Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Franklin Graham On Hell And Bell (Part 1)

Franklin Graham recently appeared on highly popular conservative US talk show, The O'Reilly Factor hosted by Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly wanted to take the opportunity to call on Graham to respond to Rob Bell's latest book (Love Wins) which denies the plain Scriptural teaching of a place of literal conscious eternal punishment widely referred to as hell. Not only is the subject of hell unpopular in the secular world, there are also legions of professing Christian leaders who would also love to do away with this nasty doctrine. Franklin was refreshingly candid in his assessment of Bell but what took my interest was his apologetic defense of the historic Christian doctrine of damnation. Here it is, and while you watch this imagine that it is you in the hot seat, and consider what response you would make in a widely circulated interview like this.



I love Franklin Graham and I don't think he did a bad job of dealing with these loaded questions from left field in a limited time frame. Some of his comments were excellent and I loved his determination to proclaim the Gospel. I don't think Reverend Graham said anything wrong but I do think we, as Bible believing Christians, can provide a more thorough, Gospel centered response to these questions. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, based on O'Reilly's summation of what Graham said, I believe we actually need to do better at this and drive to the real issue lying at the heart of why unconverted sinners spend eternity in hell. How can we better bring glory to God in a conversation of this nature and help the sinner see why he needs the righteousness of Christ.

False teaching always demands a response from historic Christian orthodoxy and this current hot topic is no different. If you are a Christian, or more particularly a pastor or leader, you can bet your bottom dollar that it is only a short matter of time before a church member or unbeliever accosts you with these questions. So my challenge to you, the reader, is how would you respond to these questions when you find yourself in the hot seat. Have a go at responding to O'Reilly's seven questions/assertions as I have numbered them below. I would love to hear and publish your responses before I give mine next Wednesday. So please, put yourself to the test before you face these in a real one on one encounter!

1. There cannot be a hell because God is not a monster and He could never assign any human being to a place of eternal damnation.

2. Isn't it a cruel action for God to throw people into hell?

3. What about people who've never even heard of Jesus Christ?

4. Are you saying that if someone believes in the goodness of the Creator then they can be saved?

5. But what about the Jews who suffered and died during the holocaust. They didn't believe in Jesus but they were good people. How could they possibly be sentenced to eternal damnation?

6. If innocent people were killed without any revelation of Jesus Christ or were never taught this by their parents - how could they possibly be damned?

7. I believe it's all about free will. We are free to make choices in this life but we will be held accountable for all of them.

I'll make my personal response to all seven of these in next Wednesday's post.

Go On To Part 2

7 comments:

Layman Harry said...

Mr. O'Reilly is wrong about "good people" in the holocaust, or elsewhere. His premise is wrong. There are no good people. All have sinned and deserve condemnation. Through Jesus, some are saved. That is an undeserved gift.

We praise God for the salvation of some. Mr. O'Reilly blasphemes God's holiness and justice complaining that anyone goes to hell unrighteously.

Andrew said...

1. If there is no hell then God is a monster because that would mean that he is not just and he lets people get away with anything.

2. No, that would be a just thing. The reason we could see it as cruel is if we do not think that we have done anything to deserve it. The truth is that we all deserve God's punishment for offenses against a holy, eternal and good God. The truth is also that God is rich in mercy and grace and has made a way that we can be saved. He sent his son, born of a virgin to die a cruel death on a Roman cross to pay the penalty that we deserve for our sins. God offers to take our criminal record and exchange it with the perfect and pure record of his son so that we can be seen as clean because of the righteousness of his son Jesus Christ. He commands that we repent (turn from our sins) and place our faith in the completed work of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.

3. People who have not heard of Jesus Christ have still broken his laws and are accountable. God has revealed some of himself through nature and given us a conscience so that we know he exists and know his laws.

4. Scripture makes it very clear that there is no other name given to men by which we must be saved. You cannot be saved without the name of Jesus but I firmly believe that if someone responds to creation and conscience, God will bring them his Word or a preacher to tell them about Jesus.

5. There is none that does good. No one is truly a good person. We might seem good compared to other people but in truth we are sinful enough to deserve God's judgement because he is Holy. The suffering we face in this life might be horrible but it does not "give us credit" for the next and it is nothing compared to facing the judgement of a Holy God.

6. There is no one innocent. See my previous comments.

7. We do have free will and we used it to rebel against God. God is gracious and commands every man to repent and trust in the saving grace and mercy offered to us when Jesus payed the penalty for our sins upon the cross.

Andrew said...

1. If there is no hell then God is a monster because that would mean that he is not just and he lets people get away with anything.

