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How to Prepare for Hell – A “Just in Case” Letter to My Unbelieving Friends

Dear friends,

This is written to those of you who I know and are without Christ. By that I mean you have never fallen on your face before Christ and asked for forgiveness. Many of you are friends—close friends—whom I have talked to about Christ, but you are unconvinced. I would love to be able to push a button, write a check, or perform a task that would make you believe as I do. However, the stark reality that I have to deal with is that many of you whom I love very dearly will die in this state. And, according to my deep convictions, you will not be in the presence of the Lord but in a place of terrible judgement.

Now, I know what you are thinking. Don’t quit reading though. Hear me out. I am not necessarily trying to evangelize you or make you love Jesus. I am trying to tell you how to prepare for hell. Just give me some slack here. Though what I am offering to you is still as far from heaven as the east is from the west, it may do some good. Though you do not believe in heaven or hell, you have to admit: you could be wrong. Yes, I admit, I could be wrong too. But if I am wrong, what awaits me? Eternal darkness? Nothingness? Fine and good. However, if you are wrong, something terrible is coming. I can’t prepare for nothingness. You can prepare for Hell. This is a “just in case you are wrong” letter.

You see, I believe that when we die, we will all present ourselves to God. Let’s put it this way for illustrative purposes. When life as we know it comes to a close, there will be two lines in heaven and two sets of book. One line will stand before Christ, one line will stand behind him. Christ will have two books: one which has the name of those who stand behind him written in it called “the Book of Life”. The other book is for those who stand in front of him called “the Book of Judgement”.  In this book of judgement is written all the wrong things that those who have not trusted in him have done. Every selfish act, every sexual sin, every cutting word, and every time you failed to love your children. In short, every sin that you have ever left your fingerprint on will be represented. Your disbelief in God will find a prominent place as it is the reason the ink will have dried on the pages of this book.

If I am right, I will be in a line behind the judge, Jesus. I will have eraser residue all over me. You see, my name used to be written in the same book of judgement. My issues were just as bad as yours (if not much worse). I had many pages reserved in that book. However, there is an invitation given to everyone in the line of judgement. It says that God loves us and does not desire that we should stand in this line and be judged. It says that Christ took the judgement upon himself for all those who will accept it. It says that who ever wants to leave this line and stand behind Christ can do so. I got in the line behind Christ many years ago. Because of this, Christ took a blood stained eraser, turned to my pages in the book of judgement, and erased it all. He then wrote my name in the book of life with permanent ink. Look at me. I have more eraser pieces on me than anyone. But the point is, because of what Christ did and because I trusted in him, my sins are no longer in that book. Because you failed to believe that Christ is God’s eternal Son who died on a wooden cross for your sins, your sin remains in that terrible book. I elected to have Christ take my penalty; you elected to stay in the line of judgement and stand on your own. I elected to have Christ be judged in my place; you have said, “If it is true, I will make my case before the Lord and stand on my own.” Therefore, we are in different lines. While these lines become permanent upon death (i.e. the Bible does not present an after death chance to change lines), in some sense, we are in these lines right now.

However, since you are determined to remain in the line of judgement (which breaks the Lord’s heart and mine), I am trying to think of what I can do for you. I am scrambling here with tears in my eyes as your future is so bleak. Of course, if you reject Christ, there is nothing you can do to avoid the ultimate fate that awaits you: eternity away from God’s love, eternity in torment, eternity in hell. Hell is your decision; it is not the decision of God who loves you. However, I do believe that while hell will be unimaginably terrible for everyone, it will be less unimaginably terrible for some than for others.

In the Bible, Christ says as much. Comparing hell to being whipped, he said that some will receive “many lashes” and some will receive “few” (Luke 12:47-48). Hell will always be eternal. Hell will always be outside of the grace and love of God. But for some it will be worse than for others. I would that you would just trust in the God who loves you and sent his Son to erase your part in the book. I would that your name was written in the “Book of Life” not the “Book of Death and Judgement”, but, again, I have to deal with the reality that you may never change your heart toward God.

For this reason, I want to give you some advice about how to make, what I believe to be, your terrible future, less terrible. Here is how to prepare for Hell:

1. First and foremost, whenever the Bible is being taught, run.

I know that this sounds kind of odd (especially coming from me), but it is true. If you are determined to remain an unbeliever until death, don’t go to church where the Bible is taught, don’t listen to the Bible on your iPod, don’t even pick up a Bible and thumb through it. Stay far away from that book.

Let me illustrate. The other day, I yelled from the living room to my daughter Katelynn to get to bed. Fifteen minutes later, she was still up. I became upset with her. I thought it was a deliberate act of disobedience. However, when I talked to her about it, she said that she did not hear me. Once I believed her, my anger went away. Why? Because she did not actually know that I told her to go to bed. Now, she was still in a little bit of trouble because she already knew what her bedtime was. But her trouble would have been more severe had she not only known what her bedtime was but heard what I said and still disobeyed. The point is the more you hear what I believe to be God’s word and disobey, the greater the offense.

