Book Review: “Four Views on Hell” by William V. Crockett, John F. Walvoord, Zachary J. Hayes and Clark H. Pinnock (1997)

Crockett, William V., John F. Walvoord, Zachary J Hayes, Clark H. Pinnock. Four Views on Hell. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1992.

Introduction

In Four Views on Hell, four contributors of varying backgrounds debate masterfully the complex eschatological issue of what happens to the damned  after death.  John F. Walvoord, who was a world-renowned interpreter of Bible prophecy and former chancellor of  Dallas Theological seminary,[1] argues for a literal interpretation of Hell, while William V. Crockett, a theology professor at Alliance Theological Seminary,[2] argues for a metaphorical interpretation. Zachary J. Hayes, former theology professor and president of the Catholic Theological Union,[3] argues for a purgatorial interpretation, and Clark H. Pinnock, former professor of theology at McMaster Divinity College,[4] argues for a conditional view. Hell presents clearly major counterarguments against the traditional view of Hell,  that of conscious eternal punishment of the unredeemed in literal flames. In each chapter, one author openly presents his argument and is then followed by individual responses from each of his three colleagues. The following paper will both summarize and critically interact with each of the four views in Hell.

Summary

Walvoord opens Hell by laying out the basic tenants of the literal view. He spends the vast majority of his chapter writing the foundations to his argument, that Hell is a place of eternal conscious punishment for the wicked in literal fire, utilizing the original-language definitions of key Old and New Testament words for both Hell and eternity.[5] Walvoord argues from a standpoint of strict literalness in biblical prophecy and eschatology, suggesting that to question either is to doubt the inerrancy of the Bible.[6] Walvoord closes his chapter stating, “the description of eternal punishment in the Bible only partially reveals its true nature,” and then reminds his readers that Hell is real, and this reality “is a spur to preaching the Gospel…to showing compassion on those who need to be snatched as brands from the burning.”[7]

In his metaphorical approach to Hell, Crockett differs from Walvoord only in the method of punishment for the wicked. Crockett totes the line of Calvin, Luther and Hodge in suggesting that Scripture’s vivid descriptions of Hell are metaphorical not literal, “symbolizing…realities far worse than the symbol themselves.”[8] Comparing the language of Scripture to “rabbinic hyperbole,” Crockett claims that God merely described Heaven and Hell in a way that man could understand.[9] Crockett then concludes his chapter by denouncing also the conditional view as arguing for what is merely possible over what is actually probable.[10]

In Chapter 3, Hayes promotes a purgatorial view of the afterlife which references the fate of those “good enough” for heaven but fails to detail the fate of the damned, save through minor implication.[11] While Pinnock clarifies Hayes’s view that “Hell is the final destiny of impenitent sinners” and that Hayes supports the metaphorical view of Hell, he also acknowledges Hayes’s silence with regards to the actual destiny of the damned.[12]

Finally in Chapter 4, Pinnock offers an alternative view which bucks specifically against the traditional view. Also called annihilationism or conditional immortality, the conditional view suggests that God sends the damned after death to a period of punishing befitting their crimes against Him, and then to eternal punishment through complete and eternal destruction.[13]

Critical Interaction

Each author in Hell handles the argument of his case with unique ability, accurately capturing the essence of his viewpoint in a form not unlike a main argument in a debate. Throughout each argument and following responses, each author displays his ability by clarifying his viewpoint from a generally Scriptural or logical position. In doing so, the reader can recognize each argument’s strengths and weaknesses, to which this paper now turns.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Four Views

While arguing from a traditional standpoint, Walvoord successfully maintains a surrender to the literal interpretation of biblical eschatology, due to his strong stance on the sufficiency of Scripture, the literal fulfillment of Bible prophecy and the necessity of evangelism.[14] Walvoord’s confidence in his readers’ natural understanding of the traditional view, however, gives cause to his brevity in writing and unmentioned presuppositions “with no particular theological significance.”[15] Walvoord also tends in his responses to claim that anyone disagreeing with a literal interpretation must doubt the inerrancy of the Word.[16]

In his metaphorical view, Crockett’s strengths stem from his humble acknowledgement that no one living can know for certain the nature of Hell and from his constant references back to the efficacy of the work of Christ.[17] Crockett opposes the traditional view only by suggesting that the contrasting biblical metaphors of fire and darkness are used to describe in understandable human terms realities of Hell far beyond human understanding.[18] Charges against Crockett suggest that he limits Christ’s own knowledge and ability to properly explain Hell and that he attempts to improve on the traditional view by making Hell “less literally hellish.”[19]

In Hayes’ purgatorial view of the afterlife, he lays out a clear, Roman Catholic description of the fate of the non-damned. He discusses the distinction between theology and eschatology and acknowledges that one’s opinion of the afterlife stems from his idea of grace, justification and soteriology.[20] Hayes’ entry, however, fails to mention the fate of the damned. He argues that Tradition has revealed the truth of the afterlife, and he openly admits that Scripture’s words are insufficient.[21] Hayes also writes of personal expiation and a works theology.[22]

Pinnock’s major strength in his annihilationist chapter is his clear writing and argument. He strongly adheres to the concept of man’s freedom as it relates to God’s morality and justice, arguing that the difference in all four views presented is one of hermeneutics, not authority.[23] Pinnock also humbly allows for the possibility that annihilationism could be wrong, though such a possibility would contradict, in his mind, both God’s Word and His character.[24] All this said, however, Pinnock tends in his writing to pander to emotions.[25] He also seems to misunderstand the purpose of knowing Hell exists at all, and takes a stab at missionaries in the process.[26]

Responses to Four Major Questions

Throughout the course of Hell, four major questions arise which drive at the heart of the fate of the damned. In their individual responses to these four questions, each author displays his core beliefs and understanding of God’s Word.

