Arminian Today

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Hell Should Make Us Uncomfortable

I have been listening to the Rethinking Hell conference that was recently held in Texas in which a group of scholars and disciples came together to discuss the doctrine of hell.  For the most part, they were there to promote conditionalism over traditionalism.  The conditional teaching is that the Bible stresses that eternal life is a gift from God to the redeemed (John 3:16; Romans 6:23).  They also stress that God alone is immortal (1 Timothy 6:16) and that man is not immortal apart from God (Genesis 3:22).  Therefore, those who are not saved are cast into hell and are destroyed or annihilated (2 Thessalonians 1:9; Revelation 20:11-15) and do not live forever in hell where they are forever tormented.

The traditional view of hell is that people are immortal and have eternal souls.  Therefore, all people will live forever either in heaven or in hell.  The lost are cast into hell where they are tormented day and night forever (Revelation 20:10).

Now to be fair here, both views believe in hell.  Traditionalists have often assumed falsely that conditionalists deny hell but this is not the case.  Evangelical conditionalists reject universalism and believe that only those in Christ Jesus will be saved.  They reject eternal conscience torment in hell.  This is the main difference between conditionalists and traditionalists.

I think that both views, however, should make us feel uncomfortable about hell.  Whatever viewpoint you hold to, our hearts should despise hell.  It is not a kind thought that people will go to hell.  Hell, Jesus said, was made for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).  Hell was not made for man.  Yet men and women go to hell.  Scripture is clear on this issue.  I find the complete rejection of hell to be unbiblical.  Hell is a real place that will destroy even death and hades itself (Revelation 20:14).  The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, teach that there is no hell.  The unbeliever is annihilated in the grave by God.  They simply cease to exist.  Yet Scripture is clear that hell is a real place that will be the ultimate judgment of God on unbelievers.

And this makes me uncomfortable.  It’s not that I will reject the teaching.  I cannot because the Bible teaches hell.  Yet I don’t like it.  I don’t like that people go to hell and I want to see them saved from the coming wrath of God (1 Thessalonians 1:10).  I want to see people repent and come to saving faith in Christ who is able to secure us eternal life in His presence.  Salvation from the wrath of God only comes through the blood of Jesus (Romans 5:8-9).  The Lord Himself said in Ezekiel 18:32, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”  2 Peter 3:9 is nearly the same.  God’s heart is for the lost to repent and be saved.

1 Timothy 2:4 says that God desires all people to be saved and He has given proof of this by sending His Son to die for the sins of all (John 1:29; 3:14-18).  The atonement shows us the great love of God for the world and His desire to save sinners (1 John 2:1-2).  His heart is for the world to be saved through faith in Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20).

Therefore, hell is something that breaks my heart.  I want to see the lost saved because God sent His Son to die for sinners whom He does not want to go to hell (I know that my Calvinist friends will not accept my points here).  I hear people speak of hell is delight, as if they can’t wait for sinners to be cast into hell.  I hear disciples talk about enjoying the thought of this person or that one in hell.  I hear people speak of hell not being hot enough for that sinner.  Yet the Bible shows the mercy of God for the lost.  His heart is not for them to destruction.  He wants sinners to be saved.  I understand that sinners will be cast into hell as part of God’s just judgment against their sins yet this doesn’t mean that I don’t pray for living sinners to be saved.  I want sinners to come to faith and not to hell.  I don’t want to see cultists cast into hell.  I don’t want to see Muslims cast into hell.  I don’t want to see anyone cast into hell.   I want them to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).  I take no joy in the thought of hell.

What is the solution?  Is it to reject hell?  I think not.  I think that the biblical answer is to preach the gospel.  In the book of Acts, the disciples never preached on hell.  They didn’t try to scare people into salvation.  They didn’t preach that people should repent or burn.  They preached the simple gospel of salvation in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  Over and over again in Acts, the disciples preached the gospel of Acts 2:38: repent and be baptized.  People did just that.  The Holy Spirit enabled the sinners to come to faith in Christ (John 6:44; Acts 16:14-15) and people were justified before God through faith (Acts 13:38-39; 15:11).  The message of Acts was clear: repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus (Acts 4:12).  Hell was not the focus.  Judgment was (Acts 17:30-31).

I believe that we should warn sinners about the wrath of God.  I believe that we should call sinners to believe the gospel of life (Acts 5:20).  The focus of our preaching is to preach that salvation comes through faith in Christ who shed His blood for our sins (Acts 20:28).  Our focus should be to preach that eternal life is found only in Christ Jesus (Acts 13:48).

In an upcoming post I want to examine the gospel as preached in the book of Acts.  It is interesting to note what the disciples focused on in their preaching in Acts.

