One of the moral challenges to the Christian viewpoint entails the fate of those who have never heard the gospel, a.k.a ‘the unreached,’ and whether or not they are damned. Naturally, there are ‘biblical’ Christians on both sides of this non-essential, but important doctrine – some think that the Unreached will somehow be saved, while the majority view is that without Christ, they are lost. How we answer this question flows from our view of God, our view of what is loving AND just, and our soteriology.
But for the sake of argument, if you believe that those who have never heard quite probably are going to face judgement and eternal punishment for their sins, how can you call God just? Isn’t it unfair that some people have had a chance to hear the gospel, and others have not? The real accusation is this – is it just for God’s mercy to be inequitably distributed – that is, some people hear of God’s mercy, and some do not. Is that fair?
Below, I explore this theme, but I want to suggest a theodicy that defends the idea that God is just in condemning those who have never heard, and that they have in some sense received the gospel and some measure of mercy, based on one principle alone (though others may apply) – that of Generational Justice. Read more
I am currently reading Dr. Jerry Walls’ book on purgatory (for Protestants!) entitled Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation, and one important question he addresses is, “Is purgatory for the purpose of satisfaction or sanctification?”
Satisfaction, meaning paying for one’s sins, is rejected by Protestants since we see Christ’s work as full and final on that account. But what about sanctification? Walls is proposing that, among other things, Purgatory would answer the question as to how God intends to complete our sanctification before we come into his presence.
Now, I’m not sold on his solution, but he offers it in response to this important question, which I want to address in two parts – “Does God require complete sanctification before we can enter into His full presence, and how does he accomplish it?”
Walls answers seem to be “Yes” and “Purgatory” for the repentant (he also believes in post-mortem repentance, but that’s an entirely other subject).
My thesis regarding santification, however, is different:
MY THESIS: Full Practical Sanctification (FPS) is composed of two parts – moral purity, and moral maturity. The former is fully attained at the resurrection, when we receive our new bodies, having left the old corrupted bodies behind. The latter is achieved throughout eternity.
Let’s explore, shall we?
It is now no secret that I am a Conditionalist sympathizer, now that I am a contributor over at RethinkingHell.com. However, I have been collecting links and such to Conditionalist content on the web, and I need a place to collect it, other than in Pocket. Essential or introductory material are labeled with an (E).
CONDITIONALIST / NEUTRAL
- Doctrine of Eternal Punishment / Hell – lots of good articles (theologicalstudies.org.uk)
- Edward Fudge Ministries - tons of articles, audio, and video
- Hell According to Scripture
- Rethinking Hell – informative podcasts and articles. I am a contributor there. (E)
- Warren Prestidge Archives – videos and articles
I have recently published a few articles on the topic of Annihilationist (a.k.a. ‘Conditionalist’) view of hell, which claims that the Bible does not teach eternal conscious torment for the lost (the Traditional view), but that those who fail to receive Christ are punished according to their deeds, then destroyed. This view is growing in momentum among Evangelicals, and has a home base over at RethinkingHell.com.
I have noticed, not surprisingly, a knee-jerk reaction among conservative Evangelicals against this ‘new’ view, and quite a few misunderstandings. However, I urge my more conservative friends to enter into dialogue on this, at least enough to understand it correctly so that their refutations are grounded in what is really being claimed, rather than straw men.
Many Evangelicals were rightly alarmed when Rob Bell published Love Wins, his book claiming that Christian Universalism, i.e. ‘everyone will eventually be saved through Christ’ was the truth. This was distressing because Rob was a darling of the Evangelical movement, and part of the very innovative, intellectual, and influential Mars Hill Church.
But as the diagram to the right shows (courtesy of rethinkinghell.com), Conditionalism has more in common with Traditionalism than Universalism.
In contrast to Universalism, and in common with Traditionalism, Conditionalism teaches:
- That there is no redemptive or purgatorial function in hell
- That not all will be saved
Recently, I posted about an upcoming documentary promoting the Christian Universalist view of hell, called Hellbound? An interesting piece of news is that, one of the pastors who vocally supported that view was fired by his church (you can see a newspaper clipping of it in the preview, but here’s a news article), Chad Holtz, has since changed his mind on the subject, and has returned, I think, to the traditional view of eternal torment. From his posting “I Repent”
I repent of my past denial of hell or that a person could ever be eternally separated from a holy God. I know now that I had no fear of God. Therefore, I had no knowledge of God (Prov. 1:7). I was a fool with an MDiv. I was wrong.
