Exploring Hell Part 1

Recently, I’ve been studying the topic of Hell, and specifically an alternative understanding of the doctrine of Hell know as Conditionalism or sometimes Annihilationism (though both names allude to particular aspects of the same understanding of Hell, they seem to be used interchangeably to represent the same perspective). The Conditionalist view of Hell seems to me to make much better sense of what the Scriptures say are the “wages of sin” and the destiny of the unredeemed than traditional view of Hell does.

While I am heavily leaning in the direction of the Conditionalist view at the moment, I am still open to the possibility that it is wrong and that Tradition is correct. After all, some of the biggest names in the history of Christian Theology have held to the traditional view, and I know these men are much more authoritative on God, the Scriptures, and what they have to say on this topic than I. That said, I also believe that these men are not inerrant, and believe that it is possible they are all wrong, and therefore feel it necessary to investigate the topic for myself.

I personally have never been fully convinced of or satisfied with the traditional understanding of Hell, and so when listening to the Unbelievable podcast with Justin Brierly (http://www.premier.org.uk/unbelievable or find him at @UnbelievableJB on Twitter), and Chris Date (@datechris) was on talking about his website http://www.rethinkinghell.com, I checked it out, started listening to his Podcast from episode 1, and find myself immersed in a study on this topic. All I can do is turn to the Scriptures, and study the topic diligently, and carefully follow the evidence and arguments, and see what seems to make the best sense of the entire biblical narrative, and how each view of Hell fits into that narrative. After over 20 hours of Podcast episodes, and writing a 13 page research paper on the topic of the Doctrine of Hell for my History of Christian Theology class, the Annihilationist view of Hell seems to make more sense to me.

While almost every Christian is familiar with the Traditional view of Hell as an everlasting punishment in a lake of fire where the unsaved will experience an eternity of everlasting conscious torment, very few Christians have even heard of Conditionalism, and even less have a proper understanding of what it holds, and why Conditionalists feel scripturally justified to defy tradition on this topic. This first post will give a brief nutshell view of Conditionalism, and then address a particular passage that Traditionalists point to in favor of their view of Hell, and why I don’t think it supports their view.

 

Conditionalism, to try and put it in a nutshell that does justice to the topic, is called such because those who hold this position believe in conditional immortality. This means that human being do not possess a soul that is innately immortal, and the only way to be given immortality is through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. John 3:16 exemplifies the view quite well, when one does not already have their understanding of the passage shaped in light of traditionalism. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” According to Conditionalism, those who aren’t saved by the blood of Christ shall perish, but those who believe in Jesus shall be given the gift of eternal life. This is rather plain to see if you simply look at the statement’s logical inversion, where we see that “whoever does not believe in him shall perish, and shall not have eternal life.” Those who aren’t saved, don’t have eternal life, and will perish. This is the Conditionalist view of Hell. It is not eternal conscious torment, it is perishing. Whether there is torment and suffering as a part of this annihilation or not is a matter of differing opinions among conditionalists, but all agree with Romans 6:23 when it states that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” Two things to note there; first, the wages of sin is death, not an eternity of conscious torment, and second, that eternal life is a gift of God. Why would God give the unsaved this “gift” only so they could writhe in pain and agony for eternity while they are tormented with fire for eternity? Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:28 “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Jesus right here specifically states that God destroys both body and soul in hell. This does not say he keeps them alive with the gift of immortality that only He can grant us so that we can suffer eternal conscious torment, it says God will destroy both body and soul in Hell!

One final aspect of Conditionalism that I find most convincing has to do with Christology. If Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, in order that we won’t have to, don’t we see a picture of a man who is judged, condemned, tortured, then killed in a horrific way? In what meaningful sense can Jesus be said to have paid the penalty for our sins if what He experienced was not the same as what we are destined to experience if we reject Jesus as Christ? Under traditionalism, the Cross made no sense to me, but under a conditionalist understanding, I can make perfect sense of Jesus being tortured, mocked, shamed, ridiculed, and ultimately put to death in a horrific way and thus paying our penalty in a literal way, but being the God-man, His infinite perfection paid for our finite imperfections, and Jesus was then given the gift of eternal life, the first fruits of the resurrection, and raised to the new life that we will all one day share in this gift of eternal life as the redeemed of God,
thus grants us a way to be free from the penalty of sin, that is, death. Only as the Redeemed of God do we have eternal life, and we see in the cross a perfect picture of what awaits the unsaved sinner, and in his Resurrection, a perfect picture of the life of the saved. Thus we have a glorious picture of penal substitution, that paints a vivid picture in His own life, death, and ultimately, gloriously, the Resurrection, of the fate of all men, one way or another.

