Hell and the Final Word

What do you believe about hell? And one more: Where did you get your belief about hell? There are a number of typical beliefs about hell by people today, and one can read about these in Edward Fudge’s new accessible study called Hell: A Final Word. Here is Ed Fudge’s list of what most seem to believe:

1. Hell is experienced now in the results of bad decisions or injustices.
2. God is good; a good God and eternal conscious punishment in hell are incompatible. Therefore, hell must be diminished.
3. Hell is the just deserve for the wicked, like Hitler.
4. What one person thinks is hell is not hell for another; hell is too dependent on personal perception.
5. Hell is a ramped up expression for death; after death we are no more.

Where do folks get such views of hell? How do we decide? One person says “It’s speculation.” Which is fine unless one thinks what the Bible says, interpreted as it must be, about hell is what we are to believe. Then it’s not necessarily speculation.

Question for the day: What was hell like in the preaching/teaching of your church? your pastors? your parents?

Some observations for some early chapters — and they are short chps — in Fudge’s book.

1. Many people have responded to the gospel because of hell-fire and damnation preaching. For some such people — not all — hell becomes an important element in the gospel. Hence, some who pushback against my King Jesus Gospel are actually saying they think hell has to be involved or the edge for decision is lost.

2. Most people have not studied the “history of hell” (or the history of how hell has been articulated) in the history of the church, and do not know that there are four major contributing streams to what many today believe about hell (as eternal conscious punishment): ancient Greek Platonism/NeoPlatonism and philosophies, Dante’s famous sections on hell, Jonathan Edwards and other revivalist teachings about hell, and Bunyan or spiritual formation writers’ perceptions/teachings about hell. Add to this what you learned from parents and pastors or friends, and you’ve got what most people believe today.

3. Fudge sees five major themes: hell is real (not just fiction), hell is bad (real bad), hell is punishment, hell is separation from God, and hell is eternal. The issue for Ed Fudge is what kind of eternal, and here the issue is that most have believed hell is eternal and conscious. Where do these major ideas come from?

4. Most people have not studied what the Bible says in its context, which is what Ed Fudge has been doing decades.

5. Some of the most respected people in history have firm views of hell, graphically firm, and those ideas may not be as biblical as their authority extends: Fudge looks at two statements, one by Charles Spurgeon and one by John Gerstner.

6. Some have penetrating issues with hell, including the character of God that comes to the fore/surface in one’s view of hell — whatever one’s view of hell. Rob Bell, folks, wrote a book about God’s character as much as he did about hell.

Ed Fudge has put all of what we say to a test and to the text of the Bible; he has constructed a biblically-constructed view of hell; Ed Fudge believes in what is traditionally called “annhiliationism”: hell is eternal, but eternal here means ceasing to exist. Join us in this series of considerations about hell.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Alex

    The pastor at my church seems to veiw hell as a real place of some sort of punishment by recognizes the discussion on how it works out in the end. Either it being ECT or annhiliationism. There isn’t too much preaching specifically on hell though that he does. It really only came up because we recently had a Q&A session.

    My parents aren’t really into studying the specifices of theology in any capacity as I am, so nothing on this from them.

    My personal veiws, based on very little study and reading afew books and articles, would probably lean towards annhiliationism because it seems the most merciful without letting people off the hook for rejecting God. I don’t think universalism makes sense if this life is to have any significance or meaning. It seems clear, to me at least, that the bible places great importance on our response here and now to Jesus. In my thinking universalism creats an excuse to ignore the profound implications of Jesus in the world and work only towards our own pleasure regardless of consiquences. I may be totaly missunderstanding the whole position though and I’m open to that. In the end we will all find out anyway, so in the mean time I will simply continue to try and grow in my relationship with Jesus.

  • James Petticrew

    Sorry it has always made me smile that the person advocating the middle way between, hell as eternal conscious punishment and hell as not existing, is called “Fudge” :-) … Laughed yesterday at the church I was preaching at when someone introduces himself as “Mike” the sound engineer !

    On a serious note, having read his other book I am pretty convinced by his argument

  • http://differentcloth.blogspot.com Jeff Stewart

    Combine #3 with #5. I believe that “hell” is just the destiny of ultimate consequence. The hyperbolic descriptions correlate (in a bleaker sense) with the metaphorical descriptions of “Kingdom” (Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν…).
    Joel 3:1-3 & Jere. 2:17-19 depict ultimate consequence.
    Jesus’ use of “outer darkness” – “weeping and gnashing of teeth” is undeniable. There is clearly a allusion to some kind distinction and separation. But the context is often overlooked by the conventional understanding of hell. Jesus indicts those who take it upon themselves to enforce Godly behavior and ignore their susceptibility to darkness – who have no self-awareness like the tax collector praying in the temple.
    “This man, rather than the other….” clearly makes a distinction and separation.
    I do not believe in “universalism” – but I do believe in some sort of “reversalism.”

  • http://robsownworld.blogspot.com Rob Dunbar

    My own question on annihilationism is whether a spirit, having been brought into existence, then dies. Is eternal existence part of the nature of a spirit? I tend to think so; but I also think anything we say one way or the other on that is speculation.

    The church I grew up in did teach an eternal Hell as a place of eternal conscious torment; but I have to say I thought about it more than it was preached. My pastors spent more time preaching about salvation from sin than salvation from Hell. Nor do I remember my parents beating me over the head with Hell: “If you disobey your parents, you’ll go to Hell!” The concepts of judgment and of Hell were there, but more important was following Christ.

  • Mark Edward

    All the churches I’ve ever attended have taught the traditional position, some more emphatically than others. Four or five years ago I did some heavy research in the Bible on the subject and came away convinced of the conditional immortality / annihilationist position. There were still a few particular passages in the Bible that had me wondering, but otherwise I saw it was pretty strong that way. Since then I’ve only become more convinced, and the few ‘problem’ passages have smoothed out for me.

  • Taylor G

    Scot, Been waiting for you to take this issue on. Thanks. I’m confounded as to why traditionalists find Fudge’s approach so appalling. All he is really saying, is that the torture will at some point diminish/end.

  • http://www.waulkthisway.com Joshua Waulk

    I cannot help but be skeptical whenever I encounter theologies that strip the Bible of those parts that sinful men find offensive. It is only by grace that God has not stripped humanity from creation—we are the source of offense—not God. Our generation loves to relish in the grace of its Creator—almost as much as it hates to hear anything of its depravity and the just results of its rebellion. I would be very afraid of toying with God’s wrath. This does not seem to be the beginning of wisdom. In fact, it’s pure folly and the height of arrogance.

  • Taylor G

    @Joshua Waulk: Over thelast several hundred years the saints/believers have said different things. I’m not at all certain the case is as closed as you would like it to be.

  • Taylor G

    @Rob Dunbar Not sure exactly where Fudge is on this, but like CS Lewis and even the current pope have offered, the spirit continues on in a state of dissapointment but not active torture.

  • http://www.waulkthisway.com Joshua Waulk

    @TaylorG: The case is still open on the resurrection in some circles, too.

  • http://www.waulkthisway.com Joshua Waulk

    @TaylorG: The case is still open on the resurrection in some circles, too. What other parts of the Gospel should we dismantle? How else might we tickle our ears and make the truth taste more succulent?

  • Jesse

    I’m not convinced of eternal-as-final-but-not-ongoing when it comes to hell. At least not yet. It seems to me a redefinition of “eternal” has more to do with our discomfort with concious torment. If “eternal” doesnt mean ongoing in the negative sense (hell) why would it mean it in the positive sense (heaven)? And why is nobody arguing for the latter; is it because an ongoing heaven isnt offensive to our moral conceptions?

  • scotmcknight

    Joshua, beside what many of us would say is a disappointing level of civility by appealing to a slippery slope and equating one view with orthodoxy, which factually (though emotionally, culturally is otherwise) it is not, your accusations here are precisely why Ed Fudge has written on these themes. He doesn’t think the eternal conscious punishment/torment view is actually found in the Bible but instead the Bible teaches something else. What one believes about the nature of hell is not a matter of orthodoxy nor is it at all connected to one’s view of the resurrection. People who want to know what the Bible says are to be applauded, and those who want to establish their theology on the Bible are to be applauded …

  • Phil Miller

    A big part of the question really comes down to the importance we place on free will. That’s actually probably one of the biggest issues that stops me from embracing full-out universalism. Jurgen Moltmann, for instance, has said that if God allows people to reject Him forever, than it means that their wills are more powerful than God’s. I don’t see it that way. It simply means that what God gave people truly was free will and not something that comes very close to free will but not really.

    It does seem like some sort annihilationism has a lot of Biblical support, and it seems to be most in character with God. Even from the time when God gave the Jews the Torah, He made it clear that the choice was either one that leads to life or one that leads to death. That, then, however leads me back to grace and mercy of God. Because the truth is that even Christians fail to choose the path that leads to life a lot of time. If I believe God is merciful enough to accept me after I reject Him, it’s hard for me to imagine that there will be a time when someone would genuinely cry out for mercy and God would refuse to listen to that cry. But, I also believe that there are probably people who would rather be annihilated than cry out for mercy.

  • http://www.sarahbessey.com Sarah Bessey

    Fudge’s work has been influential in the development of my own views on hell. I have rejected eternal conscious punishment as my notion of hell, and adopted the “conditional mortality” arguments. And it’s funny but once you learn about this “other” way of looking at hell (compared to most evangelical teachings), you start seeing it everywhere in Scripture. I wondered how I had ever missed it before.

  • Adam

    @Rob Dunbar #4

    What makes you think the human spirit is eternal?

    I don’t have time to go into a full explanation but I don’t see any evidence that humans are eternal. Only those things that are resurrected in Jesus are eternal.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    Being Reformed, I believed in the traditional view of hell until about a year and a half ago or so, when I interviewed Edward Fudge on my personal podcast (we at Rethinking Hell have interviewed him more recently on ours). I’ve since come to see what I now think is very clear: with virtually no exception, every single proof-text historically pointed to by traditionalists actually proves to be far better support for the final annihilation of the unsaved, rather than for their eternal torment. Though I do not share my fellow conditionalists’ objection to the traditional view on the basis of justice or the character of God, I have been convinced of annihilationism by exegesis of the inerrant Word of God, which consistently and repeatedly testifies that the end of the risen wicked is irreversible execution, not eternal torment.

