Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the last several years, biblical scholar, teacher and blogger (and comedian!) Michael Bird should be a na...moreUnless you have been hiding under a rock for the last several years, biblical scholar, teacher and blogger (and comedian!) Michael Bird should be a name you are relatively familiar with. He has written on Jesus in Are You the One Who Is to Come? and Jesus is The Christ. He has written on Paul in Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission, and His Message and has edited Four Views on the Apostle Paul in the Zondervan Counterpoints Series. He has also written on Second Temple Judaism in Crossing Over Sea and Land and has even written a highly academic commentary on 1 Esdras which is part of the Septuagint. He is the editor of two journals and commentaries series. He has contributed to numerous journals, edited works and reference books, all of which you can view here.
There is no doubt the Bird is highly qualified to write and speak on a number of topics. His areas of focus range from the Historical Jesus, Paul, Christian origins and even biblical and systematic theology. It is to these last two areas that we now turn to, and which Bird has most recently written on in his highly anticipated Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction published by Zondervan. The question that might arise in the mind of some, and which already has, is, can a biblical scholar with his areas of study competently write a systematic and biblical theology? Has Bird gone through a midlife crisis and the biblical scholar become a theologian!? After all, there are a number of famous systematicians such as Turretin, Pannenberg, Barth, Grudem, Hodge, Berkhof, Bavinck and Erickson whom many of them have not published as many books as Bird, and of those they have, most of them are in subsets of systematic theology.
Has Bird stretched himself so far that he has become too thin?
Bird’s Uniqueness: An Evangelical Systematic and Biblical Theology?
I put a question mark at the end of the above heading not because I question Bird’s goal but because I want to bring due attention to what makes this book stand out from others like it. There is no doubt that there are many good systematic theologies out there that are written by evangelicals such as Grudem, Erickson and Geisler, just to name a few. But what Bird feels they lack as an evangelical theology is a focus on just that, the evangel – the gospel itself. Bird is not saying others are unevangelical but that they seem to miss as their focus what makes them what they are.
This is not to say other theologies by evangelicals do not mention the gospel or relate an aspect to the gospel. It is to say, however, that they are not writing their theologies with the gospel front and center in every loci of theological doctrine. For Bird, an evangelical theology must do just that. Bird says of his own work, “It is a gospel-centered theology for Christians who seek to define themselves principally by the gospel.” (21) And later, “Evangelical theology is a theologia evengelii – a theology of the gospel.” (45) True to form, Bird begins every section introduction with a short discussion of how the doctrine under consideration relates to the gospel. For example,
On the doctrine of God in part two,
“If we are going to study the God of the gospel, we must study God as he is to us in the gospel: a triune being comprised of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In fact, I contend that the gospel itself establishes our primary contact with the doctrine of the Trinity. The operation of God as he is described as acting in the gospel intimates the triune nature of God. Only a triune God can do what is done in the gospel.” (89)
On the doctrine of Christ in part four,
“The centerpiece of the gospel is Jesus the Messiah. Jesus is so identifiable with the gospel that there can be no gospel without him. His identity as Messiah and Lord, the redemptive significance of his death and resurrection, set in the coordinating of God’s kingdom, constitute the core of the gospel message. In other words, the gospel sets before us both the work of Jesus Christ and the person of Jesus Christ.” (343)
And finally, on the doctrine of the church in part eight,
“The evangelical churches are those that have the gospel at the center of their proclamation and practice. The evangelical church is a community created by the gospel, a church that promotes and preaches the gospel, that cultivates the gospel in its spirituality. Its members strive to live lives worthy of the gospel, and at its center is Jesus Christ, the Lord announced in the gospel.” (699)
Not only at the main headings does Bird relate the gospel to each section of doctrine, but he shows how each subsection does as well. Bird has given more than mere lip service to the gospel as that which binds all of Scripture and, therefore, theology together. “The gospel is the glue between doctrine, experience, mission, and practice. I submit that an authentic evangelical theology should be a working out of the gospel in the various loci of Christian theology and then be applied to the sphere of daily Christian life and the offices of Christian leaders.” (21) This gives him the content for his five step method for how theology should be done (81-82).
