Denominational Doctrine on Damnation: The Developing Story of the Bible Fellowship Church

In January of 2022, a church petitioned its parent denomination to reexamine biblical teaching on hell, in part because some congregants had embraced annihilationism. As reported in the minutes of its 139th annual meeting, the Bible Fellowship Church (BFC) was asked by member Whitehall BFC “to form a study committee of five people to examine what Scripture teaches about the eternal destiny of the unregenerate, with careful attention to both its apologetic and shepherding use.”1“Whitehall BFC Petition to BFC Conference,” One Hundred Thirty-nineth Annual Meeting of the Bible Fellowship Church Conference 2022, rev. ed., 137. The stated reason behind the petition:

Whitehall Church has been ministering to some who have serious doubts regarding the eternal conscious torment of the unregenerate; some of whom have abandoned the Faith in large measure due to this historic doctrine of the Church, and others who (remaining devoted to Christ and His Word) have moved away from the eternal conscious torment position and to an annihilation position . . .

Two years later, BFC published its “Report of the Study Committee on Eternal Conscious Torment” on pages 97–111 of its 141st Conference Report Book. It concludes, “passages throughout Scripture indicate that an annihilationist position doesn’t, in a sense, fit the crime,” and “we believe that the Bible teaches that those whose names are not written in the book of life will experience an eternal conscious torment.”2“Report of the Study Committee on Eternal Conscious Torment,” Bible Fellowship Church 141st Conference Report Book, 109–110. Unfortunately, the provided analysis, on which the committee based its conclusions, reflects a poorly informed and less-than-careful study of conditional immortality (or annihilationism) and the larger subject of biblical teaching about hell. Continue reading “Denominational Doctrine on Damnation: The Developing Story of the Bible Fellowship Church”

References
1 “Whitehall BFC Petition to BFC Conference,” One Hundred Thirty-nineth Annual Meeting of the Bible Fellowship Church Conference 2022, rev. ed., 137.
2 “Report of the Study Committee on Eternal Conscious Torment,” Bible Fellowship Church 141st Conference Report Book, 109–110.

Matthew 10:28 and Alternative Meanings of Apollumi That Are Eliminated By Context

If you’ve ever heard of annihilationism, then you’ve heard of Matthew 10:28. It’s understandable that this passage is commonly cited to show that, rather than keeping anyone alive in torment forever, God destroys body and soul in hell:

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 1 Las citas bíblicas presentadas en esta traducción al español son tomadas de la Reina Valera 1960.

A common response by traditionalists – those who believe in eternal conscious hell – is that the word translated “destroy,” apollumi in Greek, has other meanings in scripture besides literal destruction (or for lack of a better term, annihilation). 2 For more on why annihilationism doesn’t mean or require some sort of cosmic zapping into nothing, see “Introduction to Evangelical Conditionalism: What Do We Mean By “Annihilationism?’“. 3 Note that, for our purposes, even destroying in just the sense of killing is sufficient to establish the doctrine of evangelical conditionalism. These alternative meanings are consistent with the idea of eternal torment.
Continue reading “Matthew 10:28 and Alternative Meanings of Apollumi That Are Eliminated By Context”

References
1 Las citas bíblicas presentadas en esta traducción al español son tomadas de la Reina Valera 1960.
2 For more on why annihilationism doesn’t mean or require some sort of cosmic zapping into nothing, see “Introduction to Evangelical Conditionalism: What Do We Mean By “Annihilationism?’“.
3 Note that, for our purposes, even destroying in just the sense of killing is sufficient to establish the doctrine of evangelical conditionalism.

Isaiah 33:14 – A Lesser Known Prooftext

Isaiah 33:14 gives a warning to sinners by means of a question, and this question is occasionally pointed to by apologists of the traditional view as evidence for eternal conscious hell: 1 Hell: Suppose It’s True after All? [tract], (Wheaton, IL: Good News Tracts, 1995). 2 Millard Erickson,  Christian Theology., 2nd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998), 1246. 3 William Hendriksen, The Bible on the Life Hereafter (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 202.

“The sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling grips the godless: “Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?” 4 Las citas bíblicas presentadas en esta traducción al español son tomadas de la Reina Valera 1960.