  • http://www.waulkthisway.com Joshua Waulk

    @Scot: I had no intention of being uncivilized. I had no idea that orthodoxy and slippery slopes don’t exist–that ideas have no resulting effects. While there may not be a direct correlation between hell and the resurrection (although I find the moving parts of Scripture to be quite inter-related), the processes that allow some people to remove or re-interpet those distasteful parts of Scripture are certainly connected. I’m fully aware that there have been some great minds of the faith who have concluded that there is no ECT—John Stott? I fully acknowledge that some genuine believers may sincerely conclude that a loving God would never consign a soul to such a horrific end. My fear is that they’re sincerely wrong—but it’s not the mere wrongness that I’m concerned with (I don’t care to win an argument). My concern is that the consequences of their conclusions are a gateway to theological disaster (unless of course there is not orthodoxy with which to make such a measurement). For example, if there is no ECT, no wrath of God from which to seek mercy, what does this do to the cross of Christ? Whose punishment did Jesus endure on the cross? If annihilation is the cost of unbelief, then the entire biblical record of sin-sacrifice makes no sense whatsoever. Further, if there is no ECT, then I may conclude that the pleasures of this world are worth the price of annihilation. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we simply cease to exist. Our ideas have real, tangible consequences. I’m afraid the consequences of anything other than an ECT in a place otherwise known as hell on the message of the Gospel are so far-reaching that we may as well re-write the entire message altogether. And isn’t that what man’s been doing for quite some time (unless of course, once again, we can’t even agree on what that message is)? Our fear of the Lord ought not to be driven by a fear that He will not keep His promises, but that He will indeed make good on His word. I may be uncivilized, but I pray I’m not unloving.

  • dopderbeck

    Scot (#13) — do you think annihilationism is consistent with orthodoxy? I continue to struggle with how to define “orthodoxy.”

    A problem with Fudge’s view is that it presumes a theological method whereby “what the Bible teaches” can be determined without much reference to how the Church has received and read it.

    A problem with how the issue is often presented is that the nature of Hell in the Tradition has never been unitary — there has always been a sense of variations in punishments. This was a big issue in Augustine and Aquinas, for example, with the status of unbaptized infants.

  • Phil Miller

    For example, if there is no ECT, no wrath of God from which to seek mercy, what does this do to the cross of Christ? Whose punishment did Jesus endure on the cross?

    If you hang around Eastern Orthodox folks for very long, you’d pretty quickly find out that most of them don’t think much of the idea of ECT. But yet they don’t minimize the cross and resurrection at all. Christ’s death and resurrection still serve as the means to which we find life. Not being in Christ is it’s own punishment.

    Further, if there is no ECT, then I may conclude that the pleasures of this world are worth the price of annihilation. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we simply cease to exist.

    And that doesn’t sound like something that would cause despair for you? The threat of ceasing to exist has certainly caused many a person on the planet many sleepless nights. The vast majority of people fear death. As Woody Allen quipped, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it by not dying.”

  • Phil Miller

    That first paragraph in my last post was meant to blockquoted. I was quoting Joshua Waulk’s comment in #17.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    “if there is no ECT, no wrath of God from which to seek mercy, what does this do to the cross of Christ? Whose punishment did Jesus endure on the cross?”

    This seems to be at best a terrible misunderstanding of annihilationism. Just what happened on the cross when Christ bore the wrath of God on behalf of the elect? He suffered and He died. Traditionalists affirm only half of that package; annihilationists affirm both. And it shows that annihilationism is not the denial of the wrath of God from which to seek mercy.

    “If annihilation is the cost of unbelief, then the entire biblical record of sin-sacrifice makes no sense whatsoever.”

    Plainly false. What happened to those beasts upon whom the sins of Israel were temporarily laid, and whose blood temporarily and imperfectly covered those sins? They were executed. Just like Christ. Just like annihilationists believe will happen to the risen wicked.

    “Further, if there is no ECT, then I may conclude that the pleasures of this world are worth the price of annihilation. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we simply cease to exist.”

    I wasn’t aware that we should come to theological conclusions based on what any given individual might subjectively think about the fearfulness of the cost of unbelief. Besides, as first century Greek historian Plutarch noted, first century Greeks feared annihilation far more than eternal conscious torment. And the 20th century agnostic poet Philip Larkin, in his poem “Aubade,” wrote about atheists’ dread of extinction. To suggest that annihilation is not fearful and that it is reason to enjoy the pleasures of this life outside of a relationship with Christ is patently absurd.

    I’ve said for some time now that there are two major reasons, above all others, why I ended up embracing annihilationism. First was just how clearly all the traditionalist proof-texts prove to be better support for annihilationism. Second was just how terrible the common objections to annihilationism are, as these demonstrate.

  • phil_style

    @Joshua “How else might we tickle our ears and make the truth taste more succulent?”

    I think there’s a difference between trying to “make truth taste better” and “having an intelligible, internally consistent worldview”.

    It’s simplistic to assume that people who have a different view of Hell from the one you do are adopting it for the purposes of self comfort/ pleasure. For many of us, adopting a view of hell is about tying up apparent contradictions and/ or logical flaws.

    I think you would do well to give options some credit, rather than appearing to just write others off as less pious then yourself.

  • jess

    I believe that annihilationism/conditional immortality is most consistent with what the Bible teaches. I don’t hold a particular firm grip on this belief. I also don’t think that any theological position is free of problems and difficulties. I’m still thinking through the issue as a whole. I actually grew up in the church where Edward Fudge attends but didn’t get much teaching on hell as a youngster so I think I just naturally adopted something like ECT. I started thinking through hell for myself a few years back and Fudge was extremely helpful, both in his books and personally, to help me think through the issue for myself. My pastor doesn’t really talk about hell. I think he leans toward ECT but I have tried a little bit to convince him of annihilationism.

  • Norman

    @ Dopderbeck #18

    You stated … “A problem with Fudge’s view is that it presumes a theological method whereby “what the Bible teaches” can be determined without much reference to how the Church has received and read it.”

    Would that be a problem if the presumption that the earliest church under the direction of the Apostles leaning on test available to them would have been the eternal standard?

    If we allow the continual historical church to have equal footing with the original church then it seems we may be subject to a diverse approach that is simply open ended with no closed prophetic authority. Perhaps this would work for those who are comfortable that the later historical church should have prophetic intervention and assignment on equal footing with the original apostolic lead church. This might work for the Catholics under their Pope administration or under Protestantism if we want to declare authority to certain leaders such as Luther, Calvin etc. It may not work for those perhaps like Fudge who may be working from the original context entirely.

  • Stephen W

    Rob Bell wrote a book that was predominantly about God’s character. It’s just that he used the topic of hell as his backdrop.

    dopderbeck(#19) I’m not even sure anymore if there IS such a thing as orthodoxy!

  • Jon T.

    Here’s something few teach on today, concerning the end or destruction of Satan…read Ezek. 28. Who is this person, the ‘King of Tyre?’ If he is Satan, which I believe, then he will be annihilated and be no more. A question that remains unanswered by evangelical fundamentalism or tradition is this, “if death and hell are cast into the Lake of Fire to be destroyed, then why isn’t Satan, the False Prophet and the fallen angels also consumed or destroyed (to be no more), along w/ the wicked after the Great White Throne Judgment? Many times in context the words eternal or everlasting actually mean from age to age, not to infinity and beyond. One CANNOT apply Greco/Roman philosophy and understanding to the Jewish Scriptures and expect to understand original intent.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    “Many times in context the words eternal or everlasting actually mean from age to age, not to infinity and beyond.”

    This is true, but it’s also true that even if aionios does properly mean “everlasting” in contexts like Matthew 25:46, it still supports annihilationism.

  • Taylor G

    Norman, is it even possible to work entirely from only the original text or first Christians? Is there a sect of Christendom that hasn’t in some way evolved since biblical times? Really think the answer is obvious here.

  • phil_style

    Let’s not forget that a good proportion of our understanding of Hell (TM) is shaped by our Greek forefathers who had to make the Platonic idea of an eternal human soul compatible with Christianity. One you presuppose an eternal human soul (as those Greeks did), then you need a place for that soul to go after this life, whether good or bad. If there is no eternal human soul (that is, if the person only exists when their body is working), then you don’t need a place for the soul to go.

  • Jon T.

    Chris
    Agree completely. Annihilation fits the justice of God better than does having Satan and the wicked around and being tortured for all of eternity. Also, the Second Resurrection of the dead is unto Death. Interesting. These are raised for the purpose of judgment, to die yet again! It is only the Resurrection of the Just in the First Rez. that results in eternal, immortal life, and thus the only escape from the curse of death.

  • scotmcknight

    dopderbeck, I can’t see that the nature of hell (excepting universalism, which isn’t really a direct theory of hell but something else) has anything to do with orthodoxy. Orthodoxy’s great creeds don’t speak on this issue do they?

  • scotmcknight

    Joshua,

    I suspect you have not read one annihiliationist sketch of what they believe because you are saying things they all deny: annihilationists don’t deny wrath or hell; they deny that wrath means eternal conscious punishment. This is not a “wrath or no wrath” nor a “hell or no hell” but a “how long does hell last?” and “how do establish that?”

  • StephL

    I was taught ECT exclusively by my parents, my childhood churches and eventually my high school teachers. I only recently, here and because of the Rob Bell “controversy,” learned of any other views.

    Learning about more views than the one view I was aware of in childhood has been a great good. And there has been some movement in my beliefs.

    Hell was mentioned a lot, but never at length, in my childhood years, and never for a singled out, particular sin, but as a consequence for sin in general.

    Going back to the garden of Eden, it was death that was the promised consequence for the fall, and annihilation is beginning to make a lot of sense. The second death.

    After all, it really boils down to this. If ECT is correct, and it involves burning for eternity, Christians who hold to ECT should be the most emotionally ravaged people on earth, because to contemplate this for even one person you love should lead to complete breakdown.

    I know one person for whom it did. Waking up from screaming nightmares.

    If we are wrong about something as serious as this, if it is possible, it is at least worth looking into long and hard and with an open mind because the price of this doctrine has at times been high. Higher even than the example I gave above. It is very sobering to me.

    Even so, I am not firmly anti ECT. Rather, I am re-examinining it and find myself open to annihilism. We are flesh and blood and eternal life is a gift.

    I hope, by that last paragraph above, to have others understand that I am not saying I am angry at people or blame people for their beliefs, even though I brought up consequences. I get that we are interested in truth and not what religion we might on our own fashion. I am sad, though, if these other views, other than ECT, are not discussed and are not given a fair hearing. It is a weighty matter, for here and now as well as for eternity.

    I think learning about more views has helped me see more threads in Scripture than I otherwise saw. A richer, fuller view.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Scot wrote, “Some have penetrating issues with hell, including the character of God that comes to the fore/surface in one’s view of hell — whatever one’s view of hell. Rob Bell, folks, wrote a book about God’s character as much as he did about hell.”

    This again seems primary to me. If one’s interpretation of the Bible cannot be squared with the character of God revealed in the scriptures, which one ought to bend–your interpretation of scripture or God’s character? These seems to me a clear defeater for the traditional view of hell that “the history of the church” (whatever we may mean by that) objection cannot overcome.

  • Phil Miller

    I also grew up in an environment where ECT was talked about quite a bit. My parents talked about it somewhat, but it was mainly at other events where I heard about it. Our denomination, the AoG, had a boys’ group somewhat modeled after the Boy Scouts called Royal Rangers. They would have camping trips where we’d do the requisite knot-tying and such, but in the evening they would have a service around a huge “council fire”. I can recall multiple times the speaker saying something like “imagine how hot these flames are… now imagine having to endure flames hotter than that for all eternity…” Seriously messed up stuff.

