Sure as Hell: Is Scripture really clear about final punishment?

In a recent discussion with Chris Date on the Rethinking Hell podcast, Professor Jerry Walls of Houston Baptist University expressed his incredulity that we could think the Bible is really so clear on the subject of hell. But I don’t think his reasons for giving up that certainty are particularly compelling.

Jerry recalled a claim by John Stackhouse that Conditional Immortality enjoys about as strong a basis in Scripture as any doctrine. This is a claim I’ve made a number of times and I’m inclined to believe it (I tend to believe a claim before I make it). Conditional immortality is taught at least as clearly as the other doctrines that Scripture most clearly teaches and which are important to Christian orthodoxy. The exegetical case is simply overwhelming, as I and others have sought to show elsewhere. I maintain that not only is our view taught as clearly in Scripture as any other doctrine (e.g. the doctrines we find in the Nicene Creed), but it is in many cases taught more clearly.

So what is Jerry’s objection to this claim? Does he seek to refute the exegetical case? No, in fact he does not directly try to show that it is weaker than we say it is. Does he offer a counter-case from Scripture, showing that there’s an even better exegetical case for another view, or that other doctrines are taught much more clearly? He does not. He reminds us several times in the interview that he’s really not a biblical exegesis guy, he’s a philosopher (although I would add that there’s no good reason why a person can’t be both). Instead Jerry offered two responses to this claim about the exegetical case for conditionalism.

First, Jerry offered naked incredulity. He said:

You’re telling me that a doctrine that has been overwhelmingly a minority position, that has only recently gained any kind of significant traction in the church at large, is as clear as the deity of Jesus, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the incarnation, justification by faith, the Trinity? You honestly say it’s that clear? No way! There’s no way. The very fact that you’ve got a book about four views of hell where people are debating this, all of whom are competent scholars and so on, shows that it’s nothing like that clear.

It almost goes without saying that this is not, on paper, an especially compelling objection. It is merely an expression of the fact that Jerry finds our claim of clarity pretty striking. Literally, it is a question: “Really? Do you think the biblical case for conditional immortality is stronger than the biblical case for these other things? really?” But of course, our initial claim already presupposes the answer to this question: Yes, that is precisely what we are saying, and we believe that we’ve shown it to be so. If he thinks otherwise (although he did not respond by making that case) then Jerry is wrong and the facts are available to him to show him as much. The biblical teaching in favour of conditionalism is as clear as anything else Scripture teaches, including those doctrines Jerry lists. It’s clearer than the deity of Christ, although the Bible does, in the final analysis, teach that Jesus is divine. It’s clearer than divine aseity, clearer than the Trinity, certainly more often emphasised than the resurrection of the dead, and a whole lot of other things besides. We are not dissuaded by your incredulity.

We realise the Bible could be clearer about this or pretty much anything else.

Let us be clear: The claim isn’t that conditionalism is taught as clearly as possible in Scripture . Of course anything could be stated more repetitively and explicitly. Fill every page with it! Write an entire book of the Bible all about how conditionalism is true! No, we realise the Bible could be clearer about this or pretty much anything else. The claim is that the biblical teaching about eternal life (or the alternative, death) is at least as clear – more so in fact – than other doctrines we believe. If he says other important doctrines can’t intelligently be denied, Jerry is mistaken. Some careful cases against the Trinity or the deity of Christ, for example, are frankly better than some pop apologetics arguments for those doctrines, even though on balance we should certainly think those doctrines are biblical. Indeed, the arguments people raise against these tenets of orthodoxy, unsound though the arguments are, are typically much better than the truly terrible arguments many evangelicals use against conditional immortality. The exegetical case for conditionalism is much stronger than Jerry realises if he thinks he can just screw up his nose at the claim that it is taught more clearly in Scripture than the other major Christian doctrines. He simply doesn’t appreciate how utterly the cases for contrary views wither in the face of the biblical evidence for our view. The arguments that demonstrate the clarity of Scripture on this subject have been made and if you want to show that they are not as good as we say they are then roll up your sleeves, because you have work to do.

Second, Jerry appealed to the consensus of the church.

