Theological Critique of the Four Views on Hell

Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary

Liberty University

A theological critique of

Four Views on Hell

Stanley N. Gundry and William Crocket

A Paper Submitted to Dr. Michael Stallard

In Partial Fulfillment of course Requirements for

 Theology 530 Systematic Theology II


Anthony D. Padgett

Jonesborough, TN.

November 14, 2011



Introduction  ——————————————————————————————— 2

Summary of Book —————————————————————————————- 2

The Literal View —————————————————————————————- 3

The Metaphorical View ——————————————————————————- 3

The Purgatorial View———————————————————————————- 4

The Conditional View ———————————————————————————- 4

Critical Interaction ———————————————————————————– 5

Conclusion  ———————————————————————————————— 9

Bibliography ——————————————————————————————— 10



This is a book critique of the Four Views of Hell, edited by William Crockett and Stanley N. Gundry.  The topic of hell makes most believers of Christ uneasy and it is most often a topic that is not preached from the pulpits anymore. However, the topic of hell should not be ignored or avoided; hell is very real and as with the Bible as a whole, everything should be taught and studied to fully understands God’s intentions for one’s life.

Summary of Book

      The concept of hell is important to understand in Christian religion but it is also an important concept in other world religions. The book brings together four viewpoints on hell as viewed by John F. Walvoord, William Crockett, Zachary J. Hayes, and Clark H. Pinnock; it is then edited by Stanly N. Gundry and Crockett.  The four views of hell offered in this book are, the literal view, the metaphorical view, the purgatorial view, and the conditional view of hell. Each view is written by a scholarly contributor and offers an argument and counterargument on the topic of hell by each of the contributors.  Each contributor brings to their respective view an argument of their understanding or interpretation of what the bible teaches about hell, and each has their own distinct background. John F. Walvoord was a long time president of the Dallas Theological Seminary[1] and argues the literal view, while William V. Crockett is a New Testament professor at Alliance Theological Seminary[2] and argues the metaphorical view. Then there is Zachary J. Hayes who is a retired teacher of theology at the Catholic Theological Union[3] and discusses the purgatory view of hell. Then to conclude the four views is Clark H. Pinnock, who was a Professor Emeritus of Christian interpretation at McMaster Divinity College,[4] and discusses the conditional view of hell. After each contributor offers their respective view of hell it is followed by brief counterarguments by the remaining three contributors.  This critique will look at each view and compare and contrast them respectively in an attempt to view the most convincing argument of the four views of hell.

The Literal View

     The book begins with Dr. John Walvoord and the literal view of hell. Dr. Walvoord begins by defending that hell is a real place of eternal punishment and that the punishment is “punitive, not redemptive” as the orthodox view is commonly interpreted. [5] That this punishment is everlasting and will take place in a dark spot called hell as portrayed in scripture. Dr. Walvoord bases is entire foundation of hell on biblical scripture and suggests that those who feel eternal punishment really does not exist, should also have no problem with this view of hell,  unless they deny the inerrancy of the bible as well.[6]

The Metaphorical View


     The metaphorical view is discussed by Dr. William Crockett and from the first paragraph it is seen that there are some similarities between Walvoord’s literal view and Crockett’s metaphorical view. The most important being that they both believe that hell is a real place of eternal punishment however, that is where the similarities stop. Crockett disagrees with Walvoord’s assumption that hell is made up of “intense heat, material fire, and smoke.”[7] Crockett believes that the fiery darkness, intense heat, and smoke is to be taken metaphorically and not literally as Walvoord’s believes. Crockett argues that though hell is a place of eternal punishment, and no less dreadful than Walvoord’s literal view, the fire and darkness are simply metaphors used to describe hell but should not be taken literally.[8]

The Purgatorial View

The third view of hell, the purgatorial view, is presented by Dr. Zachary Hayes. His argument is based on the Roman Catholic teachings of the intermediate place between heaven and hell call purgatory.  He argues the need for purgatory and describes it as a temporary place of cleansing and purification that prepares one for the eternal life with God. He argues that upon leaving this life, one is not sufficiently ready to meet God for eternity due to their sins; therefore purgatory must be entered into until cleansed and ready for eternal life in heaven.[9] This argument has very little if any scriptural support and his argument focuses on purgatory and not on hell as a place. However, Dr. Hayes does explain that at the time of judgment, purgatory will cease to exist and at that point only leaving heaven and hell.[10]

