The Four Views on Hell is a compilation book that presents four different authors arguments and their counterarguments on the issue of Hell. The book is from a series of books published by Zondervan Publishing that examine different viewpoints on a variety of topics and doctrine in Christianity. All four viewpoints shared within the framework of the book are not necessarily arguing against the reality or existence of Hell, they are arguing about how that reality or existence should be viewed by believers. The four arguments contained in the book are John Walvoord’s Literal view, William Crockett’s Metaphorical view, Zachary Hayes’ Purgatorial view, and Clark Pinnock’s Conditional view. Each author uses scriptural references to support the validity of their decidedly different viewpoints. The book allows each author to present his argument on the meaning of Hell in scripture. Each author is also able to respond to the other authors view on Hell. Of the four views presented in the book, I personally found the literal view to be the most compelling, although each author did at times have compelling reasoning behind his viewpoint.
II. Brief Summary
Four Views On Hell opens with a discussion on the literal view of Hell argued by John Walvoord. Walvoord argues that Hell is a literal place. Walvoord defends the largely evangelical view that Hell is a literal place populated by unrepentant sinners who are constantly tormented by flames for all eternity in a lake of fire. Walvoord states that Christians who assert that Hell is not a literal place also must deny the inerrancy of scripture. Walvoord’s literal view is based upon his literal view of the entirety of scripture, and although this view is very compelling, it is hard to assert that every single thing in scripture is to be taken completely literally.
William Crockett agrees with Walvoord. Crockett believes that Hell is a literal place. Crockett disagrees with Walvoord about the nature of the eternal punishment received by unbelievers in Hell. Crockett states that the literal view assumes too much about the type of punishment received for eternity in Hell. Crockett believes that is impossible for us to understand the type of punishments that will be handed out to sinners in Hell, and thusly the images of punishment in Hell contained in scripture are largely metaphorical in nature. Crockett asserts that the metaphorical nature of the scripture is due to “rabbinic hyperbole”.
Zachary Hayes veers away from the general consensus of Hell that both Crockett and Walvoord shared. Hayes, a Roman Catholic, discusses Hell from a purgatorial view. Hayes focuses on purgatory as a place where sinners are purified before a final judgment. After the judgment only heaven and hell will be left. Hayes doesn’t see purgatory and Hell as the same place. Hayes seems to take a literal stand on the reality of Hell as a literal place, he just doesn’t spend much time talking about it, Hayes instead focuses on the existence of purgatory.
Clark Pinnock diverges greatly from the traditional viewpoint of Hell. Pinnock believes that some sinners will cease to exist although their cessation of existence may be preceded by some period of metaphorical torment. Pinnock believes that scripture asserts that the immortality of the soul is a gift and it is not an “inalienable possession.” Pinnock tries to reconcile the Biblical perspective of a loving God with the ideological view of Hell.
III. Critical Interaction with Author’s Work
Position 1: Literal View
John Walvoord presents the traditional view of Hell in a very logical, organized, and direct way. Walvoord’s take on the traditional view was in no way authentic, but it was very much in line with the majority of evangelical thought. Walvoord’s basis for his argument is built on Solid Biblical exegesis and his understanding of a literal interpretation is predicated on a solid examination of scripture. It is difficult to challenge the view of an eternal punishment in fire without questioning the authority of scripture.
Walvoord builds his argument around the understanding of Old Testament and New Testament words referring to Hell. Sheol in the Old Testament is generally referred to as a place of darkness where the wicked are punished. The word Hades in the New Testament is the equivalent of the Old Testament’s Sheol. The New Testament word Gehenna references the Valley of Hinnom where in antiquity trash was burned day and night. Walvoord states that he believes that Christ referred to the word Gehenna almost exclusively because the word Gehenna referred to the tortured state of the wicked for eternity.
I would agree with Walvoord’s argument that “scripture never challenges that eternal punishment is by literal fire.” I find his literal view of Hell to be the “most” in line with my understanding of scripture.
Position 2: Metaphorical View
Crockett agrees with Walvoord on the existence of a literal Hell that punishes wayward souls for eternity. Where Crockett differs is in his understanding of the nature of the eternal punishment. Crockett’s argument is very persuasive. In large part, Crockett supports his argument for the existence of a metaphorical punishment, on the beliefs of notable and ancient Christian scholars. Crockett believes that the early Rabbi’s would have understood the hyperbole and metaphor of the scriptures and that the symbols contained in scripture would have helped Christians to understand that punishment for sinners is eternal, but it is not necessarily a burning lake of fire.
I personally find the Metaphorical view of Hell to be very attractive, but its attractiveness is lost when one looks to scripture for biblical support. The Metaphorical view relies to heavily on assumption and does not rest heavily on scriptural interpretation. If this view had more Biblical support I could easily find myself agreeing with it. I also find it amusing that Crockett agrees that the severity of punishment may be as severe as in the literal view, he just argues that it may or may not be limited to actual fire.
Position 3: Purgatorial View
I understand the reasoning of including the Purgatorial View of Hell in this book, but I found it to be distracting. I would have rather seen discussion of the Roman Catholic view of Hell and not the large focus on purgatory. Zachary Hayes attempts to lessen the harshness of the existence of Hell and eternal punishment. Hayes is trying to answer the question of how can a loving God allow people to suffer for eternity?
Personally, I find the view that a loving God can’t also punishment sinners to be against solid biblical evidence. God is both loving and just. The purgatorial view is trying to provide a loophole for sinners to achieve purification after they have already rejected the Father once. I don’t find the support for this view in scripture. Hayes takes much of his argument from Apocrypha and from Catholic tradition and these methods are not acceptable for proper Biblical exegesis.
Position 4: Conditional View
Clark Pinnock’s conditional view of Hell is alarming for some traditionalists. The conditional view of hell reminds me of new age religions. It also reminds me of the heavy influence of eastern thought in our modern day society. Pinnock states that although there is a hell where punishment is bestowed upon sinners, one day that hell will cease to exist. Pinnock believes that his view of Hell is more in line with a loving God. Pinnock’s view is a cessationist view of hell. Pinnock believes God will eventually exterminate those wayward souls and they will not have to suffer for all eternity.
Pinnock’s view is attractive because it eliminates the constant suffering for all eternity and it makes the Gospel message “nicer.” It is limited because this view doesn’t find much biblical support especially when compared to some of the other views on hell. Some could see Pinnock’s view as a literal view of hell with an ending date. Being a proponent of a literal view of hell, I can see the attractiveness of this viewpoint to some people. Unfortunately, attractiveness doesn’t make correctness.
This book gave thoroughly examined Hell and the popular Christians viewpoints on the reality and existence of Hell. Although each argument has it’s strengths and weaknesses, the literal view of Hell is the strongest and most Biblically supported view. Reliance on human opinion and assumption is faulty logic and unacceptable scholarship. The traditional and evangelical view of a literal Hell has lasted for ages because it most closely adheres to scripture and is the most logical. Some other view may in actuality be correct but at this time and with the current information we have, the literal view is still the best view of Hell, and for now I must accept a literal interpretation of Hell.
Crockett, William V. and Stanley N. Gundry. Four Views on Hell. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing, 1996.