So, with all this talk about the wages of sin being death, and eternal life is a gift of God to those who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior, where did the traditional view of hell as eternal conscious torment come from?

This question demands an entire research paper all its own to fully flesh out the origins of this view, but there are at least two passages in Revelation that seem to clearly paint a picture of Hell as being an eternity of conscious torment. My intentions for the remainder of this post is to share my thoughts on one of these passages, and leave the other (and the rest of what I want to say on this topic) for later.

 

The passage in question is Revelation 14:9-11:
A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”
The particularly problematic verse is 11. It seems to clearly teach, when this passage is taken literally, that they will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angel and in the presence of Jesus (the Lamb), and that the smoke from their torment will rise for ever and ever. However, when reading any Scriptural passage, especially one as visually rich and theologically complex as apocalyptic literature, it is necessary to understand the context of that passage in order to properly form any sort of theological doctrine from it. We must pay special attention to previous passages in Scripture that the author was specifically alluding, because these passages clue us into what the author was trying to teach by the picture he paints with his specific choice of imagery.

 

It just so happens that this is exactly what is going on in this passage. Here in Revelation 14:11 John uses wording that would have set off alarm bells to a Jewish audience to language they have heard elsewhere in Scripture, specifically, Isaiah 34. In Isaiah 34, the prophet is speaking about the LORD judging the nations, and in verses 8-10 we read:

“For the Lord has a day of vengeance,
a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause.

Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch,
her dust into burning sulfur;
her land will become blazing pitch!

It will not be quenched night or day;
its smoke will rise forever.

From generation to generation it will lie desolate;
no one will ever pass through it again.”

 

Here we see God judging the nation of Edom, and it states that it will burn with a fire that is not quenched night or day, and the smoke from it will rise forever. Do you see the similarity between the imagery used here and in Revelation 14?
This imagery from Isaiah would have been very familiar to a Jewish audience whose lives were saturated with the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and thus when they read something that sounds very much like Isaiah’s wording, it would have clued them into what the Author was communicating by alluding to this previous passage. It would have been further clear that Edom was not, in point of fact, still burning in their own day (let alone nowadays), and the smoke was not literally still rising for ever and ever. So clearly they would have understood that this was imagery with an allusion to the passage in Isaiah. They would have known that the purpose was not to communicate that there would literally be smoke rising forever, because this wasn’t the case in Isaiah. They would have known it was used to paint a picture of the finality of it, the irreversibility of the fate that awaited Edom, with no hope of rebuilding, and thus the finality and irreversibility of the fate of those who worship the Beast in Revelation. When we read the passage in Revelation in isolation of its context, however, it is easy to see how the passage is taken literally, and thus an idea of the torment being eternal is born. But when read in context of its allusion to Isaiah’s passage about the judgment of the nations, we realize this is a picture of the finality of the judgment.

 

There is so much more to be said on this topic, and I’m sure those who still hold to the Traditional view have many more questions. Good. I hope this generates loads of discussion, and conversation on the topic, and that we can all reexamine our own views on this topic, and can examine some theologically viable alternatives to our understanding. Please feel free to leave a comment and get some dialogue going!

 

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16 responses to “Exploring Hell Part 1”

  1. David Russell Mosley says :

    Derek,

    I’ve had many conversations about this topic. It’s one that is incredibly hard to nuance. And so I applaud you for pouring yourself into it. I do wonder if there isn’t a slight flaw in your approach, however. You begin by noting that the Tradionalist view is, well, Traditional; that is, it comes from the tradition. You note that the men and women who have come before you holding a traditional view of Hell (which I think you might be slightly mischaracterising as conscious torment in a lake of fire) are smarter and holier than you. You then note that they are not inerrant and the only way for you to come to the truth about this matter is to study it yourself. This, however, leaves the decision of what is true in your hands and not in the Church’s. This, however, is secondary to what I’d like to say on this topic.

    It has nearly always been my opinion that if contrasting a view of Hell which is eternal with annihilationism, an eternal Hell is more compassionate (I’m leaving aside the question of torment for now because that is a slightly different topic to whether or not there is a Hell). The reason I believe this is because of free will. If God were to annihilate the unsaved (presumably including the fallen angels) we would be left with the ability to say to God, you never gave them a chance to choose otherwise. Even if the choice would never be made, it seems to me more consistent with God’s character to allow those to remain in a kind of existence who have rejected him so that none could ever say that God had not given them a chance.

    Beyond this, however, is also the question of the Cross. I think you’re wrong that the Cross makes no sense if the damned are not annihilated. According to the Tradition (and 1 Peter [or 2 Peter I can’t remember right now]) Christ went to the abode of the dead which in the Tradition is often called Hell (since even the righteous went there before the resurrection) and led some out of it. Hell isn’t contrary to the Cross it is, in a way, a part of the Cross, Christ has even defeated it, has entered it and it now, like everything else, serves his purposes.

