The question of whether the Bible teaches that the unsaved will suffer an eternity of conscious torment in the fires of hell after they die is not quite the hot topic it was a decade ago, when the first edition of this book came out, but it continues to trouble a great many people. For a growing number of disillusioned “evangelicals” it’s all the reason they need finally to ditch the Bible as a compendium of antiquated, wrong-headed, and sometimes quite sinister claptrap.
We have come up with various ways of mitigating the problem of “hell.” We try to ignore it. We strip it down to the stark misery of a permanent, self-chosen estrangement from God. We explain away the language of “hell” as a colourful metaphor for the annihilation of death.
But the fact remains that the New Testament clearly has a lot to say about unpleasant future experiences—from Jesus’ “Gehenna of fire” to John’s vision of the “smoke of their torment” rising up for ever in Revelation.
My argument, at its simplest, is that this language refers not to the suffering of individuals after death but to the suffering of peoples in history. In other words, it must be read as the tail end of Old Testament prophecy, not as the precursor to a Neo-Platonic post mortem metaphysics. In this respect, readers may find the book a useful introduction to—and vindication of—what I have been tirelessly calling the narrative-historical approach to understanding Christian origins.
Hell and Heaven in Narrative Perspective (second edition) is just a collection of posts from this site—about 50% more than the first edition. But it’s pretty thorough.
Part one introduces the hermeneutic and explores some general themes. The posts in part two look at aspects of the debate about “hell” over the last ten years and more, engaging with the likes of John Piper, Tim Keller, and David Bentley Hart. Part three is an examination of the relevant New Testament texts. Part four covers a range of questions relating to whether or how “life after death” in any form is conceived in the New Testament. The print version has a comprehensive index of biblical and other ancient texts and a brief index of subjects and names.
Let me know if you want a review copy.