In this episode, Kurt talks with Chris Date of Rethinking Hell on the various approaches Christians have to understanding what Hell is like. During the second half of the discussion, Chris presents a case for the Conditionalist view.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill. It’s a great joy to be with you today. We’re talking about the doctrine of hell and it’s really an interesting topic. It’s not exactly the most exciting thing to be talking about when you consider what it implies, what it’s about, what it’s like there, and even some Christians, there’s debate over how we should understand hell and so we are going to be joined in a little moment here by Chris Date of Rethinking Hell and he has a certain approach that he has so in the second half of the show we’re going to be talking about that view in particular, but in the first half we’re going to be talking about just an overview as to what the differences are that Christians have on the doctrine of hell.
Before we get into that, I’ve just got a few introductory things, a few updates about our ministry so if you haven’t heard we’ve got this great office here in downtown West Chicago. We’ve been blessed with the opportunity to have a location so we’re very excited about that so we’ve moved the studio outside of my house and we’ve got a little bit of a better setup here which is good and also, for the Defenders Media Conference, I know a number of people have been asking when the stuff’s gonna get up online. Well, we’ve got pictures up online now on our Facebook page if you want to check us out. Check out the exciting things that happened there, the different speakers and such, and we’re hoping to get the audio up this weekend actually from a few of the talks. Maybe not quite all of them, and then the video, you know video editing takes a while, so we’re still expecting those over a few weeks, and the reason for the delay, it’s a little bit on my end, so after the conference I took a week off on vacation which was well-needed, and then I spent a couple of weeks catching up on my PhD. Work and so now I’m just getting back around to touching base on Defenders things and so it’s a lot of fun, I love doing it. I’m excited that I’ve got some time here this next week to catch up a little bit on that.
Also today, I am solo. My tech support team, Chris and Joel, they are off doing work related things so I thank them for their continual time and volunteering for the ministry and for the podcast here, but today they’re off so it’s just me, so if you want to have your voice heard, give us a call at 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483 and I will be screening the calls and so I won’t have a heads-up as to who it is, but I’ll see the number come in here and we’ll take your questions or comments on the fly.
Again, if you want to call in or talk about the doctrine of hell. If you’ve got questions for myself or for Chris, that number again is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. We’ve got the next couple of weeks of the show planned as well so if you have questions or comments about that you can also leave us a message during the week. You can look for updates on that on social media. We’ve got George Yancey coming up and then we’ve got a show that we’re going to be talking about the supposed Old Testament genocide commands and how Christians understand those difficult passages.
Today we’re talking about the difficult passages on hell and maybe we’ll get into a little bit about what the Old Testament says about it and the New Testament and maybe where this word hell comes from and perhaps it wasn’t used to be called that. I’m going to be joined here with Chris Date of Rethinking Hell and Chris, are you on the line with us?
Chris: I am and thank you so much for having me.
Kurt: Great. No. Thank you. It’s a great pleasure that we can finally get the chance to talk about this. I know we’ve been looking forward to it and also, before you say anything else, let me thank you and the rest of the ministry of Rethinking Hell for the support that they’ve provided to the show making this happen, so I’m really appreciative of your willingness to help us out and make this happen. It’s a great pleasure to bring you on finally.
Chris: It’s our pleasure to help you out. We thank that your ministry is worthy of support so we appreciate having the opportunity to help you.
Kurt: Cool. Thank you Chris. So let me also say too, before I say a little bit about my comments about the ministry there, tell us a little bit about what you guys are all about. I mean, so what is it that we have to do precisely about rethinking hell?
Chris: Well, as we’ll get into during the course of our conversation, we at Rethinking Hell promote a view of hell that differs from the mainstream historically dominant view of eternal torment, which we’ll get into specifics about as well and that is our primary goal. We want to see evangelical minds changed because we think that evangelicals with most of the tradition, has got the nature of hell wrong according to what Scripture says, but our secondary goal and personally I see it as almost equal in importance to the first, we believe the intramural evangelical debate over hell too often generates more heat than light. Too often Christians divide from one another on this topic. Too often Christians mistreat each other based on their different views on this topic and my real passion is about unity in the body. Unity in the body of Christ on the essentials and tolerance of diversity on the non-essentials and doing all things in charity and so our desire is to model and encourage Christians on all three sides of this debate, these sides we’ll talk about in a moment, to be willing to fellowship and minister with one another and to treat each other in the way that as Christians we are called to treat one another because remember, it is the way we treat one another that Jesus said will communicate to the world who it is that we are.
Kurt: If you could, tell us a little bit about the ways in which Rethinking Hell does this. So you guys put on conferences and you’ve got one another book, is that right, coming out, and you do certain debates? Tell us what you do.
