“Refuting the (Astrophysicist) Critics” Series Links
This article is the third in a series of articles addressing the case for traditionalism offered by the young-earth-creationist and astrophysicist Jason Lisle. To access other published articles in this series, use the following links:
If defenders of traditionalism are guilty of anything as often as they are guilty of psychologizing the targets of their criticism, it’s mischaracterizing them—and sadly, Jason Lisle is no exception. Annihilationists, he avers, believe “the unbeliever [will be] punished in hell, but only for a finite time,” and after “his penalty is paid,” he “will simply cease to exist.”1Jason Lisle, “The Good News About Hell,” Biblical Science Institute [blog], February 14, 2020, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/theology/the-good-news-about-hell/; emphasis added. He says they think that the finally impenitent will be annihilated “after serving their finite sentence,” and that “the duration of punishment in hell” is “finite.”2Ibid.; emphasis added. As a hint, however, that perhaps he experiences cognitive dissonance, Lisle implies that conditionalists think the risen wicked will be “instantly annihilated” (which contradicts his claim that we believe they will suffer finitely in hell first).3Jason Lisle, “Denying Eternity,” Biblical Science Institute [blog], January 2, 2023, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/theology/denying-eternity/. Either way, he suggests we believe “lack of eternal life” means “lack of conscious existence.”4Jason Lisle, “Has the Word ‘Eternal’ Been Correctly Translated?” Biblical Science Institute [blog], January 27, 2023, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/apologetics/has-the-word-eternal-been-correctly-translated/. Such characterizations, however, are only true of some annihilationists; most prominent ones think quite differently.
It’s important, first, that one correctly understands what the doctrine of eternal torment really entails, at least in its truly traditional form: bodily immortality and everlasting physical life for the resurrected, forever embodied lost. This is clear in the earliest Christian affirmations of eternal torment, the late-second-century writings of Tatian of Adiabene and Athenagoras of Athens. After death, Tatian writes, humans “receive the immortal with enjoyment or the painful with immortality”;5Tatian, “Address to the Greeks” 14. and Athenagoras (perversely) applies Paul’s language of resurrected immortality in 1 Corinthians 15:54 to the saved and unsaved alike.6Athenagoras, “On the Resurrection of the Dead” 18. Augustine of Hippo says the bodies of the resurrected lost will exhibit the same quality of immortality that human souls do.7Augustine, City of God 21.3.2. So, too, does Thomas Aquinas.8Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I.97. John Calvin denies that the risen wicked will ever die.9John Calvin, Institutes III.xxv.9. Jonathan Edwards does likewise.10Jonathan Edwards, “The Salvation of All Men Strictly Examined,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (John P. Jewett & Co., 1854), 229–30. To this day, traditionalists from C. S. Lewis to Wayne Grudem all teach that the resurrected lost will “live forever” in hell.11C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper-Collins, 1972), 74; Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Zondervan Academic, 2020), 803. See also John MacArthur Jr., Revelation 12–22, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Moody, 2000), 274; and Robert Peterson, “A Traditionalist Response to John Stott’s Arguments for Annihilationism,” Journal for the Evangelical Theological Society 37, no. 4 (1994), 566.
See, the traditional view anticipates the eternal torment of resurrected immortals, not disembodied, immortal souls. This sometimes comes as a surprise to modern Christians, but it strikes many traditionalists as perfectly obvious, especially historically, given the Bible’s teaching that both the saved and the lost will be raised from the dead (e.g., John 5:28; Acts 24:15). If the wicked arise unto “shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2), for example, and if one understands “contempt” to be what they eternally experience (an interpretation I will rebut in part 5 of this series), then it stands to reason they will never return to the dust thereafter.
Whereas traditionalists thus believe the wicked will rise physically immortal and live forever in hell, conditionalists instead believe the resurrected lost will literally die a second time. Notwithstanding Lisle’s mischaracterization, it’s not that we think “lack of eternal life” means “lack of conscious existence”; rather, we think that someone who rejects God’s offer of eternal life will not live forever (imagine that!). Instead, after being raised to face judgment, such a one will be subsequently destroyed—killed, slain, executed—or, in the thinking of some annihilationists, die as a result of God more passively letting the person unplug him or herself from the only source of life. The debate between these two views of hell, then, is not fundamentally over the final scope of human existence, but of human life.
It’s true that conditionalists believe the unsaved will cease to consciously exist as a result of their destruction in hell, but this is because Jesus indicates that the fate awaiting the resurrected bodies of the lost—death, meaning the cessation and ongoing privation of life—also awaits their souls (Matt 10:28).12Here I assume a substance-dualist reading of the text. Everyone knows and can see what it means for a body to die: it’s rendered lifeless, inanimate, inert, and inactive. Therefore, if the human soul just is one’s substantive consciousness, and if what happens to the body in the first death happens to both body and soul in the second death, then the soul, too, will be rendered lifeless, inanimate, inert, and inactive—which can only mean an end to consciousness altogether.
