The Fire That Consumes: A Review

I have read more about hell these past few weeks than I have over a lifetime.  With the publication of Rob Bell’s Love Wins and the publication of the third edition of Edward Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes, hell has become a “hot” topic.

I read Rob Bell’s book Love Wins and I say that, despite its popularity and the many reviews in the popular media, it is a book that is not worth reading.  I will review Bell’s book in a future post, but believe me, there is little there.

The purpose of this post is to review The Fire That Consumes.  The first edition of Fudge’s book was published almost thirty years ago, in 1982 to be precise.  Since then, many books and articles have been written in response to Fudge’s view on hell.  According to Fudge, since the first edition of the book in 1982, “at least a dozen books have been written in response, in addition to multiple Master’s theses and a least two doctoral dissertations, including one at the University of Oxford” (p. xxiv). Some books support his conclusion, others oppose it, a few are even virulent about Fudge’s views on hell.

One may or may not agree with Fudge’s argument.  However, in order to understand the impact this book has made on Christian thinking, one must realize that a movie is being made on the book and on Fudge’s search for the proper understanding of the Bible’s teaching on hell.  If you have not seen the trailer for the movie “Hell and Mr. Fudge,” watch the trailer here.

The complete title of Edward Fudge’s book is The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment.  This third edition has been updated, revised, and fully expanded to include Fudge’s interaction with seventeen traditionalist authors who have written in opposition to Fudge’s view.

One thing that fascinated me about The Fire That Consumes is the scholarship and the research that made this book possible.  Contrary to Bell’s popular and sermonic approach, Fudge’s work is based on scholarly research.  His bibliography lists 566 books and articles consulted (maybe Fudge should add another 100 in his fourth edition so that 666 sources will be listed in his bibliography). In addition, a total of 373 authors are listed by name in his index of authors.  This information alone demonstrates that Fudge’s work is based on good research and solid scholarship.

The scope of Fudge’s work is comprehensive.  He seeks to study every passage in the Bible that deals with the final destiny of the wicked.  He begins his book by studying whether the soul is mortal or immortal, whether “eternal” refers to duration, quality, or both, and whether Sheol or Hades refers to the grave or to hell.

Then Fudge seeks to study the concept of divine justice in the Old Testament.  His study covers every passage dealing with divine justice and the destiny of the wicked, beginning with the flood and covering texts in the Pentateuch, and in the historical, prophetic, and wisdom books of the Old Testament.  He also studies passages in the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Pseudepigrapha.

Fudge has four chapters dedicated to the teachings of Jesus about hell and the destiny of the wicked.  One chapter studies Jesus’ use of Gehenna and another studies Jesus’ teaching about the destiny of the wicked but where the word “Gehenna” does not appear.  One chapter studies the “Parable of the Sheep and the Goats” and another studies the “Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.” Two additional chapters study the implication of Jesus’ death on Calvary.

The book has three chapters on Paul’s epistles, one chapter on Hebrews, James, and Acts, one chapter on the general epistles, and one chapter on Revelation.  In these chapters Fudge studies every passage in the New Testament that discusses the destiny of the wicked.

The book has one chapter on the Apostolic Fathers and their successors, one on the apologists, one on Augustine, one dealing with theologians from the Middle Ages to the Reformation, one on John Calvin, and several chapters dealing with the current discussion on hell and the destiny of the wicked.

There is no doubt that Fudge has done his homework, and in the process he discusses many biblical passages that the seventeen authors who hold the traditional view have ignored or did not find important enough to include into their discussion of hell.

When it comes to hell, most Christians believe that hell is the place where the unbeliever will go after they die.  However, some Christians reject this view and propose different ways of speaking about the destiny of the wicked after they die.  Over the years Christians have proposed four different ways of understanding what will happen to people after they die.  These are the main four views about the destiny of the wicked:

Universalism

Christian universalism teaches that although human beings are fallen sinners, they will be saved in the end through the universal redemption accomplished by Christ on the cross of Calvary.  Those who hold this view believe that there is no endless punishment in hell.  Universalism is based on the view that a God of love will not allow people to suffer for eternity in hell.  Universalism emphasizes that since the Lord does not want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), then in the end, everyone will repent and be saved.

