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.