Dan Juster

Tikkun Ministries International
"The classic Evangelical statement of faith from over 100 years ago asserts that the lost experience eternal conscious suffering in hell. Today such a doctrine is politically incorrect! Yet even secularists in the West cringe at the idea of Hitler being saved and experiencing eternal bliss. He is the textbook case."

"Scripture indicates that the refusal to repent and turn to God is the greatest of all sins and leads to eternal death. The Universalist argues that all will repent but without sufficient Scriptural grounds."

A New Debate on the Doctrine of Hell

A debate is currently raging in the Evangelical world over the writings of Rob Bell. Bell, a mega-church pastor, teaches that hell will ultimately be unoccupied and that all human beings who have ever lived will ultimately be saved on the basis of the atonement-sacrifice of Yeshua. As always, the arguments for and against this view are passionately engaged and sometimes treated as if this is a new viewpoint. It is anything but new. I studied on Universalism over 40 years ago in seminary classes. Several theologians asserted this false doctrine in the 18th century. In the last generation, Norman Grubb, the great missionary biographer (Rees Howell and C. T. Studd), fostered a oneness-unity movement teaching this doctrine. According to Grubb, all will eventually be saved and be one or in unity.

While liberal theology embraces universalism (if they believe in life after death - and many do not), Evangelicals, including Pentecostals and Charismatics, have eschewed this teaching and for good reason. The Messianic Jewish movement is on board with the Evangelicals on this doctrine. The classic Evangelical statement of faith from over 100 years ago asserts that the lost experience eternal conscious suffering in hell. Since the 18th century enlightenment there has been a significant rejection of this "harsh doctrine" among the cultural elite. Today such a doctrine is politically incorrect! Yet even secularists in the West cringe at the idea of Hitler being saved and experiencing eternal bliss. He is the textbook case. One Universalist argued that Hitler would be saved, but it would take a very long time, suffering tortures in hell before he would be freed from hell.

Hell as Purgatory

Several assert the view of hell as purgatory. The punishment could vary, but eventually hell would be emptied. For some, this would even include the fallen angels and Satan himself! Others, however, do not think it credible to save everyone and believe that a minority is so perverted that they will never be saved. After a time of punishment they will be annihilated (i.e. John Stott, the famous Anglican Evangelical pastor in London). At least they make temporary hell frightening enough that any rational person would desperately want to escape it.

Those who teach a too easy universalism without at least a severe purgatorial view of hell come up against one of the most brilliant 18th century Enlightenment philosophers, Immanuel Kant. Kant, in his two classics, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone and The Critique of Practical Reason, argued that unless there were fitting rewards and punishments after death, one could not argue that God was just. Though Kant rejected the ideas of blood atonement and had a very weak overall theology, he was spot on concerning rewards and punishment, including severe punishment for the wicked. Kant argued that without such an understanding, moral motivation would wane and society would become barbaric.

We who believe the Gospel know that it is not just about rewards and punishment on the basis of works. Rather, through repentance and faith in Yeshua and His atonement our sins are forgiven and we will not come into punishment. Sadly, Kant did not understand this. It was all a matter of works and legal righteousness. However, the Scriptures do confirm that there are varying rewards for "the saved" and varying levels of punishment for the lost. Scripture indicates that the refusal to repent and turn to God is the greatest of all sins and leads to eternal death. The Universalist argues that all will repent but without sufficient Scriptural grounds.

The Universalist Argument

So what is the basis of the Universalist argument other than mere human sentiment? Actually it is quite simple. The Universalist regards some texts as absolute and does not sufficiently consider other texts that indicate against the Universalist position. Romans states that Adam1s sin brought condemnation to many, and "so through the obedience of one man the many will be made righteous". (Romans 5:19) Romans also states that God has consigned all to disobedience "that he may have mercy on them all." (11:32) In addition, the Universalist argues that God is love and could not ever allow anyone to suffer punishment forever. "For the Universalist, the ultimate and final choice of evil is not possible. He cannot imagine a person so corrupt as to not ultimately repent. However, the Bible does envision the reality of such a hardness of heart and wickedness.

The Biblical Teaching on Hell

The New Covenant Scriptures teach that a frightful destiny awaits those who refuse the truth and choose evil. The passages of hope need to be qualified as an offer to all, but they are without effect unless they are embraced. God's love is qualified by the judgment on those who refuse His love. Hence we read such texts a Matthew 10:28, "Be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell." In Revelation 20:15 we read, "If anyone's name was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." Mark 9:44,46,48 speaks of being cast into hell where "their worm dies not and the fire is not quenched." Hebrews 6 speaks about the impossibility of bringing those back to repentance who have tasted of the Gospel and then spurned it. Hebrews states, "If we continue sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." (Heb. 10:26, 27)

One of the classical rules of Bible interpretation is that a general statement has to be qualified by the specific statements of Scripture. The "all" statements are therefore about the general offer and are qualified by the specific statements about hell in the Bible. While we do not know how to literally describe hell, it is unspeakably horrible. Some godly people have been given visions of heaven and hell that confirm what the texts teach. Their accounts are credible. God's love is so great that salvation is offered to all, but it is qualified as well by His acceptance of the serious choice of those who reject His salvation. These texts say that a person can make a choice or choices that lead to an eternal destiny of separation from God.

