I recently had a very brief exchange with a colleague regarding conditionalism. He knows I’m a conditionalist, and he is not. He had just finished Clark Pinnock’s argument in Four Views on Hell,1Clark H. Pinnock. “The Conditional View”. Four Views on Hell. Stanley N. Gundry & Willian Crockett (eds). (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994). Hereafter: Pinnock, Four Views. and stated that it was not a compelling argument, and that Pinnock began with a strawman- that God is love and therefore would not inflict people with torment forever (I don’t think this qualifies as a strawman, but that’s not my purpose here). This colleague argues that God is holy- this was the basis for rejecting Pinnock’s argument. Is this valid? Does God’s holiness stand in opposition to conditional immortality (CI)? Is God’s holiness grounds for believing in eternal conscious torment (ECT)? The purpose here is to examine what (if anything) God’s holiness contributes to our understanding of final punishment.
Prolegomena: What is holiness?
The traditionalist argument often turns to God’s holiness as a basis for insisting on ECT. For instance, the SBC’s 2011 resolution on Hell declares “God must judge the unregenerate because He is a holy God whose judgments are altogether righteous”.2“On the Reality of Hell”, 2011. <http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/1214> They then insist that God’s judgement of the unregenerate consists of eternal conscious torment. Because God is holy, he must (more on this below) punish those who refuse his salvation with eternal conscious torment. But does the word holy warrant such connections?
First, we need to have a working definition of holy. The word holy, like most Hebrew words comes from a three-consonant root (q-d-sh). The adjectival form, qodesh, usually translated as holy, means set apart, separate, or distinct. The verb form means to set apart or consecrate, the noun forms being holiness/set-apartness or holy or set apart things/people/places, (e.g. the Temple and its implements). But set apart from what? In the Hebraic sense, God is holy because he is distinct from his creation. All of reality is creator or created. God’s holiness recognizes him as creator, set apart from all he created.
As I just noted, the same root word was used in different noun forms to refer to the Temple (the holy place), or the objects used in the Temple. These were objects set apart for a specific purpose- the purpose of worshipping God. The basins, ladles, and showbread etc. were not to be used for everyday, mundane purposes, but in worship. They were distinct from other objects because of the purpose they were dedicated to, not because of something inherent in them.
This same root also had other forms and usages. For instance qedeshim refers to shrine prostitutes. Not exactly something we would normally consider under the umbrella of “holy things”. But, in the culture of the Ancient Near East, temple servants (including those responsible for ritual sex acts) were “set apart” for the service of the deity. They did not belong to the mundane, everyday world.
So when we say that God is holy, what do we mean? And how does that holiness relate to our discussions of final punishment? Does God’s holiness demand eternal torment? Does it even demand any punishment at all? Or is it simply a marker that God is distinct from everything else in creation?
The traditionalist argument for hell as eternal conscious torment often goes something like this: God is holy, and eternal, and therefore sin against this holy and eternal God has eternal ramifications. God’s honour, holiness, and glory have been eternally insulted by each and every sin committed by human beings. Every sin is an eternal act because it is an act of rebellion against the eternal and holy God. Thus, all sin must be punished unendingly and experienced consciously by the offender, because recompense must restore that which was taken away.
But does this argument actually hold weight biblically? I am going to say absolutely not. Rejecting ECT is not a denial or lessening of God’s holiness. As conditionalists have consistently pointed out, we do indeed believe both in the holiness of God, and in an eternal punishment- that is eternal destruction; a permanent end of conscious life. We have in no way tried to soften, or “air condition” hell3Albert Mohler. “Air Conditioning Hell: How Liberalism Happens” albertmohler.com [blog] January 26, 2010. <http://www.albertmohler.com/2010/01/26/air-conditioning-hell-how-liberalism-happens/> (accessed Dec. 9, 2014). by rejecting or downplaying the holiness and justice of God and emphasizing “God is love”. Instead, I would argue that the leap to God’s holiness demanding that sinners must experience conscious pain for all time as the consequence of their sins against a holy God is not made by Scripture. Not only is there no link between God’s holiness and eternal conscious suffering, there is scant biblical evidence (if any) to build any foundation for expecting eternal conscious torment for any reason, God’s holiness or otherwise. Again, there is no biblical evidence to suggest that God’s being holy necessitates a rejection of CI generally, or Pinnock’s argument specifically. Scripture makes no connection between God’s holiness and some sort of demand that his honour be repaid through perpetual pain (physical or spiritual).
