By Larry Dixon, professor of theology at Columbia International University Seminary and School of Missions and author of “Farewell, Rob Bell”: A Biblical Response to Love Wins

Hell is Manhattan at rush hour!“, stated the occasional theologian Woody Allen.  No doubt his viewpoint has changed over the last year; perhaps he would now agree with Sartre that hell is other people—or himself.

The Anglican pop theologian Tom Harpur (in his best seller Life After Death), attacks the idea of hell as,

so naive that the average thinking person can easily conclude the whole subject is one for children and for lovers of pure fantasy . . . .  There are few ideas in the entire history of religion that have caused more misery, cruelty and misunderstanding than the concept of a fiery hell.[1]

Thomas Talbott argues that a God who can send humans to hell is “an altogether pagan conception of God.”[2]  Another writer confesses that for many Christians, “Hell is like a dirty little secret that rears its nasty head at inappropriate moments.”[3]  Hell is deeply unfashionable, says Charles Pickstone.  He suggests that “the disappearance of hell in the twentieth century is not because hell is no longer believed in—rather it is suppressed, blocked off.  It is too close for comfort.”[4]  But is it really?

If we evangelicals are serious about developing plans for reaching the contemporary world for Christ, our strategizing must include the biblical doctrine of judgment.  We are not free to pick and choose the beliefs which please us and then call that system biblical Christianity.  For if mere desire eliminated judgment, none of us would have to be concerned about a holy God.  John A. T. Robinson gave voice to this sentiment when he wrote that:

We live, in the twentieth century, in a world without judgment, a world where at the last frontier post you simply go out—and nothing happens.  It is like coming to the customs and finding there are none after all.  And the suspicion that this is in fact the case spreads fast:  for it is what we should all like to believe.[5]

Evangelicalism is not unanimous in wanting to defend the biblical doctrine of judgment, however.  One theologian argues that “it is . . . likely that this monstrous belief [in the traditional view of hell as eternal conscious punishment] will cause many people to turn away from Christianity, that it will hurt and not help our evangelism.”[6]  I believe Gomes is right when he argues that “the rejection of eternal punishment is but one incident in the larger campaign to construct a kinder, gentler theology.”[7]

Referred to as “theology’s H-word” (Newsweek), hell has been described as an “odious conception, . . . blasphemous in its view of the Creator” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), as “an outrageous doctrine, a theological and moral enormity” (Clark H. Pinnock), and as “the final mockery of God’s nature” (John A. T. Robinson).  Timothy Phillips seeks to rally the evangelical troops when he writes that “historically speaking, the time is ripe for a new conservative reaction to this mockery and damnation of hell.”[8]  

The Apostle Paul proclaims that “we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.  And who is equal to such a task?” (2 Cor. 2:15-16).  A brief look at the evangelical landscape indicates that we often choose to turn away from such a task, preferring to be thought of as a fragrance, rather than a stench, to our culture.

Shifting metaphors, Henri Nouwen suggests that:

The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive power of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people’s fatal state and have lost our power and motivation to swim for our lives.[9]

Rather than serving as vigilant lifeguards who clearly and convincingly scream “SHARK!”, we believers seem to prefer the role of Son-bathers on vacation.

Several evangelical leaders are back-peddling[10] on the issue of judgment, as the following scenario illustrates:

One Sunday night as you meet with other Christians to hear a sermon on the end times, the featured speaker reads the following quotation to emphasize a point about God’s judgment: How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary moral standards, and by the Gospel itself. 

Is he quoting from some cultic tract written by a Jehovah’s Witness?  No, he is simply using a statement from the well-known Canadian evangelical Clark H. Pinnock.

A week later you are in your car listening to a cassette of a debate between a liberal Anglican bishop and a noted British evangelical writer.  You hear one of them say:

I . . . believe that the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal, conscious torment . . . .  [Christians should] survey afresh the biblical material [and reject the doctrine of eternal conscious punishment].

Which of the two theologians made that statement?  Was it the liberal David Edwards? 

