Thesis Done

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Re: Thesis Done

Post by LanceWonders » Thu Aug 16, 2012 12:52 am

Matt, in some ways this is all water under the bridge now; but if Scripture itself trumps tradition, reason, and experience (since it actually produces the better versions of all three, "in the Spirit"), then the view presented by Charles E. B. Cranfield in his 1958 Expository Times article (issue 69, pp.369-372) "Interpretation of I Peter iii. 18-22 and iv. 6" and Leopold Goppelt's Commentary on I Peter published by Eerdmans pretty much clinch the issue. The Gospel of Jesus' Person and Work for us is somehow connected to Himself "existentially", such that we have to "encounter" Him -- and either surrender to Him or else reject Him, in this life or the next -- in order for our own "final destiny" to be determined for each one of us. No one will be eternally "lost" without first insisting on "shutting Him out" after such an encounter...and no one CAN be eternally "found" in any other way than through embracing Him in such an encounter. As stated in John 5 and 16, Jesus Himself becomes the ultimate "touchstone" for JUDGMENT and for RELEASE FROM JUDGMENT. Neither our previous sins nor relationship to Law or conscience are "final" in determining where we "end up": only faith in, or refusal to follow, Jesus our Mediator and Heaven-Sent Responsibility-Bearer for the human race, has that absolutely pivotal role. And that inevitably means a "FIRST CHANCE" FOR EVERYONE, even, if necessary,it is "after death". This is not the same thing as a reputed "second chance" for those who deliberately threw away their previous "first chances" already in this present plane of existence. God's mercy HARDENS those who treat Him in a "familiar" or "profane" kind of way (Heb. 6, 10). And so without Him transforming us now and later, whatever we DO "become" (and C.S. Lewis in "Problem of Pain" is right, we DO eventually "become" something that cannot be "reversed"!), it will not even come close to the divinely-promised and determined destiny INTENDED for us in eternal union with the Risen and Ascended Lord Himself. So in a very real sense, at the end of the day, CHRIST is EVERYTHING and eternity without Christ is "nothing" (or "the monotony of 'existence' with no access to true 'joy'.") Our imaginations cannot truly comprehend such "hell" IF we are "progressing" in GRACE instead. So, for the redeemed, hell, in contrast to the Kingdom, IS "Hell" in an objectively real kind of way; but perhaps for those IN hell, it doesn't "feel" like "Hell", it just "feels" 'NORMAL'/perpetually 'joyless'. Which might well be just as tragic, in the light of eternity and God's full purposes for us humans, as the older "eternal torment" view once served to communicate! Lewis is right: becoming "ex"-men rather than glorified sons and daughters of God is virtually unfathomable yet seemingly unbreakably a true and possible at all costs to be avoided, as the Lord Himself provides the way out. -- Dr. Lance Wonders, academic dean, ACTS International Bible College, Blaine, MN (8/15/12)

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Re: Thesis Done

Post by psimmond » Sat Sep 15, 2012 3:58 am

Hi Matt, nice job! Very well-written!


LanceWonders, thanks for sharing. Your comment really made me think--good stuff!
Let me boldly state the obvious. If you are not sure whether you heard directly from God, you didn’t.
~Garry Friesen

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Re: Thesis Done

Post by jarrod » Sat Sep 15, 2012 9:27 pm

mattrose wrote:2. No, earlier in the paper I talk about how Scripture is the primary authority. Scripture is given the most weight. The other three are simply ways to help us understand Scripture.
This made me think more because I agree with it so much. Reason, tradition, and experience can all be influenced by the flesh in my opinion. There is a conflict that exists between flesh and Spirit. When I take my own reason, the traditions I am accustomed to, and my experiences, I have to weigh them in light of "untarnished" Scripture. By untarnished I mean that it is God-breathed and preserved for us as a revelation from the Lord.

I know that I was wrong when my experience or reason conflict with what I know to be simply stated in Scripture. Of course, one might bring up the fact that my interpretation could be 'tarnished' as well, and rightfully so. However, there are some truths that seem so plainly taught that even a child could understand them. Other things, like Hell for instance, I will never be dogmatic about.

I read most of your conclusion Matt, thanks for posting brother.


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Re: Thesis Done

Post by mattrose » Tue Sep 24, 2013 10:27 am

I don't seem to have ever posted the entire thesis

A Fresh Evaluation of the Nature of Hell Using the Wesleyan Quadrilateral as an Epistemological Guide

By Matthew Rose


I must confess that I did not write this paper alone. True, I typed each letter and chose each word, but I was aided by a great number of people for whom I would like to give thanks.

I would like to thank my parents, Jerry & Janet Rose. Not only did they provide me with all of my needs growing up, but also an environment in which to encounter the Lord and His people. I am indebted to my dad for my interest in pursuing truth in areas of intrigue and to my mom for constant encouragement.

The aforementioned environment refers mostly to the Hess Road Wesleyan Church. Being part of this church since childhood, and now having served with it for almost a decade, has made my life and the life of the congregation seem so synonymous that I can not really imagine one without the other. I am especially thankful to Pastor Joe Payne for the environment he has created as the senior pastor, one in which I have been given the time and allowance to pursue matters of interest. More recently, I have begun working with the Lockport Wesleyan Church as well. I thank them not only for providing me with the extra resources needed to pursue a seminary degree, but also for their love of learning (a teacher’s delight!).

This paper is being written as the conclusion to a degree earned through the now extinct theological seminary of Houghton College. I am thankful for each member of the faculty in staff and hope they are well aware that even if the program has ceased to be, the fruit of their labors continue. I am especially thankful to Dr. Michael Walters for his supervision of this thesis.

Briefly, I want to give thanks to my sources. They are listed at the end of this work for academic reasons, but deserve a less formal note of my indebtedness. Each source listed has helped me write. I want to make special mention of Steve Gregg. Through his radio show, I began to pursue God’s truth about Hell. He is a great model to me as a teacher of God’s word.

My most heart-felt thanks go to my wife, Katie. She is not only my best friend, but also a wonderful sounding board and a much greater theologian than she realizes. I must also thank her for the extra hours she spent watching our beautiful little girls without me, so that I could finish this research and writing. I love you.

Finally, I would like to thank God. While I can’t say that I am certain about every detail of Hell, I can say that I know that I will never have to experience any of those details because of the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in my life. Knowing God, I also know that whatever is true about Hell will be loving… and just… and good.

This Thesis is Dedicated
To Clark Pinnock & John Stott
Both having died during its formation
Both having lived and continuing to live in the Lord


Hell is a hot button issue. As I began planning to write this thesis, I was frequently discouraged by the amount of pages being published on my topic of choice. While I was pleased to have a multitude of potential sources, I sometimes wondered if there would be anything left for me to write!

At certain points over the past few years,’s religious best-sellers list looked like a tour of the afterlife. Heaven has been, of course, more hip than Hell in terms of publication. Randy Alcorn wrote a lengthy popular level book titled Heaven which led to a number of small-group spin-offs. Even better selling have been accounts of supposed trips to Heaven like Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven or, from my own denomination, Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back.

Hell, however, has not been too far behind in terms of popular interest. Theological discussion about the nature of Hell has led to the release of a vast array of bold ideas, defenses, and repudiations. Rob Bell’s Love Wins created a firestorm of controversy, provoking a challenge from Francis Chan (with Preston Sprinkle) in Erasing Hell. Prior to these books Bill Wiese paralleled Piper (above) with his book 23 Minutes In Hell: One Man's Story About What He Saw, Heard, and Felt in that Place of Torment.

While the above books show that Heaven and Hell are of popular interest to the public, discussion in more academic circles is also lively (perhaps even more so for Hell than Heaven). The very existence and nature of Hell, as has been popularly conceived for centuries, has been called into question.

Simultaneously, and somewhat strangely, there is much anecdotal evidence that Hell is not being discussed much in the majority of Evangelical Christian churches. Whether due to reluctance to offend modern sensibilities, confusion over what to say, or something else, many preachers seem to have stopped preaching about Hell. By extension, most churchgoers don’t seem to think about Hell or what its reality means to their lives as Christians. Historian Martin Marty said it simply with his article title “Hell Disappeared. No One Noticed.”

But Hell is important. The recent surge in writings about Hell is necessitated by the decades of neglect that continues in many forms. Hell is a biblical concept and to neglect it is to neglect reality. Any neglect of reality must have some negative ramifications for the church. One author says it well, “take out the doctrine of Hell, and the entire shape of Christian theology is inevitably altered.”

Given this environment of unwarranted neglect and the recent influx of fresh ideas on Hell, there may be no better time for Evangelical Christians to look at the doctrine in fresh perspective. This contemporary re-evaluation will take place individually and institutionally over the next decades. Below you will find my attempt to offer some fresh thoughts on Hell for Wesleyans. As an ordained minister in the Wesleyan Church, I hope to raise awareness of the significance of this subject.

Chapter 1
A Wesleyan Destiny

The articles of religion of the Wesleyan Church contain the following statement on human destiny:

We believe that the Scriptures clearly teach that there is a conscious personal existence after death. The final destiny of each person is determined by God’s grace and that person’s response, evidenced inevitably by a moral character which results from that individual’s personal and volitional choices and not from any arbitrary decree of God. Heaven with its eternal glory and the blessedness of Christ’s presence is the final abode of those who choose the salvation which God provides through Jesus Christ, but Hell with its everlasting misery and separation from God is the final abode of those who neglect this great salvation.

As an ordained minister in the Wesleyan Church, I am proud of this statement. From the very first sentence the primacy of Scripture in doctrinal formation is made clear (we aim to believe what the Scriptures teach). What’s more, I applaud the focus on those things that the Scriptures “clearly” teach. In an age where there are thousands of Christian denominations, it is appropriate to focus on the essentials of the faith and not divide over secondary details. The statement affirms the general scriptural truth of life after death and eternal glory for believers.

Of course, as a denominational statement, the above has its share of particularization. While resolutions to the longstanding tension between God’s sovereignty and human free will are matters of a secondary yet serious nature, it is appropriate for an institution such as the Wesleyan Church to be up-front about its place in that debate. The second sentence above clearly places the Wesleyan Church on the Arminian end of the spectrum. It also highlights the importance of the ongoing life one leads after initially responding to God’s grace.

Since Arminianism is a defining feature of Wesleyan theology, to not clearly mark our persuasion on this topic would be disingenuous. The risk we run, however, in taking a side in such a long-standing debate is that it potentially alienates other believers and isolates ourselves. We must pick our spots, taking a stand where our heritage dictates and not on every issue.
Could it be that the wording of the final sentence of the above statement provides unnecessary clarity on the subject of Hell? Certainly the Bible teaches and Christians believe in the reality of Hell, but the statement may lend itself to a particular understanding of Hell that may not be biblically supported nor consistent with Wesleyan teachings. In associating Hell with the phrase “everlasting misery” the Wesleyan Church articles of religion seemingly endorse one perspective of Hell over competing perspectives that may have just as much, or more, evidence on their side.

Of course, one might argue that the statement is too generic to be an endorsement of any particulars on the doctrine of Hell. After all, the statement on Hell is only twenty-one words long. It certainly leaves room for a wide variety of thoughts about “everlasting misery” (for instance, it says nothing about whether the misery is physical in nature). The wording also avoids harsher sounding possibilities. Rather than the commonly used word “torment” the statement uses the term “misery.” Torment carries with it a greater connotation of activity on the part of someone other than the one being tormented. Misery, seemingly, places the focus on the sufferer. While “torment” could suggest God’s active punishment, “misery” fits well with the idea that Hell is a place of separation from God.

While I recognize that the statement is rather generic insofar as it declines to describe the nature of “eternal misery,” I insist that the phrase “eternal misery” itself may be overly dogmatic, lending itself particularly to one position among a few in Evangelical dialogue. Of course, it could be that the vast majority of Wesleyans do believe that Hell is a place of everlasting misery (I would guess that they do given the statement and apparent lack of objection). Maybe we find this strong stance on Hell as a necessary defense against those liberal theologians who would claim that God is the father of all and judges no one.

Then again, maybe not. Perhaps a number of Wesleyans believe the wicked face everlasting misery because that is what our tradition has taught. Could it be that many or most are unaware that there are other interpretations of Hell, views that may actually be a closer fit given our theological heritage. Maybe Wesleyans are not as eager to be wholly associated with the Fundamentalist response to Liberalism now as we were in the past. Perhaps it is time for a fresh look at the doctrine of Hell in the Wesleyan Church. I propose that, though the Wesleyan Church statement on destiny lends itself to the traditional view of Hell (everlasting misery), other perspectives should be considered in light of our theological heritage.
Some might object that departing from the everlasting misery view would be a break from Wesley himself. After all, Wesley believed that Hell is a place of unending torment. In his ecumenical “Letter to a Roman Catholic,” Wesley stated that "[Both we Protestants and Roman Catholics believe that the] unjust shall after their resurrection be tormented in Hell for ever.” In his sermon “On Eternity” Wesley stated,

It is a vain thought which some have entertained, that death will put an end to neither the one nor the other; it will only alter the manner of their existence. But when the body "returns to the dust as it was, the spirit will return to God that gave it." Therefore, at the moment of death, it must be unspeakably happy, or unspeakably miserable: And that misery will never end.

It seems clear that Wesley himself would fully endorse the contemporary Wesleyan Church statement. The question becomes: Are Wesleyans bound to agree with John Wesley about everything? I don't think even Wesley would be comfortable with such a notion. I think Wesley would want us to continue to pursue truth through what we call the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” We are to find truth primarily through Scripture, but also by using reason, tradition, and experience.

If the 'Wesleyan' view is to pursue the truth using the quadrilateral then we may, in fact, come to different conclusions than Wesley did on a given doctrinal subject, including that of Hell. Wesley believed Hell was a place of eternal torment, but I will attempt to demonstrate that a contemporary Wesleyan could hold other viewpoints on this issue.

To show how this might be possible, I will begin this paper by discussing Wesleyan epistemology. How do Wesleyans come to know their theology? How should the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” be understood and implemented? I will then introduce and consider the three leading theories about Hell. My aim is simply to give each of these a fresh look with a Wesleyan epistemology given our theological heritage. Though I will leave it to the reader to discern the strengths and weaknesses of the three views, in the conclusion of this paper, I will suggest some conclusions from our study.

Chapter 2
The Wesleyan Quadrilateral

The Wesleyan Church has its roots in John Wesley and his Methodism. Wesley was an 18th century preacher and theologian. Though Wesley never used the term himself, his methodology for theological reflection has come to be known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. 20th century Methodist Albert Outler coined the term, but his summary of Wesley’s epistemology has been misunderstood by some as indicating that Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience should be valued equally. Such was not Outler’s intent. Thomas Oden clarifies the quadrilateral as, “the authority of Scripture understood in the light of tradition, reason, and experience.” Don Thorsen summarizes this methodology as follows: “Wesley sought to formulate theological ideas consonant with Scripture. But in order to describe the wholeness and dynamic characteristic of true, scriptural religion, Wesley appealed to tradition, reason, and experience as complementary sources of religious authority.” Scripture was seen as the primary, but not exclusive authority for Christians.

Wesley’s primary appeal was to Scripture and he considered himself a man of one book. This was not meant literally, of course, as Wesley was an avid reader, writer and editor of many written works. But Wesley did believe that the Bible was exceptional in that it came from God. Thus, Scripture was the primary source of truth. He “clearly valued Scripture for determining doctrinal issues,” but was not unaware of the difficulties involved in interpreting biblical texts. He believed that any passage could be distorted by using it merely as a proof-text and stressed that more obscure texts should be interpreted in light of clearer ones. Wesley understood the importance of a passage’s immediate and canonical contexts. Maddox writes, “one of Wesley’s most frequent objections to opponents’ exegetical claims was that they contradicted ‘the whole tenor and scope of Scripture.’” In other words, the interpretation of any difficult passage should be tempered by the overall message of God’s entire book. Acknowledging the difficulties, his ultimate intention was not necessarily to make a certain interpretation final, so long as the biblical source was central. He remained open to alternative interpretations arrived at via insights from reason, tradition, and experience so long as they didn’t contradict Scripture. Thorsen summarizes, “The important thing to note about Wesley’s rules or principles of biblical interpretation is his openness to investigating more than the plain, literal meaning of any text. Wesley showed a willingness to explore alternative interpretations when the text or evidence of Scripture appears ‘contrary to some other texts,’ ‘obscure,’ or ‘implies an absurdity.’”

