Why in the world would someone believe in hell? And what exactly does it mean to “believe” in hell? These are a couple of the questions we want to answer in this ten-part series of posts. We’ve looked at REASON #1 — I got saved out of a fear of hell. We’ve also thought about REASON #2 – Hell makes sense. We’ve also considered REASON #3 — How does the doctrine of hell relate to the doctrine of God? We also touched on REASON #4 – How does the doctrine of eternal lostness relate to the doctrine of Man? We’ve thought about REASON #5 – How does hell relate to the doctrine of Sin? We’ve also considered REASON #6 — How does the doctrine of eternal hell relate to the doctrine of SALVATION (Soteriology)? REASON #7 asked about hell’s relationship to the Person of Christ.
In REASONS 8-10 we are looking at the THREE ALTERNATIVES suggested to take the place of eternal conscious punishment. We’ve considered the most popular alternative view — ANNIHILATIONISM (REASON #8). We found that view lacking biblical support. We’ve also looked at REASON #9 POST-MORTEM CONVERSIONISM and found that it, too, lacks biblical support.
The last ALTERNATIVE which is suggested is REASON #10 and that is UNIVERSALISM. This view teaches that all without exception will be saved (some even suggest that Satan himself will be brought back into God’s family). Advocates of this view abound: The author of The Shack, William Paul Young, says quite clearly: ““God does not wait for my choice and then ‘save me.’ God has acted decisively and universally for all humankind. . . . Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying.” (Lies We Believe about God, p. 118)
Phillip Gulley in his book If Grace Is True, says, “I have a new formula. It too is simple and clear. It is the most compelling truth I’ve ever known. It is changing my life. It is changing how I talk about God. It is changing how I think about myself. It is changing how I treat other people. It brings me untold joy, peace, and hope. This truth is the best news I’ve every heard, ever believed, and ever shared. I believe God will save every person.”
Bishop Carlton Pearson puts it this way: “The message the world needs to hear is not that they need to accept Christ to be saved . . . but that God loves them and has already reconciled them to himself.” He further says, “The purest gospel to me is not that you need to ‘get saved’ but that all in fact are both saved and safe with God through the finished work of the cross and Christ. . . . We tell the unregenerate or unenlightened . . . your sins are already atoned for and you are ok with God, so enjoy a more intimate relationship with yourself in God.”
David Bentley Hart, in his That All SHALL Be Saved, mocks the “infernalists” who hold to an eternal hell and rejects the traditional Christian view of the gospel: Penal Substitution as the solution to our plight under the wrath of God due to Original Sin. He then rejects this gospel, calling it “degrading nonsense” (p. 25). [I haven’t finished reading Hart’s book yet, but highly recommend the following review by Steve Rohn found here].
We acknowledge that there are some texts that sound universalistic, such as Romans 5:18 which says, “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.” But we read in the preceding and the following verses the following: “17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! . . .19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”
Colossians 1 says, “19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” However, If one holds to the belief that the Bible is not self-contradictory, then one must attempt to reconcile the apparently universalistic force of Colossians 1:19-20 with other passages such as Matthew 25:46 (“these [wicked] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life,” NASB), John 5:29 (“those who have done evil will rise to be condemned”), and Revelation 21:8 (“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars — their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur”).
One writer says, “In context,” [Colossians 1:20] “cannot mean, unfortunately, that every last individual will be in personal fellowship with God. The cosmic pacification Paul has in mind includes the reconciliation of believers and the disarming of unrepentant enemies of the cross (2:15). Having become impotent, the evil forces must submit to Christ’s cosmic victory so that his peaceful purposes will be fully achieved.”
Philippians 2:9-11 reads,
“ 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
One evangelical asks, “Does not ‘confessing Jesus Christ as Lord’ equal salvation?” “After all,” he continued, “Romans 10:9 says that ‘if you confess with your mouth “Jesus as Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.’”
However, one must point out that the demons in Mark 3:11 were compelled (apparently by the mere presence of Christ) to declare, “You are the Son of God!” That certainly does not equal saving faith, but rather a forced acknowledgment of Christ’s person. Matthew 8:29 records the demons as expecting not salvation, but torment: “What do You want with us, Son of God? . . . Have You come to torture us before the appointed time?” Simply saying the words “Jesus Christ is Lord” does not bring salvation, as any Christian who has dialogued with Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons knows!
In summary, the three alternatives to eternal conscious punishment are lacking in biblical support. We agree with John Gerstner who said that “the fear of hell is the only thing most likely to get worldly people thinking about the Kingdom of God. No rational human being can be convinced that he is in imminent danger of everlasting torment and do nothing about it.” (we will have one more post as an epilogue to this discussion)