As previously mentioned, I’ve begun my study of hell. Based on my understanding of Scripture, and especially the atonement, I feel inclined to believe that unbelievers will experience the finality of death as the punishment for their sin. That is to say, I am inclined towards conditionalism, as opposed to eternal torment, or universalism.
But I want to be sure.
So, I’ve purchased what many have told me is an excellent contemporary defense of eternal torment. The book is Hell Under Fire and has a number of prominent evangelical contributors. Not to mention, at least at this time, the book is only $3 on Amazon Kindle.
I’m hoping to read through the book and share my thoughts here, we’ll see how it goes.
Is Hell Under Fire?
The book begins with the assertion that the doctrine of hell is under fire and has been since the enlightenment with increasing hostility in the past fifty years.
This is a clever approach and one that I see often when in dialogue with many Calvinists. The goal is simple and obvious: paint the doctrine of eternal torment as the doctrine of hell, and make it sound like modern liberals are attacking it.
However, this just simply isn’t true. Go back to second-century Christianity and you will find church fathers who held to a conditionalist view of hell.
Likewise, nearly all of the conditionalist theologians that I have dialogued with hold to conditionalism because they were convinced from proper exegesis of the Biblical text.
To then say, “No, its because liberalism is creeping in,” is both a straw-man and a boogieman.
It is a straw-man for the reasons mentioned above.
It is a boogieman because the goal is to paint it as liberal and then implicitly say, “You don’t want to be a liberal do ya?!” Oooo spooky.
The same thing happened recently when I was listening to a preacher tell his congregation that people who deny a Calvinistic-soteriology are robbing God’s glory and attempting to gain salvation themselves. It’s false, and its a scare-tactic.
You also see it from Young Earth Creationists. “Genesis is abundantly clear that the earth is 6,000 years old. Only those influenced by the Enlightenment, who elevate man’s word over God’s word, would believe anything else.” You’re being disingenuous and only proving that you can’t defend your own view without insulting your interlocutor.
Departure from Received Doctrine
The introduction also asserts that departure from received doctrine is not only happening from without the church, but now from within.
The same tactic is at play here. Again, it was the early church fathers who started this thing off, not those from “without the church.”
Secondly, whose received doctrine are we departing from?
My friend Chris Date is a reformed-Calvinist that believes in conditional immortality. He holds to the same creeds as his reformed brothers, only he sees nothing in them that necessitates that he believe in eternal torment.
Third, from a philosophical perspective, that something has been received does not make it true. Plenty of false beliefs have been received both within and without the church. Persecution of non-believers was once received truth. The entire idea of the Reformation was to break with some received truths. So, this whole concept is obviously flawed and in fact false.
Lamenting the “Attack” on Hell
The final portion of the introduction laments the attack on hell and expresses gratitude for God’s glory.
What a strange concept.
Is it really lamentable that people believe the Scripture does not teach that God is going to consciously torment some people forever? Even if I was convinced of eternal torment, I don’t think I would shed a tear.
Is God’s glory at stake here? How does it amplify God’s glory if he chooses to torture some people forever, as opposed to simply annihilate them? It’s an odd flex.
One can scarce keep from suspecting that the same scare-tactic is at play here. “God’s glory is at stake! We mustn’t take man’s word over God’s! Sound the alarms!”
Give me a break.
This introductory chapter was a giant virtue signal. Which is ironic since it is coming from the “traditionalists.”
For now, I remain un-committed either way, though I am tending toward conditionalism. It isn’t helping the traditionalist view any that its supporters are partaking in the above mentioned tactics, as opposed to intellectual honesty and charitable dialogue.
We should always steel-man our opponents and grant them the charity that we would like in return. If you have to rely on emotional appeal and scare-tactics, your argument will eventually be found to be what it is: vacuous.