Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Rethinking Hell: A Review

Edward Fudge’s book “The Fire That Consumes” is a very strong case for conditional immortality (or annihilationism). Fudge's work has the bonus of also being the most comprehensive text on the subject, one that actually includes the relevant Old Testament backgrounds. This is missing from much of the debate on eternal punishment and it is to be commended.

This book has moved into the top tier in regards to the literature on the nature and duration of final punishment. The list of contributors Chris Date, Greg Stump and Josh Anderson have assembled is impressive, ranging from the ancient of days (early 20th century) to present day. They include:

E. Earle Ellis. Clark Pinnock. John Stott. John Wenham. Anthony Thiselton. There are plenty more, but this should wet your appetite. 

I will get the negatives out of the way first.


There is some overlap, as is to be expected when you are dealing with biblical texts. Some may find this difficult to wade through, but perhaps a better way to see it as through and exhaustive. Almost every text is examined and every argument at least considered. This repetition illustrates the consistency of annihilationist exegesis.

This doesn’t reflect the book, but I would’ve enjoyed more interaction with universalism, especially within its current more evangelical form. But, safe to say, the book does just fine on it's own.

  • The positives, I more or less mentioned in the beginning.
  • It is exhaustive (E. Earle Ellis include early church fathers and the OT).
  • It takes into account the Old Testament imagery and literature in a way that unites the testaments instead of dividing them (Ellis for example, including Fudge's JETS article).
  • It presents a robust evangelical engagement with Scripture and esteems the authority of God’s word (most of the authors and contributors would be described under the umbrella of a generous orthodoxy).
  • It is charitable (but certainly passionate c.f. Pinnock) in its disagreements with traditionalism. Too often we are prone to shrieks and scratching. Not so with this work.
  • It includes scholars from around the spectrum: Pinnock (open theist), Swinburne (Orthodox), Philip E. Hughes (Reformed), Christopher Marshall (Pacifist), and British (ACUTE).
  • And I’m mentioned in the acknowledgements. So that’s pretty cool too.
Stand out essays for me are E. Earle Ellis, "New Testament Teaching on Hell"; Ralph G. Bowles, "Does Revelation 14:11 Teach Eternal Torment?" (hint, no it doesn't); Kim G. Papaioannou, "The Development of Gehenna between the Old and New Testaments." All of the essays are helpful, but the level of exegetical and historical detail in these essays is above and beyond. 

For an ongoing review, see Scot McKnight's review of our book.

Rethink Hell. Start with Fudge and this. If you prefer the kindle version, we have that too.

4.5 out of 5.


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