Kevin DeYoung, Rob Bell, and the argument about hell

I said that I would come back to what Kevin DeYoung has to say about Rob Bell and hell. To his credit, DeYoung refrains from commenting on Rob Bell’s unpublished book Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, and promises not to pick a fight over it when it eventually comes out. But he takes the opportunity, in the meantime, to remind us why we need a doctrine of divine wrath and eternal punishment. The eight-part argument he puts forward is excerpted from the book that he wrote with Ted Kluck, Why We’re Not Emergent. I think he’s wrong, one way or another, on every point. I’ve listed the headings below with brief commentary.

“First, we need God’s wrath to keep us honest about evangelism.”

When Paul reasoned with the Roman governor Felix “about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25), he no doubt meant to impart a sense of urgency to his message, but this “coming judgment” cannot be equated with our notion of “hell”. It is likely that at the forefront of Paul’s mind was the coming judgment on Israel, and perhaps beyond that the thought of a judgment on the Greek-Roman world. Even if we suppose that he is thinking of a resurrection of all the dead and a final judgment such as we find in Revelation 20:4-6, there is no basis for introducing a doctrine of eternal punishment into the argument.

“Second, we need God’s wrath in order to forgive our enemies.”

The “wrath” of God in scripture always—I repeat, always—refers to some historical event or process by which a people or a nation or a civilization is “judged”. It is how the creator God puts matters to right amongst the nations. In Romans 12:19 the quotation “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” comes from the Song of Moses, where it speaks of a day when God will vindicate his people and defeat their enemies (Deut. 32:35-36). Paul’s argument is the same: there will be a day—not an end of days—when God will vindicate the suffering Roman churches and defeat their enemies.1 It is also worth noting that Paul does not speak here about forgiving their enemies, though no doubt he would have urged that; he speaks of not taking revenge against their enemies.

“Third, we need God’s wrath in order to risk our lives for Jesus’ sake.”

This one DeYoung gets basically right—at least as far as the outlook of the New Testament is concerned: “The radical devotion necessary to suffer for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus comes, in part, from the assurance we have that God will vindicate us in the end.” But we have to insist that “wrath” is not a final and absolute judgment against all humanity. It has to be contextualized historically, it has to be located in the real world; and I think that there must be some doubt about how we do this—and even whether we should do it—beyond the eschatological horizon of the judgment of the pagan world that is so climactic for the New Testament.

“Fourth, we need God’s wrath in order to live holy lives.”

Again, wrath is not a final judgment, and the final judgment in the New Testament does not consign people to eternal conscious suffering. The final judgment on human sinfulness is death or destruction. The doctrine of hell as eternal punishment is simply wrongexegetically wrong—and should be expunged from our vocabulary. That is not to say, however, that we should not be motivated by the prospect of being excluded from the renewal of creation on account of the things we have either done or not done.

“Fifth, we need God’s wrath in order to understand what mercy means.”

The catastrophic judgment on Israel in AD 70 may well have helped some Jews, prospectively or retrospectively, to learn the meaning of mercy—it sounds a little perverse, but it is a very biblical idea. In the same way the general wretchedness and futility of human existence may help us to grasp the significance of the mercy of God towards those who turn their backs on the old creation in order to belong to the new. But if we are to say that people today are “objects of wrath”, it can only be because we are convinced, prophetically, that our culture or civilization faces a coming catastrophe analogous to the overthrow of Babylon or of pagan Rome. That may well be the case, but it has nothing to do with hell.

“Sixth, we need God’s wrath in order to grasp how wonderful heaven will be.”

The proper antithesis to invoke here is not the one between hell and heaven but the one between death and life, between destruction and the renewal of creation. Hell, as popularly understood, is simply a misconception; scripture does not oppose heaven and hell in this way, as final metaphysical alternatives. What we need is a sense of the awfulness of sin, corruption, decay, and death in order to grasp how wonderful God’s new heavens and new earth will be.

“Seventh, we need the wrath of God in order to be motivated to care for our impoverished brothers and sisters.”

DeYoung offers here a fundamental misreading of Matthew 25:31-46, which describes a judgment of the nations according to how they react to the presence of Jesus’ suffering disciples in their midst, not a judgment of believers according to how they have treated the poor, as DeYoung assumes. There are plenty of good biblical ways to motivate Christian action towards social justice without waving the sub-biblical and unethical myth of eternal conscious torment in our faces.

