Hell on Fire, Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson et al.

Thorough scholarship from some of the best theologians alive. Stand-out chapters begin with Mohler's opening historical survey, which is worth the price of the entire book on its own. Block's OT survey, and Morgan's chapter on images of hell are also exemplary. If the greatest criticism is the book's cover, it's very, very good.

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Excerpts

Mohler

A second issue is a changed view of justice. Retributive justice has been the hallmark of human law since premodern times. This concept assumes that punishment is a natural and necessary component of justice. Nevertheless, retributive justice has been under assault for many years in Western cultures, and this has led to modifications in the doctrine of hell.

Sin has been redefined as a lack of self-esteem rather than as an insult to the glory of God. Salvation has been reconceived as liberation from oppression, internal or external. The gospel becomes a means of release from bondage to bad habits rather than rescue from a sentence of eternity in hell.

The temptation to revise the doctrine of hell—to remove the sting and scandal of everlasting conscious punishment—is understandable. But it is also a major test of evangelical conviction. This is no theological trifle. As one observer has asked, “Could it be that the only result of attempts, however well-meaning, to air-condition Hell, is to ensure that more and more people wind up there?”

Block, on Isa 66

The chapter climaxes with the glorious picture of Yahweh displaying his glory and setting a sign (the cross!) among the nations, which rallies worshipers to find whatever means they can to bring their gifts and offerings to Zion. But when the worshipers leave the city, they pass by the city dump, where they observe the endless fire consuming the refuse and the maggots () ceaselessly eating away at the decaying corpses of those who have been unceremoniously dumped there—undoubtedly those whom Yahweh has slain in his fury (Isa. 66:16). The gaze of the worshipers has less to do with gloating over the deaths of their enemies than with recalling the fate that would have been theirs—but for the grace of God.

Morgan

So hell as destruction is best understood to show that hell is final and utter loss, ruin, or waste. Destruction is a graphic picture that those in hell have failed to embrace the meaning of life and have wasted it. Trying to find life in themselves and sin, they have forfeited true life. Only ruin and garbage remains.

Whereas punishment stresses the active side of hell, banishment shows the horror of hell by highlighting what a person misses. When average evangelical church members are asked what hell is like, their likely response will be that hell is “separation from God.” While the idea of separation is certainly correct and included in this New Testament concept of banishment, separation alone does not do justice to the force of this picture of hell. Banishment is much stronger than separation. It suggests God’s active judgment while separation could simply imply divine passivity. Banishment also stresses the dreadfulness and finality of the predicament. The Scriptures demonstrate that Christ eternally excludes the unrighteous from the kingdom. The wicked never experience unhindered fellowship with God. They are forever banished from his majestic presence and completely miss out on the reason for their existence—to glorify and know their Creator.

The three pictures of hell also appear to illustrate the biblical doctrine of the atonement. On the cross, Jesus died as a substitute for our sins and drank the cup of wrath—punishment (Matt. 26:42; Rom. 3:21-31; 1 Peter 3:18). On the cross, Jesus offers himself as a sacrifice for our sins—death (cf. Heb. 9-10). On the cross, Jesus experiences separation from the Father’s fellowship as he cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).

Peterson

God’s lordship in judgment means not only that he pronounces the sentence, but also that he rules over hell. Unfortunately, some have erred at this point. John Gerstner is an example when he writes, “Hell is where Satan rules…where his complete fury is unleashed.”6 Gerstner does not deny that God rules in hell but affirms that Satan also reigns there, under God. But this is erroneous, for hell is where God alone rules and where his complete fury is unleashed against Satan, his angels, and wicked human beings.

Passage after passage points to a holy and just God who gives sinners what they deserve. Judgment is according to deeds, or more precisely, according to thoughts (1 Cor. 4:5), words (Matt. 12:36), and deeds (Rev. 20:12-13). Those whose lives are characterized by evil thoughts, words, and deeds reap God’s wrath. When one inquires of the judgment passages why sinners end up in hell, Scripture repeatedly shouts the answer: corrupted human freedom and evil deeds.

