Although it bears the same name and is produced by the same publisher as the previous Four Views on Hell book, this new edition is largely distinct. IAlthough it bears the same name and is produced by the same publisher as the previous Four Views on Hell book, this new edition is largely distinct. It has an editor, new contributors, and now includes universalism among the four views (having consolidated the “literal” and “metaphorical” views into one eternal torment view of hell). So you know where I stand, I hold the view that is called “terminal punishment” and argued for by Dr. John Stackhouse.
Denny Burk - Traditionalism/Eternal Torment: Dr. Burk presents the majority Christian view that hell is a place of eternal conscious punishment for all who go there. The view is often referred to as "traditionalism" because it has been the dominant view in historical Christianity.
His scriptural arguments are standard. He points to passages such as Mark 9:48 and Matthew 25:46 which have been successfully rebutted over and over and over again in conditionalist (i.e. terminal punishment) literature.
His philosophical and theological arguments relied primarily on two ideas:
1. Sin against an infinite God demands infinite punishment (which requires eternal conscious punishment). 2. God is love but also wrath, and God is glorified in punishing sin.
There's nothing new or all that noteworthy.
John Stackhouse - Terminal Punishment: Dr. Stackhouse argues for a view he calls "terminal punishment." The view, also called conditional immortality or annihilationism, is the view that the unsaved will be fully killed off/destroyed and not live for eternity in any sense.
Stackhouse's arguments were quite interesting. He focused a lot on larger theological arguments than specific texts of the Bible. This makes for a potentially fascinating read, but I don't know how convincing it would be to many who don't already hold his view.
I also think it is incorrect to frame the punishment for sin the way he does. He puts great emphasis on the punishment for sin being torment before final death, and not so much on the death itself. However, Romans 6:23 says that the death itself is the wages of sin, the just deserts, and not something that comes after. Traditionalists also have raised the question before how if the punishment for sin is completed in all the suffering prior to the second death, why the unsaved would then be killed? The answer is that the death itself is part of the punishment, and until they are destroyed, they have not been fully punished for their sins. But the way Stackhouse presents it makes this less than clear.
Robin Parry - Universalism: A new addition to this new edition of Four Views on Hell is a chapter on universalism, the belief that everyone will one day be saved and have eternal life with God.
Although I do not agree with Parry's conclusions, he did make a surprisingly good case for his view. He laid out clearly the way he approaches scripture, what the scriptures say on the matter, and how he believes universalism fits best with the greater doctrines of God, God's love, and the like. For many evangelical Christians, this may be the most interesting and fascinating chapter to read because it does present universalism in a manner that is largely consistent with evangelical Christianity.
Ultimately, it did not change my mind or even get me reconsidering much, as there are still weaknesses in the case for universalism and against terminal punishment that Parry was not able to overcome. But it does at least change the dynamic of how universalism can be said to fit into conservative, evangelical Christianity.
Jerry Walls -Purgatory: In this chapter, Dr. Walls argues for the doctrine of purgatory. However, the form of purgatory he puts forth differs substantially from the traditional Roman Catholic view that purgatory is a place where God inflicts wrath on people to punish them for their sins, albeit temporarily. Walls instead argues for a more Protestant-friendly version where no debt for sin is being paid, God's wrath needs no further satisfaction (Jesus paid it all), but rather, people go there strictly to be sanctified and purified.
Although Walls's view solves many of the major problems with the traditional, Roman Catholic view, his argument is not convincing. For starters, much of his argument consisted of C.S. Lewis quotes, some with little further explanation. Barely any attempt at a scriptural case was made, and the small handful of passages cited were only cited to make a vague point that he would then connect to the doctrine. Even Walls doesn't go as far as to say they actually teach any sort of purgatory. They simply don't. The closest to Wall's arguing that a passage actually does speak of purgatory was 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. One of Denny Burke's shining moments was in his rebuttal where he took down Wall's attempt to argue that 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 can reasonably be read as speaking of purgatory. It can't, and any Protestant should know better. Unlike Roman Catholics, we don't read the Bible in order to find something that maybe sounds sorta like our doctrines and call it a biblical teaching; we read the Bible to find out what it teaches and adjust our other doctrines accordingly.
I also still do not understand why a chapter on purgatory is in this book (or in the previous version). Purgatory isn't hell. It is a place where saved people go before they are ready for heaven. Walls doesn't waver from that definition; he is not a universalist who is arguing that hell itself is purgatorial and gets everyone ready for heaven. Therefore, I don't see how it can even be called a view on hell in the first place.
