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Doctrine of eternal judgment lacking in contemporary pulpits, Patterson say

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Describing the Bible’s teaching of eternal judgment and hell as “the most hated doctrine in all of Christendom,” Paige Patterson said a “wimpish generation of preachers” is to blame for the church’s lack of evangelistic zeal for taking the gospel to those who have never heard.
“We [Southern Baptists] have never said that the doctrine of eternal punishment isn’t in the Bible,” Patterson said Sept. 2 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C. “We have just been so frightened of it and afraid of what society would say to us about such a politically incorrect doctrine in an ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’ generation that we just don’t talk about it anymore.”
Patterson, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and Southeastern Seminary, suggested “the doctrine of eternal punishment is not attacked half so much from the outside of the church as it is from the inside of the church.”
“The Bible says more about judgment and eternal judgment than it says about heaven,” Patterson said in a chapel address. “You cannot come to the Scripture selectively as though it were a cafeteria line and say, ‘believe I’ll have a little of that, but I don’t care for this over here, and so I’ll leave it out.’
“If you’re going to accept the afterlife at all, if you’re going to embrace heaven at all, if you’re going to embrace salvation at all, it all has its meaning against the backdrop of possible judgment, possible hell and possible eternity separated from God.”
Patterson took issue with statements made recently by Pope John Paul II which he said undermine biblical teaching that heaven and hell are physical places. The pope has asserted that hell “is not punishment imposed externally by God, but the condition resulting from attitudes and actions which people adopt in this life.”
Patterson said the pope did “not do away with the doctrine of eternal punishment, but in embarrassment [sought] to sweep it under the rug and make it as little effective as possible.”
Patterson said the rejection of the doctrine of eternal punishment cannot be founded on a “paucity of evidence” but simply the “rebellion of the human heart.”
“It is impossible for an open mind to sit down with an open Bible and read with objectivity, of any kind whatsoever at all, and come to any other conclusion, but what God has revealed in the Bible is a moment of impending doom for the non-repentant,” Patterson said. “Otherwise, what does it make of the cross of Jesus, the eternal Son of God leaving his glory nailed to a cross in your place and mine?”
Preaching from Luke 16:19-31, Patterson said Jesus’ discourse on the rich man and Lazarus teaches “the eternal destiny of man outside of Jesus Christ is one of incredible, unceasing and unbelievable torment.”
Patterson cited the Bible’s description of hell’s torment as never-ending physical, spiritual and mental anguish, but said all of those “pale into absolute insignificance” compared to the “great gulf fixed” eternally separating the unrepentant sinner from God, as described in Luke 16:26.
“It is not the fire of hell, however that may be, that is so awful,” Patterson said. “It is not the memory of hell, and it is not the knowledge in hell that is so bad as the [separation] forever from the only thing in all of the universe that is wholly good and wholly love and wholly righteousness.”
While alive on this earth, Patterson said, even those who are not Christians are often the recipients of God’s blessings. “For the Bible says, [God] causes his rain to fall on both the just and unjust.” But in hell there is only eternal punishment, Patterson declared.
“Ladies and gentlemen, there is coming a day when the clock ticks its final time and there is a separation that occurs, so that no longer is any goodness possible, no longer is any love possible,” Patterson said. “Hell is a place of eternal selfishness because all you can do is be consumed with your own situation and circumstance.”
Patterson said the Luke 16:23-25 account of how the rich man sees heaven from hell and begs for mercy and relief from his torment in the fire only to be reminded by Abraham of his rejection of God teaches that those in hell will be tormented by the decisions they made on earth.
“In hell every single solitary individual there is fully aware of what it is that he has missed and what it is that he has forfeited in the choices that he has made in this life,” Patterson said. “He remains undyingly conscious of that which he could have had and he forfeited.”
Patterson suggested further “if there is a faculty that is made more conscious in hell rather than less, it will be the faculty of memory. Every single solitary moment a person spends in hell, there will be the constant recurring uninterrupted memory of every gospel sermon that he ever heard on television or in person.”
Patterson said the belief that there is an intermediate state immediately after death where the body and soul lie unconscious until the return of Christ and the final judgment is not consistent with the Bible’s teaching about eternity.
“At the moment of death there is no soul sleep,” Patterson asserted. “It is not the case, though [Martin] Luther made the mistake of believing that when you die you simply are not cognizant of anything; [or] you are unconscious until the last trumpet sounds, that is not true. The Apostle Paul said to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. … He wasn’t looking forward to a long siesta, he was looking forward to immediate gain.”

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  • Lee Weeks