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The 3 Versions of Hell & In Support of ANNIHILATIONISM

Logical Points To Ponder:

The '3' Versions of Hell

1. Hell is a literal place of eternal fire torment

2. Hell is not a place of fire but is an eternal place where on is seperated from God and forever reminded of their guilt.

3. Hell means annihilation/ceasing to be altogether/The permanent death.


Where ever you see these * before a paragraph it means where I have added my own comments

In the list below are some who embrace this view or comfortably tolerate it. Naturally, while this may be true at the moment this list is written and posted, they could change or even recant their view. I do not promise that at the very moment you read this, this list is absolutely current. The following are some of the NON-JW churches that reject the view that hell is a place of eternal hellfire torment, and belive hell to mean to cease to be all together...

The Anglican Church (Episcopalian church in England).

The Advent Christian Church

The Church of God of Abraham Faith/ The Open Bible Church

Liberal/Progressive Or Moderate Luthers,

United Methodists

Disciples of Christ Church

The Presbyterian Church

The following evangelical Bible scholars and commentators have expressed a similar belief in one form or another:

John Stott (in the Anglican church and author of Evangelical Essentials, 1988 pages 313-320),

John Wenham (see The Goodness of God, 1974; Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell, 1991, chapter

6: The Case for Conditional Immortality),

Christianity Today, October 23, 2000

What is hell-eternal torment or annihilation? A look at the Evangelical Alliance's The Nature of Hell.

By Robert A. Peterson 10/13/00

It was six pages near the end of the book that exploded like a bombshell within evangelicalism. The book was Evangelical Essentials (InterVarsity) and the year was 1988. As the book's subtitle announced, it was A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue between liberal Anglican David L. Edwards and evangelical Anglican John Stott. For 338 pages, Edwards and Stott ranged over many issues, including the gospel, biblical authority, miracles, ethics, and missions. But near the end, in those six pages, Stott tentatively defended annihilationism-the view that unbelievers are finally annihilated and thus do not experience torment that is eternal in duration (as fundamentallists believe). ,P> Fundamentalists, who make up most of evangelicalism, were shocked. Some, like John H. Gerstner, went so far as to question Stott's salvation. Evangelicals have been debating the subject ever since, both sides producing books and articles defending their views and contesting the opposition.

The hell debate

With the publication of Stott's views, evangelicals were spurred to study the issue more deeply and to respond. Perhaps emboldened by Stott's example, others followed and declared their commitment to annihilationism: Philip E. Hughes resigned from Westminster Seminary and wrote The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ (Eerdmans, 1989), toward the end of which he took an annihilationist stance.

A 1992 Baker collection of essays, Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell, included a piece by John W. Wenham, "The Case for Conditional Immortality." Conditional immortality, or conditionalism for short, is the view that human beings are not naturally immortal. God, who alone is inherently immortal, grants the gift of immortality only to believers. Unbelievers, because they lack this gift, do not live forever. Although technically not identical with annihilationism, conditionalism has come to be used as a synonym for it.

Through Wenham's influence, a previous book by Edward Fudge was revised and issued in 1994 by Paternoster Press as The Fire That Consumes: The Biblical Case for Conditional Immortality.

Plainly, the annihilationist side had taken up the debate, challenging the fundamental view.

Heavyweight fundamentalists did not stay out of the fray. D. A. Carson devoted 22 pages of The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Zondervan, 1996) to an exegetical defense of the fundamental view. J. I. Packer, a figure as revered by evangelicals as Stott, expressed his displeasure in Evangelical Affirmations (Academie, 1990) that Stott had advocated annihilationism.

Plainly evangelical Anglicans were lining up on opposite sides of this issue: Stott, Hughes, Wenham and Michael Green on the side of conditionalism; Packer, Harmon, Gerald Bray, and Alec Motyer on the side of fundamentalism.

Into the fray stepped the Evangelical Alliance (EA). Also called World's Evangelical Alliance, founded in 1846, EA is a Britain-based association of evangelical churches, parachurch organizations, and individuals. It is the umbrella organization for evangelicals in the United Kingdom. Seeing the controversy on hell and other issues dividing evangelicals, EA established the Alliance Commission of Unity and Truth Among Evangelicals (ACUTE) in 1995 "to work for consensus on theological issues that test evangelical unity, and to provide, on behalf of evangelicals, a coordinated theological response to matters of wider public debate."

ACUTE comprises three evangelical bodies: the Evangelical Alliance, the British Evangelical Council, and the Evangelical Movement of Wales.