Chris: Well, besides the blog and podcast which I highly recommend, we have a podcast that’s up to a great number of episodes. I’ve forgotten the number of episodes we’ve got already, it’s so many. But we’ve got a number of episodes where it’s just one of us is teaching in some way on a particular passage or a particular idea, but we also invite guests on this show, guests that represent all three sides of this debate. Scholars in the field, people that aren’t scholars but may be lay people that have something to say, authors of books and so forth, and when we engage in those interviews with people that represent other views than our own, we do those in a very charitable and friendly way. They’re often some of the most popular episodes just because listeners do get to hear competing views at the same time treated in a kind way, so we do those things but then yes, we also have two books that have been published. In 2014 we published our first book called Rethinking Hell, readings in evangelical conditionalism. We published that through Cascade and that book is just a collection of past excerpts of things, things that have been published by conditionalists and people who aren’t conditionalists but see conditionalists as brothers, and then last year, in 2015, we published a book called The Consuming Passion: Essays on Hell and Immortality in honor of Edward Fudge and it was called a Festschrift, a collection of essays that are done in honor of Edward Fudge whose birthday we celebrated at our first conference. That was the next thing you mentioned, our conferences. By the way, if people want to get hold of our books, they can go to Rethinkinghellbooks.com to find access to those. We also have conferences. In 2014 we had our inaugural conferences at Lanier Theological Library in Houston, TX. Last year, we had our second conference at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California where we invited people from all over the globe to speak. In particular last year’s conference was discussing the dialogue between conditionalists and universalists and so we had Robin Perry fly out. This year, just in a little over a month in October, early October, we have a conference coming up in London, not London, Ontario or London, Ohio or whatever, but London, U.K. I’m going to be speaking there. David Instone-Brewer and a couple of others. If people want to learn about that it’s rethinkinghellconference.com and then finally debate, yes. I do a number of those. In northern California where your listeners are probably more likely to be able to go than London, just in a few weeks on September 9th I’ll be debating Len Pettis of the Bible-Thumping Wingnut at a conference in northern California which people can learn about by going to strivingforeternity.org.
Kurt: Okay. Nice. Cool. You know, I’m glad that you’re doing those things and I’ve written a little bit about this on Facebook in threads I know that you’ve seen. Something I really appreciate about your ministry, and let me say too for those listening, I haven’t really studied this issue. Before I really gain firm convictions about something I really study it in-depth and this is just one of those topics I haven’t gotten around to. There have been other things that have more of my interest and my time for the present being, but one thing I know and appreciate is that you guys do theology in community and that’s really important, in a sense, for lack of a better term I’ll use an economic one, for competition of ideas because we hold each other accountable in the things that we say. You see this of course in the early church, but even still in this present day I think we need to hold each other accountable for our beliefs and so if as some people think your view is a heresy and isn’t compatible with even a broad Christian worldview, those arguments are out there for people to see and if that view can hold the test of time and of course you guys think it has and I think it has in the broad sense that I think it is compatible with a broad Christian view, that’s a good thing and you guys are doing that and I’ve also said too, you guys are catching the traditionalists unprepared and so I hold to the traditional view myself, but like I said, it’s not a super firm conviction of mine, but you guys have in some discussions I’ve listened to, you guys have spanked butt. I mean, it’s just clear that I think people went into it unprepared and interestingly enough I guess that’s how I first got introduced to you. There was a fellow who asked me to write a blog on the traditional view and so I was unprepared and I didn’t know what I was getting into and in that sense you gave the blog post I wrote, this was probably four or five years ago, you gave it a spanking and deservedly so. Part of that was I just didn’t know what I was getting into and hopefully maybe someday I’ll be able to respond back to that, but I’m working on the PhD right now and looking at original sin so unfortunately for me to give what is due to the work that you’ve done I can’t have that, I don’t have that time right now, but hopefully there are some traditionalists that do and they want to step up and I would encourage them to get their motor moving because I think you guys have caught a number of theologians just off-guard and your arguments have been well presented, well thought out, well prepared. You knew the objections that were coming and you guys were read to respond to it and in the second half of the show here maybe we’ll get a little bit into what those arguments are for your view.
Maybe then we can now just get into a description of the differences that Christians have about hell, but before we do that though, would you agree with me that Christians do believe that there is a hell and maybe there’s a difference as to what that is, but would you say that all Christians think that or is there a strong minority, of course there’s always going to be exceptions, but is there a strong minority view that thinks that hell doesn’t even exist? What would you say?
Chris: I would say that anybody can claim to be a Christian and believe something. It doesn’t make it so. Mormons want to claim to be Christians as well. What I would say, my opinion is that genuine Christians do agree that there is some sort of final destination, some sort of final punishment that awaits the lost once they’ve been resurrected unto judgment, but the nature of that hell, if you want to call it that, the nature of that judgment, the judgment of that punishment if that’s what it is. I think it is. Not everybody does, but the nature of that and then how long it lasts is really where Christians disagree, but they generally all agree that there is some sort of experience that awaits the resurrected lost that we would like to avoid if possible.
Kurt: Yeah, and something that I’ve considered. I mean, I think that all Christians would agree here is that hell is, if the Scripture says anything about hell, it’s a place you don’t want to go. Even if the details are murky, we have trouble understanding what they are, it’s simply a place you don’t want to go. Alright? And also to that too, let me also say I think that in terms of evangelism, talking about hell in the context of evangelism, saying “Hey. You should follow Jesus so you don’t go to hell.” I don’t think that’s very helpful. I think we instead need to talk about “Hey. You should become a follower of Jesus because you’re a sinner. You’ve got sin in your life and you’re likely lost, confused, that sort of thing, and Jesus provides the way to good, now this isn’t the prosperity Gospel, but good spiritual healthy living, doesn’t necessarily mean financial wealth, but good living,” and that’s why we should follow Jesus. Not because we want to avoid hell. I mean, if you become a believer and a follower you don’t do it because it’s your get out of hell free card like you’re playing monopoly and sadly I know people that are like that. They think that they’re okay. That they’re going to heaven because they go to church and they give money in the offering.