With all of this in mind, many or most annihilationists believe the punishment awaiting the lost is death, meaning the privation of their lives, not the cessation of existence; and their lives will be deprived forever, making it an eternal punishment, not a finite one. As Edward Fudge explains, “Some say everlasting extinction would not be ‘forever,’” but we “measure capital punishment by its permanency, not by the time required for its execution.”13Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, 3rd ed. (Cascade, 2011), 371. Indeed, Augustine recognized this nearly two thousand years ago, observing that society does not “reckon the punishment to consist in the brief moment in which death is inflicted,” but in “that the offender is eternally banished from the society of the living.”14Augustine, City of God 21.11.1. Imagine that a convicted capital offender is subjected to the electric chair, and after receiving a jolt of electricity, his pulse stops and he’s pronounced dead. If he suddenly gasps moments later, having spontaneously come back to life (this is called autoresuscitation or “Lazarus Syndrome”), the state doesn’t let him go free; rather, the switch is flipped again until the criminal remains dead, because the punishment isn’t dying, it’s being dead. Consequently, Lisle’s article titled “Has the Word ‘Eternal’ Been Correctly Translated?” is largely a waste of time: most of us annihilationists simply agree with him that the duration of final punishment is eternal or everlasting.
If the risen wicked suffer before they breathe their last, their pain does not constitute the “finite sentence” preceding their destruction; rather, their pain is part of the destructive process by which their eternal capital punishment is inflicted. This doesn’t mean their pain is a punishment in and of itself. As Fudge puts it, some “passages seemingly imply some degree of conscious pain in the process,” but “the ‘eternal punishment’ itself is the capital execution, the deprivation of an eternal life of joy and blessing.”15Fudge, The Fire That Consumes, 143; emphasis added. Thus, the experience of being burned to death at the stake is longer and more excruciatingly painful than that of being killed by firing squad, but both methods of execution inflict the same penalty: death. And the same is true of what we annihilationists have called the “cosmic death penalty.”16Rethinking Hell, Statement on Evangelical Conditionalism, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/Rethinking-Hell_Statement-on-Evangelical-Conditionalism.pdf.
When some annihilationists argue that the biblical language of destruction suggests the risen wicked will cease to exist, they don’t mean that the very atoms constituting their bodies will instantaneously vanish into the proverbial ether, violating the first law of thermodynamics. Lisle’s readers wouldn’t get that from his articles, though; after claiming the Greek word apollymi means “to ruin” (among other things), for example, he observes that “when a city is ruined, it no longer functions as a dwelling place for people. But its atoms continue to exist.”17Jason Lisle, “Interpreting the Bible’s Teaching on the Eternal State,” Biblical Science Institute [blog], January 20, 2023, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/theology/interpreting-the-bibles-teaching-on-the-eternal-state/. This is true, but so what? The atoms that compose a log still exist after it’s burned up in a bonfire, but the log no longer exists. Likewise, though the atoms making up a city’s buildings still exist after they are destroyed, the city itself is no more. A pile of rubble does not a building make. Notwithstanding Lisle’s mischaracterizations, conditionalists simply mean that, after being slain and destroyed in hell—in body and soul—the finally impenitent will no longer be conscious beings, whatever remains of their, well, remains.
Lisle thus does a great job burning up straw men, but he substantially fails to critique annihilationism as it is actually believed and promoted. We conditionalists believe in eternal and therefore infinite punishment, not finite punishment. We believe that this eternal punishment is the death penalty, the everlasting privation of life once enjoyed, even if the means by which it’s meted out inflicts pain as part of the process. And we believe that when the risen wicked literally die a second time, they will also cease to consciously exist—not because that’s what death is, but because their souls will die along with their bodies. If Lisle wishes to meaningfully rebut our view, he would do well to start characterizing it accurately.
|￪1||Jason Lisle, “The Good News About Hell,” Biblical Science Institute [blog], February 14, 2020, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/theology/the-good-news-about-hell/; emphasis added.|
|￪2||Ibid.; emphasis added.|
|￪3||Jason Lisle, “Denying Eternity,” Biblical Science Institute [blog], January 2, 2023, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/theology/denying-eternity/.|
|￪4||Jason Lisle, “Has the Word ‘Eternal’ Been Correctly Translated?” Biblical Science Institute [blog], January 27, 2023, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/apologetics/has-the-word-eternal-been-correctly-translated/.|
|￪5||Tatian, “Address to the Greeks” 14.|
|￪6||Athenagoras, “On the Resurrection of the Dead” 18.|
|￪7||Augustine, City of God 21.3.2.|
|￪8||Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I.97.|
|￪9||John Calvin, Institutes III.xxv.9.|
|￪10||Jonathan Edwards, “The Salvation of All Men Strictly Examined,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (John P. Jewett & Co., 1854), 229–30.|
|￪11||C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper-Collins, 1972), 74; Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Zondervan Academic, 2020), 803. See also John MacArthur Jr., Revelation 12–22, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Moody, 2000), 274; and Robert Peterson, “A Traditionalist Response to John Stott’s Arguments for Annihilationism,” Journal for the Evangelical Theological Society 37, no. 4 (1994), 566.|
|￪12||Here I assume a substance-dualist reading of the text.|
|￪13||Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, 3rd ed. (Cascade, 2011), 371.|
|￪14||Augustine, City of God 21.11.1.|
|￪15||Fudge, The Fire That Consumes, 143; emphasis added.|
|￪16||Rethinking Hell, Statement on Evangelical Conditionalism, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/Rethinking-Hell_Statement-on-Evangelical-Conditionalism.pdf.|
|￪17||Jason Lisle, “Interpreting the Bible’s Teaching on the Eternal State,” Biblical Science Institute [blog], January 20, 2023, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/theology/interpreting-the-bibles-teaching-on-the-eternal-state/.|