John Piper, Jesus the Only Way 1 (by Terrance Tiessen)

John Piper, Jesus the Only Way 1 (by Terrance Tiessen) October 25, 2010

A regular reader and commenter on this blog, a missionary theologian and professor, and author of Who Can Be Saved?: Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions, Terry Tiessen has sketched John Piper’s new book and he also evaluates Piper’s ideas. This is a two part review, the second one coming tomorrow. The issues involved in this discussion require some patience, and no one can do this for us any better than Terry. Thanks Terry.

Part 1 of a review of John Piper, Jesus: The Only Way to God: Must You Hear the Gospel to be Saved? (123 pages, $5.99), by Terrance L. Tiessen.

John Piper has written this book out of his very commendable passion for the church’s evangelistic mission. He believes that this work is threatened by three positions taken by some Christians: 1) annihilationism and univeralism, 2) relativistic pluralism, and 3) inclusivism and agnosticism. He addresses these three perceived threats by offering biblical answers to three questions. I will restate his rationale for answering “yes” to all three questions and then I will interact with his argument. We’ll deal with the first two questions in this post and then the third question another day.

I look forward to hearing your own assessment of whether Piper is correct to answer these three questions “yes,” and whether you think that answering “no” to any of them would diminish the church’s motivation for mission.

Restatement of Piper’s Argument

The first question Piper addresses is: “Will anyone experience eternal, conscious torment under God’s wrath?”

Universalists answer “no,” because they believe that the purpose of hell is purification, leading to the eventual salvation of all people and devils. Annihilationists  answer in the negative because they posit that unrepentant sinners, after they have been appropriately punished for their sins, will be annihilated.

Piper  concludes from the following that hell entails eternal conscious punishment:

1) In Daniel 12:2, the shame and everlasting contempt is endless in the same way as the everlasting life;

2) Jesus spoke of “unquenchable fire” (Mt 2:12; Mk 9:43-48; Lk 3:17; cf also Heb 6:1-2) and Rev 14:9-12 describes the smoke of the “torment” of those who are condemned as going up “forever and ever;”

3) although annihilationists argue that the biblical language for “destruction” of the wicked speaks of their annihilation, the frequent contrast in these passages between eternal life and eternal punishment makes annihilation implausible;

4) the eternal punishment of human sinners is analagous to the endless torment of the devil and his angels (Rev 20:10);

5) Jesus would not have said concerning Judas that it would have been better if he had not been born (Mt 26:24), if he were destined either for eventual glory or for annihilation;

6) Jesus spoke of a kind of sin that will never be forgiven (Mt 12:32; Mk 3:29);

7) Luke 16:25-26 indicates that there is no way to cross from the place of torment to “Abraham’s side;”

8 ) against the claim by annihilationists that eternal punishment is disproportionate to a finite life of sinning, Piper cites Jonathan Edwards’ point that the degree of blameworthiness comes “not from how long you offend dignity, but from how high the dignity is that you offend” (50).

Question 2 is: “Is the work of Jesus necessary for salvation?

Relativistic pluralists answer “no,” because, although  Jesus is God’s provision for Christians, there are other ways of getting right with God and achieving eternal bliss in other religions.

Piper argues for the universal necessity of Christ’s saving work on the following grounds:

1) Romans 5:17-19 and 1 Cor 15:21-23 parallel the universality of Christ’s gift of righteousness with the sin of all human beings;

2) there is only one mediator between God and humankind  (1 Tim 2:5-6);

3) Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords (17:14; 19:16) whose reign is universal, and he became the Savior of all who are saved (Rev 5:9-10);

4) Peter, preaching in Jerusalem made it clear that salvation is found in no one else but Jesus, whose name is the only one “given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12);

5) sin is a universal problem for which the only solution is the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom 3:21-24).


I respect John Piper highly and have been blessed by his ministry, including his passion for the church’s global mission, which I share. From that perspective, I now examine Piper’s response to the first two questions he has raised and then I’ll speak to the concern that a negative answer to these questions would threaten our motivation for mission.

The first two questions

The second question (concerning the uniqueness of Christ’s saving work) differs from the other two in that no evangelical scholars are cited who answer negatively. But that is small comfort because, even among members of evangelical churches in our society, where the virtue of tolerance often appears to be the only moral absolute, one meets a disapproval of proselytism because it is deemed embarrassing to suggest that we have special knowledge of truth that is significantly superior to that of adherents of all other religions. On this question, I think Piper has rightly identified key biblical texts that teach us that Jesus is not a tribal deity; he is universal Lord and is the world’s only Savior. Piper’s case could have been bolstered by mention of the self-contradiction inherent in relativistic or unitive forms of pluralism.

In regard to the first question, I agree with Piper that the Bible teaches eternal conscious punishment of those who persistently reject God’s grace, but I regret that he chose to address annihilationism and universalism together, attempting to speak to both of them at the same time. A few years ago, when I set out to read more closely the case for universalism, in preparation for the article on “universalism,” in The Global Dictionary of Theology, I was rather hoping to be convinced. I am hopeful that most of the human race will be saved by grace through faith because of Christ’s atoning work (for reasons I have spelled out in Who Can Be Saved?), but I would be very happy if God had chosen to save everyone. Sadly, I came away from my reading unconvinced because the traditional position, which Piper affirms (and which I sum up in the article on “hell,” in the above mentioned dictionary), is stronger. Nevertheless, I do not think that the case made by scholars who heartily affirm the reliability of Scripture can be presumptively dismissed. I wish, for instance, that Piper had addressed the arguments of Thomas Talbott, a fellow monergist.

Despite my wish that all would be saved, I do not find the biblical case made for universalism by evangelical proponents, to be as powerful as the arguments for annihilationism. Here, I am almost, but not quite, persuaded. It seems peculiar that Piper would address the latter position without interacting with Edward Fudge’s exhaustive biblical case in The Fire That Consumes. In particular, it is strange that Piper did not speak to the annihilationist appeal to texts that speak of God’s final victory. On that point, evangelical universalists and annihilationists work from the same texts. In both cases, the final outcome is one in which no active rebellion remains in God’s creation, but the two perspectives differ about the means by which that is brought to an end.

Motivation for Missions

I appreciate John Piper’s principle that we must let our theology of salvation be determined by Scripture not by its usefulness in missionary motivation (30), but it is still worthwhile to evaluate the possible effect of various theological proposals. I concur with Piper that unitive pluralism would greatly diminish the sense of urgency for global mission. If people can get to God by means of any religious path, we would only be right to attempt conversion of thorough going secularists. Dialogue might have value for better understanding and community harmony but a desire to see adherents of other religions come to faith in Christ would be wrong.

In the case of annihilationism and universalism, however, I think that a holistic understanding of mission and a proper appreciation of the blessedness of life in the church provide motivation that is not destroyed by these beliefs. For starters, we have our Lord’s command but, like Paul, we should be compelled also by love for sinners. However preferable annihilationism may be to endless conscious torment, the loss of eternal communion with God is truly terrible, and prior to annihilation the awful conscious experience of God’s wrath, though varying in length from one person to another, might last for a long time.

If universalism were true, though we could rejoice that everyone will ultimately be saved, surely we should desire that as many as possible experience the joy of peace with God now, and have the privilege of being part of a community of God’s people who are privileged to be God’s servants in the advancement of God’s reign. The gospel transforms not only individuals but whole communities. Not to do all that we can to bring this blessing to everyone in the world, even if we are sure that they will eventually be saved, would be ungodly. Even if hell is purgatorial rather than punitive, we do not know how long and how painful the process may be until everyone is finally enjoying communion with God in the new earth.

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  • Robin

    While I can see where universalism and annihilationism might not dampen the motivation for missions if we lived in a nice cuddly world where you just share the gospel over coffee, we don’t live in that world.

    When I first became a Christian I discussed universalism with my mother’s priest. I asked “If everyone in the world is guaranteed to be saved and spend eternity in paradise, regardless of missionaries or the spread of the gospel, and the apostles knew this, then why in the world would 11 of the 12 die horrendous deaths to spread a message that wouldn’t do their hearers any eternal good?” He responded that zealots sometimes act irrationally.

    I think a similar line of logic would hold for annihilationism. It is one thing to share the gospel over coffee, it is an entirely different thing to go preach to cannibals, or to be crucified upside down and drowned during low-tide. If there is only death and then non-existence I imagine the apostles, and most missionaries, would have decreased motivation.

  • Very helpful review, thanks.

  • I lean towards annihilationism. The main reason being, that I think humans need bodies. Without bodies we cant be conciouss. And IF resurrection is for the “saved” then


    You make a good point that the actions of the early disciples might be able to shed some light on what early chrsitians thought would occur post earthly life. It does seem plausible that the greater the effort put in, the greater the cause must have been.
    On the other hand, we know that people will carry out pretty amazing feats and suffer great pains for things much less than “saving someone from ECT”. The marxist struggles in the early 20th century show how powerful political causes (let alone eternal ones) can be for motivating large numbers of people to endure greatly. Perhaps the disciples were, in fact, motivated by Command? Or the desire for inclusion? Or a motivation to subvert the Roman empire, or out of simply joy, or out of a need to declare truth. All these things can be great motivators.

  • smcknight


    I haven’t seen Piper’s book but this question arises for me — or this set of ideas:

    I can see the logic of mission motivation in what he says, but does he also speak of the goodness of God or the goodness of the gospel — the positive benefit as it were — as motivating forces?

    It is one thing to talk about what would happen to missions if someone was an annihilationist, but it’s another to know what is happening. In other words, do we have any numbers on missionaries? How many are traditionalists? universalists? annihilationists?


    I agree that universalism undercuts both sides of this issue: if all are saved, why bother? This doesn’t just mean such persons will “escape hell” anyway, but it also means they won’t experience Jesus Christ — and if universalism, and since eternity makes temporal life little more than a speck of time, lasts forever, why bother with any urgency now?

    This whole issue forces for me what is an important set of questions: What difference does it make to be concerned with evangelism?

  • T

    Robin and others, I really don’t think that the “hell” awaiting unbelievers is what was motivating the apostles to martyrdom or even mission; at least, that’s certainly not the clear impression I get from them. They seem more motivated by loyalty to and love for Christ than deep mourning for the unrepentant or unhearing. The concern/motive seems much more vertical than horizontal.

    That said, I agree with Piper that what motivates mission isn’t really relevant to his three questions. With Terry, it’s too bad Piper lumped universalism together with annihilationism. To me, those are very different outcomes!

  • Sounds like a helpful text. Thanks for sharing.

    I too deeply appreciate John Piper’s passion for mission and his personal involvement in it around the world.

    Regarding his answering ‘yes’ to all three, I would agree with his response in each case, insofar as all three positions can negatively impact the Church’s mission. However, I use the word ‘can’ in the sense that all three ideals hold the potential for negatively impacting mission, not that they will so absolutely.

