Hell revisited

After my last foray into hell, David Reimer kindly pointed me to an article by Tim Keller reproduced from Christianity Today. I’ve finally had a chance to look it over and, rather than tag it on to the other topic, I though it merited separate discussion.

I think I can see what the article is getting at – contextualise how you speak about hell. Keller identifies two groups – traditionalists and postmoderns – who need to have hell explained differently. For traditionalists, the focus is on the horror of hell, but used as a demonstration of God’s love for us. Jesus endured hell so that we don’t need to. He says, “When Jesus was cut off from God, he went into the deepest pit and most powerful furnace, beyond all imagining. And he did it voluntarily, for us.” I have one major issue with the phrasing of this – “when Jesus was cut off from God…” Is the Trinity separable? Setting this aside though, I can see what he is getting at. A traditionalist will accept the hellfire and brimstone image, but the point they need to take away is not the fear of hell, but the love of God. Which raises the following question – “Is our preaching of the love of God adequate to overcome the fear of hell?”

For postmoderns, Keller has an interesting characterisation – a ‘vague’ belief in God and little sense of moral absolutes. I’m not sure that that’s an altogether accurate characterisation or more of a caricature, but again, setting that aside, his approach here is very different. Keller seems to be suggesting that hell is not the fire and brimstone place of the traditionalists at all, but rather a ‘state of mind’ or perhaps more accurately, a ‘state of soul’.

So, the big question is, is it a place or a ‘state’. The answer seems to be, “that depends”. Do we create our own hell?

I also think Keller makes a major omission here. He speaks of traditionalists and postmoderns, but I don’t think I fall into his characterisations of either group, so where would I fit? Modern perhaps? Or something else? Either way, moderns are a pretty major grouping who, arguably, need yet another approach. They want the rational, the scientific, the explicable. But then, where does God fit into that lot?

Overall I think I found Keller’s article ‘unsatisfying’. But maybe that’s because I’m a postmodern looking for definite answers.

7 responses to “Hell revisited”

  1. Well then, you had better read the book! 🙂 Or listen to the sermon. Another reason the article might have been less than satisfying is because it is so short. I think it began life as a newspaper/magazine column.

    As for Jesus being “cut off from God”, well … the cross is one of the deepest mysteries of Christian faith. Moltmann’s (?) formulation of the “god-forsaken God” might not capture the moment either. But Jesus’ “Eloi, Eloi — lama sabachthani?” must mean something, doesn’t it?

  2. Well then, you had better read the book! 🙂 Or listen to the sermon.

    Maybe I had.

    But Jesus’ “Eloi, Eloi — lama sabachthani?” must mean something, doesn’t it?

    You’re the lecturer, you tell me 😉
    But yes, assuming it is more than just a passing reference to Psalm 22:1, then there is definitely a lot more to it. To be honest, I think it’s got to be one of these paradoxes we simply have to hold in tension. How can the second person of the Trinity ever become separated from it? Yet, if Christ died on the cross as divine and not human then the cross means nothing for us. I think that it is in the paradox that we find faith. But maybe that’s just a woolly post-modern approach to it.

  3. Can Trinity be separated ?
    Good question… but isn’t that the risk Jesus ran for us ? There was always the possibility that Jesus might sin, but didn’t. Isn’t the same argument possible for the division of God ? Possible, but didn’t happen ?
    Guess that makes me a traditionalist ??

  4. I wrote several blogs on the topic of hell as an everlasting place of torment not being Biblical earlier this year. I just now read the article by Tim Keller that you referenced and found it lacking. I believe you can believe that faith in Christ is not necessary for salvation because we are saved by Grace alone. As soon as we add a required response then we diminish the power of the cross. Throughout the Old Testament we see that depending on man to provide the correct response did not work. Thus what Christ accomplished on the cross He did alone. The problem with Kellers wrath argument is the object of God’s anger. In his example the object is sin but to justify hell God’s object becomes the sinner. This is contrary to who God has revealed Himself to be.

  5. Faith in Christ unnecessary …. The by grace alone argument presupposes faith in Christ. It isn’t an ‘add-on’. If there is no faith in Christ that would indeed diminish the work of the Cross.

  6. Thanks for your comment although I’m not entirely sure how to take it.

    I’m not American so I’m not sure whether that comment was aimed at me. I would certainly affirm that there are many Christian believers there though.

    What church do you belong to that does not accept the people you have labelled? I would hope that what you say is not a blanket statement you believe represents the forgiveness, acceptance and unconditional love of Christ. Do you also disallow liars, thieves, idolators, the jealous, the Sunday workers? It would be a small church if we, not God, set the limits of who can come to know Christ’s love and the Father’s forgiveness and the Spirit’s transformative power.

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