Morgan

Interestingly, John Wenham even suggested, “The ultimate horror of God’s universe is hell.”52 While hell indeed may in some sense rightly be seen as an awful reality, sin is actually the ultimate horror of God’s universe. Hell is merely the punishment. Sin is the crime. Which is worse, murder or the life sentence? Obviously, the crime is worse than the punishment. So often the contemporary conditionalists minimize the biblical teaching concerning retributive punishment, however, and replace it with a human-centered view. Yet the Bible is clear: Sin is inherently against God, who is infinite in all his perfections. Thus, sin is an infinite evil and merits endless punishment. So it is better to view hell not as a horror in God’s universe but as a demonstration of final and decisive justice in a universe once marred by sin.

But the coexistence of heaven and hell does not hinder the glorious victory of God or the utter happiness of the redeemed. Through punishing non-Christians eternally in hell, God will vindicate his majesty, display his power, glorify his justice, and indirectly magnify his grace.

Ferguson

A Christian, then, looks at life in the light of the destination to which it leads, and sees every person within that framework. Famous words penned around 1843 by the still young but soon-to-die Robert Murray M’Cheyne express well this view and its implications: “As I was walking in the fields, the thought came over me with almost overwhelming power, that every one of my flock must soon be in heaven or hell. Oh, how I wished that I had a tongue like thunder, that I might make all hear; or that I had a frame like iron, that I might visit every one, and say, ‘Escape for thy life!’”

 

Hell: major twentieth century attempts to defend hell, Tony Gray

While too enamored with C. S. Lewis and the free-will view of hell, this long and in-depth thesis provides one of the most comprehensive overviews of the modern debate on hell from a philosophical perspective.

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Excerpts

p29
What is the purpose of punishment? Augustine provides three possible reasons: "punishment may be a means to purification; punishment may be imposed as a retribution for sins; or punishment may serve to exercise and display the virtues of the good." 53 Augustine favours the last two reasons, and in particular this display of virtue fits neatly into Augustine's aesthetic scheme. John Baillie describes Augustine's bland assurance that the universe is no less admirable and beautiful a place for having a chamber of horrors eternally present within it, so long only as each horror of pain perfectly matches and balances each horror of sin.

p64-65
But why would that punishment be meaningless? Moberly argues that punishment can only be labelled 'retributive' by the person who recognises it as such. Presumably the person in hell is so base and vile that there is no possibility of redemption. If they are so disfigured, they then no longer possess the possibility of moral choice, and so are not able to sin. This means that their punishment must be for sins committed in the past. However, retribution for past sins can only be recognised as such if the person being punished has some sense of guilt. The base and vile person in hell has no moral insight, and therefore is not able to recognise the guilt of their past actions.

p73
Are there then attributes of God which may prove to be morally explanatory for the equal punishment view of hell? However, this does not appear to be so. For example, God is perfectly good and essentially so, but degree of perfection in moral character is not morally explanatory either. If it were, then killing a saint would be worse than killing a non-saint, and it is not (all else being equal) . 14 ° Thus Kvanvig concludes that, Although we should not underestimate the differences between God and us, none of the intrinsic characteristics of divinity as opposed to humanity seems capable of sustaining this response to the moral objection to the equal punishment version of the strong view of hell.

p214-215
Finally/ Lewis deals with the question of whether hell defeats God's omnipotence. In the light of many other discussions that deal with this question, Lewis presents us with a position which is refreshingly honest. In creating beings with free will/ omnipotence from the outset God's omnipotence is defeated (although Lewis maintains that logically God is still omnipotent in the sense that he can do anything which is not self-contradictory) , but this defeat is in fact a miracle. The miracle because God is able and willing to create something that actually resists its creation. It is in this context that one of Lewis' most famous and oft-quoted statements concerning hell appears: I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful/ rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.

p242
Finally, for Lewis divine retribution is no longer the prime justification for hell. Human choices and the characters they form determine how people will then be judged. Free will provides the clue as to why there will be a hell/ but Lewis is perceptive enough not to abandon all accounts of God's punishment. It is this careful thinking that may offer a modern defence of hell which also retains elements of the traditional doctrine. That is/ a hell which not only results from human free will and the desire to be without God/ but which is also a result of God's just punishment.