This gospel focus is also what makes this book a work of biblical theology because it is the gospel, as hinted at in Genesis 3:15 and consummated in Revelation 19-21, that runs throughout the entire Bible. It is the story of the Bible. After working through the various aspects, Bird defines the gospel as
“The announcement that God’s kingdom has come in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord and Messiah, in fulfillment of Israel’s Scriptures. The gospel evokes faith, repentance, and discipleship; its accompanying effects include salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (52)
Though some may wince at the positive use of the phrase “canon within the canon,” Bird is not shy in saying that “the gospel is the ‘canon within the canon’ simply because the biblical canon is the scriptural expression of the ‘rule of faith.’ which itself is an exposition of the gospel.” (21)
Evangelical Theology as a Systematic and Biblical Theology
I think Bird hits a home run with his focus on the gospel at every angle, and therefore, has accomplished part of his goal in writing a biblical theology. So how does he do with the systematic aspect? In short, Bird touches on the major loci of theology with adequate depth and coverage for most sections but has some shortcomings in others.
Bird does a good job with the doctrine of God (chapter 2), eschatology (chapter 3), Christology (chapter 4), soteriology (chapter 5) and ecclesiology for the most part (chapter 8). I think Bird’s does his best work right out of the gates with his chapters on God and Christ. He masterfully shows how God as triune forms the heart and shape of the gospel and supports John Piper’s book, and now famous phrase, God is the gospel. He ties the gospel God as triune, creator, His character and attributes and His revelation to man. His chapter on Christ is equally impressive, and should be, as Bird has written a few books and many essays and articles on Christ previously. Chapter three on eschatology is decent and provides a fair and accurate treatment of the various views. Bird’s soteriology by in large follows the standard Reformed/Calvinistic view, with the debatable exception that he holds to the Amyraldian view of the atonement, which is actually dealt with in Christology (section 4.4.3). Finally, Bird’s ecclesiology is handled well. He seems to see more unity between Israel and the church than disunity (719-27 - which I like!). The only glaring omission from this chapter is a dedicated discussion of the offices of the church as deacon, elders and pastor/teacher. These are mentioned in several places but only as they are viewed by different forms of church governances such as Presbyterian or Episcopalian.
Chapters needing more work begin at the beginning with prolegomena (chapter 1). Though this is where Bird laid out his unique approach in focusing on the gospel, this also became its downfall as there is not enough else by way of a standard discussion on this area of first theology. The chapters on the Holy Spirit (chapter 6) and man (chapter 7) read and feel too short. Perhaps, in my opinion, what is lacking the most in the book is an adequate doctrine of Scripture. (Consider that Wayne Grudem spends almost 100 pages in his systematic theology in the doctrine of Scripture!) This is surprising since Bird has contributed to the recent book Five Views on Inerrancy. Bird places his very short discussion on Scripture under the discussion of the Holy Spirit “because the Holy Spirit is the one who inspired authors to write Scripture, who preserves the inscripturated revelation, and who brings illumination to those who read Scripture.” (638) Bird does not outright reject inerrancy and verbal inspiration (though he does sympathize with both) but he does express much hesitancy towards the terminology. He gives a list of reasons he is hesitant about fully affirming verbal inspiration (640-42) and on inerrancy he states, “If the Word of God is God’s own Word, then its veracity is safeguarded not by our efforts to harmonize any apparent inconsistencies or even by our sophisticated arguments for inerrancy, but by divine fidelity. That is to say, the truthfulness of Scripture is secured by the faithfulness of God to his own Word.” (645) At times Bird seems to use all the same phraseology of an inerrantist but just does not use the term itself.