In conclusion, hell is real.  Hell is horrible.  Hell is not a place we should want people to go.  Thankfully, I believe the Bible teaches that God has made provision for the lost to be saved through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  We are not saved by works or by our actions but the work of Christ alone (Titus 3:5-7).  This gospel “which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).  All sinners must hear the gospel to be saved (Romans 10:14-17) and this only happens in this life (Hebrews 9:27).  All sinners will be cast into hell.  However, this should break our hearts and should cause us to be moved to want to see people repent (2 Corinthians 5:10-11).

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Written by The Seeking Disciple

07/21/2014 at 10:56 PM

5 Responses

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  1. Fair representation of CI. Thank you.

    dgsinclair

    07/23/2014 at 1:15 AM

  2. Personally I avoid using the term “hell” as much as possible. The word has a lot of baggage and is often taken as synonymous with everlasting conscious torment (ECT). As a result, annihilationists often (fallaciously) accused of denying “hell” because the term is typically associated with the doctrine of endless torment.

    You are correct in your observation that any teaching of ECT is conspicuously absent from the book of Acts. The emphasis there is on God’s saving work in Jesus Christ (particularly the resurrection). Persons are called to respond in repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and the gift of the Spirit (2:38). All are indiscriminately called to repentance and are assured that a time is appointed when the world will be judged by Jesus, the man whom God has raised from the dead.

    I too am an Arminian and resonate with your universalistic impulse. God indeed desires the salvation of all persons and does not wish for them to perish (1 Tim.2:4; 2 Pet.3:9). The Father sent the Son to be the savior of the world by dying for the sins of all and being raised from the dead. God has elected to make salvation conditioned upon faith in Jesus. Union to Christ is thus the means by which the evangelized are reconciled to God and no longer estranged from him. Unfortunately, not all place their confidence and trust in the one who died and was raised on their behalf. The benefits of Christ’s atoning work may not be applied to everyone whom he died for. This is a grave tragedy.

    As for the doctrine of final punishment, I do believe the teaching of endless torment overall to be scripturally ill-founded. Rev.20:10 is admittedly the strongest text in favor of ECT, though it does not even address the general fate of lost human beings. The most traditionalists may be able to do with this text is teach that one to three beings are perpetually tormented. Notwithstanding, I would be curious to know if death and Hades (the grave) will be undergoing everlasting torture in the lake of fire as well. If not, why not? How is it that death dies the second death by undergoing endless torment? Is this even possible? Death and the grave are incapable of enduring pain, much less prolonged torture.

    Incidentally, The Apocalypse is an apocalyptic work and should be approached with caution before attempting to extract proof-texts in favor of a particular view concerning the destiny of the unrighteous. When we read in Revelation that the lake of fire is the second death (20:14,15; 21:8) and that death will be done away with after the passing of the first heavens and first earth (21:1,4), what are we to make of such language? The lot of unredeemed humans in The Apocalypse is the second death (2:11). They will have no access to the tree of life (22:14,15,19). In the Genesis account immortality is tied with the tree of life (Gen.3:22-24). Does being blotted out of the book of life entail endless torment? How is it that the second death bears no relation to death at all but everlasting life in torment?

    Overall, in my estimation the imagery of divine judgement concerning the unrighteous in Revelation comports far better with final annihilation than the conventional view. The only two texts in the entirety of the book even hinting at ongoing torment are 14:11 and 20:10. 14:11 is doubtful, however, for perpetually ascending smoke signifies the absolute irreversible destruction of Babylon in 19:3. Along these lines, the smoke ascending in 14:11 may be interpreted as the memorial of an intense divine judgement against apostates (i.e., those who have received the mark of the beast and are bowing before the beast and its image).

    As to your main point that “hell” is bad, I agree. Being cast off by God and finally destroyed while the saints of God inherit the new heavens, new earth and the aiōnios kingdom of God (2 Pet.1:11) is beyond devastating. The doctrine of endless torment is simply not required in order for the wretchedness of final punishment to be maintained. The issue ultimately comes down to scriptural fidelity.

    J.D. Gallé

    07/23/2014 at 11:31 AM

    • I agree. I appreciate the ongoing debate over hell. I reject the idea that those who reject ECT are heretics. I wrote one ECT theologian and he stated that not only were they heretics but were doing great damage to the kingdom and evangelism. I found that sad to read.

      I believe that should preach Christ and warn sinners but Christ must be our focus and not trying to scare people into a decision.

  3. I appreciated the article. It was a very fair estimation of the topic.I was at the Rethinking Hell Conference and was greatly encouraged by it. One thing in your article I am uncomfortable with is how that you assume all Calvinist would have to reject the conditionalist view. I myself am a Calvinist and a Conditionalist with no problem in the amalgamation of these views. Just as a side note: I am not alone in this as there were several other agreeable Calvinist there as well including some of the speakers.

    danielwisrite

    07/23/2014 at 5:52 PM

    • I didn’t say that. The only thing I said about Calvinists in the post was that they would reject when I said that Christ died for the sins of the world so that the world would not have to go to hell. Calvinists would take exception with this as they teach that Christ died only for the elect and not the whole world.


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