Are you a closet annihilationist?

National Geographichttp://www.dennyburk.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/030916_0459_IsHellrealD1.png has an interesting article on the doctrine of Hell. Chris Date, Preston Sprinkle, Clark Pinnock, and Edward Fudge are all quoted in the piece. The gist of it is that evangelical belief in the traditional doctrine of hell is in decline.

Over the last 20 years, the number of Americans who believe in the fiery down under has dropped from 71 percent to 58 percent. Heaven, by contrast, fares much better and, among Christians, remains an almost universally accepted concept…

Annihilationsists believe they have already made significant inroads within the evangelical community.

“My prediction is that, even within conservative evangelical circles, the annihilation view of hell will be the dominant view in 10 or 15 years,” says Preston Sprinkle, who co-authored the book Erasing Hell, which, in 2011, debuted at number three on the New York Times bestseller list. “I base that on how many well-known pastors secretly hold that view. I think that we are at a time and place when there is a growing suspicion of adopting tradition for the sake of tradition.”

Four thoughts about this:

1. I don’t know about this prediction. Christianity in America is bedeviled by false teaching on every side. It may very well be that belief in annihilationism is on the rise. But still, the “dominant” view? Dominant among whom? Bible-believing Christians? Bible-believing Christians around the world? I don’t think so. In the entire 2,000-year history of the Christian church, the near consensus view has been the Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT) view. The recent decline of that view in the West may simply be a sign of Christianity’s decline in the West. I’m not convinced it’s a sign the Christian church is undergoing some historic shift in its doctrine of Hell.

2. Western “Christians” who forsake the traditional doctrine of Hell tend to be drifting in other crucial areas of doctrine as well. I do not claim this is true in every individual case, but it is true in many cases. What we believe about Hell is fundamentally a reflection of what we believe about God, his character, and his justice. Revisions in the doctrine of Hell, therefore, are often accompanied by other revisions that undermine orthodox evangelical faith. I have in mind someone like Clark Pinnock, who is featured in the article as an “evangelical” proponent of annihilationism. But everyone who knows Pinnock knows that he was way off the evangelical reservation in his doctrine of God.

3. I know, I know. This is where all the annihliationists vociferously object, “But what about John Stott? Don’t you know he was an annihilationist? Don’t you think he was an evangelical?” Yes, I think he was evangelical. But I also believe that he had a patently unbiblical view of Hell. He was wrong. Really wrong. And his error on this point is the gift that keeps on giving, so to speak. Over the last couple of decades, his otherwise impeccable credentials have provided cover for others who have drifted away from the traditional view. Honestly, I wonder if there would even be any serious evangelical consideration of this view if it weren’t for him. In my estimation, it is not the legacy of Fudge that has given this view such staying power. It’s Stott’s legacy. And that is sad.

4. At the end of the day, this is a question of biblical interpretation. What does the Bible teach? I am in agreement with the overwhelming testimony of the Christian church over the last 2,000 years. I make the case for that view in my chapter of Sprinkle’s book (which is also mentioned in the article). If you want to read it, you can order it here. I would also commend Robert Peterson’s contributions in Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment and Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue.

44 Responses to Are you a closet annihilationist?

  1. Chris May 14, 2016 at 3:42 pm #

    I have to say, as a seminary graduate and biblical inerrantist who has given a great deal of thought to the issue of conditional immortality, I find your comment that “Western ‘Christians’ who forsake the traditional doctrine of Hell tend to be drifting in other crucial areas of doctrine as well” a tad bit insulting.

    I’m sure you engage the issue in greater (and more charitable?) terms in the book, which I hope to read soon, but there are many of us who believe that conditional immortality is more consistent with the biblical testimony, and who do not venture off into strange aberrations of doctrine like you imply in your post.

    • Manley Beasley May 15, 2016 at 2:48 am #

      Your view has been proved to be unbiblical repeatedly and warrants a rebuke for its deviation from orthodoxy. I’m sure Mr. Burk is happy to stand behind his initial statement since it is accurate. It seems very post-modern of you to ask him to change his “terms” simply because you found it insulting.