“Eighth, we need God’s wrath in order to be ready for the Lord’s return.”

This only really restates the gist of most of the previous points: we need the fear of hell for motivational reasons. My view is that such motifs as “wrath of God”, “coming of the Son of man”, and the return of a master to his household have reference to historical realities in the relevant and foreseeable future of the early church. They speak of a judgment on the enemies of Jesus’ followers that will constitute the ending of persecution and the decisive vindication of their faith in Jesus. In addition, the motivational argument is spurious, both theologically and morally—in reality, I suspect that the young, reckless and Reformed movement needs to generate a fear of losing the doctrine of hell in order to prevent people wandering into dangerous emergent territory.

For a comprehensive presentation of my argument about “hell” see my cheap Kindle book Hell and Heaven in Narrative Perspective (2011) available from Amazon in the US and UK and Europe.

Comments

The Reformed backlash against the emerging church has become something of a phenomenon inthe U.S., where emerging is taken to mean almost anything new which does not have a reformed theological profile. There is little parallel to this conflict in the U.K. It has not been difficult for popularisers of reformed thought to expose the superficiality of emerging theology. What is offered in its place carries the aura of institutionalised dogma from which emerging culture had sought to provide a way forward.

I can't quite stomach Kevin De Young's manifesto on the doctrine of eternal punishment, not because I disagree theologically, but because it reflects a way of doing things which misses the point of the church's increasing irrelevance to the lives and needs of people outside the church. But neither do I swallow everything Rob Bell has to say either. Bell is more of an agent provocateur than a systematic thinker or ecclesiologist. A firecracker thrown into the conservative church community. Flashes of brilliance and genius, as well as some duds, and some avoidance of issues. Is the church which he founded in Grand Rapids very different from the average U.S. mega church? It's interesting that he has been released from it to a wider ministry. I suspect the church he created became something he needed to escape from.

I don't have the same problems as Andrew about the theological basis of Kevin De Young's eight theses on eternal punishment and the wrath of God. I've debated this with Andrew before, but if we're talking about judgement and 'the day of the Lord', there is plenty of evidence in OT and NT that this can include, at least, both judgement in history and final judgement, as well as 'either/or'. Discussions on this can be found at http://www.opensourcetheology.net/node/1450 and more recently in posts at http://www.postost.net/2011/02/joel-day-pentecost. I have moved some way towards Andrew's position. He certainly has not conceded anything, and seems to get more dogmatic about it as time passes.

I also refer to comments I made on The punishment of eternal destruction thread. I wonder how the annihilationists, let alone the historicists, deal with the references I quote here:

we should hesitate to relegate to the topography of 1st century Jerusalem all references to spiritual torment, and especially those references in which the non-mention of Gehenna discourages any thought of the physical topography of the valley of Hinnom where the dead are buried, eg Matthew 8:12, Matthew 13:42, Matthew 22:13, Matthew 24:51, Matthew 25:30.

The lake of fire prepared for the beast and false prophet - Revelation 19:20, a place of torment “forever and ever” (eis tous aiōnas tōn aiōnon- see above) - Revelation 20:10, is described as “the second death” - Revelation 20:14, ie the death beyond physical extinction, into which are thrown those whose names were not found in the book of life - Revelation 20:15, and into which go all kinds of people now and in the future - Revelation 21:8, to experience “the second death”, mentioned for the second time here, which far from being a place of extinction, is the place where lasting torment is experienced alongside the beast and false prophet. Mere metaphor? Whatever else this sounds like, metaphor or not, it does not sound like peaceful extinction.

I don't think the world is going to be won, in whatever shape or form we might want to win it, on the basis of Kevin De Young's eight points. Rob Bell may be open to criticism, but at least he is opening the church up to fresh ways of thinking, behind which is a desire to engage with the world more effectively. I'm looking forward to his book.

It’s alright, Peter, I only seem to get more dogmatic as time passes, and things are never quite what they seem to be.

