Paul's Passing Thoughts

Steve Lawson Sloppy Hermeneutics: Will Christ Personally Torment Unbelievers in Hell for Eternity?

Posted in Uncategorized by pptmoderator on March 7, 2015

Lawson-PreachingOriginally published January 2, 2014

Something has been on my mind for some time that I have never written about. During the 2009 Resolved conference, “Pastor” Steve Lawson preached a sermon on the Great White Throne Judgment. In that message, Lawson claimed that Christ Himself will “be in hell”… “personally inflicting the wrath on unbelievers” for eternity. I know that Calvinism is heavily predicated on fear so I wasn’t surprised that Lawson said it. Rob Bell committed the unpardonable sin among New Calvinists by removing the fear factor in his book “Love Wins.” Calvin himself taught that fear and terror of judgment was efficacious to the mortification and vivification process that enables Christians to stand in the final judgment (CI 3.3.3-7). Bell didn’t merely violate Scripture, he dissed a Reformed mainstay: fear and its kissing cousin control.

Hell, in and of itself, is sobering enough, but apparently Lawson thought the reality of it needed some embellishing. The idea that Christ Himself will be in hell inflicting the punishment personally is a bit unsettling to me. It seems to picture Christ as a hateful God whose wrath never ceases. Instead of punishment being meted out in a hell prepared for the devil and his angels, we have Christ in hell inflicting the torment personally for all of eternity. Christ always spoke of hell as a PLACE of torment, and any idea of Him being the personal tormentor is conspicuously missing. Lawson used the following passage from Revelation for his proof text:

Revelation 14:10 – he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.

This is really sloppy hermeneutics for many reasons, but let me discuss a few. The context of Rev 14:10 is the tribulation period. Revelation 14:6ff. predicts the final wrath of God being poured out upon the earth. This is preceded by a final warning heralded via three angels. The first proclaims the gospel; the second announces the final judgment of Babylon the great, and the third announces the primary woe that will befall those living in Babylon—this is specifically what Rev 14:10 is about. That verse describes the specific woe that the inhabitants will suffer in the presence of Christ and the angels; i.e., fire and sulfur.

This is exactly what happens when the judgment is executed upon Babylon:

Revelation 18:9 – And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. 10 They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.”

…And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off 18 and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, “What city was like the great city?”

In verse 11 of Revelation 14, the angel also warns that the inhabitants of Babylon will seal their eternal fate by accepting the mark of the beast. That verse begins with the transition And which adds information. In the same way they are burned with fire when Christ and the angels execute judgment on Babylon, they will suffer for eternity. But the point is the following:

And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

The judgment in the presence of Christ and the angels regards the judgment on Babylon during the tribulation period, verse 11 speaks of their eternal judgment as a consequence of accepting the mark of the beast. And apparently, they are warned beforehand by the third angel not to do so. This is the theses of the third angel’s message and it has two parts: receiving the mark of the beast will lead to a present judgment by Christ and the angels upon Babylon, and a sealing of their eternal fate:

Revelation 14:9 – And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand,

Hence, verse 12 calls for the endurance of the saints because not receiving the mark of the beast will cost them their lives. Verse 13 promises a blessing for those who die in the Lord thereafter. Right before the judgment on Babylon, God calls for his people who have not received the mark to come out of Babylon before the judgment (Rev 17:4,5).

Furthermore, the subject is clearly not EVERY person who will be condemned to hell, but rather those who receive the mark of the beast. Any other conclusion from the context is presumptuous at best.

A suggestion: make the Bible your authority and not men. Such a rendering of Revelation 14:10 constructs a certain image of Christ in our minds. And it is not a good idea that such images are founded on iffy interpretations of God’s word.

Moreover, there is no other verse in the Bible that supports this view by Lawson. His manly academic credentials do not trump common sense.

paul

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Jerry Collins said, on March 7, 2015 at 10:43 AM

    Hello Paul: I am writing my dissertation on the topic of Spiritual Maturity. Here is an exchange I have written in a section of that I believe is the reformed idea of Union with Christ I tweeted u about. This should give you some context to respond. You can embed any response within the material below Thank you

