While more Americans believe there is a hell than from a few years ago, they, and religious leaders in general, are also less inclined to view hell in literal terms, according to an article in U.S. News & World Report (Jan. 31).
Last summer, the Vatican and then the pope himself illustrated the revisionist mood when they denied that hell is an actual place, but only a “state of being” where one is estranged from God. The pope added that the Bible uses “symbolic language,” such as describing hell as a lake of fire. While the pontiff faced conservative criticism from his own church and from evangelicals, he seems to have his finger on the pulse of public opinion in the U.S.
A new poll conducted by the magazine find that in 1997, 48 percent believed hell is real place where people suffer “eternal fiery torments.” Today, just 34 percent agree with that statement. Writer Jeffrey Sheler adds that more Americans believe in hell today than in the 1950s or even a decade ago. In mapping out the various positions believers have about hell, Sheler also finds that evangelicals are now divided on the subject.
Such leading evangelical theologians as Clark Pinnock, John Stott and Phillip Hughes have come to view — not without attacks from more conservative theologians — that unbelievers are annihilated in the afterlife rather than punished eternally.