As mentioned above, Wesley never referred to the quadrilateral, but he routinely appealed to all four sources and often two in tandem. According to Maddox, “his most common conjunction in certifying a position as authentically Christian is to argue that it is both scriptural and rational… In fact, it was more typical for him to refer to Scripture and reason conjoined that to Scripture alone.” Reason was a gift from God. Wesley said, “it is a fundamental principle with us [Methodists] that to renounce reason is to renounce religion, that religion and reason go hand in hand, and that all irrational religion is false religion.” Reason is to be valued in terms of examining the observable world, revealed truth from God, and the consequences of our ideas. On the other hand, reason is limited because humanity is limited. Our knowledge is partial. Whereas Scripture is wholly reliable due to its divine source, reason is sometimes unreliable due to its fallen practitioners. It is, therefore, unreasonable to not leave room for mystery. . On balance, though, it seems Wesley was more concerned about the outright rejection of reason than about its exaltation.

While living in a time when more and more people were distrusting and discounting voices from the past, Wesley believed that church tradition could shed useful light on our understanding of Scripture. He made reading the ancient writings a priority. While many in the Reformation focused mainly on returning the church to Augustinian interpretation of Jesus’ movement, Wesley “strongly favored the Ante-Nicene or pre-Constantinian period.” But there was also a danger in leaning too heavily on tradition. Thorsen describes Wesley’s view on this danger well: “Despite tradition’s importance, Wesley definitely did not consider tradition either inspired or infallible. For example, with his high regard for the early church fathers, Wesley felt they made ‘many mistakes, many weak suppositions, and many ill-drawn conclusions.’ For this reason he was very careful in his selection and application of church tradition.” Another danger Wesley saw in tradition was the tendency to codify Christianity at the expense of the heart. To compensate, “Wesley refused to set overly strict doctrinal standards that might become too elaborate to integrate and interact with the genuine insights available from various branches of the Christian tradition.”

Experience was yet another ingredient to Wesley’s theological method. Like reason and tradition, experience shed useful but limited light on Scripture as an aid to doing theology. He was willing to believe truths he had not experienced, but eager to declare truths confirmed by experience. This inclusion of experience was a remarkable contribution from Wesley to theological methodology. Thorsen comments that, “since the time of Wesley, theologians have been more willing to recognize experience as an undeniable and valuable source of religious authority.” Christian experience may be divided into two kinds: Outward and inward. According to Thorsen, “the latter form of evidence clearly proved to be the most compelling to Wesley, both personally and theologically.” Wesley emphasized experience so as to protect his movement from growing into cold and empty orthodoxy.

Despite these four means to discerning theological truth, disagreements persist. Wesley believed we could be of one heart, even though not of one opinion. For this to occur, we must cling to the core of true religion, respect for varying opinions on secondary matters, and willingness toward self-examination. Wesley kept an open mind to different theological ideas. He was not determined to align himself completely with any human authority, but was eager to examine any human authority for truth. His openness to views from other parts of the world (not to mention other times) allowed him to develop a theology that impacted his world with all the truth he could gather in his lifetime.

One further note, it would be a mistake to assume that these four sources of knowledge can be compartmentalized in so simple a manner as above. Lesslie Newbigin reminds us that Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience have always been and will always be integrated. Below, we will begin to examine Hell in light of Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience based on the above reflections on the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Thus, the length of our biblical discussion will reflect our emphasis on Scripture as the primary source for truth. Reason, tradition, and experience will be utilized in a descending and secondary sense by helping us consider or re-consider our interpretation of the Scriptural texts. Before we examine the three views of Hell in light of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, however, we must elaborate on what the three views are.

Chapter 3
Coming to Terms

Everlasting Misery

Options abound when trying to label nearly any theological perspective. I have chosen the label “everlasting misery” in conjunction with the Wesleyan Church Discipline because I am writing as a Wesleyan for (primarily) Wesleyans. Of course, the view has been rendered in a number of different ways in the relevant literature. On occasion, the labeling of a theological perspective either helps or hinders its positive reception by inquirers. It may be appropriate, then, to discuss the merits and demerits of “everlasting misery” and other possibilities.

The view in question is sometimes labeled the “traditional,” “classical,” or even “orthodox” view. We will be discussing the support this perspective has received in church history below, but for now it is enough to simply remark that the support is weighty. Depending on the person, such labels could carry either a positive or a negative connotation. For most Christians, a view being labeled traditional would lend it a degree of credibility. For others, however, the traditional label might carry with it a negative connotation due to contemporary angst against institutionalization and/or a negative view of the church’s past. In any case, the label is less than adequate not only because it potentially provokes such responses before a fair hearing, but also because it doesn’t describe to any degree what the view actually entails.

If it is to be preferred that the label actually describe the position, what points of the perspective are important enough to merit mention? Two themes emerge. First, this camp clearly wants to speak to the question of duration. How long will the wicked experience Hell? This position answers that Hell will be experienced forever. This idea is usually conveyed by the words “everlasting,” “eternal” or “unending.” While there is some dispute about the biblical word behind this concept, there is little significant debate between these options in English. At most, “everlasting” and “unending” are a bit more reserved than “eternal” in that the former refer on an unlimited duration of time whereas the latter includes that but, perhaps, goes a bit further and hints toward something either outside of time or more qualitative in nature.

A more significant choice must be made in regards to the second theme. This perspective is distinct not only for its insistence on the unlimited duration for which Hell will be experienced by the wicked, but also for its position on what that experience will entail. Here, the camp itself is divided. There is agreement that the wicked will experience sufferings, but the agreement often ends there. Will the suffering be physical, mental, or spiritual in nature (or some combination)? Who or what is the source of the suffering? Answers to these questions may suggest a variety of labels including “misery” and “torment” while sometimes being prefaced by words like “physical,” “conscious,” or the concept of “separation from God.” Furthermore, if the retributive nature of Hell is emphasized, an advocate might simply use the word “punishment.”

Certainly the opinions within any broad perspective are not uniform. It seems preferable to label the view in a way that would be most acceptable to the majority of its defenders. Whereas “eternal” might carry baggage that not all in this camp support, the Wesleyan Church has done well to chose “everlasting” to convey the unlimited duration of suffering in Hell. Whereas “torment” may carry, to some, a connotation of divine activity (God actively tormenting those in Hell) that some might not feel comfortable with, the term “misery” is a more appealing suggestion. In this paper, we are not primarily concerned with the in-camp debate over whether the misery is physical, mental, or spiritual (or some combination) and so will avoid adding additional descriptive terms between “everlasting” and “misery.” Henceforth, we shall refer to this first perspective on Hell as the everlasting misery perspective not only because of the writer’s Wesleyan background, but also because it is an accurate description of what the view most generally suggests.

Everlasting misery, then, is the view of Hell that entails the wicked existing forever in an intensely negative state. Both those who view the misery as physical and those who view the misery as spiritual are included in this position.

Eventual Extinction

A number of labels could possibly be pinned to our second perspective on Hell. In this paper, I have chosen to give this view the label “eventual extinction” against other options for a number of reasons, which I will explain below.

Most usually, this position on Hell is labeled either Annihilationism or Conditionalism (or Conditional Immortality). In fact, it is possible that these two labels describe two quite different positions. Indeed, In ACUTE’s The Nature of Hell, Conditional Immortality is listed separately from Annihilationism as one of five positions on Hell. This distinction hinges on the question of human nature. Are humans naturally immortal or mortal? Conditionalists claim that humanity is mortal by nature, but it is not necessary that all who view Hell as a place where the wicked cease to exist agree with this claim. It would be possible for someone to agree with man’s inherent immortality and yet insist “that God actively deprives the unrighteous of this immortality at some point after final judgment, with the result that they then perish.” For my purposes, however, this distinction is not of great consequence. I have chosen to label the different perspectives on Hell based on how well such labels describe what the wicked will experience there provided that the view is correct. In the first perspective we discussed, I chose “everlasting misery” because that view suggests that the wicked will experience misery forever.

So what does this second perspective say about what the wicked will experience in/through Hell? If this is the question, then “Conditional Immortality” is of questionable value as an answer. As a description of Hell, this label provokes more questions than it answers. What are the conditions? Is it still possible to meet such conditions after final judgment? It becomes obvious that “Conditional Immortality” is a view of human nature, not a view of Hell. The debate as to whether humanity is conditionally or unconditionally immortal is an important one to the subject of Hell, but any resolution to this debate does not technically describe the experience of Hell for the wicked. In addition to this, as was stated above, belief in conditional immortality is unessential to the view being here discussed.

“Annihilationism” would seem, initially, to be a more appropriate answer to the question of what the wicked experience in/through Hell if this second perspective is correct. There are, however, two main reasons for rejecting it as a label for this view. First, the term has been perhaps irrevocably connected with the teachings of Seventh Day Adventism (which teaches annihilation after a period of punishment) and those of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (who teach instant annihilation of the wicked at death). Since both of these organizations have traditionally been considered outside of orthodoxy by mainstream Evangelicalism, the label “Annihilationism” could potentially prohibit this perspective on Hell from receiving a fair hearing amongst Wesleyans. Second, though this could vary from individual to individual, the term “Annihilationism” may carry with it the connotation of God actively extinguishing the wicked over and against death being the natural consequence of life apart from right relationship to God. All who hold to this second view believe that the wicked will cease to exist, but for different reasons. In light of this, a broader label is necessary.

Another possible label for this view would be to describe Hell, from this perspective, as a “consuming fire.” Once again, if it is a matter of the experience of the wicked in Hell, this would seem to adequately describe the situation from this perspective. The wicked will be consumed by Hell. While this label has some merit, my objection to it would be that it unnecessarily gives voice to a very literal view of Hell’s biblical imagery. The Bible does connect the concept of Hell to the concept of fire, but this could be metaphorical rather than literal.

Thus I have chosen to label this second view “eventual extinction.” This label leaves room for a number of positions within the broader spectrum of this perspective. For example, there are a variety of views within this camp as to how quickly this extinction will take place. The word “eventual” leaves room for this variety. “Extinction” is to be preferred over annihilation in that it carries no necessary connotation of divine activity or connection to groups conventionally seen as unorthodox.

Eventual extinction is the view that in/through Hell, the wicked at some point cease to exist. Some proponents of this view see this extinction as happening almost immediately after judgment while others envision a period of punishment leading to extinction.

Eventual Restoration

The third view of Hell that we will evaluate could also be labeled in a number of different ways. The choice of “eventual restoration” is, perhaps, as much the result of desired parallelism with the labels given to the other perspectives at this point as it is a matter of superiority. Nevertheless, the choice over and against alternatives is defended below.

First, it may be necessary to differentiate the view we are labeling “eventual restoration” from the more familiar (Roman Catholic) doctrine of Purgatory. In Roman Catholic theology, Purgatory is neither Heaven nor Hell. Instead, it is a third possible destination intended for those who are not yet fit for either place. It is a place of purging, to prepare one for Heaven. The concept bares some similarity to the more Evangelical view we will be discussing below, but what is important for our purposes is to note that the doctrine of Purgatory is not an interpretation of Hell.

While Purgatory is not an interpretation of Hell, it does share with this third view the idea of a place where wickedness is purged from the individual preparing them for reconciliation with God. What should a view that pours this purging purpose into Hell be labeled? The most common answer to that question seems to be the term “universalism.” The reasons for the popularity of this label are obvious, as this view suggests that eventually people will be universally restored to right relationship with God. Given our pluralistic society, however, the “Universalist” label seems far too broad a term to describe an Evangelical position. In contemporary dialogue, belief in universalism is often maintained apart from Jesus Christ. Those who believe that all religions/roads lead to God may be described as Universalists.

Evangelicals who believe that Hell has a restorative function should not be grouped with this broader form of universalism. Such Evangelicals insist that all salvation comes through Jesus Christ. No people will be reconciled to God without Jesus Christ, but all will be reconciled through Jesus Christ. It may be appropriate, then, to label this position “Christian” Universalism or Universal “Reconcilation” in order to bring Evangelical belief into the equation.

While such labels are well and good, they do not quite fit the criteria we are looking for. Our preference is to find a label that succinctly describes what happens to the wicked in Hell. “Christian” Universalism does not match this preference. Universal “Reconciliation” comes closer in that it describes all people in Hell as ultimately being reconciled. Perhaps the only weakness of this label is that it provides no sense of when this reconciliation may occur. Is it instant? Does it vary for each individual?

Due to this weakness, preference may be given to our label: Eventual Restoration. The word “eventual” leaves room for a variety of perspectives on the chronology involved while the word “restoration” describes the ultimate resolution. Since it is a label for an Evangelical view, it may be assumed that the “restoration” is toward God through Jesus Christ.

Eventual Restoration, then, is the view that in/through Hell the wicked will eventually be restored to God through Jesus Christ. Opinions vary, within this camp, as to the amount of time that will be necessary to bring all to repentance and, thus, restoration to God in Christ.

We are now prepared to examine these three perspectives on Hell in light of our Wesleyan theological epistemology. The goal, below, will be to make the most Scriptural, traditional, reasonable, and experiential argument for each of the three theories. Meanwhile, we will keep each view in dialogue with some of the leading critiques against it. Once this task is completed, we will be better equipped to evaluate each views’ strengths and weaknesses in pursuit of a determination of whether or not it is an acceptable position for someone within the Wesleyan theological heritage to hold.

Chapter 4
Scripture and Hell

To what Scriptures do we turn to evaluate the nature of Hell? For a number of reasons, this question is not as simple as looking up the word “Hell” in a concordance and then seeing what the texts indicate. First, if that were the case, the results would depend very much on what translation was being used to complete the study. For instance, the New International Version does not translate any Hebrew/Aramaic word as “Hell” in the Old Testament. The word is only considered the proper translation from the Greek fifteen times in the New Testament. Contrast that with the King James Version where “Hell” appears thirty-one times in the Old Testament and twenty-three times in the New Testament. The translators are making clearly different choices and a thorough study will require analysis of the Hebrew and Greek words involved. Second, one cannot simply search for a single key word like Hell and expect to find all the relevant biblical material on the issue of the ultimate fate of the wicked. Often, texts touch on this issue by utilizing other important phrases related to our subject.

While an exhaustive exegetical study of what the Bible has to say on this subject is beyond the scope of this paper, it is within our grasp to consider some of the main biblical arguments for each view of Hell. What passages are most often used by the advocates of each perspective? What verses do proponents specifically mention as areas of exegetical strength? Below we will examine some of the leading exegetical arguments for the three perspectives. Given that Scripture is the primary source of knowing in the Wesleyan theological tradition, our Scriptural section will be given quantitative priority.

Everlasting Misery
Most advocates of the everlasting misery position seem to agree that the Old Testament does not have much to say in regards to our topic. The Old Testament demonstrates “very little interest in life after death.” Even Daniel Block, attempting to build a case for everlasting misery from the Old Testament remarks that in the bulk of the relevant texts, “there is no hint… of the netherworld as a ‘Hellish’ place where the wicked suffer eternal punishment.” He goes on to state that “In fact, the Old Testament is not clear with respect to distinctions between the wicked and the righteous in death.” Clearly, our biblical ideas about Hell will come not from the former, but the latter Testament.

If this is the case, why does the term “Hell” appear frequently in the King James Version? These translators rendered the Hebrew term “Sheol” as “Hell” thirty-one of the sixty-five times it occurs in the Old Testament text. But Robert Peterson, one of the most adamant defenders of everlasting misery, concedes that “Sheol tells us nothing about life after death.” Sheol seems to be the common destination for all the dead, both wicked and righteous alike.

There are two potential exceptions to the generally agreed upon silence of the Old Testament in regard to everlasting misery. Both Peterson and Block refer to Isaiah 66:22-24 and Daniel 12:1-2 as exceptions to the rule. Peterson describes the effect of these passages as providing us with a “shadowy glimpse of life after death.” For Block, these are “hints of the netherworld and the afterlife as a place/time of eternal torment.”

Isaiah 66:22-24
As the new Heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD. And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind. (NIV)

This passage is brought up by advocates of the everlasting misery position because it refers to the new Heavens and the new earth and can not, therefore, be easily dismissed as irrelevant to the ultimate fate of the wicked. Peterson emphasizes the undying nature of the worms and the unending nature of the fire as evidence for the everlasting misery of these rebels. He quotes the Isaiah commentator Whybray as saying, “though dead, the rebels will continue to suffer for ever.” Block also considers it “tempting to interpret this verse as an Isaianic vision of Hell” but cautions against doing so too hastily. Both authors see this passage as a bridge or step toward the clearer portrayal of everlasting misery in the New Testament.

Daniel 12:1-2
At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.