Rebuttals: At the end of each chapter, the other three contributors are given five pages or so to respond to the case made in the chapter.
As noted previously, Denny Burk did a good job of rebutting the case for a more Protestant-friendly purgatory by rebutting Jerry Wall's attempt at a scriptural case. He and Robin Parry also did well in pointing out passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:52 which seem directly contradict the idea that a person must go through an extended period of purification in the next life to be ready for the Kingdom of God. Walls didn't even mention such passages.
I found Robin Parry's rebuttals against Denny Burk's case powerful as well. Parry focused primarily on rebutting the underlying theological and philosophical arguments Burk made for eternal torment, and I thought did a good job of succinctly pointing to their weaknesses.
The worst by far was Jerry Walls's rebuttal to John Stackhouse's case for terminal punishment. Walls, although he argues in this book for purgatory (which isn't even a view of hell in the first place), does believe that hell is a place of eternal torment. For this reason, he argues that the case for terminal punishment is weak because the church overwhelmingly (though not unanimously) has held to eternal torment.
However, as Walls also puts forth in the book, he also believes that anyone in hell can leave any time if they choose to, and some will. He argues that God holds His hands out for all eternity for those in hell to come to their senses. There is nothing traditional about that view. That view completely flies in the face of what traditionalists have believed throughout the history of the church, that hell was a place of real pain and torture (usually in literal fire) and God's active vengeance that no one had any hope of ever escaping from, even through death, for ever and ever. That is such a radical departure from the historically dominant view that it is frankly absurd that Walls would hold such a view and yet, at the same time, appeal to church history against another view.
An aside, there have been both conditionalists and universalists sprinkled throughout church history, especially in the first few centuries, so it is not as though any of the three views (traditionalism, terminal punishment, and universalism), broadly speaking, are totally novel from a historical standpoint.
Concluding Chapter Preston Sprinkle, the editor of this volume, gave a concluding chapter where he summarized and briefly analyzed each contributor's chapters and gave final thoughts on how to move the discussion forward. What one thinks of his chapter will depend in part on which view of hell you hold. Sprinkle holds, at least loosely, to John Stackhouse's terminal punishment view, and it shows. For what it's worth, I believe in three pages he did a better job of dismantling Denny Burk's attempt at a scriptural case for eternal torment than did the rest of the contributors combined. His review of Stackhouse's chapter was mostly positive, though like me he would have liked more exegesis of the relevant texts. He found Parry's chapter compelling though not convincing, and wasn't sold on Wall's attempt at a case for purgatory.
Sprinkle concluded by pointing to areas where he think further scholarship is needed, such as in properly deciphering the meaning of the Greek aionios and other words form the aion word group, which are typically rendered as "eternal" and the like.
My Concluding Thoughts This book is good and may be worth checking out if you are really interested in the topic. No one person knocks it out of the park (although I may daresay Robin Parry probably did the best overall), but if you are interested in hell, it is worth reading as one resource of many.
I also found there to be more of a conversational tone than in the previous version, which I thought was fitting. I do not know if the contributors all know each other personally, but I do know some of them have had some interaction in the past (such as Jerry Walls and Robin Parry as plenary speakers and panel members at the 2015 Rethinking Hell conference at Fuller Theological Seminary). It showed in the discussion. You didn't get the sense that they were four distinct individuals and adversaries who coldly knew of each other only in terms of their chapter. I actually appreciate this fact in a book such as this. It is important to remember that the other contributors are people and fellow believers, not just (sometimes bad) arguments....more
It's really more of a booklet, but in very short order it skillfully addresses relevant texts from early church history that pertain to the Roman CathIt's really more of a booklet, but in very short order it skillfully addresses relevant texts from early church history that pertain to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the supremacy of Peter and the infalliable-but-totally-falliable papacy....more
(Full disclosure: I am affiliated with Rethinking Hell, the organization that spearheaded this project. But it's not like I contributed an essay to it(Full disclosure: I am affiliated with Rethinking Hell, the organization that spearheaded this project. But it's not like I contributed an essay to it or get any royalties, so you should listen to me anyway lol)
Now, A Consuming Passion is overall a useful and interesting volume on the theological topic of conditional immortality/annihilationism. Because this volume (as discussed below) attempts to serve multiple purposes, the way it is useful will vary from person to person. Nevertheless, one way or another, it is a useful resource for any biblical Christian.
