Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked (Part 2)

In a recent article, guest contributor Terrance Tiessen, Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, explained that after being convinced of conditional immortality he nevertheless thought for a while “that neither traditionalism nor annihilationism gains an apologetic advantage from the doctrine of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement” because “Jesus neither suffered endlessly nor was annihilated.”1 Upon further reflection, however, Tiessen has come to conclude that “Since the penalty for sin is death, what Jesus suffered as our sin bearer was death,” while “the unrepentant wicked, who must pay the penalty for their own sin, necessarily die the ‘second death.'” He concludes, therefore, that “penal substitutionary atonement accords much better with conditionalism than it does with endless conscious torment.”2
Tiessen echoes my own sentiments, captured in the conclusion to my 2012 article “Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked.” “Traditionalists say that Jesus died for our sins,” I wrote, “but what they mean is that he suffered pain leading up to his death . . . And because traditionalists don’t believe the bodies of the risen wicked will ever die, their view of eternal punishment is at the very least considerably more unlike the substitutionary death of Christ than [that of conditionalists].”3
However, I also noted the existence of “the reverse challenge from traditionalists who insist that conditionalism must be false because either Christ wasn’t annihilated or because of conditionalism’s allegedly heretical Christological implications,” and I said we at Rethinking Hell would address the challenge in the future.2 It is to this challenge that I turn now, if belatedly. Continue reading “Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked (Part 2)”

  1. Terrance Tiessen, “What did Jesus suffer ‘for us and for our salvation’?” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted July 17, 2016, (accessed July 17, 2016). []
  2. Ibid. [] []
  3. Chris Date, “Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted August 12, 2012, (accessed July 17, 2016). []

Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked

Conditionalists believe that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (; emphasis added). Those who do not believe in him will not have eternal life, and will instead perish (). After rising from their first death to be judged, they will be sentenced to the second death (). Traditionalists, on the other hand, say the body that rises “dies not again,”1 confessing that “the evil ones … shall be made immortal” (emphasis added).2 Their language is unambiguous: “Every human being ever born lives forever;”3 “everybody lives forever;”4 the unsaved “will continue living in a state with a low quality of life.”5
Adherents to both views argue that the punishment Jesus Christ bore on the cross, in place of those who believe in him, poses a real challenge to their opponents’ doctrine. Conditionalists point out that Jesus was indeed executed, not eternally tormented. Traditionalists, however, point out Christ wasn’t annihilated, that he did not cease to exist.
Leon Morris writes, “The atonement is the crucial doctrine of the faith. Unless we are right here it matters little, or so it seems to me, what we are like elsewhere.”6 If one’s view of final punishment logically leads to an unbiblical understanding of the atonement, it must be rejected. Contrary to the claims of traditionalists, it is often they, not conditionalists, whose eschatology clashes with what the Bible reveals about the cross. Continue reading “Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked”

  1. Gill, J. A Body of Doctrinal Divinity: Or a System of Evangelical Truths (The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., 2001), 679. []
  2. The Belgic Confession, Article 37. []
  3. MacArthur, J. “The Answer to Life’s Greatest Question, Part 1.” []
  4. Koukl, G. (Host). (2011, June 5). “Christopher Morgan on Hell and Inclusivism.” Stand to Reason [radio]. 1:09:25. []
  5. Habermas, G. and Moreland, J.P. Immortality: The Other Side of Death (Thomas Nelson, 1992), 173. []
  6. Morris, L. The Cross in the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1999), 5. []

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.