No, you discover that the well-respected senior statesman of evangelical Christianity, John R. W. Stott, is the source of that challenge.[12]

Visiting a church in Iowa the next weekend, you hear a professor of theology proclaim that “We do not wish to build fences around God’s grace . . . and we do not preclude the possibility that some in hell might finally be translated into heaven.”  Asking someone after the service, you learn that the man who made that unbiblical declaration was not from a liberal denomination or some New Age support group, but the popular evangelical writer Donald Bloesch.[13]

Hoping your luck will change, you drive to Canada to hear the influential British evangelical Michael Green defend biblical Christianity to a university crowd.  He does an excellent job as he proclaims Christ’s relevance to 20th century North Americans.  Buying his book Evangelism Through the Local Church at the book table after the meeting, you read Green’s rhetorical question on page 69: 

What sort of God would he be who could rejoice eternally in heaven with the saved, while downstairs the cries of the lost make an agonizing cacophony?  Such a God is not the person revealed in Scripture as utterly just and utterly loving.[14] 

In that same book Green describes the God of Christians who still hold to the doctrine of the eternal punishment of the wicked as a “Cosmic Torturer.”[15]

What are Christians to say when such important evangelical leaders express their “overhaul” of hell?  These are not statements taken out of context; some of these men have written extensively of their personal pilgrimage away from the traditional understanding of final judgment.  Moreover, several invite fellow evangelicals to turn away from that basic Christian doctrine, offering their reformulated views as supposedly more biblical substitutes.

Other examples of back-peddling could be mentioned: The late F.F. Bruce, perhaps the foremost New Testament scholar which evangelicalism has produced, wrote a complimentary foreword[16] to Edward Fudge’s promotion of annihilationism (The Fire Which Consumes).  Fudge’s book was offered as an alternate selection of the Evangelical Book Club several years ago, and a flyer expressing “loving concern” promoted his book at a discount to the ETS mailing list.

At the 1989 Evangelical Affirmations Conference held at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, the Statement of Affirmations drawn up by those key scholars and pastors in the evangelical movement purposely omitted a more specific stand concerning the fate of the wicked than the official statement that “unbelievers will be separated eternally from God.”  Crafting a more detailed position was not an oversight.  After a plea by a young Adventist in the last plenary session, a straw vote of the 500 or so invitees reflected an almost 60% agreement not to include a specific position on the doctrine of hell.

What has happened to the doctrine of hell?  James Davison Hunter surveyed a number of Bible College and seminary students several years ago and discovered that,

Evangelicals generally and the coming generation particularly have adopted to various degrees an ethical code of political civility.  This compels them not only to be tolerant of others’ beliefs, opinions, and life-styles, but more importantly to be tolerable to others.  The critical dogma is not to offend but to be genteel and civil in social relations . . . . [Such] a religious style . . . entails a deemphasis of Evangelicalism’s more offensive aspects, such as accusations of heresy, sin, immorality, and paganism, and themes of judgment, divine wrath, damnation, and hell.[17]

Truly, the servant is not greater than his master, nor the student than his teacher.  When evangelical leaders slip doctrinally, we are quick to criticize and even condemn.  But when was the last time you heard a sermon on hell?  Or, if you are a pastor, preached one?  Lest any of us feel we are off the hook, when was the last time we thanked God for rescuing us from His righteous wrath?

I am sure I have chosen to water-down my presentation of the gospel to unbelievers at times by purposely not mentioning God’s judgment and hell—haven’t you?  When we communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ only as a means to peace and happiness, already peaceful and happy pagans will politely listen and then turn away.  We should not be surprised that a sin-numbed and self-deceived world will only shrug its shoulders and yawn at a gospel message whittled away to only “peace and happiness in Jesus.”  Today’s evangelicals need to be reminded of the urgency of escaping God’s judgment.  And it is a simple truth that “if the house is burning or the ship is sinking, you do not whisper ‘Fire’ or ‘Mayday’; you shout it!“[18]

Could it be that we are not so sure anymore that our world is under the wrath of God?  Perhaps the very expression, “a wrath-deserving world,” offends us, causes us to cringe, embarrasses us.  In 1990 the Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Austin Vaughan warned New York’s Governor Mario Cuomo that his abortion position was putting him in danger of hell.  That pronouncement seemed archaic, almost quaint to a society whose sole sense of hell is its use as a worn-out expletive.  But is it only pro-abortion, power-wielding politicians who are candidates for eternal condemnation?