2. No, that would be a just thing. The reason we could see it as cruel is if we do not think that we have done anything to deserve it. The truth is that we all deserve God's punishment for offenses against a holy, eternal and good God. The truth is also that God is rich in mercy and grace and has made a way that we can be saved. He sent his son, born of a virgin to die a cruel death on a Roman cross to pay the penalty that we deserve for our sins. God offers to take our criminal record and exchange it with the perfect and pure record of his son so that we can be seen as clean because of the righteousness of his son Jesus Christ. He commands that we repent (turn from our sins) and place our faith in the completed work of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.

3. People who have not heard of Jesus Christ have still broken his laws and are accountable. God has revealed some of himself through nature and given us a conscience so that we know he exists and know his laws.

4. Scripture makes it very clear that there is no other name given to men by which we must be saved. You cannot be saved without the name of Jesus but I firmly believe that if someone responds to creation and conscience, God will bring them his Word or a preacher to tell them about Jesus.

5. There is none that does good. No one is truly a good person. We might seem good compared to other people but in truth we are sinful enough to deserve God's judgement because he is Holy. The suffering we face in this life might be horrible but it does not "give us credit" for the next and it is nothing compared to facing the judgement of a Holy God.

6. There is no one innocent. See my previous comments.

7. We do have free will and we used it to rebel against God. God is gracious and commands every man to repent and trust in the saving grace and mercy offered to us when Jesus payed the penalty for our sins upon the cross.

Charis said...

1. There cannot be a prison, because the judge is not a tyrant and could not sentence someone to life in prison for crimes committed against another human being. I am being sarcastic here, but the statement in challenge #1 is very much like the above statement. A person is sent to prison for life for very serious crimes committed against other citizens. How would this change if the same crime was committed against the President? You see, it's not just the crime that is taken into consideration, but also the one against whom the crime was committed. Now commit a multitude of crimes against the Supreme King of the Universe. This is infinitely more serious. A life sentence doesn't show that the judge is a monster, but that the criminal is a monster. Same with Hell. Man is on trial for being a criminal and a monster and committing heinous offenses against an infinitely pure and innocent being. The judgment is severe as befits the crime.

2. Isn't it a cruel action for God to welcome a woman's rapist and torturer to Heaven? Isn't it a cruel action to welcome into Heaven the ones who effectively spit on the blood of the one (Jesus) who was willingly tortured and slaughtered as a payment of the fine for our crimes? We're the cruel ones. The criminals are in no place to point the finger at the victim and at the judge.

3. A person is not thrown into Hell for never hearing of Jesus. A person is punished for their crimes.

4. Depends on what you mean by "believes in the goodness of the Creator." Satan believes in the goodness of the Creator, and he trembles. We can only be saved when we put our faith in Christ. We need to trust him to save us the same way we'd trust a parachute or a defense lawyer in the courtroom. Christ died for us and said that His death and resurrection would be payment enough, and to turn from our sins and follow Him. We need to place our faith in Him.

5. The soul that sins shall die. Committing offenses against an innocent and pure God is punishable by condemnation. The only way the Jews or any other group can be considered good is if they are innocent of any crimes. The Bible defines sin as transgression of the law. That law that is spoken of is the law of this innocent and pure God. To sin is to commit a criminal act against an infinitely holy, infinitely pure, infinitely just God who sacrificed Himself for you in such a gruesome way. If the Jews were innocent of any sin, then they qualify as good people. If the Jews committed sin then they were outlaws like the rest of us and needed to forsake their sin and accept the payment of for their crimes that the Messiah freely offers, and they need to stop trying to excuse themselves from court by telling the judge and the audience about their deceptive "goodness."

6. The only innocent person is a person who has never committed a crime. We're not condemned for failing to hear of Jesus. We're condemned for our crimes against the court (of Heaven, that is). If a man rapes a woman, is it his right to be offered a pardon? If someone pays his punishment then so be it, but it's not his right as a rapist to be offered a get-out-of-jail-free card.

7. Having free will means we have the ability to make certain choices; not the right. Lack of free will means you can't think for yourself; you're pretty much a robot. Free will gives you the ability to make choices. A person has the ability to choose to rape a woman. That person never has the right to choose to do so. God will not punish a person for making a choice he had the right to make. Nobody had the right to choose to rape. They have the ability to choose rape, but they do not have the right. The same applies to all sin.

jessegrieshaber said...

@Andrew

1. Doesn't justice demand that the punishment must fit the crime?

2. Again, the punishment must fit the crime. Is punishing someone infinitely for a finite offense just?

You are correct when you say that we deserve Gods punishment but you fail to realize that the aim of punishment is always remedial. If Hell is eternal how then could punishment be remedial?

What did Jesus do that payed the penalty for our sins? Did He spend eternity in Hell? Because you say we deserve eternity in Hell but that is not what Jesus did...