Four Views on Hell 1st Edition, William Crockett

A surprisingly poor book. The best contribution, by far, is by Clark Pinnock, the annihilationist who takes aspects of Crockett's poor argumentation to task. Walvoord's contribution (the literal, traditional view) is mired by dispensational thinking where it is neither helpful nor required.

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Excerpts

Crockett

It has been a long time, maybe twenty years, since I have heard a sermon on hell. Perhaps this reflects the churches I attend, but I suspect it has more to do with a general embarrassment Christians feel when confronted with the doctrine of eternal punishment. Even among those who affirm a literal view of hell, silence is the watchword. I suppose people feel it is better to be silent than to offend. Better to teach God’s truth in positive, affirming ways than to sound vengeful and uncaring.

Jesus believed in hell, we reply, but somehow the picture of desperate faces shrieking in a lake of fire unsettles us. Trapped, we shift awkwardly on our feet and try to soften the impact of what the Bible so clearly seems to say.

There is nothing wrong with using images to teach truth. After all, Jesus used the images of fire and darkness to warn the wicked of the consequences of sin. Difficulties arise only when we insist that the images reflect concrete reality.

Pinnock

I agree with him that one cannot preach what the tradition has said about literal hellfire, because it is such a morally and judicially intolerable notion (and one not even necessary according to exegetical considerations). The fact that Augustine and Edwards could have cauterized their consciences into believing it should make no difference at all to us. After all, both men also believed in double predestination as well. One simply has to admit that tradition contains a number of obnoxious things that need changing; so let us be bold to change them.

And Crockett himself adds somewhere else that the fire, though nonliteral, is “a symbol of something far greater.” Why then does he come down so hard on Walvoord for being sadistic? Why does he leave the impression that a nonliteral view like his would make it possible to preach about hell again? It seems to me that he has painted himself into the same corner. God is a sadistic torturer. And I think I know why he has done so. Crockett (and Packer) is looking to his theological right and wants to be seen as orthodox, while making a major shift to a nonliteral view of hell.

 

 

 

 

 

Repent or Perish, John Gerstner

Gerstner is not only an Edwards scholar, more than perhaps anyone else in our generation he typifies Edwards' logic and approach to the doctrines of punishment and hell. This book is hard-hitting and generally excellent, if a bit uneven.

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Excerpts

28
The fear of hell is the only thing most likely to get worldly people thinking about the kingdom of God.

184
If there were no other text in all Scripture teaching the awful doctrine, Matthew 25:46 would be enough to establish everlasting punishment everlastingly. At first glance, it is obvious that this is what Jesus meant. At second glance, it is more obvious that this is what Jesus meant. At third glance, it is most obvious that this is what Jesus meant.

185
This is the reason I wrote this book. Not because I love hell and hate its annihilation, but because I hate attempts to annihilate God and His Son, Jesus Christ.

201
This is the irony. The people who admit that hell is just do not go there. The people who do not admit it is just (because they are liars) are the ones who go there. This is the reason heaven rejoices in, rather than weeps over, hell. Heaven sees that this is where God punishes those who deserve to be punished in exactly the degree they deserve, eternally.

Hell and Future Punishment: Select Sermons, Jonathan Edwards

Edwards is unarguably the greatest theologian of hell (and possibly heaven as well!) In his sermons there is incredible biblical depth and, usually, unassailable logic. This book is merely representative, as many of his sermons are widely available online. "Wicked Men Useful in Their Destruction Only" is unique and particularly recommended. Modern readers may find him pointed, but is he more pointed than scripture?

