12 books every Christian should own and read
A series of book reviews used for the monthly church bulletin of 2013
Book no. 9: Heaven and Hell by Edward Donnelly
Christians should have a clear understanding of the final state of the righteous and the wicked. It is essential for our own walk with God and also to minister to the unconverted. Today the doctrine of hell is largely ignored and the doctrine of heaven is vague. Edward Donnelly has done the Christian church a great service with this compact yet comprehensive treatment of these issues.
The first four chapters of the book deal with hell. Prof Donnelly presents the orthodox evangelical position – hell is a place; hell involves unimaginable pain; hell is eternal. It is a position many Christians find unpalatable and so interpret the Biblical language as symbolic. They reason that a loving God could never punish people in such a way. Even among those who do accept these ideas, it is often the case they are embarrassed by them. Hell is thus treated as a skeleton in the closet. The author however persuasively argues that hell is reasonable and necessary. If God did not punish the wicked in this manner it would be to compromise His own holiness. Hell is only reprehensible to those who have not grasped the seriousness of sin and unbelief.
He also helpfully addresses some of the erroneous teaching associated with the end of the wicked such as purgatory and the annihilation theory.
The next five chapters deal with heaven. If the doctrine of hell is neglected because Christians are uncomfortable with it, the doctrine of heaven is neglected because Christians are poorly informed. It would seem that the Platonic concept of the final separation of the soul and body has shaped a great deal of thinking rather than the Bible. The author explains that the so-called “intermediate state” involving the separation of soul and body at death is not the end. Both will be joined together when Christ returns to judge the world.
Heaven has two facets – firstly it is the special dwelling place of God beyond this world. This is where the souls of believers depart to when they die. Secondly heaven will come to earth when Christ returns and purges it in judgment. Here on earth in our glorified bodies we will be with Christ for eternity. Ultimately heaven is to be with Christ and like Christ.
It is through both the warnings and promises of scripture that sinners are saved. It is through the same warnings and promises that Christians are strengthened to persevere. This books sets out plainly the Biblical warnings of hell and the Biblical promises of heaven. I recommend we read it for our own good and for the good of those to whom we witness.