3. So how does someone who has never heard of Christ gain salvation? What if the missionary gets a flat tire?

4. So what about babies and mentally handicapped?

5. What is Gods judgment? Heb 9:27 says that after death is judgment but what is judgment? Habakkuk 1:12 compares judgment to reproof or correction. Isa 26:9 says that judgment teaches righteousness. In no way is judgment a fiery eternal hell but a purifying. It may be a temporary refiners fire like in 1 cor 13-15 and that is why those not found in the Lambs book of Life are cast into this fire rev 20:12-13. Mark 9:48-50 says everyone will undergo fire which is linked to Gehenna fire in verse 47.

jessegrieshaber said...

@Charis

1. A multitude of crimes against the Supreme King of the Universe may be exponentially serious but in no way is it infinite. Man is on trial and the judge is just therefore the punishment must fit the crime. Is it just to punish someone infinitely for a finite offense? The aim of punishment is always remedial. What then is the point of punishment if it never ends?

2. If the woman's rapist accepts Christ would he not see her in Heaven? Does that mean God is committing a cruel act? I agree that none of us deserve God but does that mean we deserve an eternal Hell? I'm not questioning Gods justice but rather what 21st century Christians think about it.

3. The point to what O'Reilly is saying is that there are people who have never heard of Jesus, never heard of heaven or Hell, they don't even know they are in debt to God but they are going to be doomed for all of eternity? Is God creating people just to torture them or does people burning in Hell bring Him glory?

5. You quote Ezekiel 18:20 but I wonder if you stand by that verse every time someone in the Bible dies for something someone else did?

7. If a parent warned their child about a burning building but then let their child walk into the burning building be ...considered loving because they let their child exercise free will? Of coarse not but why? Because the child does not have the capacity to understand the consequences of their actions. Do we as finite humans with limited ability to reason have the capability to understand the fullness of our actions?... I think we both agree that some people do choose Hell don't they? But why? Probably because they do not understand the fullness of their actions just like the child.

C.S. Lewis wrote that "Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person's ultimate good as far as it can be obtained." Pastor Ron always says agapae love is doing what is best for someone in light of eternity. If that is true, and God is in fact Love, how then can He let His children walk into the fire?

Andrew said...

@jessiegrieshaber:

1 & 2:
The issue is not the offense itself but the one against whom it is committed.
If I lie to my daughter, there is very little she can do.
If I lie to my wife, I will sleep on the couch tonight.
If I lie to my boss, I can lose my job.
If I lie to the government, I can be put in jail.

What changed? The person who I lied to.
If I commit even the smallest sin against the all-powerful, eternal, holy and infinite creator of the universe, then that is an infinite offense.

Besides, how many sins have we committed? How many times just today have you sinned?

“you fail to realize that the aim of punishment is always remedial. If Hell is eternal how then could punishment be remedial?”

What verse do you get that from? God's punishment is about justice.

3. "So how does someone who has never heard of Christ gain salvation? What if the missionary gets a flat tire?"

Jesus made it very clear that not everyone would be saved (Matt 7:13-14). He made it very clear that there was a particular plan to salvation (John 3:3,16,18) and then the other writers of the New Testament reinforced this view (Acts 4:12, Acts 20:21, Romans 10:9-13, Galatians 2:16). Scripture makes it very clear that only through God's very particular plan of repentance and faith in Jesus can someone be saved.

Your comment assumes that the only thing that the person who has not heard of Jesus has done wrong is to not believe in Jesus. Romans 1:18 - 2:16 clearly shows that all people are accountable to God for the way they have lived because he has shown that he exists through creation (1:19-20) and that he has given them a conscience to know right from wrong (2:15). Everyone has sinned against God (Romans 3:10-12, 23).

I firmly believe that God is sovereign and knows people's hearts. If someone in an island somewhere responds rightly to God (by recognising that there is a creator and that they break God's laws that he has clearly written on their hearts and that they need a saviour) I believe God is more than capable of getting them a preacher, his Word or in some other way making sure that they understand about Jesus.

"Is God creating people just to torture them or does people burning in Hell bring Him glory?"

Actually, yes it does bring him glory. God's justice brings him glory and his mercy brings him glory. God's glory will be clearly displayed when he gives sinners like you and I what we deserve.

4. "So what about babies and mentally handicapped?

Scripture doesn't make is clear how God will deal with people who cannot mentally qualify for his plan of salvation. In this case, we trust in God's goodness and his sovereignty to do what is right and we will find out in eternity exactly how God chose to address such issues.

5. So what do you do with such passages as Luke 16:19-31 where Jesus clearly articulates the permanent nature of Hell (v26)? Even in the verse that you quoted (Mark 9:48) it speaks of the eternality of Hell.


My friend, I am begging you to please think very carefully about these matters because if I am right, you have a wrong view of God and his justice, which may place your eternity in jeopardy. I would hate for you to go to Hell because you don’t think that is it right for God to send people there. Please repent and place your faith in Jesus because he has been so kind to rescue us from the just consequences of our sin. God's grace to us is far more amazing when we realise just how severe our sins and rebellion are.