Posted by: John Vandivier | October 1, 2013

J Warner Wallace On Hell

This article will cover some theology and apologetics on hell. This article is my summary of and commentary on a recent podcast series from J Warner Wallace.

J Warner Wallace recently released a podcast series called, “Answering Common Objections to the Notion of Hell.” Part 1 was released a week ago and part 2 was released today. You can certainly listen to both podcasts, but there is quite a bit of fat in both and Wallace reviews the first podcast in the second podcast anyway. For that reason I will simply be summarizing and making notes on the second podcast, along with some of my personal points. Another good reason to watch the first podcast is if you are looking for specific scriptures to back up Wallace’s various points.

Notes on Part 2:

  • Why would a loving and merciful God send people to hell?
  • Because mercy, love and so on are meaningless if justice does not exist.
  • Because God would not be loving if he forced everyone to go do heaven. He would eliminate free will and the value and meaning that comes from choice.
  • I would make the point that people equate eternal punishment with a punishment of infinite magnitude, however this is not necessarily the case. Anyone who has taken calculus understands that a function can occur over an infinite amount of time and produce only a finite product. For example, a function may converge to 0 without ever reaching 0, implying a function of infinite length which sometimes has a finite result.
  • The punishment is set by the court. It doesn’t matter whether the criminal thinks his punishment is fair.
  • A fair time scale of punishment does not reflect the time scale of the crime, it represents the degree of the offense. An accounting scheme can take years to execute while a brutal murder can take seconds.
  • I would point out that many people think of sin as an offense of some finite magnitude which is being unfairly paired to an eternal punishment, but it may be the case that denial of God is an infinitely offensive crime.
  • Wallace argues that the Bible says “torment” which is very different from “torture.” Torture implies physical pain while torment can indicate mental suffering. Wallace suggests that this mental suffering need not be inflicted by God. For example, it could be a result of regret. There is a huge difference between self-inflicted torment and active involuntary torture inflicted by someone else.
  • I would point out that the term translated torment can also be translated punishment or destruction, leading to alternative translations of hell which involve even less suffering of any form. The bottom line, however, is that hell is negative to some indeterminate degree while heaven is positive to some degree. Regardless of those degrees it is still logical to pursue heaven.
  • Why would a good God sent good people to hell?
  • Wallace says good isn’t good enough. God only accepts perfection and no person is perfect besides Jesus. Therefore we have to ask for Jesus to take our place in judgement.
  • I would argue that God doesn’t send good people to hell. The problem, I would argue, is that people don’t understand what is good. Because of a wrong idea of goodness some people think that good people are sent to hell.
  • What about people who never hear the Gospel? How is it fair to judge them?
  • Wallace makes an argument based on a theological concept called “middle knowledge.” Some theologians claim that God has “middle knowledge” which means that not only is he omnipotent in the classical sense of knowing all truth and reality, but it also holds that God knows every possible or potential truth or reality. From this point of view God can still judge a person who may never have heard the gospel because he knows what that person would have done if they had heard the gospel.
  • In 2 Samuel a baby dies before understanding the gospel but goes to heaven.
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