According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, 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

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Rethinking Hell: Evangelical Conditionalism (Annihilationism), Part 1




When Considering Hell, Which Position is
the most consistent with Divine Love?

Introduction

For myself, conditionalism (annihilationism) seems the most appropriate when considering the love of God. Why do I say this? Consider the following...

God is holy. God is good. God is love. But the greatest of these is love. Love is how God makes one holy and good through Jesus. Not of human will but divine.

God's love cannot be preached enough. All Christian doctrine must proceed on God's love. All missions of the church must go at this sublime thought. No other church dogma must be higher than the grace of God. And all church doctrine must revolve around this one thought.

The holiness of God is meaningless without the grace of God. The goodness of God has no affect if it isn't bathed in God's atoning grace. Holiness without grace is austere. It proceeds in judgment first, last, and always. Goodness is without effect if not given in love. It is wholly utilitarian and bare of God's mindful relation to His creation if not met in love.

The love of God is the most sufficient descriptor of the Christian faith, of God Himself, and God's relationship to His creation. None else may proceed above this thought.
- R.E. Slater, June 2, 2014




Three Views of Death

When considering the Christian view of death, we might think of these views as second-tier doctrinal discussions. The two most popular views are (i) eternal conscious torment (ECT) and (ii) universalism, and the very similar Catholic concept of purgatory. To these is mine own personal view of annihilationism (here termed conditionalism but inferring conditional immortality) for reasons that have been stated in past documents (do a Google search of Relevancy22 or read through the "hell" section on the sidebars).

However, as second-tiered doctrinal discussions, these may also be deemed Christian theologoumenon referring to theological statements or concepts which are made in the area of individual opinion rather than upon doctrinal authority. Primarily, the "authority" perceived within Scripture is usually the most "popular view" of hell within a given society or culture at the time of its usage. However, it is only authoritative based upon the prejudice of public opinion towards the idea of death at the time of its discussion.

But for myself, annihilationism (or conditionalism) seems the most appropriate biblical view to hold in consideration of the love of God, as opposed to the two more popular views. Which is an odd thing to say when thinking of God's love and then thinking of a mortal soul's immortal loss and destruction. Which is why the concept is referentially linked to the idea of conditional immortality. An immortality that is linked to one's actions, life, and circumstances, as well as to a sovereign God's wise judgment and outreaching love seeking for redemptive completion.

Consider what one universalist recently said to me: "Certainly there are children who die before they reach the ambiguous and unscriptural 'age of accountability.' As are there plenty of people living into their adult years who are incapable of understanding so they don't have the ability to respond to the Christian idea of salvation. Then there are people who never hear the Word of God, or are victimized in such a way that they could never respond positively...."

My response was to flatly state that this is what is meant by the sovereign wisdom and gracious judgment of a loving God who wishes to bring all creation into reconciliation with Himself. However, with regards to the Christian concept of accountability - as versus sin and evil (including the idea of antinomianism, referring to lawless living) - the Bible is clear that all men everywhere are held to the act of redeeming this life now as it is. Not later.

By this is meant that we are to:
  • avoid wickedness, treachery, lying, unrighteous anger, debauchery, idolatry, murder, and on, and on, and on.
  • That we are held accountable for our acts of morality and ethics towards others - and even towards thoughtless use of nature itself.
  • That we are therefore to provide a goodness, a kindness, a gentleness towards all men and women and creation.
  • And that there will be an spiritual accounting for these acts both in this life - as in death itself - while preaching Jesus' forgiveness for all sins made, committed, or affected.
  • And finally, that none are beyond the forgiving reach of God's grace and mercy.

More importantly, all things - both in the heavens and in the earth - will be reconciled to the redeeming God of the universe as respecting human free will. Even the human will refusing submittal to  God's divine will and rule. But if, for all these many reasons and more, a human soul steadfastly refuses to redeem life, or to live in a lifestream of redemption (I am trying to speak ambiguously here to allow the fullest, least formulaic, least creedal, idea of God's gracious redemption in Christ), than that soul may continue to experience a mortification of body-and-soul until at the last, even in death, its mortification continues until extinguished completely by that soul's wont-and-will.