The idea that sin against God is eternal in nature, because it violates his eternal honour and holiness is the invention of Anselm, writing in the 11th century.4Cur Deus Homo. I.XI-XV It is rooted not in Scripture, but in feudal understandings of homage; that homage to one’s lord must be done in perpetuity in order to sustain the favour of said lord. Insults to the honour of the lord are punished with consequences which are dolled out until the lord’s honour is satisfied. Thus, if God’s honour is insulted by human sin, argues Anselm, God’s honour is not satisfied unless man has suffered eternally for his sin (or someone, namely the God-man, in his place, the basis for satisfaction atonement theory, which was later modified by the reformers to establish penal substitutionary atonement), because God’s holiness demands his honour be acknowledged eternally. Pinnock comments on this stating:
Anselm tried to argue that our sins are worthy of an infinite punishment because they are committed against an infinite majesty. This may have worked in the Middle Ages, but it will not work as an argument today. We do not accept inequality in judgements on the basis of the honor of the victim, as if stealing from a doctor is worse than stealing from a beggar.5Pinnock, Four Views, 152.
This, as noted, belongs to feudal relations between lord/suzerain and serf/vassal. While there are some similarities, the Hebraic understanding of holiness is something quite different. God’s holiness does not demand punitive action against those who reject him. Nor does God’s holiness demand recognition. It simply is, whether humanity honours that holiness or not. God’s holiness delineates him as other than creation. It marks God out as distinct or unique among everything that exists. Nothing is equal to God. Hence the refrain “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” (Rev. 4:8). He is holy because unlike all other things, God is eternal. God’s holiness does not necessitate specific action towards creation but recognizes his transcendence over creation. It gives him the rights and abilities to judge, but does not demand it. Jacob Neusner argues that although holiness may be contrasted to “unclean” or “immoral” it is also contrasted to “mundane”. He writes, “‘holy’ means not only ‘like God’ but designated for the service and use of God. And ‘profane’ means available for humanity’s ordinary use.”6Jacob Neusner. Judaism When Christianity Began: A Survey of Belief and Practice. (Lousiville: WJK, 2002.), 48 God’s holiness therefore distinguishes God from the mundane and profane, but it does not necessarily determine the specifics of how this holy God will interact with those who reject him. To be holy is to be set apart as divine, or set apart for divine use/purpose. God’s holiness is played out not in his judging, but in beneficently extending the gracious gift of life to all who would receive. God faithfully extends grace and mercy, and is slow to anger, and abundant in hesed and faithfulness (Ex. 34:6).
So, I absolutely affirm what this colleague has shared; God is indeed holy. But, where I push back is how does God’s holiness relate to God’s relationship with creation, specifically with regard to final punishment? Does his holiness demand that those who reject him will suffer for eternity in conscious torment? Or does his holiness insist that his purpose for creation will be met, and all creation will be conformed to his holiness eventually (universalism)? Or does God’s holiness call all things to become holy through the offer of eternal life in Christ or face exclusion from New Creation? Well, let’s proceed from here.
Clark Pinnock’s Argument for Conditionalism
So, how does Pinnock argue for Conditionalism in his artcile in Four Views on Hell? Does he rely on “God is love” and dismiss God’s holiness in order to play down the severity of God’s judgement and wrath, and thus create a “softer” view of hell? It is of course worth noting that Pinnock never quotes the infamous “God is love” from 1 John. Instead, Pinnock lays out five components to the case for conditionalism (he also comments on objections to ECT and universalism and on methodology, but we’ll leave those aside for the purposes of this piece).
First and foremost, he begins with Scripture; “Evangelical theology starts with the Bible and asks what the Scriptures have to say about the nature of hell.”7Pinnock, Four Views, 143. The argument begins, as it should, with the exegesis of the relevant Scripture passages. The essay Pinnock has produced can’t, because of its scope, cover every single passage, but takes a broad sweep, noting the repeated language of destruction, perishing, being burned up or consumed. The Bible, argues Pinnock, leaves the reader with “the impression of final, irreversible destruction, of closure with God.”8Ibid. 144. Pinnock’s argument is based primarily on this; that the Scriptures repeatedly describe the final result of the judgement to come as death, destruction, perishing.