The volume sets out to fulfill a number of purposes, and does them all pretty well. It attempts to pay Edward Fudge due honor, and accomplishes this both with kind words and admiration, as well as occasional (but charitable) critiques of certain arguments of his in a handful of appropriate places. The volume serves also as something of a memorabilia collection from the inaugural Rethinking Hell conference in 2014 (the theme of which was also honoring Edward Fudge). Although a number of the essays are original, the volume also includes 11 of the 14 papers that were presented at the conference (the 3 not included, I believe, were criticisms of annihilationism and would therefore not be appropriate to this particular collection, though that isn't to deny that they have literary value in their own right). Lastly, it makes the case for conditional immortality with a number of methods and from a number of viewpoints, with the help of a number of very knowledgeable and reputable theologians and scholars, and thus helps to push evangelical theology in that correct direction.
The books is thematically split up into five main sections. The first part focuses specifically on Edward Fudge and his contributions to conditionalism, Christian theology, and the kingdom of God overall. For those who have had the pleasure of knowing Edward Fudge to any extent, this section is especially fulfilling to read.
The second section focuses on theological and philosophical arguments for annihilationism, including contributions from professional theologians and philosophers like Gordon Isaac and James Spiegel. Combined with sections 3 and 4, this section puts together the core of the book as a persuasive volume.
The third section picks up where the second volume left off, focusing on exegesis of specific biblical texts.
The fourth section looked at history and polemics, including a historical examination of Jewish views on hell around the time of Jesus, contributed by Dr. David Instone-Brewer, senior research fellow at Tyndale House, Cambridge. On the more polemical side was possibly my personal favorite essay in the collection, "Sic et Non" by Ronnie Demler. In it, Demler calls attention not only to how the language of final punishment in the Bible is the exact opposite of what we would expect if eternal torment were true, but also to how traditionalist theologians, across the centuries and across denominations, openly and unabashedly describe hell in ways that are the exact opposite of what the Bible says. In almost excruciating detail, he cites literally dozens of respected and well-known theologians preaching and writing that in hell, the unsaved never die, they live forever, they are never destroyed, they have immortality and even "eternal life,' despite the Bible saying that the unsaved are destroyed, they will die, they will not have "eternal life" etc. Demler then looks at attempts made to reconcile this dilemma, and shows that they are wanting.
The core sections (2-4) are probably what a traditionalist or uncommitted reader would be most interested in. As a conditionalist, however, I found the fifth section to be especially worth the read. In this final section, the authors discuss the road ahead and where conditionalists should go from here. From Chris Date's point by point recommendations for avoiding the mistakes that killed the resurgence of conditional immortality among evangelicals in the 19th century, to Ralph Bowle's insights on effective evangelism towards the unsaved, a conditionalist with an active interest in the subject of final judgment can glean lot of valuable lessons from this final section.
Overall, this is a very good volume. Some contributions are definitely much stronger than others, and one should know going in that it is not going to make as strong a persuasive a case for conditionalism as a dedicated volume to that goal would do (Edward Fudge's The Fire that Consumes comes to mind). Still, overall this volume is worth the (admittedly considerable) time it takes to read it. A Consuming Passion both encourages fans of Edward Fudge on a personal level, and on a broader level, contributes in moving evangelical, biblical Christianity in the right direction....more
Positives - It really does make me think, as a Christian, about the militarism and love of violence in American culture.
- Some of the parts on the NewPositives - It really does make me think, as a Christian, about the militarism and love of violence in American culture.
- Some of the parts on the New Testament are quire relevant. It does give me a lot to think about that Jesus is held up as an example specifically in sections on being mistreated is significant. Although his unwillingness to resist could itself be attributed to the fact that his purpose was to die, the fact that he is still pointed as an example and not an exception does give me something to think about.
- Sprinkle gives an introductory case to the argument that the texts that seem to suggest God commanded killing all people of a nation, including women and children and infants, were not meant to be taken literally (and were not taken as such by those who heard the command). I have not looked into this in depth, (Matthew Flannigan and Paul Copan's Did God Command Genocide? is on my list for 2016), but his argumentation at least made sense.
Negatives - Sprinkle's handling of the Old Testament is probably the weakest part of the book. Unlike many pacifist authors today, Sprinkle is not a red-letter Christian (known in some circles by the unflattering designation "neo-Marcion"). He is an evangelical who accepts the entire Bible. That means he cannot write off all the passages in the Old Testament where God commands killing and violence as being lies or just a bunch of backwards savages who thought they were doing God's will but were not. And he does attempt to fit in the text of the OT within a coherent framework of God condescending to mankind and progressively expecting more and more from His people until Jesus comes.
