Review of Four Views on Hell

This book was published in 1996 (originally in 1992) but after reading it I would have sworn it was written in the last few years due to how well it keys into the issues brought up by Bell and others over the last few months. Four Views on Hell is edited by William Crockett and has four authors, each experts on their particular view of hell. Each one presents their view and each one has a response to all the others. It gets pretty interesting hearing how someone who believes in purgatory would respond to someone with a literal view of hell or an annihilationist would respond to the metaphorical view. I highly recommend this book. It is written on a very accessible level and is written with a very kind and loving tone (especially as they respond to one another). Here is a brief synopsis of the four views:

1 – The Literal View (John Walvoord)

Walvoord doesn’t avoid the point that there is a certain tension that makes the literal view difficult for many to accept. That tension is between the love of God and the images we get in scripture of eternal torment. He says the tension is really between God’s love and God’s righteousness. His scriptural support comes from Matthew, Paul, Hebrews, and Revelation. His conclusion is that a literal hell is hard to exegete/interpret away but people do try to systematize it away. In other words if you just look at the verses as they stand and interpret them he believes it is hard to come away with anything but a literal view (obviously at least three other people disagree with that!) but where a literal hell comes into question is through systematic theology, trying to fit hell into the broader picture of who God is and what God is doing in the world.

2 – The Metaphorical View (William Crockett)

Crockett goes out of his way to say that he is not trying to soften things up when it comes to heaven. His point is that many of the verses that are used to describe hell are metaphorical. Just like heaven is not necessarily made up of gold streets and a crystal sea (which nearly all of us could agree on) what does that say about descriptions of hell? Is it a valid question to ask if those descriptions could also be metaphorical? He makes a good point. This view is that hell is real. It is a place and has judgment but that the details might be fuzzier than we once thought.

3 – The Purgatorial View (Zachary Hayes)

I had never really read much on purgatory before. I didn’t realize that the belief was that purgatory was in operation only until the final judgment and then only heaven and hell are left (p.93). I also didn’t realize that purgatory is viewed as more of a process than a place. They pray for the dead and do acts of service for the dead in order to cleanse them so they can be in heaven. The logic is that we know some people, the saints for instance, or so much better than the rest of us that certainly they go straight to heaven. But could the rest of us mere mortals expect a straight ticket to the great by and by? They would say that would be absurd. Instead, us filthy folks, have to be purified further before we can enter into paradise. We become our own bridge to heaven instead of Christ. Hayes had one scripture to back up this view (unless you count the verses he cited from the apocrypha). The verse was Matthew 12:31-32 where it talks about blasphemy of the Holy Spirit as a sin that can’t be forgiven in this life or the life to come. He says that implies there is forgiveness that can be granted beyond the grave.

4 – Conditional/Annihilation (Clark Pinnock)

This is basically the annihilation view. Scripture says the wages of sin is death…this view agrees. Scripture says there is a second death…this view agrees. Scripture says to fear the one who can destroy both the body and the soul in hell…this view agrees. Paul taught about the destruction of the wicked (2 Thess 1:9, Gal 6:8) as did Peter (2 Peter 3:7). Why call this the conditional view? Pinnock believes that what is conditional is not hell but the immortality of the soul. He believes that we have adopted a Greek notion that all souls are eternal. This view would say only those God grants eternal life or new life to are able to live forever. The rest are destroyed. This becomes somewhat of a more merciful option. Some people believe a literal view of hell makes God into a monster as he grants eternal life to those who will then be tormented forever and ever. Or as Pinnock puts it,

“Everlasting torture is intolerable from a moral point of view because it pictures God acting like a blood thirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for his enemies whom he does not even allow to die. How can one love a God like that? (p. 149)

In summary I can definitely say that I am not a fan of purgatory. I will say that hell is probably more metaphorical that I once thought. I do wrestle with the annihilation/conditional view a bit and I think it could have some merit. It is really hard to lay all the relevant scriptures on the table and come to a solid and coherent view on how to put all the pieces together in a way that maintains a high view of scripture and also takes all those verses seriously. I do believe Jesus was serious when he warned us about hell so that is enough for me. Really, I will be quite alright if I never figure it out completely. I am even better off if I don’t wind up finding out first hand and say, “Oh…that’s what that verse meant. Finally makes sense…youch!”

About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

9 Responses to Review of Four Views on Hell

  1. guy says:

    Matt,

    Did you read Richard Becks’ recent blogs on universalism? He argued that there is a hell and people will go there, but even in hell people have a chance at redemption; and eventually everyone will convert.

    i guess that’s a purgatorial sort of view? The only difference is purgatory doesn’t disappear after judgment day.