The last line is what is really emphasized. The passage says “everlasting burning,” so doesn’t that prove eternal conscious hell?

This one phrase (translated to English) may sound friendly to eternal torment at first glance, but that is where any semblance of support for eternal torment in this passage ends.
Continue reading “Isaiah 33:14 – A Lesser Known Prooftext”

References
1 Hell: Suppose It’s True after All? [tract], (Wheaton, IL: Good News Tracts, 1995).
2 Millard Erickson,  Christian Theology., 2nd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998), 1246.
3 William Hendriksen, The Bible on the Life Hereafter (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 202.
4 Las citas bíblicas presentadas en esta traducción al español son tomadas de la Reina Valera 1960.

It’s God Who Sends People To Hell – And The Bible Doesn’t Shy Away From This

I hear all the time now, almost entirely from those who believe in eternal conscious hell, that God doesn’t send people to hell. 1 This is most common in online discussions and very informal settings, moreso than in published literature. 2 Micah Ward, “God Does Not Send People to Hell,” Medium, June 28, 2020, https://medium.com/an-idea/god-does-not-send-people-to-hell-e15af001daf5 (accessed January 30, 2024. 3 Intervarsity, “A Loving God Wouldn’t Send People to Hell,” Intervarsity Evangelism, n.d., https://evangelism.intervarsity.org/resource/loving-god-wouldnt-send-people-hell (accessed January 30, 2024). 4 Sean McDowell, “Does A Loving God Send People to Hell?,” seanmcdowell.org [blog], posted
September 2, 2024, https://seanmcdowell.org/blog/does-a-loving-god-send-people-to-hell (accessed January 30, 2024).
Rather, people send themselves to hell. Many quote C.S. Lewis on this, while those who do not cite him directly still echo his general sentiments:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. 5 C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2009), 72. 6 Due to the fictional nature of The Great Divorce, some question as to what extent it reflects Lewis’s actual beliefs. But the quotation is commonly used nonetheless.

But according to the Bible, it’s God who sends people to hell.

Why Does This Matter?

Now, this isn’t an argument for annihilationism per se. Traditionalists, conditionalists, and even universalists could concede that God sends people to hell. It’s what happens to those in hell once they are there that determines which view is true. 7 Some, especially in the annihilationist camp, object to thinking of hell as a specific place, rather than a state/event. Either way, my point still stands.

The reason this matters to the doctrine of hell is because it has become part of an ongoing trend to soften the doctrine of eternal conscious hell to make it more palatable. For our purposes we will refer to this softened view as the metaphorical view.

Often it is annihilationists who are accused of trying to make hell more palatable, but this has been going on in the traditionalist camp for a while now. We have discussed this at length before, how those who have held to eternal conscious hell have historically believed very much in a place of fiery torture and God’s active wrath, and how if eternal conscious hell is true at all, this historical version is how the Bible would be describing it. 8 For more on this, see “The Many And Varied Problems With The Modern, Metaphorical View Of Eternal Concious Hell”. 9 See also, “The Traditional View Of Hell Is Rightly Called ‘Eternal Torture’ (At Least Traditionally)”. 10 For a sampling of church history on the issue, see “The Not-So-Traditional View: Does Your Particular Belief about Hell Have Church History on Its Side?” – Parts 1, 2, and 3.

Traditionalists are trying to have their cake and eat it too. Not that people are intentionally lying, but sometimes bad ideas make their way into the public consciousness and become normalized, and this softening of eternal conscious hell has done so to a great degree in evangelicalism and beyond. As such, those who hold this view want to say that they are being orthodox and holding to the tradition and to biblical teaching even when they don’t like it, while at the same time getting to defend God to unbelievers because “hell is not a torture chamber” and, along these lines, “God doesn’t send people to hell.”

But he does send people to hell. The Bible doesn’t hide away from this at all.

As annihilationists, it is increasingly essential that when a traditionalist holds to a clearly unbiblical happy-medium view like the metaphorical view, we challenge them on it. If someone is going to accept the traditional view of hell, then they need to accept all of it.