One project of ACUTE is The Nature of Hell. It was written that evangelicals might stand united against universalism while disagreeing among themselves concerning the nature of hell.

The study group, consisting of fundamentalists and conditionalists, had the task of writing a report that would promote understanding and tolerance among member believers.

Building a foundation

After describing points of agreement among evangelicals, the report gives background regarding universalism (the idea that ultimately all will be saved), a recurring issue in English church history.

The report concludes that universalism is not an option for evangelicals because it lacks biblical warrant. Nevertheless, the report adds, "In an increasingly multicultural, pluralist society, the universalism which now underlies most forms of liberal Christianity is likely to present an ever-greater challenge for evangelicals."

The report then identifies the key biblical texts in the debate on the nature of hell. In the Old Testament, the focus is on the present life, not on life after death. Sheol is a dark, dreary, silent underworld of half-existence. Only two Old Testament texts, Isaiah 26:19 and Daniel 12:2, refer to resurrection. The report then comments on the New Testament pictures of the afterlife, including Gehenna and Hades.

Two conclusions stand out. First, the report notes that the synoptic Gospels, Jude, and Revelation speak of "Gehenna," "Hades," and "fire." John, Paul, and the other epistles speak chiefly of "perishing," "destruction," and "death."

Second, the report recognizes that "this variation in biblical imagery stands behind much of the debate between fundamentalists and conditionalists."

The Nature of Hell next traces the history of each point of view. Fundamentalism: Tertullian, Lactantius, Basil of Caesarea, Jerome, Cyril of Jerusalem, Chrysostom, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Whitefield, and Wesley all endorsed eternal punishment.

Forms of conditionalism are found in Justin Martyr and Theophilus of Antioch.

The meaning of burning sulfur

After outlining key definitions (see "Coming to Terms: Five key phrases in the hell debate," p. 34), the report examines five critical exegetical issues that each side debates.

1. Destruction and perishing. Conditionalists argue that biblical language about the lost perishing (e.g., John 3:16) or being destroyed (e.g., Matt. 10:28) ought to be taken at face value to indicate extinction of being. Although the report almost always sets out the best arguments for both conditionalist and fundamentalist sides of an issue, here it includes only a weak fundamenallist response. A stronger one involves the "destruction" of the beast, foretold in Revelation 17:8, 11; he is later cast into the fiery lake of burning sulfur (19:10) and is "tormented day and night for ever and ever" (20:10).

2. The fire and the worm. Conditionalists maintain that the biblical imagery of hellfire indicates consumption and not the infliction of pain. Fundamentalists respond that the fire and worm in Mark 9:48, a key text, are "undying" and "unquenchable," respectively. Conditionalists counter by insisting, "Although both the worm and the fire themselves appear to be everlasting, the effect they have on any individual sinner may yet be terminal."

3. Eternal punishment and "the age to come." Fundamentalists historically have pointed to Jesus' parallel between the two destinies in Matthew 25:46: eternal punishment and eternal life (italics mine). Conditionalists respond by saying the text does not define eternal, and it could be rendered qualitatively rather than quantitatively; hence "the punishment of the age to come" and "the life of the age to come." Even if "eternal" punishment is the correct rendering, it could point to the everlasting effects of the punishment (conceived as destruction) rather than to everlasting suffering of the punishment.

Fundamentalists raise their eyebrows when conditionalists insist on a different meaning for the word eternal when it is used in two parallel phrases in the same sentence to describe the two destinies.

4. Jesus' account of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. Fire imagery here plainly speaks of pain and not consumption (vv. 23, 24, 25, 28). Some fundamentalalists say this account teaches that the lost will endure eternal torment. But conditionalists correctly point out that Jesus' parable pertains to the intermediate rather than the final state.

5. Sulfur, smoke, and the "second death." The meaning of Revelation 14:10-11 is contested: the wicked will be "tormented with burning sulfur" and "the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night" for them. Fundamentalists assert that this text unambiguously teaches their view.

Conditionalists appeal to Old Testament texts that describe God's destruction of cities, "all of which are reduced to wastes of burning sulfur, but which themselves cease to exist as cities once they have been razed to the ground." The rising smoke in Revelation 14:10 is a trace of the destruction wrought by the consuming fire. And the torment relates to the moment of their destruction rather than eternal suffering.

But, fundamentalists, the text speaks of "the smoke of their torment" going up "for ever and ever" and thereby connects the suffering of persons with eternal duration. Fundamentalists also point to the sentence that follows-"There is no rest day or night" for the wicked-as evidence of eternal punishment. Conditionalists counter that this does not prove endless suffering but only suffering that lasts as long as the sufferers do.

