Rethinking Hell contributor Chris Date interviews conditionalist Michael Zwaagstra on a course he recently taught at Steinbach Bible College on the three Christian views of hell.
Back in 2011, when Rethinking Hell was just a verb, our own Chris Date, on his Theopologetics podcast, conducted a respectful but very hard-hitting interview with Dr. Larry Dixon on the subject of hell. Dr. Dixon is professor of systematic theology at Columbia International University, and the author of The Other Side of the Good News.
My own editorial comments: It was a pretty huge deal! Dr. Dixon and his written defense of traditionalism are well-respected and oft-quoted in the debate on hell, and Chris while irenic and fair proved to be quite a challenge to Dr. Dixon’s arguments for the traditional doctrine. Not bad for someone who was still early in the process of rethinking hell at the time! I recommend that traditionalists and conditionalists alike listen to the interview, and we would love to know what you think of this exchange.
“Episode 62: The Other Side,” Theopologetics [podcast], hosted by Chris Date, October 20, 2011, http://www.theopologetics.com/2011/10/20/episode-62-the-other-side/ (accessed May 27, 2013).
“Episode 63: Lake of Fire,” Theopologetics [podcast], hosted by Chris Date, October 21, 2011, http://www.theopologetics.com/2011/10/21/episode-63-lake-of-fire/ (accessed May 27, 2013).
Conditionalists believe that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23; emphasis added). Those who do not believe in him will not have eternal life, and will instead perish (John 3:16). After rising from their first death to be judged, they will be sentenced to the second death (Revelation 20:14). Traditionalists, on the other hand, say the body that rises “dies not again,”1Gill, J. A Body of Doctrinal Divinity: Or a System of Evangelical Truths (The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., 2001), 679. confessing that “the evil ones … shall be made immortal” (emphasis added).2The Belgic Confession, Article 37. http://www.reformed.org/documents/BelgicConfession.html Their language is unambiguous: “Every human being ever born lives forever;”3MacArthur, J. “The Answer to Life’s Greatest Question, Part 1.” http://www.gty.org/resources/print/sermons/42-141 “everybody lives forever;”4Koukl, G. (Host). (2011, June 5). “Christopher Morgan on Hell and Inclusivism.” Stand to Reason [radio]. 1:09:25. http://www.strcast2.org/podcast/weekly/060511.mp3. the unsaved “will continue living in a state with a low quality of life.”5Habermas, G. and Moreland, J.P. Immortality: The Other Side of Death (Thomas Nelson, 1992), 173.
Adherents to both views argue that the punishment Jesus Christ bore on the cross, in place of those who believe in him, poses a real challenge to their opponents’ doctrine. Conditionalists point out that Jesus was indeed executed, not eternally tormented. Traditionalists, however, point out Christ wasn’t annihilated, that he did not cease to exist.
Leon Morris writes, “The atonement is the crucial doctrine of the faith. Unless we are right here it matters little, or so it seems to me, what we are like elsewhere.”6Morris, L. The Cross in the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1999), 5. If one’s view of final punishment logically leads to an unbiblical understanding of the atonement, it must be rejected. Contrary to the claims of traditionalists, it is often they, not conditionalists, whose eschatology clashes with what the Bible reveals about the cross. Continue reading “Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked”
|￪1||Gill, J. A Body of Doctrinal Divinity: Or a System of Evangelical Truths (The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., 2001), 679.|
|￪2||The Belgic Confession, Article 37. http://www.reformed.org/documents/BelgicConfession.html|
|￪3||MacArthur, J. “The Answer to Life’s Greatest Question, Part 1.” http://www.gty.org/resources/print/sermons/42-141|
|￪4||Koukl, G. (Host). (2011, June 5). “Christopher Morgan on Hell and Inclusivism.” Stand to Reason [radio]. 1:09:25. http://www.strcast2.org/podcast/weekly/060511.mp3.|
|￪5||Habermas, G. and Moreland, J.P. Immortality: The Other Side of Death (Thomas Nelson, 1992), 173.|
|￪6||Morris, L. The Cross in the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1999), 5.|
On June 22, 2012, well-known and respected theologian and scholar D. A. Carson told his audience that, as far as he could see, in Scripture “there is no hint anywhere that people in hell genuinely repent.”1Carson, D. A. “Home at last: The spectacular God at the center (Revelation 21-22).” http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/a/home_at_last_the_spectacular_god_at_the_center_revelation_21-22. As part of an exposition of Revelation chapters 21 and 22 he cited both Revelation 21:8 and Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 as evidence that “hell is not filled with people who are deeply sorry for their sins.” To the contrary, Carson said, it is “filled with people who for all eternity still shake their puny fists in the face of God Almighty, in an endless existence of evil.”