Yes, the unsaved deserve to go to hell. But while we may sometimes say “you did it to yourself” to a person who does a bad thing and gets punished for it, that isn’t meant as a literal statement. Their parents or the school or legal system behind the consequence fundamentally take ownership of the penalty they impose. And so does God in the Bible.

Some Key Texts 11 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture is quoted from the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. 12 Scripture quotations marked HCSB are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.

The idea of God as an active judge who inflicts vengeance upon the guilty is something one can find throughout the Bible. Below are a few key New Testament texts that I think really drive the point home for our purposes here.

Mateo 25:41

Then He [Jesus] will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.

This passage is usually appealed to as a prooftext for eternal conscious hell because it describes hell as “eternal fire.” The Bible’s use of this phrase and why it does not indicate a fire burning people forever has been addressed here previously. 13 For more on this, see “What the Bible Actually Says about ‘Eternal Fire'” – Parts 1 and 2. 14 The fact that even a separation-from-God prooftext shows hell as fire – and uses the “eternal fire” phrase as the basis for saying it is about hell in the first place – is a further strike against the fireless metaphorical view.

But this passage is noteworthy for our purposes because it features Jesus himself, who is supposed to be the nice one, the one who is supposed to be the truest revelation of God and therefore show us that God is actually loving and merciful (as if that wasn’t already shown in the Old Testament) – and yet he is condemning people to hellfire. He does not passively watch it happen as they choose to go away from him. He actively sends away – and into the fire. 15 Some point to the fire being made for the devil and his angels in order to somehow distance God from sending humans to hell, but that is irrelevant given that God is very much sending people there in this verse. It may have been made for the devil and his angels, but humans are being treated like them.

2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 (HCSB)

It is a clear evidence of God’s righteous judgment that you will be counted worthy of God’s kingdom, for which you also are suffering, since it is righteous for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you and to reward with rest you who are afflicted, along with us. This will take place at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His powerful angels, taking vengeance with flaming fire on those who don’t know God and on those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction from the Lord’s presence and from His glorious strength in that day when He comes to be glorified by His saints and to be admired by all those who have believed, because our testimony among you was believed.

This passage is often appealed to in order to show that hell is separation from God, although even that is questionable as it depends on certain renderings of ambiguous Greek. 16 For more on this, see Peter Grice, “Annihilation in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (Part 1): Destroyed by the Glory of His Manifest Presence“, 17 The above citation of 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 is from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, a highly literal contemporary of my preferred NASB 1995 translation that I think gets Verse 9 correct in this case.

But rather than being a passive separation, where God just graciously says to those who don’t want to know him “thy will be done,” instead it describes Jesus himself coming in flames and fury and delivering vengeance unto the wicked (Verse 8). Paul even makes sure to emphasize that Christ pays back those who persecuted his people affliction for affliction (Verse 6). God is shown here as an avenger, not just a passive respecter of free choice.

Romans 12:19

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written: “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.

Here we again see the Bible embracing God’s vengeance. He avenges. He repays. He doesn’t merely cut himself off from those who want to be apart from him anyway.

Mateo 13:40-42

So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

After telling a parable where wheat and weeds are harvested and the weeds are burned up, Jesus explains the meaning to his disciples.

It’s hard to say that God doesn’t send people to hell when his agents, the angels, at Christ’s command take the wicked and throw them into the fires of hell like throwing away refuse (a form of refuse that quickly burns up to ashes, for good measure). 18 Comparing the wicked to weeds that are then burned up also doesn’t sound very much like the unrepentant wicked being in made God’s image makes them too valuable to destroy – a philosophical argument made by some traditionalists – because you don’t put easily combustible weeds into an incinerator if you don’t want to destroy them. Keep in mind that I am not describing the parable, but Jesus’s explanation of the parable. Other than maybe speaking of hellfire in a slightly figurative manner as “the furnace of fire” (to play off the furnace in the parable), this is a straightforward clarification of a symbolic story.

Matthew 7:21-23

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

Here, hell is not mentioned explicitly. However, Jesus does command these people to depart from him at judgment. And yet, rather than embracing the fact that the God they hate has sent them away, they are trying to plead their case and are denied.

It sounds a lot like Jesus is, again, sending them to hell (and for good measure, they are not getting the outcome they wanted).

