2015 Rethinking Hell Conference Announcement

After a successful and inspiring first conference in Houston last summer, we are looking forward to the prospect of more conferences both in the US and abroad! We are pleased to now announce the second Rethinking Hell Conference, which will take place at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California from June 18-20, 2015.

Our theme this year will be “Conditional Immortality and the Challenge of Universal Salvation.”

In selecting this theme, Rethinking Hell is promoting dialogue among evangelicals, by bringing our own view of conditional immortality (also called annihilationism), into conversation with universalism. Universalists believe that hell is a place of purification, out of which God will eventually redeem all who are sent there. This view has gained some popular momentum within evangelical communities since the publication of Rob Bell’s best-selling book Love Wins.

As well as the engagement of these two views, our conference will also facilitate a “trialogue” with representatives of the widely-held traditional view of eternal torment.

To elaborate on why we have decided to place some focus on universal salvation this year, when it’s not the view that we hold at Rethinking Hell, we offer the following reasons:

  1. While universalism is a view that some evangelical Christians are considering, it is usually only viewed in contrast to the eternal torment position. We believe that conditional immortality needs to be examined as well, so we are aiming to present our view as another alternative for those considering embracing universalism.
  2. We believe that it is important to listen to and consider the arguments of universalists on their own terms, rather than merely arguing against our own understanding of their view.  Many conditionalists have experienced a degree of closed-mindedness when we try to explain our position to those who are unfamiliar with it. We want to model a thoughtful and charitable posture towards those with different views than ours, because we believe it honors the One who called us to treat others as we would like to be treated.
  3. Much of the defensive intellectual work that we have done at Rethinking Hell has been in response to traditionalist arguments—we realize that we need to spend more time engaging with and responding to universalist arguments as well, through exegetical, theological, philosophical, historical, and pastoral defenses of conditional immortality.  This conference will stimulate conditionalist thinkers to take up this challenge.

The way in which we plan to pursue this trialogue is through six plenary presentations and many breakout sessions on the topic of conditional immortality and the challenge of universal salvation.  Rethinking Hell’s own Chris Date, co-editor of the collection Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism, will set up the conversation with an introductory talk on Thursday night, then on Friday morning, we will hear from one of the leading universalist thinkers—Robin Parry—who authored the book The Evangelical Universalist (under the pseudonym Gregory MacDonald) and also co-edited the volume Universal Salvation?: The Current Debate.

Our first conditionalist response to Parry’s arguments for universalism will be from David Instone-Brewer, who is the Senior Research Fellow in Rabbinics and the New Testament at Tyndale House in Cambridge, UK, and author of The Jesus Scandals.  On Friday evening, Oliver Crisp, Professor of Systematic Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary and author of the new book Deviant Calvinism will consider Parry’s universalism from a more traditional perspective.

On Saturday morning, Jerry Walls, Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University and author of a number of highly-regarded books on personal eschatology, including his recently released title Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory:  Rethinking the Things That Matter the Most, will present a traditionalist perspective on the fate of the unsaved in response to universalism and conditionalism.  This will be followed by a final talk by Jim Spiegel, Professor of Philosophy at Taylor University and author of The Making of an Atheist, who will argue for the philosophical superiority of conditional immortalism in addressing both the problems and solutions offered by traditionalists and universalists.

We will end the conference with a moderated panel featuring all six speakers, in which they will respond to each others’ arguments, clarify their own positions, and answer questions from conference participants in what we hope will be a model of civil dialogue between thoughtful evangelicals on some of the most important questions facing our communities today.

On Friday, there will be four breakout sessions, each session featuring a number of different papers from each of the perspectives examined through a variety of disciplines (theological, exegetical, philosophical, historical, pastoral, etc.).  Those interested in submitting a paper proposal may view the call for papers here (proposals due by March 15, 2015).

There will be ample time given for breaks to discuss the ideas we’ve encountered with one another, as well as opportunities to enjoy a variety of outstanding restaurants within walking distance from Fuller for lunch and dinner, along with a number of book tables and exhibitors for guests to peruse.

We do hope you will join us for this significant conversation and, in the process, can become a person who can dialogue on controversial topics with both a deeply informed understanding of the various eschatological views as well as the ability to more thoughtfully present our own convictions.  Please visit our registration website here for schedule and more details.  If you have any questions or thoughts to share, you may contact us at conference@rethinkinghell.com.

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