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Way of Life Literature
Publisher of Bible Study Materials
Way of Life Bible College
Taking the Fire Out of Hell
Updated August 22, 2001 (first published August 3, 1999)
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
It has become common place for theologians in these days of end times apostasy to question the biblical doctrine of Hell. Doubts about the reality of Hell began in the 1800s and have spread rapidly in the 20th century. Charles Haddon Spurgeon observed the growing disbelief in the reality of Hell in his day. In 1865 he said, “There is a deepseated unbelief among Christians just now, about the eternity of future punishment. It is not outspoken in many cases, but it is whispered; and it frequently assumes the shape of a spirit of benevolent desire that the doctrine may be disproved. I fear that at the bottom of all this there is a rebellion against the dread sovereignty of God. There is a suspicion that sin is not, after all, so bad a thing as we have dreamed. There is an apology, or a lurking wish to apologize for sinners, who are looked upon rather as objects of pity than as objects of indignation, and really deserving the condign punishment which they have wilfully brought upon themselves. I am afraid it is the old nature in us putting on the specious garb of charity, which thus leads us to discredit a fact which is as certain as the happiness of believers” (Sermons, 10, 6701, cited by Iain Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1978 edition, p. 13).

Skepticism pertaining to Hell commonly presents itself in three general forms: questioning the nature of Hell’s fire, the reality of Hell as a place, and the length of Hell’s punishment. The doctrine of annihilation and the doctrine of universalism both deny the biblical doctrine of Hell.

Another way Hell is denied is by ignoring it. In 1986, Martin Marty, senior editor of the Christian Century, spoke of the “passing of hell from modern consciousness” as “one of the major if still largely undocumented modern trends” (Marty, “Whatever Happened to Hell, The Lutheran, April 2, 1986). That same year, Christianity Today editor Kenneth Kantzer said that he had not heard a sermon on Hell in 30 years! This was confirmed by a recent survey of pastors of “successful” churches in the U.S., who reported that they almost never preach about hell. It is no wonder that America is no longer a God-fearing nation. A recent poll indicated that only three percent of the people believe they will go to hell.

The most recent example of the denial of Hell came from the lips of
POPE JOHN PAUL II this year. He stated that Hell is not a physical place but “the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God.” He denied that Hell is a place of fiery torment and described it rather as “the pain, frustration and emptiness of life without God.” He further claimed that Hell is not a punishment imposed externally by God and that eternal damnation “is not God’s work but is actually our own doing” (Reuters, July 29, 1999).

The Pope is wrong on all counts. According to the Bible, Hell is a place of fiery torment. Fifteen times in the New Testament, Hell is described in terms of fire. “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44,46,48). Hell is described as “fire” (Mt. 5:22; 18:9), “everlasting fire” (Mt. 18:8; 25:41), “fire unquenchable” (Luke 3:17), “this flame” (Lk. 16:24), “furnace of fire” (Mt. 13:42,50), “eternal fire” (Jude 7), and “fire and brimstone” (Rev. 14:10; 20:10; 21:8). The Lord Jesus Christ spoke more about Hell than about Heaven, and He always described Hell in terms of fire and physical torment. This is not a matter that is up for debate. As for the idea that Hell is not a punishment imposed externally by God, that is absolute nonsense. While it is man who rejects the light and salvation God offers, it is God who imposes punishment upon those who reject salvation. Matthew 25:41, Revelation 20:15, and many other passages teach that Hell is precisely a punishment imposed by God upon the Christ-rejecting, unbelieving sinner. Any man who denies or questions these plain biblical facts about Hell is a dangerous false teacher.

BILLY GRAHAM: “I think that hell essentially is separation from God forever. And that is the worst hell that I can think of. But I think people have a hard time believing God is going to allow people to burn in literal fire forever. I think the fire that is mentioned in the Bible is a burning thirst for God that can never be quenched” (Graham, Orlando Sentinel, Orlando, Florida, April 10, 1983). “Jesus used three words to describe hell. … The third word that He used is ‘fire.’ Jesus used this symbol over and over. This could be literal fire, as many believe. Or it could be symbolic. God does have fires that do not burn. And also there is the figurative use of fire in the Bible. … I’ve often thought that this fire could possibly be a burning thirst for God that is never quenched. What a terrible fire that would be never to find satisfaction, joy, or fulfillment!” (Billy Graham, A Biblical Standard for Evangelists, A commentary on the 15 Affirmations made by participants at the International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, July, 1983, pp. 4547). “The only thing I could say for sure is that hell means separation from God. We are separated from his light, from his fellowship. That is going to be hell. When it comes to a literal fire, I don’t preach it because I’m not sure about it. When the Scripture uses fire concerning hell, that is possibly an illustration of how terrible it’s going to be not fire but something worse, a thirst for God that cannot be quenched” (Billy Graham, interview with Richard Ostling, Time magazine, Nov. 15, 1993).