This, at least, is an argument (unlike Jerry’s expression of personal incredulity). In short, the argument goes like this:

  • If the evidence that the Bible teaches conditional immortality were as clear as we say it is, then there would not be as many Christians as there have been in history and are today who think that the Bible does not teach conditional immortality.
  • But obviously there are this many Christians, both in history and today, who think that the Bible does not teach conditional immortality.
  • Therefore the evidence that the Bible teaches conditional immortality is not as clear as we say it is.

The matter is not as simple as just showing Bible verses to people, who will immediately accept the best interpretation of those verses.

As you might expect, we reject the first premise. The clarity of the evidence that conditional immortality is biblical does not logically imply that there could not be widespread opposition to our view. The host of the episode, Chris Date, suggested to Jerry that he was being somewhat naive (and I’m inclined to agree). The matter is not as simple as just showing Bible verses to people, who will immediately accept the best interpretation of those verses. If only people were this reasonable – including ourselves! Like it or not, people are partisan, and their own traditions wield a great deal of control over their thinking on this and many other subjects. Fortunately Jerry granted this, but his response diverted from the point: But I am not someone who is a slave to my traditions, who is afraid to question those around me, he said. Surely that is obvious.

Well maybe it is obvious, but it’s beside the point. Jerry’s objection was that the number of Christian thinkers over the years who have not shared our view suggests that our view is not clearly taught in Scripture, even if it turns out to be true. The objection was never that since Jerry Walls doesn’t hold our view, it can’t be as clearly taught in Scripture as we maintain. The existence of intelligent dissenters, obviously, does not mean that a doctrine is not clearly taught in Scripture. And the existence of broad trends of thought against our view can be plausibly explained by the power of traditions.

As Jerry is aware, a number of early church Fathers did hold and teach conditional immortality. Jerry has a history of making the argument that since eternal torment is the historical view of the church, conditionalists have the burden of proof. I am quite comfortable that we have met that burden, but more to the point, after first hearing Jerry make that argument I brought to his attention the fact that conditionalism was prominent among the early Fathers – a fact which seemed to take him by surprise but which, to his credit, he acknowledged. But why do traditions to the contrary exist at all, asked Jerry, if the case for our position is so clear? We must be willing to give “an error theory,” a plausible account of why the doctrine of eternal torment was introduced, when the biblical material speaks as plainly as we say it does about the fate of the lost.

I am not as certain as Jerry is that we need to be able to produce a correct “error theory.” If we can make the case that the Bible teaches conditional immortality (as we have) and if we can also show that it was taught among the early church Fathers until eternal torment became the dominant view from the time of Augustine onwards (as we have), why can we not simply demand that our detractors prove that the change was for the better? It might be nice to be able to get inside the minds of those who made these mistakes and explain why they made them, but we certainly need not surrender our evidence-based conclusions until we can do so.

If you believe that all human souls live forever … then lost souls have to go somewhere for eternity, and that place is hell.

Nonetheless, Chris offered an explanation, one that numerous other conditionalists have offered. In the world into which Christianity was born and in which it continued to grow, there was a widespread belief in the immortality of the soul; the view that souls just live forever in one form or another. One of the most widely noted examples of this belief is platonism. If you believe that all human souls live forever, and if you believe, as orthodox Christians do, that not everybody in the end will be saved, then lost souls have to go somewhere for eternity, and that place is hell. Hence, there exists an explanation of why people might have adopted belief in eternal torment even though it is not taught in Scripture. At this point in the interview Jerry objected, saying that the fact that a view is platonic does not mean that it is wrong. But this is to disrupt the flow of thought. What Jerry had asked for was an an explanation of how or why the doctrine of eternal torment might have gained prominence in the Christian movement. That is why Platonism was introduced, as widely held platonic views would explain why people were so open to believing in eternal torment. The fact that the influence was a platonic one was never offered as evidence that the resulting belief was untrue. The biblical case for conditional immortality, along with belief in the authority of Scripture, is what gives us reason to think that the doctrine of eternal torment is untrue.

There are numerous sources of influence that might contribute to belief in the immortality of the soul, or additionally to belief in eternal torment.