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Excerpts

From "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"

p7

The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation don’t slumber, the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them, the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened her mouth under them.

p10-11

So that thus it is, that natural men are held in the hand of God over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger, neither is God in the least bound by any promise to hold ‘em up one moment; the devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up; the fire pent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out; and they have no interest in any mediator, there are no means within reach that can be any security to them. In short, they have no refuge, nothing to take hold of, all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and uncovenanted unobliged forbearance of an incensed God.

 

From "Wicked Men Useful in Their Destruction Only"

p28

It would also be a disparagement to his justice; for this is a world where, “all things come alike to all, and there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked.” If there were no other state but this for wicked men to be in, justice could not possibly take place. It would also reflect upon the holiness of God. Forever to uphold this world for an habitation of such persons, and forever to continue the communications of his bounty and goodness to them, would appear as though he were disposed to countenance and encourage sin and wickedness.

p31

When they shall see the misery of the damned, it will give them a greater sense of the distinguishing grace and love of God to them, that God should from all eternity set his love on them, and make so great a difference between them and others who are of the same species with them, are no worse by nature than they, and have deserved no worse of God than they. When they shall look upon the misery of the damned, and consider how different their own state is from theirs, and that it is only free and sovereign grace that makes the difference, what a great sense will this give them of the wonderful grace of God to them! And how will it heighten their praises! With how much greater admiration and exultation of soul will they sing of the free and sovereign grace of God to them!

p32-33

Men are under no natural necessity of being put to this use of glorifying God in their sufferings. God gives them opportunity of glorifying him in doing, in bringing forth fruit, puts them under advantages for it, and uses many means to bring them to it. But if they will not be useful this way, it is very just that God should make them useful in the only remaining way in which they can be useful, viz. in their destruction. God is not forward to put them to this use. He tells us, that he hath “no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way, and live;” Ezekiel xxxiii. 11. God represents the destruction of sinners as a work to which he is backward; yet it is meet that they should be destroyed, rather than that they should be suffered to frustrate God of the end of their being. Who can blame the husbandman for cutting down and burning a barren tree, after he hath digged about it, and dunged it, and used all proper means to make it fruitful?

 

From "The Future Punishment of the Wicked Unavoidable and Intolerable"

p58

They will not be able to find any to befriend them, and intercede with God for them. They had the offer of a mediator often made them in this world; but they will have no offers of such a nature in hell. None will befriend them. They will have no friend in HELL; all there will be their enemies. They will have no friend in heaven: ‘None of the saints or angels will befriend them; or if they should, it would be to no purpose. There will be no creature that will have any power to deliver them, nor will any ever pity them.

p65-66

There is no long struggle, no fighting against the fire, no strength exerted to oppose the heat, or to fly from it; but it immediately stretches forth itself and yields; and the fire takes possession of it, and at once it becomes full of fire. Here is a little image of what you will be the subjects of in hell, except you repent and fly to Christ. However you may think that you will fortify yourselves, and bear as well as you can; the first moment you shall be cast into hell, all your strength will sink and be utterly abolished. To encourage yourselves, that you will set yourselves to bear hell torments as well as you can, is just as if a worm, that is about to be thrown into a glowing furnace, should swell and fortify itself and prepare itself to fight the flames.

 

From "The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners"

p71

A crime is more or less heinous, according as we are under greater or less obligations to the contrary. This is self-evident; because it is herein that the criminalness or faultiness of any thing consists, that it is contrary to what we are obliged or bound to, or what ought to be in us. So the faultiness of one being hating another, is in proportion to his obligation to love him. The crime of one being despising and casting contempt on another, is proportionably more or less heinous, as he was under greater or less obligations to honour him.

p73-74

But sinful men are full of sin; full of principles and acts of sin: their guilt is like great mountains, heaped one upon another, till the pile is grown up to heaven. They are totally corrupt, in every part, in all their faculties, and all the principles of their nature, their understandings, and wills; and in all their dispositions and affections. Their heads, their hearts, are totally depraved; all the members of their bodies are only instruments of sin; and all their senses, seeing, hearing, tasting, &c. are only inlets and outlets of sin, channels of corruption.

