Below is a book review on Four Views on Hell I wrote for a college class but have updated and edited:
Four Views on Hell seeks to make known and defend various views of hell as understood by those from different traditions. John F. Walvoord expounds on the literal view of hell, William V. Crockett takes the metaphorical view, Zachary J. Hayes the purgatorial view, and Clark H. Pinnock represents the conditional view. Many of the arguments in this book break down under scrutiny, but Crockett’s argument represents the best of the four.
Walvoord is the first to make his case. He sets out that Scripture clearly uses fire (Matthew 5:22), burning (Matthew 13:30), and darkness (Matthew 22:13) to describe hell and that these descriptions should be taken literally. One of his arguments in support of the literal view is from Luke 16:19-31, where the rich man, who is in Hades, asks Abraham for water because he is in “anguish in this flame” (v.24). As well as believing that the descriptions of hell should be taken literally, he states that hell is not a temporary place of punishment, but an eternal one. His main text is Revelation 20:10-15, where verse 10 explains that the devil, the beast, and the false prophet, are thrown into the lake of fire to “be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” In verse 15, anyone’s name that was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the same lake of fire to be tormented with the devil forever and ever.
Crockett, though his view is very similar to Walvoord in that he believes hell will be everlasting, differs on the literalness of hell. Crockett, for some who may have thought his view extended past the bounds of orthodoxy, quotes both Calvin and Luther very early in his defense, showing clearly that both believed in a metaphorical view of hell. Yes, hell is very real and dreadful, but when hell is described as “fire” it does so not to inform of real fire, but only to help readers understand how horrible it is. Crockett states that his “strongest reason for taking them as metaphors is the conflicting language used in the New Testament to describe hell.”1 How can hell be described as fire and darkness? Is it a fire that gives no light? Crockett also uses Jude 7 and 13 as examples where hell is said to be eternal fire and yet the blackest darkness. Crockett’s point is how can hell be both filled with fire and at the same time be dark. Crockett draws as well from the question of how can literal fire hurt a spirit being? He says, “Physical fire works on physical bodies with physical nerve endings, not on spirit beings.”2
Hayes, in giving one reason for the purgatorial view, explains, “Not everyone seems ‘bad enough’ to be consigned to an eternal hell. And most do not seem ‘good enough’ to be candidates for heaven. Therefore, something has to happen ‘in between.’”3 Hayes’ view of purgatory is of a place “in between” heaven and hell that prepares one for heaven by cleansing the one who is there from their remaining sins. Hayes says, “Purgatory…involves a process of purification after death for those who need it.”4 As far as Scripture directly teaching this doctrine, he confesses, “Although there is no clear textual basis in Scripture for the later doctrine of purgatory, neither is there anything that is clearly contrary to that doctrine.”5
Pinnock is against the notion of eternal suffering in hell, and in his conditional view, argues for the annihilation of all who are in hell. One reason for this view is, in Pinnock’s opinion, an eternal hell goes against the moral goodness of God, “Torturing people forever is an action easier to associate with Satan than with God…and what human crimes could possibly deserve everlasting conscious torture?”6 Pinnock believes that when the Bible speaks of “the wicked being no more,” the wicked in hell will literally be no more in the sense that there will be no consciousness of pain in hell, because all persons there will be annihilated.
Critical Interaction with Author’s Work
Walvoord simply neglects to defend the literal view of hell, both in his chapter on the literal view and in his response to Crockett’s chapter on the metaphorical view, against his conservative counterpart Crockett’s assertions that hell cannot be filled with fire and at the same time darkness. Walvoord is disappointingly silent on this and it is his most glaring failure. Walvoord wrongly assumes that the metaphorical view raises questions about the accuracy and inerrancy of Scripture.7 Crockett is questioning Walvoord’s view, not because he is raising questions about accuracy and inerrancy (whether directly or indirectly) but because he cannot see how hell can be dark, but yet have fire, and how physical fire can hurt spiritual beings, something in which, as has been stated, Walvoord does not answer. Pinnock is of no help with his critique of Walvoord, acknowledging Walvoord to be a kind man, he asks, “How he can accept a view of God that makes him out to be morally worse that Hitler.”8 Pinnock does not understand the holiness and righteousness of God, and of how sinners deserve hell because of their sin against God.9 Pinnock also has a problem with the thought of God using real fire to punish someone, and in a slanderous way speaks against God, “As if God would make sinners like chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”10 Pinnock as failed to think that, even though it was temporary, God has punished sinful people with brimstone and fire in the past (Genesis 19:24). With these things said, Walvoord does help show that hell is indeed eternal and dreadful. As well helping to show that if you believe in the love of God as shown in the Bible, how can you reject the belief in eternal punishment that is taught in that same Bible.11
The metaphorical view of hell is the best argued view in the book. Crockett agrees with Walvoord on almost everything, but on his literal view of fire and burning. Rather, Crockett argues that when the Bible describes hell with “fire” it does so just to show how horrible hell will be, how dreadful the suffering, but it does not mean a real “fire” as we would understand it. As has already been pointed out, his main reason for this is if hell is filled with fire, how can it be dark? And how can spiritual beings (fallen angels) be tormented by physical fire? Pinnock, in a sense, misses the entire point of Crockett’s chapter. Pinnock comments, on the fact that even though Crockett’s view is metaphorical, it still may be just as cruel or even worse than the literal view, “But if Crockett means that hell (though nonliteral) is not less fearful, then what has been gained…has Crockett really solved anything?”12 What is Crockett attempting to gain or solve? Was his intention to try to do away with hell? No. His intention was to show what the Bible truly teaches. Crockett is not trying to take the “hell out of hell”13 but simply show what the Bible teaches about this doctrine. Hayes offers a helpful comment on Crockett’s chapter, “When pushed, I might even be tempted to argue that this approach to the text might qualify as the most literal approach. If by literal we mean to take the text for what it really is, would this not mean that we read a poem as a poem, a fable as a fable, a piece of historical narrative as history, etc?”14 Crockett, however, opens himself up too much in his metaphorical view by quoting Billy Graham, “I have often wondered if hell is a terrible burning within our hearts for God, to fellowship with God, a fire that we can never quench.”15 Though this is an appealing view, it is not scriptural, especially from what could be implied from passages such as Revelation 16:9, 11.