      • Chris May 15, 2016 at 6:51 pm #

        Mr. Beasley –
        I find your response to my comment rather interesting. First of all, you know nothing about me, about the nuances of my views, nor about the prayer and study that went into them. However, you feel the need to call for a “rebuke for its deviation from orthodoxy.” I am not a member of your congregation, or of your denomination, though I did receive my MDiv from Liberty University, where I encountered many Baptists, most of whom were very congenial to theological discourse
        .
        Secondly, you write that “It seems very post-modern of you to ask him to change his “terms” simply because you found it insulting.” I am not a post-modern in any sense of the word, and for you to declare my statement post-modern seems either highly speculative as to my theology, or else betrays a gross misunderstanding on your part of what post-modernism is.

        Thirdly, I never asked Dr. Burk to “change his terms.” All I commented on was the fact that he makes those who are not convinced that eternal conscious torment is the Biblical view out to be theologically wish-washy. In fact, most of the scholars and laymen I’ve read who take an annihilationist view (whether classical annihilationism or conditional immortality – no doubt you’re well-read enough to know the difference) have a very high view of scripture, are not post-modern or liberal in the slightest, and are very interested in engaging in rich theological discussion.

        I hope this clarifies things for you a bit, and suggest you aim your firebrands at the Enemy, rather than your co-laborers.

  2. J L Parks May 14, 2016 at 4:10 pm #

    The story goes that after one of D.L. Moody’s crusade meetings, an audience member came up to the great preacher and asked “Mr Moody- why do you preach so much about hell, and not as much about the meek and lowly Jesus?” Moody is said to have answered “almost everything I know about hell, I have learned from the meek and lowly Jesus”.

    An interesting point is that Jesus’s watershed story about hell (Luke 16, the rich man and Lazarus), is not a parable. No parable in the gospels has a real individual’s name in it…it is just as real today, as it was then. But God has provided an escape- salvation through the finished work of His own dear Son/

    • Rob Wells May 17, 2016 at 3:04 pm #

      Pssst…It’s a parable. 🙂

      It is the last of a group of parables Jesus spoke. Also, there is this:

      Matthew 13:
      34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowds in parables. He did not tell them anything without using a parable.

      35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.”…

      Also, I do not remember reading anything in the Parable Rule Book about not using proper nouns in parables

      BTW, Lazarus means “helpless” or “whom God helps”.

  3. Ike Lentz May 14, 2016 at 6:29 pm #

    Point 4 is the most common defense I hear from ECT proponents. After all, if something has been believed by most Christians for 2,000 years, the issue must be settled.
    However, I think it’s possible that most Christians have believed in ECT because it was the default belief of their time, and not as a result of a thorough study of the doctrine.

    For most of my life I had been taught that ECT was the only Biblical view of hell, and I was unaware of any alternatives. 4 years ago, a close friend became a conditionalist. Worried for their salvation, I turned to my concordance to find proof texts for ECT. To my shock, plain readings of well-known verses like John 3:16 and Romans 6:23 were actually proof texts for annihilationism. That sent me down a year-long rabbit hole of reading and listening to every pro-ECT sermon, lecture, and debate I could find on the subject. In the end, it seemed to me that the best case for ECT wasn’t rooted in scripture, but tradition.

    I don’t know if I agree with Sprinkle that annihilationism will be the dominant view in 15 years, but consider that the advent of the internet has allowed laymen like myself to be exposed to multiple views on a theological subject for the first time in history. Even 10 years ago, my only resources on hell would have been my pastor, his personal library, and other church leaders- all of whom would have disavowed annihilationism as heretical by default.

