[K:JNWTS 20/2 (Sep 2005) 58-62]

Book Review

Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, eds., Hell Under Fire. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. 256 pages. Cloth. ISBN: 0-310-24041-7. $19.99.

This is a book that deserves notice—especially since Hell is no longer noticed in many evangelical circles save as an epithetic swearword. In a culture immersed in denial, we are not surprised. More's the pity that leading evangelical and even Reformed spokesmen have joined the parade to root Hell out of the cosmos. In the avant-garde evangelical and Reformed salons of our day, Hell has been vanquished, banished to nothingness, dismissed as a whim of a less compassionate, less enlightened era of Christianity. These anti-Hell elites have been evangelized by no less than the most famous annihilationist apologist—Edward Fudge (a lawyer who has served as an elder and Sunday School teacher at the Bering Drive Church of Christ, Houston, Texas). It was Fudge's broadside, The Fire that Consumes (with an endorsement by no less an evangelical paragon than F.F. Bruce—"it gives me pleasure to commend Mr. Fudge's exposition of this subject"), which caused all Hell to be extinguished. The once-upon-a-time orthodox Clark Pinnock commented: "I know of no book which answers [Fudge]." Pinnock continued by noting that the doctrine of eternal torment is "outrageous"—"a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than God."

All of which goes to prove that the 'orthodox' are predictable—they will become unorthodox as they rise to fame and fortune! Now, fawning evangelical and Reformed progressives rejoice that Fudge annihilated Hell and has saved mankind and womankind from eternal misery. What a relief! We may now place that benighted doctrine behind us and proceed to save the world. But, one may ask, save the world from what? From Hell? Surely not! We have abolished Hell. Or to put it more directly, if Jesus is the Savior, from what does he save us? From Hell? Certainly not retort our progressives. Then what is "salvation"? And the best that we can conclude is that Heaven is a utopian creation of evangelical socialists, multiculturalists and one-worldists. Salvation is such a vision as this. Condemnation is no thing; it is non-entity.

Avoiding the embarrassing observation as to whether or not any of this hellish revisionism comports with the Word of God, methinks I smell the rat of utopian and elysian dreams from time immemorial. Only now, progressive evangelical and Reformed personalities have bought the mess of pottage. We are certain to be informed that the "latest scientific" findings have discovered an "outmoded" holdover from a less advanced period of man's scintillating progress toward nirvana. (One wonders how progressives succeed with this canard in view of the barbarity of the 'enlightened' 20th century and even our own short century—to date filled with, dare I say, hellish images of fire and smoke and horror!?) Our revisionist Bible-scholars cadre will trot out "fresh" exegetical studies that shed "new light" on the words of Jesus and the New Testament writers. These words will be found to mean the very opposite of what dictionaries and lexicons have said they have meant for centuries. "Hell" will be discovered to mean "Heaven"—an annihilationist's paradise. And "eternal" will no longer mean "without end"; it will now be found to mean "a different quality"—thus "eternal life" does not mean life without end, rather it means life with a different quality (no doubt in a one-world, utopian socialism akin to Stalin's Potemkin villages; one wonders what the inhabitants of the Soviet hell, i.e., the Gulag, would say about that bit of redefinition—Walter Duranty trumped by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn). And our revisionist historians will note that "Hell" was a holdover from pagan cultures that made its way into the interpretation of the Bible. (Here we will have to remember to split a very fine hair—devilish problem that!—between whether the Bible contains the pagan notions or whether the Bible has been interpreted in concert with the pagan notions.) Somehow, so we will be told, horrid paganism seeped into Christianity.

The High Priests of Anti-Hell will gladly exorcise the Beast and leave us in perpetual bliss—well, at least some of us, i.e., those of us not annihilated. Finally, our new ambassadors of a non-eternal eternity (for the unsaved, of course) will ratchet up their crusade to tell us Christianity does not teach the "immortality of the soul," but rather the "resurrection of the body." This distinction is actually an invention of a neo-orthodox scholar named Oscar Cullmann. In 1955, he delivered lectures at Harvard University (Andover Chapel) that were published in 1958 under the title: Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? The Witness of the New Testament. Cullmann argued for no human immortality (God alone is immortal), rather resurrection. When the notion of the "soul" was presented, he sidestepped the issue by ascribing it to Greek philosophy. One is given to wonder in what personal aspect the inspired apostle aspired to be "present with the Lord" when he was "absent from the body" (cf. 2 Cor. 5:6). But we will not trouble our scholars with these hobgoblins of continued conscious existence beyond the death of the (physical) body and the resurrection thereof at the last day. They assure us that it is not an immortal soul.1 Dare we point out that no orthodox theologian (on this point) ever thought the human soul was ceded God's inherent immortality. How could a created being have immortality in that sense? No, the 'immortal soul' is the soul that from creation is destined to live forever. And traditional Christian orthodoxy has suggested that soul-life is eternally without end in Heaven or Hell (to be followed by body-soul-life eternally in Heaven or Hell at the final resurrection). Not so, argue the new epigones. Christianity is a religion of the risen body, not the eternal existence of the life-force ('soul'). And so the dialectic obliterates the 'soul' in the interest of the resurrection body. Why it may not be both an eternal existence of the once-created soul and the resurrection of the body appears to escape our modern dialecticians. Nevertheless this new fraternity of evangelical and Reformed annihilationists has assured itself that the fires of Hell have been extinguished and the unbeliever has nothing to fear save that he is absent Heaven, in the end. Like a medical numbing device, at death one feels nothing if one is not of the elect. Zappo! Zilch! Nada! Zero!

