Welcome to Rethinking Hell. If this is your first time here, please read on to discover what this project is all about, and why others—especially our fellow evangelical Christians—may wish to stick around!
The Bible is the final authority for Christian belief. This means that believers should strive to understand what it teaches! Sometimes, inevitably, we misunderstand something. That matters most whenever it's something of eternal significance. All the more so if we teach, defend, and act upon it (which we should, if it's true). Biblical understanding is just critically important.
Correcting our own misunderstanding is the flip-side of that. It isn't pleasant. Realizing that we've been wrong can be unsettling, frustrating, and embarrassing. This should never make us unwilling to rethink our views. If there's even a slight possibility that we may have misunderstood something important, we must resist the temptation to rationalize it away. Since what the Bible says is so paramount, dismissive, non-biblical explanations fall short (such as "this would make too many people wrong" and "anyone who believes that mustn't be a real Christian"). Lovers of the truth will always return to the Bible, armed with humility, prayer and careful thinking.
The Rethinking Hell project is a partnership between two groups of people: Evangelical Christians who have been through the above process concerning Hell and concluded that Conditionalism (see below) is the most biblical view, and others who are willing to investigate the case for Conditionalism and engage with us, to be found in the right process together.
You may never change your view. We may learn things from you instead. In fact, we're open in principle to being wrong about Hell (remember, we already think we were wrong previously!). Even if you don't change your view, it will at least be properly informed and biblically scrutinized. You will have tested your own willingness to let Scripture expose any misunderstandings, which is always worthwhile.
Before you commit to doing that, we should briefly frame the topic and what we believe:
There are three views of Hell, labelled most efficiently: Traditionalism, Conditionalism and Universalism. The traditional, majority view is commonly and non-pejoratively called "Traditionalism" in this context, and sometimes delineated "Eternal, Conscious Torment" (ECT). Conditionalism is short for Conditional Immortality, a perspective incorporating Annihilationism. Universalism is sometimes referred to as Universal Restoration or Universal Reconciliation.
Traditionalism holds that Hell involves a permanent state of conscious suffering. Universalism is at the opposite pole, suggesting that everybody eventually ends up reconciled to God, after a period of refinement in Hell. Conditionalism rejects this, agreeing with Traditionalism that Hell is permanent, and that the unsaved will suffer. Where we mainly disagree with Traditionalism, is in the duration of the experience of Hell. We believe that it ends, because the person (body and soul) is finally destroyed. This, including any suffering involved in the process, is how the Bible portrays final punishment.
If that seems unfathomable to you at this point, we humbly submit that if you take the time, you will at least begin to see why we claim it is everywhere, unambiguously declared by Jesus and the Old and New Testament writers. If you have Bible verses flashing into your mind right now with which to challenge us, perhaps, over time, you will find your concerns addressed.
Framed against the biblical metaphor of fire, Conditionalists hold that God's judgment ultimately consumes or annihilates a person. Ordinarily, fire consumes things that are tossed into it (in the case of people, they die). Universalists focus on the metaphor of fire signifying refinement and purification, burning away that which is unfit for Heaven. Fire can work that way with metals, or a forest, for example. Traditionalists actually agree with Universalists that the fire does not completely destroy the unsaved, but side with Conditionalists in strongly rejecting any passage from Hell to Heaven. These two tenets of Traditionalism require that hellfire be the sort of thing that inflicts perpetual suffering. In terms of metaphor, fire certainly can inflict pain without causing death. Conditionalists would point out the obvious limitations on this.
To some extent the discussion hinges on how we understand immortality, as something either inherent or conferred, and either possessed by all or only those who are saved. If you are immortal, perhaps it makes some sense that you could survive the flames of God's wrath, and if that's true, the terms "death," "destroy" and "perish" must be no more than figures of speech to describe the experience. They certainly couldn't have their ordinary meanings. Conditionalism insists that we shouldn't jump to conclusions without first establishing what the Bible says about human immortality. Strictly speaking, our view isn't limited to the fate of the unsaved. However, we insist that a proper consideration of Hell must involve discussion of the destiny of the righteous (saved).
So, we believe that those who are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ have their sins forgiven, and receive the gift of eternal life. We believe that the unsaved do not have eternal "life" in Hell, but will be resurrected in order to face judgment, and receive the penalty of death ("The Second Death"), which is permanent (eternally effective).
Please consider rethinking Hell for yourself. Many of us didn't really want to, though we're glad we did – and wish we'd done so sooner. We wish to assist and engage with you, on the common ground of Evangelical conviction.
If you would like to continue from here, check out our team's blog and consider joining in the discussion there, or over at our forum. We have an exciting podcast too, with great commentary, challenging insights, and interviews with evangelical leaders and theologians.