Episode 5: Erasing Hell with Preston Sprinkle

Dr. Preston Sprinkle, co-author of Erasing Hell with Francis Chan, joins RethinkingHell.com contributor Chris Date to discuss why, having leaned toward the traditional view of hell when the book was published, he now finds himself leaning toward conditionalism.
 
 
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Traditionalism and the (Not So) Second Death

In his apocalyptic vision recorded in the book of Revelation, John sees a lake of fire into which the risen wicked are thrown (20:15). There they join a seven-headed, ten-horned beast, a two-horned beast (the false prophet), and the devil, all three of whom are in eternal torment (20:10). This imagery is often appealed to by proponents of the traditional view of hell, typically treating it incorrectly as if it were a literal description of future events, or offering no justification for assuming that the proper interpretation is one in which the damned will suffer for eternity,1For one of several reasons to interpret the imagery otherwise, see Date, C. [2012, July 12]). “Consistency in Preterism: Annihilation and Revelation 20:10Rethinking Hell [blog]. Retrieved 26 August, 2012. http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/07/consistency-in-preterism-annihilation-and-revelation-2010 despite the interpretation offered by “He who sits on the throne” (21:5) which is that the lake of fire is a symbol for “the second death” (21:8).

Conditionalists, recognizing this as the divine interpretation of the cryptic lake of fire imagery, take the interpretation in a quite straightforward way: those who die apart from Christ will rise and die a second time. Traditionalists offer an alternative explanation for the phrase, “the second death.” As the first death is a separation of body and soul, they often argue, so, too, is the second death a separation, one of the whole person from God for eternity (a claim which itself will be examined more closely in the future here at Rethinking Hell). And whereas the first death is physical, they tend to say that the second death is in some way a spiritual one. But in identifying the second death as spiritual death and separation from God, they demonstrate that they don’t really think it’s a “second” death at all.

Continue reading “Traditionalism and the (Not So) Second Death”

References
1 For one of several reasons to interpret the imagery otherwise, see Date, C. [2012, July 12]). “Consistency in Preterism: Annihilation and Revelation 20:10Rethinking Hell [blog]. Retrieved 26 August, 2012. http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/07/consistency-in-preterism-annihilation-and-revelation-2010

Traditionalism and Annihilationism in Light of the "Face Value" Meaning of Scripture

I once had a discussion with a traditionalist over the meaning of a few key scripture passages. One thing that kept coming up was how my interpretations didn’t take the key phrase in the main verse at “face value.” I argued that the context of the verse made it clear what was meant, but this was not satisfactory for the one I was discussing the passage with. They explained to me how in each case I wasn’t allowing the plain meaning of a phrase to interpret the whole verse (and, by extension, other verses that are interpreted in light of it).

So what of the “face value” meaning of scripture? How important is it that our interpretations are consistent with what the scripture seems to plainly and literally say? Like most things there is a measure of tension here and a balance needs to be maintained. Cultists have been known to run with the idea that not all passages are meant to be taken at face value and have therefore ignored what scripture does clearly teach on core doctrines. But is the right response to insist that we must always take everything plainly and at “face value?”

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Worms and Fire: The Rabbis or Isaiah?

Imagine that you had never heard of “hell.” The eternal misery of the damned in dungeons of fire, Dante’s Inferno, Jonathan Edwards’ classic sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” you hadn’t heard of any of it. And now imagine that you were about to open a book that tells us what the judgement of God on his enemies will be like. You read this:

The LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to pay back his anger in fury, and his rebuke in flames of fire.

For by fire will the LORD execute judgement, and by his sword, on all flesh; and those slain by the LORD will be many.

From new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, says the LORD.

And they shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.

(Isaiah 66:15-16, 23-24)

It’s pretty fearsome stuff, granted, but beyond that, what would you make of it? Endless suffering? Torment forever in the fires of hell? Not likely. Such ideas would never even occur to you when reading a passage like this. Anyone able to read the above passage can see what it describes: Death. Any claim that Isaiah 66 contains anything that would lend support to the doctrine of the eternal torments of the damned in hell is indefensible, even laughable. You cannot find a doctrine like that in this text on the basis of any standard methods of responsible exegesis. Continue reading “Worms and Fire: The Rabbis or Isaiah?”

