Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Forsaking Half the Gospel: The Connection of Salvation and Condemnation

Like Jesus, he adds to the Old Testament picture---not gory details of unending tortures, as did some of his contemporaries and many of his successors, but the shining, single beam of the gospel.”

In my last post, I tackled Fudge’s prooftext of Romans 2 and how the chapter itself did not mention conscious torment or “unending tortures.” While the text does not explicitly mention those things, Romans 2 does implicitly reference conscious torment---with its use of the words “tribulation and distress.” There are two other words the chapter uses to discuss the end---“wrath and indignation.” It seems that, contra Fudge, the text is not as silent on the subject as annihilationists would like to have us believe.

In today’s post, I will continue to examine Fudge’s quote about how the Scriptures themselves disagree with conscious torment. As I said in the last post, Fudge seems to separate conscious torment from the gospel. For Fudge, the “gory details of unending tortures” is opposed to the “shining, single beam of the gospel.” But is this true? Fudge seems to think so. This is what he wrote about the Doctrine of Eternal Judgment and the Christian faith at the beginning of his work:

“Such generosity of spirit (towards those who disagree) flows more naturally when we rank our issues the way Jesus and the New Testament writers weigh them---in proportion to their relationship to the gospel. That means, as Randy Harris explains, that we ‘imagine concentric circles with the cross at the middle’ so that ‘conversations at the center carry a great deal more weight than conversations in one of the outer circles.’ Assessing an issue’s relationship to what is most central---the gospel itself---puts it in biblical perspective” (Edward William Fudge, “Crediting Others With Good Faith,” from The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011).

For Fudge, the issue of the nature of hell (not to mention the doctrine of hell) constitutes an issue that is located in the “concentric circles” that extend beyond the middle, which contains the cross. Thus, the salvation of humanity is more important than a biblical discussion of hell. Hell is secondary when compared to the cross.

But is this true? Is it right to think of hell as nothing more than just “an evangelical, academic discussion” about matters that are really not all that important? Not if we pay attention to what Jesus says in the gospel! Let’s read a familiar passage most believers know well, John 3:16ff---

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16-18, NASB).

Notice that in John 3:16-18 above, Jesus talks of “judgment” or “condemnation” (King James, New King James translations) twice? This should dispel the notion that condemnation has nothing to do with the gospel. If the gospel involves salvation, and condemnation (or hell) is the exact opposite of salvation, is condemnation not a part of the message of the gospel? If condemnation is not part of the gospel, I don’t see why we would warn men and women that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). I don’t particularly see the reason for Paul’s statement that “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11) if condemnation is not part of the gospel.

If condemnation is part of the gospel, and the gospel (the cross) is at the center of evangelical discussion, does this not place hell in the middle of the “issues diagram,” where the cross is, with the other issues being placed in concentric circles? I think it is here that we see that Fudge’s attempt to show Christian courtesy and unite evangelicals around salvation is nothing more than a “Let’s be cordial and agree on the essentials,” forgetting that hell, being a part of the gospel message, is, in and of itself, an essential as well.

I will leave you with this: if hell is an essential part of the gospel message, how can we proclaim something to be true that we know so little about? When it comes to discussions of heaven, we can talk to the unbeliever because the Bible provides sufficient information. While we do not know everything about heaven, we do know that the Lord Jesus went away to prepare heaven for His children (John 14:2), and that no one can come to the Father (Heaven, the place of the Father’s dwelling) without coming “by Jesus” (that is, by a confession of faith in the Son of God, see John 14:6). We know that Heaven will be a place of bliss, that the saints of God will experience conscious pleasure in the new heaven and new earth, that the Lord will wipe away every tear from our eyes and that there will be no sorrow, no death, no pain, for “the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). We know these basic things about heaven...but what about hell? Depending on who you ask, you may receive different answers as to the nature of hell. How then, can we preach the entire gospel (involving condemnation and hell) if we don’t know the nature of condemnation, if we don’t know whether hell will involve conscious torment or unconscious torment?  Perhaps Fudge could be right; maybe I’m making more out of the Doctrine of Hell than I ought to. But it could also be the case that Fudge (and many Christians) aren’t making as big of a deal out of the Doctrine of Hell as they ought...

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