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Hell, theology

Debate Review: Al Mohler vs. Chris Date on “Should Christians Rethink Hell?”

IMG_0691

Not hell. But it is a pretty picture I took with a kind of intriguing/ominous path.

I want to preface this post by saying I am by no means an expert on the topic of hell. I’ve only read two books on the subject and listened to several lectures. I approach this as one who is still learning and seeking understanding. I hold to what would be called in this debate the “traditional” view of hell as opposed to a literalist view of hell. That is, I believe hell is a place (spiritual? physical?) that is eternal; but I am unconvinced that the fire references made in the Bible are to be taken literally (i.e. how are they literal flames and yet the place is in darkness? – seems to me to be metaphorical language).

I was very interested in listening to this debate between the traditional view, as espoused by prominent conservative theologian Al Mohler and the conditional view (that of annihilationism–those who are unsaved are annihilated at the judgment [typically–please correct me if I have misportrayed this) as put forward by Chris Date. Here, I’ll offer a brief summary of major statements in the debate, followed by my own analysis. Note that these are my summaries of what was said, not necessarily direct quotes. I welcome critique and comments. Let me know if you listened to the debate, and feel free to offer your own thoughts! The debate may be found here.

Summary

Justin Brierly asked Mohler to speak on what he thought about the biblical basis for conditionalism.

Mohler- Anyone who speaks on a doctrinal question sees their side as more biblical, and I find the evidence for conditionalism wanting. We must also present the picture of hell which is that which should be presented to others–we have to see what the biblical picture of hell is. The biblical “meta-narrative” points to dual everlasting destinies–eternal life in a New Heaven and New Earth–and also for eternal punishment. The unified consensus reading of Scripture for the history of Christianity has been the traditional position.

Date– Regarding Matthew 25, the question is not the duration of the punishment but the actual nature of the punishment. The context suggests that the wages of sin is death, physical death and not living any more. At judgment, the conditionalist holds that the second death will be just that–death. Moreover, the alleged consensus opinion on hell has not been completely on the side of traditionalism, and in the last few centuries conditionalism has gained support. [Outlines the biblical evidence for conditionalism while citing a huge number of texts.] The preponderance of Scripture points to conditionalism. The concept of eternal punishment is correct; the question is what the nature of this punishment is.

Mohler– The normal Christian reading of Matthew 25 has been eternal conscious torment, not destruction. The infinite wrath and infinite grace of God are each being experienced. To say that eternal punishment is not an eternal state but just something that endures until it is taken away does not seem to be what the text itself implies. Humans have a life beyond this life–not an inherent right to immortality of the soul but because of the image of God in humanity–we are made for eternal life.

Date– Saying that Christ purchased eternal salvation for us in Hebrews does not imply a continued state of Christ forever redeeming; it was an act in time with eternal consequences. Eternal life is something only experienced by the saved–the punishment is death and its effect lasts forever.

Mohler– It is difficult to square this view with the actual texts. Rather than appealing to a different passage in Hebrews, Date must explain the parallelism in Matthew 25 regarding the phrase eternal–does it mean two things in the same context?

Date– Eternal means forever in both cases–eternal life and death which lasts forever.

Mohler– Substituting death does not explain away the parallelism in the text. The Christian church has long understood that this passage means eternal torment.

Date– That’s why it’s called the traditional view!

Mohler– The traditional view does not rest on isolated texts of Scripture but on the church’s understanding of the weight of the texts as a whole. There is no indication in various depictions of hell in which there is an end to the torment as spoken.

Date– Mohler’s interpretation is incorrect; the Greek can be taken in different senses in the places he cites.

Mohler– These interpretations are based on arguing that when we look at a text, we have to say it doesn’t mean what it looks like it means.

Date– Many Christians held to a conditionalist view in historic Christianity. Moreover, we should not forget that we come to the text with presuppositions, and such giants of the church as Augustine who held to the traditional view had a Platonic view of the soul which influenced their interpretation of the Bible.

