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Evan AlmightyOur church began a series on heroes of the faith, examining different persons in the Bible commended as heroes in Hebrews 11. I have so enjoyed the opportunity to look at the heroes of the faith and how they point us to THE HERO of the faith, the "author and finisher" of our faith, Jesus Christ! The first hero we preached on was Noah.

The story of Noah has been popularized again and again and again. From Bill Cosby's comic routine to the newly released "Evan Almighty," the Noah story is everywhere, including YouTube. An agnostic girl who calls herself "Hellbound Alleee," posted an entire video talking about Noah's Ark. She explains how ridiculous it is that Christian parents are so concerned with TV content and ratings systems. They buy vchips to censor what their children watch. Then, they decorate their kid's room in Noah's Ark themes and let them play with Noah's Ark toys. She says, "Don't these people have a clue? Noah's ark is not a cutesy children's story about having a bunch of sweet cuddly pets in a big boat. Noah's ark is a horror story. There are dead bodies floating in the water. God is wiping out the human race in judgment. Parents might as well put "Saw II" posters on their kid's walls…"

One of the problems that I have with what this agnostic has to say is that she understands the story better than some Christians do! Now, she hates the story and will not submit to what the Spirit of Christ is teaching her, but there were dead corpses in the water. Noah's ark is a horror story. It is a story of judgment. Unfortunately the world has seen a taste of this kind of devastation in recent years with the Tsunami in 2004 and the Katrina in 2005. We have seen firsthand the carnage of a flood, but imagine it on a global level.

The story of Noah's ark is a story of God's judgment against human sin. God created the world and it was good, but the fall of Adam brought on the realities of sin and death. Human sin increased to the point that God decided to release his hand of judgment in a global flood. One man finds favor in God's eyes, Noah. Too often we see the Noah story in black and white. Noah is the guy in the white robe with the halo around his head, and those who do not heed his sermon are the wicked villains dressed in black with twisted mustaches. That helps us not to be as upset about this story as Hellbound Alleee is. It helps us pass by the fact that a lot of people that many would have felt were basically "good" people drowned, gasping for air as the waters covered them and their families.

Our notions of the biblical characters shield us from the sting of God's Word too often. We think to ourselves "those wicked idiots didn't get in the boat. I would have got in the boat for sure." Yet, these were real people, living real lives, working hard to provide for their families, and all of a sudden it is all swept away! Jesus says that is exactly what judgment was like, like the days of Noah. People were eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. They were living life and all of a sudden "boom" the judgment of God fell! Jesus says in Matthew 24 that is exactly the way judgment will be again. People will be living life, doing what they normally do, totally unfazed by the warning of disaster. People will be falling in love, getting married, having children, climbing the corporate ladder, and then BAM! We say, "These people are fools" for not heeding the warning of Noah. Yet, these people had some very good reasons for not getting in the boat, the same way it seems very reasonable to people today not to avoid the judgment to come. After all, we hear the doomsday messages of movies like "The Day After Tomorrow" and Al Gore's documentary on Global Warming, but we don't switch out the Styrofoam coffee cups in Sunday School. We don't trade in our SUV for a Prius. That's exactly what is happening here. It seems reasonable to many not to fear global judgment. In the same way we don't lose sleep at night wondering if the Ozone is deteriorating, most people don't wake up in sweat fearing impending judgment…  We don't live as if the "Ark" is our only hope of rescue! Jesus says these people were just living life, and then like a thief in the night that you don't expect judgment fell. The same is going to be true again! Noah heard the warning and he changed everything.

Noah is righteous, but he is still a sinner (seen clearly by the end of his life in Gen. 9). The writer to the Hebrews tells what was different about Noah, faith! Because of Noah's faith God is going to save one family through the ark and bring a new creation out of judgment. God gives this warning to Noah. Noah is faced with a choice to take God at his word or doubt because this is something he has never seen before. He aligns his life with the coming judgment. Also, Noah preaches (2 Pet. 2:5)! There is a global judgment coming and he is the only one with the message of salvation, so he must share it. We are given the same task. There is a global judgment coming that is going to wipe away every man, woman, boy and girl on the face of the planet. We know it is coming and it is our job to share that warning with others in love hoping they believe and are rescued.

