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.

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

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.

Top 5: Understanding Hell

So you want to understand hell better? Assuming you have already read Is There Anything Good About Hell? these are my top five recommendations. I have purposefully chosen a mix of five books that will capture some of the breadth of the doctrine of eternal punishment. Some of these excel in biblical exegesis and defense of the doctrine, while others provide the foundational logic and presuppositional philosophy necessary in rightly comprehending this most sober subject. Honorable mention goes to Blanchard's Whatever Happened to Hell?

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Brooks on Hell: Oh, bless Christ! Oh, kiss Christ!

Thomas Brooks is one of the greatest theologians of hell in Christian history. He remarks in “The Golden Key to Open Hidden Treasures,” that contemplating hell results in a greater love and appreciation for Christ:

If there be a hell, then, Christians, spend your days in admiring and in being greatly affected with the transcendent love of Christ, in undergoing hellish punishments in our steads. Oh pray, pray hard that you ‘may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of that love of Christ which passeth knowledge,’ Eph. 3:18, 19,—of that love of Christ that put him upon these corporeal and spiritual sufferings which were so exceeding great, acute, extreme, universal and continual, and all to save us from wrath to come, 1 Thes. 1:10. Christ’s outward and inward miseries, sorrows, and sufferings are not to be paralleled, and therefore Christians have the more cause to lose themselves in the contemplation of his matchless love. Oh, bless Christ! oh, kiss Christ! oh, embrace Christ! oh, welcome Christ! oh, cleave to Christ! oh, follow Christ! oh, walk with Christ! oh, long for Christ! who for your sakes hath undergone insupportable wrath and most hellish torments,Continue reading

Top 3: Exodus Resources

This top three has little to do with hell--at least specifically. I am preaching through the book of Exodus, and its been wonderful growing in my knowledge of the degree to which Exodus, its language, and its themes, impact the rest of the scriptures. It's truly remarkable. So I present a top three resources on the book of Exodus with a particular view to seeing some themes and connections you may not have seen before.

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Reformation21 Review of “Crux, Mors, Inferi” by Renihan

Reformation21 has published my review of Samuel Renihan’s “Crux, Mors, Inferi”. It begins

Samuel Renihan has recently published an excellent book on the doctrine of the descent of Christ into hell. His thesis—that Christ descended to hell on the Sabbath, as stated in the ancient creeds—is one with which I was in agreement prior to reading it. What surprised me was how helpful it was devotionally.

Please check out the review: and consider purchasing the book.