    The final point is one of Universalism. While I personally don’t feel that any kind of universalism accords with all of Scripture, I want it to be true and see it as certainly more compassionate than conditionalism. This is especially true when its given in its Origenian, Macdonaldian form where Hell is still quite real and simply that, as Phil 2 says, every knee while bow and tongue confess and this because God does not will that any should not be saved.

    I look forward to your future posts.

    Yours,
    David

    • Derek J. Brent says :

      Hey David, Thanks for the response! First, I in no way meant to mischaracterize or straw-man the traditionalist point of view, but it seems to me that the traditional view is that of Hell as a place for the unsaved to be consciously tormented for eternity, and that hell is typically portrayed as a lake of fire, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. How do you feel this mischaracterizes the traditionalist view, and how would you restate it more accurately?

      As to my approach, I am not trying to say in any way that I am the arbiter of truth, or that my own thoughts or beliefs on this hold more weight than the Church or tradition. That said, my point was simply that I do not believe in the infallibility of the Church, or its teachings. What I mean when I say I must study it for myself was not to say that I can get to the truth better than these individuals, but that in order for me to feel comfortable holding this view I would need to investigate it for myself, especially given the fact that this view never sat right with me. While I fully believe simply being emotionally or mentally repulsed by an idea is by no mean grounds for rejecting a view, it is grounds for investigating the evidence for it. While I grant (as I did in the post) the fact that this has been the traditional view since the time of Augustine, and the fact that greater and holier theologians than both lend support to the traditional view, an appeal to authority and/or an appeal to tradition are not enough to convince me of the truth of the traditional view of Hell. When I look at the biblical support for the traditional view, the arguments that support it, and then look at the biblical support for the conditionalist view, and the arguments that support it, I find that the arguments for conditionalism make more sense in light of the Biblical evidence we have in the texts of the Scriptures.

      In your second paragraph, you seem to be under the impression that Annihilationism/Conditionalsim holds that Hell does not exist, but this is a mischaracterization of what Conditionalism teaches. Conditionalism holds that Hell is real, but it does not hold to the same view of Hell as Traditionalism does. The real question is not whether the punishment is eternal, because both views hold this to be true. The point of difference is what each view holds that punishment (Hell) to be. According to tradition (as far as I can tell, but as you stated, you feel I am mischaracterizing hell when I say this), the punishment for sin is an eternity of conscious torment in Hell, whereas according to Conditionalism, the punishment for sin is death (Romans 6:23), and that this death is eternal, that is, irreversible. Both hold to a punishment that is eternal, but the Tradition says the punishment is an eternity of conscious torment (maybe you prefer the term suffering?), while Conditionalism says the punishment is death. Tradition holds the punishing (and not just the punishment) is also eternal because of the nature of the punishment, whereas Conditionalism holds that the punishment (death) is eternal, but the enactment of that punishment, that is, the punishing (whatever that may be, as some hold that the second death includes a period of torment, others do not) does not last for all of eternity and eventually ends in the final, irreversible death of body and soul (Matthew 10:28) known as the second death. This is a point of slight distinction that many traditionalist don’t seem to grasp, as it is a subtle point, but it makes a world of difference. Scripture requires us to hold that the punishment is eternal, but it does not require that the enactment of that punishment last forever.

      As to your point on 1 Peter 3:18ff, specifically verse 19, where it says Jesus went and proclaimed to the Spirits in prison, or the imprisoned spirits, depending on the version you are reading, I have not actually studied this or looked into it myself, but from a brief examination of this passage, I do not think it is talking about Hell (Gehenna), which is not entered until the end times, but rather talking about Jesus proclaiming himself as Christ to the dead in what some call an intermediate state. This abode of the dead was known as Sheol in the Old Testament, and Hades in the New Testament, though neither word is used in the passage. I don’t think this is talking about Hell because as I stated, Hell is not entered into until the Judgment of Christ, when all are resurrected, both the saved and unsaved, and they are separated by Christ, with the righteous going to eternal life, and the wicked going to eternal punishment (Matthew 25:31-46). Hades is better understood as the place where disembodied souls reside until the final resurrection, as A. A. Hodge points out (as quoted in Death and the Afterlife by Dr. Robert A. Morey, chapter 3) when he says: “Modern Hebrew and Greek scholars unite with near unanimity in maintaining that these words (Sheol and Hades) never on a single occasion in the Bible mean either “hell” or “the grave,” but always and only the invisible spirit world.” (quote found at: http://www.faithdefenders.com/articles/theology/sheol_hades_gehenna.html)

      I agree that “Hell isn’t contrary to the Cross” but only when we have a proper understanding of Hell as the second death, not as an eternity of conscious torment.

