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FOUR VIEWS ON HELL
A Theological Critique Submitted to Liberty Theological Seminary in partial fulfillment of the requirements for completion of the course,
THEO 530 SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY II
By Michael Vincent Paddy Student ID - 22282275
Lynchburg, Virginia May, 2010
Table of Contents I. Introduction««««««««««««««««««««««««««««««.« 3 II. Brief Summary«««««««««««««««««««««««««««««.... 3 III. Critical interaction with author¶s work«««««««««««««««««««« 5 IV. Conclusion«««««««««««««««««««««««««««««««« 8 Bibliography««««««««««««««««««««««««««««««««« 9
Introduction Four Views on Hell,1 is part of the Counterpoints, Bible & Theology Series. ³The Counterpoints series provides a forum for comparison and critique of different views on issues of importance to Christians.´2 ³Hell is the worst thing that could happen to anyone.´3 There would probably be no arguments from any thoughtful theologian on that subject. But questions concerning hell are many with solid scholarly credentials in all the camps concerned. Evangelicals can be divided on the issue too, thus the book being critiqued. The question seems to come down to four concerns, is hell a real place and if it is what is it like and how long is the punishment? Lastly, is God morally justified to create such a place for those who oppose him, those who refuse the gift of eternal life with him through Jesus Christ? I have never in my thirty plus years of knowing the Lord and being in ministry been more challenged on a subject such as this and must admit I am almost persuaded away from my original beliefs of hell toward another thoughtful, prayerful view. Which will become clearer as this paper is presented. II. Brief Summary Most of the time when hell is mentioned it is in the context of an anecdote or used as a curse word. It seems most people are in denial of such a place being real and wanting not to think of it as both eternal and insufferable. Can any well meaning person, even a born again Christian
Stanley N. Gundry and William Crockett, ed., with Zachary J. Hayes, Clark H. Pinnock, John F. Walvoord, and William Crockett, contributors. Four Views on Hell. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996).
Ibid. Back Cover. Jonathan L. Kavanvig. The Problem of Hell, (NY, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993), 3 3
believe in a place called hell, a real place where there is fire and eternal suffering beyond imagination? Or can Christians look at hell another way? Is it a place that is used by God and Christ in a metaphorical way to describe such an empty, lonely, and foreboding place as to be beyond the human tongue? Four well-respected and educated men along with general editor Stephen Gundry layout for us the four prominent views and accepted beliefs regarding hell. They do this with finesse and with dignity and respect to each other as they try to plumb the depth of Scriptural meaning and consequences of hell for all of us to study and apply to ourselves. So what are these four views? John Walvoord tackles the literal, or as he states, the orthodox view. This view states that hell is a real place where unregenerate souls burn in an eternal place of torment. Taking a testamental study of the subject of hell, Dr. Walvoord¶s argument is that there is sufficient evidence to believe in a literal place of punishment called hell with fire. The metaphorical view taken by William Crockett is similar to John Calvin¶s4 that says the language used to describe hell specifically in its form as fire is a metaphor, trying to show simile to the intensity of the suffering without there actually being a literal fire. Retired teacher of theology at the Catholic Theological Union, Zachary J. Hayes takes the purgatorial view of hell and punishment, a dominant feature of the Catholic Church. Stating purgatory¶s common meaning as a place or state of being where one enters after death to be purified through suffering, Hayes goes further to say that purgatory is an in between place of purification where those who are not good enough for heaven but not bad enough for hell are purged till the final judgment.
Gundry, et al. 44 4
Lastly we have the conditional view argued for by Clark Pinnock. It does not deny the existence of hell rather it takes the view that hell is a place of final destruction or as some call it annihilation of the impenitent wicked. Called absolute death, hell is to be seen as the true second death a place not for eternal torment but permanent and final separation in existence of any form.5 III. Critical Interaction with Authors¶ Work Hell is a real place. There seems to be no doubt about it according to everyone in this book. As stated in the Introduction the question then is whether there are degrees of suffering and intensity and the length of time those entering hell must endure the suffering allotted to them through their sinful state and behavior. The first step of interacting with these fine men is to try and stay objective in evaluating and critiquing their stances and avoiding at all costs a sense of secular sentimentality. Right out of the starting gate I saw flaws in Hayes view of hell or as he states, purgatory. The scriptural evidence was shallow at best and the belief in purgatory is founded on what Hayes calls revelation rather than scriptural evidence. His belief that the text of scripture is not divinely inspired but rather revelation is given to the reader of the text by means of the Holy Spirit.6 Such a subjective hermeneutic leaves me confused and fearful not just in the case of our understanding of hell but all theological matters. This left me with three views to evaluate and give thought. Since the existence of hell is not in question by three of the four theologians, hell must be a predetermined place where the impenitent must enter for their impudence towards God.
