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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 105: "Hell Under Fire" Under Fire, Part 5: Hell in Biblical and Systematic Theology

  Rethinking Hell contributors Peter Berthelsen and Glenn Peoples join Chris Date for the fifth of a series of episodes reviewing Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment, edited by Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson. This fifth episode in the series reviews chapter 6, “Biblical Theology: Three Pictures of Hell,” by Christopher Morgan, and chapter 7, “Systematic Theology: Three Vantage Points of Hell,” by Robert Peterson.

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Introduction to Evangelical Conditionalism: The Doctrine of Eternal Torment Was Not Universal in the Early Church

Many people incorrectly believe that, save for a few nut jobs, cults, and liberals who don’t care about the Bible, Christians of all stripes have always believed that hell is a place of eternal torment. For this reason, many are wary to even consider any alternative ideas like evangelical conditionalism (also called annihilationism). The idea that no one will live forever in hell, but will instead be destroyed and fully killed, sounds like some new age nonsense. Many think that Christianity simply has always taught that hell is a place of eternal torment, and only recently does anyone deny this because people today are just too soft and too sentimental to handle the truth. However, this assessment is not correct.

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Dismissive of Hell, Fearful of Death: Conditional Immortality and the Apologetic Challenge of Hell

I was recently honored to be published in Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics. My article, which challenges the claim that annihilation is not a fate unbelievers fear and will thus fail to prompt them to repent and turn to Christ for salvation, is available for free PDF download. Here are the first two paragraphs, to give you a feel for what I go on to argue: According to the historically dominant view of hell as eternal torment, the unsaved will be resurrected and made immortal so they can live forever in punitive misery. Conditional immortality on the other hand—or conditionalism for short—is the view that immortality is a gift God will grant only to those who meet the condition of being saved by faith in Jesus Christ, while those not meeting that condition will be raised for judgment still mortal. Being found guilty of sin—the wages of which is death, according to Romans 6:23—they will be capitally punished: killed, executed, destroyed, deprived of life forever—both in body and soul, as Jesus indicates in Matthew 10:28, a fate sometimes therefore called annihilation. What follows is not a positive case for the truth of this view. Rather, it is a rebuttal to the claim made by critics of conditionalism that it will fail to elicit repentance because unbelievers, they allege, are unafraid of ceasing to exist. In today’s pluralistic culture, however, atheists and adherents to a variety of non-Christian religions often dismiss the doctrine of eternal torment as absurd, and reject Christianity for apparently requiring belief in it. Meanwhile, Scripture and human experience testify to the reality that people deeply fear death, and the Bible’s offer of immortal life is naturally appealing to them, as evinced by the lengths to which mankind goes to try and achieve immortality. Consequently, evangelism done from a conditionalist perspective will fare just as successfully as evangelism based on escaping eternal torment, if not more so. Links “Dismissive of Hell, Fearful of Death: Conditional Immortality and the Apologetic Challenge of Hell,” article in Hope’s Reason by Chris Date http://www.stephenjbedard.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/HRV6-Hell.pdf The current issue of the journal Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics, containing Chris’s article http://www.stephenjbedard.com/current-issue/ Chris Date’s Academia.edu profile, where his article can also be downloaded https://fuller.academia.edu/ChristopherDate

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A Lukewarm Case for Eternal Torment: Responding to J. Warner Wallace

Recently, well-known Christian apologist J. Warner Wallace penned an article for his website, Cold Case Christianity, in which he offers a case for the appropriateness of eternal conscious torment. 1 Mr. Wallace is a former homicide detective whose apologetic works include the best-selling Cold Case Christianity. The impetus for his article, “Why Would God Punish Finite, Temporal Crimes in an Eternal Hell?” came from a caller on a radio show who questioned Wallace over the justice of eternal torment. How could this be proportionate, they asked, in light of only a finite human life lived in sin? In his article, Wallace takes the opportunity to address what he deems “misunderstandings” of several principles regarding the final state of the wicked. Below, I will address Wallace’s four “misunderstandings” and attempt to show that they hardly create an open-and-shut case for eternal torment. J. Warner Wallace, “Why Would God Punish Finite, Temporal Crimes in an Eternal Hell?,” Cold-Case Christianity [website] (accessed September 20, 2017), http://coldcasechristianity.com/2017/why-would-god-punish-finite-temporal-crimes-in-an-eternal-hell/.[↩]

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2018 Conference Announcement: March 9–10, Dallas–Fort Worth

In 2016 and 2017 we took our Rethinking Hell Conferences across the Atlantic to London and across the Pacific to Auckland, respectively. But in 2018, we’re returning to the U.S. to hold our fifth annual Rethinking Hell Conference in the Dallas–Fort Worth area. We’ll be at The Heights Baptist Church in Richardson, Texas on Friday and Saturday, March 9–10, 2018.

