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Author Archives: Dr. Larry Dixon

About Dr. Larry Dixon

Seminary professor, teaching systematic theology and other topics. Grandfather, wicked tennis & table tennis player, loves playing chess on letsplaychess.com. Please check out the ten books I've written. "The heart cannot rejoice in what the mind rejects as false!" The better email address to reach me is: theoprof@bellsouth.net.

On Becoming Seventy! A Few Reflections (Part 3 of 7) V=VICTORY!

Groundhogs’ Day. February 2nd. That’s my birthday! Now, I think that Groundhogs’ Day ought to be declared a national holiday. This furry creature comes out of its comfortable underground home to prognosticate about the next six weeks of weather — Surely that deserves to be honored as a national holiday!

But it’s also my birthday. My 70th birthday. And as it approaches, I want to think about a couple of issues before it is “here.”

We’ve thought about the letter “S” (survival!). We’ve also thought about the letter “E” (for engagement).  I’m at a bit of a loss when it comes to the letter “V.” There is the word verisimilitude which means “the appearance or semblance of truth; likelihood; probability: The play lacked verisimilitude.” But that one doesn’t work. Other “V” words may fit. Veracity — I try to be honest in my dealings with others. Vivacious? Hmmm. Not so much.

I know! How about the word VICTORIOUS?! Seventy years have brought me many victories because of the Lord. I know that I am “more than a conqueror” though Him who loved me (Romans 8:37). I’ve had a few tennis and table tennis victories — and I’ve got a couple of trophies gathering dust to prove it.

How about in life? I thank the Lord for the VICTORIES of a son and a daughter who love the Lord, have married well, and have provided Linda and me with seven beautiful grandchildren!

I certainly believe I have been VICTORIOUS in love. Linda and I will celebrate our 49th wedding anniversary this coming June.

Yes. VICTORIOUS! We read in I Corinthians 15:57- “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Psalmist reminds us in Psalm 44:4- “It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.” He also tells us that “the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory (149:4). John writes that “everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”

Pray with me? “Lord of VICTORY, help me to invest my days and years into worthwhile errands for You. Give me VICTORY, Lord, in those things that really count. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

 

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2020 in 70th birthday

 

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On Becoming Seventy! A Few Reflections (Part 2 of 7) E=ENGAGEMENT!

Groundhogs’ Day. February 2nd. That’s my birthday! Now, I think that Groundhogs’ Day ought to be declared a national holiday. This furry creature comes out of its comfortable underground home to prognosticate about the next six weeks of weather — Surely that deserves to be honored as a national holiday!

But it’s also my birthday. My 70th birthday. And as it approaches, I want to think about a couple of issues before it is “here.”

We’ve thought about the letter “S” (survival!). This morning let’s think about the letter “E.” I’m thinking that a great “E” word is . . . ENGAGEMENT! Here are some areas where I’m engaged — AND STILL IN THE SPIRITUAL BATTLE!

I’m so thankful that the Lord is keeping me busy in areas where I’m somewhat qualified.

Would you pray with me? “Father, what we do with our lives matters! Help me to invest the days and months and (hopefully) years that You have remaining for me to do Your work! Thank You that I can feel useful in Your kingdom. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2020 in 70th birthday

 

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On Becoming Seventy! A Few Reflections (Part 1 of 7) S=SURVIVAL!

Groundhogs’ Day. February 2nd. That’s my birthday! Now, I think that Groundhogs’ Day ought to be declared a national holiday. This furry creature comes out of its comfortable underground home to prognosticate about the next six weeks of weather — Surely that deserves to be honored as a national holiday!

But it’s also my birthday. My 70th birthday. And as it approaches, I want to think about a couple of issues before it is “here.” Seventy years of age. “Three score and ten.” The Bible actually talks about our lifespan in Psalms 90:

The days of our years are threescore years and ten;
and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years,
yet is their strength labor and sorrow;
for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

What I want to do in the next seven posts is tackle the issue of turning 70. Each post will begin with the next letter of the word SEVENTY!

So today’s post is the letter “S.” “S” stands for SURVIVAL! God has kept me alive for threescore and ten years. I’ve gone through heart surgery, by God’s grace, successfully. I had a tumor on one of my kidneys years ago that was a 90% death sentence IF it had been cancerous. Praise God, it wasn’t!

