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Archive for the ‘Ethical Issues’ Category

The nature of religious intolerance in the early modern Era

By Matt Gray

On the 10th of September Matt Gray spoke to our Reasonable Faith group on ‘the nature of religious intolerance in the early modern era’ and the proposition that enlightenment secularism ushered in a greater level of tolerance in early modern Europe.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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On the 1st of August Chris Jolliffe talked on Gay Marriage.

The video recording is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoslZWa12uE.

A number of Chris’s sources came for the  Saving Marriage site. These include:

See also:

The Bible on Homosexuality by Chris Jolliffe

How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships by Mark Regernus

Note: This issue is highly controversial. The above sites represent Chris’s views. For each of the above links there are numerous counter arguments. These can be easily found by Googling the subject title. If you want to get a good feel for this subject then you should research the counter arguments as well.

 

 

Hell Summary

This is a very brief summary of the talk given by Peri Forester on the subject of Hel at the Reasonable Faith meeting held on the 18th July 2013. See Hell Transcript for a full transcript of the talk.

In our RF group we talked about Christian understandings of hell.  We identified three main streams of understanding about the nature of hell:

1. Unending torment;

People are immortal or are universally given immortality in the resurrection and then those separated from God in the judgment exist without him forever: which is hell.

2. Torment ending in non-existence;

People are mortal, though all are resurrected for the judgment. Those separated from God in that judgment then die the second death (hell) which is painful in proportion to their actions and attitudes, but which comes to an absolute end as nothing can survive without God.

3. Universal salvation.

Hell is a warning or a temporary punishment only and ultimately all people will be saved and live in relationship with God.

More attention was given the debate between position one and two based on the Scriptures and on key words related to hell in the scriptures (hell, sheol, hades, death, perish, destroy). The fact that the notion of hell is not a particularly Christian one was highlighted and ‘hell’ motifs from other ancient and medieval mythologies were considered, especially to examine where they have been ‘canonized’ in the thinking of some Christian traditions even where the Scriptures are not in support of those motifs.

The talk was pretty long and detailed and you can read the whole thing if you are interested.

At the end of the talk those present put a sticker on a three way continuum graph to represent the views of the group.  Most in the group tended to agree with the tradition of unending torment though there were quite a few stickers placed along the line towards a conditional immortality opinion and a few in that corner.  There was also one sticker off the chart in that direction indicating an atheist view in which absolutely everyone is mortal and there was one sticker in the Universalist corner.

If you were there, where would you have put your sticker?  Why?  Have you thought about it?

 

Peri Forrester

Hell

This is the transcript of the presentation given by Peri Forester on the subject of Hell at the Reasonable Faith meeting held on the 18th of July 2013. See the corresponding Power Point slides – Talk about Hell.

SLIDE ONE

Why talk about it in a ‘reasonable’ way?

Because in the absence of thought-through discussion, unexamined images dominate, which can lead to a misrepresentation of Hell and the God who warns us about it – or even a total denial (cf Dickson, 2007:86). In my case since I can’t deny that Jesus talked about hell – I have felt compelled to think the issues through.

Of course I am just one Christian believer limited in all sorts of ways and so I share what I have found over the last few months which overlays my reading of Scripture over the years since I became a Christian with the appropriate acknowledgment of my limitations.

SLIDE TWO

The two objectives of tonight’s talk are to:

Outline the three main traditions of understanding concerning Hell within ‘Bible believing’ Christianity and their plausibility structures through their respective interpretations of Scripture. (In many of our discussions here at Reasonable Faith we do not refer much to the Christian Scriptures, and nor do we assume them as necessary for the arguments we make – our epistemology is often that of the so called Enlightenment reason and empiricism rather than authority or special revelation. However, in this topic what we are looking at is what it is reasonable for a Christian to believe about Hell – we are not trying to arrive at truth about hell from human reasoning apart from the Bible and therefore we use hermeneutics/biblical interpretation rather than some other kind of science or logic is our means).