This then is fullest meaning of the word death. Within this meaning is the idea of destruction, annihilation, and cessation of life altogether. It is the opposite to the word life which bears the idea of blessing, continuity, community, redemption, and shalom. And it goes with God's forbearance (or allowance) at our insistence to die completely apart from His love and fellowship against the full weight of His persistence (or insistence) for the redemptive life of His creation.




Tenants of Annihilationism

So then, what does the concept of annihilation communicate then?

  • It allows the fullest freedom of the human will to have its final say of abandonment from God, self, others, and creation (up-wards, in-wards, out-wards, eco-wards).
  • It allows sin its final affects of separation (or death) in all these four areas.
  • It allows divine justice to justly condemn sin will permitting divine love to give everything away to save the sinner from death's destruction and abandonment.
  • It sees hell's final estate as one of extinguishment where divine wrath upon sin, and divine anguish for the sinner (by God and by loved ones for the sinner), finds completion and end.
  • It grants a period to the end of the divine sentence of creation. A conclusion to the eternal play of salvation.
  • It fulfills the testimony of Scripture re sin, death, life, and salvation. That sin will have its judgment. And that salvation will be completed even if by sin's annihilation. That is, even in death will God's word be attested as true, and sinful man be allowed to fully die in all the many senses of that word.
  • And, it grants an eschatological completeness to divine creation and recreation. That in no realm of heaven will sin reign or be found. Even in hell itself, which will be put to a final death and destruction.

To me, the view of annihilation seems the most consistent with divine love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness, human freedom, and divine sovereignty. If I didn't follow this conclusion than I would have to move to a universalist, or purgatorial, position of death, which is inconsistent with the biblical demand for sin's judgment, payment, and need for redemption IN THIS LIFE.... Although I will grant to universalism its emphasis upon living a redeemed life NOW and not later, to the public at large, they would not be so attentive to this Christian idea and warning of "redeeming the time," preferring instead to mouth the mantra of Invictus:

Out of the night that covers me, 
Black as the pit from pole to pole, 
I thank whatever gods may be 
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance 
I have not winced nor cried aloud. 
Under the bludgeonings of chance 
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears 
Looms but the Horror of the shade, 
And yet the menace of the years 
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate, 
How charged with punishments the scroll, 
I am the master of my fate, 
I am the captain of my soul.

- William Ernest Henley

For myself, and apparently within the testimony of Scripture itself, God is saying that it is now - in this life - that we have the time to throw off sin and evil. To become reconciled to our Redeemer-Creator. To be reconciled with mankind and creation. Not later. Not in the next life (or death) to come. But now. Scripture is very clear in this warning to do all that one can to be ready for God and for death. T
hat it is important how we live our life to come by how we live our life now. And to truly fear not living this life salvifically without the divine redemptive help and agency of our Savior God who is very Life Himself in all His councils and very being.

To be confident that in all things - even in death itself - that God will reconcile all things to Himself, even if to allow death - in the fullest sense of its meaning - to descend upon the shades of resolute souls too proud in their sins and hate. Misappropriating, misinterpreting, or unwisely misunderstanding, the steady guidance of God in the affairs of this life. Still, for all three Christian positions here mentioned, we do each rest upon the forgiving mercy and all gracious judgment of our loving God and Savior.



Conclusion

So then, to sum up the position of conditional immortality or annihilationalism:

  • The life we have now is the life we have for God or for sin, for life or for death.
  • That the time we have in this life is enough for God to effect His will and for us to respond regardless of our human circumstances (cf. synchronicity).
  • That it is unnecessary to slip into death for further redemption to take place (contra universalism).
  • That it forces the real issue of time for this life now, and not sometime later, after death (contra purgatory). 

Interestingly, this timeful position of annihilation is in parallel thought with the ECT position regarding the importance of the human act before God in this life now - for good or for ill. To not put that act off until later because what we do now matters before God, man, and creation itself. A thorough universalist will say the same thing though the worry here for that position is that life's extenuating circumstances may not allow God enough time for His redemption to occur. That it may have to be after death for God's redemption to occur. 

