Book Review: 4 Views on Hell

The importance of understanding the biblical and sound view of Hell is important to life and ministry. Different authors who have various interpretations on the doctrine of Hell compiled the book. John Walvoord argues that it is a literal place of smoke and flames. William Crockett defends a metaphorical view, punishment but not necessarily literal fire. Clark Pinnock presents conditional immortality - punishment but not forever. And Zachary Hayes explains the concept of purgatory. Throughout the book the four views are explained and later analyzed by the different authors. The overall goal of this book is to portray the differing views of Hell for the reader to take into account and make a decision. Basically, the book is split into four main themes: Literal view, metaphorical view, purgatorial view, and the conditional view. Each view is presented by a proponent and then critiqued by the proponents of the other three views. Walvoord speaks to the literal view of hell that is a simple, fundamentalist position of eternal fire. Crockett holds the metaphorical view where he explains that Hell is a real place, but the fire is symbolic of the punishment that will happen in eternity. Hayes holds to the purgatorial view where he defends the interim period until the last judgment. The last view is held by Pinnock and explains the conditional view that stems from annihilationism.

Reading through the book was enlightening to the fact that there are many interpretations of biblical passages. As the literal view is explained, the author gives a good explanation of the word, eternal. He shows that in the NT aio and nios is only used to mean endless. This word is used several times in reference to the punishment of the wicked. The metaphorical view is aligned with the traditional view but excludes the physical torment that is explained. This view pertains to the mental and depressing pain of being separated from God for eternity. The purgatorial view is explained as a Roman Catholic doctrine that is historical, fair, and unapologetic. The view on purgatory was based more upon human tradition than the words of God’s Word.

The conditional view is an interesting but unbalanced view on Hell. It explains that the ones that are “saved” will be, but those who do not will just die and there is no eternity. Pinnoock’s description of Hell and reasons for ignoring the traditional view is that God would not be loving and be “mean.” The view is explained to cater to the postmodernism that today’s culture holds fast in their minds. Sin and the punishment of it are left out of the picture on this view.

The views held in this book are well thought out and have many good points and insights that were challenging to take into account. One of the hardest realities to speak to people about is the truth of an eternal Hell. The book conveys differing views of different interpretations of eternal punishment and leaves the reader to evaluate and come to a conclusion. There are some differences between the authors on how they treat scripture or how they understand it to be authoritative. The purgatorial view is mainly held by Catholics and it has been accepted over time yet lacks biblical basis. The focus of all theological training must begin and end upon the authority of scripture. Without a standard set, all of scripture is up to interpretation based upon each person’s limited and experiential worldview.

The book made a good point, “The Bible also teaches about eternal heaven; few have problems with this concept if they accept the Bible testimony.” God’s love is true and unconditional but His disgust with sin is at the same level. God desires all people to know Him, but the evil in the world that began with the sin in the Garden of Eden can only be made right by the blood of Jesus Christ. The tension that forms between Heaven and Hell is explained clearly by Walvoord’s comments.

The metaphorical view is closely aligned with the traditional view, but leaves off the literal pain of fire in Hell for eternity. The problem with this view is that it does not take scripture in a literal sense and leaves room for relative interpretation of scripture (Rev. 14:10-11). The issue of inerrancy of scripture is a great response to this view. Scripture has more authority than historical figures and their writings on Hell. God inspired men to write down His words for the scripture and with the metaphorical view being held leaves the scripture as being “open for debate” on it being taken literal. Did Jesus actually ascend to Heaven in bodily form? Is Hell a real place where real people go with the lake of fire? It is clear that God’s Word is not fictitious in its explanations on Hell, but gives us a clear description of the torment and pain that will come to those without a relationship with Christ (Revelation 20:10). If God’s Word says, “the devil, the beast, and the false prophet will be tormented day and night for ever and ever”, what is that other than torment? It is the fire and punishment of Hell for eternity. God is loving and forgiving to those who have accepted salvation, but to those outside of Him there is no grace. This is important to understand in order to be a good student of God’s Word and know it in context. William Crockett's contribution is a good try at interpretation but exhibits many weaknesses often seen in defense of the traditional doctrine of Hell.

The purgatorial view is one that leaves the reader without a clear response from scripture. Hayes believes in a Hell of eternal conscious torment. He instead is simply defending the Catholic view that there is a purgatory, where the saved go for a time to be purged of any remaining sins before they go to Heaven. He does explain that his view does not have any scriptural basis. Upon this statement, the view of purgatory is deemed false and lends to a theology built only on man’s ideals and not upon God’s Word. God’s Word transcends the authority of Catholicism and the history of its founders.

The conditional view is focused mainly upon emotional and philosophical claims. It seems that Pinnock is clearly trying to lessen the traits of Hell and make it bearable for those that question it. God is viewed as one that loves unconditionally but does not have the strength to see people go to a literal Hell for punishment. Lastly, he doesn't even touch on Revelation 20:10. A person cannot be an annihilationist if one does not have a good answer for a verse that says someone will be "tormented day and night for ever and ever"!

The view of Hell that is closest to biblical truth is what Walvoord stands upon. The literal view simply takes God’s Word at face value and accepts it as truth. God’s love is shown through the cross and extends to all who accept Christ. At the same time, mankind is lost without Christ and is without hope because of their sin. If a person rejects Christ as Savior and dies, it will lead to eternal punishment and separation from God. God’s justice is the basis for the truth of Heaven and Hell.

In conclusion, this book gives an insightful and vivid reminder of the truth of eternal Hell. The differing views made for an intriguing look at the different interpretations on life after death. One of the hardest issues to tackle in today’s culture is the end of life and the beginning of eternity. The book gives many views, historical background and interpretations based upon many authors. Ultimately, it all begins and ends with the Word of God and its literal explanation of Hell. We are not left to make Heaven or Hell into our own mold, but to clearly exegete God’s Word to discover His plan for eternity. The world is dying and the greatest need is the saving grace of Jesus Christ. May we always speak of Hell with the compassion of Christ and the sobriety of knowing the truth that real people will spend eternity separated from God.