No Penitent in Hell: A [Reformed] Response to D. A. Carson

On June 22, 2012, well-known and respected theologian and scholar D. A. Carson told his audience that, as far as he could see, in Scripture “there is no hint anywhere that people in hell genuinely repent.”1 As part of an exposition of Revelation chapters 21 and 22 he cited both and Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man in as evidence that “hell is not filled with people who are deeply sorry for their sins.” To the contrary, Carson said, it is “filled with people who for all eternity still shake their puny fists in the face of God Almighty, in an endless existence of evil.”
Although he didn’t include it as part of that presentation, in the past he has also pointed to (“Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong”), writing of “the vileness they will live and practice throughout all eternity.”2 He has also elsewhere suggested the possibility that this perpetual lack of repentance on the part of the wicked, and their ongoing sinfulness, is part of the ground and justification for their eternally ongoing punishing.
Carson’s view raises several questions. How legitimate is his application of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man? Will those consigned to final punishment fail to repent and continue to sin following their judgment and sentencing? Does the Bible indicate that they will go on sinning forever, implying that they have been raised immortal? Even if it does not, if they continue to sin after judgment at all, wouldn’t they accrue additional retributive debt, requiring further punishment, during which their continued rebellion would earn them still further punishment, and so on ad infinitum throughout eternity?
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  1. Carson, D. A. “Home at last: The spectacular God at the center (Revelation 21-22).” http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/a/home_at_last_the_spectacular_god_at_the_center_revelation_21-22. []
  2. Carson, D. A. (2009). The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. (Zondervan, Kindle Edition) p. 533. []

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

16:1 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

Double Jeopardy: Why Raise the Dead, Only to Destroy Them?

Annihilationism and the Resurrection of the Lost1

Double JeopardySome have argued that if the lost will be destroyed, that is, if they are not subjected to eternal misery, then it would be pointless for God to resurrect them. Given the context of physicalism or possibly soul-sleep—which of course not all annihilationists hold to—Arthur W. Pink writes the following: “The absurdity and unscripturalness of Annihilationism are easily exposed. If at death, the sinner passes out of existence, why resurrect him in order to annihilate him again?”2 Consider also what Sinclair B. Ferguson said while preaching at the Desiring God conference for Pastors in 1990. Assuming dualism and conscious punishment in the intermediate state, he argues that the resurrection of the unsaved prior to annihilation “must be viewed as some kind of cynical joke in the heart of this All-Righteous God, that he punishes men and women and then raises them from the dead simply to annihilate them out of all existence.”3
While conditionalism is true, we nevertheless know that there will be a resurrection of both saved and unsaved (; ), so then what is the response from conditionalists?
Continue reading “Double Jeopardy: Why Raise the Dead, Only to Destroy Them?”

  1. Adapted from The Bible Teaches Annihlationism by Joseph Dear []
  2. Pink, A. W. Eternal Punishment (1940), 13. []
  3. Ferguson, Sinclair B. “Universalism and the reality of eternal punishment: The biblical basis of the doctrine of eternal punishment.” Preached at the Desiring God Conference for Pastors, January 29, 1990. []

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

Their Worm Does Not Die: Annihilation and Mark 9:48

Phaenicia sericata larva ("maggot")
In my recent response to Matt Chandler’s otherwise praiseworthy The Explicit Gospel, I criticized what I believe to be several mistakes Chandler makes concerning final punishment. One of them, I argued, was that in citing Jesus’ words in Chandler fails to point out that the passage Jesus quotes “explicitly says that it is corpses whose ‘worm will not die’.”1 I made the claim that “The idiom communicates the shame of having one’s corpse unburied, and arguably the irresistible and complete consumption of those corpses by maggots.”
Many traditionalists, however, who do point out that the hosts of Isaiah’s undying worms were corpses, nevertheless insist that the imagery supports the traditional view of hell. Whether they believe maggots will literally feed upon the bodies of the wicked for eternity—albeit living, immortal bodies—or whether they believe the idiom symbolically points toward an eternity of conscious torment, either way it is argued that the text of Isaiah, quoted by Jesus, depicts ever-consuming worms which never die. The fire that isn’t quenched will be the subject of a future post here at Rethinking Hell; in the meantime, let us take a look at the gruesome idiom that is its parallel.
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  1. Date, C. (2012, July 15). “Explicit Mistakes: A Response to Matt Chandler.” Rethinking Hell [blog]. Retrieved 15 July 2012. http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/07/explicit-mistakes-a-response-to-matt-chandler/ []

48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

Explicit Mistakes: A Response to Matt Chandler

The Explicit Gospel by Matt ChandlerI’ll confess that I really don’t know who Matt Chandler is. Perhaps I’m not as well read and plugged into evangelicalism as I should be. I also haven’t read any reviews of Chandler’s book, The Explicit Gospel, critical or otherwise, and so I don’t know what other people think of him. About a month ago my church began announcing that we would soon begin a series based on this book, and the descriptions of it on posters and flyers—although compelling and engaging to many, I’m sure—left me with no idea what the book was actually about. Designed to captivate and spark interest, the failure of the marketing campaign to communicate ultimately anything meaningful at all about the book left me a little worried that The Explicit Gospel would be theologically vapid.
But a friend of mine who knows me very well, having peeked at portions of the book, told me I was in for a pleasant surprise. He recalled that in the very first episode of my podcast I lamented the fact that seemingly few Christians are being taught to look forward to their bodily resurrection, instead placing their hope in an eternal, disembodied existence floating around on clouds playing harps. He told me I’d be excited to know that Chandler teaches the resurrection in his book, and my friend assured me that this was just one example of several meaty theological topics Chandler addresses.
Indeed I was a little excited. And since I was recently given the gift of a Kindle by my best friend, I decided to purchase the Kindle edition of The Explicit Gospel. I’m only one chapter into the book but I must say that I’m very impressed. Perhaps my praise is a little premature but so far I am blown away by Chandler’s ability to communicate deep and profound theology in potent yet accessible language likely to move the minds and emotions of a diverse audience. Unfortunately, however, curiosity having led me to search the book for the word “hell,” I discovered that Chandler makes some mistakes concerning final punishment.
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The Same Before and After: A Response to Matt Slick