    The image of spiritual maturity

    Spiritual maturity is often compared to the process of growing up in scripture. The image of infancy to maturity emerges as a motif of spiritual maturity. This image is a legitimate representation of the operation of spiritual transformation. Gordon Smith recognizes this imagery in his discussion about spiritual maturity. He states, “The image of spiritual growth toward maturity suggests the idea of progress in the faith; spiritual maturity does not come quickly but occurs over time as a person responds to the means of grace and thus “grows.” Surely this is precisely what the author of 2 Peter wants his readers to understand. He speaks of faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control and more, concluding with love, and he speaks of possessing these qualities in increasing measure (2 Pet 1:8).”[1] Smith says, “In 2 Peter we are also reminded that new birth is not an end but a beginning: our election or calling in Christ and to Christ is for a particular purpose—maturity in Christ. To put it more bluntly, our conversion has meaning only if it leads to the goal of conversion: namely, this very spiritual maturity (2 Pet 1:10-11).”[2] After stating this, he raises the specter of two heresies connected to a theology of sanctification or spiritual maturity. The first he calls the danger of perfectionism and the second pelagianism. Perfectionism calls Christians to live according to the law as a guide to character and virtue. Pelagianism is the belief “that the human person has an inherent capacity to become mature or holy through consistent practice, diligent effort and strength of will.” These two heresies are problematic, he says, because one digresses into mere moralism instead of actual maturity. The other acknowledges the capacity of human effort to mature rather than maturing by means of human response to the enabling grace of God.[3] The outcome of both heresies, Smith notes, creates a process of spiritual maturity that is perceived as “deadly”, an “impossible weight, a crushing burden, an impossible taskmaster”, “an impossible burden” and “oppressive.” This outcome can be avoided if “spiritual formation is not synonymous with virtue or character development.” The law is a guide to character and virtue but its effects are deadly when it is disconnected from its source. Failing to link law-keeping with faith in Christ makes the law a crushing burden. It is “the weight of the law without the gospel” that produces this tyranny.[4] He states, “If moral development is not derivative of our union with Christ, it is an impossible burden.”[5] Smith concedes that believers have a personal responsibility to mature. He notes, “The Scriptures clearly speak of personal responsibility and effort—witness Paul’s affirmation of his struggle for the believers in Colosssae (Col 1:29) and for his own soul (Phil 3:12-14).” This responsibility though must be tempered by the understanding that “When it comes to the life we have in God, God is the actor. It is all of God. It is all gift. But this does not mean the human person is passive or a nonactor. We can and should take human agency seriously. However, the genius of human action is that it is an act of response to and participation in the actions of God.”[6] Smith believes, “The biblical vision of holiness is one in which spiritual maturity is the fruit not of human effort toward an objective standard (a holy law, perhaps), but rather human response to the call and enabling of God.”[7] Smith attempts to validate this premise with the concept of a believers union with Christ. He declares that much of his book is designed to articulate this perspective. He says, “the heart of the matter and the all-encompassing and defining vision, Christian spiritual maturity—the “perfection” to which we are called—will be described as union with Christ.”[8] This description is encapsulated in these statements. “Thus conversion, as the appropriation of the justifying grace of God, is the launch of a journey of union with Christ, the incarnate one, in the death and resurrection.” The goal is “union with Christ. Our righteousness is not self-produced but arises from our union with Christ, and thus our only hope is to be participants in or partakers of the life of Christ.” As believers “we are in Christ and thus we know his justifying grace. We are united with Christ through God’s justifying grace and we grow into union with Christ through God’s sanctifying grace.”[9] Smith posits the question, “What is the essential meaning of the Christian life?” He says, “We need to stress that spiritual maturity is not to be equated with moral maturity, though spiritual maturity most assuredly includes the latter. Rather, spiritual formation is the cultivation of a dynamic faith in Christ, and moral reform and renewal is derivative of this union with Christ.” He summarizes, to be a Christian is to be a follower, a disciple; it is to respond to the call of God on our lives, an obedience of faith wherein we are drawn into the life of Jesus and deny (set aside, put to death) the life of autonomy and independence from Christ…the mature Christian is one who lives in consciousness and intentional response to the presence of the Spirit in one’s life. And the baseline indicator or reference for the work of the Spirit is always this: that by the Spirit Christ is glorified in us and through us; we are drawn to union with the risen and ascended Christ.[10] This articulation of the process of spiritual maturity emphasizes the aspect of a believers union with Christ as the rationale for his or her spiritual growth. However, there is another element that is understated in this synopsis. The argument minimizes the significance of regeneration, the new life that is freely given to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. A believer is made righteous through the new birth.[11] God has renewed the heart of a believer so that he or she can desire to please God. The heart is the seat of human emotion, intelligence, morality, volition and spirituality. With the Psalmist a redeemed heart can declare “I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and will glorify your name forever.”[12] A redeemed heart can testify, “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.”[13] This is not God acting through a believer who is simply responding to and participating in the action God has initiated. If human agency is to be taken seriously in one’s spiritual growth, then regeneration means a person is performing freely from the heart based on his or her own desires to act in obedience to God. A believer is capable of responding to God’s Word. A believer is even commanded to personally pursue spiritual maturity.[14] He or she is not only capable of growing up spiritually but will also be accountable to God for faithfulness and obedience at the Judgment seat of Christ.[15]

    [1] Gordon T. Smith, Called to be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014) 20. [2] Gordon T. Smith, Called to be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity, 20. [3] Smith, Called to be Saints, 22. [4] Smith, Called to be Saints, 21. [5] Smith, Called to be Saints, 22. [6] Smith, Called to be Saints, 22. [7] Smith, Called to be Saints, 22. [8] Smith, Called to be Saints, 35. [9] Smith, Called to be Saints, 50. [10] Smith, Called to be Saints, 52. [11] Romans 5:19 [12] Psalm 86:12. [13] Romans 6:17. [14] Hebrews 6:1. [15] 1 Corinthian 3:10-15. Jerry Collins jcoll6@aol.com

    Like

    • Paul M. Dohse Sr. said, on March 7, 2015 at 4:49 PM

      Ok, let me read this a few more times and I will respond.

      Like

    • Paul M. Dohse Sr. said, on March 8, 2015 at 10:26 AM

      Hi Jerry, here is my return work:

      https://paulspassingthoughts.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/hello-paul.pdf

      If the institutional church has a prayer, and I don’t think it does, it will only be through those like yourself. I bid you God’s speed with a full heart.

      Like

    • Andy Young, contributing editor said, on March 8, 2015 at 8:39 PM

      This is not God acting through a believer who is simply responding to and participating in the action God has initiated. If human agency is to be taken seriously in one’s spiritual growth, then regeneration means a person is performing freely from the heart based on his or her own desires to act in obedience to God. A believer is capable of responding to God’s Word. A believer is even commanded to personally pursue spiritual maturity.[14] He or she is not only capable of growing up spiritually but will also be accountable to God for faithfulness and obedience at the Judgment seat of Christ.

      Wow! That paragraph alone is one of the best scathing rebukes of reformed theology I’ve read. Well Done!

      Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: