Is Hell For Real or Does Everyone Go To Heaven? (In Review)

Derek Ouellette —  September 5, 2011

Is Hell For Real or Does Everyone Go To Heaven?
General Editors Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson
1.5 Stars (out of 5)

This book is a conglomeration of essays by well known authors of the Reformed tradition: J.I. Packer, Albert Mohler, Timothy Keller, Robert Yarbrough, Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson. It is a small, thin book (only 83 pages) whose purpose is to succinctly defend the traditional view of Hell which is defined as a place of eternal conscious punishment after judgment day for those who do not enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in this life.

The first chapter (by Mohler) provides an overview of the history of the doctrine of Hell. The second chapter (Yarbrough) explores what Jesus said about Hell; chapter three (Morgan) looks at three pictures of Hell presented throughout the rest of the New Testament (punishment, destruction, banishment); chapter four (Peterson) offers three perspectives on Hell (Trinitarian, “Divine sovereignty and human freedom”, and “fulled and not-yet fulfilled”); and chapter five (Packer) is written explicitly against Universalism. The books appendix is an article written by Keller back in 1997 for Leadership magazine titled “Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age”.

This book was familiar to me on two fronts:

1) All of the arguments put forth here are what we’ve all come to expect, offering a bias non-critical defense that is mostly biblical exposition.

I’m all for basing our arguments squarely on the scriptures and I know that not everything is going to make sense to our finite minds (cf. “Trinity”). But if an argument for the traditional view of Hell is to stand it needs to be presented in a way that is not going to mar the image and character of God. I don’t think this book does that. Furthermore, the authors here are uncritical of their own position, taking the high-ground of assuming it throughout. This is especially true of Mohler’s chapter but to one extent or another it is true of the others. What Clark Pinnock says of John Walvoord could just as easily have been said of these authors:

“What makes it particularly hard to respond to Walvoord’s chapter is the brevity and superficiality of it. How should I respond to a study that does not engage many basic issues or face up to serious difficultiies in the view it is defending?” (Four view on Hell, p.36)

2) This book is basically a non-academic version of Hell Under Fire.

As I started to look through the chapters and contributors I felt like I was having Déjà vu, like I had read these chapters before. Turns out I had. Every contributor of this book except Timothy Keller were also contributors to the earlier more academic book on Hell, Hell Under Fire. There are noticeable differences, primarily that this book is written for the average conservative Christian, to reinforce their belief in the traditional view of Hell, while the other is more critical and academically respectable. Other scholars from Hell Under Fire were absent in this one (most missed is G.K. Beale), and this book has the addition of Timothy Keller.

Conclusion: Is Hell For Real Or Does Everyone Go To Heaven? has a definate Calvinist slant which makes it difficult for non-Calvinists of the traditional perspective to read. To my mind this is a strike against the book because it assumes that the best defense of the traditional view of Hell is via Calvinism theology. While it’s aim is to defend the traditional view of Hell against Universalism, it fails to address “Evangelical Universalism” and often makes passing rebuttal remarks against Annihilationism, but again, without accurately presenting it. So I don’t think this book has done anything to add to the current conversation and the only people who would enjoy this book are those who are looking to bolster their already established beliefs.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Arni Zachariassen

    Hey Derek, what’s the Trinitarian view of Hell that Peterson defends? Never heard of it before and I’m having a hard time imagining what it might look like. Can you give me a short summary?

  • Derek

    Peterson says that most people see the Son as Saviour and the Father as Judge and they never bring the Holy Spirit into the conversation. The point that Peterson is trying to make is that the whole Godhead is involved in the Judgment. I think he’s trying to combat a tendency to pit the Love of Jesus the saviour against the Wrath of God the Father.

    The Father is Judge, Yes! (1 Peter 1:17). The Son is Judge too (John 5:22). And yes, the Holy Spirit is involved in Judgment as well (John 16:8). Peterson concludes this section:

    “Overall, remembering that the Godhead works in unity in judgment will keep us from pitting one member against another. It will also keep us from certain misunderstands and controversies about hell.”

    I’m not sure what controversies about hell may arise from not emphasizing the trinity that Peterson has in mind. But there you go.