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Episode 10: What Siddhartha Wanted with Douglas Wilson

Pastor Douglas Wilson, critic of conditional immortality, joins Rethinking Hell contributor Chris Date to discuss his objections to belief in the final annihilation of the unsaved.

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Podcast Outline

Intro Music
Chris Date Introduces the episode
Transition Music
Intro of Pastor Douglas Wilson of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho
Areas of passion: “All of Christ, for all of life, for all the world” (Integrated Faith)
On debates and friendship with Christopher Hitchens
On dealing with hostility from Bloomington students
(Wilson) Christians and the sin of “shrillness”
Hell a hot topic
Can the nature of the discussion improve?
Can you summarize your view on hell?
(Wilson) Dante a work of art, not a blueprint for hell
(Wilson) “It’s bad and it’s forever.”
(Wilson) Open to discuss C.S. Lewis’ view in The Problem of Pain
Problems with the Lewis view
Seven Reasons Why we Cannot Water Down the Lake of Fire
The “Infinite Sin” argument
(Wilson) Flip it: Can a finite being do anything infinite?
Where do you locate Annihilationism on the acceptability spectrum?
Doug Wilson on Bell and Hell (YouTube video)
Annihilationism a variation of Universalism?
Wilson’s exchange with Andrew Perriman
Wilson’s 3 concerns with Annihilationism
Concern #1: Annihilation is just what Siddhartha wanted
Date responds to concern #1
Wilson interacts with Date’s response
Concern #2: Justice and Annihilationism
Wilson talks to this second of his concerns
Concern 2.5 (?): Degrees of Punishment
Concern #3: Consensus throughout Church History
Date responds
Wilson interacts with Date’s response
Wrapping Up: Parting Message from Wilson
Where to find Pastor Wilson online
Outro Music
Chris Date closes the episode
Closing theme music
Interviews Podcast
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  • Roy

    Loving RH, but found this particular episode quite frustrating. Ultimately for me it’s about what the scriptures say and Doug hardly touched the scriptures – just jumped from the slippery slope to church history to the Greco-Roman world to a conjured philosophical problem (ie, infinite God) to weird parallels with universalism.

    Good on you both though with keeping it polite.

    • Chris Date

      Hi, Roy. Yes, it was a little disappointing that we didn’t get to discuss the Scriptures at all. These issues are worth discussing, but ultimately if the Bible teaches conditional immortality, then Pastor Wilson’s arguments simply hold no water, no matter how good they sound to some. Incidentally, if I recall correctly, he didn’t actually appeal to the idea of an infinite God as grounds for objecting to annihilationism. Quite the contrary–again, if I recall correctly–he actually objected to many traditionalists who think that every sin against an infnitely holy God is an infinite sin, for he doesn’t think a finite being can do an infinite anything. I actually give him kudos for that.

      I was pleased that the conversation was so polite, too :) Hopefully we can find more noteworthy traditionalists to come on the show for the same kind of irenic convo.

      • Roy

        Sorry about the mistake Chris (and Pastor Wilson). Yes, I do recall now he said that.

        I’m Australian, so we tend to call call everybody by their first name – so no disrespect intended there.

        I’m an annhilationist; convinced by Dr Peoples.

        On a more positive note, I do appreciate hearing these arguments because the lack of scriptural usage underscored the conditionalist viewpoint for me.

        Pastor Wilson – I’d love to see some of the thoughts you’d have on the key scriptures if you were alone on a deserted island with just the Bible :-D .

  • Guest

    Asked about his view of those who hold to conditional immorality, he would not ordain them, or publish their book, If he would not ordain them, does he think they are really ordained ministers of God. It seems to me that, its a major view to him and he does hold it against people.

    • Chris Date

      I don’t think Pastor Wilson would deny that he thinks conditionalism is a major error, and that it informs his decisions to ordain and/or publish people. What he said is that he doesn’t consider careful conditionalist exegetes to be heretics, would be comfortable fellowshipping with them and carefully and vigorously discussing our different views. He considers us brothers, just brothers in serious error.