Two hundred and fifty years ago Jonathan Edwards was not reluctant to preach his “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon, relentlessly concentrating on the image of hell-fire.  It might not hurt us to note several examples of his challenge to that congregation:

There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.[Divine] justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of [the wicked’s] sins.

The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow.  The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened its mouth under them.

There are in the souls of wicked men those hellish principles reigning, that would presently kindle and flame out into hell-fire, if it were not for God’s restraints.  There is laid in the very nature of carnal men, a foundation for the torments of hell.

God has laid himself under no obligation, by any promise to keep any natural man out of hell one moment.

The devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up; the fire bent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out; and they have no interest in any Mediator, there are no means within reach that can be any security to them.  In short, they have no refuge, nothing to take hold of; all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance of an incensed God.

Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf . . . .  All your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a fallen rock.

Describing God’s wrath as a dreadful storm, as dam waters that can no longer be held back, and as a flood of God’s vengeance, Edwards then takes up a hunting image:

The bow of God’s wrath is bent and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood.[19]

Speaking of God’s “mere” mercy, Edwards says to this Connecticut congregation in 1741:

It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was [sic] suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep.  And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up.[20]

But Edwards does not leave this congregation dangling over the pit; he proceeds to invite them to turn to Christ:

Now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God.[21]

His sermon concludes with the invitation: “Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come.”[22]

But Edwards’ sermon is not unanimously held in high regard by those who profess to be evangelicals.  Clark Pinnock dismisses Edwards as one who had “cauterized [his] conscience” to believe in and preach the traditional doctrine of hell.  He then caricatures Edwards by saying that “reading Edwards gives one the impression of people watching a cat trapped in a microwave squirm in agony, while taking delight in it.”[23]  Such an understanding of the gospel, Pinnock argues, is nothing more than “sadism raised to new levels of finesse.”[24]  Pinnock challenges such an approach, arguing that for such people “hell is the ultimate big stick to threaten people with.”[25]

But R. C. Sproul rightly defends Edwards when he reminds us that “a sadist who believed in hell would probably be more likely to give assurances to people that they were in no danger of hell, so that he could deliciously relish the contemplation of their falling into it.”[26]  Edwards was no sadist, but a biblical realist who wished to be faithful to the teaching of Scripture. 

Today’s society would certainly like to change Edwards’ sermon to “God in the Hands of Angry Sinners“, for the prevailing opinion is that we live not in a wrath-deserving world, but an explanation-, even apology-demanding world, where the Creator, not the creature, is in the dock.

Rather than being warned about the fear of hell, people today want to be talked, not threatened, into the kingdom of God.  However, fear can be an excellent motivator when the danger is legitimate and lethal.  A person camping in Arizona who hears an eerie rattling sound near his sleeping bag does not dissertate on the relative merits of a decision reached out of fear; he flees from the heart-terrorizing sounds of a diamond-back!  We resent fear as a motivator when it seems manipulative and artificial, but when there is a real and present danger, fear can be a powerful kick-start to a right decision!  Paul argues this point in 2 Corinthians 5 when he writes: “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11).  Similarly, the writer to the Hebrews asserts that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31, AV).

The gospel means “good news”, but it is not just good news.  Edith Schaeffer reminds us:

The powerful voice of God warns of judgment, and the same voice expresses His compassion for those who come back to Him in His given way.  We are to listen with the same intensity of awe we feel when we observe the power of water.  His spoken truth is not for us to judge or edit; we are to listen, absorb, understand, and bow.[27]

When we move away from the biblical description of our righteous condemnation by a holy God, we edit the bad news of the good news.  All evangelicals would acknowledge that a compromise of the good news of the gospel (for example, arguing that one must add his own good works to Christ’s sacrifice in order to be saved) is a very serious error.  However, some act as if the bad news of the good news is open to private interpretation, or may be revised in the light of what is considered “morally repulsive and logically nonsensical,”[28] or may be adjusted or altered for public consumption, or may simply be overlooked as a theological unmentionable.

