Can We Talk (Hell/Eternal Damnation Edition)?

I mentioned in the previous post in the “Can We Talk” series (Complementarian/Egalitarian Edition)? how I believe in the value of dialogue. I also introduced the concept behind this series:

Over the past couple of years, I have seen the idea of “orthodoxy” applied to issues I’m not sure it should have been. I have seen well-intentioned Christians say that other well-intentioned Christians are not in fact Christians because of their views on things like hell, gender roles and the like. So let’s explore some of these issues together. I’d like to propose a topic in the briefest way possible and let you help fill out the discussion. I’d like us all to listen and learn from one another. Maybe you’ll find your own position strengthened as a result, and maybe you’ll be persuaded to another view. Either way, it is a valuable exercise to to listen to one another.

In other words, we might think of this series as the online, interactive version of those “Four Views” books.

There are lots of important but not ultimate issues in Christianity. Your understanding and practice of God’s intended gender design matter; in family, in “church”, at work. They matter and they are important. But they are not ultimate. You can be Complementarian, Egalitarian, somewhere or nowhere in between and still be a Christian. This is not an issue on the defining edge of orthodoxy. There are issues of orthodoxy which define who is an who is not a Christian. The Deity of Jesus/the Trinity are some primary ones.

But we have a tendency to promote other views to the level of orthodoxy. We hold all kinds of views on which we believe those who disagree simply cannot be Christian. The problem, of course is that the people over on the other sides of those same issues probably view it as orthodoxy as well and they’re just as suspicious of your salvation as you are of theirs. It is vital that we think through our positions consistently in the light of God’s revelation. We should know and understand what we believe. We should know and understand the core of our belief. We must know which lines are borders and which ones are not.

Which brings me to a quick disclaimer, then today’s topic. First, in the context of this series, asking whether or not some topics are defining issues of orthodoxy is not an expression of my opinion on these topics. These are simply heavily-discussed topics upon which people sometimes place rather heavy dogmatic value. For some, to disagree is to disbelieve. It never hurts to take fresh looks at such issues.

The topic of “hell” and/or “eternal damnation” has often been a contentious one. No one likes to consider that they may spend eternity in a lake of fire. No one would wish any such thing on their loved ones. The notion of hell has also often been tied to questions surrounding the extent of the atonement. Believing in Universalism necessarily affects your view of hell. Some have argued that hell is not only literal but eternal. Others argue that, though there is indeed a literal hell, it is not eternal. At some point, God will simply wipe you from existence. Still others have argued that hell was never meant to be taken literally while others argue that God will one day win every one in to His family. Some slip in the snide notion that if you need the threat of eternal damnation to do good, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

As you can see, this topic is deep and wide and we could chase lots of interconnected doctrinal rabbit trails together. Let’s talk it out. Here’s some questions to get us started (feel free to add others and don’t feel it necessary to answer every question in your response):

  • Do you view this as an issue of orthodoxy (must someone believe this to be considered a “Christian”)?
  • Can you believe in a non-literal or a non-eternal hell and still be considered “orthodox”?
  • Do you believe in a literal, eternal hell?
  • Do you believe that Annihilationism is a valid biblical position?
  • Is Annihilationism within what you would consider to be “orthodoxy”?
  • Do you believe that the Bible’s teaching on hell is meant to be understood figuratively?
  • Is Universalism a valid biblical position?
  • Is Universalism within what you would consider to be “orthodoxy”?
  • How does your view of hell relate to your idea of justice? Of grace? Of love?
  • What questions am I missing?
  • What do you think?

 As always, please be respectful. I can’t wait to learn from you.

5 thoughts on “Can We Talk (Hell/Eternal Damnation Edition)?

  1. Closet Conditionalist

    As a conservative, evangelical, Reformed/Calvinist believer who holds to the inerrancy and authority of God’s Word – over the past year I have become convinced of Conditionalism. The main reasons are as follows:

    1. The overwhelming and unified language of the bible to describe the fate of the unredeemed – destroyed, perish, burnt-up with unquenchable fire, cut off, condemned to extinction, blotted out, devoured, the wages of sin is death, etc.

    2. Because of the crystal clear biblical teaching that man is not inherently immortal and that ONLY the redeemed are given the gift of eternal life.

    3. Because the whole ministry of Jesus is framed not in terms of heaven vs eternity in hell, but eternal life vs death. And because the apostles don’t preach ECT. Listen for it as you read through Acts. You’ll hear crickets.

    4. Because of Conditionalism’s beautiful harmonization with other key biblical doctrines – substitutionary atonement (Christ DIED for us), eschatelogical wholeness (Christ will have complete and cosmic victory over evil and will be “all in all”), divine justice (God law commands proportional justice towards wrongdoers).

    5. Because biblical terms like “everlasting punishment” (a noun of action) don’t mean everlasting punishing any more than “everlasting redemption” means everlasting redeeming. Everlasting punishment describes the result of the punishment, namely death, not the ongoing process of punishing.

    6. Because of the clear biblical teachings that God is a consuming fire, not a tormenting fire.

    7. Because of the lack of Biblical evidence for Eternal Conscious Torment. Without exception, every proof text for ECT, upon closer examination, is either compatible with Conditionalism or positively argues for it. And because the arguments traditionally given for ECT are just terrible. If there are good arguments, I have yet to see them.

    8. Because of my rejection of the old philosophical argument (that has zero biblical support) that finite sins against an infinitely holy God are worth infinite punishment. Really, an infinite being cannot do an infinite anything. And the alternative, that punishment is infinite because sinners never stop sinning, contradicts the biblical portrait of full and final reconciliation of all things.

    9. Because God’s anger lasts for a moment, but his steadfast love endures forever. Hallelujah! Amen.

    For now I remain closeted in my beliefs due to the hostility within evangelicalism. I hope one day to be able to share these convictions without the penalty of being rejected by my fellow evangelicals as a heretic for simply following where the the scriptures lead.

    For those looking for a good introduction to Conditoinalism, I recommend

  2. I know this is a very overly simplistic view but…my thoughts on literal heaven/hell have mostly lingered on this: regardless if they are literal places, the simple fact one would die w/out having known God/Christ would BE hell (i tend to think if you are not a Christian, once you die, you will realize what being w/o Him truly means). So that in itself would constitute a kind of torture, though not being a physical torturing. Same thing w/heaven…but in reverse…to be in the presence of God/Christ would BE heaven to a Christian regardless if there really were streets of gold etc. Like I said…super simplistic. I think we make things to complicated sometimes. 🙂 I mean, really….as a Christian in the presence of God eternally, are you really going to care if you are in an actual place?

  3. I became a Christian 41 years ago. I was a Christian for 38 years before I began to gain a good Biblical understanding of what was the PROFOUND meaning of the very last words of JESUS on the Cross, when HE said “IT IS FINISHED.”

    In an article (What is the “GOOD NEWS” of the Gospel of Christ? …….. Re-examining the widely held belief of “eternal torment” in “Hellfire”) that I wrote approximately 3 years ago, I have tried to Biblically expound upon this to the best of my ability. Because of the magnitude of the GREAT IMPORTANCE of this subject, it has turned out to be the most lengthy article that I have ever written.

    Even before the creation of all things, God had put in place a plan that centered around the “FINISHED WORK OF CHRIST ON THE CROSS!” