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.