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Theological Critique: Four Views on Hell

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LIBERTY UNIVERSITY

THEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE:
FOUR VIEWS ON HELL

A THEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE SUBMITTED TO DR. ROBERT WETMORE
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR
THE COURSE THEO 530

LIBERTY BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

BY
PETER J. FILIPIAK

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2011

TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION...................................................................................................1
SUMMARY.............................................................................................................1
CRITICAL INTERACTION...................................................................................2 The Literal View...........................................................................................2 The Metaphorical View................................................................................4 The Purgatorial View....................................................................................5 The Conditional View..................................................................................6
CONCLUSION........................................................................................................7
BIBLIOGRAPHY....................................................................................................9

Introduction Four Views on Hell is a book edited by William Crockett in which four contributing professors advocate a particular doctrinal approach to the subject. The positions being argued are The Literal View (John F. Walvoord, Dallas Theological Seminary, author of Armageddon, Oil, and the Middle East Crisis), The Metaphorical View (William Crockett, Alliance Theological Seminary), The Purgatorial View (Zachary J. Hayes, Catholic Theological Union), and The Conditional View (Clark H. Pinnock, McMaster Divinity College, author of Flame of Love and Tracking the Maze). The goal was to present a variety of positions from foremost scholars to help the reader form a more informed opinion on a difficult subject. Each writer advocates his position while attempting to refute conflicting tenets of the other views. After each such argument is presented, the other writers offer brief responses to point out strengths and weaknesses of the original piece, and oftentimes a general impression of how well they received it. The authors are especially concerned about what will happen to the doctrine of hell moving forward, as traditional doctrines are seldom preached nowadays. This is suspected to be due in large part to their disturbing implications upon modern morality.

Summary

John F. Walvoord's argument for a Literal View of hell must prove the material nature of such elements as fire and darkness against the Metaphorical view, as well as the concept of eternal conscious torment against the Conditional and, in some ways, Purgatorial views. Hence, he argues almost exclusively from Scriptures that use such depictions and appeals to the idea that a literal exegesis is the only proper interpretation. William Crockett agrees in principle with Walvoord's views, but is not inclined to believe that unrepentant sinners with be burned with literal, material fire for eternity. He does, however, ascent to the idea of constant, conscious, eternal torment in a lake of fire - the nature of which is unspecified in Scripture though. He states that metaphorical language is often used in eschatological passages, as the realities behind such images are almost certainly incommunicable through our mortal and material limitations. Zachary J. Hayes' contribution addresses a different issue than the other three authors: the Roman Catholic idea of purgatory, which adds a third consideration into an arena otherwise dominated by "heaven" and "hell". He hardly interacts with the other views, instead choosing to promote a historical understanding of how the idea of purgatory came about in Roman Catholic tradition. Throughout that explication, he also points out critical periods where orthodox Protestant thought progressed alongside of or digressed from Catholic doctrines. The Conditional view of Clark H. Pinnock takes the debate furthest away from any majority opinion, Protestant or Catholic. He makes his strongest appeals to proper interpretation of Scripture, which he states must be separated from Greek philosophical elements that have tainted Christian doctrinal tradition since the second century, and makes a case for the moral, judicial, and rational superiority of his view.

Critical Interaction

The Literal View John F. Walvoord presents a Literal view of hell, which is probably the opinion most disagreed with by the other authors, yet he insists that its foundation is the inerrancy of Scripture, and to assume another view is to deny such inerrancy (p. 12). With such a strong assertion, he associates his view with the orthodoxy. Walvoord's approach to exegesis is that prophecy must be interpreted literally because prophesies that have already been fulfilled were done so literally (p. 79). A potential weakness of this assumption as it pertains to hell, specifically, is that hell is an "other-worldly" reality, and may not even be approachable by the limitations of the human experience. Whereas literal fulfillment of prophecies like Jerusalem being destroyed or no bone being broken in Christ's body are rooted in the tangible, knowable realm of human experience, to extend the mandate that prophecies regarding hell must be interpreted similarly seems to stretch his exegetical assumption too far. Walvoord's goal is to defend the church's long-held traditional doctrine on hell. To this end, his argument is largely an exposition on views of hell throughout Scriptures. He attends specifically to differentiating between the terms sheol, hades, and gehenna throughout this process, concluding that references to gehenna are those that explicitly entail eternal, conscious suffering. An obvious strength of Walvoord's argument is its near-exclusive appeal to Scripture. However, a coinciding weakness is that he accuses those that interpret Scripture differently as having a "direct unwillingness to deal directly with the biblical evidence" (p. 11) and states:
For those who believe in the genuineness of biblical revelation and accept the inerrancy of Scripture, the problem is one of understanding what Scripture teaches. Such people consider the Bible as the norm and standard for harmonizing the concept of divine, inexorable righteousness with the concept of God's infinite love. Those who deny scriptural inerrancy naturally have no problem in supporting the idea that eternal punishment does not exist (p. 12).