  4. Peter McKenzie May 14, 2016 at 6:36 pm #

    It should be noted that salvation is equally gained, and viewed as an escape from hell in the conditionalist view – as well as the traditionalist view. Re the parable, it is worth noting there that, whether it is a parable or not, (final) hell is not in view in the passage. That fact can be derived by observing that, since the rich man’s brothers are still alive on earth, the judgement has yet to take place. As such, the characters of the story are in a temporary place of the dead called Hades – and not in the location of final destruction. The lake of fire, (or the second death) is the place where final destruction takes place. In the conditionalist view, the wicked actually die and are said to be “dead”. They are not experiencing a living death or some other odd phenomenon. Also, their destruction “destroys” them. CS Lewis commented that Paul chose a poor word in 2 Thess 1:9 – if indeed the wicked are said to experience destruction, but are never actually destroyed. This verse and the one in Matthew 25 are the ones that kept me from completely rejecting ECT – until it occurred to me that the text doesn’t say “eternal destructing” or “eternal punishing”. The adjective “eternal” merely modifies “destruction” and ‘punishment” – so that the outcome is clear. The punishment and the destruction are final and irreversible.

  5. Robert Olsen May 14, 2016 at 9:23 pm #

    My problem with arguments for annihilationism is that they almost all appear post-enlightenment. I recognize that just because the church hasn’t taught it throughout history doesn’t make something right or wrong, but when we reject the teachings of Augustine, Anselm, Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Beza, Melancthon, Edwards, Whitefield, Wesley, Spurgeon, and Schaeffer, to name a few, it smacks of chronological snobbery as Lewis says. Many Christians think that since our modern selves recognize that an eternal Hell doesn’t mesh with our view of God’s love, we need to reject the traditional teaching of the Church and, what most people through history would say, the clear teaching of Scripture in favor of a God who is more likeable, or matches modern culture. I would agree that once we diminish the wrath of God, other aspects of Scripture begin to fall by the wayside, ending up with a neutered gospel. We can look to history to see this as it happened in almost every mainstream denomination over the past 2 centuries.

  6. Alex Smith May 15, 2016 at 2:09 am #

    Claiming it has been “the overwhelming testimony of the Christian church over the last 2,000 years” seems to discount the range of views that existed for hundreds of years in the Early Church, and continued throughout the centuries, and still exist in the Eastern church (and now in many places, thanks to the Internet informing us of the views).

    The Reformers would’ve faced the same criticism – “how dare they change the tradition of 1500 years”.

  7. Manley Beasley May 15, 2016 at 2:56 am #

    I just ask that the people who secretly hold to this view would be open about it so their churches and denominations can handle this as they see fit. It’s not right to have a view that’s at odds with your confession and not let people know about it.

    • Rob Wells May 17, 2016 at 2:35 pm #

      Who agrees 100% in lockstep with their pastor on every single issue? I suppose some look for perfect agreement on every single issue, no matter how trivial. Maybe that is why we have so many different denominations of “Baptist” churches in central Kentucky, where I live.

      My old pastor (Christian Church) actually had two Church of Christ evangelists “shake the dust off their feet” as they left his doorstep because he thought it was ok to play musical instruments in church.

  8. Peter McKenzie May 15, 2016 at 11:00 am #

    I personally held to a belief in ECT for 30 years – and it was an examination of the “clear teaching of Scripture” that led me to change my position on hell. Nothing else would have prompted me to switch – including emotion, liberal voices or popular vote. If in fact, conditionalism will be shown to be the correct view at the end of time, it will expose the fact that the masses in the church did not have everything nailed down. Knowing that the majority opinion is not always the correct one, should drive us to do our own study – especially given the critical nature of the topic. To my own shame, I came to realize that I had not been “taught” about hell in the church. I had been “told” about it. If ECT is in fact an erroneous doctrine, it will follow that no other doctrine will have done more to impugn the character of God. If we are presenters of a truthful gospel, rather than neutering it, the truth will go forth and bear much fruit.

  9. Rob Wells May 15, 2016 at 1:28 pm #

    I was surprised when I read that you graduated from a Southern Baptist (SB) seminary because I assumed this article was going to support CI or annihilationism. But then I read the article and realized you do reflect the teaching of SB.

