Heaven and hell – part 1

Dr R Albert Mohler Jr

Conservative evangelicals worry a lot about salvation, Biblical truth and the pure Word of God. Anglican Mainstream have recently linked to the Revd Albert Mohler Jr’s web site. He is the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, ‘one of the largest seminaries in the world’.

Albert Mohler is devoted to an adequate understanding of our sin, an affirmation of the holiness of God and his pledge to punish sin, to the shed blood of Christ, and substitutionary atonement and the doctrine of hell.

He is critical of those who have moved into a post-evangelical posture because it leads on towards theological liberalism and radical revisionism with the result that the doctrine of hell is at the centre on their list of doctrines that must go. Liberals will not accept ‘a doctrine of hell that included conscious eternal punishment and the pouring out of God’s wrath upon sin’.

Liberal theology’s denial of hell has largely emptied the mainline Protestant churches and denominations and misled millions about their eternal destiny.

Rob Bell, Christian author and speaker

Albert Mohler is concerned about Love Wins, a newly published book by Rob Bell in which Rob “uses his incredible power of literary skill and communication to unravel the Bible’s message and to cast doubt on its teachings.” Rob writes:

“A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.”

Dr Mohler says Jesus spoke very clearly about hell, using language that can only be described as explicit. He warned of “him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” [Matthew 10:28]

Like so many others, writes Dr Mohler, Bell wants to separate the message of Jesus from other voices in the New Testament, and in particular the voice of the Apostle Paul. This confronts us with the inescapable question of biblical authority. If we don’t affirm that every word of the Bible is true, trustworthy, and authoritative, we will create our own Bible according to our own preferences. If Jesus and Paul are not telling the same story, says Dr Mohler, we have no idea what the true story is.

He accuses Bell of believing he has the right and duty to determine which story is better than another, replacing the received story with something he sees as better. The problem facing Dr Muhler is that there is profound disagreement about Biblical interpretation between Christians, and always has been.

The church, he says, is bound to the story revealed in the Bible – and in all of the Bible – every word of it. There is a real Gospel, and that Gospel must be heard and believed if sinners are to be saved. We dare not retreat from all that the Bible says about hell, he says. We must never confuse the Gospel, nor offer suggestions that there may be any way of salvation outside of conscious faith in Jesus Christ. We must never believe that we can do a public relations job on the Gospel or on the character of God. We must never be unclear and subversively suggestive about what the Bible teaches.

As a prelude to my next post, I’d like to suggest just one alternative to Dr Mohler, based on yesterday’s Evening Prayer lesson from Galatians. How about this for Pauline theology:

Those who accept circumcision are bound to keep the entire law but the followers of Jesus Christ find no benefit in circumcision and are not bound to keep the entire law. [5.2-3] When you seek to justify yourself by way of law, you are cut off from Christ: you have put yourself outside God’s grace. [5.4] The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. [5.6]You my friends were called to be free. [5.13] The whole law is summed up in a single commandment: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ [5.14] Be guided by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of your unspiritual nature. [5.16]

We all have a version of the story, edited and adapted to according to our own experience and what we have internalized as children and adults. Evangelicals, even the subset of conservative evangelicals, do not agree on theology, interpretation of the Bible, or ‘what the Bible really says’.

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