I like Matt Slick, President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. I’ve called into his radio show several times and have even interviewed him on the topic of complementarianism. (For an egalitarian response to Matt, you can listen to my two-part interview with Dr. Philip Payne.) Generally Matt is smart and knowledgeable and I appreciate his ministry, but when it comes to the topic of final punishment he is not a sound thinker.
Approximately 31 minutes into the 26 June 2012 episode of CARM radio, a caller asked Matt about physicalism,1 which led to a conversation that also included conditionalism. In addition to his arguments against physicalism he offered an argument against annihilation as final punishment, wherein he labeled a man’s state prior to conception as A,2 his state after conception as B, and his state following annihilation as A again since it is allegedly identical to his state prior to conception, that of non-existence.
Matt concluded that since the first A state could not be called a punishment, neither can the second A state. So this might be called the “A, B, A” argument against conditionalism. Were I his teacher, I would give Matt an F.
Continue reading “The Same Before and After: A Response to Matt Slick”

  1. Physicalism is a monistic view of man which denies the existence of an immaterial soul or spirit that lives on after death. To learn more, you can check out my interviews on the topic. []
  2. Since a man does not exist prior to his conception, technically this is not a “state,” but to keep things simple I’ll use the term to refer even to the state of non-existence. []

Wind Out of the Sails: A Response to Greg Koukl

I highly recommend Greg Koukl’s Stand to Reason ministry and radio program. Greg and I don’t agree on a number of theological issues, but I greatly respect and appreciate his passion for teaching Christians the importance of careful thinking. As he’s been known to say, “Emotions are what make life delicious, careful thinking is what makes life safe.” Unfortunately, however, as is certainly the case with every generally careful thinker, Greg thinks less carefully about some issues than he does others.
In a recent episode, Greg explained that he sees spiritual warfare not primarily as battle during a direct and immediate assault by the devil against the individual believer but as the tearing down of lofty ideas that hinder the message of Christ. “Many of those who identify themselves as genuine followers of Christ,” said Greg, “have been undermined in their ability to communicate the gospel because of other beliefs, theological beliefs, that take the wind out of the sails of the Great Commission, to put it simply.”1 Among other examples of such beliefs, Greg included annihilationism:2

So the point here is, I see in, say the teaching of annihilationism…the hallmarks of spiritual warfare. That is, I see an idea now, that if taken seriously, takes the wind out of the sails of the Great Commission. It makes the gospel seem less important, or less urgent. Now who would have an interest in making the gospel less important or less urgent? Not Jesus. The devil. When I notice a doctrine coming in from the side that doesn’t seem to be consistent with classical Christian teaching and which doctrine seems to have the impact of taking some of the force out of the Great Commission, I immediately know that this is an example of spiritual warfare, and I need to resist it.

Annihilationism is false, then, according to Koukl, because it makes the gospel less important, less urgent, thus taking the “wind out of the sails” of the Great Commission. Let us examine this claim, and see if it is a compelling reason to reject conditional immortality.
Continue reading “Wind Out of the Sails: A Response to Greg Koukl”

  1. Koukl, Greg. Stand to Reason, June 25th, 2012, 12:50 []
  2. Ibid., 19:09 []

Consistency in Preterism: Annihilation and Revelation 20:10

The nature of final punishment is a topic which falls under the theological category of eschatology, the study of last things. Also discussed as part of that category is the timing of the fulfillment of certain biblical prophecies, such as the coming of the Son of Man foretold by Jesus in his Olivet discourse, the nature and activity of the beast of Revelation, and so forth. Perhaps constituting the majority view of the church in America today, futurists believe that most of these prophecies will be fulfilled in our future; preterists like me, on the other hand, believe most of these prophecies—but not all of them1—were fulfilled in our past, specifically in the first century surrounding the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in A.D. 70.

As I mentioned in a previous article, there’s a strong argument to be made in favor of conditionalism from the apocalyptic imagery of death and Hades in Revelation . This argument carries force regardless of one’s eschatological position concerning the timing of prophetic events, and I will make that argument in the future here at Rethinking Hell. In the meantime, however, because of my interest in this particular eschatological persuasion, I want to reach out to my fellow preterists and make a bold, provocative and controversial statement: You can’t be a consistent preterist unless you’re also a conditionalist.

Continue reading “Consistency in Preterism: Annihilation and Revelation 20:10”

  1. I’m referring to what was historically termed preterism, which has in recent years been unfortunately called “partial” preterism. I am not a hyper- or “full” preterist. For more information, listen to Episode 3 of my friend Dee Dee Warren’s podcast or read her article, “Perfuming the Hog.” []
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