Mohler– There was development of the doctrine of hell. Regarding Augustine, if we argue that Augustine’s view was due to Platonism, we have to see that his entire picture of reality was Hellenized and so his view of other important doctrines like the deity of Christ is undermined.

Date– Nobody is claiming that everything found in the Platonic view or the Hellenistic view is wrong. Scripture is the authority, however, not the culture. The Platonic view specifically imported mistakes into the view of the soul and its indestructible nature according to that view.

Mohler– Jesus held to what we call the traditional view. However, Jewish thought at the same time didn’t have much developed thought regarding hell, which is largely a distinctively Christian view.

Date– Jesus’ language speaks of destruction and seemingly endorsed the view of annihilationism through his use of language of destruction and burning up.

Mohler– Gehenna does not point to Jesus endorsing an annihilationist view because the use of that term was a reference to continued endless fire, despite being a distinct historic view. …Jesus spoke more about eternal punishment and hell than about heaven. Our understanding of the Gospel is impacted by a different view of hell. The urgency of the Christian message is undermined by the conditionalist position because it effectively removes any urgency for conversion because the materialist already believes they will just cease existing.

Date– Atheists often reject Christianity because they see the traditional view as unjust, which means that a conditionalist view has greater apologetic value. Moreover, the Gospel can continue to be presented as either the gift of life or the punishment of death. Conditionalism does not undermine urgency of spreading the Good News.

Analysis

It was edifying to listen to both presenters on this program and get a better idea about the differing views related to hell within Christianity. The speakers were each respectful and gracious–something that should be the case!

Chris Date cogently argued for and defended his position against major objections. I think one of the most pressing issues for the conditionalist/annihilationist remains the notion that, on their view, there really is no major difference between the end of the unsaved and that which the materialist believes will happen. However, it should be noted this is less a biblical challenge than it is a philosophical/theological one. Date’s defense of the biblical capacity for conditionalism was challenging to my paradigm as I think he presented some passages which do possibly read more easily on his view than on the traditional view.

I do think, however, some of Date’s claims were a bit of a stretch. For example, his assertion that Jesus endorsed conditionalist teachers perhaps goes beyond the evidence we have. Moreover, his style of argument in some sections was problematic because he simply through a number of texts out (without quoting the text, simply citing the locations) without giving any sort of context. Of course, this latter issue is more due to the format than a defect of his position.

One of the biggest problems with Al Mohler’s defense of the traditional view is how much he appealed to, well, tradition. It seems to me like the traditional view has a solid scriptural basis, and to appeal to the notion that the church as a whole has largely leaned towards the traditional view is inadequate as a defense. Thus, it was his method which I think was greatly problematic. However, towards the end he got deeper into the issues and I think made some solid points, particularly in regards to whether Gehenna necessarily entails the conditional view and on the seeming parity of the unsaved on the conditional view vs. their own position. That said, I think a stronger focus on exegesis would have been more compelling rather than a continued appeal to traditional church teaching.

Overall, I came out of this debate feeling challenged to consider my own position. I also think the conditionalist view is not, as some assert, clearly unbiblical. If one wants to continue asserting that, I think they must deal very closely with the texts Date and others cite for their position. One can’t just cite a single proof text and say that other texts must be reinterpreted in light of a single text.

What are your thoughts? Please let me know in the comments.

Links

Should Christians Rethink Hell?– The link for the audio of the debate along with some related links from Premier Christian Radio.

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SDG.

——

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

24 thoughts on “Debate Review: Al Mohler vs. Chris Date on “Should Christians Rethink Hell?”

  1. This is a good review and summary of this debate highlighting some great points. Although I’m not dogmatic about it at all, I became a conditionalist several years ago and Date did a good job explaining the position. However, the traditional view can be defended much better than Mohler defended it, so I would encourage anyone not to commit a fallacy fallacy but to further study. Maybe Mohler took this too lightly and didn’t prepare?