  • Trident343

     I think it was a good interview overall. It is nice to know Doug chooses to address people of our belief in a sincere manner rather than hastily throw the “H” word at us.
    A first step I think we conditionalists should always aim for is to show traditionalists we can have a peaceful dialogue about the subject without the need for hostility. There is much misunderstanding and misrepresentation about our beliefs as well as what the bible actually has to say about the topic.
    I don’t think we will have too many allies among the popular preacher crowd. This is a battle which must start on the ground and work its way up. It’s a battle which will be fought and won by the Lay-person who loves God word against the never-ending weak rationalizations the traditionalist invent and throw at us.

  • The Remonstrant

    Good dialogue between Mr. Date and Mr. Wilson. Wilson kept his head and thus the exchange was anything but virulent.

    Yet again I find myself both pleased and disappointed hearing nothing “new” to seriously challenge my (now) strong annihilationist bias. I am pleased, first, because I have strong reservations that the “traditional” view of final punishment is true. I am disappointed, however, because I continually find myself listening to intelligent men (pastors, theologians, laypersons) espousing eternal conscious punishment with flimsy cases to back the doctrine up. The modern staple for the annihilationist-conditionalist case for final punishment is Edward W. Fudge’s 400 plus page volume, ‘The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment’ (now in it’s third edition as of 2011).

    Many traditionalists have not even bothered to carefully read and contemplate this monumental work. Also, there’s Henry Constable’s 19th century title, ‘The Duration and Nature of Future Punishment’ and David J. Powys’ ‘Hell: A Hard Look at a Hard Question’ (Wipf and Stock, 2007 [UK edition: Paternoster, 1998). I have come to the point where I now will refuse to undergo an extensive exchange with those of an opposing view who have not at least had the courtesy to seriously engage at least one of these three annihilationist works. I have patiently read and endured the drivel from the other side. Don’t bother me unless or until you’re willing to thoroughly learn my view on its own terms as well.

    In any event, at the root there appears to be the assumption of universal human immortality with the eternal conscious torment view of final punishment. What traditionalists have failed to do is seriously account for why the language of immortality is used only of the righteous in the biblical canon. In other words, what are we to make of the fact that a positive case for the immortality of human beings can only be made for those who inherit final eschatological salvation? Shouldn’t this raise serious red flags over the notion that the lost will be cast into the lake of fire not to be ultimately destroyed, but to suffer eternally (i.e., the unrighteous will be immortalized, inheriting eternal life in conscious misery)?

  • Donavan Dear

    I would love to know why some Conditionalists see Gods final Judgment as a process. I think this is a dangerous injection of ideas to justify the clear biblical evidence that people have sinned worse than others and will pay with more stripes. The idea that the fear of Hell is a fear of not being with God for eternity, or a fear of nothing is the worst of some peoples views of Conditionalism, it does the entire movement a huge disservice. Rethinking Hell has a pulpit to change many views toward truth, I wish your arguments were better.

    • Chris Date

      We appreciate the feedback, Donavan. Those of us who have talked to you on Facebook about this have yet to find your arguments compelling. Perhaps if we thought your case were sound we would argue differently. But forgive us for not adjusting our theology in response to what we think are bad arguments.

    • Peter Grice

      Donavan, the “biblical evidence that people have sinned worse than others and will pay with more stripes” is precisely the reason that “some Conditionalists see Gods final Judgment as a process.” Unless you made a mistake, you seem to misunderstand what we hold, and why we hold it.

      As well, we do not assert that the fear of Hell is merely a fear of not being with God. In your scheme, if I understand it, degrees of punishment are meted out in the intermediate state. Would you suggest that this is what should be feared? If so, you’re at odds with Matt 10:28 where the fear of Hell inheres in final, holistic destruction. And that is what we do suggest the fear is about. Some of us suggest it could be every bit as tormenting as traditionalists might imagine (though finite in duration). But that’s not the thing to major on, according to Jesus. It’s final destruction (the second death).

