Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Friday, March 04, 2011
There are a lot of posts flying around the blogosphere concerning the various views of Hell, so I'm gonna devote some space to it, as time permits. Starting with this.
Back in 2006, there was a blogpost which excerpted Jonathan Edwards and asked why contemporary pastors don't preach about the reality of Hell anymore.
Somewhere down in the comment section, I posted this excerpt from a biographical talk John Piper gave on Jonathan Edwards.
And for many text books, Edwards is no more than a gloomy troubler of the churches in those days of Awakening fervor. So what we get as a sample of latter-day Puritanism is an excerpt from his sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."…
And so the kids are given the impression that Edwards was a gloomy, sullen, morose, perhaps pathological misanthrope who fell into grotesque religious speech the way some people fall into obscenity.
But no high school kid is ever asked to wrestle with what Edwards was wrestling with as a pastor. When you read "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" (which you can do in the Banner of Truth two-volume collection of his works), you see quickly that Edwards was not falling into this kind of language by accident. He was laboring as a pastor to communicate a reality that he saw in Scripture and that he believed was infinitely important to his people.
And before any of us, especially us pastors, sniffs at Edwards' imagery, we had better think long and hard what our own method is for helping our people feel the weight of the reality of Revelation 19:15. Edwards stands before this text with awe. He virtually gapes at what he sees here. John writes in this verse, "He [Christ] will tread the wine press of the fierceness of the wrath of God the Almighty."
Listen to Edwards' comment in this sermon,
The words are exceeding terrible. If it had only been said, "the wrath of God," the words would have implied that which is infinitely dreadful: but it is "the fierceness and wrath of God! The fierceness of Jehovah! O how dreadful must that be! Who can utter or conceive what such expressions carry in them?
What high school student is ever asked to come to grips with what really is at issue here? If the Bible is true, and if it says that someday Christ will tread his enemies like a winepress with anger that is fierce and almighty, and if you are a pastor charged with applying Biblical truth to your people so that they will flee the wrath to come, then what would your language be? What would you say to make people feel the reality of texts like these?
Edwards labored over language and over images and metaphors because he was so stunned and awed at the realities he saw in the Bible. Did you hear that one line in the quote I just read: "Who can utter or conceive what such expressions carry in them?" Edwards believed that it was impossible to exaggerate the horror of the reality of hell.
High school teachers would do well to ask their students the really probing question, "Why is it that Jonathan Edwards struggled to find images for wrath and hell that shock and frighten, while contemporary preachers try to find abstractions and circumlocutions that move away from concrete, touchable Biblical pictures of unquenchable fire and undying worms and gnashing of teeth?" If our students were posed with this simple, historical question, my guess is that some of the brighter ones would answer: "Because Jonathan Edwards really believed in hell, but most preachers today don't."
Piper's complete dicussion is here.
What was true five years ago is even more so today. The reality of Hell, and the need to convey it as Edwards did, in vivid, picturesque language (because that reality is far worse than the picture), may never be more needed as it is right now. It is needed in the Church, to reinforce for us the necessity and urgency of evangelism, and it is needed in the world, to help people understand the sinfulness of sin, and the sacrifice of the Savior.