Evangelicals Questioning Hell
June 27, 2024 (first published November 14, 2000)
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
“There is no mystery about this matter, because God has spoken.”
Those who call themselves “evangelical” (a term that has become almost meaningless) are increasingly questioning and modifying the biblical doctrine of an eternal, fiery hell,. A fundamental element in the neo-evangelicalism founded in the 1950s by men such as Harold Ockenga and Billy Graham was the “repudiation of separatism.” This was actually a repudiation of Bible Christianity, which demands separation (e.g., Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 15:33; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Ephesians 5:11; Colossians 2:8; 2 Timothy 2:16-18; 3:5; 2 John 1:8-11). It is no surprise that evangelicalism has been infiltrated with heresies of every sort and weakened spiritually, doctrinally, and morally.

“Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

Consider the following examples of the evangelical downgrade of hell:

In October 1966, George Ladd, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, told the
Los Angeles Times that hell will simply “be an eternity outside of fellowship with God and the enjoyment of the blessings of God.” This is a half truth which ignores the Bible’s description of hell as conscious and eternal torment in fire.

In 1971, Fuller Theological Seminary published a new edition of its doctrinal statement which “departs from its original position on eternal punishment for unbelievers, simply saying that the wicked shall be separated from God’s presence” (
F.E.A. News & Views, May/June 1971). This leaves room for false views of hell.

In an interview with
McCall’s magazine, January 1978, entitled “I Can’t Play God Any More,” Billy Graham said: “I used to believe that pagans in far-off countries were lost—were going to hell—if they did not have the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached to them. I no longer believe that. … I believe that there are other ways of recognizing the existence of God—through nature, for instance—and plenty of other opportunities, therefore, of saying ‘yes’ to God.”

In 1980, Eerdmans published Neil Punt’s
Unconditional Good News: Toward an Understanding of Biblical Universalism, which claims that men can possibly be saved apart from faith in Christ. Punt “encouraged ministers not to warn sinners about the dangers of eternal damnation” (The Christian News, March 23, 1987).

In 1985, Billy Graham reaffirmed his belief that those outside of Christ might be saved. Reporter David Colker asked Graham: “What about people of other faiths who live good lives but don’t profess a belief in Christ?” Graham replied, “I’m going to leave that to the Lord. He’ll decide that” (
Los Angeles Herald Examiner, July 22, 1985). While this answer might appear reasonable to those who do not know the Bible, in reality it is a great compromise of the truth. God has already decided what will happen to those who die outside of faith in Jesus Christ, and He has revealed the answer to us in Scripture. The book of Ephesians describes their condition as “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), “having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). This is why the gospel of Christ must be preached. Men without a saving knowledge of Christ are condemned already (John 3:18). “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).

Words could not be plainer. There is no mystery about this matter, because God has spoken.

In 1987, Verdict Books published
Edward Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes, a book that denies everlasting torment. The book was praised by leading evangelical leaders Clark Pinnock and F.F. Bruce. In Christianity Today, March 20, 1987, Pinnock said: “The fire of hell does not torment, but rather consumes the wicked.” Pinnock later called the traditional doctrine of eternal torment in hell “an outrageous doctrine,” claiming that “a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God.”

In 1988,
John R.W. Stott, prominent British evangelical leader, stated in A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue (InterVarsity Press) that the torment of hell is not eternal in duration.

In 1989,
Eerdmans published The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ by Philip Hughes, which promotes the false doctrine of annihilation.

In 1990, the
Radio Bible Class published Herbert Vander Lugt’s What Does the Bible Say about Hell?, in which the author states that “a hell in which all burn in a literal fire does not allow for significant degrees of punishment” and postulates that the fire of hell might be symbolic.

In 1991,
Kenneth Kantzer, former editor of Christianity Today and head of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, said that “when Jesus spoke of flames ... these are most likely figurative warnings” (U.S. News & World Report, March 25, 1991).

In 1991, prominent Anglican evangelical leader
J.I. Packer, former senior editor of Christianity Today, said that he does not believe that the essence of hell is “grotesque bodily discomfort” but is rather “an inner misery of helpless remorse.” Of course, that is not the hell described by the Lord Jesus Christ.

In 1992,
Baker Books published Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell, in which John Wenham defended the doctrine of “conditional immortality.” This is the false idea that unsaved men will not suffer eternally in hell. It confuses immortality and eternal life with eternal existence.

In 1993,
Michael Van Horn resigned from the Grand Rapids Baptist College and Seminary because he denied the traditional biblical doctrine of hell. When confronted by 22 Michigan pastors, Van Horn denied that there was a literal heaven or a literal hell and especially denied the literal fire of hell.

When drawing up a resolution on hell, the Council of Eighteen of the
General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) refused to state in their resolution on hell that there was “literal fire.” “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” (D.A. Waite, Four Reasons for Defending the King James Bible, 1993, pp. 20, 21).

