Two Views of Hell

by Edward William Fudge and Robert A. Peterson,
InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2000, 228 pages

In my 33 years of working with atheists, skeptics, and struggling believers, one of the most frequently articulated challenges to God is His justice. What kind of a God is it that would send a person to horrible eternal pain and suffering just because they were born in a culture that did not allow them to know about the Bible, much less what they needed to do to escape hell? All of the pious and complex attempts to justify this situation do not work with atheists, skeptics, and most struggling believers.

One solution to this problem is to suggest that what the Bible really teaches on this subject is eternal punishment, not eternal punishing. The analogy sometimes used is that a person executed for a crime is punished, but is not tortured forever. If God allows a person to exist and then puts them back into non-existence if they do not accept His Grace, there is not the punishing forever and yet Hell is real. Those who believe that this is what the Bible really teaches are called conditionalists theologically. Theologians have given the label traditionalists to those who believe hell is eternal punishing. The champion of conditionalism in recent years has been Edward Fudge who wrote a book titled The Fire that Consumes promoting the conditional view. One champion of the traditionalist view is Robert Peterson who wrote Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment. This book is a debate between these two gentlemen on this issue. The writers are critical of each other's views, but not abusive. They both write well and both argue that their views are more consistent with Scripture. This book clarifies the views, but I doubt it will change very many people's minds on either side.

This is a theological debate with significant apologetic value. We recommend it as a very useful tool to help clarify a difficult issue.

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