Themelios Article: Hell for a Single Sin

I am thankful to Themelios for publishing my friendly critique of Robert Golding’s excellent article on hell last year. The introduction is below. Please follow the link to read the full article.

“It was refreshing to read Robert Golding’s recent article in Themelios on eternal punishment. In a sea of compromise around this topic, his commitment to the doctrine of hell is commendable, and he has surely accomplished his goal of strengthening the resolve of pastors to preach on eternal damnation. In particular, his explanation of sin as privation leading to the loss of the goodness or the full humanness of the reprobate in hell is crucial to answering one of the greatest objections to the biblical doctrine of eternal punishment—that the torment of those we love will mar our everlasting felicity. As Golding points out, what we love in unbelievers now is of God and will no longer be expressed in the lake of fire. The saints will not pine eternally over the loss of their loved ones but will look in horror upon what they have become, and have chosen to be, without God.

In spite of the article’s many strengths, this response offers a friendly critique to one of its central aspects—the asymptotic nature of sin and sinners in hell. Using Jonathan Edward’s views on the eternal and progressive increase of the saints towards God in heaven, Golding argues for a correlative move away from God—a never-ending increase of sinfulness of the reprobate in hell. Moreover, the article posits that this eternal regression from God explains the merit of eternal punishment, answering possible objections regarding divine justice towards sins that are finite in duration and/or proportion.

I will respond to this theory in two ways. Firstly, it will be demonstrated that the final judgment is presented in Scripture as a monumental interposition in the lives of the wicked. I will make use of the views of Henri Blocher to argue that this fact undermines Golding’s construal of a continual, progressive, or asymptotic state of sinning by the reprobate and I will suggest a synthesis of Blocher’s and Golding’s thoughts on sin in hell. Secondly, it will be shown that Golding’s theory is unnecessary to defend the eternal punishment of the wicked, and that the logic of both Scripture and reason demand eternal retribution in hell as punishment for even a single sin. Three scriptural passages will be briefly considered in addition to Anselm’s proof in Cur Deus Homo. In conclusion, it will be argued that this more traditional ‘hell for a single sin’ view not only magnifies the grievousness and debt of sin, it also more greatly magnifies the work and atonement of our Lord Jesus.”

Response 3 to a Conditionalist Critical Review

This is the third in a series of responses to the extensive review of Is There Anything Good About Hell? by the conditionalist, David Jukobovic. As stated previously, the reviewer is erudite and congenial, both welcome attributes in a reviewer. I will be dealing exclusively in this installment with the reviewer’s response to chapter 8, Infinite Honour and Infinite Sin. By way of introduction and summary, I will be arguing that Jukobovic has somewhat missed (or ignored) the center of the chapter’s thesis, and perhaps of Anselm’s theory as well.

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Response 2 to a Conditionalist Critical Review

In part one of my response to David Jakubovic’s review of Is There Anything Good About Hell (AGAH), I introduced a few small matters concerning my intentions with this series of articles and the constraints and goals of my book, before finally arguing that there is a strong theological tradition concerning the word “evil” (eg. Aquinas) that does not bleed into moral evil and that hell is an evil in this general sense. In this sense too, a conditionalist would be constrained to view the annihilation of the wicked as an evil. The fascinating question which arises in consideration of comparing these two “evils” (eternal punishment vs. extinction) is which one constitutes the greatest punishment?

This question lies near the centre of the larger debate, as far as I can figure, and certainly is quite significant to Jakubovic’s critical review of my book. It crops up again and again, and I will give a few examples before arguing that there is an exceptionally strong biblical and experiential case for the greater punishment of eternal torment.

Before I do, however, I point out that the reviewer quotes extensively from other sources and that this approach presents both advantages and disadvantages. Jakubovic is certainly well-read, and his breadth in citations looks impressive—indeed, in a certain sense it is impressive. There is a commensurate weakness to this approach, however. Firstly, the reviewer doesn’t often state his own case in disagreeing with the book and I find it difficult at certain points to ascertain the precise nature of the critique and the reviewer’s own thoughts. Secondly, there are times that those he quotes seem to disagree among themselves. No doubt these other authors are marshalled for particular purposes at certain times, but in concert with the paucity of his own clear conclusions and statements, the critique is left ambiguous in many places. These weaknesses (not inherently wrong in approach), plays into the central challenge I will be addressing in this second response.