    Posted by Larry | March 9, 2015, 6:59 AM
  2. I was rather impressed by Date’s presentation. I have tacitly held the traditional view, but, after this discussion I now am quite agnostic and more deeply appreciated the importance of this issue. I will queue this up in my list of topics to invest time into. In regards to Date’s comment about the apologetic value of conditionalism, I’ve experienced this to be true (although, with a sample size of 1). The Monday after I listened to this podcast, I was in conversation with an atheist who said hell is unjust; I briefly outlined the conditional view, mentioned that it is a live option within Christianity, and that was sufficient to defuse his objection.

    Posted by caplawson | March 9, 2015, 10:02 AM
  3. God wants us to think and will and act increasingly as he does (2 Cor 3:18, anyone?). That we are able is the best available interpretation of Is 55:6–9 (most people quote only vv8–9), and is made quite clear in Jn 15:12–15, Eph 5:17, and 1 Cor 2:11–16. So, when someone affirms eternal conscious torment, he/she is saying not only that God does this, but that doing so is good. By “is good“, I mean that it is the proper combination of just, merciful, and loving. I could use Calvinist-speak and say that God is maximally glorified by a huge chunk of forever-torture.

    One of my problems with eternal conscious torment is that it doesn’t seem to have a purpose, except as a tool of fear. If God were going to use fear anywhere, it would be in Deut 5–6. And yet, in 6:20–25, we see nothing like eternal conscious torment. If this is such an effective tool, why would God wait until the time of “perfect love drives out fear” in order to play the most fear-inducing card? It doesn’t make sense to me that God would do this.

    My suspicion is that certain kinds of social order need a hell. To keep people in-line, they need to be threatened with banishment to hell, where the doors will be shut from the side of the Acceptable and Righteous. Too bad that in Rev 21:22–27, the gates are never actually shut. (As to what is considered “unclean”, I point to Mt 23:25–28.) I also note that Jesus was executed by a “social order”. Something tells me that “hell” is very different from how many imagine it. See, it has to be consonant with the kind of use of power in e.g. Eph 1:18–20, Mt 20:20–28, and Jn 13:1–20.

    Posted by labreuer | March 9, 2015, 1:03 PM
  4. I appreciate your attitude toward this controversial subject.

    I accepted the traditional view of hell without question or examination until last Spring when I happened across The Fire That Consumes by Edward Fudge on YouTube. I was stunned that in just an hour he makes such a strong historical and biblical case for conditionalism. I’ve yet to find anyone who addresses his argument point by point (I’m still looking), but I have found the conditionalist view repeatedly described as an emotional rejection of eternal conscious torment.

    One thing that struck me in the debate is that Al Mohler accuses Chris Date of importing the concept of death into the term eternal punishment in Matthew 25:46, yet he seems oblivious to traditionalists importing the concept of eternal conscious torment into the terms like perish (John 3:16), death (Romans 6:23), and destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

    Thank you for encouraging others to look at the issue in light of scripture. If anyone wants a crash course on the pertinent passages, just Google “The Case for Conditionalism by Ken Bussell.” He goes through the entire Bible at a pace that makes it easy to take notes for future study.

    Posted by melaniefyock | March 9, 2015, 9:45 PM
  5. Thanks for the thoughtful review of the debate, J.W. Preston Sprinkle recently blogged on the topic (4 posts: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/theologyintheraw/2015/02/is-annihilation-an-evangelical-option/)

    On the references to punishing fire, there are perhaps hundreds to consider. I read Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes a few years ago, and have continued to delve deeper into the study. At present, I would offer that the best way to understand them is via the cosmic temple motif which culminates in Rev 21,22 when the dwelling place of God is with man and His Shekinah glory is their light, filling the whole Earth. Before then, the destructive “consuming fire” energies emerging from His powerful presence (including at the Parousia, 2 Thess 1:7), especially in the conflagration on “the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Peter 3). Isaiah 33:14 emerges as a surprisingly helpful controlling text, where sinners in the eschatological city know they cannot dwell in the consuming fire and everlasting burnings of the Lord’s presence. His fire is eternal fire; everlasting at its source, but not necessarily so when it is sent forth or rains down (as at Sodom; Jude 7). Isaiah 66 is about the Lord coming to tabernacle in the world, his footstool, not in a temple made from hands, but with people of a contrite heart, who will see His glory. And so on.