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Episode 102: "Hell Under Fire" Under Fire, Part 2: Progressive Revelation of Hell

  Rethinking Hell contributors Joey Dear and William Tanksley join Chris Date for the second of a series of episodes reviewing Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment, edited by Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson. This second episode in the series reviews the second chapter, “The Old Testament on Hell,” by Daniel Block, and chapter 5, “The Revelation on Hell,” by G. K. Beale.

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Episode 101: "Hell Under Fire" Under Fire, Part 1: The History of Hell

  Rethinking Hell contributors Glenn Peoples and Graham Ware join Chris Date for the first of a series of episodes reviewing Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment, edited by Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson. This first episode in the series reviews the book’s introduction, as well as the first chapter, “Modern Theology: The Disappearance of Hell,” by Al Mohler.

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Daniel 12:2 Does Not Teach Eternal Torment

Daniel 12:2 and “Eternal Contempt” 1 Few passages from the Old Testament are cited as evidence that hell is a place of eternal torment. Given the Old Testament’s emphasis on death and destruction, this shouldn’t surprise us. If I believed that the unsaved live forever in torment, I wouldn’t run to passages about the wicked withering and dying like grass, 2 or that call for them to melt away like slugs, 3 or that describe them being burned to ashes and left without root or branch at the final judgment (like Malachi 4:1-3 does) either. But one passage stands out as an exception. One passage is a commonly cited as proof of eternal torment. That passage is Daniel 12:2: Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt (NASB). Basically, this passage speaks of the resurrection of both the saved and the unsaved. But aside from the fact that this does not speak of inherent immortality, it doesn’t say anything about eternal conscious existence for the damned, period. Adapted From The Bible Teaches Annihilationism by Joseph Dear, Section XX.[↩]Psalm 37:2.[↩]Psalm 58:8.[↩]

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Episode 100: Celebrating One Hundred Episodes!

Several members of the Rethinking Hell team gather to celebrate one hundred episodes of the Rethinking Hell podcast! Peter Berthelsen, Darren Clark, Mark Corbett, Chris Date, Joey Dear, Peter Grice, Glenn Peoples, Nick Quient, Christopher Ray, Daniel Sinclair, William Tanksley, and Graham Ware chat about the systematic implications of conditional immortality, the recent conference in Auckland, upcoming conference and ministry plans, and more! Also featuring words of appreciation and questions from you, the listening audience!

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Scrutinizing a Straw Man: A Response to Eric Davis

In my plenary presentation at the 2015 Rethinking Hell conference, I lamented the fact that many “pastors, professors, apologists, authors, and radio show personalities feel comfortable writing, speaking, and teaching about the motives, errors, and dangerous teachings of conditionalists and universalists, all the while largely ignorant of what it is they actually think and argue.” 1 A case in point is Eric Davis, Teaching Pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. In his recent article at The Cripplegate, repackaged as a slideshow by Crosswalk.com, Davis purports to be “analyzing annihilationism” and “demonstrating that it is biblically untenable.” 2 A close look at his article reveals that, rather than analyzing annihilationism, Davis is scrutinizing a straw man. Meanwhile, his case for the doctrine of eternal torment and against annihilationism simply does not hold up when the burning eye of scrutiny is turned back upon it. Chris Date, “A Seat at the Table: An Appeal for Dialogue and Fellowship,” [presentation] 2015 Rethinking Hell conference, Pasadena, CA, June 18, 2015, https://youtu.be/qdTc-EQ1XPY (accessed July 26, 2017).[↩]Eric Davis, “Analyzing Annihilationism: Will Those in Hell Cease to Exist?” The Cripplegate [blog], posted June 22, 2017, http://thecripplegate.com/analyzing-annihilationism/ (accessed July 26, 2017); repackaged as “9 Points That Argue the Eternality of Hell,” Crosswalk.com, http://www.crosswalk.com/slideshows/9-points-that-argue-the-eternality-of-hell.html (accessed July 26, 2017).[↩]

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John Piper is Wrong About Hell (But I Still Thank God for Him!)