ibid. 137 ibid. 102 5
Is a place of literal fire the place the Bible calls Hell? The first and foremost indicator of truth when it comes to the Bible is its literal interpretation. But what most misunderstand in looking at things from the Bible literally is that literal refers to looking at the Bible as literature using all forms of language and figures of speech. It would seem that God¶s use of human language to bring revelation and information to man could be like trying to explain quantum physics to a new born baby whose only needs and desires are concerning self-preservation. Language then is limited to words and word pictures that can be defined within the scope of a person¶s reality and understanding. So the question is does hell bring with it a literal fire, a place so horrendously painful and torturous that it is to be avoided at all costs, or is it a place of such horrendous suffering and pain it is akin to being burned without being consumed but must be explained both within a linguistically and contextual understanding of the reader? "As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me," declares the LORD, "so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me," says the LORD. "And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind."7 Seems pretty clear cut and dry doesn¶t it? But what is the LORD trying to tell Israel through Isaiah? That separation from God is something to be ashamed of? That those who die in their rebellion to the LORD suffer an excruciating and painful eternal existence? Can hell than be a literal place and time of the above event happening for everyone? ³Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to sin,
Isaiah 66:22-24 6
cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.´8 Now we get into mixed metaphors. Is Jesus telling us to literally remove parts of our body to avoid sin thus avoiding fire and hell, or are the two connected in metaphorical words to define the serious of both sin and eternal death? A problem arises from the fact that Scripture speaks not merely of eternal death (which one might interpret as meaning that the wicked will not be resurrected), but of eternal fire, eternal punishment, and eternal torment as well. What kind of God is it who is not satisfied by a finite punishment, but makes humans suffer forever and ever? This seems to be beyond the demands of justice; it appears to involve a tremendous degree of vindictiveness on the part of God. The punishment seems out of all proportion to the sin, for presumably, all sins are finite acts against God«The question must not be dismissed lightly for it concerns the very essence of God¶s nature.9 We now come to duration of time. How does one explain away words like eternity, eternal, everlasting? Can these too be looked at metaphorically or was God intentionally using a frame of reference that anyone could understand when it comes to issues of finite and infinite things? Both Walvoord and Crocket would argue yes, it is a place that endures forever. It is a right and just punishment for the rebellion of those who through their punishment live eternally with the knowledge of a heaven missed and an eternal place without God whom they now know is real.10 This is where there seems to be no justification for a limited time period for either purging and purification or a final annihilation of the unregenerate individual.
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009). 1246. Edward Fudge and Robert A. Peterson, Two Views of Hell: a Biblical and Theological Dialogue. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2000). 94. 7
IV. Conclusion This book has caused this writer to think and rethink the issues of hell and the eternal state of those who die with and without knowing Christ. I was saved through a church ministry whose doctrine is reformed. I was trained and ordained in a Baptist, dispensational view of the Scriptures. Thus I have for many years believed that there is a literal hell, it is a place of fire and torment and it lasts for all eternity. Four Views on Hell, has not so much changed my views and beliefs regarding the doctrine of hell as much as it has allowed me to think outside taught theology to a theology that is transforming through higher education and individual study. What impressed me the most concerning this book was the way four men from differing opinions and religious backgrounds could come to together in a forum such as this and discuss such a heated, (no pun intended), issue. Is there a hell, yes most definitely! Is it a place so indescribably painful and tormenting so as to try to put into words would be to understate its terror, yes! Is it an eternal place lasting forever and ever, I am not totally convinced anymore except to say yes I believe so, but leave room for others to disagree with me on this point. Whatever the case this book should continue to be a required text for any and all Christians, especially those who study to be pastors, missionaries and teachers for God and His Word!
Bibliography Fudge, Edward and Robert A. Peterson. Two Views of Hell: a Biblical and Theological Dialogue. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2000. Gundry, Stanley N. and William Crockett, ed., with Zachary J. Hayes, Clark H. Pinnock, John F. Walvoord, and William Crockett, contributors. Four Views on Hell. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996. Kavanvig, Jonathan L. The Problem of Hell. N.Y., NY: Oxford University Press, 1993. Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology 2nded. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009.
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