If there is one blog post out in the blogosphere that I have shared more often or brought up in conversation more often both off and online, it has been Chuck McKnight’s classic post, “25 Views on Hell? 2 Questions to Reframe the Debate.” (Classic to me, anyway.) Yet now, 3 years later, I’d like to suggest a revision.

Chuck (otherwise known as “The Hippie Heretic”) aptly noted that most of the viewpoints out there about hell can be placed in a grid making up 25 views, based on asking two main questions: What is the duration of hell, and what is the purpose of hell. The answers to the two questions get laid out on the two axis of a graph, like so, with the purpose going across the top, and the duration up and down on the side:

The inside cells with the weird letters are all the possible interactions of all the answers to the two questions about one’s notion of Biblical hell, placed into this grid.

It’s too much to explain, and if I did, I’d be plagarizing, because Chuck explains it in huge detail over on his post, which in case you missed the link above, I’ll repost again HERE. If you’ve never read his post, I highly recommend you go give it a read and then come back to finish reading my post. I’ll wait. 🙂

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Ok, so, wasn’t that revelatory and deep and chew-worthy? Maybe you can see now why I share that post so often. (HEY, you, go and READ IT!) But as an avid fan of the post, I’ve road tested it in many a real life discussion and after getting to chew on it for quite a few years, I’ve realized it needs an update. So, Chuck — I’m adding to your conversation, if I may 🙂

It has occurred to me that this grid needs another question added, a third dimension. This is because I have found that in many conversations about hell, there are a few assumptions being made — usually, the assumption is that we are talking about EVANGELICAL hell in some form or another. And the assumption about Evangelical hell is that it applies to everyone, who ever lived, or ever will live, no matter where they live, no matter their situation, everyone goes to this hell unless they…know Jesus.

So I realized we need a third row, a third question in the discussion, and that is: “Who goes there?”

Does Ghandi go there, because he never believed (as far as we know) in Jesus? Of course many would say he does not go to hell, but this would be outside the scope of the 25 Views of Hell chart (lucky him.) Or, one might envision that he does, but gets out quickly the moment he realizes Jesus the Way, in one of Chuck’s “consequential yet healing escapable process” scenarios. Or one might imagine he goes to hell, and is annihilated (sorry Ghandi) in a “retributive inescapable destruction” scenario.

What I have found is that many people almost don’t care as much about what kind of hell we are talking about — as much as they care who goes there. Sending Ghandi to Hell divides the no-holds-barred evangelicals (and some other groups) from most others.

So the question of “What kind of Hell” are we talking about really needs to include a discussion of who Hell is for. Is it just for demonic spirits, and perhaps humans never go there at all? (This is not a widely held theory because it doesn’t seem to go along with most Biblical statements about Hell, but some folks might hold that.)

Another consideration is that all the statements Jesus made about any sort of Hell were to a mostly Jewish crowd, and maybe we are dealing with a uniquely Jewish hell? After all, even Jews themselves did not believe that their 613 laws applied to anyone other than Jews, and that God would not be holding non-Jews to that standard nor judging anyone for failing to uphold Jewish law. Perhaps there is one punishment for disobedient Jews, and another one for the rest of humanity? Many people have noticed that Jesus harsh words were not directed at just anybody, but specifically to the Pharisees. Perhaps the people who might go to hell were specifically religious elite among Jews.

Perhaps we have extrapolated unique punishments promised to that generation to all people to come, and the Hell we think we know is really a Hell meant specifically for disobedient first century Jews, not Jews of all time, and not the entire population of humanity for all time. I could see some version of preterism postulating this, as preterism makes 70AD a firm cut-off for Biblical prophesy, and centers it all on the Jewish world.

This would also mean for instance that concerns about the injustice of murdered innocent Jews such as Anne Frank going to hell, who did not believe in Jesus because of their time and culture could be assuaged because of perhaps the Biblical hell was meant specifically for those who had the chance to hear from Jesus or those who saw Him personally.

Perhaps none of this is true (after all, it borders on sounding pretty darn anti-semitic) and perhaps Hell does exist for everyone, Jew and Gentile, but again, only in the first century, before the Preterist 70AD cutoff, and then now we are in a new era where things somehow work differently.

That brings us more up to date with most versions of Christianity, which believe that Hell, whatever the duration or purpose, would apply to all humanity that is disobedient to God and fails to believe in Jesus. But, does it apply to those who never had a chance to really hear the Gospel? What about the Aborigines in Australia before Europeans arrived, were they going to hell (at least, one of Chuck’s 25 versions of Hell) or were they not?

Perhaps our chart needs to have a version of hell that is only for those who have had a chance to hear an adequate telling of the gospel, and still refused Christ.

Of course, perhaps people go to hell whether they believe in Jesus or not, just based on their actions. This is why on my chart I defined categories as “disobedience” to God, because one can view “failing to believe” as gross disobedience, or cling to an Anonymous Christian idea like the Jesuits do, that there are those who do not believe in Jesus by name but still live according to His Spirit without knowing His name. Then again, Cornelius was a righteous man, but salvation still came to Him when Jesus was made known…..oh well, this post is not aimed at figuring these things out, but only stating that more options need to be covered…..and those options center around the question of WHO.

If the table of the variety of possible Hells includes a third dimension for “Who”, then there is room for the unique Jewish scenario of the Rich Man’s hell in the story of the Rich man and Lazarus to be one form of hell (say, CIP – consequential inescapable process, for Jews of the first century who had Moses and the Prophets and refused to listen), while Ghandi could end up in RHED (retributive but healing escapable destruction, specifically for Gentiles who heard the gospel and refused post-first century) and Anne Frank to miss hell entirely. In fact, there could be dozens of different hells for different situations at different points in time.

Or maybe there is only one hell, but that is for you to decide amongst yourselves. With the help of this nicely expanded table, to chew on for the next several years until you update it and send me a link to it. 🙂

— Heather