The Annihilation of Hell? A Response to Alan Gomes

Back in 1991, when hardly anyone had discovered the internet, anti-cult author and Biola university professor Dr. Alan W. Gomes wrote “Evangelicals and the Annihilation of Hell,” a two-part article (see Part 1 and Part 2) for The Christian Research Journal.1Alan W. Gomes, “Evangelicals and the Annihilation of Hell,” Christian Research Journal, Spring 1991, pp. 14ff. and Summer 1991, pp 8ff. Those familiar with the debate over hell will recognize that things have moved on since then. Responding now could seem a little anachronistic. After all, Dr. Gomes can hardly be faulted for not interacting with more recent writings by evangelical conditionalists.

However, like J. I. Packer’s critical review from 1997, Dr. Gomes’ article is still doing the rounds, suggesting that a belated response may be warranted. My intention will not be to find fault with Dr. Gomes himself, but for practical reasons I will proceed as if Dr. Gomes had been apprised of the clear statements and arguments of today’s evangelical conditionalists. He at least had access to the pre-1991 contributions of evangelical conditionalists such as Edward Fudge and the late John Stott, with whom we are in substantial agreement. This interaction with a decades-long dialogue then should hopefully be instructive, perhaps even taking us all a little further. Continue reading “The Annihilation of Hell? A Response to Alan Gomes”

1. Alan W. Gomes, “Evangelicals and the Annihilation of Hell,” Christian Research Journal, Spring 1991, pp. 14ff. and Summer 1991, pp 8ff.

Atonement Debate Redux: Lean Not On Your Own Understanding

While contending for Conditional Immortality within today’s evangelical world, it can often feel like one is in a battle of sorts: a contest of theological rigor, consistency, and biblical fidelity. This sense of contention gives rise to lively deliberations on social media, conversations with friends and family, discussions within churches, and even formal academic debate. What delights me most about all the interaction around conditionalism lately is the increased focus on the atonement and the soteriological implications of what we believe about what awaits the risen lost. In a theological battle that to date has been—to an extent—characterized by misunderstandings and vacuous rhetoric, it is encouraging to see a more focused approach come from both sides, especially those around the atoning sacrifice made by Christ on our behalf.

I recently had the privilege to join the fight for conditionalism on the Rethinking Hell Podcast and have eagerly awaited the continued dialogue that was sure to follow. So imagine my delight when I was informed that a former debate opponent of Chris Date has recently written about the connection between final punishment and penal substitutionary atonement! With great anticipation I prepared for doctrinal battle and awaited the pointed arguments I expected to encounter, only to find that in the end, the only attacks aimed at me fell upon straw men! How sad. Nevertheless, it is instructive to address what arguments have arisen in this new wave of focus on the atonement. Conditionalism’s critics often lean heavily on their own understanding of our claims, hastily waxing eloquent about our supposed errors without representing us fully or accurately. This article will address such arguments, and others, made in “Does the Doctrine of Hell Conflict With Penal Substitutionary Atonement” by  Hiram R. Diaz III on biblicaltrinitarian.com. Continue reading “Atonement Debate Redux: Lean Not On Your Own Understanding”

Annihilation in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (Part 2): Separation or Obliteration?—The Present Controversy

Note: This article is part of a series. Part 1 presented a clear and consistent understanding of 2 Thessalonians 1:9 based on relevant context. Here, Part 2 justifies that reading by dealing with more complex matters of translation and interpretation, interacting with respected critics.

Around the middle of the first century, the apostle Paul wrote the following to the church in Thessalonica:

…which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe…

This is how the NKJV renders 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 (note in particular verse 9, in bold). Some other translations render this passage a little differently, so you might be surprised to learn that it is often touted as a text which speaks in favor of traditionalism. On its face, “affliction” leading to “everlasting destruction” at the revealing of Christ from heaven sounds a lot like the punishment that conditionalists believe will befall God’s enemies. And as the previous article in this series shows, a simple yet thorough reading of the text in its context does indeed support conditionalism.

Despite this, some traditionalists well-versed in the biblical languages have raised arguments suggesting we should look beyond the apparent meaning of this passage. We will now consider their arguments, as we study this passage more closely. What we will discover will add nuance to our understanding, but it will also confirm that the simple, obvious reading is just what Paul intended.

Continue reading “Annihilation in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (Part 2): Separation or Obliteration?—The Present Controversy”

Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked (Part 2)

In a recent article, guest contributor Terrance Tiessen, Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, explained that after being convinced of conditional immortality he nevertheless thought for a while “that neither traditionalism nor annihilationism gains an apologetic advantage from the doctrine of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement” because “Jesus neither suffered endlessly nor was annihilated.”1Terrance Tiessen, “What did Jesus suffer ‘for us and for our salvation’?” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted July 17, 2016, http://rethinkinghell.com/2016/07/what-did-jesus-suffer-for-us-and-for-our-salvation/ (accessed July 17, 2016). Upon further reflection, however, Tiessen has come to conclude that “Since the penalty for sin is death, what Jesus suffered as our sin bearer was death,” while “the unrepentant wicked, who must pay the penalty for their own sin, necessarily die the ‘second death.'” He concludes, therefore, that “penal substitutionary atonement accords much better with conditionalism than it does with endless conscious torment.”2Ibid.

