Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Framing the Hell Debate

A lot of people think that it is mean and nasty of the Christian to "draw lines" over who is and is not in hell. This debate can quickly take us away from the real issues. So over at the Huffington Post we read:
In other words, regardless of what Christians think about Hell, and more specifically, the question of who's in and who's out, Christians should not only hope and pray that no one meets this fate, but believe that God has the final say in these matters -- even if this means confounding our best theological assumptions.

(1) Those with an orthodox view of hell do indeed wish and pray that it would be as empty as possible. See Romans 9:1-5. See also what D.A. Carson writes at the end of his essay on the wrath of God in Engaging the Doctrine of God. He says quite bluntly that it should move us to tears.

(2) Christians who take the orthodox position on hell do indeed believe "that God has the final say in these matters." However, we believe that God has clearly spoken and revealed what that position is. If God has a final say then we can't plug our fingers in our ears if he actually speaks on the issue.

The rhetorical point that the author used to persuade of his view (1) emotional and (2) appeal to a higher authority. (In a Christian debate over doctrine one should appeal to a higher authority). What that author did not acknowledge is that this is not really what is at issue in this fight because the best representatives of the traditional view of hell already believe these things.

I haven't done any exegetical legwork in this post, but the point is: if Jesus clearly tells us that some people are in and some people of out while it is certainly right to say we don't know the full content of who is in what category we cannot claim the categories do not exist. If Jesus tells us the categories are final states, then we cannot pretend he might not really mean final. And if Jesus tells us to reject trusting in Him leaves one's fate secure, then we cannot try to create wiggle room where Jesus might not mean what he says.

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