Evangelical Alliance Examines the Conditionalists

Evangelical Alliance Examines the Conditionalists August 18, 2014

The Evangelical Alliance is the UK’s version of a genuinely evangelical and ecumenical organization. If I may, American evangelicalism has never been able to get along well enough to form such an organization (unless I’m mistaken). It seeks to bring together all of the UK’s evangelicals; it does not attempt to show how other (supposed) evangelicals are wrong but they are right.

Two points for our post today: first, it is a major evangelical body (not just a group of watchdogs of evangelicalism) that has been working together for a century and a half; second, it has examined the evangelical status of conditionalists and evangelical teaching of conditionalism [summary statement here][there is a fuller summary in a chp in Rethinking Hell]. First, from their website what supports the first:

We are the largest and oldest body representing the UK’s two million evangelical Christians. For more than 165 years, we have been bringing Christians together and helping them listen to, and be heard by, the government, media and society.

From Skye to Southampton, from Coleraine to Cardiff, we work across 79 denominations, 3,500 churches, 750 organisations and thousands of individual members. And we’re not just connecting Christians within the UK. We are a founding member of the World Evangelical Alliance, a global network of more than 600 million evangelical Christians, and we work in partnership with Global Connections, the UK evangelical Christian network for world mission.

Unity is what drives us – but not just for unity’s sake. By bringing people together, we are following the John 17 mandate to show the immense love of God, who sent his Son for us. We connect people for a shared mission, whether it’s nurturing a church culture which is increasingly confident in the gospel, getting involved in community action or lobbying the government for a better society. We inform and inspire Christians with resources, analysis and articles about our society, what the church is doing and how they can get involved. And we represent evangelicals to the media, presenting God’s truth with grace and telling good news stories about the difference Christians are making.

We believe the Church is the key to long-lasting change in our country – and that by working closely with our amazing members, we can transform our communities with the good news of Jesus.

Evangelical pedigree is determined by one or all of these four items: doctrine (Bible-based teaching), historical (fit in the evangelical contours of church history), ideological (fit in modern evangelical groups), and relations (are they on good terms with evangelicals?). Basic conclusions:

Yes, they are Bible-based people;

Less so, their view is a minority view in church history;

Yes, they are part of evangelicalism;

Yes, they are on good terms with other evangelicals.

Thus, conditionalists are a growing but significant minority evangelical group. They are evangelicals.

Thus, conditionalism is a secondary issue, not a primary issue. There is much unity over God’s final judgment and the irreversibility of God’s judgment; there is disagreement over consciousness or consequences, not over the judgment itself. Hell is real for both. God judges in both. Conditionalism is not universalism. The two sides ought to work toward agreement and not settle for “we agree to disagree.”

Here are their conclusions:

6. Hell is more than mere annihilation at the point of death. Rather, death will lead
on to resurrection and final judgment to either heaven or hell (1 Cor. 15:1-58;
John 5:25-9; Rev. 20:11-14)

7. As well as separation from God, hell involves severe punishment. Scripture depicts
this punishment in various ways, using both psychological and physical
terminology. Although this terminology is often metaphorical and although we
should be wary of inferring more detail about hell than Scripture itself affords,
hell is a conscious experience of rejection and torment (Matt. 8:12, 13:42, 24:51;
Luke. 13:28, 16:23).

8. There are degrees of punishment and suffering in hell related to the severity of
sins committed on earth. We should, however, be wary of speculating on how
exactly the correlation between sins committed and penalties imposed will operate
(Luke. 10:12, 12:47f.).

9. The Bible describes hell as a realm of destruction. Evangelicals, however, diverge
on whether this destruction applies to the actual existence of individual sinners
(eventual annihilation), or to the quality of their relationship with God (eternal
conscious punishment). Although Scripture frequently presents God’s ultimate
punishment for sin as ‘death’, the meaning of ‘death’ in Scripture is not confined
merely to the cessation of earthly life, and is often used to convey long-term
spiritual estrangement from God (Matt 7:13, 10:28; John 5:16; Eph. 2:1).

10. Evangelicals diverge on whether hell is eternal in duration or effect – that is,
whether an individual’s punishment in hell will literally go on ‘for ever’, as a
ceaseless conscious experience, or whether it will end in a destruction which will e ‘forever’, in the sense of being final and irreversible. It should be acknowledged
that both of these interpretations preserve the crucial principle that judgment is
on the basis of sins committed in this life, and that when judgment is to hell, it
cannot be repealed (Matt. 25:41-6; Mark. 9:43-8; Luke 16:26).

11. God’s purpose extends beyond judgment to the redemption of the cosmos.
Evangelicals diverge on whether a place is preserved for hell in this new order of
things, but it is important to stress that, either way, God’s demands of justice will
have been fully and perfectly met by this point (Rev. 20:14, 21:4, cf. 22:15).

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