But with the accompanying view of Christian synchronicity (as mentioned above), whatever life's unfairness or extenuating circumstances, God will redeem fairly and wisely. That the life  we have now is enough for God to effect his will - and for us to respond - regardless of (or in spite of) our personal situations. I think this gives a truer view of God's sovereignty and the importance of our human responsibility towards obedience to God's affective will.


But the least tenable position for me is the ECT position. It is the least gracious. The least complete in terms of eternal redemption. And the most eternally vindictive by God; by the redeemed who wish to pursue eternal judgment and not forgiveness; and, even by the sinner themselves who are held in eternal agony/torment without recourse to any kind of salvific ending. For an ending each resolute sinner must be allowed his or her's free willed soul.

R.E. Slater


Old and Current Views of Hell (1/2)


Old and Current Views of Hell (2/2)



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Book Blurb

Most evangelical Christians believe that those people who are not saved before they die will be punished in hell forever. But is this what the Bible truly teaches? Do Christians need to rethink their understanding of hell? In the late twentieth century, a growing number of evangelical theologians, biblical scholars, and philosophers began to reject the traditional doctrine of eternal conscious torment in hell in favor of a minority theological perspective called conditional immortality. This view contends that the unsaved are resurrected to face divine judgment, just as Christians have always believed, but due to the fact that immortality is only given to those who are in Christ, the unsaved do not exist forever in hell. Instead, they face the punishment of the "second death"-an end to their conscious existence. This volume brings together excerpts from a variety of well-respected evangelical thinkers, including John Stott, John Wenham, and E. Earl Ellis, as they articulate the biblical, theological, and philosophical arguments for conditionalism. These readings will give thoughtful Christians strong evidence that there are indeed compelling reasons for rethinking hell.

* * * * * * * * * * * *




* * * * * * * * * * * *


Rethinking Hell: Evangelical Conditionalism
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/06/04/rethinking-hell-evangelical-conditionalism/#disqus_thread

by Scot McKnight
June 4, 2014
Comments

The beat continues, the beat that persists in probing one question: Is ECT (eternal conscious torment) the most consistent view with the Bible and with theology? Or, the beat keeps asking, Is it possible that maybe conditionalism (annihilationism) is the most consistent? I have pushed this topic on this blog a number of times because the books are worthy of consideration and the issues continue to press against what many of us believe. I’m not convinced yet by the arguments of the conditionalists, but I am convinced conditionalism is a legitimate option for those who want their theology anchored in the Bible.

The most recent beat is by C.M. Date, G.G. Stump, and J.W. Anderson, Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism (Eugene: Cascade, 2014), with a potent foreword by the excellent scholar, John Stackhouse, Jr.. A couple clips from John’s foreword:
To this day, I have wondered why Christians prefer — as many seem to do — believing in eternal conscious torment (ECT). [This is a topic in itself, one worthy of someone to take up seriously -- with the tools of the social sciences in hand.]
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to believe that God did not keep the damned on a spit, rotating forever in the flames of eternal hellfire?
Wouldn’t it be a relief not to think of the saints getting on with with joyful business of the Age to Come without expending considerable energy trying not to think about their loved ones writing in everlasting agony?
Wouldn’t it be reassuring not to have to try to bend one’s mind and, worse, one’s heart into a shape that could somehow give glory to God for afflicting people forever, that could somehow call majestic what seems obviously monstrous? (xii).
But Stackhouse has enough Bible in his spine to know that “Wouldn’t it’s” will not be sufficient for theology. So he says,
Now, maybe, of course, the traditional view of ECT is right. If it is, if ECT is truly what the Bible teaches, then I’ll do my very best to believe it and teach it. I won’t like it, but that doesn’t matter: I love God and I trust him above my own reason and experience and more intuition. Despite whatever might be the theological sophistication I have acquired over the years, if the Bible says it, I’ll believe it, and that settles it (xiii).
The book collects singular pieces and can be an exceptional textbook for anyone who wants to study this topic seriously. The essays are by Peter Grice, Glenn Peoples, Edward Fudge, Stephen Travis, John RW Stott, Clark Pinnock, John Wenham, BFC Atkinson, EE Ellis, RG Bowles, HE Guillebaud, AC Thiselton, PE Hughes, H Constable, CD Marshall, NG Wright, RG Swinburne, Kim G. Papaioannou, LeRoy E. Fromm, the Evangelical Alliance, Roger Olson and Ben Witherington III.