Chris: Yeah. And by and large I agree with you. I do want to slightly temper what you’re saying though because it does seem to me that Jesus and the apostles in Acts do at least include an element of warning that you need to turn to Christ because if you don’t, here’s what awaits you.
Chris: Jesus seems to use that warning when He’s talking to professing believers, which is interesting. He doesn’t use that warning when He’s talking to outright unbelievers. The apostles however, you know in Acts, it seems to me that they do speak to unbelievers warning them of a judgment that’s to come, but they don’t put any mean on those bones if you know what I mean. They’re not descriptive apart from saying what awaits them is destruction, so that’s the first thing to keep in mind is I don’t think we should rule it out altogether as an element of our evangelism, but I think you’re right that the emphasis needs to change, and the other warning that I’ll just issue, one of the dangers of making it an emphasis in our evangelism, particularly if we are traditionalists, people who hold to the traditional view which we’ll talk about in a moment, the danger of doing that in evangelism is that many unbelievers credit their disbelief or they credit the traditional view of hell as the reason they disbelieve. Famous atheists even. And so what maybe happening, I’m just proposing this as a possibility, is that when the traditional view of hell is emphasized in evangelism what we’re actually doing is turning a lot of people away from Christ rather than drawing them to Him.
Kurt: Right. Right. Now then to that, that would sort of be like a functional issue though. Right? I mean, suppose the traditionalists are right. If it does turn people away, that may be just the tough reality. But at any rate.
Chris: Yes. I agree. And if we had examples of people doing that in Scripture on a regular basis then I think that we would and we are convinced that the traditional view is true than I think we should model our evangelism after theirs, but we just don’t have those examples.
Kurt: Good. Boy I like it. You’re thinking hypothetically, conditionally, pun intended, you know. Conditionals, if then, that’s great. So you’ve got a keen mind and this should be a good debate. I should say discussion today. Let me say yes. Definitely not a debate and it is a discussion because as I have mentioned, I haven’t studied this issue in-depth and so we’re just here talking about the different approaches to hell and then later on we’ll get to learn more about specifically your view and why you think it is a bit better than the other ones. So our listeners have heard these terms traditionalist, conditionalist, we haven’t used the term annihilationist, maybe we’ll get into why that is, why you prefer the conditionalist term. So if you could for the audience, could you explain, and correct me if I’m mistaken, there are three broad categories of Christians that affirm hell and so I would say the traditional view, the conditionalist, and the universalist, but maybe you would sub-qualify universalists somehow, but go ahead and explain what you think the main views are on the doctrine of hell.
Chris: Let’s start with the first and historically dominant view, the traditionalist view, and just for listener’s sake, the reason it’s called the traditionalist view is not because people are implying that people that hold it believe it because it’s the tradition. We’re not saying people are bound to tradition. We’re just saying this is the traditional view. It’s the historically dominant one. What this view, being very bare minimum strokes, it’s eternal torment. The lost will suffer forever in hell, and that’s how people typically think of it because they haven’t really studied what is actually involved in that so let me put a little bit of meat on those bones. We all as Christians I think, genuine Christians, believe that everybody will one day be raised from the dead, saved and lost, both those who had died when they were believers and those who had died when they were not will one day be resurrected, so these are dead bodies that come back to life, their lungs begin expanding and collapsing again, their hearts begin pumping blood and so forth
Kurt and Chris: Around 19:50 or so you two talk over each other and there’s static.
Kurt: Even just on that a lot of Christians don’t realize that’s what we believe.
Kurt: They think that we’re just going to go to heaven or hell and that’s it. Sorry. Continue.
Chris: Yeah. Exactly. Yes. Sure. So now once everybody’s been resurrected, all Christians agree that those who haven’t by this time been saved by faith in Jesus Christ will be made immortal in their bodies at least if they had an immortal soul already, their bodies will be made immortal as well, so their bodies will no longer age, they’ll no longer experience pain and disease and aging and all of that. They’ll be made perfect and painless and glorious and they’ll live forever. The traditional view, the eternal torment view, also believes that the resurrected bodies of the lost will be made immortal as well so that they can live forever, but the purpose of their living forever is not for glory and communion with God’s people. The purpose of their immortalization is so that they can experience conscious punishing forever and so as resurrected embodied human beings they are immortal, their bodies will never die, they will live forever, and their eyes will roll in their sockets as they experience whatever sort of misery they experience for eternity. Very historically, this was a very literal, very stark torment. Fire. Burning off skin and then replenishing the skin for eternity.
Kurt: At least in the Western tradition though shall we say.
Chris: Yes. This wasn’t the case in the Eastern tradition. Nowadays most traditionalists take a more metaphorical or separation view.
