6 Myths Christians Actually Need to Shatter About Hell (A Response to Lesli White and Beliefnet)


In a recent Beliefnet article titled “6 Myths Christians Need to Shatter about Hell,” author Lesli White makes a case for the doctrine of eternal torment by rebutting six myths about hell.1 Needless to say, we at Rethinking Hell disagree with White’s conclusion. The doctrine of eternal torment in hell, frequently called “traditionalism” or the “traditional view,” is not biblical. Rather, the Bible teaches that only those in Christ will have life in any sense of the word. The unsaved will die the second death and be destroyed forever, unable to know either joy or pain because they will be gone forever.
Below are six myths that we really do need to shatter. These all have some connection to the Beliefnet article, although some are more loosely connected than others. Continue reading “6 Myths Christians Actually Need to Shatter About Hell (A Response to Lesli White and Beliefnet)”

  1. The article is actually from a few months back, but I and others still see the Beliefnet page pop up on Facebook and so the conversation is apparently still going. []

Don’t Be Afraid to Disagree with Great Theologians on Hell (Especially Since You Already Disagree with Them on Other Doctrines Anyway)

In discussions about hell, sometimes an appeal to personality and authority is made. After all, conditionalism is certainly a minority view, and so conditionalists find themselves disagreeing with many highly venerated theologians and leaders of the Christian faith throughout its history. To someone who isn’t really thinking about it, it can be rhetorically powerful to call out someone who would be so arrogant as to challenge great men of the faith on the topic of hell.1 It can also give some people pause to say that this or that theologian (or many of them) whom they highly respect was wrong on such an important matter of theology.
However, conditionalists don’t even have to make a good case that any given theologian or group of theologians was wrong in order to diffuse this argument. We just need to remind everyone that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
Continue reading “Don’t Be Afraid to Disagree with Great Theologians on Hell (Especially Since You Already Disagree with Them on Other Doctrines Anyway)”

  1. This is not the same are the simple numbers argument, the argument that surely the Holy Spirit wouldn’t allow so many Christians throughout time couldn’t be wrong about hell (the way he did with salvation by faith alone vs. works, according to Protestantism…). This numbers argument can be coupled with the authority argument (“surely this many great men throughout time couldn’t be wrong about hell!”), but the authority argument is in many ways its own element. []

2014 & 2015 Rethinking Hell Conference Sessions (Audio & Video)

At last year’s conference at Fuller Theological Seminary, my friend Chris Date delivered a compellingly reasonable, passionate plea for evangelicals to maintain unity and charity when it comes to this important topic of hell. Chris’ opening talk helped set the tone for a gathering that, by all accounts, successfully demonstrated just what this should look like. Although he focused in on our view, conditional immortality, and the conference was only about hell, what Chris offered in his presentation has much broader application in the church. Christians of all stripes should set aside the time to consider his important message.
Chris will also be speaking at this year’s conference, which will be held in London next week. The first evening is free, so if you happen to be in that neck of the woods, be sure to reserve your seat! See the conference website for details. To celebrate this third conference, we have just published all the remaining video from our first two conferences. Most sessions were recorded in video, while for most of the remaining sessions we have audio. Please enjoy! Also, see the very bottom of this post for some bonus videos and an announcement.
 

 

Continue reading “2014 & 2015 Rethinking Hell Conference Sessions (Audio & Video)”

The Not-So-Traditional View: Does Your Particular Belief About Hell Really Have Church History On Its Side? (Part 3)

It is evident now that traditionalists throughout most of church history generally held to the gruesome and lurid doctrine of hell that many traditionalists today try to disavow. But there do remain a few loose ends. The first is Martin Luther and his view on hell. The second is the Eastern Orthodox Church, and just how to fit them into the mix. Continue reading “The Not-So-Traditional View: Does Your Particular Belief About Hell Really Have Church History On Its Side? (Part 3)”

The Not-So-Traditional View: Does Your Particular Belief About Hell Really Have Church History On Its Side? (Part 2)