      While I agree that Universalism may be more compassionate than Conditionalism, there are two points I would like to make. First, it may be more compassionate, but I don’t think Universalism takes seriously the statements of Jesus about Hell and the finality of it or the justice of God. Second, and more importantly, it does not matter in the end which of the three potential views of Hell one finds the most compassionate, or merciful, or just, what ultimately matters in the end is which view is best supported by what the Scriptures tell us about Hell. On this point, I find that Universalism ignores much of what Scriptures says on Hell. As far as I can tell from my study on the topic so far, Conditionalism makes more sense of the Scriptural picture we are given of Hell than Traditionalism or Universalism, and seems to me to fit the Biblical narrative as a whole better than either Traditionalism or Universalism, hence why I am beginning to write on my exploration of Hell.

      As to your argument in your second paragraph about whether Traditionalism is more compassionate than conditionalism, I find what you say intriguing, as I have never heard an argument from this angle before, but I don’t have much to say on this point other than to reiterate what I just said about our opinions on which view is more compassionate is irrelevant in the end, and what really matters is which view is better supported by the texts of Scripture, which so far from my studies, seems to be the Conditionalist view of Hell.

      Thanks again for your comment, and I look forward to our continued conversations on this and many other topics. I am very grateful to God for allowing me to have a friend such as you David.

      Yours,
      Derek J. Brent

      • David Russell Mosley says :

        Derek,

        I wasn’t meaning to imply that you were setting up a strawman argument, more, perhaps, that you are arguing against a popular conception of Hell than a Traditional one. In the Tradition, punishment would be a more fitting word than torment. They aren’t being tortured for their crimes (torture, in my mind, and torment, would imply cruel and unusual punishment), but being punished for their willed sinfulness. I find Dante and Lewis helpful here. Dante depicts Hell (and Purgatory) as places where sins are fittingly punished, often in ironic ways (for instance in Purgatory, those ruled by lust are always running, as before they ran towards their inordinate desires, and those who committed homosexual acts are running in the opposite direction of everyone else). Lewis also depicts Hell as a place where everyone gets their way, but no one is satisfied. What “life” they have is hollow and can barely be called life when compared to true life in Heaven.

        On your approach: Perhaps what would satisfy me more is if part of your research were not simply looking at two modern understandings of Hell and how their arguments stack up against Scripture, but look at the history of the arguments themselves. You’re quite right that the Church is not infallible, but the Spirit is. As with so many issues, I find it hard to believe that the Spirit would simply allow such a wrongheaded understanding of Hell pervade the Church (also, this view Hell certainly predates Augustine, it is at least common since the second century; cf. Irenaeus Against Heresies).

        You seem to be equating Hell and punishment. That is, conditionalism cannot view Hell as existing if what is eternal is not a place, but a lack of existence (eternal death). Therefore conditionalism has no room for Hell (that is a place where the damned reside).

        As to the interpretation of 1 Peter, there are, if I remember 5 basic interpretations (my Senior Sem paper was on this passage). Either Christ was talking to the Nephilim/Sons of God of Genesis 6; Fallen Angels in general; People in the time of Noah; All who were dead. Then he was either proclaiming his victory or leading captives out. Again, the Church has, over the years, understood this to mean that Christ went to where the dead are and led out the righteous (again see Dante and the section of Hell called Limbo). Now, of course, Christ cannot have gone to Hell as the place of the damned after the Resurrection because the resurrection (which Paul says is of the wicked and the righteous) has not taken place yet. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some continuity between the two (like Abraham’s bosom/Paradise/Heaven and the New Heavens and New Earth).

        Your final points on which being more just/compassionate being irrelevant, I’m not sure that’s true. If God is the source of justice and is the source of love, then whatever is most just or most loving should at least be a guiding factor in how we read the Scriptures. That said, I agree to an extent that Universalism (even a Christian Universalism) is incredibly problematic, but there are many Evangelical Universalists nowadays who seem to think otherwise. It is, anyway, a point to consider (it also dates from at least the second century with Origen, cf. On First Principles).

        I’m grateful for an honest dialogue and your knowledge and research as well Derek!

    • Chris Date says :

      “This, however, leaves the decision of what is true in your hands and not in the Church’s.”

      Not exactly. What it does is subject Church tradition to the authority of Scripture. Conditionalists don’t advocate for a “Me and my Bible under a tree” approach, throwing out all tradition as irrelevant and unimportant. We take tradition very seriously; as I explain in http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/11/deprived-of-continuance-irenaeus-the-conditionalist, tradition matters. However, we recognize that the Church is not infallible, and as such, when Scripture clearly teaches contrary to a tradition, we abandon the tradition in favor of the clear word of God.