What’s more, it is not just Platonism that could provide an external influence on Christian theology to make the doctrine of eternal torment a live option. As Jerry remarks in the interview, he has heard from others (he mentions Ben Witherington) that there were Jews who believe in eternal torment prior to Christ. This is true, although there were also Jews who were annihilationists. The intertestamental literature bears clear testimony to this fact, which just shows that somebody needs an error theory about why some people prior to Christ started believing something false. Beyond Platonism strictly speaking, there are numerous sources of influence that might contribute to belief in the immortality of the soul, or additionally to belief in eternal torment. Belief in souls that live on was common in the ancient world and influences in Egypt, Persia and Asia were in no short supply, and belief in suffering in the afterlife existed in multiple forms. The point is, there is absolutely no difficulty in realising that Christians from a wide variety of backgrounds would have had a prior belief in the immortality of the soul, and some of them would have had a belief in suffering in the afterlife as well. The widespread presence of this belief in the Christian world provides a perfectly adequate back-story as to where these beliefs could have come from.

Why would you make claims about history … without examining that history?

It is hard not to feel some frustration at Dr Walls here, and if anywhere is the place to talk about this particular frustration, this is probably it. He wrote a book on hell as well as a book on heaven, hell and purgatory. Yet he was quite unaware, until I brought it to his attention, that conditional immortality had prominence among the early Fathers, saying instead that eternal torment was the consensus and so conditionalists are the ones with the burden of proof. This is simply not the case. And yet, even having been made aware of this historical reality, he is still carrying the attitude earned by his ignorance of the fact. He is still saying – although he now knows better – that conditional immortality only recently gained traction in the wider church. Not so! Why would you make claims about history – claims that evidently play an important role in how you assess our position, without examining that history? In spite of his writing books on these subjects, he just assumes that there is no explanation in the ancient world for how people’s theology might have been influenced by dualism or belief in eternal torment unless it was really taught in Scripture. But all of this information is given good coverage in what is probably the standard text on conditional immortality, namely Edward Fudge’s The Fire that Consumes. Has Dr Walls not read it? Google, of all things, would have remedied this lack of awareness. In conversation with Chris, Jerry indicated that he had a conversation with Ben Witherington, who conveyed to him that some Jews believed in eternal torment prior to Jesus. This is not research. Conditionalists shouldn’t have to bring these historical facts to Jerry’s attention to satisfy him. Why isn’t he familiar with this stuff? For some readers, he is now a “go-to” resource on the subject of hell, yet one of his principal arguments against conditional immortality is fueled by what we have to call ignorance.

In short, we can show that conditional immortality was taught in the early church and may well have been the dominant view. I am not aware of a persuasive “error theory” about how the church could have almost immediately fallen into error from the time of the Apostles and started teaching conditional immortality. Eternal torment is thus not the consensus of history. It is true that eternal torment became the majority view, although conditional immortality re-emerged in pockets later. The presence of belief in the immortality of the soul and in suffering in the afterlife in the world into which Christianity was born and grew provides a plausible theory of why the doctrine of eternal torment influenced Christian theology in spite of conditional immortality being the clearly biblical position. The other explanation, of course, is the momentum of tradition once a doctrine has already influenced Christian theology. Once a theologian like Augustine had advocated the doctrine of eternal torment so vociferously, there would have been a natural reluctance for later theologians to have gainsayed him (and as the historical evidence shows, it was from the time of Augustine that conditionalism faded among Christian theologians).

Evidence that the Bible teaches something in particular is really no different than evidence for any other claim, whether about Scripture or something else. All of us, I suspect, can think of examples of significant communities of people whose shared commitments lead them to believe something false, in spite of it being, in our view, clearly false. I do not believe there is any scientific plausibility to the view that the earth is young (thousands, rather than billions, of years old). Having checked with Jerry, it seems that he shares my view. But there are people who not only believe it, but who think the scientific (not just the biblical) evidence supports their belief. These are not small numbers of people. Polling suggests that about 40% of Americans believe this. It is therefore easily the dominant view among American Evangelicals. Are Jerry and I willing to say that this substantial number of Evangelicals are not just wrong but clearly so? Yes. Of course, young earth creationism is not “the consensus” view, but then eternal torment is not the historical consensus either. The situations are therefore in parallel, but Jerry has no problem saying that a significant majority of Evangelicals believes a falsehood in the face of very clear physical evidence to the contrary, while thinking that it is arrogant to believe that a majority (again, not a consensus) believes a falsehood in the face of very clear biblical evidence. I think Jerry is treating conditionalism specially.

