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January 11, 2008

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I read the discussion on this blog. The best part was discovering the term "Folk Theology." That will come in useful.

Anyway,

Part of the discussion focused on whether or not there are degrees of punishment in hell. I see this question from unbelievers all the time and I have no idea how to answer it.

The argument goes, if all sins are not equal then God should have varying degrees of punishment. But the bible does not indicate varying degrees of punishment. A murderer and a gossiper both go to hell forever. Therefore, God is not fair. or the bible dose not make sense and can be ignored.

Any ideas on how to answer this?

Shaun, here are a few verses that might help you out:

1. Matthew 6:27 says that God will repay each person "according to his deeds."

2. Mark 12:38-40 says that some people "will receive greater condemnation."

3. Jesus says in Matthew 11:21-22, "It will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you"--more tolerable for some than for others.

4. In a parable Jesus tells in Luke 12:47-48, the slave who knows what he was supposed to do but still did what was wrong will receive many blows, but the one who did not know and did wrong will receive few.

In terms of length of time, the punishment for everyone will continue throughout eternity. This is because they will be continually sinning by their continued rebellion against God. In other words, they won't have a finite number of sins to pay for because their sin will be ongoing. Therefore, the punishment will be ongoing. But I think the above Bible verses make it clear that the punishments will be different. They will justly reflect the deeds that were done.

However, keep in mind that everyone in hell has committed the absolutely worst sin possible, which is rebellion against the perfect, good, just, reigning God. By comparison, it's hard to say how much of a difference the other sins will make. In other words, as an illustration using our court system, if a group of people committed a horrendous crime that gave them each sentences of 60 years, then the additional crimes committed by each (where some are given an extra 2 years, but some, an extra 7) won't make that much difference in the overall sentence. This is hard for us to grasp because we have very little understanding of the holiness and perfection of God, so we don't see the sin of rebelling against Him as the truly monstrous thing it is.

What's so amazing is that God didn't stop at being just (though justice is perfectly good and right). He's also incredibly merciful to the point where Jesus suffered the sentence described above so that we could be with God. For some reason, people who are angry at God focus on His judgment as proof of His bad character (as if right judgment was proof of bad character!), and they completely ignore the loving offer God has made to everyone for their complete pardon.

Thank you for the help. And thanks to Melinda for linking to another excellent blog.

I recently wrote a blog about this subject too. I really expected to get raked over the coals about it but everyone who has commented so far agrees with what I wrote.

I have an off-topic question... Why would Greg Koukl endorse Dan Kimball's "They like Jesus but not the Church" book? A book in which he antagonizes Bible-believing Christians? Here is a review of the book: http://lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/index.php?p=546&more=1&c=1

What is going on here?

AC, I don't agree with everything Dan says, but neither do I think that review accurately represents what Dan says. When I read it (the review) a while back, it sounded to me like they went into reading Dan's book for the purpose of finding things, and as a result they distorted his words and read into them things that weren't even there.

I've only skimmed Dan's book, but even after what I read, I found that review to be unfair. But I would recommend that you find some place where you can look through the book yourself before you take either my word for it or Lighthouse Trails'.

What don't you agree with about what Dan says?

>>However, keep in mind that everyone in hell has committed the absolutely worst sin possible, which is rebellion against the perfect, good, just, reigning God. By comparison, it's hard to say how much of a difference the other sins will make...This is hard for us to grasp because we have very little understanding of the holiness and perfection of God, so we don't see the sin of rebelling against Him as the truly monstrous thing it is.

ExACTly. This is just what I was going to say. Our other sins pale in comparison and, ultimately, derive from this sin, this posture of autonomy. When thinking about just punishment from God for sins, this is what we first and foremost need to try to wrap our minds around. Thanks, Amy.

Hey Amy,

I was wondering, what dont you agree with about what Dan Kimball says?

Thanks

AC, sorry you had to ask twice; I don't often check the comments on weekends. :)

Since it's been so long since I read Dan's first book, I hesitate to say anything specific without having the book in front of me because I don't want to mix up what he's said with what someone else has said.

One thing I do remember specifically disagreeing with him about is the subject of women in ministry (I'm a complementarian, and he isn't). And I can't remember what he's said on this issue, but to the extent that he would promote mystical practices like meditating on a single word to see what God would bring to mind about that word (I've seen this done in emerging churches), I would be against that. That's no secret, of course, since STR has often spoken against things like this. (But I seriously can't remember what his position is on this, so please don't hold that against him until you check it out.)

But the gist of the book Lighthouse Trails reviewed is that the people in our culture have a *wrong* view of Christians and the church because we're not making enough of an effort to see our lives as a mission field; we're not reaching out to people, so they don't know any Christians, therefore their view of Christianity is extremely skewed. The book is an encouragement for Christians to make an effort to develop relationships with people outside the church (*not* to beat the church up for being horrible, as is the case with much emerging/emergent material).

I think I'm less optimistic than Dan is about non-Christians ever having a good view of Christianity no matter how graciously we behave (since people hated Jesus even though he was *perfect*), but the idea that we need to be better at communicating what we believe and what we stand for to non-Christians is a constant theme here at STR (which, I suppose, is why Greg endorsed the book).

What I appreciate about Dan is that he acknowledges the need for the church to speak the truth to the culture (even if they will disagree with it), he believes there's truth about God and we can know it, he values the Bible greatly and takes it seriously, he's committed to orthodoxy, he's passionate about evangelism, and Jesus (not the community) is the center of everything he does (I don't get this impression with a lot of emergent material).

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