Book review of “Four Views on Hell”

Spotted this on the Apologetics 315 Twitter feed.


The purpose of this article is to critique Four Views On Hell, a book written by four theologians representing their respective views namely: literal, metaphorical, purgatorial, and conditional. This presentation will first give a summary of the book, and then offer several key points of analysis. The first point of analysis will be each author’s theological perspective and background because it serves as their interpretive lens. This naturally leads to examining the scriptural evidence for each view and how the author interprets it. While scripture is the ultimate arbiter, arguments offered from logic and emotion will be examined as well. Finally, criticism will be offered on the basis of exegesis and rational coherence. This critique will attempt to show that the book leads one to accept eternal punishment as the most coherent biblical position, while the biblical descriptions of hell are more likely metaphors for a larger reality.

The four views literal, metaphorical, purgatorial, and conditional are represented by John F. Walvoord, William Crockett, Zachary J. Hayes, and Clark H. Pinnock respectively. Each author contributed a chapter followed by responses from the other three. This makes for a very lively and useful book as each view is well argued and subjected to thoughtful criticism. Walvoord makes a strong case for a literal everlasting hell with actual fire. His exegetical work concerning the eternal nature of hell based on the term aionios is convincing. He remarks, “If exegesis is the final factor, eternal punishment is the only proper conclusion.”[1] While Crockett stresses that hell is an existential reality, he argues against claiming exacting knowledge concerning its nature. He stresses, “the Scriptures do teach about a real hell, a place of frightful judgment.”[2] Still yet, he argues that the literal view makes the Bible say too much and compares it to the Egyptian topographers of the underworld.  He presents a compelling argument for the metaphoric view, emphasizing the use of conflicting language, “how can hell be literal fire when it is also described as darkness?”[3] This point is reiterated ad nauseum against the literal view in several responses throughout the book. The organization of the book is interesting in that the further one reads the more speculative the argumentation and the less scriptural the basis. The slope is slippery indeed.

Hayes argues for an interim state which he believes is rooted in the redemptive work of Christ. His position on hell proper is obfuscated by his argument for purgatory. He bases a lot of his argumentation on history and tradition, which is not surprising as it is its only real grounding. He also petitions a humanistic sense of fairness, an emotional appeal which he shares with the next alternative. Pinnock’s case is based more on a negative argument against the classical view than evidence for his own. Accordingly, he exaggerates the traditional view at the outset. He contends one is asked to believe that God “endlessly tortures sinners by the million, sinners who perish because the Father decided not to elect them to salvation, though he could have done so, and whose torments are supposed to gladden the hearts of believers in heaven.”[4] He argues forcefully that eternal torment is sadistic, vindictive and unjust. It is not befitting of God’s character. He proposes annihilationism or “conditional immortality” as a preferable alternative.

You can kind of see where Pinnock is similar to Rob Bell – he is being forced by his Calvinism into universalism in order to be fair. Molinists like me have no such pressures – if you’re going to Hell it’s your fault. If you’re going to heaven, you would NOT be going there if God didn’t do ALL the work. You just have to not resist him. You have a choice to resist or not. That’s it.

I love reading these Three/Four/Five view books. The whole series is good.

15 thoughts on “Book review of “Four Views on Hell””

  1. I only have one thing to add: just because one (e.g, me) is not a Calvinist, and thinks Calvinism is one of the worst things that happened to the Christian faith, that doesn’t make them an Arminian as Calvinists claim. I am a Bible-believing Christian and don’t follow the teachings of any man. However, my beliefs -based on the Word of God – line up a lot better with Arminians than with Calvinists!


  2. I lean to a Molinist approach myself. When I saw this book I wanted to purchase it but due to a funds issue I will not be buying any new books for quite some time :(.


  3. Blaming Calvinism for Pinnock’s poor theology is unfair – particularly since he hasn’t been a Calvinist for a long time. See for details of Pinnock’s move away from Calvinism to Arminianism and Open Theism. In fact, Pinnock has co-authored a book in defense of Arminianism:

    So, if you’re going to blame any variant of Christianity for his views, blame Arminianism!

