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Biblical Theology Interrupted: Part 2 of A Critique of Stand To Reason’s Article “Hell Interrupted, Part 2”

This is the second part of my response to an article by Tim Barnett and Greg Koukl (henceforth B&K) of the ministry Stand to Reason, called “Hell Interrupted – Part 2.” In their article, B&K attempt to critique the conditionalist reading of the Bible via three interpretive principles drawn from a textbook on hermeneutics by William Klein, Craig Blomberg, and Robert Hubbard. 1 In the first part of my response I focused only on their first two principles of interpreting passages and words in their immediate contexts. I avoided addressing their third principle because I believe that technically it isn’t an interpretive principle. In this article I will address this principle in detail. It would be best to begin by quoting this principle in full as B&K articulated it: Biblical teaching in earlier parts of the Bible…are developed and enlarged in later revelation …. In some instances, God reveals His truth progressively [emphasis added]. Often, the first word is not the complete story. Later revelation gives us the fullest picture, the most complete characterization. Consequently, “where earlier revelation has progressively prepared the way for later formulation of God’s truth, we must give priority to the later [emphasis added].” Put simply, the final word is the last word. William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 3rd Ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2017), 264. [↩]

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Statement on Evangelical Conditionalism

Episode 111: Rethinking “Hell Theology” in the Raw

Plenary speakers Preston Sprinkle and Chris Date record a joint episode of the “Theology in the Raw” and “Rethinking Hell” podcasts on Day 2 of the 2018 Rethinking Hell Conference in Dallas–Fort Worth. They discuss their and other speakers’ presentations, answer audience questions, and more.

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Perspicuity or Ambiguity: Could the Bible Have Been Clearer on Hell?

Conditionalists often make bold claims. For example, we are known to say—with an even blend of sincerity and hyperbole—that our view appears on virtually every page of the Bible. We’re often quick to point out that serious defenders of the eternal torment view will only focus on three or four key verses. And we’ll claim that even these texts provide better support for conditionalism, upon closer examination (take Matt 25:46 for example, or 2 Thess 1:9). Are our strong statements just a case of over-confidence? Some people think so. Advocates of eternal torment like Jerry Walls and Gregg Allisson were taken aback when encountering them (you can read Glenn People’s reply to Walls here!). In fact, we’ve been accused by critics of everything from ignorance to hubris! In a climate where it is polite to say that everybody’s perspective is valid, and everybody has their own set of verses, why are conditionalists so dogmatic? Why does Rethinking Hell make such strong statements when championing conditionalism, despite also being strong promoters of dialogue? Part of the reason is the principle that the Bible should be expected to be clear about such an important subject, including with the terms it uses. Defenders of eternal torment will often say, albeit mistakenly, that Jesus spoke more about hell than about heaven, meaning that we should understand and heed his solemn warnings. So there is often the same kind of conviction about the clarity of biblical teaching on the side of eternal torment as well. This article puts that claim to the test.

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Infinity, Divine Value, and Hell: A Rejoinder to Jacob Brunton

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.

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Book Review: A Catholic Reading Guide to Conditional Immortality

Robert Wild. A Catholic Reading Guide to Conditional Immortality: The Third Alternative to Hell and Universalism. Eugene: Resource Publications, 2016. 1 The official Roman Catholic teaching on the subject of hell is that of eternal torment. Despite this, some have suggested that it is theologoumena rather than dogma, similar to the understanding of hell in Eastern Orthodoxy, where universalism and conditionalism (CI) are both possible options. Fr. Robert Wild is a conditionalist Roman Catholic who advocates for considering both conditionalism and universalism as possibilities for Roman Catholics. He argues that conditionalism is the best understanding both biblically and philosophically, and that CI was likely the most widely held belief among the earliest Christians. He concludes that CI can, and should, become the dominant view again. He writes, “I have come to the conclusion that CI is the more probable answer to the question of the fate of those who remain adamant in their refusal to love… I am also convinced that CI was the most ancient belief in the early years of Christian reflection, that of the Apostolic Fathers and the Apologists… I believe that, eventually, CI will assume its original predominant place and become the main view of Christians.” (p. 175-6). A free digital copy of this publication was given to the reviewer in exchange for a review. Many thanks to Wipf&Stock/Resource Publications.[↩]

