Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Did Jesus Descend to Hell: Interacting With Grudem and Bird - Part 1

One of the great theological mysteries of Christianity regards what happened between the death and resurrection of Jesus. Theologians of all stripes fall on different sides of this debate and recently I wanted to explore a few respected theologians, Wayne Grudem and Michael Bird, both conservative theologians, who offer opposite answers to the above question and explore who offers the best answer.

When the Descent to Hell Becomes Heretical

Before we begin exploring Grudem and Bird's argument for/against Jesus's spiritual descent to hell between his crucifixion and resurrection, we need to draw the line of when we go too far on the positive side of this formula. A number of prominent voices (I hesitate to refer to them as theologians) within the prosperity gospel movement have turned the view that Jesus's descended into hell as the means by which we are saved. Thus they have, heretically I believe, taken the focus off of the cross and onto the descend of Jesus.

Consider a number of examples. First, in his book Ever Increasing Faith Messenger (first published in 1980) Fred Price wrote the following:
Do you think that the punishment for our sin was to die on a cross? If that were the case the two thieves could have paid your price. No, the punishment was to go into hell itself and to serve time in hell separated from God. Satan and all the demons of hell thought that they had Him bound and they threw a net over Jesus and they dragged Him down to the very pit of hell itself to serve our sentence. (163)
Likewise, Kenneth Hagin argued in El Shaddai:
I'm certain that all the devils of hell raced up and down the back alleys of hell rejoicing, "We've got the Son of God in our hands! We've defeated God's purpose!" But on that third morning, the God who is more than enough said, "It is enough! he has satisfied the claims of justice." (7)
Kenneth Copeland has argued the same:
Jesus was the first man to ever be born from sin to righteousness. He was the pattern of a new race of men to come, Glory to God.” You know what he did? The very first thing that this reborn man did, see you have to realize that he died, you have to realize that he went into the pit of hell as a mortal man made sin, but he didn’t stay there. Thank God he was reborn in the pit of hell.” (source)
This is not the only time Copeland made this suggestion. In "The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail," Copeland claims:
The power of the Almighty God began to stream down from heaven and the break the locks off the gates of hell. . . . Jesus began to stir. The power of heaven penetrated and re-created His spirit. He rose up and in a moment of super conquest, He kicked the daylights out of the devil and all those who were doing his work. . . . Then Jesus came up out of that place of torment in triumph, went back through the tomb, into His body, and walked out of there.
The arguments laid out here are problematic for a host of reasons. As usual, the prosperity heretics reveal their tendency to allow their imaginations to shape their theology more than Scripture. Consider the final quote from Copeland. Where in Scripture is Jesus described as kicking "the daylights out of the devil and all those who were doing his work?" Even more troublesome, in the same quotation, is the assertion that "The power of heaven . . . re-created His spirit" and mirrors the first Copeland quote given above. This is nothing short of rank heresy.

In addition to these one will note that for the prosperity heretics, their Christology, soteriology, and understanding of the atonement is woefully in err. The emphasis for them is not on what Christ, the unblemished God-man, accomplished at the cross ("It is finished!") but on what he accomplished in the tomb. Regardless of where one lands on the question of Jesus's descend into Hades, no doubt transferring the focus of salvation from Jesus's work on the cross to the grave is troublesome to say the least.

So before exploring both Grudem and Bird, we need to start here. Holding to Jesus's descend is not heretical barring certain conclusions. The focus must remain on the cross and the resurrection and not on the descend.
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