We’re taking advantage of our “Ask a…” series to talk with some of today’s leading theologians about the difficult topic of hell. Earlier this month, Edward Fudge responded to your questions about conditionalism (sometimes called annihilationism)—the view that immortality is conditional upon belief in Jesus Christ, so the unsaved will ultimately be destroyed and cease to exist rather than suffer eternally in hell. Later, Robin Parry responded via video to your questions about Christian universalism—the view that one day God will reconcile all people to himself through Jesus Christ.
As I began exploring options for the view typically referred to as “traditionalism”— that hell is a place of eternal torment—I realized there are a variety of perspectives to consider. For example, a Calvinist will likely view hell much differently than an Arminian….as would someone who identifies as an inclusivist as opposed to an exclusivist. Some, like today’s guest, believe in postmortem repentance, while others do not.
So this may not be the last entry in our hell-themed series! I’d like to also include an exclusivist who believes in predestination, so if I can find a Calvinist who I have not totally alienated and who is willing to participate, I’ll introduce him or her in the weeks to come.
That said, today’s guest is a perfect fit for the series. Jerry L. Walls was born and raised in Knockemstiff, Ohio. He has a PhD in philosophy from Notre Dame, and is the author of over eighty articles and reviews, and a dozen books, including Why I am not a Calvinst (with Joseph Dongell, IVP, 2004) and a trilogy on the afterlife: Hell: The Logic of Damnation (Notre Dame, 1992); Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy (Oxford, 2002); and Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation (Oxford, 2012). He is also the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology (Oxford, 2004). His co-authored book (with David Baggett) Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford, 2011) was named the outstanding book in apologetics and evangelism by Christianity Today in their annual book awards. He has appeared on numerous radio shows including NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” and was interviewed for the documentary “Hellbound?” Before coming to Houston Baptist in 2011, where he is Scholar in Residence, he was a Research Fellow for two years in the Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame.
Jerry holds a traditional view of hell in the sense that he believes hell is a place of conscious, eternal misery. But he says he agrees with C.S. Lewis’ famous line that "the doors of hell are locked on the inside." So it is the persistent refusal to repent, and accept God's grace and love that keeps hell going, not His determination to keep sinners there against their will. His view is a modification of the traditional view in the sense that he believes God always welcomes sincere repentance, even after death. Unfortunately, he says, some will never exercise that option.
You know the drill. If you have a question about hell for Jerry, leave it in the comment section. Be sure to utilize the "like" feature so we can get a sense of what questions are of most interest to you. After 24-hours, I'll pose seven of the most popular questions to Jerry and post his responses next week.