Kurt: Figurative view.
Chris: Misery. Yeah. The misery is just the misery of knowing that they’re separated from God and they will be remembered forever in shame and so forth. It’s an internal misery more than an external one if that makes sense. So that’s the traditional view in a nutshell and it’s good to set the stage with that not only to explain the meaning of the term traditionalist, but because it helps to explain the meaning of the word conditionalist so let me move into that now unless you have any questions on the first view.
Kurt: No, although I’m taking notes here, so…..
Chris: That’s good. So the traditional view is everybody is made immortal, some to experience life forever, others to experience life forever in punishing. The conditionalist view says that immortality is conditional. The grandness of immortality to the resurrected bodies of people is conditioned on salvation through faith so those who are resurrected in a state of salvation, they are the ones who will receive immortality, but those who are not will not be made immortal. Now, immortality by definition means undying, and so its corollary, those who remain mortal, what’s their obvious fate? Death, and not death in some sort of theological code language. Death in the way that the authors of Scriptures used it virtually all the time from cover to cover. Death in the way we use the word normally. Physical death. But, and this is why the view has also at times been called annihilationism, we believe that if human beings have immaterial souls that persist beyond their deaths, those souls, although they will exist beyond the first death so that they can be reunited to the body at resurrection, the souls, those souls will die with their bodies in the second death. You have for example Matthew 10:28. Don’t fear man who can kill only the body but can’t kill the soul. Fear God who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna. So we think that the fate that awaits bodies is also the fate that awaits souls and if both body and soul have been completely destroyed, have completely died, there is nothing left of the person as a conscious being and so they’ve been annihilated and that’s why you have both annihiliationism and conditionalism as terms for describing this view. Now we could get into varied specifics like how long will they experience any sort of conscious punishing or whatever as part of the process by which they’re destroyed? We vary in our answering of that question just like traditionalists vary in whether they see final punishment as figurative or whatever, so there are answers we can get into but that’s in a broad stroke whereas the traditional view sees the punishing fire of hell as a fire that torments people forever and keeps them alive forever, our view is that the fire consumes them, the divine fiery wrath of God consumes and destroys the final impenitent and they will no longer be conscious entities forever. Their punishment is everlasting death.
Now, the third view, universalism, generally speaking is the view that eventually, everybody that has ever lived or that will have ever lived by the time of eternity, will eventually turn to Christ and will eventually be saved and experience eternity in the presence of God and His people. Now I do subcategorize it because I don’t think that all forms of universalism are orthodox, not in the Eastern Orthodox sense but in the legitimate Christian sense.
Kurt: Lower case o. Yeah.
Chris: Exactly right. Lower case o. So you have some universalists who would say there is, people don’t have to go through Christ to get to God. It’s just everybody will go to heaven eventually. We’ll all go to heaven period regardless of what they believe and I would say that any view in which salvation is not through faith alone in Christ alone is not legitimately Christian. That’s my view. I’m not saying that’s everybody’s view and so I don’t think that these kinds of universalists who just think that everybody goes to heaven regardless of what they believe, I don’t consider them to be genuinely Christian, but that’s not what all universalists believe. There are people like Robin Perry, Thomas Talbot, Eric, who regardless of what field they’re in, I just mentioned a theologian, a philosopher, two philosophers actually, they actually think that the lost when they’re resurrected will be kept alive by God indefinitely but apart from Him until they repent in faith, repent through faith in Jesus Christ and then be saved, so they believe in the necessity of faith and salvation. They believe that salvation is only through faith alone. They believe that Christ died as an atoning sacrifice for their sins, all the things that most Christians believe as being essential. The only difference is that they don’t think God will ever give up on them and will forever give them a chance to repent and turn to Christ. I can’t identify any sort of violation of the essentials of the faith there and so I think that those kinds of universalists are legitimately Christian.
Kurt: Gotcha. Yeah. I guess it’s a good categorization you’re making there because in my study of the church fathers, and again this issue of hell is not one I’ve looked at all that much, the father Origen, church father Origen, who some will say is kind of like, not so much a church father in as much as a crazy uncle, his view, I don’t know if it’s specifically with regard to his view of universalism, but he was condemned at an ecumenical council and so I know he was an affirmer of universalism. I don’t know if maybe you’ve studied that a little bit, but that’s roughly just the extent of my knowledge on the matter and I don’t know if that’s because of his universalism that he affirmed was sort of deemed heretical, but perhaps.
Chris: We actually have a
Kurt: Go ahead.
Chris: We actually have some articles. If people go to rethinkinghell.com and put their mouse over the word blog, they’ll be a menu item called “List all blog articles” and if you go there and you just look for the word “Constantinople” you’ll see an article called Conditional Immortality: Origen and the Second Council of Constantinople”, so we are aware of the history there. Origen as you say was a form of universalist. Whether or not he was condemned for that is up for debate and what is really important though from my perspective is that what was not condemned at that council was conditionalism, although many traditionalists think that it was, so I think that’d be a good article for your listeners to go check out.
