Episode 24: Discussing the Case for Annihilationism, with Steve Jeffery

Traditionalist Dr. Steve Jeffery, co-author of Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution, joins Rethinking Hell contributor Chris Date to discuss the positive case for annihilationism presented by Dr. Glenn Peoples in episode four of the Rethinking Hell podcast.

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  • Not sure I understand the reasoning for the first point by Dr. Steve Jeffery. God’s good actions on punishing evil in hell clearly shows an existence of something that is causing God’s good punishing actions to actively continue. IF evil did not exit than exactly what is God punishing in hell? I will have to listen to podcast a few times… :)

    • Chris Date

      I don’t think Steve and I were on the same page until the very, very end of that section. Up until that point, I think he was not arguing against our understanding of the texts I cited in that first argument, but rather against what he perceived to be our argument to be, namely that it is a bad thing if wicked people continue to exist in hell. And so while he would acknowledge that in traditionalism evil people continue to exist for eternity in hell, he thinks that’s a good thing. Of course, that’s not our argument; our argument is that various texts indicate that the biblical vision of eternity is one in which evil people don’t exist, but we were talking past each other most of that time, I think :(

  • Roy

    Steve did a barely passable job on this. That shouldn’t be taken as a criticism considering some of your other guests never referred to the Scriptures. Think this was a helpful format btw. It’s good to get both styles of mutual struggle and more of a defed an attack perspective.

    Kudos to Steve for bringing in some Biblical texts. I agree with you Chris that the complexity was perceived rather than real. I hope Steve sees it because everything seems to lock into place afterwards. It makes much more sense of the Ressurection too, which is definitely one reason for rethinking hell.

    Steve – where in the scriptures does it say death is the separation of the body from the soul? where in the scriptures does it say that we are in any sense immortal? where does it say that we tend to final destruction but never get there?

    Steve – would love a response if you have a chance.

  • LCE

    I have not had the opportunity to read Dr. Jeffery’s book on Penal substitution yet, but I would be very curious to find out more about what exactly he teaches regarding the penalty that Jesus paid in our stead was. Did Jesus die for our sins or did Jesus suffer eternal torment/separation for our sins?
    I would also really like to see the verses that back up the claim that those in hell slowly ‘lose their human-like nature’. That would be an interesting topic to explore more with Dr. Jeffery because it seems as if there are a number of scriptural problems with that theory. Overall, it was a very nice and cordial conversation. Well done!

  • Bengt Ödman

    Two comments:

    1) An somewhat interesting feature of the view that the residents of hell in some way become less and less without ever really ceasing to be is this: If the pain level decreases following, say, the mathematical function 1/t**2, the total amount of pain from any point t>0 to eternity will be finite. (Actually, it will be 1/t, where t is the start time). So eternal torment is in fact compatible with a finite amount of punishment. (Not that I think God would have any reason to arrange things in this way, but I find it interesting that it is mathematically possible to do so).
    2) It seems that the concept of death is complex only if you maintain that it sometimes means eternal life.

    • Roy

      I like 2!

  • I think Steve’s arguments didn’t get off to a good start here. He didn’t seem to grasp the nature of the first argument – he thought we were saying that the punishment is not “a good thing,” even after Chris pointed out to him that this isn’t the argument. He also seemed to think that somewhere I had said that the argument was that we don’t *want* evil to exist forever. The issue isn’t that *we evaluate* the existence of evil as a bad thing. I do actually, because evil people being tormented forever does not allow evil to be eradicated, but that isn’t the argument that I used in episode 4. The argument is the *biblical description* of the absence of evil in eternity, and Steve didn’t actually interact with those passages of Scripture that teach this, so we don’t know what he might have said about them.

    On the question of immortality, I don’t think Scripture says that Adam was “dead” when Eve was created – or that Abraham was “dead” when he dreamed (does it?). Those examples seemed to have been cobbled together to increase the perception of the “wide range” of what death can mean. And talking about the soul leaving the body seemed to veer off topic somewhat, since Steve thinks that the lost will be, in a full bodily sense, immortal at the resurrection. It also struck me that an eternal moving towards destruction but never actually gets there seems to be a frustrated process – and it *still* doesn’t answer the biblical argument from immortality, since this is still immortality.

    It was interesting to see how Steven handled the final argument too. He went to 2 Peter 3, one of the very texts that compare the death of people (reduced, he said, to “loads of corpses”) in the flood to the destruction of the lost in the judgement. That’s not a response to give us pause – surely that is further support for our view. So really the response to specific destruction texts was not to explain what they mean, but just to say that other texts exist, and traditionalists have used them. I think this really shows how difficult these texts are for the traditionalist view to accommodate.