    Now mix that with a belief that one can lose their salvation pretty easily, it’s pretty easy to how that can be tortuous for a kid. I remember that I was always worried about praying for forgiveness for all my sins before I went to bed just to be sure… Jesus could come back and kick butt anytime, too… It was like walking on thin ice.

    It’s not that I think that ECT is always wrong, but I would not be sad to see it left out of our presentations of the Gospel, especially to children. There are some kids that don’t seem to be bothered by it, but for more introspective children, it’s a form of spiritual abuse.

  • http://www.waulkthisway.com Joshua Waulk

    @Phil: If the sacrificial system of the OT carries forward all the way to the cross (and I realize that I’m making a terribly bold proposition here), then none of it makes any sense in a system that ends in annihilation. It’s completely non-sensical because it doesn’t apply—and what’s worse is that Christ suffered for no reason—instead, He should have been annihilated Himself in my place so that I would not suffer such fate. The punishment that Christ bore had to be commensurate with what awaits the unredeemed—anything less is unjust.

    To your second point, annihilation may supply me or you with some manner of despair—but the Christian’s ultimate hope is not to escape hell or avoid annihilation. It is to *be with Christ*. Woody Allen doesn’t care to be with a Christ he doesn’t believe in—it’s not the presence of the living God he desires—he only seeks to avoid death, which he knows is a futile endeavor. Annihilationism falls short in compelling the unbeliever to repent—it neuters the compelling force of the cross and makes it a mockery.

    If on the cross of Christ he exchanged my sin for His righteousness, i.e. if I was in fact “redeemed” to an eternal joy and glory in His kingdom, then annihilation is no just punishment at all for sin—it zero’s out the account without the added bonus of the grace of all graces—the crediting to my account of His righteousness. And there is no basis upon which God ought to do such a thing—zero out my account and annihilate me—I suffer neither eternal punishment nor eternal glory. Unless we’re prepared to delve into some type of universalist perspective on the cross, I am either redeemed, and the weight of God’s grace rests on my shoulders, or my sin is utterly unaccounted for and the weight of His wrath hangs over my head. I’m suggesting that annihilationism gives quarter to foolish men where the Gospel gives no such quarter.

    And while we’re debating the topic of the eternality of God’s punishment in hell, I’m wondering on what basis we hold to an eternality of God’s glory for us in heaven? If His punishment of sin is temporal (instantaneous, even), why not His blessing as well? I don’t find many Christians arguing for a limited supply of God’s grace. Don’t you find this to be a bit disingenuous—that there aren’t any Christians arguing equally for some sort of limitation on the experience of God’s glory? I suppose that the case for glorification is air-tight—it’s the topic of hell that we’re confused about.

    Or, is it the true nature of our God that we’re really debating?

  • Jon T.

    Phil_Style, great points. With the immortal soul is a place called heaven that is assumed to be the christians final destination, w/ hardly a thought to a restored earth and kindgom, ruled by Messiah, which was central to the teachings of Jesus and Paul. It is my belief that church tradition and creedal formulation have led to the suppression and honest pursuit of the truth in their attempt to control the minds and actions of men as some sort of threat. To err is human, to doubt is divine!

  • dopderbeck

    The Athanasian Creed refers to “everlasting fire” so it may depend on whether you include that one and what it means.

    I’m don’t think that any of the Fathers of Nicea had any notion of annihilation (though Nyssa at least sometimes had a theory of apokatastasis) – they of course were working from Greek-influenced ideas of the immortality of the soul.

    Annihilationism may have been condemned by the Council / Synod that condemned Origen.

    So this question of “orthodoxy” seems to me to raise insuperable questions about method and ecclesiology: if not “scripture alone,” then which Creeds, and how do you read them, and what is an authorized interpretation of them?

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    “I’m don’t think that any of the Fathers of Nicea had any notion of annihilation (though Nyssa at least sometimes had a theory of apokatastasis) – they of course were working from Greek-influenced ideas of the immortality of the soul.”

    Irenaeus was an annihilationist.

  • dopderbeck

    Steph (#34) and Phil (#36) — man, I can relate. Somehow we do need to think about this in ways that seem more consistent with the character of the God who became incarnate and died on the cross for everyone. But I wish I knew just how.

  • Phil Miller

    @Phil: If the sacrificial system of the OT carries forward all the way to the cross (and I realize that I’m making a terribly bold proposition here), then none of it makes any sense in a system that ends in annihilation. It’s completely non-sensical because it doesn’t apply—and what’s worse is that Christ suffered for no reason—instead, He should have been annihilated Himself in my place so that I would not suffer such fate. The punishment that Christ bore had to be commensurate with what awaits the unredeemed—anything less is unjust.

    If by bold, you mean wrong, then it is bold…

    The sacrificial system wasn’t put into place as a way to appease God’s wrath. God isn’t a tribal deity who needs to be appeased to by blood sacrifice. The sacrificial system was given to remind the Israelites of God’s faithfulness to them, and to remind them that sin has consequences. But those consequences aren’t necessarily God’s active wrath being poured out on them. In a way, I suppose I could say that they deal with the wrath of God, but associate God’s wrath more with His justice and the way He set the universe up in general. Sin has consequences, and often those consequences are far more destructive than we imagine. So in that sense, God wrath is revealed against them. But I don’t imagine God sitting up in heaven red with anger for each of my sins.

    And while we’re debating the topic of the eternality of God’s punishment in hell, I’m wondering on what basis we hold to an eternality of God’s glory for us in heaven? If His punishment of sin is temporal (instantaneous, even), why not His blessing as well? I don’t find many Christians arguing for a limited supply of God’s grace. Don’t you find this to be a bit disingenuous—that there aren’t any Christians arguing equally for some sort of limitation on the experience of God’s glory? I suppose that the case for glorification is air-tight—it’s the topic of hell that we’re confused about.

    The conditional mortality view would say that we are sustained only because of God and Him being in us. Immortality isn’t something that’s bestowed on us, but rather some we partake of. So we will continue to partake of that for all eternity.

  • dopderbeck

    Chris (#40) — I think that’s an overstatement and probably a misreading of Irenaeus.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    Dop (#43) – I’d like to see evidence of that. In the meantime, as I explain in http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/11/deprived-of-continuance-irenaeus-the-conditionalist/, Irenaeus clearly taught that whereas what he called “continuance,” “existence” and “length of days” will be granted to the saved “forever and ever,” those things would be justly deprived from the unsaved by God.

  • stuart

    @Adam #16
    “I don’t have time to go into a full explanation but I don’t see any evidence that humans are eternal.”

    The evidence is strongly that we are not eternal- at most semiternal! Even though we might live forever, we certainly have not existed forever. So we miss out on at least half of eternity. Blow- that was when all the interesting stuff went down- the big bang, expansion, condensing og galaxies, etc. I think the front half was the more interesting half!

  • Norman

    Taylor G #29,

    Your concern is granted but not entirely. I believe we have enough historical literature and history available to us to actually determine more concretely and robustly than is generally acknowledge or let onby “gatekeepers”. I think it is a propagated myth that the original church cannot be better understood. That idea is fostered by the church after 2000 years of confusion. However we are in an age of much more information available to us which should allow for more accurate investigations if we can get more independent minded scholars who are not encumbered with acquired historical baggage. You are seeing some of that with Fudge’s work.

  • http://www.waulkthisway.com Joshua Waulk

    @Scot: Actually, I have read the annihilationist’s position—it’s not that complicated—doesn’t require a PhD. I believe I mentioned John Stott in an earlier post, among other notables. I’ve simply concluded that annihilatiionism is no wrath at all—if I may, I find it, at best, to be a shrugging of God’s shoulders and an absolute escape from wrath for those who reject Christ. In fact, I find that it teeters on providing license for the lost to continue in their rebellion—again, if they consider the pleasures of this life worthy of the cost—then so be it.

    My sincere conclusion, and I believe I’m in good company here, is that there is ECT in a place we’ll call hell. I consider it to play *a part* in the message of the Gospel at large. I find that to remove it is to truncate and neuter the truth, and that’s a wager with people’s souls that I’m not willing to make.

    And if we’re seeking civility here, you ought to have asked me about my readings, rather than making assumptions.

  • Phil Miller

    Regarding wrath and God’s character, I think it’s worth mentioning that wrath in of itself is a very subjective thing. Sometimes we may feel like what we’re experiencing is wrath, but in reality, it could be a form of grace. I envision a toddler walking up to a hot stove with her hand outreached about to touch the hot burner. At the last second, he mother sees her and pulls her away quickly. She prevents the toddler getting badly burnt, but the act of pulling the toddler away may have slightly hurt or scared the child. From the kid’s perspective, that instance may feel something like punishment. But in reality, it was love, not the desire to punish that drove the mother to act.

  • phil_style

    @Joshua, In you comment, #37 there are so, so many assumptions about the nature of justice and the mathematics required to determine equality between punishment and mercy, or blessing that it reads to me to be more akin to the musings of a Buddhists karmic model.

    and what’s worse is that Christ suffered for no reason
    why does Christ need to suffer for a reason? Perhaps suffering is nonsensical? Perhaps suffering is evil. Perhaps Christ suffered at the hands of man, and not the hand of God?

    The punishment that Christ bore had to be commensurate with what awaits the unredeemed—anything less is unjust What a strange definition of Justice. Why must justice require suffering in exchange for suffering or offensive? What kind of model of justice is this? Are you suggesting that the suffering of Christ was infinite (in time and/or intensity)?

    Annihilationism falls short in compelling the unbeliever to repent—it neuters the compelling force of the cross and makes it a mockery. Why can one not repent without the threat of pain? Can I not repent out of love, when I see how loving He is? Do I not change when I see him, when I imitate Him? Do we become like Christ not because we are scared of Him, but because we love him?

    If you would rather be annihilated than be with Christ then fine. That is your prerogative, but for most of us the choice is clear.

  • http://www.waulkthisway.com Joshua Waulk

    @Phil: You made some unnecessary clarifications. I’m guessing that we can now agree that God is not a tribal deity who desires the appeasing work of blood sacrifices. What I thought we could agree on is the manner in which the sacrificial system of the OT pointed forward to the cross—that place where God would sacrifice His Messiah—where He would pour out His own Son’s blood for my sin and for your sin—and to the manner in which the sacrificial system foreshadowed what was to come. If God’s intended punishment for sin is annihilation, then again, it seems to me that the whole narrative of the cross is unnecessary—it becomes disconnected from what God *really* intends to do. And I see no justification for that.

  • jess

    Joshua, you are wrong. Your view of hell does not equal the gospel.

    Jesus = the gospel

    Also, I am sure that you have read some annihilationist literature. But I would encourage you to read a little bit more. Have you read Fudge’s book? The best thing to understand is not “what do critics of a position say about the postition” but “what do defenders of a position say about their own position”. Most of what you are saying sounds like like what critics of annihilationism say and not what actual annihilationsits say.