Fundamentalists point to Revelation 20:10 as unequivocally teaching eternal punishment. After the devil is cast into the lake of fire, John reports that the devil, beast, and false prophet "will be tormented day and night for ever and ever." Because "day and night" is further modified by "for ever and ever.

They refuse, however, and instead argue that this text says nothing about human beings suffering eternal torment. Indeed, the devil, beast, and false prophet function symbolically here to denote opposition to God. In fact, the meaning of the imagery of Revelation 20:10 considered in its totality, they argue, is annihilation. This is confirmed, conditionalists claim, by the fact that a few verses later the lake of fire is defined as "the second death," a clear reference to cessation of being.

Fundamentalists remain unconvinced. The devil, at least, and probably his henchmen, are personal beings. Furthermore, Jesus in Matthew 25:41 assigns the "goats" to "the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." Fundamentalists also reject conditionalists' equating the lake of fire with annihilation, arguing instead that death signifies not extermination but separation. The second death, therefore, stands for eternal separation from God. Moreover, the lake of fire signifies eternal torment in Revelation 20:10; if conditionalists' interpretation were correct, shouldn't John have indicated a change in its meaning five verses later when he speaks of humans being thrown into it?

From philosophy to blessedness

The report notes that four main theological issues also figure in the debate.

1. The place of philosophy. Annihilationists claim that the church Fathers imbibed uncritically the Greek notion of the immortal soul and consequently were misled into the Fundamental doctrine of hell. If all human beings live forever, the argument runs, they must forever inhabit either heaven or hell. Fundamentalists point out that, aside from the debated question of Platonic influence on the Fathers, the important thing is whether the Bible teaches immortality. Fundamentalists take different paths here, some claiming Scripture affirms immortality, others saying Scripture implies it. Matthew 10:28 ("Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell") is hotly contested: conditionalists insist on the plain sense; fundamentalists say destruction is a metaphor for terrible loss.

2. God's love and justice. How could God's love and justice possibly be made known in the everlasting conscious torment of human beings? Indeed, the report notes, "This question is regularly cited by conditionalists as a starting point for their abandonment of the fundamental position." How is it just for God to punish for eternity sins committed in a finite lifetime? Some Fundamentalists have followed Aquinas in insisting that sins against an infinite God deserve infinite recompense. They have maintained that only a holy and just God (not sinful human beings) is qualified to determine the consequences of sin. They suspect that conditionalists "are succumbing to contemporary cultural representations of pain as the ultimate evil to be avoided, when sin against God is in fact a more heinous thing." And Fundamentalists have affirmed that eternal conscious punishment will bring glory to God, the righteous Judge.

3. God's triumph. According to conditionalists, the fundamentalist picture of the end mars the biblical hope of God's ultimate victory, for fundamentalism pictures an eternal eschatological dualism between good and evil.

Fundamentalists reply that Revelation 21 and 22 paint a picture that includes the lake of fire as well as the new heavens and new earth. They insist that God will reign over heaven and hell and be glorified in both places.

4. The blessedness of the redeemed. Conditionalists argue that the joys of the saved in heaven would be diminished by their knowledge of the never-ending suffering of the lost in hell. The standard fundamentalist response is that God will remove any pain that those in heaven might otherwise experience.

The need for sensitive reflection

The report next seeks to remedy the fact that evangelicals on both sides of the debate have produced little in the way of pastoral reflection. It calls all to hold solemn and sensitive attitudes toward hell. Evangelicals historically have understood hell as a spur to evangelism. Recently, however, some have debated how prominent a place hell should have in Christian witness.

Fundamentalists accuse conditionalists of underestimating the fate of the lost, and conditionalists criticize fundamentalists for unnecessarily adding to the scandal of the gospel. The report calls for a truce and urges Christians to combine words of God's justice and love when presenting the gospel.

For example, on the issue of what believers are to say to terminally ill patients who do not know Christ: While demonstrating God's love in their actions and avoiding exploitation, Christians are to speak of God's judgment as background for sharing the good news of Christ. Concerning pastoral care of the bereaved, pastors should rejoice at the home-going of a believer, but it is inadvisable to pronounce that a specific person is in hell. Instead, pastors should preach the gospel to the living.

Room at the evangelical table [*?]