    • Givemhell

      I don’t understand how he could say that the dead are constantly approaching destruction without ever getting there when the bible repeatedly says that they will be destroyed. It doesn’t say that they will never be destroyed! lol. It specifically says that they will be! I don’t know where he gets these theories from really! The one about people degenerating into subhumans in hell was laughable. Did he just make that up off the top of his head? This episode left me feeling frustrated, especially because of what he seemed to say at the end, that basically this topic isn’t really important enough for him to do two episodes on. I was so frustrated that I ended up writing a long kvetch in the forum lol.

    • Roy

      The move to 2 Peter was borderline-hysterical!

      Glenn – thanks again for your work! I’m so glad I heard your presentation. It’s made a huge difference!

  • Peter Grice

    Steve seems like a very decent person. And I thought his thoughts about New Heavens and New Earth were spot on.

    I think he may be reading too much into our diagram, in terms of it depicting any argument, or prejudicing one by our chosen terms. That’s understandable, because as yet there is no explanatory article.

    The diagram aims to merely and fairly depict views and relationships. The way to understand the right-hand edge, is that both Universalism and Conditionalism have Evil altogether “eradicated” from reality. This doesn’t mean Traditionalism doesn’t “eradicate” Evil from the redeemed order (New Heavens and Earth), in some sense. But by saying that wicked and Evil beings exist forever, the view must consign ongoing wickedness at least to “a corner” of reality, as Steve did say. This is why chose the term “restrained,” contrasted with fully “eradicated.”

    One may argue, as Steve did, that this is satisfying resolution to the problem of Evil in God’s creation. Chris rightly clarified that the argument from the “biblical vision of eternity” is an exegetical one. However, I think I’d personally be prepared to advance an argument that the Conditionalist view is a more satisfying resolution (granting for argument’s sake that Traditionalism’s solution is satisfying).

    All that seems necessary for God to be glorified in this, is for God to have final victory over Evil, and for this state of affairs to be irreversible or otherwise maintained in perpetuity. Certainly if Traditionalism qualifies for that, so does our view. It simply isn’t essential that objects of wrath be kept alive indefinitely. In fact, that seems to cheapen it. If God needs to keep Hitler alive in torments forever, in order to bring maximal glory to Himself, something is wrong. Is Evil not an offense to God? Of course it is. Did He create this offense to Himself in the beginning? Of course not. It’s been introduced as a foreign body. Evil is parasitic upon Creation, and ideally it logically should be utterly eradicated and not merely contained.

    Conditionalism’s solution is definitive and total, in a way that Traditionalism arguably is not.Traditionalism says God allows the offense to continue forever, but it’s OK, because there’s retribution. But the rightness of this retribution shouldn’t be transferred to the fact of the offense. It is not right that the offenses occur. Evil cannot be good, even if it serves a good purpose! That is essentially the challenge. Christians are generally comfortable with an end-justifies-the-means theodicy, if we are speaking of a temporary situation, and if the end is commensurate with the means, in terms of harnessing humanity-induced evil to assist in the redemptive development of members of humanity. But to move this into an eternal mode is to suggest that God’s ultimate solution to the problem is to gain personal advantage from this parasite—”greater glory” compared to annihilating Evil. God doesn’t need to do so, obviously. But as mentioned, the eternal obliteration of Evil achieves the outcome of “good” anyway, so more to the point, eternal punishing is not needed. Evil is not good, so it is more satisfying, and glorifying to God, if Evil is eradicated from existence.

  • James D. Gallé

    If I may speak in somewhat blunt terms, in this podcast Jeffery did not display very much awareness of the actual arguments conditionalists make. I do not believe Jeffery furthered his view of the conventional doctrine of hell in any sense. The weak case traditionalists so often make for the teaching of everlasting conscious torment (ECT) lends more credence to the annihilationist view. In all my time studying the doctrine of final punishment, I have found this conclusion absolutely inescapable

    I am coming to believe that there are a fair number of “non-professionals” who understand the issues at play in the traditionalist-annihilationist debate more than some paid theologians. The conventional view has been able to persist as long as it has because few have taken the time to thoroughly reinvestigate the teaching. ECT so easily gets a pass based on both the laziness of “the professionals” and the ignorance of the “laity”, Furthermore, there is a presumptiveness simply based on the historicity of the view since many big name theologians throughout the centuries have subscribed to ECT. Seeing as the doctrine of ECT is assumed to have its roots in apostolic teaching, why bother questioning it (or so the logic goes)?

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