Second, Pinnock addresses the issue of the immortality of the soul. He argues that the Scriptures declare all people to not be inherently immortal. He identifies the historical development of the Christian Church’s acceptance of ECT as coming from “an unbiblical anthropology that is read into the text.”9Ibid. 147. The immortality of the soul, which underpins early arguments for ECT by the Church Fathers comes from Hellenistic notions of the soul as immortal, continuing to exist after physical death. Pinnock argues, correctly, that immortality is a gift of God for those who accept his offer of grace and eternal life. It is not an inherent, inalienable possession of all people. Therefore, for ECT to be true, God would have to raise the lost immortal, giving them eternal existence for the purpose of inflicting suffering and torment forever. This would be problematic, especially in light of God’s moral goodness, his mercy, and justice.
Speaking of God’s moral goodness, Pinnock’s third element is the morality of hell. Here, I think, is where my colleague ran into problems with Pinnock. Pinnock states that God’s character, revealed most clearly in Jesus, is one of “boundless mercy”. Pinnock argues that the goodness of God, which motivates God to bring reconciliation and grace to sinners, is incompatible with the notion that God would create an alternative to the New Creation, in which those who reject him are forced to remain consciously alive and imprisoned and tortured in hell for all time. Pinnock states that the traditional view of hell “pictures God acting like a bloodthirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for his enemies whom he does not even allow to die.”10Ibid. 149. I can see why my traditionalist colleague might get a little put off by this. Pinnock has been criticized as being too sentimental and emotional in arguing for conditionalism as an alternative to the traditional view. While he is passionate, his passion stems from his study of Scripture and his love for the Gospel, which he (and I) find incompatible with ECT. Yes, he is emotional, but he is emotional because people are describing God in ways which Scripture rejects. This isn’t “mere sentimentalism”, or liberal softness, but a deeply held conviction that Scripture depicts God as merciful and good, loving his enemies, and seeking to save and forgive the lost, not as a God who torments those who despise and reject his offer of life.
Fourth, Pinnock addresses the issue of justice. He argues that God has offered eternal life through Christ, and those who reject that offer do not receive life. This is just. God has done what needs to be done, through Christ, to open eternal life to all, but for those who say no to the offer, life ends. However, in ECT, God torments forever those who have refused his grace. God not only punishes, but gives life everlasting so that he can add to the suffering of these people he created in his own image. This goes far beyond “eye for an eye” which guided Israel’s use of retribution (more below) into escalation of punishment, which, argues Pinnock is unjust.
Finally, Pinnock addresses metaphysics, arguing that there is an inherent tension in ECT, as it maintains that an element of rebellious, unredeemed old creation remains in an eternal dualism side by side or within the new.
So, now we must ask how does God’s holiness fit within this argument?
Be Holy for I am Holy
God repeatedly in Leviticus calls Israel to be holy. “‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Lev. 19:2, et al). Yes, the Lord is holy, and calls Israel, his covenant people, to be holy as he is. But what does that mean? As I’ve spelled out, holiness refers to set-apartness, to being different. Much of the content of Leviticus is specifically addressing the issue of Israel not conforming to the practices of the Canaanites. They are to be recognizably distinct from those groups, and marked by certain behaviours, for God’s purposes. Leviticus 19 outlines the sorts of behaviours which ought to mark Israel as other than the Canaanites. Their lives are to be marked by justice (vv 13-17), compassion for the oppressed and vulnerable (9-10, 15, 33-34), integrity (17), honesty (11-16), and neighbour love (18). They are not to practice idolatry or divination (4, 26). They are not to mark their bodies according the the practices of the Canaanites (28) or subject their daughters to prostitution (29). They are to show kindness to foreigners entering their land (33-34). They are to do all this because “I am the Lord”. They are to be holy, set aside for the Lord’s intentions. They are to reflect his character (love, justice, mercy, compassion) in how they operate, and thus be holy; set apart for the purpose of being a light to the Gentiles (Isa. 42:6, 49:6, cf. Lk. 2:32) and a blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:1-3). Thus, God’s holiness ought not to be separated or made distinct from his love, mercy, and faithfulness. “God is love” and “God is holy” are two identifiers which should not lead us to contrasting conclusions regarding how he relates to creation. To argue that God is love means mercy to the redeemed, but holy which means eternal suffering for everyone else is a false distinction. He is distinct from creation, but created all things out of love, and works towards the redemption of all things because he remains faithful to the creation he cares for (the Hebrew idea of hesed).
