Edward Fudge, author of The Fire That Consumes, joins RethinkingHell.com contributor Chris Date to discuss his story, the recent movie that tells it, and his latest and final book on the topic of final punishment, Hell: A Final Word. Read more about Episode 1: A Final Word With Edward Fudge …
On June 22, 2012, well-known and respected theologian and scholar D. A. Carson told his audience that, as far as he could see, in Scripture “there is no hint anywhere that people in hell genuinely repent.” ((Carson, D. A. “Home at last: The spectacular God at the center (Revelation 21-22).” http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/a/home_at_last_the_spectacular_god_at_the_center_revelation_21-22.)) As part of an exposition of Revelation chapters 21 and 22 he cited both Revelation 21:8 and Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 as evidence that “hell is not filled with people who are deeply sorry for their sins.” To the contrary, Carson said, it is “filled with people who for all eternity still shake their puny fists in the face of God Almighty, in an endless existence of evil.”
Although he didn’t include it as part of that presentation, in the past he has also pointed to Revelation 22:11 (“Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong”), writing of “the vileness they will live and practice throughout all eternity.” ((Carson, D. A. (2009). The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. (Zondervan, Kindle Edition) p. 533.)) He has also elsewhere suggested the possibility that this perpetual lack of repentance on the part of the wicked, and their ongoing sinfulness, is part of the ground and justification for their eternally ongoing punishing.
Carson’s view raises several questions. How legitimate is his application of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man? Will those consigned to final punishment fail to repent and continue to sin following their judgment and sentencing? Does the Bible indicate that they will go on sinning forever, implying that they have been raised immortal? Even if it does not, if they continue to sin after judgment at all, wouldn’t they accrue additional retributive debt, requiring further punishment, during which their continued rebellion would earn them still further punishment, and so on ad infinitum throughout eternity?
Annihilationism and the Resurrection of the Lost ((Adapted from The Bible Teaches Annihlationism by Joseph Dear))
Some have argued that if the lost will be destroyed, that is, if they are not subjected to eternal misery, then it would be pointless for God to resurrect them. Given the context of physicalism or possibly soul-sleep—which of course not all annihilationists hold to—Arthur W. Pink writes the following: “The absurdity and unscripturalness of Annihilationism are easily exposed. If at death, the sinner passes out of existence, why resurrect him in order to annihilate him again?” ((Pink, A. W. Eternal Punishment (1940), 13.)) Consider also what Sinclair B. Ferguson said while preaching at the Desiring God conference for Pastors in 1990. Assuming dualism and conscious punishment in the intermediate state, he argues that the resurrection of the unsaved prior to annihilation “must be viewed as some kind of cynical joke in the heart of this All-Righteous God, that he punishes men and women and then raises them from the dead simply to annihilate them out of all existence.” ((Ferguson, Sinclair B. “Universalism and the reality of eternal punishment: The biblical basis of the doctrine of eternal punishment.” Preached at the Desiring God Conference for Pastors, January 29, 1990.))
While conditionalism is true, we nevertheless know that there will be a resurrection of both saved and unsaved (Daniel 12.2; John 5.28-29), so then what is the response from conditionalists?
Hello everybody. I think I can say, like friend and fellow-contributor Chris Date, that it is indeed a tremendous honor for me to get to contribute to this website and this overall effort. I can only hope that when all is said and done I will have served you all well, and most importantly, that I will have served God well.
In my recent response to Matt Chandler’s otherwise praiseworthy The Explicit Gospel, I criticized what I believe to be several mistakes Chandler makes concerning final punishment. One of them, I argued, was that in citing Jesus’ words in Mark 9:48 Chandler fails to point out that the passage Jesus quotes “explicitly says that it is corpses whose ‘worm will not die’.” ((Date, C. (2012, July 15). “Explicit Mistakes: A Response to Matt Chandler.” Rethinking Hell [blog]. Retrieved 15 July 2012. http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/07/explicit-mistakes-a-response-to-matt-chandler/)) I made the claim that “The idiom communicates the shame of having one’s corpse unburied, and arguably the irresistible and complete consumption of those corpses by maggots.”
Many traditionalists, however, who do point out that the hosts of Isaiah’s undying worms were corpses, nevertheless insist that the imagery supports the traditional view of hell. Whether they believe maggots will literally feed upon the bodies of the wicked for eternity—albeit living, immortal bodies—or whether they believe the idiom symbolically points toward an eternity of conscious torment, either way it is argued that the text of Isaiah, quoted by Jesus, depicts ever-consuming worms which never die. The fire that isn’t quenched will be the subject of a future post here at Rethinking Hell; in the meantime, let us take a look at the gruesome idiom that is its parallel.
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I’ll confess that I really don’t know who Matt Chandler is. Perhaps I’m not as well read and plugged into evangelicalism as I should be. I also haven’t read any reviews of Chandler’s book, The Explicit Gospel, critical or otherwise, and so I don’t know what other people think of him. About a month ago my church began announcing that we would soon begin a series based on this book, and the descriptions of it on posters and flyers—although compelling and engaging to many, I’m sure—left me with no idea what the book was actually about. Designed to captivate and spark interest, the failure of the marketing campaign to communicate ultimately anything meaningful at all about the book left me a little worried that The Explicit Gospel would be theologically vapid.
