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:
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 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 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 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.