- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 30, 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 019508487X
- ISBN-13: 978-0195084870
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,018,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Problem of Hell 1st Edition
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"The book, rich in argument and thought-provoking, is highly recommended for all those with an interest in soteriology and eschatology."The Month
"We are offered an impressive case for the coherence of a revised doctrine of hell....I hope...that our readers will grapple with this subtle and widely ranging discussion, which is far richer than my terse summary can reveal."--The Expository Times
"Those who are not squeamish will find much worth thinking about in this tough-minded and toughly-argued book."--Theology
"Kvanvig's own theory deserves careful consideration....If a philosophical analysis is called for, this is the book to read. It brings us a long way into an intelligent, scripturally respectful, and theologically acceptable discussion of a belief that has traditionally been a forest of contradictions. Kvanvig's book may be the best path through the forest yet."--Christianity and Literature
"Kvanvig's solution to the problem of hell in ingenious. It should be of interest to any philosopher who wants to explore alternatives to the morally problematic doctrine of hell in traditional Christianity."--Ethics
About the Author
Jonathan L. Kvanvig is at Texas A and M University.
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Top Customer Reviews
It is for this reason Kvanvig feels the problem of hell must be addressed and the religious doctrines of hell examined and analyzed such that a suitable solution to the problem of hell might be constructed. While the examination of hell is done primarily with Christianity in mind, Kvanvig being a Christian himself, the exploration of the various doctrines of hell, their objections and what can be done to salvage the doctrine of hell is mindfully done from a theologically neutral perspective and equally applies to doctrines of hell found across other religions.
The first chapter deals with the cultural “fire and brimstone” hell that Kvanvig calls the “strong view”. He establishes that it is founded on four main commitments:
H1 – Some people are consigned to hell;
H2 – Hell is a place where people exist, if they are consigned there;
H3 – Once one is consigned to hell, there is no possibility of leaving and nothing one can do, change or become in order to get out
H4 – Hell is retributive in nature, issuing punishment.
At length Kvanvig then examines the strong view of hell and poses a number of rather damaging challenges to it including rebuttals to various defenses such as status principle being applied as a solution to the moral problem of equal punishment for all consigned to hell.
The second chapter is where I think the book really shines, taking a look at what Kvanvig calls the “simple alternatives” to the strong view. These are the typically offered alternatives to the strong view such as Annihilationism and Universalism. Kvanvig’s brilliance is in highlighting what seem like rather agreeable and drastic alternatives to the strong view are in fact only minor alterations that simply deny one of the four main commitments of the strong view. For Annihilationism merely H2 is denied, for Universalism merely H1. Kvanvig also offers examinations for doctrines of hell that deny the other two commitments, second-chance theories that deny H3 and quarantine theories that deny H4.
Along with this insight, Kvanvig does not shy away from presenting each in the strongest possible scenario, providing alternatives to each doctrine that may offer solutions to his objections and in turn analyzing those too. The commentary on Universalism has the bulk of the chapter devoted to it with some great arguments responding to Thomas Talbott’s views.
For the most part, the book is eminently readable and Kvanvig takes great care during moments of technical analysis to restate arguments in a more familiar and accessible manner. However, it is during this chapter we are reminded this is indeed intended as a work of technical philosophical analysis and the seven pages he devotes to responding to Alvin Plantinga’s arguments on possible world actualization will be near incomprehensible to anyone without some form of academic background in philosophy.
The second half of the book, chapters 3 and 4 are devoted to constructing what Kvanvig calls an “issuant conception of hell” that manages to survive not only these philosophical objections but also theological ones. It is however, in the construction of this issuant conception of hell entails that I feel the book is lacking. Having so thoroughly and triumphantly kicked in the door of various doctrines of hell, one expects Kvanvig’s solution to be elegant, simple and deeply satisfying. Yet, for odds reasons it feels half-complete as it rests on a composite of two doctrines of hell that emerge and there’s a good deal of discussion on how and when one doctrine is dominant over the other. Overall it feels under-developed as it lacks the force of his earlier arguments.
I think part of the frustration is Kvanvig’s search is merely for a teleological solution to the problem of hell that doesn’t address how the actual mechanistic implementation could work. In doing so, while it may satisfy the aims of the book and find a solution for the philosophical objections discussed, there’s questions left unanswered. Admittedly this is likely out of professional respect to theologians who one assumes are better appealed to in order to find such answers.
Overall though, Kvanvig’s book is a brilliant and critical examination of the problem of hell across its various conceptions that holds no punches. He manages to cram a impressive amount of analysis into its ~180 pages owing to his direct writing style and brevity. It is a delightful and thought provoking intellectual journey that will reward, enrich and enlighten all those willing to entertain Kvanvig’s courageous approach and desire to clear out the skeletons in the closet.
1. Existence thesis- persons in Hell continue to exist (Not annihilationism)
2. No escape thesis- persons in Hell have no opportunity to leave
3. Anti-Universalism thesis- some persons will be in Hell
4. Retribution thesis- Hell is primarily about retributive punishment
Kvanvig examines what he calls simple alternatives to the problem of Hell which involve simply dropping one of the theses (1-3) but holding onto 4 and concludes that such simple modifications ultimately fail to address the root issues involved in traditional doctrines of Hell.The account he puts forward is an "issuant" conception of Hell that drops the fourth thesis (and perhaps the first as well) and instead focuses on Hell as issuing from a person's persistent rejection of God. It should be noted that this concept of Hell doesn't deny that there is retributive punishment involved in Hell, but rather claims that such punishment isn't the primary reason for a person being in Hell.
Overall "The Problem of Hell" does a good job at breaking down the various issues involved in articulating a coherent and defensible account of Hell. It should be noted that this is a work in Philosophy of Religion and not primarily in Christian theology or biblical studies, so readers looking for more references to Christian scripture or Church history and tradition may not find this book appealing. Even if you disagree with some of Kvanvig's ideas or opinions, this book is a valuable resource in exploring the alleged problem of Hell.
Kvanvig is a Christian, and while he sometimes discusses hell from a Christian perspective in the book, he's careful to give a more general discussion that applies to non-Christian theologies as well. The book is well-written and carefully argued; it's really an intellectual delight to read.