So what does this have to do with final punishment? Well, in their imitation of God’s loving and compassionate nature (Ex. 34:6), for the purpose of Israel fulfilling the call to be holy, God outlines for them how violators of the covenant are to be treated. At no time does God say that to reflect his holiness, Israel must inflict ongoing or indefinite torment on the offender. In fact, quite the opposite is the case. Torture is never allowed. Punishments are all limited in duration and intensity, or are capital punishment (ie. death). Never is ongoing torment to be used. In fact, any excessive punishment is strictly banned, and exceeding that limit is to degrade the person, which is not permitted (Deut. 25:1-3). Lashes or capital punishment is allowed for certain offences. In those situations though, note the wording: “You must purge the evil from among you” (e.g. Deut. 22). It is not “inflict punishment for the sake of God’s honour,” but “remove sinfulness from the community.” Death is imposed to keep sin away from God’s creation (more below). Capital punishment is not simply punitive (although of course the distinction hardly matters to the person being killed). In the New Testament, when the word punishment is used, the Greek word selected in almost all cases is kolasis. This word has its origins in horticulture, meaning to prune or cut off. It doesn’t normally carry the sense of punitive punishment. There is another Greek word for that, timoria, used only once in the New Testament, in Hebrews 10:29, which is immediately preceded by the affirmation that God’s judgement will “consume” the enemies of God. Overwhelmingly, we see that in the New Testament punishment is about removing sin from God’s creation (e.g. 1 Thess. 1:9, in which the punishment is “eternal destruction” and being “shut out from the presence of the Lord”. So unless we are prepared to redefine omnipresence, to be “shut out” of God’s presence is to pass out of existence11The NIV for 2 Thess. 1:9 reads “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might”. However, in the Greek, the word “and” is not found. The NRSV is better “These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might”. The “shut out” thus clarifies the “eternal destruction”. Being shut out from God’s presence is to be destroyed forever.).
God’s holiness does not require eternal torment, and I think we can say instead that it forbids eternal torment. ECT is not the natural outworking of God’s holiness, but stands in contrast to it. Yes, God is holy. But no, he will not punish unrepentant sinners with eternal conscious torment because of that fact. He insisted his people be holy and not inflict torment on lawbreakers. He permitted (or perhaps commanded) Israelites to demand for the making restitution on a one to one basis (i.e. eye for eye, but not life for an eye, thus escalation is prohibited12Whether “eye for an eye” is a commanded standard practice or a ceiling on vengeance which God allows is not entirely clear in the text itself. I take the latter view. Pinnock argues that eye for an is the standard, but that standard is changed by Christ (Matt. 5:38-39). Either way, going beyond equal punishment (like everlasting torment as punishment for sins committed in finite history) doesn’t fit. See Pinnock, Four Views, 152.) and in some cases he allowed (or commanded) Israel to take away life from an offender. If this is how God’s character and purposes (i.e. his holiness) are to be played out by Israel, should we not conclude that God’s final judgement will be likewise? Doesn’t God’s holiness then suggest that unrepentant sinners will have life taken away? This is exactly the argument of Iranaeus, who states that the celestial bodies “endure as long as God wills that they should have an existence and continuance”, and so it is with humans, to whom “it is the Father of all who imparts continuance for ever and ever on those who are saved. For life does not arise from us, nor from our own nature; but it is bestowed according to the grace of God.” But of those who reject God’s grace, “who, in this brief temporal life, have shown themselves ungrateful to Him who bestowed it, shall justly not receive from Him length of days for ever and ever.”13Against Heresies, II.XXXIV.III. In other words, God, as creator and giver of life (i.e. the Holy One), who sustains all things through Christ (see Col. 1:17, Heb. 1:3), will not continue to provide life to those who reject him. All life is a gift of God. Eternal life has come to us through Christ (e.g. Rom. 6:23, 2 Tim. 1:9-10) in whom dwells the fullness of the Holy God (Col. 1:19). God’s holiness separates God as giver of eternal life and his creation as recipients or rejectors of eternal life. He can therefore withdraw his life from those whom he chooses, and allow the death which comes from sin (Rom. 6:23, James 1:15) to claim those who refuse his life. God’s holiness therefore cannot be the grounds for assuming ECT, but actually better supports a conditionalist view.