One preacher said that when we present the truth about Christ and pagans do not get angry, either they did not understand or we did not say it right!  We should not seek to alienate unbelievers, but we should also not attempt to highlight only the “good” points of the gospel.  We evangelicals must return to a biblical and responsible apocalypticism which taps into the feeling that “culturally, a sense of the end is as much in the air as carbon monoxide in Los Angeles.”[29]  We need to recapture the concept of God’s holy wrath—and warn people of judgment.  Daniel Fuller poignantly comments:

How terrible it would be at the judgment day to see people condemned because, while we had taught them parts of the biblical message, we had said little or nothing about hell! . . . We please God when we warn people about hell, even though such preaching can incur anger and ridicule.[30]

Rescue from God’s righteous and eternal wrath, we believe, is one of the best parts of the gospel!  Although we are told three times in the book of Ezekiel that “God takes no delight in the death of the wicked” (Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11), that same book warns again and again of the wrath of God.  Wrath is upon the whole crowd,” Ezekiel declares (7:12).  God’s wrath is something to be “spent” (13:15), “poured out” (21:31), and “blown” upon sinners (22:21).  God says, “I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done” (22:31).  God speaks of His “zeal and holy wrath(38:19).

Other Scriptures teach us that the Lord is One who is “provoked to wrath” (Deut. 9:7), that the wicked sometimes “stir up more of His wrath(Neh. 13:18), and that “the desire of the righteous ends only in good, but the hope of the wicked only in wrath(Prov. 11:23).  Isaiah warns that “the day of the Lord is coming—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it” (Isa. 13:9).  The prophet Nahum declares that “the Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.  The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies” (Nah. 1:2).

John the Baptist’s message was to “flee from the coming wrath(Matt. 3:7).  The Apostle Paul argues that the wicked are “storing up wrath against [themselves] for the day of God’s wrath(Rom. 2:5).  The concept of God’s avenging wrath is not an embarrassment to Paul, for he admonishes the Roman believers with the words: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19).

Certain theologies, it seems, provide precious little room for God’s wrath.  But believers in Christ should see themselves as those who once “were by nature objects of wrath(Eph. 2:3).  Paul praises God for His mercy, emphasizing the truth that “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation” (1 Thes. 5:9).  Fuller is correct when he states that:

The basic problem with Pinnock’s objection [to the traditional view of hell] is that he does not probe deeply enough into the reason why God sent his Son to die for sinners.  He certainly did it because he loved them, but why did this love mean that his Son had to die for them? 

The scriptural answer is that Christ came to die “as the one who would turn aside [God’s] wrath” (Rom. 3:25 margin).  Jesus had to appease God’s anger so that God would remain just when he forgave sinners and in no wise tarnish his own glory.  “He [sent Christ to die] . . . so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).[31]

The Bible teaches that God’s wrath is presently restrained.  Isaiah 48:9 records the Lord saying that “For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath.”  But His wrath will not be interminably delayed.  Colossians 3:6 says that “the wrath of God is coming” and Revelation 6:17 declares that “the great day of their wrath [both the Father’s and the Son’s] has come, and who can stand?”

God’s wrath, however, is not seen in Scripture as a solely future event.  John 3:36 declares that “Whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”  Timothy Phillips sees this text as a problem for annihilationists, for “as long as God’s wrath abides on them, the damned must exist.”[32]  Condemnation has already been declared, as Jesus makes clear earlier in that same chapter: “Whoever does not believe stands condemned already” (John 3:18b).  Our world does not need to hear wild predictions about future judgment, but clear declarations about the unbeliever’s present condition before a holy God.

The prevailing opinion among many unbelievers, as one writer expressed it, is that “God may not even be, but if He is, one thing is sure, He could not send anyone to hell even if He wanted to.  His mercy has His hands of holy wrath tied behind His back.”[33]  However, such a sentiment does not seem to be confined to “unbelievers.”

