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5 Stars Out Of 5
February 20, 2014
Steve Gregg has done an excellent job of presenting the best available information on the 3 views of Hell. He presents both the supporting argument for each view and the counter-argument for each as well. Well thought out, well researched and easy to understand. Whether you are new to debate on the different views of Hell or have already formed an opinion on this subject, this book deserves to be read.
Having read Steve Gregg's book on the four views of Revelation, this book was an easy one to pick up. Steve Gregg is the radio host and teacher on â€˜The Narrow Path" which is a part of his ministry. Gregg does a great job on his show expanding theology and this book is no different. From the outset Gregg potentially has multiple things going against him. Let's face it, hell, is a hard topic to address. Especially when the entire book is further articulating three traditional views. If you've ever read another book on this topic, I think it's fair to say that the words "page turner" most likely wouldn't have been used to describe it. Also, writing a book on this topic and remaining objective through out is almost impossible, yet Gregg manages to do a good job.
The book was a well balanced look at the three traditional views regarding hell but not before asking some hard questions about why God would create a hell, it's purpose, and what the early church's view was on the subject. After giving a brief overview and defining where we're going with the book, Gregg finally dives into the three traditional views on hell: traditionalism, conditionalism, and restorationism.
Just in case you don't know if you fall into one of these categories, let's break them down in just a sentence or two...
Traditionalism is the view most commonly held that believes hell is a place of everlasting conscious torment.
Conditionalism holds to the belief that all people who are unsaved will be ultimately destroyed and cease to exist, rather than suffer unending torment in hell.
Restorationism insists that hell is not a place of torment for the dead, instead it's a stop for rehabilitation. Eventually everyone makes it to heaven.
All of these sections do a good job of explaining these views in great detail and the appendix actually lists side by side the various views and beliefs for even greater study.
I found this book fascinating and a great resource on such a vast and comprehensive topic. It's rare to find someone like Gregg who is thought provoking and confident while remaining mostly objective in attempt to give each view it's own credibility. I throughly enjoyed this read and hope it'll be introspective for you and your own views on hell regardless where you end up.
It should be hard to write a book on hell that is a page turner, but Steve Gregg has done just that in his examination of the three Christian views of God's final solution to the problem of sin. The Publisher's title, of course, could be taken in a number of different ways. Is this book (emphasis on "All") really an exhaustive encyclopedic volume on hell? No. Does it provide a thorough enough treatment of the subject for most interested readers (emphasis on "You")? Yes. I actually interpreted the title in a different way. All I want to "know" (experience) of hell is some thoughtful Christian thinking on the subject_ and that is exactly what I found in this book.
There is something many may secretly want to know about hell. Given the terrible nature of the traditional doctrine, conservative Christians might wonder if there are other legitimate interpretations of the biblical material. Few like the traditional view, but not many have been exposed to a fair treatment of its alternatives. This is the right book at, in my opinion, the right time for Christians to give a fresh evaluation to the subject of hell.
Part of writing the right book on this subject is starting with the right question. At the heart of Mr. Gregg's book is the WHY question. Why hell? What is the purpose of this place? He helps the reader by reminding us of three basic facts about fire. Fire can cause pain. Fire can consume. Fire can refine. These facts about fire correspond to the three views of hell respectively. Does God expose the wicked to fire (either literally or metaphorically) as retributive punishment, to extinguish, or to purify?
I won't attempt to cover all the best this book has to offer. It contains a great collection of relevant quotes, information, and exegesis. Buy the book! But I will summarize my appraisal of how the author handles each of the three views.
On the Traditional View
The view that hell is a place of endless torment seems to have been the majority position amongst Christians for quite some time. It is legitimate, in my opinion, to give the sharpest critique to the position in power. The power of tradition is too often underestimated amongst Evangelicals. Sometimes we need our traditions to be shaken in order to actually read the Bible well. There are some jabs thrown, which some will interpret as an unfair bias, but I believe the author has done us a great service in his handling of the traditional view. He accomplishes this by reminding us (or teaching us) of the fact that all three views existed in the first few centuries of the early church and by alerting us to the fact that the traditional doctrine is, indeed, based on merely possible interpretations of a small handful of passages.
On the Conditionalist View
This view receives the shortest treatment of the three, but the author does provide some of the best defenses and objections to the doctrine sometimes referred to as annihilationism. Truth be told, some of the more important showcases of the strength of this view come in its offer of alternative interpretations of the passages used to defend the traditional view. That is not to say, however, that the conditionalist view doesn't have a vast array of scriptures seemingly in its favor. Indeed, Gregg tends to paint this perspective as the one with the most (at least) surface-level support.
