimately God will rightly judge based on the light each person had.

A final concern is that I would have liked to have seen more scholarly interaction. For instance, some references in the book were based on class notes. Surely one could have gone out and found an academic book with the same idea that would present the case just as well? Watts says he studied under Gary Habermas on the historicity of the the resurrection at Southern Evangelical Seminary. If that’s the case, why not read some of Habermas’s material on this and use it, such as in “Beyond Death”? There are other great books on this such as “Hell Under Fire”. Why were not any of these kinds of works consulted to get a more evangelical position on Hell? (For instance, I got the impression on page 135 that Watts believes Hell is really a place of actual fire) I would have much more appreciated seeing scholarly interaction to critique Rob Bell.

In the end, I do appreciate Watts’s desire to deal with what Bell has said, but I think that the ways that I’ve given would be important steps to consider in making the ideas more marketable for people who are in agreement with Bell.

In Christ,
Nick Peters