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    January 24th, 2013 @ 9:19 am by Kevin

    Lately I’ve had to do a number of interviews and Q&A sessions relating to Hellbound?, so I thought it prudent to write up a little cheat sheet to remind me of a few key points I’d like to cover. Here’s a sneak peak.


    This list goes back to my days working in youth custody facilities (my educational background includes a degree in social development studies, particularly the processing of young offenders). But I think the principles of justice I learned about back then certainly apply to the hell debate.

    1. Retribution: I view this as the lowest form of justice, simple “eye-for-an-eye,” you “do the crime you do the crime” mentality. It’s more about averting revenge by providing people with a sanctioned form of punishment. However, it ultimately fails in my book, because it doesn’t teach the offender anything except to be more careful next time. Rather than introduce a higher morality, it merely outguns the “bad guys.”

    2. Deterrence:Many people think the way to solve crime is to get tough on crime. But study after study shows that this logic fails. Harsh sentences have a minimal effect on reducing crime rates. In fact, crime rates–especially violent crime rates–are often worse where sentences are the harshest. This is partly because violent crimes are also crimes of passion, where the last thing on the offender’s mind is the consequences of his or her actions. Second, harsh sentences, such as capital punishment, legitimize violence under certain circumstances, thereby giving tacit permission to the offender to imitate the violent state in which he or she lives. Furthermore, studies of parenting styles demonstrate that harsh, external punishment and reward schemes actually prevent children from forming an inner sense of morality. So I have to think the same is true for adults.

    3. Public protection: Who could argue that taking violent offenders off the street is a bad thing? I’m definitely in favor of incarcerating those who are unable to stop themselves from offending. I’m not sure how this plays out in the world to come, but I tend to think it won’t be much of an issue. That said, one of Mark Driscoll’s arguments in favor of eternal hell is the notion of public protection.

    4. Restitution: You break it, you fix it. Makes sense to me. The problem is, certain actions cannot be undone–at least not by mere humans. Hence certain theologies of penal substitution/satisfaction. Again though, this is a point where I think we tend to project human limitations onto God. I don’t think there’s anything God can’t undo. Which raises a question though: If God can undo all of our bad decisions, do they have any meaning? To help answer that, I find it helpful to reflect upon my own children. I can undo most of their bad decisions. Does that mean their decisions have no meaning? Certainly not. In fact, it provides an atmosphere of safety and security for them as they seek to grow and mature. If God can’t undo our bad decisions, we’re really in trouble.

    5. Rehabilitation: To me, this is the highest form of justice, because it doesn’t come at the expense of the community or the offender. That’s one of my key problems with eternal hell and annihilation–justice comes at the expense of the offender. Certain people are deemed to be beyond redemption. I just can’t buy that notion. I call it a massive failure of the imagination.


    Various religions will differ in their view of post-mortem rewards and punishments according to how they view time. Religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, which have a cyclical view of time, will tend to view hell as a way point rather than an end point in the purification of the individual. Religions like Christianity and Islam, which have a linear view of time, tend to view hell as an end point.


    This is another key sticking point for me. I fail to see how you can reconcile the notion of a loving God with punishment that is an end in itself. Hence my rejection of Infernalism and Annihilationism. If God is loving by nature, I have to believe he will not achieve justice for the 99 at the expense of the 1 or vice versa. Reflecting on my experience as a parent is crucial here as well. How could I be called a good father if I punished any of my children merely because I felt he or she deserved it and not for the purpose of correcting them?


    As I wrote in a piece for the Huffington Post a couple of months back, hell is doing a lot of work in our society. For one thing, it helps to simplify an increasingly complex world. Hell fulfills the function of every archaic religious concept–it creates differentiation. Good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell. Who are the good people? Us. Who are the bad people? Them. Now we know who we are, we can get about our business.