The problem is, in order to make this work, he has to strongly underplay the extent to which God was honored by some of the violent acts in the OT. The more violence was actually commanded or approved by God, the harder it is to say that God's approach to violence became "turn the other cheek and love your enemy - no matter what" when Jesus came. So Dr. Sprinkle attempts to show that a lot o the violence in the Old Testament is actually sinful and not approved by God. For example, he attempts to write off Samson as some degenerate who wasn't an example to follow and who maybe wasn't saved anyway. The problem is, the OT text explicitly tells us that the Holy Spirit gave him strength to do what he did, and Hebrews 11 even includes him in the the commonly-titled "hall of faith." In this vain, a number of his claims are either outright false, or are at least questionable (not in the sense of actually lying, but in the sense of misunderstanding in light of bias). Exodus 22:2, the quintessetial self-defense text of the OT, doesn't even come up int he chapter on the OT (even though it is probably the most relevant passage in the whole Law on this topic). It only comes up in footnotes in a later section, where Sprinkle concedes that it likely (i.e. definitely) allowed for self-defense under the old covenant (though not the new because Jesus).
Exactly how modern countries are supposed to learn from Israel and its relationship with God is confusing. Sprinkle points out that Israel was kept weak so that in military battles, they could win by the power of God. Therefore, having a big strong military is to fail to trust God, and it would be wrong of America to do so. But modern nations do not have the covenant with God that God will protect them and help them in battle. And he admits this much! At the end of chapter 3 he even says "I do not think that America should use the Bible to construct or defend its military program, because America is not the new Israel, nor is it a Christian Nation." He fails to see how this defeats his whole argument that we should not build up our military because God commanded Israel to stay weak and trust God to be protected from earthly, military threats.
- Like many pacifist apologetics works, this book repeatedly conflates using force to protect oneself or others (i.e. to prevent continued harm) with retaliation (harming the wrongdoer because of past harm they caused). It is even labeled “vengeance” to kill an armed intruder who is attempting to kill your family (event thought the point is to prevent an act, not punish it after it happened).
Self-defense and vengeance are not the same thing. If they were, the same God who commanded the Israelites not to avenge themselves in Leviticus 19:18 (what? you thought idea that was new with Jesus?) would not have given them Exodus 22:2-3. Even if self-defense is never allowed under the New Covenant, simply pointing to the clear passages against self-avenging is insufficient to make that point.
- When Sprinkle addresses the key question of whether it is okay to kill someone who is breaking into your house to kill you and your family, it's just uncomfortable to read. He tries to be like "well, maybe shooting the intruder isn't a good idea because you might miss and make him mad...maybe you can talk it out." He ultimately says that non-lethal force would be okay because it doesn't count as violence (even though the definition of violence he gives at the beginning totally includes non-lethal force). He even concedes that morality is hierarchical and sometimes doing what is normally wrong is justified in certain circumstances. And yet he won't say that killing an aggressor to save others would be such a circumstance. He ultimately ends up with this sort of waffling response where he isn't quite willing to say it is definitely sin, but discourages using lethal force in that situation. As has been pointed out before, you can almost see Dr. Sprinkle squirming, as if he feels in his heart that of course it is okay to kill an aggressor to protect your family, but he can't justify it in his mind, having adopted this pacifist paradigm where the command to love your enemies takes precedence over absolutely all other moral concerns.
- Some of his anecdotes miss the point. For example, in Chapter 7 there is a story about Martin Luther King Jr. A man from the American Nazi party punched him in the face, and MLK did not fight back. “The man proceeded to pound King in the face until the crowd intervened and hauled the Nazi off to another room. Shortly after, King visited the Nazi in the room and reassured him that there would be no harm done to him.” Sprinkle concludes with “Sometimes nonviolence more effectively defeats violence.” Although this is a great example of forgiveness in King’s response at the end, the non-violence aspect is greatly diminished by the fact that what saved the non-violent King was the fact that other people stepped in and were willing to act with violence to protect him.
Conclusion There are a lot of specific points I could make on both the pluses and minuses of this book, but the handful above should give a good feeling for what I found to be the good and bad of this book. it really does cause the non-pacifist to think in places, and in that sense, Dr. Sprinkle has made progress. I just think that another reviewer was correct that some of its weaker points leave it too open to criticism for it to be effective in more hostile audiences. It is an okay book, and perhaps some good can from it despite some shortcomings....more