I’m aware, of course, that many Evangelical readers of this blog may themselves hold to young earth creationism. So too do some people involved in the work of Rethinking Hell. My point is not that you are wrong, whether I think so or not. My point is only that Jerry does not hold to this view, and as such already believes that a significant number of sincere Christians can be wrong about their interpretation of evidence, affected in their interpretation by an ideology to which they hold.

Jerry is free to say that such confidence is “arrogant,” as he did in this interview, but to put it with a bit of the sort of snark I am sure Jerry appreciates: We don’t really care about his feels. Your reaction to our articulation and assessment of the evidence is one thing. Your view of whether or not it seems striking that not everyone shares our view of the evidence is another. But what we would be more interested in (and this is not directed just at Jerry but at everyone) is your demonstration that the evidence is not what we say it is. That’s going to take a bit of work.

Glenn Peoples

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16 Responses to Sure as Hell: Is Scripture really clear about final punishment?

  1. Stan Patton says:

    It’s true that several Patristics were annihilationists, and that everybody should do their boring research before brandishing anything like expertise.

    However, interpretive controversy — including persistent controversy and/or the temporary conquest of truth by falsehood — IS a signal of relative nonclarity of source material. We’re talking fuzzy logic here (the GOOD kind of fuzzy logic — degrees of truth that help us weigh likelihoods according to heuristics). We can confidently say that — all OTHER things being equal (ulterior motives, especially) — a true interpretation is more likely to be called into question if the source isn’t clear, that is, if the source is not a “ruthless” memetic selector.

    Without knowing for sure, I suspect that Walls calls RH’s confidence “arrogant” because you guys do express certainty beyond what others consider warrant. When pressed, RH advocates (even official ones) retreat to appeals to “objective” heuristics which is facile. These “objective” heuristics, conveniently, envelop annihilationist eschatology like water flowing around pebbles — we are to take Psalms at face value when they say the doom of the wicked is extinction, but not when their doom is broken arms; we are to take Isaiah at face value when it speaks of consuming fire, but not when it talks about exposed loins, and perhaps the worms are a bit over-the-top; we are to take the zoen aionion as perpetuity, and call Jesus’s definition thereof a mere corollary of what it actually means (or that to which what it actually means is a corollary — either one nicely skirts); we are to take kolasin aionion as punishment-whose-effects-are-everlasting; we are not to appeal to syllogisms from God’s stated character since we humans have lowly thoughts & ways; ethical response = deserts; we are to extract exhaustive semantic information from parallelism (not in Jeremiah 10:24 of course — it is a fallacy to do this there); etc.

    So, we have a little Aristotelian virtue triangle. On the left, we see a vice that puts too much stock in arguments from popularity, when popularity is a function primarily of virulence and resilience, which are in turn functions not only of truth, but also of a number of disruptive human quirks (you mention some of these). On the right, we see a vice of overconfidence that yields an arbitrary heuristic selection bias and, simultaneously, a chronic blindness to that bias (cage stage).

    • Glenn Peoples says:

      Stan, it’s easy for anyone to stroll up and declare that the evidence is unclear. We have made the case directly about how clear the evidence is elsewhere.

      Your very quick comments suggests a lack of sympathetic reading of our position. For example, eternal punishment really does *mean* a punishment that lasts forever. There’s no reason for us to be committed to the view you’ve described. We should agree, I hope, that your bullet points here do not constitute serious exegetical engagement and don’t really require much by way of response. We have made our case in the blog and in the podcast, as well as in print. If you want to unpack *those* arguments and tackle them, that’d be something of more interest.

      You can allege that our confidence is “over”confidence, but this is only true if the evidence is not as good as we think we have shown it is. I’m not convinced that this is the case, obviously, or I would not be as confident as I am.

      • Stan Patton says:

        Apologies, I didn’t intend to give the impression that I was just strolling up and declaring, or that I haven’t given annihilationism its fair shake.