Here, it is argued, the context is the future general resurrection. A contrast is given. Some will be resurrected to everlasting life, others to everlasting contempt. Defenders of the everlasting misery perspective, of course, would tend to equate this latter term with their position. While Peterson admits the Hebrew word for everlasting (Olam) “deserves careful study, as it does not always mean everlasting” he concludes that in this context, “it is difficult to limit.” Block points out that if the author intended anything other than everlasting misery, he might have simply contrasted “eternal life” with “eternal death.” He takes from this that they are sentenced to “perpetual” disgrace and shame. Block hints that Daniel 12:2 is a turning point, the first place in which we find clear evidence for the doctrine of everlasting misery.
When we come to the New Testament, we find many more texts relevant to our discussion. The weight of the Scriptural case for everlasting misery lies in the New Testament and, specifically, in the words of Jesus Himself as recorded in the four Gospels. Peterson remarks that “Jesus Christ says more about the fate of the wicked than anyone else in the Bible.” Interpreting these words to be in support of everlasting misery, he further states that “we must bow before his (Jesus’) authority and accept his terrible teaching on Hell.” What words of Jesus do defenders of the everlasting misery doctrine have in mind? Additionally, what other New Testament texts could serve as evidence for the everlasting misery perspective on Hell? We will attempt to select a set of texts that is most effective in supporting the doctrine of everlasting misery without being repetitive in terms of important Greek words and phrases. In an attempt to treat the various views equally, we will limit our discussion to five key New Testament passages.

Matthew 25:41, 46
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels… Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

That this passage is relevant to the ultimate fate of the wicked seems clear. Jesus is speaking about the separation that will take place between the righteous and the wicked at his Second Coming. Those in the everlasting misery camp stress the succinct symmetry that is set up by Jesus between eternal punishment and eternal life. Their conclusion follows Augustine, “the everlastingness of the punishment and the everlastingness of the life are related as equal to equal?” He goes on to state, “If both are eternal, it follows necessarily that either both are to be taken as long-lasting but finite or both as endless and perpetual… because the eternal life of the saints will be endless, the eternal punishment also, for those condemned to it, will assuredly have no end.” Peterson agrees and labels this passage “the single most important passage in the history of the doctrine of Hell.” Indeed, he goes so far as to say “even if Matthew 25:41 and 46 were the only verses to describe the fate of the wicked, the Bible would clearly teach eternal condemnation, and we would be obligated to believe in it and teach it on the authority of the Son of God.”

Mark 9:42-49
If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into Hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into Hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into Hell, where ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’

The fate of the wicked is here described as something worse than drowning. Indeed, people should do everything possible to avoid the fires of Hell specifically because these fires never go out. Those in the everlasting torment camp may differ as to whether the fire is literal or metaphorical, but they agree that Jesus’ words are meant to “depict unbearable and enduring pain.” Peterson sums up, “the Lord Jesus teaches in Mark 9:42-48 that it is abundantly preferable to suffer temporally and be saved eternally than to enjoy sin in this life and to endure its effects forever. The reason? Because of the horror of Hell’s eternal torments.” Robert Yarbrough believes that “it requires a studied effort not to see eternal conscious punishment implied in the words ‘where the fire never goes out.’”

Luke 16:22-26
The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

In the absence of an abundance of information about “Hell,” it is tempting to build a doctrine of Hell from this story that Jesus told. This parable, then, is one of the passages most cited in defense of the doctrine that Hell is a place of fire and conscious torment. Yarbrough sees it as “yet another passage that points to the conscious and unending torment endured by Hell’s inhabitants.” Popular author Randy Alcorn, for example, says, “In his story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus taught that in Hell, the wicked suffer terribly, are fully conscious, retain their desires and memories and reasoning, long for relief, cannot be comforted, cannot leave their torment, and are bereft of hope.” Indeed, some have even suggested that the story is not a parable at all, but a true account of which Jesus was aware. In any case, the passage specifically labels Hades as a place of torment/agony.

2 Thessalonians 1:6-9
God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you… This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from Heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

Though Paul doesn’t specifically speak of Hell (he never uses the Greek words often translated as Hell ), he does related issues frequently. It is in this passage that he most directly describes what happens after judgment. Retributive punishment will follow judgment. While a punishment of “destruction” may seem to lend itself to another view of Hell (annihilationism), that this “destruction” is prefaced by the word “everlasting” helps us to understand the unending nature of that fate (if not, why include the word “everlasting” at all?). What’s more, the wicked (those not in right relationship to God) are said to be punished by being shut out from the presence of the Lord. According to Douglas Moo, being shut out from another’s presence “implies that the people who are the objects of destruction continue to exist in some form.” Peterson agrees by declaring that “separation presupposes their existence.”

Revelation 14:9-11 & 20:10, 14-15
A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”

And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever… Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

Robert Peterson believes three passages of Scripture are the most revealing biblical passages on Hell. We have already discussed Matthew 25:41, 46 above. The other two passages he points to are these passages from Revelation. Two aspects of Revelation 14 seem to suggest everlasting misery. First, that the smoke of their misery rises forever and ever makes clear, to Peterson, that “the sufferings of the lost in Hell will never end.” Second, that they will experience “no rest” implies that they will suffer endlessly. Revelation 20 seems to end all disputes. Peterson confidently asserts that “this text unequivocally teaches that the devil, the beast, and the false prophet will endure eternal torment.” If, just a small number of verses later, those whose names are not found in the book of life are placed in the same “lake of fire,” it would seem ridiculous not to understand them experiencing the same fate (everlasting misery). After all, as Gregory Beale states, “the ‘lake of fire’ has already been defined as unending, conscious punishment for all consigned to it.”

The Scriptural argument for the everlasting misery view depends on identifying texts that not only speak of misery/torment (since all three views suppose some form of misery/torment may occur), but specifically texts that establish that this misery/torment will never end. The New Testament passages we examined are thought to do this very thing. Do they stand up to scrutiny?

In Matthew 25, the argument is that phrases like “eternal fire” and “eternal punishment” suggest everlasting misery. In response, it should first be pointed out that “eternal fire” does not directly speak to the consciousness of the human being(s) involved. After all, Sodom and Gomorrah are said to be examples (Jude 7) of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. Surely the idea is not that those cities are still burning, but that the judgment was from God and was seemingly absolute. We must also consider the fact that Jesus could have contrasted “eternal life” with “eternal torment” or “eternal punishing.” The word punishment “gives us the freedom to interpret the saying about Hell either as everlasting conscious torment (eternal punishing) or as irreversible destruction (eternal punishment). The text allows for both interpretations because it only teaches the finality of judgment, not its precise nature.” Talbott has a different critique of the everlasting misery interpretation of this text. He states,

The fire to which he alludes is not eternal in the sense that it burns forever without consuming anything… and neither is the punishment eternal in the sense that it continues forever without accomplishing its corrective purpose. Both the fire and the punishment are eternal in the sense that they have their causal source in the eternal God himself. For anything that the eternal God does is eternal in the sense that it is the eternal God who does it.

Thus, both advocates of eventual extinction (Pinnock) and eventual restoration (Talbott) make legitimate critiques of the interpretation of Matthew 25 that sees it as teaching everlasting misery. The symmetry of “eternal” may either be overpowered by the contrast between “life” and punishment” or neutered by a more careful understanding of the Greek word for “eternal.”

In Mark 9, in addition to images of unending fire, we read of worms that do not die. It is supposed that this undying nature of the worms coincides with the undying nature of the people being tormented by them. Critics of this interpretation would quickly point out that Jesus, in Mark 9, is quoting Isaiah 66:24 (discussed above), a point obvious to all interpreters. But Isaiah’s text does not describe everlasting misery at all. Pinnock describes the scene, “Here the dead bodies of God’s enemies are being eaten by maggots and burned up. The fire and the worm in this figure are destroying the dead bodies, not tormenting conscious persons.” When the Isaiah reference is examined, the everlasting misery interpretation of Jesus’ words seems questionable at best.

Luke 16 specifically mentions the rich man’s torment and that fact that he cannot cross over to Abraham’s side. In the absence of an abundance of information about everlasting misery, it is tempting to build a doctrine of Hell from this story. This parable, then, is one of the passages most cited in defense of the doctrine that Hell is a place of everlasting misery. Popular author Randy Alcorn, for example, says, “In his story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus taught that in Hell, the wicked suffer terribly, are fully conscious, retain their desires and memories and reasoning, long for relief, cannot be comforted, cannot leave their torment, and are bereft of hope.” But Jesus’ emphasis is not on the nature of the afterlife (even if it were, it would only teach us about the intermediate, not the final state). To build a doctrine of the afterlife from the specific details of this parable, then, seems dangerous.

Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 1 first speaks of the “everlasting destruction” of the wicked. Surely this phrase could just as easily be used to promote the idea of eventual extinction. Such being the case, one may hardly prove everlasting misery from that phrase. But Paul goes on to speak of the wicked being shut out from the Lord’s presence. As noted earlier, advocates of the everlasting misery position believe this presupposes continued existence. In the original Greek, however, the passage may not intend to communicate anyone being “shut out” from God’s presence. Instead, “the Greek simply says, ‘they will be punished with eternal destruction from (Greek: Apo) the presence of the Lord.’” If the latter translation is taken, “this passage does not envisage any eternal separation from God.” This would seem to concur with God’s omnipresence. But even if the latter is not taken, the idea that being shut out from God’s presence presupposes continued existence seems somewhat arbitrary.

Finally, Revelation envisions not only the torment of the wicked, but also the fact that the smoke of their torment rises forever. Beyond this, Revelation 14 specifically states that these tormented people will experience no rest day or night. In response to the everlasting misery interpretation of these texts, we’ve already seen that observations of “torment” do not militate against the other views. The idea of ever-rising smoke falls under the same critique as idea of “eternal fire.” Of greater difficulty to overcome is the phrase “There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image.” Pinnock admits, “this text comes closest in my mind to confirming” the everlasting misery view. A common response to this lack of rest is to insist that there is no rest for the wicked so long as they are being punished (or, so long as they continue to worship the beast and his image). In any case, the verse (14:11) remains a strength for the everlasting misery perspective.

After describing everlasting misery for the devil, beast, and false prophet, Revelation 20 sends wicked humanity to the very same lake of fire. This seems to suggest that wicked humanity will experience the same everlasting misery as the so called unholy trinity. Critics of everlasting misery will often argue that the unholy trinity need not be seen as three individuals, but as personifications and/or systems. This move is made to create a distinction between the unholy trinity and wicked humanity. Advocates of eventual extinction would point out that the wording of Revelation 20:14-15 actually favors their view. The lake of fire is the second death, not a place of ongoing life. It is specifically stated that the names of those thrown in the lake of fire are not found in the book of life. In other words, they are dead. The “lake of fire” should be understood by the clarity of the term “death” rather than the other way around. Fudge complains about what advocates of everlasting misery do with this text, as they “always read the equation the other direction, as if it said ‘the second death’ (which is indefinite) is ‘the lake of fire’ (which is clear). In fact, however, Johns says that ‘the lake of fire’ (his symbol) is ‘the second death’ (a clearer reality.”

Gregory MacDonald makes a much more thorough critique of the everlasting misery reading of Revelation 14 and 20. He devotes an entire chapter of his book to a universalistic interpretation of these texts. He begins by admitting that “the two clearest biblical supports for this view [everlasting misery] are found within the book of Revelation, and these texts alone are often thought to be enough to sink both Annihilationist and Universalist views of Hell without a trace.” Proceeding with an argument from the structure of Revelation, MacDonald suggests that both of these passages are followed up by subsequent universalistic passages. The judgment of 14:6-20 is followed by the salvation of 15:2-4 (“all nations” will come) while the judgment of 20:7-15 is followed by the salvation of 21:1-22:5 (the gates of the New Jerusalem will never be shut and the nations will walk by its light). As 22:14-15 makes clear, outsiders are invited to “wash their robes” and enter the holy city. Only those who remain in a sinful state remain in the lake of fire.

Any exegesis of Revelation is fraught with difficulty, but that is part of the point that critics of the everlasting misery perspective make. If the strength of the Scriptural argument for everlasting misery is found within Revelation (one of the most symbolic and difficult books of the Bible), couldn’t that be counted a weakness? When we add to these exegetical arguments the more technical debates surrounding words like Gehenna and Aionios, a real vulnerability is seen for the everlasting misery perspective, at least when it comes to the Scriptural case. Nevertheless, it is certainly possible to interpret these texts, and others, as supporting the doctrine of everlasting misery.

Eventual Extinction

While advocates of our second position would generally agree that the Old Testament does not shed much light on the fate of the wicked, they do find a number of texts that play a supportive role in establishing their position. God’s warning to Adam, of course, was that disobedience would lead to his death (with no mention of ongoing misery to follow). Both the judgment of the world in Noah’s day and the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah involved the annihilation of the wicked and become models of divine judgment in the rest of the Canon. Breakers of the covenant will have their names blotted out from under the Heavens (Deuteronomy 29:20). The Psalms seem to speak of the wicked as eventually ceasing to exist. For example, the first Psalm contrasts the future for the righteous and the wicked:

Psalm 1:4-6
Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

The text indicates a sort of disappearing act on the part of the wicked. They will not stand. Their way leads to destruction. If this Psalm has something to say about the fate of the wicked, it is surely a statement about their extinction. Psalm 21:9 refers to God’s coming in judgment against the wicked with fire that will consume them.
Psalm 37 follows suit with similar statements about the fate of the wicked:

Psalm 37:2, 10, 20, 28, 38
Like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away… A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found… But the wicked will perish: The LORD’s enemies will be like the beauty of the fields, they will vanish—vanish like smoke… the offspring of the wicked will be cut off… All sinners will be destroyed; the future of the wicked will be cut off.

Again, if this were the only Scripture addressing the subject of the fate of the wicked, the only available position on the fate of the wicked would be that of post-judgment extinction. The wicked will die away, be no more, not be found, perish, vanish like smoke, be cut off, be destroyed, and have no future.

One particular Proverb seems to negatively evaluate the concept of eventual restoration and then positively suggest the concept of eventual extinction. Proverbs 24:20 reads, “the evil man has no future hope, and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out.”

This same sort of contrast between the fates of the righteous and the wicked is made in Isaiah 66:22-24. At the time of the new Heavens and the new earth, the righteous will gaze upon the dead bodies of the rebellious and loathe them. Or, as Malachi 4:1-3 indicates, the day is coming when the wicked will be reduced to stubble/ashes.

This general concept of extinction of the wicked observed in the Old Testament is made more explicit in the New Testament. A number of New Testament texts may be said to suggest eventual extinction of the wicked. As with our case for everlasting misery, we will limit ourselves to five of the most important texts/themes.

But before we investigate those passages, it is important, especially to this second view, to discuss the two most prominent Greek words that lie behind “Hell” in the New Testament. This is important because it is possible that our presuppositions about Hell are read into these passages due to the translators’ choice, without understanding the background of these important words.

The most important word for our purposes, especially as it concerns the teaching of Jesus, is Gehenna. The word is a transliteration of the Hebrew “Valley of Hinnom.” This valley was a notorious site from Old Testament times and came to be associated with judgment and death. By Jesus’ day, it may have served as a garbage dump for the city of Jerusalem. Of the twelve times the word occurs in the Greek New Testament, all but one come from the lips of Jesus. Notably, none of these verses “specifically mentions the duration of Gehenna.” Indeed, the word could simply refer to the literal location, though it likely served as a metaphor for the ultimate place of the wicked.

Another important word sometimes translated Hell is Hades. This was the common Greek word for the place of the dead. It was the New Testament equivalent to the Old Testament term Sheol, which housed both the righteous and wicked dead. The word Hades occurs eleven times in the New Testament. It is only described as a place of torment in the parable of Luke 16. It is important to note that it is distinguished from the Lake of Fire mentioned in Revelation 20.

Thus, the two most important Greek words behind the concept of Hell in the New Testament are both limited in what they can tell us about the nature of Hell. Gehenna never addresses touches on the issue of duration. Hades only once even refers to torment and is not the final place of the wicked (the Lake of Fire is). If we are to learn of the nature of Hell from the New Testament, then, it will be mostly through other phrases and themes rather than directly through the New Testament mention of Hell. Below, we will examine five passages, but they are used as launching points for a theme of the New Testament rather than as proof-texts.

1 Timothy 6:15-16
God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

Adherents to the eventual extinction view may differ in their anthropology. While most would argue that the conditional nature of man’s immortality is central to this view, it is theoretically possible to believe in the immortality of the soul and, yet, take the position that “God actively deprives the unrighteous of this immortality.” Practically, however, this does not amount to much of a difference.

One of the themes of this second view is that humanity is not inherently immortal, but acquires immortality through connection with Christ. The above passage is certainly central to this way of thinking. We will discuss this “conditional immortality” view more when we evaluate the views of Hell through the grid of reason, but for now it is worth mentioning the Scriptural support. This passage emphatically states that God alone is immortal.