Listen to what Christ says about this:

Luke 12:48
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”

2. Don’t try to persuade others, especially children, of your unbelief

Christ said some terrifying word to those who are evangelists of unbelief:

Mark 9:42
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.”

3. Whatever causes you to sin, get rid of it

I think that this one will be the hardest of the three so far, but if you can do it, it is sound advice. If your television causes you to neglect your family, get rid of it. If your iPad is distracting you from productivity, throw it away. And (and this is going to sound crazy), if your eyes are causing you to lust (i.e. pornography?), cut them out. It is that serious.

Mark 9:43-48
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where ” ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’

This does not mean that if you do these things, your deeds will cover all the other things written in that book, but it does mean that you will have fewer pages in that book than you would otherwise.

4. Take care of your family

Don’t neglect to work hard and provide for them. Whether it is your parents, wife, husband, or children, take care of them with all your might. Love them dearly. Let me get real practical here. Some of you men are divorced and are failing to pay for the support of your wife and children. Don’t do that. Some of you have parents who are elderly and you are more concerned about the advancement of your career than caring for them. These type of things are written in bold in the book of judgement.

Listen to what Paul tells Timothy:

1Tim. 5:8
“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

5. Don’t give yourself too much credit

If you were in the same line as me, I would simply say “Give credit to God for every good thing”. But I cannot say that to you since you do not follow or believe in God. However (and I am doing the best I can here), you have to do whatever you can to remain humble. Pride will create a full chapter in most people’s section in the book of judgement. It causes your heart to be darkened in so many ways and leads to the sins of vanity, selfishness, and the devaluing of others. Even in your worldview without God, you can understand that you are not essentially better than anyone else can’t you? If you are an atheist, you are the way you are due to fate, not your own ingenuity or efforts. I would that you would give credit to God for all things, but I will have to settle for second—a far distant second—best: just don’t pat yourself on your back too much.

Paul sees the wrath of God as centered on people’s lack of thanksgiving to him.

Rom. 1:21
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Again, you cannot thank God, but you can keep from thanking yourself.

 

I have more to say . . . much more. But I fear that you may become overwhelmed. I may write more someday.

However, although I said that this was not written primarily to evangelize you, I must pass this invitation from God over to you once again. You do not have to stay in that line. As long as you are still breathing, you can join me over here behind Christ. You don’t have to pay anything, give anything, or do anything to join me. Just  have to turn to Christ and ask him to erase your pages in that book. God is beckoning you to come.

Listen to this from John 3:18: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

One more thing. The line illustration is not really original with me. John uses a similar theme in a book in the Bible called “Revelation”:

Rev 20:12
“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”

I would that your name was written in the book of life.

53 Responses to “How to Prepare for Hell – A “Just in Case” Letter to My Unbelieving Friends”

  1. Heavy stuff. Interesting post that makes me think about my own non-believing friends and their fate. Thanks for the post!

    On a side note: I would fix the grammatical problem in the title.

  2. This is really quite fascinating. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it. Sort of an alternative to Pascal’s wager. And I more or less agree with the basic approach: If you’re interested in hedging your bets (since you can’t make yourself believe), at least try to be good and not do anything that might make God angry at the judgment.

    My question is this: What do you think will happen to your unbelieving friends if they heed your advice? Do you think their punishment in hell will be less severe?

    I would reserve one major disagreement. I don’t think anyone would be determined to stay in the line of judgment. Who in their right mind wouldn’t receive God’s mercy if it was offered to them? Isn’t the whole idea that by the time you get to the afterlife, it’s too late to make that choice?

  3. Thanks Eliot. I changed it.

  4. Mike,

    1. Yes, I do think that hell will be less severe for some due to two things: 1) The passage referred to above that says some will recieve many lashes and some few and 2) the whole idea of judgement and the books.

    2. I did not mean to imply that it was optional to change lines in the after life. I meant to use them as line that we are in now. Though I do see how you could have thought that.

  5. Michael,

    This is great. Can I steal it and adapt it for my own personal (non-public) use?

  6. Mike ,

    Not to be picky but can you change the error in the link as well :)

    As usual great post sharing it with all my friends

  7. Great article Micaheal, and I agree with you. Could one not take Luke 12 (47-48) verses as one who is already saved. Are all persons servants, do all call the Lord , Master. Just pondering, the problem of course is that if this is refering to believers that it would appear we are in for a bit of discipling as well for what we didn’t do…. a missed crown would be one thing, a beating quite the other. Thanks for sharing

  8. A few remarks on some misunderstandings that are holdovers from the Medieval Church:

    (1) The expressions “aionios punishment” and “aionios life” found in Mt 25:46 do not refer to either eternal punishment or to eternal life as is commonly understood but to punishment in the world to come and life in the world to come respectively.

    (2) No one goes to either the kingdom of heaven or to the lake of fire until after the Lord Jesus comes and sits on his throne (Mt 25:31-35, 41).

    (3) The NT teaches a form of universalism (Acts 24:15; Rom 5:18; 1 Cor 15:22; 1 Tim 4:10; 1 Jn 2:2).

    At some point, evangelicals will need to learn how to share the wonderful news of the Lord Jesus without trying to scare people into the kingdom with the [false] doctrine of eternal punishment.

