"Hell is not filled with people who are deeply sorry for their sins"

D.A. Carson on Hell and repentance (Women’s Gospel Coalition Conference)

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Alex Guggenheim's picture

As it stands alone this statement does not represent a proper soteriology. I am interest in what sorrounded it. I read some in the article and it was not satisfactory. I am sure there is nore which would shed better qualifying light.

Aaron Blumer's picture


Suggest reading the linked article more thoroughly. There is plenty there.

Are you claiming that those in Hell are repentant?

Andrew Henderson's picture


What specifically was improper about Dr. Carson's soteriology in this piece?

Andrew Henderson

Alex Guggenheim's picture

"Deeply sorry for their sins" is not equivalent to faith in Christ. I read the article again and while there is some material which may qualify his soteriology I believe it does not correct the errant properties of this statement. Many religious people are deeply sorry for their sins while never believing on Christ. And the Gospel is not a call, even, to be deeply sorry for our sins but to understand our sin has separated us from God and Christ is the means of reconciliation/forgiveness. The anecdote of understanding our separation from God may or may not be deep sorrow but deep sorrow in itself is not the call of the gospel nor saves. I don't imagine Carson believes otherwise and I am sure this simply was an immediately less desirable choice of words with given more consideration.

Aaron Blumer's picture


Alex, he doesn't appear to be offering a discourse on soteriology. It's an exposition of the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man.
Some interesting ideas there. I hadn't noticed before the way the Rich Man continues to view himself as the center of everything and Lazarus as his servant--or at least someone he can presume to send instructions to.
Carson's pt with these observations is that the post-death Rich Man is not a changed man. Even as he suffers the judgment, he continues to deserve it.

If there is a problem with Carson's POV here, it might be assertion we find in Philippians 2 (and quoted/paraphrased from OT, if memory serves) that "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess" that Christ is Lord. I'd concluded that those who do not bow here will bow there, and assumed they'd mean it. But it isn't necessary to read it that way. Perhaps they bow but do not "mean it."
In any case, the Rich Man--at the point in time we see him in Luke 16--is not bowing yet in any sense. That's for sure.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

It is fallacious to argue that since one is not presenting a discourse on a doctrine that statements such a person makes cannot be measured against sound doctrine. I believe it is certainly not unreasonable to expect sound soteriology in soteriologically based declarations. Maybe you missed it but I did state since he was speaking, given more time for word choice, he would have chosen a different expression. The remainder of your post I do concur with.

christian cerna's picture

This parable was not meant to be the ground on which to construct a doctrine of whether those in Hell repent. Rather, Jesus was showing that those who enjoy riches and luxury in this life, while ignoring the plight of the poor who are suffering, will themselves suffer eternal torment in eternity. While the poor and afflicted in this world, who trust in God, will be comforted in eternity.

As to whether or not the people in Hell repent- how could they not? They are burning in the lake of fire, in eternal darkness, while their rotting bodies are being eaten by worms. Then they will repent, but it will be too late.

handerson's picture

For me, the significance of Carson's interpretation lies in explaining why a merciful God could reject someone's cries for help even if those cries came from hell --a point with which I always struggled in this text. Is it that our temporal death makes so much difference to an eternal God--why within time would He respond to our desperate cries for help if only to turn a deaf ear in eternity? Carson's rendering puts that piece in place. In his paradigm, the rich man's torment is the result of his continued lack of true repentance--not the result of some fundamental change in the nature of God.

Shaynus's picture

Tim Keller has a pretty good sermon on hell http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/hell-isnt-god-christianity-angry-judge ]here.

He makes similar points regarding Lazarus and the rich man. One thing that terrifies me about hell is that part of God's judgement is letting the damned continue to be evil, and that evil must grow over "time." Think of what would happen if we as sinful individual humans lived for thousands of years on the earth. Our evil would multiply to the point where we would destroy ourselves and the planet. It is part of God's mercy that he lets us die. It is merciful to the earth and others around us that he doesn't let us continue in sin while on earth. The lake of fire is a terrifying prospect, but even more so to me is the prospect of growing more and and more evil. In his sermon, Keller quotes C.S. Lews -

"Christianity asserts that we are going to go on forever and that must either be true or false. Now there are a great many things that wouldn't be worth bothering about if I was only going to live eighty years or so, but I had better bother about if I am going to go on living forever. Perhaps my bad temper or my jealousy are getting worse so gradually that the increase in my lifetime will not be very noticeable but it might be absolute hell in a million years. In fact, if Christianity is true, hell is precisely the correct technical term for it. Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others, but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or to even enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on and on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God 'sending us' to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE Hell unless it is nipped in the bud."

