Skip to comments.NT Wright Wrong About Eternal Torment?
Posted on 12/25/2012 7:59:39 AM PST by SeekAndFind
The last thing any of us want to think about is eternal torment. And yet there we find it....smack dab in the middle of God's Word, and regularly mentioned by the very One who suffered on the cross for our sins. As much as we would like to ignore it completely....or pretend it doesn't exist....we find ourselves compelled to honestly accept everything God has placed in His Word....even when it has such extreme consequences.
Nothing could be further from our natural way of thinking than the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell....and the Son of God suffering on a cross....and a land of inexpressible joy as the alternative to eternal torment. Who could come up with this stuff? That is, if it wasn't true.
Oh wait. I forgot. God and his eternal declarations will only be fulfilled if we understand them....and if we give the go ahead....and if we find them acceptable. It all boils down to our approval, right? We are the masters of the universe....and the ones who get to call the shots on eternity. Yea right.
Speaking of "right," N.T. Wright was an Anglican bishop in the Church of England from 2003 until his retirement in 2010. In recent years, he has written some questionable opinions and made some provocative statements concerning heaven and hell. Wright is very direct when talking about the resurrection of the body....especially for those who will spend all of eternity with Christ. But he becomes quite vague when asked about hell. He tends to view hell more as a "progressive shrinking of human life" in this world, rather than as a literal "lake of fire" in the next world. (see Rev. 20:14,15)
Wright doesn't, however, completely rule out any judgment in the next life for some people. In an interview a few years ago he stated, "My description is neither an annihilationist view nor an eternal conscious torment view." And so he lands somewhere in the middle. He has adopted a theory that makes sense to him. Frankly, I don't think any definition of hell makes much sense when funneled through our human reason. Other than God....and those who are in hell right now....who can truly grasp the reasoning behind the doctrine of hell?
N.T. Wright has asked on various occasions, "Why are Americans so fixated on hell?" On a subject of this magnitude, he is asking the wrong question. The question he should be asking is simply, "Why did Jesus talk so much about hell?" And why did our Lord spend more time talking about that subject than most Americans ever talk about it? (see Matt. 5:22; Matt. 5:29,30; Matt. 7:13,14; Matt. 8:12; Matt. 10:28; Matt. 11:23,24; Matt. 13:49,50; Matt. 16:18; Matt. 18:8,9; Matt. 18:34,35; Matt. 22:13; Matt. 23:15,33; Matt. 25:30; Matt. 25:41; Matt. 25:46; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 10:15; Luke 12:5; Luke 16:22-24)
Jesus talked about many things, and hell is just one of the topics he discussed. But when he addressed it, he gave us a glimpse behind the veil. Hell is so horrible that our words and thoughts can barely begin to express the torment which takes place there. It is the second toughest thing that Spirit-filled Christians think about, or talk about....the toughest thing is the painful ordeal which our Lord suffered on the day of His crucifixion. Let's face it. God hates sin a lot more than you or I do.....and He punishes it far more severely than you or I would punish it. The cross proves it. And so does the reality of hell, which by the way, was originally prepared for the devil and his angels. (see Matt. 25:41) It's above our pay grade to fully comprehend it, but that doesn't make hell any less real. When you interpret the Bible with honesty and integrity, you end up with both heaven and hell....sin and grace....law and gospel....forgiveness and punishment....eternal joy and eternal torment.
N.T. Wright has said that Americans seem "really determined to be sure that they know precisely who is going to be frying in hell and what the temperature will be and so on." Really? Not in my experience. Wright's comment speaks volumes concerning the cavalier manner in which he tends to address this somber issue. I wonder how many Christians he hangs around who are filled with compassion for anyone who is on the highway to hell.
The Lord has provided a way for man to escape hell and make it into heaven. But there is only one way. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) Just as there was only one door on the ark of Noah at the time of the great flood, so also, there is only one door that leads to heaven. Jesus said, "I am the door. Whoever enters through me will be saved." (John 10:9)
The Bible reveals to us that God wants people on the road to heaven rather than the road to hell. "God wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:4) "The Lord is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9) "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) "God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
Just as God's punishment is far greater than we would ever hand out, so also His love is far greater than we would ever demonstrate. And yet amazingly, we often speak and act as if heaven and hell should make sense to us....being the all-wise ones that we pretend to be. When we attempt to pontificate on heaven and hell using our own wisdom, we don't have a clue what we are really talking about.
And then there are the Lord's words on the matter. Jesus is God. He knows everything. He chose to give man serious warnings about the reality of hell....and the eternal nature of it. Many Christians in America rightly believe His words about both heaven and hell. That doesn't mean most Christians in America are glad about it .and rejoice in it. That is unthinkable. Again I must ask, "Who has N.T. Wright been hanging around?" It sounds like he needs to get out more .and meet plenty of Spirit-filled believers who shudder at the thought of people suffering in hell.
