Hell is a currently debated topic in evangelicalism. The conversation on the huge village green pulsates with four streams of thought. Many conservative Christians on the green are surprised to hear that deeply devoted followers of Jesus, based upon biblical and theological foundations, do not embrace the traditional view of hell. They learn that some of the other views of hell are not new ideas, but ideas that reach back into the era of the Early Church Fathers. Rob Bell’s book Love Wins helped propel the animated conversation about hell to the front burner of evangelical thought.
In view of evangelicalism’s interest in hell, Zondervan has published a second edition of its Counterpoints book Four Views of Hell (the first edition appeared in 1996). The new edition has four new contributors. Denny Burk presents the traditional, eternal conscious torment (ECT) view. John Stackhouse, Jr. presents the terminal punishment view, also known as annihilationism or conditional immortality. Robin Parry argues for universalism, that is, all humanity, in the ultimate end, will be reconciled to God. Jerry L. Walls, as an evangelical Protestant, presents the purgatorial view of hell. Each contributor responds to each view presented offering thoughtful “push back.”
Preston Sprinkle writes both the introduction and conclusion of the new edition of Four Views of Hell. Sprinkle writes, “The reader must note that none of the contributors in this volume deny the existence of hell. The question they are raising in not ‘Is there a hell?’ but ‘What is hell like?’ Every view espoused in this book is built on the fact that the Bible clearly talks about hell” (11).
Each author holds to the existence of hell, but each differs on describing the nature of hell. Sprinkle repeats that the four authors “will derive and articulate their different views based on Scripture and theological reasoning” (14).
Some readers may get nervous when their particular view of hell comes under scrutiny by competent, evangelical scholars. Sprinkle urges readers to hold their view lightly until all four views are presented. Doctrines, as humanly created declarations of God’s truth, must always be revisited and, if needed, revised. “The post-Reformation scholars used to say, ecclesia temper reformanda est, or ‘the church is (reformed and) always reforming’” (15).
This book was written in the spirit of that reformation principle. What do we believe about hell? Why do we believe it? “…[U]nexamined beliefs become detached from their scriptural roots over time and through repetition. … As Christians, we must stand on God’s inspired word, even if this leads us to conclusions that are different from what what we have previously believed” (15). We will post our way through the four views of hell, beginning with the traditional eternal conscious torment view presented by Denny Burk.