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2 Stars Out Of 5
God Does Not Threaten Believers With Hell
June 6, 2013
This is my first Max Lucado book and will probably be my last. Admittedly, Max Lucado's style is really not for me and I knew that going in, but due to to the difficult subject matter that he tackles in this book I was curious as to what he had to say. There are many places where he offers helpful insight but where he's wrong, he is detrimentally wrong.
He starts the book out well encouraging believers of all that Christ has done for them and how the believer need not fear God. He goes through various Scriptures to show how Christ has taken away our condemnation and there is no penalty left for our sin. Though Christ's return may be frightening for non-believer's, those of us who believe in Him have nothing to fear. He does an excellent job of explaining the "judgement" that we believers will face (hint: there's no condemnation, punishment, or shame) and the role rewards will play. Up to this point everything is great. Then he gets into Hell...
His discussion of Hell starts out well. He discusses how the concept of Hell makes sense, and I agree that it does,except he then suggests the fear of Hell should be used to keep the "believer" in line. In his own words from page 118-119:
"Even now, before Christ comes, the presence of hell serves a powerful purpose. It functions somewhat like my dad's workshop. That is where he disciplined my brother and me. When my mom was angry, we got spanking. When my dad was angry, we got whippings. You can guess which one we preferred. All Dad had to say was, 'Go to the workshop', and my bottom would begin to tingle. I don't know how you feel about corporal punishment. I don't mention the topic to discuss it. I mention it to explain the impact that the workshop had on my behavior.
You see, My father loved me. I knew he loved me. And most of the time, his love was enough. There were many bad things I didn't do because I knew he loved me. But there were a few times when love was not enough. The temptation was so strong, or the rebellion so fierce, that the thought of his love didn't slow me down. But the though of his anger did. When love didn't compel me, fear corrected me. The thought of the workshop - and the weeping and gnashing of teeth therein - was just enough to straighten me out.
The application might be obvious. If not, let me make it so. Our heavenly Father loves his children. He really does. Most of the time, that love will be enough to make us follow him. But there will be times when it won't. The lure of lust will be so mighty, the magnet of greed so strong, the promise of power so seductive, that people will reject the love of God. In those moments, the holy Spirit may mention 'the workshop'. He may remind us that 'whatever a man sows, that he will also reap' (Galatians 6:7 RSV). And the reminder that there is a place of punishment may be just what we need to correct our behavior."
I wholeheartedly disagree with him here for two reasons. First, believer's are "in Christ" and never have to worry or fear about Hell ever again. Second, he waters down the reality of Hell.
Romans 8:1 clearly states that there is "no condemnation" for those who are in Christ. Revelation 13:8 states that those who follow the Lamb (Christ) have had their names written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world. In John 10:28 Christ states that He loses none of His sheep. Romans 8:28-39 states that believer's have already been justified and glorified and that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. 1 John 5:13 says that we may "know" we have eternal life. That means real security and confidence in our eternal destiny, not doubt. In light of these Scriptures (and there are many more) if God were to then threaten us with Hell, not only would this be psychologically troubling, but it would mean He would need to contradict these great promises which He has given us. How can both be true? Either we're saved and can have great hope in Christ "knowing" we have eternal life or we can't.
I think there are genuine warnings in Scripture about the reality of only two destinies and the path that leads to both but I doubt these are meant to be threats. Perhaps the two best reasons for following God outside of His love for us is because there is no other path that exists within reality. To go a way that is contrary to God is a way that is contrary to the way we were created and the way in which this world was intended. Based on this I think it is safe to say that if we walk contrary to God we are walking contrary to reality. It's certainly real that we can live that way for now, but it's not real that life in that manner is the way it was intended to be. When Christ comes, among much else, will be a day of great disillusionment for many who have chosen not to align themselves with His reality. It makes logical and rational sense to live in light of reality rather than the opposite which is really just a lie. The second reason is peace and joy. Sustained peace and joy is a reality of walking in the truth. So, when Scripture states that one way of life leads to death and another to life, rather than reading that as a threat, I think it's just as reasonable to read it as simply stating a reality.
The Scripture he quotes in Galatians (6:7), in my opinion, is dealing with sanctification, not justification. It appears to me from reading the entire chapter that Paul is dealing with how to live not how to be saved. I believe Lucado is reading Hell into the text; for the very next verse (8) states, "Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." While believing in Christ for salvation could be considered sowing to the Spirit, the context is speaking about behavior; therefore it would appear obtaining or maintaining eternal life cannot be the subject matter, otherwise this would be teaching a works based salvation which is completely contrary to the rest of Paul's writings and the Bible. I think this is discussing the "experience" of eternal life in the here and now. Simply, if we live after the "flesh" versus the Holy Spirit, we will suffer misery; however, if we "sow to the Spirit" versus living according to the flesh we will "experience" eternal life. God has provided us a way to be free from the bondage of sin and I believe this is what Paul is teaching. Look also at Galatians 5:16 & 6:1 (note specifically the two states of believer's in verse 6:1). It is my strong opinion that Paul is teaching the Christian how to live not how to "maintain" their salvation, for only Christ is responsible and capable of doing this.
Further, the Bible states that it is not the fear of Hell that teaches us to live right but rather it is the grace of God that does this (Titus 2:12); and that perfect love (the love of God) casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). Fear may serve a purpose in leading some to Christ, but once His it is His love that should guide, direct, and teach.
The second reason I disagree with him here is that he completely waters down the reality of Hell. He turns it into a "workshop" where God spanks people who are bad. I understand the point he is trying to make but the Bible makes Hell out to be far worse than this. Just a few paragraphs prior he states that Hell is freely chosen. I agree with him on this, Hell was not made for people but for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). Nobody who wants God and His creation doesn't get Him. He saves everyone who desires Him and responds to the light He gives. Everyone who is in Hell does not want God or His creation. Those who go to Hell freely choose this and freely reject God. They reject the destiny, life, and humanity for which they were created. God honors their choice, but the reality of an eternity apart from God is nonetheless a horrible tragedy. There will come a day when people will really make this choice. In light of this reality, to describe Hell in the manner he did I feel does not do it justice.
After this, the book concludes fairly well. As you can see the majority of the book was not only not bad but was potentially helpful, were it not for this one glaring error which contradicts much of the rest of the book. I believe Lucado's theology here is contrary to the Bible and detrimental to the confidence believer's are supposed to have in Christ. Therefore, I cannot recommend this book.