Chris Woznicki joins Rethinking Hell contributor Chris Date at the Rethinking Hell 2019 Far West Chapter Symposium to discuss the theological reservations he has about conditional immortality and which prevent him from yet embracing it, despite what he acknowledges is its exegetical strength. This is part 2 of the recording; listen to part 1 with Zachary Seals in episode 118.
Zachary Seals joins Rethinking Hell contributor Chris Date at the Rethinking Hell 2019 Far West Chapter Symposium to discuss the theological reservations he has about conditional immortality and which prevent him from yet embracing it, despite what he acknowledges is its exegetical strength. Also, listen for an important announcement about the upcoming 2019 Rethinking Hell Conference!
“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:
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.
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.
“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
In the first part of this series, guest contributor Cody Cook argued from Psalm 82’s condemnation of the divine council that both fallen angels and unsaved human beings will be finally punished with death, rather than with immortal life in everlasting torment. “The ultimate fate of these rebellious angels,” Cook writes, “is capital punishment—death. . . . Though these beings are divine in a general sense, and therefore not susceptible to the fragilities of human experience, they will nevertheless die just like human beings do.” 1 But while Cook contends for the mortality of fallen angels and men from Psalm 82, others occasionally argue for their immortality from another passage, one not often cited in the debate over the purpose, nature, and duration of hell. Continue reading “Conditional Immortality and Angels, Part 2—The Immortality of Angels and Men (Luke 20:36)”→
Cook, C., “Conditional Immortality and Angels, Part 1—The Mortality of Angels and Men (Psalm 82).” http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2018/01/conditionalism-and-angels-part-1-mortality-of-angels-and-men-psalm-82/[↩]
I was recently honored to be published in Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics. My article, which challenges the claim that annihilation is not a fate unbelievers fear and will thus fail to prompt them to repent and turn to Christ for salvation, is available for free PDF download. Here are the first two paragraphs, to give you a feel for what I go on to argue:
According to the historically dominant view of hell as eternal torment, the unsaved will be resurrected and made immortal so they can live forever in punitive misery. Conditional immortality on the other hand—or conditionalism for short—is the view that immortality is a gift God will grant only to those who meet the condition of being saved by faith in Jesus Christ, while those not meeting that condition will be raised for judgment still mortal. Being found guilty of sin—the wages of which is death, according to Romans 6:23—they will be capitally punished: killed, executed, destroyed, deprived of life forever—both in body and soul, as Jesus indicates in Matthew 10:28, a fate sometimes therefore called annihilation.
What follows is not a positive case for the truth of this view. Rather, it is a rebuttal to the claim made by critics of conditionalism that it will fail to elicit repentance because unbelievers, they allege, are unafraid of ceasing to exist. In today’s pluralistic culture, however, atheists and adherents to a variety of non-Christian religions often dismiss the doctrine of eternal torment as absurd, and reject Christianity for apparently requiring belief in it. Meanwhile, Scripture and human experience testify to the reality that people deeply fear death, and the Bible’s offer of immortal life is naturally appealing to them, as evinced by the lengths to which mankind goes to try and achieve immortality. Consequently, evangelism done from a conditionalist perspective will fare just as successfully as evangelism based on escaping eternal torment, if not more so.
“Dismissive of Hell, Fearful of Death: Conditional Immortality and the Apologetic Challenge of Hell,” article in Hope’s Reason by Chris Date
In my plenary presentation at the 2015 Rethinking Hell conference, I lamented the fact that many “pastors, professors, apologists, authors, and radio show personalities feel comfortable writing, speaking, and teaching about the motives, errors, and dangerous teachings of conditionalists and universalists, all the while largely ignorant of what it is they actually think and argue.” 1 A case in point is Eric Davis, Teaching Pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. In his recent article at The Cripplegate, repackaged as a slideshow by Crosswalk.com, Davis purports to be “analyzing annihilationism” and “demonstrating that it is biblically untenable.” 2
A close look at his article reveals that, rather than analyzing annihilationism, Davis is scrutinizing a straw man. Meanwhile, his case for the doctrine of eternal torment and against annihilationism simply does not hold up when the burning eye of scrutiny is turned back upon it. Continue reading “Scrutinizing a Straw Man: A Response to Eric Davis”→
Chris Date, “A Seat at the Table: An Appeal for Dialogue and Fellowship,” [presentation] 2015 Rethinking Hell conference, Pasadena, CA, June 18, 2015, https://youtu.be/qdTc-EQ1XPY (accessed July 26, 2017).[↩]
I spoke at the same conference a year earlier at Liberty University, where I am finishing my undergraduate degree. See the list of links above to purchase and download that presentation.[↩]
I also handed out free bookmarks, fanning them out on the table at the center of the conference room in which I presented, as shown in the photo above. Be on the lookout for your opportunity to get yours here at Rethinking Hell![↩]