 

From "The Eternity of Hell's Torments"

p109

Again, our obligation to love, honor, and obey God being infinitely great, sin is the violation of infinite obligation, and so is an infinite evil. Once more, sin being an infinite evil, deserves an infinite punishment. An infinite punishment is no more than it deserves.

 

C. S. Lewis and Three Biblical Images of Hell

Along with G. K. Chesterton and John Piper, C. S. Lewis is among my very favourite authors. Combining English wit with a deep understanding of the Bible’s themes and story, there is a good reason Lewis is among the 20th Century’s most beloved figures. Above all, however, Lewis has a knack for making deep insights plain to the everyman. In the case of his doctrine of everlasting punishment, this fact may explain his widespread influence on the topic in spite of the fact he never wrote a major work on hell. In spite of my deep appreciation for Lewis, I explain in chapters 5 and 9 of Is There Anything Good About Hell? that his teaching on hell has contributed to some very negative trends in evangelicalism since.
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David Powys’ Misreading of Irenaeus

Eisegesis isn’t just a problem for reading the Scriptures, it can also be a problem in reading the early church fathers. While I am by no means an early church scholar, I have read widely enough now on a few topics in the fathers  to come across some troubling misreadings. I’m not sure I have encountered any, however, as problematic as David Powys’ characterization of Irenaeus’ views of eternity and hell.
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Heaven and Hell, Peter Toon

This biblical and historical survey of the "last things" demonstrates a penetrating grasp of  historical theology. Although a traditionalist on hell, there are a couple minor missteps which keep it from being among the best surveys.

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Excerpts

163, quoting Cyprian
The damned will burn for ever in hell. Devouring flames will be their eternal portion. their torments will never have diminution or end. Their lamentations will be vain and entreaties ineffectual. Their repentance comes too late. They will have to believe in an eternal punishment, as they refused to believe in the life eternal.

201
Further, it is better in any systematic theology to treat hell when treating the gospel and not to leave it to the final section on the "the last things," where it can so easily become a logical equivalent of heaven in the final order of reality.

How Can a God of Love Send People to Hell? John Benton

An extremely short book that addresses common questions about hell and would be suitable for believers and unbelievers alike. Theology is solid.

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Excerpts

57
A final and eternal separation is spoken of here, and in in which the damned shall gaze from the outer darkness at the warm fellowship of the saints and their reward.

69, quoting Gerstner
Since God cannot be made happier, being ever and infinitely blessed, hell was made, not for him but for heaven.

110
Those in heaven must therefore have an extensive knowledge of pain, sin, suffering and death while residing in a state of joy with God.

120
In Revelation 18:20 this rejoicing may even be said to be a command. "Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her." It is not a weakness for heaven to rejoice over the downfall of the wicked; it is here commanded!

144
In heaven, there will be shouting of "Amens" over these "Cursed be's" that God proclaims in judgment. In heaven the saints will praise all of God's judgments.

 

Seeing Hell, Trevor Christian Johnson

Presented in survey-style and with some weaknesses in the writing, this is still a very valuable survey of a niche but important area of the doctrine of hell. The theology presented here is generally excellent.

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Excerpts

57
A final and eternal separation is spoken of here, and in in which the damned shall gaze from the outer darkness at the warm fellowship of the saints and their reward.

69, quoting Gerstner
Since God cannot be made happier, being ever and infinitely blessed, hell was made, not for him but for heaven.

110
Those in heaven must therefore have an extensive knowledge of pain, sin, suffering and death while residing in a state of joy with God.

120
In Revelation 18:20 this rejoicing may even be said to be a command. "Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her." It is not a weakness for heaven to rejoice over the downfall of the wicked; it is here commanded!

144
In heaven, there will be shouting of "Amens" over these "Cursed be's" that God proclaims in judgment. In heaven the saints will praise all of God's judgments.