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.
In his oft-cited contribution to Universalism and Doctrine of Hell, Kendall Harmon uses both “traditionalism” and “traditionalist” without batting an eye. On page 216, for instance, he writes, “At this point the conditionalist’ critique of traditionalism should be heard when they insist that some New Testament texts do not speak of eternal torment but instead use different language.” [side note: some NT texts!?]
Finally, in the introduction to Hell Under Fire—which is often lauded as the best recent defense of traditionalism—we read: “Together, their [the contributors'] work constitutes a powerful biblical witness for the truth of traditionalism.” Perhaps strangely, co-editor Christopher Morgan expresses disapproval with the use of “traditionalists” on page 200, calling it a “common, but poorly chosen term.”
Frankly, I’m inclined to agree that a better term could have been chosen. “Traditionalism” can be applied to any traditionally held view and is therefore pretty unilluminating. But for better or worse, that’s what the view is called, and I’ve heard very few traditionalists propose terminology that they find preferable. I dislike “annihilationism” for reasons that I’ve explained, and I’m not thrilled about “conditionalism” either. But, for the time being, those are the two options we get to choose from.
If traditionalists ever get together and come up with something better, I’ll be all ears. I have no attachments to the term and I daresay neither do other conditionalists. If a new term starts to gain traction, I’ll happily get on board—assuming the expression is more or less rhetorically neutral.
As things currently stand, accusations that conditionalists employ “traditionalism” in order to unscrupulously gain some rhetorical advantage are unwarranted, uncharitable, and just plain silly.