With so many nonsense books about heaven and hell filling Christian bookshelves, there is greater need, now more than ever, for sound biblical works that address these critical-to-the-soul topics. Published in 2007, Sense and Nonsense about Heaven and Hell meets this need with an ageless quality. This review may be eight years late, but the importance of this book endures.
Ken Boa and Robert Bowman are both known primarily as Christian apologists. They have authored several books together (like Faith Has Its Reasons and 20 Compelling Evidence that God Exists), and as a team they have contributed greatly to the intellectual health of Christianity.
I enjoy reading apologists, because the nature of their work requires them to have a working expertise about many fields (theology, philosophy, the various natural sciences, etc.) and how these various spheres of knowledge intersect. In the book under review, Boa and Bowman reveal their high level of competency in biblical studies, textual criticism, hermeneutics, theology, and in other areas, all the while defending the faith against the heresies of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other aberrant groups and theological positions.
While the topic of the book is plain in the title, Boa and Bowman unpack a great deal more than what the Bible teaches about Heaven and Hell. Among other issues, they also focus on death itself, the nature of a soul, the nature of the intermediate state, the physical resurrection of the body, the salvation of those who die as infants, the salvation of people who are mentally disabled, and the salvation of those who have never heard of Christ (exclusivism versus inclusivism).
Though heavy on Scripture analysis and theological pondering, the book is not dull in the least. Boa and Bowman write in a style that is engaging, sprinkled with illustrations and bits of humor, and ultimately joyful and worshipful.
The authors, consistent with their title, conclude each chapter with a summary of the biblical position on each topic (the one that makes sense) and a summary of a common aberrant position on the same topic (the one that is nonsense). For example:
SENSE: Death is the end of a person’s life.
NONSENSE: Death is not the end of a person’s existence.
SENSE: Believers, like Christ, will be raised to glorious, immortal life.
NONSENSE: Resurrection means translation to a nonhuman form of life.
SENSE: We will live forever in a new universe, fit for immortal beings.
NONSENSE: The book of Revelation literally describes that new universe.
Sense and Nonsense about Heaven and Hell must be commended as one of several recent books that remind Christians of the importance of the physical resurrection of the body (others include N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope and Michael Wittmer’s Becoming Worldly Saints).
Boa and Bowman recognize that lay-level Christian theology is stuck in “I’ll Fly Away” mode, which only seems interested in leaving behind earthly bodies and a physical earth and flying off past the sun into a vague ethereal spiritual existence where angels sit on clouds playing harps. Contrary to this, the Bible teaches that the physical bodies of believers will be resurrected, and they will live forever in the New Heavens and New Earth. So Boa and Bowman write:
The question of the nature of the resurrection body of Jesus is important for our view of redemption and of Heaven itself because Jesus’ resurrection is not an isolated occurrence. It is, in fact, the beginning of the resurrection of the dead for all of God’s people.
Likewise, the authors emphasize the New Earth. For far too long, Christians have loved the idea of a New Heaven, but have shied away from the restoration and redemption of earth. Boa and Bowman offer a much needed corrective:
The extremes of a purely God-centered view of Heaven as endless contemplation of the Divine and a purely man-centered view of Heaven as an unending theme park adventure with our earthly family and friends must both be rejected. In its place we must develop a Christ-centered view of eternal life in the New Heavens and New Earth, in which God dwells with the redeemed human race, in which a new extended divine “family” of God enjoys God and each other forever.
Boa and Bowman also deal with the difficult topic of eternal condemnation in hell, demonstrating their conviction that hell is the result of the sin and rebellion of people against a holy and perfectly righteous God. Hell, they say, is not about making people better, but rather a place to punish them for their insubordination:
The purpose of Hell is not to make those who go there better people or to help them see the error of their ways and come to repentance. Hell is not like the Betty Ford Clinic. It is not even like a modern prison, where most prisoners are encouraged to become rehabilitated so that they may reenter society as useful citizens. The purpose of Hell is to punish sinners. It is about retribution, not restoration.
In dealing with the question of whether people who have never heard of Christ can be saved, they offer a balanced view. They maintain that it might be possible (not as the rule, but as an exception) for a person who has never heard of Christ to enjoy salvation. On the other hand, they maintain that most of those who have never heard will be consigned to punishment in hell. They write:
Whoever is judged and condemned to Hell cannot claim that their sentence is unjust. It would be unjust if they were condemned for failing to believe in Jesus Christ even though they had never heard of him. However, that will not be the case. The lost will be condemned not simply for failing to believe in Jesus but for their sins. God “will judge all people according to what they have done.”
The emphasis of the book, following Scripture, is that sin is not a mere weakness of human nature, but an opposition to God himself. So if a person who has never heard of Christ ends up in hell, that person’s punishment will not be unfair or unjust. He will not be there because he failed to hear of Jesus (or because the church failed to bring him that message), but rather because of his heinous sin before a holy God.
The classic sermon from
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One of the most interesting sections of the book deals with the question of the fires of hell. Are the fires described in the Bible to be understood in a literal way or merely in a symbolic way? If they are symbolic, then what is the true nature of punishment there? I won’t give away how Boa and Bowman handle these questions, but needless to say, their answers are thought-provoking and very interesting.
I thoroughly enjoyed Sense and Nonsense about Heaven and Hell and learned much from it, thus, I highly recommend that every Christian read it. And I encourage non-Christians to read it as well. For non-Christians who truly seek to understand the Christian worldview, this book will provide you with a very accurate portrayal of what Scripture teaches concerning eternity and why Christians believe these truths so strongly.