      “If God were to annihilate the unsaved (presumably including the fallen angels) we would be left with the ability to say to God, you never gave them a chance to choose otherwise.”

      Reformed Christians like myself will find this argument unmoving from the get-go. That aside, the argument is additionally unmoving because it’s clear that God frequently takes the lives of people without indefinitely giving them a chance to repent. Sodom and Gomorrah, whom biblical authors give up as an example of what awaits the finally impenitent, are a case in point. God ended their lives and did not indefinitely wait for them to choose to abandon their evil ways.

      Either way, however, I was not convinced of conditionalism based on its seeming consistency with the character of God, or any seeming inconsistency with it on the part of the traditional view. To this day I see the traditional view as consistent with God’s character. I rejected it, however, because the Scripture clearly teaches conditionalism.

      ” Christ went to the abode of the dead which in the Tradition is often called Hell (since even the righteous went there before the resurrection) and led some out of it.”

      But he died, whereas the traditional view says the risen lost will live forever. Substitutionary atonement–whether penal or not–informs us that Christ bore the punishment we deserve, in our place, in our stead. It logically follows, therefore, that those who must bear the punishment they deserve will die, not live forever. And the first death doesn’t qualify, since even the saved die a first time. So indeed, the death of Christ informs us that the risen lost will die, not live forever.

      • David Russell Mosley says :

        Chris,

        I said that for Derek and his approach, not for all conditionalism as such. Also, I should note that it doesn’t subject Tradition to the Scriptures, but subjects Tradition to an individual’s (or group’s) interpretation of the Scriptures. In either event it is simply either a continuation of the previous tradition or the founding of a new one. But the Scriptures cannot be read in a vacuum, they cannot be read objectively. I find it better to read them with the Tradition more often than not.

        I think it’s rather obvious that I’m not reformed, but again, we’ll leave that aside. Your only examples of God taking people before being allowed to choose misses the point I was making. You note that God takes the lives of some before being given a chance to repent. 1. You can’t actually prove that from those examples. That is, you don’t know what was happening in Sodom or what God had said or done in it. 2. And more importantly, you’re only talking about life (and life on the other side of the Cross I might add). I’m talking about existence. So unless you believe that we cease to exist when we die (which you very well could, but I would disagree with that as well) your examples don’t disprove my point. Think of it this way, Satan has sinned, yet Satan exists. Why hasn’t God already annihilated Satan? The answer, in part, I think, is that to do so would make it impossible for Satan to repent (even if he were already incapable of it).

        Scripture clearly teaches conditionalism according to you. I find your line of argument here so like that I’ve had with fundamentalists. I’m not saying you are one, but fundamentalists (especially those of the common sense reading of a text persuasion) always fail to realise that they are interpreting the text they are reading and therefore could be wrong about the interpretation. I would suggest that you’re making a similar mistake. Conditionalism is obviously not clearly taught in the Scriptures for if it were, it would be the (or at least a) widely held view of Hell over the last two centuries, which it is not.

        Yes, Christ died, as will those whose abode is Hell. I’m not committed to substitionary atonement (penal or otherwise) as being the main thing about what happened on the Cross. In fact, assuming you’re arguing it from a reformed understanding, I would likely disagree with your understanding of what happened at the Cross and why, though I’m happy to explore that further.

      • Chris Date says :

        I agree the Scriptures cannot be read in a vacuum, or purely objectively. And as I implied, I also agree that more often than not, it’s better to read them with the Tradition. But we are called to test the Tradition to make sure it conforms to the Word of God, which necessarily entails the possibility that Tradition may have gotten it wrong, and that careful exegesis of the Word can reveal as much.

        Sure, God’s destruction of the Sodomites and a host of others does not entail his bringing a final end to their existence, but does indicate that he is willing to bring a person’s life to an end as punishment, rather than allow them to live forever sinning. Your seeming insistence that he is obliged or inclined to cut lives short but not existence is an arbitrary, bald assertion.

        I am the first to admit that I could be reading the Scripture wrongly, that my interpretation may be wrong. In fact, my repeated plea to God has been that he would reveal to me that that’s the case, as I am not a fan of having ministry doors closed to me, losing the respect and fellowship of apologists and theologians whom I respect and admire, even having my salvation called into question. But the fact that the traditional view is traditional is not enough to prove that I’m wrong. Nor does it imply that conditionalism isn’t clearly taught in Scripture. There may be (and are, I think) other reasons why conditionalists have comprised an extreme minority in the Church for most of its history, so your conclusion is illogical. I would be sinning if I were to simply throw my hands up in the air and blindly trust tradition, despite being convicted by my conscience of the authority of the Word of God and, through careful exegesis thereof, of its perspicuous affirmation of conditionalism.