In the end, though I don’t think Bird has written the next systematic theology that will replace Grudem or Erickson, he has written an overall fine book that will serve the church. What Bird has excelled at is defining the role and relationship of the gospel to systematic theology. This contribution alone is worth owning the book, and others in the future need to follow in his steps. The only other systematic theology I can think of that comes close to this approach is Michael Horton’s recent work A Pilgrim Theology.
Bird treats other theological traditions fairly and shows a real awareness and familiarity with church history. He is thankfully very in tune with and supportive of the various creeds of the church which he turns to throughout the book. Evangelical Theology is not your typical systematic theology as it seeks to weave systematics with biblical and historical theology (primarily through the creeds) to create a more rounded source of theological discussion. The book is peppered with sidebars (often very extensive) in which he seeks to draw attention to certain issues at hand. True to form, Bird mixes his humor throughout the book which makes the reading all the more enjoyable. (less)
Who is allowed to partake at the Lord’s Supper? This is not just a distinction between denominations as far removed from each other as Baptist and Ref...moreWho is allowed to partake at the Lord’s Supper? This is not just a distinction between denominations as far removed from each other as Baptist and Reformed. This is also an intramural debate among those of the Reformed stripe, the majority being credocommunion and the minority being paedocommunion.
What follows is both an overview of the book as well as some concluding reflections from a Baptist perspective looking from the outside into a debate within the Reformed tradition.
Children and the Lord’s Supper is a compilation of chapters which weave in and out of critiquing the paedocommunion view of the Lord’s Supper and defending the credocommunion view. The book argues both angels alone biblical, theological, exegetical and historical lines while reflecting on the practical and pastoral considerations of both. Editors Ligon Duncan and Gut Waters did a good job to make sure there is great continuity among the chapters. At some points there seems to be too much repetition but overall there is a clear line from beginning to end that does not run too big.
From the Reformed perspective, the essential argument against paedocommunion is that partakers of communion who have not made a public profession of faith cannot fulfill the requirements of I Cor. 11:17-34, namely the requirement to ‘discern the body’, ‘examine oneself’ and partake in the Lord’s Supper in a ‘worthy manner.’ Further, in regards to Matt. 26:26-29, how can one who has not made a profession of faith be able to ‘show the Lord’s death until He returns?’ From the credocommunionist position, partaking in the Lord’s Supper and failing to fulfill these requirements would result in ‘eating and drinking judgment on themselves.’
Along biblical lines Bryan Estelle argues that though the OT Passover and NT Lord’s Supper are analogous this does not mean the analogy necessitates a one-for-one interpretation between the two. Thus, though paedocommunionists may argue that children were present and participants in the Passover meal (though they argue it is not clear that they were) this does not mean it is the same case for the Lord’s Supper.
Along exegetical lines George W. Knight III presents a very readable exegesis of I Cor. 11:17-34. There are no outstanding or unique remarks made but rather a clear explanation of the passage. Knight concludes that “the table is only open to those children who have made such a public profession of faith and who are able to understand and act upon Paul’s instruction (p. 95).”
Chapters five, six and seven deal with historical considerations. Cornelius Venema addresses the content and history of the Reformed Confessions in the WCF, Heidelberg Confession and the Belgic Confession. There is unanimous agreement that the confessions do not support paedocommunion. In chapter six Nick Needham looks at the practice of the Lord’s Supper in the Patristic church. At the outset Needham states that
We can hardly disentangle the two dominical sacraments from each other. Belief and practice about baptism and about the Lord’s Supper are bound up with each other, both theologically and historically. Those who reject infant baptism are unlikely (to put it mildly) to endorse infant communion (p. 146).
Needham essentially argues that there was not enough of a distinguishment within this period between the belief and practice of baptism and the Lord’s Supper in order to be able to clearly say the Patristic church practiced paedocommunion.
Concluding the historical element for the book, Joel R. Beeke summarizes the teaching of the Reformed Liturgies starting with Calvin’s catechism and liturgy in 1541 to the Westminster Directory in 1644. Beeke concludes his overview of these documents by stating, “These liturgies and directories show that ‘paedocommunion’ had no place in the beliefs or practice of the Reformers or the Westminster Divines (p. 178).”