Revelation 14:9-11

Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

This is, of course, a major prooftext for eternal conscious hell – which is the main reason I brought it up – and we have addressed it here previously as well. 19 For more on this, see “A Primer on Revelation 14:9-11”.

But its use in demonstrating eternal conscious hell seems very odd for adherents of the metaphorical view in general. Revelation is very symbolic, of course, but nevertheless one must say that physical torment (i.e. torture) with fire, in the presence of Christ and the angels, is meant to symbolize fireless, non-physical anguish away from Christ.

And while it doesn’t specifically show people being sent to hell by force, it also seems quite odd to describe the internal, self-inflicted torment of being separated from God as being the full-strength wrath of God, culminating in being burned alive with fire and sulfur.

God’s Active Role in Final Punishment Is Frequently Referenced in Scripture

These are among any number of relevant passages in the New Testament alone. Matthew 10:28 reminds us that God can actively destroy both body and soul in hell (as opposed to just passively letting the wicked go there). 20 There is a small minority (albeit with at least one well-respected adherent) who hold that Matthew 10:28 is speaking of the devil, not God. This view is really hard to defend under scrutiny. For more on this, see “Matthew 10:28 Is About God, Not the Devil“.  James 4:12 is similar. Matthew 25:46 reminds us that hell is the “eternal punishment” of the wicked, which would mean it is the opposite of what they desire. 21 For more on why “eternal punishment” does not imply etrrnal conscious hell, see “Matthew 25:46 Does Not Prove Eternal Torment” – Parts 1 and 2. Hebrews 10:30-31 mimics Romans 12:19 and also reminds us, regarding those who deliberately continue to live in wickedness, “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” 22 The fact that Verse 27 also says that the enemies of God also look forward to a raging fire that will consume them also certainly doesn’t hurt the annihilationist case. The wicked have every reason to fear God, not just to fear that they will be separated from him – as they had already desired anyway.

Conclusión

I accept that God sends people to hell in Christian theology. I can own what my own beliefs entail. God sends people to hell because he is just and they deserve it. They don’t want to go there, and they don’t send themselves there any more than a prisoner who is shackled at gunpoint sends himself to prison. They may not want to be with God but they certainly don’t want the eternal death penalty either. And while I don’t object on principle to universalism and God showing eternal mercy to everyone in the end, I certainly can hold no objection to God sending the unrepentant to be destroyed in hell in both body and soul (cf. Matthew 10:28) because that is the righteous and just wages of sin (cf. Romans 6:23). God sends people to hell because he is a just judge who will give the wicked what they deserve (if they remain impenitent). 23 Universalists should likewise have no trouble acknowledging that God sends his wayward children to the temporary place of severe discipline so they can stop being bloodthirsty rebels and be ready for eternal life in his kingdom.

Most Christians have not shied away from this fact. Many traditionalists today likewise do not shy away from this fact. Nor should they – several of the passages I cited above are among the main texts used to demonstrate (albeit unsuccessfully) that the Bible teaches eternal conscious hell in the first place.

So if you believe that the Bible teaches eternal conscious hell, then own it. Own what that means. Own everything that such a view entails. Own that people aren’t asking to go to the fiery furnace of weeping and gnashing of teeth forever, but that they are cast there by the word of God. If evangelical conditionalists are not free to soften the Bible’s teaching on hell, and I agree that we aren’t, then neither are you.

If God’s active role in final punishment and him sending people to hell feels unconscionable, then you need to ask yourself why. If God being an active avenger seems wrong in either view of eternal damnation (annihilationism or eternal conscious hell), then I highly recommend seeking the joint counsel of scripture, prayer, and trusted believers in your life who can walk you through this time. 24 In universalism, God may actively send people to hell but he is ultimately disciplining them, not inflicting retribution on an eternal scale. That has gotten me through similar issues in my Christian walk.

If it specifically seems unconscionable that a loving God would actively send people to eternal conscious hell, and you feel like your thoughts and feelings aren’t aligned with the biblical truth, then perhaps the problem isn’t the biblical truth of God as the holy avenger, but rather, it seems unconscionable because eternal conscious hell isn’t the biblical truth in the first place.

