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Statement on Evangelical Conditionalism

Episode 115: “The Precious Blood of Christ”: A Response to James White

Rethinking Hell contributor Chris Date responds to comments recently made by James White on the Dividing Line, in which White rightly explains that biblical language of Christ shedding his precious blood means he died as a substitute in place of those for whom his sacrifice was made. Chris asks, if the blood of Christ points metonymically to his substitutionary death, doesn’t that mean the punishment awaiting the unsaved is likewise death?

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Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth Do Not Indicate Eternal Torment

If you already had in mind the idea that hell is a place of everlasting conscious punishment, then it is understandable that when you hear someone say hell involves “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” you would imagine that phrase referring to the terrible torments in this place of everlasting conscious punishment.1 But if we want to look at what the Bible actually teaches about hell, we must not simply assume that that it teaches what we already believe. And when we look at it more closely, it becomes clear that the refrain that “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” does not so clearly mean what many initially think it means.23 Some translations say “wailing and gnashing of teeth,” but the difference is immaterial. [↩] See Matthew 8:12, 13:42, 13:50, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30, Luke 13:28. [↩] Unless otherwise noted, all scripture is quoted from the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. [↩]

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Exegesis Interrupted: A Critique of Stand To Reason’s Article “Hell Interrupted, Part 2”

I consider myself an exegete. For seven or so years last decade during my dual degrees at Malyon College–a Baptist seminary in Brisbane, Australia–I developed a passion for biblical hermeneutics and exegesis that remains with me today.1 At the start of each semester, I would make sure I could fit every single exegetical subject into my schedule. I became capable enough in this area to be employed by the college as their first study skills tutor, a role in which I was responsible for teaching new students hermeneutical and exegetical principles. I point all this out simply to show that I am in a position to recognize when these principles may be incorrectly applied, or not even applied at all.  In this article the term hermeneutics refers to those principles one employs when interpreting and applying a text. Exegesis is the process of applying hermeneutical principles to properly read meaning out of a text. Eisegesis is the hermeneutical sin of reading meaning into a text. [↩]

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Episode 114: “An Unquenchable Doctrine”: Chris Date on the Recent History of Conditional Immortality

Rethinking Hell contributor Chris Date recently presented a paper at Lloyd Strickland’s and Andrew Crome’s conference, “Imagining the Last Things: Eschatology and Apocalypticism, 1500-Present.” Chris’s paper, “An Unquenchable Doctrine: The Tenacity of Conditional Immortality in Recent History,” outlines the history of conditionalism since the Reformation and its increasing popularity despite attempts by traditionalists to stamp it out, and the evolution of the doctrine of eternal torment into something much more moderate than would be recognizable to Christians of the past.

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The Many and Varied Problems with the Modern, Metaphorical View of Eternal Conscious Hell

One always unpleasant but ultimately necessary task that comes into play when discussing the nature of final punishment is digging into the specifics. Historically, Christian writers have not shied away from expounding on hell beyond just the basic question of whether hell is a place of eternal torment, annihilation, or temporary discipline that that leads to universal salvation. And this is the case today as much as ever, as more and more who hold the traditional view expound upon the specifics of it in a way that I argue makes it increasingly untenable (and less traditional). Increasingly among evangelicals (though not only among evangelicals), hell is seen not as a place of eternal conscious burning, of the unsaved being tormented by fire and manifestations of God’s wrath, but as a place where the chief element of the suffering is sadness from being separated from God. The fire is seen as a metaphor. The torment is described as emotional and spiritual, not physical torture inflicted by God or his agents. An attempt is made to depart from the common pop culture trope of the eternal torture chamber.

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Episode 112: “Does the Bible Teach Eternal Conscious Torment?” Date and Quient Debate Richardson and Lauriston

 A live-streamed debate between Damon Richardson of UrbanLogia Ministries and Elce Lauriston (affirmative), and Chris Date and Nick Quient of Rethinking Hell (negative) answering the question, “Does the Bible teach eternal conscious torment?” You can also watch the debate on YouTube or in the player below. Click here to download the slides presented by Chris and Nick in PDF form.

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The New Creation Millennialism Paradigm: A Radical Biblical-Eschatological Alternative to Everlasting Torment

I want to make a big ask at the beginning of this article. I want to ask my readers to lay aside your natural prejudice against the new and unfamiliar, and give my presentation a hearing as though you had not yet decided on an eschatological model. Jesus has a parable about the psychology that goes along with repeatedly hearing the same doctrine repeated until it seems—merely because of the repetition—to be obviously the best: No one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better’ (Lk. 5:39).