In the final chapter Waters and Duncan present some pastoral reflections on the issue of children and the Lord’s Supper. After reiterating many of the arguments made throughout the book they conclude with some very helpful pointers for parents to help them consider as they bring their children to the point of a confession of faith and the following admittance to the Lord ’s Table. There is much in here that even a Baptist like myself can readily agree with.
I am a Baptist. And I have to admit it has been nothing but interesting and sometimes frustrating reading this book as a Baptist. When I posted that I had finished reading this book one of my Reformed paedocommunion friends asked me how I felt about the book as a Baptist. He asked because he felt the same frustration at one point that I do now about the Reformed position of pro paedobaptism and anti paedocommunion. In time this caused him to make a full commitment to paedocommunion.
So why am I frustrated and conflicted? On the one hand I readily agree with most if not all of the points made in the book against paedocommunion. In fact there are probably some more points I would make as a Baptist that a Reformed position might not. As mentioned earlier, Children and the Lord’s Supper is a Reformed response to paedocommunion. As such the authors are paedobaptists. It is here that I find myself teetering between agreement and frustration. As a Baptist I can get behind the arguments against paedocommunion. But as a Baptist trying as best I can to just enjoy my agreement with my Reformed brothers I found myself at the end of every chapter frustrated by the thought that I wanted to argue against their paedobaptists position with the same arguments they were using against the Reformed position of paedocommunion. Again and again I wanted to say yes! But then I followed it up with ‘but wait!’ From someone on the outside looking in I felt like saying its either all or nothing. Its either both paedobaptism and paedocommunion or neither. I just cannot wrap my mind around one and not the other for the very same reasons I would endorse the one. Aside from the historical chapters of the book it felt like it was a fight against saying we agree with paedobaptism because we see the correlation/analogy between circumcision and baptism as 60/40 (more yes than no so we do it) but the reverse for Communion (40/60 – more less than no so we don’t). At some points I felt like the arguments were betraying the writers. Ironically, this is something the writers admittedly bump up against in many of the chapters.
So in the end I am conflicted about this book. I love it as a Baptist but I feel I would be confused as a Reformed brother. This is not to say reformed theology is confusing or nonsensical. I know my Reformed brothers feel the same way about some of my Baptist beliefs. Aside from my personal struggles at this point I commend Children and the Lord’s Supper as an able defense of the credocommunion position.(less)
When it comes to discussing the relevance and continuity of the Ten Commandments for the Christian, the dividing line seems to rest on the application...moreWhen it comes to discussing the relevance and continuity of the Ten Commandments for the Christian, the dividing line seems to rest on the application of the fifth commandment – the command to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. If obedience to the Ten Commandments is still in effect for the Christian then we must keep the Sabbath. If it is not in effect for the Christian then we do not have to keep the Sabbath. This of course is tied to the NT teaching on the law which is the seedbed of much of the controversy.
Perspectives on the Sabbath: 4 Views presents four views on Sabbath keeping for the Christian. It covers from the Seventh-Day Adventist view which is the strictest view to the Fulfillment view which is the most lenient.
The first view presented is the Seventh-Day Adventist view by Skip McCarty. There is much that McCarty rightly uses in defense of the Sabbath-Day view. He rightly starts in Genesis 2:2 and utilizes the Ten Commandments as given in Exodus and Deuteronomy. McCarty clearly holds a continuationist view of the Ten Commandments so much so that he believes the Sabbath rest is still to be held on what our calendars still call Saturday. Texts like Isaiah 56:5-6 & 66:22-23 are used to claim that the Saturday Sabbath rest is universal for all time. However, as Pipa points out, McCarty does not follow his application through since he does not believe we need to obey the other ceremonial observances (p. 76). What makes the Seventh-Day view stand out is that it does not recognize the resurrection event as having any bearing on when the day in which the Sabbath is held – changing from Saturday to Sunday. McCarty concludes his defense with this statement:
For us, Jesus’ fulfillment of the Sabbath doesn’t make Sabbath observance obsolete; rather, it infuses it with even richer meaning than the most devout OT believer had the privilege of understanding or experiencing (p. 70).