In 1993, in an interview with David Frost,
Billy Graham repeated his position that it is possible for men to be saved without faith in Christ. “And I think there is that hunger for God and people are living as best they know how according to the light that they have. Well, I think they’re in a separate category than people like Hitler and people who have just defied God, and shaken their fists at God. … I would say that God, being a God of mercy, we have to rest it right there, and say that God is a God of mercy and love, and how it happens, we don’t know” (The Charlotte Observer, Feb. 16, 1993).

In 1994,
Paternoster Press republished a defense of annihilation in The Fire That Consumes: The Biblical Case for Conditional Immortality by Edward Fudge.

In 1996,
Zondervan published More Than One Way? which presented four “evangelical” views on “salvation in a pluralistic world.” Three of the views deny that salvation is exclusively through personal faith in Christ and that those who die without this faith will spend eternal in hell. The book was edited by Dennis Okholm and Timothy Phillips, associate professors of theology at Wheaton College. They observed that a large percentage of students in evangelical colleges no longer believe that those outside of Jesus Christ are lost.

"The new willingness to subject revelation to contemporary sensibilities has eroded the theological underpinnings for a missionary faith. Hunter's questionnaire found that only two-thirds of the students in evangelical colleges believe that the sole hope for heaven is through a personal faith in Jesus Christ. Increasingly students in Christian colleges are affronted when hearing the traditional claim that salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone" (editors, p. 11).

Clark Pinnock says:

“Scripture encourages us to see the church not so much as the ark, outside of which there is no hope of salvation, but as the vanguard of those who have experienced the fullness of God's grace made available to all people in Jesus Christ. ... I welcome the Saiva Siddhanta literature of Hinduism, which celebrates a personal God of love, and the emphasis on grace that I see in the Japanese Shin-Shu Amida sect. I also respect the Buddha as a righteous man (Mat. 10:41) and Mohammed as a prophet figure in the style of the Old Testament" (
More Than One Way? pp. 110-111)

In his interview with Robert Schuller in May 1997, Billy Graham again stated that he believes people in other religions can be saved without consciously believing in Jesus Christ.

SCHULLER: Tell me, what do you think is the future of Christianity?

GRAHAM: Well, Christianity and being a true believer--you know, I think there's the Body of Christ. This comes from all the Christian groups around the world, outside the Christian groups. I think everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they're members of the Body of Christ. And I don't think that we're going to see a great sweeping revival, that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time. I think James answered that, the Apostle James in the first council in Jerusalem, when he said that God's purpose for this age is to call out a people for His name. And that's what God is doing today, He's calling people out of the world for His name, WHETHER THEY COME FROM THE MUSLIM WORLD, OR THE BUDDHIST WORLD, OR THE CHRISTIAN WORLD OR THE NON-BELIEVING WORLD, THEY ARE MEMBERS OF THE BODY OF CHRIST BECAUSE THEY'VE BEEN CALLED BY GOD. THEY MAY NOT EVEN KNOW THE NAME OF JESUS but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don't have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they're going to be with us in heaven.

SCHULLER: What, what I hear you saying that it's possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they've been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you're saying?

GRAHAM: Yes, it is, because I believe that. I've met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations, that THEY HAVE NEVER SEEN A BIBLE OR HEARD ABOUT A BIBLE, AND NEVER HEARD OF JESUS, BUT THEY'VE BELIEVED IN THEIR HEARTS THAT THERE WAS A GOD, and they've tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived.

SCHULLER: [trips over his tongue for a moment, his face beaming, then says] I I'm so thrilled to hear you say this. There's a wideness in God's mercy.

GRAHAM: There is. There definitely is (Television interview of Billy Graham by Robert Schuller, broadcast in southern California on Saturday, May 31, 1997).

In April 2000, a commission of the
Evangelical Alliance of Britain published a report titled The Nature of Hell, which states that evangelicals have agreed to disagree about the doctrine of hell. It admits that “conditional immortality is a significant minority evangelical view” claiming that “the debate on hell should be regarded as a secondary rather than a primary issue for evangelical theology.”

This reminds us that modern evangelicalism has wrongly put unity above doctrine. The Bible plainly teaches that hell is eternal fiery torment. (See the
Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity.) This is not a “secondary” issue. The faith once delivered to the saints is given to us in the Scriptures (Jude 3), and our job is to earnestly contend for it, and that means all of it and not merely that part of it which we consider “primary.” Timothy, who was taught doctrine by the Apostle Paul, was instructed not to allow “any other doctrine” to come into the churches under his care (1 Timothy 1:3). Timothy was instructed to pass along exactly the same doctrine to the next generation (2 Tim. 2:2). Nowhere was he told that some of the doctrine was secondary and therefore not very important.