The wailing and gnashing of teeth passages simply describe the exclusion of Jews from the kingdom. “Wailing” typically connotes the pained response to judgment (cf. Mic. 7:4 LXX; Is. 30:19; 65:19; Bar. 4:11). The “gnashing of teeth” suggests hostility towards the righteous Jew (Ps. 36:12; 34:15-16; 111:9-10 LXX; Sir. 51:3; Acts 7:54). So:

It seems quite likely, therefore, that what Jesus saw taking place in this “outer darkness” was the wailing of Jews under the judgment of God, while the gnashing of teeth refers to their hostility towards the righteous. In any case, we appear still to be in the world of national crisis, not in some final metaphysical state of hell. (The Coming of the Son of Man, 90-91)

I might address the Revelation passages tomorrow.

In the world of national crisis? Some of the passages suggest otherwise.

In Matthew 8:12, Jesus sets judgement at a time when "many will come from east and west and sit at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" - Matthew 8:11. The language is pointing to the inclusion of the Gentiles, by contrast with the exclusion of the unrighteous in Israel. That 'coming' is painted here as an apocalyptic moment, which was not the moment of historic judgement on Jerusalem.

In Matthew 13:42 the judgement is at a time when "The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers". Again, it's difficult to equate this with the moment of historic judgement on Jerusalem.

It's difficult (though not impossible) to interpret the other parables in terms of the historic judgement on Jerusalem.

Could Jesus have had historic as well as final judgement in mind, in the same passages? I think this is possible - but the thrust of the passages would then be that Jesus was looking through historic judgement to final judgement. Final judgement is where the imagery is taking us - especially in the inclusion in the parables of wedding celebration imagery, which suggests final consummation, not interim history.

Final judgement accompanies Jesus's role when it is seen as ushering in the end of the age of the old creation and the beginning of the new, all the while placing his followers and those who reject him on the cusp of a final judgement to come. This was the transition which historic Israel needed to make. Some did; many didn't. Many were called, few were chosen.

In Isaiah 43:5 it is said that the offspring of Israel will be brought from east and west when YHWH restores the exiles. It’s quite reasonable to think that Jesus uses the image in a similar way, to speak of the restoration of Israel following the judgment of AD 70, when his disciples, including those Gentiles who have joined them, are vindicated and given the kingdom. Or as elsewhere, when the Son of Man is vindicated through the events of AD 70, he will—symbolically speaking—send out his angels to gather his disciples from the four corners of the earth into the restored community of Israel (cf. Matt. 24:31).

That ‘coming’ is painted here as an apocalyptic moment, which was not the moment of historic judgement on Jerusalem.

That’s an odd statement. It is precisely the function of apocalyptic language to describe such theologically significant events as the destruction of the Jerusalem and the temple.

Matthew 13:39 speaks of a judgment at “the close of the age”, the age that will end with the destruction of the temple (Matt. 24:2-3). At the heart of this is a judgment on Jerusalem, but it is also a decisive transfer of sovereignty from those who had ruled over Israel to the community of the Son of Man. The language may be somewhat hyperbolic—this is apocalyptic after all—but I don’t see anything inappropriate in the fact that Jesus said “all stumbling blocks and all those doing lawlessness” will be excluded from the kingdom.

I would also make the broader point that this judgment inaugurates “kingdom”, in some sense: “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43; cf. Dan. 12:3). “Kingdom” language has to do with the political existence of the people of God amongst the nations: it has to do with how the people of God is ruled and its integrity safeguarded. It should not be confused with “new creation” language. There is no kingdom in Revelation 21:1-22:5 because all enemies have been destroyed. Jesus reigns—that is, kingdom remains relevant—until the last enemy, death, is destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26).

When was there a fulfilment of Isaiah 43:5 before the wider fulfilment of Isaiah brought about by Jesus? Isaiah 43:5 by no means describes the disappointing historic return of Israel following following the decree of Cyrus. It is therefore fair to say that Isaiah 43:5 and Matthew 8:11 are still in the process of fulfilment. This would be a reason for seeing Matthew 24:31 also as yet to be completed.

Matthew 8:12 doesn't mention the destruction of Jerusalem, and Matthew 8:11 has a wider vision of the inclusion of the Gentiles to participate in the 'feast' with faithful Israel. The perspective here is the return of Jesus, not the detsruction of Jerusalem.

You assume, with no explicit evidence, that 'the close of the age' (Matthew 13:39) was the destruction of the temple in AD 70. This is not the only possible meaning of the phrase, and Matthew 13:39 much more strongly suggests a final separation of good seed and weeds. Matthew 24 also nowhere explicitly asociates 'the end of the age' with the destruction of the temple.

