In the article “Sheep and Goats: Current Evangelical Thought on the Nature of Hell and the Scope of Salvation” Alan M. Linfield attempts to analyze the current situation in evangelical thought in relation to the problem of Hell and how it was perceived by evangelicals and the problem of salvation.
In fact the author attempts to underline that currently there is a shift in the views on the Hell and salvation in the contemporary society, including evangelicals who were traditionally thought to be quite conservative in relation to these problems. Alan M. Linfield starts with the discussion concerning the views on Hell and he underlines that traditionally it was perceived as an unending torment. The author attempts to present the views of different specialists on this problem and his argumentation seems to be quite persuasive but he obviously lacks the true variety of views discussed. Notably in his analysis of the current views on the Hell and its evolution he basically focuses his attention on conditionalists views that makes the argumentation at large insufficient and lacking critical approach to different trends, including conditionalism as not the only one but one among others.
Furthermore, in the second part of his article Alan M. Linfield, discusses the problem of salvation. Notably he presents the controversial views, a conservative, according to which salvation is accessible for Christians only, and liberal, according to which salvation is universally accessible. This part of the article is obviously more informative and represents much wider range of view on the problem than the first part of the article.
Thus, the article produces a dubious impression, on the one hand it provokes discussions concerning burning problems, on the other hand, partially the articles seems to be one-sided, basically in the discussion of the Hell interpretation.
Taking into consideration the importance of the problems raised by Alan M. Linfield, it is necessary to say that it is very important to discuss them but it is also important to be as objective as possible in order to be too critical in relation to some approaches and too involved into others. At this respect it is really hardly possible to disagree with some statements the author suggests and he depicts quite precisely basic historical views and it is hardly possible to argue that in the past the Hell was perceived quite primitively. Nonetheless, it should be pointed out that views on the Hell as an extremely terrible place are still widely spread among many people, including theologists. At the same time a wider interpretation of the Hell, rather philosophical and the perception of the Hell as a great metaphor or a symbol to a significant extent is also popular and has to be developed nowadays when the general progress of society, science and technologies broaden human eyesight.
The latter is also a reason why the traditional belief that salvation should be accessible only for a limited group of people has to be also reviewed because it seems to be a kind of anachronism and makes such approach to salvation quite dangerous for Christian religion at large since it makes the religion too literal and even, paradoxically it sounds, materialistic while salvation it is primarily spiritual question and in the situation of reconciliation of different religions and growing atheism, it is vitally important to make the idea and the opportunity of salvation possibly wider accessible.
Linfield, Allan M. “Sheep and Goats: Current Evangelical Thought on the Nature of Hell and the Scope of Salvation”, from Vox Evangelica, Vol. XXIV, 1994.