Tiessen echoes my own sentiments, captured in the conclusion to my 2012 article “Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked.” “Traditionalists say that Jesus died for our sins,” I wrote, “but what they mean is that he suffered pain leading up to his death . . . And because traditionalists don’t believe the bodies of the risen wicked will ever die, their view of eternal punishment is at the very least considerably more unlike the substitutionary death of Christ than [that of conditionalists].”3Chris Date, “Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted August 12, 2012, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/08/cross-purposes-atonement-death-and-the-fate-of-the-wicked/ (accessed July 17, 2016).

However, I also noted the existence of “the reverse challenge from traditionalists who insist that conditionalism must be false because either Christ wasn’t annihilated or because of conditionalism’s allegedly heretical Christological implications,” and I said we at Rethinking Hell would address the challenge in the future.4Ibid. It is to this challenge that I turn now, if belatedly. Continue reading “Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked (Part 2)”

1. Terrance Tiessen, “What did Jesus suffer ‘for us and for our salvation’?” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted July 17, 2016, http://rethinkinghell.com/2016/07/what-did-jesus-suffer-for-us-and-for-our-salvation/ (accessed July 17, 2016).
2. Ibid.
3. Chris Date, “Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted August 12, 2012, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/08/cross-purposes-atonement-death-and-the-fate-of-the-wicked/ (accessed July 17, 2016).
4. Ibid.

No True (Evangelical) Scotsman?—Denny Burk and National Geographic on the Rise of Conditionalism

Recently, National Geographic interviewed Chris Date and Preston Sprinkle in preparation for this article on the rise of evangelical conditionalism, which is somewhat reminiscent of the 2014 article in the New York Times, documenting the same phenomenon (on that occasion, Chris Date, Edward Fudge, and John G. Stackhouse, Jr. were interviewed). While the article has its flaws, and the title (“The Campaign to Eliminate Hell”) is sensationalist and just plain inaccurate, overall NatGeo is to be commended for a willingness to report on this topic in a balanced way. Both articles serve to instruct Christians on the curiosity of many in the secular world, not only about the topic of hell, but also the prospect of reform, which is deemed newsworthy.

Continue reading “No True (Evangelical) Scotsman?—Denny Burk and National Geographic on the Rise of Conditionalism”

Episode 91: Fear, Fire, and the Pharisees; A Response to Joel Richardson (Part 2)

Rethinking Hell contributors William Tanksley and Nick Quient join Chris Date to respond to arguments against conditionalism recently published by Joel Richardson, host of the web TV series “The Underground.” This episode contains part two of their discussion; listen to episode ninety if you missed part one.
Continue reading “Episode 91: Fear, Fire, and the Pharisees; A Response to Joel Richardson (Part 2)”

Episode 90: Fear, Fire, and the Pharisees; A Response to Joel Richardson (Part 1)

Rethinking Hell contributors William Tanksley and Nick Quient join Chris Date to respond to arguments against conditionalism recently published by Joel Richardson, host of the web TV series “The Underground.” This episode contains part one of their discussion; listen to episode ninety-one to hear the rest.
Continue reading “Episode 90: Fear, Fire, and the Pharisees; A Response to Joel Richardson (Part 1)”

A Response to Four Views on Hell, Pt. 2 (John Stackhouse on Terminal Punishment)

John Stackhouse has been a faithful friend to Rethinking Hell. He has appeared on our podcast twice (Episode 3, and Episode 86). He wrote the foreward to the first Rethinking Hell book, Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism (Eugene: Cascade, 2014), and was a plenary speaker at the first Rethinking Hell conference in 2014 (that address was printed in our second book, A Consuming Passion: Essays in Honor of Edward Fudge. Eugene: Pickwick, 2015.). So Rethinking Hell contributors were pleased to hear he had been tapped on the shoulder to contribute to the second edition of Four Views on Hell.
Continue reading “A Response to Four Views on Hell, Pt. 2 (John Stackhouse on Terminal Punishment)”

Sure as Hell: Is Scripture really clear about final punishment?

In a recent discussion with Chris Date on the Rethinking Hell podcast, Professor Jerry Walls of Houston Baptist University expressed his incredulity that we could think the Bible is really so clear on the subject of hell. But I don’t think his reasons for giving up that certainty are particularly compelling.

Continue reading “Sure as Hell: Is Scripture really clear about final punishment?”

Episode 83: Pastor With No [Good] Answers (On Hell), a Response to Sean Cole (Part 3)

Rethinking Hell contributor William Tanksley joins Chris Date to play and respond to clips from an episode of Pastor Sean Cole’s “Understanding Christianity” podcast, which he recorded before his debate with Chris was published on Bad Christian’s “Pastor With No Answers” podcast. This episode contains the third and final part of their three-part discussion.
Continue reading “Episode 83: Pastor With No [Good] Answers (On Hell), a Response to Sean Cole (Part 3)”