What is conditionalism? Basically, there are three views on hell, and they are all represented within evangelicalism. There is traditionalism, universalism and conditionalism. Setting aside for the moment that there are different varieties among these views, I will speak in general terms about each position:1

  • The predominant view is traditionalism which is the perspective that we are all eternal beings who will live forever either in heaven or hell.2 Within this view are two alternatives as to the nature of hell. Eternal torment is the more “traditional” view where the unbeliever is tormented in literal fire. Eternal separation is a softer and increasingly popular view where the unbeliever is eternally separated from God – in this view the fire is treated as a metaphor. In either of these, the unbeliever will never die or be freed from this state of punishment. This is the view I grew up with and came to believe for most of my life.
  • Universalism is the view of hell as a place of burning which is refining and purifying with the ultimate purpose that all will eventually come to a place of repentance and restoration with God and then enter Heaven. The length of time for this purified repentance will vary for each unbeliever, but God’s love, according to Universalists, is powerful enough to bring all to repentance and restoration. In other words, hell will eventually empty itself and cease to be.
  • And just briefly, because it will be fleshed out more: conditionalism is the view that we are not all eternal or immortal beings, unlike God. Eternal life and immortality is “conditional” upon faith in Jesus Christ, and is given only as a good gift, not as a curse. When the condition of salvation is not met, hell is a place of complete destruction and annihilation. In this view, the unbeliever eventually perishes and ceases to be.

Continue reading

  1. Most seem to believe in a form of “separationism.” Along with this is a form of “lewisianism” in which all who are in hell, ultimately choose it, and hell’s door is locked from the inside (C.S.Lewis). Yet there are those, like N.T.Wright, who suggest a kind of “dehumanization,” that those who refuse to respond to the gospel, and only worship themselves, “that after death they become at last, by their own effective choice, beings that once were human but now are not,” but however, he admits that this is wandering into “territory that no one can claim to have mapped” (N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church [New York, NY: Harper One, 2008], 183.). To illustrate this, some point to Smeagol’s ghastly transformation into Gollum in the LOTR Trilogy. Yet, ironically, Gollum is eventually annihilated in the volcanic fires of Mount Doom. []
  2. The label “traditionalism” suggests that the alternate views are not found in church tradition, which is untrue. []
Featured Content Introductory Leave a comment

1. Psalm 37 shouts annihilationism

It may be that no passage of Scripture declares annihilationism (the ultimate destruction of wicked unbelievers) with clearer language than Psalm 37. Does it surprise you to find such a teaching in the Old Testament? It shouldn’t. Doesn’t Isaiah 53 contain one of the clearest presentations of substitutionary atonement and Psalm 22 convey one of the most graphic and moving descriptions of the crucifixion? As the Old Testament authors were inspired to share God’s work in their lives and their world, sometimes truths were revealed which went far beyond their own horizons.

Psalm 37 is filled with words and phrases that describe the fate of the unrighteous. In this psalm we are told that “the future of the wicked will be destroyed,” and that they themselves will:

“be destroyed”
“be no more”
“not be there”
“perish”
“fade away like smoke”
“be destroyed”
“not be found”
“be eliminated”

These words do not sound like eternal torment. They certainly do not sound like universal reconciliation! But they do sound like annihilation. In fact, it’s hard to imagine any language which would more clearly portray the final fate of the unrighteous as one of permanent and complete destruction.

Continue reading

Commentary 7 Comments

Timothy Keller is a widely respected Christian pastor and much-needed public voice. But even our best and brightest are prone to saying questionable things due to the implications of their doctrine of hell. A case in point is Pastor Keller’s recent tweet: “Unless you believe in Hell, you will never know how much Jesus loves you.” This statement proved to be quite controversial, leading Keller in subsequent tweets and comments to seek to clarify what he had meant.

Now, to those like myself who believed for decades that the Bible taught a hell of eternal torment, Keller’s statement doesn’t seem controversial at all. It hits all the right notes for conservative evangelicals, and just feels appropriately pious and true. It’s one of those statements you whip out when you want to defend hell from its liberal or postmodern detractors. There are many variations on the theme—to do with God’s love, glory, holiness, or even His willingness to defer to the sinner’s own desires—but in each case the basic formula is the notion that the worse hell looks, the better God looks by contrast.

For example, if you think that the idea of a loving Creator tormenting people should cause us to raise at least one eyebrow, simply realize that people in hell are tormenting themselves, and you’ll soon feel much better about the whole thing. In time, you will see that God is really being magnanimous for giving them a separate place to do so. You know, forever.

Continue reading

Peter Grice 16 Comments

“You just got a shout out from Al Mohler at T4G.” A friend posted the notice on my Facebook wall while I was at work, and as I could not immediately access the Together for the Gospel (T4G) live video feed, my mind raced until my next short break. What might Mohler have said? I had debated him three years earlier, and he had been kind and gracious, even telling me after the recording was over that he’d love to meet me if I ever find myself on the east coast. I listen to his podcast “The Briefing” almost daily, and share much of his very conservative and Calvinist worldview. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mohler, and the thought that he might have mentioned me in a positive light excited me.

Sadly, I had been naive. Mohler hadn’t mentioned me specifically; he had mentioned our recent Rethinking Hell Conference in Dallas–Fort Worth. And his comments were not at all positive, but were instead derisive and even mocking. With his brief words, he had misrepresented the conference, the ministry, and the broader conditionalist movement. While the derision and contempt hurt, it was Mohler’s unfair mischaracterizations that frustrated me most. I believe that he should know better.

I tried to contact Mohler, asking if he would be willing to discuss his comments with me, but I have not yet heard back from him. So, in this article I shall respond to his comments and those of his co-panelist Ligon Duncan. If you like, you can hear them in this video before reading on:

Continue reading

Biblical Exegesis Commentary Conference Criticisms Culture 13 Comments

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.

Continue reading

Conference Podcast Leave a comment

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.

Continue reading

Commentary Guest Contributions Hermeneutics 7 Comments