Kurt: Gotcha. Yeah. And again that’s rethinkinghell.com and if you’re too lazy and you can’t type that in, the url, and you’re already at Veracityhill.com you can see their ad there, just go ahead and click in the sponsors section, go ahead and click and that’ll take you right there. Well, this has been great Christ. I want to continue our discussion after a short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: This has been a good discussion thus far here, I’m here with Chris Date, and today we’re discussing the doctrine of hell, but before we get into that in the first half of today’s show we covered sort of a spectrum of the views, just broadly speaking in the short amount of time that we had and in this next segment, I’d like to get Chris more, your view of conditionalism, but before we get into that, I’m not sure if you’re too familiar with this if you’ve listened to the show before, but we’ve got this great segment called Rapid Questions. Have you heard of this before?
Chris: I have not yet.
Kurt: Good. Because that means we’re catching you off guard so in this segment of the show, we ask some lighthearted questions and we’re looking for quick responses. These are totally unrelated questions and so hopefully none of these will be self-incriminating. So are you ready?
Chris: I’m as ready as I think I’ll ever be.
Kurt: Okay. Here we go. We’ve got a minute and then we’ll see just how many you can get in that time.
What is your clothing store of choice?
Kurt: Taco Bell or KFC?
Chris: Taco Bell
Kurt: What song is playing on your radio these days?
Chris: I don’t listen to music.
Kurt: Where would you like to live?
Kurt: What’s your favorite sport?
Kurt: What is your spouse’s favorite holiday?
Kurt: What fruit would you say your head is shaped like?
Kurt: Favorite movie?
Chris: Gone In Sixty Seconds?
Kurt: Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Chris: I drink diet Dr. Pepper.
Kurt: Have you ever driven on the other side of the road?
Kurt: What’s one thing you’d be sure to keep with you if you’re stranded on an island?
Chris: The Bible.
Kurt: Hokey Pokey, electric slide, or the Macarena?
Chris: Electric Slide.
Kurt: The electric slide. Excellent. Well, thank you for playing rapid questions. I think that was the first electric slide answer we had. We had some hokey pokey I think, we even had a couple of people that just said none.
Chris: I didn’t think that was an option.
Kurt: It really isn’t, you know. If you understand hypotheticals and conditionals and if you’ve got hokey pokey, electric slide, or the Macarena and nothing else, you’ve gotta pick one. Thank you for picking one. Cool. That’s fun. Good and hopefully nothing of what you said is self-incriminating though now I know to send your wife a gift for Halloween since it’s her favorite holiday.
Chris: Yeah. That’s right.
Kurt: Cool. Okay, so we’re talking about the doctrine of hell. We’ve got these three views and maybe again you said universalism was sort of sub-categorized, but there’s still a strong emphasis there and so we’ve seen three sort of dominant views. The traditionalist view that people are eternally separated. You would say that there is eternal conscious torment there and that’s for all eternity so that’s the traditionalist view. The conditionalist view.
Chris: In resurrected immortal bodies, live forever, that’s important.
Kurt: Right. Yeah. The conditionalist view is that the resurrected bodies of non-believers are destroyed and they cease to exist, would that be accurate?
Chris: Well, they’re killed. They’re destroyed and killed and their soul dies with their body and if both body and soul have been destroyed, they have no conscious being forever.
Kurt: Okay. Lastly then we had the universalist view there that God will save all people generally speaking. Sometimes there’s sub-views here that there is a hell and people remain there unless they repent and then they can get out, you know, maybe there is an option there. There are some forms of universalism that are deemed heretical, others that are not. So that’s sort of the third camp which we won’t be getting into today, but you guys had a recent conference last year devoted to that topic sort of, the conditionalist and universalist ones in conversation with different views, so if people are interested to learn more about that, you can check out the web site. Let’s talk a little bit about the conditionalist view since as I’ve said, I just have traditionally held to the traditional view and I’ve also said this isn’t a firm conviction of mine and so I’ve even told you I’m even open to changing my view, but for the time being I don’t have enough, I can’t do diligence to the issue for the present time, but I’m open and so I want to learn more about the conditionalist view. How do you guys respond to a number of Bible passages? Before we get into some Bible verses, let me also say for those that have listened to my show for a little bit here, I am not foolish enough to think that if I cite a Bible verse, that you have no response. I mean, most views, if they hold some dominant presence, even in a minor sense, they have considered these things and sometimes theology is a pick your poison so you may have strong points, strong passages that seem to support your view and you may have weak passages, and I’m speaking broadly here of anything on any topic, and you may have weak passages that seem to really work against your view, so part of that challenge in theology is to reconcile those verses that on the surface perhaps shall we say, appear to go against your view, so when I bring up some Bible verses here I am not foolish to think that there is no reply from your camp, but I am curious to know how you and others in your camp understand those passages. So I do want to get into that, but first, I did have a question for you here about something that you said. Two things. On the traditionalist view, you said that in the resurrection body, people that spend eternity with God, that’s for His glory, but for those that are in hell, it’s not for His glory.
Chris: no no no no no. Just to be clear. It wasn’t His glory. I was saying the reason the saved are made immortal is so they can enjoy His glory and communion in heaven with His people. As for their glory, I mean it is called glorification.