A host of other passages round out this theme by speaking of life and immortality as something accessible, but not inherent to humanity. Jesus states, in John 10:28, that he gives his people eternal life. Romans 2:7 speaks of immortality as something that must be sought out. 1 Corinthians, the great resurrection chapter, makes clear that the mortal must clothe itself with immortality through the resurrection that comes from Jesus. Perhaps no verse is clearer on this point that 1 John 5:11 which states, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

Thus, eventual extinction is the natural consequence of the failure to receive the gift of eternal life that comes through Jesus Christ. Without this gift, as we shall observe below, individuals are destroyed, perish, die, and are consumed by fire.

Matthew 10:28
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in Hell.

While earthly powers may kill the body, they are not able to kill the soul. In contrast, God is able to both destroy the soul and body. Adherents to eventual distinction would point out from this passage that the words “kill” and “destroy” are used in a parallel manner. Jesus’ statement in this passage not only suggests that Hell (Gehenna) is a place where the soul and body will be destroyed, but also that this fact should provoke fear in the hearts and minds of his listeners.

The New Testament often uses this language of destruction in regard to the fate of the wicked. Jesus had earlier warned, in Matthew 7:13, that “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction.” Paul, in Philippians 3:19, describes the destiny of those who live as enemies of the cross of Christ as destruction. James echoes Jesus’ own words in 4:12 when he states that “there is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy.” 2 Peter 3:7 refers to the judgment of Noah’s day as a precursor to the coming judgment of fire which will include the “destruction of ungodly men.” When this term is interpreted in its most natural sense, it would seem to lend support to our second view of Hell.

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Perhaps no biblical passage is as famous as John 3:16, but what is often missed is the clear contrast it presents. Not only does this passage fit well with the idea that eternal life is a gift (not inherent) acquired through belief in the Son of God, but it suggests that the alternative to receiving this gift is to perish. Perishing, in this context, is contrasted with receiving eternal life and is, therefore, best defined as not living forever. The options are twofold: Believe in Jesus Christ and live forever or disbelieve in Jesus and die. The fourth Gospel subsequent usage of the term perish in 10:28 and 11:50 confirm this contrast.

The use of perishing need not imply immediate extinction. Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 1:18, that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. Our current bodies are perishable and perishing. Perishing may be a process like the wearing out of a garment (Hebrews 1:11). To perish is comparable to spoiling or fading according to 1 Peter 1:4. Again, understood in its most natural sense, this word choice of the biblical authors lends support to the eventual extinction perspective.

Romans 6:23
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Just as God told Adam, so too does Paul tell the Roman saints that the consequence of rebellion against God is death. Death is contrasted with living eternally. Fudge remarks, “Eternal life is the opposite of eternal death. Paul never gives us reason to suppose that eternal death is anything other than what it sounds like.”

Jesus, in Matthew 10:39, stated that those who take up their cross and die for his sake will find life. But whoever thinks they have life outside of Jesus will lose it. James 1:15 shows that sin ultimately leads to death. The Letter of James ends as follows: “Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).

Hebrews 10:26-27
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

Here we see the imagery of fire so common to the Bible’s description of Hell and judgment. But what is the purpose of this fire? This text suggests that the fire will consume the enemies of God. Later in Hebrews, God is described as a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). This leads A. W. Pink (who does not otherwise endorse this view of Hell) to declare, “As a fire consumes combustible matter cast into it, so God will destroy sinners.”

The Scriptural argument for the eventual extinction view rests largely on the idea that life itself is not inherent to humanity. This view is rooted not only in 1 Timothy 6:15-16, but in a host of passages which describe the fate of the wicked in terms of destruction, perishing, death, and being consumed. What’s more, Scripture speaks of eternal life as a gift that comes from God through Jesus. Rather than go through the five passages text by text, it will suffice to offer critique of these supposedly biblical themes/concepts. Namely, are humans inherently immortal and what are we to make of the language of destruction that we find in the passages we’ve discussed?

Robert Peterson devotes a chapter in his case for eternal punishment (everlasting misery) to critiquing the Annihilationist (eventual extinction) position. He responds to the idea that immortality is conditional by declaring that “God grants immortality to all human beings,” but no Scriptural basis is given for this claim. Interestingly, he confesses that “I do not believe in the traditional view of Hell (everlasting misery) because I accept the immortality of human beings, but the other way around. I believe in the immortality of human beings because the Bible clearly teaches everlasting damnation for the wicked and everlasting life for the righteous.” His view that Hell is a place of everlasting ministry dictates his opinion (not directly based on Scripture) that all humans are granted immortality. Peterson responds to the language of extinction by admitting that passages that use such words “could, if taken by themselves, be construed to teach the extermination of the wicked,” but goes on to interpret these words differently in light of the supposed clarity of the book of Revelation. Peterson’s Scriptural critique of the eventual extinction perspective seem to fall short in that they are based on either his own inclinations or on seemingly unclear passages from the highly symbolic book of Revelation.

Christopher Morgan also responds to the claims of advocates for the eventual extinction position. He states that there is really no disagreement about the conditional immortality of humanity, as “the historic Christian position is that the soul is derived from and continually dependent on God.” Morgan believes that the wicked would naturally be extinct upon death, but “God will keep them in existence endlessly in order to punish them… the wicked will be punished consciously forever in Hell, not because they exist as immortal souls but because God will sustain them.” As far as the language of extinction is concerned, Morgan believes that advocates of this perspective “tend to assume a connotation of extinction or annihilation rather than the more probable sense of loss, ruin, or corruption.” Morgan’s first critique raises alarm about the nature of God that will be discussed in the “Reason” section of this paper. His second critique seems rather circular. Why is his “probable” understanding of this sort of language preferable?

Talbott, critiquing eventual extinction from an eventual restoration perspective finds the language of extinction noted by advocates of this view unpersuasive. “That Paul regarded death as a form of eschatological punishment is unquestionably true, but it in no way follows that he thereofre had in mind a complete obliteration of consciousness.” He sees the destruction language as accurately describing the death of the wicked, but does not see death as an end, but a means to salvation. Or, from another vantage point, the language of destruction may speak to the destruction of the sinful nature rather than that of the individual soul. Behind these claims are Talbott’s universalistic arguments and, seemingly, some degree of belief in the spreading of immortality to all humanity.

It seems we are left with the idea that eventual extinction is an admittedly possible interpretation of several passages and themes in Scripture. Critics seem to agree that our immortality is conditional and that the relevant language used in Scripture could be interpreted in an extinction framework. If the critiques against the passages used by advocates of the other two positions prove sound, the possibility that eventual extinction is plausible goes up. Much remains to be said about eventual extinction in regards to reason, tradition, and experience. From a Scriptural basis, however, the eventual extinction perspective has a legitimate argument in its defense.

Eventual Restoration in Scripture

Advocates of the eventual restoration position would argue that there are hints at universal salvation in the Old Testament. It is important to recognize that Genesis 1-11 has the entire population of humanity in mind before God enters into covenant with Abraham. And in entering into covenant with Abraham, God’s intention is still to bless all peoples through him. Advocates of eventual restoration would suggest that this theme of God’s desire to reach the nations is matched later in the Old Testament by prophecies of this desire coming to fruition.

Isaiah 45:22-24
Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are deliverance and strength.’” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.

Clearly this passage is in a judgment context, but what is important to note for our purposes is the results of the judgment. God’s call is for all the people of the earth to turn and be saved. God’s oath is that every individual person on earth will indeed bow before him. The text makes clear that this bowing is due to the nations finding deliverance and strength in God alone. They are brought to shame and repentance. Jan Bonda summarizes what we learn from this text, “we learn that this judgment ends the anger and rebellion of the nations against God: Every knee shall bow before him. They submit and recognize that he is God and must be obeyed. They are ashamed of what they have done… At the same time we notice that a way has been opened to him; they can come and be saved. And they do come.” This is an important text not only as part of our brief examination of Old Testament themes, but because it is quoted in New Testament passages of obvious relevance to our study.

Gregory MacDonald sees evidence for this perspective in texts that point toward restoration for some of the most villainous cities/nations of the Old Testament. Ezekiel 16:53 has God declaring, “I will restore the fortunes of Sodom.” Not only was Sodom one of the most notorious cities in the biblical narrative, but the imagery of its destruction came to be used in descriptions of Hell. In this text, however, we see its eventual restoration. The same is true for enemies to Israel like Egypt and Assyria. God’s judgments on these nations were famous, but the Old Testament alludes to future restoration as well. Isaiah paints a surprising picture:

Isaiah 19:23-25
In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”

This passage is further evidence that God’s wrath against a nation is not the end. The context is one of judgment, since God strikes Egypt in the previous verse, but he strikes them so as to heal them (Isaiah 19:22). His wrath leads to their turning. They will turn and begin to worship the Lord in equal partnership with Israel. Whether one finds the fulfillment of this passage in the past, present, or future is somewhat immaterial to the pattern it depicts. God’s judgment is never an end to itself in Scripture. It is a means to an end. That end is restoration.

In regard to what the Old Testament has to say about our subject, MacDonald concludes with a question and answer: “What kind of universalism is found in the Old Testament? One in which ultimately all humanity without exception acknowledges the universal sovereignty of Yahweh and worships him.” He is honest, though, to admit that questions remain. Only in the New Testament is the scope of universal salvation made clear.

A handful of New Testament proof-texts are utilized by this perspective that are said to make concrete what the general thrust of the biblical narrative embraces less concretely. In keeping with our pattern, we will examine five key passages that are routinely referenced by advocates of eventual restoration.

1 Timothy 2:3-6
This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.

If we couple this passage with belief in the omnipotence of God, it would seem to suggest ultimate universal salvation. If God wants all people to be saved and has the power to accomplish His desires, then does it not follow that all will eventually be restored? What’s more, if Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all people, are not all people ultimately ransomed?

The classic Calvinist way of dealing with this text is to insert “kinds of” between “all” and “people,” but this has not proved a compelling exegetical point to most Wesleyan-Arminians. The typical Wesleyan-Arminian response to this text has been to declare that God doesn’t always get what God wants insofar as he honors the free will he has given to humanity. God wants all people to be saved, but he will not force them to receive salvation. Christ gave himself as a ransom for all people, but he won’t force any individual to return to God even if the price has been paid.

Advocates of eventual restoration would simply suggest that neither of these interpretations is the most straight-forward reading of the text. The text says that God wants all people to be saved and that Jesus has already given himself as a ransom for them. The goal has been stated and the work has been done. Battles may continue to be fought in the realm unaware of Christ’s accomplishment, but the war has been declared over. That the whole world is served by Christ’s death is made clear in other New Testament passages. John the Baptist, in John 1:29, declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Paul is able to claim that “in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22) and that saving grace has come to all men (Titus 2:11). The author of Hebrews, in 2:9, states that Jesus tasted death for everyone. 1 John 2:2 clearly states that Jesus’ atonement not only addresses the needs of current believers, but also the sins of the whole world.

1 John 4:8
God is love

Along the same lines, those believing that ultimately all will be saved would stress the unending love of God. MacDonald admits, “The love of God is very important for the universalist. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that it is a strong belief in God’s love that often drives people towards universalism.” Since love is the core of God’s being, it should be rather obvious that any punishment he delivers is redemptive in its purpose. Punishment is not incompatible with love (indeed, the lack of punishment may be), but surely eternal punishment is incompatible with love. God’s sense of justice never prevents His nature of love from finding a way to satisfy both.

The love of God was demonstrated not only by Christ’s sacrifice, but by the very fact that he died for his enemies. Thus, Jesus put into practice what he had stated earlier in his ministry when he commanded enemy love. If Jesus’ disciples are to love their enemies, then we may be assured that God loves his enemies. God’s enemy love dictates that they not face everlasting misery or extinction. God’s love triumphs if, and only if, it reaches his enemies to the point of restoration. God’s love is of the true kind that never gives up or fail (1 Corinthians 13:7-8).

Romans 5:18-19
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
If Adam’s trespass affects all people negatively, then Jesus’ sacrifice affects all people positively. All people are justified through Christ. These statements flow directly from the passage and are its most literal interpretation. What Evangelical would question the universal condemnation of Adam’s descendants? Paul parallels this with universal justification through Christ. It is inadequate to suggest that the use of the word “many” demonstrates a limitation since the same word is used of sinners. In this case, one must have it both ways. MacDonald summarizes well in saying, “Paul is at pains to make clear that the ‘all people’ who will be ‘made sinners’ and ‘condemned’ are the very same ‘all people’ who will be ‘made righteous’ and who, in Christ, are justified and have life. This is clear from the way he uses parallelism in v. 18 and v. 19.” This same concept is repeated in 1 Corinthians 15:22.

Philippians 2:9-11
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in Heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:6-11 is widely considered to be Paul’s reproduction of an ancient Christian hymn. MacDonald remarks, “the climax of the hymn is an image of the universal Lordship of Christ.” With Isaiah 45 as the backdrop, the passage indicates that every individual person will ultimately bow to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Paul goes out of his way to make clear that this encompasses all individuals by clarifying that this includes individuals in Heaven, on earth, and under the earth (the dead). The acknowledgment of these individuals that Jesus is Lord is a submissive confession. “The terminology Paul uses is suggestive of salvation rather than forced submission.” After all, a declaration of Christ’s Lordship is made via the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). True confession of Jesus’ Lordship leads to salvation (Romans 10:9).

Colossians 1:15-20
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in Heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in Heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

This passage makes clear that Jesus is and will reign supreme over all of creation. Before we even consider the last sentence, an important question should be asked: How could Jesus truly reign over all of creation if countless numbers of human beings either continue to resist his Lordship or cease to exist at all? In those scenarios, can it truly be said that Christ is victorious? It would seem a hollow victory, at best.

Instead, Colossians 1:20 makes clear that through Christ all things are brought to reconciliation with God. Reconciliation is a redemptive concept in Scripture and is here applied to all things. This is made plain by Paul’s reference to “peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” All things will be reconciled to God through Jesus’ blood. This is no mere acknowledgment by a still rebellious fleet that Christ is Lord despite their animosity to him. Rather, this is reconciliation to God by making peace through Jesus. This is not a ruthless dictator demanding his conquered foes to verbally acquiesce his sovereignty, but “the power of self-giving love, the power to overcome evil by transforming the will and renewing the minds of the evil ones themselves.”


Most would admit the verses in favor of eventual restoration could plausibly be interpreted along these lines if it were not for clear statements elsewhere in Scripture that seem to render such points moot. The passages in 1 Timothy and 1 John appeal to particular philosophical understandings of God’s power and love, respectively. Such points will be most directly addressed in our next section (Hell and Reason). Paul’s words to the Romans, Philippians, and Colossians, however, require a more exegetical response.

In Romans 5 (and 1 Corinthians 15), eventual restoration advocates see a direct parallelism between the universal effect of Adam’s sin and Christ’s righteous act. I. Howard Marshall disagrees. Granting that the text, taken in isolation, could be interpreted along these lines, he insists that we must keep in mind Scripture’s clear teaching that justification always comes through faith. Christ’s work is indeed available to all, “but the gift becomes a reality for them only when they believe.” Critics of the eventual restoration position point out that since not all people are saved prior to death, this position necessitates a post-mortem opportunity for which there is no positive evidence.

The eventual restoration view sees Philippians 2 as predicting the future submission of every individual to the Lordship of Christ. Others, though, have suggested that “the statement is one of purpose, and it does not necessary follow that the purpose will be fulfilled.” When we examine the backdrop (Isaiah 45), we see that “there is still a division between the opponents and the righteous.” This division is even clearer in Philippians itself, where the wicked are destroyed (1:28) and experience destruction (3:19).

Finally, while the statement in Colossians about the reconciliation of all things appears to make the case for eventual restoration at first glance, we are cautioned to remember the biblical condition of faith. The question is whether we have any biblical evidence that God will bring every individual to a point of faith and this passage, it is argued, does not address that issue. Additionally, some have argued that despite visible submission, the passage has in mind involuntary pacification and not spiritual restoration.

The most common argument against this view is that the context of these proof-texts always militates against the idea of eventual restoration. Wesleyan pastor James Garlow offers the typically brief dismissal in saying, “there isn’t much (if any) biblical justification for universalism. Several passages that speak of Christ’s atoning work, taken out of context, can seem to support the idea that God will save everyone… but careful examination shows that each statement is limited by the context of the passage and the intent of the writer.” Clearly, supporters of the eventual restoration position must continue the work of establishing their position on exegetical grounds, but this work has indeed been undertaken in recent decades. Critics must begin to deal more thoroughly with universalistic exegesis.