    Universalism can pose issues, buy only if we deem salvation exclusively through the lens of death and the life hereafter. As Tiessen pointed out, inviting people to join in the Kingdom of God through active participation in the Church, can and should result in a more blessed life in the here and now. I have often said that even if this whole Christian thing proved to be a myth at the end of it all (which I don’t believe by the way – just hypothetically speaking), living in light of the teachings and person of Jesus will lead me to live a much better life for others. Even if this whole thing is wrong, it is good now. Why would I want to live any other way?

    Annihilationism holds the potential as well for diminishing the Church’s mission, but not necessarily so. Inviting people to live for God ‘now’ with all of the blessings that provides (life, peace, grace, community, etc), is a great invitation. And, as Tiessen argues, the idea of even limited conscious punishment is horrific, let alone the idea of an eternity without God.

    I agree with Piper’s answer to question #2 regarding unitive pluralism. Believing that ‘all roads lead to Rome’, particularly in light of the uniqueness and universality of Jesus, can pose major problems for mission. What would form the basis of our message? For the here and now as well as life hereafter?

    I’ll leave my response to question #3 for tomorrow after I read both Piper’s and Tiessen’s arguments. Though I am somewhat inclined towards aspects of inclusivism 🙂

  • I have three questions regarding Piper. The first is that I am still in awe over his continued popularity in the face of his troubling views on misogyny (he’s for it) and his thoughts on spousal abuse (a woman should take it, essentially. Go to Youtube and see a video where he answers a specific question about it.
    I’m in my second year at the largest evangelical seminary in canada, and when Piper rolls into town, the students seem to go crazy for him. I don’t get it. I know that this is a site for interacting about theology, but at what point do we, sharing the same culture (time and place) stand up and say that a person’s ability to parse Greek properly must be accompanied by a heart that believes all people are equal. If slavery was still legal, and Piper was defending that (wrongly) using Scripture, would we say anything?
    Secondly,the notion of “biblical Christianity” at some point needs to be thoroughly rebuked by scholars such as those who visit this site. It implies an arrogance and startling lack of history, does it not? What we consider to be “biblical” was not “biblical” 200 years ago. And unless we are going to fall into the progressive, linear trap of enlightment philosophy, perhaps we should redefine our notion of interpreting Scriptures as being “biblical.” My sister, for example, belongs to a highly conservative evangelical church that identify themselves as “biblical”. And yet, they use an extremely shallow hermeneutic, intepret EVERYTHING literally, and to most scholars eyes, wrongly. (They would consider Piper a flaming liberal)
    And third, how is it that whatever Piper publishes, he is always saying the same thing? Do his views never change? Never grow? It seems to be an obvious truism, but continued study in one field should lead to changes in intepretation. Studying the culture, history, and nuance within a field should – should, if the study is genuine — produce new ideas. Piper is like Dawkins. They say the same thing over and over, as he apparently does in his “new” book, and people continue to buy his stuff. This tells me that his type of Christianity is more interested in surety, in convincing people that he’s right and that they’re right, than actually challenging someone. the very fact that, as was rightly pointed out, he lumps annihilationism and universalism together reveals his crass, condescending manner towards new ideas. Can we please stop worshipping this guy? If I want theology from 1950, I know where to find it. Of course, those were better days, what with women in the kitchen and all…

  • nitika

    If the “gospel” that we’re spreading is all about what happens when you die… I think we’re missing the point.

    So why be dogmatic about something secondary? The argument here seems to be: b/c motivation for missions depends on such dogmatism. What will it cost us (in motivation/support for missions) to not be dogmatic about what happens after death? I’d like to shift that question to ask, what is it costing us (in the practice of missions) to be dogmatic about it?

  • Steven, #7,

    While I share much of your sentiments, I think your comment might be a little bit aggressive? What you say has merit, but I did feel a little bit apprehensive reading it.

    The last couple of scentances in particlar might encourage a conversation that is perhaps too charged…

  • Taylor G

    When I take the sum total of Piper’s theology and add it all up I’m left in total despair. Does he address this. I agree that universalism diminishes our mission but can’t we find a middle ground?

  • Question 2 is a straw man. The real question is, does one have to undergo a conscious transactional experience in order for Jesus’ unique atoning death to be effective? I fully agree with Piper: Jesus is the only way anyone gets to God. That doesn’t automatically mean conscious assent to Christianity is.

  • T

    I have another question on this topic. Does anyone who believes in eternal, conscious punishment have a satisfactory theology for how one person’s punishment is meaningfully “greater” than another’s, which scripture indicates will be the case? It seems that under Piper’s approach where everyone outside Christianity receives what appears to be an unfathomable maximum penalty, there is no room for meaningful distinction.

  • EricG

    The argument he makes about why universalists wouldn’t care about evangelism seems similar to the argument people make about why someone (like Piper) who believes in double predestination wouldn’t care about evangelism. Does he address the distinction? (I’m not trying to argue with him; just trying to understand).

  • Robin

    My original question I posed to the priest was meant to use the apostle’s experience as a “proof” against universalism (and maybe implicitly annihilationism).

    The question posed here, is what effect would universalism and annihilationism have on the motivations for missions. On this question, I do not think you can ignore the role that it has played, according to the missionaries themselves. Given the quotes below, I think it is fair to say that if it weren’t for the possibility of hell, they would have been less motivated to spend their lives in the cause of missions.

    “Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell.” — C.T. Studd

    “Believers who have the gospel keep mumbling it over and over to themselves. Meanwhile, millions who have never heard it once fall into the flames of eternal hell without ever hearing the salvation story.” — K.P. Yohannan, founder of Gospel for Asia Bible Society

    Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house and bid their brothers and sisters and servants and masters not to come there. Then look Christ in the face — whose mercy you have professed to obey — and tell Him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish His mercy to the world. — William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army

    “Would that God would make hell so real to us that we cannot rest; Heaven so real that we must have men there.” – Hudson Taylor

  • smcknight

    EricG, good point and that is why what we really need is evidence of the theology of those who are involved in missions. It is too easy to infer from an idea, whether annihilationism or double predestination, to what would occur.

  • Robin

    Upon a clearer reading, I agree that any period of conscious torment would provide motivation for missions similar to that of hell (as expressed by missionaries themselves), but I believe that universalism or pluralism would indeed decrease the motivation for “hard” missionary work…the kind that occasionally produces martyrs.

  • Thank you for this. Posting a linnk from my blog.

  • nitika

    From the section “Being evangelized” in Peter Rollins’ How (not) to speak of God:

    “… In Christian mission the goal is not that some people ‘out there’ are brought closer to God by our work, but rather that we are all brought closer to God. Such an insight may actually help expand the numbers of people who want to be involved with mission organizations rather than diminishing them, for there are many who have been put off by the apparent superiority they are often required to assume in such environments.

    Instead of bringing God to ‘unreached’ places and ‘unreached’ peoples, I find countless missionaries who say that, while this was how they once thought, time and again they find that these unreached places are the very sites where they must go to find God and to be reached. How many of us have learnt too late that our initial idea, that by serving the world we will help bring God to others, has eclipsed the wisdom that in serving the world we find God there.”

  • EricG

    Scot – I agree that looking at evidence of the theology of those involved in evangelism would be better than inferences.

  • nitika

    @ Robin,

    Your quotes seem more a product of the rhetoric of the time/place they were spoken than statements about the nature/reality of the afterlife.

    Not to disparage true martyrdom… but there are times when it “comes to that” not for the sake of the gospel… but out of stubborn dogmatism. We can’t imagine a different way to communicate… and we give our lives to protect our paradigm.

  • Robin

    Following up on EricG’s comment. Does anyone know of a large bloc (or prominent examples ) of universalist and annihilationist missionaries? The missionaries I am most familiar with are jesuit and Calvinist missionaries.

    Are there any major denominations or movements with universalist or annihilationist missionaries?

  • Tim


    Universalism and Pluralism are non-issues for me. I certainly don’t feel a persuasive Biblical argument could be made for either of them. It’s inclusivism that I am interested in. I guess I’ll be waiting for that 3rd question then 🙂

  • Robin, there was definately a universalist missionary movement to Japan in the late 1800s.

    Universalist missionary movements were recorded in Papua New Guinea around the 1900’s too. There’s even quotes from a missionary T.E Slater from the 1860’s saying that the doctrine of “everlasting punishment of the heathen” was doubted/abandoned by “most missionaries” (although it’s hard to where/know how many missionaries this refers to).

    Whether or not these movements would qualify as “large bloc” or not is purely subjective. I’m sure that relative to the investment of the communities from which they were sent, these missionary efforts would have been substatial.

    Interesting to note, is that some (at least one group of around 12) of the missionaries of the late 1800s who explicitly claimed that they were travelling purely becasue they hoped to die in God’s service. They were motivated by matyrdom. “See Missionary lives: Papua, 1874-1914” By Diane Langmore

  • Richard

    I still think the restrictivist position does a great job on answering the question “How do I get out of hell?” But is that the purpose and point of the Gospel? If the gospel is about the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven (new heavens/new earth, New Jerusalem, etc) than our soteriology has to go far beyond what happens to individuals when they die.

    How does restrictivism make sense of passages like Ezekiel 16 that talk about Sodom being restored? Is that just talking about the buildings of Sodom or is God really planning on restoring on of the most communities that received his harshest punishments?

    Why is the fall universal (“all”) but the reconciliation isn’t when the word “all” is used for both within the same sentence?

    And there are plenty of folks who believe in eternal, conscious torment that have no missional motivation. Let’s not buy the strawman that if you’re a universalist or an inclusivist you don’t want to tell others about Jesus. Universal salvation through Jesus is not the same as saying sin doesn’t matter or doesn’t need dealt with.

  • Kenton

    So I would identify as answering “no” to the first question, but having a heart for missions.

    Jesus commands us at the Great Commission to go and make disciples. And when we do, we make the world a better place. The story of the missionaries going to the Auca tribe in Ecuador comes to mind (“The End of the Spear”/”Through Gates of Splendor”). This was a tribe of people who were facing an extinction of their own doing without the gospel. Thankfully with the Christ-like sacrifice of five men, this tribe had a transformation (“were saved”) from their own destruction to a new “life of all time”.

  • Adam

    @ Robin 21

    In response to your question about denominations or movements with universalist or annihilationist missionaries?

    I believe that there is some evidence that amongst the Moravian Brethern (one of the great missionary movements in history), some of the most radical Moravians were universalists.

  • John I.

    I agree with S. Burns (#7) that Piper has not grown as a theologian. He has learned additional arguments to support what he has always believed, and responded to more contrary positions, but it seems to me that essential his theological growth began and ended with Jonathon Edwards. Consequently, I haven’t found that reading Piper is enlightening at all (mostly seems rather canned and pat), and that anything he writes has been said better, more nuanced, and more irenically by others. His failure to address Fudge makes Piper’s work irrelevant. Not that Fudge is the best thing since sliced bread, but he was (is) extremely thorough.

    Piper fails to make any rational, Biblical, philosophical, religious or moral sense for a connection between the height or greatness of honour and the length of punishment. I don’t find him convincing in the least on that point. Piper’s God, who is fully satisfied and glorified by sending the vast majority of humans to hell forever to languish in actual flames for something that they were completely unable to avoid, is a horrendous deity. However, that obscene conception of God affects all his work and, among other things, makes it near impossible to give a sympathetic rendering of anyone else’s views (at least from what I’ve read by Piper (who one of my Pastor friends loves and so gives me stuff by him to read)).

