Kevin DeYoung’s defense of hell has received a lot of attention, thanks to the controversy surrounding Rob Bell. I’m not interested in that controversy as of yet, since nobody has even read the book, but I do want to make some counter-proposals to DeYoung’s defense of hell. First, a quick note:
I am not a universalist, and I neither deny the existence of hell nor the possibility of people therein. As I see it, if Christ’s atonement necessarily requires the abolition of hell, then a lot of Scripture verses would read differently. The continuing threat of eternal reprobation is presupposed by the Evangelists and Apostles. They did not extend the “triumph of grace” quite so thoroughly as to deny the continuing threat of the demons and reprobation.
Yet, hell is not necessary. At least, it is not necessary for the reasons that DeYoung lists. Hell is necessary to the extent that God deems it necessary, and we really can’t go beyond that. DeYoung goes further and seriously misunderstands the sufficiency and completeness of Christ for knowing God’s wrath and mercy.
DeYoung rightly recognizes that Paul warned about “the judgment to come.” We can safely say that Paul was not working with universalist presuppositions and neither should we. It is clearly a part of both Jesus’ exhortations (most famously in Matt 25) and Paul’s (Acts 24, which DeYoung references). I’m on board with DeYoung on this point but not on the next point:
Second, we need God’s wrath in order to forgive our enemies. The reason we can forgo repaying evil for evil is because we trust the Lord’s promise to repay the wicked. Paul’s logic is sound. “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). The only way to look past our deepest hurts and betrayals is to rest assured that every sin against us has been paid for on the cross and or will be punished in hell. We don’t have to seek vigilante justice, because God will be our just judge.
This is where I lose DeYoung. He states, “The only way to look past our deepest hurts and betrayals is to rest assured that every sin against us has been paid for on the cross and or will be punished in hell.” No, every sin has been paid for on the cross. There is no remainder of sins that require further justification in hell. Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all. The punishment of hell is not for any lack in the atonement of Christ. The law really is abolished and, thereby, not the standard of making things “just.” DeYoung wants a little bit of law operating still, such that the law functions for hell the way that Christ functions for heaven. Yet, Christ functions for both, as the judge of all. Hell is by way of Christ: the denial of personal communion through him to the Father.
…we need God’s wrath in order to understand what mercy means. Divine mercy without divine wrath is meaningless. Only when we know that we were objects of wrath (Eph. 2:3), stood condemned already (John 3:18), and would have faced hell as God’s enemies were it not for undeserved mercy (Rom. 5:10), can we sing from the heart “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!”
Yes, but this wrath is most fully expressed in the abandonment of the Son, forsaken on the cross. We don’t need hell in order to understand what mercy means. Because the Son “became sin,” he became reprobate and cursed. In the Son, we know fully well of the mercy through wrath that won our salvation. The continuing threat of hell is not necessary for us to know this. Hell does indeed reveal this wrath, but it is not necessary in order to grasp it. That’s the distinction that DeYoung is missing. He thinks that because hell reveals God’s wrath, hell is necessary in order to reveal God’s wrath. The problem is that DeYoung fails to fully grasp the completeness of Christ’s work of salvation, so he fails to read these categories (vindication, wrath, mercy) through Christ. Instead, hell provides the filler for these categories, such that hell is necessary for knowing God’s justice, love, and even the joy of heaven (DeYoung’s 6th point). Hell is functioning in a way, for DeYoung, that Christ should function.
It should be noted that DeYoung is excerting from his book, Why We’re Not Emergent, where the focus of the excerpt is wrath and not hell per se. Yet, he thinks this exposition of wrath makes for a good defense of hell. I’m sure that if DeYoung read this post of mine he would object and say that he doesn’t intend to supplement Christ with hell, yet that’s the upshot of his argumentation.