I’ve survived crazy drivers in New Jersey and Indianapolis wanna bees in South Carolina! I’m a SURVIVOR!

Now, no one should take their daily survival for granted. In God’s providential care, He has preserved my life. Seventy years equals 25,550 Days. 70 years = 613608 hours. And minutes? 70 years = 36816480 minutes! That’s thirty-six million, eight hundred and sixteen thousand, four hundred and eighty minutes!

 Psalm 90 says,
9 All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11 If only we knew the power of your anger!
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
12 Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Join me in my prayer today? “Lord of time, thank You for the years that You have given us. Help us to be faithful in how we spend our minutes and hours. Give us grace to face the troubles and sorrows that life hurls at us. And give us a heart of wisdom in serving You with joy! In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2020 in 70th birthday

 

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“You’re Such a Smart Bear!” Time for a Great Geico Commercial!


You gotta love the line, “You’re such a smart bear!” (Makes me what to ask my wife if I can add a bear to my modest man-cave).

I hope you don’t mind the humor. I certainly needed some after my posts on hell.

Have a blessed day!

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2020 in commercials

 

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Review of Article: “Why Do People Believe in Hell?” Why SHOULD People Believe in Hell Part 5 (Conclusion)

This is Part 5 and the conclusion of my response to David Bentley Hart’s article entitled “Why Do People Believe in Hell?” (found here). In this last post I want to continue to present my case for why Christians SHOULD believe in hell.

In our previous post we surveyed the gospel of Matthew to see what the Lord Jesus had to say about hell. He is — or should be — our final authority for what we believe. And His statements are unambiguous.

Is there a more unpleasant topic than eternal lostness? Of course not! Are we free to hold various views about the afterlife for those who die without Christ? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that we can believe whatever we want to believe. But such an exercise of our free will does not make us immune from the consequences of our beliefs. No, in the sense that if we profess to be Jesus-followers, we ought to follow Him in His teachings. And Hart’s position is a detour (“departure” might be the better word) in his discipleship, I would suggest.

If we assume (on good grounds) that God has made clear what we ought to believe about the afterlife, then holding a contrary position to the Scriptures, as John Stott once said, is foolish. He wrote, “Freedom to disagree with the Bible is an illusory freedom; in reality, it is bondage to falsehood.”  Stott also wrote: “If we come to Scripture with our minds made up, expecting to hear from it only an echo of our own thoughts and never the thunderclap of God’s, then indeed he will not speak to us and we shall only be confirmed in our own prejudices.” (Culture and the Bible).

There are many echoes in our culture, so holding to hell as eternal conscious punishment (ECP) is not, nor should it be thought of as, popular! That should not surprise us!

I suspect that Hart’s beef is not with Augustine or Calvin or other ECP believers, but with Jesus Himself. If it is unequivocally true that Jesus taught eternal conscious punishment, then Hart and the rest of us have a choice to make between two options. (1) Jesus was Himself deluded. He was “a man of his time” and shared some of the same pre-scientific misconceptions of his contemporaries. [This view eviscerates Christ’s deity, does it not?]; (2) Jesus purposely taught hell (knowing that it would not be eternal, nor conscious, nor punishment) to motivate people to faith. His warnings were merely hortatory (def. “urging to some course of conduct or action; exhorting; encouraging”). [In that case would He not be rightly thought of as deceptive?].

Those two scenarios are unsatisfying, to say the least. To suggest that Jesus was Himself deluded?! Or to imply that He purposely taught an un-truth in order to get people to believe?!

In conclusion, the testimony of the Lord Jesus about eternal lostness is clear. To reject what He said or to twist His words to fit an alternative theological theory is dangerous.

If it is a crime to shout “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire, how much more criminal is it not to shout at all when the fire is raging all around and people are asleep in their seats? The biblical Christian does not want to be alarmist, but he ought to be sounding the alarm!