  • Kenton

    Joshua #37-

    “The punishment that Christ bore had to be commensurate with what awaits the unredeemed—anything less is unjust.”

    But I don’t think that’s consistent with your view. Do you believe Jesus is still writhing in hell?

  • Mark Edward

    #37, Joshua

    “If His punishment of sin is temporal (instantaneous, even), why not His blessing as well?”

    This is actually an entirely legitimate question to ask. It is one I commonly get when people learn I left behind the doctrine of eternal conscious torment. So the gist is this: ‘eternal’ is an adjective of not quantity (i.e. duration of the punishment), but quality (i.e. the purpose and place of that punishment). In the Greek of the NT, it is the word aionios, which is used as the common translation for the Hebrew word of the OT, olam. In either case, aionios or olam, there are many texts where those words simply cannot mean ‘lasting forever’. A most literal translation into English for either word would probably be ‘age’, but it depends on context. In one text, Abraham is said to have lived ‘olam’ ago… not in ‘eternity’ past, but in ‘ages’ past. In another text, Paul says that the mystery of the Gospel was kept secret for ‘aionios’… not for ‘eternity’, but for ‘ages’. (And in the very next sentence, he calls God ‘aionios’; within a single sentence, Paul uses the same word with a different definition!)

    Bringing this back, for example, when Jesus says in Matthew 25 that the punishment is ‘aionios’, he is not talking about how long the punishment lasts, but when it belongs. It is not ‘punishment [that lasts] forever’, it is ‘punishment of the age [to come]‘. The life given to the righteous is life of the age to come, and the punishment given to the wicked is punishment of the age to come.

    So, as you ask, if such a word can’t be used to demonstrate that the punishment is forever, why should we believe the life is forever? Because other Biblical texts explicitly state as much. Such as when Paul calls the life of the age to come ‘immortal’, that is, deathless. If the punishment is death (as ‘annihilationists’ propose), and the life is deathless… then the life is inherently unending and everlasting.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    “Do you believe Jesus is still writing in hell?”

    I’m sure Joshua will say no, and he’ll probably say something about how Jesus, as both divine and human, is capable of satisfying an eternity of wrath-induced suffering by suffering wrath for only a finite period of time. But as I explain in http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/08/cross-purposes-atonement-death-and-the-fate-of-the-wicked, that actually reflects a very dangerous position to hold, and the atonement is far more consistent with the final annihilation of the unsaved than it is with their eternal torment.

  • Percival

    Joshua #37,

    I’m really confused about some of your points and how you express them. I feel like I don’t speak your language, so I ask for your patience with those of us from other traditions. But I will try to briefly address your points by giving a different perspective on them, not by answering them directly.
    1) The OT sacrificial system can be seen as a blurry picture of the cross and not as the way to explain what happened on the cross. It is not a trade of this for that. Even in the OT it is clear that the blood of bulls and goats can never remove sin. The cross removes the sin, not just the punishment. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, not just the penalty for the sin. With this perspective, we can see beyond legal analogies of atonement that arise from a western perspective.
    2) It seems you are saying that the compelling force of the cross is lessened to the point of mockery if we do not hold to ECT. This seems … how to say it? … bizarre. Both sides agree that the wages of sin is death. Conditional immortality interprets that in a more straight forward way. It seems that if you want to prove that death is only the beginning of the consequences of death, the burden of proof is on your side.
    3) I don’t understand your third paragraph, but you said that the weight of God’s grace rests on our shoulders if we are redeemed. What an interesting image! I used to think of god’s grace as a sort of heavy weight. As if He was saying, “Look at all I’ve done for you, and this is the best you can do?!” I was relieved to find out that grace is not a weight. Grace means the lifting of the weight of sin, oppression, shame, and guilt.
    4) Finally, in your last paragraph you hold ECT and eternal life up as polar opposites. I think that this is a category mistake. Sometimes we imagine that darkness is the opposite of light. However, darkness is an absence of something. Light is something. In the same way, death is the absence of life, but life is actually something.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    “Bringing this back, for example, when Jesus says in Matthew 25 that the punishment is ‘aionios’, he is not talking about how long the punishment lasts, but when it belongs.”

    I think your point is fair, but I’ll again point out that it may, indeed, truly mean “everlasting” and yet still supports annihilationism. As I write in http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/06/eternal-punishment-and-the-polysemy-of-deverbal-nouns, when the word attaches to a noun of action, a deverbal noun, it often refers to the duration of the outcome or effect or consequence of the verb from which the noun derives. And so, just as the life of the saved will go on forever, so will the punishment of the unsaved. The lifelessness that is the outcome of the verb punish will last for eternity.

  • Phil Miller

    What I thought we could agree on is the manner in which the sacrificial system of the OT pointed forward to the cross—that place where God would sacrifice His Messiah—where He would pour out His own Son’s blood for my sin and for your sin—and to the manner in which the sacrificial system foreshadowed what was to come.

    Even if I were to agree with this statement, and actually I do mostly, there’s something I’ve never understood about those who are adamant in defending a PSA view of the atonement. If all of God’s wrath really was poured out on Jesus on the cross, then why do unbelievers face a future outpouring of God’s wrath? Most people respond with some sort of limited atonement argument, but I don’t buy that. If there’s one the NT is clear about it’s that what happened on the cross is for all people and for all time.

    In a roundabout way, I think a strict PSA view leads to universalism.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    “If there’s one the NT is clear about it’s that what happened on the cross is for all people and for all time.”

    Of course, those of us who are Reformed would adamantly disagree. I think if there’s one thing the NT is clear about it’s that what happened on the cross was not for everybody throughout all time but for those specific people who put their faith in Him.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    ^ And yet, despite being Reformed and fully affirming PSA, I think it’s all more consistent with annihilationism :)

  • Phil Miller

    Of course, those of us who are Reformed would adamantly disagree.

    Well, there’s one in every crowd… :-)

  • phil_style

    Does God really require “punishment” for Sin?
    If so, why would He require it?
    Under what kind of moral system does one bad turn deserve another?

    These are fundamental questions about the nature and purpose of justice. Why do we equate justice with metering out pain in exchange for pain? Why would God have the same mentality?

    Even if we accept that God’s economics of justice are based on some kind of quid-pro-quo with respect to pain, why does a finite human’s life of law breaking result in eternal pain? Is god’s offence (as if that was ever a good reason to hand out pain to other beings) so great the he cannot overcome it? Is he so fraught with rage?

  • Adam

    With all the discussion that happened around Rob Bell’s book and then Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle’s book. I’m kind of surprised this post is getting so many comments so quickly.

  • Kenton

    So to answer Scot’s questions:

    I fall pretty much into #2 that my understanding of God’s character is inconsistent with ECT. How that resolves (I’m closer to universalism than to annihilationism) is not as important as the question of whether the God one believes in really, really, really wants to kick your @$$.

    Like Phil Miller (#36), I grew up in the A/G, and was taught quite candidly about the reality of hell from pastors, church leaders and parents. In addition to fire, snakes and acid were two of the images conjured up to convey the reality of hell in my formative years. (And wouldn’t “Snakes and Acid” be a great name for a rock band?) I think being able to throw away other aspects of A/G theology has made it easier for me to consider ECT part of the bathwater. I evolved to a “Love Wins” view a few years before the book came out.

  • Adam

    @Phil_style #61

    I like your comments. I think I might add that True Justice includes forgiveness. Or maybe, Forgiveness is Just.

  • Kenton

    Adam (#62)-

    Never underestimate the power of this topic to generate opinions. :)

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    “With all the discussion that happened around Rob Bell’s book and then Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle’s book. I’m kind of surprised this post is getting so many comments so quickly.”

    Fans of Chan’s and Sprinkle’s book should listen to our interview with Preston Sprinkle who, although a traditionalist when the book was published, now leans heavily toward conditionalism. Part one is here: http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/09/episode-5-erasing-hell-with-preston-sprinkle

  • Kenton

    As a matter of fact, knowing nothing about the book beyond this post, I’m just stunned beyond description that anyone would be so presumptuous to write a book about hell subtitled “The Final Word”. Brian McLaren’s book was much better subtitled.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    Kenton, I believe the title alludes more to it being Fudge’s own final word on the matter.

  • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

    I immediately cringed at the title of this book. I hope “the final word” is some sort of pun or wordplay based on “logos” and the end times or something, and that he doesn’t literally believe his interpretation to be the ultimate statement of truth on the matter!

    1. Physical descriptions of hell are a metaphorical way of speaking about the indescribable spiritual/experiential absence of God. If God is Love, Peace, Rest, and Joy, then Hell is a creative and visceral description of what it might be like to be without these things. If God is “Shalom” then Hell is the felt lack of shalom. In other it is pointless to describe hell as fumigated with burning brimstone if the listener/reader doesn’t know what that is.

    2. The Hebrew word sometimes translated as “eternity” (olam) does not imply the same literal sense of an actually existing endless future and past (or “forever”) as we think of it today. In modern times we talk of “eternity” as if we can grasp what this means, as if we are sure that there is such a thing as “forever” and that we are progressing steadily along its unending line. In ancient times though “eternity” (olam) meant something closer to “beyond what can be seen or imagined.” “Olam” is moreso a comment on how little we can see from our limited vantage point than an actually existing infinity of time. Imagine yourself standing on great plain extending to the horizon in every direction, 360 degrees around you. The great plain may or may not be all there is, but it is all that you can see. This is Olam.

    3. Imagine yourself in that field again. You look over the emptiness and decide that what you long for–happiness, fullfilment, etc.–must lie beyond that horizon. So you start running, but the horizon endlessly receeds ahead of you. You run faster; pushing people out of your way, perhaps stealing a motorcycle, but the horizon receeds even faster. Maybe you’re going the wrong direction! you change course and head for the other horizon. Same deal. The earth is round. You could run forever in any direction and never find what lays beyond the horizon. Always desiring, always chasing, never grasping.

    This is Hell. The weary legs, the stitch in your side, the bruised feet, the hurt expressions in the eye of people you’ve thrown aside, there is no punishment for the eternal chasing except the natural fruits of the eternal chasing itself. Eternal conscious torment.

    Christianity tries to often to tell people that they are running in the wrong direction, running straight towards hell, and say “follow me! Salvation is beyond THIS horizon, not that one!” in aching denial of their own throbbing feet.

    What road leads to heaven? Stillness. Looking at the horizons all around, feeling the emptiness, but having faith that nothing lies beyond them. To just BE, wherever it is that you are. To be with others who are there. To give up your own stillness to run along side them if they won’t stop. Smell the flowers together. Wander the field together.

    Heaven is simply to stand still on the face of eternity. On the globe of eternity there is no past present or future. Hell is real and is eternal, but peace, love, and rest are always available for those who have the faith to find fulfillment in the act of giving up desiring it.

  • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

    Sorry, meant to say “no past or future, only present” not “past present or future”

  • Kenton

    Wow, Chris(#67)! I’ll have to check that out! Preston jumped in on the convo here when Scot blogged through it, and something about it made me wonder if he was really “all in” on the traditionalist view!