        “Yes, Christ died, as will those whose abode is Hell.” Incorrect. In the traditional view, the formerly dead bodies of the lost are raised from the dead and live forever in hell. But if you’re not committed to an atonement that is, in part at least, substitutionary–that is, that Christ experienced what we would have experienced in our place had he not done so, and that the risen lost will experience that–then there’s no point in arguing similarities and dissimilarities between the cross and hell in our respective views.

      • David Russell Mosley says :

        Chris,

        (I cannot directly reply to your comment for some reason). I agree that we are to judge the Tradition by the Scriptures but I would add that we should judge how we read the Scriptures by the Tradition. This notion that “careful exegesis” can lead us to the right answer seems inherently false to me. It’s a method of reading Scripture that didn’t come to the fore (if it existed at all) until the nineteenth century and was primarily a tool to tear apart Scriptural authority. Equally, keep in mind that heresies such as Sabellianism, Arianism, Nestorianism, etc., were seeking to pay only attention to what the text literally said, eschewing earlier interpretations.

        I would disagree that my assertion that God’s willingness to cut short earthly life but is disinclined to cut short existence is arbitrary. There is a difference between earthly life and existence. Earthly life is not the end (particularly fallen, pre-resurrection earthly life), it is not the thing for which we were made. But to exist is something else entirely. Keep in mind the numerous NT Scriptures concerning continued existence (yes, primarily for the blessed) after death. Or again, despite assertions that the Hebrews viewed death as annihilation, one Psalmist notes that even Sheol is no escape from God. This would seem to indicate a stark difference between earthly life (a span of 70-120 years) and existence as such. Even if, however, my distinction between life and existence is arbitrary, so is your lack of distinction which would have to suggest that when the people of Sodom were killed they ceased to exist and thus cannot be judged at the resurrection (not that you said this, but it seems a natural implication).

        So because you think there are other reasons (aside from its not being the clear understanding of the Bible) that conditionalism has been a minority, my conclusion is illogical. I think not. If you were to enumerate the reasons you think conditionalism has been a minority, and if you could point to a clear tradition of it being taught in the Church, then I would have to agree that my conclusion is illogical. As it is, however, you’ve only noted that you think my conclusion illogical but have not actually proved it to be so.

        I am not incorrect. Excepting those alive at the parousia (and this is of course assuming all don’t die in some sense at this event) all who are to abide in Heaven (that is the New Heavens and New Earth) and Hell will have died. That they will first be resurrected is, of course, also true. The Scriptures say that all will be resurrected.

        On the atonement, you have misunderstood me, but that is primarily my fault. I did not articulate myself well. What I meant to say is that I think substitionary atonement to be an aspect of what happened at the Cross (that is, that Christ died for our sins as the sacrifice we could not make for ourselves, but needed made). However, this is not, in my opinion the key to the Christ event. Humanity was not created to be forgiven, it was created to be deified and therefore while forgiveness was and is necessary that cannot be the key to the Incarnation.

      • Chris Date says :

        Yes, the commenting system here doesn’t seem to allow replying directly after a certain level of comments :-/

        Scripture itself forces us to judge the Tradition by the Scripture; if we are to defer purely to the Tradition in how we interpret Scripture, then we cannot do the former and are being ungodly. Besides, I am applying standard, agreed upon hermeneutical principles in concluding the Scripture teaches conditionalism. It’s traditionalists who abandon what they otherwise acknowledge to be the sound and necessary principles of hermeneutics in defending traditionalism. But if you don’t agree that “careful exegesis” can lead us to the right answer (with weighty guidance from tradition), then we might as well discontinue the conversation, because God does not call us to violate our consciences, throwing up our hands in the air and mindlessly deferring to tradition when convicted by our commitment to the authority of Scripture and exegesis thereof that it teaches otherwise.

        I have things to say in response to the rest of your comment, but I’m not sure that there’s a point. You seem to insistence that I must blindly concede to tradition, violating my conscience by rejecting what it appears to me that the word of God teaches, and I refuse to so sin. What’s more, I didn’t come anywhere close to suggesting your distinction between life and existence is arbitrary, so I’m not really sure if we’re having a dialogue here in the first place.

        Let me know how you think we should proceed, if we can do so at all.

      • David Russell Mosley says :

        Chris,

        I’m not suggesting blindly concede to Tradition. I’m trying to suggest two things, essentially: First, that Scripture and Tradition interpret and correct each other, that one does not have primacy over the other (Tradition gave us Scripture, but Scripture guided the tradition).

