This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2005 vol. 162 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Hell under FireZondervan, Grand Rapids November 23, 2004
The doctrine of the eternal conscious punishment of the unsaved in hell has often been disregarded, diluted, or denied. “The temptation to revise the doctrine of hell—to remove the sting and scandal of everlasting conscious punishment—is understandable” (p. 41), for no evangelical takes pleasure in the thought of the unregenerate being lost forever. Of all the teachings of Christianity the doctrine of hell is the most troubling. Often denied by the unbelieving world and attacked by liberal theologians, the doctrine of hell in recent years has been abandoned by even some evangelical Christians who are advocating either annihilationism (no conscious punishment) or universalism (no one in hell).
Yet no one can deny that the Bible teaches this doctrine, as nine scholars affirm in this book. R. Albert Mohler Jr. discusses the doctrine of hell throughout church history, and four authors interact with the scriptural teaching on hell in the Old Testament (Daniel Block), the Gospels (Robert Yarbrough), Paul’s writings (Douglas Moo), and Revelation (Gregory Beale). Christopher Morgan discusses the New Testament picture of hell as punishment, destruction (i.e., death, not annihilation), and banishment. Robert Peterson explores how hell relates to the Trinity, divine sovereignty and human freedom, and God’s present as well as future judgment on the unsaved.
J. I. Packer shows the biblical fallacies in universalism, including John Sanders’s “postmortem salvationism” and John Hick’s “pluralist salvationism.” Packer writes that universalism’s “sunny optimism may be reassuring and comfortable, but it wholly misses the tragic quality of human sin, human unbelief, and human death as set forth in the Scriptures” (p. 194). Christopher Morgan answers a number of arguments used by advocates of annihilationism, including the points that an endless hell is unjust, that an endless hell is unloving, that God is too merciful to punish sinners eternally, and that hell diminishes God’s victory over evil.
Sinclair Ferguson considers how the doctrine of hell should influence one’s preaching. He says preachers should stress God’s righteousness, the sinfulness of sin, and God’s justice in condemning sin. He adds that expositors should affirm that hell is real, that hell is vividly described in the New Testament, and that hell, though prepared for the devil and his angels, is shared by human beings. Ferguson also emphasizes the compelling power of the love of Christ.
Morgan, associate professor of theology at California Baptist University in Riverside, California, and Peterson, professor of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in Saint Louis, Missouri, have edited a thoroughly biblical, sobering, and incisive work on a doctrine that has been contested on many fronts.
—Roy B. Zuck