Lessening the severity of hell or redefining its biblically declared nature is, in our opinion, more dangerous than outright denial. To promote the hope that hell will be a place of growth (rather than a place of groaning) is to twist the tenor and content of Christ’s teaching. Redefinition is more serious than total rejection, not only because the one doing the redefining appears to still be a member of the camp. Redefinition does nothing to change that which is being redefined; it only causes less caution to be taken in the face of a dangerous reality. A cup of poison relabeled Kool-Aid is not less lethal, only more enticing. (from The Other Side of the Good News).

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2020 in hell

 

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Review of Article: “Why Do People Believe in Hell?” Why SHOULD People Believe in Hell Part 4

This is Part 4 of my response to David Bentley Hart’s article entitled “Why Do People Believe in Hell?” (found here). For the next two posts I want to present my case for why Christians SHOULD believe in hell. Really. Please notice that I have added the words “Why SHOULD People Believe in Hell” to my post’s title.

Just a few more comments about Hart’s rejection of the biblical witness to eternal lostness:

1. The essential question in an issue like this — hell — is what is one’s final authority for what one believes? Is it church history? Is it what makes logical and ethical sense to me? Is there an underlying philosophical commitment that clouds my understanding of what the Bible is actually saying? If Jesus Christ is God the Son, then whatever He believed, I had better believe. And if He predicted the completion of the Bible through His followers, then I can have confidence in both the Old and New Testaments’ description of this life — and the life to come.

2. Psychological ad hominems (arguments against the person) don’t advance the discussion very much. Hart can charge the majority of Christian leaders (ancient and modern) with pathological reasons to hold to eternal conscious punishment. And we can charge him with being motivated by some psychological need to dispense with hell. But both accusations miss the point. What does the Bible actually teach?

3. I have sought to defend the eternal conscious punishment view of hell in my book The Other Side of the Good News. You might find the chapter titles interesting:

4. As you can see, I believe the clear testimony of Scripture is that there is another “side,” that all who die without Christ are lost eternally, that there are no second chances after death, that the concept of annihilationism isn’t biblical, that Jesus is our greatest source for information about hell, and that we can’t sit on the fence about this issue. There is, indeed, a hell to shun and a heaven to gain! I have written other articles on the subject (see my “Warning a Wrath-Deserving World: Evangelicals and the Overhaul of Hell” in the Emmaus Journal, Summer 1993) and have reviewed a book or two presenting alternative views (see my review entitled “Screwtape Reviews Rethinking Hell” — my post of July 18, 2014 found here).Let me present one segment of the biblical evidence for hell as eternal conscious punishment — the testimony of God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. I suggest that anyone who wants to know what the Son of God taught about eternal lostness should take a Bible they’re not afraid to mark up and read straight through the gospel of Matthew. Here’s what they will find –Mt. 5:22 – One who calls his brother “fool” will be in danger of hell (gehenna) fire.

Mt. 5:27-30 – It is better to pluck out one’s eye or cut off one’s hand (and to be saved) than for one’s whole body to go into hell (gehenna). See also 18:9 for a similar statement.

Mt. 10:28 – We are not to fear those who can kill the body, but rather the One who can destroy soul and body in hell (note: this is obviously God, not Satan. And the term “destroy” means ruin, not annihilation here).

Mt. 11:21-14 – Where there is greater light, there is greater judgment (Capernaum will go down to the depths [hades] because of their unbelief).

Mt. 16-18 – The gates of hell (hades) will not overcome the church.Mt. 23:15 – The proselytizing of the Jewish leaders makes one twice as much a son of hell (gehenna) as they were.

Mt. 23:33 – Jesus calls these leaders snakes and a brood of vipers and asks, “How will you escape being condemned to hell (gehenna)?”

Mt. 24:36-51 – Hell as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. See also Mt. 25:1-13.

Mt. 25:31-46 – All humanity will be divided into the sheep and goats. The two fates of “the kingdom” and “the eternal fire” are presented. We read, “These [the goats] will go away to everlasting punishment, but the righteous [the sheep] into eternal life.” (v. 46).

Here is my summary of this brief study of Jesus’ teaching on hell in Matthew’s gospel (from my The Other Side of the Good News):

Summary of Hell in Matthew’s Gospel
Although Jesus uses the term hades on only two occasions in Matthew, He emphasizes that the judgment of the wicked will be based on their opportunity to respond (Matt. 11:21-24) and that the defensive gates of hades will not be able to withstand the Gospel’s assault (Matt. 16:18).