Though the report acknowledges that Fundamentalism is the majority view among evangelicals, it strives to maintain fellowship with conditionalists. Although a few fundamentalists have questioned the right of conditionalists to be called evangelical Christians, the working group that drafted The Nature of Hell affirms that right.

In terms of doctrine, the study confirmed that the main conditionalists show a high regard for the authority of Scripture and attempt to base their case chiefly on biblical exegesis. Historically speaking, though, conditionalism fares far worse than fundamentalism.

Although evangelicals are wary of appeals to tradition as compared to Scripture, the testimony of history, in which few major theologians have wavered from fundamentalism,places a considerable burden of proof on conditionalists.

Yet conditionalism seems to share an evangelical worldview or ethos with fundamentalism. Furthermore, conditionalists bear a "family resemblance"; they are part of the same relational network. Indeed, "when it comes to those who have moved from fundamentalism towards conditionalism, the familial ties remain strong," the report notes.

Conclusions and recommendations The Nature of Hell ends with 11 conclusions (each accompanied by biblical proofs) and 11 recommendations. First, a summary of the conclusions:

All human beings will die and will be resurrected to face God's judgment, issuing either in eternal glory or condemnation to hell. Furthermore, "God has revealed no other way to salvation and eternal life apart from through Jesus Christ."

"While rejecting universalism and postmortem repentance, the report affirms, "In his sovereignty, God might save some who have not explicitly professed faith in Jesus Christ," although we are not to assume this in any specific case. Christians should therefore evangelize, assuming that it is through proclamation of the gospel that God saves people."

*..."I" reject universalism but I embrace postmorttem repenance completely

"The gospel is chiefly good news but also includes the message of hell:"

"Hell is more than mere annihilation at the point of death. Rather death will lead on to resurrection and final judgment to either heaven or hell." Hell involves separation from God, severe punishment, and is "a conscious experience of rejection and torment."

*..."I" do not concure. "I" am NOT a fundamentalist.

"Furthermore, "There are degrees of punishment and suffering in hell."

*...This too I view bull----. There are no "Degrees' of ceasing to be. You either cease or you don't.

Then come the recommendations:

"Hell understood as eternal conscious punishment is the historic view of the church and is the mainstream evangelical position."

*...WRONG. hell as understand as as eternal conscious punishment is the Fundamental position..NOT the mainstream position.

"Still, "Conditional immortality is a significant minority evangelical view. Furthermore, we believe that the fundamentalist-conditionalist debate on hell should be regarded as a secondary rather than a primary issue for evangelical theology."

*...Good luck with that, = to get Fundamental to agree that any of their interpretations are secondary rather than promary is all but impossible.

"Furthermore, "We understand the current Evangelical Alliance Basis of Faith to allow both fundamentalist and conditionalist interpretations of hell"; nonetheless it would be helpful to add a clause on eschatology that includes conditionalism. The evangelical fundamentalist-conditionalist debate should continue with the parties maintaining "constructive dialogue and respectful relationships."

*...That WOULD be nice but so far I have not personally seen where fundamentalists acknoweldge the conditionalists views. The few times I have seen a Progressive Baptists, Luthern or United Methodists try..instantly the fundamental Protestant presumes they are either Mormon or JW and proceeds to call them an unorthodox "cult."

An American assessment

The report is a model of how evangelicals can study together constructively, even when they must agree to disagree. The working group did its homework well, as the extensive bibliography and footnotes attest. A spirit of Christian fairness pervades the report. Fundamentalist and conditionalist views are given on every debated point.

Too often evangelicals have ended up with black eyes before the world by conducting their debates with acrimony and rancor.

From the perspective of evangelical Anglicanism, the report must be deemed a success. It has a clear purpose: not to allow the fundamentalist-conditionalist debate to further divide evangelicals in the United Kingdom. This is evident in the candor with which it describes the history of the debate, in the makeup of the working group (including scholars on both sides), in its design (the first and last two chapters form a literary inclusion that calls for theological inclusion), and in its conclusions and recommendations:

Readers should not miss the point: the book is not a debate between fundamentalist and conditionalists concerning the nature of hell. Instead, it is a summary of that debate written to bring fundamentalist and conditionalists together. It is an attempt at damage control.

"As an American evangelical and a Reformed theologian, I have learned from The Nature of Hell. I have added to my bibliography, learned new ways conditionalists handle exegetical and theological problems, been brought up short a few times (the report cites my Hell on Trial frequently, usually favorably, but twice offers criticism), and appreciated the pastoral applications. I agree that the fundamentalist-conditionalist debate does not extend to matters of salvation."

