Should Christians Fear Outer Darkness? By Dennis Rokser, Tom Stegall, and Kurt Witzig. Duluth, MN: Grace Gospel Press, 2015. 503 pp. Paper, $19.95.
Though the title suggests this book is about the expression the outer darkness—found only in Matt 8:12; 22:13; and 25:30—in reality the book more broadly discusses Should Christians Fear the Judgment Seat of Christ (the Bema)? There is actually very little in this book about the three outer darkness passages—less than 50 pages (pp. 96–99; 103–115; 129–35; 139–42; 146–59).
However, the question of whether believers should fear the coming Bema is an excellent one and I’m glad to see a book on this subject.
The main points of this book are clear enough, though it takes a lot of reading to get down to them. They include:
- believers should not fear the Bema, except in the sense of having reverential awe (e.g., pp. 125, 216–17, 365),
- believers never experience God’s wrath in this life, only His chastisement (e.g., pp. 343–65),
- all believers are overcomers as described in Revelation 2–3 (e.g., pp. 417–70),
- all believers will rule with Christ, not just some (e.g., p. 200), though some will rule over more cities than others (e.g., pp. 200–202),
- all believers will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (e.g., p. 481),
- there will be no punishment at the Bema (e.g., pp. 11, 23–59, 173–79, 366, 395),
- the Bema will be a time of commendation and no one will be rebuked (e.g., pp. 174–79),
- all believers will be found blameless (p. 226),
- the only negative consequences at the Bema will be shame and loss of reward, which the authors regard as something to be avoided, but not something to be concerned about (e.g., pp. 173–79, 402),
- the third servant in the Parable of the Talents is not a servant of Christ, but is an unbeliever bound for eternal condemnation (e.g., p. 140),
- the five foolish virgins in the Parable of the Ten Virgins are unbelievers who will miss the kingdom (e.g., pp. 126–29),
- the unjust servant of Matt 24:45–51 is not a servant of Christ, but is an unbeliever who will be cut in two in the sense that he will be cast into the lake of fire (e.g., pp. 123–26),
- the outer darkness in the three Matthew passages refers to the lake of fire (e.g., pp. 96–99, 103-115, 129–35, 143),
- and the right to eat of the fruits of the tree of life is for all believers (e.g., pp. 438–45).
The authors assert, “All believers will reign with Christ in the Kingdom (Rev 2:26–27; 20:4, 6; 22:5)” (p. 200). A bit later they add, “Faithful believers can also expect to receive from Christ diverse positions of privileged service and rulership in the Kingdom (Matt 19:28; 2 Tim 2:12; Rev 2:26–27; 20:4, 5; 22:3, 5)” (p. 220). Since all believers will reign and they say only faithful believers will reign, they clearly believe that all believers are faithful believers to some degree (though see pp. 55–57 and pp. 223–26, which seem to contradict the idea that all believers will rule and will be found faithful). They even mention 2 Tim 2:12—”if we endure, we shall also reign with Him, if we deny Him, He will also deny us”—after that quote just cited. Thus they seem to believe that all believers will endure in faith and good works, though at times they deny that.
I was surprised at what is not discussed in this book of over 500 pages. There is almost no discussion of the Lord’s approval or disapproval (dokimos and adokimos). The concept is only briefly mentioned on just three pages (pp. 198, 199, and 215).
Philippians 2:12, which speaks of working out your own salvation “with fear and trembling” receives no discussion (though the verse is mentioned in a list on pp. 31–32). Since it mentions fear and trembling, something believers supposedly do not experience now nor will experience at the Bema, one would think this verse must be discussed.
The AWANA verse, 2 Tim 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth,” receives no consideration.
The relation of the shed blood of Christ and the cross of Christ to the Bema receives almost no attention (only on p. 47 when they discuss 2 Cor 5:14), though it is clearly a vital Bema issue in passages like Rom 8:31–39; 1 Cor 11:17–34; 15:1–11; 2 Cor 5:14; Heb 10:1–39; 1 John 3:16; and many other texts. Note: the death of Christ is briefly considered in relation to redemption on pp. 269–95, but not in relation to the Bema. In addition, the authors argue that the blood of Christ does not take away the sins of the entire world (see, for example, pp. 258–59; 282–84). In their view the unbeliever will be condemned because of his sins, not simply because of his unbelief. In their view only when one believes in the finished work of Christ (an expression that occurs about ten times on pp. 28, 31, 44, 91, 189, 194, 198, 201, 258, and 263) does Christ’s blood take away one’s sins (e.g., p. 279; see also pp. 271, 278).
The Parable of the Minas in Luke 19:11–27 is not discussed, except in passing on page 200. Nothing is said about the enemies who hated Jesus and didn’t want Him to reign over them; about the third servant; or about the fact that the enemies will be judged separately from the three servants and that the enemies, unlike the servants, will be slain.
The closely related passage, the Parable of the Talents in Matt 25:14– 30, is discussed in several places. Yet nowhere do the authors explain why no number of cities is mentioned in the Talents and why the commendations are identical there, but not in the Parable of the Minas.
The idea of ruling with Christ receives little attention in this book.
