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Four Views on Hell: Second Edition (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) Paperback – March 8, 2016
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About the Author
- Item Weight : 7.7 ounces
- Paperback : 224 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0310516463
- ISBN-13 : 978-0310516460
- Dimensions : 5.3 x 0.6 x 8.1 inches
- Publisher : Zondervan Academic; Second edition (March 8, 2016)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #128,787 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Denny Burk [“Eternal Conscious Torment” view] summarizes, “So the question of eternal conscious torment really does come down to who God is. Is God the kind of God for whom this kind of punishment for sin would be necessary? Or is he not? What does the Bible say about God and the judgments that issue forth from him? The aim of this essay will be to answer these questions and to argue that the Bible teaches eternal conscious torment in a place called ‘hell’ as the lot of every person who dies in an unrepentant state. All those who fail to experience saving faith in Jesus while they are alive in this age will be resurrected and condemned when Christ returns. They will then be cast into hell where they will suffer never-ending punishment.” (Pg. 20)
But John Stackhouse [“terminal punishment” or Conditional Immortality/Annihilation view] suggests that “Burk’s … argument is essentially deductive: Since God is infinitely great, any sin against such a God deserves infinite punishment… Burk starts by taking swipes at his theological counterparts for being ‘emotional’---as if emotions are not conveyers of information that theologians… ought to pay attention to. Why DOES this formulation of doctrine repel me? Why DOES this view of God horrify me? … perhaps… those are SANCTIFIED feelings… that are warning me that I am on the wrong theological path… The immediate problem … is that Burk shows precisely nowhere in the Bible a single passage in which this argument [sin deserves infinite punishment] is actually made. Nowhere in Scripture does any biblical author say, ‘Because God is infinitely great, sin against God is infinitely bad, and therefore entails infinite punishment.” (Pg. 44-45)
Jerry Walls [“Purgatorial” view] says, “I am wondering whether Burk… believes God is glorified by choosing some for salvation and passing over the rest who remain dead in their sins and are consigned to reprobation. Does he believe God is glorified in giving irresistible grace to some, while damning others who are not given such grace, and who consequently cannot do other than sin and disobey God? Is this what he means when he says ‘the existence of hell serves to demonstrate eternally the glory of God’s justice in his judgment on sin’?” (Pg. 57)
Stackhouse explains, “Any doctrine being offered … must give fully adequate attention to both God’s fierce holiness and God’s fervent affection, God’s justice and God’s generosity… I shall defend… the view that hell is the situation in which those who do not avail themselves of the atonement made by Jesus in his suffering and death must make their own atonement by suffering and then death, separated from the sustaining life of God and thus disappearing from this cosmos. And I will contend that this view best takes into account these two poles of God’s goodness.” (Pg. 61-62)
He argues, “Psalm after psalm and proverb after proverb reiterate the sane biblical teaching… The wicked eventually and inevitably some to the same end: They will vanish from the face of the earth... Sodom and Gomorrah are clearly the paradigm cases of destruction… Consider… 2 Peter 2:6… Peter says that the ‘extinction’ of Sodom and Gomorrah is ‘an example of what is coming to the ungodly.’ This verse---and many others like it---is clear proof for the terminal punishment view of hell. Other interpreters must read this verse against its clear and natural meaning.” (Pg. 70-71)
But he also contends, “One might fairly ask whether Revelation 14:11’s depiction of the damned enjoying ‘no rest day or night’ implies that they never arrive at the relief of death and that they are forever conscious. But ‘rest’ in the Old Testament… carries positive connotations of Sabbath… Thus the condemned are doomed never to enjoy rest, they will never escape their doom---for they suffer and die outside God’s rest… There is no reason to conclude from [Isa 66:24] that the corpses last forever! How could they, if they are being consumed?... The similar language [in Rev 20:14-15] would lead the conscientious reader to a similar conclusion: Death and Hades are destroyed… and ‘anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life’ is similarly destroyed, dead, gone… it is impossible to imagine ‘Death and Hades’ suffering. The ‘second death’ means, ultimately, to disappear.” (Pg. 72-73)
Robin Parry [Universalist view] states, “Critical to most versions of universalism is the claim that it is possible to be saved AFTER one has died… What does the Bible say? Well, it does not DIRECTLY address the issue. There are no biblical texts that say death is a point of no return, but neither are there texts that unambiguously say that one can repent after death… all that [Heb 9:27] claims is that all humans die once and then face judgment, and ALL sides of this debate will agree with THAT claim. To go further than this and insist that this judgment leads to irreversible punishment is to go beyond anything said in the text. So the Bible does not DIRECTLY settle this question.” (Pg. 116)
He adds, “if we believe that Scripture teaches BOTH that all people will be saved AND that some people will go to hell---and it does seem to teach both---then it is arguable that we can legitimately infer that those in hell will be saved out of hell. If postmortem salvation can be legitimately inferred from teachings that have good claims to being biblical, then the doctrine itself can claim to be biblical, at least in a secondary sense.” (Pg. 117)
He points out, “we must be very careful how we interpret the imagery. That the fire will not be quenched and the worms will not die need mean no more than that the fire and the worms will be UNCEASINGLY AND UNSTOPPABLY ACTIVE until they have finished their work. One does not need to postulate eternal torment in hell by everlasting fire and worms to make sense of this image.” (Pg. 119)
Editor Sprinkle states in his Conclusion. “Evangelicals must think deeply and critically---indeed, BIBLICALLY---about Parry’s argument. And if I can be completely honest, I hope that Parry is right.” (Pg. 198)
This is an excellent collection of views [and fitting “partner” to the earlier Four Views on Hell ], that will be “must reading” for anyone studying the doctrines of Hell, Conditional Immortality/Annihilation, Purgatory, or Universalism.
