Four Views on Hell

17 April 2006

Four Views on Hell is a good treatment of the issue of Hell’s nature from four different, although essentially evangelical, perspectives. While all the authors claim to regard the Bible authoritatively, they all hold different interpretations of the real nature of Hell.

John Walvoord espouses the traditional view, which holds that Hell is a place of literal smoke and fire, where nonbelievers experience physical and emotional suffering throughout eternity. William Crockett contends that Biblical images of fire and so on are actually metaphores which represent separation from God. Zachary Hayes gives the purgatorial view of traditional Roman Catholocism. Finally, Clark Pinnock offers the conditionalist view, oftentimes known as annihilationism, in which nonbelievers are snuffed completely out of existence.

Of all the authors I am most persuaded by Crockett’s view, which I have defended in my article Here. As he points out, the metaphorical view does not imply a reduced trust in the Bible, but merely attempts to interpret verses responsibly. Out of all the authors, Crockett alone considers the important issue of what Christ’s contemporaries would have thought of the verses, given cultural factors. Christ’s sayings should be interpreted within the framework of the Biblical world, not simply viewed through the glasses of modern Western culture. Moreover, Crockett argues that it is almost impossible to take the descriptions of hell completely literally in the first place, since it seems contradictory that Hell should simultaneously be a place of fire and of darkness, and since Satan and other demons are said to suffer the fire in Hell, even though they lack material bodies which give physical pain significance. Thus, Crockett ably defends the metaphorical view.

Walvoord’s essay is also well-written, but he almost entirely concerns himself with the issue of whether or not Hell involves eternal conscious existence. Although he provides a good case for the eternality of Hell, Walvoord’s arguments are consistent with the metaphorical view. Strangely, he criticizes Crockett’s view for supposedly undermining Biblical authority, but since it is an issue of interpretation and not of trustworthiness, his comments are misplaced.

Pinnock argues that Hell should be considered eternal death, in that nonbelievers will either be snuffed out of existence immediately or after some period of conscious punishment. He acknowledges that this controversial view is extremely rare amongst early Christians, but rightly claims that tradition is not infallible, and thus the arguments for eternal conscious punishment must be considered on their own rights. For an analysis of Pinnock’s view, see my linked article.

While the multiple perspectives format of Four Views on Hell offers a great opportunity for readers to become accustomed to a variety of perspectives, the writers are given insufficient space to respond to eachother. Moreover, the book would have benefitted greatly if the individual authors were given a chance to respond to their critics. Despite this shortcoming, however, I recommend Four Views on Hell for any person who is interested in the theology of Hell from a Christian perspective.


  1. thank you for the review. I have been researching the scriptures on just this subject and appreciate the varied viewpoints of the four authors. Personally, I would have to side more with Mr. Pinnocks view for a variety of reasons. One and not in any priorty order, is that I have trouble believing that God would torment conscious souls forever. One should examine the original Hebrew translation for the scripture regarding the torment of souls in hell forever. Just as one day satan will be “no more”, so too those unbelievers in Christ will be no more, but not to be punished as an ongoing continual torment. I believe the hebrew translation for perish, or the main definition anyway, is to be destroyed, to be no more. Thus I believe sinners going to hell are asleep until the day of Jesus’ return. Where he will call all from the grave and declare the judgment then. I also believe that the breath of life give by God to every creation on earth returns to Him. It’s Gods breath, not ours and so it (that spark of life) returns to Him that gave it. Now the soul, that is asleep until Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead, just as the scripture says. Just as science can put a computer chip on the head of a needle, God and reduce the essence of our souls to lie in state with whatever part of our body, whether buried or cremated, He wants to. Why else would Jesus, Himself say that He will call (all) from the grave to be judged on “that” day. If there is nothing in the body at the time of death but a dead body and our spirit/soul is up in heaven or hell, then what consciousness remains in the body to hear Jesus when he calls one out of the grave. The soul is not immortal, Gods breath is because its His, but the soul is part of our physical inheritance via the development of the brain, our choices and desires and our wills. Thus the need for the renewal of our mind to connect up with the breath of life ( or God’s/our spirit) which is housed in the “heart” of man. That invisible place referred to in the scripture where we are called upon not to doubt. (...and shall not doubt in his heart) Mark 11:22-24 Also, IPeter1:22 says …love one another with a pure heart fervently. Again the heart (and not he physical heart) but the invisible heart, is where the Spirit lives and breaths. Scripture always refers to cultivating the heart. Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, why with the heart, well because Adam sinned with the mistrust and as a result his spirit man was condemned, but Gods spirit dwells in with our spirit, thus the constant eurging to have a pure heart. I believe the spirit of God coexists with our spirit to in the attempt to convert the soul of every person to bring it into harmony…all members as one. Since God is a spirit He has to dwell here within us in the area where our spirit dwells (the heart), and not where the soul dwells, (the mind) anyway that makes much more sense to me. that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. lol

    mr. bill    Jul 31, 10:10 PM    #
  2. My favourite resource on this topic comes from Honest Questions and Answers about Hell.

    David Thompson    Apr 12, 12:24 AM    #
  Textile Help