Thursday, July 26, 2012

Whatever happened To Hell? . . . A Response

By George W. Sarris

I read with interest Jerry Newcombe’s article, Whatever Happened to Hell? posted June 23 in the Opinion section of It was apparently written a day before the Colorado shooting.

In the article, Newcombe mentioned with chagrin the republishing into paperback of Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins – which he considered
. . . a major seller that for all practical purposes denies Hell (or the import of it). What makes this more difficult to stomach is that it was written by "an evangelical pastor." 
By placing the reference to Bell as an evangelical pastor in quotes, he clearly questioned the legitimacy of that identification. Newcombe explained in the next paragraph that Bell did not actually deny that Hell exists, but that
. . . he denies essentially that any people will go there.
Newcombe went on to point out that belief in Hell has waned considerably in this country since the time of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and the First Great Awakening. He quoted Benjamin Rush to show that the Founding Fathers considered belief in “a future state of rewards and punishments” to be an essential aspect of successful government. He noted that Constitutions for the States of Maryland, South Carolina, and Tennessee included a requirement that state officials hold to that belief.
His conclusion:
In short, Hell is the ultimate accountability. By Jesus dying for sins, love wins---for those who repent and believe on Him. For those who don't, Hell awaits.
Jerry Newcombe is rightly concerned with the fact that many people in this country have lost a sense of the “fear of God.” It is vitally important to know and understand that there are consequences to our actions in this life and in the life to come. The Founders correctly recognized that this was an important quality for those who hold public office in order for them to govern correctly.
However, Newcombe misunderstands what Rob Bell wrote. He misunderstands what the Founders were referring to. And, he misunderstands what many people today who question the traditional belief in Hell are actually concerned about.
Rob Bell did NOT deny that people will go to Hell. What he questioned was the nature and duration of Hell – suggesting that Hell may be remedial in nature and temporary in duration. Interestingly, that is exactly what Benjamin Rush actually believed!
Benjamin Rush was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, an attendee of the Continental Congress, and a close friend of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. In fact, it was Rush who helped reconcile the friendship of those two former Presidents by encouraging them to resume writing to each other. He was also cofounder and vice president of the Philadelphia Bible Society which advocated the use of Scripture in public schools.
However, Benjamin Rush did NOT believe that punishment in Hell was never-ending. He believed that God would ultimately restore all of His creation to its intended perfection.
In his autobiography, Rush told of the development of his faith.
At Dr. Finley’s school, I was more fully instructed in those principles by means of the Westminster catechism. I retained them without any affection for them until about the year 1780. I then read for the first time Fletcher’s controversy with the Calvinists, in favor of the universality of the atonement. This prepared my mind to admit the doctrine of universal salvation, which was then preached in our city by the Rev. Mr. Winchester. It embraced and reconciled my ancient Calvinistical and my newly adopted Arminian principles. From that time I have never doubted upon the subject of the salvation of all men. My conviction of the truth of this doctrine was derived from reading the works of Stonehouse, Seigvolk, White, Chauncey and Winchester, and afterwards from an attentive perusal of the Scriptures. I always admitted with each of those authors future punishment, and of long duration.
The issue of concern for Benjamin Rush and many today who question the traditional view of Hell is NOT its existence. It is NOT whether there is “future punishment, and of long duration” for the “wicked” or “unsaved.” The issue is the nature and duration of punishment in Hell.
The Fear of God
God does not overlook sin, nor does He leave it unpunished. Benjamin Rush and those in our day who believe as he did do not deny those vital truths. Rather, they believe that God has a positive purpose for Hell – that it is a means by which God will, through the ages, bring a soul to a point where the work of Christ may finally be applied to it. They believe that, ultimately, God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Christ, 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.
The questions that were asked and are currently being asked by those who question the traditional understanding of Hell are not whether Hell exists, or whether the future punishments in Hell are severe. The questions that are being asked are,
“Does Hell have a positive purpose in God’s ultimate plan, and do the punishments in Hell last forever?”

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