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.

 

London’s Lamentations, Thomas Brooks

Although the scope of the material here (a response to the Great Fire of London in 1666) is wider than the doctrine of hell, what Brooks does say here about hell is virtually unrivalled in emotive power and insight. Brooks also models the application of the doctrine of hell to his contemporary context. 

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Excerpts

127
All the cruelties in the world cannot possibly make up any horror comparable to the horrors of hell. The brick-kilns of Egypt, the furnace of Babel, are but as the glowing sparkle, or as the blaze of a brush-faggot, to this tormenting Tophet that has been prepared of old to punish the bodies and souls of sinners with. Hanging, racking, burning, scourging, stoning, sawing asunder, flaying of the skin, &c., are not to be named in the day wherein the tortures of hell are spoken of. If all the pains, sorrows, miseries, and calamities that have been inflicted upon all the sons of men, since Adam fell in Paradise, should meet together and centre in one man, they would not so much as amount to one of the least of the pains of hell

129
The conclave of Rome, and the conclave of hell can do nothing without a commission from heaven. They cannot make a louse, nor burn a house, nor drown a pig, without a commission under the broad seal of heaven. A sparrow lights not upon the ground, nor a hair falls not from our heads, no, nor a bristle from a sow’s back, saith Tertullian, but by a divine providence. All created creatures, both in that upper and in this lower world, depend upon God for their being, motion, and several activities. Now in that God did not exert his power, neither to prevent nor check those furious flames, which he knew, without his interposure, would lay all in ashes; it is evident that it was his divine pleasure that London should be turned into a ruinous heap.

209
If after so many millions of years as there be drops in the ocean, there might be a deliverance out of hell, this would yield a little ease, a little comfort to the damned. Oh but this word eternity, eternity, eternity, this word everlasting, everlasting, everlasting, will even break the hearts of the damned in ten thousand pieces! There is scarce any pain or torment here on earth but there is ever some hope of ease, mitigation, or intermission, there is some hope of relief or delivery; but in hell the torments there are all easeless, remediless, and endless. Here if one fall into the fire, he may like a brand be pulled out of it and saved; but out of that fiery lake there is no redemption.

Everlasting Punishment and the Problem of Evil, Henri Blocher

An intriguing chapter in an otherwise forgettable volume, Blocher explores the end of actual sin at the judgment. I disagree with his final conclusions, but the data is extremely helpful in mitigating what I believe is an error in the older theologians regarding the nature of sin in hell.

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Excerpts

32 [Hart]

A love that continues to suffer rejection and separation for its object must be thought of as having failed, and omnipotence cannot fail in its purposes.

190 [Wenham]
I believe that endless torment is a hideous and unscriptural doctrine which has been a terrible burden on the mind of the church for many centuries and a terrible blot on her presentation of the gospel. I should indeed by happy if, before I die, I could help in sweeping it away.