    And besides, I thought you were a Molinist – which is not Arminianism?

    And in response to Pinnock’s claim that the traditional view of Hell is that God punishes people just because He didn’t elect them, that is playing with words and twisting the truth. People go to Hell because they are opposed to God, they are at enmity with Him. It is the total depravity of humans that causes humans to go to Hell, not some omission on God’s part. Calvin taught this, Jonathan Edwards taught this, Charkes Spurgeon taught this, John Piper teaches this. We ALL deserve to go there. It is only by grace that God elects to save some of us. The cry of “no fair!” that not all are elected is ridiculous. Fairness would have us all in Hell.


      1. Evidence please?

        And anyway, my point that Calvinism is not to blame for Pinnock’s view still stands. Pinnock rejects Hell because he doesn’t like the doctrine and thinks it’s mean. He rejects Calvinism for the same reason. Perceived meanness or perceived ridiculousness is, however, irrelevant.


        1. Evidence of what? That Calvin, et al followed Augustine or that pre-Augustine teachers taught differently?

          I would suggest reading St. Clement, Polycarp, Ignatius, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus to see how they taught differently. And comparing Augustine with Calvin proves Calvin just regurgitated him. Augustine was the basis for Roman Catholicism, and Calvin really didn’t change a whole lot from Romanism, nor did Luther.

          But I don’t think WK wants this blog to digress into a debate on Calvinism, so I will leave it here.


          1. Thanks, Glenn. I meant the latter. I must examine the early church fathers some more. Of course the real test is the Bible, not the church fathers.

            I only brought up Calvinism because WK blamed it for Pinnock’s views – when Pinnock is an Arminian! So it would be WK’s own fault if the comments on this blog did digress in such a manner. ;-)


          2. as for the early church father’s teachings being changed by Augustine. Though, I believe Augustine was the most precise on these teachings…I think nothing was changed. Remember, that Augustine had a whole church council vote on his works and upheld it, quite vastly. The reason for the precision of his works was because of the Pelagian issue. So, I don’t think that Augustine changed anything, nor do many church historians, though, they do believe that he was most precise and most detailed in his work.


    1. I’m with Mary, Pinnock is not a Calvinist but rather an open theist, though he used to be a Calvinist, he hasn’t since the late 60’s!

      Molinism actually falls within the Arminian camp. It’s an issue that is mainly proported by William Lane Craig, which I personally think is nice philosophically…but I don’t think it answers in the text of Scripture,nor do I believe that it has much foundation in the Scriptures. but, I could be completely wrong.

      everything you said Mary, I completely agree with.


      1. Molinism as a whole does not fall in the Arminian camp. I am reading a Molinism book by Kenneth Keathley and he says, and I am paraphrasing, that both the Calvinist and Arminians attack Molinism for being too much of the other side! How very true that statement is!

        You said, “I don’t htink it answers in the text of Scripture, nor do I believe it has much foundation in Scripture **but, I could be completely wrong**.”

        I don’t mean to sound offensive but that is a pretty amazing statement. It seems to me that you just don’t know what Molinism is at all. It does indeed have a foundation in the Bible. For instance, 1 Samuel 23 10-13 is just one great example.


  4. Nicholas, Augustine certainly changed what the Bible and the early church taught. Nowhere in Scripture will you find God choosing who will go to heaven and who will go to hell individually. He gives us the choice to accept him or not, and by that choice we send ourselves to hell. The nonsense that our soul is so depraved that we can’t choose is proven a lie by the many places in Scripture where God tells us to choose – unless He is a liar and is telling us to do something we are unable to do. Every part of TULIP is a twisting of Scripture, and Augustine was the originator of it.

    I’m not going to debate the issue, but I wanted to correct your assertion that Augustine didn’t change anything. It was an over-reaction to Pelagianism and the Roman church has been apostate ever since, as they just kept adding more and more false dogma to their belief system. Calvin and Luther just made Roman theology a wee bit more palatable, but kept much of its aberrations and heresy nevertheless.


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