Tag Archives: hell

Redeeming Edwards’s Doctrine of Hell: An “Edwardsean” Account

This month an article I wrote defending the traditional doctrine of hell was published in Themelios 42.2. In this article I argue that despite being subject to a serious philosophical objection, an Edwardsean doctrine of hell is defensible. In order to defend this version of the doctrine of hell I suggest we start by thinking about Edwards’s doctrine of heaven.

Here’s a bit of the article:

Among recent trends in evangelicalism, one of the most prominent has been the resurgence of interest (especially within the “young, restless, and reformed” segment of the church) in all things Jonathan Edwards. One sees this in the vast quantity of recent books, blogs, and conferences dedicated to Edwards’s life and thought. These works have done much to lift him up as a pastoral, homiletical, and theological example to be emulated. The result is that certain Edwardsean themes and theological views have begun to exert greater influence upon evangelicalism, for instance: the importance of revival, preaching in order to change religious affections, the New Testament use of the Old, and even Trinitarian theology. One can certainly appreciate the positive influence that Edwards the exemplar has had upon the contemporary evangelical church. However, one aspect of Edwards’s theology that we may want to question the value of following his example is his account of the doctrine of hell.

Many Americans are familiar with Edwards’s account of hell through his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” in which he depicts one of the most horrific, ghoulish, and even terrorizing portrayals ever presented. In particular, his depiction of hell in this sermon is cited by many as evidence why we ought to abandon the traditional account. It has been said that Edwards’s doctrine is morally intolerable and that we should abandon it. Those who are interested in defending the traditional account and more specifically Edwards’s account have reasons for mining his works in order to find resources within it to defend not only his account but the traditional doctrine of hell as well. This essay aims to accomplish those two tasks.

You can read the rest (for free) here: Themelios

Advertisements

Peter Geach on Hell

We cannot be Christians, followers of Christ, we cannot even know what it is to be a Christian unless the gospels give at least an approximately correct account of Christ’s teachings. And if the Gospel account is even approximately correct, then it is perfectly clear that according to that teaching many men are irretrievably lost… It is less clear, I admit, that the fate of the lost according to that teaching is to be endless misery rather than ultimate destruction. But universalism is not a live option for Christians. – Peter Geach (Providence and Evil)

Getting Practical with Paul’s Apocalyptic Gospel

Paul Writing a Letter
To see the practical implications Paul’s apocalyptic gospel in Galatians it is helpful to begin by looking at chapter 1 verse 6 which says that the Galatians are abandoning the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel. We should note that verse 1:3 begins with the “grace” that the Father and Christ offer the Galatians and that in 1:6 Paul says that they are leaving the “grace” of Christ and turning to a different gospel. This inclusio of “grace” might indicate that what is contained between these two graces is what should be contrasted with the “different gospel.” If this is the case then Paul’s gospel is essentially an apocalyptic gospel, one which essentially claims that Christ has freed us from this age by addressing the problem of sin. This notion of being freed from this age is in line with Jesus’ message in the gospels that Israel’s exile has ended. It seems as though Paul is saying that Jesus who somehow addresses our sins is the one who frees us from exile which we were under and that this exile was this present evil age. Thus Paul’s gospel is in line with Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom which is about the end of exile and the reign of YHWH.

Understanding Paul’s thoughts in this passage has various implications for Christian practice. One such implication is that it calls us to question our understanding of our hope as Christians. Many Christians would say that their hope is essentially in heaven, that one day when they die they will go to heaven, not to hell. However Paul’s gospel message is that we have been freed from the present evil age. This message implies that somehow we are no longer living in the evil age but that we have entered a new age. The fact that Christians can now live in the new age should affect the way they see their lives as Christians. If we are to understand that we have hope now, and not merely after we die, then this will radically change how we interact with the world around us. If our hope is now, then our lives as Christians cannot have an escapist mentality. As Christians we must begin to figure out what it looks like to live in light of the truth that because of Christ we are now living in the age to come.

Book Review – The Soul by J.P. Moreland

It seems as though believing in the soul is out of fashion now a days, even among evangelicals. But J.P. Moreland, an evangelical philosopher, has stood up to defend the traditional Christian belief in the soul in his new book The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why it Matters.

