Revising God by Hating Hell

Clark Pinnock commenting on why he rejects the classical position of hell as eternal punishment:

“I am rejecting the traditional view of hell in part out of a sense of moral and theological revulsion to it.  The idea that a conscious creature should have to undergo physical and mental torture through unending time is profoundly disturbing, and the thought that this is inflicted upon them by divine decree offends my conviction about God’s love” (emphasis mine).

– Clark Pinnock, “The Conditional View” in Four Views on Hell, edd. Stanley Gundry and William Crockett (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1996), 164.

From the comments and questions on Rob Bell’s video trailer to his book, I’m guessing that Bell shares a lot of the same sentiments that Pinnock does.  Here’s an excerpt from Bell in his video:

See, what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is, and what God is like.

Bell is right about that, but unfortunately, he along with Pinnock and others are willing to reduce the character of God to one attribute and subject all of his other perfections secondarily to the love of God.  This God-revision is necessary on account of what they have determined to be moral and loving. Consequently, when you start with your sentiments rather than the God who has the right of self-revelation, you are left to reveal the god of your sentiments rather than the God who is.  And it is hubris is the highest degree to define God to our liking rather than the way God has chosen to reveal Himself to us.

The bottom line is this: universalists (or inclusivists) want to believe that all the world will be (eventually) saved.  Their wishful thinking is determinative, and the justification of such thinking warrants an understanding of God that makes His love incongruent with and unaccountable to the rest of his attributes. Carl Henry correctly asserted,

“The subordination of divine righteousness to divine love leads to arbitrary conceptions of agape in which God’s judgment and wrath do not come to full scriptural expression, and from which grossly unbiblical consequences are still deduced” (Aspects of Christian Social Ethics, 168).

Furthermore, in order to make room for the many/all, they reduce the character of God to love and fail to give account for His glory, holiness, justice, righteousness, and wrath.  The manifold perfections of God which shine so brilliantly are shrouded by cloudy sentimentalism, as Ajith Fernando states,

“The universalist idea of the whole (message of the Bible) contradicts such a significant portion of the parts that it simply cannot be regarded as a legitimate representation of the whole. . . . When we ignore those parts of Scripture which we find unpleasant, we will end up with an understanding of the message of the Scriptures that has no place for wrath and hell” (Crucial Questions About Hell, 120).

In the end, it is not simply that love wins. Glory wins. Justice wins. Righteousness wins. Holiness wins. And why is this?  Because God is holy, righteous, just, and altogether glorious in all of his perfections.  And only such a picture of God can tell the whole story of the Bible and adequately portray the drama of redemption in which Christ our King as the lamb who is our righteousness, who absorbed the wrath of God, and vindicated the justice of a perfectly holy God adopting sinners into His family.

When we are left with the God of the Bible in all of His excellencies and perfections, we are brought low to the ground in woe because of His glory, in worship because of His grace.  And no one will be wringing their hands wishing they did not have a God like this.

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11 Comments on “Revising God by Hating Hell”

  1. Bob Kauflin Says:

    Excellent, Timmy.


  2. The arguments against an eternal Hell simply ignore the monster within/ Eccles.9:3 states: “the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.” That monster within explains the teenager who murdered both parents and left them in the house until putrefaction began. A mother murdered her children, and a father did the same. And numerous wives and husbands murdered one another. Think of the suffering of children being tortured and burned to death. think of those wo tortured others in times of war, in times of peace, without reason and even without purpose. Now say there is no eternal Hell? Then there is no justice at all for the baby or the child or the mother or the father or the son or the daughter or the husband or the wife who has had their lives taken away. The conditionalists and the universalists have closed their minds to the issue of justice for those who suffered at the hands of such a monster that it can be spoken of in the singular, “the heart,” to describe all of the evil in men. What of the monster within? What shall be done with it?


    • Hey Dan – I scanned the article and meant to print it out tonight (but forgot). I’m familiar with Bauckam’s research and historiography (I have his 1978 article in front of me right now). I also read Scot McNight’s article as well on patheos.

  3. Ken Says:

    Could the problem be that these men do not believe that all men deserve hell and because of God’s grace and love he has chosen to save some? Do they believe that man deserves to avoid hell and go to heaven? Do they have a wrong view of God and man?


  4. […] with the explosion of debates about Hell on the internet, Timmy Brister gives this quote from Four Views on Hell, edited by William Crockett.  The quote is from Clark […]

  5. Pastor Randy Alston Says:

    Great post Tim. Having an understanding of the holiness of God, and an understanding of the offense of our sin, would certainly help clarify whether God should punish forever those who are not in Christ. If you start with man you’re certainly on the wrong path from the start. Starting with God, as described in the Bible, would have a completely different outcome.


  6. […] by Hating Hell Leave a Comment Posted by allsufficientgrace on March 4, 2011 I like how Timmy Brister sums this […]


  7. I’m certain that Clark Pinnock, now deceased, no longer rejects the classical position on hell.

  8. Mark in Houston Says:

    Hell? Fire, flames, demons, thirst, torment, pain, suffering, etc. Even if God were to forbid all of these things in “hell”, but He were to completely remove himself from a place and leave us to our unhindered sinful choices, it would be a place of unspeakable “hell”. Human beings left to their own paths, choices, desires and freewill, quickly and efficiently descend into a bog of wretchedness and sin, replete with every “hellish” behavior that can be imagined. We currently live in a world that God has not abandoned. Can you imagine our world without the restraining work and influence of the Holy Spirit?


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