A Response to Joshua Ryan Butler's The Skeletons in God's Closet

Hell is on a lot of people’s radars these days. We here are obviously not the only ones rethinking hell. Rob Bell’s Love Wins brought the discussion to the popular level. Love it or hate it, Love Wins got people talking.
Another, more recent book has many talking again. Joshua Ryan Butler (pastor of local and global outreach at Imago Dei Community in Portland) has recently published The Skeletons in God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War. The book covers more than just the doctrine of hell/final punishment, but for our purposes, I will only address the first part, in which Butler examines the topic of hell (look for responses to parts 2 & 3 on my own blog). Joshua was kind enough to supply me with a free copy to review (two, in fact. One will be given away through my own blog, so stay tuned if you want to dive into this yourself). After two attempts to get the book to me and over a month of frustration, it finally arrived. Continue reading “A Response to Joshua Ryan Butler's The Skeletons in God's Closet”

What I would have to deny in order to teach eternal torment

For some people, the concept of hell as a state of eternal torment is so central to their faith and their portrait of God that giving it up would mean giving up the faith altogether: giving up the authority of Jesus; giving up, in principle, the authority of Scripture; discarding the testimony of the church; and ultimately denying the gospel. This is the stance Tim Challies takes, somberly telling his readers that “If I am going to give up hell, I am going to give up the gospel and replace it with a new one.” Of course, by “hell,” he means eternal torment, not the biblical picture of final judgement and the loss of life and being forever.

Setting aside more popularist visions of hell like that of Challies and turning to the biblical account of life, death, judgment, and eternity, we could ask a similar question: If we were to give up the biblical position of immortality and eternal life found in Christ alone and to instead embrace the doctrine of eternal torment, what would we have to give up? What would be the cost of embracing the traditional view instead of the biblical one?

Continue reading “What I would have to deny in order to teach eternal torment”

Clark Pinnock, Hell and the Holiness of God

I recently had a very brief exchange with a colleague regarding conditionalism. He knows I’m a conditionalist, and he is not. He had just finished Clark Pinnock’s argument in Four Views on Hell,1 and stated that it was not a compelling argument, and that Pinnock began with a strawman- that God is love and therefore would not inflict people with torment forever (I don’t think this qualifies as a strawman, but that’s not my purpose here). This colleague argues that God is holy- this was the basis for rejecting Pinnock’s argument. Is this valid? Does God’s holiness stand in opposition to conditional immortality (CI)? Is God’s holiness grounds for believing in eternal conscious torment (ECT)? The purpose here is to examine what (if anything) God’s holiness contributes to our understanding of final punishment.
Continue reading “Clark Pinnock, Hell and the Holiness of God”

  1. Clark H. Pinnock. “The Conditional View”. Four Views on Hell. Stanley N. Gundry & Willian Crockett (eds). (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994). Hereafter: Pinnock, Four Views. []

Hell and the Logical Implications of One's Arguments (Part 3) – Ezekiel 28 and the Devil

In Parts 1 and 2, we looked at arguments that were made specifically for the traditional view and saw why they fail when they are taken to their logical conclusions. In this installment of the series, we will be looking at things from a different angle.  Here, we will be looking at a claim that some traditionalists make on an unrelated topic, and how, if the logical implications are considered, it would lend a substantial amount of weight towards annihilationism.
The topic at hand is Ezekiel 28:11-19.1  Continue reading “Hell and the Logical Implications of One's Arguments (Part 3) – Ezekiel 28 and the Devil”

  1. 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. []

Annihilation in Revelation, Part 2: In with the Old—in the New

In this series of articles I am developing a case that the vision shown to John, recorded in the book of Revelation, favors a conditionalist view of hell (the complete and everlasting destruction of the finally impenitent), despite so frequently being cited as support for a traditional view of hell (their everlasting conscious torment). In part one I began to lay a foundation for this case, demonstrating that John did not see the future as it would unfold through literal images but through vivid, apocalyptic images. In this second part I will continue to lay the foundation by examining one of the most critical keys to proper exegesis of the book of Revelation: its heavy reliance upon Old Testament texts, language and imagery. Continue reading “Annihilation in Revelation, Part 2: In with the Old—in the New”