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Conditionalism refers to the biblical doctrine of conditional immortality, which holds that God alone possesses immortality innately and therefore any other being who is immortal (imperishable, deathless) is so extrinsically, that is, as the result of a positive act of God. No other being, human or otherwise, whether by creation or resurrection, possesses immortality innately but only as God’s specific gift.
Anytime the New Testament mentions immortality in connection with human beings, there are three contrasts which bear out as true: (1) that immortality is ascribed only to the redeemed and never to the damned, (2) that it is a gift of God in the heavenly body and never the natural body, and (3) that it is always in reference to the whole person and never a disembodied soul or spirit.
Conditionalists believe that since the damned are not immortal and never will be, they will actually perish in hell (annihilation). This is the punishment referred to in the Bible as destruction, by which one will perish in the lake of fire, the second death. Some Christians suppose that everyone innately has an immortal soul, redeemed and damned alike, which God will not or cannot destroy. But Jesus implied otherwise, saying that we should fear God because he "can destroy both soul and body in hell" (gehenna).
Immortality is a gift bestowed by God upon his children. To receive this crown, a person must belong to Christ. Such is the condition of this conditional immortality. And this conditionalist view is evangelical insofar as it is understood and articulated within a framework of evangelical Christian orthodoxy.
So this view, then—evangelical conditionalism—is what we explore and commend at Rethinking Hell, whereby we examine how those who do not belong to Christ will be resurrected to face both judgment and the punishment of their destruction in the lake of fire, "the second death."

On the one hand, conditionalism emphasizes what awaits the redeemed, namely, eternal life and immortality. (See What is evangelical conditionalism?) On the other hand, annihilationism is about what awaits the damned, namely, the eternal punishment of destruction in hell. Such is their perishing, the permanent end to the conscious existence of the whole person.
There is some debate among evangelical conditionalists regarding finer eschatological details. For instance, some believe there is a consciously experienced intermediate state between physical death and judgment day, and others believe the intermediate state is not consciously experienced.
All evangelical annihilationists believe that the damned (those who do not belong to Christ) are raised bodily from their graves at an appointed day of judgment and are then finally punished?they perish with finality, suffering the eternal punishment of destruction in hell.

Conditionalism can be controversial for a variety of reasons. For one thing, it has been affirmed historically by a minority of Christians, while the majority of the church has believed and taught the traditional view of hell since at best the time of Augustine. Furthermore, until the recent rise of conditionalism among evangelicals, it was popular to dismiss the final annihilation of the damned as a doctrine believed and taught only by pseudo-Christian cults (e.g., Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians, etc.) and Christian denominations which some consider questionable (Seventh-Day Adventists, etc.).
It can also be controversial because there have been some outspoken evangelical proponents of conditionalism who have given the impression to critics that this view was arrived at on more sentimental grounds, as if they had interpreted scripture through a fallen sense of justice and a humanist view of love. Other proponents of conditionalism have represented arguably questionable views such as open theism and anthropological physicalism (or some other variation of monism, mortalism, or soul sleep), or denied substantive evangelical doctrines like the inerrancy of scripture.
For these reasons and perhaps others, conditionalism is a controversial view. But the climate is changing and an increasing number of evangelical lay people and professionals are becoming convinced of this view. And there are critics who suggest that it may be affirmed by a majority of evangelical scholars. But conditionalists come from a variety of backgrounds and theological positions; one can find conditionalists on virtually every side of virtually every theological debate within evangelicalism.


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