The problem with attaching 'end of the age' exclusively to the destruction of the temple (something the NT never does) is that it removes the focus from where it properly belongs - the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is this event which preoccupies the gospels and the letters. End of the old, beginning of the new have their centre here, not in the destruction of the temple. The 'end of the age' in Matthew 8, and 24, is yet to be.

“Kingdom” language has to do with the political existence of the people of God amongst the nations: it has to do with how the people of God is ruled and its integrity safeguarded

Well, no, it doesn't. There were political ramifications to the gospel, which was announcement that Jesus was now the world's true king, but kingdom language has to do with the demonstration of that reign in all the works of the Spirit which accompanied the reign of Jesus: the new community of God's people, the works of the kingdom through Jesus in the gospels, continued by the disciples in the gospels and Acts. The references which make this connection are everywhere. It's a connection also made in Isaiah - eg 32:15, in the context of the reigning king to come.

Kingdom includes judgement, but is far from restricted to it. The protecting and safeguarding of the integrity of the people of God is something you have added. Kingdom does encompass the new creation, in that the reign of God through Jesus is demonstrated through the new creation - beginning in Jesus himself as a resurrected being, and extending to his followers who receive the new life of the Spirit, itself closely associated with the kingdom, eg in the teaching of the kingom by Jesus in the context of the language of Isaiah and the predicted outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 1.

Kingdom and Spirit are closely associated, and in the future the new creation is to be a physical environment  for resurrected new creation beings with bodies energised by the Spirit - 1 Corinthians 15:44. It would be absurd to disconnect the 'new earth' of Revelation 21 from the Spirit who energises the bodies of those who inhabit it, and the kingdom which it demonstrates in its fulfilment. In this you have misunderstood the meaning of 'kingdom', and have also misread 1 Corinthians 15:24-28.

Peter, this is probably not worth pursuing. We simply read prophetic/apocalyptic language in very different ways. I must say, though, that I find your statement that the end of the age is nowhere associated with the destruction of the temple rather odd: “not one stone will be left standing on another… when will these things be and what will be the sign… of the close of the age?” (Matt. 24:2-3). You can’t get much more associated than that.

Thanks Andrew. My response was rather scrappy because written in haste. However, I do think I'm onto something - not in our divergent readings of apocalyptic language, but in the relationship between the 'small' story of Israel which Jesus came to participate in, and the 'larger' story of the world, the outcome of which, as I read it, depended on the outcome of Israel's story.

Reading Galatians, I'm struck with the way the key points in Paul's argument, Galatians 2:20, for instance, and more strikingly Galatians 3:10-14, raise this very issue - smaller story/larger story. Everyone (apart from you) reads Galatians 2:20 as universally applicable. It expresses the heart of the gospel, as it is universally understood. However, before it becomes 'our story', it was part of the very particular story of Israel which Paul was experiencing.

This relationship of smaller story to larger story is even more obvious in Galatians 3:10-14, where it is arguable (as N.T.Wright argues) that the 'curse' only applies to Israel, and Jesus's death, therefore, is only for Israel under the curse, to release the story of the blessings promised to Abraham for the world.

But what is the blessing promised to the world through Abraham if not that obtained by Jesus on Israel's behalf? In other words, Galatians 2:20 becomes a reality for non-Jews trusting in Jesus as well as Jews. This is clearly where Paul is taking the argument; the Galatians were not spectators of the Jesus whose death Paul presented to them, but participators in it.

So we come back to arguments in the recently exchanged posts. I think you can see that underlying my concern about where you are taking the argument is that your overriding focus is on the 'end of the age' and kingdom as reflected in the judgement on Jerusalem, and destruction of the temple. The death of Jesus, as presented by you, is exclusively to facilitate believers through this judgement in history. The new age is what lies beyond.

I think there is far more focus in gospels and letters on the death of Christ in itself as the end of one era and the beginning of another, for those who participate in it. That this is not just a figurative way of speaking is seen in the emphasis given to the change in the lives of those who participate in it, which is the heart of the new age, 'the age to come' as Hebrews puts it. Paul's arguments in Galatians highlight this larger argument.