    I became an annihilationist six years ago. I moved to Campbellsville KY five years ago and work in Louisville. I’m also in a southern gospel band that plays at a bunch of local Southern Baptist churches. I’m appalled at the misery and fear in these churches and the constant hell and brimstone message, especially as someone who has bothered to actually study the subject. I usually hold my tongue, but that is about to end, now that I consider the traditional viewpoint to be harming the Christian message.

    Regarding the four points above:

    1. You said: “Christianity in America is bedeviled by false teaching on every side. It may very well be that belief in annihilationism is on the rise.”

    I believe that is how Catholics see the protestant church. “New” doesn’t mean “wrong”. Fact is, most traditionalists can’t really support their position. I know, I’ve come across it a LOT and the arguments are not only the same two or three scriptures, but they can be easily refuted by using many dozens of scriptures when using plain English translations from the original Greek and Hebrew. It’s one of the reasons I became an annihilationist in the first place. I was one of those people.

    2. You said: “Western “Christians” who forsake the traditional doctrine of Hell tend to be drifting in other crucial areas of doctrine as well.”

    Actually, I have two comments about that. First, it is an attempt at guilt by association. I don’t do that with traditionalists, though I could compare them to muslims since they both believe the same thing about hell. Also about alcohol, come to think about it. 🙂

    Second, The reason I became an annihilationist was because, after years of reading the bible along with prayer, I saw the traditional viewpoint to be an affront to the personality of the God of the bible and how He deals with those who are not His. It’s very, VERY clear all over scripture.

    3. You said: ” I know, I know. This is where all the annihliationists vociferously object, ‘But what about John Stott? Don’t you know he was an annihilationist? Don’t you think he was an evangelical?'”

    Again, this is an attempt to paint annihilationists as people who try to support their beliefs by association with “high profile and respected men” who agree with them. I believe what I believe not because it is what any other man believes. I believe it because it is what the bible actually teaches AND because it is in harmony with the personality of the God of the bible. Both covenants.

    4. You said, “At the end of the day, this is a question of biblical interpretation. What does the Bible teach? I am in agreement with the overwhelming testimony of the Christian church over the last 2,000 years.”

    Well, it’s not 2,000 years. Closer to 1,600 since it wasn’t until Augustine that this became dominant. And most of the people in those hundreds of years had no clue what was in the bible. They just believed what they were told. This is still true today. I have a pastor friend here in Kentucky that became pastor of a church and discovered very elderly members of that church who had been attending VERY regularly since they were children. They were high profile church members and yet they could not tell you the difference between the old and new testaments.

    So, I’m wrong because I disagree with THEM?!

    John 3:16 is very clear, as is Romans 6:26. As are virtually all parts of the bible that even touch on the fate of the lost and saved after this life. And thanks to the ease of checking original texts and languages through the internet and sites such as blueletterbible and bible hub, anyone can research it.

    And that may be the REAL reason so many are coming to the annihilist camp.

    • J L Parks May 15, 2016 at 3:48 pm #

      To be an “annihilationist”, you must simply discard parts of Scripture. Of the lost in eternal fiery judgment, Jesus Himself said “where their soul does not die, and the fire is never quenched”, and He said it 3 times (Mark 9:44-48). Jude states that the sinners and apostates of Sodom and Gomorrha will “suffer the vengeance of eternal fire” (v.7). And from the Great White throne judgment, those not found written in the Lamb’s book of life, are cast into the eternal lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).

      But hey- if millions can cut and trim the abomination of homosexuality out of plainly-written Scripture, I guess they can do it to ECT as well…

      And finally, the character of God DEMANDS the lake of fire. He is angry with the wicked every do, and He cannot overlook or negate sin, which is also His character. The amazing thing is this…the only phrase I can find where I can show someone what I have been SAVED FROM, is in Romans 5:9, where Scripture says I have been “saved from wrath”. The grace of God’s salvation, is that He offers, through the cross, to save me from Himself! The God of grace has saved me, from ever facing the God of wrath.

      But those who reject Him and are never saved, suffer His wrath, in the lake of fire, forever.

