Choosing Hell: A Lutheran View of Free Will

By James Keller

The existence of hell is, for most Christians, an article of faith. Scripture and tradition leave little ambiguity with regard to a place of eternal anguish, one that is populated by those that have made a free, conscious choice for separation from God. Hell is an existential reality even among Christian universalists, who maintain that despite the certainty of hell, all persons will experience salvation due to the irresistible and gracious will of God.[1] The point at issue is free will. Universalists view the freedom of “choice” for hell over heaven as logically incoherent. How, they argue, can persons who repent under the duress of some forcibly imposed punishment be said to have made the choice freely? Opponents of universalism respond that some persons choose to be irrational and dispute even basic laws of logic. Scripture and experience point to continued human rebellion in the face of punishment or threats of punishment.[2] ...




James Keller is Instructor of Theology at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.


[1] Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2006), 9-34; Clark Pinnock, A Wideness in God’s Mercy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 44-47.

[2] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 52-65.