LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The reality of hell may be unpopular in today’s pluralistic world, but it is biblical and a reflection of a righteous and holy God, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor James Parker told students Oct. 5.
Parker, professor of worldview and culture, compared the story in Romans 3:9-23 to a defendant standing before a judge in a courtroom. He pointed to passages within the text that say “no one is righteous” and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
“The verdict is in, and the verdict is damnation,” Parker said. “This is the logic of (Paul’s) argument. God is a holy God. God is a righteous God. God has revealed himself through nature. God has revealed himself through the law. And on both counts, we’re guilty and without excuse. … The defendant doesn’t even try to give a case, it’s so overwhelming.
“We are indicted. We are judged. We are found guilty. We are found damned. We are dead men walking.”
Parker, who teaches apologetics and philosophy, said that the concept of hell is foreign to most people in today’s world. He told the story of a friend who had read Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon “Sinners at the Hands of an Angry God.” The friend, who was a Hollywood actor, was bothered by the tone of Edwards’ sermon.
The friend e-mailed Parker, arguing that the sermon contradicted such verses as John 3:16.
“Scripture doesn’t seem to show us a God that hates us and tosses us into hell,” the e-mail read, “but rather a God that spreads his arms as wide as possible in an attempt to stop any of his children from running into it. I don’t doubt that in hell the unsaved do feel God’s wrath. I just don’t think God has glee in that action.”
Said Parker, “There is this sense that there’s some kind of conflict between the proposition ‘God is love’ and the proposition ‘hell exists.'”
Parker, though, said such beliefs must be rejected. He said that the concept of hell is found throughout Scripture, including in many Gospel passages. Parker said one example is Matthew 5:28, where Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
“The secular options for the concept of God are unacceptable,” Parker said. “When you look at the biblical tradition, the biblical truth, we see systematically and uniformly that God’s judgment is righteous and it is just. If one is condemned and damned, it is a right thing. It is a proper thing. There is no unfairness and there is no injustice involved in that at all. That position is held from one end of Scripture to the other.”
Parker said that non-Christian belief systems have affected the public’s view of hell. He said one example is naturalism, the belief that God is non-existent and that only matter exists.
“In some way that’s beyond my imagination, philosophical naturalists (and) atheists are able to try and affirm reason,” he said. “(But) they can’t affirm reason. For an atheist, reason has to be the product of irrationality. It has to be the product of time and chance and matter, and ultimately there’s no reason to trust reason at all. … Any system of thought which can’t justify and undergird the very concept of reason can’t even defend its own system.”
Parker said another example of a non-biblical worldview is pantheism, which says that God and the universe are all one. In pantheism, everything is God.
“In pantheism reason itself is seen as an illusion,” he said. “They make no pretense in pantheism. … So how can one even argue for pantheism if you concede up front that there’s no distinctions between things — that the law of non-contradiction is an illusion. It’s not a reality.”
Parker said postmodernism is a third example of a non-biblical worldview. Postmodernists believe that language has no objective meaning and that each culture creates meaning. Postmodernists embrace pluralism.
“I want to employ what they say and turn it against them,” he said. “I’ll just take what they say at face value. (Postmodernists believe that) words don’t have any referent, any objective meaning. It’s only the meaning that the hearer gives to them.”
Parker said a postmodernist’s belief system can easily be challenged. He said he is tempted to attend a lecture on postmodernism and respond by saying, ‘Thank you for that articulate presentation of the gospel, (that) all men everywhere should repent and receive Christ as their Savior.’ And he’ll say, ‘What? I didn’t say that.’ I’ll say, ‘Oh yes, that’s what I understood you to be saying, because your words don’t have objective referent or meaning. And that’s the way I interpreted them.'”
Postmodernism is “a re-visitation to the Tower of Babel. It’s a confusion of language,” Parker said.
“Attempts to deny the biblical view (of hell) either deny a real moral order in the universe or cheapen the view of God’s holiness and don’t take seriously enough the pervasive, pernicious radical nature of evil,” Parker said. “It also releases us from some kind of ultimate accountability.”
In the end, Parker said, God’s righteous judgment can be summed up in the hymn, “Nothing but the blood.”
“What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus,” Parker said. “… That’s mercy. That’s grace. I don’t want the justice of God, and I don’t want God’s fairness. I want his mercy and his grace.”