    Yep, annihilationism seems like a good first step on the road to universalism. :)

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    “Yep, annihilationism seems like a good first step on the road to universalism.”

    I don’t see why. When one sees how clearly and consistently the Scriptures teach that the risen wicked will be permanently and irreversibly destroyed, I don’t see how that’s a step in the direction of universalism.

    Sure, I can see how one’s imposition of emotional responses to the traditional view or to philosophical speculation about justice upon the Scripture could first lead one to annihilationism, and then eventually to universalism. But when it’s based entirely on exegesis, as is the case with me and many other annihilationists, there’s no risk of it leading to universalism.

  • Percival

    Kenton 71,
    Not the slippery slope again!

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    Me: “permanently and irreversibly destroyed”

    I guess that’s redundant :S

  • http://www.waulkthisway.com Joshua Waulk

    My friends (Scot,Phil M, Phil S, Percival, Chris Date, and anyone else I’ve missed),

    This dialogue is in many ways wonderful and enlightening. I mean that. It’s good–at least parts of it are, anyway. We do well to pour over the Scriptures and mine them for truth (there is objective truth left in this world, I hope). I’m a lover of theological discussion. But, clearly, the issue will not be settled here today—not between us. And when it is, we could just move on to, oh, limited atonement, I think someone mentioned. Or, how about whether atonement is even a legitimate, biblical category, as someone else suggested. Or, how about how many angels can dance on the head of a needle? And then infra or supra lapsarianism. It never ends.

    I’m wondering, am I the only one who after a session of back and forth feels the need to shut my mouth and bow my head before God, and ask, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner?”

    I could just as well concede every single point here today to those of you who ascribe to an annihilationist view, and still, my mission in this life wouldn’t changed one bit—to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. To introduce the lost to our resurrected King is my only mission. If I convinced every one of you of my position (yea, right?) but introduced *no one* to Christ, preached not salvation by grace alone through faith alone to those who haven’t heard, but instead sat around trying to convince a bunch of theologians and bloggers that hell is real by Greek and Hebrew parsings while the lost perish to “something” or “nothing” or “the absence of light” or whatever you prefer, I’d consider my ministry a complete failure.

    As it stands, my day thus far is certainly worthy of repentance.

    Annihilationism wins. Now what?

    Blessings to you all.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    “I’m wondering, am I the only one who after a session of back and forth feels the need to shut my mouth and bow my head before God, and ask, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner?” ”

    Well, I would wholeheartedly concur that we need to ask God to be merciful toward us, and let Him be the One who knows all, unlike us. Why that means we must shut our mouths (any of us, including you) escapes me. So long as we’re doing so respectfully (which we all sometimes fail to do), I think dialogue like this is vital, concerning any biblical topic. God wants us as the Church to understand what His Word reveals, and to deliberate over it, sharpening one another as iron sharpens iron. With that in mind, I think conversations like this are quite important.

    “If I convinced every one of you of my position (yea, right?) but introduced *no one* to Christ…I’d consider my ministry a complete failure.”

    I absolutely agree. I don’t see, however, why they’re mutually exclusive.

    “Annihilationism wins. Now what?”

    We thank God for helping us to see where we were wrong, and we add a vital tool to our apologetic toolchest, showing skeptics that their objection to Christianity based on the traditional view of hell is unfounded. For one.

  • Taylor G

    Dopderbeck, Hoping you don’t forget that Chris asked for evidence regarding Irenaeus. Where does this one stand?

  • Percival

    Joshua #75,
    Our shortcomings, like impatience and pushiness, are to be disciplined in our interaction with our brothers and sisters. We bear one another’s burdens and we bear with each other as we walk the path. Avoidance of conflict and a minimization of differences is not a way to grow. After all, if Jacob could wrestle with God and was honored by receiving a new name from God, can’t we also wrestle with each other as a holy exercise?

  • David Dollins

    Here is the link to an article I wrote for the Christian Post about 2 years ago, a letter written to Rob Bell…Hell is Real. http://blogs.christianpost.com/bibleprophecy/to-rob-bell-and-mars-hill-bible-church-hell-is-real-7067/

  • Kenton

    Chris (#72)-

    1. I was yanking your chain. I probably should have put the “wink” emoticon in, instead of the “smile.”

    2. I have to believe that the rhetoric in your comment is almost exactly the same as those who embrace ECT would respond to your conditionalist view. (“A careful exegesis of scripture shows how obvious ECT is.” “The scriptures clearly and consistently show that the unrepentant will be forever tortured.”) Well, just as you can read scripture through conditionist glasses and see the light go on about how God annihilates the unrepentant, you can read scripture through universalist glasses and see the light go on about how God “leaves the gates open” for everyone.

    3. Like I said in 63. I think the dividing line is not between conditionalism and universalism. I think it’s between ECT, and the rest of us.

    BTW, I’m about 2/3 through the first part of the FC interview. Good listening. Well done.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    “Hoping you don’t forget that Chris asked for evidence regarding Irenaeus. Where does this one stand?”

    Thanks, Taylor. As I explain in the article I linked to, people will typically point to Irenaeus’ simple repetitions of phrases in Scripture like “unquenchable fire” and “eternal fire” as evidence that he believed in ECT. And yet, as I explain, we annihilationists make a compelling case that those phrases are actually better support for annihilationism. One cannot simply look at places where Ireneaus or any other Father quote Scripture and say that settles the case. But in the portion I analyze in the article, he speaks using his own words, saying existence, continuance and length of days will be deprived from the unsaved. I don’t see how it can be any clearer.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    Kenton (#80),

    “I was yanking your chain. I probably should have put the “wink” emoticon in, instead of the “smile.””

    Fair enough :)

    “I have to believe that the rhetoric in your comment is almost exactly the same as those who embrace ECT would respond to your conditionalist view….Well, just as you can read scripture through conditionist glasses and see the light go on about how God annihilates the unrepentant, you can read scripture through universalist glasses and see the light go on about how God “leaves the gates open” for everyone.”

    I don’t agree. I actually think that annihilationism results from taking off one’s glasses, rather than reading text through a lens, which is the case with traditionalism and universalism. But more importantly, if what you say is, in fact, legitimate support for the contention that annihilationism is a step in the direction of universalism, then you’re forced to the say the same is true of traditionalism. AFter all, just as you can read Scripture through traditionalist glasses and see the light go on about how God eternally torments the unrepentant, you can read Scripture through universalist glasses and see the light go on about how God “leaves the gates open” for everyone. I suppose if you want to say that traditionalism is equally a step in the direction of universalism, I will be less likely to object.

    “Like I said in 63. I think the dividing line is not between conditionalism and universalism. I think it’s between ECT, and the rest of us.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by that. I will say that I am looking forward to the day when evangelicals uniformly reject the traditional view of hell, because it’s very clearly unbiblical and I think the debate needs to begin to seriously take place between conditionalists and universalists. That’s the future of the debate over hell, in my humble opinion.

    “BTW, I’m about 2/3 through the first part of the FC interview. Good listening. Well done.”

    Do you mean Preston Sprinkle?

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    David (#82),

    With all due respect, that you would begin by pointing to Lazarus and the rich man in support of the traditional view. The scene, whether parabolic or to be taken literally, takes place in Hades, the intermediate state, not hell, the place of final punishment. Humans will be resurrected out of the intermediate state, and so what takes place there is irrelevant to the discussion over final punishment. http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/06/lazarus-and-the-rich-man-its-not-about-final-punishment

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    I meant, “that you would begin by pointing to Lazarus and the rich man in support of the traditional view” casts serious doubt on the quality of the piece.

  • David

    Me, I’m a respectful universalist who has some pretty serious reverence for the justice and holiness of God. I find the hell of modern eternal torment to more closely match pagan ideas about Infernum, but hey, it’s not an issue I turn away from fellowship over.

  • Luke Allison

    Here’s my bottom line(s):
    1. Jesus’ words about Gehenna had cultural meaning and weight in the 1st Century that often get ignored in discussions of “hell.”
    2. The word “Hell” with all its medievial and modern cultural baggage, is absent from the Scriptures.
    3. Any discussion of Jesus’ statements of judgment in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats that ignores the rather obvious message of those parables (neglecting poor people leads to judgment, a sentiment expressed thousands of times in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament) is exegetically unsound and probably not worth listening to. Even Tim Keller falls into this trap.
    4. Unless we’re willing to deal with what the text actually says, in its ancient context with all the cultural and religious baggage attached, I think we should shut up about peoples’ afterlife destinations. That is to say: If our understanding of the afterlife reflects the traditional formulation of “accept Jesus or burn,” we haven’t really done the work with the text that is required.
    5. Scot’s whole King Jesus Gospel project, I think, puts this entire conversation in an interesting perspective. What do you do when you don’t have the rhetorical leverage that hell gives you? Why, you have to talk about Jesus and explain the whole nuanced story of Israel that the Scriptures give us. Imagine that!

  • David Dollins

    Chris – Totally disagree with you. Traditional view doesn’t mean its a wrong view. It just means you don’t agree with it.

  • Kenton

    Christ (#83)-

    Yes, I did mean Preston Sprinkle.

    Everybody wears glasses. Everybody. Wears. Glasses.

    Sure you could say that if just changing glasses were all that was required then taking off annihilationist glasses and putting on ECT glasses could be the first step in eventually taking those off and putting on universalist glasses, but I don’t think it ever really works out that way. ECT is not called “traditionalism” without reason: it *is* the default starting point. I’ve also found that universalism can be a bit distasteful for those entrenched in the traditional view, so jumping straight to universalism is not an easy leap. (Interestingly, my path didn’t so much wander through annihilationism as it did through inclusivism.)

    What I mean by the dividing line remark is exactly what you said in your last paragraph. I heartily say amen to it. And when we do debate conditionalism and universalism, I’ll be less concerned about my side winning, and I’ll just be happy that we’ve moved beyond a “God wants to kick your @$$” mentality.

  • Brian

    I think the most important dividing line is whether all of mankind lives forever. I believe the first few chapters of Genesis settles that question. The only one saying that you’ll live and not die was the serpent, on the other hand there is death as a result of eating the forbidden fruit and the denial of access to the tree of life.
    This line separates the conditionalist from the rest of the pack.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    David (#87),

    “Chris – Totally disagree with you. Traditional view doesn’t mean its a wrong view. It just means you don’t agree with it.”

    Actually, you’ve disagreed with nothing I’ve said. At least you haven’t told me anything with which I disagree. Of course traditional view doesn’t make it a wrong view. However, your attempted support for it using Lazarus and the rich man IS wrong, for, as I explained in that comment and in the article I linked to, the scene takes place in Hades, which is the intermediate state of the dead, from which all mankind will one day rise. Whatever takes place there tells us nothing about final punishment.

  • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

    Reading through all this, I see a couple themes I want to comment on briefly.

