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,1Physicalism 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. 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,2Since 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. 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.
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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.”1Koukl, Greg. Stand to Reason, June 25th, 2012, 12:50 Among other examples of such beliefs, Greg included annihilationism:2Ibid., 19:09

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.

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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 them1I’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.”—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 chapter 20. 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.

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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.”