Annihilationism

Annihilationism is the belief that people who die without being saved will be destroyed in the grave and will not be tormented forever in hell.  This view asserts that the wicked will not be cast in the lake of fire on judgment day.  Rather, annihilationism teaches that when a wicked person dies, that person ceases to exist.  Thus, in the coming of Christ, only the righteous will gain immortality and live forever in fellowship with God.

Traditionalism

Traditionalism refers to the traditional teaching of the church about hell.  This view teaches that hell is a place of eternal punishment reserved for unbelievers.  Traditionalism affirms that the wicked will suffer forever in the unquenchable fires of hell.  Thus, traditionalism affirms that the suffering of the wicked in hell is for eternity.

Traditionalism teaches that after people die, the souls of those who die in a state of unrepentance will descend into hell, where they will suffer in the unquenchable fires of hell. Thus, sinners in hell will be eternally separated from God.

Conditionalism

Conditionalism teaches that immortality is a special gift of God bestowed upon those who believe in Jesus Christ. Since the Bible teaches that only God has immortality, then human beings are by nature mortal.  Thus eternal life or immortality will be given to believers in the final days, while the wicked will be raised, judged, and then will be cast into hell where they will die the second death and eventually be destroyed.

Conditionalists believe in hell. Fudge wrote that conditionalists believe “that the wicked will rise, be judged, be expelled into hell, suffer according to the measure ordained by divine justice, and finally pass away forever” (p. 262).

The Fire That Consumes advocates conditionalism and it is here where Fudge departs from the traditional teaching of the church about hell.  There are several reasons why Fudge advocates conditionalism.

First, it is because he believes that only God has immortality and that human beings are given immortality, eternal life, through faith in Christ.

Second, he believes that the early Christians, influenced by Greek philosophy, introduced into the teachings of the church the dogma of the immortality of the soul and that the soul would survive after the death of the body.

Third, Fudges concludes that the Bible does not teach that the wicked will suffer eternally in the fires of hell.  To him, the Bible teaches that the wicked will be raised in the last days, will be judged, cast into the fires of hell and there he will be consumed, he will die the second death, and will perish forever.

Christians who accept the traditional view that hell is a place of eternal torment cannot summarily dismiss the conditionalist view without first reading Fudge’s book.  When they do so, they may come to the conclusion that maybe the traditional view may not be biblical after all.

So, I recommend that Christians everywhere read this book.  Those who read this book either will be challenged to reconsider their views about the traditional teachings of the church on hell or they will be convinced that the conditionalist view of hell is the right biblical teaching.

Now, where do I stand on this issue?  For you to know where I stand, you will have to wait for my upcoming post on the Biblical doctrine of hell coming up Thursday or Friday.

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17 Responses to The Fire That Consumes: A Review

  1. Mwindula Mbewe says:

    I can’t wait Doctor! The battle here is clearly between the traditionalists and the conditionalists. I am certainly inclined to the traditionalists but if Fudge is biblical in his arguments I will definitely switch camp!

    Like

    • Mwindula,

      Thank you for your comment. I hope to have my second post later this week. I am highly busy at school this academic year. Study the issue carefully. If you have an opportunity, read the book, then make your decision. I hope my next post will clarify some of the issues involved.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

  2. Mark says:

    Sorry to hear that you didn’t understand Rob Bell’s book. Rob has a habit of discussing concepts that can be over the head of the person with only average intelligence. I hope that as you grow and learn you will be able to more appreciate Rob Bell’s work.

    Like

    • Mark,

      I read the book and understood everything he wrote, and I am still not convinced by his argument because I think it is not biblical. I do not want to brag, but I believe that I am a person that has an above average intelligence. Even with my kind of intelligence, it is easy to see that Bell’s argument lacks biblical support.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

      • Nicolas says:

        Dear Prof.

        I had to laugh at the comment of “Mark” (above), but at the same time I was appalled !

        Your reply was so gracious — not what it deserved !!