References
1 This is most common in online discussions and very informal settings, moreso than in published literature.
2 Micah Ward, “God Does Not Send People to Hell,” Medium, June 28, 2020, https://medium.com/an-idea/god-does-not-send-people-to-hell-e15af001daf5 (accessed January 30, 2024.
3 Intervarsity, “A Loving God Wouldn’t Send People to Hell,” Intervarsity Evangelism, n.d., https://evangelism.intervarsity.org/resource/loving-god-wouldnt-send-people-hell (accessed January 30, 2024).
4 Sean McDowell, “Does A Loving God Send People to Hell?,” seanmcdowell.org [blog], posted
September 2, 2024, https://seanmcdowell.org/blog/does-a-loving-god-send-people-to-hell (accessed January 30, 2024).
5 C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2009), 72.
6 Due to the fictional nature of The Great Divorce, some question as to what extent it reflects Lewis’s actual beliefs. But the quotation is commonly used nonetheless.
7 Some, especially in the annihilationist camp, object to thinking of hell as a specific place, rather than a state/event. Either way, my point still stands.
8 For more on this, see “The Many And Varied Problems With The Modern, Metaphorical View Of Eternal Concious Hell”.
9 See also, “The Traditional View Of Hell Is Rightly Called ‘Eternal Torture’ (At Least Traditionally)”.
10 For a sampling of church history on the issue, see “The Not-So-Traditional View: Does Your Particular Belief about Hell Have Church History on Its Side?” – Parts 1, 2, and 3.
11 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture is quoted from the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
12 Scripture quotations marked HCSB are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
13 For more on this, see “What the Bible Actually Says about ‘Eternal Fire'” – Parts 1 and 2.
14 The fact that even a separation-from-God prooftext shows hell as fire – and uses the “eternal fire” phrase as the basis for saying it is about hell in the first place – is a further strike against the fireless metaphorical view.
15 Some point to the fire being made for the devil and his angels in order to somehow distance God from sending humans to hell, but that is irrelevant given that God is very much sending people there in this verse. It may have been made for the devil and his angels, but humans are being treated like them.
16 For more on this, see Peter Grice, “Annihilation in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (Part 1): Destroyed by the Glory of His Manifest Presence“,
17 The above citation of 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 is from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, a highly literal contemporary of my preferred NASB 1995 translation that I think gets Verse 9 correct in this case.
18 Comparing the wicked to weeds that are then burned up also doesn’t sound very much like the unrepentant wicked being in made God’s image makes them too valuable to destroy – a philosophical argument made by some traditionalists – because you don’t put easily combustible weeds into an incinerator if you don’t want to destroy them.
19 For more on this, see “A Primer on Revelation 14:9-11”.
20 There is a small minority (albeit with at least one well-respected adherent) who hold that Matthew 10:28 is speaking of the devil, not God. This view is really hard to defend under scrutiny. For more on this, see “Matthew 10:28 Is About God, Not the Devil“.
21 For more on why “eternal punishment” does not imply etrrnal conscious hell, see “Matthew 25:46 Does Not Prove Eternal Torment” – Parts 1 and 2.
22 The fact that Verse 27 also says that the enemies of God also look forward to a raging fire that will consume them also certainly doesn’t hurt the annihilationist case.
23 Universalists should likewise have no trouble acknowledging that God sends his wayward children to the temporary place of severe discipline so they can stop being bloodthirsty rebels and be ready for eternal life in his kingdom.
24 In universalism, God may actively send people to hell but he is ultimately disciplining them, not inflicting retribution on an eternal scale.

The Case For Luke 16:19-31 As a Parable (Even Though Annihilationism Doesn’t Require It)

Is Luke 16:19-31, the story of the rich man and Lazarus, a parable? Yes. Or at least I believe that the case for interpreting it that way is much stronger than the case for the alternative.

Is this interpretation necessary for one to be an annihilationist? No. And I cannot emphasize that enough.

