Plenary speakers Preston Sprinkle and Chris Date record a joint episode of the “Theology in the Raw” and “Rethinking Hell” podcasts on Day 2 of the 2018 Rethinking Hell Conference in Dallas–Fort Worth. They discuss their and other speakers’ presentations, answer audience questions, and more.

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Conditionalists often make bold claims. For example, we are known to say—with an even blend of sincerity and hyperbole—that our view appears on virtually every page of the Bible. We’re often quick to point out that serious defenders of the eternal torment view will only focus on three or four key verses. And we’ll claim that even these texts provide better support for conditionalism, upon closer examination (take Matt 25:46 for example, or 2 Thess 1:9).

Are our strong statements just a case of over-confidence? Some people think so. Advocates of eternal torment like Jerry Walls and Gregg Allisson were taken aback when encountering them (you can read Glenn People’s reply to Walls here!). In fact, we’ve been accused by critics of everything from ignorance to hubris! In a climate where it is polite to say that everybody’s perspective is valid, and everybody has their own set of verses, why are conditionalists so dogmatic? Why does Rethinking Hell make such strong statements when championing conditionalism, despite also being strong promoters of dialogue?

Part of the reason is the principle that the Bible should be expected to be clear about such an important subject, including with the terms it uses. Defenders of eternal torment will often say, albeit mistakenly, that Jesus spoke more about hell than about heaven, meaning that we should understand and heed his solemn warnings. So there is often the same kind of conviction about the clarity of biblical teaching on the side of eternal torment as well. This article puts that claim to the test.

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Commentary Guest Contributions Hermeneutics 7 Comments

Sin plus God does not equal eternal torment, in spite of traditionalists frequently telling us otherwise.

Jacob Brunton of For The New Christian Intellectual lives in the Dallas–Fort Worth area, which happens to be where we recently held our annual Rethinking Hell Conference. Mr. Brunton heard of the upcoming conference and marked the occasion by writing an article arguing against conditional immortality (or annihilationism as he prefers to call it), however we wish that he had been able to join us in person. At our conference we received critical engagement from scholars such as Dr. Gregg Allison, demonstrating how we strive to uphold the standards of Christian intellectual inquiry by fostering dialogue between different positions on hell. Mr. Brunton could have helped to sharpen our views by engaging in conversation there, and hopefully benefited from finding his own views sharpened by the experience (although as you’ll see below, in my view his argument may not have fared very well when exposed to other able minds!).

In any case, prior to publishing this response to his argument, we followed standard practice by reaching out to a representative of the organization, letting them know that we’d seen Mr. Brunton’s critical argument, and offering to share a link to our pending response. Surprisingly, we were told, “I’m not interested in your article, thanks.” Although others do have the right to remain ignorant of our responses to their criticism, it must be said that in reality this preference doesn’t reflect the spirit of Christian intellectual inquiry that we are used to in the world of theology. We do often encounter critics of our view that are better described as mere apologists, compared to intellectuals in that more virtuous sense, so we’d like to take this opportunity to call the important movement of Christian apologetics to the higher standard of back-and-forth critical engagement.

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Criticisms Glenn Peoples Philosophy 5 Comments

Robert Wild. A Catholic Reading Guide to Conditional Immortality: The Third Alternative to Hell and Universalism. Eugene: Resource Publications, 2016.1

The official Roman Catholic teaching on the subject of hell is that of eternal torment. Despite this, some have suggested that it is theologoumena rather than dogma, similar to the understanding of hell in Eastern Orthodoxy, where universalism and conditionalism (CI) are both possible options. Fr. Robert Wild is a conditionalist Roman Catholic who advocates for considering both conditionalism and universalism as possibilities for Roman Catholics. He argues that conditionalism is the best understanding both biblically and philosophically, and that CI was likely the most widely held belief among the earliest Christians. He concludes that CI can, and should, become the dominant view again. He writes, “I have come to the conclusion that CI is the more probable answer to the question of the fate of those who remain adamant in their refusal to love… I am also convinced that CI was the most ancient belief in the early years of Christian reflection, that of the Apostolic Fathers and the Apologists… I believe that, eventually, CI will assume its original predominant place and become the main view of Christians.” (p. 175-6).