I thank God for John Piper and the work God has done and continues to do through him. I have been one of many to benefit from Piper’s books, sermons, and articles. I was blessed with the opportunity to serve the Lord in the world’s largest Muslim nation for fourteen years. During those years my coworkers and I were often encouraged and strengthened to continue in a very difficult ministry by things Piper wrote or said. And just last night, not knowing that I would be writing this article this morning, I used an article of Piper as part of a Bible study at the church where I serve. 1 And if I had known that I would be writing this article this morning, I still would not have hesitated to use Piper’s article last night. Having said all that, I believe that Piper is simply wrong about the nature of hell and the fate of the unrighteous. A good, godly man who God uses mightily can occasionally be just plain wrong. An excerpt from a message he gave on the topic of Hell was just posted this morning at the Desiring God website. 2 I won’t be quoting every word of Piper’s article, so I encourage you to read it for yourself, it’s not long. John Piper, “Biopsy Blows and the Helmet of Hope,” Desiring God, July 28, 2009, accessed July 20, 2017, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/biopsy-blows-and-the-helmet-of-hope.[↩]John Piper, “Unforgiven: The Eternal Tragedy of the Lost,” Desiring God, July 20, 2017, accessed July 20, 2017, http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/gods-wrath-vengeance-is-mine-i-will-repay-says-the-lord/excerpts/unforgiven-the-eternal-tragedy-of-the-lost.[↩]

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Malachi 4:1-3 and the Final Destruction of the Unrepentant

The book of Malachi is not only one of the last (if not the last) books of the Old Testament written, but it is also the last book most of see in our Old Testaments. 1 Therefore, it is all the more appropriate that the final chapter speaks of the final end of history. As far as the fate of the finally unrepentant goes, Malachi’s God-breathed prediction leaves little to the imagination. For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day (Malachi 4.1-3, NASB). You can see why annihilationists might point to this passage. God will destroy the wicked. He will set them on fire like chaff, and no remnant of them will remain. Then He says that they will be like ashes under the feet of the wicked. Whether plain and literal or highly symbolic, how much clearer could the picture of final destruction (i.e. annihilation) possibly be? 2 This is true for both Protestant and Catholic Bibles, as typically arranged.[↩]Portions of this article are adapted from The Bible Teaches Annihilationism by Joseph Dear, Section XXXIX.[↩]

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For I Am Undone: Conditionalism, New Creation Theology, and the Annihilating Power of God’s Presence

It is often the case when discussing matters of eschatology that a variety of terms will be used to argue for one’s position. Subtle nuances drive the need for additional terms, and our position of conditional immortality (“conditionalism”) is no exception. The primary reason that we prefer that term over “annihilationism” is that the study of eschatology involves much more than a narrow focus on what happens to the risen lost. While it is certainly true that the majority of our effort is often spent arguing for the annihilation of the risen lost, that’s not the full scope of what conditional immortality is. With that in mind, I would like to offer a biblical case for the compatibility of conditionalism and what is often called “new creation” (NC) theology. For my purposes here, I will define that as the belief that the new heavens and new earth mentioned in Isaiah, 2 Peter and Revelation refers not to some other plane of existence where we will dwell after this world is destroyed, but rather to this world fully redeemed (even if possibly recreated), in which risen humanity will dwell with God, enveloped by His glorious, manifest presence—the final realization of God’s purposes for creation.

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Rethinking Hell Conference—Next Month in Auckland!

