“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 Revelation 14:9-11 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.
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A Primer on Revelation 20:10

Of all the passages used to defend the traditional view of final punishment, one stands out as by far the most difficult for the conditionalist. 1 As you might imagine, I don’t consider the challenge to be insurmountable. However, it is a challenge. This is the one passage in the entire Bible that actually says, on its face, that anyone will be tormented for eternity. 2
The explanation I would give, which many other conditionalists would give (in varying forms), is itself simple: John sees a vision where three beings are thrown into a lake of fire to be tormented for ever and ever, but the vision itself symbolizes the destruction of the things the images represent in real life.
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  1. Some would point to Revelation 14:9-11 as being equally or more difficult. However, this is only true if one is not aware of Isaiah 34:9-10. Revelation 14:9-11 doesn’t actually say anyone is eternally tormented. Rather it is inferred that smoke rising forever means that the fire burns forever and thus everyone being burned is eternally tormented in an ever-burning fire. However, Isaiah 34:10 uses the idiom of smoke rising forever to speak of the destruction of a city, not of anyone or anything actually burning and producing smoke. The resources in the footnotes for Revelation 20:10 can also give more explanation of this passage.[]
  2. Some passages mention torment (e.g. Luke 16:19-31), some mention eternity (e.g. Matthew 25:46), and some say things that one who has been told from childhood that hell is a place of eternal torment will understandably assume is referring to eternal torment (e.g. Mark 9:48). Revelation 20:10, however, actually outright says, of the devil, beast, and false prophet, that “they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”[]

Review of “The Importance of Hell” By Timothy Keller – Part 2

In Part 1 of this review, we looked over the first two sections of Dr. Timothy Keller’s article, “The Importance of Hell.” Here in Part 2, we will pick up where we left off, starting with the third section of Keller’s article. After through the rest of the article in some detail, I will give my own concluding thoughts on the importance of hell.

  

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Review of "The Importance of Hell" By Timothy Keller – Part 1

Timothy Keller is a wildly popular Christian pastor and author, and understandably so. I myself highly recommend several of his books (such as Generous Justice and The Prodigal God).

       

His Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan has done all sorts of good in bringing God to the people, even bearing unexpected fruit like the bringing of liberal political commentator Kirsten Powers to Christ. 1 There is no end of good things to say about Tim Keller.
Now, as many Christian leaders have done since the release of Rob Bell’s Love Wins in 2011, Keller has  taken a stab at not only defending the traditional view, but also explaining its importance. He did so in piece that was very appropriately titled “The Importance of Hell.” Dr. Keller was also something of a theological hipster and wrote this article defending the traditional view it in 2009, before it was cool. Although this isn’t a very recent article, it is nonetheless a fairly well-read piece by a hugely popular name that is therefore worthy of examination. Ultimately, however, as we have seen time and time again when believers try to save the sinking ship that is traditionalism, Keller’s arguments for the doctrine are unsuccessful.
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  1. Powers, Kirsten, “Fox News’ Highly Reluctant Jesus Follower,” (2013), reproduced at Christianity Today, n.d., http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/november/fox-news-highly-reluctant-jesus-follower-kirsten-powers.html (accessed on November 25, 2014[]

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.[]

Featured Content: The Second Council of Constantinople Canard


A fairly common claim against evangelical conditionalism is that the Second Council of Constantinople of 553 A.D. condemned annihilationism as heresy.
This is meant to score big points in the church history argument against conditionalism (a method that is itself wrought with problems). In this case, the conditionalist has a much easier task than having to explain the shortcomings of the church history argument as a whole. When you actually read the text of the council, you find that this claim about our view being condemned in it isn’t even true in the first place.

Friend and guest contributor Ronnie has a bit to say about that in today’s featured content: “Conditionalism and the Second Council of Constantinople.”
 

Logical Fallacies – Part 3: The Red Herring

The Red Herring

A simple, classic example of a logical fallacy is the red herring. As traditionalist Matt Slick (of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry) defines it, it is “introducing a topic not related to the subject at hand.” 1 This fallacy is closely related to the non-sequitur, as discussed in Part 1. What distinguishes the red herring from the non-sequitur is that the red herring has an element of distraction. Rather than simply not addressing the issue, a red herring gives an answer that distracts from the actual issue at hand but poses as a legitimate response.
 
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  1. Matt Slick, “Logical Fallacies or Fallacies in Argumentation,” Christian Apolegetics and Research Ministry, n.d., http://carm.org/logical-fallacies-or-fallacies-argumentation (Accessed on April 21, 2014).[]

Logical Fallacies – Part 2: Equivocation

Equivocation

Equivocation is a form of logical fallacy where an argument is made that uses different meanings of a word as though they were the same. An example would be something like this:
1. Sharp things cause balloons to pop.
2. John is a really sharp dresser.
3. Therefore, John causes balloons to pop.
Two different meanings of the word “sharp” are being confused, which causes us to come to a false conclusion. The fact that John dresses handsomely (making him a “sharp” dresser) doesn’t mean he pops balloons. Here, the metaphorical, idiomatic definition of sharp (“sharp dresser”) is confused with literal sharpness.
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Logical Fallacies – Part 1: The Non Sequitur

The Importance of Logically Valid Arguments

In all sorts of debates, well beyond just those on the nature of hell, having good logic, having sound reasoning, is essential to being correct. Sometimes logic is panned as being too “Greek” or too “Western” to apply to the Bible. But we aren’t talking about specific forms of arguing or classical rhetorical methods or standards that do indeed vary from culture to culture and era to era. We are talking about simple objective truth. Whether we think in a linear or non linear manner, or whether we use three-part syllogisms or multiple, unlabeled ideas spread throughout a paragraph, there is a point where something is either true or it isn’t. God either exists or he doesn’t. Either A equals B or it doesn’t.
No matter how much or how little we formalize it, and no matter how many or how few technical terms we use, we use logic every day. The same was true of the Hebrews in the Old Testament, and of the apostles, and even of Jesus. Any time you make any type of persuasive argument, you employ logic.
And where there is logic, there can be bad logic.

Continue reading “Logical Fallacies – Part 1: The Non Sequitur”

Hell and the Logical Implications of One's Arguments (Part 1)

In debates about any topic, you are likely to find somebody who makes an argument that fails for the following reason: they didn’t think through the logical implications of their argument. They didn’t think about how their reasoning would lead to a conclusion that, for one reason or another, they wouldn’t want. The topic of hell is no exception. It is not uncommon for traditionalist arguments to fall flat for this reason.
Of course, annihilationists can be guilty of this as well. Hopefully, as we think about the overall idea of logical implications more and more, we will not only see flaws in the arguments of others, but also in our own (when they exist), so that we can keep improving.
Continue reading “Hell and the Logical Implications of One's Arguments (Part 1)”