One of the world’s foremost scholars on hell says he agrees with Rob Bell, that a loving God cannot allow people to burn and writhe in pain forever after they die.
But that is where their agreement ends.
Edward William Fudge, the author of The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, is an advocate of the annihilationist view of hell. He believes that hell is real and people are tortured in hell. But unlike the traditional view, he holds that the pain is temporary and those in hell eventually cease to exist.
“This has to do with the character of God and the way people view God’s character,” explained Fudge to The Christian Post on Wednesday. “The God who loves the world so much that He gave his only son so believers would not perish but have eternal life is then going to turn around and throw billions of them into something resembling a lake of volcanic lava and make it so they cannot die, so they have to endure this forever."
“That doesn’t sound like the God that I know and see in Jesus Christ,” he stated.
The Fire That Consumes, the 442-page book with about 1,000 footnotes, was first released in 1982. The book, which is considered a must-read for theologians and scholars studying hell, just marked the release of its third edition a few weeks ago.
Fudge, who is a practicing lawyer and former elder in the Churches of Christ, says he has not read Rob Bell’s controversial book, Love Wins, and doesn’t see a need to do so. But he has read “serious analysis by sober-minded” people about the book and says he agrees with Bell that the traditional view that the unsaved have to be subjected to torture for eternity contradicts the understanding of a loving God.
Dozens of passages in the Bible, Fudge contends, support his position that eternal life is God’s gift only to believers. In John 3:16, for instance, it says “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This famous verse only promises eternal life to those that believe in Jesus, maintains the advocate of annihilationism.
And in Romans 6:23, Apostle Paul says the “wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life…”
Every time the word immortality is used in the New Testament about people, the scholar says, it is always talking about the saved, such as in I Corinthians 15.
“It (immortality) is never used on the lost. Because human beings exist only as God gives them life. If the wicked are raised not immortal … then there is no basis on which they could continue to exist forever,” said Fudge.
It is important for every Christian to think thoroughly through what happens in hell, said the respected author, because believers should teach the word of God correctly.
“If we purport to speak for God, we need to be careful and try to be accurate in what we represent God as saying,” he said. “I believe the traditional view is a horrible scandal against the nature of God himself.”
Notable Christian scholars who also hold the same view as Fudge on hell include: F.F. Bruce, a biblical scholar who is considered one of the founders of the modern evangelical understanding of the Bible; and N.T. Wright, a leading New Testament scholar and former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, among others. John Stott, an Anglican clergyman and a leader in the worldwide evangelical movement, has called for thoughtful consideration of this view.
The third edition of The Fire That Consumes is expanded to contain the arguments of 12 traditionalists.
Fudge is participating in Pepperdine University's Christian Scholars' Conference this week, where he will lead a panel discussion based on his newly revised book.