  9. C Michael Patton, how would you respond to a similar letter, addressed to you, from a Hindu ot Taoist?

    The letter would warn of the danger of reincarnation as a worm. The letter would also say:

    The more you hear of the Vedas, the greater the punishment for your disobedience

    Don’t try to persuade others, especially children, of your Christianity

    Adhere to the Dharma. Remove obstacles to following your Dharma.

    Take care of your family

    Fulfill the duties of your caste/class and gender.

    (the letter would contain many Vedic quotes that you give no credence to)

    How would you respond to this letter?

  10. What a horrible thing to have to believe.

  11. CH,

    Without conseding that the all of the above is “horrible” I do understand your reaction. But do you think a subjective perception of horribility has a determinitive vote in truth?

  12. NW,

    Do you think that the Mark 9 passage above is Christ using scare tactics? Whether you believe he’ll is eternal or not, it is scary and the admonishment above would still appy.

  13. Boz, you point is well taken.

  14. CMP,

    Yes, the admonishment above still applies, regardless of how we come down on the length of time people will spend in the place of punishment.

    But with respect to our Lord, I don’t think he was trying to scare people into the kingdom but was earnestly warning them about the consequences of sin in the place of punishment. On the other hand, American evangelicalism is less interested in what this teaching says about sin than how the natural anxieties it provokes can be used to win converts.

  15. NW,

    I am not sure that it is a scare tactic at all; rather an outpouring of God’s love saying how much He does not want that for His children. From the sounds of it, you already carry a preconceived generalization about all American evangelicalism. As an American wanting others to experience the love of Christ, I can say that not all of us (though admittedly maybe 10% of the Christians I know) are using scare tactics in trying to introduce people to Christ.

    Unfortunately, it does seem that the media portrays it that way. Sensationalism at its best.

  16. Michael,

    Thanks for this post. It shows me your heart. The stark reality of hell reminds me that the truth about Christ is not just a “take it or leave it” option. I hope I can be a better Christian– one whose life leads people towards Christ and away from this terrible judgment.

    Just one thing– judgment has no “e” after the “g” (judgment, not judgement). Not to judge you for bad spelling or anything.

    Blessings,

    Alex

  17. Thanks Alex. I would not say it in the main post but my father is who I have had in mind for this post.

  18. C Michael Patton sais: “Boz, you point is well taken.”

    I’m not attempting to make a point with a rhetorical question – it is a real question that I am asking you to answer.

    How would you respond to a similar letter, addressed to you, from a Hindu ot Taoist?

  19. A very heartfelt post. I do have to make the same query as an earlier poster though. The one about fewer and more lashings – I have always assumed that this was about believers, because he is talking to the disciples is he not? He’s talking about people who are following him. So to my mind this can’t be talking about people who are going to spend eternity in hell. This is only my interpretation of it – I would like to hear exactly how you interpret this verse and why.

    saskia

  20. Matt,

    I grew up within the ranks of American evangelicalism and still worship the Lord within those circles to this day, so I feel comfortable speaking to its strength and weaknesses.

    Honestly, it’s difficult for me to share the love of Christ without also mentioning the NT doctrine of universalism. I think that people in our time need to know that the God we worship will by no means allow the vast majority of the human family to be permanently separated from him and that his love for us is greater than the punishment that we deserve.

  21. Boz, I don’t know. My beliefs already provide definite precepts. The post above was not necessarily written to people with other religious commitments. It is written to people who are unbelievers. So I would not assume to take the same approach with those of another religion.

  22. “Honestly, it’s difficult for me to share the love of Christ without also mentioning the NT doctrine of universalism. I think that people in our time need to know that the God we worship will by no means allow the vast majority of the human family to be permanently separated from him and that his love for us is greater than the punishment that we deserve.”

    NW,

    Certainly it is true that God’s love for us is greater than the punishment we deserve! Yet this love for us is always mediated through Jesus Christ alone, as He Himself declares. Unless one believes in Christ, they will die in their sins (John 8:24). No one comes to the Father, except via Christ the Way (John 14:6). If you have the Son, you have the Father, but if you don’t believe in Christ, you make God out to be a liar, for you deny His testimony about His Son (1 John 2:23, 1 John 5:10-12). Eternal life is found in the Son. We know we have the Son, when we believe these things. This in turn causes us to live for Him in this life.

    But if universalism is true, there’s no need to emphasize these truths and include them in the presentation of the gospel. Moreover, it is not necessary to preach the gospel at all, since everyone is already on their way to God and heaven, whether or not they have the Son. But the Bible was written and the gospel must be preached so that we might know and believe these exclusive, life-saving, life-changing truths. So that we might find the Son, be found in Him, and escape the wrath that comes on those who remain in their sins. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:18).”

    The truths about Jesus being the exclusive way to eternal life and to the Father, the only way to be given righteous standing before God and forgiven our sins, are clearly stated. “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:9-11).”