Touch on the ways that imagery, which often side steps the normal expectations about truth telling, have the power to suppress truth and even debase communication about emotive topics such as salvation and its opposite if we don’t learn a kind of critical literacy of images and multimedia. I don’t think this second objective is fully met in what I have prepared, but we make a start.

SLIDE THREE

As per usual for our RF meetings, after I present my talk we will have tea or coffee and snacks followed by a forum for open discussion on the topic. Hopefully it will be warm but not too fiery.

SLIDE FOUR

  • Briefly review the three main paradigms
  • Discuss the meanings of key words used in the bible
  • Read some Scriptures highlighted in the debate and review how they are interpreted
  • Very briefly review the history of the idea of hell
  • Review a critique of the recently released video as an example of how multimedia can be used to side step truth telling standards and communicate deceptions powerfully.

I also need to say that I am not here trying to justify what I assume God will do with the unsaved – though that comes up and we can talk about it more after the break – rather I am trying to tune my 21st c. ear to what God is saying through the 2 or more thousand year old Scriptures, which, as is often noted, were not written in systematic text book ways.

SLIDE FIVE – Summary of the three paradigms

The three understandings about hell – that is the judgement and final state of those who reject God in this life (‘the unsaved’ without also in this talk entering into debate about who is included in that group) are the:

  • Traditional Augustinian or Calvinistic view of the unending conscious torment of the unsaved
  • The annihilationist or conditional immortality view in which the unsaved cease at some point to exist, and
  • The Universalist view that ultimately all are saved.

I found a useful diagrammatic representation of these views on the internet at a site called “Rethinking Hell”:

 

SLIDE SIX – Traditional

The traditional view as it is called on our triangle is the view that the unrighteous will suffer forever and ever. The traditional view is that they will suffer physically by the active infliction of corporal punishment from God, as said Augustine (Crocket, 1996:46), and the modified view (since Calvin for eg Crocket1996:44) , and to me much more plausible one that they will suffer mental, or psychological suffering that is intrinsic to their separation from God. Billy Graham said of hellfire “I have often wondered if hell is a terrible burning within our hearts for God, to fellowship with God, a fire we can never quench”. Proponents of the literal view, though, such as Jonathon Edwards and Charles Spurgeon were still found after the Reformation (ibid).

This traditional view almost always assumes the immortality of the human soul.

Sometimes the ethical charge is raised that if God allows suffering for ever and ever, he is immoral because no finite sins committed in time warrant everlasting conscious torture.

One answer to this charge is that sinners go on sinning in hell, and are being punished for ever for new sins. Carson suggest this response: “perhaps we can think of hell as a place where people continue to rebel… so he [God] continues to punish them” (Carson, 1990:91).

Another view is that Hell’s door is locked from the inside such that it is the sinners themselves who perpetuate hell (as CS Lewis says), and

Another that we just don’t see yet how punishment-worthy sin really is.

None of these answers fully satisfy me, I must admit, but as I have said, at this point, I am simply looking to understand what Scripture says.

SLIDE SEVEN – Conditionalism

Conditionalism or annihilationism is the view that, like the animals, people are mortal, not immortal, and so apart from God they naturally die in the sense that they cease to exist. Biblical conditionalists will acknowledge that there is a general resurrection – that this is a special act of God, but that while those in Christ go to life, those judged against in the eschatological judgment do not survive the second death; that is without Christ their being cannot be perpetuated and they are annihilated in the lake of fire.

The question for the conditionalist to deal with is what to do with biblical texts that talk about everlasting punishment. Their answers do satisfy me except for two texts – one from Genesis and one from Revelation. In those texts I can accept the answers provisionally, but only because everything else works in that paradigm as I see it.

SLIDE EIGHT – Universalism

Universalism is the belief that ultimately all are saved. Universalism treats ‘hell’ as purgatorial – that is reformative. Suffering is disciplinary. Either that, or it is a warning only.