In his 2011 book
Love Wins, Rob Bell redefines hell as a present reality on earth. He says the statements in Bible about hell being a place of fire and torment are mere poetry. He calls the preaching of eternal hell “misguided and toxic,” a “cheap view of God,” and “lethal” (Love Wins, Kindle location 47-60, 2154-2180). He implies that this God is not a true friend and protector; he says there is something wrong with this God and calls Him “terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable” (location 1273-1287, 2098-2113). He even says that if an earthly father acted like the God who sends people to hell “we could contact child protection services immediately” (location 2085-2098). Bell’s god is more akin to New Age panentheism than the God of the Bible. He describes God as “a force, an energy, a being calling out to us in many languages, using a variety of methods and events” (Love Wins, location 1710-1724). Bell also worships a false christ. His Jesus is “supracultural ... present within all cultures ... refuses to be co-opted or owned by any one culture ... He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him ... there is only one mountain, but many paths. ... People come to Jesus in all sorts of ways ... Sometimes people use his name; other times they don’t” (Love Wins, location 1827-1840, 1865-1878, 1918-1933).

In Love Wins there is a photo of a painting that hung on a wall in Bell’s grandmother’s house. It depicts heaven as a shining city on the far side of a dark, burning, fearsome chasm. Bridging the chasm is a cross upon which people are walking toward safety. Bell has rejected the doctrine of God, salvation, heaven, and hell that his grandparents held.


C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) has been called a “Superstar” by
Christianity Today. A 1998 CT poll rated Lewis the most influential evangelical writer, and In light of the wretched spiritual-doctrinal-moral condition of “evangelicalism” today, that is a very telling statistic and certainly no praise for C.S. Lewis.

One of the ways that Lewis has influenced evangelicalism is in the fundamental issues of hell and the exclusiveness of salvation through the name of Christ.

He said that it would not be very wrong to pray to Apollo, because to do so would be to “address Christ
sub specie Apollonius” (C.S. Lewis to Chad Walsh, May 23, 1960, cited from George Sayer, Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis, 1994, p. 378). Lewis elsewhere claimed that followers of pagan religions can be saved without personal faith in Jesus Christ (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, HarperSanFrancisco edition, 2001, pp. 64, 208, 209). In the popular Narnia series, which has influenced countless children, Lewis taught that those who sincerely serve the devil (called Tash) are actually serving Christ (Aslan) and will eventually be accepted by God. “But I said, ‘Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash.’ He answered, ‘Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.’ ... Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him’” (The Last Battle, chapter 15, “Further Up and Further In”).

It is not surprising, then, that Lewis has been cited as a major influence by evangelicals who are soft on hell.

Clark Pinnock said, “When I was a young believer in the 1950s, C.S. Lewis helped me understand the relationship between Christianity and other religions in an inclusivist way. Because I trusted him as an orthodox thinker, I was open to hear him say that he could detect God's presence among other faiths and that he believed people could be saved in other religions because God was at work among them” (
More Than One Way? Zondervan, 1996, p. 107).

In the acknowledgements section of Love Wins, Rob Bell writes, “... to my parents, Rob and Helen, for suggesting when I was in high school that I read C.S. Lewis.”

Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary and a supporter of Rob Bell’s position on hell, says, “If I were given the assignment of writing a careful theological essay on ‘The Eschatology of Rob Bell,’ I would begin by laying out the basics of C.S. Lewis’s perspective on heaven and hell” (“The Orthodoxy of Rob Bell,”
Christian Post, March 20, 2011).

Beware of C.S. Lewis. That he is loved with equal fervor by “conservative evangelicals,” hell-denying emergents, Christian rockers, Roman Catholics, Mormons, and even some Atheists is a fact that speaks volumes to those who have ears to hear.


Whether or not all men without personal faith in Christ go to hell, the nature of that hell, and whether or not their judgment is eternal in duration is extremely important for the preaching of the Gospel.

Will God “save some who have not explicitly professed faith in Jesus Christ”?

The Bible says certainly not! Ephesians chapter two tells us the condition of every individual outside of regenerating faith in Jesus Christ. He is dead in trespasses and sins (v. 1), controlled by and living according to the working of the devil (v. 2), a child of disobedience (v. 2), dominated by the flesh (v. 3), by nature the child of wrath (v. 3), without Christ (v. 12), an alien and stranger from the covenant of God (v. 12), without hope (v. 12), WITHOUT GOD IN THE WORLD (v. 12), far off from God (v. 13).

The Bible gives absolutely no hope for those who die without personal faith in Christ.

The Lord Jesus Christ had already settled this matter before the penning of Ephesians. In His conversation with Nicodemus, Christ said categorically, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Nicodemus was a very sincere and religious Jew, and if any category of person could have gone to heaven without being born again, it would have been people like him. Jesus Christ said that it will not happen. In that same conversation Jesus said, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not IS CONDEMNED ALREADY, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18), and, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).

Praise God for the full salvation that was purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ for all that will call upon him in repentance and faith. Let us who know the Lord not be guilty of being lazy in getting the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

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