The flood comes. From the flood, to the destruction of Pharaoh's army, to the fish who vomits Jonah, to Jesus' statements that his cross is a baptism, water is pictured as judgment throughout the Bible. 1 Peter 3 tells the church that Baptism is the anti-type of the flood. It pictures the fact that in Christ we have been drowned in the wrath of God and raised to walk in newness of life. That is the message of Noah's ark. Judgment will come, but there is an "Ark" that drowned under the wrath of God outside the gates of Jerusalem gasping hour after hour after hour for one last breath. Three days later the Ark of our Salvation stood up and walked away from death because the message of Noah is that "God is not willing that any should perish" (2 Pet. 3).

Hellbound Alleee is right! The Noah story is a story about judgment. It is horrific. But, it is about a lot more than that! We should weep at this story. We should never contemplate the wrath of God against sinners without tears. But even as it causes sorrow, Noah's story should bring rejoicing on the other side! What Hellbound Alleee misses about this "horror" story is exactly what she needs! It's the side of the Noah story that is captured by the Ark of our Salvation when he said, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved!" Let's say a prayer tonight for Alleee that she will one day seek refuge from the coming flood in the Ark that's already drowned in it!

 And as for my little girl playing with Noah's ark toys I'm all for it, because my prayer everyday for her is that Noah's ark will point her to the reality of judgment and the hope of rescue. As she plays with the boat, the animals, and the guy with the long white beard I'm going to tell her exactly what this story is telling her, John 3:16!

Jon Akin  

Hell: It Is Real!

On July 13, ABC aired a special on their program 20/20 dealing with the subject of hell. A little over a week ago, I posted about the upcoming program and promised a review/critique of the program in a forthcoming post. Well, here it is.

I watched the program last Friday and recorded it with the intention of watching it a second time prior to writing a response. However, after watching the program, I didn’t find any real necessity in watching it again. There was one obvious agenda in the program, and it came through loud and clear. The agenda was to affirm that hell is real—sort of. The overarching message was that hell exists on earth. We have all experienced, witnessed, or at least heard about horrendous circumstances that show the apparent inequitable distribution of pain and heartache around the world. As a result, the producers of the program were hoping to show that we can all agree that hell exists in one form or another right here among us. The two goals surrounding this "reality" should be to avoid it if possible and provide relief for those who are suffering through "hell on earth" whenever appropriate.

Numerous examples were cited during the program, including Nazi extermination camps in World War II, military torture at the hands of unjust captors, genocide in Sierra Leone, and other horrific events. Certainly these events and others mentioned in the program could be considered hell on earth. Perhaps some would even believe that a literal hell could be no worse than these actual events experienced on earth.

Three extended profiles of individuals and their views of hell were striking. The first involved Ulysses Handy, a man convicted of a triple homicide that involved an unpaid debt. Upon his arrest he pled guilty and was sentenced to three consecutive life terms, avoiding the death penalty due to his guilty plea. At his sentencing, he stated, "I know there are people up in here that are hurt. Pain is a part of life. Deal with it. Get over it." Interestingly, he grew up in the Catholic church and remembers being taught about hell. He has since dismissed the teachings of Roman Catholicism and denies the existence of hell. In addition, if there were a hell, he said that he is not afraid to face it.

The next profile was about a man, Matthew Dovel, who claims to have been to hell and lived to tell about it. Actually, he claims to have experienced two near death "voyages." The first one as a boy took him to heaven where Jesus told him that he needed to return to earth. The second experience took him to hell where he experienced pain and burning until he was lifted up out of hell by the back of his neck. The second experience changed his life, and he shares his experiences with anyone who will listen.

The final profile featured Carlton Pearson, a former charismatic minister who shared pulpits with the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. While watching a news report about atrocities in Rwanda, he had a crisis of faith and could not understand why a loving God would eternally punish sinners in hell. The final step came with the death of his grandmother. At that point he gave up on the doctrine of hell. "I couldn't reconcile a God whose mercy endures forever and this torture chamber that’s customized for unbelievers," he said. "You can't be happy. And how can you really love a god who's torturing your grandmother?" He sums up his new view of hell by stating, "People who believe in hell create it for themselves and others. Religion won’t let you love yourself. Religion is the accuser of the brethren…. It’s religious dogmas that tell you [that] you are not good enough—not God enough." As a result of his new understanding of hell, and ultimately his endorsement of universalism, Pearson lost his congregation of 6,000 and now ministers to a congregation of 300 in space leased from the local Episcopal church.

So what should we believe about hell? Revelation 20:11–15 gives the most vivid picture of final judgment and unbelievers being cast into the lake of fire. Jesus referred to hell and judgment a number of times, including in Matt 25:30, 41, 46; Mark 9:43, 48; and Luke 16:28. Wayne Grudem defines hell as "a place of eternal conscious punishment for the wicked" (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1148). The argument laid out in the program against a literal hell of eternal punishment was that a loving God could not send someone to an eternal hell. This is probably the most common argument against a literal hell. Ultimately, such an argument pits the love of God against the justice of God as if the two attributes were mutually exclusive. So how do we affirm both God’s justice and his love when it comes to hell?