There is a kind of universalism which is also pluralistic in the sense that it denies the uniqueness of Christ’s atonement and says all religions are straining equally for the same thing – that is heaven/God (however they are imagined to be), but there is also a ‘Christian’ version of universalism which does acknowledge the unique atonement of Christ but argues in various ways that by him all will be saved. This is, in a sense a Calvinistic stance, where the elect is simply everyone.

So what of all the warnings about hell – well these are just warnings. I guess this is a bit like the parent who says if you don’t stop making that noise I am going to kill you (even though they won’t).

For example Karl Rahner says: “What scripture says about hell, in conformity with the eschatological discourses, is not to be read as an anticipatory report on something that will happen sometime, but as unveiling the situation in which the man who is addressed truly finds himself now” (in Blotcher 1992:p290).

I can’t believe it myself; though to be honest because of that I have not given the arguments as much of a fair hearing as I have the other two.

Definitely I want to give universalism more attention in the future, especially as I want to understand the winds of teaching at the more popular level on the internet – where universalism is growing in acceptance and influence – wrongly I think.

SLIDE NINE

Now at this point in my path of seeking after truth, as I said, I have come to discount Universalism as a possible Bible based Christian option, (though I’d be happy to find in glory that I was wrong on that, (though if Pol Pot is there I hope he has had more than one moment of tormented remorse getting in)) and so my research has led me more into the debate between conditionalism/ annihilationism and the traditional understanding of hell. If we look at the triangular diagram again and think of it as a continuum, at this point my opinion would be about here: (place sticker on chart). Just before we go to our break I am going to ask each of you to place a sticker on here as well and we will thus graph the beliefs of the group here tonight. So you can be thinking about where you will put your sticker as I talk.

SLIDE TEN

Let’s take a CLOSER LOOK AT KEY TERMS which will help us evaluate the arguments.

There are a number of words where the interpretation is important to the discussion and debate about hell including:

  • Hell;
  • Sheol;
  • Hades;
  • Aionios;
  • Death;
  • Perish and
  • Destroy

Core to interpretation, as it may readily be pointed out, are grammatical relationships and textual contexts (Osborne 2006:82). However, looking at the words, and the meanings they are said to hold is a good start – especially words that come up again and again and form a theme in Scripture.

SLIDE ELEVEN – Hell

Looking again at the triangular diagram of the three paradigms, notice that the subtitle for the title “hell” here is “three views of final punishment” and, of course, in common contemporary usage the word hell is used as a shorthand way of saying just that. But the history of the word is very relevant to the discussion as it is closely related to the development of the understanding people had about final judgement and punishment and helps us to know what was in Jesus’ mind when he used the word.

Many of you will know that the word hell comes from Gehenna, which is itself the Aramaic translation of a Hebrew place name: Hinnom. The place is a valley near Jerusalem, south of the city of David, which by Jesus’ day(s) had long had an association with evil and death. This place was where straying Israelites, influenced by Canaanite practices (which as an aside evidences that both a remnant of the Canaanite people and their religion survived the clearly incomplete genocide of Joshua), had sacrificed their children to the god Molech during apostate periods of their history (2 Chron. 28:3, 33:6; Jer 7:31; 19:2-6). (READ JER 7:30-33).

As an image therefore, Gehenna (hell) elicited horrific if ill-defined Anti-Yahweh associations (Witherington, 2010:35). Further to those associations there is archaeological evidence that during the time of Jesus that valley, Gehenna – Hell – was a literal garbage dump for the city of Jerusalem. Into Hell was thrown refuge both wet and dry and including the bodies of those not granted a dignified burial – such as executed criminals (this seems in keeping with Jeremiah’s prophesy of judgement that I read before). Hell, the dump, would have been continually, or at least often enough to be thought of as continually burning because incineration was the common method of disposing of rubbish in the ancient near east. No doubt in other places where vegetation, corpses and other wet rubbish was rotting maggots would have been present (Witherington 2010:35).