    First, I keep seeing comments pitting “emotional” responses against exegetical/rational “Truth.” Why are my emotions to be mistrusted? To those of you accusing proponents of other views of being driven by emotions I would like to tell a brief story. As a kid my friends and I were often bullied by an older student after school. He was way bigger and way more aggressive than any of us and would interrupt our hockey games by stealing the puck and trying to start fights for no reason. His parents were alcoholics and he pretty much just wandered where he pleased–alone–after school every day. A few years after I graduated he smashed his car head on into a free while driving drunk. With all my heart I long to see him again in heaven, embrace him, tell him I forgive him, and most of all assure him that he is loved.

    My question: to what do you accredit this desire? Selfish emotionalism or the Holy Spirit of Christ?

    As for me, there is no doubt in my mind that my Jesus is not less merciful, loving, and forgiving than I am. The bully who beat me up for no reason will be annihilated, but I will meet the real Jeremy there– as a friend.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    Nate (#90),

    Speaking for myself, I don’t think emotions are irrelevant, but I certainly think they’re less trustworthy than the objective Word of God. We’re called to subject our emotions to Scripture, not the other way around.

  • David Dollins

    Chris – So…Because it’s Hades, we get to see how God temporarily punishes people for a little while before he annihilates them. And you thnk THAT makes better sense? Really?

  • Phil Miller

    I’m wondering, am I the only one who after a session of back and forth feels the need to shut my mouth and bow my head before God, and ask, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner?”

    I don’t know, I don’t think anyone has been disrespectful or hateful in this conversation. Certainly I will always hope that I’m able to admit that I’m the chief of sinners, and I cry out for mercy with anyone.

    But I don’t find this conversation useless or a waste of time. For one thing, it’s something that people do want to talk about. I’m not in any official ministerial role at the present, but when I was this came up quite a bit with college students I oversaw. I think it’s important because how we answer this question reveals so much about what we think of the character of God, the Gospel, and so many other things.

    I’m actually quite OK to my opinions on this issue being something that I hold lightly to. The problem is, from my perspective, though, there are other Christians who say that’s not an option. If I don’t adopt their position, the Gospel itself is at stake. And honestly, that gets stuck in my craw. I believe one can be a totally passionate evangelist, missionary, or pastor and hold a view like inclusivism or universalism. And, actually, if you talked to some of the people doing this sort of work, you might be surprised as to how many don’t hold the “traditional” view.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    Brian (#89),

    “I think the most important dividing line is whether all of mankind lives forever. I believe the first few chapters of Genesis settles that question.”

    Indeed it does. Traditionalists typically respond in one or both of two ways. First, they’ll say Adam and Eve didn’t physically die the day they ate the fruit, and so must have died in some other sense, the sense in which the risen wicked, who will live physically forever, will be dead. But this is a misunderstanding of the sentence of death under which Adam and Eve fell the day they ate the fruit. Death became a reality for them at that moment; they entered into death, began dying. Dr. Robert Taylor explains this well in his book, Rescue From Death.

    Second, they’ll sometimes try to deny that the risen wicked will, in fact, live forever. But of course this only happens when they’re challenged on the myriad ways in which Scripture denies that they will. Until challenged on that point, they openly and frequently say things like “everyone lives forever, either in heaven or in hell.” How telling.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    David (#93),

    “Chris – So…Because it’s Hades, we get to see how God temporarily punishes people for a little while before he annihilates them. And you thnk THAT makes better sense? Really?”

    As Christians we’re not called to engage in philosophical speculation, as you’re doing. The Scripture expresses explicitly that whether men are conscious in the intermediate state, they will rise out of Hades, and Hades itself will come to an end. If we’re serious students of the Word, we don’t engage in philosophical speculation saying that if people are consciously punished in the intermediate state that they therefore must exprience conscious punishing for eternity after the intermediate state comes to a permanent end.

  • Phil Miller

    I believe trying to turn the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus into a story regarding the nature of hell is missing the point of the story. I don’t think Jesus was trying tell us exactly what the afterlife would like, but rather, He was trying to tell us that the Kingdom works different than we expect. Those who are assumed they are favored by God are often those at most risk for judgment.

  • http://tomlarsen.org Thomas Larsen

    Conditionalism is compatible with the idea that the lost suffer as they are destroyed.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    Oh, but Phil, don’t you know? The fact that real names are used means it can’t be a parable! :)

  • Brian

    Chris (95)
    That’s am interesting point, I have heard it preach from the pulpit,” when Jesus was asked on how to get eternal life, he ‘should’ have replied that we all have eternal life depends on where you want to spend it”

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    Brian (#99),

    That’s a fair point. In many ways Jesus and the authors of the New Testament repeatedly tell us that the alternative to living forever is to perish, and yet traditionalists want us to believe that everybody will live forever. Of course, they will go on to argue that “eternal life” does not actually mean living forever; it means knowing God and the One whom He sent (John 17:3), it refers to a particular quality of life. Oy vey.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    Incidentally, it is not at all clear that Jesus is *defining* “eternal life” to mean “knowing God.” He may be saying that eternal life *entails* knowing God and the One Whom He sent, or it may mean that eternal life is the *result* of knowing God and the One Whom He sent. Besides, when the traditionalist argues in this fashion he cuts off the proverbial branch upon which he’s sitting, for if “eternal life” is defined by a quality of life, rather than a quantity, then they have no basis for arguing against annihilationism on the grounds of Matthew 25:46!

  • David Dollins
  • NateW

    Joshua – No, you are not the only one. I really appreciate your candor. I don’t see your last post as avoiding conflict, as a couple others seem to. You’ve recognized and pointed out something I’ve been thinking about too. When it comes to speaking about God, there is always a poverty of words.

    I recently spent most of a weekend, backpacking with my Dad, discussing/debating theology. Trying to change his mind on points that I was raised with but have come to think differently about. I felt empty afterwards.

    What a waste of words we hide behind.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    David (#102),

    I’ve read Hell Under Fire, and it’s probably one of the best defenses of the traditional view out there. Of course, it’s still abysmal and easily refuted, but yeah that’s the book I would encourage people to read for the best traditionalism has got.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    NateW (#103),

    “What a waste of words we hide behind.”

    So am I to understand that you’re saying we as believers are wasting time trying to understand together what it is the Bible teaches on some topics?

  • Luke Allison

    David Dollins,

    “Traditional view doesn’t mean its a wrong view. It just means you don’t agree with it.”

    Fair enough. But I also believe that the traditional view intentionally overlooks and/or reinterprets the common understandings of judgment and the afterlife found in 1st Century cultural settings. Isn’t that the point of exegesis? To understand what the text says in context? Doesn’t that include cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and socio-political context? And if indeed that is true, wouldn’t that mean that the traditional view is just sort of wrong, despite the fact that millions of people subscribe to it?

    Hear me: I’m not saying that the notion of divine judgment is wrong or fabricated. It’s clearly in the Scriptures. I’m saying the rhetorical parameters placed on this message are wrong and misguided.
    Again, you have to deal with Gehenna in the 1st Century. You have to deal with common Jewish understandings of the afterlife and judgment. You have to deal with Jesus’ 1st century audience rather than universalizing everything he says in the Synoptics. After doing so, I honestly have no idea how the traditional soterian gospel formulation still carries any weight whatsoever.

  • David Dollins

    I highly recommend this book http://www.amazon.com/Hell-Under-Fire-Scholarship-Punishment/dp/0310240417 as a starting point. It appears to many that much is getting re-defined today. And this is one topic that is.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    I also recommend that people interested in the best scholarship traditionalism has to offer check out Hell Under Fire. Then check out the many conditionalist responses that demonstrate the poor quality of the argumentation represented even in that book, including Edward Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes and others. I would add that http://www.rethinkinghell.com has a number of great resources.

  • Luke Allison

    David Dollins,
    I’ve read it, and used to be in agreement with guys like Keller. I can’t anymore.
    How is doing exegesis and pointing out rather obvious things (like the fact that the word “hell” with all its 21st century cultural baggage and images isn’t in the Bible?) redefining anything?

    Actually, if the 1st Century context is to be taken into account, wouldn’t it be “redefining” to push something that isn’t in the text into the text? So isn’t it completely redefining to translate “Gehenna” “hell” when the two words have very little correlation in the 21st century? This isn’t that difficult….it’s pretty basic exegesis.

  • Phil Miller

    An interesting book I read last year is Universalism: The The Prevailing Doctrine Of The Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years (http://www.amazon.com/Universalism-Prevailing-Doctrine-Christian-Hundred/dp/1165797968/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1354566714&sr=8-2&keywords=universalism). I don’t agree with all the assertions the author makes, but it’s interesting that even in 1899, people were having almost these same conversations.

  • Luke Allison

    Phil Miller,

    That, I think, is the point of all my argumentation. The picture presented by someone like David Dollins is that “in the beginning” there was a clear and precise teaching on the subjects of hell in the afterlife. Then the Scripture-twisters began doing what they do. Now we have confusion.
    This simply cannot be considered a realistic viewpoin, in my opinion.

  • NateW

    Chris Date (100-101) I appreciate your reminder that we not tie down definitions too rigidly. This is what I was trying to get at in my analogy (post 69). Eternity always extends only to the bounds of what we can see in the present moment. There very literally is NO past or future. Life lived NOW is eternal life. Rejecting life NOW is eternal death. Wherever we each find ourselves tomorrow at 4:45p.m. this will still be precisely true. Grace covers all that we perceive as past. Promise covers all that we perceive as potential futures. The present is ours to rest in. Eternally.

    Live in every moment out of Love for those you have the power to influence.

    To discuss the specifics of Hell to this extent shows that we are merely chasing after the wind, striving for the horizon, trying be sure that what lies beyond is secure. To worry about what hell will be like after death is to live in the future. It is to forsake the present, to leave those near us subject to the PRESENT fires of the future hell we pontificate. “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”

    The Truth is that there is nothing beyond HERE and NOW. FOREVER.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    NateW (#113),

    “To discuss the specifics of Hell to this extent shows that we are merely chasing after the wind, striving for the horizon, trying be sure that what lies beyond is secure. To worry about what hell will be like after death is to live in the future. It is to forsake the present, to leave those near us subject to the PRESENT fires of the future hell we pontificate. “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.””

    I respectfully disagree. To suggest that we are called to ignore portions of the Bible and not discuss them with one another in an attempt to sharpen one another seems to me to be pretty self-evidently absurd. Now, I think we need to have that discussion charitably, and I think we mustn’t have that discussion to the exclusion of more important issues. But to pit having the discussion against more important work, as if the two were mutually exclusive, is plainly wrong.

  • http://www.afterlife.co.nz Tarnya Wessels

    Rob Dunbar (4) “My own question on annihilationism is whether a spirit, having been brought into existence, then dies. Is eternal existence part of the nature of a spirit? I tend to think so; but I also think anything we say one way or the other on that is speculation.” You might be interested in http://www.afterlife.co.nz/2012/bible/spirit-in-man/ which addresses some of the issues you are raising from a conditionalist perspective.
    This Sunday just gone Matt Flannagan spoke on the Rich Man and Lazarus
    http://takaninichurch.wordpress.com/2012/12/02/luke-1619-31-matt-flannagan/ I think he raising an interesting point about being accountable for what we do know.

