A Visit with Edward & A Trip to the Library

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“ONWARD & EDWARD.”  These were the words in bold letters on the front of Edward Fudge’s t-shirt as he greeted me with a warm embrace at the door of his lovely home in a suburb of Houston, Texas, during a brief visit I had with him on a chilly day in late January.  He pointed to his shirt and said, “I had this made when I went in for my first surgery, then I took it back out when I went back in for a second and third surgery!”  This man does not take adversity sitting down, whether it be severe spinal issues or theological opposition.


If you are familiar with the story of Edward Fudge, which is told so powerfully in the 2012 film Hell and Mr. Fudge (available here), you know that he has stood his ground against those who opposed his emphasis on God’s grace and his openness to the legitimacy of Christians from outside of a narrowly-prescribed boundary, and that he has also held his own against later theological antagonists who derided him for advocating conditional immortality and annihilationism rather than the traditional view of eternal torment.  Standing his ground has come at no small cost:  jobs were lost, opportunities were denied, and his reputation suffered profoundly at the hands of his adversaries.

Yet, if you’ve seen the film, or have the chance to spend any time with him in person, you will know that he stands his ground with graciousness, sincerity, and great humor.  When Edward was invited to speak on a panel on hell with traditionalist Jerry Walls (not exactly the most traditional traditionalist, but that’s another post) and universalist Thomas Talbott, he introduced himself with these remarks:

“I am by nature an agreeable person, even among those with whom I differ. For example, I agree wholeheartedly with Jerry that Thomas is mistaken, and I unreservedly agree with Thomas that Jerry has miscalculated. One might easily be tempted to point out that both men agree that I myself am confused. However, that argument loses its credibility when one remembers that both men are quite certain that, concerning this subject, the other man is notoriously unreliable.”

A light-hearted quip is never far from Edward’s lips, yet his heart is also incredibly tender.  After choking up during prayer before a delicious lunch prepared by Edward’s delightful wife, Sara Faye, Edward commented that he usually cries when he prays.  It is evident to anyone interacting with him that he is a deeply committed and sincere follower of Jesus, and yet he is also a naturally gifted intellectual (as evidenced in the scene in Hell and Mr. Fudge when a young Edward submits a paper defending the canon of Scripture for an elementary school essay) and careful Christian scholar.

I was in Houston this January day to visit with Edward and review some of his correspondence and memorabilia for an exhibit we will have on his life and work for the inaugural Rethinking Hell conference.  As Edward and I sat in his office, looking over letters from F.F. Bruce, John Wenham, Clark Pinnock, and many other notable Christian thinkers, I felt as if we were going back in time, watching the progression of his thinking on hell and the tremendous influence that he almost single-handedly had in promoting conditionalism in print and lectures at the end of the 20th century.  I left his home with my heart racing with excitement at the stacks of important papers, letters, and articles filling my arms, which I look forward to arranging into a display for the conference as part of honoring the legacy of Edward’s work.

The thought of gathering with others who want to celebrate and enjoy Edward’s company on the weekend of his 70th birthday fills those of us here at Rethinking Hell with incredible joy and gratitude.  After many years of having his reputation attacked by those who disagreed with his views, we will have an opportunity to publicly honor and celebrate Edward and validate the convictions that he has stood for over so many decades.  There will even be an open mic on Friday night when conference participants will be able to share their thanks and blessings with Edward in person.

Thank you to all who have already registered to join us for this important and significant event!  I am certain that it will be a highlight you will remember for the rest of your life, as I know it will be for me.  If you have not taken the time to register yet, hopefully you will visit our conference website before February 1st to take advantage of our early registration discount.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion you will not want to miss out on!

After a wonderful visit with the Fudges, I left the their home (with the generous donation of several dollars to cover toll roads from Sara Faye) and traveled north in Houston to the Lanier Theological Library, where the Rethinking Hell conference will be taking place on July 11-12.  I was utterly unprepared for how beautiful and magnificent this site turned out to be (pictures do not do it justice!).

The Stone Chapel adjacent to the library, where our plenary sessions featuring John Stackhouse and Glenn Peoples will be held, was built in the late 2000’s by Houston lawyer Mark Lanier, who based the design upon a 6th century Byzantine church (visit this page to find out more and watch a video about the chapel).  This beautiful sacred space, with paintings covering the entire ceiling that tell many stories from the Old and New Testaments, will also be the location of our screening of Hell and Mr. Fudge on Friday night, as well as our live Rethinking Hell podcast interview with Edward on Saturday morning.

The dining hall next to the Stone Chapel will be the location of our exhibits and book tables.  We anticipate having many important papers, books, and letters from Edward Fudge’s collection exhibited, including his original note cards (featured prominently in the film), Edward’s original copy of The Fire that Consumes with his notes and revisions, as well as copies of the 3rd edition of this book for sale (which Edward will happily personalize) as well as his other works and the DVD of Hell and Mr. Fudge.

We will also have an exhibit related to the work of the 20 authors featured in our newly published book, Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism, (which is available for pre-order on our conference registration site at a discounted price) including copies of works and memorabilia from John Stott, John Wenham, Clark Pinnock, E. Earle Ellis, Ralph Bowles, and others.  There will also be a number of book tables featuring relevant titles from Wipf & Stock, along with other conditionalist authors’ books for sale.

Our breakout sessions on Saturday will take place in some lovely rooms in the library itself, the design of which Mark Lanier based on a number of libraries around the University of Oxford.  The library is a sight to behold, not only from the outside, but from within as well, with collections of C.S. Lewis’ correspondence and first editions that is second only to the Marion E. Wade Center museum at Wheaton College, as well as over 80,000 books on theology and Scripture, not to mention a fragment of the actual Dead Sea Scrolls that Lanier acquired.

We are currently receiving proposals for a number of quality breakout sessions on Saturday that will cover various aspects of the conditionalist view, from a systematic theological approach to a psychological perspective to a historical review of philosophical positions on immortality.  We also hope to feature a number of practical talks, including how to talk to leaders and others in your church about conditionalism, as well as previewing some clips from a documentary about the spread of conditionalism from the makers of Hell and Mr. Fudge.

The Lanier Theological Library is a destination in and of itself.  What a privilege we will have to spend time there together listening, thinking, and talking about the past, present, and future of conditionalism in such a beautiful venue and to celebrate the legacy of the legendary Mr. Fudge as he goes ONWARD AND EDWARD!  We hope you can join us!

Conference Greg Stump
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