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The Hermeneutics of Conditionalism: A Defense of the Interpretive Method of Edward Fudge

I was recently honored to be published in volume 89 of Evangelical Quarterly. Available for free at my Academia.edu profile, my article argues that, contrary to the claims of critics like Robert Peterson, “when one applies accepted principles of hermeneutics and interpretation in the task of exegeting Old and New Testament texts, one will conclude that they teach conditionalism, and not the traditional view of hell.” 1 Here is the introduction, to give you a feel for what I go on to argue: Christopher M. Date, “The Hermeneutics of Conditionalism: A Defense of the Interpretive Method of Edward Fudge,” Evangelical Quarterly 89:1 (2018), 72–73.[↩]

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The Righteous for the Unrighteous: Conditional Immortality and the Substitutionary Death of Jesus

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. Links “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 http://mcmaster.ca/mjtm/documents/Volume18/18.MJTM.69-92-Date.pdf The current issue of the McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry, containing Chris’s article http://mcmaster.ca/mjtm/volume18.htm Chris Date’s Academia.edu profile, where his article can also be downloaded https://fuller.academia.edu/ChristopherDate

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Conditional Immortality and Angels, Part 2—The Immortality of Angels and Men (Luke 20:36)

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. 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/[↩]

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Episode 110: "Hell Under Fire" Under Fire, Part 8: Annihilationism Under Fire

  Rethinking Hell contributors Peter Berthelsen and Mark Corbett join Chris Date for the eighth and last of a series of episodes reviewing Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment, edited by Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson. This eighth episode in the series reviews chapter 9, “Annihilationism: Will the Unsaved Be Punished Forever?” by Christopher Morgan.

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Conditional Immortality and Angels, Part 1—The Mortality of Angels and Men (Psalm 82)

  God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? . . . Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations! Psalm 82, ESV   Traditionally this passage has been viewed by exegetes as referring to God condemning human leaders and judges for perverting justice. John Wesley, in his explanatory notes on this Psalm, argues that “judges and magistrates are called gods, because they have their commission from God, and act as his deputies.” When the Most High God tells these “gods” that they will die like men, Wesley reasons that he only means “like ordinary men,” though is silent on the verse’s parallel statement, “and fall like any prince.” 1 Psalm 82 Bible Commentary. (n.d.). Retrieved December 03, 2017, from https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=wes&b=19&c=82[↩]

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Gehenna: The History, Development and Usage of a Common Image for Hell

Of the four words that are often translated “hell,” Gehenna is the only term used in our Scriptures to describe the final fate of the wicked. 1 It is used primarily by Jesus in the gospels, once by James and is entirely absent in the writings of Paul. The purpose of this paper is to examine the origin, history and development of Gehenna from the Old Testament (OT) to New Testament (NT), comparing the external evidence seen in the historical rabbinical ideas of Gehenna with the internal evidence seen in exclusively biblical development. The following questions will be considered: Is there any biblical or historical warrant for accepting the popular idea of Gehenna as a “garbage dump” just south of Jerusalem, into which the city garbage, and dead bodies of animals and criminals, were thrown to be incinerated? Is Gehenna primarily a geographical term giving rise to eschatology cast in spatial language, or is there development that takes us beyond the basic geographical meaning? What this paper hopes to accomplish is to give clarity to the meaning of Gehenna in its historical context, which will help us discern its overall usage throughout the NT. See also: OT Sheol (63x), NT Hades (11x) and Tartarus (1x). It is important to note that all men (wicked and righteous) go to Sheol and Hades upon death, but only the wicked are finally destroyed in Gehenna after the final Resurrection.[↩]

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Twelve Biblical Principles to Help the Rethinking Hell Movement Fight the Good Fight