    In case it comes across that I’ve never given Piper a fair hearing, I started out not knowing anything about Piper except what my friend gave me, and some of his less polemical works are Ok. But the more I read, the lower my opinion of him as a theologidan (theological misogyny, overthetop polemics, inability to adequately cover opposing views, poor logic, often shallow analysis, lack of capacity to deal with theologically nuanced arguments, disagreeable or poor writing style, etc.), until now I don’t see any point in reading his stuff at all.

    John I.

  • 1.I would think theological determinism would undermine personal motivation for missions; but I know many who are willing to go where God sends them for the glory of God, even though they believe the outcome has already been determined.

  • smcknight

    We’ve got an odd set of comments to compare. I’m thinking of the posts last week on Wallis’ call to irenic civility, but the comments turned into evaluations of Wallis — and mostly negative. Now we’ve got an exceptionally laid out review by Terry Tiessen with way too much comment about whether or not Piper is worth listening to.

    So, here’s the deal folks: what you think of Piper overall isn’t an issue here. What is, is this: Do you agree with his logic and his evidence and his conclusions? Do you agree with Tiessen’s response?

    From this point on, leave Piper’s other stuff alone (please) and stick with the issue and the evidence at hand.

  • I’m also not convinced that the motivation for missions is to help people escape hell, but as a few mentioned above, to further God’s Kingdom.

    Piper also seems to have excluded post-mortem inclusivism. Universalism does not necessarily hold that there are many paths. There is a school which holds that Christ is the only way to salvation, but that his work on the cross was done for folks on both sides of the grave.

  • 2. A crudely literal and arbitrary doctrine of hell is a serious obstacle to evangelism.

  • 3. The blessings of salvation in this life are enough to motivate us to want others to enjoy that blessing.
    4. Our compassion motivates us to care about the earthly needs of desperate people, for example those facing starvation and cholera in Haiti, even though we believe the innocent sufferers will be comforted in the next life.
    5. We can share the love of God with people now, with our hands and our words, and we can enjoy our relationship with God now, and leave final judgment of others up to God.

  • Terrance Tiessen

    I’m a bit late getting to this discussion and then I wanted to read all the comments that had been made thus far so as not to say anything that someone else had already said. Now, however, I’ll do a series of brief posts in response to a few of the comments.

    First, to Phil (#3). I didn’t get your point about resurrection being only for the saved. Perhaps you can clarify.

    Immediate annihilationists do believe that only the justified are resurrected but ultimate annihilationists believe that all are bodily resurrected and then punished appropriately to their deeds while on earth

  • If I am not mistaken, Piper’s theology makes a populated hell necessary to the full glorification of God. If wasn’t populated, God would not be fully glorified.

  • Terrance, sorry I posted before I’d finished the comment!

    What I intended to write was something like:
    “If resurrection is for the “saved” then the unsaved are not resurrected. AND if a resurrection is required for continued conciousness, then for the unsaved, then is no continued conciousness”

  • Terrance Tiessen

    To Scot, # 4. In this book Piper says very little specifically that I can recall about the goodness of the gospel apart from its being God’s chosen instrument for eternal salvation. In his introduction, he does observe that “the enjoyment of all the benefits of Christ is at stake,” as we answer the 3 questions under consideration (14). But he is dismissive of people “who remind us that there are greater goods in missions than the ‘mere’ escape from hell.” He sees this as a serious under-assessment of the gravity of hell because loss of the blessings the gospel brings in this life pales in comparison with the loss of “the experience of praising God forever, and loving people forever, and enjoying creation forever, and creating beauty forever.”

    On the other hand, yesterday I listened to Piper’s exposition of Ephesians 3 at Cape Town 2010. It was truly inspiring to hear him expand on Paul’s joy in the grace God had given him “to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ” (3:8). Through this mission to the Gentiles God purposed “that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (3:10). As I listened, I thought, Amen, and this should motivate annihilationists, universalists and inclusivists as well as gospel exclusivists like Piper. We can all long for God to be glorified in this demonstration of Christ’s victory over the rebellious spirits through the wonderful coming to being of the church.

  • Thomas

    I am an agnostic who used to be a Christian, but I enjoy reading this blog.

    I have heard constantly how guys like Piper are uncharitable, arrogant, intolerant, and hostile toward conversation and listening to others. The guys like Piper never take the time to understand what others are saying or convey opposing views in a way those people would agree with.

    After reading this thread and some of the comments made about Piper I wonder if there is massive plank/speck going on by some in the crowd that would identify with Scot’s blog and streams that are hostile toward the Reformed folk.

    Not trying to start an argument but these are just some thoughts from an outsider.

  • Terrance Tiessen

    To Taylor, # 10. I don’t understand yet what exactly gives you despair about the church’s traditional understanding of eternal judgment. Sadness, I can certainly understand but why despair, which connotes to me a sense of hopelessness?

  • Taylor G

    @Steven Burns Your caricature of John Piper is wrong and unfair. Take this from me, someone who attended his church for almost 3 years, and someone who self identifies with the more moderate side of evangelical faith.

  • Terrance Tiessen

    To T, # 12. You wonder how the traditional view understands degrees of punishment, if everyone suffers for the same amount of time. Many of us within the tradition have concluded that, although the condemned suffer physically in their resurrected bodies, the greatest agony of the condemned is spiritual, the pangs of conscience and the despair which produces “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt 8:12 etc.).

    There is some analogy, I think, to the situation in the new earth. There, everyone will be completely happy, but (initially, at least) some will be more happy than others because, in this life, they developed a greater capacity for the enjoyment of God. Like glasses of different sizes, all of them can be full, but some hold more water than others. So, in hell, those who have been most adamantly opposed to God, and most responsive to the Adversary in his struggle against God, will be angriest at God’s victory. Similarly, those who had spurned the greatest expressions of God’s grace during their lives on earth will suffer the greatest sense of their folly. Sadly, however, none of this will bring them to repentance. Despite the terribleness of the experience of hell, its residents will prefer to be there rather than to be with God in heaven. They suffer endlessly because they sin endlessly.

  • Terrance Tiessen

    It just occurred to me that I didn’t mention in my post that there is an important difference between hopeful universalists (e.g., Kierkegaard, F. D. Maurice, F. W. Farrar, Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karl Rahner, Jan Bonda and Donald Bloesch) and convinced universalists such as Piper was primarily addressing.

    Although my reading of Scripture to date has convinced me that the state of one’s relationship with God at death is final, I do find attractive (if not persuasive) the hope that Donald Bloesch drew from Isa 60:11 and Rev 21:25. Since the gates of the holy city are depicted as open day and night, he was hopeful that access to the throne would be a continuing possibility. This would not assure us that everyone would seek God’s forgiveness, even in hell, but it gave Bloesch hope that some at least would respond to God’s grace, while in hell and, perhaps, ultimately every one would. Here, as so commonly, the influenced of Barth upon Bloesch’s more evangelical theology was evident.

  • Linda

    I believe that Dr. John Piper is correct, and answering “no” would diminish motivation for evangelical outreach. Knowing and believing that all people will either go to Heaven or Hell for all eternity after they die will cause you to have the right perspective and the right priority when it comes to dealing with all people.

    All people sin, and the right thing for an infinite God to do is punish them in Hell forever, this must be so because God is holy, He requires perfection. Sin must be punished, annihilation is not punishment, so I do not see how annihilation could be true.

    The Lord Jesus Christ said that on Final Judgment Day, many Christians will say “Lord, Lord…” and tell Him what they done for Him, but He will reply “I never knew you, depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7) so I do not see how universalism could be true either when Jesus Himself implies many professing Christians are going to end up in Hell.

    We are also commanded by Christ Jesus Himself to go to all nations, all people and proclaim the good news found in the Lord Jesus Christ. I do not see how a person would be properly motivated to take the great commission seriously if they believe in universalism and/or annihilationism.

  • Terry Tiessen

    Eric (# 13),

    In this book, Piper does not address the charge that unconditional election makes evangelism unnecessary, but I am reasonably sure what he would say about it. I expect him to cite the usual Calvinist response to hyper-Calvinists. God not only ordains ends (the salvation of the elect), he also ordains the means to those ends: particularly prayer and the proclamation of the gospel. To be a part of God’s bringing about his saving purposes is a tremendous privilege.

  • Taylor G

    @Terrance #37 This is what leads me to despair about Piper’s system: 94-98% of humanity will suffer a literal lake of fire endlessly. Saddness is not a word that comes close to how that makes me feel. Maybe you can correct me. I’m open to hearing.

  • Terry Tiessen

    Robin (# 21),

    A couple of commenters have given interesting information about universalists who have been devoted to evangelistic mission. The only denomination I can think of that is committed to universalism is the Unitarians and I don’t know whether they have mission work or not. Perhaps someone else can comment about this.

    At the theoretical level, you may be interested to hear how both John Hick and John A. T. Robinson asserted that teaching universalism is actually an important benefit to gospel proclamation. They argued that doctrine of hell is immoral and alienates people from Christianity. For Hick, believing that God would ultimately save everyone is essential to theodicy. Only this belief, he asserted, would protect both God’s complete goodness (he desires to save all human creatures) and God’s complete sovereignty (he does not fail to achieve his purpose).

    J. A. T. Robinson cites as one of his primary means for writing In the End God, “the recognition that in the area of Last Things the tradition was singularly failing to attract or engage” (19). Apparently Robinson shared Piper’s concern about the importance of one’s eschatology to the pursuit of evangelism.

  • Terry Tiessen

    Richard (# 24),

    Your comment that not all gospel exclusivists are mission minded brought to my mind Hendrikus Berkhof’s comment, against the assumption that the traditional view of hell is the majority view, that the behavior of Christians toward unbelievers indicates that many Christians do not really believe in eternal hell.

  • @Mark

    “3. The blessings of salvation in this life are enough to motivate us to want others to enjoy that blessing.”

    This is the crux of one of the major arguments in this debate.

    In the American church, we see the blessings of salvation all the time. People are liberated from substance abuse, bad relationships, debt, depression etc…

    Our society is so decadent and indulgent that it is literally killing us. It is easy to see Christians living healthier, wealthier lives. That’s great. It is the fruit of the good news that Christ’s followers have internalized.

    Most of the world, however, is oppressed. People are forced into bad relationships, cannot earn money. Many are forbidden to imbibe substances at all.

    For them, the fruits of the spirit are more oppression, more misery and, often, death.

    For such people, insofar as salvation brings about blessings in this lifetime, it is a function of being able to look to God’s justice in eternity. Finishing the race means heaven. The knowledge is, to put it mildly, a means to an end.

  • Dan Arnold

    Terrance et al,

    I wonder if these questions are even the right approach. In the Bible, where are the explicit connections of salvation to Hell or Heaven? Do you see these as the motivating factors for mission as portrayed in the Bible (either the NT or the Hebrew Scriptures)?

