Christianity,  Theology/Bible

Is Hell real? Did God really make a place in which to punish sinners forever?

I am happy to announce that the second edition of Four Views on Hell was released today. It is edited by Preston Sprinkle, and yours truly has written the chapter on Eternal Conscious Torment. John Stackhouse argues for annihilationism, Robin Parry for Universalism, and Jerry Walls for Purgatory. It is a spirited exchange that highlights the major issues at stake in this debate.

There are many people who can hardly bear to contemplate the traditional doctrine of hell, and I include myself among them. But just because a doctrine is difficult doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. If it is taught in the Bible—as Eternal Conscious Torment most assuredly is—then it is nothing less than God’s own word that He has revealed to us for our good. And we should receive it as such.

At the end of the day, what we believe about hell reveals what we believe about God. What kind of God, after all, would preside over such a horrific place? What kind of God indeed? I argue that the infinite torments of hell reflect the infinite holiness and greatness of God himself and of the incalculable heinousness of sinning against such a Being. But I make the case not based on theological deduction but based on biblical exegesis of ten passages from the Old and New Testaments that indicate Eternal Conscious Torment as the end of everyone who fails to repent and believe in Jesus.

Below are some videos with more information about the book. You can order the book here.


  • Brian Holland

    Way to go Denny! Tragically there isn’t much emphasis on the reality of Hell in modern Evangelicalism, and hence there’s no fear of God in so many churches today. I appreciate you arguing for historic, biblical Christianity. I’ve done the same on my blog. I do, however, take issue with the title of the book, and it’s implications. The other three views, are not views of hell after all, because none of those possibilities would be eternal judgement. A more accurate title would be “four views of the afterlife.”

  • Jason Woelm

    You had the unenviable task in this edition of following John Walvoord (and the stellar work he did) in defending the biblical case for hell. Daunting, I am sure! Reading your work on this blog, I am just as sure that you did an excellent job, brother, and I looking forward to reading it. Thank you for your faithfulness to our Lord.

  • Ike Lentz

    After years of studying the different views, I bounced between embracing and discarding all of them – Eternal conscious torment, annihilation, universalism, hopeful universalism, purgatory- I finally settled on “hell agnosticism” (basically, I’m not sure the Bible clearly articulates any of the major views).

    The consolation for me was that it didn’t seem like ANYONE actually believed ECT. If they truly did, how would they not spend every waking hour in a state of utter fear, anxiety and depression. How could a believer spend even a minute enjoying a sunset, a football game, or a meal with a friend knowing that the majority of humanity was ultimately headed for the worst possible fate?

    Denny, I’ll definitely be checking out this book, I’m very interested to see what you have to say and I appreciate you contributing to it.

  • Gus Nelson

    Denny: I appreciate you taking the toughest road here. Too many evangelicals simply don’t want to face the prospect that many people might be headed to such a place. And to rebut Ike’s view – no it shouldn’t cause us to fail to enjoy a sunset or a meal with a friend knowing many might be going – it should cause Christians to rejoice that God permits ANY OF US to join him!

    • Ike Lentz

      Gus, isn’t that kind of like rejoicing from your lifeboat while watching the Titanic sink? I’m not saying that believers shouldn’t be grateful for God’s grace, just that I don’t know how to live life with the conviction that the majority of the people around us will be suffering forever in torment. I was greatly relieved when I found that the traditional view of hell was not as Biblical a concept as I’d previously been taught.

      • Andrew Marcos

        Ike, I see your point – but indeed I might rejoice if I had just made it into a lifeboat.

        While I feel like I’ve only been thinking openly and critically about hell for a short while, I think I can empathize with your (Ike’s) experience. At the moment, I’d say I’m at least an annihilationist, if not a full-blown universalist (and I feel heretical even typing that – it’s the first I’ve really admitted this to anyone). This is mostly for philosophical reasons. If God is necessary Being, and our existence is contingent on Him; and if Hell is separation from God, I don’t see how one could really be separated from Him and still exist.

        Exegetically, I just don’t think ECT is there. When Jesus talks about the fire of hell, I can’t help but think He is always talking about the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Otherwise, you have the end of Revelation with the “kings of the earth” coming in an out of the New Jerusalem and the leaves on the Tree of Life for the “healing of the nations.”

        In the New Testament as a whole, there certainly seems to be a real urgency behind the gospel proclamation of salvation. At the same time, what seems to be completely absent is this Evangelical notion that you have to get to someone before they die, because if they don’t know Jesus, and they die, they’ll be in hell forever. Correct me if I’m wrong, I just don’t see the NT expressing that or emphasizing it the way today’s Evangelicals do (though certainly going back to medieval times I’d grant).

        I would really love an open discussion about Hell though. I’m losing my grip on the ECT idea and, as a life-long Evangelical, it makes me feel quite unsettled….

  • Christiane Smith

    In my Church it has been said that ‘hell’ is when a person has willingly “destroyed himself or herself so that they no longer have any element upon which the love of God can rest, and they no longer have the slightest capacity to love within themselves”;
    but that in Christ, there remains hope for “souls that are wounded and sick, as is the experience of all, need . . . a true renewal, which can come only from the power of God, from the power of crucified Love”

    I think ‘hell’ is real because I think our human kind have been given choices as a part of our having been formed in the image of God. But I believe God’s love may be far more powerful and effective than many Christian people have believed it to be, and that is what engenders hope in the great mercy and compassion of God towards those that are ‘lost, and confused, and without a Shepherd’.

  • Tim Webb

    Dr. Burk, I didn’t know that John Stackhouse had out the closet an annihilationist. I think of him as a prominent evangelical academic. Interesting, thanks for this post.

  • Christiane Smith

    “And I saw the river over which every soul must pass
    to reach the kingdom of heaven
    and the name of that river was suffering:

    and I saw a boat which carries souls across the river
    and the name of that boat was love.”

    (St. John of the Cross)

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