Although he didn’t include it as part of that presentation, in the past he has also pointed to Revelation 22:11 (“Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong”), writing of “the vileness they will live and practice throughout all eternity.”2Carson, D. A. (2009). The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. (Zondervan, Kindle Edition) p. 533. He has also elsewhere suggested the possibility that this perpetual lack of repentance on the part of the wicked, and their ongoing sinfulness, is part of the ground and justification for their eternally ongoing punishing.
Carson’s view raises several questions. How legitimate is his application of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man? Will those consigned to final punishment fail to repent and continue to sin following their judgment and sentencing? Does the Bible indicate that they will go on sinning forever, implying that they have been raised immortal? Even if it does not, if they continue to sin after judgment at all, wouldn’t they accrue additional retributive debt, requiring further punishment, during which their continued rebellion would earn them still further punishment, and so on ad infinitum throughout eternity?
|￪1||Carson, D. A. “Home at last: The spectacular God at the center (Revelation 21-22).” http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/a/home_at_last_the_spectacular_god_at_the_center_revelation_21-22.|
|￪2||Carson, D. A. (2009). The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. (Zondervan, Kindle Edition) p. 533.|
The nature of final punishment is a topic which falls under the theological category of eschatology, the study of last things. Also discussed as part of that category is the timing of the fulfillment of certain biblical prophecies, such as the coming of the Son of Man foretold by Jesus in his Olivet discourse, the nature and activity of the beast of Revelation, and so forth. Perhaps constituting the majority view of the church in America today, futurists believe that most of these prophecies will be fulfilled in our future; preterists like me, on the other hand, believe most of these prophecies—but not all of them1I’m referring to what was historically termed preterism, which has in recent years been unfortunately called “partial” preterism. I am not a hyper- or “full” preterist. For more information, listen to Episode 3 of my friend Dee Dee Warren’s podcast or read her article, “Perfuming the Hog.”—were fulfilled in our past, specifically in the first century surrounding the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in A.D. 70.
As I mentioned in a previous article, there’s a strong argument to be made in favor of conditionalism from the apocalyptic imagery of death and Hades in Revelation chapter 20. This argument carries force regardless of one’s eschatological position concerning the timing of prophetic events, and I will make that argument in the future here at Rethinking Hell. In the meantime, however, because of my interest in this particular eschatological persuasion, I want to reach out to my fellow preterists and make a bold, provocative and controversial statement: You can’t be a consistent preterist unless you’re also a conditionalist.
|￪1||I’m referring to what was historically termed preterism, which has in recent years been unfortunately called “partial” preterism. I am not a hyper- or “full” preterist. For more information, listen to Episode 3 of my friend Dee Dee Warren’s podcast or read her article, “Perfuming the Hog.”|
Allow me to introduce myself and let you know a little bit about me. My name is Chris Date and I host the Theopologetics podcast, as well as contribute to my friend Dee Dee Warren’s The Preterist Blog and podcast. I am also a software engineer by trade.
I do not have any formal, higher education and lack any official ministry experience. That said, I believe theology and apologetics are nevertheless for every average Joe in the pews, and not just for pastors, philosophers, PhDs and the erudite in ivory towers (which some of my co-contributors are). And I am perhaps somewhat of an enigma, for while I am “rethinking hell”—by which I mean to say that I am a conditionalist or annihilationist (and I will refer to myself as the latter henceforth)—I’m also Reformed.