Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
March 14th, 2016 by Joel Watts

Review, @Zondervan’s “Four Views on Hell (2nd Ed)”

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.

Purgatory or Hell?

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.


Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).


14 Responses to “Review, @Zondervan’s “Four Views on Hell (2nd Ed)””
  1. Once to die, then judgment.

  2. Ok, just conjecture based upon the following:
    From Product Description, “This second edition of Four Views on Hell, featuring all new contributors”.
    From Joel, “This generally covers the views, I think, although there is real room for nuance and some slight shifting between the four categories”.

    I would like to see a third edition, including an apocrypha of combining annihilation and universalism.

    If we are all sinners, even if we accept Jesus as our Savior…
    We ALL know that we will sin again. So called “Do Loop”.
    Therefore, we will never reach ultimate perfection, because our nature is to sin. To get to Heaven, where there is no sin, is not likely for any of us. Therefore, not a possibility for any of us.
    Thus, most likely outcome:
    Universal annihilation. Called either “Big Crunch”, or “Big Freeze”.

    • I’d like to see one on Protestant views of universalism restoration and purgatory.

      • For some reason, I just can’t see myself sitting in Heaven, where there is no sin, and we are perfect.

        OK, there is a reason… I know myself, all too well.

        (Yeah, I know. You agree with my self-assessment!)

        • Oh… I don’t think we’ll “be sitting in heaven.”

          But, I also don’t think sin is what you may think sin is either.

          • Actually, that brings up a good point. I don’t think a specific view of hell can be discussed without the corollary, a specific view of heaven. Sitting, or standing. Sin or sinless. Real or symbolic. I ‘ve been waiting in line at the bus station, for my ticket to ride (C.S. Lewis, Great Divorce).

          • All things considered, I’d rather stay in town.

          • I should have said I’d rather stay in “grey town”. Beats Gehenna, I guess. All very symbolic. All of it beats riding in a bus.

          • I think I posted this somewhere before. Speaking of bus rides, and CS Lewis, I’ve always thought that “Nothing Lasts Forever”, the film, and the Great Divorce, must be linked in some deep mystery involving heaven and hell. Much like 1st Timothy is related to “Household Ethics”!


  3. fyi, it’s “Burk” not “Burke”

  4. I’m in a bus right now Wesley said that he found no salvation but salvation from sin. In Scripture. Salvation from hell is consequent upon salvation from sin. salvation from sin comes through faith in Christ and the experiential realities of new birth, justification and Christian Perfection.

    I’m a selective agnostic about grace beyond the grave though I truly hope for it.

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