    Shalom uvrecha,

  • Taylor G

    @Dan #48, You must not be taking “eternal life” to refer to heaven. Can you spell out a little more where you are coming from on your question.

  • DRT

    Is there any precedent for evaluating and interpreting the passages of eternal hell as being the memory of the person among the living? That is the concept that my heaven or hell is the esteem or contempt with which I am held in the memory of those who interacted with me in this life. If I am a murderer, surely I will be judged for that among the generations and be condemned to an eternal (more or less) existence with that being my fate). For Judas, as an example, his reputation is ruined and all will always think of him as a traitor. It will have been better for him to never have lived.

    Likewise the glory of Abraham is in his seed among the generations. He truly will have a life of the ages among practically all people in the world.

    This type of concept would also fit with everlasting life concept of being a life of the ages and not specifically a life in heaven.

    Numerically by the post some thoughts:
    1. Daniel could certainly be interpreted as the reputation of the people is what is effected.
    2. I think Jesus’ unquenchable fire could be the reputation of people.
    3. Life vs. Punishment, consistent with reputation and also, surprisingly, consistent with annihilation (being forgotten in history and family)
    4. Eternal punishment of sinners can easily be the disdain for which they are held (Hitler..)
    5. Judas not being borne, again consistent with a bad reputation
    6. “whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, 49 either in this age or in the age to come”, I interpret a sin against the HS a lack of integrity in that the HS is talking to you and you deny that you are aware of it. Certainly this forgiveness at a societal level is consistent with memory of the person.
    7. No way to cross from one place to the other, well, once the people are judged by society the judgment typically will not change
    8. Proportion. It gets around the idea that it is unfair to the person condemned.

    An exploratory thought.

  • @Terry

    One thing I read here that hasn’t been discussed is the idea of unforgivable sin. I find the verse related to same to be troublesome, and Piper’s exegesis moreso. I simply don’t know how you can square an unforgivable sin with grace.

    I had always considered the unforgivable sin to be the refusal to repent, though that is far from a necessary reading of the text. Piper sees it as any sin that causes the holy spirit to leave permanently. We never know when we will commit the fatal sin, so we should avoid sin at all costs.

    If sin still has the power to corrupt the save, doesn’t this have a profound impact on missionary work? Couldn’t whole cultures have been lost to the unforgivable sin, such that it would be a waste of time to evangelize. Worse, Paul would leave churches, only to find them engaged in all manner of deviant behavior upon his return. That would be awfully disheartening if we believe that some or all of those sinners had no opportunity to return.

    How would Piper respond to this?

  • Terry Tiessen

    Taylor (# 44),

    Thank you for clarifying the source of your despair. Actually, however, there is evidence in this book (77 n6), and elsewhere, that Piper believes in the salvation of all who die in infancy or who are cognitively disabled will be saved. This concept of the “age of accountability” is rather common in the Baptist world. Consequently, the proportion of the human race that will be in hell is vastly smaller than the 94-98% that you.

    Piper is an avid defender of the human dignity of the unborn and he believes that human life begins at conception. Given that a huge percentage of human beings is aborted, either spontaneously or by human intention, most of the human race would therefore be saved.

    Actually, it sounds to me as though he is asserting that they never need to be saved, because they have never become culpable sinners. I would love to talk with him about his doctrinal of original sin sometime, but I’m not likely to get that opportunity. Does anyone reading this know if and where he has spoken specifically to this. I can’t put together the traditional Calvinist belief in universal guilt in Adam with Piper’s stated position on the salvation of infant mortalities. It looks to me as though he rejects original guilt but that seems surprising to me, given his usual commitment to the Reformed tradition. Within that tradition, many have asserted the salvation of infant mortalities but they do it on the grounds of these people as having been elect to salvation, not on grounds of their not being culpable sinners.

    You may be interested to know that B. B. Warfield wrote a brief essay entitled “Are They Few That Be Saved,” in which he spells out his own reasons for believing that most of the race will be saved. The ground of his own hopefulness is his post-millennialism. From his perspective, this actually looks even better now than it did then. Since half (or more?) of all of human beings who ever lived are alive now, if God were to pour out his grace now in the way that post-millennialists anticipate, so that, through the church’s missionary work, “the earth would be full of the knowledge of God as the waters fill the sea” (Isa), a great many (though not all) of those then alive would come to faith. Some years ago, in an article on hopeful premillennialism, I argued that Warfield’s hope is equally encouraging to premillennialists. Only amillennialists could not share this particular ground for hope.

    I’ll stop there, Taylor. Suffice it to say that, even for traditionalists, the prospects of the human race need not be anywhere near as awful as you have suggested.

  • Sherman Nobles

    Being a Christian Universalist, I agree that Pluralism (question 2) would stiffle both evangelism and world missions. However, I do not believe that either annihilationism or universalism would lessen the support of missions. In fact, I believe that the Christian Universalist has at his heart the strongest, most passionate motivation for evangelism and missions – Love.

    A foundational belief of the Christian Universalist is the brotherhood of man, that we are all created in the image of God – children of God. Ergo, the Arab is my brother not my enemy; and my brother is bound in chains of darkness. Our Father desires, longs, yearns for restored relationship with him and has imparted to me that same desire – to see my brother freed into right relationship with Our Father and with me! Love is the most powerful and lasting of all motivations, I belive.

    The second most powerful motivation is faith. The Gospel of Christian Universalism is filled with faith because it affirms that the Gospel truly is the power of God unto salvation of all people. It affirms that love never fails and that Jesus does not fail to save any whom He loves! It fills us with faith that in sharing the grace and love of God, that God will ultimately and eventually move on everyone to save them, to bring them into right relationship with Him and us. The traditional doctrine of ECT, that Jesus fails to save most of humanity, seems terribly demotivating to me. I mean, if the “gospel” is so week so as to NOT effect the salvation of most (any) of those who hear it, why proclaim it!

    Furthermore, how many traditionalists (Christians who believe in ECT) are ACTUALLY personally active in sharing their “faith”? How many, what percentage, actually support missions on a regular basis? Only recalling stats from previous studies I’ve seen, the percentage is terribly low. (I don’t recall the exact numbers, and if anyone would like to challenge this with some current stats that indicate otherwise, please do.) Anyhow, my point is that could it be that the reason that missions/evangelism giving is so low amoung traditional Christians is because fear of ECT is not nearly as effective in motivating people to give as is assumed!

    Also, another reason that few believers (<10%) are actually active in sharing their “faith” is because the traditional “gospel” is not really “Good News” for most of humanity; and no one likes to be the bearer of "baad news". Let’s be real – “God’s going to burn you in Hell forever if you do not repent and have faith in Him” is not good news, no matter how one spins it. And concerning missions, the traditional “gospel” is especially not “good news”. “You need to come to Jesus who loves you, but of course, if you do you are also affirming that all of your ancestors and current loved ones who do not know Jesus are going to burn in Hell forever.” – What a terrible thing to call anyone to believe about their loved ones. No wonder traditional “missions” is so difficult!

    The Good News of Jesus truly being the savior of all humanity, especially we who believe is powerful. Love for others motivates us to share God’s love with everyone. It was love that motivated God to give us Jesus, not fear. It was love that motivated Paul to boldly proclaim the good news of the Grace of God. Love is the most powerful of all motivations. Love and faith moves people to sacrificial giving.

    Well, I’ve written enough for this post. BTW, I’ve only come to have faith in Christ for the salvation of all humanity in the last year or so; and it was my personal study of what scripture says concerning the penalty of sin, and the lack of scriptural support for the concept of ECT, that freed me to believe that the Gospel is truly “Good News” for all of humanity, “especially” (not “only”) those who believe (1 Tim.4.10).

    I look forward to sharing more and discussing these issues with you as I can. If I don't reply quickly, please pardon me; I can only visit this site a little.


  • Mike Jones

    I think the best answer to this question can be found in Revelation 21 & 22. In this vision, John sees the nations entering the eternal city for healing. These nations are not Christians but those who opposed the Lamb through out history and through out the book of Revelation. They come out of the lake of fire and embrace the Lordship of Jesus. This does not mean everyone is saved, but it does mean that the gates into the city are always opened. God is the same today, yesterday and forever, and desires that no one perish. God is offering eternal life forever. The final judgment determines where you reside in the Kingdom. Do you reign with Christ? or Do you submit to the Lamb and His people?

  • As others have already mentioned, there is obvious, real, tangible relief when people come into relationship with Christ and seek to live the reality of the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, whether or not there is ECT later.

    I am a young “missionary” in Bolivia with a mission agency ( that does things a little differently. Some of us are Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, or simply Christian. We don’t start churches, but we try to submit to local congregations. We have a ministry center where women who prostitute down the street can come for medical treatment, warm food, conversation, and therapy. Although our organizational structure says “missions agency,” we didn’t come to convert. We have simply heard God’s cry for the poor and want to serve among them. In walking with our friends, we find that many of them want to be baptized, want to leave prostitution, want to know the Lord. It’s an incredibly beautiful thing to see and take part in.

    Not saying this is the only form of mission, just something we have stumbled into by the grace of God.

  • Jeremy

    I have a question regarding motivation: Are we more dedicated to what we think is true or what we think is most motivating? What do the two really have to do with each other?

    Besides, does annihilation really motivate less? By way of example: If you see your child about to be hit by a car, do you not worry about it because you know they’re going to heaven? I don’t think so. IF we love people as the scriptures seem to command us to, then we would desire eternal life for everyone, and eternal death would be just as tragic and unacceptable as hell.

    I also agree that Piper tries to tackle too much by lumping universalism and annihilation together. They are, in fact, very different things.

  • John W Frye

    Piper’s writing sounds good and lofty. But where is it written that offending the weighty glory of an eternal God requires that sin’s punishment be eternal (e.g., Edwards’ “how high the dignity you offend”)? Piper is a good pastor, but a parrot when it comes to theology, parroting Calvin and Edwards in contemporary English.

    In view of the pertinent biblical texts and keen scholarly minds who have probed them, being a hopeful annihilationist (not universalist) is the best it gets.

  • DRT

    I forgot to answer the explicit questions.

    I think there is a distinct possibility that belief in Eternal Conscious Torment actually drives more people away from Christianity than toward it. It at least makes them attest to their belief without having knowledge if it is a true belief. I can’t see a situation where it would be beneficial since the people who are doing the mission aren’t selling the actual gospel, imho.

    I believe Jesus work is necessary for salvation of some people. Certainly it was necessary for the Jews who converted to Christianity since they were heading down the wrong path. The more interesting question is whether he is necessary for people who are pretty much living the way Christians live, or better than the way Christians live. I think not.

  • smcknight

    On those open gates of Rev 21:24-26. A few have stated that open gates mean the open offer of redemption for those not yet redeemed. Fair enough, but:

    1. This is an image and it is far from clear just what it means. I’d be cautious to draw such an inference from this image.

    2. The gates of walled cities were a means of protection, esp at night when stealth actions were more common, and it is just as likely that the image means this: since the enemies have been vanquished, there is no need any longer for protection. It’s Shalom and always will be Shalom.