N.T. Wright seems to pick out the parts of the Bible he likes....and he trusts that those things will come to pass. But when it comes to hell, he takes the easy way out....and the dangerous way. He relies upon his human reason rather than the words of the King. Will he eventually attempt to alter the "eternal" aspect of heaven as well? I guess he could just publish his own version of the Bible (the "Wright" Bible) and define heaven and hell according to his own preferences and opinions. But don't tamper with God's Word and attempt to pass it off as anything more than wishful thinking. The clear teaching of the New Testament....and the clear teaching of Christ Himself....is that the Son of God suffered for awhile, in order to rescue men from suffering forever.
If that were not actually the case, would Jesus have left heaven and come here to suffer the way He did? No. The truth is that Christ's suffering points as much to the reality of hell as it does to the reality of heaven. If you take N.T. Wright's comments a step further, perhaps Christians in America spend too much time thinking and talking about the suffering of Christ on the cross.
Wright's opinion concerning eternal torment seems to me to be the equivalent of saying, "Jesus Christ may not have actually suffered that much physical torment for that long on the cross."
You see my point. It is futile to live in a fantasy world where we pick and choose those parts of the Bible that are pleasing to us. The words of our Lord are either entirely true, or entirely false. When you tamper with God's inerrant Word and call the "hard stuff" into question, you are being misled....and you are also misleading others on those difficult doctrines. So let's see....N.T. Wright seems convinced that when our Lord referred to "everlasting life" for believers, He meant forever. But when he talked about hell, He didn't really mean what he said about it being a place of eternal torment. So did the Holy Spirit teach that progressive interpretation to this former bishop, or was it simply wishful thinking on the part of this biblical theorist from Scotland?
If I could snap my fingers and make N.T. Wright's version of hell become the real one, I would do it. Who wouldn't, in our natural understanding, desire less punishment for sinners rather than more punishment? But is it up to us? Did we create the world....and man....and give him boundaries not to cross? Is it up to us to hand out the punishment to lawbreakers....and the free gift of eternal life to sinners who repent and believe the good news? All of this is beyond us, and outside of our human understanding. Apart from biblical revelation, who knows anything about heaven and hell?
Oh but man assumes that he does. We are so smart. After all, we made it to the moon....and we created computers....so why wouldn't we know what we are talking about when it comes to eternal joy in heaven....wherever that is....and eternal torment (or not) in hell....wherever that is. Yea....we got this one nailed, just like everything else we have discovered through scientific research and development. Yea right. If that's what you want to tell yourself, I suppose you will just keep on believing it. Not me.
If Jesus was telling the truth about eternal torment for those who reject Him, then N.T. Wright is wrong to cast aspersions upon our Lord's words regarding eternal punishment. They can't both be right. So was Jesus telling the truth, or wasn't He?
Dan Delzell is the pastor of Wellspring Lutheran Church in Papillion, Neb. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.
Would N. T. Wright disagree with the bold statement? In my limited reading of his works, I doubt it. While he might disagree with the idea that entirety of hell is a literal lake of fire, IMO Wright would agree with Jesus' declaration that hell is a place of 'wailing and the gnashing of teeth' and he accepts it horrifying reality.
One thing I learned in the Federal Vision controversy of few years back - be very cautious when a critic restates his opponent's argument. Too often there is a straw-man argument in the making. While it is entirely possible that N. T. Wright is wrong on this issue, I'd like to see more of his position laid out before I'd rush to judgment.
Agreed. I saw very little quoted by Wright himself in the above piece, and I can’t help thinking he has a lot more than that to say about it, especially if this guys ire seems to be raised by it. If these slim selection of quotes are all he’s ever said on the topic, it’s almost not worth commenting on.
So God tortures people forever for what their mythological ancestors did, right?
Christianity is not just “unscientific” but insane and evil.
RE: So God tortures people forever for what their mythological ancestors did, right?
Where in the Bible does it say that?
About 1 hour 30 mins in, or 2 hours in for the hellish part.
2:15 for the lake of fire and the average unbelieving Joe...
“So God tortures people forever for what their mythological ancestors did, right?”
Nope. Did you actually read the article?
“Christianity is not just unscientific but insane and evil.”
R-I-G-H-T. Christianity, which gave us hospitals, universities, the modern roots of science, philosophy, international law and human rights is “insane and evil”. R-I-G-H-T. Are you a product of a public school?
Remember you said that.
Calling a loving God evil is blaspheme.
Perhaps more horrifying isn’t that some churches never want to talk about hell but that some churches no longer want to talk about sin. There are congregations now that embrace sin - such as homosexuality or abortion. Some even want to march down the streets proclaiming their love for sin.
Before people can understand their “hell” problem, they must first understand their “sin” problem.
RE: 2:15 for the lake of fire and the average unbelieving Joe...
Many people who reject Christianity object to the doctrine of hell, which they commonly think of as God’s judgment on unbelievers by eternal torture. They typically ask, “how can a loving God judge people (1) who weren’t properly informed, and (2) using a punishment that is so awful?” I agree that these questions are important. Two additional issues that are troublesome:
The punishment should match the crime, and
Since God is just, He would inform us ahead of time of the rules He is using.