      • Ike Lentz May 15, 2016 at 7:20 pm #

        JL,

        You have misread Mark 9. It doesn’t say the “soul” won’t die, it says the “worm” won’t die. The worm and unquenchable fire are not proof of an eternal soul, or that the torment itself is eternal. Also, the fire in Jude refers to the fire which came down from heaven and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, and which killed their inhabitants. That fire is not continuously destroying Sodom and Gomorrah to this day. Lastly, death itself is cast into the lake of fire in Revelation only 4 verses later. Do you think it’s wise to base our understanding of hell on a verse (and an entire book) that is highly symbolic?

        To counter, I think you have to disregard parts of scripture to NOT be an annihilationist. What do you do with verses like Romans 2:7, Romans 6:23, John 3:16, Matthew 10:28, and so on? To say that annihilationists “simply discard” scripture is a misrepresentation of most annihilationists I know.

      • robsfk@gmail.com May 16, 2016 at 1:31 pm #

        See my number 1 above. And as Ike Lentz pointed out, the meaning of words actually matters. There are plenty of places on the internet you can read about this. There are plenty of youtube videos.

        BTW, my favorite is a two parter. The pastor is simply trying to get his people to THINK and STUDY. And he answers everything you brought up, plus a mountain of other things you didn’t. Thing is, it is important to take the bible as a whole and find the personality of God in it and then look at the original Greek and Hebrew words and our modern definitions. A clear picture does present itself.

        (…)

        I’m lazy. No need for me to bring up all this stuff when he already did.

        • J L Parks May 16, 2016 at 4:14 pm #

          I know what the words mean. They mean Eternal Conscious Torment. This is repeated over and over and over in Scripture. For you to fall for what one “pastor” says, when serious Bible students (I’ve studied it for over 50 years) know exactly WHY one must be saved, and what “perish” means, and what “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” means. To whitewash this simple but solemn truth, puts you in the decided minority.
          Some might even label annihilationism as “wishful thinking”…

          • Ike Lentz May 16, 2016 at 5:12 pm #

            JL, no offense, but the phrase “eternal conscious torment” isn’t found in scripture. The case for ECT is built on exegisis of relevant passages, just like the case for annihilationism.

            I would encourage you to look into the annihilationist position. I know that it’s a minority opinion in church history, but I was persuaded by scripture, and have never found a scripture-based refutation to be at all convincing. I was initially trying to refute annihilationism when I first looked into it.

            • J L Parks May 17, 2016 at 10:43 am #

              Ike- when Jesus said, three times in one conversation, “where their soul does not die, and the fire is never quenched”, is the simplest and most profound Scriptural definition of ECT. There is simply NO other way to view His words, other than to fit the agenda of someone who does not want to believe what He is simply and solemnly saying. Take your argument to the rich man. Right this moment, after 2000 years or so, of wanting a single drop of water, he’d love to hear your thoughts!

              • Ike Lentz May 17, 2016 at 12:37 pm #

                JL, what verse are you referring to? I can’t find “where the soul does not die” anywhere in my Bible.

              • Rob Wells May 17, 2016 at 1:24 pm #

                Jesus never said that.

          • Rob Wells May 17, 2016 at 2:14 pm #

            Which words are you interpreting to mean ECT? You say it is repeated over and over and over in scripture but I’m not seeing it. Do I just need to study 50 years to see even one of them?

            I’ve only been actively studying this issue since around 2010. Interestingly, I believed in ECT before I studied it because I simply believed what others said. When I studied it, it didn’t take long to see the error in much of what they told me. And more study made it very, VERY clear that a lot of us are reading into scripture things that are not there.

            You say you know why one must be saved. I thought I did too. Do you know what the bible says we are to be saved FROM? I do. Well, I do based on what the bible says happens to people without the blood of Christ.