Annihilation in Revelation, Part 1: Worth a Thousand Words

Two passages from the vision shown to John on the island of Patmos, as recorded in the book of Revelation, are the “most debated passages in Revelation concerning the nature of the final punishment.”1 In the minds of many traditionalists, however, there is really no debate at all, and the conclusion one must draw from them “is irresistible. Unsaved human beings also will suffer eternal conscious torment.”2 Larry Dixon boldly claims, “There is no exegetical basis whatsoever in [Revelation 20:10] for suggesting that the devil…will be put out of existence at the end of time,”3 and that to simply read the text is to refute annihilationism.4 Robert Morey, with equal boldness, says that “By every rule of hermeneutics and exegesis, the only legitimate interpretation…is the one that clearly sees eternal, conscious torment awaiting the wicked.”5
Early on in the process of rethinking hell, I discovered that the debate over these texts is very real, and that these passages from Revelation are quite compatible with conditionalism. As I studied further, I soon became convinced that these passages are, in fact, stronger support for the final death and destruction of the risen impenitent than they are for their eternal torment. Consequently, in my first two formal debates I included these passages in my opening presentation as part of a positive case for conditional immortality.6 In this new series of articles, I will demonstrate why the book of Revelation serves as compelling evidence for a conditionalist understanding of hell, beginning in this first article with an examination of the nature of John’s vision. Continue reading “Annihilation in Revelation, Part 1: Worth a Thousand Words”

  1. Gregory K. Beale, “The Revelation on Hell,” Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment, eds. Christopher W. Morgan & Robert A. Peterson (Zondervan, 2004), 112. []
  2. Robert A. Peterson & Edward W. Fudge, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue (Spectrum, 2010), Kindle edition, 107. []
  3. Larry Dixon, The Other Side of the Good News (Christian Focus, 2003), 112. []
  4. Ibid., 113. []
  5. Robert Morey, Death and the Afterlife (Bethany House, 1984), 144. []
  6. My first debate is available for download or streaming in two parts: “Episode 70: Perish in Fire” (part 1) and “Episode 71: Forever the Pain” (part 2). My second debate is available in three: “Episode 88: Death Eternal” (part 1), “Episode 89: God of Wrath” (part 2) and “Episode 90: Christ Died For Us” (part 3). []

The meaning of “apollumi” in the Synoptic Gospels

apollumi - the Greek word for "destroy"Does the Greek word for “destroy” – apollumi – really mean destroy in the strong sense that annihilationists think it does? Short answer: yes.
One of the key arguments for annihilationism is the fact that the biblical writers frequently claim that those who are not saved in the end will be destroyed. Why this appears to support annihilationism is fairly self-evident. It’s important to stress that this argument does not only rest on the fact that the word “destruction” or “destroy” is used. The biblical writers, like Jesus, sometimes describe destruction without using that specific word. Images of weeds burned up in a furnace or the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah being utterly consumed by fire also serve this purpose. But just now let’s look specifically at the term “destroy.”
Continue reading “The meaning of “apollumi” in the Synoptic Gospels”

Traditionalism and Annihilationism in Light of the "Face Value" Meaning of Scripture

Face Value?I once had a discussion with a traditionalist over the meaning of a few key scripture passages. One thing that kept coming up was how my interpretations didn’t take the key phrase in the main verse at “face value.” I argued that the context of the verse made it clear what was meant, but this was not satisfactory for the one I was discussing the passage with. They explained to me how in each case I wasn’t allowing the plain meaning of a phrase to interpret the whole verse (and, by extension, other verses that are interpreted in light of it).
So what of the “face value” meaning of scripture? How important is it that our interpretations are consistent with what the scripture seems to plainly and literally say? Like most things there is a measure of tension here and a balance needs to be maintained. Cultists have been known to run with the idea that not all passages are meant to be taken at face value and have therefore ignored what scripture does clearly teach on core doctrines. But is the right response to insist that we must always take everything plainly and at “face value?” Continue reading “Traditionalism and Annihilationism in Light of the "Face Value" Meaning of Scripture”