Kurt: Gotcha. I wasn’t sure exactly how you were applying that qualifier then of glory. Alright. That makes sense.
Chris: No. I’m a Calvinist.
Kurt: I was gonna say because that’s usually a Calvinist line that those that are in hell is for God’s glory. Okay. Now, one issue I did want to talk about was torment, eternal separation here and what that is like and as you had mentioned, within both the conditionalist and the traditionalist camps there are varying degrees of responses to varying degrees of what the punishment is like. So I wanted to talk a little bit about torment and what this is because there are some that think it’s a figurative fire burning the skin off of people and they are in physical torment in hell and it lasts for an eternity. Now, I think you and I both realize today and in Western scholarship, the Western world is where this sort of became popular, wasn’t so much in the East, as I think we both agree on that, but in the West now today, that view has sort of gone by the wayside. Instead these are more figurative, metaphorical terms and let me just give one example. The book of Revelation talk about hell being a place of darkness and flames and so scholars think it can’t be both because if there are flames, fire gives off light. It’s not this place of literal darkness and literal flames so there has to be at least in some sense, some aspect of this is figurative and so now it seems that there is not so much of an emphasis on a literal fire, but there still is this sense of torment so what would you say, in your understanding of the traditionalist view, let me ask you, what would you say traditionalists believe about what that torment is like?
Chris: I think that is a sort of spiritual torment by which I mean it’s both mental and spiritual, so on the one hand you’ve got the intellectual knowledge that one’s loved ones are experiencing bliss and joy in the presence of God and in the presence of all their believing loved ones for eternity whereas they are separated from that experience. There’s presumably not going to be entertainment to keep them joy and to keep them happy.
Kurt: You mean there’s no television and cable TV in prison?
Chris: I wouldn’t think so. And that’s a good analogy. The analogy of a prison. Apart from the mistreatment of prisoners by guards and by other prisoners, there is no sort of physical torment going on in a prison, but just the isolation and the loneliness and the separation and not having access to the beauty of the sky and the sun and the mountains in the distance and all these things, all of that contributes to an emotional or mental kind of sadness and grief and torment if you will, and I think that that’s sort of a mental or emotional side of the traditional view of torment nowadays. Then you’ve got the spiritual side. Right now atheists, although I think they’re deceiving themselves, I think deep down they know God exists, but on a surface level they’re pretending like God doesn’t exist and they don’t have the evidence they need to believe in it, but when the judgment comes, not only will they be faced with the stark reality that there is a God and they’ve chosen to reject Him willfully, but they’ll know also that forever now, not only will they not get to experience all the joys that accompany eternity and bliss, but they also will be forever separated, forever remembered, this goes to the mental side again, but forever remembered and thought of by the people in redeemed creation as being contemptible and shameful and I think that kind of knowledge will contribute as well, so it’s a host of sort of mental or spiritual factors I think that contribute, but here’s one thing I want to clarify. Traditionalists would not see this as a last severe form of torment than physical, quite the contrary. I think most of them would say it’s far worse. In fact, they might say that when you’re being burned up, you’re experiencing physical torment, but you’ve lost all capability of thinking about all the many other things that you would otherwise be sad about, so yeah. I’m just saying the traditional view is not one in which this sort of metaphorical gets them off the hook. It actually makes the challenge more severe.
Kurt: Now I’ve got a follow-up then here for you. And my question is this then. If we can observe in the present world, various conscious mental, psychological, and spiritual torment of non-believers because we can see the unhealthy spiritual lifestyles they’re living, the broken relationships they have, the separation from God, could it be possible that hell is more like the present world and not so much so a fiercer form of punishment? Now I’m happy to grant maybe there’s a starker difference between the present one and the afterlife in hell, but I think maybe it’s not as extreme as even some traditionalists think it to be.
Chris: It’s certainly possible. Do I think that there’s anything that could be leveraged from Scripture to support that view? No, but is it conceivable? Sure.
Kurt: Yeah. So I think you’ve got a passage about the gnashing of teeth. Right?
Chris: Well, yes. The gnashing of teeth takes place in an earthly parable. It’s not a description of what actually takes place at the end and so we need to be careful when we draw theology from parables is all I’m saying.
Kurt: I firmly agree with that soon, but I’m sure you have heard traditionalists use that parable in citing what hell is like. Right? So then maybe.
Chris: Yeah. They do.
Kurt: Maybe this question is then also posed to the traditionalist too. If there is the gnashing, I would ask them, isn’t there a gnashing now? Isn’t there a spiritual gnashing of teeth now?
Chris: Here’s the thing. The language of weeping and gnashing of teeth doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We as modern 21st century English speakers go to that and we think that’s what being communicated is some sort of sadness and pain sometimes people have thought, but historically weeping is an expression of remorse and sadness that one has been excluded from God’s Kingdom and gnashing is a description of the anger, the furious anger that those who feel left out from the Kingdom experience as a result of it so it’s sadness and anger that results from exclusion and so this doesn’t seem to be a description that would necessarily apply to the present state of things when people don’t realize they’ve been in that way excluded, so there does seem to be a heightened form of it in eternity if the traditional view is right, but what’s really important is that none of the passages that talk about weeping and gnashing say anything about that going on forever and we can certainly talk more about them as well.