    Universalism contradicts this, teaching or implying that one’s sins will be forgiven even if one does not know Christ in this life. But God is not obligated to forgive sins and give eternal life to those who reject His Son! Jesus’ purpose for coming was to remove our sins (1 John 3:5), but universalism in effect says we can stand before God in our own righteousness (i.e., apart from Christ) and still be accepted. To share the real love of Christ, tell the truth about sin & how Jesus alone takes away sin. Otherwise the “love” of Christ we share is but sentimentality that keeps them in their sins.

  23. Alexander,

    The NT doctrine of universalism is compatible with the NT doctrine of the exclusivity of Christ. Let me explain.

    Those who are called to belong to Christ in “this world” (i.e. the elect) are the ones who will be saved through the proclamation of the gospel while everyone else who dies without Christ, and without pardon from sin, will have to spend time in the place of punishment that belongs to the “world to come” (i.e. hell) before they too are saved by the Lord Jesus (Rev 20:5).

  24. Ryan,

    What I am saying is not at all ridiculous given what the NT has to say about the election of some alongside the universal extent of the atonement. In fact, it may surprise you to know that the doctrine of endless punishment almost entirely hangs on the slender reed of how orthodoxy has translated a single word (i.e. aionios) whose meaning is ambiguous.

  25. Please don’t belittle the arguments of another. Thanks.

  26. NW,

    Jesus consistently taught that some will not be saved (e.g., Matthew 7:13-14, 13:30, 49, Matthew 25:32). In Luke 16, Jesus told the parable about the rich man and Lazarus. It is clear that after their deaths these 2 men have distinct, unchangeable destinies, based upon how they lived in their life on earth. There is no implication in the parable that one has opportunity after death to be saved and to alter their destiny.

    If one can be saved by being punished for a period of time in hell after death, this would contradict the teaching of Scripture that we are justified before God, not on the basis of our works or sufferings (in this life or the next) but only by resting upon the finished work of Christ. In the Bible, hell is always a place of torment, not of rehabilitation.

    Obviously, universalism undermines the exclusivity of the Christian message by teaching that one need not come to Christ in this life, yet they will still be saved. Yet in Scripture, unbelief in Christ brings eternal condemnation. It is not forgiven as being the result of simple ignorance, but condemned as sinful rejection of the only name given under heaven by which men may be saved (Acts 4:12, 1 John 5:11-12). Also, it is not clear that Rev 20:5 lends any support to the claims of universalism since in verse 15 of the same chapter we read, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
    (Revelation 20:15).

  27. What a lovely letter.

    This God who is so loving and wants everyone to dwell in love with him, yet still manages to create a place of eternal conscious torment for billions of people, isn’t as lovely as what you declare.

    Does it ever get tiring to find wonderful excuses for a doctrine that no Christian really wants to be true? A doctrine that many Christians would never want to inflict on other humans, yet somehow think that the sensitive, forgiving consciences they hone through spiritual discipline is leading them astray when they deeply wish the doctrine of hell didn’t exist?

  28. Lynn,

    Jesus, who is Love incarnate, taught that hell is real. He warns us everyone– in love– so that people can avoid going there. The Bible’s teaching is revelation — we can’t pick and choose which teachings we like and accept, and which we don’t and reject. Therefore if we accept as true Scripture’s declarations that God is love; that He does not desire the death of the wicked; and that He has provided one way only for us to have eternal life, then we ought also to accept its revelation that for those who reject this one way, hell awaits.

    It may be challenging for us to comprehend why hell must be, but I don’t see how we can reject it and yet maintain the integrity of our faith in the Bible as a unified, trustworthy revelation.

  29. The Bible’s teaching is revelation — we can’t pick and choose which teachings we like and accept, and which we don’t and reject.

    No, it’s not and Yes you can. Everyone picks and chooses all the time.

    It may be challenging for us to comprehend why hell must be, but I don’t see how we can reject it and yet maintain the integrity of our faith in the Bible as a unified, trustworthy revelation.

    That’s just it. Your faith is in the Bible, not a God of love, or Love Incarnate. Your faith is in a collection of 66 books which are not unified in the way that you think they are.

    The Old Testament has not a single whiff of hell to. Lots of texts of terror, but no eternal conscious torment. Quite a significant thing to leave out of 39 books of important “revelation”, don’t you think? EVen the New Testament is sparse on details about “hell”. Only Revelation, hardly a literal book, and the parable of Lazarus the poor man in Luke portray an eternal conscious torment.

    That’s not much on which to hang a theology of eternal torture for billions of people.

  30. “Without conseding that the all of the above is “horrible” I do understand your reaction.
    But do you think a subjective perception of horribility has a determinitive vote in truth?”

    I agree, the ‘horribility’ of a concept has no vote on its truth – so, unfortunately, I should give hope that the accumulated dishes in my sink will vanish. Only the evidence gets a vote, not wishful thinking.
    I just hate to think of my Mum having to believe this about me.

  31. Hi Lynn,

    If the Bible is not revelation, why should anyone believe or submit to it? I suppose some choose to believe one part of the Bible is true or accurate, while another part isn’t. I think such an approach to the Bible is presumptuous and a bit dishonest. How does one know that the parts they choose to believe are valid and the parts they reject are not? I think these days many want to receive God’s blessings, yet want to deny God’s standard of living a holy life in submission to Him. No one can achieve this standard – but Jesus did — in His life and death. Through faith in Him alone we attain to the righteousness that is necessary to please God.