What Is The Historical View?12


Whether the view is right or wrong, one thing that is true about the tortureless, “darkness” form of hell described in part 1 is that it has not been historically common. That isn’t to say that it has never popped up ever. In part 3, we will look at some potential deviations and some blurring of the lines. And even beyond that, when you have 2,000 years and significant chunks of civilization holding to a set of beliefs (Christianity), you are bound to get someone believing something at some point. So I am not saying that no one ever held it in the history of the world until the 1900’s or anything that extreme. But when we think of great names in Chrisendom who also believed in eternal conscious punishment of the unsaved, one thing that you find across the board is a view of hell as a horrible, torturous place of vengeance and violence. Though not completely universal, this has been the predominant view in church history (among traditionalists).
In light of this fact, many traditionalists today who sneer at annihilationism because it departs from the more historical view may find that their own views fare no better.
Continue reading “The Not-So-Traditional View: Does Your Particular Belief About Hell Really Have Church History On Its Side? (Part 2)”

  1. I think it is also worth noting how many of these below use language that is contrary to scripture. The unsaved live, do not die, are not consumed etc. For more on this, see Episode 58.  See also Ronnie Demler, “Sic et Non: Traditionalism’s Scandal,” A Consuming Passion: Essays on Hell and Immortality Written in Honor of Edward Fudge (Pickwick, 2015), 255-276 []
  2. Of course, as has been pointed out here numerous times, we have good evidence to see some degree of conditionalism among the earliest church fathers (and even some who came later, such as Arnobious of Sicca). There has also been a considerable universalist presence historically. The aim here is to show what typically has been believed about hell specifically by those who believe that it entails eternal conscious suffering of some sort. []

The Not-So-Traditional View: Does Your Particular Belief About Hell Really Have Church History On Its Side? (Part 1)

If there is one area where traditionalism has an advantage, it is in church history. After all, there is a reason why this is called “traditionalism” and “the traditional view.”

That isn’t to say the view has always been held unanimously (although it is all too often treated as though it has been); resources here at Rethinking Hell address conditionalism among the earliest church fathers.12 Universalism also appears to have had a considerable following in the early church.3 The same can be said for the generic denial of “eternal punishment,” which at the very least precludes traditionalism.4 Nevertheless, the traditional view has been the predominant view in church history, and this is an advantage for traditionalists.
Well, it has been an advantage for traditionalists. Simply put, many traditionalists today, and quite possibly you who are reading this now, envision hell in ways that depart materially and substantially from what traditionalists throughout church history have taught about hell. And therefore, the strongest argument for the traditional view, that of church history, is lost for many traditionalists today.5
Continue reading “The Not-So-Traditional View: Does Your Particular Belief About Hell Really Have Church History On Its Side? (Part 1)”

  1. Glenn Peoples, “Church Fathers Who Were Conditionalists,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted July 22, 2013, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2013/07/church-fathers-who-were-conditionalists/ (accessed December 19, 2013). []
  2. Chris Date, “Deprived of Continuance: Irenaeus the Conditionalist,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted November 3, 2012, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/11/deprived-of-continuance-irenaeus-the-conditionalist/, (accessed on December 19, 2015). []
  3. Richard Baukham, “Universalism: A Historical Survey Richard Bauckham,” Themelios 4, no. 2 (September 1978): 48, reproduced at Theologicalstudies.org.uk, n.d., http://www.theologicalstudies.org.uk/article_universalism_bauckham.html, (accessed on March 21, 2016). []
  4. Augustine, Enchidrion: On Faith, Hope, and Love, Trans. Albert C. Cutler, (Southern Methodist University, 1955), , reproduced at Tertullian.org, n.d., http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/augustine_enchiridion_02_trans.htm, (accessed on March 21, 2016). []
  5. This point is hardly new with me. Fellow Rethinker Ronnie Demler made this very point in his talk given at our inaugural rethinking Hell conference in 2014, which was recorded and presented as Episode 58 of our podcast (see 51:11-53:07). Glenn Peoples also made this point in a talk given at, recorded in Episode 52 of his podcastSay Hello to my Little Friend (starting around 10:38 to about 15:00). I do, however, really want to drive the point home of how true this is, especially in part 2. []
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Introduction to Evangelical Conditionalism: Luke 16:19-31 (The Rich Man and Lazarus)

The story of the rich man and Lazarus, found in , is one of the most commonly cited passages of scripture that is said to teach that hell is a place of eternal torment. However, being commonly cited does not mean that it actually means what they say it means.
Now, we’ve gone over elements of this passage in some detail already on this blog. My goal here is to give an overview, to put in one place a more introductory explanation, primarily for those who are fairly new to the hell debate and are not as familiar with the case for conditional immortality.
So, what about this passage?
Continue reading “Introduction to Evangelical Conditionalism: Luke 16:19-31 (The Rich Man and Lazarus)”

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.’”

