Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked (Part 2)

Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked (Part 2)

In a recent article, guest contributor Terrance Tiessen, Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, explained that after being convinced of conditional immortality he nevertheless thought for a while “that neither traditionalism nor annihilationism gains an apologetic advantage from the doctrine of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement” because “Jesus neither suffered endlessly nor was annihilated.” ((Terrance Tiessen, “What did Jesus suffer ‘for us and for our salvation’?” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted July 17, 2016, http://rethinkinghell.com/2016/07/what-did-jesus-suffer-for-us-and-for-our-salvation/ (accessed July 17, 2016).)) Upon further reflection, however, Tiessen has come to conclude that “Since the penalty for sin is death, what Jesus suffered as our sin bearer was death,” while “the unrepentant wicked, who must pay the penalty for their own sin, necessarily die the ‘second death.'” He concludes, therefore, that “penal substitutionary atonement accords much better with conditionalism than it does with endless conscious torment.” ((Ibid.))

Tiessen echoes my own sentiments, captured in the conclusion to my 2012 article “Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked.” “Traditionalists say that Jesus died for our sins,” I wrote, “but what they mean is that he suffered pain leading up to his death . . . And because traditionalists don’t believe the bodies of the risen wicked will ever die, their view of eternal punishment is at the very least considerably more unlike the substitutionary death of Christ than [that of conditionalists].” ((Chris Date, “Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted August 12, 2012, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/08/cross-purposes-atonement-death-and-the-fate-of-the-wicked/ (accessed July 17, 2016).))

However, I also noted the existence of “the reverse challenge from traditionalists who insist that conditionalism must be false because either Christ wasn’t annihilated or because of conditionalism’s allegedly heretical Christological implications,” and I said we at Rethinking Hell would address the challenge in the future. ((Ibid.)) It is to this challenge that I turn now, if belatedly. Read more about Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked (Part 2)

A Response to Four Views on Hell, Pt. 2 (John Stackhouse on Terminal Punishment)

A Response to Four Views on Hell, Pt. 2 (John Stackhouse on Terminal Punishment)

John Stackhouse has been a faithful friend to Rethinking Hell. He has appeared on our podcast twice (Episode 3, and Episode 86). He wrote the foreward to the first Rethinking Hell book, Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism (Eugene: Cascade, 2014), and was a plenary speaker at the first Rethinking Hell conference in 2014 (that address was printed in our second book, A Consuming Passion: Essays in Honor of Edward Fudge. Eugene: Pickwick, 2015.). So Rethinking Hell contributors were pleased to hear he had been tapped on the shoulder to contribute to the second edition of Four Views on Hell.

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What I would have to deny in order to teach eternal torment

What I would have to deny in order to teach eternal torment

For some people, the concept of hell as a state of eternal torment is so central to their faith and their portrait of God that giving it up would mean giving up the faith altogether: giving up the authority of Jesus; giving up, in principle, the authority of Scripture; discarding the testimony of the church; and ultimately denying the gospel. This is the stance Tim Challies takes, somberly telling his readers that “If I am going to give up hell, I am going to give up the gospel and replace it with a new one.” Of course, by “hell,” he means eternal torment, not the biblical picture of final judgement and the loss of life and being forever.

Setting aside more popularist visions of hell like that of Challies and turning to the biblical account of life, death, judgment, and eternity, we could ask a similar question: If we were to give up the biblical position of immortality and eternal life found in Christ alone and to instead embrace the doctrine of eternal torment, what would we have to give up? What would be the cost of embracing the traditional view instead of the biblical one?

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Hell and the Logical Implications of One’s Arguments (Part 2)

Hell and the Logical Implications of One’s Arguments (Part 2)

Previously, when we looked at the importance of considering the logical implications of one’s arguments, we looked at a failed attempt to use physical laws to prove that all men live forever (in the way everyone means “live” except when talking about hell). ((See Part 1.)) Here, we will be looking at two more examples of arguments that fail when the logical implications are considered.

Immortality Through Creation In The Image of God

The fact that men are made in the image of God comes up in discussions on the nature of hell. This involves a number of ideas, but in no case does it succeed in demonstrating the eternal conscious existence of all people.
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Don’t Be Afraid to Rethink Hell: Why Other Beliefs Needn’t Get In Your Way

Don’t Be Afraid to Rethink Hell: Why Other Beliefs Needn’t Get In Your Way

Are you hesitant to really reconsider your view of hell because you think it means you’ll have to adopt other beliefs, beliefs you may not think are biblical? Concerned that rethinking hell will require you to abandon other key doctrines that you believe are biblical? Well, if this describes you, then know that you have nothing to worry about.

Evangelical conditionalist theologians run the gamut of beliefs on other issues within the realm of Christian theology. But how can this be? Shouldn’t we all think the same about everything since we share a belief about this one issue?

