Review: ’40 Questions About Heaven and Hell’ by Alan W. Gomes

A review of 40 Questions About Heaven and Hell, by Alan W. Gomes (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2018), 378 pages, softcover. 

This book sits within a series of “40 Questions” books published by Kregel and edited by Benjamin Merkle.  I confess that the other volumes in the series have quite passed me by, although a couple have got my attention.

This one would have assuredly been treated to a dose of my ignorance had it not been for the name of the author.  You see, although Alan Gomes is not well known to many Evangelicals, I for one had heard of him and have always been grateful that I had.  Gomes is the editor of that brilliant but aforetime unwieldy tome of Dogmatic Theology written by William G. T. Shedd.  Shedd’s is, to my mind, the finest piece of systematic theology of the 19th Century, even ahead of Charles Hodge.  Alan Gomes work in presenting Dogmatic Theology in new dress, while incorporating the third supplementary volume in the main body of the work makes Shedd’s penetrating and balanced views available to a new audience.  If you are in to systematics and have not yet gotten hold of that book, well, put Grudem away and purchase Shedd!

One more word before looking at the book itself.  It is always good to see a modern author who knows and uses the old classic writers.  Not only does Gomes cite Shedd, one will also come across the names of Laidlaw, Quenstedt, Buswell, Moses Stuart, Pache, etc.  This is not to say that he doesn’t know his modern writers.  They are used.  But even there it is good to see someone referencing works such as the fine Systematic Theology of Robert D. Culver, which again is one of the best out there.

Anyway, Alan Gomes is the author of this excellent volume on Heaven and Hell.  The “40 Questions” approach gives him enough range to cover a great deal of territory, which he does with aplomb.  Each chapter is full enough to offer a well-reasoned answer to the question which opens it.  The author’s style is easy and pleasant to read as he leads the reader through a consideration of various viewpoints and the biblical material.  While he is not shy to convey his decided views on a subject, he is generous wherever possible, knowing that there is room for disagreement in some areas.

The book is divided into four parts: Part One is “An Overview of the Afterlife,” and includes such questions as “Can We Really Know Anything About the Afterlife,” “What Does the Bible Mean When it Speaks About Out ‘Soul” and ‘Spirit’?”  Gomes also tackles the issue of so-called “trips to Heaven” (he is not impressed), and the biblical meaning of the  terms “Heaven” and “Hell.”  On the latter he shows that the Bible employs the terms sheol and hades in a negative sense for a place of punishment.

In Part Two, “The Intermediate State Between Death and the Resurrection of the Body” he deals with such subjects as post-mortem salvation (he answers in the negative), communication with the dead (he answers no again, although demonic deception is possible), and what happens to infants that die.  Gomes’ response to this question does not paper over the thorny problem of original sin, but he sides with those who affirm the salvation of those who could not understand the question, never mind the doctrine of original sin.  I found his handling of this matter, as with other difficult questions with which the book deals, to be very thoughtful and balanced.

In Part Three, is on “The Final Judgment.”  The six questions handled in this section include “What is the Final Judgment?” the rewarding of the saints and the degrees of punishment of unbelievers, and two chapters addressing the resurrection body.  I found this section to be very encouraging.  As a premillennialist Gomes holds to a two-stage judgment, but he points out that eschatology, while affecting one’s view on the timing of judgment, does not interfere with the substance of God’s judgment.  Gomes’ teaching on the resurrection body is outstanding.  He sees an essential continuity between our present bodies and those to come.  He also holds that unbelievers will be raised, but not with glorified bodies.

Part Four is about “The Eternal State” and is divided further into sections on believers and unbelievers.  I like this part the best of all.  It is both encouraging and sobering.  Gomes’ believes in conscious eternal punishment (and has chapters on universalism and annihilationism).  He does not, however, think that the flames of Hell are literal.  In this he is certainly not alone (he lists men like Calvin, Hodge, Shedd, and Culver).  Once more, he is careful to give arguments for both sides.

The section on the sufferings of the wicked is of real practical importance.  For instance, there is a chapter on the supposed conflict between eternal punishment and the love of God, and another which asks “Does Eternal Punishment Really Fit the Crime?”

This practical concern is carried over into the section on believers in the Eternal State.  So there is a question about whether it will be possible to sin in glory.  The author gives attention to nuance his negative answer.  And such can be said for all these chapters.

All in all, this is the best Biblical Studies book I have read in quite some time.  I highly recommend it.  Kregel have even put a Scripture index at the back – which is a big improvement for them!  It might not seem that a book on Heaven and Hell is your cup of tea, but Alan Gomes may well change your mind.

4 thoughts on “Review: ’40 Questions About Heaven and Hell’ by Alan W. Gomes”

  1. Dr. Henebury, could you be more specific about what you said here?:

    “Gomes’ response to this question does not paper over the thorny question of original sin, but he sides with those who affirm the salvation of those who could not understand the question, never mind the doctrine of original sin.”

    Thanks!

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