ROBERT SCHULLER: “And what is ‘hell’? It is the loss of pride that naturally follows separation from God—the ultimate and unfailing source of our soul’s sense of self-respect. ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ was Christ’s encounter with hell. In that ‘hellish’ death our Lord experienced the ultimate horror—humiliation, shame, and loss of pride as a human being. A PERSON IS IN HELL WHEN HE HAS LOST HIS SELF-ESTEEM. Can you imagine any condition more tragic than to live life and eternity in shame?” (Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, 1982, pp. 14-15,93).

CHRISTIANITY TODAY: Two years after Schuller published Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, the editors of Christianity Today examined his theology and, amazingly, concluded that he is not a heretic. Consider an excerpt from an August 10, 1984, Christianity Today article by Kenneth Kantzer and Paul Fromer: “He believes all the ‘fundamental’ doctrines of traditional fundamentalism. He adheres to every line of the Apostles’ Creed with a tenacity born of deep conviction. ... he avowed belief in a literal hell. He was not sure about its location, and THE FIRE IS TO BE UNDERSTOOD FIGURATIVELY...”

This is remarkable. It is no surprise that when Robert Schuller is questioned about his theology, he says he believes the “fundamental doctrines of the faith.” Most heretics do. What Schuller will not admit is that he redefines the terminology of the faith to produce an entirely different, and false, theology. We do not need a personal interview to clarify the man’s blatant apostasy! He has plainly stated it in his books. Note that the Christianity Today interviewers said Schuller affirmed that Hell is literal, but they turn right around and admit that he believes the fire of Hell is figurative. That means Schuller DOES NOT believe Hell is literal! With spiritual watchmen like Christianity Today editors, churches have no protection. It is obvious that Christianity Today has no problem with the blatant denial of the biblical doctrine of Hell.

GORDON-CONWELL THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: “Some students and professors at GordonConwell Theological Seminary question and even deny the historic Christian and biblical doctrine of eternal punishment, an informal discussion disclosed. GordonConwell is considered to be one of the leading evangelical seminaries in the United States … On March 68, this writer and a friend stayed at a GordonConwell dormitory during a brief vacation in New England. While dining at the GordonConwell cafeteria for breakfast between 8 and 9 a.m. on Saturday, March 7, 1987, the question of the nature of the state of life after death came up in conversation. (We had had absolutely no plans to report on the conversation, but a student encouraged us to do so.) About ten people were at the table. Various religiousaffiliated academic institutions were being discussed, and someone mentioned one being run by the Advent Christian Church. Thirdyear seminarian Andreas W. Reif, who is a friend of this writer, said that the Advent Christian Church denies that there is eternal punishment in hell. … GordonConwell seminarian Ed Tayler then argued in the breakfast discussion that there is no eternal torment, although Ed said he believed in heaven and hell. It was pointed out to Ed that Revelation 14:11 speaks of eternal torment. Ed then questioned whether the soul is really immortal, arguing that only God is. Andreas Reif noted that if there is no eternal punishment, there is no eternal life. Reif, however, stated that three GordonConwell faculty members denied that there is eternal punishment. Upon leaving the cafeteria, Reif related that this writer sometimes writes articles for newspapers” (David Becker, Christian News, March 23, 1987).

CLARK PINNOCK: “Pinnock has enthusiastically praised Edward Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes, a book which denies the scriptural doctrine of everlasting damnation and eternal Hell (Christian News Encyclopedia, p. 1702). The book was published by Verdict and praised by such leading evangelicals as F.F. Bruce and also Seventh Day Adventists. Pinnock writes in the March 20, 1987 Christianity Today: ‘The fire of hell does not torment, but rather consumes the wicked’” (Christian News, March 23, 1987). “Let me say at the outset that I consider the concept of hell as endless torment in body and mind an outrageous doctrine. ... How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely, a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God” (Clark Pinnock, Criswell Theological Review, April 2, 1990).

NEIL PUNT: “Neil Punt promotes what he calls ‘biblical universalism’ in the March 20 Christianity Today. He says that ‘Biblical universalism does not deny the scriptural teaching concerning the sin of Adam.’ He argues that ‘many verses in the Bible speak of salvation in terms of all persons.’ The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ died for all men but it also says that all those who die without believing in Christ as their only Savior from sin are lost in eternal Hell. In 1980 Eerdmans released Punt’s Unconditional Good News: Toward an Understanding of Biblical Universalism in which the author encouraged ministers not to warn sinners about the dangers of eternal damnation” (The Christian News, March 23, 1987).

FULLER THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: “Fuller Theological Seminary’s new doctrinal statement departs from its original position on eternal punishment for believers, simply saying that the wicked shall be separated from God’s presence” (F.E.A. News & Views, Fundamental Evangelistic Association, May/June, 1971).