  • @Terry

    “Piper is an avid defender of the human dignity of the unborn and he believes that human life begins at conception. Given that a huge percentage of human beings is aborted, either spontaneously or by human intention, most of the human race would therefore be saved.”

    The upshot of this position, though, is that the greatest redemptive force in the country is not evangelism, but abortion. Further, it renders incoherent the passages regarding faith and works. Heaven will be populated, principally, by those who have performed no works of any kind.

  • Rick


    “The more interesting question is whether he is necessary for people who are pretty much living the way Christians live, or better than the way Christians live. I think not.”

    What specifically is “the way Christians live”?

    And if they are doing that, then they are then good enough to avoid punishment, and therefore the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is not needed. Is that what I am hearing you say?

  • AHH

    Terry in #52 said,
    Since half (or more?) of all of human beings who ever lived are alive now …

    Commonly repeated urban legend:
    Depends somewhat on who one counts as “human” but by reasonable counting current population is on the order of 10-20% of total humans ever.

    Perhaps slightly relevant to the discussion, but I suspect not much …

  • EricG

    Terry (43) – thanks. I do think the argument against incentives of universalists to evangelize is somewhat similar to the one some make against folks who believe in double predestination. And I think the response Piper would give to support a strict Calvinists’ incentive to engage in evangelism would be somewhat similar to the response a universalist could give. E.g., if, as you suggest Piper would say, it is a privilege to lead someone to God, even if the result is foreordained, it seems a universalist could say something similar (along with the other incentives Universalists have , as some others mention above). The arguments aren’t identical, but my initial reaction is that there is a bit of pot and kettle going on here.

  • Percival

    Scot wants to know what a study of annihilationist and universalist missionaries and evangelists would reveal. I hope that study never happens, and here’s why. Any numbers would be misleading because it supposes that our intellectual system is the major factor in determining evangelistic zeal. But evangelism should come out of an attitude of love, which goes far beyond rationality.

    I believe that some evangelists who believe in ECP actually see themselves as more loving than God. They have to step in to save people from a Jeckle-and-Hyde God. On the other hand, some double predestinists, for some reason, evangelize as if it all depends on them. In short, we are not all that rational. If we were rational and also believed that ECP was God’s plan, we would embrace it as a truly good thing, and like Calvin, we would see it as one of the chief joys of heaven that we could always see the suffering of the damned for eternity.

    However, what we believe about God affects our relationship with God first. How do we feel about God? Second, we need to understand how God feels about lost people. And finally, we need to feel the same way about people as He does. But getting to that third step can mean traveling a long and winding road. I realize I used the word “feel” 3 times here, but I think that the emotional factor is more important than the cognitive when it comes to motivation and especially with acts of love and faith.

    Let me give a personal perspective. I am a cross-cultural missionary to Muslims. When I came out, I believed in ECP, but I never liked it when hell was used as a motivation for evangelism. My thought was that people’s eternal destination was not my business. I was just to bear witness to God’s grace. In hindsight, my enthusiasm at that time for God’s eternal plans seems tepid. Recently, I have become an annihilationist (thanks to Fudge) but I am still trying to figure out what it means for my ministry. (Just as an aside: One thing I think I have figured out is that, for most people, being in an evangelistic community is probably the major factor in motivating personal evangelism.)

    One of the best evangelists I know personally is someone who is torn up inside because she is doing the work of evangelism here while she has adult children back home who do not believe. She believes strongly in ECP. Perhaps she is hoping her heroic efforts here will lead to her children coming to faith. Only God knows. But while she certainly evangelizes, she is tortured by her fears of damnation for her children.

  • John I.

    Universalist churches themselves have sent out missionaries, almost from their very beginning.

  • Percival

    Sorry. By ECP I meant ECT, punishment or torment, whatever.

  • keo

    Motivation for missions, even if one is a universalist or an annihilationist? How about … obedience? Do we need more motivation that that, particularly given our limited understanding?

  • Sherman Nobles

    The other day I responded to someone who asked, “Well, if all are ultimately saved, then why be a Christian, why follow Jesus today?” To which I replied, “That’s kind of like asking why would a fish out of water want to get back in the water?” I believe that all humans were created in the image of God, created for relationship with God, and that the only thing that will fill our need of that relationship with God is a relationship with Jesus.

  • @AHH

    “Depends somewhat on who one counts as “human””

    Oh come on now. Patriots fans are people, too.

  • DRT

    Rick, the idea I am playing with is not the black/white Jesus was required or not. I am thinking/feeling that Jesus was certainly required for the Jews. I also think that his death and resurrection may not have been required for some others (perhaps Ghandi, Moses or Abraham, to give a thought.). He probalby is required for most of the Romans, etc.

    Was there a mystical component that open the doors to heaven since all were damned before that? Yes, but I don’t know if that is absolute or not.

    I hear the Pelagian accusations being muttered under everyone’s breath, but I think it is more than that. If someone is trying to do the right thing by works their whole life but it is the wrong works then clearly they would be unable to earn their way to heaven. But if they are doing the right things that Jesus said for them to do without hearing Jesus say it, I have a difficult time thinking that God would condem them, if there is such a thing as ECT.

  • Richard

    @ 59 Scot, re: imagery in Revelation

    “1. This is an image and it is far from clear just what it means. I’d be cautious to draw such an inference from this image.”

    Couldn’t this statement be made about any of the passages dealing with “hell” and “eternal judgment” as well? For instance, how often did Jesus speak of eternal flame in regards to a judgment that was coming within “this generation”?

    That said, I understand your point about the gates being images of security, not openness to salvation.

    I still think how we understand the gospel and how we understand “salvation” will (and should) drive our understanding of these passages. Because Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow how he dealt with sinners (even those that hadn’t “repented” or explicitly put their faith in him) seems very relevant to how he’ll interact with people at the judgment.

  • Taylor G

    Terry @ #52, That’s a start. It really is, but I think I can remain solidly orthodox and take my optimism a bit further than the aborted and infants. BB’s post-mill stuff you mention is interesting but also pure speculation.

  • John I.

    I will attend to what Piper actually writes.

    There are major problems with Piper’s–and anyone else’s–comments on missional motivations in relation to, or flowing from, theology:

    (1) it lacks sensitivity to the on-the-ground reality of peoples’ beliefs. Case in point would be Seventh Day Adventism, which many still regard as a very aberrant sect or cult on the basis, on the basis of things published in books or on line by some of its pastors, etc. However, when one talks to actual practitioners, there is a lot of variation in what and how much people believe.

    Therefore, without talking to actual believers in annihiliationism or universalism, it is not possible to accurately reflect how those beliefs affect the actions of real people–as opposed to strawmen. If we’re interested in strawmen we could argue about how, “obviously”, decretal, limited atonement Calvinists have an anti-missions bias (which, of course, is not necessarily true).

    (2) To actually argues cogently and persuasively, one would need to make use of surveys, studies and other statistics.

    My own, and my friends’, experiences is that people go on missions for a very wide variety of reasons and, more often than not, it has little or nothing to do with their views on hell, universalism, or annihilationism. Most often, it seems, that people go because they feel a call and they obey the call regardless of their theological views.

    To keep my post short, I’ll address other issues in other posts. (BTW, I do consider Piper a Christian, and I don’t doubt that many have been helped by him).


  • Barry

    kevin @60, that doesn’t seem to make much sense of the sheep/goats parable in Matt 25.

    On the original front…
    “I look forward to hearing your own assessment of whether Piper is correct to answer these three questions ‘yes,’ and whether you think that answering ‘no’ to any of them would diminish the church’s motivation for mission.”

    1. “Will anyone experience eternal, conscious torment under God’s wrath?” I would say ‘yes’ with the exception of holding out the possibility for ‘annihilation’. I agree with others above that lumping these together eliminates a discussion of what the difference in impact on evangelism would actually be. I don’t think ‘annihilationism’ would have the same effect on evangelism as ‘universalism’ if only for the reason that being annihilated is still a powerful motivator for seeking and giving eternal life. ‘Universalism’, on the other hand, doesn’t make sense to me but for reasons quite different than Piper’s. Being a firm believer in the absolute freedom of humans to accept or reject God means to me that there is indeed a freedom to reject God for eternity (even if Love is so compelling as to suggest it is irresistible). So, ‘universalism’ is out for me. ECT or annihilation, maybe… and both would seem to inspire evangelism from the point of love because a follower of Jesus would love other so much as to want neither of these options for the Beloved.

    2. “Is the work of Jesus necessary for salvation?” Absolutely. I would however take vigorous issue with the means of appropriating that salvation (an accident of birth that puts one outside the earshot of ‘gospel’ singing choirs does not, in my opinion, denote ‘non-salvation’).

    Looking forward to the ‘inclusive’ / ‘exclusive’ questions (if there is one).

  • Barry

    I should also say that focusing primarily on ‘afterlife’ issues with respect to mission work is quite off the point. I can only refer, for the moment, to Jesus’ own words in the Sermon on the Mount and the Disciples’ Prayer line “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. I think eternity starts now rather than after the door of death.

  • Sherman Nobles

    John in #73, your comments make sense. From my own experience I too have found that most missionaries are such because of a personal conviction that this was their call from the Lord. They are motivated by love for the people to whom they are called, or by a vision to see the kingdom of God expanding in some specific way. They are motivated by compassion because the people they love are perishing, not knowing the joy of salvation in Christ. And it is their love for these people that draws these people to Jesus.

  • Sherman Nobles

    Hi Barry @ 75, I appreciate your comment about the Lord’s prayer and our focus needing to be on the present, instead of on the future. In fact, I believe the traditional understanding of salvation is backwards; it’s not about us getting into heaven someday (Jesus accomplished that through the cross), rather it’s about getting heaven into us today!

    Concerning man’s autonomy, I do see things differently though. To me, we do not “choose” to be born. We do not choose most aspects of our lives. Rather, our lives are in the hands of God. He chooses our talents, gifts, the influences that come in our lives. He chooses. And concerning salvation, I didn’t choose Him; He choose me. It was His revelation of His love for me that saved me and opened my eyes. So for me, man’s autonomy is very, very limited; and thus punishment for our wrong choices should be equally limited. Of course though, ultimately the reason I’ve come to have faith that Jesus truly is the savior of all humanity, especially we who believe, is because of my understanding (or misunderstanding) of scriptures that to me strongly affirm the salvation of all humanity.

  • smcknight

    But Barry that sort of language gets us nowhere. It simply turns the same ideas around. When heaven becomes earth, then the issue is earth … and it leads me to ask these questions:

    First, is there an Afterlife?
    Second, is that Afterlife eternal? (who cares where it is)
    Third, do we get to that Afterlife by a connection with Jesus? Only with Jesus?

  • John I.

    On page 121, Piper writes:

    “2. Unintelligibly, he [John Ellenberger] argues that “because the great majority have not responded to general revelation, they need to be confronted by the claims of Jesus.”3 [3. Ibid., 226.] This amounts to saying that if you believe some are saved apart from the claims of special revelation, you will be more motivated to share those claims because most aren’t motivated that way. a natural interpretation of these words would mean: Where Ellenberger’s claim does not apply, there it will increase motivation. This argument is incomprehensible to me.”