      And this fear of utter nonexistence is not to be conflated with the (highly irrational) fear of directly experiencing nothingness, as outlined to you in another discussion here. Rather, it is the present fear of not continuing to possess life (which one already is experiencing). This is exactly what Hebrews 2:15 has in view when it speaks of non-Christians being slaves to the “fear of death.” It’s not fear of punishments in the intermediate state, but rather, the power of death to kill, and kill permanently.

      Therefore, any suggestion that the fear of a permanent death is somehow “the worst” of Conditaionlist views, goes against these scriptures. We see the same disincentive in play in Genesis too, where Adam and Eve were warned that their death would be a consequence of a certain action. This was a threat to be feared in the present. Their forfeit of life would also entail forfeit of a certain quality of life with God, and that is the sense in which some people today might also fear “not being with God.” But that group would be a special case of “believers” who somehow feared God’s final destruction yet still rejected Him. So it’s not at the center of focus for how we construe actual “final fear.”

  • webb

    “Bearing the image of God” is not a biblical phrase, nor a biblical concept. It is we who are created “in” the image of God, not the image of God that is created “in” us. Nor is it a “thing” that we “bear.” A comparison of Gen. 1:26-27 and Gen. 5:1-3 makes it clear that what is being affirmed in the phrase “in the image and likeness of God” is that God brought human beings into existence to be his children. It may mean more, but it certainly means no less than that.

  • LCE

    Thank you for the cordial nature of this discussion. I am increasingly leaning towards the annihilationist position as I have yet to find a satisfactory Biblical argument to dissuade me. I appreciated this talk and had three questions for Pastor Wilson, two of which are in regard to the statement he made about hell being a necessary tool for leaders to use to encourage (or drive) people towards repentance.
    Question 1 – Many people have told me as I’ve ventured into this topic that I can’t make my decision based on what I think should be true or based on human emotion or human intellect. I MUST make this decision based on scripture alone. That being said, would it be fair to flip that assertion around and ask someone with a traditional view to approach the topic in the same manner? Essentially my question is, is it fair for a traditionalist to reject annihiliationism based upon a human viewpoint of how God “should” administer justice or a human viewpoint of what a fair level of justice is?

    Question 2 – Does the assertion that a pastor needs a fear-based punishment system (not to say that annihilationism is not an equally valid fear-based system) in order to drive people to repentance undermine God’s overall sovereignty? If we believe that God calls and redeems His elect through His sovereign work without fail, do we undermine his sovereignty by working on the assumption that His calling and election are ultimately dependent upon the level of fear a pastro is able to instill in a sinner’s mind through preaching?
    Question 3 – As this was a talk, in some regard, about conditional immortality, would you be willing to post the specific Bible verses that are used to counter that argument, as I don’t have a complete understanding of this whole issue yet and would really like to study both sides further.
    Thank you again for the cordial and mutually-respectful nature of this discussion. I look forward to listening to you both in the future.

  • Travis Matthew Finley

    Hey, Chris. While I LOVE DW and his passion for Christ, I was SORELY disappointed at his #1 reason to reject annihilationism. Our ability to preach Christ has NOTHING to do with whether or not hell exists. The gospel is not about escaping hell (even if that is a derivative). The gospel is about the work of Christ in this life (as well as that which is to come). Our job is not to frighten people into the kingdom, but to proclaim life rather than death. I am sad to hear that removing hell from his equation eliminates a large percentage of his preaching content.

  • Travis Matthew Finley

    I would also strongly challenge 1) his assertion that a str8forward reading of the text would lead one naturally to a traditional view of hell and 2) that his upbringing did not shape his view of hell. It is not hard to imagine one’s theology finding its root in one’s society. I know for a fact that all my theology was shaped by my church’s society when I was young and the same is true for DW no matter how he denies it.

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