The Conditional View

     The final view of hell, the conditional view, is present by Dr. Clark Pinnock. He agrees that hell is a real place; however it cannot be a place of eternal punishment because that would not be in God’s character. Pinnock’s argument centers on the view of immortality which is frequently referred to as annihilation. He describes annihilation as the idea that punishment of the burning hell will lead to the total destruction of the evil. Pinnock further explains it this way, “Being unable to discount the possibility of hell as a final irreversible condition, I am forced to choose between two interpretations of hell: Do the finally impenitent suffer everlasting, conscious punishment (in body and soul, either literally or metaphorically), or do they go out of existence in the second death? In other words, does hellfire torment or consume? I contend that God does not grant immortality to the wicked to inflict endless pain upon them but will allow them finally to perish.”[11] He argues that God alone is immortal and that those who reject him will in fact perish, however the final outcome is the same; they will not have eternal life with God.[12]

Critical Interaction

      When most think of the place called hell they think of the traditional view as described by Dr. Walvoord, a dark hot place with fire, torture, pain and the devil. Dr. Walvoord’s description of hell comes directly from scripture and is common in belief to what many already believe hell looks like. Dr. Walvoord uses both Old Testament and New Testament scripture to support his literal view of hell. In the Old Testament he uses “sheol,” when translated from the King James Version is interpreted as “grave” or “hell” at thirty ones times each, or as “pit” three times. In comparison the New Testament uses “hades” instead of “sheol” with translations also meaning “hell” or “the grave,” and includes the translation “in the depths.” However, Dr. Walvoord further supports his argument with the New Testament usage of “gehenna” which is consistently translated as “hell” and referring to eternal punishment.[13]

There are a few weaknesses in Dr. Walvoord’s literal view of hell; first he does not provide much scripture on why hell cannot be seen as metaphorical. This becomes the bases for Dr. Crockett’s contradiction to Walvoord’s literal view and his view of hell as metaphorical. Crockett believes that if everything about hell is to be taken literally in the bible such as Matthew 25:41 and the eternal fire, so then other verses such as Matthew 5:29 and plucking ones eye out should be taken literally as well.[14] Dr. Crockett further argues that in Matthew 25:41 “the eternal fire was created for spirit beings like the devil and his angles. The fire must in some sense be a spiritual fire, which is another way of acknowledging it to be a metaphor for God’s punishment of the wicked,” therefore the “physical fire works on physical bodies with physical nerve endings,” and not on the spirit beings.[15]

Dr. Crockett concludes his arguments by pointing out that the pictures we have of hell outside of scripture comes from Jewish literature and are mostly symbolic. This was to describe the most appalling image of hell has possible, “no matter how incompatible the images.” Dr. Crockett claims that their descriptions of hell are not meant to be literal but are meant to be warnings of the coming judgment.[16]

The problem with Crockett’s assessment is that he himself never clearly describes hell. He gives a clear argument to Walvoord’s literal position, but never even attempts to explain in his opinion what hell then actually looks like. He concludes that while looking at all the images that describe hell and then combine them with what seems clearly to be metaphorical language about heaven, it can be seen that God has really not given the complete picture of what is to come in the afterlife.[17]

While Dr. Walvoord and Dr. Crockett view that hell in the New Testament is a place of endless conscious punishment, Dr. Pinnock disagrees, however, Dr. Pinnock’s view of hell might offer the best argument against the traditional view of Dr. Walvoord. Pinnock begins by showing that three out of five American’s believe in hell but that their beliefs in damnation differ vastly. He continues with that “the traditional view of the nature of hell has been a stumbling block for believers and an effective weapon in the hands of skeptics for use against the faith. The situation has become so serious that one scarcely hears hell mentioned at all today, even from pulpits committed to the traditional view.” He argues that even those who support the traditional view of doctrine and belief are wavering and do not defend it enthusiastically.[18]

Dr. Pinnock’s main argument is that  any doctrine of hell will have to pass a morality test.  Dr. Pinnock believes that God is “morally justified in destroying the wicked because he respects their human choices”[19] however, he does not agree with Walvoord and Crockett because he believes that evil and good cannot co exist for all eternity. He believes that God wills the salvation of everyone as described in 2 Peter 3:9, but will not save them all because of their own freedom. They have a right to choose and sinners will never be forced to go to heaven.[20]