    Piper is referring to Ellenberger’s chapter, “Is hell a Proper Motivation for Missions?” in Through No Fault of Their Own.

    Piper finds Ellenberger incomprehensible because, it appears (from what and how Piper writes), that Piper does not make a good faith attempt to understand Ellenberger on Ellenberger’s own terms and because Piper is too caught up in his own viewpoint.

    On my reading, Ellenberger is not making the point that Piper assumes he is. Ellenberger is arguing, among other things, that more people (than just those few who come to God on limited natural revelation) will be saved if we preach the gospel to their entire nation. The reason being, that many people who have not come to God on the basis of natural revelation, would come to God if given (announced to, witnessed to about) the special revelation of / about Jesus Christ.

    Ellenberger, from his point of view, is assuming that eternal natural torment does not exist–but Piper does not grant this assumption to Ellenberger and instead inserts his (Piper’s) own beliefs about ECT into Ellenberger’s beliefs. When that is done, of course Ellenberger will appear incomprehensible.

    But on Ellenberger’s own terms Ellenberger wants the maximal number of people to enjoy Christ’s abundandt blessings in this life and the next. Therefore Ellenberger is not satisfied with just the few who come to God by natural revelation to experience this life. He is motivated also to preach Jesus so that those who will only believe upon hearing about Jesus will have the opportunity and joy of experiencing the abundant life.

    Finally, Piper is neither a psychologist nor a sociologist nor an anthropologist and has no particular expertise to be pronouncing on what actually does or would motivate people. As many, including me, have noted in previous posts: there are many and also very complex reasons why people do or don’t engage in evangelism.

    Piper’s book is based on the belief that if people “really” understood the significance of hell, then they would evangelize. But this misunderstands both the problem and people. The Bible is clear on hell, if one starts with Piper’s presumptions (and in America, most do), and Piper’s book (and prior related website material) largely requotes, summarizes or paraphrases the Bible, and his various exegeses does not add anything new. So the problem is not knowledge.

    Does he really think his book can be more motivational than the word of God in the first place?

    The problem is that motivations are very complex, and in addition, in modern western society people have became ingrained to comparmentalizing various aspects of their lives and so not living an integrated whole.

    The problem is not, as Hendrikus Berkhof commented, “that the behavior of Christians toward unbelievers indicates that many Christians do not really believe in eternal hell.” Nope, it’s just evidence that people have many other beliefs and desires in addition to their belief about hell, and these beliefs compete or are compartmentalized, with the result that they do not engage in much evangelism.

    John I.

  • Terry Tiessen

    Kevin (# 51),

    I won’t attempt to speak for Piper in regard to your questions about the unforgivable sin. My own understanding is that this is the sin committed by someone whose heart is so hardened to God’s gracious initiatives that God no longer draws them to himself. He has given them up to their sinfulness, so they no longer feel pangs of conscience that have any force. I doubt that we could know that a person in this state without particular revelation from God that such is the case. If God has not specifically forbidden us to pray for a person or to urge them to repentance and to faith, we should continue as long as they live. With Neal Punt, I believe that we should assume everyone to be elect until we are told otherwise. While there is life there is hope. Even the act of excommunication, though a statement that we no longer consider a person to be in fellowship with God and his people, is an act done in hope that grief will lead them to repentance.

    This applies then to cultures as well. Jesus did tell his disciples to shake the dust of their feet and move on if they found everyone in a place they visited to be unresponsive. But that can hardly be interpreted as a final abandonment. Sometimes God calls people (like William Carey) to minister for years without response and we must be willing to do so, even if we fear that, like Jeremiah we have been called to minister death to the dead.

    As to the sin that occurred in churches planted by Paul, I get no sense that he ever wrote any of those sinners off as having committed the unforgivable sin. Cf. my comments above about church discipline.

  • Terry Tiessen

    Dan (# 48),

    I’ve not previously encountered your idea that heaven and hell are simply the memory we leave behind. Are you seriously suggesting that this is what Scripture teaches? It looks to me like a terrific stretch to demonstrate such a view. Just for one example, when Paul kept pushing forward in obedience to Christ, lest he fall back and be accursed, I can’t see any way in which what he worked so hard to avoid could be understood as a poor reputation on earth after he died.

  • Terry Tiessen

    John (#57)

    Just a quick point of clarification – annihilationists believe that the judgment of unrepentant sinners is eternal in that the separation of these people from God never ends. They are never restored to the joy of communion with God.

  • Terry Tiessen

    Kevin (# 60),

    Are you arguing that no one who dies in infancy is saved? It sounds like it.

    I can’t go into the matter much here but, in a chapter entitled “Can Infants Be Saved,” in Who Can Be Saved, I have argued for the possibility of infant faith.

  • Terry Tiessen

    DRT (# 70),

    I believe that Scripture clearly teaches that for us to please God, we must do the right thing for the right reason. As Paul said, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom 14:23).

    Of course, this is not to deny that some people without the gospel may be doing works conforming to God’s moral will precisely because they have been regenerated by God’s spirit. Zwingli posited that the elect who hear the gospel are saved through the obedience of faith but the elect who do not hear it are saved through obedience to the law of God in the form that they know it. Their good deeds are evidence of faith in God, though not yet in the Christ whom they have still to meet. I take this to be John’s point in 3:21, “But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done by God.” When the unevangelized who have been saved by grace, through an appropriate faith response to the revelation with which God has blessed them, hear the gospel, they come to faith in Jesus. At that point, the source of their previous righteousness becomes evident. As Richard Mouw observed in He Shines in All That’s Fair, the line between common and special grace is not always easy to discern.

    Tomorrow’s post will get us into this so I should not jump the gun.

  • John I.

    In regard to theologically based motivations, and Piper’s comments on them, I cannot find a single quote from a universalist or annihilationist which states that Christians should not engage in missions.

    However, it is not only very easy to find many anti missions comments by TULIP Calvinists over the centuries, but one can in fact cite missionaries and various documents to the effect that such theology did indeed have negative effects on missions. (Yes, quite true that Piper and many other Calvinists do argue that we should do missions anyway in faithfulness and obedience and joy, but that is an additional motivational factor that is hoped will outweigh the dismotivation of a belief in individual election and limited atonement).

    For example, the story is well-known of William Carey’s plea with Scottish Presbyterians respecting the lost and missions. At that meeting the chair stood up and told Carey, “Sit down, Mr. Carey. If God wants to save the heathen he will do it without your help.”

    hence, in so far as there is any evidence whatsoever that one’s theology of hell motivates missions (either positively or negatively), the evidence is against Piper’s position as set out in his book: He is wrong that a Calvinist theology of ECT does not dismotivate people, and also wrong that a non-ECT theology does motivate, and wrong about what the problem is, and wrong about the solution, and wrong about the audience.

    In regard to the last point, I find his book to be largely a preaching to the choir. The only people to be convinced by his work are those who believe his way already, and they are either already engaged in missions or their evangelistic fervor has been compartmentalized and outweighed by the competing compartments of other beliefs and desires. If reviews are any indication, almost the only people who buy this book are Piper lovers, and their reviews laud what they already believe.

    The few reviewers who don’t rave, aren’t convinced by it anyway, and are not even troubled by it. That is, Piper’s writing and argumentation do not even engage them to the extent of questioning or reflecting on their own beliefs.

    Consequently, even if the theology of the book is true, it fails to accomplish the objectives it sets out for itself.

    John I.

  • Dan Arnold

    Taylor (#49),

    I few years ago, I did a study on how the different words we render “salvation” are used in the Bible. The biggest surprise to me was that they were largely unconnected with either heaven or hell. Yes, in this case, I do think eternal life is distinct from heaven, since everything I read points to a resurrected body on a new Earth. But my underlying question still holds, where in either Testament do we see Hell, Heaven or eternal life as a motivating factor for mission? (And as I can’t think of any, that is why I ask.) Yes, eternal life is a significant consequence of full participation in the Kingdom of God (an understatement), but is that the motivating factor?

    Terry (#81), do you have me confused with a different commenter?

  • JP

    I agree with Piper in all three of his answers. And I think it does have an effect on missions in that love would compel us to do missions even more if we even contemplate about an eternal hell. As Piper said in Capetown, Christians ought to care about “all sufferings, especially eternal sufferings.”

    On another note, I’m still surprised to hear that people get offended by Piper. Anyway, I’m a young Piper fan, and I hope we can just love each more whether you agree with Piper or not.

    Something that shows that Piper’s human just like the rest of us… Here’s some home videos of Piper making a snow angel and him playing with his grandson.–VsFhC3uGU

  • Terry Tiessen

    Sorry, Dan. My comment 81 was addressed to DRT from his comment 50.

  • Terry Tiessen

    On the matter of missionary motivation, here is a personal anecdote that may be of interest.

    My father was a missionary in India for 20 years, intensively involved in public evangelism. We never talked about the state of the unevangelized, even during the time that I was moving from gospel exclusivism to accessibilism (commonly called inclusivism). When Who Can Be Saved? was published, I was a bit concerned that my Dad might be troubled by my position. So I was both surprised and pleased to learn, after he had read the book, that he had been an accessibilist himself while he ministered in India. He passed away 5 years ago but I’ve never known a man more committed to the church’s gospel proclaiming mission than he was.

  • Dan Arnold

    NP Terry (#88),

    But, the question still remains, do you think mission as portrayed in the Bible (either New Testament and/or Hebrew Scriptures) is motivated by Hell, Heaven or eternal life?

  • reply to kevin #47.
    Sorry I wasn’t clear. By the blessing of salvation, I did not mean secondary blessings such as health and prosperity. I mean that knowing Jesus Christ is eternal life; the experience of being forgiven, called to God’s mission, filled with the love of God by the holy spirit, being daily chastised, corrected, and empowered by the spirit of God–those kind of blessings.

    Why would I want anyone to miss out on that now.

    It’s true, maybe I would look at it differently if I were living under constant persecution; maybe I would say we are of all people most miserable if salvation is not all about what happens after we die.

  • smcknight

    Dan, it seems to me you are imposing an anachronistic approach to the Bible. You are right that framing things in terms of heaven is not the Bible’s approach, so therefore that connection doesn’t appear.

    But, I wouldn’t dismiss the bigger issue that easily: notice often Jesus and Paul and Peter preached in such a way that they framed the need to repent in light of judgment. E.g., check out Paul’s sermons in Acts or Mark 13 or even Mark 1:15 — where Jesus says repent in light of the dawn of the kingdom, and the kingdom in the Gospels is quite often connected to a coming judgment that ushers in the final kingdom. I write about this in A New Vision for Israel on the future kingdom.

    So, yes, the logic is not get saved to escape hell and go to heaven (that’s anachronism, but widespread in Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism — don’t dismiss our traditions lightly) but kingdom realities, including judgment, impinge upon us and our course of life, including our sinfulness, and if we don’t repent we will experience that judgment.

  • DRT

    Terry Tiessen, thanks for your response in #84. It rings true for me that people of faith, whether they have heard of Jesus or not, will understand and affirm his message once heard. I believe you are saying the same thing.

