Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

"The Hell You Say": Salvation and the Final Judgment

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

"The Hell You Say": Salvation and the Final Judgment

Article excerpt

The doctrine of soteriology implies some view of eschatology. If we are to be saved, from what are we to be saved? The traditional answer is that those who are not saved have Hell as their destiny. There is, of course, a spectrum of views on the nature of Hell. Those who see no need for humans to be saved, or those who believe that all people will be saved, see no reason to believe in Hell. Those who hold that not all are saved still have differences of opinion about the nature of the final destiny of the lost. Among evangelical and conservative Anglicans two views have been held. John Stott, among others, held that the biblical imagery of Hell should lead us to believe that Hell means annihilation, or non-existence. J. I. Packer believes that the traditional view of Hell as conscious eternal torment better fits the biblical evidence.

It is rare these days to hear a sermon on Hell. Even in very traditional ecclesiastical settings, the subject is not often broached. In 2011, however, the North American evangelical world was plunged into a short-lived but rather tense period of controversy as the pastor of a popular megachurch released a slim volume entitle Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.1 Rob Bell, the pastor in question, discovered that he had serious doubts about the traditional view of Hell as a place of eternal conscious torment. His book caused quite a reaction in the evangelical world, a reaction made worse, perhaps, by the fact that the book was not that well written.

This issue of the ATR deals with the question of "salvation." Soteriology itself begs the question of eschatology. If a person is "saved," what is that person saved from? Is it enough to say that if I trust in him, Jesus saves me from my sins? Such a statement necessarily leads to the corollary: what if I do not trust in Jesus for the salvation he offers? What if I want nothing to do with God? In short, what is my fate if I die "in my sins"?

As with many theological questions, there is a continuum, a spectrum of views on offer. Some of these views can be discounted as entirely outside the spectrum of Christian thought, but others have had champions who were clearly attempting to think about this subject as Christians, using Christian sources, trying to understand the meaning of difficult and troubling passages in the Scriptures. Perhaps even more than with other subjects, it is not always clear, even to the person holding the opinion, to what degree theological views are driven by the pastoral implications.

Here, then, is an overview of the spectrum of views on salvation and Hell. The first four positions we describe below have in common that there is no "place" as Hell.

People Have No Need of Being Saved, or All Are Saved: Therefore There Is No Hell

First, of course, we should mention that there are those who reject any notion of god. Since there is no god, there is no Hell, and no need for "salvation." Such people may still be seeking some form of self-fulfillment or meaning, but such a pursuit is entirely selfcreated. The world itself is meaningless, although humans may impose their own "meaning." Such a view may even speak of such a self-made meaning in salvific terms.

Certain kinds of existentialism and postmodernism see any kind of meaning found in the universe as a human construct, as something imposed on an essentially meaningless universe. For the consistent existentialist or postmodern, suicide is an option (the French philosopher and novelist Albert Camus was perhaps the most honest in this regard). Many, however, live life as if there is no god, and simply find "meaning" in whatever is considered pleasurable or interesting. Popular examples of this kind of worldview abound and can be seen in slogans like "born to shop," "find yourself," "be yourself," "the self-made man." Perhaps Frank Sinatra's "I did it my way" could be considered the anthem for many in this category. …

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