It's particularly apt that Galatians is addressed to Gentile believers, not Jews. So Paul can use the inclusive 'we/us' to refer to himself and Galatian believers in his summary of the gospel as the giving of Jesus "for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age" - 1:4, with no sense that Christ's actions were for Jewish believers only, as in the historicist presentation you are making.

The same can be said in Galatians 2:20, where Paul is clearly talking about Jews, and then himself as a Jew, yet the words echo so closely Romans 6:2-11 that it would be impossible to say they did not also apply to Gentile believers, who are among those addressed by Paul in Romans.

Then looking at 2 Corinthians 5:17, the "anyone" of "if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation" is inclusive of Jew and Gentile, predominantly Gentile, in the Corinthian congregation. This "anyone" is a "new creation, the old has gone, the new has come" - 2 Corinthians 5:17. The means whereby this change was brought about was through the death of Christ and his new life imparted (by the Spirit) through the resurrection - 2 Corinthians 5:15.

In other words, the key transitional event is the cross, and the resurrection, which on scores of occasions is the focus of the letters, and is overwhelmingly the focus of the gospels too. That transition is not simply historical, but ontological, a change in the very being of those who participated in it through faith.

I'm sure you get my point. Where is the primary focus of the NT writings, and was the nature of the experience they describe, in terms of personal transformation through the cross of Christ, purely for Paul, or for historic Israel, or for people of all times as they exercised the same faith in the same Christ? I think the primary focus of the former (the NT writings) was the cross, and not the cross as a means of navigating the historic perils of judgement on Jerusalem, but as a means of providing transformation for all three of the latter (Paul, historic believing Israel, and people of all times).

Well, again this is not a reply to Andrew's paragraphs directly but a general comment on the "we need the wrath of God" ditty.

 

This is the work product of somebody (Kevin?) with an exuberant need to make the point that we should all simply fear the Lord.  I believe he way overstates his case, and departs from the central tenets Jesus taught (and Paul, et al reinforced) regarding - above all - Love; the Kingdom of Heaven; Righteousness, Peace and Joy, and etc.  

 

Seems a bit heavy-handed an interpretation of the Bible, and in particular the new covenant.

The passages from Revelation that you cite are not that problematic. The lake of fire is a place of torment for the beast, the false prophet and eventually the devil (Rev. 19:20; 20:10); it is not—at least, not explicitly—for those whose names are not written in the book of life (Rev. 20:15). Significantly, “Death and Hades” are also thrown into the lake of fire, and the point there, surely, is that death is finally destroyed (Rev. 20:14).

A passage that you don’t cite is more problematic:

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Rev. 14:9-11)

This passage is associated with the fall of Babylon the great (14:8); it forms part of the predicted judgment on idolatrous and corrupt Rome. To my mind this is the only passage in the whole of scripture that speaks of an endless torment of ordinary people, and it is strictly contextualized. It is an aspect of the manifestation of the wrath of God against a society that fiercely persecuted the early church. It is one apocalyptic detail amid the garish apocalyptic symbolism of John’s visionary account of judgment against Rome: one like a son of man sits on a cloud and orders an angel to swing his sickle and reap the harvest of the earth, and the “blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia” (14:14-20).

I think it would be a grave mistake to base a generalized doctrine of eternal conscious torment in hell on this one highly symbolic, carefully contextualized passage.

It would be odd for the beast and false prophet to be subject to eternal torment, while the rest - Revelation 21:8, bypassed this fate with eternal annihilation.

Death and Hades are probably more then personifications in Revelation 20:14; they seem to have become something like angelic beings who were custodians of the places referred to, accompanying the devil, the beast and the false prophet in the lake of fire and sulphur - Revelation 20:10, and sharing their torment.

Revelation 14:9:

This passage is associated with the fall of Babylon the great (14:8); it forms part of the predicted judgment on idolatrous and corrupt Rome.

I'd reverse the order in which you put things here: the fall of Rome is associated with the predicted judgement on idolatrous and corrupt Babylon!

Thanks for pointing the passage out.

I was very impressed with your rebuttals to Kevin DeYoung's list.  Given your biblical understanding of wrath and related subjects you might appreciate my biblical case for everyone going to heaven because it takes into account the sort of views you demonstrated.

Mike, I responded to your earlier comment here.

There are so many gaping problems with the concept of hell.

One is that it makes God a moral monster. Are people really going to be happy in heaven knowing that their friends and family members are roasting in pain forever and ever?