Evangelical, fundamental Protestants typically respond to these objections by referring to John Calvin’s doctrine of Total Depravity that we are so radically wicked to the core that God is just in judging us the way He does. Another common solution to the problems comes from the liberal Christian point of view in which the Bible is not taken to be a factual, historical book but is merely a collection of myths as well as spiritually useful teaching (I reject the view of liberal theology).
I generally agree with the teachings of the Catholic Church about the nature of hell. They teach that Hell is being alone, absolutely and forever, and is the eternal experience of ultimate meaninglessness and despair. The nature of the sufferings are twofold:
1. Pain of loss from eternal separation from God.
2. Pain of sense but not sadistic tortures, although the body will share in the punishment of the soul.
1. Those in hell choose to be there with full knowledge of the consequences of their choice.
2. Hell is an expression of God’s love for those who reside there.
3. Final judgment of the wicked is not to punish them, but to judge which eternal home is suitable for them heaven or hell.
4. Sinful deeds contain within them their own judgment and punishment. When people willfully choose to sin they are also choosing to break fellowship with God. The immediate effect of Adam’s sin (his sense of guilt and separation) demonstrates this.
What Hell is Not:
1. Hell is not eternal torture by burning (but hell is “eternal fire”)
2. Hell is not punishment as the just judgment for crimes committed against God (but hell is, rather, the result of the natural consequences of sin). More on this later.
3. Hell is not a place completely without God’s presence
4. Hell is not a place where the inhabitants “vex” one another
What Hell Is:
Hell is judgment for wickedness
Hell is the consequence of unrepented sin and wickedness
Hell is eternal separation from God and self-exclusion from communion with God
Hell is a just consequence by a loving and holy God
Hell is the eternal experience of the unredeemed sinner in the presence of the holy God.
Hell is punishment in the sense that the unredeemed wicked are not given the gift of righteousness
What is the “Fire” of Hell?
Note that the standard view of hell as eternal torture by fire is not supported by the Bible.
The image of hell as fire is figurative.
The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:10)
If we interpret this literally we would have to believe that the wicked are annihilated, a view that I reject. Rather, this image is figurative and has a figurative meaning. The image concerns burning trash because it has no usefulness.
Hell is therefore a place where those who don’t bear spiritual fruit (who reject God) are discarded from God’s plan and purpose. It doesn’t say that they are burned in eternal hell fire taking the image of fire as literal results in annihilationism, not eternal torture.
The image of fire refers to God testing what we are made of, not to eternal torture.
His work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. (1 Corinthians 3:13)
The fire which consumes the wicked is the same thing as judgment. In other words, fire = judgment, not punishment.
Only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. (Hebrews 10:27)
If we take the image of fire literally we have annihilation because fire consumes by annihilating, not by eternal torture.
In the following passage the word punishment refers to judgment by death because the wicked in these towns were judged by being killed. Their example is that God judges wickedness, not that He tortures them forever in hell.
In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7)
Everlasting destruction is an oxymoron. Once something is destroyed it is gone and you can’t destroy it anymore.
Everlasting destruction refers to the results of God’s judgment of the wicked and what becomes of them. It does not imply eternal torture.
He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power. (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)
I think hell is the absence of God. An atheist may not believe in Him, but he still benefits from Gods presence. At death, after having had every chance to know Him, God removes Himself completely from that person, leaving him tormented when he finally realizes hes rejected Gods love. If you doubt this, ask God. If Hes real, Hell answer you. If He isnt, you havent lost a thing.
Dear S&F, I noticed that the pastor does not site which of N.T. Wright’s many worthy books he drew the quotation from, and thus enabling us to get the entire context. From my readings of Wright, he had mentioned the “American” belief in a (my paraphrase) “Fire and brimstone version of Hell.” A version that I associate with the 19th century and especially Baptist and Holy Roller churches of my youth in the 20th century. It sounds like the pastor/writer of this article is of that vein of belief.
I don’t envision Hell as litterally fire and brimstone,which is more of a description of the burning trash pits at Gehanna, where the aborted children and unwanted new borns were tossed to be disposed of by fire.
To me, Hell is being denied the presence of Jesus and His Father. There is a spiritual realm of evil to which souls of those who practice evil go and it is to those whom Jesus also offers his sacrifice for the forgiveness of their souls as well as ours, only if they ask for it.
As it is, N.T. Wright is one of my favorite writers and teachers of Christianity. I have also found the volumes on Jesus by Pope Benedict XVI worth reading and pondering. And the Pontiff’s volumes are quite readable and understandible, as are Wright’s.
Whether "lakes of fire" or whatnot are metaphors or to be understood literally is not very important; someone who thinks eternal separation from God would be somehow more tolerable if no lakes of fire are involved is missing the whole point of the exercise.
Dear S&F, thank you for your post #11. I, a Protestant, am thus more in line with the Roman Catholic view stated by the author.
Very well said.
Seems like your eternal fate is strongly correlated with where you were born.
This could be a useful link for you to explore:
TITLE: Molinism, the Unevangelized, and Cultural Chauvinism
So why have billions of East Asians chosen to be in hell and only a handful chose to be Christian?
Or, to put it another way, why don't you allow for the possibility that Perfect Love and Infinite Intellect is not going to find human ignorance to be much of an obstacle?