Four Views on Hell

By William Crockett, ed.
Grand Rapids : Zondervan (1996). 190 Pages.

Reviewed by Thomas Halstead
9.2 (Fall 1998) : 225-227

The doctrine of hell has been the subject of much discussion throughout church history with various understandings by different theologians. This book sets out to compare and contrast four different views of hell. John Walvoord, Chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary, defends the first view, called “The Literal View.” He takes the orthodox view that punishment for the wicked is everlasting and that it is punitive, not redemptive. He shows from both the Old and New Testaments that there is punishment after this life and that this punishment has everlasting duration. He also states, “[F]ire in connection with eternal punishment supports the conclusion that this is what the Scriptures mean.”

William Crockett, Professor of New Testament at Alliance Theological Seminary, discusses the second view, called “The Metaphorical View.” He takes the position that the scriptural revelation concerning hell cannot be interpreted literally. “The Bible does not support a literal view of a burning abyss. Hellfire and brimstone are not literal depictions of hell’s furnishings, but figurative expressions warning the wicked of impending doom.” The pictures that Scripture gives of a flaming pit or darkness are just that, pictures used to demonstrate the great seriousness of divine judgment. He states that the strongest reason for taking the terms for hell as metaphors is the conflicting language used in the NT to describe hell. He poses the question that if the eternal fire was originally created for spirit beings such as the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41), how will people with spirit bodies be affected by a physical fire? He does admit that this view is somewhat recent, having been advocated only since the sixteenth century. The question that must be asked is, How well does this view conform to the biblical data?

Zachary Hayes, Professor of Theology at Catholic Theological Union, supports the third view, called “The Purgatorial View,” the view advocated by the Roman Catholic Church. Purgatory “is commonly understood to refer to the state, place, or condition in the next world between heaven and hell, a state of purifying suffering for those who have died and are still in need of such purification. This purifying condition comes to an end for the individual when that person’s guilt has been expiated.” The author states that since the beginning of the church there has been an incompleteness between those who have died before the end of history and the return of the Lord in judgment at His coming. This raises the need for an interim state, which will end at the parousia. “If we are not quite ready for heaven at the time of death, neither do we seem to be evil ogres.” Therefore, purgatory gets us ready for heaven through purification.

The final view, postulated by Clark Pinnock, Professor of Theology at McMaster Divinity College, is “The Conditional View,” also called “The Annihilationist View.” Pinnock states that Christians are asked to believe the traditional view that God endlessly tortures sinners who have perished because He has decided not to elect them to salvation. He argues that it is more practical to interpret the nature of hell as destruction rather than the endless torture of the wicked. “I will maintain that the ultimate result of rejecting God is self-destruction, closure with God, and absolute death in the body, soul, and spirit.” He concludes that the Bible does not teach immortality of the soul, that there is nothing in the nature of the human soul that requires it to live forever, and that the Bible teaches conditionalism. But he also states that though annihilationism makes hell less of a torture chamber, it does not lessen the extreme seriousness of that doctrine.

 The strength of this book lies in its exposing the reader to what the four views advocate. One will also be able to read what each of the authors says about the other views. That can be very helpful for anyone studying this doctrine. One weakness noted was that all the views with the exception of the orthodox view do not include much biblical support. In fact, the author of the conditional view seemed to spend most of his time speaking against the orthodox view rather than supporting his own.

Overall, this is a very helpful book and is worth the reading and studying. This reviewer heartily recommends it.