This story, whatever it is, depicts the intermediate state. Verse 23 tells us that the rich man was in hades, the place of the dead prior to resurrection and final judgment. It does not tell us what happens after judgment. Neither side’s view of hell is dependent on whether or not this is a parable.  1 For more on hades, see “Do Evangelical Conditionalists Believe in Hell? That Depends on What You Mean by ‘Hell’“.
Continue reading “The Case For Luke 16:19-31 As a Parable (Even Though Annihilationism Doesn’t Require It)”

Judas Iscariot and Hell (Matthew 26:24)

Needless to say, betraying the son of God carries grave consequences. And the way the Bible expresses this is utilized by some as evidence for eternal conscious hell.

The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born (Matthew 26:24). 1 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture is quoted from the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Continue reading “Judas Iscariot and Hell (Matthew 26:24)”

References
1 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture is quoted from the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Refuting the (Astrophysicist) Critics, Part 2: When Astrophysicists Psychologize

“Refuting the (Astrophysicist) Critics” Series Links

This article is the second 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:

 
Like many apologists for eternal torment, traditionalist Jason Lisle insists that conditionalists reject eternal torment for psychological reasons. “The idea of an eternity in hell is so offensive to many people,” he writes, “that they refuse to believe it. Instead, they choose to believe” in annihilationism.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. We “desperately want to deny the reality of an eternal hell,” he suggests, “because it is so unpleasant.”2Ibid.; emphasis added. Lisle attributes belief in conditionalism to “a tendency to minimize how heinous our sin really is.”3Jason Lisle, “Denying Eternity,” Biblical Science Institute [blog], January 2, 2023, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/theology/denying-eternity/. He is absolutely adamant: rejecting eternal torment “is always due to emotional preferences, not biblical exegesis.”4Ibid.; italics in original. It’s difficult to imagine a clearer example of what C. S. Lewis called “Bulverism,” which is “the substitution of psychological explanation for logic.” See, Lisle simply “assumes without discussion that the opponent is wrong, then busily explains how [the annihilationist] became so silly.”5Richard B. Cunningham, C. S. Lewis: Defender of the Faith (Wipf and Stock, 2008), 184. I’d encourage Lisle to stick to astrophysics and leave psychologizing to those with the proper training, because he’s dead wrong about this.

As Rethinking Hell’s Statement on Evangelical Conditionalism explains, annihilationists “are not seeking to construct a more tolerable version of hell, as though primarily motivated by an emotional aversion to the idea of eternal torment.” Rather, “We have been convinced primarily by direct statements of Scripture that the penalty God has outlined for those who reject his offer of life is clearly the eternal punishment of the ‘second death,’ rather than endless torment.”6Rethinking Hell, Statement on Evangelical Conditionalism, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/Rethinking-Hell_Statement-on-Evangelical-Conditionalism.pdf. Like most normal, healthy human beings, we think the prospect of dying and ceasing to be is dreadful;7Traditionalist Clay Jones documents humanity’s fear of death as annihilation in Immortal: How the Fear of Death Drives Us and What We Can Do About It (Harvest House, 2020). See also Christopher M. Date, “Dismissive of Hell, Fearful of Death: Conditional Immortality and the Apologetic Challenge of Hell,” Hope’s Reason 6 (2017), 14–30; available online at http://www.stephenjbedard.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/HRV6-Hell.pdf. and we’d prefer that our lost loved ones live forever; so if we were emotionally motivated to find an alternative to eternal torment, we’d have become universalists. We at Rethinking Hell have never advanced emotional arguments, in over ten years of ministry, and any honest evaluation of our body of work will conclude that Scripture, not emotions, ultimately determines our convictions.

The late Edward Fudge is perhaps the most prominent Christian known for defending conditionalism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and his work clearly indicates that his commitment to Scripture is what moved him to embrace conditionalism. “I am a theist,” he writes, “a Christian and an evangelical, persuaded that Scripture is the very Word of God written. For that reason I believe it is without error in anything that it teaches, and that it is the only unquestionable, binding source of doctrine on this or any subject.”8Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment (Cascade, 2011), 4–5. He goes on to admit that it’s “always tempting to read into Scripture what we wish,” but he urges readers “not to confuse our own desires with the Bible’s teaching.”9Ibid., 6. In his published debate with traditionalist Robert Peterson, Fudge writes, “The growing evangelical rejection of the traditional doctrine of unending conscious torment is not propelled by emotionalism, sentimentality or compromise with culture but by absolute commitment to the authority of Scripture.”10Edward William Fudge and Robert A. Peterson, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue (InterVarsity, 2000), 21. In fact, Fudge’s seminal work in defense of conditional immortality is so exclusively exegetical that John Stackhouse calls it “a juggernaut of biblical exegesis that simply crushes any alternative” but critiques it for failing to present its case “within a larger, compelling view of God.”11John G. Stackhouse Jr., “The Legacy of Edward Fudge,” A Consuming Passion: Essays on Hell and Immortality in Honor of Edward Fudge, edited by Christopher M. Date and Ron Highfield (Pickwick, 2015), 7.