    Second, without the language of hell, when something terrible happens we’re stuck with the language of psychology, sociology and politics, and none of them seem equal to the task. So the notion of hell does what any good sermon should do–it afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted. It seems to me that the writer of the Gospel of Matthew, for instance, is seeking to assure those who are suffering that one day justice will come. At the same time, Matthew’s Jesus is bent on assuring those whose comfort comes at the expense of the afflicted that their comeuppance is at hand. So it cannot be denied that the gospel writers fully embrace the notion of divine judgment and even punishment. So even though the debate between Universalists and those who hold to other versions of hell is often framed as a debate between those who believe in punishment and those who do not, it’s more accurate to say it’s a debate between the nature and purpose of divine justice and punishment–is it an end in itself or simply a means toward an end?


    As I’ve listened to and engaged in the hell debate, I’ve noticed that people tend to build fortresses around three main concepts.

    1. Love


    3. Justice

    Where you plant your flag pretty much dictates everything that follows. Those who place the highest value on justice or freedom tend to come out as Infernalists or Annihilationists. Those who place the highest value on love eventually arrive at some form of Universalism. That’s not to say Infernalists and Annihilationists aren’t loving, and it certainly doesn’t mean Universalists don’t place a high value on freedom and justice. However, people tend to define these terms or envision their fulfillment in very different ways.

    So there you have it. This isn’t the last word on hell–far from it! But it helps keep me on track when the heat is on.

leave a comment on this post (6 Comments)

  1. Thoughtful, short, sweet… I’m saving this! Tim

  2. Thank you for taking the time to lay this out for us Kevin! It helps keep the focus on the real issue at hand: what is the nature and purpose of God’s judgment. The bottom line can easily get lost in this emotional debate.

  3. Oh, boy. I’d long ago written off this “itching Ear Seminary” but someone keeps sending me links.
    Retribution fails ‘in your book’? That’s interesting but in God’s book it’s real. Let him who is filthy be filthy still. Hell is an irrevocable rejection of the wicked. Rehabilitation features prominently in scripture AS PERTAINS TO ISRAEL but that covenant has nothing to do with eternity.

    Also if Driscoll suggests God sends people to hell to protect heaven, he’s an idiot.

    It troubles you that people are deemed beyond redemtption? ‘I swore in my wrath they shall never enter into my rest’…my goodnness, I’m doing it again…wasting my time with self-deceived idolaters who want a custom-made god. Pearls before swine again. However, I do look forward to seeing this flick…any DVD dates?

    • Welcome back, David. DVD is out May 28.

      • So much to say but I’ll limit it to saying beyond rehabilitation (which trends to be the idea of making someone a functioning member of society on the basis of moral norms), restoration is one which involves the healing of relationships which permits one to reengage on ethical levels through the healing of relationships and healing of hearts. Eg, my daughter caught shoplifting, the greatest impact was (from her own words) was confessing the places the was NOT caught…and having to go through the conversation with each of the managers…in particular one who had treated her so well in the past. (and he in torn showed grace. She found the experience liberating.

      • Ok, so I see how it sounded like I thhugot there was a big difference between judgment and justice should have chosen my words more carefully as I agree that justice is setting things right. Judgment is a part of justice, but justice imo is the deeper thing that judgment is part of. Anyway, beside the point I understand setting things right as restoration, recreation, redemption, the fulfillment of all the promises of scripture. Justice is part of that. The part that i was reacting to was your last statement: Hell is being judged, therefore being set right. I was trying to point out that some people may never be set right in the sense of being restored to full humanity as they were created to be because they may forever resist grace.These people then, would not be set right. They would be on the wrong side of justice because they would be working against it. They would never become fully human because they would always resist God’s justice, judgment, and setting of things right.I suppose this puts me firmly in the Wesleyan/Arminian camp as well as in direct opposition to universalism. I’m ok with that. I think universalism severely diminishes justice.Ahhh there’s more thhugots but i’ll keep them to myself as it is hard to have a decent conversation on a blog Good stuff Nathan. Hope to see you around sometime soon.

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