Nor do the authors discuss the issue of assurance of everlasting life. They mention it in passing on page 342, where they indicate they reject the idea that “assurance is based on a satisfactory walk.” Yet they say that all believers will rule with Christ and only the faithful will rule. If all believers are faithful, then wouldn’t a believer who is not faithful at this time, or who wonders if he is faithful, have reason to doubt if he is born again?
It is also odd that nowhere in the book do they clearly lay out what one must believe to be born again. In another work Stegall lays out five essentials that one must believe. Yet those five essentials are not laid out anywhere in this work. The closest they come is by giving one essential, saying that “entrance into the Kingdom” is gained “through faith alone in Christ’s finished work” (p. 201; see also pp. 44, 189, 194).
The key arguments that show that those cast into the outer darkness are believers were not mentioned or discussed in this book. For example, the expression “the sons of the kingdom” only occurs twice in Matthew, once in Matt 8:12, “the sons of the kingdom will be cast into the outer darkness,” and once in Matt 13:38, “the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom,” that is, “the righteous who will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt 13:43). If in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares the sons of the kingdom are believers, why are the sons of the kingdom unbelievers in the only other use in Matthew? In two short sentences they say, without defense or explanation, that while in Matt 8:12 the expression “the sons of the kingdom” refers to unbelievers, in Matt 13:38 it refers to believers (p. 100). Nor do they mention these are the only two uses of that expression in Matthew.
The authors say that the third servant in the Parable of Talents is sent to eternal condemnation. Yet they do not explain how it is that the third servant was a servant of Christ in this life and that he had been given a stewardship by the Lord and yet he was unregenerate. Nor do they explain how in the closely related Parable of the Minas the third servant enters the kingdom and is not associated with the enemies of Jesus. His judgment ends before the enemies are brought and judged and slain. The third servant in Luke 19:20–26 is not slain. Their view makes these two parables contradict each other.
Why is the improperly dressed guest in the Parable of the Wedding Feast at the feast at all? How did he get in? All kinds of people were invited, but rejected the invitation to come. This man accepted the invitation. He is even called “Friend” (Matt 22:12). Their explanation seems to be that “to attend without having on a wedding garment was an act of utter refusal of the king’s gracious gift (of a wedding garment)” (p. 109). But then are there two types of unbelievers, those who accept the invitation and attend the wedding and those who do not accept or attend? Why did some unbelievers get into the wedding feast at all? One would think that either all unbelievers would be present or none.
Why are the five foolish virgins called virgins? And why do those five foolish virgins have oil for their lamps? Their lamps do burn, showing they have oil. What they lack is an additional supply of oil to keep their lamps burning. Plus doesn’t the fact that all ten virgins are anticipating the Lord’s soon return suggest they are believers? None of this is discussed (see pp. 126–29).
If believers never experience God’s wrath (pp. 241–51, esp. 250), then why are there so many verses that warn the believing readers of that very fact? A concordance study of the word wrath (orgē) in the NT shows many verses which do not fit their view (e.g., Rom 1:18; 5:9–10; 13:4–5; Heb 3:11; 4:3; Jude 21). Note especially, “But if you [the believing readers in Rome] do evil, be afraid; for he [human government] does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Rom 13:4, emphasis added).
It is disturbing that some of the views in this book are exactly the views of Lordship Salvation. All believers are overcomers. All believers will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The third servant in the Parable of the Talents is sent to eternal condemnation as are the five foolish virgins. The servant who was doing well and thinks, “My master is delaying his coming,” and then falls away, represents an unbeliever who for a time served Christ and looked forward to His return, but then later proved he was unregenerate by beating his fellow servants and drinking with the drunkards (Matt 24:45–51). While I understand that they are not arguing for Lordship Salvation, their views in places are consistent with Lordship Salvation and people who buy their views may be more open to the Lordship Salvation position.
JOTGES readers may be bothered in a few places where ungracious words are used toward men like Zane Hodges, Jody Dillow, Don Reiher, Rene Lopez, and myself. The authors say things like, “These interpretations of Luke 12:46–47 are a travesty and utterly contrary to the way in which God deals with His own children” (p. 125, emphasis added); “It may be hard for you to believe but there are those Free Grace advocates who actually teach that these ‘evil servants’ are believers whom the Lord will cut in two when He returns” (p. 123, emphasis added); “this false teaching of outer darkness for unfaithful believers…” (p. 53, emphasis added); “practical absurdity [of a first century Christian being rebuked by Christ at the Bema]” (p. 55, emphasis added); “The doctrinal aberrations dealt with in this book [concern] Christians being punished after the Rapture” (p. 11); “It is nothing short of astounding to hear advocates of God’s free grace boldly asserting that believers today must still pay a portion of the penalty for sin” (pp. 258–59, emphasis added).
There is a Scripture index, which is very helpful. However, the lack of a Subject index is disappointing.
I commend a desire to keep believers from being paralyzed by fear of the Bema. I agree that unfaithful believers will not miss the Millennium, will not weep for 1,000 years, and will not be excluded from the New Jerusalem. However, I am puzzled by the desire of the authors to remove all fear of the Bema other than the awe we will feel at appearing before Christ (pp. 216–17).
I cannot recommend this book. The exegesis is poor. Many vital issues are barely discussed or not discussed at all. And it leads readers in the direction of Lordship Salvation.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society