If nothing else, I am proof that Lisle’s sweeping psychologizing is inaccurate. In over a decade of publicly making the case for annihilationism, I have repeatedly pointed out that I have no emotional aversion to the prospect of eternal torment. Indeed, my emotions attract me toward the traditional view, because if I once again believed it, I’d fit in much better with the conservative, Reformed evangelicals with whom I most identify. I’ve also frequently said I think God would be perfectly just in subjecting lost people to eternal torment, were he to choose to do so. At the tail end of my debate with Al Mohler, for example, I said, “I don’t think that if the traditional view is true that it paints God out to be unjust, or an unjust ogre.”12Unbelievable? [radio program], “Should Christians Rethink Hell? Dr Al Mohler & Chris Date Debate the Traditional & Conditionalist View,” January 2, 2015, https://www.premierunbelievable.com/unbelievable/unbelievable-should-christians-rethink-hell-dr-al-mohler-and-chris-date-debate-the-traditional-and-conditionalist-view/11580.article. I became and remain convinced of conditional immortality—despite wanting to believe in eternal torment—because I must bend my knee to the authority of Scripture. It’s that simple.

It may be true that some people are motivated by “emotional preferences” to find conditionalism in Scripture, but Lisle’s sweeping generalization is obviously false and unjustified. He would do well to re-read the Gospel of John, whose author seems to think Jesus is unique in knowing human hearts (John 2:24-25; cf. 6:61; Matt 9:4; 12:25). Lisle certainly isn’t capable of reading our minds, and I suggest he leave the psychoanalysis to the professionals.

References
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 Ibid.; italics in original.
5 Richard B. Cunningham, C. S. Lewis: Defender of the Faith (Wipf and Stock, 2008), 184.
6 Rethinking Hell, Statement on Evangelical Conditionalism, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/Rethinking-Hell_Statement-on-Evangelical-Conditionalism.pdf.
7 Traditionalist Clay Jones documents humanity’s fear of death as annihilation in Immortal: How the Fear of Death Drives Us and What We Can Do About It (Harvest House, 2020). See also Christopher M. Date, “Dismissive of Hell, Fearful of Death: Conditional Immortality and the Apologetic Challenge of Hell,” Hope’s Reason 6 (2017), 14–30; available online at http://www.stephenjbedard.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/HRV6-Hell.pdf.
8 Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment (Cascade, 2011), 4–5.
9 Ibid., 6.
10 Edward William Fudge and Robert A. Peterson, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue (InterVarsity, 2000), 21.
11 John G. Stackhouse Jr., “The Legacy of Edward Fudge,” A Consuming Passion: Essays on Hell and Immortality in Honor of Edward Fudge, edited by Christopher M. Date and Ron Highfield (Pickwick, 2015), 7.
12 Unbelievable? [radio program], “Should Christians Rethink Hell? Dr Al Mohler & Chris Date Debate the Traditional & Conditionalist View,” January 2, 2015, https://www.premierunbelievable.com/unbelievable/unbelievable-should-christians-rethink-hell-dr-al-mohler-and-chris-date-debate-the-traditional-and-conditionalist-view/11580.article.

Refuting the (Astrophysicist) Critics, Part 1: Testing Jason Lisle’s Traditionalist Case

As a young-earth creationist for some twenty years, I’ve very much appreciated astrophysicist Jason Lisle’s contributions to the creation debate. But his blogging activity of late suggests that, while extremely intelligent and well educated in scientific matters, Lisle is nevertheless weak in the areas of exegesis and critical thinking when it comes to the hell debate, and uninformed about what those he critiques really believe. Case in point: his recent articles in defense of eternal torment (a.k.a., eternal conscious punishment, or traditionalism, owing to its historical dominance among Christian thinkers).

