The major beliefs about Hell and the afterlife that have been taught through Christian history:
TRADITIONAL (Middle Ages)
Some people (perhaps even a majority) will not be saved. Each person is judged once and for all at the moment of death and given either eternal life or eternal punishment. Hell is a place of endless, conscious punishment for sin. Once a person is in Hell, there is no exit. Some versions claim variations in the level of punishment depending on the severity of the sin.
Roman Catholic Church distinguishes between Hell and purgatory, a place of temporary purification for those ultimately destined for Heaven.
Traditional - After Reformation:
LUTHER rejected purgatory but kept medieval Hell of eternal damnation.
CALVINISM emphasizes God’s sovereignty in choosing who will be punished, and often teaches that certain people are PREDESTINED for damnation. Other systems emphasize the freedom of human choice.
CONDITIONAL IMMORTALITY (Annihilationism)
The human soul is not naturally immortal, eternal existence is a gift of God to the redeemed. The unrepentant will be punished, but this is temporary. At the final resurrection, the unrepentant will be destroyed and cease to exist – the Biblical “fire” is consuming rather than tormenting. Some conditionalists believe that after death a person receives a second chance to accept or reject God.
RESTORATIONISM (Universal Salvation)
All people will eventually be saved, and God will restore the creation to perfect harmony. Eternal punishment contradicts the love of God, since God wills salvation of all. Christ’s love is ultimately stronger than human resistance and sin. If there is a Hell, it is not eternal – punishment is remedial, leading the sinner to repentance & union with God.
Numerous Moravian thinkers have leaned toward Universal Salvation – notably Peter Boehler, famous for helping convert John & Charles Wesley. Boehler believed that the love of Christ was ultimately so powerful that all would be saved.
He wrote "all the damned souls shall yet be brought out of hell."
All people will be saved, there is no Hell - Unitarian/Universalist Church
Led by former Catholic priest Matthew Fox
- Attempts to reinterpret Scripture without Augustine’s concept of “original sin”
- Regards creation as fundamentally good, everyone can be a prophet
- All are sons and daughters of God; therefore, we have divine blood our veins, the divine breath in our lungs.
- The basic work of God is Compassion.
Locked on the Inside?
The great 20th century Christian thinker C. S. Lewis speculated on a somewhat different view of Hell that attempts to balance the various opposing factors. His idea was that the gates of Hell are locked on the inside to keep God out, the last refuge of those who will not surrender their sins to come into the presence of the Holy.
Discussed in his book, The Problem of Pain.