Kurt: Sure. Yeah. We’ve got a couple of questions from people that have commented, but before I ask their questions I want to ask one more question that should be able to cover a broad number, multiple passages here. So there’s a debate, and again, I haven’t followed this debate as much as you have by any means, but there’s a debate between the two camps over what eternal means, because in numerous passages in the Bible we have eternal punishment or eternal fire, you see the same, as you’d mentioned, you see the same language in the church fathers, I guess maybe you mentioned that in our pre-show conversation, so how do we understand when they talk about eternal punishment and eternal fire, doesn’t that seem, again, on the surface level, to go to the traditional view that this is an everlasting punishment? What would you say?
Chris: I don’t think so and here’s why. The contrast is between eternal punishment and something else. What is that something else? I’m asking you that question. What is the something else that eternal punishment is contrasted to?
Kurt: Oh. So, I would say that. Sorry. So rephrase the question again.
Chris: I’ll just answer on your behalf. It’s eternal life.
Kurt: Right. Right. Yeah.
Chris: Matthew 25:46 contrasts eternal life with eternal punishment. The implication there then is that the punishment is death, not life. Though I understand that we can get into the theological meaning of that language if it is theological rather than plain and straightforward, but the point is that that verse and all the other verses that we might have in mind, they contrast final punishment with final and eternal life. So, we conditionalists believe on the basis of that and a host of other passages that final punishment consists of eternal death. If the punishment is death, think of it in this way. When we execute a criminal, the punishment isn’t a process of dying. If it did, that would last a few fleeting moments whereas compared to somebody who spends the rest of their life in prison, execution would be a far less severe punishment. No. We measure the punishment of capital punishment as their removal, that they’re being gone, they’re being dead. If we think and we do, that final punishment is death, and if we think that they will be dead forever, then by definition, that is an eternal punishment. The punishment is death. The death is forever. A = B = C. Eternal punishment.
Kurt: Would you say that the fires of hell then burn forever to use the figurative language?
Chris: Fire’s in question. Here again we need to let Scripture speak and not speak on its behalf and when we look at the way phrase eternal fire is used we don’t have a basis for thinking what it means is that fire is literally burning ongoing forever, because Jude uses the phrase to describe the fire that came down from heaven and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. That fire is no longer burning to this day and despite the imaginations of some biblical scholars, it wasn’t still burning when there was smoke rising from the remains of Sodom and Gomorrah in Jude’s day. The fire came down from heaven and destroyed and killed the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah and it didn’t go on burning forever. So then what do we make of that? Well, first of all, God is described as a consuming fire throughout Scripture and He is eternal. I think eternal fire then is a reference to divine fire, the fire of God. It is eternal because it’s the fire of God and God is eternal. Alternatively, some traditionalists including Jonathan Edwards thought that the eternal fire was called eternal fire in Jude because the remains of Sodom and Gomorrah were never rebuilt and it was an everlasting destruction if you will. There are a variety of ways to understand it, but here’s the thing. Let’s say that we treated as literally fire that goes on burning forever. Just because the fire is burning does not mean that things are burning in it. An example of that is the imagery at the end of Revelation in chapter 20. This lake of fire in that imagery, which we’ll talk about in a little bit I’m sure if we have time, that’s already burning before anybody’s thrown in it so the fact that its burning does not imply that anything is continued to burn in it and so it cannot be used as any sort of argument against our view.
Kurt: Okay. Yeah. Interesting. So we’ve got about ten minutes here. I want to make sure we get some questions here from those that have commented online here. So, Todd asks “I would like to hear Chris comment on Thessalonians 4:13-18, specifically what those people who had no hope thought happened to those who died. Furthermore, how does one navigate through all the issues in those verses? Rapture, soul sleep, hell, and maintain a consistent theology? So while you answer that I’m going to look up Thessalonians 4:13-18 and I would entreat the listeners to do so as well.
Chris: For those listeners who don’t have a photographic memory of Scripture, I’ll just read from the ESV.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
And by the way, those who don’t have hope are the ones who don’t hope in resurrection. Right? The reason they have no hope, you see the same thing in 1 Cor. 15, without resurrection we’re hopeless. Okay? So, we don’t want you to be uninformed like those who don’t have hope.
For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
So, what is he talking about? He’s talking about the hope that as Christians we have in the resurrection of the righteous one day. Now, there are other passages that this one doesn’t comment on, this verse is all about believers. There’s nothing here about the unbelievers, but there are other passages, Jesus and Paul both speak of both resurrection of the saved and of the lost so we know they’re going to be raised as well, but when we see passages like this where it talks about resurrection unto everlasting life of some sort here in 1 Cor. 15 and a number of other places, it’s only the saved who are ever described in this terms. There just is no promise for continued ongoing everlasting life for the wicked contrary to the traditional view. So there was more to his question. Is there anything you think I’ve missed?
Kurt: I’m not sure. In fact I would sort of be sympathetic here that this passage here does not all that much sort of focus on even what the traditionalist would say on hell.
Chris: That’s right.
