Since Rob Bell’s Love Wins was published a few years ago, hell, always a controversial topic, has become extremely controversial. And I can understand the controversy. As an evangelical Christian, I believe in hell, but it is a difficult doctrine to hold.
So when I saw that Leafwood Publishing was publishing a new book by Edward William Fudge entitled Hell: A Final Word, I was anxious to read it. I’ve heard of Fudge’s former book, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment. It is one of the main works advancing annihilationism, the view that the unsaved are not eternally punished by God but are annihilated, that is, God causes them to no longer exist. This previous book on hell received attention from many theologians, so this short introduction to Fudge’s position is a welcomed sight.
The book is short (173 pages), and the reading isn’t demanding or difficult. About a third of the book is autobiographical, with Fudge recounting the events and belief changes in his life that led him to study the doctrine of hell and eventually change his mind. Part of the occasion for this is that a movie is being released in 2012 about Fudge’s work. I do wish the autobiographical section would have been shortened to allow for the book’s arguments to be a little more detailed
So What’s His Argument?
To refute the traditional view, Fudge attacks what he refers to as the Four Fundamental Pillars of the Everlasting Torment View. These are:
- “The Old Testament says nothing about hell” (65).
- Jesus’s view of hell was that sinners would be everlastingly tormented, a view that arose in the time between the Old Testament and the New Testament.
- The New Testament writers taught that hell is everlasting torment.
- “The immortality of the soul requires unending conscious torment unless those in hell are restored to God and join him in heaven” (65).
Fudge rejects these Four Pillars. I will summarize his argument against them. First, the Old Testament has a lot to say about the “end of the wicked” (67). The OT has a lot of implications about hell, not the least being its teaching that the wicked will be destroyed. The Second Pillar and the Third Pillar depend upon the interpretation of various New Testament passages, and Fudge’s argues that plenty of passages seem to teach that the unsaved will be destroyed, not that they would be eternally punished. His argument against the Fourth Pillar is that the notion of an immortal soul comes from Greek philosophy, not from the Bible.
With these arguments against these four core assumptions of the traditional view, the ground is clear for Fudge to argue for annihilationism.
The core of Fudge’s arguments in defense of the annihilationist is to show that the vast majority of the passages concerning God’s punishment for the wicked teach that the wicked will be destroyed, not tortured (eternal punishment) or purified of their evil (universal salvation). Of the passage, he asks what type of fire they describe. “What type of fire?” you might ask. “Isn’t there only one type of fire? The type that burns!” And this is where Fudge’s simple style really helped to put forth the basic outline of this discussion. The debate focuses around three types of fire: a fire that consumes, a fire that torments, and the fire that purifies. These three different functions of fire – destruction, torture, or purification – corresponds to the three positions about the passages about God’s judgment. Either God’s wrath will destroy sinners, eternally torture sinners, or purify sinners (so that all will be saved).
For almost every passage that mentions God’s judgment, the clear meaning is that the fire will destroy or consume the sinners. From this, Fudge concludes that the Bible teaches that the fires of hell do not torment for eternity, nor do they simply purify people, but the fires of hell consumes sinners. They will go out of existence.
He does discuss the issue at more depth, but he uses this fairly simple argument form for most of the passages he discusses.
So Is the Book Worth It?
The book is inexpensive and an easy read. So I think it is worth it. One can learn the basics of Fudge’s position from this little book.
But I would have preferred more depth. The details of the arguments did not satisfy me. Fudge has already done that in The Fire That Consumes, but I think this book lacks the details and depth to convince the inquisitive layperson, while his scholarly work on the subject would most likely be intimidating to laypeople. So it would be nice to have book that treads the ground between Fudge’s scholarly work and this popularized version of it.
[Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers as part of their ACU Press Bookclub Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”]