HERBERT VANDER LUGT, RADIO BIBLE CLASS: “A hell in which all burn in a literal fire does not allow for significant degrees of punishment. … It’s important to remember that the Bible often uses fire as a symbol” (Herbert Vander Lugt, What Does the Bible Say about Hell?, 1990).

MICHAEL VAN HORN, FORMER PROFESSOR GRAND RAPIDS BAPTIST COLLEGE AND SEMINARY, GARBC: “Perhaps this is where Michael Van Horn got his false ideas about hell. According to their 199293 Catalog, he was an Assistant Professor in the Division of Bible, Religion, and Ministries at the Grand Rapids Baptist College and Seminary (GARBC approved). He was not fired, but was permitted to ‘resign’ despite his rank heresy on heaven and hell as well as on other doctrines! Before a room full of twentytwo Michigan Pastors, Professor Van Horn denied that there was a literal heaven or a literal hell. He especially denied that there was any ‘literal fire’ in hell! Maybe that’s where the Council of Eighteen of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) and its resolutionmakers got their ideas. They refused to state in their resolution on hell that there was ‘literal fire’ there. Dr. Clay Nuttall was present as a witness. In his written report, he mentioned that when a man suggested ‘literal fire’ be inserted in the GARBC resolution on hell, a Council of Eighteen member said they couldn’t do that because many of the Pastors and people of the GARBC fellowship do not believe there is ‘literal fire’ in hell. Now, if that isn’t the first step in the direction of absolute and total apostasy in the GARBC, I don’t know what is!” (D.A. Waite, Four Reasons for Defending the King James Bible, Bible for Today, 1993, pp. 20,21).

KENNETH KANTZER, TRINITY EVANGELICAL DIVINITY SCHOOL, FORMER EDITOR, CHRISTIANITY TODAY: “But when Jesus spoke of flames … these are most likely figurative warnings” (U.S. News & World Report, March 25, 1991).

C.S. LEWIS: “British author C.S. Lewis said hell is not a place Gods sends people who disbelieve the gospel, but a state of mind one chooses to possess and become. ‘And every state of mind, left to itself,’ he wrote, ‘every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mindis, in the end, Hell’ (Lewis, The Great Divorce, p. 65)” (Calvary Contender, June 15, 1991).

JOHN R.W. STOTT: “At the recent Evangelical Affirmations conference (sponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals) at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, co-chaired by Carl F.H. Henry and Kenneth Kantzer, John Stott revealed that he was a proponent of conditional immortality, or annihilationism, a view that denies eternal punishment in hell for the unsaved” (Calvary Contender, August 1, 1989).

J.I. PACKER: “Christianity Today senior editor J. I. Packer says he does not believe that ‘the essence of hell is grotesque bodily discomfort.’ That idea, he conceives, ‘misses the deeper point of the lurid wordpictures drawn by Dante and Jesus, and the New Testament writers.’ He says: ‘The essence of hell is surely an inner misery of helpless remorse, with recognition that in assigning one to an eternity of selfabsorbed unwillingness to receive and respond to divine goodnessthe unwillingness that in life one was always cultivatingGod is being totally just and had done what is entirely right. Selfhated and Godhated will feed each other in Hell forever’” (Calvary Contender, Dec. 15, 1991).

CHURCH OF ENGLAND: “The Church of England has redefined hell. Rather than a place of eternal suffering, hell is a state of nothingness, the church said. The church said it was concerned that people were terrified into becoming believers and consequently suffered ‘searing psychological scars.’ … Nevertheless, everyone still faces a day of judgment, according to the Anglican document The Mystery of Salvation. Those who fail the test are annihilated. Hell is described as the final ‘choosing of that which is opposed to God so completely and so absolutely that the only end is nonbeing’” (National & International Religion Report, Jan. 22, 1996).

BILL PHIPPS, MODERATOR, UNITED CHURCH OF CANADA: “I have no idea if there is a hell. I don’t think Jesus was that concerned about hell. He was concerned about life here on earth ... Is heaven a place? I have no idea” (Ottawa Citizen, Oct. 23, 1997).

RUSH LIMBAUGH: “Rush Limbaugh recently did an interview with The Door, his first with the Christian press. The king of radio talk discussed his personal faith in God. He also discussed his Methodist upbringing and spoke of the influence his ‘deeply religious’ father had on his thinking. He explained that his father did not believe in Hell or the book of Revelation” (The Berea Baptist Banner, Dec. 5, 1993).

AMERICAN BAPTIST CONVENTION: In a survey taken in 1987 by the American Baptist magazine, it was found that only 59.8% agreed that “Hell is just punishment for sinners.” 17.1% disagreed and 23.1% were “not sure.”