Some evangelicals are backing away from the concept of God’s eschatological, everlasting wrath, preferring to interpret hell in terms of remedial, rather than retributive, punishment.  In this understanding, hell will be a school.  The liberal Nels F. S. Ferre argues that “Beyond earthly life lies the larger school where we are expected to mature according to new conditions.”[34]  In another place, he says,

A terrible thing is hell . . . in the long run, beyond our understanding, but the God who loves us will never be mocked by our stubborn depth of freedom, but for our sakes will put on the screws tighter and tighter until we come to ourselves and are willing to consider the good which He has prepared for us.[35]

Millard Erickson’s comment of a few years ago that it is “difficult to find any evangelicals” who hold to universalism[36] is no longer accurate.  I know of one such evangelical universalist in the ranks of the Evangelical Theological Society.  His position is that hell will provide God sufficient opportunities to convince the unbeliever to see things God’s way.

But such an approach (that hell will be a school in which all eventually come to repentance) is misguided and unbiblical.  Contrary to the opinion of some, Scripture gives no indication that there will be repentance in hell, for “the reprobate will be petrified in their wickedness.”[37]  Perhaps the theological debate between poena damni and poena sensus has contributed to the hope that the wicked might eventually be able to escape hell.[38]

Someone has argued that “hell is truth seen too late.”  I would disagree and argue that hell is truth twisted and hurled in the face of God.  The “repentance” of Dives in Luke 16 is just the opposite: he blames God for being insufficiently warned himself about hell, and insists that his brothers would repent if someone came back from the dead, arguing that they do not have enough evidence for repentance in the five books of Moses (vv. 30-31)!  His attitude is recrimination, not repentance!

In studying the terms for God’s wrath, William Crockett concludes that the most serious term used by Paul for wrath (ojrghv, orgeµ) “expresses the utter hopelessness of the wicked in the face of an angry God”:

[Paul] chooses this term to underscore the fact that in the eschaton rebellious sinners have no hope of salvation.  They will be taken from the presence of God and the righteous and placed, in effect, beyond the pale of God’s love.  The righteous go the way of life, the wicked the way of death.[39]

Phillips aptly asks: “Isn’t the hope that God would eternally pursue the unregenerate a reflection of man’s refusal to accept the eternal consequences of his own sin?”[40]  Pinnock, on the other hand, argues that eschatological wrath “is a factor not to be excluded, although it should not dominate the picture.”[41] 

John Stott states that “we need to remember that God is the Creator of all humankind, and remains infinitely loving, patient and compassionate towards all whom he has made.”[42]  However, as Crockett argues:

[Eschatological ojrghv (orgeµ)] is genuine anger devoid of love.  In Paul’s theology eschatological wrath means that after death God no longer loves the wicked, nor is He prepared to act on behalf of the wicked . . . .  Rather, he separates the righteous from the wicked.  There is no meaningful way to say that God loves the wicked after death.[43]

Therefore, contra Stott, God does not remain infinitely loving; there are limits to His love.  One day the “door” to salvation will be shut (Luke 13:25); there will come a time when it will be “too late” for salvation (Luke 12:35-48); the day of grace will end, and there will be a resurrection of some “to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt(Dan. 12:2).

One should not be embarrassed to testify that he or she came to faith in Christ primarily in order to escape hell.  As I have tried to demonstrate elsewhere, the major source for our doctrine of hell is the Good Shepherd Himself.[44]  This difficult doctrine of hell refuses to be confined to semester-ending discussions of eschatology, for its reality impinges on other areas such as theology proper, anthropology, and soteriology.  Phillips is again correct, I believe, when he states that “Every alternative to hell calls into question Christ’s work.  Nothing less than the person and work of Jesus Christ is at stake in the doctrine of hell.”[45]

A few Christians will react to the evangelical overhaul of hell positively, glad that they no longer have to hold to what one liberal theologian calls “the fantasy of the fanatical.”  Others will re-examine the Scriptures, especially the teachings of the Lord Jesus Himself, and will be reminded that the horror of hell is remedied only by the crime at Calvary.  They will realize that revisions of the penalty for sin necessarily affect one’s view of the price paid to redeem sinners.

Some human beings will unfortunately insist with William Ernest Henley that:

It matters not how strait the gate,      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

      I am the captain of my soul.[46]

For those who choose the way of death we grieve.  But we must not water-down the biblical description of such a decision’s eternal consequences.