            And I understand your reference to Jude 1:7, but surely, with 50 years of study under your belt you know that Sodom is not still burning. And there are many other places in the bible where the word translated to the english word “eternal”, meant a finite period of time. In fact, it refers to an age. Even more likely, aiónios means “lasting”. It is more of a qualitative, rather than quantitative word. And that Jeremiah, said of Sodom and Gomorrah after they were burned up, “No man will live there, Nor will any son of man reside in it.” Qualitatively speaking it sounds pretty final and ever lasting in its result.

            Where am I whitewashing?

      • Terry Galloway May 16, 2016 at 6:32 pm #

        I totally agree with you as I have studied the Bible. I just finished studying Revelation and having received salvation by faith alone, I am forever grateful for His rescue from hell. I would have heard Matthew 7:21-23. Jesus warned about hell way more than He talked about heaven.

        • petergrice May 17, 2016 at 2:22 am #

          Jesus spoke about hell or final punishment approximately 3% of the time, based on a count of Bible verses in which Jesus speaks. He spoke about heaven or final reward (eternal life, etc.) approximately 10% of the time. That’s quite the challenge to the oft-repeated myth that it’s the other way around.

          And he spoke far more about heaven and earth than he did about heaven and hell, which in fact never occur together in the Bible as ultimate destinations or place names (you will search in vain for the phrase “heaven and hell”). The biblical cosmos is one of the heavens (plural) and the earth, and the new heavens and the new earth is the final, integrated cosmic reality. That’s why Jesus preached that the kingdom of heaven was coming to earth, which was always the directionality of God’s redemption program. Final punishment and the eternal/consuming fire operate within this order, as an element to parallel the watery destruction of Noah’s flood, as 2 Peter 3 attests. Traditionalists tends to misunderstand the holistic nature of biblical cosmology, laboring as they do under the dualistic influences of neoplatonism. Simple Bible study does not yield that mistaken framework at all.

      • Rob Wells May 17, 2016 at 2:48 pm #

        Just to be clear, The three references in Mark 9 are to a worm, not soul. It is a reference to the fate of garbage (worms and fire) including dead animals in a city dump that had been used for centuries. The folks listening knew exactly what he was talking about. As do I.

        It is also a reference to the fate of corpses at the very end of Isaiah. As with the unquenchable flame, it is discussing the eternal fate of the lost and referencing the fate of the corpses in Isaiah. That is, it is quite final. They are utterly consumed. The worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.

        And speaking of quenched: It does not mean the fire burns forever. It means it can’t be quenched as long as it has fuel to burn. It’s why some houses burn to the ground. The fire can’t be quenched either because there is no fire hydrant or not enough water or anything else to put out the fire, so it burns until it runs out of fuel.

        That’s the issue with a LOT of this stuff about the eternal fate of the lost. I’ve actually had people argue that Romans 6:23 is proof that the lost suffer consciously for all eternity. I kid you not. Yet that is not what it says, in English, nor in the original Greek. In fact, it says the exact opposite. It is juxtaposed against immortality.

  10. Christiane Smith May 15, 2016 at 1:39 pm #

    There is more of love than ‘wrath’ found in this Scripture: ” . . . how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! ” (from St. Matthew’s Gospel)
    It is sometimes said that God’s wrath is greatest at that which keeps us from Him, that God’s wrath is greatest at that towards which we turn when we turn willingly away from Him. I think there is much truth in this, yes.

  11. James Attebury May 16, 2016 at 12:12 am #

    The problem with annihilationist arguments is that they misinterpret analogical statements concerning the fate of the wicked as univocal ones. I have written about this in my article “Responding to Arguments for Annihilationism” on my blog.

    Also, interpreting “eternal life” as merely endless existence is a completely reductionistic way of understanding how the Bible uses the term.

  12. petergrice May 16, 2016 at 3:32 am #

    I offer a written response to this blog post over at Rethinking Hell. After checking the commenting policy, it seemed within bounds to share the link:

    http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2016/05/no-true-evangelical-scotsman-denny-burk-and-national-geographic-on-the-rise-of-conditionalism/

  13. markcorbett0 May 16, 2016 at 8:20 am #

    Roger,

    Although I don’t know you personally, I see that you have spent your life teaching God’s Word both in His churches and at Seminary. I thank God for your labor and pray that God will bring much good fruit from it.