    I believe God was more than able to superintend the writing of the Bible so that we have in it a document that has authority because it is from Him. This is what the Bible claims for itself. If the Bible is of human origin, it is no more more authoritative than any other human book and as such I think would be of very limited value.

    What we know about Jesus and about God’s love is mainly from the Bible. Can one say that the love of Jesus is what one most admires and believes in, yet deny that He is the One who informs us most often about hell?

    The New Testament provides plenty of information about hell. Enough to show us that it is a real place that is the destiny of some; that it is a place of punishment and eternal separation from God, that it is for those who join the Devil in rejecting God’s rule over them and His way of escape.

    Again, most of this information comes from Jesus Himself.

  32. There are so many things that the OT does not have which are revealed in the NT. Often times, these are called “mysteries” by Paul.

    But I think that there need to be a look at the philosophy of revelation which you, Lynn, seem to be assuming. All Christians believe in “progressive revelation”. In other words, we believe that God does not reveal himself all at once. Therefore, one would expect the NT to contain things which were yet to be revealed in the Old Testament. I agree that there is not much of a case that can be made for the doctrine of Hell in the OT, but the entire afterlife was a bit of a mystery in the OT.

    But what you have to understand is that Adam knew less than Abraham. Abraham knew less than Moses. Moses knew less than David, etc.

    Therefore, the question is not whether or not the OT speaks about Hell, but did Christ and the Apostles. There is no inconsistancy in not revealing everything that could be revealed. After all, if we are right, when we get to the new earth, there will be many things that we know then that we did not know now.

    The issue is not whether we are able to pick and choose which truths we like the best, but to believe God at every stage of his revelation to us.

  33. Alex,

    On my understanding of the NT, Christ’s work of atonement is applied to the elect in “this world” while everyone else spends a finite amount of time in the place of punishment in the “world to come” before Christ’s work of atonement is applied to them as well. The upshot is that the salvation of all is accomplished by the same atoning work of Christ (albeit not under the same set of circumstances) so that the exclusivity of Christ is affirmed.

    Secondly, I would remind you that all that can be concluded from the story of the rich man and Lazarus that is also relevant to our discussion is that those in torment aren’t capable of leaving the place of their torment, which is perfectly compatible with my own understanding. In particular, the story does not contravene the possibility of God removing people from the place of torment.

    Thirdly, while it is true that the NT clearly teaches that there will be “punishment αιωνιον” for those who do not express faith in Christ in “this world,” it is a matter of dispute as to what αιωνιον actually means. The traditional understanding of this word simply assumed that the adjective αιωνιον always modified nouns in a temporal sense and never in a spatial sense; however, that is a demonstrably dubious assumption as the noun αιωνος can carry both a temporal sense (e.g. compare Heb 9:26 with Heb 1:2) and a spatial sense (e.g. compare Heb 6:5 with Heb 2:5) in the NT. In short, contrary to the longstanding tradition reflected in our English Bibles, it’s not obvious as to whether “αιωνιον punishment” refers to either “eternal punishment” (on a temporal understanding) or “punishment in the age [to come]” (on a spatial understanding).

    Unfortunately, I have neither the space in this comment nor the energy to conclusively demonstrate for you that the NT does indeed teach a form of universalism. It would just take too long for me to carefully walk you through the steps of the argument as it is primarily eschatological in character and such arguments are difficult to make as the basic eschatological categories of the NT are [still!] not well understood; nevertheless, you have my assurance that such an argument does exist and that universalism will eventually become dominant amongst orthodox Christians for this reason (provided our world doesn’t come to an end anytime soon). In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that once the great and good of orthodoxy finally figure out that the NT does teach a form of universalism they’ll feel embarrassed for having missed it all along (Acts 24:15; Rom 5:18; 1 Cor 15:22; 1 Tim 4:10; 1 Jn 2:2).

  34. In the spirit of lynn’s complaint, we should carefully scrutinize any doctrine that runs contrary to that basic moral sense given to us by God. The old strategy of dealing with such difficulties by appealing to pietistic sentiments won’t work in the 21st century, we need fresh answers to questions that previous generations were content to ignore.

  35. CMP,

    If you want to go the route of progressive revelation then whats to stop the progressive revelation that hell as a place of eternal conscious torment doesn’t exist? Oh, I know. Progressive revelation is a good explanation until it starts to undermine your own position.

    When you propose progressive revelation and want to claim that all the prophets and Moses and David and Adam didn’t know as much as we do today, you are being patently unfair to the Old Testament characters and authors. Never mind the fact that this is not a small issue about animal sacrifice, or whether certain foods are kosher, which BTW, the New Testament spends way more time addressing in its theological implications than it does about hell.

    Think about it. Paul goes on and on about legalism and eating and rituals yet never addresses the concept of hell as a place of conscious eternal torment.

    Alex,
    Again, most of this information comes from Jesus Himself.

    This is simply not true. I know that preachers like to claim that Jesus talked more about hell than anyone else, but that is only because nobody else talked about it. He wins by default. Jesus had one main teaching about hell, and that is when he says people should pluck out their eyes rather and enter life blind rather than enter hell with both of them.

    The word translated as hell is referring to Gehenna which was a burning trash heap and a place of death and destruction. It doesn’t have the same connotation as “hell” does to our modern minds.

    Jesus did talk about judgement frequently, but that judgment is frequently tied to something more like annihilation than eternal torment.

  36. Lynn,

    Progressive revelation does not advance upon eternal truths, only temporal knowledge of these truths as well as their application in the history of redemption.

    For example, the early Israelites did not know about the doctrine of the Trinity, the future death burial and resurrection of the second person of the Trinity, or the existence of the church. They only knew that if they were to be saved, God had to do it out of his mercy. But ignorance of something does not mean that future revelation cannot come in and supplement their knowledge of that something. Heck, they did not even know what it meant to be “saved”. As well, I don’t think that we know fully what it means.

    However, the revelation that was given then is consistant (even if lacking) to the fuller truths that will be revealed later.

    This is not unlike bringing up children. Just cause parents don’t tell their children something or even put “place holders” of truths for things that they will reveal later (i.e. mom and dad’s love made you), this does not invalidate the later truths or former ones.

  37. Lynn,

    I said most of the information we have on hell in the New Testament comes from Jesus Himself– you affirm that Jesus talks about hell often and more than anyone else. Yet, you write that my statement is “simply not true.” Huh?

    You also claim the punishment in connection with judgment Jesus speaks of is annihilation, yet when Jesus refers to hell, He consistently uses words that imply conscious, eternal punishment, not annihilation.

    NW, you wrote, “In the spirit of lynn’s complaint, we should carefully scrutinize any doctrine that runs contrary to that basic moral sense given to us by God.”

    Why should I trust the “basic moral sense given by God” to guide me concerning the nature of sin and how sin should properly and justly be dealt with, if I acknowledge that I am a fallen sinner whose moral sense is woefully fallen. I know better than God how He should deal with sin?

    I am aware that there exists a universalist argument such as the one you’re advancing that claims Jesus and the NT support the idea that after death those who reject Christ in this life may still be reconciled to Him in death. However as one reads the NT and the words of Jesus we find radical calls to repent from sin now, so as to avoid perishing in the future. In these calls to repent there is a sense of urgency that implies the time to repent is now, while you are living, not later, when you are dead. As far as the verses you mentioned, all have been answered by many in the past and can be shown not to support universalism. For example, 1 Cor 15:22 is not saying all people indiscriminately will be made alive, but only all who are “in Christ” will be made alive. And not all will be in Christ, for Scripture is clear that not all are saved and some will in fact be damned (e.g., Rom 9:23). Jesus said of Judas, for example, that it would have been better for him had he not been born (Matt 26:24), and said that Judas, unlike the other disciples, whom Jesus guarded, was lost (John 17:12). If Judas was only later to be found again, it would not make sense for Jesus to make these statements, which declare a terrible, seemingly unchangeable fate for Judas. It would be alright for Judas if later in death he could repent of his sin and be reconciled to Christ, but if this was true, then Jesus would not have said “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

  38. NOTE: In my comment above I meant to refer to Romans 9:22 (not 23) but I couldn’t edit it for some reason.

  39. Alex,

    I didn’t suggest that we should blindly trust our moral instincts but that we should at least consider them when we are building our theology from ancient texts that can be difficult to interpret. But concerning this notion that we are “fallen sinner[s] whose moral sense is woefully fallen,” I would remind you that according to Scripture our problem is not that we don’t have good moral instincts but that we do have them and choose to rebel against them (Rom 1:28-32).

    With respect to the aforementioned saying of Jesus concerning Judas, I would emphasize that Jesus did not say that “it would have been better for that man if he had not existed” but said that “it would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” To wit, it seems to me that Jesus is here evoking a tradition found in the OT that says to the effect that it is better for someone to die in the womb and be stillborn (i.e. not born alive) than to live a life on earth that is cursed (Job 3:11-19; Eccl 6:3-5; Jer 20:14-18), which is certainly compatible with my own universalism. But in any case, I must say that your strategy of incorporating this saying of Jesus concerning Judas into an argument against universalism strikes me as being rather dubious.

    Finally, your suggestion that 1 Cor 15:22 only refers to those who are “in Christ” is demonstrably false as Paul clearly believed in a resurrection for both the just (i.e. those who are “in Christ”) and the unjust (Acts 24:15). Rather, I would suggest that Paul envisaged two different resurrections that take place separately, with the resurrection of the just taking place at the coming of Christ (1 Cor 15:23) and the resurrection of the unjust taking place at “the end” (1 Cor 15:24). Moreover, the interpretation of 1 Cor 15:22-24 that has the resurrection of the just taking place when Christ comes to reign and the resurrection of the unjust taking place a long time afterwards is further strengthened by the fact that it finds an independent source of support in Rev 20:4-6.