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  1. A free digital copy of this publication was given to the reviewer in exchange for a review. Many thanks to Wipf&Stock/Resource Publications. []
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I was recently honored to be published in volume 89 of Evangelical Quarterly. Available for free at my Academia.edu profile, my article argues that, contrary to the claims of critics like Robert Peterson, “when one applies accepted principles of hermeneutics and interpretation in the task of exegeting Old and New Testament texts, one will conclude that they teach conditionalism, and not the traditional view of hell.”1 Here is the introduction, to give you a feel for what I go on to argue:
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  1. Christopher M. Date, “The Hermeneutics of Conditionalism: A Defense of the Interpretive Method of Edward Fudge,” Evangelical Quarterly 89:1 (2018), 72–73. []
Biblical Exegesis Chris Date Criticisms Hermeneutics Leave a comment

I was recently honored to be published in volume 18 of McMaster Divinity School’s McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry. My article argues from the atoning work of Christ to conditional immortality and against eternal torment, and will be the basis of my plenary presentation at the upcoming Rethinking Hell Conference 2018 in Dallas–Fort Worth, March 9–10—for which tickets are still available! In the meantime, my article is available for free PDF download. Here are three of the opening paragraphs, to give you a feel for what I go on to argue:

Conditionalists have very often commended their view on the basis of biblical texts that describe hell and final punishment in terms of death and destruction, including those typically cited in support of the doctrine of eternal torment, and this article does not seek to reinvent the proverbial wheel. But in the eyes of some traditionalists, conditionalism is more objectionable on Christological grounds than on any other. Robert Peterson, for example, summarizes how the doctrine of substitutionary atonement should inform one’s understanding of hell: “The cross sheds light on the fate of the wicked,” he explains, “because on the cross the sinless Son of God suffered that fate.” Mistakenly understanding conditionalists to be saying Christ’s human nature ceased to exist on the cross, Peterson insists that the “systematic implications of holding that Jesus was annihilated when he died are enormous. Nothing less than orthodox Christology is at stake.” Such a view, he argues, entails a temporary separation of Jesus’ human and divine natures, thereby violating the Chalcedonian doctrine of the hypostatic union. Alternatively—and equally problematically—Peterson argues that if both of Christ’s natures “ceased to exist between his death and resurrection, then the Trinity only consisted of two persons during that period of time. The Trinity would have been reduced to a Binity.”

Conditionalists, on the other hand, often argue that the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is more consistent with their view of hell than that of their traditionalist critics. Agreeing with Peterson that “Jesus’ death somehow reveals the nature of final punishment,” Edward Fudge observes that “Jesus died; he was not tortured forever. Jesus’ death for sinners does provide a window into the final judgment awaiting the lost. But the view we see through that window is one of suffering that ends in death—not one of everlasting conscious torment.” Glenn Peoples likewise writes, “the New Testament is replete with the language of Jesus dying for sin, for sinners, and for us. Whatever else this might mean, it at least means that in Christ’s passion and ultimately his death we see what comes of sin.” Peoples concludes, “in identifying with sinners and standing in their place, Jesus bore what they would have borne. Abandonment by God, yes. Suffering, yes. But crucially, death.”

Peterson and other critics of conditionalism are right to test it for consistency with an orthodox doctrine of the atonement. Despite their Christological objections, however, conditionalism passes that test quite well—while their own traditional view fares poorly—given the Bible’s teaching of the substitutionary death of Jesus. As the following essay sets out to demonstrate: (1) in the Old Testament, the lives of sacrificed animals substituted for the lives of those who deserved to die; (2) animal sacrifices prefigured Christ’s own atoning sacrifice, likewise described by New Testament authors as the giving of his life in place of those for whom he died; (3) his infinite worth as the God-man enabled him to bear the death penalty deserved by the millions for whom he bore it; (4) by applying his infinite worth to his torment, traditionalists risk unintentionally denying the substitutionary nature of his death, a denial conservative evangelicals are not typically willing to countenance; (5) because Jesus was to be raised, he did not wholly cease to be when he died, but since no resurrection will follow the second death, the bodies and souls of the unredeemed will be destroyed in hell; and (6) although Christians continue to suffer death and will until Christ returns, his substitutionary death shatters its power over the redeemed, guaranteeing their resurrection unto eternal life.

Links

“The Righteous for the Unrighteous: Conditional Immortality and the Substitutionary Death of Jesus,” article in the McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry by Chris Date
http://mcmaster.ca/mjtm/documents/Volume18/18.MJTM.69-92-Date.pdf
The current issue of the McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry, containing Chris’s article
http://mcmaster.ca/mjtm/volume18.htm
Chris Date’s Academia.edu profile, where his article can also be downloaded
https://fuller.academia.edu/ChristopherDate
Biblical Exegesis Chris Date Christology Criticisms 1 Comment