I worry if one of my kids has the sniffles, would I be happy in heaven to know that one is suffering horrible pain forever and ever? And I'm singing hymns to the thing that is torturing my loved one? How realistic is that?

Another is that the concept is really not what is taught by the bible's authors, as Andrew points out a lot.

And from a human point of view, if you follow God to avoid hell, then how is that not a life of self-preservation and self-interest? How can there be true joy and devotion to god if one of your motivations is to stay out of jail?

 

Andrew,

I have been reading your blog for a few months and am very challenged by your views.  I appreciate your perspective and your willingness to ask hard questions.

Regarding the topic of Hell/eternal punishment, how do you interpret the account of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16)?  There is certainly a lot going on in that passage, but it does seem to me that Jesus affirms conscious/physical punishment after death.  I appreciate your thoughts on this subject.

Blessings,

Ben

Ben, thank you for your kind words. I’ve addressed the rich man and Lazarus story here.

I agree with your assessment, especially on the latter points in which the argumentation seems particularly strained.  I cannot understand, logically speaking, why God would "need" something that is completely opposite to his own character of goodness in order to communicate said goodness with humanity.  

Let me say it this way . . . I once heard that God ordained the Fall so that we would understand what grace/mercy was.  This is theologically lame, for we are to suppose that God can reveal more of himself in a broken context (post-Fall) than in a complete context (pre-Fall).

The line of argumentation given by DeYoung is similarly strained, for it supposes that God needs divine wrath in order to demonstrate his goodness.  I think this is more schizophrenia than divine behavior - needing to hurt us in order to love us.

Andrew.. finally.. someone who makes simple sense out of scriptures that trip so many up. Thank you.. I'm in heaven reading your thoughtful, reasoned, God is truly G-D writings.

Around 12 years ago God allowed the reality of eternal torment in hell to hit me like a ton of bricks, using my three grown unbelieving sons as object lessons. At which time I began a journey into the unbelievable chaos of Christian 'hell' and 'eternity' teachings. Aion/Aionion was just the tip of that iceberg. :(

And it seems to all come down to, unless one understands the Bible story in the way you are presenting it, we will never be at peace in our interpretation of scripture.. or who God is, for that matter.

Andrew - great to see you last year. thanks for this post and also for the good stuff in the thread of discussion. its good for people who havent read your book to have access to this conversation, and also to peter's thinking which adds to the conversation. it will be an interesting week, this one coming, in which this post might help a lot of people who are wondering what emerging church people actually talk about when they discuss hell. i the focus goes to the Scriptures, as it does here, and not to labels and man-made doctrines. peace.

Andrew,

You wrote:

"The 'wrath' of God in scripture always—I repeat, always—refers to some historical event or process by which a people or a nation or a civilization is 'judged'."

So far, so good.

"It is how the creator God puts matters to right amongst the nations."

No, judgment does not always put matters right. Very often the kind of judgment God inflicts is to hand over those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness to even more serious sin (Romans 1:24-32). This is what Paul describes as the wrath that's already being revealed from heaven (Romans 1:18), which in turn the wrath He will reveal on the last day (Romans 2:16).

Ron, I don’t understand how the first statement is “so far, so good” and the second statement wrong. If wrath is the concrete judgment of the nations (in history), it is by definition God’s way of putting things right among the nations. It is large scale judgment on wickedness, injustice, aggression, idolatry, etc.—and in the process God demonstrates his righteousness.

My argument in The Future of the People of God is simply that if “wrath” in the Old Testament and elsewhere in Jewish literature refers not to a final but to a historical judgment, the likelihood is that Paul uses the term in the same way when he speaks of judgment on the Jew first, then on the Greek. He has in mind catastrophic and tumultuous events that will overturn first Israel’s world, then the world of the Greek, the world of ancient paganism. So while it may be correct to say that Paul believed that the wrath of God against idolatry was revealed in the “handing over” to immorality and wickedness, I would nevertheless maintain that what this foreshadows is the coming judgment on the pagan oikoumenē (cf. Acts 17:30-31).

Paul is not concerned in Romans with the end of the world (with the exception of Romans 8:20-21) but with how the emerging churches would withstand the coming seismic upheavals that would shake the ancient world. It is in this context that “faithfulness” becomes the decisive criterion.