Another important critique of the eventual restoration position is that it fails to make sense of opposing proof-texts. Granting that some passage sound supportive of this view, the weakness of the eventual restoration perspective may lie in the difficulty it has in interpreting verses that seem to support everlasting misery or eventual extinction. One supporter admits, “there can be no doubt that the main argument against the evangelical universalism I have defended thus far is the presence of many texts about final judgment and Hell found across the New Testament. Any kind of Christian universalist must have something intelligent to say about such passages if he or she desires to be taken seriously as an orthodox Christian.” While we do not have the time to give a response to all of these verses from an eventual restoration vantage point, one key issue should be addressed as an example of just such a response.

Matthew 25:46 is considered one of the strongest texts disproving the eventual restoration interpretation of Scripture. How may the idea of ‘eternal punishment’ be reconciled to the idea of eventual restoration? As we have seen, advocates of the eventual extinction positions most often focus their response to this passage on the word punishment, insisting that it has in mind a one time punishment rather than continuous punishing. It is possible, though, to critique the everlasting misery usage of this text from another direction by focusing on the word ‘eternal.’ Indeed, backers of both the eventual extinction and the eventual restoration positions have drawn attention to the background of this word in its original language.

The Greek word behind our English term ‘eternal,’ here, is aionios. That it has been translated as ‘eternal’ has been a point of contention for many years. MacDonald suggests that there is a “strong case for maintaining that it means ‘pertaining to an age.’” In such a case, the idea of ‘aionios’ punishment may only refer to the punishment of the age to come. MacDonald concludes, “but if this is so, then it is no longer obvious that the punishment is everlasting. True, the age to come is everlasting, but that does not necessitate that the punishment of the age to come lasts for the duration of that age, simply that it occurs during that age and is appropriate for that age.”

We have progressed through core Scriptural cases for three perspectives of Hell that stand in opposition to each other. What must be noted before anything else is that these were indeed biblical arguments. Advocates for each view interact with Scripture and, more than that, find a number of Scriptures that certainly seem to support their case.
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Re: Thesis Done

Post by mattrose » Tue Sep 24, 2013 10:28 am

Chapter 5
Reason and Hell

The result of our survey of key Scriptural passages presents us with the problem of ambiguity. This is not to say that the three views discussed above are on equal Scriptural footing, but it is to say that there is room for different people to come to different conclusions as to which of the views is built on the most solid Scriptural ground. What seems clear is that Hell is a reality, but we are left with an apparently conflicting set of options regarding its nature.

This is precisely the point where other factors (reason, tradition & experience) come into play. It is not that once we establish Scripture as somewhat ambiguous we can set it aside and allow reason, tradition, and/or experience to settle the matter. Instead, we allow them to help us better understand Scripture. We use our God given minds to test the soundness of each view, while humbly remembering that our minds have been corrupted by sin. We must acknowledge that our use of reason is not flawless while avoiding the sin of not using our reason at all.

A number of issues concerning Hell lend themselves to reasonable discussion. Jerry Walls, in his book Hell: The Logic of Damnation, attempts to defend the everlasting misery perspective on Hell in light of our knowledge of human belief, divine foreknowledge, divine power, divine goodness, human freedom, and human misery respectively. Charles Seymour, with the same goal in mind, narrows the discussion to matters of justice, love, and freedom. On the other end of the spectrum is Thomas Talbott. In section three of his book defending eventual restoration, he discusses how issues such as exclusivism, justice, omnipotence, freedom, and love relate to the concept of Hell. Given the nature of our project, we cannot attempt to cover all of these issues adequately. We will focus on the issues that seem to be brought to the table most often in this debate: justice, freedom, and love. Our initial goal will be to observe how these three perspectives of Hell respond to these important matters. Subsequently, we will offer some evaluation of how the three perspectives fare under the rubric of reason.


Any doctrine of Hell must deal with the question of justice. Hell, by any of the definitions we are considering, is a serious consequence of dying with a yet broken relationship with God. But is it a just consequence? The Bible speaks of justice ultimately reigning supreme in God’s creation. Ultimately, the penalty for sin will fit the crime. In light of this, which of the three views is in accord to what we know of God’s justice? It is important to keep in mind, during this discussion, that justice is not a separate compartment of God’s character. God is not schizophrenic. God’s justice is an aspect of His love. Love seeks justice.

The everlasting misery view must respond to the charge that everlasting misery is a punishment that does not fit the crime. One advocate of eventual extinction, John Wenham, confesses that, “Whatever anyone says, unending torment speaks to me of sadism, not justice.” It is a typical critique of this view that everlasting or eternal misery goes far beyond what is deserved by finite creatures for their finite sins. It is argued that even the worst of sinners would not deserve to experience Hell forever. John Stott wonders if the doctrine of everlasting misery creates “a serious imbalance between sins consciously committed in time and torment consciously experienced throughout eternity.” Some consider this the most significant problem that the everlasting misery view faces. Can God be morally justified for sentencing people to this kind of punishment?

In response, advocates of the everlasting misery perspective resort to two key principles. The first principle is that they understand that the punishment of Hell is clearly depicted in Scripture as retributive in nature. We will be judged according to our works. Accordingly, Hell is not intended to be remedial. It is a pouring out of God’s wrath due to his hatred of sin, not his discipline due to his love of the sinner. The retributive principle is coupled with the principle of status. “The idea behind this principle is that guilt is not merely relative to the offense, but also to the status of the offended party.” The logic is clear. Human sin is rebellion against God. God is eternal and infinite. Punishment for sin, therefore, must be eternal and infinite as well. If these two principles are sound, then it would seem to follow that the everlasting misery perspective on Hell passes the test of reason. Indeed, advocates of the everlasting misery position see the rejection of these principles as the problem. Walvoord is typical in stating that, “the problem here is the obvious lack of understanding of the infinite nature of sin as contrasted to the infinite righteousness of God. If the slightest sin is infinite in its significance, then it also demands infinite punishment as a divine judgment.”

The everlasting misery position, then, typically suggests that for the punishment (Hell) to fit the crime (sin against an infinite God), the nature of Hell must be infinitely miserable in both quality and quantity (everlasting misery). This is an argument from reason, but is it reasonable? It is unlikely that advocates of any of the three positions would take much issue with the claim that human sin is against God or that God is infinite by nature. But why must we relate human punishment to God’s infinite nature? “We normally do not measure guilt according to the status of the offended party.” Solid argumentation for this principle appears to be lacking.

If the principle of status is faulty, the principle of retribution ceases to support the doctrine of everlasting misery and actually begins to torment it. We must remember that the retributive principle “was never instituted for the purpose of justifying harsh punishment for serious crimes, something that no one at the time would have questioned; instead, it was instituted for the purpose of eliminating excessive punishment, such as capital punishment in exchange for a tooth.” It would seem that the only way that God could be justified in sentencing someone to everlasting misery, short of insisting on the aforementioned status principle, is if that person inflicted everlasting misery on someone else. But what human has the power to do that? Marilyn Adams concludes, “The ‘an eye for an eye’ principle might justify God in visiting some punishment on some people after death. But given the finite length of human life and the finite extent of human power to cause suffering, it could not by itself justify God in making someone totally unhappy forever.”

John Stott suggests that the only way out of this apparent trap for the everlasting misery doctrine is to suggest that sinners in Hell continue to sin forever. Interestingly, this is exactly the tract that two contemporary philosophical defenders of the everlasting misery doctrine have taken. Charles Seymour insists that everlasting misery may be considered just if the damned continue to sin, and he supposes that they do. Likewise, Jerry Walls suggests that the damned are continually stubborn and attempts to show why they may willfully choose to remain in Hell. It is worth noting though, that both of these authors, even while attempting to defend everlasting misery, leave room for the possibility of eventual extinction and eventual restoration on an individual level. Thus, in defending the justice of the everlasting misery perspective, they felt the need to first surrender its classical lines of defense and then abandon its absoluteness.

The eventual extinction perspective is confronted with an interesting pair of critiques when it comes to justice issues. On one hand, the view may be accused of not satisfying the demand for justice by letting sinners off the hook too easily. Peterson pleads for evangelicals to reject the eventual extinction view “because it leads unrepentant sinners to underestimate their fate” before adding that “it is simply not that bad to cease to exist.” This criticism seems more legitimate, however, when it is leveled against those who promote instant extinction rather than eventual extinction. Peterson certainly cannot be suggesting that even a short time in Hell would not be that bad.

On the other hand, it may be argued that the eventual extinction doctrine is too harsh. Charles Seymour suggests that since extinction is an infinite consequence, it falls under the same critique as did the everlasting misery doctrine. Why should human beings eventually be sentenced to everlasting extinction for temporal sins? But this critique is softened when we consider that most adherents to the eventual extinction view also believe that our immortality is conditional to begin with. In other words, life itself is a gift from God. If God allows our life to fade away, that is not so much a punishment as a consequence of sin. In any case, the extinct would hardly feel slighted.

Non-Christian universalism could easily be accused of not taking justice seriously. What would we think of a God that gave sin and wickedness a free pass? But what we have labeled eventual restoration is less prone to this critique insofar as it posits an actual stay in Hell, though of limited duration, followed by repentance and faith in Christ. As one defender of this view puts it, the eventual restoration position “must have an important place for divine punishment. What makes us universalists is not that we have unusually weak views of sin but unusually strong views of divine love and grace.”

In regards to justice, it is not surprising that the everlasting misery view faces the strongest critique. Few question that sin deserves death and, perhaps, some duration of punishment, but everlasting punishment? It is the view of Hell that is most easily the target of questions about the fairness of Hell. There are, however, possible answers to such questions. As discussed above, if the wicked continue to sin, the justice of everlasting misery becomes more plausible. This defense also assumes that the occupants of Hell freely choose continued separation from God. Everlasting misery has usually been considered more defensible when it is emphasized that God doesn’t desire for anyone to be in such a state, but that people choose it.

Another issue that must be considered when discussing the reasonableness of the various perspectives on Hell is that of human freedom. We’ve already seen that the most philosophically defensible account of everlasting misery insists on the ongoing freedom of the wicked. It is this same freedom that the eventual restoration view normally depends upon. Nevertheless, some have questioned whether an insistence that all will eventually be restored to God is even compatible with this supposed freedom.

Thomas Talbott has argued that the idea that someone might freely choose everlasting misery is absurd. The supposed absurdity comes from two key points. First, Talbott believes that for someone to make an ultimately free decision, they must be fully informed about said decision. Once one is informed about God’s nature and the nature of Hell, how could they choose everlasting misery? Second, Talbott argues that “the very idea of someone freely rejecting God forever is deeply incoherent and therefore logically impossible.” How could someone rationally choose everlasting misery? They would have to be in an irrational state of mind and, thus, not genuinely free.

Though the above points from Talbott may sound somewhat similar at first glance, it is important to respond to them separately. In regards to the first point, Jerry Walls suggests that true freedom requires a limit on the degree of pressure before it is better labeled coercion. Therefore, in his view, “it is arguable that the evidence needs to be at least adequate for belief to be rational, but short of compelling, for us to be properly free in our response to it.” In other words, Walls questions Talbott’s assumption that the wicked will be fully informed in Hell. If they were fully informed, they may not be truly free. Walls believes that Talbott has failed to account for the progressive nature of revelation. We don’t simply become fully informed about God all at once. We learn to know God in a relationship of trust and love. If one refuses such a relationship, they may never come to a fully informed view of the facts of life. The nature of relationship insists that those who have not responded positively to grace are not yet as informed as they could be.

Walls also responds to Talbott’s insistence that freedom necessarily requires rationality. While admitting that identifying even an irrational motive toward everlasting misery is one of the most difficult problems faced by his camp, Walls claims the evil may indeed be chosen decisively. He agrees with Talbott that anyone making such a decision would be behaving irrationally and would be presenting solid evidence that they are profoundly deceived, but this may be a self-inflicted wound. Walls concludes, “it seems to me that the ability to deceive ourselves may be an essential component of moral freedom.”

Even if we grant Talbott’s points that once fully informed the wicked will rationally repent and choose salvation, other serious issues are raised by this scenario. As Walls states, “there are serious problems with [Talbott’s] claim that persons who repent under forcibly imposed punishment are free in the libertarian sense.” Finally choosing to repent under the pressure of Hell may be closer to coercion than genuine choice.

It is difficult to determine where the strength lies in this debate, but it seems that Walls offers not only some solid critique of Talbott’s claim that it is incoherent to imagine people choosing everlasting misery, but also some plausible thoughts on how such a choice could be made. It will serve us well to remember that Walls is not defending the position that all the wicked will choose everlasting misery (he believes, in fact, that it is implausible that all the wicked would choose to remain in Hell). It would be extremely difficult, philosophically, to argue that the wicked are genuinely free in Hell and yet not one will choose to repent. Walls believes that some of the wicked will, indeed, repent and be restored. It is Talbott who is taking the strong view here, insisting that every individual will ultimately make the choice to be restored to God. He doesn’t simply suggest it is possible, but claims it is what will indeed happen. The passion of this insistence on ultimate universal salvation is perhaps best demonstrated by his claim that, even if somehow someone could make the choice of everlasting misery, “a perfectly loving God would never grant his loved ones the freedom to make it.” In the end, then, Talbott is even willing to argue that human freedom will be removed to ensure universal reconciliation. One is left wondering if that sort of reconciliation is genuine and if Talbott is driven, here, by reason or by desire.

Thus far, we have not discussed the eventual extinction position in regards to human freedom. The reason for this is fairly obvious. The everlasting misery position must either claim that the wicked in Hell no longer have freedom (the classical version) or could plausibly use their freedom to choose Hell (the contemporary version). We have seen that the classical version of the everlasting misery view is extremely difficult to defend on philosophical grounds. The more contemporary version, though it still faces difficulties, may offer a plausible defense of how such a choice is possible, but in doing so it seemingly must allow for the possibility that some of the wicked may repent and be restored. The eventual restoration position insists that all the wicked will either make the choice to be redeemed or eventually have the choice made for them. In any case, matters of human freedom are at the heart of both of these positions in a way that does not obviously relate to the eventual extinction view since it alone cuts off human freedom before it becomes too overwhelming of an issue. Indeed, Walls believes this is less an exemption from the current debate and more an argument against the eventual extinction position. He argues that this cutting off of life “would detract from the seriousness of moral freedom.”

It seems that contemporary accounts of everlasting misery have adjusted to better handle critique in the area of human freedom. Indeed, it appears to be the case that the eventual restoration position has the most work to do in this area. Just as the everlasting misery position adjusted to allow for some possibility of mobility between Hell and Heaven, the eventual restoration advocates may have to adjust to a less certain position. If, “a strong doctrine of universalism seems to preempt the possibility of a creature’s persistent refusal to be transformed by the glory of God, the God-given possibility of saying no,” then perhaps a less certain and more hopeful version is to be preferred. At best, advocates may argue that the vast majority of the wicked will repent in Hell, but they cannot guarantee the future choices of free agents.

Each of the three views of Hell must respond to a different critique so far as it concerns the love of God. May a God who creates/allows a system of everlasting misery truly be called a loving God? How does Hell fit with God’s own command of enemy love? Is causing/allowing the extinction of the wicked, as in the eventual extinction position, a loving response to their free choices? Does a passion for love, or a deep understanding of love’s power fuel the eventual restoration position?

Our first view, everlasting misery, faces an initial struggle in the area of love. The concept of an angry God holding his enemies to the fire seems philosophically indefensible. But even the more contemporary defense that God allows them to continue miserably as a loving recognition of the dignity of human existence, is suspect. Jesus revealed and commanded God’s enemy love. Such a revelation is, indeed, difficult to reconcile with the doctrine that sees God as even allowing the unending misery of much of his creation. If such an apparent contradiction is merely apparent, resolution will be found only because we so adamantly believe everlasting misery is taught in Scripture that we persist in suggesting possible explanations. A fully satisfying explanation seems yet to have been given.

Our second view, eventual extinction, also falls prey to critique here. Charles Seymour has suggested that “to love something is to help it be what it is meant to be or to desire its good.” He then critiques the eventual extinction viewpoint by asking, “Should God annihilate these souls? This would not be a loving response, since annihilation is the absolute removal of being. Love desires the goodness of the thing loved, but since goodness and being are identical, annihilation would be unloving. So God preserves the wicked in being and allows them to express as much of their nature as possible.”