Jesus’ uses of the term gehenna warn of the danger of hell fire (Matt. 5:22) and the relative insignificance of losing a bodily part (and going to heaven) in comparison to remaining whole but being wholly lost (Matt. 5:29-30). Similar hyperbolic language of self-mutilation is used by Jesus on a second occasion in Matthew 18:9.

Perhaps anticipating the persecution of His disciples, Jesus reminds them whom to fear. God is the One to be feared, for He alone has the power to “destroy both soul and body in hell,” (or gehenna, Matt. 10:28).

Jesus’ teaching in Matthew indicates that He knew of hell’s reality. One might ask, “If we are on our way to hell, wouldn’t it make sense for Jesus to first tell us how to avoid that destination? If we were in a spiritually neutral condition, then perhaps instruction about heaven might be more appropriate.” However, no one is spiritually neutral. Every human being is either in the category of the “sheep” who are doing God’s will or the “goats” who are outside His will. Eternal destinies await both –“eternal life” or “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46).

The other uses of the term hades in the New Testament (Luke 10:15; 16:22-23; Acts 2:26-32; 1 Cor. 15:55; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13-14) appear to relate to the intermediate state (the time between one’s death and physical resurrection) into which wicked persons have passed at their death.

Gehenna is used only once outside the Gospels (James 3:6). However, a study of its twelve occurrences in the New Testament leads to the conclusion that gehenna is a place of condemnation and terrible punishment. The wicked, after their resurrection, will be cast into gehenna to remain forever. Revelation 20:13-14 indicates that gehenna and “the lake of fire” are synonymous terms, referring to the everlasting destiny of the wicked after the reunion of their bodies and their disembodied personalities.

(our study will be concluded in our next post)

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2020 in hell

 

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Review of Article: “Why Do People Believe in Hell?” Part 3

This is Part 3 of my rebuttal of David Bentley Hart’s article entitled “Why Do People Believe in Hell?” (found here). In our previous post I tried to answer the question, “What qualifies you to refute this scholar’s diatribe against eternal damnation?”

I provided four points in my response: (1) I got saved as a result of fearing God’s judgment — so this is a personal, not just an academic, issue for me. (2) My first book I wrote was on this topic and sought to defend the traditional view in light of a kind of Evangelical erosion among some scholars. (3) My academic qualifications (a Ph.D. in historical theology) assist me in evaluating Hart’s view (which has been held by gospel-denying teachers throughout church history). And (4) someone needs to stand up and say that Hart’s denial of hell as eternal conscious punishment minimizes the seriousness of man’s sin, makes a mockery of Christ’s atoning work, and eviscerates the very enterprise of missions and evangelism.

I’m willing to stick my theological neck out and challenge Hart’s view. Here are my thoughts so far —

Hart’s New York Times essay occurred in the January 10, 2020, edition (he has also written That All SHALL Be Saved. His argument for universalism). He begins by citing Charles Darwin’s shock that, in light of the possible eternal torture of friends and loved ones in hell, anyone could even wish that Christianity were true. The sheer social psychology of a belief in hell, Hart says, intrigues him, causing him to write his book-length case against “the historical validity, biblical origins, philosophical cogency and moral sanity of the standard Christian teaching on the matter of eternal damnation . . .” Some of the reactions he’s received have been, he says, “demented.”

On the Couch, Please!
Hart is surprised at the “indignant and hysterical reaction[s]” which have been aimed at his viewpoint. So he suspects “something unutterably precious is at stake” for his challengers. [Ahhh, what would we do without psychology?] He then reviews some of the ghastly gallery of images about hell proposed by people like Augustine, Dante, and St. Francis Xavier. But, there is hope! Hart believes his view is “welcome news” and will show that all should doubt the traditional view (which, he says, became greatly “garbled in transmission”).

NT Scholars’ Silence?
Hart makes the claim that “No truly accomplished New Testament scholar . . . believes that later Christianity’s opulent mythology of God’s eternal torture chamber is clearly present in the scriptural texts.” [I call upon my NT brethren in Evangelical seminaries to step up and refute Hart’s claim]. My area is systematic theology, so my friend Dr. Robert Peterson comes to mind as someone who has written extensively defending the biblical doctrine of hell (Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment, Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment, What Is Hell [Basics of the Faith], Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue).