The second view is that of the Christian Sabbath as defended by Joseph A. Pipa. Like McCarty, Pipa begins in Genesis and uses some of the same texts to ground the nature of the Sabbath command. As a continuationist for the Ten Commandments, Pipa sees a moral grounding, as opposed to ceremonial grounding, for the Sabbath command and therefore believes it is binding on the NT believer. Pipa holds that since the Ten Commandments are not ceremonial law, having their grounding in creation and the law, provide the basis for the rest of the Mosaic law and are repeated in the NT they are still applicable for the NT believer. Pipa believes that the command to the keep the Sabbath is about the seventh day of the week and not necessarily tied to Saturday. Since the Ten Commandments are not ceremonial or judicial they are not fulfilled in the sense of abrogating their use or applicability for the Christian. Christ does fulfill them but does not end them. Pipa rightly contends that the resurrection of Christ is the defining event that the NT church recognized as shifting the Sabbath rest from Saturday to Sunday. Before the resurrection the basis for Saturday Sabbath was creation and the Exodus. Since the resurrection, Sabbath is remembered in celebration of and on the day of the resurrection event – Sunday. When it comes to observing the Sabbath Pipa argues that the believer is to rest short of works of necessity (preparing food or feeding animals) and mercy (tending to medical emergencies, helping a neighbor fix their car so they can get to work the next day or certain types of businesses that cannot shut down on Sunday). Admittedly, this leaves room for much “work” to be done in Sunday. I personally find this view to be the most convincing.
The third view is the Lutheran view as presented by Charles Arand and the fourth is the Fulfillment view as defended by Craig Blomberg. Though Blomberg believes there is enough difference between the two to separate them, readers will have a hard time seeing the net difference. The most notable difference is the evidence and method of defense each uses to support their view. Arand depends heavily on Luther’s works while Blomberg rests more on Scripture and history. In the end they both come to the same conclusion that the NT believer is not bound to the Ten Commandments the same way the OT Jew was. Therefore, we are not bound to the Sabbath command with the same guidelines. Yes we are to observe the Sabbath but we are free in Christ to do with our time as we see fit once we have worshiped with God’s people in our local church.
There is much to commend this perspectives book for. Overall it is clear. The challenging remarks are respectful. It was good to see that each contributor had the opportunity to respond to the criticisms of the others. Each contributor had a deep respect for the authority of Scripture and sought to show how their view supported that belief the best. Three of the four chapters presenting the respective view were a bit long and I think some could have been cut out and still been satisfying to the reader and the writer.(less)
If you pay attention to them, the very combination of the words ‘hell under fire‘ should make you pause and think. I suppose that was the intent of th...moreIf you pay attention to them, the very combination of the words ‘hell under fire‘ should make you pause and think. I suppose that was the intent of the publisher when they came up with the title. Well – it worked. What is ironic about the title Hell Under Fire is that fire is a word that Scripture uses to describe hell. I suppose the subtitle ‘Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment’ implies that the critical nature of modern scholarship towards the doctrine of hell is itself fiery. Do you see the picture forming here? Liberal modern scholarship is exacting its own fire on the traditional orthodox view of hell which includes the description of hell as fire. Is the picture getting clearer? Fire is being used to fight against fire.
Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment edited by Christopher Morgan and Robert A. Peterson is a riveting and clear defense of the orthodox position of hell that it is real, eternal and will include conscious suffering. The book has a powerful line up of contributors such as Al Mohler on Modern Theology: The Disappearance of Hell, G.K. Beale on The Revelation on Hell, Douglas Moo on Paul on Hell and J.I. Packer on Universalism: Will Everyone Ultimately Be Saved? The contributors do not mince words in their faithful defense of the historic position of hell. It is not an exaggeration to say that as these authors present the Biblical doctrine of hell they expose the inaccurate and unfounded claims of universalism and annihilationism. Every chapter in this book is worth commenting on but the focus of this review will only be on a few of them.
From the outset Mohler’s words are spot on when it comes to the consequences of redefining hell:
…No doctrine stands alone. Each doctrine is embedded in a system of theological conviction and expression. Take out the doctrine of hell, and the entire shape of Christian theology is inevitably altered (p. 16).
In chapter two Daniel Block presents the Old Testament contribution to the doctrine of hell. Block admittedly states that the OT teaches very little on hell. Block seeks to answer four questions: (1) How does the OT refer to the abode of the dead?, (2) Who occupies the netherworld?, (3) What conditions greet those who enter the netherworld and (4) What evidence does the OT provide for the Christian doctrine of hell as eternal punishment (p. 44)? Most notably are OT passages such as Ezekiel 32:22-23, Isaiah 66:1-17 and Daniel 12:1-3. “Ezekiel offers the fullest description of the deceased in the netherworld in his oracles against the nations (p. 53).” Isaiah clearly shows a contrast between the eternal state of believers and unbelievers and Daniel 12 points to a time in the future when men will see their eternal fate (p. 62). In conclusion to the OT doctrine of hell Block states:
…the general tenor of the Old Testament seems to reflect a conviction that people continue to live even after they die. Logic would suggest that any belief in the resurrection would be based on this supposition…..It is difficult to imagine a doctrine of resurrection without an understanding of the continued existence of the person in some (spiritual) form after death (p. 58-59).
In chapter three Robert Yarbrough handles the passages in the New Testament where Jesus talks about hell. Yarbrough minces no words when it comes to attempts to alter the Biblical doctrine of hell:
The problem is that if Jesus spoke as frequently and directly about hell as Gospel writers claim, then it may not be the Christina message that we end up proclaiming if we modify his doctrine of posthumous existence….If the historic doctrine of hell is to be set aside, it is most of all Jesus’ teachings that must be neutralized (p. 71-72).
Yarbrough first walks through the Gospels to see what Jesus actually said concerning hell. It is clear that Jesus said too much about its reality, eternality and conscious unending punishment to pass it off as temporary and merely used as a scare tactic. Throughout his chapter Yarbrough interacts a lot with Edward W. Fudge, noted annihilationist. Yarbrough honestly engages Fudge’s argument of several passages presenting Fudge’s position is his own words. Fudge believes that while hell is real it will only be the experience of some for a short period of time (p. 77-78) and that “the traditionalist notion of everlasting torment in hell springs directly from that non-biblical teaching (p. 83).” That non-biblical teaching is Greek Platonic philosophy. After addressing the second claim Yarbrough responds by saying,
To demonstrate Plato’s influence it would be helpful to see at least a fair number of patristic authorities explicitly adducing Plato to help ground their interpretation of Jesus’ teaching on hell. To my knowledge no one has produced such a study…..If our aim is to be faithful to Scripture, we must face what Jesus’ teachings have been understood to assert by most biblical interpreters over many centuries, cutting across a wide assortment of confessional and denominational settings…..the frequent first move of discrediting the historical view by accusing it of early and Platonic origin lacks credible basis (p. 87).
In chapter four Douglas Moo deals with Paul on hell. This is perhaps the strongest chapter in the book. From Romans 1:18-2:11 Moo wonderfully points out that,
“Death,” “condemnation,” “wrath,” and the :curse” a;; descend on human beings as a result of Adam’s sin. Human beings are, therefore, already in a state of “perishing.” This condition is fixed forever for those who do not respond to God’s grace in Christ and the work of his spirit. But it is also clear that the condition that follows final judgment is an intensified form of what unbelievers now experience (p. 93).