    Scot@92, I paraphrase what you are saying as people today often site the result as the reason to repent, but in the bible the people where first and foremost trying to be faithful to God, and the judgment and result were a part of that but the motivation was the faithfulness to God.

  • “Are you arguing that no one who dies in infancy is saved? It sounds like it.”

    No. I just wonder whether every infant is saved. I honestly don’t know. I do find odd the notion that the kingdom will be primarily comprised of those who have made no choices for Christ.

  • Willie

    Robin (21),

    I don’t think anybody has pointed this out, but I’m pretty sure that the group who is most often connected with launching the first large scale missionary movement, the Moravians, had quite a few members who were at least hopeful universalists.


  • John I.

    The protestant fixation on the flames of hell in evangelistic efforts and as a significant motivation ignores the experiences of the missionaries of other religions. Piper’s narrow view of motiviation and inability to believe that universalism cannot effectively motivate, and also that a major motivation is missing without a belief in the everlasting flames of hell ignores, for example, Bhuddists.

    Bhudda was the founder of the world’s first major universalist religion–easily predating Christianity. Buddha urged his disciples to spread the teachings of Dharma throughout the world. A paraphrase translation of one of his commands is, “Go forth, O monks, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world. Teach, O monks, the Dharma.”

    Bhuddism is widespread and popular, and a major world religion, because of the the zeal of its monks who traversed thousands of miles of the most inhospitable terrain that the Buddhist faith was carried to China, Korea, Japan and southeast Asia.

    Bhuddism is another evidence that Piper is wrong in his analysis and assessment of motivations and in his belief that unversalism will quench missionary fervor and zeal.

    Mormonism is another example of a religion that is effectively universalistic. They have far greater missionary zeal than the average Calvinist,or Arminian, Catholic, Lutheran, etc.

    John I.

  • A simple response to yesterday’s comments, many of which seem to comprehend the ridiculous idea that hell works not only as a motivator but has somehow become entrenched in evangelical theology as one its pillars. This is incomprehensible to me, and the easiest example (though i appreciated the ones put forth by John I) is that of the early church, who were Jews and therefore annihilationalists. Paul struck me as particularly motivated, as were those in the churches he founded.
    In regards, Scot, to your comment about keeping the focus off Piper himself and instead his theology, I can certainly appreciate that. However, comparing him to Wallis, and the comments that were no doubt made because of his left leaning politics, is not only unfair but wrong. The issue Piper faces in regards to misogyny and spouse abuse is not a left or right one. It’s about real people being victimized by a theologian/pastor with a large following. As well, it ties into his understanding of ECT. let me explain.
    A friend of mine, who I’d gone to Bible College with, had been married for six years and pregnant with her second child when her husband punched her in the stomach, upset over something she’d done in the house. She’d didn’t lose the baby, thankfully, and while she considered leaving, the church counseled her against it. Her husband, the worship pastor, was very sorry, they told her. Leaving would be wrong. He’d asked forgiveness. So she stayed. 18 months later it happened again. And again. Each time the church, and the senior pastor (a devotee of Piper’s, by the way) counseled her to stay. Now? She lives in fear of her husband’s anger, though he continues as a traveling worship leader/local pastor. That is her life.
    Now why would a pastor convince a woman to stay in that relationship, and what is the tie with Piper. ECT is a fear based doctrine, and as someone commented on this post, it makes for a petty deity, doesn’t it?

    Theologians, like writers and artists, like everyone, are not capable of compartmentalizing, and I’m not sure why we, of all people, as holistic Christians, do not see how our ideas in one area inevitably leak into other areas. That is, the idea of fear as a dominant force in someone’s psychological makeup and motivation will inevitably transfer into other areas that may seem to not be linked.
    We are always more than the words we print or speak, in that we can make them pretty for a while, but eventually that which dominates our own makeup will be transferred to those with whom we have influence. As such, the idea of hell, of ECT, as a dominant and necessary doctrine, is one that will continue to spread and grow in other areas of our lives so long as we continue our futile attempt to partition ourselves as the Greeks did. “For I have not given you a spirit of fear…”

  • Sherman Nobles

    Concerning the OP and Piper’s reasons for believing that Jesus fails to save any, even most, of humanity and instead condems them to Hell:

    “1) In Daniel 12:2, the shame and everlasting contempt is endless in the same way as the everlasting life;”

    To me, it ECT was a real threat, such would be particularly, explicitly, and repeatedly stated in the Law, but it is not once warned in the Law. Furthermore, in the beginning, the warning of the punishment of sin was “death”, not ECT. In fact, the reason Adam and Eve were cast from Eden was so that they would not partake of the tree of life and live forever in their sin, under the curse of sin and death and destruction that came because of sin. If God meant for ECT to be a real threat, then all He need do was allow man to eat of the tree of life and continue to live under the bondage of Satan.

    Also note that Dan.12:2 does not speak of ECT, but of shame and “olam” contempt after the ressurection. We shall all face judgment, believer and unbeliever alike, where how we lived shall be judged – by ourselves and God in the light of absolute truth. And for many of us, believer and unbeliever alike, it will result is us being ashamed and abhoring how we’ve waisted or even perverted many of the blessings of God. But thanks be to God that our salvation does not rest on our goodness, but on the goodness of God. And one day we shall all love God because we will realize just how terrible our sin is and how great the forgiveness and grace of God is towards us whom he loves!

    “2a) Jesus spoke of “unquenchable fire” (Mt 2:12; Mk 9:43-48; Lk 3:17; cf also Heb 6:1-2)” — Jesus did warn of Gehenna, Jerusalem’s trash dump, which was a Pharisaic theological metaphor of punishment and purification in the afterlife. Gehenna, Jerusalem’s trash dump did have an “eternal” fire that would better be understood as a “continuous” fire. And it was a place where “the worms do not die” which would better be understood as a place where “there is no shortage of maggots.” It was a place of shame and contempt where the trash was burnt up, the literal trash and those who were considered (by the Pharisees) social trash and not worthy of burial – like the poor. It was a metaphor of punishing judgment where the trash is burnt up.

    Was Jesus introducing a New Law, and new punishment for sin that was not warned of in the Law. The Law only warned of death and destruction in this life and does not warn of ECT; was Jesus introducing something new, saying that this new age of “grace” was now going to be marked by a much more severe penalty for sin – ECT? I do not believe so.

    Also, in these warnings of Gehenna, note that the worst possible thing that Jesus warns of would be annihilation. “Do not fear man who can only destroy the body; but fear God who can destroy the body and soul in Gehenna.” The Pharisees argued over the nature of the worst possible punishment of sin. Some believed that if a person was completely evil, they would not be purified in Gehenna, but burnt up. Others believed that especially evil people would continue to suffer indefinitely in Gehenna. To these Pharisees, Jesus warned that we should fear God who was able to destroy our souls in Gehenna. Even this statement though does not affirm that God will destroy the evil in Gehenna, but that we should fear God who is Omnipotent!

    Frankly, if all I studied was scriptures of the punishment of sin, and if not for the promises in scripture concerning the salvation of all humanity, I’d be an “annihilationist”. I mean, even I have enough mercy to put out of his misery a dog with rabbies. How much more does our God of mercy, the one who died for us, love us enough to put us out of our misery – if He is unable to heal us! Thanks be to God though, He truly is the savior of all humanity, especially we who believe!

    “2b)and Rev 14:9-12 describes the smoke of the “torment” of those who are condemned as going up “forever and ever;””

    First note that Revelation, due to it’s metaphorical nature, is translated at least from 4 significantly different perspectives – futuristically, historically, metaphorically, and preteristically. Dut to this, I would not use it to establish some doctrine not taught in the Law or in the other more didactic literature of the NT.

    Also note the following information concerning Revelation’s Lake of Fire:

    1) It is in the presence of the Lamb and the presence of the angels. It seems to be a blast furnace of the Revelation of the Atonement and the supernatural benevolence of God. Also, who sits at the right hand of God? Jesus! And what surrounds the throne of God? Angels!

    2) God elsewhere in scripture is spoken of as a “consuming fire”.

    3) Brimstone, theon, means “divine fire”. And brimstone (sulfur) was burnt as incense by the Greeks and Romans for both spiritual cleansing and physical healing. And of course the hot sulfur springs were widely known for their healing properties. Even today, many medicines are sulfur-based.

    4) Torment, basanizo, is related to the concept of the purification of metals.

    When I consider these things, Revelation’s Lake of Fire, to me, is metaphorical of the “all-consuming, purifying, healing, presence of God!” – the volcanic lake of God’s healing, purifying presence.

    In this life, I know that the presence of God is a consuming fire. In the past when He has shown up in a tangible way to me, whether in my personal devotions or corporate worship, His presence chastises, purifies, and heals. His presence heals our souls, purifies us from evil, to put it bluntly it burns the “hell” out of us! At least, this has been my experience; why would I expect it to be any less for anyone else.

    Well, I get to the other points later.

  • John I.

    Piper ignores that “eternal” has a qualitative aspect to it and is not simply and always a reference to unending time.

    Luke 17:28 It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. 29But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.

    Jude 1:7 In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

    Sodom was entirely destroyed and nothing remains, it no longer exists. If Sodom is the example, shouldn’t the base line assumption be that the eternal punishment in the lake of fire be complete destruction that is permanent? The onus is on the other side to prove its point, I would think.

    John I.

  • Sherman Nobles

    Hi John, yes as with any word that has multiple meanings, one typically assumes one of the possible meanings that is within or supports ones current understanding of any given passage, and resists any possible meaning that counters ones current understanding. And thus proponents of ECT interpret olam and aionian as quantitative, “endless”, and fail to recongnize their qualitative aspects as you noted.

  • Sherman Nobles

    To continue my thoughts on the OP’s list of Piper’s reasons for believing in ECT.

    “3) although annihilationists argue that the biblical language for “destruction” of the wicked speaks of their annihilation, the frequent contrast in these passages between eternal life and eternal punishment makes annihilation implausible;”

    Of course, Piper assumes that olam and aionian are meant to convey an endless quantity of time in a realm that transcends time – the eternal realm of God, and fails to recognize the qualitative uses of the words olam and aionian. Both the life promised and the punishments spoken warned of in scripture transcend time, are effective today in the physical world and even more so are effective and active in the spritual world, the spiritual realm of God that transcends time. I believe olam and aionian are used to reference this spiritual realm of God that transcends time, one that transcends our very limited understanding today. So yes, both life and punishment are from God and as God sees fit to give; and such certainly transcends our ability to understand.

    “4) the eternal punishment of human sinners is analagous to the endless torment of the devil and his angels (Rev 20:10);”

    As noted in my previous post, #98, Revelations Lake of Fire, to me, is metaphorical of the all-consuming purifying healing presence of God, and does not speak of endless torture and separation from God. All is eventually reconciled to God.

    “5) Jesus would not have said concerning Judas that it would have been better if he had not been born (Mt 26:24), if he were destined either for eventual glory or for annihilation;”

    Why not? How many people have stated that they wish they had never been born. This statement is not meant to affirm ECT, but to highlight the tragedy that comes from bad choices in our lives. Jesus often used hyperbole to emphasize a point.

