Friday, June 24, 2005

Book Review - "Hell Under Fire" by Christopher Morgan and Robert Petersen (eds.)

My first book review

This is the third book in what seems to be an "under fire" series from Zondervan. (The two previously published books being God Under Fire (which I read with profit) and Jesus Under Fire (which I intend to read soon)). Having read other works by most of the contributors to the present volume under review, I expected to gain from reading Hell Under Fire. I was not disappointed, and the essays contained in the book were all of a consistently high standard.

The first essay was by Albert Mohler, and outlined the modern demise of the doctrine of hell from the 17th century onwards. His article outlines how hell began to be questioned in mainline denominations, gradually moving to a doctrine repellent to many in the church by the Victorian Era, and eventually being regarded as nothing more than a myth in the 20th century. Mohler then outlines how these attitudes have recently been entering even evangelical circles, with annihilationist leanings in the writings of such prominent theologians as John Wenham, John Stott, and of course, Clark Pinnock.

Following Mohler's historical review are four essays on the teaching of certain parts of the Scripture: Daniel Block on the Old Testament, Robert Yarborough on the teaching of Jesus, Douglas Moo on Paul's teaching and Gregory Beale on Revelation. Block's essay is an interesting read for those who are unacquainted with the way in which the Old Testament lays the backdrop for the teaching of Christ and the apostles on hell in terms of imagery, and I especially appreciated his discussion of the Netherworld in the OT and Daniel 12:1-3. The essays by Yarborough and Moo met the high expectations I had of them from reading some of their previous works. Yarborough summarized the large amount of Gospel teaching on Hell very well, as well as including an interesting section refuting the charge that His teaching came from Plato, and concluding with a reflection on the teaching in light of September 11th, while Moo excelled in his discussion of Paul's teaching on the issue of eternal punishment and the justice of God (Paul never uses the term `hell'). Beale's essay was good, but was the most disappointing to the reviewer (all things are relative!), but still argued powerfully against the annihilationist teaching that is becoming ever more prevalent in evangelical circles.

The next two essays covered hell in Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology. Christopher Morgan (the only author the reviewer had not come across before, but whose two essays were not out of place in the book) commented briefly on the doctrine from each of the New Testament authors, concluding with a discussion of hell pictured as punishment, destruction and banishment. Robert Petersen (who has written on thee subject more fully elsewhere) presented a very interesting and rewarding paper on the theology from three vantage points: those of the trinity, human responsibility and divine sovereignty, and the `no' and `not yet' tension on the Bible.

Two essays followed on universalism (by J. I. Packer) and annihilationism (by Morgan again). Both essays were useful, and showed the flaws in these approaches according to the clear teaching of the Bible, though Morgan's is most useful in the context of modern evangelicalism as universalism is not really proposed by many serious theologians who label themselves as evangelicals. The final essay was, in this reviewer's opinion, the finest, with Sinclair Ferguson discussing the pastoral implications of the Biblical doctrine of hell. Ferguson's pastoral heart was obvious throughout as he wrestled with the reality of hell in preaching and evangelism, and his essay is the most important contribution of the volume I would say, as the other material is covered in other volumes elsewhere, though the reviewer has not come across another essay quite like Ferguson's.

Overall, a fine volume on a difficult topic, and perhaps the best summary the reviewer has read on the topic (though find also Robert Petersen's other books, and John Blanchard's Whatever Happened to Hell). I hope Zondervan will continue to release more books in this suggestion for the next volume would be Justification Under Fire, edited by Don Carson!


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