Hell: Never, Forever, Or Just For Awhile? -- By: Richard L. Mayhue

Journal: Masters Seminary Journal
Volume: TMSJ 09:2 (Fall 1998)
Article: Hell: Never, Forever, Or Just For Awhile?
Author: Richard L. Mayhue


Hell: Never, Forever, Or Just For Awhile?

Richard L. Mayhue

Senior Vice President and Dean
Professor of Theology and Pastoral Ministries

The plethora of literature produced in the last two decades on the basic nature of hell indicates a growing debate in evangelicalism that has not been experienced since the latter half of the nineteenth century. This introductory article to the entire theme issue of TMSJ sets forth the context of the question of whether hell involves conscious torment forever in Gehenna for unbelievers or their annihilation after the final judgment. It discusses historical, philosophical, lexical, contextual, and theological issues that prove crucial to reaching a definitive biblical conclusion. In the end, hell is a conscious, personal torment forever; it is not “just for awhile” before annihilation after the final judgment (conditional immortality) nor is its final retribution “never” (universalism).

* * * * *

A few noted evangelicals such as Clark Pinnock,1 John Stott,2 and John Wenham3 have in recent years challenged the doctrine of eternal torment forever in hell as God’s final judgment on all unbelievers. James Hunter, in his landmark “sociological interpretation” of evangelicalism, notes that “… it is clear that there is a measurable degree of uneasiness within this generation of Evangelicals with the notion of an eternal damnation.”4 The 1989 evangelical doctrinal caucus “Evangelical Affirmations” surprisingly debated this issue. “Strong disagreements did surface over the position of annihilationism, a view that holds that unsaved souls will cease to exist after death. Debate arose in the final plenary session over

whether such a view should be denounced in the affirmations.”5 In forecasting the theological directions of the future, Millard Erickson cites the doctrine of “Annihilationism” as growing in popularity among evangelicals.6

The subject has been debated in both the popular press7 and scholarly circles8 with no apparent consensus being reached. So what is a Christian to believe? How is this aspect of the gospel to be presented? How should the doctrinal statement of a local church read? What should the pastor preach on this issue of personal ...

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