The Importance of the Doctrine of Hell

Hell answers the ultimate claim of justice for those who choose evil and reject the salvation of God. It gives serious weight to human life in this age. What we choose and do matters. Though it is not the only motive, to see people turn from evil and escape hell is a proper motivation for evangelism. In addition, escape from hell is a legitimate motivation for a person to seek individual salvation. Again, it is not the only important motive. The clarity of the Bible on the fact that there is an ultimate separation of the wheat and tares, and a final judgment has prevailed in every generation of those who believe in the full trustworthiness of the Bible, while Universalism fades into irrelevance. Wiser thinkers from C. S. Lewis to Bishop N. T. Wright today, rightly conclude that the doctrine of an everlasting consignment to hell is an important part of biblical teaching.

By Daniel Juster
Dan Juster leads the overall ministry Tikkun International Donate to Tikkun International.
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07:19 02Aug11 Ann Carr -
Thanks for an excellent and comprehensive review of a dangerous, growing doctrine. We need to expose and defeat anything that depletes the work, significance and life of Yeshua.

08:04 02Aug11 Rob Hampton -
I am amazed at how fast the world political environment is changing toward Joel 3:2 and Zechariah 12:2-3. Yet we have the promise of G-d Himself that He will fight for His People and His Land, Zech 12:4-5. We must not trust in horses or chariots (even tanks and jets) but in Adonai Tzva'ot. When He intercedes we will see those in Yerushalayim say, "Baruch haba, b'shem Adonai."

  -- Dr Juster replies: Yes, my friend, you are right. How very fast!

15:23 02Aug11 Dr. Nicholas A. Marziani, Jr. -
I would only tweak this excellent article a little bit. While it is true that N.T. Wright holds to the biblical doctrine of an eternal hell, he has recently rejected the notion that the experience of separation from God and all its consequent horrors is necessarily an eternally conscious experience. In fact I seem to remember Dr. Dan Juster once mentioning one thinker's idea (can't recall the reference) that the damned are effectively "reduced" in their humanity in such a manner so as to be virtually mere remnants of their former selves. Makes sense to me in a way since all humans bear something of God's image - Hitler included - and it would only be fair to the LORD himself that that which bore his Image would be first divested of that image before consigning it to consuming flames. Ergo, what ends up in hell - if it's not demonic - is finally rendered to dust. Which answers another question - are angels somehow Image-bearers of their Creator if they are among the Satanic cohort? Since we KNOW hell was ultimately designed for Satan and his angels, we might find something interesting here to consider.
Anyway, yes, there is most certainly a hell, but it may only be the demons who sinned with perfect knowledge who suffer consciously and eternally. Damned humans are ultimately stripped of their humanity and conscious life in that awful place, but they certainly will suffer a prescribed period of experienced agony as a result of their own horrible actions in this life. No picnic for Hitler!

20:06 02Aug11 Suzanna -
Another valuable article. Your last paragraph about the fear of eternal punishment being an "acceptable or proper motivation" is certainly as valid as any human desire to escape tragedy. The simplicity of taking God's Word as it is, requires the humility of repentance and faith/trust, which is why we believe "All Israel" [individually but also nationally] "will be saved" spiritually "and pass from death into life!" We know this is what "Tikkun Ministries" and "Revive Israel" are all about so we pray and praise God for you all! May many believers see the joy of doing the same.

17:40 04Aug11 OA -
The articles are very good and mankind need to know the reality of a living hell for those who resist God and refuse His ways. God did not plan for His creation Mankind to reside in hell it was for Satan and his angels. But for those who refuse God and walk in the way of death it awaits them also. God has always given mankind a choice and even today He is still sayiing choose you this day whom you shall serve. God is a loving compassionate and kind God but He is also a consuming fire. Pharaoh and his army alone with the people in Sodom and Gomorrah found out that it is a dangerous thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. God is good but He is also righteous.

09:40 16Aug11 Glenn -
It is interesting to note that Rob Bell claims NT Wright as a major force in shaping his views as Wright claims Jesus does not teach that unbelievers will suffer eternal punishment. Jesus teaches that unrepentant Israel will suffer the catastrophic judgment of war, horrifying loss of life, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. The "apocalyptic urgency" of the New Testament arises from the fact that judgment, deliverance and vindication were understood to be historically imminent.

14:53 22Aug11 Claudia -
How can those who read the word come up with such ideas that contadict what it says. We all have a choice and there are consequences for not chosing the way of The Lord. Teaching that all will be alright in the end is just an excuse to live life however you want, regardless of who you hurt or what you do. Yeshua came to save those of us who follow Him. God is love, and as any good father we must obey him; repentance is necessary. Thank you for standing up and expressing what is right and not following the crowd and being "politically correct".

Also in this issue of the newsletter:
Moshe Morrison: Yarden
Eitan Shishkoff: His Mercy Endures Forever
Marty Shoub: Welcomed Again to Napoli Bay
Asher Intrater: Personal Reflections on a Court Case