Holiness and Sovereignty
What is perhaps more troubling (to me at least) about the usual traditionalist argument (like the SBC resolution quoted above) is the word must. God must judge sinners, and send them to eternal conscious torment in hell. And he must do so because he is holy. As noted above, not only is there no basis for connecting holiness to a specific mode of punishment, there is no basis on which to determine what God’s holiness must lead him to do. If my sin determines God’s course of action, what does this mean for God’s sovereignty? If God must impose judgement, and judgement must be eternal conscious torment, have we not wrested from God the sovereign prerogative to act as he wills not how our behaviour demands? Instead of stating what God must do in response to sin, it is instead appropriate to consider what God has said he will do.
And what is it that Scripture has said concerning those who refuse/oppose the offer of life?
“those who are evil will be destroyed” (Psalm 37:9)
“All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law” (Romans 2:12)
“they will be destroyed” (Philippians 1:27)
“Their destiny is destruction” (Philippians 3:19)
“destruction will come on them” (1 Thessalonians 5:3)
“They will be punished with everlasting destruction, shut out from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
“perish” and “are consumed” (Job 4:9)
“will be no more” (Psalm 37:10)
“will be stubble… not a root or branch will be left to them” (Malachi 4:1-2)
“enter through” the “wide gate” and take the “broad road” “which leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13)
“perish” (John 3:16)
“are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 2 Corinthians 2:15)
“will reap destruction” (Galatians 6:8)
“perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” (2 Thessalonians 2:10)
“shrink back and are destroyed” (Hebrews 10:39)
2 Peter tells us that the fire of God is “being kept until the day of judgement and destruction of the godless.” (3:7) and Hebrews 10:27 says that fire “will consume the enemies of God” and Jesus and John the Baptist speak of the fire which will “burn up” the wicked (Matthew 3:17, 13:40, Luke 3:17). The imagery is all borrowed from Old Testament visions of abandoned corpses decaying, burning, and being devoured by maggots or worms (eg. Isaiah 66:24).
This is just to cite a few sources, all laid out clearly in Pinnock’s argument.
It is overwhelming when you look closely how God has said he will respond to his creation. Those who reject his grace will experience death, perishing, destruction, being deprived of life. The fact that God will judge, does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that God must punish with eternal conscious torment. The notion that judgement automatically means ECT is a false assumption. That Scripture says God will judge does not specify the outcome of that judgement as eternal conscious torment. When the effect of that judgement is described, the language used is not compatible with ECT. As Ignatius of Antioch writes, “Let us not, therefore, be insensible to His kindness. For were He to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be.”14Letter to the Magnesians, 10. The holiness of God does not forbid the destruction of those who reject eternal life. God’s holiness gives God prerogative over creation to bring about his purposes. Those who are conformed to his purpose will have continuance (to use Iranaeus’ terminology) or eternal life (to use the biblical terminology) and those who reject God “deprive themselves” of this life, and thus perish. God’s holiness described as leading inevitably to eternal conscious torment is misleading. God’s purpose is to restore his good creation to shalom, and that which refuses to be part of that or chooses to work against that will not be permitted to be part of that renewed creation.
This brings me to the final thing I wish to communicate on this front.
Holiness and New Creation
The Book of Revelation depicts the dramatic scenes of God’s justice coming to fruition. Many look to this book as supporting ECT, but this isn’t necessarily the case. The imagery is tricky, but when we step back and look at the whole, we see something very revealing (pun fully intended). In Revelation 20 we see Hades and all who belong to the agents working against God (the two beasts, the dragon, and their followers) thrown into the Lake of Fire, and death itself15Death obviously isn’t being tormented in some corner of creation, and yet it is subject to the same lake of fire as the devil and his followers in this vision. Thus, it seems difficult to see how this Lake of Fire is a literal place of perpetually ongoing torment. is also thrown into this Lake of Fire “which is the second death”. And then there is a vision of a new heaven and a new earth. The use of the word “death” to speak of continuing in eternal conscious existence seems unlikely, especially given the other options available to John. But in the new creation:
“God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:3-4).