This was the kind of hell that Jesus said sinners were in danger of being thrown into by the one who had power to destroy both body and soul (Matthew 10:28). (Notice, as an aside that Jesus says body and soul – he distinguishes between them; in Hebrews 4:12 it also says the word of God is able divide soul and spirit.) But when Jesus said they would be destroyed in hell,

  • did he mean that such a place of fire and maggots would be the residence of the dammed forever and he used the metaphor of Hell, as in Gehenna simply as a picture of the ultimate undesirable residential location, or,
  • did he mean that God would dispose of the unrepentant forever as irreclaimably, unredeemably as a person who threw an unwanted possession into such a foul rotting burning unclean rubbish dump, or
  • was he saying only that God could do such a thing, not that he actually would (hell as warning in the present not as history of an actual future) or
  • Was he saying that a temporary stay in such a place may bring people to a better mind as some universalists think?

Answering these questions about what Jesus and his followers meant literally when they allegorically referred to the valley and fires of Gehenna usually involves discussion and controversy about the usage of the Greek word aionios often translated into the English as everlasting or eternal (Fudge1994:11). For example Matthew 25:46 “and these [who gave no water to the thirsty etc] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life [in the separating of the sheep and goats]”. Traditionalists will argue that everlasting means for ever and they seem in the example just used to have plain sense on their side, especially when there is a parallelism between the punishment and life. Conditionalists will agree that the punishment lasts forever but say that while the judgement is final and the contempt for the ‘goats’ here referred to ‘lives’ on eternally as a fact of history, the second death ensures that these who are thrown away into a rubbish dump won’t be conscious forever. Death may be the opposite of life but it is not its equal opposite, and this seems just as plausible.

Aionios is used of many temporary things in Scripture, for example mountains are said to be everlasting, but actually they only exist for a very long time, the ordinances of OT law were everlasting, but actually they came to an end, as did Solomon’s everlasting temple (Fudge, 1994:12,13). Like a lifetime guarantee, the specifics of how long forever is are moderated by the inherent capacity of the thing referred to. Universalists may say the punishment lasts only as long as it does though the people last forever, Conditionalists that the punishment lasts forever but the people last only as long as they can under such God-forsaken conditions.

Jesus was not the first to use Gehenna (Hell) as a picture of condemnation. The association developed during the Inter-Testamental (IT) period and so how it was used then is relevant to the scholarly debate as a place of punishment for eg in 1 Enoch 27:2 it says “This accursed valley is for those who are cursed forever; here will be gathered together all who speak with their mouths against the Lord… and here will be their place of Judgement” (cited in Toon1986:31)

SLIDE TWELVE

Sheol

Where we read of “hell” in the Old Testament we are reading translators association of the IT and NT period’s Gehenna with the OT period’s Sheol. But the two are not fully identical; they are connected only in that they both refer to the place of the dead. Sheol, however, is a place of diminished sensorial perception, not like the heightened experience of burning in either a literal or metaphorical sense. At a basic level Sheol was just where the dead are and often the word in the OT, where it is not translated as hell, is translated simply as the grave.

Especially in the earlier OT times the rewards of godliness were understood in this-worldly terms – the godly were rewarded with a long and full life in this world; there was some sense that those who die join their ancestors in Sheol, but speculation about what that meant was minimal – though, as time went by, the sprinkling of hints at life after death became more defined and by the end of the OT period we have Daniel speaking of the resurrection (Johnston, 2002:225).

The faith of the psalmists that surely God would not just let them stay in the grave resonates deeply with the beginning of my faith, the background of my openness to a Christian conversion.

Anyway the development of hints throughout OT history is as John Blanchard points out in keeping with the progressive revelation of God. (1993:35).

Hades

Hades was the god of the underworld in Greek mythology, and later the underworld was also called Hades (Fudge 1994:127).