Such a view implies that Scripture is self-interpreting and there is an obviously right way to read it, leaving any other approach to the heretics. If this were so, it is unlikely that there would be four vastly different positions taken up by godly men who have each devoted their lives to studying the Word. The main cause of Walvoord's ineffectiveness in arguing his point is, ironically, a matter of circumstance. While he seeks to maintain traditional doctrines of hell, the majority of Christians seem to desire a renovation of such doctrines. This fact is acknowledged by all four authors. One would also assume that the way he handles the issue of "proper" exegesis is not winning many followers to his camp, save those who are already there.
The Metaphorical View William V. Crockett expresses concern for the effect that a Literal view of hell perpetrates within Christendom, and proposes his Metaphorical view as an alternative. His argument agrees with Walvoord's, however, on all matters except the literal, tangible nature of the "fire and darkness" referred to in the Bible. Crockett concedes the point that no one actually knows what hell will be like, which Walvoord was unwilling to do, yet similarly appeals to Scripture as the primary guide which must be followed in any attempt to gain understanding. Crockett's argument presents itself as a running dialogue with the Literal and Conditional views, whereas he constructs the case for a Metaphorical view alongside a series of explanations intended to debunk the others. He uses a dissertation on the symbolic use of language in the Bible against Literalism and an examination of first and second century documentation of doctrine against Conditionalism. The strength of his argument is greater against the Conditional view than it is against the Literal though, because, while a metaphorical hell avoids the horrible presentation required by the Literal view, it only provides a superficial face-lift to the real problem of the doctrine, which is the insinuation that God's merciful nature is somehow compatible with eternal sadism. The argument against the Conditional view is more viable though, as he looks at Scripture and other documents of the early church with a interpretive eye towards the probable meaning of biblical writers/speakers, as opposed to deriving possible meanings. My only objection to Crockett here is in several instances where he uses ancient Jewish literature to stand in the place of the Bible. For example, when he writes, "If the question of harmony was a non-issue in Judaism, it is likely that the same was true for biblical writers" (p. 64). That is not a viable assumption to make, given the noted differences between Judaism and Christianity.
The Purgatorial View Zachary J. Hayes' goal in writing his stance on a Purgatorial view is to lay out the rationale and the history behind the Roman Catholic perspective of a "third level" of eschatological possibility called purgatory. He is the only contributor who does not directly engage the position of any other author in the debate. That being said, his opinions occasionally bleed through in statements such as, "...especially if they think that the biblical revelation is a divine communication of detailed information about the other world" (p. 92), which is an apparent jab at Walvoord's tenacious position on who does and does not practice proper biblical exegesis. It seems apparent that Hayes is aware of the poor reception his view would receive if it engaged the other three in direct competition. Given that the book is edited and published by Protestant entities, and marketed to a Protestant target audience, the discretion and humility shown by this approach is to be seen as a strength of his case throughout. Hayes wants to educate and inform the reader as to why Catholics view purgatory as a legitimate doctrine, and how such a view can be validated (from the Catholic vantage point, of course - an issue he is sensitively aware of throughout his discourse). While conceding the point early on (no doubt to get it out of the way) that there is no hard and fast backing to be found in the Bible for a doctrine of purgatory, Hayes explains the role of tradition within Roman Catholicism. While his explanation in incredibly well-written, and accomplishes its purpose wonderfully to help a Protestant understand what drives Catholic theology in such a way, it can not, unfortunately, remove the irreconcilable differences between Protestantism and Catholicism. While that statement is plenty obvious, it is meant to indicate that a Protestant could never acquiesce to statements, for instance, regarding the Catholic perspective on how new doctrines and beliefs may legitimately arise from within the church, even though they have no specific genesis in Scripture (p. 103). The ultimate rationale presented is that heaven, hell, and purgatory are natural repercussions of God's respect for human free will, as opposed to a "choice" God makes to "send" people one place or another. Hayes had a difficult hill to climb in presenting a Purgatorial view in this particular book, and performed admirably to that end. Knowing he would not convince, he instead sought to educate and, in doing so, extend an olive branch of sorts to a Protestant readership. His goal was accomplished, as I gained a better understanding of the nature of Catholic theology in general, with a specific application directed at the idea of purgatory.
The Conditional View Clark H. Pinnock argues for the view that is inherently at the most odds with the others. The reason for this is that he is seeking to give the rationale for an alternate interpretation of the nature of hell that more accurately reflects Scripture and more effectively aids the mission of the church. Clark passionately refutes Walvoord and Crockett's views and presents the case for Annihiliationism with equal fervor. He accuses the Literalists of misinterpreting large amounts of Scripture (much to Walvoord's chagrin, no doubt) and then proclaiming a near martyr-like faith in said Scriptures, despite their moral objection to them. Pinnock's case suffers the most when it does not address the assertion Hayes brought up that heaven and hell are both natural consequences of human choice for or against God, and that He does not "send" them anywhere. The failure to reply to that objection does much to weaken his otherwise masterful exposition of the prospect for Annihilation, the superiority of which he promotes on biblical, moral, judicial, and metaphysical grounds. I thought it a waste for him to have spent so much time addressing the Literal and Metaphorical views, which are rather straightforward, and missing the chance to address what comes in a such a subtle, yet powerful, idea brought forth by Hayes.