        You say ‘Besides, I am applying standard, agreed upon hermeneutical principles in concluding the Scripture teaches conditionalism.’ But agreed upon by whom, standard according to whom? This is my second point, that “careful exegesis” which I am perhaps wrongly assuming means the historico-grammatical method of interpretation. I’m not eschewing it per se, I simply would point out that this isn’t how the authors of the Scriptures themselves would have read the Scriptures. I’m saying there is a flaw with only following this method of interpretation.

        Also, you wrote, ‘Your seeming insistence that he is obliged or inclined to cut lives short but not existence is an arbitrary, bald assertion.’ You used the word arbitrary. If I misunderstood you, my apologies.

        I see no reason to quit dialoging, but perhaps we need to agree upon some terms first (or at least each ought to give their definitions). For instance, what do we both mean by “careful exegesis” (you’ve seen my answer above); what do we mean by Tradition; and most importantly what are your reasons for the minority view of conditionalism?

      • Chris Date says :

        No, Scripture and Tradition are not equal. The former is infallible; the latter fallible. The former is unchanging; the latter changing. Do I go with the tradition prior to Augustine, which largely affirmed my view of hell? Or do I go with the tradition after Augustine, which largely rejected it? Treating Scripture and Tradition as if they’re on part with one another is a recipe for disaster–and, in practice, always ends up subjecting Scripture to Tradition.

        I used the word arbitrary, yes, but never said the distinction between life and existence is arbitrary, nor came anywhere close to suggesting as much. You appear to be reading assumptions into my words instead of letting my words speak for themselves. Hence my concern that there’s no real dialogue going on here.

        There is no point in discussing what the Bible has to say about hell if one of us treats it as authoritative over Scripture and the other attempts to treat them as equal. Or have I misunderstood your staying that, “one does not have primacy over the other”?

    • Joseph Dear says :

      Hello David,

      I have a quick question about your argument that the traditional view is more compassionate than conditionalism because of free will, and that their continued existence means we can say they had a chance to choose God.

      Is it your belief that those who die unsaved and end up in hell would be freed and given eternal life in heaven if, in theory, they were to repent and choose God? Or do you hold the more traditional view that once they are in hell, they are there forever no matter what they do or decide?

      • David Russell Mosley says :

        Joseph,

        To an extent, yes. That is, I tend to believe that Hell is eternal, that there is no crossing it into Heaven (I tend not to believe that in my more Christian Universalist moments, particularly after I read Lewis or George MacDonald). However, the reason I believe this is because I believe the citizens of Hell never will repent, just as the citizens of Heaven will never sin. So, I would argue that Hell is eternal, but if a Hellion were able to repent they would then be in Heaven (due to the grace of Jesus Christ). I’m just not sure they would be capable of it anymore.

  2. Jim Baker says :

    What an intriguing conversation. For me the concept of hell is one that I have grappled with the most as far as concepts that I cannot fully wrap my mind around. Two thousand years ago no one even questioned hell at all, it seemed obvious that such a place existed post-mortem and that some people deserved to be going there. Today it is quite a different story, as we wrestle with questions about whether a single lifetime of sin could possibly justify an eternity of loss. To some the very idea of hell seems offensive and antiquated, fundamentally flawed from the outset since ‘the punishment should fit the crime’ seems like such a self-evident truth and they deduce that no crime could exist which would merit such an elaborate and unending punishment. In my own personal investigations, I have come across the notion that it is possible that the unsaved will not exist eternally, taken from the idea that there was a ‘tree of life’ in the garden of eden which man needed to eat from in order to remain indefinitely and from the fact that there will be such a ‘tree of life’ in heaven available to the redeemed. I have never investigated the topic to the depth and degree which you have, Derek, but I applaud your efforts. It would be intellectually irresponsible to say the least to merely accept doctrine on a subject because it was handed down to you by wise men. As a philosopher, it is our duty to carefully examine all of our held beliefs, to see if they can withstand the scrutiny of careful investigation and cross-examination from critical rational inquiry.

    As far as my understanding of the traditional point of view, I do not hold the belief that hell is actually a literal lake of fire, where people burn continuously forever. I do not believe that is congruent with the message of the scriptures. The Bible is the final word of authority on this matter, we all agree to that point. It is my understanding that hell is actually the total and complete absence of the presence of God. Since we were created by Him for the purpose of fellowshipping with Him, to experience a total and final loss of His presence could only be described as the worst torments of hell. Indeed, a lake of fire might be a welcome distraction from such a horrendous state of affairs. Even so, since we receive the imagery of a fiery lake from Revelation, and as you have pointed out, Revelation is a genre of literature to which we have no modern equivalent, I would be extremely hesitant to take any of the passages therein literally meant word for word. There is imagery, prose, poetry, prophesy, and even quotation in that book. Where does the imagery stop and the literal begin? That is anyone’s guess, educated or otherwise.