    –guy

    • mattdabbs says:

      I don’t really read Beck but I am hearing more and more about him and will check him out. I have had discussions via Facebook with Chad Holtz and a few others who espouse the view you are describing. The gist is that a loving God would not subject his creation to an eternal hell full of torment. So they make hell a sort of purgatory for everyone who didn’t go to heaven where all will eventually turn. Bell mentioned this in Love wins in a few places if my memory is right. The difference between this and purgatory is that purgatory is happening right now and that would be happening both now and after the final judgment. They take a metaphorical view of hell and systematize it into what you are describing. There are some verses that would indicate the possibility of going from hell to heaven don’t pan out (Luke 16:26 for instance).

      Here are a few posts from Chad that sound pretty similar to Beck:
      http://chadholtz.net/2011/04/15/what-if-you-are-wrong-about-hell/
      http://chadholtz.net/2011/05/18/the-eternal-fate-of-god-snubbers/

  2. guy says:

    Matt,

    At the end of the day, i don’t buy a lot of traditional versions of universalism or annihilationism because i don’t buy the underlying conceptions justice to which they espouse.

    But Beck’s view is compatible with a view of justice that demands retribution. My remaining problem though is that i just don’t buy the arguments that “eternal” must always be understood as qualitative rather than quantitative. i’m not sure i can make sense of Jesus’ comments about everlasting fires and worms if “eternal” doesn’t mean “lasting forever.”

    And Wright’s view (and maybe Bell’s? i don’t know) seems to acknowledge a hell, but God is super hands off about it–like hell is just what you end up doing to yourself and God didn’t really do anything to you. But there’s definitely passages of scripture that assign God a very active role in punishment, no? (Matt 25 and 2Thess 1 for instance)

    i don’t know, i just don’t see any major reason to let go of the traditional notion of hell (though perhaps to give up literary-inspired conceptions of it like Paradise Lost). What do you think?

    –guy

    • mattdabbs says:

      Wright, Bell and others are saying that there is continuity between this life and the next one. So if we are redeemed to eternal life it begins here and now and continues into heaven. If we want rebellion and death that too will continue after death and the judgment into hell. It seems to me that it is a quantitative term. No one is arguing that life in heaven will be qualitative and quantitative “eternal” life. There are many verses that say God is “hands on” in the punishments he doles out.

  3. Ronnie says:

    guy,

    i don’t know, i just don’t see any major reason to let go of the traditional notion of hell

    I’ll give you four:

    1. There is no explicit scriptural support for the eternal torment of human beings.
    2. The overwhelming majority of passages (and images) that describe the final punishment (or state) of the wicked speak in terms of death, perishing, destruction, consumption, being no more, vanishing, etc. This language is found in almost every book and literary genre from cover to cover.
    3. The unambiguous biblical teaching that only the saved will have immortality.
    4. The biblical description of a completely redeemed creation that is free of death, pain, evil, sin and rebellion. The traditional view affirms that all of those things will exist forever.

    Give me 30 minutes and I’ll change your mind.

    • guy says:

      All four reasons simply beg the question.

      –guy

      • Ronnie says:

        Not one does.

        Moving on.

      • guy says:

        Ronnie,

        If the solution to the issue was truly only 30 minutes away, you wouldn’t be wasting your time here with me. Go get a 30 minute hearing from all the people who are writing influential books defending anything close to a traditional view of hell–start with Francis Chan.

        If someone were to say to you, “There’s simply no evidence whatsoever of intelligent design in the universe,” what would you say? That statement is clearly at issue and up for debate, yet is stated in such a way that simply assumes what is in question. When someone takes for granted the very conclusions that are in dispute. That’s called begging the question. When you say “there’s no scriptural support for eternal torment,” you do the same.

        –guy

  4. Ronnie says:

    I didn’t say that “the solution” was 30 minutes away. I said I can convince you that there are good reasons to question the traditional view. My offer to you was intentionally worded in a provocative way, and if that was a stumbling block I apologize. I studied this issue for over three years before changing my view, so I completely acknowledge that it’s not that simple.

    As for question begging, I did no such thing. You said you don’t see any reason to let go of the traditional view of Hell. I said that one good reason is that the view finds no explicit support in Scripture. Now of course, you might reply by saying that there are, in fact, passages that explicitly support the view, or that something does not have to be explicitly stated in order for it to be biblical, and we’d continue from there. The four reasons I presented are just brief summaries of arguments that can fit in a comment box. I offered no support for the assertions, but I clearly did not intend to.

    I’ll recast my offer to you in a less provocative way: Give me 30 minutes and an open mind and I believe I can get you to seriously consider conditionalism (or at least more seriously than you did before).

    Kind regards,
    Ronnie

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