Pauline Absence?
Hart further makes the claim that hell (his phrasing is “God’s eternal torture chamber”) is “entirely absent from St. Paul’s writings.” Hart does refer to the fire of I Corinthians 3:15 (12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.“), arguing that it “brings salvation to those whom it tries” (like Sharon Baker of Messiah College in her book Razing Hell: Rethinking Everything You’ve Been Taught about God’s Wrath and Judgment. Baker has also denied the vicarious substitutionary doctrine of the atonement in her book Executing God). The traditional view of hell isn’t “found in the other New Testament epistles” (but what about 2 Thessalonians 1:9 which speaks of false teachers who “will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might . . .”)?

He also argues that hell isn’t found in any extant documents from the earliest post-apostolic period. I’m not sure he’s right here, but one could simply say that Hart is arguing from silence. That is, there are other doctrines not specifically covered in early Christian writing because their foundation was made clear in the New Testament itself.

Who Cares About the Devil?
What about the book of Revelation? Hart writes, “There are a few terrible, surreal, allegorical images of judgment in the Book of Revelation, but nothing that, properly read, yields a clear doctrine of eternal torment.” But what about Revelation 20? There we read of the judgment of the evil trinity composed of the devil, the false prophet, and the beast in verse 10: “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”

We then read two verses later of “the dead” (all humans) who were “judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” Is it not logical to conclude that the same fate (eternal torment) awaits all human beings who are here being judged by God? These verses do not appear to be “surreal” or “allegorical” to me.

Hiding Behind NT Greek?
Hart then writes: “Even the frightening language used by Jesus in the Gospels, when read in the original Greek, fails to deliver the infernal dogmas we casually assume to be there.” Now, some of the “infernal dogmas” articulated down through church history deserve to be challenged on the basis of Scripture. But to say that somehow the “original Greek” doesn’t support the traditional doctrine of eternal conscious torment is simply not true. Having taught New Testament Greek for several decades, I would argue that Hart’s point is greatly exaggerated. A simple reading of Matthew’s gospel establishes Jesus’ clear teaching of the traditional view (see my The Other Side of the Good News: Contemporary Challenges to Jesus’ Teaching of Hell, Chapter 5). And knowing New Testament Greek doesn’t lessen the severity of Jesus’ “viewpoint.”

Hart’s Alternative
The author then sets forth his case that the New Testament argues for the complete restoration of all to God (otherwise known as universalism). He cites such texts as Romans 5:18, 1 Corinthians 15:22, 1 John 2:2, John 13:32, Romans 11:32, 1 Timothy 2:3-6; 4:10, and Titus 2:11. These universalistic-sounding passages need to be carefully studied, and Hart comments: “. . . much theological ink has been spilled over the years explaining away the plain meaning of those verses.” Hmmm. Hart uses words like “not metaphorical” and “plain meaning” in presenting his supportive texts. [I wonder what the psychology is there?].

The Hammer of History
The author then emphasizes that the idea of universal salvation “apparently enjoyed their largest presence as a relative ratio of the faithful” during the first half millennium of Christianity. Some of history’s “greatest universalists,” he says, were Basil the Great, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Didymus the Blind, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Diodore of Tarsus and others.

True, Origen’s doctrine of apokatastasis (the restoration of all things) marked the church’s first systematic theologian. And he did set forth an allegorical method of interpreting Scripture (though, amazingly, he didn’t apply it himself when he self-castrated).

This grimmest view of hell “naturally triumphed” when the Christian Church became part of the Roman Empire’s political apparatus. Hart says such “spiritual terror” was useful for social stability. “And, even today, institutional power remains one potent inducement to conformity on this issue.”

Psychological Conclusions
The psychological scalpel cuts both ways. Hart says, “Still, none of that accounts for the deep emotional need many modern Christians seem to have for an eternal hell.” He suggests that the prospect of the redeemed seeing the torments of the damned boils down to the winners rejoicing over the losers. This hope of being proved right “when so many were wrong” appears to be the motivation for the traditionalists.

But one might ask, “What’s your motivation, Dr. Hart?”

(to be continued)

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2020 in hell

 

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