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What the Bible Actually Says about “Eternal Fire” – Part 2

As you might imagine, traditionalists have given rebuttals to the general case put forth in Part 1. These rebuttals break down into two broader camps. The first camp is that Jude 7 should be translated differently from how it is presented in Part 1. Those in this camp would argue that the text does not really say that Sodom and Gomorrah themselves were burned with eternal fire in the first place. Rebuttals of the second category do not challenge the translation of the NASB (which I used in Part 1). Instead, when Jude says they were burned with eternal fire, this does not challenge the standard interpretation that “eternal fire” is fire that burns for eternity.1 Given the scope of this article, I will touch upon some of the common objections to the aforementioned interpretation, though I encourage the curious reader to consult my free ebook, The Bible Teaches Annihilationism, Sections XVI and XVII, regarding relevant passages. Recall in Part 1 that there is a conditionalist interpretation of “eternal fire” in Jude 7 that asserts the term does mean a fire that burns for eternity because it emanates from God, who is eternal and said to be a “consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24, Hebrews 12:29). [↩]

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What the Bible Actually Says about “Eternal Fire” – Part 1

Matthew 25:41 is often cited in support of the doctrine of eternal torment in hell, owing to its description of the unsaved being sent into “eternal fire.” The phrase is also used in Matthew 18:8 and Jude 7, which are commonly cited as well (although less frequently). The idea is relatively simple: if hell is eternal fire, then it would appear to mean that hell is a fire that burns for eternity. If hell is a fire that burns for eternity, it must have fuel to burn forever. And since that fuel is people, it follows that people will be burned in that fire for eternity.1 However, this argument for eternal torment fails when we look more deeply at what the Bible has to say on the matter. In fact, when we understand how it uses the phrase “eternal fire,” it can even be seen as evidence in support of evangelical conditionalism. Of course, many traditionalists today do not believe that hell is actually fire in the first place, which presents a lot of problems for their view, as discussed in a previous article titled “Why the Modern Version of the Eternal Torment Doctrine Falls Short.” [↩]

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Introduction to Evangelical Conditionalism – Mark 9:48

If someone spoke of hell as a fire that will not be quenched and worms that will not die, many believers would hear such language and think it was referring to worms and fire biting and burning and tormenting people forever. And that is fair, given the traditions and presuppositions many of us will bring to the table by default. For this reason, Mark 9:43-48, most notably verse 48, is commonly believed to speak of eternal torment in hell. But when we look at it just a little bit deeper, especially after taking into account the Old Testament background of the passage, this passage no longer makes a good case for eternal torment. If anything, in light of the passage’s Old Testament background, this passage serves as evidence for evangelical conditionalism and against the traditional view, not the other way around.

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Does Matthew 8:29 Teach the Eternal Torment of Unclean Spirits?

Do the demons expect that one day, Jesus will torment them in hell for ever and ever? And is that what will ultimately happen to them? The wording of a group of demons in one of the encounters Jesus had with a demon-possessed man is sometimes brought up as indicative of the eternal torment awaiting demons (according to the traditional view of hell): And they [the demons] cried out, saying, ‘What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?’” (Matthew 8:29).1  Some have taken this to mean that demons will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.234 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture is quoted from the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. [↩]Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Thomas Nelson, 1998), 1076. [↩]Michael burgos, Jr., “Hell No: The Terrible Hermeneutics of Annihilationism,” Biblical Trinitarian [blog], posted on October 21, 2016, http://www.biblicaltrinitarian.com/2016/10/hell-no-terrible-hermeneutic-of.html (accessed August 11, 2018). [↩]“Hell,” Let Us Reason Ministries, n.d., http://www.letusreason.org/doct12.htm (accessed August 11, 2018). [↩]

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The Berean Call: Assistance for Those Testing the Traditionalist Doctrine of Hell

During his missionary journeys, Paul often faced fierce opposition and was run out of many towns. When he came to Berea, however, Paul encountered Jews who were willing not only to hear his message but also to take the time to investigate it in light of the Hebrew Scriptures (Acts 17:11). What a blessing this must have been! Joy undoubtedly filled Paul’s heart as scrolls were unrolled in search of the truth. And heaven surely rejoiced over the evangelistic victory that followed: “Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men” (Acts 17:12). The eagerness of the Bereans to consider Paul’s claims regarding Jesus and his resurrection in light of God’s word is celebrated in Scripture as a noble endeavor. To this day, to be known as a “Berean believer” is a huge compliment. It speaks of valuing Scripture above tradition and personalities, especially with regard to controversial subjects. It refers to one who opens his or her Bible and carefully examines the details of the text. Do you stand ready to take a fresh look at the Scriptures to see for yourself what they actually say? Those of us in the evangelical conditionalist movement hope so. And we encourage you to join us in testing the common claim that divine justice requires suffering throughout all of eternity.

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A Case for Conditionalism

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. 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. [↩]The label “traditionalism” suggests that the alternate views are not found in church tradition, which is untrue. [↩]

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Psalm 37—A Song of Annihilation

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.

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Death or Eternal Suffering—Which One Reveals How Much Jesus Loves You? (A Response to Timothy Keller)

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.

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“Hath God said?” A Response to Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, and T4G

“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:

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Episode 111: Rethinking “Hell Theology” in the Raw

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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Perspicuity or Ambiguity: Could the Bible Have Been Clearer on Hell?

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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Infinity, Divine Value, and Hell: A Rejoinder to Jacob Brunton

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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