Saturday, November 22, 2014

Eschatology Decompressing: Some of the Best Books on Hell

There is something of an inner-family debate going amongst the evangelical family. At the moment, the traditionalist father is somewhat uneasily passing the potatoes to the conditionalist mothers, who is eying both the father and the kids, who are patiently waiting for the aforementioned potatoes because, well, it will get to the end eventually.

You see, the debate has become far more interesting and respectable as of late, what with the father being will to pass the now cooling potatoes to the mother and all. The mother, bless her strong heart, is happy to pass the dish either way, but she is more likely to double check with the father because...

Okay this analogy has become significantly less funny to me so I shall move on. Thanks for humoring me. Anyway.

There is an abundance of materials out now concerning the evangelical debate on the nature and duration of final punishment. While it is easy to simply google the various phrases (and if you did and ended up here, welcome!), I figured it would be helpful to simply list the various texts that have some significant pull in the world between the Church and the Academy.

I shall start with universalism, mostly because Universalism hasn't gotten a fair shake amongst many evangelicals. For good reason or not, one ought to engage with the best texts on the topic and I have listed them below:

Thomas Talbott's The Inescapable Love of God has just been released and has been quite influential in some parts of the evangelical world. It even has some traditionalist scholars praising it such as Jerry Walls.

For a broader view of the family dynamic, see Universal Salvation: The Current Debate. Reasonably respectful, though there is some sniping as to be expected, since the potatoes by this time have gotten quite cold.

Robin Parry, who is a lovely fellow, has written a book on the topic that I find quite attractive--though not enough to be an Evangelical Universalist (again). I found it far more persuasive than Talbott's and it merits some consideration.

For the traditionalist side of the family table, there are many books and a few of them are helpful. That may sound like a bit of a snipe, and it is. Unlike God, I'm allowed to not play favorites.

The singular best text that was written to explicitly defend the traditional doctrine of eternal conscious torment is Hell Under Fire. That said, there are issues within and the best chapter is Douglas Moo's contribution on Paul. The chapters that object to annihilationism and universalism likely won't change the mind of either party, and we're inclined to keep those potatoes at our end of the table thank you very much.

However, if one is a philosophy nerd, Jerry Walls' Hell: The Logic of Damnation is helpful. It is not the kind of book you break out at the dinner table (none of these are), but if one is partial to C.S. Lewis, one might find it attractive.

Judith Gundry-Volf's contribution (entitled "Universalism" pgs956-961) in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters directly tackles the topic of Pauline Universalism. She concludes that, “universalism may perhaps be best defended as an implication of some statements in Paul.” I found her case remarkably compelling. 

For those of us who prefer large books that are heavy enough to beat a goat to death with, Edward Fudge's The Fire that Consumes (edited by Robin Parry) is the standard weapon of choice. He tackles both Testaments and does so in a persuasive manner. Richard Bauckham notes that the book "is likely to remain a standard work to which everyone engaged with this issue will constantly return."

Hans Schwarz, Eschatology, is a helpful survey of the relevant biblical, scientific and theological terrain of the current landscape. Some may bristle at his rejections of both AN and UR, and many Dispensationalists will take offense as well, but its a great text. I reviewed and praised it here.

Samuele Bacchiocchi is a 7th Day Adventist (and pretty shockingly conservative, even for many conservatives) and he defends a synthesis of physicalism and annihilationism. I find some of his work a bit too general but his larger arguments are helpful and its a free pdf. Enjoy.

Oscar Cullmann is always awesome. I recommend him highly too, even for such a slim book its quite potent. Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection from the Dead?

For a great site dedicated to the topic of final punishment, enjoy the Rethinking Hell site.

I write this post mostly due to the fact that I just finished a research paper for Dr. Oliver Crisp, and I'm so full of hell that I need to write this to decompress. Now, where are those potatoes?


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