Burk affirms traditional doctrine of hell in contribution to ‘Four Views’ book
Hell is a place of eternal, conscious torment, writes Boyce College professor Denny Burk in his chapter in the newest installment of Zondervan’s Four Views series, Four Views on Hell.
While the opposing three views claim to articulate evangelical positions different from the eternal, conscious torment view — terminal punishment (annihilationism), universalism, and purgatory — Burk says all people will exist forever in one form or another. For believers in Christ, everlasting glorification awaits them, but everlasting punishment awaits unrepentant sinners.
“Every person is going to be resurrected in the end and given a body that is fit for their destiny — the righteous will get a physical body that is incorruptible and fit for the new heavens and new earth, the unrighteous will be raised up and fit for an experience of God’s wrath forever,” said Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce, in an interview. Hell
“is equally everlasting and a conscious experience.”
Burk’s argument is foremost an exegetical one, he said, tracing the biblical-theological nature of the doctrine from Daniel through Revelation. Both Jesus and the New Testament writers later affirmed what the Old Testament writers taught about the nature of hell, according to Burk.
“Jesus is the person who talks the most about hell in the New Testament,” he said. “He speaks of it in ways that make it parallel to the experience of eternal life, so its duration and people’s consciousness of what they’re experiencing is exactly parallel of those who go into life.”
His opinion also adopts a reading of the Bible that has been the majority view among orthodox Christians throughout church history, he said. Although he had never thought deeply about hell until he was a college student, Burk says his understanding of the traditional reading developed when he read Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “The End of the Wicked Contemplated by the Righteous” for the first time. In the sermon, Edwards argued for an eternal, conscious torment view from Revelation 18, adding that although now it seems difficult to celebrate God’s wrath, one day Christians will see God’s justice from a divine perspective.
“What struck me is how he shows that in the last day, believers aren’t going to be embarrassed about the doctrine of hell,” he said. “We’re going to be called to rejoice in God’s judgments over Babylon and the saints of God are going to find it an occasion of great happiness that God is finally vindicating his people and vindicating his own holiness.”
Edwards’ sermon ended with a call to accept God’s offer of salvation while it is available. Although a day is coming when all believers will celebrate God’s justice and no one will weep for the damned, Burk said, there is a chance now to repent and believe.
Hell “should put in us a sense of gospel urgency to call the lost to repent,” Burk said.
Burk said there is great value in the Four Views series, as it permits the reader to evaluate various opinions according to their own claims. Editor Preston Sprinkle, biblical scholar and vice president at the Boise, Idaho extension of Eternity Bible College, invited Burk to contribute.
“The Four Views books put different views on a given subject side-by-side, and you get direct engagement with the arguments,” Burk said. “So, if you want to understand a controversial position on a given view, you’re able to see the best arguments for and against.”
Four Views on Hell, published by Zondervan in 2016 ($18.99), also features contributions from John Stackhouse (terminal punishment), professor of religious studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Bruswick; Jerry Walls (purgatory), professor of philosophy at Houston Baptist University in Houston, Texas; and Robin Parry (universalism), commissioning editor for Wipf and Stock Publishers.