Summary: This sermon is based on a study of several books by authors who hold to a variety of views on the doctrine of Hell. Please note that the format of this website does not enable me to include footnotes where they were originally placed in the sermon. Howe
In contemporary Christianity, many questions have arisen as to the reality of hell. While the Bible teaches a literal view of an eternal hell, there has been a widespread embrace of anything but a literal view. There has been much speculation about what the Bible actually teaches about nature and duration of hell. Rather than accepting the Scriptures literally, many deny a literal interpretation for some alternative approach. This issue is rooted in the denial of inspired Scripture, reinventing what God actually said in His Word, and a denial of absolute truth. From complete denial of Hell by liberal critics and “evangelical” scholars, many are not teaching a literal, biblical view.
In regard to literalism or some other view of hell people may ask the question, “What difference does it make?” In the introduction of Two Views of Hell we find some discussion on what is at stake. Robert Peterson believes that to alter the literal view of hell is to demonstrate a deficient picture of God and His glory, to repudiate the explicit teaching of the Bible, and to do “great harm to the task of world evangelism.” The differing views of hell that will be developed in this paper are Annihilation/Conditional, Metaphorical, and literalism.
In today’s evangelicalism, there exists a more recent view of hell that teaches Annihilationism. Annihilation is very similar to Conditional Immortality. The distinctions are easy to see. Many who are Annihilationists also hold a Conditionalist view. This is easy to understand. The main difference between the two terms is the time when one is made immortal. Is it at conception or is at the point of conversion? In fact, these two concepts are often thought of as the same. Those who hold this unbiblical view are most likely intending to “vindicate the character of God by their position.” Annihilationists appear to be trying to do God a favor. They strive to emphasize certain aspects of God’s person, while suppressing other vital truth. They emphasize that the suffering of unbelievers will come to an end because of God’s glory, love, mercy, and justice. “Personal emotions and desires combine with speculative reasonings about general ideas, and they take precedence over specific Biblical texts and teachings. You can see the process at work leading people to abandon other Biblical teachings that from time to time don’t fit the spirit of the age--and seem unacceptable to enlightened modern people.” Annihilation’s main thrust is that hell is temporary, not eternal. “Annihilationists believe that at the resurrection unbelievers will be judged and then put out of existence forever.” Millard Erickson identifies Annhiliationism as “the belief that at least some humans will permanently cease to exist at death or some point thereafter.” Mark Minnick writes “Annihilation… views the soul as inherently immortal but teaches that a person may forfeit that immortality by rejecting Jesus Christ.” “But the main problem with the view that unbelievers simply go out of existence is that the Bible teaches that those who do not trust in Christ will be punished with eternal suffering. In other words, annihilation leads the church away from Biblical truth. And that always hurts people and dishonors God.”
Those who fall under the umbrella of Annihilationists include Edward William Fudge, “F. F. Bruce, Michael Green, Philip E. Hughes, Dale Moody, Clark H. Pinnock, W. Graham Scroggie, John R. W. Stott and John W. Wenham.”
Clark Pinnock rejects and argues against literalism by asking the questions “How can one reconcile (the Scriptural doctrine of hell) with the revelation of God in Christ Jesus? Is he not a God of boundless mercy? How then can we project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness?” He further asks “Would God who tells us to love our enemies be intending to wreak vengeance on his enemies for all eternity?” Pinnock seems to be trying to place God in a box that Pinnock can understand. It is unwise to think that one’s reasoning is better than God’s is. Pinnock has the audacity to imply that Almighty God is worse than Adolph Hitler is if the literal view is true! Pinnock and other Annihilationists and Conditionalists are certainly on unsteady ground.
The average Christian may assume that those who hold to an Annihilationist position of hell do not use the Bible, but they have their share of Scripture references that seemingly strengthen their view. For instance in the Old Testament, they point to Psalm 37 where evil people are said to wither and be cut off. David, the sweet Psalmist of Israel, then says that the wicked will be no more. They will perish like smoke and will be destroyed. Other passages Annihilationists typically use to emphasize their position are Malachi 4:1-2; Matthew 3:10-12; I Corinthians 3:17; I Corinthians 15:53-54; Galatians 6:8; and Philippians 3:19. These verses do not teach the termination of people in hell. Pinnock says “A fair person would have to conclude from such texts that the Bible can reasonably be read to teach the final destruction of the wicked.” “O how infinitely dreadful sin must be! How infinitely blameworthy it must be to treat the glory of God with contempt! How infinite must be the insult to God when we do not trust his promises! What infinite beauty and glory and purity and holiness God must have, that endless suffering is a just and fitting punishment for disobeying his word! Annihilationism reduces sin from high treason to a misdemeanor. Hell is meant to fill us with awe at the glory we have scorned.”