The last sermon on hell I heard I preached myself. And that was nearly 30 years ago.
Not that I enjoy preaching on hell (or indeed hearing anyone else preach on the subject). My soul revolts against the very thought of living human beings suffering eternal punishment. And that feeling has been mutual for believers and would-be believers down through the ages.
When the great European theologian Karl Barth lectured in the United States back in 1963, Edward John Carnell of Fuller Seminary posed the question,” Do you believe in hell?” The Swiss theologian replied, “No, I don’t believe in hell; I believe in Jesus Christ.”
While my theological convictions were almost wholly with the evangelical Carnell, Barth had a point. Our love and commitment of soul is not to a doctrine of eternal punishment but to Jesus Christ, our divine Lord and Savior.
Is that surprising? According to the Bible, God himself wishes that no human being should ever perish but, through repentance and faith, spend eternity with him. But, of course, the holy and all-good God of the Bible does not always choose to bring his divine wishes into reality.
What, then, are the rock-ribbed realities of human destiny? Listen to these theologians: Paul Tillich says that all existing humanity, like Christ, will eventually be absorbed into the eternal ground of all being. Nels Ferré puts forth the sentimental hope that in the end love must dissolve all evil. Rudolf Bultmann speaks vaguely of the infinite triumph beyond human history. Emil Brunner despairingly compromises with the annihilation of all who are not redeemed. And Karl Barth opts finally for a radical break with Reformation tradition. In spite of unequivocal scriptural statements teaching eternal punishment, he argues ...1
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