    Posted by petergrice | March 11, 2015, 9:31 AM
    • Thanks for the link and the thoughtful comment. The linking of fire to the “cosmic temple” theme is interesting, though I wonder exactly how far we might take that metaphor in order to explain other texts. Your comment is thought-provoking! Thanks.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 12, 2015, 6:35 PM
  6. Greetings J.W. Thanks for the thoughtful, balanced comments. As a Conditionalist I appreciate that. You wrote,

    “I think one of the most pressing issues for the conditionalist/annihilationist remains the notion that, on their view, there really is no major difference between the end of the unsaved and that which the materialist believes will happen.”

    Aside from the obvious difference that the dead will be raised to face God’s judgment prior to his actually executing it, I can agree that the expected “end” is the same. However, I’m not sure why this should be a pressing issue for the Conditionalist, unless someone wants to first assume the Traditionalist view, but that is exactly the matter under discussion, isn’t it? Built into your thought, above, seems to be the idea that the Traditional view purports to include a much worse fate for the unbeliever to face than does annihilationism, and I wouldn’t disagree, but an argument such as what you allude to involves circular reasoning, and the question isn’t which is worse (or more fearful)–eternal conscious torment or annihilation–but what does the Bible teach? This question is often raised in relation to the effect that one view or the other will have on the unbeliever, but our goal should not be to promote the view that we think will make for more effective evangelism, but that which most closely aligns to that of Scripture.

    Another (as I see it) built in assumption in the quote above (perhaps, in part, due to the belligerent nature of many of the new atheists and other non-believers) is that the materialist does not fear death. But this, I think, neither the Scriptures nor our own experience will allow us to maintain, if we would but take a moment to reflect upon it .

    I hope my comments might help you to resolve any perceived difficulty that you think weakens the case for Conditionalism in this area. I pray that God will continue to be gracious to all of us as we endeavor to know him more and to explore the things of the kingdom of God. Blessings to you along the way…

    Posted by John Johnson | March 12, 2015, 7:25 AM
    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, John! I think that an argument like the one given regarding the pragmatic status of annihilation/eternal punishment is perhaps more weighty than you think. First, I’m not sure how it can be a “circular” argument. The argument could be simply sketched:

      1) If there is more urgency for salvation on one position than another, then the position with more urgency is to be preferred.
      2) Eternal punishment has more urgency than conditionalism.
      3) Therefore, eternal punishment is to be preferred.

      This argument is not circular in the slightest and I’m not sure why anyone would think it is. Must caveats be involved? Of course. For example, premise 1 demands an addendum of “everything else being equal”; it remains to be seen whether urgency actually is a good reason to select a position, etc. But the argument itself is not circular. It is [logically] valid.

      Second, the reason the argument is beneficial is because of that “everything else being equal” add-on. Suppose for the moment that we have a Scriptural stalemate between conditionalism and eternal punishment. In that case, an argument like this can be the deciding factor for why to choose one over the other. Now I’ll grant that I doubt anyone on either side sees it as a complete 50/50 proposition, but this argument can surely be part of a broader argument for the eternal punishment position. Yes, we ought to promote that view which most closely aligns with Scripture, but if we think there is some ambiguity there, it is perfectly reasonable to consider philosophical or theological or even pragmatic arguments.

      Of course, then the conditionalist could counter with the apologetic value of conditionalism as a pragmatic argument, and the debate can continue. My point is merely that one cannot dismiss an argument like this because it is both logically valid and can be part of a broader argument.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 12, 2015, 6:42 PM
      • The argument is valid. The problem is that it makes an appeal to a bizarre preference heuristic that most of us would reject. Generally, our preference heuristic is focused on veracity, not motivation. “The damnation of a person cancels any salvations of their direct family” could be an amazing motivator but is “preferred” to “non-contagious damnation” only by the above bizarre heuristic.