Obviously, that is a silly question. You wouldn’t assume that all your premillennialist friends share the same view regarding baptism. The two views aren’t logically connected. ((This isn’t to deny that in practice, some collections of doctrines tend to be held together. But my point is not to deny that there is ever a connection between doctrines, but just to point out such connections are not logically necessary. And there are always exceptions to these tendencies as well. Dispensationalists, for example, tend to lean Arminian and charismatic, but John MacArthur is an outspoken Calvinist and cessasionist.)) You wouldn’t assume that all Calvinists hold the same view of how to interpret Genesis 1 for that same reason. Yet for some reason, this comes up with annihilationism. But there is no logical reason for it. There is no reason why one’s belief about hell would affect their view of baptism, for example. Why would it? Likewise, you can reconsider your view on hell and still keep all kinds of views on other topics. ((Of course, as you study the scripture more on this topic, you may reconsider other things because you have a better grasp of scripture than you did before. But that said, if you change your mind because you realize your former view on a different topic was unbiblical, how would that be anything but a positive change?))

Believe what is biblical: if our view on hell is biblical, and your view on another topic is biblical, then there is no reason why you can’t hold to both.

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Why The Modern Version of the Eternal Torment Doctrine Falls Short

Why The Modern Version of the Eternal Torment Doctrine Falls Short

One common view among traditionalists today, including among some of the biggest names in evangelical Christianity, is that hell is a place of eternal conscious punishment, but not a place of literal fire. Such a view was represented by William Crockett in Four Views on Hell, where it was referred to as the “metaphorical view.” ((William Crockett. “Chapter Two: The Metaphorical View,” Four Views on Hell. Ed. William Crockett and Stanley Gundry (Zondervan, 1996), 43-76.)) We will be using the description “the metaphorical view” throughout this article. ((adapted from Joseph Dear. The Bible Teaches Annihilationism (n.d.), Section XLIV, found at 3-Ring Binder, n.d., http://3-ringbinder.weebly.com/uploads/1/9/1/0/1910989/the_bible_teaches_annihilationism.pdf (accessed on December 1, 2013).))

Now, not everyone holds this view, and so my primary point may not apply to your view of hell. That said, you may still get something out of it if you do choose to read on, and so I certainly invite you to do so.

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Whatever death means, it supports conditionalism

Whatever death means, it supports conditionalism

One of the central descriptions of the fate of the unsaved in the Bible is death, contrasted with life for the saved. We see this for example in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” James 5:20 speaks of saving a sinner’s soul from death. Death there is not only the general fate of the lost but of their souls; that is, the very soul of the lost will die! John warns three times in Revelation of the “second death” (2:11; 20:14; 21:8). Many passages that don’t mention death per se nonetheless make the point by emphasizing the fate of the saved in contrast to the wicked—which is life. ((For example, Matthew 7:14, John 3:16; Galatians 6:8.)) Whatever is meant by death—and its opposite, life—it must have been pretty important to get across. So what does the Bible mean when it talks about the ultimate fate of the unsaved being death? ((Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture comes from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV). Copyright 2000 by Crossway Bibles.)) Read more about Whatever death means, it supports conditionalism

Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked

Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked

Conditionalists believe that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23; emphasis added). Those who do not believe in him will not have eternal life, and will instead perish (John 3:16). After rising from their first death to be judged, they will be sentenced to the second death (Revelation 20:14). Traditionalists, on the other hand, say the body that rises “dies not again,” ((Gill, J. A Body of Doctrinal Divinity: Or a System of Evangelical Truths (The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., 2001), 679.)) confessing that “the evil ones … shall be made immortal” (emphasis added). ((The Belgic Confession, Article 37. http://www.reformed.org/documents/BelgicConfession.html)) Their language is unambiguous: “Every human being ever born lives forever;” ((MacArthur, J. “The Answer to Life’s Greatest Question, Part 1.” http://www.gty.org/resources/print/sermons/42-141)) “everybody lives forever;” ((Koukl, G. (Host). (2011, June 5). “Christopher Morgan on Hell and Inclusivism.” Stand to Reason [radio]. 1:09:25. http://www.strcast2.org/podcast/weekly/060511.mp3.)) the unsaved “will continue living in a state with a low quality of life.” ((Habermas, G. and Moreland, J.P. Immortality: The Other Side of Death (Thomas Nelson, 1992), 173.))

Adherents to both views argue that the punishment Jesus Christ bore on the cross, in place of those who believe in him, poses a real challenge to their opponents’ doctrine. Conditionalists point out that Jesus was indeed executed, not eternally tormented. Traditionalists, however, point out Christ wasn’t annihilated, that he did not cease to exist.

Leon Morris writes, “The atonement is the crucial doctrine of the faith. Unless we are right here it matters little, or so it seems to me, what we are like elsewhere.” ((Morris, L. The Cross in the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1999), 5.)) If one’s view of final punishment logically leads to an unbiblical understanding of the atonement, it must be rejected. Contrary to the claims of traditionalists, it is often they, not conditionalists, whose eschatology clashes with what the Bible reveals about the cross. Read more about Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked