Warning a Wrath-Deserving World -- By: Larry Dixon

Journal: Emmaus Journal
Volume: EMJ 02:1 (Summer 1993)
Article: Warning a Wrath-Deserving World
Author: Larry Dixon

Warning a Wrath-Deserving World

Larry Dixon1

Evangelicals and the Overhaul of Hell

Hell is Manhattan at rush hour!”, stated the occasional theologian Woody Allen. No doubt his viewpoint has changed over the last year; perhaps he would now agree with Sartre that hell is other people — or himself.

The Anglican pop theologian Tom Harpur (in his best seller Life After Death), attacks the idea of hell as,

so naive that the average thinking person can easily conclude the whole subject is one for children and for lovers of pure fantasy. .. . There are few ideas in the entire history of religion that have caused more misery, cruelty and misunderstanding than the concept of a fiery hell.2

Thomas Talbott argues that a God who can send humans to hell is “an altogether pagan conception of God.”3 Another writer confesses that for many Christians, “Hell is like a dirty little secret that rears its nasty head at inappropriate moments.”4 Hell is deeply unfashionable, says Charles Pickstone. He suggests that “the disappearance

of hell in the twentieth century is not because hell is no longer believed in — rather it is suppressed, blocked off. It is too close for comfort.”5 But is it really?

If we evangelicals are serious about developing plans for reaching the contemporary world for Christ, our strategizing must include the biblical doctrine of judgment. We are not free to pick and choose the beliefs which please us and then call that system biblical Christianity. For if mere desire eliminated judgment, none of us would have to be concerned about a holy God. John A. T. Robinson gave voice to this sentiment when he wrote that:

We live, in the twentieth century, in a world without judgment, a world where at the last frontier post you simply go out — and nothing happens. It is like coming to the customs and finding there are none after all. And the suspicion that this is in fact the case spreads fast: for it is what we should all like to believe.6

Evangelicalism is not unanimous in wanting to defend the biblical doctrine of judgment, however. One theologian argues that “it is. .. likely that this monstrous belief [in the traditional view of hell as eternal conscious punishment] will cause many people to turn away from Christianity, that it will hu...

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