Conclusion

Walvoord's representation of a Literal view of hell awkwardly picked him out of the crowd as one of the last of a dying breed. His literal exegesis of eschatological Scriptures is not in line with any existing convictions I hold on the subject, and he does more to alienate readers like myself than to make any attempt to explain his rationale or bring others into the fold. He extends neither an olive branch nor a convincing argument to believe hell will be a place of literal, physical flames, burning the spirit-flesh of the damned incessantly for all time. Crockett significantly improves upon Walvoord's position by constructing a persuasive and well-laid rationale for interpreting Scripture as he does - metaphorically. However, much of his case still rests on conclusions I am not yet willing to jump in regards to his assumptions that Jewish and Hellenistic influences were at work so powerfully in Christian writings of the first and second centuries. Large pieces of his case fall apart if these assumptions are proven wrong. I learned more from Hayes contribution than any other, as there was much less background available to draw on pertaining purgatory. His case can not be accepted in whole though, as it reflects many elements of Roman Catholicism that are objectionable, specifically the finality and complete efficacy of Christ's redemptive work on the cross. At the same time, Pinnock's argument is the one I would most like to believe, and intellectually ascent to most, but it too suffers greatly at the hands of Crockett's dissertation on how Scripture needs to be interpreted as opposed to how I would like to interpret it. I find it noteworthy (but not surprising) that the Catholic author was the only one that didn't directly ascribe to God the role and responsibility of "sending" people to hell or not, and argued that grace is made available to all, and when one denies such an invitation as grace provides, then a reality such as hell is the only natural consequence. It has been a sad, yet nevertheless longstanding tradition within religious circles (even today) to dictate on God's behalf who He is "sending to hell" or not. While I am not confident that I can stake my convictions entirely on any of the views advanced here, it seems clear that Hayes and Crockett lay out their cases most effectively, although Hayes has an advantage of no direct competition in debate with the others. Crockett's view of theology and exegesis were sound, well-reasoned, and my only complaints against them are not enough to sink the argument of his Metaphorical position.

Bibliography

Crockett, William. 1997. Four Views on Hell. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.

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...P LA T O and a P LAT Y P U S WA L K I N TO A B A R . . . Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes < T H O M A S C AT H C A RT & D A N I E L K L E I N * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * P l at o a n d a P l at y p u s Wa l k i n t o a B a r . . . PLATO and a PLAT Y PUS WA L K I N T O A B A R . . . < Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes Th o m as Cat h c a rt & Dan i e l K l e i n A B R A M S I M AG E , N E W YO R K e d i to r : Ann Treistman d e s i g n e r : Brady McNamara pro d u c t i on m anag e r : Jacquie Poirier Cataloging-in-publication data has been applied for and may be obtained from the Library of Congress. ISBN 13: 978-0-8109-1493-3 ISBN 10: 0-8109-1493-x Text copyright © 2007 Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein Illlustration credits: ©The New Yorker Collection 2000/Bruce Eric Kaplan/ cartoonbank.com: pg 18; ©Andy McKay/www.CartoonStock.com: pg 32; ©Mike Baldwin/www.CartoonStock.com: pgs 89, 103; ©The New Yorker Collection 2000/ Matthew Diffee/cartoonbank.com: pg 122; ©The New Yorker Collection 2000/ Leo Cullum/cartoonbank.com: pg 136; ©Merrily Harpur/Punch ltd: 159; ©Andy McKay/www.CartoonStock.com: pg 174. Published......

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Campbell

...THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES JOSEPH CAMPBELL BO I. L I N G EN SERIES XVII PRINCETON UNIVERSITY AND PRESS P R I N C E T O N OXFORD Copyright © 2004 by Princeton University Press Published by Princeton Unhxmt^Pms, U WiffiaM SUrtt, Pnnceton, New Jersey 08540; im^inii!-. •:-..• punght i 1-49 by Botiingen e d i t i o n l n ' i l h Foundation, rc't.'itii.yi •: • andpttt t*j''!' !_•"' . !.,.: b% :''ohi: •• Bough, one-volume edition, p. 386. Copyright, 1922 by The MacmiUan Company and used with their permission). Compare Sigmund Freud: "I recognized the presence of symbolism in dreams from the very beginning. But it was only by degTees and as my experience increased that I arrived at a full appreciation of its extent and significance, and I did so under the influence of . . . Wilhelm Stekel. . . . Stekel arrived at his interpretations of symbols by way of intuition, thanks to a peculiar gift for the direct understanding of them. . . . Advances in psycho-analytic experience have brought to our notice patients who have shown a direct understanding of dream-symbolism of this kind to a surprising extent. . . . This symbolism is not peculiar to dreams, hut is characteristic of unconscious ideation, in particular among the people, and it is to be found in folklore, and in popular myths, legends, linguistic idioms,, proverbial wisdom and current jokes, to a more complete extent than in dreams." {The Interpretation of Dreams, translated by...

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