Tag Archives: Annihilationism

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.

Should you reject the Biblical view of Hell based on emotions?

I noticed this post up at Dr. Glenn Peoples’ blog.

In the post, he quotes a number of prominent Christian theologians who affirm a belief in Hell, such as Tertullian, Thomas Aquinas, Jonathan Edwards and Isaac Watts. He chooses these people to quote because they seem to argue that the bliss of those who enter Heaven will be enhanced by seeing the suffering of those who are in Hell. I’m not going to cite the lurid passages he does, but I did want to cite his conclusion for you to comment on.

He writes:

But modern believers in eternal torment wouldn’t endorse this, would they? Would they actually endorse a theology of hell in which we sit and watch millions of people, including our lost children and friends, actually being tortured in fire – and would they agree that we will gain happiness and pleasure from the sight?

Glenn holds to the view of annihilationism, such that the damned are annihiliated after being punished.

Now let me just state right off that I have no knowledge of whether I am going to be happy seeing the damned in Hell, that’s not in the Bible, and I have no idea what Heaven will be like.

Now let me briefly provide one or two reasons why I believe in Hell, BASED ON MY EXPERIENCES with non-Christians.

  1. Jesus talks about Hell in the Bible as a real place
  2. Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love God
  3. No one desires God and no one wants to be bound by a love relationship with God
  4. Each person is responsible for accepting or rejecting God
  5. People who rebel against God hold to a worldview that is irrational and unsupported by evidence
  6. I have more sympathy for God than I do for people who reject him

My view of Hell is based on my preference for the plain meaning of the Bible over my emotional desires, and my experiences dealing directly with non-Christians during evangelism. I think that annihilationists are just not willing to sit down with non-Christians and ask them why they are not ready to become a Christian. When I do that, I find that non-Christians 1) reject the moral demands of Christianity, 2) justify that selfishness by believing in speculations that make Christianity seem false, and 3) refuse to test those speculations logically or empirically.

Let me give you just one example from my undergraduate tour in university. I met a Mormon friend whom I had known in high school who just returned from his missionary service. By that time, I had discovered apologetics in earnest, so I asked him a question: how do Mormons reconcile their belief in an eternal universe with the evidence for a creation out of nothing?

He replied “we don’t determine our beliefs based on science”.

And I said, “that’s fine. Let me know if you ever get curious about what science says about God, and we can certainly talk about it”.

I keep non-Christians as friends as long as I am able to be myself, and talk about what I believe occasionally. (Although I oppose pursuing amusement and pleasure for its own sake).

Once you have enough encounters like this with atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. you begin to realize that no one wants to talk about whether God exists and what he is really like. No one is looking for an answer to their speculations against Christianity, e.g. – “who made God?”. They just want to get their degrees, get good-paying jobs, and be left alone to pursue pleasure. Some do turn to non-Christian religions and fads of their own choosing, but those are embraced as a means to increased happiness.

My non-Christian male friends are happy to spend their entire lives climbing corporate ladders, chasing women, following sports, drinking, buying geeky junk, and playing video games, etc., rather than setting aside a measly 90 minutes to watch a debate on whether God exists. I actually did a survey of non-Christians a while back, and you can read about their worldviews. Notice how there is no search for truth there. Just a desire for autonomy from any authority that might block their hedonism. It’s really quite in-your-face!

Implicit in any rejection of God is the rejection of Christ’s sacrifice of his own life in place of the life of each sinner. You don’t just walk away from a sacrifice like that. I understand that people have questions about the fairness of the requirement to explicitly confess faith in Christ in order to be reconciled with God, or the problems of evil and suffering, or religious pluralism. But we have answers to those questions. The problem is that non-Christians are not sincere in their desire to find those answers.

What do you expect God to do with such people? This is GOD we are talking about here, people. Not Santa Claus! When I hear people talking about annihilationism, it really makes me wonder whether they read the Bible at all (e.g. – Romans 1), and then bothered themselves to actually test and see if the Bible is correct about its diagnosis of human nature as inherently sinful. In my opinion, what is happening here is that Christians who reject Hell prefer their own emotional desires for the plain meaning of the Bible.

Everyone has to choose whether they sympathize with God or with people who rebel against God. And don’t dismiss me as a meany. My non-Christians friends are the only ones who know whether I treat them well. They are the ones who will have to judge for themselves whether I show love for them by what I do, regardless of my view of Hell. I trust that anyone who knows me personally will accept my apologies to them for expressing my views so harshly, but I think the Bible is clear on this.

UPDATE: Glenn has written to me to assure me that he is not taking his position for any other reason than because he thinks the Bible teaches annihilationism. So, I thought I had better add that here so no one would think ill of him. He has other material on his blog where he makes the Biblical case that I had not looked at.

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