    With regard to your comment, many of us who have come to believe that the Bible teaches annihilationism are well aware that our view is a small minority view both now and throughout church history. We realize that the view was practically non-existent for centuries. So why do we embrace annihilationism now? Are we just rebellious?

    My own story is similar to others I have heard. I grew up believing in eternal conscious torment. I attended an excellent, evangelical Bible seminary (Columbia International University) where the professors taught this view. I myself taught and defended eternal torment to others. Then somewhere along the way we hear about annihilationism. We read some arguments showing the Biblical evidence in favor of annihilationism. It seems plausible. But, we are very hesitant to accept it for two reasons:

    1. As you mentioned, very close to 100% of all the godly Christian men who have faithfully passed on the true faith to us, both those alive today and those throughout the centuries, have believed in eternal conscious torment. We are rightly hesitant to abandon the doctrine.

    2. While we quickly come to see that there are many verses which do seem to teach annihilationism (Matthew 10:28, John 3:16, Romans 6:23, and 2 Peter 2:6, to name a few of many), there are other passages (especially Revelation 14:9-11 and Revelation 20:10-15), for which there is not a simple, easy annihilationist interpretation.

    So for a period of time (often quite a few years), we remain uncertain. But the Lord places us in situations where we feel we need to know more clearly the truth on this issue. So we study the Bible a LOT. We read all the best books we can find on both sides of the issue. I thanked God when I had a class with a professor who had written a book defending eternal conscious torment. I honestly wanted to find the very best evangelical arguments in favor of eternal conscious torment.

    As we prayerfully study, we see more and more evidence in the Bible for annihilationism. We find that there are in fact very good and reasonable ways to interpret the two passages in Revelation which are consistent with annihilationism. So, at last we find ourselves in a position which we honestly did not want to be in. We have to choose between a massive amount of tradition on the one hand, and a massive amount of Biblical evidence on the other. We have to choose between Augustine, Anselm, Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Beza, Melancthon, Edwards, Whitefield, Wesley, Spurgeon, and Schaeffer on the one hand and Paul, John, Peter, Matthew, Moses, Isaiah, and David on the other. Once we get to this point we really have no option. Unless someone can show us that our understanding of the Bible is wrong (and we have really, no kidding, sought out the very best arguments against annihilationism), we are bound to go with what we now clearly see in the Bible.

    This is why a few weeks ago I finally decided it was time to explain my view on this topic to my wonderful, small, evangelical, theologically conservative, congregation. I thank God that although some disagreed with me, it appears to not have cause any conflict in our church. If you would like to see my two part sermon on the topic, you may find links on my blog here:

    http://parresiazomai.blogspot.com/2016/04/burned-up-annihilationism-versus.html

    Grace and Peace,
    Mark Corbett (with Hope and Joy!)

  14. Christiane Smith May 16, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

    The thing about God’s mercy is that it is much greater than we are able to envision. Only He knows the heart of any individual. Only He knows the sufferings of this world and all of humankind . . . He knows personally, from the cross. And He, having taken on our humanity, understands it in all of its weaknesses and all of its imperfections.

    If God’s love for His creatures was not deeper than His wrath against their wickedness, would there have been a Crucified Lord who said in His agony, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” If this is not reason for hope for sinners in this world, then I don’t know of any other than Christ and Him crucified.

    We need to remember His compassion for those who suffer because He is present there in that suffering. We cannot not fathom the depths of His mercy toward those who are ‘troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’ We have to begin to TRUST deeply in Our Lord’s compassionate mercy for the sake of those who have wandered and, lost, cannot find their resting place.

    • Rob Wells May 17, 2016 at 1:57 pm #

      I can not argue with a word you entered there. I agree with it all. I also like the way you included “love” and “wrath” in the same sentence. I see both as verbs – actions. To paraphrase John 3:16 and Romans 6:23, He shows His love by offering immortality to any who accept His free gift, and His wrath is to complete his promise to kill, once and for all, those who refuse to accept this free gift. I choose immortality over death. Others may choose differently, though.