        I was an annihilationist for several years in the late 2000s due to the apparent strength of the Scriptural case (and still think that it has a very strong Scriptural case as a function of a not-wholly-unacceptable heuristic set). It was admission of personal uncertainty and the interpretive contingency upon heuristics that fostered openness-to-being-wrong. This allowed me to depart that “local maximum” and find a taller, stronger eschatological “peak.”

        When I talk about the overconfidence to which Walls may be referring, I’m talking about the discussions I’ve had actively for over a year on the RH Facebook group, with both official and unofficial advocates of RH. There is an arbitrary selection bias in the heuristics, and when called on that, there is an appeal to heuristic “objectivity.” This is what happens.

        • Peter Grice says:

          Stan, from discussions with you it appears to me that you have a hermeneutic that is not that common within evangelicalism (which doesn’t mean it’s wrong, of course). Meanwhile, I feel compelled to assert that our hermeneutic endeavors to be thoroughly evangelical: we consult the same reference books and strive for the same approach.

          Generally speaking, where we see our evangelical traditionalist friends disagreeing with us in interpretation, we often attribute this to inconsistent application on their part of the methods we commonly share, in principle. (I’m referring to what is formally accepted in print, and not what is sometimes conventional in other contexts.)

          Our critics in that camp often *want* us to have a peculiar hermeneutic, and are quick to assume and attribute some method or argument to us that we are not using. But for the record, no, evangelical traditionalist arguments demonstrably tinker with evangelical hermeneutics. I’m sure they would say the same of us, in which case they will have to demonstrate it.

        • Glenn Peoples says:

          “There is an arbitrary selection bias in the heuristics”

          Can you pick one of our arguments and state, really specifically if possible, how it falls prey to this phenomenon? (Ideally – and naturally, I think – you’d pick an argument that is required for our position, and not merely an argument that a person in the world who holds our position has used).


    • Robroy MacGregor says:

      The word “overconfidence” as used above as an opinion. Thing is, this issue is even easier than some can imagine. I can give an anology:

      If my wife goes on vacation to hawaii and writes of enjoying very much a fishing trip she went on, and writes of every meal on her trip, and never mentions fish in any of those meals, some could argue that she doesn’t like fish because she didn’t eat any. Others would argue that clearly she loves fish because she really enjoyed her fishing expedition.

      So, who is right. The answer is obvious to those of us (me) who know her. I have a personal relationship with her. I read ALL of her notes about all the meals she has ever had. We even talk about food a lot. I KNOW that she HATES fish and won’t eat ANYTHING that comes out of the water.

      Even when I was a traditionalist, I always had a hard time with the “turn or burn” message. And the more I read the bible and prayed, the less sense it made because it did not fit the personality of the God of the bible and my prayers. I believed it, but never studied it or discussed it. I just put it in the “God works in mysterious ways” file cabinet.

      Then I studied it and discovered you have to twist the meaning of plain words in the bible (even the original text) like pretzels to believe in eternal torment for the lost.

      I’m confident. Am I over-confident? Only those with full knowledge of the information and proof I base it on can know for sure. And the odd part is that even the most solid proof texts I used to believe “proved” eternal suffering actually support the opposite viewpoint. And one thing that bolsters my confidenct is when I see what tht turn or burn message does to the gospel in our modern world. It’s a travesty of eternal proportions.

      You want to really derail an “anti-Christian”? When he brings up eternal torment, say, “That’s ludicrous! The bible doesn’t teach that!” If he knows the bible, watch him go into full apologist mode for the eternal suffering augment. It’s because his whole “hate case” rests on the bible teaching that the lost will consciously suffer torture for all eternity.

      That right there is a red herring of a different color. :-)

      • Stan Patton says:

        Great post, Robroy. I agree. You and I share the view that annihilationism has a far better — dramatically better — Scriptural case than endless hell, and that we can make that assertion with a powerful degree of confidence.

        From there, however, there’s another fork in the road; RH is quick to maintain, rightly, that annihilationism is still “turn or burn.” One would rightly suggest that it ought to have similar “familiarity friction” vs. the God abounding in love, an axial interest in redemption, and sedeq/mispat justice as the Bible conveys it (professionally-tailored to the record, purpose-driven, and several times pitted in contrast to slaughter). The response (paraphrased)? “We’re taking ‘apollumi’ literally and ‘aionios zoe’ as ‘perpetuity.’ Tough luck. Please make use of that ‘file cabinet’ to which you’ve already grown accustomed.”

