Monday, February 20, 2012
Hell Is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) by Brian Jones
Let get this straight up front: it's not easy for me to review books which defend the doctrine of eternal punishment. Any doctrine that suggests an unjust God is disturbing to to me in th extreme.
Not because I consider this concept of God any longer, but the the fact that's there's a lot of people out there who not only do, but who defend it.
Some have suggested that pastor Jones' book, among others may have appeared partly in response to Rob Bell's psuedo-universalist book Love Wins. Whatever the case, this is one disturbing book. I have to admit, that the author is unafraid to mince words when it comes to his beliefs.
Jones makes a number of flawed arguments here, and I'll address the most obvious ones that I came across:
1)Jones seems to accept uncritically that the Bible in fact teaches what is tradition; namely eternal punishment. There is more than enough controversy regarding this, however. I have a very fundementalist friend in fact, who does not beleive that the "Lake of Fire" is eternal, but "eternal destruction" means just that--the destruction is eternal.
2) Jones states at one point that if one is not eager to convert their non-Christian freinds to Christ, then the only possbility is they beleive hell is not exists. He seems to forget here that some of us do not beleive that good people are going to hell. One of his main points, is of course, that they are. He also invites the reader to imagine a seemingly good, moral friend or aquiantance who is not a beleiver, to sit a table with you and Christ. How would Christ regard him? Well, I did picture a college professor I knew back when I was a freshman whom I indeed regard as a very kind and decent human being if there ever was one; and sorry, I can't realistically envision ay wrath or malice on the part of my Lord. Astonishment on my friend's face, certainly, but not what I imagine Jones was shooting for.
3)Jones relates the story of a pastor freind who did not beleive in hell. Jones asked him what, then, was the purpose of Christ's sacrifice? The pastor was not able to provide an answer. There are two ways I can counter this. Firstly, one might ask why Christ's sacrifice did not remove any need for hell-or of any afterlife punishment whatsoever. Why are some souls still going to end up there? Perhaps, however, there is still punishment for those who are without Christ, but it is not eternal, as annhilationists beleive. Christ's sacrifice itself was not eternal; but Jones beleives that those outside of Christ will suffer infinitely greater punishment than He ever did. This leads to what is, in fact, a far deeper question: that of just what it means to be "in Christ." Does it merely mean beleiving the right things? Can someone find the supernatural incidents of the Bible unbeleivable simply due to lack of credulity, and still be accepted by Christ? I beleive Jones would answer no. But this question hits closer to the differences I have with Jones, because I (and even Rob Bell) would tend to disagree not so much on hell's existence, but on who goes there. Another way to answer the question of Christ's sacrifice, however, is this: imagine if His sacrifice had never been made? What would the world look like today? They would be no Christian martyrs, no Christian charity, no spiritual rebirth of billions. None would recieve Christ's message and His teaching. Europe would remain steeped within the darkness of paganism--and I'm just getting started.
4)Jones states at one point that Christ's teaching was secondary to His sacrifice becuase we already had the whole of His teaching in the OT. Not quite; Christ radically transformed the law. His teacing and His sacrifice are inexorably linked.
5) Jones includes a very distrubing section in which he elaborates on the wrath of God, and here he focusses not so much on eternal punishment here as on OT atrocities. He starts by quoting atheist Richard Dawkins' infamous slander on the God of the OT. Clearly Dawkins is attempting to slander a God he does not beleive in, but Jones takes the slander further, claimng that he is appalled at the slaugher of the OT, and that Dawkins doesn't know the half o it. He claims that he is angered by Dawkins' "downplaying" ofthe Lord's wrath, then recounts a long list of horrific Ot incident carried out or commanded by God, even going so far as to call God "lothsome and inhumane." He then asks the reader rehtorically 'why am I painting such an unflattering picture..of God?" The answer, the tells us, is so that we will be urged to save our non-Christan friend from God.
It might be instructive at this point to ask the question: Does Jones love God, or does he loathe Him?
How similar all this is to Jonathan Edwards' famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," which put off beleivers even in his own time. Edwards was so determined to emphasize God's wrath that he even took one quote--in which God is said to "laugh and mock"-entirely out of Biblial context. But at least Edwards was addressing sinner. Jones is not so much talking about sinful behavior, but beleiving the "right things."
Why does Jones present his readers wit such an appalling picture of God? the answer is really simple: fear.
How do we save souls from God? Scare them.
What Jones does not seem to realize is that every time someone attempts to win converts in this way, more often than not, the reaction among the unconverted is not fear for one's own eternal soul, but revulsion--not just at the picture of a God who behaves in blatantly unjust fashion, but at the religion itself. People long to love and to trust God--how can they if they accept Jone's concept of Him? People long for justce. SO why present a God who is unjust in the extreme. If the concept of such a God is accepted as real, then perhaps they will, in a sense convert. But is conversion out of fear alone, absent a true love of God, a conversion at all? Jones my beleive it is good enough, if converts attend church, obey the proper rituals, have every outward appearance of being Christian. This might be fine, so far as Christian culture is concerned. But what about what really counts, the transformation of someone's heart.
One interesting point the book raises occurs when Jones relates the story of how he successfully converted a non-Christian friend of his on his (the friend's) deathbed. When no other method of persuasion worked, Jones (apparently very heartfelt and sincere that something dreadful would befall his friend) literally pleaded for the man to accept Jesus into his heart. And you know what? It actually worked!
My point here is that Jone's pleading allowed the Holy Spirit to enter the man, whereas scare tactics did not. That's a point well taken.