26 September 2010

Book Review: The Fire That Consumes (Edward W. Fudge)

The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final PunishmentThe Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment by Edward W. Fudge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have discussed, read and heard from people on this topic at time in the past ten years, but finally decided to jump into a very detailed study of the issue of final punishment from a more annihilationist position. Having been raised in a typical traditional view of hell as conscious torment, I was intrigued to see what the "other side" had to say. I found this book to be very, VERY thorough, and very enlightening. I am not sure how much more could be say, but in nearly 500 pages, Fudge covers an incredible amount of ground.


He has whole sections that almost exhaustively cover every scripture and aspect on the topic of final punishment; starting in the Old Testament, then traveling through the Apocryphal period, the Pseudopigraphal writings, the New Testament, the Apostolic Fathers, the early church fathers, the medieval period, and into the Reformation period. He leaves almost no stone unturned as he examines the views throughout history.

At the end of the journey you begin to see how the traditional view came to be, the main culprits in its formation, and how we got to where we are today. Many questions get raised, many get answered, and at the end of the day, you have to ponder and examine what you believe in light of it all. I would have to say, the traditional "eternal conscious torment" view takes a lot of damage in the process, but that is obviously what the author intended.

The approach does not always come across as biased against the traditional view. He presents many angles and presuppositions from all angles, making the book very balanced in my opinion. But as intended, at the end of the day, the traditional view doesn't fair very well. A thoroughly convincing book? Maybe, maybe not. A very probing and challenging look? Very much so.

I enjoyed the sections dealing with universalism, that was also enlightening to see the history of that view, as well as the historical refutations of it.

My only real complaint was where his own eschatological positions took him in certain areas. His dealing with Gehenna and more obvious literal national judgment verses in the NT teachings of Jesus get confused with future judgment and their timing and nearness context get lost and misapplied. I have heard many modern messages say Jesus speaks more of hell than of heaven; and technically this is not true. Jesus spoke more of judgment yes, but the modern translation of Gehenna to hell (hell as in what most would consider the lake of fire) confuses the issue of Jesus' words of coming fiery near judgment coming upon the apostate nation of Israel. Jesus spoke more of coming judgment against the nation in his time, and not so much of final punishment after death. This is a common confusion, and it permeates this book. It doesn't negate his position, but can be frustrating and could have benefited his position if he categorized these verses correctly. This is probably heightened for me since I only recently finished reading A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context and other works of eschatological and cultural significance.

Aside from that slight misapplication of some verses, the book still has much to offer, much to challenge the traditional view, and much that must be dealt with in time.

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