The new creation is without crying or pain or death. If Hell is unending torment and pain and suffering are said to be absent, how can this be? Death, suffering, pain, sickness, and the powers of evil have been consumed in the second death.
As Michael Gorman (who takes no particular stance on final judgment) writes concerning the imagery of Revelation:
…the language of judgment in Revelation symbolizes God’s effectively speaking evil into non-existence… God will not permit evil to be present there; indeed, God will have permanently eradicated it by making all things new. Thus evildoers must either repent and participate in the renewal of all things, or be excluded from that space.16Michael J. Gorman. Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness, Following the Lamb into the New Creation. (Eugene: Cascade, 2011), 153.
God’s purposes of creating a renewed world in which heaven and earth are reunited and creation is at shalom will be fulfilled, and sin and death will have no place within that. As Paul notes, God will become “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). This precludes the possibility of continuance for sin and those bound to it. Even if hell is sealed and quarantined completely, God’s holiness would not be fulfilled/realized/reflected in all of creation. It would necessitate a continued dualism of new creation and hell, one of which remains forever completely void of God’s character, and completely outside of God’s purposes.17Pinnock, Four Views, 154. For God to have victory over Sin, it must be eradicated and all things conformed to his holiness. A perpetual place of agony and sin does not fit into this vision presented to us. God’s holiness entitles him to judge, but when we look closely at Scripture’s depiction of what the judgement consists of, we see not ongoing torment, but an end to all that has rejected his gift of life. His love and his holiness do not lead us to separate conclusions. Whichever we begin with, we ought to come to the same place. God’s covenant love and his holiness fit coherently in conditional immortality.
So, what then do we make of all this? Have I said anything original? Not really. Glenn Peoples quite clearly exposed this same sort of problematic thinking in his response to Tim Challies on this site just recently.18Glenn Peoples. “Answering Answers in Genesis: An Infinitely Bad Argument” Rethinking Hell. [blog] October 29, 2014. <https://rethinkinghell.com/2014/10/answering-answers-in-genesis-an-infinitely-bad-argument/> (accessed Dec. 9, 2014). To attempt to make God’s eternal existence, or his holiness as necessarily leading to eternal conscious torment is simply nonsensical. As Glenn showed, to build a case for ECT by repeatedly referring to God’s eternal holiness is simply bringing evidence which is irrelevant. My colleague has made a hermeneutical, and logical error by connecting the two. To reject Clark Pinnock’s argument for conditionalism because he began with “God is love” instead of “God is holy” is to have not heard Dr. Pinnock’s argument at all (especially since “God is love” is never cited by Pinnock). Pinnock argued that God is consistent throughout Scripture. Pinnock, in his essay “The Destruction of Finally Impenitent”, writes of the idea of ECT:
Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary moral standards, and by the gospel itself. How can we possibly preach that God has so arranged things that a number of his creatures (perhaps a large number predestined to that fate) will undergo (in a state of complete consciousness) physical and mental agony through unending time? Is this not a most disturbing concept which needs some second thoughts? Surely the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is no fiend; torturing people without end is not what our God does. Does the one who told us to love our enemies intend to wreak vengeance on his own enemies for all eternity?19Clark Pinnock. “The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent” Criswell Theological Review. 4 no. 2 (1990), 243-259. Available here.
To counter with God’s holiness is to set holiness against love; that somehow holiness demands God do something lacking in mercy. Does Scripture do this? Absolutely not. Does Pinnock? No. Pinnock argues for the moral goodness and justice of God, and concludes that a God who is holy would not possibly act in a way which resembles Satan. ECT, argues Pinnock, does not fit with the character of God (which includes his holiness) demonstrated consistently throughout Scripture, and most fully in the person of Jesus Christ. As he notes elsewhere, ECT is rooted not in the bible, but in the Hellenistic worldview, which includes a dualistic anthropology which declares that all souls are immortal, and must therefore go somewhere and a cosmic dualism of eternal, disembodied existence in contrasting circumstances for the virtuous and non-virtuous. To defend this view, early traditionalists turned not to Scripture, but to Hellenistic philosophy. Consider for example Tertullian, who affirmed the soul to be immortal, and this, he argued was clear, but doesn’t cite any biblical evidence. Instead, he writes, “For some things are known even by nature: the immortality of the soul, for instance, is held by many; the knowledge of our God is possessed by all. I may use, therefore, the opinion of a Plato, when he declares, ‘Every soul is immortal.'”20The Resurrection of the Flesh (De Resurrectione Carnis). Chapter 3. ECT is not founded on proper exegesis of Scripture but on pagan assumptions (or more accurately, Scripture read through the lens of a Hellenstic worldview). The view of so many Christians on Heaven and Hell is lifted from Dante’s Inferno, or Virgil’s Aeneid, with holiness tacked on in a vain attempt to justify or explain these assumptions. To suggest that God’s holiness somehow defeats Pinnock’s argument is simply unjustified. Nowhere does Pinnock deny or downplay God’s holiness. He simply argues that God’s holiness and love are two attributes of a consistent character, and neither would justify unending, punitive vengeance. This sort of malice would be inconsistent with a holy God, of whom it is written “His anger lasts only a moment” (Ps. 30:5).