        So, it’s not properly circular logic, but it begs a different (very) disputed question.

        Posted by stanrock | March 12, 2015, 7:10 PM
      • It seems your response actually begs the question because it compares eternal punishment in this argument to the notion of co-damnation with family. Are they relevantly analogous? Not in the way the argument I presented demands, which would include scriptural warrant. Thus, unless you’re prepared to either muster up evidence for co-damnation or argue that eternal punishment has no biblical basis whatsoever, I don’t think this analogy has much weight.

        Moreover, we do allow for pragmatic type arguments all the time. Indeed, it’s the kind of argument by which we most often make our decisions. But this is a whole different path to trod.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 12, 2015, 7:14 PM
      • The argument didn’t demand any Scriptural warrant. It was valid while lacking any heuristic of Scriptural warrant at all. As defined in premise #1, your heuristic ONLY entailed pragmatism.

        Pragmatism is fine as part of a heuristic, but it’s usually always considered subordinate to things like veracity. Needless to say, the argument above becomes a non sequitur (the conclusion drops off) if the heuristic is “Veracity first, pragmatism second.” You’d need to add another premise, “Eternal punishment has more probable veracity,” to get your conclusion back under such a heuristic.

        A similar thing happens if the heuristic includes Scriptural warrant, e.g., “Scriptural support first, pragmatism second.” The conclusion would drop away unless and until you established the truth of the premise that endless hell had the best Scriptural support.

        Posted by stanrock | March 12, 2015, 7:21 PM
      • Well I did explicitly note that some caveats were needed, including “everything else being equal.” That should not be ignored. I’d assume that biblical warrant would be a highly relevant aspect of “everything else being equal.” Hence the reason I’d say this counter-example doesn’t work.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 12, 2015, 7:23 PM
      • Ack! My apologies, J. W. I read that paragraph but then forgot about it before my second reply. You’re indeed correct that the “everything else being equal” paragraph already addressed the point. I concede.

        Posted by stanrock | March 12, 2015, 7:35 PM
  7. Mohler just repeated the parallelism in Matt 25 after Date answered it, with no seeming attempt to understand or address Date’s answer. As far as I can see this passage has been the main argument for the traditional view, dating back to church fathers, and is the go to response when other arguments for eternal torment fall apart. But Matthew 25 gives us contrast too, life vs death, as well as the parallel of eternal. The implication of consciousness in the phrase ‘eternal life’ comes from the word ‘life’ not the ‘eternal’ part. Eternal life can be eternally conscious without any implication of eternal death having to be conscious too.

    Posted by dconneely2012 | March 12, 2015, 11:28 AM
    • Thanks for pointing out this distinction. I admit it seems at least a little bit like an atomistic approach to split up the phrase “eternal life” in order to try to argue that consciousness must supervene upon one part of the phrase and not the other. However, it is also an intriguing argument and one I should consider. Thank you.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 12, 2015, 6:47 PM
      • You’re right that it is atomistic to argue that ‘eternal life’ should be understood as noun and adjective (rather than as a phrase referring to a certain quality of life); but when Mohler argued that the word ‘eternal’ should be understood as ‘everlasting’ in parallel on both sides, he made precisely that atomic argument and can therefore be held to it for the sake of consistency.

        One cannot consistently both insist that ‘eternal x’ means ‘x that lasts forever’, and then complain that ‘eternal life’ in the same context should be understood as a phrasal unit meaning precisely ‘to know the only true God and Jesus’.

        Posted by Wm Tanksley | March 13, 2015, 1:47 PM
  8. I had a very productive/charitable chat with Chris Date earlier this year (I’m a purgatorial universalist). It’s funny, because his complaint against purgatorial universalism was similar to your complaint of Chris’s case for annihilationism: He found it too predicated on philosophical arguments and not enough Scripture.

