In summary of chapter three, Chan and Sprinkle compare the gospel records of what Jesus had to say about hell with his Jewish contemporaries which they looked at in chapter two. What they discovered is that Jesus was in fundamental agreement with them:
- Hell is a place of punishment after judgement
- Hell is described with imagery of fire and darkness, where people lament.
- Hell is a place of annihilation or never-ending punishment.
That last point is the most interesting. Which was it? Did Jesus affirm annihilation with many of his contemporaries, or never-ending punishment with most of his other contemporaries? Chan writes,
“The debate about hell’s duration is much more complex than I first assumed. While I lean heavily on the side that says it is everlasting, I am not ready to claim that with complete certainty” (pg. 86).
The authors observe that most of what Jesus says about hell could be interpreted in terms of annihilism, or at the least, not against it. Yet one passage, Matthew 25:31-46, functions more or less as the linchpin for hell as never-ending punishment for these authors. To quote another reviewer of this same chapter, “If we were to vote on whose exegesis [of this passage] is better and whose conclusions then are sounder [Rob Bell or Chan and Sprinkle), F & P would win by a landslide.” Absolutely true.
Chapter four follows three in asking the next logical question: were Jesus’ followers also in fundamental agreement with Jesus and their Jewish contemporaries? Given the scope of the New Testament, it is surprising that the chapter is so brief, but the endnotes are very helpful and more technical.
The authors look at Paul reminds us that his attitude toward divine judgement, using words like “death”, “be destroyed”, “wrath”, “vengeance”, “perish” and others makes him more reminiscent of soapbox doom-sayers than most Christian pulpit-preachers. They observe:
“To put this into perspective, Paul made reference to the fate of the wicked more times in his letters than he mentioned God’s forgiveness, mercy, or heaven combined.” p.98
The punchline to this study (after looking at Paul’s sermon in Acts 17 too) is that
“while much of our church culture believes that talk about wrath and judgment is toxic and unloving, Paul didn’t seem to have a problem with these things.” p.100
Next this chapter takes a brief look at 2 Peter and Jude observing:
“2 Peter 2 alone looks like a chapter out of Dante’s Inferno, while the book of Jude reads like a medieval tract written to scare peasants into unwavering church attendance and a steady tithe.” p.102
Finally they launch into a discussion of the book of Revelation, the key texts being 14:9-11, 20:10-15 and 21:8 and conclude that hell is depicted here as an “ongoing… state… of punishment… for all who don’t love Jesus” (p.106).
This is what these authors believe the New Testament teaches about hell. That it is a “vengeful” place of ongoing punishment for those “who do not know God”. The question becomes, now what? And it is here where I relate with this book the most:
“What causes my heart to ache right now as I’m writing this is that my life shows little evidence that I actually believe this.” p.107
This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s not just an intellectual exercise or a matter of academic engagement. It’s real. Mother used to tell me that actions speak louder than words. You can tell what someone really believes by what they do. Sometimes I look at my own life in relation to the Christian message and wonder how much of it I really believe. Do I think that the Bible teaches hell as a place of never-ending punishment? Yes. But do I believe it? Sadly judging by my evangelistic apathy, it seems that I mostly do not.
At the start of chapter three Chan tells us that as he writes he is sitting in a busy Starbucks. Looking up from his computer he observes all of the people laughing, chatting, flirting, texting, some looking sad and alone, others joyful and living life. And as he studies what the Bible says about hell, he’s struck with the observation that according to it, “some of these people are going to hell.”
Sometimes I do that too. Sometimes while walking the mall on a busy Friday evening I intentionally observe the hundreds of people I pass, I look at their faces, I wonder what their lives and relationships are like, and I reflect on the Christian message and what it says about those who in the end are found outside of Christ, and wonder if I really believe this stuff.
If I did, shouldn’t I do more to prevent that from happening?