What the H-E-Double-HockeyStick! a book review

Ever since Rob Bell’s Love Wins, evangelicals have rushed to the defense of the traditional doctrine of hell. Bell’s book was more suggestion than substance and raised the most ire among those who never read it,  but there have also been a number of intelligent treatments on the fate of unbelievers and the nature of hell. Four Views on Hell, Second Edition showcases four options currently being discussed among evangelicals. Under the editorial eye of Preston Sprinkle (coauthor of Erasing Hell) with contributions from Denny Burk, John G. Stackhouse Jr, Robin Parry and Jerry Walls, this book presents the case for hell as eternal conscious torment, annihilationism, universalism and purgatory.

9780310516460_5This new edition of Four Views on Hell reveal how the contours of the debate have changed since the publication of the first edition in 1992. The original edition had two contributors arguing hell consists as ‘eternal conscious torment,’  one arguing for literal fire (John Walvoord) and metaphorical (William Crocket), one contributor arguing for annilationism (Clark Pinnock) and a Catholic contributor extols the virtues of purgatory (Zachary Hayes). In the current edition, the traditional doctrine on hell is represented by Burk. Burk doesn’t take eternal fire as a literal flame as Walvoord did (28), though he does emphasize the eternal aspects of hell’s duration. John Stackhouse takes up Pinnock’s mantle in arguing the terminal/conditionalist/annihilationist position. Parry provides the biblical, theological case for Christian universalism (a new tothis edition) having previously published  The Evangelical Universalist (under the pseudonym of Gregory McDonald). Jerry Walls gives a protestant case for purgatory for the faithful who die in Christ, arguing that purgatory is not about offering satisfaction for sin (which Christ offered on our behalf) but is about sanctification.

Each of these contributors has their strengths. After sharing a brief parable illustrating the seriousness of sin being measured ‘by the value of the one sin against,’ Burke makes the biblical case for hell as eternal conscious torment (19) based on ten foundational passages drawn from both testaments. Stackhouse also makes a strong exegetical  and theological case for annilationism, arguing that eternal punishment and ‘unquenchable fire’ indicate the certainty of implications rather than duration, and eternal life is a gift to those who are in Christ. Parry’s chapter emphasizes how Christ came to restore all things, and how having a sinner suffer eternal torment, or the eradication of a sinner doesn’t appear to embody that end. Parry places his case within a biblical theological frame, emphasing the scope and trajectory of redemption. Walls is the odd man out in that he affirms with Burk the the reality of eternal conscious torment for those who are in hell, and posits purgatory, for those who trust in Christ as their savior (though he does allow for a post-mordem conversion). The respondents each give strong critiques of one-another’s views, citing their various interpretive strategies,  their use of theology, and interpretive strategies.

I generally don’t find these ‘four views’ books to be exciting reading.  Because of the way they are organized, a brief case with critical responses, by the time you get to last couple of chapters, you already have a pretty good idea of what the author will say before you read it. The effect is mitigated somewhat in this volume in that Parry’s and Wall’s chapters are by far the most interesting chapters in this volume. And Sprinkle has a fantastic concluding essay which highlights the relative strengths of each response.

The Christians with whom I hang around with most generally hold to the traditional view of hell, though I find the arguments for annihilationism to be fairly convincing. Sprinkle makes the case in his conclusion that annihilationism is the only view that logically precludes the possibility of Christian universalism, because if hell is eternal, that than there is the possibility of redemption (205). Certainly if Burke is right and Hell is wholly punitive, than the possibility remains unlikely. Parry’s case sets universalism with in Christocentric framework with a hopeful trajectory (Stackhouse calls the case for univeralism ‘ the triumph of hope over exegesis’, p.134). I am interested in exploring Parry’s argument further and will likely read his Evangelical Universalist. Because of the brevity of each chapter, no respondent in this volume makes as comprehensive of a case as they otherwise could have, and each overstates their case in places. I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review.

Paul’s Last Days: a book review

Scholars debate the center of Paul’s theology. Protestant Reformers saw ‘Justification by faith’ as their hermeneutical key. The Tubingen theory (from F.C. Baur et al.) posited a dialectic between Paul’s message of  ‘justification by faith’ with Peter’s ‘justification by faith plus the works of the Torah.’ A Third hypothesis reads a shift in Paul–from Judaism to Hellenistic religion. A fourth possibility is that Paul’s theology is ‘Jewish eschatology but in a revised form’ (14-16). This is the position that C. Marvin Pate argues for in Apostle of the Last Days: the Life, Letters and Theology of Paul-. 

There have been varying eschatological constructs for understanding the New Testament (Jesus and Paul). “Consistent Eschatology” argues for a wholly futurist understanding of ‘last days.’ At the other extreme, a “Realized Eschatology” argues that the Kingdom of God has already come in the person and mission of Jesus Christ. A mediating position, is “Inaugurated Eschatology.” This view acknowledges both that Jesus’ mission and life announced the Kingdom, but it has not come in its fullness. It is now, but not yet. Pate argues that this best describes the Apostle Paul’s apocolypticism (19).

However the genesis of Pate’s approach is his observation of a clash of eschatologies between Paul and his opponents.  Apostle of the Last Days examines the Pauline epistles and the issues that Paul addressed, While Paul had an ‘inaugurated eschatology’ with Jesus’ death and resurrection at the center, his opponents clung to diverse, eschatological hopes. The Imperial cult, Hellenistic religion and Jewish Merkabah Mysticism (sometimes in a Christian variety) had different  versions of a  realized eschatology. Non-Christian, non-merkbah Judaism had a consistent eschatology, which awaited God’s future (political) deliverance. The Christian Judaizers had an inaugurated eschatology, but by giving weight to the Mosaic tradition they downplayed Jesus’ significance.

In part one of this book, Pate walks through each of the epistles and shows how Paul answered each of these opponents and the way he expressed his own eschatological hope. Part two examines Paul’s theology in systematic categories with an eye towards how Paul’s eschatology shapes his thinking about God.

This is a good book. Pate’s eschatological read of Paul (and his opponents) illuminates his epistles. Paul’s Christological hope was grounded in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and Paul awaited a future reality where Christ returns to put the world to rights. So there is a lot that is fruitful here. Pate walks through the entire Pauline corpus. I found I didn’t always agree with his handling of individual passages and was occasionally bothered by a supercessionist tone which described ‘the Old Testament’ as ‘works righteousness’ and faith and Jesus as the gift of grace. There is a greater continuity between testaments than Pate allows. God’s choice of Israel was not rooted in merit, but in Divine pleasure. Yet  I appreciated his analysis.

Eschatology is a word which many of us are wary of. Certainly there has been an unhealthy fascination with what Christ return will look like (and who ‘the beast’ is). Nevertheless I appreciate Pate’s description of Paul’s eschatological hope. This book contributes to a deeper understanding and appreciation of Paul’s gospel. Anyone wishing to deepen their understanding of the Pauline Epistles will benefit from Pate’s walk-through. I give this book four stars.

Thank you to Kregel Academic for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.