Therefore to use God’s holiness as part of any foundation for ECT is simply a non-starter. There is no basis for this in Scripture, and in fact the argument that God is holy lends better to the conditionalist argument. God is distinct from creation, and is responsible for all that exists; not just for its origins, but its continuation. God is patient, not wanting any to perish (2 Peter 3:9). He continually, because he is loving and merciful, extends grace. At some point, God will act decisively to bring an end to sin and death for good. God’s judgement will be just, holy, and righteous, but what will it consist of? The Scriptures repeatedly alert us to the fact that God will hand those who ultimately reject him over to death, depriving them (or allowing them to deprive themselves) of the gift of eternal life, thus bringing about their destruction. This hardly qualifies as a strawman.
|1.||￪||Clark H. Pinnock. “The Conditional View”. Four Views on Hell. Stanley N. Gundry & Willian Crockett (eds). (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994). Hereafter: Pinnock, Four Views.|
|2.||￪||“On the Reality of Hell”, 2011. <http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/1214>|
|3.||￪||Albert Mohler. “Air Conditioning Hell: How Liberalism Happens” albertmohler.com [blog] January 26, 2010. <http://www.albertmohler.com/2010/01/26/air-conditioning-hell-how-liberalism-happens/> (accessed Dec. 9, 2014).|
|4.||￪||Cur Deus Homo. I.XI-XV|
|5.||￪||Pinnock, Four Views, 152.|
|6.||￪||Jacob Neusner. Judaism When Christianity Began: A Survey of Belief and Practice. (Lousiville: WJK, 2002.), 48|
|7.||￪||Pinnock, Four Views, 143.|
|11.||￪||The NIV for 2 Thess. 1:9 reads “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might”. However, in the Greek, the word “and” is not found. The NRSV is better “These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might”. The “shut out” thus clarifies the “eternal destruction”. Being shut out from God’s presence is to be destroyed forever.|
|12.||￪||Whether “eye for an eye” is a commanded standard practice or a ceiling on vengeance which God allows is not entirely clear in the text itself. I take the latter view. Pinnock argues that eye for an is the standard, but that standard is changed by Christ (Matt. 5:38-39). Either way, going beyond equal punishment (like everlasting torment as punishment for sins committed in finite history) doesn’t fit. See Pinnock, Four Views, 152.|
|13.||￪||Against Heresies, II.XXXIV.III.|
|14.||￪||Letter to the Magnesians, 10.|
|15.||￪||Death obviously isn’t being tormented in some corner of creation, and yet it is subject to the same lake of fire as the devil and his followers in this vision. Thus, it seems difficult to see how this Lake of Fire is a literal place of perpetually ongoing torment.|
|16.||￪||Michael J. Gorman. Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness, Following the Lamb into the New Creation. (Eugene: Cascade, 2011), 153.|
|17.||￪||Pinnock, Four Views, 154.|
|18.||￪||Glenn Peoples. “Answering Answers in Genesis: An Infinitely Bad Argument” Rethinking Hell. [blog] October 29, 2014. <https://rethinkinghell.com/2014/10/answering-answers-in-genesis-an-infinitely-bad-argument/> (accessed Dec. 9, 2014).|
|19.||￪||Clark Pinnock. “The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent” Criswell Theological Review. 4 no. 2 (1990), 243-259. Available here.|
|20.||￪||The Resurrection of the Flesh (De Resurrectione Carnis). Chapter 3.|