  15. jim ottaway May 16, 2016 at 3:36 pm #

    National Geographic on hell???? Does this mean that Christianity Today will be doing articles on flamingo migrations? Who turned the world upside down?

  16. Kaspars May 17, 2016 at 3:11 am #

    I think I have a rather unique perspective here. I grew up as a fourth-generation Seventh-Day Adventist – a denomination well-known for its annihilationist views. The very character of God was at stake, I was told. I remember viewing the doctrine of eternal hell with particular abhorrence. I believed in a different God.

    Then three years ago, I came to truly understand the gospel – I was given spiritual sight. It was then that hell actually became reasonable…of all people, I knew my heart, and I knew that I deserved such a punishment for my rebellion against a good and holy God. Furthermore, because of the gravity of sin and the punishment of hell, the cross of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ became that much more meaningful and significant. He drank down my hell, he suffered in my place – and it wasn’t merely to keep me from being snuffed out. Most annihilationists will admit they worship a different God – and that by itself is a frightening statement.

    • J L Parks May 17, 2016 at 10:39 am #

      Kaspars- THAT may be the most reasonable and spiritual comment so far on this thread. Were there no hell or lake of fire, what’s the point of being saved? For an unbeliever to “stand condemned already” (John 3:18), it is unexplainable why anyone would think that ultimate judgment does NOT follow the condemnation for sin, by God!
      Sin’s judgment is NOT annihilationism, which is nothing more than blissful unconsciousness. The Bible clearly teaches Eternal Conscious Torment for the Christ-rejecter. As you state- this is an absolute, to the holy character of God.
      And I’m personally thrilled to hear of the grace of God that delivered you from SDAism.

      • Rob Wells May 17, 2016 at 1:25 pm #

        What about death? Do you value life so little that death is not a thing to be saved from?

        • J L Parks May 17, 2016 at 4:07 pm #

          I’m saved, eternally, by grace. But I’m still going to die. Unless the Lord comes first.
          Salvation from sin does NOT affect physical death. That is unchanged from Adam.

          • Denny Burk May 17, 2016 at 4:09 pm #

            Actually, we believe that salvation from sin does in fact affect physical death.

          • Rob Wells May 17, 2016 at 4:30 pm #

            I’m referring to death of the soul. I see that as definitely a thing to be avoided. I’m not the least bit concerned about the death of my physical body at this point. To live is Christ and to die is gain.

    • Rob Wells May 17, 2016 at 1:37 pm #

      Yes, yours is really, REALLY unique. Usually it goes the other way around.

      I have to ask, though: What was this spiritual sight you were given that the rest of us don’t have? And, what do you mean by hell becoming real? Annihilationists believe that the bible speaks of hell.

      Finally, what about the gravity of your sin made you deserve eternal torment – something infinitely beyond your, or my comprehension? Where, in scripture, does it say any of us deserve such a thing?

  17. Ike Lentz May 17, 2016 at 11:47 pm #

    Denny, out of curiosity, if you were to be convinced of annihilationism and spoke about it publicly, would you lose your job?

    • Denny Burk May 18, 2016 at 12:27 am #

      Yes. But integrity would call for me to resign before that ever happened.

  18. RazorsKiss May 18, 2016 at 9:29 am #

    I had a debate with Chris Date a few years ago. I can attest to the downgrade principle Denny speaks of, first commenter’s opinions or no.

    • petergrice May 18, 2016 at 8:04 pm #

      And I interact with Chris most days, and can attest to his solidly Christian and evangelical credentials, which was the point of the NatGeo article. See how that cancels out? The lengths (and fallacies) to which some will go to deny the evangelical conditionalist movement its evangelical status is telling and embarrassing. Good to see you’re not still sore over the debate though.

    • Christopher Ray May 21, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

      Could you be a bit more specific?

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