This critique, however, falls short for two reasons. First, it seems unclear on the subject of immortality. Are people naturally immortal or not? The beginning of the quote makes it sound as if naturally immortal people could be, but would not be, annihilated by God. The end of the quote, however, sounds as if immortality is conditional, but that God will choose to preserve and otherwise fading people in order to allow them to express themselves. Second, Seymour surprisingly (given his position) seems to be assuming that love always wins out in the end. Even if his definition is correct that to love something is to desire its good, this does not dictate that God’s desires always come to fruition. What’s more, it could be suggested that extinction would be better than misery and therefore the more loving thing for God to do in response to ongoing rebellion.

Our third view, eventual restoration, would seem to be on its home turf when considering how love relates to Hell. Talbott’s book, foundational to this perspective, is titled The Inescapable Love of God. His argument is largely a logical one. If God wants all people to be saved, and God is powerful enough to achieve his purposes, then all people will eventually be saved. Supporters of the eventual restoration position claim that not only does God’s love logically win, but that if it somehow did not God would come out, unthinkably, a loser.

As to Talbott’s logic, few Arminians would question the validity of the idea that God wants all people to be saved. Nor would they deny that God is powerful enough to achieve his purposes. Even still, the concluding point (that all will eventually be restored) may be avoided by adding nuance to each of the two premises. Surely God wants all people to be saved and is powerful enough to do whatever he wants, but to save people (and not mere machines) they must freely choose to be restored to God. In other words, God voluntarily limits himself, choosing not to overpower the objects of his love. Such a strategy makes genuine relationship between God and people possible.

The second argument (that if everyone isn’t eventually restored, God doesn’t win) seems more difficult to overcome. In what sense is God victorious if (as is usually figured) most human beings end up as miserable rebels? Wouldn’t Satan be the winner in such a scenario, to some extent? Nor does the eventual extinction position escape the clutches of this argument. Talbott insists, “even the annihilation of the wicked would represent a permanent defeat for a loving God and would leave a permanent stain on his creation.” If the eventual restoration position is true, God is victorious over all of creation, but only because many members of that creation no longer exist. If the everlasting misery position is true, God is victorious over all of creation only in the sense that all of creation is subjected to his authority, even if many or most of the members of creation are bitter about that fact. Advocates of eventual restoration suggest both of these scenarios sound less like victory and more like defeat.

In the end, however, the answer to this point may come back to the previous paragraph. As C.S. Lewis puts it, “it is objected that the ultimate loss of s single soul means the defeat of omnipotence. And so it does. In creating beings with free will, omnipotence from the outset submits to the possibility of such defeat. What you call defeat, I call miracle: for to make things which are not Itself, and thus to become, in a sense, capable of being resisted by its own handiwork, is the most astonishing and unimaginable of all the feats we attribute to the Deity.”

Again, it appears the eventual restoration position has the philosophical high ground in regards to how love may relate to Hell. The philosophical strength of the eventual restoration position should not be surprising, especially considering many who dispute the view accuse it of being wholly driven by philosophy.

There is another aspect of this debate that must be discussed. As we analyzed the views in light of issues of justice, freedom, and love, it was probably apparent that the eventual extinction view largely stayed out of the scrum. Far more space was given to the other two views. The reason for this, as mentioned previously, is because the problems that confront the other two views are somewhat mitigated by the limited duration of the eventual extinction position.

There is an issue, however, that specifically pertains to the eventual extinction position and is a matter of reason/philosophy. That is, of course, the issue of whether people are inherently or conditionally immortal. Surely, the issue matters to all three positions. For instance, there is debate within the everlasting misery camp as to this question. There is a sizeable moral difference between God allowing the wicked to experience Hell forever because they, by nature, will live forever versus God actively keeping people alive so that they will experience everlasting misery. The second position seems morally repulsive. Nevertheless, some advocates of the everlasting misery perspective argue this very thing. Christopher Morgan, for instance, sides with the conditionalists on the issue. He states, “There is no disagreement on these things between the conditionalists and those holding the historic view of Hell [everlasting misery]. The real issue is whether God grants endless existence to unbelievers for the purpose of punishing them or whether he punishes them into non-existence.” And yet he insists that, “the wicked will be punished consciously forever in Hell, not because they exist as immortal souls but because God will sustain them.” Taking such a position only makes the matters discussed above more difficult for the everlasting misery perspective.

In any case, we must briefly examine this issue of inherent versus conditional immortality. It is important (though not necessarily crucial) to the eventual extinction position that human beings are not inherently immortal. As we noted in the Scripture section, the Bible seems to support the position that God alone is immortal, but how does human reason come into play in this debate?

It is a frustrating reality in the literature on Hell that this point (inherent immortality) is more often assumed than argued. Note a series of quotes from one popular apologetics handbook in discussing Hell: “Souls seem to be intrinsically immortal, immortal by their essence, so that it would be as self-contradictory to have a soul cease to exist as to have a circle become a square.” “To annihilate the souls in Hell would be to destroy something God created to be intrinsically and essentially immortal and indestructible- this is another self-contradiction.” Finally, “God does not sustain in existence the souls of the damned by any supernaturally willed act. Rather, his sustaining of souls forever is built into the nature of souls. In the act of creating eternal souls in the first place, God sustains them forever.” Surely such a position is morally preferable to that of Morgan (above), but the point is that no further arguments are made as to support what seems to be true to the author. In essence, then, conditionalism (and largely the entire eventual extinction position) is tossed aside before debate begins.

How did such strong assumptions about the inherent immortality of the soul come about? Conditionalists argue that the notion of the immortality of the soul was brought into Christianity from Greek philosophy. Early Christians, eager to show their neighbors the reasonableness of their faith, “freely borrowed the Platonic conception of the soul.” Certainly the Fathers adapted Plato’s notions in important ways, but they brought the basic idea of the soul’s immortality into Christianity from the outside.

Of course, the extent of influence that Greek philosophy had on the early church father’s views about the immortality of the soul is debatable. While all are willing to recognize some influence, defenders of everlasting misery (and eventual restoration, for that matter) often argue that immortality is an irrevocable gift given to all humans in that they are made in the image of God. Thus, it is not that people are immortal apart from God, but that all people are immortal because of God. In any case, what one thinks in regards to the debate between inherent and conditional immortality will probably play a role in determining their interest in the eventual extinction perspective. Someone who tends toward conditionalism is more likely to consider the eventual extinction position over and against the everlasting misery view because the idea of God keeping someone alive so that they will experience misery is difficult to fathom. Someone convinced that immortality is unconditional for humanity would seemingly have to choose between everlasting misery and eventual restoration (or for God to override, somehow, their inherent immortality). Thus, while “the annihilation theory resonates well with the modern acknowledgement of human finitude, in contrast to the Hellenist doctrine of an eternal soul,” every interpreter must make his or her own decision on this issue.

Chapter 6
Tradition and Hell

Tradition and Hell
We have seen that Scripture provides us with some ambiguity about Hell. This has created an environment for differing views to emerge in Christendom. Human reason provides us with a means to consider the strengths and weaknesses of these views, but by no means brings total clarity. Tradition and experience offer additional ways by which to evaluate various claims about the nature of Hell. Though Wesley gave tradition and experience a more restricted epistemological role than Scripture and reason, they still play an important part in helping us come to the truth.
Christians are part of a community and that community extends not only geographically across the planet, but also chronologically into the past. What past Christians have believed and said about Hell should matter to modern day believers. Wesley was a student of church history and his spiritual descendants ought to be as well. If one perspective on Hell has experienced nearly universal acceptance from Christians across the centuries of church history, this would seem to say a lot about the merits of that view. Indeed, Christians should be quite reluctant to depart from any overwhelming concensus regarding doctrinal matters.

Below, we will examine how these three views faired in church history. Our investigation will divide church history into three sections. The first section will cover the time period from the death of the Apostles until the rise of Augustine (this period will be referred to as the early church). The second section will span from Augustine to the Reformation (this period will be referred to as the medieval church). The third section will cover from the Reformation to the present (this period will be referred to as the post-reformation church). It is not the nature of this paper to thoroughly analyze the key players or statements in church history on the subject of Hell. Our aim is simply to discover what views have been present and to what extent they have been advocated in the different periods.

Hell in the Early Church

While aware of problems in the early church, Wesley gave preference to Christian writers from this period of church history for three key reasons: “their proximity to Biblical times, their eminent character, and a special endowment of the Holy Spirit upon them.” Wesley was highly suspicious of doctrines that could not be traced to the early church. On the other hand, Wesley was sometimes more gracious toward those from this period who have since been labeled unorthodox, emphasizing devout character over secondary doctrinal beliefs.

Even if we only had record of one view of Hell being advocated by the early church, it would not prove that only one view was present. Our knowledge of the early church comes from a limited amount of surviving material. What’s more, advocates of the view that wins out in the end sometimes control the material that survives. It is perhaps surprising, then, that we have surviving material from this period in support of all three views. Indeed, the views under consideration were all supported by notable characters from the period in question.

The everlasting misery perspective seems to have enjoyed broad support in the early church. Notably, Tertullian, Jerome, and Chrysostom held this view of Hell. Tertullian serves as one of the earliest known advocates of the everlasting misery position. Writing in the late 2nd and early 3rd century, he insisted on this view over and against the eventual extinction position. Commenting on Matthew 10:28, he states: “If, therefore, any one shall violently suppose that the destruction of the soul and the flesh in Hell amounts to a final annihilation of the two substances, and not to their penal treatment (as if they were to be consumed, not punished), let him recollect that the fire of Hell is eternal- expressly announced as an everlasting penalty.” Thus, for Tertullian, the word ‘destroy’ in the passage in question should be understood figuratively rather than literally. Given his belief in the immortality of the soul and the Scriptural statements about eternal punishment, the everlasting misery position must have seemed impossible to avoid.

The eventual extinction position seems to have been affirmed in the Didache and hints of it can be found in such notable men as Ignatius and Justin Martyr. Cautious language is necessary here because, in most cases, the surviving literature does not treat our subject systematically enough to firmly establish the position of the authors. Additionally, when the topic of Hell does come up, they often resort almost wholly to quoting Scripture which results in each camp claiming the author for their side. Justin, writing in the mid 2nd century, clearly identified belief in the immortality of the soul as a platonic notion. He believed that conscious punishment continues for the wicked only so long as God wills it, after which the wicked will cease to exist.

The eventual restoration view was very prominent in the early church. Indeed, John Wesley Hanson argued in the late 19th century that this view was the prevailing doctrine of the Christian church during its first five hundred years. He provides evidences from the catacombs, early Christian prayer habits, and Greek vocabulary to make his case, but the heart of his book focuses on notables such as Clement, Origin, and Gregory. Clement of Alexandria (late 2nd-Early 3rd century) insisted that God does not punish evil for punishments’ sake. Instead, God chastises for the good of those chastised (punishment is restorative in nature ). Origen, writing in the early 3rd century, builds on this insistance and is, perhaps, the most famous proponent of the eventual restoration view. It is important to note that while Origen was later considered a heretic by some, it was not Origen’s restorationist views that earned him this label. Hanson argues persuasively that mention of his eventual restoration position is notably absent from the earliest critiques of Origen. Gregory of Nyssa, writing in the 4th century, boldly stated that, “This is the end of our hope, that nothing shall be left contrary to the good, but that the divine life, penetrating all things, shall absolutely destroy death from existing things… For it is evident that God will in truth be in all when there shall be no more evil in existence.” Interestingly enough, when the Nicene Creed was perfected in A. D. 381, it was presided over by two Gregorys, both of whom were believers in the eventual restoration of all creation. This fact demonstrates to Hanson that eventual restoration was, at the very least, an accepted position amongst the orthodox in the earliest centuries of the church.

Clearly all three views were present in the early church, though the everlasting misery and eventual restoration positions can best evidence their prominence. During this period of church history, six theological schools developed. All three of the positions we are analyzing could claim at least one of these schools for their camp (the eventual restoration view may claim four of the six). Pinnock summarizes our findings well in saying, “There was no single Jewish view of Hell…There is a… diversity in the early Christian sources. The Apostles’ Creed affirms that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead at the end of history, though it does not spell out the exact nature of that judgment. One can find the idea of everlasting torment, annihilation, and universalism.” It appears that the early church did not dogmatize on the fate of the wicked. Seymour suggests that “theological thinking seems to have been more flexible in the era before the magisterial influence of Augustine.”

Hell in the Medieval Church

It is no accident that what we are labeling the Medieval Church begins with Augustine. Few would argue that this man was one of the most influential Christians of all time when it comes to theology. He argued for the everlasting misery view of Hell and specifically against the alternative views. The power of his case dominated the dogmatic landscape for the next thousand years. He was the first to systematically defend the doctrine, “but after him this was, at least in the western church, the only valid doctrine.” The everlasting misery position reigned from Augustine onward and was subsequently defended by such notable names as Anselm and Acquinas.

Augustine of Hippo lived in the late 4th and early 5th centuries. In his day, disagreement amongst Christians about the nature of Hell was widespread. He himself notes the reality that many disagreed with his everlasting misery position: “Some, indeed very many, moan over the eternal punishment, and perpetual, unintermittent torments of the lost, and say they do not believe it shall so be.” While, rhetorically, Augustine speaks out strongly against opposing thoughts on Hell, he does not treat advocates of these other views as dangerous heretics. “They are good people, filled with compassion for their fellow human beings,” but they do so at the expense of the proper interpretation of Scripture.

Augustine argued strongly that the Scriptures were clear on the question of the nature of Hell. He dealt most extensively with the issue in Book 21 of City of God. He considered it “absurd… to interpret eternal punishment as meaning merely a fire of long duration while believing eternal life to signify life without end” since the phrases were parallel in texts such as Matthew 25:46. He insisted that the term in question had a single meaning in Scripture, namely, unending duration, though we should keep in mind that he admitted he was not knowledgeable in the Greek language in which the New Testament was written.

When the question arose as to how everlasting misery was a just punishment for temporal sins, Augustine appealed to the “complicity of all human beings in the universal sin of Adam.” Once we grasp the enormity of the first sin, everlasting misery becomes quite logical according to Augustine. But this response to the question of justice proved incomplete and demanded further elaboration by future defenders of Augustine’s view.

Anselm (late 11th to early 12th century) and Aquinas (13th century) came to Augustine’s aid, attempting to relieve the tension between God’s justice and the concept of everlasting misery. Working “within the framework of medieval feudal society,” Anselm argued that the degree of punishment should be set based not only on the crime, but also on the worthiness of the offended party. Since sin is against God and God’s worthiness is infinite, so must the resulting punishment be without end. Anselm was concerned to maintain a sense of beauty and balance in a creation that includes everlasting misery, and though his success is highly debatable, he felt that balancing sins against an infinitely worthy God with endless punishment was the means to this end.

Aquinas provided a slight variation, insisting the everlasting misery was just because a crime against an infinite being requires infinite punishment. It is worth noting that Aquinas and many other ancient defenders of the everlasting misery interpretation imagined that the wicked would be repentant in Hell, but that this repentance could not result in restoration because death was the finish line in terms of making a decision about Christ. Indeed, he suggests that “the blessed rejoice in seeing the damned punished” but “this joy is not a sign of corruption. Instead it shows a healthy respect for justice.” Together, Anselm and Aquinas “typify the main current of Western thought in the official midieval church. It was a theology cast in the mold of philosophy; tradition rather than exegesis filled in its details. As time passed, the tradition hardened and the distance from Scripture increased.”

The work of Augustine was so influential that both eventual extinction and eventual restoration were soon considered unorthodox and heretical. Anselm and Aquinas, along with Dante’s popular Divine Comedy assured that the concept of Hell was nearly synonymous with the idea of everlasting misery during this period. One author remarks, “it is perhaps not surprising that… unorthodox idea[s] appeared only in extremist and sectarian groups who rejected the authority of such ecclesiastical powers” during this era. Everlasting misery dominated the medieval church era and was assumed by the vast majority at the time of the Reformation.

Hell in the Post-Reformation Church

The Reformer’s inherited the medieval church’ s assumption of everlasting misery in Hell for the wicked. While there were some exceptions to the rule, almost all of the major players on record supported this now traditional view. The Reformer’s sought to weed out some of the dogma that had developed during the Medieval era, but they did this largely by going back to Augustinian theology and not so much by digging into the pre-Augustinian fathers. In many ways issues of eschatology were put on the backburner in the initial stages of the Reformation. Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Wesley, Whitefield, Shedd, and others are all on record supporting the doctrine of everlasting misery.

This inheritance, however, is more and more coming into dispute. While the doctrine of everlasting misery had been considered a core belief among many Evangelicals, the evidence indicates that this may no longer be the case. Dante brought the concept of everlasting misery into the popular imagination. Edwards pounded it from the pulpit. But sometime after Edwards Hell began to spiral into near oblivion. Much recent literature on the subject of Hell starts by indicating how little Hell is written about. Hell is only recently making it back to the table to be discussed. It appears the environment is ripe for fresh appraisal (as we’ve sought to do here).