DAVID JENKINS, RETIRED ANGLICAN BISHOP OF DURHAM: “I am clear that there can be no hell for eternityour God could not be so cruel. However, I think for some people who have wasted every opportunity for redemption, there may be extinction” (The Advertiser, Australia, Dec. 15, 1993).

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: “I do not believe in hell as a place of a literal burning fire” (Ebony magazine, January 1961).

GEORGE LADD, FULLER SEMINARY: “Hell will be an eternity outside of fellowship with God and the enjoyment of the blessings of God. In other words, if man chooses to live his life without God, purely for himself, however high and noble, then on that eternal scale God will give him what he has chosen” (Los Angeles Times, Oct. 9, 1982, citing a 1966 interview).

NELS F.S. FERRE: “According to the very meaning of sovereign love, however, God both can and will have all to be saved. The Bible, in its largest and deepest logic, also affirms that with God all things are possible and that He would have all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. Among the numberless unthinking people an immature and unworthy eschatology espousing eternal hell is unfortunately still prevalent, vitiating Christian ethics at its very heart” (Nels F.S. Ferre, “Present Responsibility and Future Hope,” Theology Today, Jan. 1952, p. 493).

JOHN C. BENNETT, PRESIDENT EMERITUS OF UNION THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: “The tendency to consign non-Christians to eternal punishment is one of the worst abominations in Christian history” (Bennett, cited in The Worldly Evangelicals, Richard Quebedeaux, 1978, p. 134).

GEORGE BUTTRICK, PRESIDENT FEDERAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES: “A God who punishes men with fire and brimstone through all Eternity would hardly be Godlike. He would be almost satanic in cruelty an childlike in imagination -- like a nasty little boy pulling off the wings of a fly. The Christian faith is that God and hereafter is like Christ” (Buttrick, The Christian Fact and Modern Doubt, 1935, p. 283).

GERALD KENNEDY, METHODIST CHURCH USA: “Speaking of eternal punishment of an everlasting state of agony for the wicked, I can say that I am sure that God is at least as good and merciful as men. I certainly would not banish any man to a place of punishment forever because of his faults or his state of mind when he left this life. I am sure God is not less fair or merciful than I” (NAE magazine, Aug. 15, 1951).

RUTH CARTER STAPLETON, SISTER OF PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: “The Bible DOES NOT teach that we experience hell after we die, we experience it before we die” (Christianity Today, November 4, l977).

MARTIN MARTY, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO DIVINITY SCHOOL: “The passing of hell from modern consciousness is one of the major if still largely undocumented modern trends. … most theologians today maintain hell is not just damnation, but a positive punishment, beyond which everything else on this profoundly mysterious question is only speculation. If faith has survived the decline of hell, then it may be the result of an accent on the love of God for God’s own sake. If so, the new situation is an asset” (Houston Chronicle, May 31, 1986).

INTERNATIONAL CHURCH COUNCIL of the COALITION ON REVIVAL: “We affirm that there is no salvation apart from Christ’s atonement for both those who have and have not heard the gospel. We deny that God cannot apply Christ’s atonement to those heathen ‘who do by nature what the law requires (which is) written on their heart’ and to which ‘their conscience bears witness’ (Rom. 2:14-16), or to anyone he chooses” (Church Council Documents, #9, “The Eternal Fate of Unbelievers,” Article VII).

CHARLES STANLEY: On his radio broadcast, popular Southern Baptist pastor/author Charles Stanley said that God might not send people to hell if they have never heard the gospel. Following is an extract: “…would God send somebody to hell because they did not receive Jesus whom they never heard about, never had the privilege of knowing about? And my answer is: No, he would not” (Stanley, In Touch Ministries, “Reconciling God’s Love with His Justice,” July 31, 2001). In other places during the broadcast it appears that Pastor Stanley is not sure about this matter and that he is basically agnostic about the destiny of those who have not heard the Gospel. Either way, it is a great error, because the Bible leaves no question about this. In the book of Ephesians, God describes the condition of those who are outside of Christ. They are dead in trespasses and sins (v. 1), by nature the children of wrath (v. 2), having no hope, and without God in the world (v. 12). This is the unsaved man’s condition regardless of whether or not he has heard the gospel. He is condemned already, and that is why it is so imperative that Christ’s commission be obeyed and the gospel be preached to the ends of the earth.

OTHER EXAMPLES: “Other contemporary theologians who have publicly registered opposition to the traditional view of hell include Ralph Blodgett, Carl Braaten, F.F. Bruce, Curtis Dickenson, Edward Fudge, Andrew Greeley, John Hick, Paul Jersild, Hans Kueng, Richard Neuhaus, Clark Pinnock, Neal Punt, John A.T. Robinson, Richard Quebedeaux, Hans Schwarz, Robert Short, John Shelby Spong, Helmut Thielicke, and Wesley Wachob” (The Christian News, December 3, 1984, p. 5).

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