  • http://www.straightplow.com Seth Roach

    I notice there doesn’t seem to be any mention of the books people have written describing their visits to hell. Perhaps some have mentioned it but not sure. I think a lot of people that have read these books base there view or belief in hell and what it is like on these types of “eye witness” accounts. Similarly, the same can be said about the discussion on heaven and what that is like. Many people base their views on so called visits to heaven. Perhaps they have happened for some but the point is these types of eye witness accounts hold a lot of weight for people and shape the way they read the scriptures or reshape the way they read the scriptures on these topics. I would love to hear this brought into the conversation and would be interested how much of an effect this has or has had on peoples views.

  • NateW

    Chris Date (106)
    “So am I to understand that you’re saying we as believers are wasting time trying to understand together what it is the Bible teaches on some topics?”

    Not at all. I love talking about theology with friends (and strangers) and believe that good discussion is essential to community in Christ, but I have found in myself (and subsequently seen in others) the tendency to carve idols from my own intellectual understanding. That is, we equate knowledge to Truth and in so doing make “right theology” our idolatrous road to salvation.

    To go back to my analogy above, “right theology” or “right belief” is always just beyond the horizon. I think “If I can just get this all figured out I’ll finally be at peace.” I drown myself in books, and blogs, and audiobooks because it’s soothing to feel like I understand, like I KNOW God. I spent the whole weekend debating with my Dad, but never really talked about anything that actually meant anything.

    If 1000 angels with 1000 tongues can never fully sing the praises of God, then I could easily spend my whole life pursuing “right theology” but in the end know nothing about God except vague approximations. Even if I had my theology “right” right now, I could speak it for the rest of my life and communicate nothing but vague approximations.

    Yet, in one moment of humble love, I can resurrect the fullness of Christ into a hungry soul.

    Our actions show us what our theology really is, not our beliefs, which are only shadows and reflections of God within our subjective experience. Love is concrete and objectively True.

  • NateW

    Sorry guys. I didn’t mean to belittle this discussion. I’m not trying to say that we should ignore scripture and avoid discussion of tough topics. I firmly feel like the absence of freedom to do this is one of the biggest obstacles the church faces today.

    Just trying to say that, in the end, I sometimes also feel convicted that my energies are so focused on “knowing” and imparting that knowledge to others that I forget that the point of it all is to “spur each other on to love and good deeds.” (Heb. 10:24). I struggle to remember that Theology is about how to do this better, not about how to intellectually figure God out.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    Seth (#116),

    “I notice there doesn’t seem to be any mention of the books people have written describing their visits to hell. Perhaps some have mentioned it but not sure.”

    No one has visited hell. At best, they have visited Hades, the intermediate state, where many Christians believe disembodied souls continue to exist consciously after the death of the body. Hell, on the other hand, is the place of final punishment after the general resurrection.

  • Phil Miller

    No one has visited hell.

    To the contrary, Hell is quite the tourist destination… http://www.michigan.org/city/hell/ :-)

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    I stand corrected! :)

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    By the way, a traditionalist scholar just today posted this article in which he commends our site to his readers: http://thoughtstheological.com/should-we-rethink-hell/

  • Luke Allison

    Chris #122

    Here’ a quote from this article that illustrates exactly what I’m talking about:

    “Hell was prominent in the teaching of Jesus, so it is rather surprising how seldom we hear the word in evangelical churches.”

    This is simply not a true statement. “Hell” as the 21st century Western World understands the concept was most definitely NOT prominent in the teachings of Jesus. This is the constant restated “fact” that I’ve heard as a primary argument from the traditionalist camp repeated into eternity (and it’s never annihilated, as far as I know!). I want us as Christians to address this statement intelligently but forcefully. It’s sounds so authoritative to say “Jesus said this more than anyone!” But it’s potentially very misleading. I might even go so far as to say it’s deceitful, although I wouldn’t imply that every person who says it is intentionally trying to be deceitful.

  • mark

    I just want to say thank you for the article and the very enlightening comments that followed. There are some really good and helpful points here, some even going beyond the topic at hand.

    I brought up the *possibility* of annihilationism once in an SBC Sunday School class. Then I got a counseling session from the senior pastor and basically told that the SBC has concluded ECT and I should just accept it. I recall feeling stupid for being duped into such an obvious lie (as I was led to believe it was at the time). I’ve moved on from SBC and hadn’t given this topic much more thought.

    Since Rob Bell’s Love Wins release, I’ve seen how developed the various views are on hell and I appreciate the dialog here as an example of honestly seeking to understand what the Scriptures have to say to us today.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    Luke (#123),

    I don’t principly disagree with you, that “hell” as an English word and how it is typically understood is definitely not prominent in the teachings of Jesus. But I think that’s kind of pedantic, if I’m being honest. We annihilationists are often quite comfortable with the word “hell” (some exceptions notwithstanding), but we believe the nature of the punishment that takes place there is markedly different than what traditionalists propose. And with that in mind, I absolute do think the final execution of the wicked is prominent in the teachings of Jesus.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    Maybe I missed it but I have not really seen anyone yet lay out what a first century Jewish perspective is on this issue.

  • Luke Allison

    CGC,

    That’s what I’m trying to bring up.

    Chris,

    I agree that conditional immortality is a more “biblical” understanding of judgment than ECT. But when the average person sees the phrase “Jesus talked more about hell than anyone” they assume things that are not true, because the standard starting point for the notion of “hell” is not 1st century Jewish apocalyptic literature, but Dante’s Inferno/Hollywood/etc.

    Here’s my point: when you say “hell” you mean something drastically different than a traditionalist does. Even the saying “The final execution of the wicked” is drastically different than the traditional sentiment.

    I think you and I both know that “Gehenna” in 1st century context is far more nuanced than “a cavern under the ground/eternal location where people who don’t accept Jesus as personal savior go for eternity.”

    I don’t think it’s pedantic to say that traditionalists have an entire bevy of assumptions and theological notions packaged up with the word “hell.”

  • Joris

    Well, I visited hell and I guess I’m one of the few who can testify. It happened some three years ago due to some serious faults I did in my personal life. I wasn’t an active believer then (although I was raised as a catholic). During the night I was attacked by something that looked like a giant black cobra snake (the serpent) and this attack was so strong I couldn’t even move, it was as 10 tons of weight was upon me. I felt the dreadful energies of hell, icecold and at the same time burning hot. This fight against pure evil continued throughout the night and in the morning I had a burning wound at my right side (confirmed by a medical doctor). So people hell (and demons and satan) is as real as heaven is. It’s not a ‘theology’ or a ‘belief’ it’s reality and I experienced it. The most horrible thing I ever went through in my life. After that I committed my sins, became a ‘believer’ accepted Jesus as my Saviour and Redeemer and visited regurlarly an evangelical church in Belgium. I don’t see it as a punishment of a loving God, but if we drift too far off from his eternal rules we give ourselves to the prince of this world, Satan, who wants to destroy us and keep us away from this loving Father. So people, stay close to God so you may never experience what I did, these hellish pains are really unbearable, i don’t wish this even not for my worst enemy!

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Hell, this is some thread :)

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    CGC (#126),

    Dr. Preston Sprinkle and Francis Chan do that in Erasing Hell, if only briefly, and Dr. Sprinkle mentioned it when we interviewed him. All three major views existed among first century Jews.

  • http://www.rethinkinghell.com Chris Date

    Luke (#127),

    I hear what you’re saying, and perhaps you’re right.

  • Luke Allison

    Anyway, I’m not being super crazy and outside the box here. This is nearly the exact position that NT Wright puts forward in Jesus and the Victory of God and Surprised by Hope.

    The main point is: When people reject the notion of Hell, they are often rejecting a caricature.

  • Norman

    Luke,

    Now you know why its so hard to get folks to focus on a first century and 2T understanding. You have to have a certain amount of background to join the discussion; otherwise you debate from emotion and preacher stories that keep the flock in line. ;-) Scare them a lot and they will trust the Preacher who has a nice incentive to keep the status quo propgated.

  • Patrick

    I don’t think “hell” is a literal place/destination. I can’t make up my mind whether annihilation or a form of universalism is what the bible is driving at, good cases for both.

  • Peter McKenzie

    I sometimes struggle to make sense of the line of reasoning whereby traditionalists talk about the eternal life/death passages to use as proof, that since eternal life is ongoing and everlasting, that eternal death must, by implication, mean that eternal death is also ongoing and everlasting. In the language of all people groups, there are boundaries and limitations. When God communicates he does so in a way that He knows that we will understand what he means. Since we are constrained to “life on this earth” examples are limited to what we know to be true, and to the hear and now. This is a foundation that He knows he can rely on to bring us understanding. He knows that we know that He knows what we know – if you will :) As a result, since we are all illiterate when it comes to words and expressions to describe a place we have not yet inhabited (heaven), He is restricted in his descriptive arsenal of what will happen to the fate of the wicked – that restriction being the limited storehouse of words and expressions that we know and understand.

    Therefore, when he compares eternal life and eternal death, by implication it has to be acknowledged and accepted by us, that we will be true to our respective languages – and the grammatical use thereof. Subsequently, if He compares earthly life/earthly death, to eternal life/eternal death, it shouldn’t take a huge academic broo-ha-ha to determine that, as life goes on while we are on earth, life goes on while we are in eternity – only eternally or everlastingly so. Likewise, as death implies finality on earth, it should also (since He is using analogy as a teaching tool) stand to reason that eternal death means death that is eternally final.

    Another way to argue my point is to talk about “ainos”, but I think (for the non-Greek scholars) it is just as clear to say that the word “eternal” is an adjective meaning “of eternity”. I was at a point where I was 99% of the way there (as to adhering to conditional immortality), but the 2Thess 1:9 verse was tripping me up. The penny dropped for me when I was willing to ditch the pre-conceived baggage I was bringing to the text, and let the word “everlasting” not have to necessarily mean “without end”. At that moment, I thought, “what if the “everlasting” adjective is better fitted to “result or outcome” than to “duration?” (I also asked myself how it was possible that something could be in the process of destruction but never destruct? And if it was ongoing, why, if it was ongoing, why was it not called eternal punishing instead of punishment? I mean basic grammar in every other piece of literature requires that we be grammatically un-nonsensical) Once that final stumbling block was overcome, it was easy to lean upon the overwhelming amount of textual evidence that favours death/destruction/perish/blot out/vanish etc. I should mention here, also, that I was at once at peace. For I had discarded a belief system that I had carried for almost 30 years – one that (I believe) severely impugns the character of God and I immediately felt that I now carried a fuller, more integrous and more consistent expression of the gospel.

    Sorry for being wordy and overly simplistic in all this, but I think we can keep our biblical sanity if we use words and terms according to their face value. Or, as Edward Fudge says, we can let words say what they want to mean. Eternal death does not then have to mean something like, “eternally living whilst being kept alive in a place that is designed to extinguish you – but is not quite doing its job”.