While everlasting misery is still seemingly the position of the majority of Evangelicals, both the eventual extinction view and the eventual restoration view are gaining momentum in today’s theological climate. In addition, a number of prominent leaders have taken positions that seem to merge two or all three perspectives. Below we will catalogue some of the people at the forefront and the status of the contemporary discussion.

The everlasting misery view is probably still the majority position among Evangelicals, but it is significant that treatment of the subject is becoming less dogmatic. For example, the Evangelical Alliance Commission on Unity and Truth Among Evangelicals (ACUTE) recently treated everlasting misery and eventual extinction side by side. One of the conclusions reached by the group was stated as follows, “Evangelicals diverge on whether Hell is eternal in duration or effect.” Eventual restoration, on the other hand, was still rejected as incompatible with Evangelicalism. At least two prominent Evangelical publishers (Zondervan and IVP) have put out multiview books on Hell, allowing readers to hear various perspectives in friendly dialogue. What’s more, some of the defenses of everlasting misery are different from what has traditionally been held. We noted above that both Jerry Walls and Charles Seymour, in defending the everlasting misery view philosophically, altered it to include the possibilities of both some post-mortem extinction and even restoration. Of course, that is not to say the more traditional approach to everlasting misery is going away. Robert Peterson seems to be the most active defender of this view and treats both eventual extinction and eventual restoration as false witnesses.

The eventual extinction position has been gaining ground. That the ACUTE study treated it as a theological equal to everlasting misery is a significant reality. The view has been achored by Edward Fudge’s book The Fire that Consumes. Three editions have been published, each with a different prominent scholar writing the foreward (F.F. Bruce, John Wenham, and most recently Richard Bauckham). It is, perhaps, especially interesting that Bauckham wrote a foreward for Fudge considering he is often quoted in the everlasting misery literature as a supporter. Fudge, however, states directly that “Bauckham himself has rejected the traditional view of Hell as unending torment” and endorses eventual extinction. Certainly the support of respected Evangelicals such as John Stott and Clark Pinnock have helped build momentum. Fudge also lists notables like Homer Hailey, Michael Green, I. Howard Marshall, and Gregory Boyd as advocates of the eventual extinction position.

The emergence of an Evangelical form of universalism has proven more difficult. The leading Evangelical advocate of the eventual restoration position (Thomas Talbott) has had his Evangelical status questioned. Another Evangelical (Robin Parry) used a pseudonym to write his book The Evangelical Universalist. Popular author and speaker Rob Bell created a firestorm amongst Evangelicals by publishing Love Wins which raised questions about Hell and lent itself to the eventual restoration position. Clearly there is a reluctance from many to consider the merits of the eventual extinction position, but this reluctance is even greater when applied to eventual restoration.

Pinnock rightly summarizes where our study has taken us so far in the following quote,

“Tradition plays a major role in determining people’s thinking about Hell… Though scriptural support for Hell as eternal conscious suffering is weak and objections against it are strong, tradition is a formidable argument for holding the traditional view. I do not feel at all comfortable contradicting the likes of Saint Anselm and John Calvin.”

Chapter 7
Experience and Hell

Experience and Hell

What part may ‘experience’ play in an academic evaluation of the doctrine of the fate of the wicked? Ones mind might be initially drawn to some report of a human being claiming to have visited Hell and certainly such claims exist. Even if such a claim could be validated, however, it wouldn’t help build our case because any contemporary tour of ‘Hell’ would actually be a tour of the intermediate state. The focus of our research is on the final state. Instead, we will examine how our experiences may shed light on the nature of Hell by asking three practical questions. First, how do the three views of Hell that we have discussed resonate with the hearts of people (especially God’s people)? Second, how do the three views of Hell impact the mission of God’s people? Third, how do pastors handle the subject of Hell in their church’s and ministries?

Hell and Hearts

If we could select which of the three views of Hell was reality, what would we choose? Seemingly, Christians (enemy lovers at heart) would choose the eventual restoration position. Wouldn’t we be overjoyed to know that every single human being and all of creation would ultimately be restored to right relationship with God through Jesus Christ? If any professing Christian would admit to preferring that everlasting misery turn out to be true, one would have to wonder whether the love of God truly resides in their heart.

What, however, if the eventual restoration of every individual is too good to be true? Maybe some people will continually refuse to repent and be restored. In such a case, would we rather they faced everlasting misery or eventual extinction? It seems, given these two options, that extinction would be preferable to everlasting misery, though some question this conclusion. Indeed, Augustine objects, “mere existence is desirable… those who are wretched are for this very reason unwilling to die… they would certainly be overjoyed to choose perpetual misery in preference to complete annihilation.” This seems far from certain to many today. Eventual restoration is preferable to eventual extinction. Eventual extinction is preferable to everlasting misery.

Should we make something of our objection to everlasting misery? Is it significant that in our hearts we tend to detest the idea of Hell in general, but especially its most severe definition? Below is a series of quotes collected from the sources that have been part of our research:

“It seems harder to believe that the bodies of the damned are to remain in endless torment.” (Augustine)

“No evangelical, I think, need hesitate to admit that in his heart of hearts he would like universalism to be true. Who can take pleasure in the thought of people being eternally lost? If you want to see folks damned, there is something wrong with you.” (Packer)

“The thought of Hell… can carry no inherent attraction to the balanced and coherent human mind.” (Ferguson)

“I do not want to believe in it” (Alcorn)

“Most Christians have natural problems with the concept of eternal punishment.” (Walvoord)

“Truly pious people naturally wish that all people would be saved” (Calvin)

"Of all the doctrines of Christianity, Hell is probably the most difficult to defend, the most burdensome to believe and the first to be abandoned.” (Kreeft)

“I have thought about this subject for more than fifty years… Now I feel the time has come when I must declare my mind honestly. I believe that endless torment is a hideous and unscriptural doctrine which has been a terrible burden on the mind of the church for many centuries and a terrible blot on her presentation of the Gospel. I should be very happy if, before I die, I could help sweep it away.” (Wenham)

“Let me say at the outset that I consider the concept of Hell as endless torment in body and mind an outrageous doctrine, a theological and moral enormity, a bad doctrine of the tradition which needs to be changed. 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 moral standards, and by the gospel itself.” (Pinnock)

“Emotionally, I find the concept intolerable.” (Stott)

“The dogma that God wants everlasting punishment for the vast majority of humanity had always bothered me.” (Bonda)

“The conventional doctrine of Hell has too often engendered a view of a deity who suffers from borderline personality disorder or some worse sociopathic diagnosis.” (McLaren)

“There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power.” (Lewis)

“We are told that it is a detestable doctrine—and indeed, I too detest it from the bottom of my heart.” (Lewis)

“Why then have so many theologians abandoned the traditional doctrine of Hell? The answer to this is straightforward: the doctrine is widely regarded to be morally indefensible.” (Walls)

Though these quotes come from people holding a variety of perspectives, all of the above quotes are directed at the everlasting misery view of Hell. Supporters of this view routinely express such sentiment, but then dismiss it as irrelevant, insisting that we must never build doctrines from our instincts and/or emotions. Others give this type of evidence a small bit of weight. Walls states, “what people actually believe about Hell is relevant initial evidence, but [it is] no more than that.” For our purposes, the sentiments expressed in these quotations are certainly not our primary source for determining the truth about Hell (that would be Scripture), but neither should they be simply dismissed. In fact, they should be taken more seriously than they typically have been. After all, all of the above quotes come from professing Christians. Especially Wesleyans, who emphasize heart level transformation, should consider whether our sentiment against everlasting misery is actually evidence against the view. Does our judgment, as spiritual people, represent the mind of Christ?

Certainly such evidence should not be taken too far. After all, non-Christians seem to share this sentiment against everlasting misery. Then again, if the feeling is mutual between Christians and non-Christians alike, perhaps that only strengthens the evidence. It could be argued that we also have an instinctual desire to see sin punished, as if this is support for the everlasting misery view. Such an instinct is granted, but all three of the views we have been discussing include some form of punishment. Perhaps objections such as these would make sense if we were discussing instant extinction or instant restoration, but we are not.

Hell and Mission

Of the three views of Hell we have discussed, which view best motivates the mission of the church? One could strongly argue that if the wicked will eventually be restored, then there would be a missing motivation to evangelize in the here and now. J. I. Packer says strongly, “If all people are… ‘doomed to be saved,’ then it follows that the decisiveness of decisions made in this life, and the urgency of evangelism here in this life, immediately, are undermined… You can see what the missionary implications of this are going to be.” Another author adds, “It would surely comfort our consciences as Christians. We would not need to worry about the fact that we had not witnessed to our agnostic and unrepentant colleagues at work.”

At least one author supporting the eventual restoration position admits, “the theme of Christian mission and evangelism is central to the New Testament. If Christian universalism undermines it, then that is a clear indicator that it is incompatible with a biblical theology.” But he goes on to argue that, while the doctrine of everlasting misery has been a catalyst of evangelism, it is not the best or preferred missional motivation. The Gospel is the good news of the Kingdom of God. It is the good news of love and life everlasting, not the bad news of Hell. Our motivation in missions is to spread the news of God’s love. We should do it because the sooner someone knows the love of God, the sooner they may begin to experience the abundant life. Pinnock adds, “the fear of Hell is not the primary motivation for missions. The deepest motive of all is to see the kingdom come and God’s rule established.”

That we would be less motivated to witness if Hell were either a place of eventual extinction or eventual restoration is an alarming claim. Would such a scenario indicate that we are OK with people going to Hell so long as they are only there for a limited duration of time? If that is the case, there are bigger problems in our hearts and minds than our beliefs about Hell. More likely, fear over the impact of these minority views of Hell is directed at non-Evangelical versions of the doctrines. As above, this argument makes more sense if we’re talking in terms of immediate extinction and/or immediate restoration. Both the eventual extinction and eventual restoration positions that we have been discussing, however, include time in Hell.
We must also consider slightly altering our original question. Instead of asking which view most naturally motivates evangelism, what we if we asked which view has done the most overall harm to the mission? Multiple prominent atheists have considered the doctrine of everlasting misery a primary stumbling block between them and Christian theism. How could a supposedly loving God, who commands us to love our enemies, be content with the everlasting misery of many human beings? Could it be that, “When Western Christendom not only backed away from, but actually condemned, the idea of universal reconciliation, it also… backed away from the only consistent theology of love”? Church history post-Augustine is sometimes seen as suggesting such a theory.

By all accounts, our doctrine of Hell does and always has impacted mission. One of John Wesley Hanson’s conclusions from his study on universalism in the early church is that, “the idea that false threats were necessary to keep the common people in check, and that the truth might be held esoterically, prevailed among the earlier Christians.” Hanson is suggesting that early supporters of the eventual restoration position purposefully taught a view of Hell they didn’t necessarily believe in because of its pragmatic value. While we may not support such a policy, we must be certain to weigh carefully the impact that our doctrine of Hell will have on the church and the world. This is an area requiring further exploration in the current dialogue about Hell.

Hell and Pastors

In practice, pastors are often resident theologians for the local church community. While in today’s culture it is easy for parishioners to access the wealth of resources now available on the topic, pastors still play a prominent role in developing what church members think about Hell. This development may take place when the pastor preaches, counsels, or conducts funeral services. Likewise, a lack of development may take place if the pastor chooses to avoid the subject altogether or if there is a “struggle to communicate this most difficult topic in an accessible way.” Popular author Brian McLaren notes that “many theologians and preachers like myself have downplayed or entirely dropped the idea of Hell in our writing and preaching. Perhaps intuitively, we have known that something is wrong and so we’ve backed off until we figure out the problem.”

McLaren has written a novel about a modern day pastor and his struggles concerning the subject of Hell. Prompted by a question from his daughter, Pastor Dan Poole begins obsessing over the issue. When his questioning finds its way into his preaching, he is put on leave by the church board. Meanwhile, he is advised by a mentor to study the issue via Scripture, logic, history, and his heart (as we have done in this thesis). Pastor Poole never comes to any concrete conclusions except that there is something wrong with the traditional view, at least how it has been understood and utilized. In being honest about his lack of clarity, however, his church experiences a revival of sorts through their renewed emphasis on love and good works instead of details about doctrine.

It is important that pastors take the time to develop their own thoughts on Hell. “[We must] recognize that this matter merits deep solemnity and soberness. It is biblically indefensible to ignore or marginalize Hell, but neither is it something to be relished.” Pastors must preach Hell, and the first step to preaching it may be discovering why it has so long been avoided. The general avoidance of the subject may be evidence that something is wrong. It is time for a fresh look at Hell. If such an examination takes place, it must be kept in mind that it may not yield concrete conclusions, but what is wrong with not having all the answers?

Both pastors who seemingly only talk about Hell and pastors who avoid it as much as possible evidence the fact that something is wrong with the doctrine as we know it. The time has come to either declare, to clarify, to deconstruct, and/or to rebuild our thoughts on Hell. Sinclair Ferguson, in his essay on the preacher and Hell, gives three helpful suggestions. First, pastor’s must preach that Hell is a reality (all three views agree with this). Second, there must be a return to the biblical language about Hell in our sermons (this is preferable to doctrinal language and leaves room for the congregation to be led by the Spirit to their own interpretation). Third, Hell must never be the final word (we must always return to the good news that salvation is available). Pastors must have the courage to speak of Hell, but they also need the courage to admit lingering questions and ambiguities.

Chapter 8

We have attempted to provide a fresh evaluation of the nature of Hell in light of Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. One author, attempting a similar evaluation as we have been pursuing, chimed, “in an ideal world, the four sources would beautifully dovetail and lead to clear conclusions.” But in reality, as another points out, “it’s not easy to hold all four together.” Each view encounters strengths and weaknesses in each of the four areas.
We explored some of the leading exegetical arguments for the everlasting misery position on Hell. While the Old Testament did not offer much support, it left us with two interesting passages that serve as a bridge to the New Testament teaching on Hell. Jesus himself was most adamant about the reality and nature of Hell, especially by expressing “eternal punishment” and “eternal life” with such symmetry. Finally, the Book of Revelation provides seemingly clear statements about the unending nature of torment to be experienced by all those opposed to God.

We examined some of the key passages (and listed others) referred to by advocates for the eventual extinction perspective of Hell. Proponents claim a general affirmation of their view from the Old Testament. The New Testament is even clearer in affirming that the wicked will eventually be extinguished. Pinnock summarizes for us, “Throughout its pages, following the Old Testament lead, the New Testament employs images of death, perishing, destruction, and corruption to describe the end of the wicked.”

Proponents of eventual restoration suggest that the Old Testament begins and ends with a vision of God’s love and care for all people. His goal to restore all people to right relationship with him through Jesus Christ is made most clear by Paul who aggressively states that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross brings justification to all people. Ultimately, every individual will bow before God as their Lord. Christ’s victory will be complete and all encompassing. God is love. Love wins.

We also examined some of the leading biblical critiques of each view. Indeed, the strength of these views is seen not so much in their supporting texts (most will grant that some texts seem to support each view), but in how Scriptural counter-evidence is dealt with. Of course, determining the outcome of this point/counter-point dialogue is, to a degree, a matter of personal evaluation.

All three views of Hell are pressed to make adjustments in light of reason. The everlasting misery perspective seemingly must adjust to allow for continued freedom in Hell and, possibly, for the possibility of mobility. The eventual extinction position must attempt to argue its case that human immortality is wholly conditional upon ones relationship to Jesus Christ. The eventual restoration position may need to become more hopeful than certain about the future in light of human freedom. It is fairly safe to suggest, however, that in the rubric of reason, the everlasting misery position faces the most difficulty. Most advocates of the view will admit this is the case, and appeal to the supposed clarity of Scripture in support of their view. The eventual restoration position seems to be helped by the rubric of reason. Whether or not the eventual extinction position receives positive support here largely depends on what side of the immortality debate one comes down on.

When it comes to tradition, once again, we have seen some ambiguity amidst the evidence. In the early church, everlasting misery and eventual restoration seem to have been prominent, but all three views were present and accounted for. In the medieval church, the everlasting misery position certainly dominated the Western church and was passed down to the Reformers. The Post-Reformation church, at least evangelically speaking, has largely received this inheritance. The past few decades, however, have witnessed the return of, first, the eventual extinction position and more recently the eventual restoration view. One’s evaluation of where the evidence of tradition points will depend largely on how one weighs the different segments of church history. If the three periods discussed above are given equal weight, then certainly the everlasting misery position has been the dominant view. If one favors the earliest church, as Wesley did, then one may choose to be less dogmatic about the nature of Hell and recognize the validity of each of the three views. Likewise, if one has a continually progressive view of revelation, the contemporary setting seems to match, in many ways, the reality in the early church. All three views are being advocated, written about, and considered.

