Monday, April 11, 2016

"Four Views on Hell" Edited by Preston Sprinkler: A Review

Although Christians have largely believed in the literal existence of Hell, there has been, especially in more recent centuries, disagreement, even among conservative evangelicals, on the nature of hell. Is it eternal? Is there a hell-like place for believers prior to heaven? Is hell exclusive for Satan and his minions? Will, in the end, everyone be saved?

These are difficult questions and requires us to explore the biblical text with fresh eyes anchored in orthodox convictions. Recently, Zondervan has published the helpful book Four Views on Hell edited by Preston Sprinkle which explores these questions and more. The four views are:
  • Eternal Conscious Torment (Denny Burk)
  • Annihilationism (John Stackhouse)
  • Universalism (Robin Parry)
  • Purgatory (Jerry Walls)
For those familiar with such volumes, this book follows the same pattern. Each contributor is given a lengthy chapter to defend their perspective followed by briefer essays of response by the other contributors. This format allows the theologians to speak without turning the debate into a schoolyard fight where each writer is trying to shout over the others. Each contributor is respectable (though at times direct) and clear.

A few brief words regarding the arguments. I personally favor Dr. Denny Burk's stance on eternal, conscious torment. His essay is exclusively tied to Scripture. In fact, Burk never strays from making purely biblical arguments. Unlike most theologians, Burk refuses to discuss philosophical or even broader theological points. He largely prefers to exegete Scripture.

Yet this does not mean that Burk has the stronger chapter. In my estimation, the best defended argument is Dr. John Stackhouse's chapter on Annihilation which has grown in popularity. Though I still believe this position simply cannot explain a number of important texts (as Burk was quick to point out), one must admit that Stackhouse defends his ground as well as anyone can.

As it relates to the other two views, they are given more credit, in my estimation, than they deserve. The editor claims at the end that Dr. Robin Parry's essay defending Universalism "is a game-changer." (197) The primary reasoning given by Sprinkle and even by the tone of the other contributor's is that Parry seeks to make a biblical and theological argument and not just a bleeding-heart, liberal one. Parry certainly does that, but his stance remains weak biblically as the other contributors point out in their responses.

Finally, Dr. Jerry Walls' chapter is most unique. I presumed Walls would defend purgatory from a traditional Catholic position. Instead, he defends it from the position of Protestantism! This is certainly a new argument to me. Yet the theological difference he makes between Catholic and Protestant views of purgatory (for Catholicism, purgatory is tied to justification, for him it should be tied to sanctification) does little to help him biblically. He fails to defend purgatory from Scripture itself - a reality that each of the contributors point out. The reason for this is obvious: purgatory is found nowhere in the Bible because it is a Catholic invention that (apparently) some Protestants still cling to.

Overall, I found this book to be very helpful in laying the issue out on the table. That is what such series seek to do and this book is successful at that. The contributors are gifted writers, theologians, and thinkers and defend their views well. As usual, whatever view one had going in is likely the view you will still have have after reading the last page. But I trust why you believe what you believe will be more clear.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I review for BookSneeze

For more:
No Repentance in Hell?: A Defense of an Important Clarification With Carson's Help
Did Jesus Descend To Hell After His Death?
McLaren on Hell and Universalism . . . Again
Hades, Hell, and McLaren's Eisegesis
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