Belief in eternal punishment in a literal hell is declining among Christians in America. By contrast, belief in heaven is in great shape.

In a National Geographic article published earlier this month and now making the rounds among Christians, writer Mark Strauss outlines the shifting Christian perspective toward believing that those who don't accept Christ die a spiritual death as well as a mortal one instead of being punished eternally in hell.

Noting a 13 percentage point drop over the past 20 years in Americans who believe in a fiery underworld, the author notes that the stats present "a conundrum that continues to tug at the conscience of some Christians, who find it difficult to reconcile the existence of a just, loving God with a doctrine that dooms billions of people to eternal punishment."

Nuances abound here, but generally speaking when it comes to the subject of hell, Christians usually fall into three camps. There are the traditionalists who believe that those who reject Christ will suffer forever in conscious torment; annihilationists (also called conditionalists) who believe that all those who do not acknowledge Jesus will die a sort of spiritual death and cease to exist; and universalists who believe that everyone, Christian and non-Christian, will eventually be saved and go to heaven.

Annihalitionism in particular is on the rise, and some thinkers and theologians believe it will replace the currently dominant traditionalist perspective. Preston Sprinkle, vice president of Eternity Bible College's extension in Boise, Idaho, offered a prediction in said National Geographic article that "even within conservative evangelical circles, the annihilation view of hell will be the dominant view in 10 or 15 years."

"He's probably right," said Fuller Theological Seminary theology professor Kutter Callaway of Sprinkle's prediction in a statement to The Christian Post, "but whether or not that comports with theological orthodoxy is another question entirely."

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