        As a “convinced universalist” myself, I wasn’t that impressed by Bell’s book. He is certainly asking the right questions, and asking them well. But his answers weren’t that complete.

        Gregory MacDonald’s “The Evangelical Universalist” is the best intro I know of.

        Like

  3. Michael Ray says:

    Thanks for the even-handed review of Fudge’s book. It’s a subject that seems to make it tough to approach with reason and thoughtfulness rather than emotion. The book is currently in my stack of books I’ve bought but haven’t yet read but I will read it soon.

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    • Michael,

      When you read the book pay attention to Fudge’s argument and then make your decision. Whenever I review a book, I try to be fair and honest with the argument presented in the book. Sometimes I am too honest and some authors do not like that kind of honesty.

      Claude Mariottini

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  4. Dr. Mariottini,

    Greetings and thanks for presenting this review. I have always been a conditionalist because I have always seen enough evidence in scripture for hell to be seen as punishment that results in final destruction, rather than the continuous burning of the wicked. Another important issue that is connected with this discussion is the immortality of the soul (which I also don’t believe is biblical). But since i’m not a theologian, I’ll stop here (smile).

    Looking forward to reading your view on this issue.

    Jerry

    Like

  5. Mark Marley says:

    Good morning professor,
    Thank you for your even handed review of Edward Fudge’s work. I read it several years ago. It not only moved me toward the conditionalist camp, but also had me rethink my views on eschatology in general and the timing of our resurrection (intermediate state) in particular. While some may disagree with Edward’s conclusions, no one can deny that he is a first class scholar!

    I was present for the Lanier Theological Library lecture. I met you and your wife briefly. Blessings,

    Mark Marley
    San Antonio, TX

    Like

    • Mark,

      Thank you for your comment. I enjoyed my time in Houston. Fudge’s book is a scholarly work that deserves to be read by Christians. Fudge’s argument is strong and deserves to be considered by those who hold to the traditional view. I am glad we met in Houston. I have to apologize that I cannot recall your face.

      Claude Mariottini

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  6. jay altieri says:

    Shalom Dr. Mariottini,
    My name is Jay Altieri. I was directed to your blog by Edward’s GracEmail. On page 359 of FTC I received a cameo mention by Edward about my book Dead Soul Syndrome. http://www.deadsoulsyndrome.com The conditional immortality part is identical to Edward’s but I have connected the dots with a synthesis of soul sleep doctrines that frequently accompany CI. My website explains some of it, the book explains all of it. You had some comments above about the nature of the soul. Understanding its mortality and its nature is crucial for a biblical outlook. A good place to start would be my article about body soul spirit under bible studies.
    Blessings in Christ,

    Jay Altieri
    http://www.deadsoulsyndrome.com
    Columbus, TX

    Like

  7. Nicolas says:

    Dear Professor,

    I just want to commend you on your accurate definition of Christian Universalism:

    “Universalism emphasizes that since the Lord does not want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), then in the end, everyone will repent and be saved.”

    I appalls me how often we still see descriptions saying that universalism is “salvation without repentence”. Very few have ever believed such a thing!

    Nicolas.

    Like

    • Nicolas,

      The view I presented is the position of the Universalist Church of America. Here is how universalism is defined:

      “The defining theology of Universalism is universal salvation; Universalists believe that the God of love would not create a person knowing that that person would be destined for eternal damnation. Thus, they concluded that all people must be destined for salvation.”

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

  8. Derech Emet says:

    Congratulations for your website.
    I believe the Bible is the word of God and it does not teach that we have an imortal soul, which is the basis for the everlasting punishment. Traditionalism has been drinking from Plato ideas which entered Christianism in their first decades and got stronger with some very influent church fathers.
    I appreciate Fudge’s work since the first edition.
    I hope God can help those in their sincere study of the Bible to find this precious truth.
    Blessings,
    Emet.

    Like

    • Derech,

      It is very difficult to teach people about the Old Testament’s view of the soul. People are so ingrained in traditional views that they are missing the true teaching of the Bible.

      My blog has moved to my new web page. Visit the new site of my blog, read my post today, then subscribe to my blog and receive all my posts as they are published. My new site is Dr. Mariottini.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

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