“You REALLY Believe in HELL?! But WHY?” (Ten Reasons) (Reason 8) The False Alternatives: ANNIHILATIONISM

21 Feb

Why in the world would someone believe in hell? And what exactly does it mean to “believe” in hell? These are a couple of the questions we want to answer in this ten-part series of posts. We’ve looked at REASON #1 — I got saved out of a fear of hell. We’ve also thought about REASON #2 – Hell makes sense. We’ve also considered REASON #3 — How does the doctrine of hell relate to the doctrine of God? We also touched on REASON #4 – How does the doctrine of eternal lostness relate to the doctrine of Man? We’ve  thought about REASON #5 – How does hell relate to the doctrine of Sin? We’ve also considered REASON #6 — How does the doctrine of eternal hell relate to the doctrine of SALVATION (Soteriology)? In our last post on this topic we asked about hell’s relationship to the Person of Christ.

In our last three posts we want to consider the THREE ALTERNATIVES suggested to take the place of eternal conscious punishment. This morning we will think about the most popular alternative view — and that is ANNIHILATIONISM.

This view teaches that the wicked will be destroyed, put out of existence, cease to be at God’s judgment. I must admit that if I could vote on a doctrine, I’d consider voting for this one. But doctrine is not determined democratically. The only issue is: what does the Bible teach?

Those who hold (or held) to annihilationism are such Evangelical notables as John R.W. Stott, Clark Pinnock, and Michael Green. [I’ve examined each of these three alternative views carefully in my book The Other Side of the Good News]. The most prominent American who has vigorously advocated this view (sometimes called “conditionalism”) is Edward Fudge in his book The Fire Which Consumes.  [I think my friend Robert Peterson does a good job refuting Fudge in the book they co-authored entitled Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue].

Stott’s view was revealed in his book Evangelical Essentials (co-authored with David Edwards); Michael Green’s view shows up in his Evangelism Through the Local Church: A Comprehensive Guide to All Aspects of Evangelism. There Green writes that the Bible “does not teach the conscious unending torment of those who are eternally separated from God. The language of ‘destruction’ is the most common description of final loss in the Bible… there is no need to think of eternal ongoing enjoyment of God being necessarily matched by eternal ongoing torment away from God.”

Annihilationism is the doctrine held by Seventh-Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. This doesn’t make that view wrong; I’m just stating a fact.

John Stott provided his four major reasons for holding to this view.
(1) Scriptural Language: He argues that the use of words like “destroy” and expressions like the wicked “are not” prove that the wicked will cease to exist.
(2) Scriptural Imagery: Stott argues that the primary purpose of fire is destruction.
(3) Scriptural Justice: Stott reasons that eternal punishment for finite sins makes no sense.
(4) Scriptural Universalism: He insists that the doctrine of eternal conscious punishment contradicts the very concept of God’s final victory over evil.

My brief response to Stott (I’ve answered his arguments more thoroughly in my The Other Side of the Good News) is as follows: To argument #1, “destroy” does not mean ceasing to exist. My teenaged son “destroyed” my car when he drove it into a snow-covered ditch, but the car still existed. “Destroy” can mean ruin. The expression that the wicked “are not” (such as in Proverbs 12:7 which says “The wicked are overthrown, and are not: but the house of the righteous shall stand.” KJV) does not prove that the wicked will cease to exist. We read in Genesis 5:24 that “Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” To “be no more” does not equal cessation of existence.

To argument #2, Stott says the primary purpose of fire is destruction. However, the fire of hell is described as indestructible and eternal and unable to be quenched (Mk. 9:48; Jude 1:7; Mt. 18:8; 25:41). And the burning bush in Exodus 3:2 in the wilderness was not consumed; its purpose was to get Moses’ attention.

To argument #3, Stott reasons that eternal punishment for finite sins makes no sense. But the time needed to commit a crime isn’t the criterion for judgment. The nature of the crime and the person against whom it is committed are the critical issues. Rejecting the Son of God — what could be a greater crime than that?

Stott’s fourth argument could be called “Scriptural universalism.” The very idea of eternal conscious punishment, according to Stott, contradicts the biblical concept of God’s final victory over evil. However, when we incarcerate criminals and remove them from society, such a removal doesn’t diminish our finite “victory” over evil, does it? Annihilationism is indeed a form of universalism, for if the only category of human beings who exist forever are the redeemed, then salvation is universal (the wicked being put out of existence). All the language that indicates the wicked will be expelled from God’s presence (“Depart from me. I never knew you,” Mt. 7:23) as well as Jesus’ teaching about the expulsion of the wicked into the “everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41).

In our next post, we will discuss another alternative to eternal conscious punishment — after-death opportunities for salvation. (to be continued)

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Posted by on February 21, 2020 in hell


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