Yes, Fire and Darkness Can Coexist

In the conclusion of my most recent article (posted nearly four years ago!) I wrote the following: “I understand that many ‘traditionalists’ today soften the traditional view so much that penal suffering is minimized or denied altogether (which is another topic for another day)…” Today is the day that I pick up on that thread—better late than never, I suppose.

I previously suggested that the dominant view of hell throughout church history envisions the damned endlessly suffering physical torture—typically by means of fire, among other torments. That hell will involve literal fire was a view held, for instance, by Tertullian, Chrysostom, Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas, just to name a few.

Of course, there have always been some exceptions. I am not a scholar of church history, but I think it’s accurate to say that the literal fire view of hell was held by the overwhelming majority of Christians up until the 16th century (Calvin, for instance, famously viewed the biblical fire imagery metaphorically). And even then, the literal view was dominant until at least the Enlightenment, and was only eclipsed by the so-called metaphorical view very recently, sometime in the 20th century (thanks, C.S. Lewis). In his 1910 entry, “Hell,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia, Joseph Hontheim writes:

The poena sensus, or pain of sense, consists in the torment of fire so frequently mentioned in the Holy Bible. According to the greater number of theologians the term fire denotes a material fire, and so a real fire. We hold to this teaching as absolutely true and correct. However, we must not forget two things: from Catharinus (d. 1553) to our times there have never been wanting theologians who interpret the Scriptural term fire metaphorically, as denoting an incorporeal fire; and secondly, thus far the Church has not censured their opinion. Some few of the Fathers also thought of a metaphorical explanation. Nevertheless, Scripture and tradition speak again and again of the fire of hell, and there is no sufficient reason for taking the term as a mere metaphor.

Likewise, in the first edition of Four Views on Hell (1996), William Crockett, himself an advocate of the metaphorical view, concedes: “[The] metaphorical understanding of hell rather than a place of literal heat and smoke . . . has been advocated only since the sixteenth century.” Continue reading

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It’s often the case that traditionalists will object when their detractors use “torture” to describe the traditional view of final punishment. In Hell Under Fire, Christopher Morgan challenges Clark Pinnock on this point: “…notice [Pinnock’s] pejorative use of ‘torture’ rather than an appropriate word like ‘punishment'” (207). In the same volume, Robert Yarbrough, while responding to Edward Fudge’s assertion that “Scripture nowhere suggests that God is an eternal torturer,” writes: “Some of Fudge’s language can be set aside as overwrought rhetoric. The historic view does not view God as ‘an eternal torturer’; hell is not unjust torture but is rather, according to Scripture, a just recompense for people who are without excuse…” (78)

The above quotation of Fudge can be found in Two Views on Hell. In that volume, Robert Peterson responds: “I hold to the traditional view of hell. But I most certainly do not think that ‘God is an eternal torturer…'” (85, Kindle ed.)

To many of us not wedded to the traditional view, “torture” just seems like an appropriate description of what the Church has historically taught will be experienced by the damned after judgment: in addition to being deprived of God’s goodness and blessings, the unrepentant will forever suffer excruciating pains of both body and mind (what medieval theologians called the poena sensus, or pain of sense). Being punished with prolonged, agonizing pain is just the dictionary definition of torture.

One thing is for certain, many historical descriptions of hell sure sound like torture:

…Thine heart beating high with fever; thy pulse rattling at an enormous rate in agony; thy limbs crackling like the martyrs in the fire, and yet unburnt; thyself, put in a vessel of hot oil, pained, yet coming out undestroyed; all thy veins becoming a road for the hot feet of pain to travel on; every nerve a string on which the devil shall ever play his diabolical tune of Hell’s Unutterable Lament; thy soul for ever and ever aching, and thy body palpitating in unison with thy soul…

Continue reading

Posted in history, terminology | 10 Comments

Is “Traditionalism” a Pejorative?

Occasionally, some adherent to the traditional view of final punishment (viz. everlasting torment) will get up in arms over being called a “traditionalist.” Usually, the offender will be charged with poisoning the well and intentionally using “traditionalism” to illegitimately score rhetorical points (e.g. “You’re insinuating that we believe this simply because it’s a tradition!”) Recently, a blogger went so far as to call the expression “purely pejorative.”