Pinnock and his conditional view places the significance on God’s attributes to convey the reasonable consistency of argument and relies greatly on bible scripture that teaches both punishment and full obliteration of the lost.  He believes that annihilation is logical and easy to accept for those whose lives openly rejected and said “no” to God. However it is hard for those to accept hell as an “everlasting conscious torment with no hope for escape or remittance as a just punishment for anything.” Pinnock strongly believes that God would not allow such a heavy sentence for anyone and it would be more than anyone would ever deserve.[21]

Pinnock ultimately argues that hell where people suffer and are tormented for eternity with any hope does not exist. He believes that all who suffer and who are hell bound will eventually be extinguished.  He argues that eternal torment serves no purpose and is contrary to what we know of God and His love for mankind. While his fellow contributors have a great amount of respect for Dr. Pinnock, they believe he focuses on only a few scriptures and outside writings to base his view. However, they each use their own interpretation of scripture to suit each of their own views when discussing eternal punishment and the subject of hell, and “that the nature of hell, its eternity, and its punishment can only be determined by what the Bible teaches.”[22] Dr. Walvoord summed it up the best, “no one really knows enough about the future to deny what the Bible teaches.”[23]

Dr. Hayes was placed last in this discussion because his view is of purgatory rather than an actual hell as the others have described. Dr. Hays focuses on the theological background of purgatory as viewed by the Roman Catholic Church. He believes like Pinnock that the view of the other two contributors is too unforgiving and would never be something our loving God would never do. He bases the purgatory view on very little scripture and solely depends on the “revelation” as was given to the Roman Church. Hayes believes that purification is needed, though not pleasant experience, it is also not eternal. This view of hell or as it is called purgatory appeals to some, because it allows a second chance after death though not scripturally based.[24]

Dr. Hayes’ fellow contributors for the most part believe that he bases his view of hell or purgatory on the Roman Catholic Church belief. His main passage for support of purgatory is that of 2 Maccabees 12:41-46, which is an apocryphal writing, accepted by the Roman Catholic Church, however not by the main stream Protestant theologians.[25] Considering all of the contributors, it would seem that Dr. Pinnock is more in agreement with Dr. Hayes than the others. He clearly states that Dr. Hayes “believes in both hell and purgatory, as the Catholic tradition does, and is not suggesting here that hell is purgatory or that it leads all souls to heaven.”[26] Pinnock defends the doctrine of purgatory as it is obvious that Christian character is not perfectly transformed at death and only through a perfecting process is it possible to continue the process started in one’s earthly life.[27]


     The Four Views of Hell is a great book in which overviews the four most well-known views of hell. Walvoord and Crockett base their views on scripture yet come to different conclusions of hell, while Hayes and Pinnock believe that our God has a deep desire for mercy and would never punish anyone to eternal damnation.  All the contributors argue their respective views with passion and with a great understanding of their subject or view. Each contributor expresses valid arguments in their responses against the other contributors. However, during the book it was found that one would most likely find themselves flipping back numerous times to review what was written on a particular view or a response for clarification. The book however is still a great resource and leaves one questioning and searching for further answers on the view of hell.

Bibliography, John F. Walvoord: Theologian. Educator.


John F. Walvoord, Zachary J. Hayes, and Clark H. Pinnock, Four Views on Hell, ed. Stanley N.

Gundry and William Crockett (Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan, 1996), 12.


[1], John F. Walvoord: Theologian. Educator. Author.

[5]John F. Walvoord, Zachary J. Hayes, and Clark H. Pinnock, Four Views on Hell, ed. Stanley N. Gundry and William Crockett (Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan, 1996), 12.


[7]Ibid., 29.

[8]Walvoord, Hayes, and Pinnock, Four Views on Hell., 31.

[9]Ibid., 97.

[10]Ibid., 93.

[11]Walvoord, Hayes, and Pinnock, Four Views on Hell., 142-143.


[13]Ibid., 19

[14]Walvoord, Hayes, and Pinnock, Four Views on Hell., 30.



[17]Ibid., 61.

[18] Walvoord, Hayes, and Pinnock, Four Views on Hell., 136.

[19]Ibid., 151.


[21]Ibid., 152.

[22]Walvoord, Hayes, and Pinnock, Four Views on Hell., 170.


[24]Ibid., 96-97.

[25]Walvoord, Hayes, and Pinnock, Four Views on Hell., 118.

[26]Ibid., 127-128.

[27]Ibid., 130.


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