According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Monday, July 14, 2014

Rethinking Hell: Evangelical Conditionalism (Annihilationism), Part 3

John W. Wenham

God’s Goodness and Endless Punishment

by Scot McKnight
Jul 14, 2014

Way back in the 1930s John W. Wenham, eventual author of one of the most influential Greek grammar texts and of a book called The Goodness of God (also called The Enigma of Evil), was a student of an eccentric English academic named Basil F.C. Atkinson, who it was known believed in conditional immortality (annihilationism). Wenham took the case on as a personal project and over the years became a firm advocate for the position. His evangelical credentials and personal piety are impeccable, which seem to matter to many in this discussion, but it is his biblical exegesis that matters even more. His case is sketched in Rethinking Hell (pp. 74-94).

Wenham makes clear that most critics of conditional immortality fail to address the fundamental issues raised by conditionalists. At times, sad to say, they badly misrepresent conditionalists and he points especially at none other than J.I. Packer, though he has his eye on W.G.T. Shedd, Paul Helm, and John Gerstner. Helm, he contends, spends his time critiquing points conditionalists don’t believe. On Gerstner he says this:

"Gerstner pitches into Hughes, Stott, and Fudge for their revolt against hell. It [Gerstner's study] is a wonderful example of circular argument. He assumes that the Bible teaches what he believes about hell and then proceeds to show that they believe otherwise. He just does not seriously address their arguments. Not sharing his beliefs about hell is equated with a rejection of hell itself, which it is absurd to attribute to such as Stott, Hughes, and Fudge." (78-79)

Packer, he says, shows no signs of having read any of Fudge’s most important study and provides “instead answers to arguments they do not use” (79). These are strong words by a very kind man. Packer calls conditionalists’ studies “avalanche-dodging” (79). Wenham proceeds then to a patient examination of the NT texts about eternal life and death and punishment (264 such references). His conclusion:

"It is a terrible catalogue, giving most solemn warning, but in all but one of the 264 references there is not a word about unending torment and very many of them in their natural sense clearly refer to destruction." (82) [The avalanche shrinks, in his view, to one passage. The disinterested observer must wonder how to one person something can be an avalanche but to another one verse in a book full of metaphor and symbol.]


Wenham knocks down, in typical fashion, the fascination and assumption and baseless argument that the Bible teaches the immortality of the soul. The word “eternal” can mean either qualitatively eternal (pertaining to the Age to Come) or temporally eternal (everlasting). Context determines what one sees.

He knows Revelation 14:11 is the most difficult text of all, though I would contend that — in spite of their symbolic language — Revelation 19:3 or Revelation 20:10 must be given the same consideration. Wenham admits that “on the face of it, having no rest day or not with smoke of torment going up forever and ever, sounds like everlasting torment” (86). But he says this, too: “I am nonetheless chary about basing fundamental doctrine upon its symbolism” (86).

[I agree with Wenham that the debate narrows, ultimately, to the three texts in Revelation. What I find missing in so many of these arguments is a proof of the letter "C" in ECT -- eternal conscious torment. One must prove consciousness for it to be ECT. In other words, it is more than proving "eternal" or "everlasting." The word "eternal" can mean eternal consequences as well as eternal consciousness, the former fitting quite easily into the conditionalist scheme of thinking.]

Packer is flat-out wrong on the turn to this view only in the 20th Century; Wenham shows how deep the discussion was about this in the 19th Century among evangelicals in England and the USA. One after another he goes after Packer’s logic: that this view misses out on the awesome dignity that we have been made to exist forever, that it diminishes the punishment of the wicked, that it misses out on the glory of divine justice (he finds the God of this one “sadistic”) and Wenham thinks endless punishment is neither “loving or just” (90)… that conditionalists (a la Packer) back into their view in horror of the punishment instead of Scripture is a false accusation for many, including Wenham who came to the view honestly on the basis of exegesis (and so did/do many others).

“From the days of Tertullian [ECT] has frequently been the emphasis of fanatics. It is a doctrine that makes the Inquisition look reasonable. It all seems a flight from reality and common sense.” (92)

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