Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment by Robert A. Peterson, Forewords by John F. MacArthur, Jr. & David F. Wells, P&R, 1995, 258 pp.
I found the first few chapters of Robert A. Peterson’s Hell on Trail to be rather uninteresting but perhaps valuable as a reference to interpretations of various Biblical passages relating to the doctrine of hell. As I continued reading, however, the book became increasingly more interesting as it addressed the history of the heretical opposition to the orthodox doctrine.
Ultimately, it is seen that the vast majority of those who reject the orthodox view of hell as eternal conscious torment and accept either universalism or annihiliationism base their conclusions on subjective emotion rather than Biblical exegesis. Peterson clearly shows that the Bible itself, the early church fathers, and most Christian theologians through the centuries teach hell as eternal conscious torment. Opposition comes from those who have been greatly influenced by Greek philosophy (such as Origen) or by Modernism (such as Schleiermacher).
Though Peterson seems fixated on critiquing annihiliationism (and to a lesser extent universalism) he also notes various other errors such as John Hick’s “postmortem progressive sanctification” — a sanctification after death something like Roman Catholicism’s doctrine of purgatory.
The main lesson of the book is that you must not too easily be swayed by arguments against hell according to some person’s own moral criteria, but you should search the Scriptures and find your understanding only there.
Though even some orthodox theologians are said to not like the doctrine of hell and to wish for the salvation of all, I find Martin Luther’s approach more satisfying:
“Since God is a just judge, we must love and laud His justice, and thus rejoice in God even when he miserably destroys the wicked in body and soul; for in all this His high and inexpressible justice shines forth.”