There is obviously a difference in opinion of justification by faith when Roman Catholic teaching meets Protestantism, a difference that is clearly seen in the treatment by Zachary Hayes. In giving reasons for the inner logic of purification after death, Hayes says, “If we are not quite ready for heaven at the time of death, neither do we seem to be evil ogres. If, theologically, we cannot get the masses of mediocre Christians into heaven, is it really possible that all these millions over the ages wind up in hell…but not everyone seems ‘bad enough’ to be consigned to an eternal hell. And most do not seem ‘good enough’ to be candidates for heaven. Therefore, something has to happen ‘in between.’”16 Hayes does not understand the sinfulness of man and the sacrifice of Christ. Paul said in Titus 3:5, “not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 3:28 says, “We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” Christians have also been changed into good people doing good works, while the works of non-Christians show that they are children of the devil (1 John 3:1-10). Hayes also says that Purgatory is “for those who need it.”17 In his understanding of salvation, who would not need it? Who has left this life, apart from Christ, without any sin whatsoever? Overall Hayes’ case for purgatory is lacking.
Pinnock, in quoting Hans Kung, speaking of the traditional view of hell, says, “What would we think of a human being who satisfied his thirst for revenge so implacably and insatiably?”18 The answer is obvious. Humans are finite, make mistakes, and do not have the right or power to give and take life whenever they please. God on the other hand is wholly different. Pinnock has forgotten that the God who has authority to cast men into hell (Luke 12:5) is the same God who sent His Son to die so that they would not have to go there. He fails at showing that torment for the wicked will cease one day. He does not even speak on maybe the most persuasive passage in the Bible, Revelation 20:10-15, showing the eternal torment of the wicked. He does make reference to Revelation 20:1419, but does not even speak of the context which shows the wicked sharing in the same torment as the devil (v. 10), forever and ever, in the lake of fire. Pinnock attempts to use verses like 2 Peter 3:7, “But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly men” to support his belief of the absolute destruction of the wicked. Does this support his view? No. As Wayne Grudem points out when speaking about the term “destruction” in 2 Peter 3:7, it “is the same word used by the disciples in Matt. 26:8 to speak of the ‘waste’ (in their view) of the ointment that had just been poured on Jesus’ head. Now the ointment did not cease to exist; it was very evident on Jesus’ head. But it had been ‘destroyed’ in the sense that it was no longer able to be used on someone else, or sold.”20 His arguments are not persuasive after an examination of Scripture.
After reading this book, it seems that only two views are permissible to be held by Christians, the literal view and the metaphorical view. Both of these views remain in the realm of orthodoxy, while both the purgatorial and conditional view, not only are outside what most consider orthodoxy, but more importantly, are outside the teaching of Scripture.
1 Stanley N. Gundry and William Crockett, Four Views on Hell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 59.
2 Ibid., 61.
3 Ibid., 99.
4 Ibid., 98.
5 Ibid., 107.
6 Ibid., 140.
7 Ibid., 77.
8 Ibid., 38.
9 Which, obviously, we all have a lack of understanding. I am not saying that it is necessarily easy to see how people can deserve eternal punishment for their sins. However, because of what we know about the holiness of God and how disgusting sin is to Him, it should lead us to accept eternal hell even if we cannot fully grasp the doctrine.
10 Ibid., 85.
11 Ibid., 27. One could object by way of interpretation of those texts, of course.
12 Ibid., 87-88.
13 Ibid., 87.
14 Ibid., 83.
15 Ibid., 45.
16 Ibid., 96,99.
17 Ibid., 98.
18 Ibid., 140.
19 Ibid., 157.
20 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1150n.