An observation was made recently in an article “Why Arminianism Doesn’t Sell” where they pointed out that Calvinists have a market on the conferences (The Gospel Coalition, Together for the Gospel, Desiring God, Ligonier etc.,). Interestingly the author noted how:
“Arminianism, as a theological distinctive, just does not preach. Don’t get me wrong. I did not say that Arminians can’t preach. They most certainly can. And I did not say that Arminianism is not true (This is not the question on the table). It is simply that the distinctives of Arminianism do not sell in such settings. Evangelicals love to hear about the sovereignty of God, the glory of God in suffering, the security of God’s grace, the providence of God over missions, and yes, even the utter depravity of man. This stuff preaches. This stuff sells tickets.
For the Arminian to put together a distinctive conference, things would be a bit less provocative. Things like “The Responsibility of Man in Suffering,” “Man’s Role in Salvation,” or “The Insecurity of Salvation” won’t preach too well.”
He went on to say how Calvinists preach theology while Arminians tend to stick to apologetics and leadership conferences.
Well, we have come to one of those evangelical Arminians who has been very effective in his layman’s apologetics, Lee Strobel. We will examine his chapter on eternal hell in his book The Case For Faith. The questions he raises seem to represent a sampling of the most frequently asked and will give us the opportunity to answer the Arminian point of view.
What is Lee Strobel’s apologetic for an eternal hell? So far we have looked at a number of more Calvinistic authors and their reasons for defending an eternal hell. Interestingly most of their arguments are entirely different from those of the Arminian. This stark division among respected evangelical leaders over the definition of hell should unleash in us considerable suspicion. In the same way in which Arminians and Calvinists have two very distinct images of the God of the Bible apparently they also possess very contradictory criteria for why they believe in the existence of an eternal hell.
Briefly, a Calvinist would defend the doctrine of eternal conscious torment because they say it protects God’s dignity and honor. He is holy and therefore cannot let sin go unpunished. Also most have been convinced that the act of God allowing the non-elect to perish in hell is God’s way of bringing the most glory to Himself.
Now the Arminian apologetic for an eternal hell of torment is about dignity and honor as well. But in a very different context. In fact it is about God honoring man’s dignity of free-will. Take a look at a quote by G. K. Chesterton used at the beginning of Lee Strobel’s chapter entitled, “Objection #6: A Loving God Would Never Torture People in Hell”:
“Hell is God’s great compliment to the reality of human freedom and the dignity of human choice.”
Now those are two very, very incompatible reasons for defending the doctrine of eternal hell!
I think it is clear that we have a serious logical, theological, philosophical, and ecclesiastical problem within what we have been trying to call “One Church.” We most certainly are one “in Christ” but practically speaking what the world sees is a hopeless mess. And we’ve been told that our unity is our greatest missional and evangelistic power we could ever possess (John 17. But praise God that Jesus prayed for our unity guaranteeing it will happen!)
Strobel’s apologetic for an eternal hell only highlights the disparity and gulf in the church between the two camps and their impossible future to be unified… (Unless… unless they both begin to see that the God who wants everyone to be saved is the same God who is able to save all. Then they could worship together!)
Strobel’s first point in his discussion of an eternal hell is regarding the sway of feelings. He says we need to examine this subject void of emotions because eternal hell is a very “visceral” subject best to be approached detached from our feelings (pg 172). (Does that ring a historical bell of some kind for you? Maybe how the Nazi soldiers were able to carry out their atrocities? Did they detach themselves from human feelings?) Well anyway, even so, as you continue, try to think as objectively as you can.
As he begins he reminds us that “God hates hell and He hates the idea of people going there.” (pg 172) That is good to know. I am just confused that the Sovereign Lord and Creator of the universe has to tolerate something He hates …for all eternity. I can see how on a temporal level God may tolerate something bad that good may result as in the story of Joseph or Job or Jesus. But to say God must live with something contrary to His will for all eternity is incomprehensible. It just doesn’t sound like …God.