    So far the best explanation I have encountered on hell has come from the appendix chapter of one of my apologetics textbooks, I think it might have even been the one we used in ‘Philosophy of Religion’ class there in Lincoln by Groothius, taught by Dr. Knopp. In it hell is described as God’s ultimate and final statement of love. He gave us free will, and that is a gift he will never contravene. For those who have spent their entire lives rejecting God and refusing to have a relationship with Him, if God were to force them to spend eternity in heaven with Him against their demonstrated choice, it would be cruel to the extreme. Therefore hell is where God finally says to mankind, thy will be done. And they receive the end result of their own free will choice to remain separated from God. This is more of an argument against universalism than against annihilationism though.

    Finally, one point that I have not heard brought up yet that may be food for thought. Heaven and Hell exist outside our temporal reality. That is to say, time does not proceed in a linear fashion from one moment to the next ad infinitum there. So it would be a mistake to assume that an eternity in hell would be and infinite number of years piled on top of each other without end. That is not how time exists there. I honestly don’t know what it will be like, I’m not even sure we are capable of comprehending how eternity in the next life will look, but I am certain that our limited experience with this temporal universe has left us ill prepared to conduct an informed investigation on the principle of timelessness as it relates to eternity in the next life.

    I too am grateful for having David as a friend. He is able to see weaknesses in my lines of thinking that I am completely blind too. He helps me to realize areas of my beliefs that I have not fully followed to their logical conclusions. Thank God for David Mosley! I am also grateful for you, Derek. We agree more than we disagree about a wide array of subjects. It’s good to know that at least some of my ideas do have a modicum of merit and I’m not completely off my rocker, heheh. I look forward to seeing how this conversation continues to develop. I am certain I will learn a lot just from reading what you two very intelligent men can come up with by way of response.

    • Wm Tanksley Jr says :

      //Two thousand years ago no one even questioned hell at all, it seemed obvious that such a place existed post-mortem and that some people deserved to be going there.//

      Surprisingly, that’s not actually true. There’s no evidence that the word “gehenna” was used prior to Jesus’ teaching (i.e. 2000 years ago); it’s a joined form of a phrase that appears in the Old Testament as phrases like “gia ben hinom” (the valley of the sons of Hinnom). In texts before Jesus (including the Greek OT) and many texts after, it’s put into Greek in other ways, never in the single-word form Jesus used.

      More importantly, though, its predecessor place was never predicted to be a place of torment at all, but a place of wartime slaughter and unburied shame, with consumption by unclean birds and animals due to the valley’s use as a sacrificial “holy” place to idols.

      In the literature we have from Jesus’ contemporaries, almost none mentions eternal torment (the book of Judith being one of the very few exceptions). The ones that do mention a resurrection or some divine lengthening of life almost all limit that to the ones that are either righteous or are tormented for a fixed period of time; most stories have them released, but some have the selected worst people be annihilated.

      Of course, I think you meant ALMOST 2000 years ago, while the NT was being written — but actually, there’s no hint of any everlasting conscious condition given to the wicked in the NT either, until the very last book written; and it was produced so late in the canonization that many churches didn’t even have it in their library and so couldn’t have incorporated arguments about it into their theology.

      And in Revelation, the only hints are the image showing the devil being tormented forever and the image of the wicked’s smoke going up forever and ever. But even if the images there are to be taken literally, the devil is not a human and the ascent of smoke forever does not suggest the continuance of consciousness forever (in fact, the ascent of smoke everywhere else is described only to show complete destruction, even in literal man-made disasters like the sack of Ai).

  3. Anthony says :

    As you noted, Augustine was huge in fixing the ‘traditional’ view of hell. Perhaps it is noteworthy that he wrote his ‘On the immortality of the soul’ *before his conversion* to Christianity. It is a series of 16 philosophical (neoplatonism) arguments for why the soul is naturally immortal. Sure, starting from that assumption, it makes a lot of sense how one would conclude a hell of never-ending torture. But the fact remains, in the preceding centuries a number of Church Fathers took differing positions–the mortality of the soul a popular one. Certainly, it seems like your decision to stick to the scriptures on this one seems like a wise one. Blessings in the journey.

  4. Jim Baker says :

    I just realized I never stated in that entire post where I come down on the issue of hell. The reason for that is because I genuinely don’t know. There are questions that I may never have the answer to in this lifetime regarding that topic. In which case the only thing that remains for me to ask myself is this: do I trust God, that He is good and that He knows what He is doing? The answer to that one is a resounding ‘Yes!”

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