Steve Gregg. All You Want to Know About Hell – Three Christian Views of God’s Final Solution to the Problem of Sin. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013. 336 pp. $19.99
It seems like hell has been a hot topic (pardon the awful pun) in the evangelical world as of late. Before Rob Bell’s Love Wins even hit the shelves in 2011, reactionary blog posts were already being written regarding the universalist view espoused in the book. Evangelical bloggers were trumpeting concern for orthodoxy and calling out Bell for heresy, and very soon response books started rolling out. While a good majority of evangelicals feared that Rob Bell had departed from orthodoxy in a matter key to the gospel, others were attracted to the universalist view and found it not only much more pleasant, but also compatible with orthodox Christianity.
So what are the key differences between major Christian views on hell, and what, if anything, is at stake? These are the issues illumined in Steve Gregg’s latest book, All You Want to Know About Hell. The format is reminiscent of a multi-view book, except instead of a different author espousing each view and each view having a response by one of the other authors, this entire book is written by one person (Gregg). Part 1 consists of six chapters and addresses preliminary considerations. Then Parts 2-4 address each of three views on hell; every view gets two chapters, the first presenting a case for the view and the second presenting a cross-examination of the view.
The three views presented in this book are traditionalism (eternal torment), annihilationism (conditional immorality), and restorationism (Christian universalism). Gregg aimed not to promote any one view, but to provide the best arguments for and critiques against each view. In regards to orthodoxy/heterodoxy, Gregg’s assertion is that none of the three views this book addresses “necessarily denies any major affirmation of the gospel, as traditionally conceived or as proclaimed in the New Testament or in the early church…each view can marshal an exegetical case from Scripture, and…all three were acceptable theological options for the first four centuries of the church” (4). Gregg believes that none of these positions should be called heretical, and that all are held by evangelicals who affirm the absolute authority of Scripture.
While Gregg maintains that he himself has not been able to choose a clear side despite having studied this issue for decades, and while he affirms that this book presents unbiased treatments of the various views, I feel there were (perhaps unwitting) biases. I think it’s clear that the author is decidedly not a traditionalist, and that he feels that no one else should be either. The traditionalist view gets a much harsher treatment than the other two views; a large portion of Part 1 is the author laboring to convince the reader to discard the traditionalist view. Then, almost halfway into the book, a treatment of each view in succession begins. Continuing throughout parts 2-4, it still seems apparent that the author is biased against the traditionalist view; it also seems that he favors Christian universalism. The cross-examinations also seem uneven, with the traditionalist view more strongly attacked and less adequately defended than the other view. Scattered throughout the view are also critiques of what the author believes are Calvinistic assertions relevant to the issue of eternal state, especially in relation to what that does to the character of God. Some of these assertions and purported ramifications are, in my opinion, inaccurate and reflect more the stereotypes than the actual beliefs worked out from Scripture and confessions.
Despite these perceived weakness (which could very well be influenced by my own biases as a traditionalist and a Calvinist, although I tried to be open to the other views after reading the introduction), the second half of the book does present a good introduction to the three prevalent Christian views of hell. However, I imagine that Zondervan’s Four Views on Hell would be a better book than this (though I haven’t read it) because of the fact that it has a separate author explaining and defending each view. When one author pens a book like this, I think his biases naturally come through.
Finally, because I still believe that the traditional view is the one most in line with the whole of biblical revelation and what is synthesized in the form of biblical and systematic theology, and because, contrary to the author, I do believe the issue is of key importance, I would not recommend this book to most laypeople trying to work out their theology of hell. However, I would recommend it to pastors, Bible students, and well-read laymen who would like an introduction to alternative views of hell. I think it’s good for those who are mature to wrestle with their preconceptions and be challenged regarding their presuppositions.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.