But a friend of mine who knows me very well, having peeked at portions of the book, told me I was in for a pleasant surprise. He recalled that in the very first episode of my podcast I lamented the fact that seemingly few Christians are being taught to look forward to their bodily resurrection, instead placing their hope in an eternal, disembodied existence floating around on clouds playing harps. He told me I’d be excited to know that Chandler teaches the resurrection in his book, and my friend assured me that this was just one example of several meaty theological topics Chandler addresses.
Indeed I was a little excited. And since I was recently given the gift of a Kindle by my best friend, I decided to purchase the Kindle edition of The Explicit Gospel. I’m only one chapter into the book but I must say that I’m very impressed. Perhaps my praise is a little premature but so far I am blown away by Chandler’s ability to communicate deep and profound theology in potent yet accessible language likely to move the minds and emotions of a diverse audience. Unfortunately, however, curiosity having led me to search the book for the word “hell,” I discovered that Chandler makes some mistakes concerning final punishment.
I like Matt Slick, President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. I’ve called into his radio show several times and have even interviewed him on the topic of complementarianism. (For an egalitarian response to Matt, you can listen to my two-part interview with Dr. Philip Payne.) Generally Matt is smart and knowledgeable and I appreciate his ministry, but when it comes to the topic of final punishment he is not a sound thinker.
Approximately 31 minutes into the 26 June 2012 episode of CARM radio, a caller asked Matt about physicalism, ((Physicalism is a monistic view of man which denies the existence of an immaterial soul or spirit that lives on after death. To learn more, you can check out my interviews on the topic.)) which led to a conversation that also included conditionalism. In addition to his arguments against physicalism he offered an argument against annihilation as final punishment, wherein he labeled a man’s state prior to conception as A, ((Since a man does not exist prior to his conception, technically this is not a “state,” but to keep things simple I’ll use the term to refer even to the state of non-existence.)) his state after conception as B, and his state following annihilation as A again since it is allegedly identical to his state prior to conception, that of non-existence.
Matt concluded that since the first A state could not be called a punishment, neither can the second A state. So this might be called the “A, B, A” argument against conditionalism. Were I his teacher, I would give Matt an F.
I highly recommend Greg Koukl’s Stand to Reason ministry and radio program. Greg and I don’t agree on a number of theological issues, but I greatly respect and appreciate his passion for teaching Christians the importance of careful thinking. As he’s been known to say, “Emotions are what make life delicious, careful thinking is what makes life safe.” Unfortunately, however, as is certainly the case with every generally careful thinker, Greg thinks less carefully about some issues than he does others.
In a recent episode, Greg explained that he sees spiritual warfare not primarily as battle during a direct and immediate assault by the devil against the individual believer but as the tearing down of lofty ideas that hinder the message of Christ. “Many of those who identify themselves as genuine followers of Christ,” said Greg, “have been undermined in their ability to communicate the gospel because of other beliefs, theological beliefs, that take the wind out of the sails of the Great Commission, to put it simply.” ((Koukl, Greg. Stand to Reason, June 25th, 2012, 12:50)) Among other examples of such beliefs, Greg included annihilationism: ((Ibid., 19:09))
So the point here is, I see in, say the teaching of annihilationism…the hallmarks of spiritual warfare. That is, I see an idea now, that if taken seriously, takes the wind out of the sails of the Great Commission. It makes the gospel seem less important, or less urgent. Now who would have an interest in making the gospel less important or less urgent? Not Jesus. The devil. When I notice a doctrine coming in from the side that doesn’t seem to be consistent with classical Christian teaching and which doctrine seems to have the impact of taking some of the force out of the Great Commission, I immediately know that this is an example of spiritual warfare, and I need to resist it.
Annihilationism is false, then, according to Koukl, because it makes the gospel less important, less urgent, thus taking the “wind out of the sails” of the Great Commission. Let us examine this claim, and see if it is a compelling reason to reject conditional immortality.
The nature of final punishment is a topic which falls under the theological category of eschatology, the study of last things. Also discussed as part of that category is the timing of the fulfillment of certain biblical prophecies, such as the coming of the Son of Man foretold by Jesus in his Olivet discourse, the nature and activity of the beast of Revelation, and so forth. Perhaps constituting the majority view of the church in America today, futurists believe that most of these prophecies will be fulfilled in our future; preterists like me, on the other hand, believe most of these prophecies—but not all of them ((I’m referring to what was historically termed preterism, which has in recent years been unfortunately called “partial” preterism. I am not a hyper- or “full” preterist. For more information, listen to Episode 3 of my friend Dee Dee Warren’s podcast or read her article, “Perfuming the Hog.”))—were fulfilled in our past, specifically in the first century surrounding the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in A.D. 70.
As I mentioned in a previous article, there’s a strong argument to be made in favor of conditionalism from the apocalyptic imagery of death and Hades in Revelation chapter 20. This argument carries force regardless of one’s eschatological position concerning the timing of prophetic events, and I will make that argument in the future here at Rethinking Hell. In the meantime, however, because of my interest in this particular eschatological persuasion, I want to reach out to my fellow preterists and make a bold, provocative and controversial statement: You can’t be a consistent preterist unless you’re also a conditionalist.