This year’s Rethinking Hell Conference is in Auckland, New Zealand, on July 15th. There’s only a few more weeks to go—we look forward to seeing you there! As we explore our theme, “Conditional Immortality: The Unfinished Business of the Reformation,” we’ll hear from a number of exciting speakers, including Rethinking Hell‘s own Chris Date! Joining him will be our Australian and New Zealand speakers, including well-known philosopher-theologians Dr. Matthew Flannagan and Dr. Glenn Peoples. Matthew teaches philosophy and theology at St. Peter’s College, Auckland, and his areas of expertise include Philosophy of Religion, and the field of Old Testament Ethics, about which he has co-authored a number of popular books with others such as Paul Copan and William Lane Craig. Glenn’s areas of expertise include Christology, religion in the public square, ethics, and the doctrine of hell. His writings in these areas are available in various books and journals (including our own two books), and also, together with social commentary, at his website, Right Reason. Rev. Ian Packer is a Baptist minister and lecturer in Theology and Ethics at Morling College in Sydney, Australia. Previously, he served as Director of Public Theology at the Australian Evangelical Alliance, Assistant Director of the EA’s Centre for Christianity and Society, and as part of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance. Ian will be speaking to us about hell and conditionalism through the lens of public theology and ethics, drawing on his knowledge of evangelicalism in the region and around the world. We’re also very excited to hear from Rev. Dr. David Powys, a Bible Scholar and Anglican minister at St. John’s in Melbourne, Australia. David’s academic work on Hell has been recommended by J.I. Packer and others, and his monograph, “Hell: A Hard Look at a Hard Question: The Fate of the Unrighteous in New Testament Thought” is recommended reading for serious students of the topic.   Time is running out to grab your tickets! You can grab them now from the conference website.  

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Hypocrisy, Not Hell: The Polemic Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man

The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19–31) is often one of the first to be mentioned as giving explicit details on the nature and geography of hell. Upon closer examination, these assumptions prove to be lacking and evidence pulls us in another direction. Jesus told this story as a condemnation against the Pharisees, after a prolonged controversy with them regarding the rich and poor. This will be shown by analyzing the context of the story within the gospel of Luke, as well as the cultural and sociological context. Also, the parabolic genre of this story will be considered against the background of extra-biblical parallels of Jesus’ time, which will further reveal its authorial intent.

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It’s Easy to Miss Something You’re Not Looking For (Including in the Bible)

  There was a popular awareness test video from when I was in college that I think can be very illustrative of an important point to remember when reading the scriptures. And this lesson is not only relevant when studying what the Bible says about final judgment. Rather, it is something believers should always remember. Here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ahg6qcgoay4 I do definitely encourage you to watch the above video if the link is still active. It’s short and humorous and it helps get the point across.

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A Primer on Revelation 14:9-11

  One of the most key passages used to defend the traditional view of hell is Revelation 14:9-11. Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name. (NASB) Although we have a number of articles on interpreting the book of Revelation and on related matters, and although the passage has been addressed in the Rethinking Hell podcast as well as in free resources outside of Rethinking Hell, a nice primer article addressing this passage was long past due. Now, compared to Revelation 20:10, explaining how this passage is compatible with evangelical conditionalism (if not evidence in favor of the doctrine) will be fairly simple. Once the Old Testament background of the language and imagery of the passage is made clear, any reasonable observer should see why a conditionalist interpretation is at least reasonable.

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Dismissive of Hell, Fearful of Death: Chris Date's 2017 Eastern Region ETS Presentation Available for Download

On March 31st, 2017, I was honored to speak in a parallel session at the 2017 ETS Eastern Region Meeting, held at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. 1 There I presented a paper titled “Dismissive of Hell, Fearful of Death: Conditional Immortality and the Apologetic Challenge of Hell,” which I wrote in response to the claim that unbelievers don’t fear death and annihilation, and thus that conditional immortality will take the proverbial wind out of the sails of the Great Commission. 2 For a cost of $4.00, ETS has made an audio recording of my presentation available for purchase and download here: http://www.wordmp3.com/details.aspx?id=24561. I welcome feedback on my paper, so email me at chrisdate@rethinkinghell.com with your thoughts if you’ve had a listen! (Note that recordings of all plenary and parallel sessions, including mine, are available for purchase and download as a single set here: http://www.wordmp3.com/product-group.aspx?id=543. For what is surely a limited time, that set costs only $9.99, but apparently will one day cost $60.) I spoke at the same conference a year earlier at Liberty University, where I am finishing my undergraduate degree. See the list of links above to purchase and download that presentation.[↩]I also handed out free bookmarks, fanning them out on the table at the center of the conference room in which I presented, as shown in the photo above. Be on the lookout for your opportunity to get yours here at Rethinking Hell![↩]

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