Marrow’s Chapel United Methodist Church was right to ask me to leave. It was God’s mercy. I am so sorry for the pain I caused them through that entire ordeal last year and I ask their forgiveness. I have wept many tears over the last many months, pleading with God that no one would be lost for my prideful and blind confident assertions (1 Tim. 1:7). Love doesn’t win. God wins. And it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a holy, living God (Heb. 10.31). I lost sight of this and God, in His mercy, granted me a chance to repent.
My old blog will be deleted this weekend (and this one was only created for the purpose of this post).
It is a reality that if you don’t agree with the doctrines or politics of the board of elders of a church (who supposedly represent what the church founders and congregants believe), you shouldn’t be up front leading them in a different direction.
Dr. Fudge, author of the clasic book s The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition, presents the exegetical case for the annihilation of the unsaved, rather than the traditional view of eternal hell.
The traditional view of hell, that of eternal conscious torment of the lost, is under fire again, this time, not from Christian Universalists like Rob Bell, but Conditionalists, who believe that the Bible teaches that the unsaved are punished at judgment, then are destroyed, NOT tormented forever. The term ‘Conditionalist’ is short for “Conditional Immortality,” which means that we are not eternal souls, but temporal souls who must inherit eternal life in order to exist for eternity.
I am strongly leaning this way, but of course, am not quick to abandon the Traditional view, which has been the orthodox position for most of Christian history. I am often asked WHY I am even questioning this doctrine. So here you go.
The greatest reason to consider the view is that it may be a more accurate interpretation of the text – we want to ‘rightly divide the word of truth’ (2 Tim. 2:15). While every interpretation may have some open questions, the Conditionalist view obeys Occam’s razor, that is, it is a simpler, less convoluted answer – it’s a more straight forward reading of the text.
With endorsements from Frank Schaeffer and Brian McClaren, you would rightly suspect that Hellbound? is questioning the traditional view of hell, and perhaps supporting Christian Universalism, as promoted in Rob Bell’s bestseller Love Wins.
This documentary covers both the critics and supporters of the traditional view, and pushes lots of buttons (in fact, the tagline for the movie on the website is ‘prepare to have your buttons pushed’). Here’s the trailer.
I am still in the midst of considering and perhaps adopting the Conditionalist view of hell, which is that those who reject Christ are punished according to their deeds, then annihilated – that is, they cease existing rather than entering into eternal life.
I am coming to this conclusion based on scriptural exegesis, not personal preference, and I am not alone – just visit rethinkinghell.com and see the growing Conditionalist movement within evangelicalism.
One of the classic books supporting this theological position is Eward Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition.
The story of how Fudge came to write this book has been made into a movie called Hell and Mr. Fudge. Check out the trailer below.
One of my favorite atheist podcasts is from The Thinking Atheist. Seth, the proprietor of TA, is a former Christian who is now an outspoken atheist apologist. He is both thoughtful as well as, at times, maddeningly blind to his lapses into some of the typical straw men and caricatures of Christianity used by anti-theists. I guess we all do that to our ideological opponents.
In one of Seth’s recent posts entitled Ten Questions About God, he provides an incisive list of questions that he feels he SHOULD have asked himself as a believer, and he asks us to do the same.
I have given each set of questions a Difficulty Rating, from 1-10, where 1 is an easy no-brainer, and 10 is a question which I find very challenging to my faith, and have no good answer for. Ready?
I have had a few major doctrinal and ideological shifts since becoming a Christian at the age of 21 in 1986, which in itself was a huge shift from my family’s agnostic, scientific, anti-faith perspecive.
1. From Arminian Holiness to Calvinism
In 1990, I abandoned the burden of Arminian holiness for the grace and peace of Calvinism. I am often surprised at some Christians’ strong negative reaction to Calvinism, but perhaps they have experienced the fatalistic hyper-Calvinism I described in Orthodox Heresies – 7 false doctrines of the Church.
For me, trying to keep my salvation through holiness was an unbearable burden, but the rest described in Hebrews 4:1-8 is the result of seeing all the work – salvation, sanctification, and perseverance – as God’s doing.
I have a whole list of pet peeves, but one of my top annoyances to date is a list of Christian doctrines that are not only erroneous (IMO), but have driven people away from faith unnecessarily. I want to call these out and toast them.
But before I do, allow me to clarify – I am talking as an Evangelical about Protestant errors – not the many Catholic errors that instigated the Protestant Reformation, many of which persist to this day. We could go on at length about the many souls who have missed salvation in Catholicism due to its erroneous doctrines, such as indulgences, Papal infallibility, the cult of the saints, and the general way in which Catholicism obscures the gospel with a doctrine of works and the ideas of confession, penance, and purgatory.
So, let us turn a critical eye towards our own house. Read more
In my last post, I discussed the various defenses of the eternality of hell – this time, I would like to compare the role of punishment in the temporal world (our current temporal time frame) and in eternity (eternal time frame).
