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.

Hell No!: a book review

Why Be A Christian (If No One Goes to Hell?) by Daniel Meeter

Non-Christians don’t like hell. Some Christians like hell and want to tell all heathens, pagans and democrats why they are going there, but there has been a move in biblical scholarship to question the traditional belief in hell.  Scholars like N.T. Wright posit that the immortality of the soul is not a Biblical idea but a Greek one. Likewise, it was the Greeks that posited a division between the soul and the body. The Hebrew understanding when your body is dead, your soul is dead. The resurrection and is the promise to God’s people (Jews and Christians). If you want eternal life, you need resurrection.  So while some Christian evangelists still want to dangle non-Christians like spiders over an open flame, and defend hell like it was a central Christian doctrine, others  have raised questions (Rob Bell’s Love Wins was good at raising questions).

In Why Be A Christian (If No One Goes to Hell)?  Daniel Meeter argues that the traditional view of Hell is wrong but that there are still lots of incentives for becoming a Christian.  Becoming a Christian opens the way for us to be spiritual, to prayer, to being fully human, to knowing God and his story, to dealing with guilt and experiencing the reality of grace,  to love God and know Christ, to love our neighbors, to be transformed into the image of Christ and yes, to go to heaven when we die (in the Resurrection).

 

Meeter wrote this book with apologetic/evangelistic intent to help non-Christians who have been put off by the doctrine of hell and judgmental Christians understand what the Christian faith had to offer.  He is no stranger to ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue and he writes in a way that is respectful of other world faiths but labors to show the uniquely Christian vision of the world.

This book is available in a variety of ebook formats from Shookfoil Books. Some Christian readers will find Meeter provocative; however I think he does a good job at articulating Christianity in accessible ways for non-Christians.  There are places where I disagree with Rev. Meeter but he still presents the faith in ways which are in keeping with the ancient creeds (the Apostles’ Creed frames his reflections).  This is a good book for those who are exploring the Christian tradition or a primer for those who need a refresher for what God in Christ has on offer for all of us not going to hell.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.