When Rob Bell unleashed the fury of responses to his book Love Wins, many were caught off guard. Why? Because many did not know that this issue has been simmering among evangelicals for a generation. In some ways it began when John Stott confessed he was an annihilationist, which brought to the surface the fact that a number of UK theologians were also annihilationists (like John Wenham, RT France, et al).
That statement of Stott’s gave others courage to come forward, and it appears the late Clark Pinnock was one of them. Clark’s piece in Four Views on Hell is one of the finer brief sketches of the annihilationist view. I want to touch on a few of his ideas this morning.
To begin with, here is his sketch of the traditional view:
Then he asks this question:
According to the larger picture, we are asked to believe that God endlessly tortures sinners by the million, sinners who perish because the Father has decided not to elect them to salvation, though he could have done so, and whose torments are supposed to gladden the hearts of believers in heaven. The problems with this doctrine are both extensive and profound (136).
Would God who tells us to love our enemies be intending to wreak vengeance on his enemies for all eternity? (140)
Hell is proof of how seriously God takes human freedom (142).
Pinnock contends the Bible, when read properly in context, does not teach the traditional view; he also contends that the predominant images of hell in the Bible are about death, perishing, destruction, and corruption — not conscious torment. One of his major beefs is that the traditional view assumes the immortality of the soul, which is a Greek idea and not a biblical one, and that the traditional view therefore requires that God grant immortality to the wicked in order to push them eternally.
One of his major summary statements: “My point is that eternal torment serves no purpose at all and exhibits a vindictiveness totally out of keeping with the love of God revealed in the gospel” (153).
The real choice is between universalism and annihilationism, and of these two, annihilationism is surely the more biblical, because it retains the realism of some people finally saying No to God without turning the notion of hell into a mostrosity.