The Message of Heaven & Hell. Grace and Destiny. The Bible Speaks Today Series

By Bruce Milne
Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity (2002). 351 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
14.2 (Fall 2003) : 342-343

Twenty lucid chapters divide into three main parts, five on the theme in the OT, six in the Gospels, and nine in the rest of the NT. Then Milne, pastor of the First Baptist Church, Vancouver, British Columbia, gives nineteen pages as a study guide of review questions that can help users firm up ideas. He attempts to guide readers from Genesis to Revelation on some key passages. He reasons for destinies of bliss in heaven that endures eternally, and punishment in hell that also is without end. He reasons that biblical passages unite with o r directly claim such destinies, rather than arguing on a philosophical and speculative basis (12-13). In his claim, the God of the Bible “assures us unambiguously, and repeatedly, that he will meet us in eternity” (13). Individuals dare not become engrossed in materialistic complacency, satisfied only with a present existence, and fail to prepare to meet God in a destiny after this life (13).

It is unfortunate that Milne’s five pages of bibliography (18-22) omit some well-known American books on heaven and hell. One wonders why A. J. Conyers on The Eclipse of Heaven (1992) finds no place. Followers of John MacArthur will note that Milne does include his work The Glory of Heaven (1992). Many notable books on hell are absent: Harry Buis, The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment (1957), John Blanchard, Whatever Happened to Hell? (1993), Larry Dixon, The Other Side of the Good News (1992), John Gerstner, Repent or Perish (1990), David G. Moore, The Battle for Hell (1995), Robert A. Peterson, Hell on Trial, The Case for Eternal Punishment (1995), Peterson and Edward Fudge (the latter arguing for annihilationism), Two Views of Hell, A Biblical and Theological Dialogue (2000), and William G. T. Shedd, The Doctrine of Endless Punishment (1885, 1986).

Though missing these works—just as no author has read or uses everything—Milne writes in a carefully informed, very readable manner. He begins where the Bible does, in Genesis, later gets to Jesus in the Gospels, and still later to the rest of the NT. He argues capably against theories that Abraham, Moses, and David reflect no hope of a life beyond death (27-31). Even in Genesis 1 and 2:14, the God of the Bible is, in Milne’s conception, personal, powerful, and present, holding men to an account (32-52). Sin has wages as in Genesis 2–3 (53-72). Milne views Psalm 16 as the seed, context, and flowering of a heavenly hope with pleasures at God’s right hand (73-82). Daniel 7:9-14 in his interpretation argues for a future kingdom and an accounting of the life before God who judges men’s works, and Dan 12:1-3 refers to consequences after resurrection for both the righteous and the unrighteous (96-106).

Once in the NT, Milne sees Jesus’ insistence on a future kingdom beyond the present age, with the righteous received into it and the unrighteous headed for another destiny. He cites Matt 13:24-30, 36-43 and 25:31-46 (109-29). He sees an eternal hell in Mark 9:42-48, where the fire of punishment “never goes out” (v. 44), “their worm never dies” (v. 48), and the “fire is not quenched” (vv. 48, 144-61).

The author presents arguments fairly for the view that the unsaved will be annihilated, not suffer eternally in enduring, conscious punishment (151-54), but thinks that an eternal duration fits the issues more naturally. In his development, good chapters appear on the hope of resurrection and its relation to eternal destinies (chap. 15), ministering hope in view of heaven (chap. 16), viewing sufferings in light of future reward (chap. 17), being godly in light of a real hope, as in 2 Peter 3 (chap. 19), and what Rev 20:11-15 shows. One of several emphases in the latter passage is that works are not the basis of being safe, of being in the “book of [eternal] life”; rather the way of acceptance is God’s gift in grace. Milne’s Chapter 20 on the New Jerusalem articulates well the features of blessing for those God admits to the eternal city.

For premillennialists, one drawback is Milne’s doubt about a millennial state before the ultimate state. But he accepts the New Jerusalem as an actual, literal city on an order we cannot now adequately visualize (310).

Overall, this is a lucid, well-reasoned evangelical case for heaven and hell, taking these seriously in believing and living with genuine faith that prepares to be in heaven so as to avoid the awfulness of hell. Details on NT passages are not as helpful as Peterson’s first book above, but are often valuable. The work needs a Scripture index. Its OT section could show the relevancy of God taking Enoch (Gen 5:24), the passage about Saul and the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28), and Pss 49:15; 73:24-26, to name a few passages related to a life beyond the present existence.