SLIDE THIRTEEN – Aionios (everlasting or eternal)

Aionios is a Greek word which has a qualitative and a quantitative sense – that is, it refers to quality and quantity. It is closely related to aeon, which means ‘age’ as in the current age and the age to come. As we saw before the Greek word aionios, which translates as eternal or everlasting, has as its modifier the capacity of the noun it describes. We don’t need to read this from Conditionalists, traditionalists like John Blanchard (READ 1993; PP240 – 241 OR 242). 241,242

SLIDE FOURTEEN – Death, Perish & destroy

Fudge argues that death means what it seems to mean in a usual sense – cessation and extinction – “It is deliberately said both that the soul dies (judges 16:30; …) that it is destroyed or consumed (Ez. 22, 23, 270, and that it is extinguished (Job 11, 20). The conditionalist understanding of what death means fits most of the literary contexts of Scripture beautifully, except the Genesis fall narrative. (READ BLANCHARD 1993: 55). So is it that biblical death means separation? Fudge, a conditionalist seems to agree but nuances/ spins it differently (READ FUDGE. 1994:42,43).

“[From in conditionalist faith] says the OT uses 50 different Hebrew verbs to describe the final state of the wicked and notes that they all signify different aspects of destruction”… never that of immortal life in endless suffering (Fudge,1994: 47)

I found it interesting that about natural life and death Ecc 9:5 says “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten”

What of the second death? In conditionalist thinking this is extinction, in traditional thinking the final and full separation from God, however, somehow with sustained existence from God. We will look at this when we look at Revelation 20.

SLIDE FIFTEEN – Key Scriptures

Of course we have already referred to the scriptures in looking at key terms but now we will do the reverse, having examined what the words mean, we will look at a few of the Scriptures that are important to the debate. There are others, and after our break we can talk about any you like.

SLIDE SISTEEN – Genesis 6-9 (flood – example of judgement)

Gen 6:5-8 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord.

21-24 And all flesh died… Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing.

“Sometimes words such as perish, destroy or die may be metaphorical or figurative [in the case of the flood, however] there is no doubt of their meaning. In this example of the end of the world, these terms clearly mean literal death” (Fudge 1994:54)

Jesus (Matt 24:38; Luke 17:26, 2 Peter 2:5,9; 3:3-7) used the flood as an example of judgements in time and as a picture of end times judgement (Fudge, 1994: 53,54).

Fudge used this event as an example of how to interpret words like perish p54

SLIDE SEVENTEEN

Genesis 19:24:29 (burning of Sodom – example of judgement)

Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven… So it was … God destroyed the cities of the valley.

This is where fire and sulphur becomes associated with judgement. The fire God destroys Sodom with is eternal fire (Fudge, 1994: 121, Jude 7)

When Isaiah foretold the judgement and everlasting ruin of Babylon, Sodom was the example (Is 13:19-22; Jer 50:49). Jude 7 uses it as example of end time punishment, as did 2 Peter 2:6. This is where the idea of a stick snatched from the fires of judgement came from (Amos 4:11; Jude 23)

SLIDE EIGHTEEN

Isaiah 66: 24 (worm not die – torment, quoted by Jesus Mark 9:48)

24 And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh”

The unquenchable fire and undying worm are two of the main images of everlasting (aionios) torment. These can easily be understood as referring to an un-consolable condemning conscience. (Blotcher, 1992:306). Henri Blotcher, a traditionalist, talks about remorse in agreement with God; he argues that sin cannot continue in eternity (the age to come) and the everlasting torment of those condemned will be their agreement, too late, with the judgements of God. This makes it impossible to justify everlasting torment for finite sins by saying that sinners go on sinning in eternity (as D. Carson suggests 2006: 91); but it does make it easy to see how the judgement will be absolutely fair, as the more evil a person’s actions and attitudes were in life, and the more opportunities they had to repent, the more they will agonise over their realization too late when they finally see it God’s way. The pain that God now feels for the world in sin, will belong then fully and only to the sinner.

This resonates deeply for me – it seems very plausible that this is qualitatively just how it is, but I do wonder if in the absence of God the person so thrown to hell will not cease to exist. It seems if we are taking this text metaphorically as a psychological fire and worm (quality), we cannot switch to literalism on the point of how long forever is under such circumstances (quantity); even more especially given the way the word aonious is modified by its semantic context can we not make that switch.

