Hell Froze Over?

Sorry for the break in blogging. I was at the General Council for the Christian and Missionary Alliance, this year in Orlando, FL. Wasn’t able to blog while I was away, but I’m back on track now. Thanks for your patience.

Read this paragraph from one of the most famous sermons in English-speaking history:

jonathanedwards.jpg “O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.”

Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” stirred America’s first great revival in the 1700’s. It was a sermon that blasted people without Jesus to hell. Seminaries and pastoral training programs used to consider this sermon required reading.


Compare that quote with this one, in an interview with Spencer Burke. Spencer Burke operates the most popular website for the emerging church–with over 100,000 hits a month, I’ve been told. He is talking about his book, A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity.

Spencer: I think people ask, “How could a loving God send someone to Hell?” “Or does Hell exist?” For me, I think that Grace says we are in. We are all beloved children of God, all bought by the blood of Christ, all connected in relation together. There’s nothing you can do to earn it, buy it, get it or grab it, it’s yours, you are here, you are in. Just as with one man’s sin, sin entered into the world, in the story of the creation, Adam and Eve screwed up, so sin entered in. Then death entered in. You have no choice in that. You have death. That’s the way the story goes. spencerburke.jpg

But Jesus was the second Adam. He comes and brings life, and everyone gets life. You don’t have a choice in that either. That’s up to God. God gives you Grace. Not because of what you have done, but because of what Jesus has done. So if we are all in, then that’s what Grace is. But then I started to think about God’s love and the question, “Can a loving God send someone to hell.” I thought about it as a parent. I don’t think it’s love that sends people to Hell. I think it’s God’s love that gives us the choice to choose, to opt-out.

His position is that all people are redeemed unless they deliberately “opt out” even if they do not believe in Jesus.

Jonathan Edwards or Spencer Burke: which one has 2,000 years of church history on his side? Which one most accurately reflects the clear teaching of Scripture?

“And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” 1 John 5:11, 12, NKJV.

lastjudgmtsistine.jpgCritics of the historic, orthodox doctrine of hell argue, “Who are you to judge who goes to heaven or hell? That’s not our place!”

This is how I responded to that objection in a message I preached at my church last summer:

“It’s a cop out to say that we can’t judge who’s going to heaven and who isn’t. Of course that’s true: it’s not our place to judge. But if God has said in his Word that a certain group goes to heaven, and a certain group goes to hell, shouldn’t we echo what he has so clearly said without apology? No we don’t judge; it’s not for us to judge. But God does, and he has revealed to us the basis of his judgment: Jesus Christ. If you are identified with Jesus, you have eternal life. If you aren’t, you have eternal condemnation. It bugs me when I read theology books that won’t echo the clear teachings of the Bible and claim to be taking the moral high ground.”

If the church today moves away from the classic biblical historic teaching on the topic of hell, what will happen? Will we gain any friends? Perhaps. But at what cost? At the cost of gutting the core purpose of Jesus and his shed blood on the cross. Nobody that I know delights in the idea of hell. We stand in awe of it. And we are motivated by it to reach LOST PEOPLE at all costs.

I feel my stomach acids churn whenever I read leaders like Spencer Burke or Brian McLaren who dance around the doctrine of hell. I fear for the next generation of Christians who are uncritically swallowing their teachings.

But there are bright lights on the horizon. A great movement of young church leaders who are planting themselves solidly in the biblical, orthodox teaching of the Word of God, without apology and without shame! Thanks God!

If you want to read my whole SERMON, click here.

If you want the CHART that accompanied that sermon, click here.

10 thoughts on “Hell Froze Over?

  1. I honestly don’t like the concept of hell at all. I don’t think it’s a burning place. I think it’s a place of separation from God.

    That being said, I’m off to a different topic: 3 hours of Bill Giovannetti while working today. Yep, I got a bit behind on the podcast. But it’s really made my day to catch up today. Thanks to Neighborhood for the podcast (and to you, as a sidenote, for the sermons 🙂 ).

  2. I remember reading the Jonathan Edwards excerpt you quoted in public high school. I guess I’m showing my age.

    Here’s a question that I can’t get around: Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that Jesus’ description of the flames of Hell is “symbolism.” Symbolic of what? Suppose He meant something like, “We don’t have the vocabulary to describe the destination of the unsaved, but the nearest thing I can think of in this world would be like standing in flames forever, with not a drop of water.” Even if I were convinced this picture was a figure of speech, I’m not sure that’s much consolation!

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  4. I’ve never read any of Burke’s stuff. Opting out? Everybody’s in? Wow, crazy stuff. Why would Paul go to such great lengths to convince people of Christ’s atoning death if everybody’s in? Paul seemed to be fairly black & white (dark or light shades of grey at least) on who was going to Heaven or Hell. Too, in his interview, it sounds like his stories & metaphores are defining scripture (eisegesis). God’s relationship with me (as found in scripture) defines what is normal; my love for my children is as pure as I can hope for, but it is broken (Jesus calls my love evil–“although you are evil”) & does not define God’s relational duty towards any person; scripture does. Good stuff.

  5. Well, how about comparing it with this:

    [Dear Maxgrace.com reader: here, the commenter (Steve) who is a very astute Christian, inserted a very long quote from an early church father named John Chrysostom… The entire sermon can be found at: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/chrysostom-easter.html
    I have asked Steve to shorten his comments, which are worth reading, but here, I’ve done it for him. My comment will appear below.]

    O Death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory? Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigneth. Christ is risen, and not one dead remaineth in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the
    dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
    To him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.
    Catechetical Address of St John Chrysostom, read at Pascha in all Orthodox Churches.

  6. Steve,
    Thanks for the lovely quote from Chrysostom: a powerful and eloquent preacher. I think your purpose is to show that there are plenty of people on the universalistic and pluralistic side of the equation (along with Spencer Burke) and others.

    I grant that. I don’t think it would be fruitful to shoot quotes back and forth at each other. “Oh yeah, how about this quote from whoever!!!”

    You argue from an eastern/”revolutionary” orthodox position.
    I argue from a traditional evangelical position.

    My point in this blog is to show that many evangelicals are being influenced, unawares, by guys like McLaren, et. al., who are DEPARTING FROM CORE DOCTRINES OF EVANGELICALISM.
    Since you however, apparently do not accept all the core doctrines of evangelicalism, your comment is to be expected. It is your right to hold your position.

    My position is that the so-called emergent leaders are moving away from evangelical theology, and I want people to be aware of it, and then make their own decisions.


  7. It seems to me that Spencer’s position implies we must be born into a position of (imputed) righteousness with the power to “opt out” of grace, trading our righteousness for condemnation.

    But grace is not symmetrical, it only works in one direction (by definition because it is unearned). Wouldn’t I have to be more powerful than Jesus if I could undo Jesus’ death on the cross?

    Progressive theologies have a tremendous emotional appeal but when you dig deeper you find that they lack coherence and consistency.

  8. Bill, great blog. Hell is another topic the church jumps around, half mentioning some of the time. It may even be way simpler than we make it out to be. The thing we can’t go around is that we need Jesus in our life, or we will not have life. If we are constantly eliminating sin from our life, we have nothing to worry about. We just need to have everyone doing this too. Thanks for the read!

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