Carson's points are very Lewisian. Hell is self chosen. Whatever Lewis' foibles are regarding his view of hell, this point is salient.

christian cerna's picture

Lewis's words sound pretty, but there is no scripture to back them up. It's just a writer's imagination let loose...

christian cerna's picture

Alex Guggenheim wrote:

I had very similar thoughts. A misuse of imaginative license.

True. And unfortunately many preachers like to quote Lewis simply because what he says sounds nice- and well, because he is C.S. Lewis, the guy who wrote the Narnia books. But we must be careful to avoid speaking or declaring something to be a certain way, where the Scriptures are silent.

All we know about Hell is what is written in Scripture.(e.g. that it is lake of fire, that the angels of God will cast Satan and his followers therein, that it will be a place of darkness, that there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, that those in it will be separated from God, etc.) All else is just conjecture and speculation.

handerson's picture

we must also be careful to hold our own preachers and evangelists to these same standards of interpretation if we are going to so finely evaluate Lewis and Carson. Because you really need only attend a prophecy conference at any typical ifb church to get a good dose of "imaginative license." :~

Alex Guggenheim's picture

All Christians, indeed, must have their declarations tested and cross-examined, Teachers all the way to individual believers with whom we engage and discuss the Word of God. What is at stake is the truth so I believe it is incumbent upon us all as much as possible to finely evaluate the doctrines of Teachers of the Word and when we do discover careless articulations they should not be ignored for the sake of that Teacher or any other cause which might encourage us to minimize concerns. Obviously such statements must be balanced with all relevant material from the Teacher and in this case, with Carson, I certainly do not believe that this statement he made while speaking is a flagship articulation regarding his overall or primary view of repentance. I get that, but still, its carelessness, in my view, and it does inform me in a way which I must record and keep in mind as I read and hear him teach in the future.

However, there are singular statements an otherwise orthodox Teacher may make that can place him well out of the orbit of orthodoxy in spite of all of his previous works and I have seen such theological offenses committed and either ignored or minimized by those whom I ascertained, had simply made too large an ego-investment of some sort in that Teacher where they simply could not bring themselves to admit the gravity of what was said or what now was being taught which they would normally reject in another Teacher with whom they are not as closely identified..

I do not attend prophecy conferences myself but I have heard and read material that misused imaginative license. I can think of a book series.

handerson's picture

How do we handle true and valuable insights from people (like Lewis) without feeling the need to interpret them in context of that individual's larger body of work? (Like Shaynus referenced in respect to Lewis' theology of hell.) I guess what I'm saying is this: must we form a systematic theology of a teacher's beliefs and then evaluate each individual statement in light of their theology in order to accept the specific statement? or is it a case of taking the good and leaving the bad?

It's an interesting dilemma because on the one hand the larger body of work very often interprets and explains what a person is saying in a particular statement; but on the other, a person's views can develop over time and may even change to the point that they are no longer relevant to the specific quote. And of course, they can sometimes just be wrong altogether.

Shaynus's picture

As long as you take the writing as intended, I don't see a problem with a writer's imagination let loose. C.S. Lewis was not intending to set down holy writ. He was intending to use his imagination as a writer given the scriptural and logical tools at his disposal. If Lewis made you ponder a little harder, or think a little deeper, he did his job.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

It is fallacious to argue we may doctrinally err because we are not writing holy writ. All statements we make which contain theological assertions are required to be doctrinally sound, even in using our imaginations. Our Lord used imaginative parables without compromising truth. One obfuscates the truth, if not outright corrupts it when he is categorically speaking about hell he then asserts that "it is not a question of God 'sending us' to he'll" but attempts to stretch the Scriptures to accommodate another concept, that of "a" personal hell in saying, still in the context of the biblical doctrine of hell, "in each of us there is something growing, which will BE hell unless nipped in the bud". While we have come to use the word "hell" more broadly the Bible does not. And if the author intended to distinguished between the two be did not, thus his imagination was not used to magnify but distort Scripture. As well, I am going to read the author as he writes, not with insertions of intentions I assume he meant and of which he is obliged to provide and is quite capable of but did not.

