So, where do most evangelicals stand on the issue of hell? Sprinkle and Date suggest that it is difficult to know, since people are reluctant to publicly challenge traditional views.
“We have a very fear-driven evangelical culture where if you don't toe the line, you get kind of shunned,” says Sprinkle. “It's really kind of scary.”
Still, the debate over hell shows no sign of dissipating among evangelical scholars. If anything, the scope of the discussion appears to be expanding. Sprinkle, who recently co-edited a book, Four Views on Hell, raised theological eyebrows when he included an essay by theologian Robin Parry defending universalism—the view that all people will eventually be saved. It’s a doctrine that evangelicals, including annihilationists, widely view as incompatible with their religious teachings.
But, “the landscape has changed,” opines one writer at the Christian Post. “After reading Parry’s essay, you still may not be convinced that he is right. But it’s no longer enough to simply state categorically that an evangelical can’t be a universalist!”
For his part, Mark Galli believes that many evangelicals will choose to accept that hell is a paradox that can never be fully understood.
“When it comes to heaven and hell, if God had wanted us to know definitively one way or the other, he would've made himself more clear,” he says. “But he left just tantalizing hints about what might happen. One can move forward, happily, and live with that mystery.”