1. What does EARTHLY punishment accomplish?
a. Protecting the Innocent
If we either incarcerate or execute criminals, we remove them from being a threat to the general population.
Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins is a modern reformulation of Christian Universalism, that is, the idea that all are saved from judgement by the works of Christ. Not a new idea, but controversial coming from a supposed evangelical.
One of the questions the problem of eternal hell brings up is, “is eternal (infinite) punishment a just recompense for temporal (finite) sins?”
To my knowledge, there are three orthodox answers. I suspect these may all have names and have been discussed by famous theologians, but alas, I have not found them yet. Let me know if you know of good representatives of each view.
Here’s some interesting Christian inspirational spam that I received – decent enough to put up.
“THE ROOM” as written by a 17 Year Old Boy.
This is excellent and really gets you thinking about what will happen in Heaven.
17-year-old Brian Moore had only a short time to write something for a class. The subject was What Heaven Was Like. “I wowed ‘em,” he later told his father, Bruce. It’s a killer. It’s the bomb It’s the best thing I ever wrote.” It also was the last.
Brian’s parents had forgotten about the essay when a cousin found it while cleaning out the teenager’s locker at Teays Valley High School in Pickaway County, Ohio .
Brian had been dead only hours, but his parents desperately wanted every piece of his life near them, notes from classmates and teachers, and his homework. Only two months before, he had handwritten the essay about encountering Jesus in a file room full of cards detailing every moment of the teen’s life. But it was only after Brian’s death that Beth and Bruce Moore realized that their son had described his view of heaven.
It makes such an impact that people want to share it. “You feel like you are there,” Mr. Moore said. Brian Moore died May 27, 1997, the day after Memorial Day. He was driving home from a friend’s house when his car went off Bulen-Pierce Road in Pickaway County , Ohio and struck a utility pole. He emerged from the wreck unharmed but stepped on a downed power line and was electrocuted.
The Moore ‘s framed a copy of Brian’s essay and hung it among the family portraits in the living room. “I think God used him to make a point. I think we were meant to find it and make something out of it,” Mrs. Moore said of the essay. She and her husband want to share their son’s vision of life after death. “I’m happy for Brian. I know he’s in heaven. I know I’ll see him.
Here is Brian’s essay.
Al Mohler has suggested that we can use a church or individual’s theology of hell as a measure of their theological liberalism. He also mentions that there is a characteristic ‘slide’ from the orthodox (read ‘biblical’) view of hell to the liberal view that abhors the idea as cruel and unjust (odium theologium). Here you go.
- Orthodox Belief: You believe in and preach the doctrine of Hell
- Silence: You stop mentioning it because you find it offensive
- Reduction to Consequentialism: A doctrine is revised and retained in reduced form – something like consequentialism, as opposed retributionism (God is actively punishing evil)
- Positivism: Essentially, don’t worry about it, we’re not even sure if hell is real or what it means. Just be as positive as possible – focus on being a good person and hell will take care of itself.
- Liberalization of the Doctrine: Changing the doctrine from eternal to denying that hell is everlasting, arguing for a form of annihilationism, or conditional immortality.
- Denial of Biblical Accuracy: Basically, yes the Bible teaches eternal Hell, but the Bible is wrong.
CT has a nice article entitled Reductionist Justice, in which the author discusses the error of Job’s friends, which was to reduce all suffering to God’s retributive justice for sin. As the author notes, there are at least eight types of suffering described in the Bible.
The eight types of suffering in the Bible are:
- Retributive Suffering - caused by sin and disobedience to God.
- Educational or Disciplinary Suffering - as in Proverbs 3:11 or Hebrews 12:5-6
- Vicarious Suffering – as in the case of our Lord’s death on the cross
- Empathetic Suffering – where one person’s grief affects many others, as Isaiah 63:9 illustrates
- Evidential or Testimonial Suffering – as in the first two chapters of Job
- Doxological Suffering - for the glory of God, as in the man born blind in John 9
- Revelational Suffering – as in the case of the prophet Hosea’s wife abandoning him
- Apocalyptic or Eschatological Suffering – that will come at the end of this age.
I urge you to listen to the first and second parts (second part tomorrow) of the two part radio series on Focus on the Family, which began today. The series is a couple of lectures by John MacArthur entitled A Nation Abandoned by God (you can also download this and previous shows using the FOTF podcast RSS). MacArthur is using Romans 1 as a description of one type of wrath of God – when God abandons us to our sinfulness by removing his restraint. However, to set this idea up, he reviewed the five types of wrath that God exhibits in the bible.
Since many people don’t think or wrath as an attribute of God (having abandoned truth while holding only to grace), it is important to understand the judgment and righteous anger of God.