I am very often asked how I understand the doctrine of hell. I usually begin by saying two things: (1) Our common understanding of the subject is generally messed up. (2) Tough I wish universalism was true I cannot accept it as such.
I have wrestled with this biblical doctrine for my entire life. I wish that I did not believe in hell but I do. I also do not believe a great deal of what I hear people saying about hell in the Christian circles I grew up in and sometimes still find myself in day-to-day. Trying to explain this, cogently and simply, is never easy. Rarely have I seen anyone deal with this subject better than N. T. Wright does in this first rate video. If Wright is right then we need to have a much greater conversation in most of our Christian circles about this doctrine, both what it means and what it doesn't mean and how handling it correctly would make a real difference in what be tell people and how we tell them.
I can't help but think of some evangelicals that still believe they are warranted to biblically try to scare the hell out of people so they will decide to follow Jesus. I have never seen an iota of support for this method in the New Testament itself.
Ur Video: NT Wright on Hell | Out of Ur | Conversations for Ministry Leaders.
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Aside from any abuses from fundamentalism, I don’t really grasp the desire/wish to be a universalist. What do you believe is the impulse or drive behind that? I ask because, if God is not a universalist, how are we not reflecting the mind of God with our desire/wish?
This video is very helpful. I find it interesting that some evangelicals uphold hellfire preaching as an effective way to present Christ. Yes, God has used that kind of preaching at times. But I recall that even Jonathan Edwards later admitted that “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was a not balanced presentation of the gospel.
But one thing that N.T. Wright says can easily be misunderstood. If we downplay the New Testament pictures of hell as “a literal description of reality,” then what is to stop us from doing the same with the revelation of a new heaven and a new earth? By Western modernist notions of reality, that is not real either.
I appreciate your comments, John. Thoughtful as always.
I’m struck that the disciples often misunderstoon Jesus’ teaching by taking him too literally, when he was speaking metaphorically of a much larger Truth. (“Destroy this Temple and in three days I will rebuild it.”)
That also seems to be the case today with Gehenna. We’re tempted to fixate on fleeing the flames (a self-centered point of view) rather than focusing on eternal life and union with Christ.
Anything less that being what we were created to be will be a tragedy–indeed like being in the city dump (Gehenna). But I think Jesus’ larger Truth was that life “in Christ” (both now and eternally) was the focus.
As with most everything N.T. Wright says, I want to say yes and no. No it is not a fiery place below the earth. After all, how could it be made up of fire and be completely dark? But Wright never says what he actually thinks it is. Is it a place? Is it a state of mind? Second, he is reductionistic with the biblical text. While part of the punishment in hell is God giving people what they want (to be separated from God’s goodness), Wright only says, at least in this video, that hell is something that humans do to themselves. But over and over in the NT I see hell as punishment done not so much by people to themselves, but something done to them by God. I wish it were not that way and if there was any doctrine I would like to do away with it would be hell, but I just see scripture pointing this way.