According to Moreland, there are four reasons why its worth spending time thinking about the existence of the soul:

  1. First, the Bible seems to teach that consciousness and the soul are immaterial and we need to regard this teaching as genuine knowledge and not as faith commitments that we merely hope are true. (12)
  2. Second, the reality of the soul is important to various ethical issues that crucially involve an understanding of human persons. (15)
  3. Third, the loss of belief in life after death is related to a commitment to the authority of science above theology. But belief in the soul is being scientifically discredited. (17)
  4. Fourth, understanding the immaterial nature of the human spirit is crucial to grasping the essence of spiritual growth. (17)

Building upon these convictions J.P. Moreland attempts to make a case for the immaterial nature of consciousness and the soul without using the Bible, instead he makes a case for the soul through philosophical arguments.

Summary

The book is broken up into five chapters. In the first chapter, Moreland lays some philosophical foundations for discussing the soul. For instance he introduces Leibniz’s law of the indiscernability of identicals, and he introduces the reader into discussions about neuroscience and philosophy. In chapter two, he summarizes what he takes to be key Old and New Testament passages that illustrate the mind/body dualism taught in scripture. This chapter doesn’t exactly argue for substance dualism, but it does argue that this is the biblical position. Chapter three makes a case for property dualism, while defending the position against several objections including the problem of other minds and the problems brought about by a Darwinistic conception of evolution. Moreland also devotes some space to arguing against physicalist accounts of property dualism. Chapter four is the core of the book. In this chapter he makes a case for substance dualism and the immaterial nature of the self. Moreland offers five arguments for the belief in substance dualism. Having established that substance dualism is the correct position regarding the existence of the soul, he makes some philosophical observations regarding what the nature of the soul might be like. He concludes the book with some philosophical thoughts on what the future of human beings might look like if they are in fact souls.

Pros

1-The Soul is a very clear introduction to the topic of dualism. Moreland’s clarity in presenting difficult philosophical positions is probably this book’s greatest strength. At the end of each chapter he provides a summary outlining what his points were and breaking down each argument into its individual parts. Because he does this it will be very easy for those seeking to use this book for apologetic purposes to learn these arguments and/or be ready to respond when people challenge their beliefs.

2-Although his discussion about the state of the soul after death seems a bit out of place, it was one of the most interesting sections in the book. How he handles the doctrine of Hell is philosophically sophisticated (he relies heavily upon Swinburne’s argument for Hell). This section will certainly help readers as they think about the spiritual implications of belief in the soul.

Cons

I believe in substance dualism. In fact I hold to a Cartesian account of substance dualism much like Moreland does. However I think that several of his arguments for this position are actually pretty weak. For instance, he makes an argument for the soul based upon belief in Free Will, Morality, Responsibility, and Punishment. Essentially he argues that if physicalism is true then human free will does not exist – thus determinism is true. If determinism is true then there is no such thing as moral obligation and determinism. This seems to be blatantly false to me. He argues as though the belief that determinism and moral responsibility are incompatible is blatantly obvious. The problem is though that it is not blatantly obvious. Any compatibilist will tell you that determinism and moral responsibility are compatible. Also he makes an argument for the soul based upon the idea that for agency to be meaningful identity has to persist over time, but if we are purely physical then agency is meaningless. Once again, it doesn’t seem so obvious to me that this point is correct. In fact, Jonathan Edwards seems to argue that identity does not persist over time, yet he holds to a strong notion of agency and moral responsibility. All this to say that even though I believe that Moreland is arguing for the correct position, I believe that many of his arguments in this book are quite flawed.

Conclusion

Should you read this book? Yes. If you are looking for some basic arguments for why it is rational to belief in the soul then this book is for you. The book essentially shows that belief in the soul is not irrational and he gives you some good reasons why this is so. However if you are looking for a book that establishes a strong case for the existence of the soul, then I would look elsewhere. There is quite a difference between arguing that a belief is rational and arguing that a belief is rational and correct. This book does the former. So if you are okay with that then pick up this book.