        • Robroy MacGregor says:

          Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think one is “turn or burn” and the other is “turn or burn up”.

          What fascinates me is that so many on the traditional side don’t think that CI is “just”. They seem to think that for God to be just, he must eternally torture those who deny Him, or just never heard or “bought” the Gospel. Why is that? Do THEY (made in God’s image) wish eternal suffering on those who wrong them? What does the Bible say our response to such people should be? That’s a rhetorical question. :)

          BTW, since I first became a CI proponent, Whenever I see the comments about eternity as it relates to the lost i use this analogy: If I say I’m going to paint a fence blue for all eternity, does it mean I’m going to spend eternity painting a fence, or does it mean I’m going to paint the fence blue and it is going to STAY blue for all eternity?

          For me, it is so simple and, dare I say, SCIENTIFIC, to hold the CI position. Why do I say “scientific”? It’s because it is a theory that can be tested. Once someone accepts the “theory of CI”, one can test all the scriptures that remotely touch on the fate of the lost in any way, shape or form and actually “predict” the meaning of the original text behind the English words in whatever version one is reading.

          When you “know” a thing, as the apostle Paul did, you can speak with utmost confidence. People can make claims to the contrary and threaten to show you scripture that contradicts your position and it turns out their scripture can be shown to say no such thing. As I’ve tested the “theory” of CI, I’ve done such experiments. It is where my confidence in this comes from. I’m not saying I know all, but when every single argument against CI has been so clearly shown to be hollow, eventually you just start seeing a pattern.

  2. Douglas Piel says:

    The Bible states that Jesus “will have all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). The Bible also tells a mystery involving many antichrists (men of sin) taking their seats in the Temple of God. The Bible says our bodies are the Temples of God. With help from The Holy Spirit (God’s Word), if we ask for wisdom and understanding, especially with all of Christ’s motives as revealed in His Word (that all be saved, that all be cleansed of sexual immorality, that all be sanctified by the hearing of The Word, that all give thanks in all circumstances, that all do good to silence the works of the enemy, and that all be made new by a renewal of the mind to be transformed into the Image of Christ’s glorious body), then we shall be convinced of His WILL to have all saved. The man of sin (sin nature) is guaranteed to be taken out of the Way by The Eternal Gospel. Everyone who dies to self takes his man of sin (sin nature) out of The Way. Jesus is faithful to do so through His Word, even while we are faithless (He remains faithful, eternally). Eventually, every knee shall bow to Christ’s Life Giving Spirit to bear The Fruits of His Spirit which are Love, Peace, Joy, Kindness, Goodness, Patience, Self Control, Humility and Faithfulness. God upholds all who fall and lifts up all who bow to Him. All become new creations. Even through the process of eternal punishment, stubborn sinners will learn to die to self and bow to Christ. Once learned, all things are made new, including a new eternity with no more curse. The curse is the result of speaking against the character of The Holy Spirit. Doing so is the sin unto death and is the very reason all must be born again of a New Spirit that is of Christ’s Glorious Body. We do not give Him glory as long as we insist on our ways rather than His. His Way is to have all saved, “that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). All else is shameful, even the cross which Christ endured but despised for its shame. We overcome the beast with The Blood of The Lamb (God’s Word), by asking for His Holy Spirit and by asking with all of His motives. All of creations shall be convinced of sin and of righteousness. He is coming again in glory. Probably this year.

  3. Mark says:

    Glenn, thank you for this clear response to Jerry Walls. It was very helpful. I felt that Walls appeal almost entirely to tradition as a reason to reject conditional immortality shows how weak his position is. How many examples could we give of appeals to traditional authority later proving to be weak?

    Also, even if the evidence for annihilationim is not quite as strong as the evidence for the Trinity, that would not mean the exegetical, Biblical case for annihilationism is not strong enough to warrant believing it and teaching it. I’m not saying the evidence for annihilationism is not equal to the evidence for the Trinity, I’m simply saying that this is not necessary.

