In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Heaven and Hell

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • The History of Heaven and Hell
  • Heaven

Philosophy Heaven and Hell
Jonathan L. Kvanvig
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0050


The Western doctrines of heaven and hell have their source in religions of the Abrahamic tradition, involving a conception of an afterlife together with a doctrine of the resurrection of the body. This entry focuses on the philosophical discussions surrounding these doctrines as they occur in Christianity, since it is in this context that the explosion of interest in these doctrines has arisen over the past few decades. The fundamental controversies in this recent explosion concern the debates (1) between the new Christian materialists and their immaterialist opponents; (2) between traditional and nontraditional approaches to the nature of hell, especially on the question of whether universalism (the view that no one ends up in hell forever) or annihilationism (the view that the damned cease to exist) can do a better job of solving the moral problems for traditional views of hell (especially, the problems of how a loving God can be so harsh and how a finite being can do something that deserves an infinite punishment); and (3) between the commonplace view that immortality is a good to be desired and opponents who question the wisdom of this common platitude.

General Overviews

The background for recent work on heaven and hell is the theological controversies between conservative and fundamentalist approaches to Christian doctrine and more liberal approaches. In general, these controversies are at a more general level than any particular debates about heaven and hell, but the disputes play out in interesting ways in the literature cited in this section. For example, the more conservative theological approaches evident in Brunner 1954, Hebblethwaite 1984, and Crockett 1997 spend considerable effort at interpreting biblical texts, whereas the more liberal theological perspectives found in Hick 1976, Küng 1984, and Robinson 1968 display a more philosophical orientation. The range of views represented here provides a nice background for the more rigorous work that follows.

  • Brunner, Emil. Eternal Hope. Translated by Harold Knight. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954.

    An important work by a major conservative theologian of the 20th century.

  • Crockett, William, ed. Four Views on Hell. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.

    One of Eerdman’s Four Views series, with three of the four views defending variations of the traditional view of hell.

  • Hebblethwaite, Brian. The Christian Hope. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984.

    A recent work by a conservative theologian explaining and defending a traditional Christian viewpoint concerning the afterlife, with a strong emphasis on the finality of the last things according to Christian doctrine.

  • Hick, John. Death and Eternal Life. London: Collins, 1976.

    An important early work of Hick’s, who is one of the most important philosophical theologians of the last hundred years, defending a version of universalism.

  • Küng, Hans. Eternal Life? Translated by Edward Quinn. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984.

    This book focuses more on the question of the possibility of an afterlife, with less attention paid to the nature of the afterlife.

  • Robinson, John A.T. In the End, God. New York: Harper and Row, 1968.

    An important 20th-century theologian of existentialist leanings addresses the question of the afterlife. [ISBN: 9780006217374]

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