As we enter 2018, my sense is that God has been growing the Rethinking Hell movement at an encouraging pace. I don’t have statistics to prove it, but my feeling is that belief in Conditional Immortality is on the rise. This is something to thank God for. There’s still a lot of work to do. On the one hand, the belief that God will torture the unrighteous forever is still very widespread and is still the dominant belief in most Christian churches and institutions. This error is deeply rooted. On the other hand, as more and more people become skeptical of eternal conscious torment, by no means are all of them embracing Conditional Immortality. The error of Universalism seems to be on the rise. God has called many of you who are reading this to work to help others understand what the Bible truly teaches about Hell and the final fate of the unrighteous. How should we think of this work?  It is a labor of love. It is a teaching ministry. And, like all of God’s work and like every ministry, there is an aspect of spiritual warfare involved. We are in a spiritual struggle.  In a sense, all of life involves spiritual warfare.  Our efforts to correct a very longstanding, broad, and deeply rooted misunderstanding of the Bible involves us in one aspect of the good fight we are called to fight.

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The Neglected Doctrines of Resurrection and Bodily Transformation

Today in Protestant circles we still hear a lot about the immortality of the soul, despite this doctrine being passionately rejected by Martin Luther 500 years ago. 1 But we rarely hear of the immortality of the body, an important feature of resurrection, nor do we even hear that much about resurrection in general! 2 Will all rise physically from the dead, like Jesus did—or only the saved? And if all rise in physical bodies, will the bodies of all be fitted with immortality, never to die again—or only those of the saved? These kinds of questions are essential for assessing any doctrine of salvation and damnation, and yet they are often absent from the hell debate, and from broader discussion. Both heaven and hell are widely seen as ethereal destinations, to be arrived at immediately upon dying. But this truncated version of the biblical schedule of events renders resurrection and final judgment superfluous, even incoherent. Why were the unsaved sent straight to hell before Judgment Day, the very point at which they will be sentenced to hell? And if the saved and the unsaved already reside in the place where they’ll spend eternity, why bring them out? If they are brought out in resurrection, only to be shortly sent back there but this time in a physical form, how can those realms be suited to both physical and nonphysical habitation? Martin Luther, “Assertio Omnium Articulorum M. Lutheri per Bullam Leonis X. Novissimam Damnatorum,” article 27, Weimar edition of Luther’s Works, Vol. 7, pp. 131,132.[↩] For example, the otherwise commendable Reforming Catholic Confession fails to include the resurrection of the unsaved, and only alludes to a resurrection of the saved by mentioning “glorified bodies” (even this much requires additional understanding to link the two concepts).[↩]

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Three Biblical Arguments Against Universalism

Below are three biblical arguments against universalism (and an extra one for further reading!). While they offer more than simple proof texts, it would take a much longer article to develop them more fully. Even so, I trust that you will find them useful and persuasive. Let’s first look at some relevant context, and then dive into the arguments themselves. Personal eschatology—the study of the final fate of human beings—should be embedded within cosmic eschatology, the study of the final state of God’s created order. God is redeeming the cosmos, and human beings within it (see Rom 8:18-25). Universalists and conditionalists both agree that God will redeem the cosmos as a whole. But universalists also claim that God will eventually redeem every human being that will have ever lived, while our claim as conditionalists is that God’s work of “new creation” purposefully excludes some human beings. Despite knowing enough about the immortal God and realizing that they ultimately deserve death they still reject him (Rom 1:18-23; 32). They disobey the gospel (1 Pet 4:17; 2 Thess 1:8; Rom 10:16), and so fail to respond obediently in repentance and faith to the knowledge of God and his offer of salvation (Acts 6:7; Rom 1:5; 16:26). They love sin rather than goodness, themselves rather than God, and are “disqualified regarding the faith” (John 3:20; 2 Tim 3:2-8).

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Episode 107: "Hell Under Fire" Under Fire, Part 6: The Preacher and Hell

  Rethinking Hell contributors Graham Ware and Peter Berthelsen join Chris Date for the sixth of a series of episodes reviewing Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment, edited by Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson. This sixth episode in the series reviews chapter 10, “Pastoral Theology: The Preacher and Hell,” by Sinclair Ferguson.