Larry's picture


I read the article again and while there is some material which may qualify his soteriology I believe it does not correct the errant properties of this statement. Many religious people are deeply sorry for their sins while never believing on Christ. And the Gospel is not a call, even, to be deeply sorry for our sins but to understand our sin has separated us from God and Christ is the means of reconciliation/forgiveness. The anecdote of understanding our separation from God may or may not be deep sorrow but deep sorrow in itself is not the call of the gospel nor saves. I don't imagine Carson believes otherwise and I am sure this simply was an immediately less desirable choice of words with given more consideration.
Do you believe Carson's soteriology is defined by an article that lifts a singular statement out of a message that he preached on a particular text? Have you listened to the actual message to know what else Carson said that this author omitted? Is it possible that Carson did say something that this article did not record? (Given Carson's tendency to go on for longer than a sentence or two, I imagine this article does not record it all.)

So it would be good to remember that these are not Carson's words. This is an article that may or may not be fair to what Carson said, much less, everything Carson said. It would simply be inappropriate to judge Carson's message or his soteriology based on this article.

It is also helpful to note that this message appears to be an exposition of a text, and is therefore concerned with what the text teaches, not what else might be true. It is the nature of expositional preaching to preach a text rather than a systematic theology. (Something that some have gotten away from leading to long and laborious shotgun messages.) No message should attempt to say everything that might be said about a topic that a text may address. The point of preaching is to say what the text says, not what other texts say.

But having said that, there is not much theologically to argue with in Carson's words. Given the teaching of Scripture about repentance (that God forgives those who repent and that those who don't repent will perish), it is safe to "theologize" that there are not repentant sinners in hell. 2 Corinthians is pretty clear about the nature of true sorrow, and Carson's word appear to fall in line with that. Furthermore, Revelation tells us that the judgment of God does not bring repentance but rather more sin (9:20-21; 16:9-11). It is likely that that continues in hell as well. It seems to me that repentant sinners in hell would put God in the rather awkward position of failing to keep his promise that those who repent will have forgiveness and eternal life.

In a bit of irony, your own complaint doesn't seem to match the standard you have erected. Your post contains nothing of the life of Christ, his vicarious death, his resurrection, all of which are necessary for salvation. We might say that "Given more time you might have selected different words," but the truth is you had all kinds of time and space and still didn't say it. Why? Because you were making a different point. And it is likely that Carson was as well. In other words, what you did is not a problem. Neither is what Carson did.

Alex Guggenheim's picture


Your I inital question and the subsequent concerns were already covered ib my earlier posts. I recommend you do some mining.

As to the so-called irony of my posts not possessing nothing of the life of Christ, etc., what you have missed is the very point, that abberant limited statements, while able to be nursed by other clearer statements, still do not have removed from them their errant properties as well no one called for exhaustion in all theological assertions. But even the most limited statement still must be accurate. I believe Carson errs here and it is informative at some level.

As to asserting being deeply sorry as synonymous with repentance anyone is free to make such arguments but I believe they cannot be sustained with rigorous exegesis and theological development.

Aaron Blumer's picture


I don't think anyone here--or anyone I've ever met--wants to be read or listened to as though they are saying more than they are saying. To put it another way, whenever any of us says "A  is not B," we are not saying anything about C,  and it's neither fair nor wise put a C statement in our mouths.

By the same token, when you're having a conversation about horses, you don't want to be judged for all the things you didn't say about the entire class Mammalia. Suggest Matt. 7:2 is relevant here.

We also impoverish ourselves if we can't appreciate a well articulate statement on some topic because we know the source is incorrect on some other topic or even some other aspect of the same topic.  ("I only listen to, and appreciate, people who are 100% right 100% of the time"? Right. Who really does that?)