Is Hell Eternal or Temporary?

Walvoord points out the distinction between the temporary Hell of Hades and the eternal Hell of Gehenna.[27] Crockett and Hayes both quickly acknowledge the reality of Hades (or at least of temporary torment), and Pinnock also allows for the possibility of a temporary, Hades-like place for the damned.[28] Of the three, however, only  Crockett clearly affirms his belief in Gehenna.[29] Therefore both the literal and metaphorical views believe in an eternal Hell, the conditional view believes in a temporary Hell, and the purgatorial view is uncertain.

Is Hell Eternal Conscious Punishment or Something Else?

Both Walvoord and Crockett clearly affirm that Hell’s punishment is both eternal and conscious, though they disagree on the method of the punishment.[30] Hayes is again unclear on the punishment for the damned, though he writes of severe pain in Purgatory as man’s imperfection meets God’s holiness.[31] Finally, Pinnock offers another possibility besides eternal conscious punishment in the form of eternal annihilation of the damned.[32] Therefore, once again, both the literal and metaphorical views attest to eternal, conscious punishment, the conditional view denies it, and the purgatorial view is uncertain.

Is Hell Literal or Metaphorical?

Quite obviously, Walvoord believes in a Hell of literal fire, darkness and pain, though amongst his counterparts in Hell, he is alone in his beliefs.[33] Crockett, Hayes and Pinnock all retain views that the Bible’s description Hell (no matter the style or extent of it) must be taken metaphorically.[34] Therefore, only the literal view takes a literal translation while the metaphorical view, the purgatorial view and the conditional view all take a metaphorical interpretation of the biblical Hell.

Do Human Ideas of Justice and Morality Matter?

Finally, with regards to marrying the notions of man’s opinion and God’s sovereignty, Walvoord implies that human opinion does not change a situation.[35] Crockett admits that hellfire seems sadistic, cruel and unfair, yet he also acknowledges that what awaits unredeemed humanity in the afterlife may even be far worse.[36] Hayes is of the opinion that man’s beliefs are all that matter,[37] and Pinnock bases his entire eschatological outlook on the fact that God would not be just in condemning even the worst sinner in time to eternal torturing in Hell.[38] Therefore, both the literal and metaphorical views believe that man’s opinion cannot change God’s sovereignty, though the purgatorial and conditional view would disagree.

Conclusion

The issue at stake in Hell is one from which many Christians shy, for no angle of the hotly-debated outcome of the damned is lovely. Each of the four views in Hell, contradictory in most points, agree on the basic principle that at death “a person’s destiny is decided”[39] with no chance for change. In what occurs after death, however, the opinions diverge: the validity of Scripture and tradition, as well as the very morality of God or the efficacy of the work of Christ, are all called into question. At this point, both the reader’s faith and reason are challenged, spurring him on to a more grounded doctrine of biblically-based convictions over traditionally-held beliefs.


[1] Retrieved on August 6, 2010 from http://www.walvoord.com/author_bio.php?author_id=1

[2] Retrieved on August 6, 2010 from http://www.nyackcollege.edu/ats2010/faculty

[3] Retrieved on August 6, 2010 from http://www.zoominfo.com/search#search/profile/person?personId=38929866&targetid=profile

[4] Retrieved on August 6, 2010 from http://www.mcmaster.ca/mjtm/bio1-3.htm

[5] Crockett, William V., John F. Walvoord, Zachary J Hayes, Clark H. Pinnock. Four Views on Hell. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1992). Walvoord, 14-16, 19; 17, 23-26

[6] Walvoord, 168; Hayes, 33; Pinnock, 38; Walvoord, 77, 167

[7] Walvoord, 28

[8] Crockett, 44; 45

[9] Ibid, 51; 56

[10] Ibid, 70

[11] Hayes, 99, 115

[12] Pinnock, 128

[13] Ibid, 142; 154; 140, 153; 144, 156, 170

[14] Walvoord, 79, 168; 14-15; 28, 39

[15] Pinnock, 37; Hayes, 34-35;

[16] Hayes, 33; Pinnock, 38; Walvoord, 77, 167

[17] Crockett, 45; 125-6

[18] Ibid, 29-30, 76

[19] Walvoord, 78; Pinnock, 86

[20] Hayes, 32; 107, 112-113

[21] Ibid, 83, 84, 99, 103, 107, 110

[22] Ibid, 93, 95, 96; Crockett, 125

[23] Pinnock, 36, 128, 142; 149-154; 158

[24] Ibid, 149; 154; 165

[25] Ibid, 140; Crockett, 173

[26] Pinnock, 163-164

[27] Walvoord, 19, 23

[28] Crockett, 71; Hayes, 93;Pinnock, 154

[29] Crockett, 75; Pinnock, 128

[30] Walvoord, 28; Crockett, 29, 64-67

[31] Hayes, 101

[32] Pinnock, 137, 147

[33] Walvoord, 28

[34] Crockett, 30; Pinnock, 86, 128

[35] Walvoord, 167, 169

[36] Pinnock, 86; Crockett, 171, 45

[37] Hayes, 96, 99

[38] Pinnock, 149-151; 151-154

[39] Hayes, 96

© 2010 E.T.

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2 Responses to Book Review: “Four Views on Hell” by William V. Crockett, John F. Walvoord, Zachary J. Hayes and Clark H. Pinnock (1997)

  1. Pingback: Book Review: “Book of John” Life Lessons with Max Lucado | Elliot's Blog

  2. Pingback: I Give Up Book Review: “The Gospel of John” Life Lessons with Max Lucado (2006) | Elliot's Blog

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