In my youth I suffered panic attacks and other such things – I can assure you that although they clearly ended, whilst having one, the moment could be said by a passionate expressive person, not concerned with systematic theology, to be forever.

Fudge the conditionalist, it may seem strange, interprets this text more literally than the modern proponents of everlasting metaphorical fire, such as Blotcher, assuming that Isaiah had a literal referent in time that God had impressed him with as a picture of final judgement (Fudge, 1994: 62-63).

SLIDE NINTEEN

Daniel 12:2 (everlasting shame and contempt)

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

That both the saved and the lost are resurrected is confirmed here.

There is also no need to doubt that unrepentant sinners feel shame at the judgement, but that they are held in contempt for ever by the saved does not necessitate their never ending existence, only the eternal legacy.

SLIDE TWENTY

Luke 16 :19-31 (the rich man and lazarus – torment)

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried; 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame’. 25 But Abraham said ‘child remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus bad things; but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us’. 27 And he said ‘then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house – 28 for I have five brothers – so that he may warm them, lest they also come into this place of torment’. 29 But Abraham said, ‘they have Moses and the Prophets; let them here them’. 30 And he said, no father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent’. 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

If this must have as its point that hell is everlasting torment, then it perhaps also needs to be the traditional view of corporal sensorial pains – such that a literal finger dipped in water might help.

We have here a division in Hades – such as was conceived of during the IT time. Notice that it is Hades and not Hell that Jesus refers to. The story was not a Jesus original, but a retelling of a popular story going around in both Palestine and Greek Egypt – “The basic plot was well-known folklore” a (Fudge, 1994: 127). Jesus was, and still is allowed to borrow such common stories to make his point, and when he does his point rather than the stage set of the story is what would have come into view for his original audience.

The point is the five brothers – Jesus is saying that if they will not repent of their selfish greed when they have the OT “in their hands” and the poor man at their gate, then they won’t repent ever. “Hades” is just the theatre set. The crisis point is whether the Pharisees Jesus was addressing “who were lovers of money [and] heard all” [the things Jesus had been saying about not being able to serve two masters] Luke 16:10-18, were any better. (cf Fudge, 1994: 128).

SLIDE TWENTY ONE

Mathew 25:31-46 (the sheep and the goats – exclusion)

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me’. Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink, or see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and cloth you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not cloth me, in prison and you did not visit me’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you? 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

What stands out? (Fudge p125).

SLIDE TWENTY TWO

Revelation 14:9-11 (no rest day and night – torment)

“And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “if anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night”

Now this sure sounds like conscious everlasting torment. There are some conditionalist explanations I have read but none were compelling.

SLIDE TWENTY THREE

Revelation 20:10, 14-15 (lake of fire = second death)

“And the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they were tormented day and night forever and ever…

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Blanchard (1993) argues that the lake of fire means the “awesome, holy, avenging presence of God (P228), but then he also argues that it is the final separation from God. Not that I want to discount a view simply because of a linguistic contradiction – but it does seem intuitive to me that separation from God cuts off the blood flow, as it were, and nothing can exist long without blood – that is the sustaining of God.

The lake of fire is the Gehenna hell, (not the hades) of the NT – traditionalists and Conditionalists agree.

SLIDE TWENTY FOUR

In one sense I am not satisfied with what I have been able to do in this presentation tonight because, while I have been able to dig in far enough to be able to share with you the lay of the land in the contemporary debate based on the Scriptures – particularly between conditionalism and the traditional view of everlasting torment, I have not been able to share with you as much of the contemporary debate at the more popular level as it is fought out on YouTube, and the like, or of the discussion about hell as it has run through and beyond church history. Also in what we have discussed I have given more attention to Scriptural interpretation issues than to more overarching philosophical questions such as the extent that Greek thought influenced the development of Christian understandings or whether Roman politics did. Given time limits I thought that the first thing was to look at the discussion as it is gathered around the Scriptures.