The question of simultaneously affirming God’s love and justice warrants no simple answer, but we do not have time to write a book either. In essence, both love and justice are communicable characteristics of God that are further defined by his perfection. Thus, both love and justice (or righteousness) are perfect in God. Grudem defines God’s attribute of love as "God eternally gives of himself to others" (Grudem, 198). He defines God’s justice as "God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right" (Grudem, 203). Looking at these definitions, we see that God’s love manifested itself in the most perfect way through the sacrifice of his Son for our sin (Rom 5:8). His justice is most clearly manifested in his hatred of sin and his love of holiness. But how do these work together? B. B. Warfield offers an interesting description of the work of God’s justice in relation to his love:

While reiterating the teaching of nature as to the existence and character of the personal Creator and Lord of all, the Scriptures lay their stress upon the grace or the undeserved love of God, as exhibited in His dealings with His sinful and wrath-deserving creatures. So little, however, is the consummate divine attribute of love advanced, in the Scriptural revelation, at the expense of the other moral attributes of God [e.g., justice], that it is thrown into prominence only upon a background of the strongest assertion and fullest manifestation of its companion attributes, especially of the divine righteousness and holiness, and is exhibited as acting only along with and in entire harmony with them. God is not represented in the Scriptures as forgiving sin because He really cares very little about sin; nor yet because He is so exclusively or predominatingly the God of love, that all other attributes shrink into desuetude in the presence of His illimitable benevolence. He is rather represented as moved to deliver sinful man from his guilt and pollution because He pities the creatures of His hand, immeshed in sin, with an intensity which is born of the vehemence of His holy abhorrence of sin and His righteous determination to visit it with intolerable retribution; and by a mode which brings as complete satisfaction to His infinite justice and holiness as to His unbounded love itself. (Warfield, Studies in Theology, 111–12)

Following Warfield, God’s love works within the bounds of his other moral attributes and is accomplished through their perfection as well. Thus, God’s love does not trump his justice, nor vice versa. Millard Erickson notes the infinite nature of sin that deserves infinite punishment because sin raises "a finite will against the will of an infinite being" (Erickson, Christian Theology 2nd ed., 1247). As a result, we can hold to a literal, eternal punishment for sin in hell and a perfectly loving God at the same time.

One point that the commentator of the 20/20 program correctly asserted was that when you pull hell out of the equation for religions that believe in it, the rest of the religion unravels. This is very true of Christianity. If we dismiss hell, then we might as well dismiss the substitutionary atonement, the righteousness of God, heaven, the nature and value of suffering, the value of life, and a handful of other doctrines. The remaining "religion" would be a man-made system of beliefs with little need for divine revelation. Those that dismiss hell have created a religion in their own image.

I, for one, acknowledge a literal hell, described in Revelation as the lake of fire. I believe that Scripture teaches this doctrine, and that we do not have the right to pick and choose which teachings of Scripture we will believe. For those who dismiss the doctrine of hell, I point you to Paul’s admonition to Timothy in 2 Tim 4:3–4, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths." May we not be ear-ticklers in an age that doesn’t want to believe in hell.

On the Atonement: Some Recommendations

Although I am an historian by trade, I enjoy reading theology. Of the classic "systematic theology" categories, the doctrine of salvation, and more specifically Christ's atonement, is the area in which I am most interested. My interest is both academic and experimental (or, for all of your whipper-snappers, "experiential"). I want to make some brief recommendations for those who are interested in studying the atonement, whether academically or devotionally (or even better, both!).

J. I. Packer, "What Did the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution," available here 

J. I. Packer, "Penal Substitution Revisited," available at Reformation21

John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (InterVarsity, 1986/2006)

Charles Hill and Frank James, eds., The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Perspectives (InterVarsity, 2004)

Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Eerdmans, 1965)

Leon Morris, The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance (InterVarsity, 1984)

James Beilby and Paul Eddy, eds., The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views (InterVarsity, 2006)

Also, like many of you, I look forward to the forthcoming US printing of Steve Jeffrey, Mike Ovey, and Andrew Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution (InterVarsity, 2007)

Finally, our friends at Southern Seminary have dedicated the most recent issue of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology to the topic "The Atonement in Focus." You can read more here [HT: Jim Hamilton].