  40. It seems that according to your view of universalism, Judas after death will be forgiven his sins and eventually saved, thus getting to spend eternity with Jesus in heaven. Thus the fact that Judas lived a “cursed” life here on earth for a few relatively short years is really inconsequential, in light of the fact that he will be living blessedly forever in heaven with Jesus. If this is really Judas’ ultimate destiny, and surely Jesus would have known this, then Jesus’ statement, “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” makes no sense! But if in fact Judas would have been better off not having lived than to have lived a cursed, sinful life on earth and then also spend eternity in hell being punished for his sin which was not forgiven through Christ, then Jesus’ statement makes a lot of sense.

    I agree that we have moral instincts given by God which should propel us toward recognizing that God exists and has a rightful claim on our lives. But we recognize the limits of this moral sense when we consider that even our best acts of righteousness are as filthy rags; and none is righteous or seeks for God (Romans 3:11). If then our moral sense is at best severely flawed, we are in no position at all to judge how or what God chooses to do in order to respond with justice to the sin He finds in His creatures.

    I agree there is a resurrection for both the just and the unjust, but it’s only those resurrected “in Christ” who have their sins forgiven through Him. 1 Corinthians 15 Paul is writing to encourage believers to look forward to the hope of resurrection in Christ, by which they will be victorious over death. If the hope believers have is just as valid for those outside of Christ, then why preach Christ?

  41. Alex,

    I think we’re in rough agreement about the value of our moral instincts so I won’t comment any further on the matter.

    With respect to the coherency of my interpretation of what Jesus had to say about Judas, my position is that it would surely have been better for Judas to have not been born alive and be stillborn than to have been born alive and incur upon himself the wrath in the place of punishment that was reserved for the one who would betray Jesus even if the ultimate destiny of Judas in both cases was the same (for one case would merit considerable wrath while the other wouldn’t).

    With respect to 1 Cor 15, I would remind you that the primary impetus for this passage was not to encourage believers with eschatological hope but to set the record straight about the reality of resurrection from the dead, which some in the church at Corinth were denying (1 Cor 15:12, 35).

    You said: “I agree there is a resurrection for both the just and the unjust, but it’s only those resurrected ‘in Christ’ who have their sins forgiven through Him.”

    The plain sense of Rom 5:18 and 1 Jn 2:2 seems to indicate otherwise. I would strongly encourage you to take a second look at these verses and try to imagine how Paul and John could have possibly written them if they didn’t believe in some form of universalism.

    You said: “If the hope believers have is just as valid for those outside of Christ, then why preach Christ?”

    Is our gospel really not a gospel without the prospect of unending torment? Is it not good news that the evils and sufferings of this world are not the end of the human story but that God has prepared a kingdom for his creatures in another world where we will all praise and worship him in glory? And not only this, but the promise of entering this kingdom is for today, for all who put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Friend, all I am seeing here is good news that is worth sharing with a world that is without hope.

    I would remind you that the gospel is not that we can escape the fiery flames of the world to come but that God has prepared a kingdom for his creatures in which we will get to meet our creator in glory and that the promise of entering this kingdom is for today. If this isn’t a good enough reason to preach Christ I don’t know what is.

    And besides, it’s not as if the place of punishment is any less horrific on this understanding, there’s a reason why Jesus encourages us to “strive to enter through the narrow door.”

  42. This is supposed to convert people?

  43. Theodore A. Jones December 17, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    1. CMP’s message does not read like the Act 2 message.
    2. Nor does CMP’s message have the same objective of the apostles’ teaching ref. Acts 5:28 “make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

  44. Theodore A. Jones December 18, 2011 at 10:11 am

    “Hello Mike I’m your neighbor about a block down and I’ve heard that you are some sort of religious teacher who has a high degree of schooling. Do you mind if I borrow some of your time and have a meal at my house? My wife and I have read some of your conjectures and we feel that you what you have learned from your schools might be lacking some content.” Mike agrees and a week later they meet.
    “Glad you could come by Mike for I feel what I have to say is highly important. I’ve notice that the conjecture of salvation you teach assumes that it is just by believing that Jesus was crucified it is sufficient to obtain a relief from the penalty of eternal death.” Mike says “Yes that’s about it in a nut shell because Christ died for our sins.”
    (The man’s wife seeing that Mike’ s glass is low of drink pours mike more wine, red wine.) The man continues. “Mike I am very aware of what you think. But isn’t it true that a person can and does make himself guilty of the Lord’s body and blood at the Lord’s table?” Mike replies, “Yes that can happen if there is disorderly conduct.” The man says, ” Yes, Mike, that is the common conjecture but that is not the point. A person makes himself guilt of both the Lord’s body and blood by misunderstanding the term ‘Christ died for our sins’ then goes ahead and eats that bread and drinks from that cup by failing to discern that the loss of Jesus’ life by bloodshed is an accountable sin for each man. For the Lord’s table is purposely a snare and a trap for them who participate at this table by having misjudged that “No man can lay a hand on the LORD’S anointed and remain guiltless”. Mike you can only obey the Acts 2:38 command by the faith of confessing directly to God that you are truly sorry Jesus’ life was lost by bloodshed and be baptized into this Way of faith for the forgiveness of your past sins. For Christ died for our sins to increase them by one and has made an addition to the law so that the sin of crucifying him is accountable for each man.
    “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” There is no other Way possible for a man’s name to be written in the Lambs book of Life other than you giving to God the account he demands from you in regard to Jesus’ crucifixion as a sin. For with God it is the correct obedience of the law whereby the righteousness of God is imputed.