Lisle’s take on the doctrine of hell first came to my attention in an article back in 2020 called “The Good News About Hell,” but it wasn’t until he began publishing a series of articles, in January of 2023, that I began to really take notice. As of early February, that series is already three articles long—“Denying Eternity,” “Interpreting the Bible’s teaching on the Eternal State,” and “Has the Word ‘Eternal’ Been Correctly Translated?”—and the latest of these suggests we can expect more from Lisle soon. After the second of this recent batch of articles, which he categorizes under the category “Refuting the Critics,” I contacted Lisle, inviting him to a public dialog or debate on the topic, in which he’d be able to put his case to the test. Unfortunately, he respectfully declined.

Seen by many around the globe as a trusted source of truth, Lisle and his ministry should be held to the highest standard of academic rigor and Christian integrity. They have over 14,000 and 93,000 followers on Facebook, respectively, where Lisle’s posts are engaged with by many commenters and often shared hundreds of times. Lisle clearly values careful research and robust exegesis of Scripture, and it is not unreasonable to ask that he approach this topic with the same degree of due diligence that he exercises in his areas of expertise.

I would have preferred live interaction—especially with someone of whom I’m such a big fan—but alas, I shall have to settle for refuting his “refutations” in article form. Rather than publish one article per each of Lisle’s, I’ll group what he writes into categories and respond to each category with an article of my own. I’ll make all of my articles accessible from this introductory article so it can serve as a sort of one-stop shop for those interested in how an annihilationist (or conditionalist, a believer in what’s called conditional immortality) might respond to his case if he were to interact with one live. I’ll return and update these articles if Lisle’s series continues and he offers anything meaningfully new.

“Refuting the (Astrophysicist) Critics” Series Links

Do Evangelical Conditionalists Believe in Hell? That Depends On What You Mean by “Hell”

One of the hot topics in the hell debate is whether or not it is proper to say that evangelical conditionalists believe in the existence of hell. 1Las citas bíblicas presentadas en esta traducción al español son tomadas de la Reina Valera 1960.

The Question And Its Answer

The answer is itself quite simple: it depends what you mean by “hell.”

Some people define hell as a place of eternal conscious suffering, and if that is what you mean, then of course evangelical conditionalists deny the existence of “hell.” But if you, more broadly, mean a place or state of final punishment for the unrepentant, then yes, evangelical conditionalists (and most annihilationists broadly) definitely believe in hell. We just disagree with the majority of Christians about what hell ultimately entails.

That’s it. That’s the answer.

But since you probably came here not for a short paragraph but for a meaty Rethinking Hell article on a topic, allow me to elaborate and use this question as an opportunity to discuss some key, related matters. These will include the Greek and Hebrew words typically translated as “hell,” a bit about English theological terms of art vs. the inspired biblical text, and how this ties into the hell debate in general.
Continue reading “Do Evangelical Conditionalists Believe in Hell? That Depends On What You Mean by “Hell””

References
1 Las citas bíblicas presentadas en esta traducción al español son tomadas de la Reina Valera 1960.

Matthew 10:28 is About God, Not The Devil

If you’ve heard of anything under the umbrella of annihilationism or conditional immortality, you’ve probably been exposed to Matthew 10:28, and understandably so. 1Las citas bíblicas presentadas en esta traducción al español son tomadas de la Reina Valera 1960.

And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Conditionalists point to it frequently for obvious reasons. Jesus told the disciples that God will destroy (Greek apollumi) both the body and the (supposedly immortal) soul in hell. Traditionalists, of course, have rebuttals to the conditionalist interpretation that you will come across.

…And then there is an unusual interpretation that rears its head every now and again that we will be looking at today. This is the view that this passage is not warning about what God will do at final judgment, but rather, it is a warning to fear the devil.

Continue reading “Matthew 10:28 is About God, Not The Devil”

References
1 Las citas bíblicas presentadas en esta traducción al español son tomadas de la Reina Valera 1960.