Conditional Immortality—An Acceptable View?

Conditional Immortality—An Acceptable View?

What does Conditional Immortality affirm and deny?

As a doctrinal position, conditional immortality explicitly affirms that immortality is a gift from God given only to the saved (1 Tim 6:16; Rom 2:7; 2 Tim 1:10; 1 Cor 15:54). Immortality means living forever (literally, deathlessness).

It also implicitly rejects universal immortality, the view that all people are or will be immortal. Since this is a tenet of both eternal torment and universal salvation, conditionalism necessarily denies those two positions. ((Conditionalism therefore also rejects universal salvation’s stipulation of a universally-met condition for immortality.))

Conditionalism is described in terms of “eternal life” for the saved, and “eternal punishment” for the unsaved (Matt 25:46). Punishment here consists of an “eternal judgment” of death instead of life, requiring an “eternal destruction” of “body and soul” (Heb 6:2; 2 Thess 1:9 cf. Matt 10:28).

This aspect of conditionalism can be called annihilation. Whereas the concept of death speaks of a forfeit of life (without specifying whether this will be temporary or permanent), annihilation speaks of a death that is permanent. Since God is the source of life (Acts 17:25; Heb 1:3; Rev 2:7 cf. Gen 3:22), this may be understood in terms of a consequence of eternal separation or severance from God.

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No True (Evangelical) Scotsman?—Denny Burk and National Geographic on the Rise of Conditionalism

No True (Evangelical) Scotsman?—Denny Burk and National Geographic on the Rise of Conditionalism

Recently, National Geographic interviewed Chris Date and Preston Sprinkle in preparation for this article on the rise of evangelical conditionalism, which is somewhat reminiscent of the 2014 article in the New York Times, documenting the same phenomenon (on that occasion, Chris Date, Edward Fudge, and John G. Stackhouse, Jr. were interviewed). While the article has its flaws, and the title (“The Campaign to Eliminate Hell”) is sensationalist and just plain inaccurate, overall NatGeo is to be commended for a willingness to report on this topic in a balanced way. Both articles serve to instruct Christians on the curiosity of many in the secular world, not only about the topic of hell, but also the prospect of reform, which is deemed newsworthy.

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“Hell Triangle”—Christian Views of Final Punishment

“Hell Triangle”—Christian Views of Final Punishment

Rethinking Hell’s classic “Hell Triangle” chart has been revised and updated, and made available in a variety of formats, for printing and including in blogs and presentations.

You may freely use the images below under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means that you can use the diagram in any way, so long as appropriate attribution is included, and so long as you don’t change the image or use it to make your own version. Read more about “Hell Triangle”—Christian Views of Final Punishment

“Conditional Immortality”—What it means and why it’s the best label (Part 3)

“Conditional Immortality”—What it means and why it’s the best label (Part 3)

In Part 1 of this series, I clarified what we mean in calling our view “conditional immortality.” In Part 2, a doctrine of proto-conditionalism was identified and elucidated, providing important historical context. Now in Part 3, I’ll complete the overall justification of our chosen label, giving due attention to convention, and also further explain our view and its relevance today.

As we’ve now seen, in the plainest terms immortality means “will live forever” and conditional means “subject to a condition.” Narrowly expressed, that’s primarily what we mean by the words conditional immortality. There is more involved theologically, but at the level of words, it remains for us to appreciate the secondary sense of conditional that we are also invoking.

A second sense of conditional, denying universal and absolute

In theological labeling convention, conditional is a technical term implying that conditions will not be universally met (i.e. rendered absolute). The reason for this is that it’s not merely the fact of a condition that is in view, but rather the interesting question of scope. If you wanted to announce a universal scope, you would call your position universal or unconditional. If you wanted to refer to a limited, nonuniversal scope, you would refer instead to “conditional” matters. In this sense, something can’t be both universal and conditional.

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“Conditional Immortality”—What it means and why it’s the best label (Part 2)

“Conditional Immortality”—What it means and why it’s the best label (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series, I clarified what we mean in calling our view “conditional immortality.” Now, in Part 2, we will continue with some important historical background. In Part 3, I’ll complete the overall justification of our chosen label with due attention to convention and further explain our view and its relevance today. If you prefer, you can read the entire article as a whole.

What “conditional immortality” meant before it was cool

Did you know that the Christian church has always held to conditional immortality? Well, not necessarily in a way that implies annihilation, but perhaps more consistent with today’s usage than you might expect.

For purposes of testing that claim, let us suppose that, at base, the term conditional immortality refers to the idea that humanity was not created mortal or immortal per se, but rather conditionally immortal or conditionally mortal, depending on emphasis.

More fully expressed, this would mean humans are mortal yet capable of immortality (after meeting qualifying conditions), or alternatively, immortal yet capable of mortality (after meeting disqualifying conditions).

Writing in the late second century, Theophilus of Antioch spoke this way explicitly:

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“Conditional Immortality”—What it means and why it’s the best label (Part 1)

“Conditional Immortality”—What it means and why it’s the best label (Part 1)

Alas! The hell debate has a terminology problem. First, traditionalism is nondescript and sometimes considered pejorative. It’s also not quite accurate: there were several traditions in early Christendom, with eternal torment dominating in the Western church from around the fourth century. Next, universalism can refer to the inclusivist outlook on world religions, which evangelical universalists typically deny in favor of an eternal opportunity to respond to the gospel. Finally, conditionalism (short for Conditional Immortality) is sometimes reduced to a view about the mechanics of human mortality/immortality instead of pertaining to ultimate destinies in the context of eschatology.

The addition of “eternal torment” and “ultimate reconciliation” to our deck of terms helps us compensate for some shortcomings. However, despite many proposals, no viable alternative has emerged that is simultaneously strong and consistent across all three positions. It seems that these terms are here to stay, for better or worse, as well-established shorthand labels. Read more about “Conditional Immortality”—What it means and why it’s the best label (Part 1)

Did Jesus preach hell more than heaven?

Did Jesus preach hell more than heaven?

Before Rethinking Hell was forged—which is now more than two years ago—our own Dr. Glenn Peoples had already been writing and speaking on this topic for a number of years. With surprising frequency these days, one hears from those who credit Glenn with having been instrumental in their journey toward conditionalism. As a matter of fact, this includes a number of others on our team.

One of the many perks for those attending the Rethinking Hell 2014 Conference will be the opportunity to meet and hear from Glenn in person. If you were thinking of joining us in Houston on July 11-12 but haven’t yet secured your registration, don’t leave it too late!
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Why “Rethinking Hell”?

Why “Rethinking Hell”?

For many of us the great symbol of deep contemplation is Auguste Rodin’s statue of The Thinker. He wanders restlessly through our culture seeking subjects worthy of his furrowed brow. I imagine he is regularly disappointed.

We keep him around in contexts as diverse as libraries and car dashboards for one simple reason: thinking is still a virtue. Or at least it can be, if the subject is worthy. That’s important, because when a culture stops thinking about noble things bad stuff can happen, like the horrors of biochemical warfare — and inflatable kitsch.

Originally, Rodin cast our bronze hero for the penetration of one mystery only. One worthy subject; one terrible theme.

Hell.

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