We agree with John Gerstner when he writes that “the fear of hell is the only thing most likely to get worldly people thinking about the Kingdom of God.  No rational human being can be convinced that he is in imminent danger of everlasting torment and do nothing about it!”[47]

End Notes:

[1]Tom Harpur, Life After Death  (Willowdale, Ontario:  McClelland and Stewart, 1991), 126-127.

[2]Thomas Talbott, “The Doctrine of Everlasting Punishment,” Faith and Philosophy  7 (Jan., 1990): 30.

[3]William Crockett, “The Metaphorical View,” in Four Views on Hell, ed. William Crockett (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1992), 43.

[4]Charles Pickstone, “Fleeing from Infinity: Baudelaire’s Vision of Hell,”  Theology  95 (July/August 1992): 262.

[5] Quoted in Stephen H. Travis, “The Problem of Judgment,” Themelios  11 (Jan., 1986): 52.

[6]Clark H. Pinnock, “Response to John F. Walvoord,” in Crockett, Four Views on Hell,  39.

[7]Alan W. Gomes, “Evangelicals and the Annihilation of Hell: Part One,” Christian Research Journal, (Spring, 1991): 15.

[8]Timothy Phillips, “The Damnation of Hell,” (Unpublished paper, Wheaton College Graduate School, March 23, 1991): 4.  It seems to me that Kantzer (in his “The Doctrine Wars,” Christianity Today, October 5, 1992) misses an opportunity to address this specific issue.

That the overhaul of hell signals a departure from other evangelical beliefs is perhaps illustrated by noticing Pinnock’s comments about inspiration (e.g., his comment that [the New Testament writers] “surrendered entirely to Hellenism [in their doctrine of man’s immortal soul],” Clark H. Pinnock and Delwin Brown, Theological Crossfire (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1990), 220, anthropology (e.g., his challenge that “orthodoxy needs to straighten out its anthropology”, Four Views on Hell, 149), and the doctrine of God (e.g., his oft-quoted attack: “How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have been?  Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary moral standards, and by the Gospel itself,” Clark H. Pinnock, “The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent,” Criswell Theological Review [Spring, 1990]: 246-247).

Pinnock even recommends the doctrine of purgatory (“Belief in purgatory is an ancient tradition just as everlasting conscious punishment is, so I do not see how it can be ruled out of consideration by evangelicals.  Perhaps it has even more credibility as a tradition.  Ironically, I rather think that it actually does . . . .  Is a doctrine of purgatory not required by our doctrine of holiness?” Four Views on Hell,  129-130).

I agree with Gomes when he says, “The same holy God who ‘shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire’ [2 Thes. 1:7] is the God who stooped to become one of us, and bore the vengeance of God’s fire in His own body on the tree.  If God should open our eyes to understand the terrible price He paid, we would in that instant comprehend the awful guilt of spurning that price” (“Evangelicals and the Annihilation of Hell: Part Two,” Christian Research Journal, [Summer, 1991]: 13).

[9]Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Way of the Heart (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1981), 21.

[10]I am using the term “back-peddling” intentionally.  If one is biking down the wrong path, back-peddling might be the wisest action to take.  I am contending in this article that the traditional doctrine of hell is, however, the right path.

[11]Clark H. Pinnock, “The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent”, CTR, (Spring, 1990): 246-247.

[12]John R. W. Stott and David Edwards, Evangelical Essentials (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1988), 319-320.

[13]Donald G. Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology  2 vols. (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978), 2:226.

[14]Michael Green, Evangelism Through the Local Church (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990), 69.

[15]Ibid., 70.  Phillips states that Green’s exegetical arguments are unable to handle all the biblical evidence.  Green writes: “But what about the lake of fire in the book of Revelation (Rev. 20:10)?  That single reference in a highly pictorial book is not enough to hang a doctrine of such savagery on . . . .” (Phillips, “The Damnation of Hell”, p. 8).

[16]contra J. I. Packer’s description of Bruce’s preface as “dissenting” (“Evangelicals and the Way of Salvation,” in Evangelical Essentials,  eds. Kenneth S. Kantzer and Carl F. H. Henry [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990]), 135.

[17] James Davison Hunter, Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 183.