    “6) Jesus spoke of a kind of sin that will never be forgiven (Mt 12:32; Mk 3:29);”

    As you know there is much debate over what the “unforgiveable sin” is. And I believe that if Jesus meant to warn of a specific sin that was unforgivable that He’d have been much more explicit. From the context of the passage, to me it is a warning of being unrepentive and self-emposed blindness. As long as one maintains these attitudes they cut us off from the forgiveness of God – whether in this life (age) or the life (age, world) to come. In order to receive the forgiveness of God we must repent. To men, these passages are not meant to convey the idea of ECT for a specific act, but are meant to highlight the need of repentance.

    “7) Luke 16:25-26 indicates that there is no way to cross from the place of torment to “Abraham’s side;””

    Of course, the reason that the rich man was in Hades is because he was rich and Lazarus was in Paradise because he was poor. Are we to take this parable literally and interpret it to mean that only the poor shall make it into Paradise? Of course not! The parable was meant to challenge the Pharisaic notion that riches = righteousness and poverty = unrighteousness. And I believe it was also meant to highlight that God in His mercy and justice takes into account everything in our lives, even our suffering; and it warns us who are rich to be rich in good works. It was not meant to tell the Jews that Moses had it wrong and that sin results in ECT instead of death and destruction in this life like is affirmed in the Law. It’s important to not make a parable say more than it is intended to say.

    “8) against the claim by annihilationists that eternal punishment is disproportionate to a finite life of sinning, Piper cites Jonathan Edwards’ point that the degree of blameworthiness comes “not from how long you offend dignity, but from how high the dignity is that you offend” (50).”

    This argument implies that God is unjust and unmerciful and makes out God to be a tyrrant! It is certainly not scriptural. God is merciful. His anger lasts but a moment; and his love/mercy endures forever. ECT would have us affirm that for some/most people God’s mercy/love only lasts a moment (the vapor of this life), but His anger lasts forever! ECT presents a god who is a tyrrant — “Do things my way, trust me, I ‘love’ you or I’ll burn you forever!” No matter how one spins it, these are the threats of a despot!

    One day every knee shall bow in adoration and every tongue shall proclaim their love and allegiance to the One who purchased us with His own blood!

  • Dan Arnold

    Scot (#92),

    So, yes, the logic is not get saved to escape hell and go to heaven (that’s anachronism, but widespread in Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism — don’t dismiss our traditions lightly) but kingdom realities, including judgment, impinge upon us and our course of life, including our sinfulness, and if we don’t repent we will experience that judgment.

    So judgment is a part of the message proclaimed in NT. And if I read your statement above correctly, you say that to escape hell is an anachronistic reading of the NT as there are broader concerns, but which also include judgment.

    But, if escape from Hell is such a big motivator for missions (and I think that it historically has been for almost all traditions), why does it not seem to be the main motivator in the NT? How is that an anachronistic reading? Or are you saying it is a main motivator in the Bible?

  • MaxMBJ

    I got some personal light on annihilationism a few years back when reading Ecclesiastes 12. This is the portion that describes the aging, death, and even decomposition of a human being. It ends with “and the spirit goes back to God who gave it.” And then, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

    This chapter is the reversal of Genesis 2. In Gen. 2 God forms man from the dust — a body, breathes into his nostrils the spirit, and the soul comes into existence at that arcing of spirit with dust. In Ecc. the body goes back to the dust, the spirit back to God. And what of the soul? “Vanity of vanities.”

    In other words, the soul is lost, wasted, gone … the ultimate vanity of vanities. There is no torment here, just disappearance. It didn’t even merit a mention in the text.

    Eternal torment is certainly the most ungodly trait ever attached to God. The Bible has plenty of evidence it isn’t who God is.

  • Kay

    I think it’s most likely that belief in ECT actually drives more people away from Christianity than toward it.

    Someone commented that “Jesus is the only way anyone gets to God” I thought Jesus was/is God.(?) Isn’t the Kingdom for the here and now as much so as for the here after? Jesus lived the Kingdom as He went about – He didn’t portray it as merely for the future.

    Someone commented that “annihilation is not punishment” Really? If you learned that one minute from now you were going to cease to exist, this wouldn’t bother you?

    There is no “age of accountability” given in the Bible – this seems to me an effort to ease the consciences of ECT adherents.

    Aside from being an affront to God’s character, personally, I could never imagine myself enjoying eternal afterlife with God knowing that others were eternally suffering – especially if any one of the “others” was my child, spouse, parent, sibling, or friend. Talk about compartmentalizing!

  • Barry

    Scot @26,

    You said

    But Barry that sort of language gets us nowhere. It simply turns the same ideas around. When heaven becomes earth, then the issue is earth … and it leads me to ask these questions:

    First, is there an Afterlife?
    Second, is that Afterlife eternal? (who cares where it is)
    Third, do we get to that Afterlife by a connection with Jesus? Only with Jesus”

    I beg to differ that the language of the Disciples Prayer in Matt gets us nowhere. “Kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven” and the idea that eternity begins now does not in any way deny an Afterlife… so yes, I believe there is (even if this is a belief that can only be pulled from Scripture and not affirm by reason, experience or tradition). It does however radically reframe and reinforce a resurrection afterlife rather than the pop-theology Christian belief of a disembodied spiritual heaven. Keeping earth firmily in the picture keeps the cosmos (in all its fiery, earthy, bodily realness)…even eternally.

    And finally, keeping grounded in the heaven/earth connection keeps us grounded in the the incarnation, crucifixion AND resurrection. I can easily say that Jesus is the ONLY means of connecting with an eternal afterlife but that connection cannot be limited to conscious proclamation in some particular language… the resurrected Jesus is no limited to this. Piper’s brand of particularism (which includes Piper’s brand of ECT and the motivation for evangelism) seems to suggest that conversion is an intellectual response to a particular message…his.

  • Barry

    Whoa… I blew that reference. Should read “Scot @78”.

  • Hi Kay @ 104, I appreciate your honesty. I too believe that many people do not put their faith in God, in Jesus, because He is often misrepresented as a tyrrant – “I love you; love and trust in me or I’ll burn you forever!”

    I also believe that ECT is a significant reason that most Christians are not evangelistic. Stats and personal observation reveal that Less Than 10% of Christians have shared the “gospel” with an unchurched person in the last year.

    Why are so few Chrisitans active in sharing their faith? I believe that part of the reason is because of ECT; no one likes to or wants to be the bearer of “bad news”. And no matter how one spins it, the traditional ECT “gospel” is “Bad News” for most of humanity, for ALL who hear it and do not respond affirmatively to it for whatever reason.

    The OP notes “The first question Piper addresses is: “Will anyone experience eternal, conscious torment under God’s wrath?” — Universalists answer “no,” because they believe that the purpose of hell is purification, leading to the eventual salvation of all people and devils.”

    Actually Universalists answer “no” because we believe that the Atonement is Not Limited in either scope (Monergism) or in effect (Synergism). Monergism affirms that the Atonement effects the salvation of all whom God chooses, but is limited in that God does not choose to save all. Synergism limits the Atonement in effect affirming that the Atonement does not actually effect the salvation of anyone, but is only effective for those who choose Christ.

    Universalists differ concerning the nature and purpose of punishment in the afterlife, but are united in their affirmation that the Atonement of Christ is not limited; rather, it fully effects the salvation of all whom God loves and God loves everyone! We have faith that it is truly the grace, goodness, forgiveness, and mercy of God that saves us all! We are saved not by our rightness in belief or in deed, but by God’s grace.

  • Terry Tiessen

    Sherman (# 107),

    I’d be interested to know whether you think universalism a coherent option for synergists. I realize that early fathers who were universalistic (Gregory of Nyssa and Origen, for instance) were synergists, but their position strikes me as internally incoherent. If moral creatures necessarily have libertarian freedom, no matter how loving and gracious God is to them, he can not ensure that everyone will submit to his gracious overtures and acknowledge his Lordship. The longer sinners resist God the harder their hearts become. (I have sometimes wondered if this is one reason why God draws so many of his elect to faith during their early years, namely, the authenticity of compatibilist human freedom. Even though God is completely sovereign, he is not coercive and respects the dignity of human volition.)

    I have read the works of universalists who had been synergists but who moved to a monergistic soteriology (even if not a total monergism) because they believed monergism to be necessary to universalism.

    Do you concur?

  • Terry @ 108

    Those who’s foundational premise is the free-will of humanity, synergism, do struggle with universalism for the reason you stated – belief in the possibility that someone could set their will against God and forever reject Him. This is a primary obsticle for them, for ultimately to them man is the determiner of his fate, not God; man is sovereign. And it’s interesting to me that synergism came out of monergism because it was unthinkable that God would sovereignly damn people to Hell. And thus in order to not ascribe such evil to God, the only “logical” thing to do was to ascribe such evil to man. I put “logical” in quotes for another viable (better, I believe) option is to question the assumption of Hell.

    Personally, well before I came to have faith that Jesus truly is the savior of all humanity I had already moved towards a greater belief in the sovereignty of God. Both scripture that affirms the sovereignty of God and personal experience compelled me to move in this direction. Deep inside I’d come to recognize that I did not choose Christ, but He chose me; I did not seek Him out, He sought me and saved me. I responded to the revelation of His love because, well, there really was no other sane choice and nothing else I truly wanted deep down inside. I was spiritually dead, a slave to sin and corruption; but Jesus gave me life and set me free.

    To answer your question, is universalism a coherent option for synergists? Likely not, I think; the more one’s soteriology is based upon man’s ability instead of based upon God’s ability, the more one will necessarily appeal to man’s ability to resist God. It’s ironic to me though that it is those who have submitted to God who are affirming man’s ability to resist God. And based on most, if not all, testimonies that I have heard, it is God that saves us in spite of our natural recalcitrance.

    Many years ago, in a systematic theology class, due to interaction with monergists I moved from synergism to accepting that scripture affirms strongly the sovereignty of God. I became a monergist/synergist hybrid and came to believe that salvation was an eternal mystery, something that was beyond our ability to comprehend. At the time, I never thought to question the commonly accepted assumption of Hell, the assumption that Jesus fails to or chooses not to save some, if not most, of humanity. Of course, now I’ve questioned the traditional doctrine of hell and have found it wanting. This freed me to accept simultaneously both that God is sovereign and God loves all humanity.

    In my opinion, Calvinism’s strongest point is the sovereignty of God. Arminianism’s strongest point is God’s love for all humanity. Calvinism’s weakest point is limited atonement (scope). Arminianism’s weakest point is limited atonement (effect). Universalism’s strongest point is that the atonement is not limited in either scope or effect, but fully accomplishes the will of God – the salvation of all humanity.

  • 109 continued

    Forthrightly said, my faith is in the faithfulness, grace, mercy, and love of God, not in the recalcitrance of humanity. Will man’s faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? Of course not. Love never fails. And Jesus does not fail to save all whom He has redeemed.

    I suppose that those who’s faith is in the recalcitrance of man will appeal to it for the possibility that some might forever resist the love of God.