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Warned of Sin’s Wages: A Concise Explanation of Death in Genesis 2:17 and Romans 6:23

In Genesis 2:17, God’s warning “you will certainly die” (מֹות תָּמֽוּת) refers to the penalty or consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin, should they disobey God’s command. They had been given the ongoing privilege to “live forever” by accessing the Tree of Life (Gen 3:22 cf. 16), but this would be forfeited and their lives would be cut short by death—death as normally and universally understood; sometimes called “physical death.” 1 The main objection to this view is that Adam and Eve did not die “in the day” that they ate (Gen 2:17), if in fact ordinary death was in view. But this is to misunderstand the Hebrew idiom, as Walter Kaiser et al. explain: 2 It is just as naive to insist that the phrase “in the day” means that on that very day death would occur. A little knowledge of the Hebrew idiom will relieve the tension here as well. For example, in 1 Kings 2:37 King Solomon warned a seditious Shimei, “The day you leave [Jerusalem] and cross the Kidron Valley [which is immediately outside the city walls on the east side of the city], you can be sure you will die.” Neither the 1 Kings nor the Genesis text implies immediacy of action on that very same day; instead they point to the certainty of the predicted consequence that would be set in motion by the act initiated on that day. Alternate wordings include at the time when, at that time, now when and the day [when] (see Gen. 5:1; Ex. 6:28; 10:28; 32:34). In other words, “you will certainly die” became true instantly, as a kind of death sentence or curse. But the timing of the death event is not specified in the warning. This is clear in the Aramaic translation of Genesis 2:17 found in Targum Jonathan, which suffices to show that at the time of Jesus this was viewed as ordinary death. It reads, “in the day that thou eatest thou wilt be guilty of death.” 3 I do not recommend using the term “physical death” (or “biological death”) unless deemed necessary. If further clarity is needed, I suggest “ordinary death.” The term “physical death” implies an unhelpful dichotomy between physical and spiritual death, and prejudices an interest in mechanisms that might attend death, in terms of things like bodies and souls. But the more obvious way to define death is through its operation upon life, which is, simply, to bring life to an end. Death at any time does this, so we should also be mindful not to think of “the second death” as categorically different from “the first death” (terminology the Bible never uses). It might be complete and permanent (Matt 10;28), unlike ordinary death where resurrection follows, but it is still an end to life. Romans 6:23 simply says “death” for good reason. The universal wages of sin is not first death, second death, physical death or spiritual death. It’s just death, the ending of life.[↩]Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, and Manfred T. Baruch, “Hard Sayings of the Bible” (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), p. 92, emphasis in original.[↩]See J. W. Etheridge, “The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan Ben Uzziel on the Pentateuch,” 1862, 1865.[↩]

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A Review of Mark S. McLeod-Harrison’s “The Resurrection of Immortality”

McLeod-Harrison’s new book, The Resurrection of Immortality (Cascade, 2017) is a welcome contribution to the growing literature related to personal eschatology. His concern in the book is to explore the question of human immortality. Historically, parties to the debate have generally affirmed either that human beings are essentially immortal or conditionally immortal. Those taking the first view maintain that by nature human beings will live forever. As human beings we naturally possess the property of immortality. Conditionalists deny this, maintaining that humans may or may not live forever. God grants immortality to some, depending on certain conditions (e.g., redemption in Christ). McLeod-Harrison defends a third alternative, which denies that immortality is intrinsic to human nature but says immortality is an enduring property possessed by human beings. On this view, immortality is an extrinsic property, one which God confers on human beings based on other properties that God gives us. And much of the book is devoted to constructing an argument for this claim—an argument that is philosophical, rather than theological, in nature. Though purely philosophical in methodology, McLeod-Harrison’s argument is nevertheless “in-house,” aimed specifically at Christian scholars in that it assumes certain basic claims of Christian theology—the existence of God, the reality of an afterlife, and the biblical doctrine of salvation.

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