The crux of this second article is that the reviewer states, in principle, his support for hell not only as retribution, but as a punishment of the wicked that is more serious/severe than the traditional, endless suffering, viewpoint. This is my best understanding of Jakubovic’s position, one which I have a hard time nailing down because, in all honesty, it seems to me to be discordantly expressed throughout the entirety of the review. More than this, however, I think that this discordance is a function of a basic incoherence. I hope I will make that case by the end of the article.

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Hell Isn’t a “Mystery”

This agnostic method of sapping the doctrine of endless retribution is not only wanting in frank and open dealing in an argument, but is chargeable with falsifying divine revelation. To say that the Bible “veils the subject of endless punishment in mystery” and that it is “reticent upon the subject of the future life,” in the face of such an eschatology as the Son of God presents in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, to say nothing of the great mass of similar teaching in other parts of the divine word, is an assumption and assurance that is contradicted by the well-nigh unanimous verdict of all readers and students of Scripture in all time.

William Greenough Thayer Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, ed. Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003), 933–934.

Wretched Radio: Can You Prove the Doctrine of Hell?

Todd Friel at Wretched Radio does a spot on the doctrine of hell including a lengthy section drawing from Is There Anything Good About Hell, which he states presents an “airtight case” for the doctrine of hell and that it is done “magnificently.” [You really need to hear Friel say this word-lol] Thank you Todd and Wretched Radio for getting the word out and may our Lord be glorified as the saints hold to, and preach the truth, about the atonement, eternity, and everything in between.

Wealth and the Need for Eternal Retribution

W. T. Shedd, The Doctrine of Endless Punishment (pp. 158–159):
Luxury deadens the moral sense, and luxurious populations do not have the fear of God before their eyes. Hence luxurious ages, and luxurious men, recalcitrate at hell, and “kick against the goads.” No theological tenet is more important than eternal retribution to those modern nations which, like England, Germany, and the United States, are growing rapidly in riches, luxury, and earthly power. Without it, they will infallibly go down in that vortex of sensuality and wickedness that swallowed up Babylon and Rome. The bestial and shameless vice of the dissolute rich, that has recently been uncovered in the commercial metropolis of the world, is a powerful argument for the necessity and reality of “the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.”

Response 1 to a Conditionalist Critical Review

Several weeks ago, I was contacted by a friendly annihilationist who had written a critical review of the book that was both impressive and erudite . It begins by stating, “This is the most coherent philosophical/theological defence of Eternal Conscious Torment  that I have seen. Author Dirks doesn’t just go for the usual ‘low-hanging fruit’ that we have all heard before. His 10 chapters  are lucidly expressed & scripturally researched.”

The kind introduction, especially so given the expertise of the reviewer, is followed by a number of significant criticisms, which is to be expected from someone with such a radically different viewpoint.  I am thankful for David Jakubovic contacting me and for interacting with the book. This is the first in what will be several responses to the review. I make no promises that they will all follow quickly, and due to my other responsibilities it is quite likely that I will not engage further after these initial articles.

In this initial response, I want to address a few more general concerns expressed in the review, the sorts of arguments I intend to engage, and to deal with one of them that the reviewer emphasizes multiple times. I then plan to deal more  significantly with the philosophical matters and questions in the next article.  Continue reading

Portuguese Translation

I just got word that translation on a Portuguese edition of Is There Anything Good About Hell? has begun by a Brazilian pastor and his network. I am humbled and thankful! More info to come in the months ahead.

Cyril of Alexandria on the Motivation of Hell

Part of my morning exercises over the last year is reading through Cyril of Alexandria’s commentary on John (not that I always get to it daily). Cyril, like most other Early Church Fathers, was quick to speak about eternal punishment. In his commentary on John 8:21, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin,” Cyril notes that Jesus is speaking warning here in order to graciously turn people away from hell.

For to die unredeemed, yet laden with the weight of sin, to whom is it any doubt where this will conduct the soul of man? For deep Hades will, I deem, receive such an one, and he will continue in great darkness, yea he will inhabit fire and flames, with reason numbered among those of whom it has been said by Prophet’s voice, Their worm shall not die neither shall their fire be quenched, and they shall be for a sight to all flesh. Whereof that they may escape the trial, Christ kept manifoldly calling them to a speedy turning away from their wonted unbelief, saying not only that He should leave them and go away, but also of necessity putting before them how great misfortune they will thence undergo.Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel according to S. John, vol. 1 (Oxford; London: James Parker & Co.; Rivingtons, 1874), 580.