Such a hot book…
Hell. It is a perennial topic discussed by those who may use it as a fear tactic and those seek to overturn a centuries — a millennia — old doctrine often used as a fear tactic. But, is it real? Or, rather, what use is it to the Christian (those who are clearly going to avoid hell)?
Perhaps the answers aren’t necessary in Four Views on Hell, the latest in Zondervan’s Counterpoints series where particular and controversial doctrines are examined from different angles — by proponents rather than by detractors. Such a view is refreshing, even if it takes getting used to. I do not make a habit of reading a proponent’s argument for a belief I clearly know they are wrong for holding. Yet, in the Counterpoints series, not only do we have proponents arguing their position, but it is followed up, usually, by calm debate by opponents. It really is a pattern on how to disagree.
In Four Views on Hell, editor Preston Sprinkle has assembled representatives of four views (eternal conscious torment, terminal punishment (annihilationism/conditional immortality), universalism, and purgatory). This generally covers the views, I think, although there is real room for nuance and some slight shifting between the four categories. If you accept hell in any sense (real, metaphor, eternal, etc…) then you will someone in these views close to you.
I tend to side with Jerry Walls (although I am at a cross between him and Robin A. Parry), the proponent of a Protestant view of Purgatory, and as such, I will look at his argument and the responses to it. First, Walls presents a fine argument…that other Protestants have accepted some form of Purgatory and that some (Protestant) Purgatory does not need to contain a satisfaction element to it, but remain firmly rooted in ongoing sanctification (or going on to perfection, if you will). However, there is no real scriptural basis for such a view, an issue he notes will dishearten evangelicals attempting to speak about Purgatory — and something Denny Burk (eternal torment) immediately latches on to. In this regard, I’m afraid Burke is correct. Admittedly, I’ve read Walls’ other works. This simply doesn’t measure up to it. And the fact that Parry (universalism) so easily accepts it will worry many. Simply, I believe there is a sound Scriptural basis for Purgatory — beyond 2 Maccabees — but Walls doesn’t cover that, leaving Protestants who want to explore this area bereft and adrift. This doesn’t take away from Walls’ stylistic prose and deep rootedness in the greats like C.S. Lewis, but it seems like he has almost forsaken making an argument in order to gain points by showing that those who Evangelicals consider theological giants likewise believed in Purgatory.
One other thing. At one point, Burke attacks Walls’ argument by setting it in the supposed realm of Reformed v. Arminian debates. As Roger Olsen as shown, to suggest that Arminians are not “Reformed” isn’t as simple as Burke wants us to believe. Thus, because Burke shows a remarkable insensitively to the Reformed tradition of Arminianism, his point here falls flat and really takes away from his overall response to Walls.
Sprinkle, the general editor, brings a solid conclusion that highlights the points made in each argument, and does so without bias.
This is a fine book, with great contributions made by people who stand within orthodox Protestantism. I would specifically recommend beginning with Walls and ending with Parry.