    “The wages of sin is death. The lake of fire is the second death. …Be afraid of him who can destroy body and soul in hell.”

  • http://www.theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

    I grew up in the RCC where hell was rarely mentioned. But I’ve noticed in the last few years that I’m seeing a lot of churches which list “eternal concious torment” for non-believers very explicitly in their statements of beliefs. I don’t know if this is becoming more prevalent or if I’m just noticing it more. I find it strange that this completely non-essential teaching would be listed so prominently. Does it really matter to one’s walk or salvation if the torment is concious or not?!?

    I dove deep into this issue some years ago and came away convinced by a biblical universalism which teaches that hell is real. That hell is a place of suffering. That hell is not permanent. Reasons for this are many, but from a strictly biblical standpoint the reasons are:

    1. Hell is described as having aionian duration. Elsewhere in the bible and in other Greek writings, this refers to an indeterminent, but not eternal amount of time. For example, Jonah is said to be in the fish for “aion” – 3 days. The word gets translated as anything from eternal to world to age to never to old in English versions. I think this indicates how difficult it is to argue that it must mean eternal when referring to hell. OTOH, simply translating it as “age” or “of the age” or “age-long” works in all cases.

    2. Jesus uses the phrase “aionian kolasin”, not “adialeiptos timoria” as both the Pharisees and Essenes are recorded as using. From many Greek sources we know that the word “kolasin” indicates chastisement meant for correction. The word “timoria” means punishment with no concern for correction. It is done for wrath’s sake. The use of adialeiptos is further evidence that aion/aionian should not be read as eternal – adialeiptos always means eternal or everlasting, unlike aion. I think the use of the phrase aionian kolasin was deliberate and cannot be properly translated as “eternal punishment”.

    3. When we read of Jesus speaking of hell, he was either using the word “hades” or “Gehenna”. Hades is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Olam and simply referred to the abode of the dead – the destination of all who died. Gehenna referred to the local town dump, but more importantly to the Valley of Hinnom where the Israelites had sacrificed their children to Baal. The first time it is used in reference to the afterlife among the Jews was in the 6th century AD. IOW, Jesus listeners would have had no concept of Gehenna as speaking of the afterlife. Instead, his use was almost certainly meant to bring to mind the book of Jeremiah in which the Valley of Hinnom plays a prominent role. This would have both reminded Jesus’ listeners of God’s judgement and of the promise of redemption using language Jesus elsewhere (the bridegroom (chapter 7), the shepherd (chpt 23), the yoke (chpt 30) and others. So, I don’t think it can be argued properly that Jesus ever even spoke of hell as we understood it.

    Aside from the biblical issues, there is the clear history of the early church. 4 of the 6 schools or seminaries which existed in the early church taught biblical universalism. This included the largest and most influential school of Alexandria. One taught annihilation (Ephasus) and one taught eternal condemnation(Rome). Even ardent supporters of EC such as Augustine (who of course, could not read Greek) admitted that the teaching was orthodox and held by most Christians. Origin was of course one of the most prominent universalists we know of yet despite being accused of hundreds of (mostly petty) heresies, his teaching of universal salvation was never even brought up for consideration as a heresy. It wasn’t until 553 that a small, local counsel under the control of Emperor Justinian that universalism was declared a heresy. It has never been condemned in the Eastern Church.

    And then there are all the moral and philosophical issues which I’ll leave to others. I did a series on hell at my blog going through the information in more detail:
    http://theupsidedownworld.com/hot-topics/hell/

  • http://evangelicaluniversalist.com Bob Wilson

    Alex @1: I think the universalist church fathers treat hell and judgment more soberly than many evangelicals do. As do many, you reason that however brief it is, life can only have “meaning” if those who are unsatisfactory at their demise receive a total and unredeemable punishment. WHY? Is being obliterated the only reality that can rightly motivate us or properly make our choices meaningful?

  • Peter Grice

    There is a fantastic diagram at http://www.rethinkinghell.com/ depicting the three views on Hell with their similarities and differences. Look for “Hell Triangle.”

  • Trin

    The gospel is not about hell, it is about life! It is about relationship restored – redeemed – God’s grace and mercy in making a way for us to reconnect with him.

    Jesus said to fear him to can destroy BOTH body and soul in hell.

    He also said those in Christ would be given the GIFT of eternal life; understood is the non-eternal nature of man otherwise.

    An “eternal fire” does not mean ECT; it just means a fire that doesn’t go out.

    God is just; he insisted on an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth so that people would stop exacting that which was excessive – that which was not just. So how can this God then move to ECT?

    If there is ANY view that needs to be rethought it is the Calvinist theological SYSTEM; a larger piece of trash has not been perpetrated on the church in the entirety of its history. Don’t get me started . . . (ok, I’ll do my deep breathing exercises and try to calm down . . . rant over.)

  • Steve Sherwood

    As fun as it is to discuss/debate the nuances of punishment in the afterlife, there’s another post by Scot right next to this one, about the wonder and beauty of God, accessible to us every day, that has been largely ignored. I find that interesting.

  • http://www.parkpresbyterian.org J. Christy Wareham

    If I am thinking very much about hell, I am thinking either about (a) the eternal disposition of another’s soul, which is none of my business; or (b) the importance of God’s will for humanity in terms of what’s in it for me, which is not the point of faith in our sovereign Lord.

  • Mike M

    Practically speaking, “Hell” may not even exist yet. Why have punishment before Judgement Day? In our confusion of terms, the lake of fire and brimstone (sulfur) refers to a place that will burn eternally once God the Father creates it. Since our “souls” are dependent on our physical brains/bodies, being cast into the lake on that day amounts to a literal and metaphorical annhiliation. It is descriptive as well as poetic.
    As for those who have been to Hell and back, Paul says that when we die we will sleep until the Resurrection and that sleeping time is like a wink of an eye. Perhaps those who experience Hell really fall asleep and when they awaken, find themselves being annhiliated in sulfur pools as hot as 833 deg F which is the temperature sulfur becomes gaseous. The smell alone would be enough to kill you (again). Depending on body weight and at that temperature, complete annhiliation could take up to 5 hours which would seem like eternity to anyone.

  • http://www.theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

    Last night I remember a point I forgot to mention (if anyone’s still reading) – that lake of fire and “brimstone”. The word which gets translated as brimstone or sulfer is “theio” or “theion”. It comes, of course, from the word “theo” – divine. “Theioo” is a verb meaning to consecrate to the divine. In ancient times, sulfer was used for just that purpose – to consecrate something to the divine. In the Illiad, for example, theio is used to consecrate a goblet used for ritual purposes. The original readers of the book of Revelation would have read that people were to be cast into the fire of divine consecration. We humans keep wanting condemnation for each other while God’s purposes are always redemptive. (It always strikes me that people seem to think that teachers who are “tickling ears” must be saying nice things. Preachers who speak words of condemnation almost always have more fervent followers than those who speak about redemption.)

    I think that the lake of fire and brimstone is probably best understood as related to 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 –
    “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”

  • Norman

    Rebecca Trotter,

    Thanks for your insights. I’m not sure I’m going to go along with universalism except in a covenant context as I believe Christ lay out regarding loving God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. I believe that was the calling of the OT faithful as well as the NT faithful. If you love God then you essentially Love Christ who was the incarnate YHWH of the OT.

    Now the discussion of eternal life and it’s meaning is up for debate but I’m of the opinion that it begins with our life in this New Covenant that is already in place and is an eternal reality for all times and is always present for us and our future offspring. I’ll leave it up to God to take care of our souls since He is the Creator.

    The eternal fire that consumes has already been set in place as an illustration for the living to avoid the mistakes of God’s past Covenant people. Many in the NT that killed their brothers were cast out of the covenant where Jesus said there would be gnashing of teeth. That simply means to a first century Jew that they have no part of God’s Covenant and is excommunication language. Being relegated to Gehenna in Jeruseleum in AD70 was apocolyptic imagery painting the picture and reinforcing their being cast out of the Land as was Cain who was the model of not to emulate. 1 John 3
    That was the judgment that Christ says would occur in their lifetimes where the sheep and the Goats would be seperated. Exe 34

  • Jerry

    Rebecca (#136) — I have also noticed that a lot of statements of faith these days seem to include an ECT element. I don’t remember it being like that when I was a young Christian–maybe because a lot of these things were taken for granted. I believe in annihiliationism and thiestic evolution. I don’t make an issue out of Santa Claus, Trick-or-Treat on Halloween, or Easter egg hunts with the Easter Bunny. Still, people are touchy these days and I tend not to show my hand because some people view these as Christian essentials.

  • http://scottjhiggins.com scott higgins

    I grew up with eternal torment taught regularly from the pulpit. I now find myself agreeing with john wenham

    “Unending torment speaks to me of sadism not justice. It is a doctrine that I do not know how to preach without negating the loveliness and glory of God. From the days of Tertullian it has been the emphasis of fanatics. It is a doctrine which makes the Inquisition look reasonable. I believe that endless torment is a hideous and unscriptural doctrine which has been a terrible burden on the mind of the church for many centuries and a terrible blot on her presentation of the gospel I should indeed be happy if before I die, I could help in sweeping it away.”

    - John W. Wenham, The Case for Conditionalism

  • Bev Mitchell

    The volume of discussion on three recent topics may be trying to tell us something.

    “What’s up with the Holy Ghost?” Chris Hodges (Nov. 29) – 6 comments
    “The Holy Spirit and You” Scot McKnight (Dec. 4) – 5 comments
    “Hell and the final word.” Scot McKnight (Dec. 3) – 146 comments

    Maybe if we spent more time considering how the Holy Spirit wants to work in and through us in the here and now, our perspective on and interest in hell might change just a bit.

  • Mike M

    Alternatively Bev, Hell is more controversial.

  • Peter McKenzie

    Exactly – and I would suggest that the 3 are not mutually exclusive. Ie. the Holy Spirit can work most effectively when truth is in place. My reasoning there is that good doctrine will save people 1Tim 4:16. Therefore if teaching that is not right is corrected
    , the Holy Spirit is more able to affect change in one’s life – whether it be an unbeliever as it relates to the gospel, or with a believer.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Mike and Peter,
    Great points! But, who puts truth in place? to use Peter’s phrase. The three are most certainly linked. And my point was that we should always be checking to make sure our teaching originates from and is corrected by the Holy Spirit. As for hell being more controversial, I’m not so sure. We certainly seem to feel more free to talk about hell than about the Holy Spirit. As for our theology, I suggest that both areas could use some shoring up. Finally, would it be worse to have our theology a little unclear or confused on the subject of hell than on the Holy Spirit?

  • Peter McKenzie

    Best case scenario: a doctrine of hell that is hermeneutically sound and a clear understanding of the Holy Spirit – who He is and what He does. In my experience, as it relates to the latter, the greatest need is not knowledge but discernment. The Holy Spirit gets a lot of credit for the work of the enemy. And He is often ignored for things He is responsible for.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Amen! May we all improve in spiritual discernment.


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