It was six pages near the end of the book that exploded like a bombshell within evangelicalism. The book was Evangelical Essentials (InterVarsity) and the year was 1988. As the book's subtitle announced, it was A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue between liberal Anglican David L. Edwards and evangelical Anglican John Stott. For 338 pages, Edwards and Stott ranged over many issues, including the gospel, biblical authority, miracles, ethics, and missions. But near the end, in those six pages, Stott tentatively defended annihilationism—the view that unbelievers are finally annihilated and thus do not experience torment that is eternal in duration (as traditionalists believe).
Traditionalists, who make up most of evangelicalism, were shocked. Some, like John H. Gerstner, went so far as to question Stott's salvation. Evangelicals have been debating the subject ever since, both sides producing books and articles defending their views and contesting the opposition.
Out of England came another book this past April, but of a different order: The Nature of Hell: A Report by the Evangelical Alliance Commission of Unity and Truth Among Evangelicals. It is an evenhanded introduction to the historical, biblical, and theological issues that pertain to the evangelical debate over the nature and duration of hell. I have been studying these matters for seven years, have written two books on hell, and I regard this work as an outstanding resource for quickly accessing the issues. It is also a model of how evangelicals can agree to disagree.
The hell debate
With the publication of Stott's views, evangelicals were spurred to study the issue more deeply and to respond. Perhaps emboldened by Stott's example, others followed and declared their commitment ...