The four contributors of this book have been asked to present their position on the nature of hell, not debating the existence of hell, but rather trying answer the question, “What is hell like?” (11-12) Danny Burke starts the discussion by arguing that hell is a place of never-ending conscious torment, which is considered the traditional stance of the Evangelical Church. Then John Stackhouse follows with his argument that hell is a place of “terminal punishment,” a position otherwise known as “conditionalism” or “annihilationism.” The third view, universalism, defended by Robin Parry, is one that believes that “in the end God will reconcile all people to himself through Christ” (101). Finally, Jerry Walls subjoins the traditional view by arguing that believers must be fully sanctified before being permitted into heaven. Consequently, those that have received atonement before death, but have not yet undergone sanctification, will be granted a purgatory for their complete sanctification.
Sprinkle lays out this book with each contributor given a chapter to present their view along with other contributors’ responses; however, it may be warranted to speculate how generic the prompt that he gave them was. In the introduction he writes, “Now more than ever, Christians want to know what the Bible really says about hell” (11). This statement would indicate that the reader should expect a more systematic course of eschatology, which only Burk provides. However logically the others present their case, they rely heavily on a historical and philosophical method of theology, which ultimately steers their case away from the Bible.
Early on in the historical-theological approach presented by Parry, he provides a rather extensive list of religious figures who purportedly endorsed universalism, including the Clement of Alexandria, Pamphilus, the Basil of Caesarea, and St. Augustine just to name a few. Parry then states, “My point in listing these folks is simply to highlight that universalism is an ancient Christian view that arises from impulses deep within Christian theology itself” (102). However, rather than leaning on the “impulses” of prior historical figures, the reader is probably expecting a more systematic defense of universalism. Nevertheless, Parry directly says he will not deliver such an essay in his chapter, in the first two sentences of the section, “Madness in the Method” (102). Similarly, Walls engages Scripture only five times in his essay.
Overall the contributors are fair in their use of Christian jargon, defining lesser-known terms and terms that are used more broadly beyond an eschatological context. And though they use different models to present their argument, they all use a few of the same terms. For example, the Bible's use of the terms ʻôlām and aiônios are interpreted by Burk as meaning “everlasting” and “eternal” (25, 27), whereas Stackhouse translated them as “eternal,” “perpetual,” and “everlasting,” but suggests the interpretation is not intended to be literal (66-67). Finally, Parry primarily agrees with Stackhouse adding only that aiônios has the notion of being qualitative rather than quantitative (120-122).
Some more terms that are thoroughly defined throughout the book are “death” (69-70, 86-87, 93-94, 200) and Gehenna (11, 26-27, 63, 119-120). But, “sin” is a term that is used far more and yet remains without any proper care given to its biblical definition. Questions like “Is God the kind of God for whom this kind of punishment for sin would be necessary?” (21) and “Will God allow sin to thwart his purposes to beautify the cosmos?” (106), and a claim like “Christians are universalists about sin” (105), all assume a certain belief about sin. It would be foolish to attempt answering these questions without first defining the doctrine of sin, but few clear statements on sin are made in any of the essays.
No doubt credibility was considered during the selection of contributors; however only Burk and Walls write with an authoritative charisma. Conversely, Stackhouse and Parry start their arguments with the following statements: “I will content that this view best takes into account…” (62) and Christian universalism is a “viable Christian opinion” (101). They both continue their writing using phrases such as “I suggest” (65, 66), “it seems” (110), and “I would expect” (111). Eventually, Parry even writes, “I want now to offer … a view of hell I think compatible with the God of the gospel” (113). Finally, Stackhouse indicates their objective is humility when he says, “the other views, to be sure, can plausibly adduce certain Scriptures to their respective cases, and I certainly would want to allow for my own considerable limitations as a theologian” (62).
Even though Stackhouse and Parry intend to assume a position of humility in their arguments, they only damage their authority by conveying a sense of insecurity over the incomplete conception of their message. And while it is plausible that only one of the four views could be true, Burk and Walls both still speak rather definitively in defense of their own beliefs. This is the same way in which the apostles spoke about Jesus, his mission, and the kingdom (Luke 9:1-6). The forum initiated by Sprinkle for this book allowed all contributors the opportunity to speak with this same authority. Just as similarly as the apostles spoke about a message they knew would bring them persecution, Burk and Walls express in their writing trust and confidence in their positions amidst ostracism.
Even so, the debate between the contributors should be respected, as all rebuttals were communicated thoughtfully and without personal attacks. And although the bias between contributors is understood, Sprinkle honourably defers announcing his position until drawing his conclusion at the closing of the book.
Overall, Four Views on Hell is a relatively easy read for anyone who has a brief understanding of theological methods. Some of the exegesis and hermeneutical approaches will likely frustrate some readers; however, persisting onward to the full conclusion of the text is sure to challenge readers with new questions and deepen their understanding of beliefs contrary to their own.
If you are already familiar with the positions Christians take on this issue, this book is unlikely to offer new insights. I was disappointed that so little attention was given by any of the contributors on the historical development of the doctrine of hell. This is, in my opinion, a significant shortcoming of the volume.
and find that there are others that, like myself, do not believe that God would torture people for eternity.
All four views on hell are well argued by their proponents and the book is very readable.
Having only been exposed to the traditional camp, it was great to see the other positions with respective scriptural support.
Intellectually the purgatory view makes a ton of sense but the scriptural backing wasn't there IMO.
The strongest scriptural basis seemed to be annihilationism or universalism.
My only complaint would be the traditional view synopsis. Either the support is weak in the scriptures or Denny Burk did an absolutely TERRIBLE job supporting a strong position.