“Jonathan Edwards and Hell” by Chris Morgan

There is a lot of things that could go into buying a book.  Most of the time, I will see a recommendation of sorts and be compelled to purchase the book.  Sometimes, I am given the book by friends, family, or at conferences.  And sometimes, I’ll be strolling through a book store and see an intriguing book and have to buy it.  That was the case with “Jonathan Edwards and Hell” by Chris Morgan. 

Honestly, most of the purchase had to do with the cover art and thinking it was cool looking.  After that grabbed my attention, I noticed “Jonathan Edwards” and “Hell” on the cover and thought, “That sounds intriguing.”  And the purchase was made.  And is the case with most books I bought, it was placed in a large pile of books that had to wait until after Seminary was over. 

A couple of weeks ago, I decided I was going to walk to work.  Leah needed the car, I needed the exercise and didn’t have my bike at home, and I figured it would be a good chance to do some reading.  A light 2 mile walk with a good book is an hour well spent. 

Once I was well into the book, I was quickly disappointed as to the actual content of the book.  The first three chapters are all about annihilationists and their view points, followed by a chapter on the evangelical response.  That makes up Part I of the book.  Part II had to do with Edwards.  The first chapter of Part II was about annihilationism in the 18th century, followed by a chapter on Edwards response.  The closing chapter discusses how to apply Edward’s method to today’s theological climate. 

So, in 140 pages of content in a book entitled “Jonathan Edwards on Hell”, there are 16 pages specifically about Jonathan Edwards on the topic of Hell.

That isn’t to say it wasn’t an enjoyable and profitable read, but it seemed misleading to say the least.  During my time in seminary I had to read through Robert Peterson’s book “Hell on Trial”, and that covered most of what this book does.  The only thing that this book does differently, is just scratch the surface of Edward’s thoughts on the topic. 

What Morgan does is explain the views in the words of the proponents of such views, and then offers a critique of the strength of the argument.  Morgan offers good insight and has good things to say about how the debate should be discussed.  There are good things about linguistic, exegetical, philosophical, and polemic approaches to the argument, but Morgan appeals to the theological approach Edwards takes. 

The other approaches offer good input, but both sides are still left at an impass.  Here are some helpful notes taken from those sections:

  • One insight that I found interesting is the debate over the word ‘aiwvios’.  That is the word for ‘eternal’.  Some annihilationists would say that there are two senses to the word.  One is quantity, meaning everlasting.  The other is a qualitative sense, meaning a time to come in contrast to the present time.  This view is best propgated by Edward Fudge.  Instead of focusing on everlasting punishment, they focus on the eternal result of the punishment.  The main weakness, as I understand, would be the same word being used in relation to the eternal life granted to believers.
  • The other main point that I liked was how he pointed out that many Annihilationists, including John Stott, find it primarily difficult to believe because of the heinous nature of everlasting torment.  They see it as being a doctrine that does not fit with their defintion of God.  Edwards had this to say:

“It is an unreasonable and unscriptural notion of the mercy of God that He is merciful in such a sense that He cannot bear that penal justice should be executed.  That is to conceive of the mercy of God as a passion to which His nature is so subject that GOd is liable to be moved, affected, and overcome by seeing a creature in misery so that He cannot bear to see justice executed… The Scriptures everywhere represent the mercy of God as free and sovereign, and not that the exercises of it are necessary.”

Edwards saw it as an issue of questioning God’s sovereignty of His creation.  God’s sovereignty is absolute, universal, and unlimited. 

To the objection that everlasting punishment is not suitable for God, Edwards had this to say:

“Since the infinite hatred of sin is suitable to the divine character, then the expressions of that hatred are also suitable to His character… It is suitable that He should execture infinite punishment on it.”

All in all, it was a profitable read, but reader beware that the title may mislead you into thinking the book is about Jonathan Edwards and Hell.

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Resolved Conference 2008- Session 1

Right now, I’m in Palm Springs and it’s been averaging over 110 degrees each day.  There would have to be a pretty good reason why I would subject myself to that kind of heat.  This weekend I’ve come out to Palm Springs with students from our college group to be fed at the Resolved Conference.  It’s a college conference put on by Grace Community Church in the spirit of the resolutions of Jonathan Edwards.  I have wanted to go in the past, but never had the opportunity due to schooling.  This year, though, I resolved to go.

The speakers are John MacArthur, John Piper (my plane friend), CJ Mahaney, Steve Lawson, Randy Alcorn, and Rick Holland. The theme this year is “Heaven and Hell”.  It sort of feels like you are trying to continually take a sip from a fire hydrant.  It’s coming fast, furious, and powerfully.  All you can do is try to process a small amount and leave encouraged and fed.  I realize that there are many who read this who desire to be here, so with you in mind, I thought I would provide a summary of each message.

The first evening was kicked off by Rick Holland who spoke on the topic of death.  Obviously, that isn’t really a message that sells and attracts the right kind of attention.  Our culture does everything we can to avoid dwelling on the subject of death, from being reminded of the immanent nature of it, to being confronted with those that that find themselves on death’s threshold.  Holland traced Edwards’ own thoughts on death and his commitment to constantly remind himself of his own frailty and every possible way he could die.

The point on focusing on your own death is because if you are ready to die, you will then know how to live.  If you are at peace with where you are going, then you will know how you should act in the present.  The text that Holland chose was Hebrews 9:27-28, and he set out to point out the three most important facts of life.

The first fact is that death is unavoidable.  It comes to everyone.  Other than two men (Elijah and Enoch) every single person has died.  We are the only ones in creation who have not died, but we will soon enough join the rest of humanity.  Our time to pass is appointed.  We are passively involved in the end of our lives.  We can think that we will last 70-80 years on earth, but no one is guaranteed that.  Death exists to communicate the seriousness of sin, to convince us of the true penalty of our rebellion against God. No one can deny the reality of death.

The second most important fact of life is that judgment is certain.  All will stand before a holy, righteous, and just God who will judge.  Not only is death a reality, but so is Hell.  Hell exists for those that are condemned at the judgment that is certain.  Hell is such an unpopular subject to speak and dwell on, but it cannot be avoided.  R.C. Sproul said “If you think of Hell rightly, you’ll get saved or go mad.”

The third and final fact of life is that salvation is possible.  Were the first two points left alone, the future would seem bleak.  But the great news is that salvation is possible for those that face an eternal death apart from God.  For those that are saved, they should be characterized by eagerly awaiting and anticipating Christ’s return.  We generally fail in this world because we find our hearts longing more for the present world than the future world.  The believer is to long for the future fulfillment of salvation in such a way that it demands a life that lives for that world alone.

More sessions to come!