*...I appreciate this. But unforuantly I think you are rare in this.

"Yet I do not agree that the fundamentalist -conditionalist debate should be regarded as "secondary," if that means a debatable matter as church government and eschatology are debatable. In my view conditionalism is a more serious error for three reasons."

*...Oh dear. I guess I bragged on you too soon.

"First, despite good intentions, the conditionalist exegesis of the key texts falls short. After studying the report's presentation of the key exegetical debates, my conviction that fundamentalist is the teaching of Scripture has been strengthened."

*...Just as with the Evangelical book, "A Cause For Faith," that Evangelical writter too came away beliving this. That is positions and explainations help shoot down any support in favor of conditionalism...but as a Conditionalist myself I concluded the complete opposite.

"Second, conditionalism frequently leads to systemic error, adversely affecting other doctrines. So it is in the case of Edward Fudge, perhaps the conditionalist most cited in The Nature of Hell."

*...Us conditionalists say the same of you fundamentalism. You believe your defense in support of hellfire is convincing..yet in your over fail to see how your very belief that hell is eternal fire contridict the very basics that God is love. And you fail at resolving the question that if God has already deemed that a person can not be rehabilitated...then what is the point of conscious punishment? Is not the purpose of pushiment the hope for reform? Even when Saul or Tarsus was blinded ..this DID prove to be a punishment act that DID lead to Paul reform and thus his salvation? What's the point or logic in keeping someone around forever if they can't learn from their errors and become reformed?

"I fear that conditionalism might have a negative effect on evangelism and missions. If fundamentalism is correct, then conditionalism seriously underestimates the pains of hell"

*...Oh gee! If we stop using scare tacticts in our sermons and simply rely on love then how can we scare people into coming back each week?

"Indeed, the lost would rather be annihilated because their suffering would be over."

*...His words there, not mine. ;)

D. A. Carson speaks a hard but necessary truth:

"Despite the sincerity of their motives, one wonders more than a little to what extent the growing popularity of various forms of annihilationism and conditional immortality are a reflection of this age of pluralism. It is getting harder and harder to be faithful to the "hard lines" of Scripture. And in this way, evangelicalism itself may contribute to the gagging of God by silencing the severity of his warnings and by minimizing the awfulness of the punishment that justly awaits those untouched by his redeeming grace." *...Fear not. I don't extremists are in any near future danger fading away...not that is..unitll Judgement Day...

Robert A. Peterson is professor of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. He is the author of Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment (P&R) and, with Edward Fudge, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue (IVP).

Related Elsewhere

Be sure to read the related stories to this article, "Rightly Dividing the Hell Debate Advocates and Writings" and "Coming to Terms in the Hell Debate."

The Evangelical Alliance's press release about its report is available on the organization's Web site.

Media coverage of The Nature of Hell includes:

Is there a Hell? Yes, experts say, and it's awful-The Age (Apr. 3, 2000)

So Hell is a real place after all. Thank heavens for that.-The Independent (Apr. 3, 2000)

Children 'should be told of hell' | Liberals twitch as evangelicals turn to fire and brimstone-The Guardian (Apr. 15, 2000)

Unless Jesus Says Otherwise, Hell Exists, Asserts Evangelical Report | British group acknowledges differences on annihilationism, but says doctrine of hell must be preached again.-Christianity Today (Apr. 18, 2000)

Hell Is There and "Occupied" | The UK's Evangelical Alliance reaffirms the reality of hell in a report to be published next week.-Religion News Service/Beliefnet

British evangelicals emphasize Hell-Evangelical Press/B.C. Christian News (May 2000)

Hell is back in business | Trends come and go, so don't be surprised when you hear the latest: Hades is hot, angels are (June 12, 2000

Read Robert A. Peterson's meditation on "Christ Our Kinsman-Redeemer."

Previous Christianity Today articles on hell include:

'Hell Took a Body, and Discovered God' | One of the oldest and best Easter sermons, now 1,600 years old, is still preached today. (April 24, 2000)

Unless Jesus Says Otherwise, Hell Exists, Asserts Evangelical Report | British group acknowledges differences on Annihilationism, but says doctrine of hell must be preached again. (April 18, 2000)

Is Hell Forever? | Annihilationists anticipate one ultimate destiny for the wicked, an undifferentiated nonexistence. (Oct. 5, 1998)

Can We Be Good Without Hell? | (June 16, 1997)

October 23, 2000, Vol. 44, No. 12, Page 30

2005 The Earth Eden Project

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