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” (Romans 6:23; emphasis added). Those who do not believe in him will not have eternal life, and will instead perish (John 3:16). After rising from their first death to be judged, they will be sentenced to the second death (Revelation 20:14). Traditionalists, on the other hand, say the body that rises “dies not again,”1Gill, J. A Body of Doctrinal Divinity: Or a System of Evangelical Truths (The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., 2001), 679. confessing that “the evil ones … shall be made immortal” (emphasis added).2The Belgic Confession, Article 37. http://www.reformed.org/documents/BelgicConfession.html Their language is unambiguous: “Every human being ever born lives forever;”3MacArthur, J. “The Answer to Life’s Greatest Question, Part 1.” http://www.gty.org/resources/print/sermons/42-141 “everybody lives forever;”4Koukl, G. (Host). (2011, June 5). “Christopher Morgan on Hell and Inclusivism.” Stand to Reason [radio]. 1:09:25. http://www.strcast2.org/podcast/weekly/060511.mp3. the unsaved “will continue living in a state with a low quality of life.”5Habermas, G. and Moreland, J.P. Immortality: The Other Side of Death (Thomas Nelson, 1992), 173.

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.”6Morris, L. The Cross in the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1999), 5. 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”

References
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. http://www.reformed.org/documents/BelgicConfession.html
3 MacArthur, J. “The Answer to Life’s Greatest Question, Part 1.” http://www.gty.org/resources/print/sermons/42-141
4 Koukl, G. (Host). (2011, June 5). “Christopher Morgan on Hell and Inclusivism.” Stand to Reason [radio]. 1:09:25. http://www.strcast2.org/podcast/weekly/060511.mp3.
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.

Episode 2: A Final Word With Edward Fudge (Part 2)

Hell: A Final WordPart two of Chris Date’s discussion with Edward Fudge, author of The Fire That Consumes, who shares his story and talks about the recent movie that tells it, and about his latest and final book on the topic of final punishment, Hell: A Final Word. Also, we share the first installment of a segment telling the story of formerly convinced traditionalists who are now rethinking hell. Continue reading “Episode 2: A Final Word With Edward Fudge (Part 2)”

No Penitent in Hell: A [Reformed] Response to D. A. Carson

On June 22, 2012, well-known and respected theologian and scholar D. A. Carson told his audience that, as far as he could see, in Scripture “there is no hint anywhere that people in hell genuinely repent.”1Carson, D. A. “Home at last: The spectacular God at the center (Revelation 21-22).” http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/a/home_at_last_the_spectacular_god_at_the_center_revelation_21-22. As part of an exposition of Revelation chapters 21 and 22 he cited both Revelation 21:8 and Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 as evidence that “hell is not filled with people who are deeply sorry for their sins.” To the contrary, Carson said, it is “filled with people who for all eternity still shake their puny fists in the face of God Almighty, in an endless existence of evil.”

Although he didn’t include it as part of that presentation, in the past he has also pointed to Revelation 22:11 (“Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong”), writing of “the vileness they will live and practice throughout all eternity.”2Carson, D. A. (2009). The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. (Zondervan, Kindle Edition) p. 533. He has also elsewhere suggested the possibility that this perpetual lack of repentance on the part of the wicked, and their ongoing sinfulness, is part of the ground and justification for their eternally ongoing punishing.

Carson’s view raises several questions. How legitimate is his application of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man? Will those consigned to final punishment fail to repent and continue to sin following their judgment and sentencing? Does the Bible indicate that they will go on sinning forever, implying that they have been raised immortal? Even if it does not, if they continue to sin after judgment at all, wouldn’t they accrue additional retributive debt, requiring further punishment, during which their continued rebellion would earn them still further punishment, and so on ad infinitum throughout eternity?

Continue reading “No Penitent in Hell: A [Reformed] Response to D. A. Carson”

References
1 Carson, D. A. “Home at last: The spectacular God at the center (Revelation 21-22).” http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/a/home_at_last_the_spectacular_god_at_the_center_revelation_21-22.
2 Carson, D. A. (2009). The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. (Zondervan, Kindle Edition) p. 533.