    You said, “That said, I think a stronger focus on exegesis would have been more compelling rather than a continued appeal to traditional church teaching.”

    I’ll tell you the problem with this — and it’s a problem that became very obvious after Chris and I conversed:

    The problem is that there is no purely exegetical answer without philosophical “glue” or “fuel” helping us draw final conclusive inferences.

    Take a look at the following chart:

    There are two important things to note about the chart.

    First, three of the views (annihilationism, endless hell, and purgatorial hell) had representation in the early mainline church, even from canonized saints. Further, the advocates all used similar language (“kolasin aionion,” “pyr to aionion”), that is, Biblical language. The only “hell clues” we have come from the 2nd century, and each “team” therein had absolutely no problem with, nor problems with employing, the raw text of Scripture to support their eschatology.

    Second, there’s no “objective heuristic” that tells us how to interpret Gr. apoleia and Gr. aion/aionios/aionion in any given verse.

    As such, “pure exegesis” is a dead end, because our search for the nature of hell is like this:

    Now, this doesn’t mean that our conclusions rest on “mere musing” or “wishful thinking.” It just means that we must allow the philosophical “glue” of logic to “adopt” verses that aren’t strictly eschatological into our eschatological conversation.

    The two MOST IMPORTANT kinds of verses we must “adopt” in this way are:

    (1) How the Bible defines God’s justice and what it means to be a perversion thereof.

    (2) God’s characteristics, stated good pleasure, and promises to make that good pleasure, eventually, perfectly manifest.

    Finally, it drives me absolutely bonkers that folks keep thinking that the parallelism of Matthew 25:46 adds any exegetical information. This is an ancient, unsound argument in the debate over hell’s nature. It is NOT logically valid. Proof:

    https://stanrock.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/an-ancient-unsound-argument-in-the-hells-duration-debate/

    Posted by stanrock | March 12, 2015, 1:37 PM
    • “Second, there’s no “objective heuristic” that tells us how to interpret Gr. apoleia and Gr. aion/aionios/aionion in any given verse. As such, “pure exegesis” is a dead end…”

      I’m not sure I agree that conditional immortality rests primarily on word arguments and makes recourse to philosophy. The concepts are also there in alternative language which would not be disputed. I make my study thoroughgoing and avoid philosophy out of personal preference. Inference is sometimes unavoidable, but one runs with conventions and rejects habitual clambering for loopholes as if the frames of theory and possibility override the mode of clear communication. The debate is a perfect occasion for the discipline of sound hermeneutics.

      Posted by petergrice | March 12, 2015, 7:41 PM
      • I just haven’t been convinced that there is a “pure” way out. Paul writes that Christ has and will destroy death itself. John writes that Hades/Sheol/Grave will be emptied and that death itself will be thrown into the lake of fire. How are we supposed to interpret those things? How are those consonant with the idea of obliteration for some/most? When God says “As surely as I live, I would rather have the wicked repent than to die” in Ezekiel, and “As surely as I live, every knee will bow and every tongue will fully confess to God at judgment” in Romans, how are we to take such statements? How far should we extend them?

        These questions have no answer without conjecture-referents.

        Posted by stanrock | March 13, 2015, 1:07 AM
  9. Have you considered whether eschatological destruction with fire is antithetical to the promise to Noah, which wasn’t really so much destruction with water, but destruction with chaos?

    Posted by labreuer | March 12, 2015, 6:38 PM
    • Not really, but then I’m not convinced that there is a complete destruction of the universe with fire. Are you arguing against the conditionalist position by saying that destruction with fire is against the promise to Noah? I’m not sure I’m following the logic.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 12, 2015, 6:49 PM
  10. I was quite disappointed by Dr Mohler’s performance in the discussion. Many have pointed out to his continual punt to the consensus of opinion throughout church history, which is significant but not sufficient. There were many things Chris said that weren’t countered well or at all.