But we must identify this new fraternity of progressive evangelical and Reformed theologians. These are big names in the pantheon and big players in the broad evangelical and Reformed game. There is the late Philip E. Hughes of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. And there is John W. Stott, the Urbana phenom. And there is Clark Pinnock, the near-sighted Socinian. And Basil Atkinson and John Wenham and Michael Green and Earle Ellis and Nigel Turner and Robert Brow and David Powys and Stephen Travis. These are all movers and shakers in the current 'feel good' climate of evangelicalism. Their inroads are already being felt, especially in 'young evangelical' circles. Check out the belief in Hell at the leading evangelical colleges and seminaries; James Davison Hunter saw it fading more than 18 years ago (Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation, pp. 33-40). What must the inevitable downward spiral reflect now!? The trickle down will begin to show up inevitably in avant-garde circles amongst even the most conservative and Reformed bodies. Watch for it! Hell is disappearing not only from consciousness of the pulpiteers of our day, but also from the consciousness of the pew in our day. How the Prince of Hell must love it. Screwtape Redux!!

The editors of the above volume have assembled a team of scholars to reaffirm the traditional Biblical doctrine of Hell's eternal punishments. Most of the essays are clearly written, well documented and amply unveil the crucial issues. Some are throw aways (Ferguson); others are inconsequential (Block). Moehler's historical survey is helpful. Morgan's research is superb. Edward Fudge remains the major obstacle—yet our authors fail to budge Fudge—at least, not sufficiently to dent his case or his broad evangelical and Reformed appeal. Our book provides some flack, but no annihilation of the contemporary supreme annihilationist.

Which raises the question—who can vanquish Fudge? May I suggest Jonathan Edwards? Morgan does trot out Edwards, but not in his full-bodied, devastating manner. It is the antithesis that most miss in Edwards—that is, the eternal opposites of a sweet Heaven and a horrid Hell. As the nature of God is so sweetly anchored in his love, hatred or indifference (which is hellish in itself) to this everlasting compassion is an abominable detestation of the Creator and Redeemer of sinners. How could a slight against an eternal Being (the loveliest and sweetest of all Beings) receive any thing other than an eternal consequence? Surely in the nature of the case (in the nature of the sweetness of God himself), a sin against such loveliness, such sweetness, such goodness, such benignity, such graciousness deserves the opposite—an eternal misery, punishment, hatred, condemnation. If the damned in Hell are miserable, it is because they hated the love that created them and spurned (spitefully spurned) the love that offered to save them. God would un-God himself of his sweetness, loveliness, goodness and justice if he submitted to finite contempt against his infinite Person. No! Contempt—yea sin—against an infinite Being demands a penalty in proportion to the Being contemptuously sinned against. Infinite Person—infinite punishment. His love—sweet love—can bear no other. This sweet God's only begotten and sinless Son undertook that infinite penalty in our finite nature in order that our infinite penalty might be paid by an Infinite Person. We can be saved in no other way. Jesus put out the fires of Hell for his elect because his sweet love led him to go to Hell for them. He extinguishes Hell's infinite and eternal flames because he is the incarnation of the sweet love of God the Father for his own. Yes, Hell is annihilated—for those in Christ Jesus. But for all others, their worm does not die, neither is their flame quenched/put out. Dear reader, flee to Christ! Only in him do you escape the wrath of everlasting Hell to come.

James T. Dennison, Jr.


1 "Man, the most perfect image of God on earth and among visible creatures the most excellent and eminent, is composed of body and soul. The body is mortal, the soul is immortal"—The First Helvetic Confession of Faith 1536; cf. Reformed Confessions of the 16th Century, ed. by A.C. Cochrane (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966) 102.