    On the more important question of whether the Biblical case for conditional immortality is strong enough to rightly lead to holding this view with confidence, I believe it is. And I thank God for the hard work you and others at RH, and those who came before you (both recently and in past centuries) have done to demonstrate this.

  4. Eric Brown says:

    Wow I hate to say it but the defenses of the traditional position are really getting utterly pitiful and here’s the thing: I’m a traditionalist currently. I’ve already conceded that annihilationism is reasonable for an evangelical to hold too but I’m starting to think it’s more than just REASONABLE. I mean Chris Date’s debate with Al Mohler was a curbstomp his debate with J.P. Holding on the subject wasn’t much better. His debate with Phil Fernandes I hate to say was again simply a failure on Phil’s part. At first I thought the responses to Annihilationism were good but man they are just so paltry when put side by side in a debate in these places (Some of them aren’t “Recent” but still) it seems all they do is claim how allegedly audiacious you guys are.

    I suppose it may just be a spiritual problem for me but I suppose I’m just afraid of being pulled in to the wrong thing again. I’ve been tricked by false teachers before (I’m not saying you guys are but rather that I have been by other people who were) and I guess my guard is up heavily but perhaps it is up a little bit too much.

    Anyway I do appreciate the fact that you guys articulate your view so well even if I can’t yet agree though maybe I will agree someday.

    • Percival says:

      I understand one’s reluctance to be “out there” on an issue, especially if you hold to other minority viewpoints. But in your case, it seems that you may wandered from orthodoxy or sound teaching before and are careful to avoid doing so again. I can respect this, but fear can be crippling.

      In my own story, I made the change over the space of 2 days after being a traditionalist for 40 years and a missionary for 20 years. This had not been my pattern before. Usually I have to mull things over for years. It was truly shocking to me how clear the case for Conditionalism was once I determined that I would follow the truth no matter what others thought. However, letting others know what I believe now is a walking a path wearing moccasins; there is a lot of tiptoeing, listening, and speaking softly.

      • Eric Brown says:

        Well honestly I suppose I’m always a “Once-bitten twice shy” kind of person. I don’t mind “being out there” if it’s for the right reason but as I said I don’t know how long I’m supposed to wait.

  5. disquswithme says:

    Good article. I have enjoyed listening to both Chris and Jerry over the years, and I enjoyed this discussion.

    I agree with Jerry that Scripture is not as clear as it could be regarding what we call hell. Imo, the ECT view can be well defended – though it usually isn’t – just enough to keep it valid as a possibility, if one really wants to.

    I would like to hear Jerry’s response to these questions:

    Aren’t those of us in the last few decades informed and equipped to understand the Bible more so than any other Christians in history since the first few centuries A.D.? (Even more than that, weren’t the vast majority of Christians quite ill-informed and ill-equipped regarding theology?)

    How much did the KJV’s overuse of the word “hell” contribute to misunderstanding about what hell is, at least in the English speaking world?

    Isn’t any lack of clarity or a definitive answer itself an argument against ECT? If ECT is true, wouldn’t we expect frequent, explicit warnings to all humanity throughout the OT and the NT? Rather, we have – from Gen. to Rev. – hundreds of statements about death and destruction and perishing and the lack of eternal life.

    (I realize that Jerry’s particular view is not damaged by that last observation as much as the more common view.)

    Thank you!

  6. Robroy MacGregor says:

    To use wisdom gleaned from another blog here: Bringing up the argument that we must explain why eternal torment caught on as the dominant view is a textbook red-herring. Maybe people were stupid. Maybe they had an agenda. Maybe they thought scaring the daylights out of people would fill the churches. Who knows? And how is it relevant to determining what the Bible says and means?

    But it is a completely separate subject. First, we can determine if Conditionalism is more in harmony with the word of God, then, those who have a curiosity about the history of the church can pursue less relevant points, like “what the heck caused people to believe such a flawed alternative in days of old?”

    But they are not the same thing.

  7. Robroy MacGregor says:

    BTW, using scripture that talks of the fate of Satan as proof text regarding the fate of the lost is like using scripture that talks of the fate of any human as proof text regarding the fate of my dog. The bible is for the human race. Dogs are not human, nor is Satan – or his demons. We are also not angels.

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