No Penitent in Hell: A [Reformed] Response to D. A. Carson

On June 22, 2012, well-known and respected theologian and scholar D. A. Carson told his audience that, as far as he could see, in Scripture “there is no hint anywhere that people in hell genuinely repent.” 1 As part of an exposition of Revelation chapters 21 and 22 he cited both Revelation 21:8 and Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 as evidence that “hell is not filled with people who are deeply sorry for their sins.” To the contrary, Carson said, it is “filled with people who for all eternity still shake their puny fists in the face of God Almighty, in an endless existence of evil.”
Although he didn’t include it as part of that presentation, in the past he has also pointed to Revelation 22:11 (“Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong”), writing of “the vileness they will live and practice throughout all eternity.” 2 He has also elsewhere suggested the possibility that this perpetual lack of repentance on the part of the wicked, and their ongoing sinfulness, is part of the ground and justification for their eternally ongoing punishing.
Carson’s view raises several questions. How legitimate is his application of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man? Will those consigned to final punishment fail to repent and continue to sin following their judgment and sentencing? Does the Bible indicate that they will go on sinning forever, implying that they have been raised immortal? Even if it does not, if they continue to sin after judgment at all, wouldn’t they accrue additional retributive debt, requiring further punishment, during which their continued rebellion would earn them still further punishment, and so on ad infinitum throughout eternity?
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  1. Carson, D. A. “Home at last: The spectacular God at the center (Revelation 21-22).” http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/a/home_at_last_the_spectacular_god_at_the_center_revelation_21-22.[]
  2. Carson, D. A. (2009). The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. (Zondervan, Kindle Edition) p. 533.[]