I would like to touch on those other two areas by reading a short passage from a book; and by reading sections of a critique of the newly released Hellbound video which joins the great wave of media out there in support of Universalism currently. If you are willing to hear me again I would like to come and talk again, next time getting more into those popular discussions building on the Biblical background we have talked about tonight.

Consider origins of belief in hell in Klassen, 2001: 62. We can note here that retribution fits our inbuilt sense of justice – I noticed on the news recently that one of the three victims released from captivity at the hands of a rapist (among other things he was a rapist) after ten years of abuse said on TV that she could let go and move on knowing that God would judge the man that did that to her. This makes sense, it is intuitive and I think is reflected in the common theme of judgement running through the religions. So we don’t need to pretend that vengeance is not part of the Gospel: that the man who abused you, or the economic system that oppressed you, or the ruling powers that destroyed your village will not get away with it but be judged with the fury and wrath of God is part of the Gospel. So long as it is proportionate, this seems only right. That there is an amnesty for the repentant because of Jesus; well that is amazing saving grace. When the punishment is disproportionate though, it seems to me to pervert the Gospel and some understandings of hell do seem disproportionate no matter how you look at it.

SLIDE TWENTY FIVE

OK lastly I want to very briefly talk about a video that has just come out: “Hellbound”. We will first watch a trailer.

Stirring isn’t it. This stuff is our apocalyptic genre – it is emotive, visual and makes you think you have seen and heard things you have not. What do I mean?: well the video, which it is reported promotes a universalist doctrine satirises the beliefs in the Augustinian tradition of understanding about hell by juxtaposing talk about the difficulties of challenging unexamined beliefs with a preacher who is strongly rebuking a congregation. These images and the way they are arranged are saying something – they are saying something in very strong terms, namely that traditionalists are unreasonable and become aggressive if very reasonable questions are asked – but, if the critique I’ve read is right they lie because the passionate preacher is not rebuking his audience for questioning the preacher’s assumed traditional view about hell at all – he is rebuking them for mistreating their wives.

This is not to say it is only Universalists who do this – it is just to say we need to be wary of this kind of sleight of hand, most especially to avoid doing it ourselves, and of course to avoid being deceived by those who do. Now to avoid unfair comment myself I should point out I was not able to get a hold of a full copy of the video and so I report this only from an online review.

OK, now before we go to the break please come and put a sticker on the triangle to indicate where you currently stand on “hell”; that is your opinion. As I said before we are leaving out all these nuances of devils but not people burning forever and the like and so where you place your sticker back from the corner of the position you hold indicates how sure or unsure you are about it, not some technical mid point opinion.

As the kids say at the end of their talks – thanks for listening.

References

Blanchard, J. (1993), “Whatever Happened to Hell?” Evangelical Press: Durham.

Blotcher, H. (1992), ‘Everlasting punishment and the problem of evil’, in Cameron, N. (ed.) “Universalism and the doctrine of hell”, Paternoster Press: Carlisle.

Carson, D. (2006), “How long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, 2nd ed.” IVP: Nottingham

Dickson, J. & Clarke, G. (2007), “666 and all that, The truth about the future”, Aquila Press: Sydney.

Fudge, E.W. (1994), “The Fire that Consumes, The Biblical case for conditional immortality”, Paternoster: Bletchley.

Klassen, R. (2001), “What does the Bible really say about Hell? Wrestling with the traditional view”, Pandora Press: Telford.

Johnston, P.S. (2002), “Shades of Sheol, Death and the Afterlife in the Old Testament”, IVP: Downers Grove.

Osborne, G. R, (2006), “The Hermeneutical Spiral, A comprehensive Introduction to Biblical interpretation”, IVP: Downers Grove.

Toon, P. (1986), “Heaven and Hell, A Biblical and Theological overview”, Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville.

Witherington III, B. (2010), Revelation and the End times. Unraveling God’s message of hope”, Abingdon Press: Nashville.