Book Review of Solving Hell: A Mystery Story, by Chris Friesen, A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary (Fresno, CA), In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Theology, 2003, unpublished
WN: In 1992 a former missionary colleague, Larry Dixon, published The Other Side of the Good News: Confronting the Contemporary Challenges to Jesus’ Teachings on Hell, Wheaton: Victor. Dixon’s conclusion was there is an “adequacy [in] the traditional view of hell… and that alternative views do not adequately reflect the scriptural data concerning hell… [namely] the traditional eternal conscious punishment view (pp. 172 & 173, emphasis added).” By contrast this Master’s thesis concludes in the Abstract, “… that mainstream Evangelicalism’s doctrine of hell is biblically, theologically, and experientially illegitimate…(p. iv, emphasis in original)”
Dixon’s subtitle already brooks no compromise: anyone not espousing his view contradicts Jesus’ teachings. Widely regarded Evangelical theologian J. I. Packer in The Other Side’s Foreword writes, “To believe what the Bible appears to say about human destiny apart from the grace of God is a bitter pill indeed, and no one should wonder that attempts are made to explore alternative understandings of God’s revelation on this topic. It is suggested that the Bible is unclear, or incoherent, or inconsistent, or untrustworthy, when it speaks of the outcome of judgment after death, or alternatively that virtually the whole church has for two thousand years misunderstood the texts. I do not think so, nor does Dr. Dixon… For one I am grateful for his work, and commend it to all who are willing to be biblically rational on this sombre subject (p. 7).”
Chris Friesen alternatively writes that support of mainstream Evangelicalism’s view represented by Dixon and Packer reveals that “… the doctrine’s modernist approach to Scripture attempts to turn the sayings of Jesus into a repository of facts about eschatological punishment, flattering Jesus as ‘Lord’ but not doing what he says; its worldview of ‘default damnation’ fails to integrate the significance of Jesus’ redemptive solidarity with the lost and the persevering agape of the supremely self-giving God whom he has revealed; its approach to life and death does not engage the perplexities and ambiguities of actual human experience but retreats into cynical pragmatism (‘we have to have hell to keep the mission program running’) and a disengaged rationalism that scorns ‘sentimentality’ one minute, and, paradoxically, ‘mere human reason’ the next (pp. iv & v).”
Given Rob Bell’s recent book, Love Wins, and subsequent Evangelical response, including a tract by Dixon, “Farewell, Rob Bell” (with a cover that has an ominous look of Evangelical fatwa), and given Kevin Miller’s 2012 documentary Hellbound?, this is a timely topic. Given also that the thesis was presented in 2003, it speaks to a genuine struggle with the issue absent any kind of “cashing in” on its current in vogue appeal.
Please click on: Book Review of Solving Hell