Moo’s statement here points to what he calls an “inaugurated eschatology” of judgment. People come to death as already condemned because of our relationship to Adam (p. 94; Rom. 5:12-21). Moo also aptly notes that “Paul and his readers assumed the doctrine of hell as so basic that he did not need to provide extensive evidence for it (p. 95).” Moo addresses passages like I Cor. 15:20-28,Rom. 5:18, Col. 1:20 and 2 Thess. 1:8-9. Moo’s conclusion on Paul’s doctrine of hell is that he “presents the judgment that comes on the wicked as the necessary response of a holy and entirely just God. For Paul, the doctrine of hell is a necessary corollary of the divine nature (p. 109).
In chapter six Christopher Morgan looks at the doctrine of hell from a biblical theology stand point in the New Testament. He looks at three picture of hell in Scripture:
Punishment is frequently portrayed as retribution, judgment, suffering, and torment by fire. Destruction is often described as perishing, death, or the second death. Banishment is commonly pictured as separation from the kingdom of God, exclusion from the presence of God, or being cut off from something living (p. 136) Morgan bear out these three pictures in a number of ways. First, he walks briefly through every book and writer in the NT and touches on their passages on hell. Then he fleshes out the three pictures of hell from the NT. Finally, he concludes by interpreting these three central pictures of hell. Morgan states that these pictures characterize hell as eternal (p. 148). They also “interweave with biblical portraits of God” as Judge, warrior and King (p. 149-50). Also, the three pictures of hell “flow naturally from biblical portraits of sin,” they “also appear to illustrate the biblical doctrine of the atonement,” they “stand in contrast with biblical portraits of salvation,” and they also “stand in contrast with biblical portraits of the kingdom of heaven (p. 150).”
In chapters eight and nine J.I. Packer and Christopher Morgan address the positions of universalism and annihilationism respectively. Packer point out that “most universalists concede that universalism is not clearly taught in the Bible (p. 171).” However, “it is argued that the biblical revelation of God’s love to his world entails a universal salvific intention, that is, a purpose of saving everybody, and that sooner or later God must achieve that purpose (p. 171).” For annihilationism, or as it is preferred to be called, conditionalism, Morgan defines it as “the belief that God has created all human beings only potentially immortal. Upon being united to Christ, believers partake in the divine nature and receive immortality. Unbelievers never receive this capacity to live forever and ultimately cease to exist (p. 196).” Perhaps the best argument against this view is found in Revelation 20:15 which reads, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (p. 218).”
In the final chapter of the book Sinclair Ferguson offers some concluding pastoral remarks. Ferguson admits honestly that the very thought of an eternal hell of suffering for people is “emotionally intolerable (p. 220).” However, we must grapple with the reality that “hell exists; this is the testimony of the Scriptures, of the apostles, and of the Lord Jesus himself (p. 220).” Ferguson calls preachers of the Word to preach at least four things about hell from Scripture:
Hell is real. Hell is vividly described in the pages of the New Testament. Hell, though prepared for the devil and his angels, is shared by real human beings. Most important, in expounding and teaching the biblical teaching on hell, we must emphasize that there is a way of salvation (p. 226-28). His final words provide the preacher of the Word with great encouragement as we preach the biblical doctrine of hell:
Hell is at the end of the day the darkness outside; dense like a black hole, it is the place of cosmic waste. Who can contemplate this for long? Who, indeed, is sufficient for these things? The question is surely rhetorical. None of us is sufficient. But our sufficiency is to be found in Christ, the Savior, the Perfect Man, the Redeemer, the Judge. We must constantly remind ourselves that it is the Savior who spoke clearly of the dark side of eternity. To be faithful to him, so must we (p. 237).
Hell Under Fire is a much needed corrective to much of the teaching within evangelicalism today on the doctrine of hell. This book needs to be read by every pastor and student of the Word. Read this book with Bible in hand and allow the Word of God to shape your heart and mind on the doctrine of hell. (less)