    Firstly, I don’t think Chris’s view of death and life was challenged well enough. The fact is that the unregenerate are dead now (Ephesians 2:1-3) and so death does not mean cessation of existence. It means they are “alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:18), and similarly, eternal life is not merely eternal existence, it is the life of God that is communicated at the new birth.

    Secondly, Chris said that Christ’s death in our place points to annihilation, and this passed without comment or come back. The thing is He died for our sins *according to the scriptures,* and key to the early Christians’ understanding of the cross was Isaiah 53 which speaks about His conscious suffering for our sins. If then conscious suffering is a righteous retribution for sin (as many scriptures affirm, e.g. Rom.2:8) then there is no way a finite, sinful creature could ever satisfy an infinitely holy God in that regard and bring it to an end. Christ could, and thus He could actually die for our sins – He could bring the whole thing to an end. Furthermore, when He died He went to Paradise (Luke 23:43), He never went out of existence. So if annihilation is what sin deserves then we have no substitutionary atonement, Christ never took what sinners deserve.

    Thirdly, Chris said Luke 16:19-31 had no relevance to the subject because it dealt only with the intermediate state, but it is very relevant because the Bible repeatedly uses the same language to refer to the conditions of the eternal state as it does in reference to the intermediate state. Thus if the intermediate state is torment then the eternal state is more of the same. Peter says that God holds the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment (2 Peter 2:9). Why would God hold an unbeliever in a condition of conscious torment if that is not what that unbeliever actually deserves? This is one reason why many annihilationists deny consciousness in the intermediate state, (I think Chris has moved to this position).

    Posted by Paul, Belfast | March 23, 2015, 4:49 AM
  11. As a conditionalist I affirm the sense in which unbelievers are now dead, and I know that Chris does too. It’s an import part of my understanding, and is most explicitly referenced by Jesus himself in John 5:26. What you’re proposing, though, even if you might be reluctant to say so, is that the “life of God” is happiness (“felicity” was the old term at this point), or life close to God, or some such. We agree (so you have a false dichotomy), but offer that eternal life is not only qualitative, but quantitative as well. God really does grant and sustain life itself, and not only a blessed life. That’s why it’s eternal for the saved, and not temporary. It is eternal, and glorious, and honorable. That’s why those who seek glory, honor and immortality will be given eternal life (Rom 2:7). The implication of traditionalism is that the unsaved have eternal life too. Sure, it’s miserable, but they really do live forever. Jesus did much more than experience a miserable life for a while on the cross—he died—and by conquering he “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10).

    In John 5:21, where Jesus talks about this life that he brings to light (which according to Paul on several occasions is closely connected to immortality), he directly compares it to the life that the Father gives when he raises the dead.

    The Christian hope is to be raised from the dead in the manner that Christ was: victoriously, forever!

    “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. …We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” (Romans 6:5,9)

    Again it is not merely a blissful quality of life, but something ontological, the “life of God” which God has “in himself” and which Christ has “in himself” and which is imparted to believers via the transformation which takes places by the indwelling Holy Spirit as we are born anew from above.

    Posted by Peter Grice | August 30, 2015, 6:04 AM
  12. Thanks for posting this. I think robust debate on this topic is well overdue, and I also think hell is an apologetic concern and so should be something Christians are thinking about.

    I grew up believing, as most traditionalists do, that it’s absolutely absurd to believe anything different about hell. However, I have since had to admit that the traditional position is tenuous, and the conditionalist position is much stronger than I had ever thought it could be. If one were to agree with that, then that would be a great step forward in the discourse.

    For me, I have been very persuaded by the likes of Glenn Peoples, who have an articulate defence of this theology. I guess you could say I lean more towards the conditionalist side than the traditionalist side now. But I’m not entirely convinced either. All I can say with certainty is what I said before:

    The traditionalist perspective is tenuous, and the conditionalist perspective is much stronger than I had ever thought it could be.

    Posted by Andy | October 19, 2015, 8:27 PM

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