What Are We To Make of Finite Sins Against an Infinite God?

In the debate concerning the final fate of the unrepentant, the argument is frequently made that a finite number of sins warrants infinite punishment because the sins are against God, who is infinite. The level of punishment deserved, it is argued, is based not on the sin but rather on who is sinned against. Since God is perfectly holy (usually described as “infinitely holy”) and is infinite and eternal, any sin against God warrants infinite and eternal punishment.
For the sake of ease, I will refer to this as the “infinity argument” here.
Consider the words of Jonathan Edwards:

But God is a being infinitely lovely, because he hath infinite excellency and beauty. To have infinite excellency and beauty, is the same thing as to have infinite loveliness. He is a being of infinite greatness, majesty, and glory; and therefore he is infinitely honourable. He is infinitely exalted above the greatest potentates of the earth, and highest angels in heaven; and therefore he is infinitely more honourable than they. His authority over us is infinite; and the ground of his right to our obedience is infinitely strong; for he is infinitely worthy to be obeyed himself, and we have an absolute, universal, and infinite dependence upon him.

So that sin against God, being a violation of infinite obligations, must be a crime infinitely heinous, and so deserving of infinite punishment.1

Continue reading “What Are We To Make of Finite Sins Against an Infinite God?”

  1. Jonathan Edwards, “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners,” reproduced at Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d., http://www.biblebb.com/files/edwards/je-justice.htm (accessed on March 20, 2016). []

Lessons You Learn As A Conditionalist (Part 2)

Having held to evangelical conditionalism, a minority Christian view on the doctrine of hell for some time now, I find that it has taught me a lot about things that go far beyond final punishment. Some time ago, I wrote an article spelling out a number of these lessons (see Part 1).
This article will add to that list of lessons that. Though they were driven home as I discussed this particular issue with others, they can nonetheless have application in many other matters.
Continue reading “Lessons You Learn As A Conditionalist (Part 2)”

“The Unsaved in Hell Would Want To Be Annihilated to End their Suffering!”: Why This Argument Completely Misses the Point

If you have been a conditionalist for a while, you will have certainly heard it stated that annihilationism can’t be true because people suffering in hell would want to be annihilated, and therefore annihilation is actually a good thing, not a punishment.
This traditionalist objection has always made me cringe because the fact that it misses the point is almost self-evident: annihilation is a bad thing because it is worse than the alternative fate of eternal life with God. That seems pretty simple, right?
However, I have never really laid down in one place a solid rebuttal to this argument. I hope to rectify that here. Because it is accepted by many, and because healthy dialogue is seldom furthered by simply telling others “you’re wrong, stupid,” I’d like to take this opportunity to break down this line of reasoning and explain where I think it falls short.
Firstly, I actually agree that annihilation is a less terrible fate than eternal torment – at least the historical Christian version of eternal torment that involved fire and unbelievable pain and suffering, that is. By comparison, death would be an improvement. Annihilationists are divided on this, but that is where I stand. Therefore, if some people were in hell, being horribly tormented, burned alive (or its equivalent) in the presence of Jesus and the angels (which is as much a part of as the references to the smoke of their torment and “for ever and ever”), and these people were given the option to be destroyed or to stay in that condition for eternity, they would surely choose destruction. And in doing so, they would be better off than if they stayed alive in traditionalist hell for ever and ever. To this extent, I agree with the traditionalist sentiment behind this argument.
That said, this is irrelevant as to whether or not evangelical conditionalism is true.
Continue reading ““The Unsaved in Hell Would Want To Be Annihilated to End their Suffering!”: Why This Argument Completely Misses the Point”

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”