An issue that frequently gets left out of debates on the eternality of Hell is that it is not Christians who decide which souls suffer there, it is God. God is just, and His justice demands satisfaction—in the case of those who reject Him, that means they must suffer forever abandoned to their own sins and completely removed from His presence. Unbelievers have always rejected this, but increasing numbers of Christians are embracing alternative views in which Hell is not eternal, or no one actually goes there, or it doesn't even exist.
Against these heresies Robert A. Peterson writes Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment. Many will doubtless react violently against the subtitle, defaming Peterson as a heartless Hell-monger intent on the punishment of damned souls. Even a cursory reading demonstrates that his attitude is nothing of the kind, that it is precisely his desire to see the lost brought to Christ that has led him to defend the orthodox doctrine of Hell's eternal torments. The real difference between Peterson and those he writes against is that he uses the Bible, traditional doctrine and reason rather than emotion to form his arguments.
Peterson addresses four heresies: the non-existance of Hell, universalism, post-mortem evangelism (souls are won after death), and annihilationism (lost souls are exterminated at death). The bulk of the book consists of support for the orthodox view (eternal punishment for the rebellious) from Scripture and Church history. At the end he addresses a variety of subsidiary questions (like "What happens to babies that die?") and ties everything together with the issue's significance both for saints and unbelievers. Throughout he maintains rigorous adherence to orthodox doctrine in the Reformed tradition.
Hell on Trial is particularly timely. With popular Christian writers from the scholarly (Clark Pinnock) to the popular (John Stott) and postmodern (Rob Bell) writing books and delivering sermons and lectures calling the orthodox Christian doctrines of Hell, justice and punishment into question, the need for a rational response is great. While the emotional element of any doctrine cannot be ignored, the concept of Hell in particular is one which we cannot alter simply because it evokes feelings of resentment or anger—as Peterson points out, the most we can do is seek to understand the doctrine and ask God to change our hearts while spreading His Gospel.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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