Facing Hell: The Story of a Nobody. An Autobiography 1913–1996

Written by John Wenham Reviewed By Tony Gray

Known to most undergraduate students of theology through his Elements of New Testament Greek, John Wenham’s autobiography was written in the final years before his death in 1996. The book can be divided into three categories.

Firstly, as a personal autobiography, Wenham writes engagingly and honestly. His reflections on his own spiritual pilgrimage, his relationships with his wife and family, and a whole host of other matters is delightful. His conversion and subsequent Christian witness is a story worth telling in its own right. However, at a second level, the book works extremely well as an insight into the history of modern evangelicalism, albeit from a personal point of view. Deeply involved with bodies such as the Tyndale Fellowship, Inter Varsity Fellowship (now the UCCF), the Theological Student’s Fellowship, and Latimer House in Oxford, John Wenham saw and worked with many of the great evangelicals of this century. Wenham was not shy in recording his observations and critiques of various manifestations of evangelicalism, and represented a healthy willingness to interact with and learn from other traditions. However, throughout his theological career, he never allowed himself to compromise his theological convictions, convinced of the need for the church and the academy to work together.

Thirdly, the autobiography portrays its apologetic nature in dealing with the issue of the doctrine of hell. More so in his latter years, John Wenham was well known for his advocacy of the conditionalist position, believing that those in hell are finally destroyed because immortality is only given to those who are saved. That is, those who are not saved, those in hell, do not receive immortality, and hence ultimately cease to exist. At times side-lined because he held this position, he maintained it to the end and wished evangelical scholars to interact seriously with the arguments presented. The book includes a thorough defence of his position, with some additional comments regarding various attempts to refute it.

There are many reasons to recommend this book, and it cannot fail to be of interest to all evangelical students of theology. In spite of its historical and doctrinal usefulness, this reviewer valued it most highly for the witness it is to a most inspirational life.

Tony Gray