(Note: This book is a part of Zondervan’s Counterpoints series. This books is part of the original Counterpoints series, published in 1997. Our previous review of the Four Views On Hell, found here, was a part of the 2016 Counterpoint series.)
The Bible confirms the existence of Hell. There is no two ways about it. The Bible says it. That settles it. But what is less clear, and what is not settled is what the Bible says about the nature of Hell. What is it like?
What happens to people that go there? Are they punished by fire and worms for all eternity? Or are those fire and worms merely metaphors for something? Could hell the place unbelievers are placed, only to be annihilated soon after? Or what about purgatory? Is that something that we should consider when we talk about the events of life after death?
That is what four theologians have come together to discuss.
John Walvoord argues that the Literal View best describes the nature of Hell. This belief is also referred to as the Traditionalist View, as this is the belief that most Christians hold. Walvoord argues that hell will be the final destination for all those that do not accept salvation by faith, and will spend eternity in punishment. Fire and brimestone, gnashing of teeth and undying worms will be their reward for the rest of time.
But does this view mesh well with the loving gospel of Jesus? Would He torture people forever for things they did, and for the pleasure of Himself and the saints?
William Crockett, editor of this book, disagrees about the nature of hell. While he affirms that fire and brimestone, gnashing of teeth and undying worms are a part of hell, he doesn’t assume them to be literal things. Rather he sees them as metaphors for suffering. This is why he argues for the Metaphorical View. He makes a case for himself, explaining how powerful and prominent visuals and imagery are throughout scripture, and that there isn’t a need to assume that the fire of Hell is at all like the flames we know now.
But what kind of suffering is it if not literal? And if it is just language to describe a suffering we don’t yet understand, how is it different than the Traditional View?
Zachary Hayes offers up a completely different suggestion. Rather than arguing for either of the more prominent view, Hayes shares a view of the afterlife that is foreign to most Protestants, that being the Purgatorial View. The tradition of Catholicism speaks volumes in a belief that there is a purification stage for believers, not unbelievers, before they move on to Heaven. After all, when we die, we are not perfected or completely holy. There must be a middle ground, no?
But, should a belief, even in hell, be held to when Scripture evidence is lacking? Should we believe in something because we have always believed in it?
Clark Pinnock ends this book with the final argument, that being the Conditional View. Also known as the Annihilationist View. After death, and after the Final Judgement, all those not welcomed into Heaven are destroyed. They are no more. There is not everlasting punishment. There is no middle ground. They are simply gone. This argument, while shocking, does have solid footing in the Scriptures. While affirming the images of hell, he drives the point home, these images point to destruction, to finality, to an end.
But images are subjective, aren’t they? Is Pinnock saying they are destroyed in hell because that is what he wants to believe, rather than what the images may imply?
The Four View On Hell will most certainly educate those that seek knowledge, and inspire hours of conversation and Scripture study. The pressing question is, what do you believe to be the nature of Hell?
I didn’t realize at the time of reading and review the 2016 edition of Four Views On Hell that there was an original. My only knowledge of the Counterpoints series was that there were other books covering numerous theological topics. Looking back now, some comment made by authors of the 2016 version make more sense now, as they recalled what was done in this 1992 book.
Zondervan kept up the quality of these books from the first series to this recent one. And what a powerful beginning in the discussion about the nature of hell. These four theologians are clearly passionate and knowledgeable about this topic, and give the reader more than enough information to chew on.
I can’t say that any one of these theologians is “wrong”. And if that is what you are looking for in this review, I’m sorry to disappoint you. All four theologians make a sound case for their position on hell and it’s nature, though I would say that some do a better job than others. That is not to discredit them as men of faith, but may speak to the strength of their theological idea. More space or pages may have made the difference in some arguments for or against. Alas, they are limited in space, so for those that want to read more about a particular argument, they will need to look to each theologians own works.
One criticism I have, only because I read the 2016 book first, is that there is no voice for unity in this book. The editor, William Crockett, shares his view on the nature of hell as one of the four in this book, but says nothing about the need for brotherly love despite the differences in opinions. The 2016 book did this wonderfully in both the foreword and afterword, tying everything together in a harmonious fashion.
The Four Views On Hell serves as a powerful, though not exhaustive look at the different understandings about the nature of hell. Any Christian wanting to depend their theological understanding would be wise to own this book. For that reason alone, I am going to keep this book ON MY SHELF.