Hell Links and Lessons

To finish up my eschatology class yesterday, I took my students on a tour of the best articles on the Internet on the subject of Hell. Here are some of the links and lessons we drew from these posts.

Understand the nature and roots of opposition to the doctrine of Hell
As Tom Ascol highlights in the sample quotes at the beginning of this post, there is widespread virulent and vicious opposition to the idea of hell.

Bertrand Russell: “There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell.” The idea of eternal punishment for sin is “a doctrine that put cruelty in the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture.”

Religious philosopher John Hick refers to hell as a “grim fantasy” that is not only “morally revolting” but also “a serious perversion of the Christian Gospel.”

“Evangelical” theologian Clark Pinnock dismissed hell with a rhetorical question: “How can one imagine for a moment that the God who gave His Son to die for sinners because of His great love for them would install a torture chamber somewhere in the new creation in order to subject those who reject Him to everlasting pain?”

In Doing Away With Hell, Al Mohler helpfully traces the roots of this opposition to a number of cultural and philosophical trends including: a radically altered view of God, the downplaying of retributive justice, humanistic psychologies that deny human responsibility, seeker-sensitive churches, etc.

Do Not Fall Into Passive Neglect of This Doctrine
OK, so we don’t speak of hell like Russell, Hick, and Pinnock. But, as Martin Downes asks, do we speak of Hell at all?  As Lesslie Newbigin said in 1994: “It is one of the weaknesses of a great deal of contemporary Christianity that we do not speak of the last judgment and of the possibility of being finally lost”

In the same article Covenant Seminary professor, Robert Peterson, says: “Part of the blame should be placed at the feet of evangelical pastors, whom surveys show have been slow to teach and preach what the Bible says about hell. My study of hell in the mid-1990’s brought me to repentance because I was personally guilty of such neglect.”

Hell Does Not Convert But it Does Awaken
“The fear of Hell doesn’t convert anyone.” Agreed. But don’t let that stop you from preaching it, because, as Joe Thorn explains, it is often used to awaken people to their need for conversion: “Hell stirred me enough to pay close attention to the good news of Jesus’ atonement, forgiveness, and the sinner’s reconciliation to God–even though it seemed too far away for someone like me to grasp.”

Have Faith in God’s Word – All of it
One of the most renowned preachers of Hell, Jonathan Edwards, challenged pastors  that if hell is true, “then why is it not proper for those who have the care of souls to take great pains to make men sensible of it? Why should they not be told as much of the truth as can be?”

In Preaching Hell in New England, Wes Pastor describes how following Jonathan Edward’s  footsteps, he eventually saw God bless the preaching of Hell to “quintessential New Englanders.” Bob was converted under a Christmas sermon he entitled, “You’re going to Hell, Merry Christmas.” And now “is laying down his life to help plant gospel-driven churches in New England and beyond, churches with preachers who take great pains to make souls sensible of the danger, that they might fear the One who has the authority to cast into hell and, by God’s grace, have those fears relieved.”

Study Hell
Yes, I know it doesn’t sound like the most enjoyable use of study time but without study our preaching on Hell will become uncessarily one-dimensional and repetitively monotonous. Tom Ascol’s 4 Truths About Hell, briefly describes four ways in which Hell can be preached, and there are many more.

We also need to read scholarly books about the doctrine of hell so that we are aware of both popular and academic objections to the doctrine and preach accordingly.

For example, in How Willingly Do People go to Hell, John Piper deals with the idea popularized by C.S. Lewis that when people go to hell, God is simply giving them what they most want. As Piper argues, that makes God altogether too passive in the process. The Bible records that God not only actively sends people to hell, He “throws” them into the lake of fire.

“Hell is separation from God.” We’ve probably all said it. We’ve certainly all heard it. But is it? Martin Downes argues for much greater study and care in using this phrase. R. A. Finalyson’s quote really sums it up: “Hell is eternity in the presence of God without a mediator. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God, with a mediator.”

Hell Motivates Love for God and Man
But what possible benefits can there be in preaching hell? Tom Ascol says it ”deepens our grateful praise for the salvation we have in Jesus Christ” and “motivates us to persuade people to be reconciled to God.” He asks “How can we love people and refuse to speak plainly to them about the realities of eternal damnation and God’s gracious provision of salvation?”

In The Truth of Hell Should Fill us With Awe, Martin Downes adds: “The Bible’s message of hell is a topic worthy of study, but in addition, it has to be something that moves us to action—to repentance, when we consider what our sins deserve; to prayer, out of compassion for the lost; to worship, when we consider what Christ endured to redeem us; and certainly, to witness, when we desire for others to know our great God and Savior.”

Be Apologetic But Don’t Be Apologetic
Don’t be apologetic in the sense of apologizing for hell and always expressing regret for preaching it. David French’s post on The Perfect Justice of Hell challenges us: “Hell is nothing to apologize for or laugh about. It’s real, it’s indispensable, it’s just, and—but for the inexplicable and irresistible grace of God—it’s precisely what I deserve.”