  45. I suggest you read “finding darwins god” by kenneth miller and “why evolution is true” by jerry coyne………..they completely destroy your foundational belief (without you having to resort to allegorizing much of your dark-ages belief system, like everyone had to do when the earth was proved spherical, no exodous evidence, etc.) i’ve read all of the christian apologists absurdities over the years (i used to believe that crap but got tired of all of the mental gynastics i was having to do to keep my eyes shut to reality) and can tell you that you people are dead wrong………factually wrong. the dna evidence is unassailable; time to revise your belief system already because your bronze age creation account and original sin fable makes you look ignorant. you truly are ignorant if you won’t look at the evidence. and thomas paine’s “the age of reason” sweepingly destroys much of your biblical doctrine, without resorting to all of the extra-biblical evidence we now have 200 years later; and none of you people can prevail against his sense in that work. your patchwork of jewish myths had me enslaved to terror and blinding-ignorance for so many years, my sole purpose is to destroy that false belief system in as many as i can possibly free from it. everyone read the books i suggested…….completely unbiased information (and kenneth miller is a catholic btw, by mere blind faith…….)

  46. A very interesting and clearly heartfelt letter, Mr. Patton.
    Sadly, it demonstrates a myopic and elitist view of faith.
    There are billions (with a B) of life-long devoted worshipers of God. True believers. Many are more certain of their beliefs than you or I.
    They are honest, God fearing, family-loving human beings. Hindus. Buddhists. Muslims. Sikhs. Jains. Pious believers.

    But they are all wrong and are going to hell. And you’re right. ‘Cause you were born again a few years ago. Right?

    You describe a self-focused dicotomy.”I am right and everyone else is wrong. I am wise, just and riteous. Everyone else is wicked and doomed.”
    A Buddhist monk who spent 80 years in constant prayer and meditation is going to hell. Really?
    A Seikh priest who spent his life in servitude to God. Doomed?
    Ghandi. The greatest symbol of peace, serenity and piety known to modern man.
    Yeah, he’s burning in Hell. Ok.
    I respect the fact that you have a faith that differs from mine, but you HAVE conviction of faith. I do not judge you.
    Too bad you can’t say the same.
    Maybe God is so complex that NONE of us have it exactly right (isn’t that possible if not probable)… In which case it’s hell for everyone, faith or not, right?
    God’s blessings on you Brother Patton. I pray that Jesus (PBUH) puts humility and acceptance into your heart.
    I hope you find peace from your desire to condemn God’s faithful who worship in a way different from your own.
    I pray God gives you the strength to focus on YOUR relationship with him.

    • Thanks so much Todd. But you must know that these are not my thoughts or opinions, but found in another authority. Your judgments are judgmental toward my belief that what Christ said was true. He came up with this stuff, not me.

      Were I to come up with my own theology I would, like you, have everyone go to heaven. However, our options and personal feelings do not have a vote in true do they? Our beliefs are only as good as the source from which we got them.

  47. Todd,

    The numbers of adherents does not make a belief true and has nothing to whatever to do with truth. Nor does the level of sincerity or devotion to one’s religion make beliefs true. If Jesus is really who He claimed to be (God in the flesh) then His claims are true and have authority over all other truth claims. Mr. Patton, like faithful Christians before, is simply agreeing with what Jesus said.

  48. Mr Jordan, evangelicals have one, narrow human interpretation of divinely inspired human writing, editted by humans. You agree that anything written editted and interpretted by humans is sure to have flaws, right?
    So, like all religions, evangelicals do their best to follow the will of God knowing perfection is impossible.

    The difference is Evangelicals claim perfect knowledge. Worse, they speak of other belief systems (many far older and more pious) in a condescending paternalistic manner.
    (How many parent/child analogies did Mr. Patton use above?)

    Evangalists are not the only ones with a path to heaven.
    Devout Jews, Hindus and Buddhists have been at peace with God for thousands of years, long before anyone became conveniently “born again” halfway through a sin filled life.
    But what about Jesus?
    There are others who believe in Jesus in a different way.
    All devout Muslims love Jesus. Jesus(Isa, PBUH) is an honored prophet in Islam whose teachings are essential for salvation.
    Most christians are NOT evangelical.
    Millions believe Jesus is their path to salvation. But they don’t tell others they are going to hell if their exact interpretation of Jesus isn’t followed.
    Jesus would NEVER agree with the condescending and presumptuous evangelical philosophy.
    Jesus touted compassion, tolerance, unity and understanding.
    If we focus on THOSE teachings we’ll all live better in this life and the next.
    I pray for your health and happiness Brother Jordan.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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