Those who take exception with their view being called “traditionalism” are often new to the debate and typically unaware that that’s simply what the view is called in much of the contemporary literature—both by opponents and adherents of the position. A handful of examples should suffice to make the point.

Robert Peterson, arguably the most popular contemporary critic of conditionalism, has self-identified as a traditionalist as far back as 1994. His opening salvo against conditionalism, published in JETS, is entitled A Traditionalist Response
to John Stott’s Arguments for Annihilationism. Since then, Peterson has continued to use “traditionalism” and “traditionalists” to describe the view and its adherents, respectively (for example, see here and here).

Alan Gomes, in his 1991 article published in the Christian Research Journal, likewise uses the expression freely: “…the recent Evangelical Affirmations Conference . . . officially repudiated universalism, even though traditionalists could not muster enough support to secure a repudiation of annihilationism.” In Part Two he writes, “Third are exegetical arguments that attempt to neutralize verses the traditionalists commonly offer in proof of their position.” In fact he uses the expression throughout Part Two. Gomes’ article remains a favorite among internet defenders of traditionalism. Continue reading

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Nature of Final Punishment Debate on Unbelievable? Radio Show

Friend and fellow conditionalist Chris Date, host of the Theopologetics podcast, recently appeared on the Unbelievable? radio show to debate Steve Jeffery on the nature of final punishment. Click here for the audio stream.

As is often the case, the format did not allow for in-depth examination of the salient arguments and texts. That said, it was a decent overview of some of the important issues and—perhaps more importantly—a model of irenic and charitable exchange over an area of disagreement between two Christians.

As an interesting aside, Steve Jeffery disclaims the nomenclature of “everlasting torment” and instead prefers “eternal conscious punishment” on the grounds that “torment sounds pointless” (to use his words). This is despite the fact that it’s the very language of torment as found in Revelation 14 and 20 that Steve finds so compelling.

Chime in on the Facebook pages of Unbelievable? and Theopologetics.

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Conditionalism Debate

My debate with TurretinFan is now up at Theopologetics. Feel free to ask questions or provide feedback in the comments.

Citations for Quotes Used in Opening Statement

“Annihilationism is the belief that those who die apart from saving faith in Jesus Christ will be ultimately destroyed.” (Christopher Morgan, Hell Under Fire, 196)

“The evil ones will be convicted by the witness of their own consciences, and shall be made immortal—but only to be tormented in the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (The Belgic Confession, Article 37: The Last Judgment)

“…every human soul is immortal. No soul, no inner person in any human being ever goes out of existence. Every human being ever born lives forever. Our bodies die, our souls go on eternally. We are created immortal.” (John MacArthur, The Answer to Life’s Greatest Question, Part 1)

“That’s one of the passages that does talk about the resurrection. There will be a time in the future [crosstalk] and everybody lives forever—but not everybody has the quality of life that those who have eternal life have.” (Greg Koukl, Stand to Reason, June 5, 2011 broadcast, quote starts at 1:09:00)

“Likewise they shall be passible, because they shall never deteriorate and, although burning eternally in fire, they shall never be consumed.” (Thomas Aquinas, The Apostles’ Creed)

“And here the bodies of all the wicked shall burn, and be tormented to all eternity, and never be consumed; and the wrath of God shall be poured out on their souls.” (Jonathan Edwards, The History of Redemption)

In fire exactly like that which we have on earth thy body will lie, asbestos-like, forever unconsumed, all they veins roads for the feet of pain to travel on, every nerve a string on which the devil shall forever play his diabolical tune of ‘Hell’s Unutterable Lament.'” (Charles Spurgeon, Sermon on the Resurrection of the Dead)

“…the soul in torment shall never die, or lose any of its powers and faculties” (John Gill, Exposition of the Entire Bible“)

“…thou art a fallen creature, having only capacities to live here in sin, to live forever in torment.” (Charles Spurgeon, Sermon 167)

“…it is clearly more immoral to extinguish humans with intrinsic value than to allow them to continue living in a state with a low quality of life.” (Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland, Immortality: The Other Side of Death, 173)

“They will not be destroyed, but instead, will be left in a conscious state to experience the torment and anguish of their punishment forever.” (Jim Wallace, Is There an Eternal Conscious Hell?)

“No, men are not destroyed, they are in torment.” (Greg Koukl, Hell, Yes! The Terrifying Truth, quote starts at 35:00)

Posted in annihilationism, conditionalism, debates | 2 Comments