Kurt: So let’s go ahead and go to the next one. This next question is from Truman. He writes “Chris. I was reading Matthew 18:16 and wondered how a conditionalist would handle this passage”, so here he provides it. “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” He asks “So what would you say then about this passage? How do you handle this one?” And perhaps for our listener, tell us why this might be a potential problem.
Chris: The reason it might be a potential problem is because as we’ve already discussed, we conditionalists believe that final punishment is not everlasting life immortal in torment, like the traditional view. We believe everlasting punishment is everlasting death. They will die literally and their souls will die with their bodies as well, but here according to the reading that has been offered you, what is being contrast here is a fate of death with something allegedly far worse. Well how is our death far worse than the kind of death being described here? First of all, this death would presumably be followed by resurrection where the final death would not and that’s critical because what is going on here in this passage is not a contrast between one death and then some worse fate. See, what he’s doing here is he’s saying it would be better to drown like this, than to cause the little ones to stumble in this way. Well what is the implication? What’s being implied is that by causing people to stumble in this way, you will be deserving of eternal punishment. If you don’t and instead you’re thrown into the sea and you die, then you’re not awaiting that terrible fate. Instead, you’re awaiting the only other fate that Scripture talks about. It’s either eternal death or eternal life, now being thrown into the sea with a millstone around your neck and drowning and then later being resurrected unto eternal life is far far better than being killed in the end which is what we believe is the final fate of the wicked.
Kurt: Yeah. No. Again, I don’t see how this question, maybe that wasn’t Truman or even Todd’s purpose, but I don’t see how this passage would necessarily lend credence to either view, the traditionalist or the conditional view. So yeah, I think those are good responses there. Okay. So we’ve just got a few minutes left. Let’s go ahead and recap so just briefly so we’ve got the traditional view that there is a physical resurrection and even for non-believers it’s eternal separation, it’s conscious torment. Of course what exactly that constitutes is up for debate, but hell is a place you don’t want to go and even the conditionalist view would agree with that, but for the conditionalist, the physical body and the soul are ultimately destroyed and they cease to exist and sometimes this goes by the name of annihilationism so if you hear these terms, they can be interchangeable, perhaps there’s maybe a fine nuance here and there as to why they wouldn’t be, and then lastly we’ve got universalism that God broadly speaking will save all people or maybe He just provides an out to them should they repent, so there’s some nuance there as well and so we can only scratch the surface here so Chris, give me your concluding remarks as to why you think the conditionalist view is far superior to the alternatives.
Chris: Yeah. For me it’s all about Scripture. For me, I’ve never had any sort of emotional or philosophical objection to the traditional view and I really didn’t want to believe in this because it makes me sort of a pariah in some of the conservative circles that I identify with so I didn’t want to believe it, but I’m unwaveringly committed to the authority of Scripture and I have to follow where it leads and here’s what seems to me to be what the Bible teaches and I encourage listeners to check out episodes 4 and 7 of the Rethinking Hell Podcast. There they’ll get this fleshed out for them, but here’s just four simple points that I think are clear in Scripture that make this view better than the other two alternatives, especially the traditional view.
#1. The Bible says that immortality is a gift that God will only give to those who are saved.That’s #1.
#2. The Bible says that Jesus died in the place of sinners and as believers in substitutionary atonement, what that means is that the fate of those who reject Him must be the fate He died and He experienced because it’s substitutionary. That’s what substitutionary means. He took it in the place of those who otherwise were headed for that fate. So Jesus died, He didn’t live forever in torment.
#3. The Bible says that the lost will die and be destroyed in a host of different genres, in a host of different ways, literal, figurative, metaphor, you know, imagery, in every way the Bible talks about the fate of the lost it’s all about death and destruction.
Finally, the Bible doesn’t say anywhere in any way that the lost will suffer forever with the arguable exception of this vivid, apocalyptic, symbolic imagery in the book of Revelation where I think even a slight closer examination of its context and of its background in the Old Testament and elsewhere in Revelation, all of that demonstrates that the imagery in Revelation is intended also to communicate final death and destruction and it’s the same thing that’s taught in Matthew 25:31-46. It’s the same thing that’s taught in 2 Thess. 1:9. It’s the same thing that’s taught in Mark 9:48 which is quoting Isaiah 66:24, all of the texts, all of the texts the traditionalists cite typically in support of view proves upon closer examination to be better support for our view and so in combination with the other three points I mentioned, I think this is a powerful fourfold Biblical case for my view and I don’t think the traditionalists and universalists have any good answers.
Kurt: Wow. Cool. Well hey, Chris. That was actually robust concluding remarks so thanks for that. That does it for our show today. I am so very thankful for Chris for you coming on and us talking about the doctrines of hell broadly speaking and then you giving a little bit of a more in-depth analysis of your own view, the conditional view. I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons, people just like yourself. You may be listening, you think “Hey. This is a great show. I want to support what they’re doing.” If you want to know more about that go to our web site test.veracityhill.com/patron and I’m also thankful for the partnerships with our sponsors, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, and Evolution 2.0, and normally this is the point where I would thank the tech team but they’re off this week, and finally again thanks Chris for coming on and thank you listener for joining me and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.