Stott's Views on Hell


John R. W. Stott, by all accounts, remains orthodox with respect to many Christian doctrines. With respect to eternal punishment, however, he no longer holds definitively to the Christian position. The following quotes, from a book which John Stott and David L. Edwards co-wrote, Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue (London, 1988), help to illustrate why many in the evangelical world are upset with Dr. Stott's views.

"Emotionally, I find the concept [of eternal torment] intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the strain. But our emotions are a fluctuating, unreliable guide to truth and must not be exalted to the place of supreme authority in determining it. As a committed Evangelical, my question must be-and is-not what my heart tells me, but what does God's word say? And in order to answer this question, we need to survey the Biblical material afresh and to open our minds (not just our hearts) to the possibility that Scripture points in the direction of annihilationism, and that 'eternal conscious torment' is a tradition which has to yield to the supreme authority of Scripture." [pp. 314-15]
"The fire itself is termed 'eternal' and 'unquenchable,' but it would be very odd if what is thrown into it proves indestructible. Our expectation would be the opposite: it would be consumed for ever, not tormented for ever. Hence it is the smoke (evidence that the fire has done its work) which 'rises for ever and ever' (Rev 14:11; cf. 19:3)." [p. 316]
John Stott disputes whether Matthew 25:46, "They will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life," must be interpreted as meaning that the lost will suffer for all eternity. In his opinion, "that is to read into the text what is not necessarily there. What Jesus said is that both the life and the punishment would be eternal, but he did not in that passage define the nature of either. Because he elsewhere spoke of eternal life as a conscious enjoyment of God (John 17:3), it does not follow that eternal punishment must be a conscious experience of pain at the hand of God. On the contrary, although declaring both to be eternal, Jesus is contrasting the two destinies: the more unlike they are, the better." [p. 317]
"It would be easier to hold together the awful reality of hell and the universal reign of God if hell means destruction and the impenitent are no more. I am hesitant to have written these things, partly because I have a great respect for longstanding tradition which claims to be a true interpretation of Scripture [eternal punishment in hell], and do not lightly set it aside, and partly because the unity of the worldwide Evangelical constituency has always meant much to me. . . . I do plead for frank dialogue among Evangelicals on the basis of Scripture. I also believe that the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal conscious torment." [pp. 319-20]