But do be apologetic in the sense of defending the faith and combatting errors and understandable misconceptions and myths. For example, Joe Thorn has a series on Five Common Myths About Hell, while Kevin DeYoung and Sam Storms tackle some of the hardest objections, including the fate of those who have never heard the Gospel. Learn how to deal with the errors of annihilationism, universalism, and conditional immortality.

Also in the four-part series entitled Hell and the Happiness of Heaven, Storms takes on the difficulty many Christians have of conceiving of heaven as a happy place if some of their loved ones are in hell.

Learn from Others How to Preach Hell
Spurgeon calls us to preach it passionately and self-forgetfully.In an outstanding article, Speaking Seriously and Sensitively about Hell to the Sons of this Age and the Next, Ligon Duncan challenges us to preach it textually, decisively, pastorally, correctively, apologetically, exegetically, and above all Christocentrically.

9 Marks also have an excellent eJournal on Remembering the Awful Reality of Hell with the usual practical advice from experienced pastors.

But let me give the last word to Michael Patton who confesses how much he dislikes this truth and how much he wishes he could get rid of it, especially the eternality of it, but then calls us to believe it and to preach it in faith:

Concerning the doctrine of Hell, I simply must trust that God knows what he is doing. I am sure there is information and understanding that is withheld from us that might make such things more palatable, but he has obviously chosen not to reveal this to us. Belief is not always easy. Sometimes it is. Love, grace, forgiveness, hope, and the new earth are all easy to believe. Election, righteousness, judgment, and hell are not. That is why the latter is so difficult to accept and why, I believe, we have so many alternative answers continually being proposed. We simply want our faith to be more palatable rather than trust that God knows what he is doing. It is very hard to believe God sometimes.

However, I don’t have a vote in truth. My emotional disposition toward a doctrine has absolutely no effect on the truthfulness of the doctrine itself. As I have often said, the palatability of a doctrine does not determine its veracity. God is on the throne and he knows what he is doing. Whenever I begin to feel more righteous than him, I must remember who I am and who he is. “Will not the judge of the earth do what is right?”


Male and Female Brains Are Built Differently
No, really. “Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania found that male brains have more connections within each hemisphere, while female brains are more interconnected between hemispheres.” Wonder where that leaves the increasing movement to downplay if not deny gender differences. Once again true science confirms God’s Word: “Male and female created he them.”

Banning the Negative Book Review
There’s definitely a growing (and welcome) pushback to all the negativity that the Internet and modern media news cycles have spawned. But then, of course, some foolishly run to the opposite extreme of banning anything negative!

10 Myths Non-Christians Believe About Christians
Looks like the basis of a series of sermons to me (or of blog posts).

  1. Being a Christian means following a set of rules. Christianity is a laundry list of things to do.
  2. People can get to heaven based on how good they are here on earth.
  3. The Christian life is a life of ease and luxury.
  4. Ministers, pastors, are the ‘bosses’ of the church.
  5. Christianity is really only a crutch.
  6. Christians are commanded to hate homosexuals. Christians despise Mormons, JW’s, and other cult members.
  7. Heaven will be boring.
  8. Christians aren’t allowed to think for themselves. Christianity is based on blind faith. Committed Christians are against science.
  9. Christians are not allowed to enjoy sex! Ever!
  10. Christians have a low view of women.

Which State Swears the Most?
That award goes to….Ohio.  How did they measure that? “The Marchex Institute examined more than 600,000 phone calls from the past 12 months—calls placed by consumers to businesses across 30 different industries. It then used call mining technology to isolate the curses therein, cross-referencing them against the state the calls were placed from.”

The World Outside My Window
Now that’s a worldview.

Check out

The Calvinist: A Poem
A theological feast of Christian art for the eye, ear, and heart!

A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture
Free eBook from Ligonier’s Keith Mathison.

Finding Myself in the Song of Songs
I found this original post fascinating and deeply edifying, especially when you take the next step and see the Shulammite as s symbol for every believer.

Thinking Through MultiCultural Church
Ed Stetzer: “Scripture goes to great lengths to point out the diversity around the throne. Thus, it seems only right and perhaps pleasing to God that our churches might be signs of the kingdom of God today in increasing multiculturalism. I am encouraged by the efforts I see, and challenged to move forward in my own life and church as the conference theme suggested,For the Sake of the Gospel.”

How Open Should We Be About Great Evils Like Abortion?
R.C. Sproul Jr. tackels another toughie.

Pilgrim Art
Maureen Mullarkey discusses the puritan view of art (or lack of it!).

Three Books for the Productivity Geek in Your Life

The biggest factor in building and maintaining a productive working life in the midst of the digital deluge is the ability to focus. These three books all come at this subject in different ways and each has a valuable contribution to make. 

focusFocus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.
Daniel Goleman dedicated this book to “The well-being of generations to come,” and his passion to see us thrive is evident throughout. He argues that “while the link between attention and excellence remains hidden most of the time, it ripples through almost everything we seek to accomplish.” His thesis is “Attention works much like a muscle—use it poorly and it can wither; work it well and it grows.” His book is a work-out to develop and refine the muscle of our attention, and even rehab focus-starved brains.