Why Belief in the Resurrection Matters

In doing some reading today I cam across a brilliant passage by N.T. Wright about why belief in resurrection matters…

How does believing in the future resurrection lead to getting on with the work in the present? Quite straightforwardly. The point of the resurrection, as Paul has been arguing throughout the letter is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die. God will raise it to new life. What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it. And if this applies to ethics, as in 1 Corinthians 6, it certainly applies to the various vocations to which God’s people are called. What you do in the present – by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself – will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind all together (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it, “until that day when all the blest to endless rest are called away”). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom. (Surprised by Hope, 193)

Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comport and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world – all of this will find its way through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. (SbH, 208)

and then there is this quote…

People who believe in the resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present. (SbH 214)

Responsibility and Atonement (Pt. 3)

It’s Easter Weekend! Its the time of year we Christians celebrate Christ’s atoning work for us on the cross and his resurrection, which we participate in through baptism into Christ. In light of the fact that it is Easter weekend I will be blogging on Richard Swinburne’s Responsibility and Atonement this easter weekend. Today on Easter Sunday I hope to show that Swinburne’s atonement is full of shortcomings.

Here are the first two posts: Responsibility and Atonement (Pt. 1) and Responsibility and Atonement (Pt. 2)

_____________________________________

Having laid out Swinburne’s atonement theory I would like to point out three shortcomings. The first shortcoming is about his method. Swinburne’s atonement theory is marked by a lack of interaction with scripture. He beings with certain philosophical notions and the formulates his theology in light of them. As a philosopher this is understandable, his theology will be done in dialogue with philosophy, but one would at least expect him to put his philosophical notions and scripture in dialogue with one another. Yet he does not do this, he proceeds to make theological arguments strictly in light of his philosophical positions. Even when he does use scripture, it is coloured by his philosophical positions. It is well acknowledged that it is difficult to have a neutral reading of scripture; we always bring our own philosophical and cultural baggage to the text but there is something odd when one does not even try to begin with scripture humbly acknowledging ones own biases. Because he lacks interaction with scripture and instead formulates his doctrine from philosophy it is hard to know what to make of his theological claims. This is a shortcoming in his theology of atonement.

A second shortcoming is Swinburne’s theology by analogy. We might want to ask Swinburne questions like: “does God inhabit the same moral universe that we do?” “Is our system of morality the same as God’s?” These questions highlight some important issues we must grapple with when doing atonement theology by analogy. In talking about our moral concepts and God’s moral concepts is our language univocal? That is, is our use of the word “atonement” the same for humans as it is for God? Or is it equivocal? Does our use of the word “atonement” have completely different meanings for us than God? Or perhaps is the use of the word “atonement” analogical? Namely is “atonement” for us and God similar in certain ways but different in others? Nowhere does Swinburne address this important issue. He merely assumes that the way atonement works for humans is the same exact way atonement works for God. He may or many not be correct, but he never shows why we should believe that atonement works the same way for God and humans. There are certainly good reasons to believe that it does and equally good reasons to believe that it doesn’t, but merely assuming that it does makes his account of atonement less convincing.

The final, and possibly most important, shortcoming that I would like to mention is that Swinburne’s account at times can come off as being semi-pelagian. First he has a very weak doctrine of original sin. He believes that humans are mostly in possession of a good will and that humans can in fact willfully choose on their own to do good (even though it is very difficult for humans to do this). He is overly optimistic in the goodness of humans. This is displayed by his belief that humans just “need help” to make atonement. For Swinburne humans do a part to make atonement but Jesus adds the rest for us. Thus the act of atonement is not something that God does for us, it is something that we do together. This synergistic account of the atonement makes it so that Christ’s work is a necessary but not a sufficient action for atonement. At the end of the day humans are responsible for the attainment of their forgiveness. Christ alone is not responsible. In addition to the fact that for Swinburne Christ’s work is not sufficient for forgiveness, there is another problem that touches upon some of his semi-pelagian leanings, namely that Christ’s work only restores the status quo. Christ’s work is not sufficient for justification, Christ’s work restores the balance of the “debt” owed to God. In his later chapters on heaven and hell it seems as though the atonement merely fixes the balance between God and humans but humans are responsible to make their own choices later in life which will determine their fate for eternity. Where one ends up in the eternal state has nothing to do with Christ’s atoning work, rather it has to do with cultivating one’s will and forming a good moral character. Thus once again Christ’s work isn’t a sufficient piece for salvation.

I believe that these three shortcomings; his method, his assumption of theology by analogy, and his semi-pelagian leanings make his account of the atonement hard to buy into. It is this last shortcoming which is especially damning. His semi-pelagian leanings place him well outside of what the Christian tradition has affirmed about Christ’s work of atonement.