Do you live within a road trip’s driving distance from Northern California? And do you enjoy live debates, or are you on the fence when it comes to whether the Bible teaches conditional immortality or the traditional doctrine of hell? Striving for Eternity Ministries is hosting a debate between Rethinking Hell contributor Chris Date and Bible Thumping Wingnut co-host Len Pettis, at the ministry’s free, annual Norcal Fire conference on Friday, September 9th at Grace Bible Church in Redwood City. From the conference website:

Is conditional immortality biblical? A debate on the nature and duration of hell.

Chris Date, host of the Rethinking Hell podcast, will defend Conditional Immortality. According to this view, life is the Creator’s provisional gift to all, but will ultimately be granted to the saved forever as the gift of immortality, and revoked from the lost forever as the punishment of annihilation. Len Pettis, co-host of the Bible Thumping Wingnut show, will defend the historically dominant view of hell as Eternal Conscious Torment. Date and Pettis are conservative evangelicals and will argue for their respective views from Scripture, which they aim to uphold as their final authority.

Visit the conference website for more details and to register!

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A podcast interview with me

Chris Date has begun a series of podcasts in which he will interview authors of chapters in A Consuming PassionI am the first person on deck, and Chris spent quite a long time talking with me about my journey to annihilationism. Whether or not you have read the series of blog posts I wrote, which were an early form of the material in my chapter for the festschrift for Edward Fudge, you may be interested in this interview.

Toward the end of the interview, Chris asked whether my becoming a conditionalist had affected any other areas of my theology. I said that this was not the case, outside of eschatology. In my experience to that point, I had seen no other dominoes fall as a result of my new understanding of the nature of hell. Chris was particularly interested in hearing whether my understanding of Christ’s atoning work had been affected by my coming to believe that God ultimately destroys the wicked rather than tormenting them endlessly. I answered in the negative. For good reason, this is a subject of great interest to Chris, and he noted that traditionalists tend to place a very heavy emphasis on Christ’s suffering, in order to demonstrate a coherence between what he experienced and what the unredeemed will experience.

Prior to that time, I had made comments on the issue a few times on this blog. While I was still a traditionalist, I had reached the conclusion that neither traditionalism nor annihilationism gains an apologetic advantage from the doctrine of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement. It seemed to me that Jesus neither suffered endlessly nor was annihilated. So there is not an exact likeness between Christ’s experience in bearing the penalty of our sin and unrepentant people’s experience in bearing the penalty of their own sin. That was still my view at the time of my podcast conversation with Chris.

It has been a few months since that Skype call conversation and the wheels have kept turning in my mind. To my own surprise and delight, I have come to see the matter differently. So, by way of moving further onward from my written work to date and my recorded conversation with Chris, I want to lay out here what I now believe and why. Continue reading

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It is evident now that traditionalists throughout most of church history generally held to the gruesome and lurid doctrine of hell that many traditionalists today try to disavow. But there do remain a few loose ends. The first is Martin Luther and his view on hell. The second is the Eastern Orthodox Church, and just how to fit them into the mix. Continue reading

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What Is The Historical View?

Whether the view is right or wrong, one thing that is true about the tortureless, “darkness” form of hell described in part 1 is that it has not been historically common. That isn’t to say that it has never popped up ever. In part 3, we will look at some potential deviations and some blurring of the lines. And even beyond that, when you have 2,000 years and significant chunks of civilization holding to a set of beliefs (Christianity), you are bound to get someone believing something at some point. So I am not saying that no one ever held it in the history of the world until the 1900′s or anything that extreme. But when we think of great names in Chrisendom who also believed in eternal conscious punishment of the unsaved, one thing that you find across the board is a view of hell as a horrible, torturous place of vengeance and violence. Though not completely universal, this has been the predominant view in church history (among traditionalists).

In light of this fact, many traditionalists today who sneer at annihilationism because it departs from the more historical view may find that their own views fare no better.

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If there is one area where traditionalism has an advantage, it is in church history. After all, there is a reason why this is called “traditionalism” and “the traditional view.”

That isn’t to say the view has always been held unanimously (although it is all too often treated as though it has been); resources here at Rethinking Hell address conditionalism among the earliest church fathers. Universalism also appears to have had a considerable following in the early church. The same can be said for the generic denial of “eternal punishment,” which at the very least precludes traditionalism. Nevertheless, the traditional view has been the predominant view in church history, and this is an advantage for traditionalists.

Well, it has been an advantage for traditionalists. Simply put, many traditionalists today, and quite possibly you who are reading this now, envision hell in ways that depart materially and substantially from what traditionalists throughout church history have taught about hell. And therefore, the strongest argument for the traditional view, that of church history, is lost for many traditionalists today.

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