The Different Viewpoints
There is one big problem with being a Christian (whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant), or Muslim (Islam). What do you do about the teachings of Hell? It raises many theological and philosophical problems for believers, and there have been solutions raised – even by respected and conservative theologians. Before we discuss them, let’s survey some solutions:
One solution is a second death (Annihilationist position). This view was originally presented in groups like the Seventh Day Adventists, but it became a mainstream viewpoint. Some conservative, mainline theologians have embraced it. One book presented a debate between well-represented, opposing sides is Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue by Edward William Fudge (Author), Robert A. Peterson. You can find this book at www.amazon.com.
Another view is a figurative description view, which has been argued by conservative Catholic and Protestant theologians. You can find this view presented in the book Four Views on Hell by John F. Walvoord (Contributor), Zachary J. Hayes (Contributor), Clark H. Pinnock (Contributor), William Crockett (Editor), and Stanley N. Gundry. This book is found at www.amazon.com, and here’s what one reviewer mentioned regarding the figurative presentation: “His presentation is the most convincing of the four, partially because of his skill but mainly because of the strength of the argument itself. Crockett sticks to the point and drives it home.”
The purgatory view is primary used in Roman Catholic theology, as an intermediate state between heaven and hell. An outgrowth of this view may include a view of universal salvation (not embraced by Roman Catholic theology), where eventually all will be saved, including those in hell. An interesting website devoted to Universalism is http://www.tentmaker.org/.
A rebuttal to Universalism can be found at http://www.carm.org/.
The literal viewpoint is that of an eternal, fire pit. This view is very prevalent is some conservative Muslim and Protestant circles. Much can be traced to the Jonathan Edwards Sermon entitled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…). We can also throw in the historical view of original sin from Saint Augustine (it’s interesting to note the Eastern Orthodox never read him – do their theologians have a more “enlightened” viewpoint regarding original sin? – see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…).
One viewer made a comment on the Eastern Orthodox presentation of hell, so I throught I would include it as an additional category. “The Eastern Orthodox view of hell as a state rather than a place: being eternally shut off from the presence of God” (see aggreen.net/beliefs/he…).
Who is sentenced there?
If we wrestle with that viewpoint, then the problem becomes who is sentenced there? I am familiar with theology and philosophy – even thought I don’t classify myself as a professional, but a “well informed” amateur. Essentially there are three viewpoints and we will include brief definitions from an article at http://www.theologicalstudies.org/pluralism.html:
Inclusivism – “One religion is best but salvation is possible in other religions.”
Exclusivism – “Salvation is found in only one religion.” An interesting question was raised in a history of Christianity class, from a Baptist minister who received this doctorate in historical theology, at a Catholic University. When Christ says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” is it the human personality speaking, or Christ as Logos (see the Gospel of John)?
Pluralism – “All major world religions lead to God and salvation.”
I won’t focus on Exclusivism and Pluralism, since we are presented with these in TV and radio programs. Here is a good general overview on Christian theological inclusivism (this is NOT defined as accepting an alternative lifestyle) at http://www.ukapologetics.net/evinc.htm. This is a wonderful presentation, given by a conservative, mainstream Protestant theologian (interesting main site at http://www.ukapologetics.net/).
Let us entertain some questions regarding the Exclusivist position (I.E. – theological and philosophical). Do they create any exceptions regarding who is not saved (I.E. – children and the mentally challenged)? If you really press them, regarding all situations, would they normally come up with some exception cases? Would they have difficulty trying to justify certain exceptions, and not others? Would you?
The only problem with the article mentioned, is that it gives an incorrect view of Pluralism. To be fair, this incorrect view was also used in the three basic definitions previously given, and a PhD presented them. I presented the Christian article on Inclusivism to a professor of comparative religions, with a PhD from Northwestern University. This is what he mentioned:
“There are some good points on that site. Unfortunately, it misunderstands pluralism. Pluralism does not teach that all religions are equal…that’s relativism. Exclusivism and inclusivism are both beliefs. The former is that if my religion is right, yours is wrong. The latter is that my religion has the fullness of the truth and salvation power, but your religion may have some of it. Pluralism is not a belief but a HYPOTHESIS, namely that my religion does for me what your religion does for you. In other words, until proven otherwise I will presume that your religion gives you a path to higher consciousness, a more well honed conscience, and a deep sense of community just as mine gives me a path to these three goals.”
Let’s conclude with Tiffany Snow
Many mainstream Protestant and Catholic theologians usually describe hell as “eternal separation from God”, and leave it at that. There is an author named Tiffany Snow, who had a near death experience, and ended up with the gift of healing. Her books can be found at www.amazon.com. She communicates regarding her NDE via an interesting website, where she shares her experiential theological perspective at http://www.thefourthhealing.com/. It’s interesting to note she experiences:
Hell – not hellfire
A more Christian inclusive view.
A health and prosperity gospel
A gospel of spiritual gifts.
A gospel where communion is a proper spiritual sacrament
Let’s wrap up with some quotes. Existential Christian theologian Paul Tillich said, “Astonishment is the root of philosophy.” Comedian W.C. Fields keep reading the bible, while he was in the hospital. When asked why, he replied, “I’m looking for loopholes.” Medieval Catholic mystic Julian of Norwich, kept hearing the voice of God saying, “All Shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” But the human mind – with its disciplines of theology and philosophy – keep asking “how”, “why”, and “when”?