Of the three books here, this one is the most technical as it deals in detail with some of the brain science behind what makes distraction so enjoyable, yet so destructive. However, don’t let that put you off. I found myself quickly scanning some of these denser passages and zeroing in on the more readable practical sections.

Some of the quotes were revolutionary for me. Try this one from Nobel prize-winning economist Herbert Simon: “Information consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Brain at workYour Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long
Leadership Coach, David Rock, follows a fictitious couple (though all too real for many of us) as they live out their lives in the maelstrom of everyday life. The author describes and analyzes each day in the couple’s busy working lives and makes lots of practical suggestions about how to change each day for the better. As Rock’s main idea is that we can improve how we work by understanding how our brains work, he also pulls in a lot of brain science, but in a more accessible way than Focus.

You’ll never take it all in on one read, but what I’ve tried to do is take a couple of chapters at a time and then try to put some of the suggestions into practice for a few weeks before coming back to the book again. I’ve found myself thinking a lot more about just what I’ll spend my limited brain fuel on every day, in the process learning to drive more efficiently and enjoyably.

elephantsJuggling with Elephants: An Easier Way to Get Your Most Important Things Done – Now!
Of the three books, this is the easiest and quickest to read (one hour should do it). The basic insight is that life is a three ring circus (the three circles are work, family, and personal life), and if we learn to think like a ringmaster, managing the various acts can be fun and easy. Some of the main points:

  • The result of trying to juggle elephants is that no one, including you, is thrilled with your performance.
  • The ringmaster cannot be in all three rings at once.
  • The key to the success of the circus is having quality acts in all three rings.
  • Intermission is an essential part of creating a better circus performance.
  • There is no shortage of acts vying for the circus.
  • Every act must have a purpose.

Although the book’s central idea might seem a bit simplistic, it’s imagery has had a lasting and profound effect on me. I find it much easier now to focus on one ring at a time, and give myself wholly to it, instead of continuing the elephant-juggling act, leaving me squashed and the elephants a little frustrated!


Croatians Vote to Ban Gay Marriage
Worth bookmarking Croatia on Google maps as we may all have to live there soon. Now watch as homosexual jackboots from all over the world try to overturn a 65% vote to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

Relationship Advice From America’s Longest Married Couple
81 years! Wow!! Lots of wisdom and humor here.

Ann: “Marriage isn’t a lovey-dovey thing, y’know, for 80 years, you learn to accept one another’s way of life…Devote your time to understanding one another, really, that’s the whole thing.

John: “We always hold hands…Well, we just take things as they come, and we’re contented, and we have lovely family to support us…Be content with what you have and what you’re doing…The key is to always agree with your wife.” (I think that’s a joke).

The beautiful picture really sums it all up.

But trust anti-marriage activist (yes, there is such a being) Cathereine Deveny to throw a wet blanket over it all. She doesn’t believe any relationship should involve “hard work.” No wonder she’s never married….and never will.

Why We Hate
Hope you didn’t get whiplash there; from beautiful love to ugly hate in just a few pixels. In this study of the Bosnian genocide, psychologists ask, “Why do humans do such terrible things to each other? What makes us capable of torture, war, and genocide?” This study answers “Evolution!” It’s not a new insight. For years Christians have been arguing for a necessary connection between genocide and a belief in evolution.

The Quest to Turn Computers into Creative Artists
“With the London Symphony Orchestra performing machine-written symphonies, Amazon selling books written by algorithms and film-makers scripting screenplays after conversations with a PC, are computers evolving from being a mere tool into becoming a creative force in their own right? For example, a new experiment by Volkswagen creates music based on a car’s speed, steering and whether it is in the city or countryside.”

It would appear that one of the main drivers of this work is the desire to create a creator. Does that not so clearly reveal the image of God in man? The Creator who created us to create has created us to create creators too.

Tongue-Controlled Wheelchair
Speaking of creativity, a new wireless device has allowed paralyzed people to drive a wheelchair simply by moving their tongues. Can’t help but think how much this imaginative ingenuity in the service of others pleases God.

Check out

Family Worship and its Benefits
Some positive motivation instead of guilt and fear.

Seven Ways Pastoring Has Changed in 30 Years
Thom Rainer has an amazing gift for looking at the big picture and offering accurate analysis.

The Part of a Speech 99% of People Ignore
Guilty. But what’s the solution?

Freedom of Conscience is a Beautiful Thing
Trevin Wax: “I believe the government should preserve and protect an individual’s freedom of conscience and seek to never violate it.”

Praying for the Sick
Brian Croft with succinct and doable advice

Did this brave hero live 92 years just to save a little girl’s life? (HT: Mike Leake)