Having looked into three areas where the doctrine of Hell meets our experiences (emotion, evangelism, exhortation), we must again conclude that the evidence is somewhat ambiguous. At an emotional level, we revolt against the idea of Hell in general, but especially the concept of everlasting misery. While we cannot make conclusions based on these emotions, we should consider why so many people with Christian character have a hard time accepting this interpretation of Hell. In regards to evangelism, we must take seriously the effect that different views of Hell may have on the church’s mission. The everlasting misery view has indeed provoked missionary zeal and warnings of torment have prompted many conversions. If eventual extinction and/or eventual restoration are to be considered, the reality of Hell must still be emphasized even in its limited duration. That many preachers have avoided the subject of Hell may alert us to the fact that there’s some level of discomfort with the received doctrine. That discomfort may be based on the content of the doctrine or the lack of courage in the preacher. In any case, we best figure it out because Hell is a Scriptural reality and needs to be presented from the pulpit.

In light of the evidence, it is to be concluded that real ambiguities remain about the nature of Hell in regards to Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. The case for everlasting misery depends on a few key New Testament texts, an emphasis on the gravity of sin and the need for justice, the fact that it has dominated church tradition since Augustine, and the fruit it has yielded in evangelism. The case for eventual extinction depends on the key words used to talk about the fate of the wicked throughout the canon of Scripture, the natural mortality of humanity, evidence of its support at both ends of church history, and our sense that everlasting misery does not fit with the character of God. The case for eventual restoration comes mainly from some important Pauline texts, an emphasis on the love of God, reference to its early advocates, and the fact that Christ-like persons hope it to be true.

Our findings do not lead to clear-cut conclusions. We cannot declare a winner of the Scripture (or any other category). Much of the material is subject to the interpretation of each individual. Nor do our findings call for the outright elimination of any of these three views. It is a growing trend amongst Evangelicals to accept the eventual extinction view as a possibility, but maintain that the eventual restoration view is out of bounds. Our conclusion is that a Christian could hold any of these three positions because all three views remain possibilities after critique through the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

Our research has shown that not only are all three views worthy of consideration, but mergers between the views are quite possible. Everlasting misery and eventual extinction may be merged if one insists that the destruction of one thing always leads to the emergence of something else. Perhaps the wicked cease to exist as human beings, but do not become wholly extinct. N. T. Wright takes just such a merged view when he says, “it is possible for human beings to continue down this road [of rejecting God], that after death they become at last, by their own effective choice, beings that once were human but now are not, creatures that have ceased to bear the divine image at all.”

Everlasting misery may be combined with eventual restoration if one simply posits that repentance forever remains a possibility. “One of the more intriguing trends in current evangelical theology is the growing number of evangelical theologians since the 1960s who have either endorsed or seriously entertained the concept of ‘second chance’ or ‘post-mortem’ evangelism.” This group now includes, at least, George Beasley Murray, Charles Cranfield, Donald Bloesch, Clark Pinnock, Gabriel Fackre and Nigel Wright. In such a scenario, Hell will remain a place of everlasting misery so long as one being remains unrepentant.

Likewise, eventual extinction could potentially be combined with the eventual restoration view. Jan Bonda, arguing from the eventual restoration perspective, speculates at the end of his book: “One question remains: Will there be people who persist in their refusal to make that choice [to repent]? We have also left this aside. God has given each human being the free choice to say No to him… Could this No result in nothingness—annihilation? Surely, that is possible… Scripture does not allow us to affirm that this will not happen. We do not know everything!”

Indeed, all three views could potentially be combined. Charles Seymour, attempting to reasonably defend the possibility of everlasting misery, reforms Hell to the degree that it includes both the possibilities of eventual extinction and eventual restoration. He attempts to save the everlasting misery view from critique by emphasizing freedom, but admits “by introducing freedom into the afterlife, I make Heaven and Hell unstable. There is nothing to prevent someone in Hell from repenting and entering Heaven” Indeed, he suggests that it is “possible that none will ever repent, but not plausible.” Though he was critical of eventual extinction throughout his work, in the end he confesses that “it is possible that some damned choose to continue sinning and that others choose annihilation.” It seems some of the strongest contemporary defenses of Hell include a merger the views we have been discussing.

The above conclusions may come as a surprise to many Evangelicals. After all, the everlasting misery perspective has enjoyed a long reign as the commonly accepted position on the fate of the wicked. Must it now face its rivals afresh? Lesslie Newbigin, in his book The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, discusses how revelation, reason, tradition and experience help us pursue the truth.

All traditions of rational discourse are continually changing in the effort to make sense of experience. Old formations and concepts are called in question as not being adequate to the realities which the community is facing. Sometimes the tradition is strong and flexible enough to respond to the new situation without much radical break from the past. Sometimes this does not happen. The tradition faces a crisis. There are internal self-contradictions: there are experiences which cannot be understood in terms of the existing ways of thought. At this point another, rival tradition of rationality appears on the scene—perhaps one that was always present but muted by the success of the reigning tradition, perhaps a new arrival. It confronts the reigning tradition with a radical challenge. It offers another way of seeing things, another vision of the shape of things and of the human story, a paradigm shift. Some, perhaps many, adherents of the old tradition find the new one more adequate to the realities they face, and are converted to the new view. The fact that this happens demonstrates that while all exercise of rationality is within a social tradition, the tradition is not ultimate; it is subject to the test of adequacy to the realities which it seeks to grasp. Truth is grasped, can only be grasped, within a tradition, but traditions can be and are judged adequate or inadequate in respect of their perceived capacity to lead their adherents into the truth.

In our case, the tradition is the belief that Hell is a place of everlasting misery. This tradition is, more and more, being critiqued as inadequate on various grounds. The tradition has flexed to respond to these critiques, but it is far from certain if and how it will survive. Meanwhile, rival traditions from the past have re-emerged. The presence of three competing perspectives of Hell need not be seen as a sign of confusion, but as a path to greater clarity. The tradition may well regain its privileged position, but with greater nuance and strength. If, however, a new tradition develops, we can only hope it will emerge because of its closeness to the truth.

A Sample Resolution for the Wesleyan Church


21. Destiny
250. We believe that the Scriptures clearly teach that there is a conscious personal existence after death. The final destiny of each person is determined by God's grace and that person's response, evidenced inevitably by a moral character which results from that individual's personal and volitional choices and not from any arbitrary decree of God. Heaven with its eternal glory and the blessedness of Christ's presence is the final abode of those who choose the salvation which God provides through Jesus Christ, but Hell with its everlasting misery and separation from God is the final abode of those who neglect this great salvation.

Whereas, the Article of Religion on Destiny lends itself to a particular view of Hell;

Whereas, a Scriptural case may be made for other views regarding the fate of the wicked;

Whereas, there may be reasonable objections to the ‘everlasting misery’ perspective;

Whereas, other understandings of Hell have been present throughout church history;

Whereas, the doctrine of Hell is in need of fresh and open-minded evaluation;

Whereas, removing two words creates room for a variety of interpretations of Hell;

Whereas, the reality of Hell as a place of misery/separation would still be insisted upon;

Resolved, that the final sentence of Article 21 be amended by striking the words ‘everlasting’ and ‘final’ and thus read:

21. Destiny
250. We believe that the Scriptures clearly teach that there is a conscious personal existence after death. The final destiny of each person is determined by God's grace and that person's response, evidenced inevitably by a moral character which results from that individual's personal and volitional choices and not from any arbitrary decree of God. Heaven with its eternal glory and the blessedness of Christ's presence is the final abode of those who choose the salvation which God provides through Jesus Christ, but Hell with its misery and separation from God is the abode of those who neglect this great salvation.


Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson, Hell Under Fire (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 16.
The Wesleyan Church is an evangelical, Protestant denomination of nearly 400,000 constituents in 5,000 churches and missions in 80 countries of the world. Formed in 1968 resulting from the mergers of several like-minded groups, dating back as far as 1843, The Wesleyan Church has its roots in John Wesley's Methodism. For more information see
Taken from the 2008 Discipline of the Wesleyan Church.
This has been my (albeit limited) experience. I have taught about the multiple views of Hell in no less than five Wesleyan settings and each time the response has been one of surprise (“I never knew of these other views before”) and thankfulness (“I’m glad you shared this, it definitely gives me something to think about”).
Don Thorsen, The Wesleyan Quadrilateral: A Model of Evangelical Theology. (Lexington, KY: Emeth, 2005), 6.
Thomas Oden, John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 55.
Thorsen, 1.
Randy Maddox, Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology (Nashville, TN: Kingswood Books, 1994), 37.
Oden, 55.
Thorsen, 76.
Maddox, 37.
Oden, 57.
Maddox, 37.
Ibid, 38.
Thorsen, 86.
Ibid., 90.
Maddox, 36-40.
Oden, 71.
Quoted in Thorsen, 107.
Oden, 75.
Maddox, 40.
Thorsen, 93.
Maddox, 42.
Thorsen, 95.
Ibid., 102.
Maddox, 44.
Thorsen, 129.
Ibid., 135.
Ibid., 144.
Oden, 91.
Leslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1989), 52-53.
It is important to be clear, here, that we are discussing views of Hell (post-Judgment Day) and not the intermediate state.
David Hilborn, The Nature of Hell: A Report by the Evangelical Alliance Commission on Unity and Truth Among Evangelicals (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster Publishing USA, 2000), 37.
Morgan and Peterson, 59.
Ibid., 59.
Robert Peterson, Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1995), 29.
Morgan and Peterson, 59.
All Scripture quotations in this paper are from the New International Version.
Quoted by Peterson, 32.
Morgan and Peterson, 60.
Peterson, 35.
Morgan and Peterson, 63.
Ibid., 65
Peterson, 54.
Ibid., 55.
Saint Augustine, The City of God (New York: Doubleday, 1958), 506.
Edward Fudge and Robert Peterson, Two Views of Hell (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2000), 145.
Peterson, 47.
Fudge and Peterson, 147.
Peterson, 64.
Morgan and Peterson, 74.
Blomberg, 206.
Morgan and Peterson, 74.
Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2004), 25-26.
Morgan and Peterson, 92.
Hilborn, 49.
Morgan and Peterson, 108.
Peterson, 81.
Fudge and Peterson, 160.
Ibid., 161.
Ibid., 164.
Morgan and Peterson, 130.
William Crockett, Ed., Four Views of Hell (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 156.
Thomas Talbott, The Inescapable Love of God (Salem, OR: Willamette University, 2002), 88.
Crockett, 155-156.
Craig Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1990), 206.
See Alcorn, 25-26.
Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 152.
Ibid., 152.
Crockett, 157.
Fudge, 306.
MacDonald, 106-132.
Ibid., 106.
Ibid., 109.
Charles Seymour, A Theodicy of Hell (Boston, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000), 183.
Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 287.
Edward Fudge, The Fire that Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment (Verdict Publications, 1982), 97-100.
Ibid., 160.
Hilborn, 43.
Fudge, The Fire that Consumes, 161.
Hilborn, 43.
Ibid., 46.
Ibid., 74
Fudge, The Fire that Consumes, 265.
Quoted in Fudge, The Fire that Consumes, 277.
Peterson, 161-182.
Ibid., 177.
Ibid., 178.
Ibid., 163.
Morgan and Peterson, 206.
Morgan and Peterson, 205.
Morgan and Peterson, 203.
Talbott, 99.
Talbott, 102.
Jan Bonda, The One Purpose of God: An Answer to the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 199.
MacDonald, 72.
Ibid., 100.
Ibid., 80.
Ibid., 98
Ibid., 99
Talbott, 69.
Talbott, 70.
Robin Parry and Christopher Partridge, Universal Salvation? The Current Debate (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing Compnay, 2003), 63.
Ibid., 65.
Ibid., 68.
Ibid., 69.
James Garlow, Heaven and the Afterlife (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers), 211.
MacDonald, 133.
Ibid., 147.
Ibid., 148.
Quoted in Hilborn, 102.
Quoted in Hilborn, 103.
Wilko van Holten, “Can the Traditional View of Hell be Defended?: An Evaluation of some Arguments for Eternal Punishment,” Anglican Theological Review 85 no 3 (2003): 465.
Ibid., 467.
Crockett, 27.
Holten, 468.
Talbott, 149.
Holten, 469.
Quoted in Holten, 470.
Hilborn, 106.
Seymour, 139.
Jerry Walls, The Logic of Damnation (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992.), 124-129.
Peterson, 178.
Ibid., 179.
MacDonald, 165.
Talbott, 183.
Parry, 115.
Walls, 125.
Ibid., 113.
Ibid., 129.
Ibid., 130.
Pardy, 111.
Talbott, 189.
Walls, 136.
N. Gregersen, “Guilt, shame, and rehabilitation: the pedagogy of divine judgment,” Dialog, 39(2), (2000): 115.
Seymour, 96.
Ibid., 96.
Talbott, 107.
Ibid., 201.
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 130.
Morgan and Peterson, 205.
Ibid., 205.
Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1994), 287.
Ibid., 301.
Ibid., 307-308.
Fudge, The Fire that Consumes, 54.
Ibid., 67.
Morgan and Peterson, 86.
Hilborn, 99.
Gregersen, “Guilt, shame, and rehabilitation: the pedagogy of divine judgment,” 116.
Maddox, 42.
Ibid., 43.
Ibid., 44.
Hilborn, 53.
Peterson, 99.
Fudge, The Fire that Consumes, 338.
Ibid., 321.
Hilborn, 61.
Fudge, The Fire that Consumes, 325-326.
John Wesley Hanson, Universalism: The Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church During its First Five Hundred Years (Boston, MA: Universalist Publishing House, 1899), 116.
Ibid., 148.
Ibid., 176.
Ibid., 236.
Ibid., 242.
Ibid., 174.
Crockett, 138.
Hanson, 15.
Seymour, 25.
Crockett, 139.
Bonda, 25.
Quoted in Bonda, 16.
Bonda, 17.
Hilborn, 55.
Ibid., 56.
Saint Augustine, 505.
Hanson, 274.
Hilborn, 56.
Fudge, The Fire that Consumes, 374.
Ibid., 375.
Frank Burch Brown, “The Beauty of Hell: Anselm on God's Eternal Design.” Journal Of Religion, 73(3), (1993): 343.
Seymour, 121.
Fudge, The Fire that Consumes, 377.
Parry and Partridge, 198-199.
Hilborn, 132.
Edward Fudge, Hell a Final Word (Abiline, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2012), 19.
Statement available at ... e/Hell.pdf
Crockett, 159.
Bonda, 25.
Saint Augustine, 494.
Packer, quoted in Morgan and Peterson, 32.
Morgan and Peterson, 220.
Alcorn, 26.
Crockett, 11.
Quoted in Bonda, 15.
Kreft and Tacelli, 282.
Quoted in Bonda, 259.
Quoted in Morgan and Peterson, 34.
Quoted in Morgan and Peterson, 220.
Bonda, 6.
Brian McLaren, The Last Word and the Word After That: A Tale of Faith, Doubt, and a New Kind of Christianity (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2005), xix.
Lewis, 119-120
Walls, 3.
Ibid., 32.
Quoted in MacDonald, 168.
Quoted in MacDonald, 168.
Macdonald, 169.
Clark Pinnock, A Wideness in God’s Mercy: The Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 178.
Talbott, 34.
Hanson, 305.
Hilborn, 112.
McLaren, xix-xx.
McLaren, 57.
Hilborn, 112.
Morgan and Peterson 226-228
Macdonald, 9.
McLaren, 58.
Crockett, 146.
Lewis, 127.
N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 182.
Partridge and Parry, 229.
Bonda, 259.
Seymour, 88.
Ibid., 167.
Ibid., 185.
Newbigin, 55.


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Re: Thesis Done

Post by SteveF » Tue Sep 24, 2013 4:09 pm

Matt, your paper may be a little over my head. I got stuck at the title!

Thanks to Wikipedia I now know what “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” is. I’ll keep the Wikipedia page open. There’s a good chance I’ll need it again. ;)

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Re: Thesis Done

Post by mattrose » Tue Sep 24, 2013 4:38 pm

SteveF wrote:Matt, your paper may be a little over my head. I got stuck at the title!

Thanks to Wikipedia I now know what “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” is. I’ll keep the Wikipedia page open. There’s a good chance I’ll need it again. ;)
I felt pressured to come up with a fancy sounding title b/c of the nature of the assignment, but I did try to write the actual paper at a readable level. It's the only way I know how to write, I hope.

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