[18]Michael Bauman, Pilgrim Theology: Taking the Path of Theological Discovery  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 13.  Emphasis mine.

[19]Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Select Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2, Sermons (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1959), 183-199.



[22]Ibid.  Wouldn’t you love to overhear Jonathan Edwards present the gospel to the horror-writer Stephen King?

[23]Clark H. Pinnock, “The Conditional View,” in Four Views on Hell,  ed. William Crockett, 140.

[24]Ibid., “Response to John F. Walvoord,” 38.  Pinnock’s sarcasm causes him to ridicule Walvoord’s defense of the traditional view: “Has Walvoord visited the burn unit in his local hospital recently?  Is he not conscious of the sadism he is attributing to God’s actions?  I am baffled, knowing that John is a kindly man, how he can accept a view of God that makes him out to be morally worse than Hitler” (Ibid., 38).  Pinnock sounds like the second-century critic Celsus who rejected the doctrine of God’s judgment with a wave of the hand, arguing that in the traditional view God becomes a “cosmic cook” (Ibid., 50).  Pinnock later ridicules “the heroism” of conservatives who hold to the traditional position because they believe the Bible teaches it (Ibid., 143-144).

[25]Ibid., 39.

[26]R. C. Sproul, “The Limits of God’s Grace: Jonathan Edwards on Hell,” Tabletalk 14 (July, 1990): 4.

[27]Quoted in Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching  (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 101.

[28]Clark H. Pinnock and Delwin Brown, Theological Crossfire, 226, 227, 230.

[29]Rodney Clapp, “Overdosing on the Apocalypse,” Christianity Today (October 28, 1991): 27.

[30]Daniel Fuller, The Unity of the Bible, (pre-publication manuscript., Chapter 13), 239-240.

[31]Ibid., 246.

[32]Timothy R. Phillips, “Hell: A Christological Reflection,” in Through No Fault of Their Own? The Fate of Those Who Have Never Heard,  eds. William V. Crockett and James G. Sigountos (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991),  52.

[33]Quoted in John H. Gerstner, Repent or Perish (Ligonier, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria Pub., 1990), 16.

[34]Nels F. S. Ferre, Christ and the Christian (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1953), 245.

[35]Nels F. S. Ferre, The Christian Understanding of God (London: SCM, 1951), 240.

[36]Millard Erickson, “Is Universalistic Thinking Now Appearing Among Evangelicals?” United Evangelical Action (September/October 1989): 6.

[37]Timothy R. Phillips, Through No Fault of Their Own?, 57.  Note also Craig’s comment that “the notion that some sinners shall finally repent under the prolonged rigours of purgatory smacks of recantation under torture, and we all know how likely it is that such professions are voluntary or sincere.  It seems more likely that sinners under God’s punishment will grow even harder in their hearts and more determined in their hatred of Him for treating them thus.” (William Lane Craig, “Talbott’s Universalism,” Religious Studies  27 (1991): 300.

[38]The poena damni is the punishment of the damned, the pain of eternal separation from God.  The  poena sensus is the punishment of sense, the actual torment suffered by those separated from God for eternity.

[39]William V. Crockett, “Wrath That Endures Forever,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 34 (1991):196.

[40]Timothy Phillips, “The Damnation of Hell,” 16.

[41]Cited by Harold O. J. Brown in a review of A Wideness in God’s Mercy:  The Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions, by Clark Pinnock, Christianity Today (September 14, 1992): 40.

[42]Evangelical Essentials, 328.  Emphasis mine.

[43]William V. Crockett, “Wrath That Endures Forever,” 201.

[44]Larry Dixon, The Other Side of the Good News, Chapter Five, “The Other Side According to Jesus,” (Wheaton, Ill.: BridgePoint, 1992).

[45]Timothy R. Phillips, Through No Fault of Their Own? 53.  Pinnock states that Jesus did not use speculation about hell in order to press people into a decision for the gospel (Four Views on Hell, 145).  I believe Pinnock misreads Jesus here.  See  my book The Other Side of the Good News, Chapter Five, “The Other Side According to Jesus.”

[46]”Invictus,” quoted in Craig, “Talbott’s Universalism,” 301-302.

[47]John H. Gerstner, Repent or Perish, 28.