Scripture tells us that the Lord does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23). Yet Scripture also clearly teaches that there will be a final judgment of the wicked, after which they will be consigned to eternal torment in hell. These are difficult truths, to be sure, but truths that we must accept and defend if we are to be faithful to God’s Word. In their new booklet, What Is Hell?, authors Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson treat the doctrine of hell with both the carefulness and clarity that the subject demands.
The booklet is divided into two main sections. In the first section, the authors examine the biblical teaching on hell. They summarize this teaching along five lines: hell is punishment, destruction, banishment, a place of suffering, and eternal. The second section explores some of the theological and practical implications of the doctrine of hell. The authors point out that one’s doctrine of hell is intimately related to one’s entire theology, including views of God, man, sin, and salvation. The authors set the biblical doctrine of hell over against the erroneous views of universalism (all will be saved in the end) and annihilationism (hell is only temporary; its inhabitants will eventually cease to exist). They rightly argue that the biblical doctrine of hell should compel us to evangelize, taking message of salvation to a world alienated from God.
Morgan and Peterson have covered this ground before. Together they have either edited, written, or contributed to several books on hell, including their co-edited volume, Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Zondervan, 2004). But this booklet provides a helpful distillation of the biblical teaching on hell as well as the implications of the doctrine for the church’s theology and practice. The booklet introduces the reader to some of the contemporary theological debates about hell, including the challenges raised by universalism and annihilationism. The authors rightly point out that what we do with the difficult doctrine of hell reflects our overall submission to Scripture’s teaching.
As with the other booklets in P&R’s Basics of the Faith series, this booklet would be a helpful resource for pastors keep on hand to give to inquiring unbelievers or church members. It could also be used profitably for small group or personal Bible study. Other topics covered by the series include the perseverance of the saints, church government, vocation, worship music, spiritual gifts, and the atonement. While not all evangelicals will agree with every position taken in these booklets, they do provide helpful summaries of basic Bible doctrines from a Reformed perspective.
The Lord does not delight in the death of the wicked. Neither should the Lord’s people. But we should be clear about what every New Testament author teaches: Those who finally reject God will suffer eternal, conscious torment in hell away from the presence of God. As Morgan and Peterson show, these truths should lead to humility, not haughtiness, as we plead with fellow-sinners to escape the wrath to come by trusting in the one who drank the cup of God’s wrath in our place: the Lord Jesus Christ.