On the Restorationist View
What sets Mr. Gregg's book apart from some others designed for Evangelical audiences is its inclusion of the restorationist view. Conditionalism has arguably (though quite tentatively) been accepted into the Evangelical debate, but restorationism is an even more discomforting dinner guest for many conservative Christians. This author, though, welcomes the evangelical universalists to the table for discussion. He wonders if a common objection to this view (it is too good to be true) should actually be turned on its head (is it too good NOT to be true?) given the revelation we have of God's character. A key question in all of this is, of course, whether repentance is possible post-judgment. The lack of clarity on that subject in Scripture is highlighted.
I can't think of a better resource for a Christian to be introduced to the strengths and weaknesses of each perspective. Not only are the individual chapters well-written and full of insight, the author also provides helpful summary charts of the arguments at the end of the book.
Since my review, up to this point, may sound a bit like a marketing campaign for this book (I do hope the book gets into many hands!), I will offer two mild critiques (which may reveal my own biases on this subject).
First, it felt, at times, like the author depended on conditionalist arguments to deconstruct some of the traditionalist sounding verses, but then used the space created by that exegesis to create room for, primarily, the restorationist view. I argued earlier that it is appropriate to deal a bit more harshly with the view currently in power, perhaps it is also necessary to deal a bit more generously with the view newest to the evangelical table?
Second, I would have personally enjoyed more discussion about the possibility of a hybrid model (we get just 1 paragraph/100 words of this sort of consideration at the conclusion of the book). I think this would have been beneficial because a mixed model would seemingly eliminate some of the rough edges around the first two views and make any dogmatic stance on the third view all the less compelling. The author certainly makes the restorationist view sound more appealing when he speculates that 1% or less of human beings throughout history will end up saved unless the restorationist view is true. Aside from questioning such a speculative number, I will simply point out that a merged model would resolve the emotional tension of that argument. That being said, one book cannot accomplish everything on a subject as important as hell.
If you're looking for a book that will tell you what to think on this subject, this isn't the right book. This book will help you with HOW to think about hell and provide you with many of the most important considerations. I'll let the author speak for himself concerning the overall purpose of the book: "The one fact, above all others, which I have desired to get across, is that our view of hell is inseparably joined to our view of God. I believe that many Christians have simply assumed that they already know what the Bible teaches about hell, and have formed their notions of the character of God to accommodate their theory. My suggestion is that this is doing things backwards." Our thoughts on hell matter precisely because the purpose of hell says something about the character of our God. The author helps us to think longer and larger about this life and death subject.
Steve Gregg first wrote a book on the main four ways of interpreting the book of Revelation, without revealing his own view. That 1997 book has become a classic and is one of a kind.
Now he has written a book on the three main views of the purpose and duration of hell. Each view is fairly presented in the words and best arguments of its proponents, and then fairly critiqued in the words and arguments of its detractors. In each case, after reading the positive chapter, the reader is likely think there is a good, strong case for that view, but then after reading the critique, see some flaws in those arguments. In each case, Scripture, logic, philosophy, and practical implications, are considered.
In addition to the fair and balanced treatment of the views, a major contribution of the book is that it addresses the relationship of the views to the character of God.
Again, Steve does not reveal his own view, and indeed, states that he is still undecided -- though one can discern a leaning.
Rather than give a more detailed review, I refer you to the review by Matthew Rose. Still, I want to say that I found the book a fascinating, easy, and satisfying read. I highly recommend the book.
Much gratitude to Steve Gregg for an education (rather than indoctrination).
Unfortunately, many in the institutional church have become fat and lazy, preferring that someone else tell them what to think, regardless of the ramifications. It is rare to find true and balanced educators these days, especially where one would expect to find them. Equally difficult to find thinking students. Are we so full of ourselves that we think "we have arrived?" Can we not be more honest about our own ignorance? Have we become so disengaged that we don't want to know the Lord and His purposes better? Are we afraid to open our eyes and see? And possibly weigh the evidence? One already knows to look at the whole counsel of God, right? So why are we so hesitant to consider the scriptural options outside our comfort zone. What is familiar is not necessarily good or true.
Mr. Gregg has made a case that is deeply researched, but digestible, for each of three possibilities. One who has integrity should desire truth regardless of the cost. If one considers the possibility that a lie against God's very character has been perpetrated for centuries, should we not rise to defend Him? I can't imagine ANY real believer not WANTING one of the alternatives to the traditional view to be true, though I have found the immediate reaction quite the contrary. Even when just raising the question, there is sometimes a vehement reaction to even the possibility that we don't have it quite right. This is particularly surprising to hear from those that "know" that "God IS love" and regardless of the scriptural defense. Perhaps it is time we begin to right another one of the many wrongs done under the name of Christianity-even if that is JUST correcting the notion that that case for the traditional view of Hell is a slam-dunk. Think again.
In the event the book is read honestly, one must-at the very least-consider dropping the glib confidence that the traditional view cannot be contested. Hell IS . . . but WHY hell? Some answers may be found tangible in this thorough investigation.