Mohler addresses John Paul’s assertions on heaven & hell

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--Pope John Paul II’s teaching on the reality of heaven and hell are inconsistent with Scripture, said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in a Religion News Service commentary Aug. 9.

In a recent address, the pope “denied heaven and hell were physical places and seemed to reverse nearly 2,000 years of Christian teaching,” Mohler wrote in an article titled, “Should we lose the fear of Hell? Pope redefines the doctrine.”

The pope described heaven as “a living and personal relationship with the Holy Trinity.”

“So far, so good,” Mohler wrote. “But in denying the spatial reality of heaven, the pope neglected the New Testament teaching that we will have resurrected bodies, which will require a spatial dimension.”

Likewise, John Paul’s notion of hell as “more than a physical place” and “the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God,” as quoted in news reports, misses the mark, Mohler noted, as does his belief that hell “is not a punishment imposed externally by God, but the condition resulting from attitudes and actions which people adopt in this life.” According to the pope, “eternal damnation is not God’s work” but is the work of human beings.

Mohler described the pope’s denial of the traditional Christian understanding of hell as “one more step in a progressive rejection of the very real and very horrible picture of hell revealed in the Bible.”

The concept of hell is not a popular one in today’s culture, prompting many Christians to tone down and “air-condition” their description of it, Mohler wrote. “Hellfire and brimstone” sermons are a thing of the past. Many liberal Protestants deny the existence of hell altogether, while some evangelicals prefer to focus their preaching on heaven “and avoid hell at all cost.”

According to public opinion polls, most Americans believe in heaven while few believe in hell. “Modern Americans are quite certain their democratic deity wouldn’t do anything so rash as to consign their neighbors to eternal punishment, much less themselves,” Mohler wrote.

In addressing a misguided culture, Mohler stressed the need for Christians to be faithful to the teaching of Scripture.

“We should note that Jesus had more to say about hell than about heaven, and he spoke of hell as a place of punishment where the wicked are ‘cast,’ and where the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:44,47),” Mohler wrote. “Evidently, hell is indeed a punishment imposed by God, and the dire warnings in Scripture to respond to Christ in faith -- while there is time -- make sense only if hell is a very real place of very real torment. …

“Our attempts to evade the biblical doctrine of hell weaken our understanding of the gospel and confuse a world desperate for a word of biblical reality,” Mohler wrote.

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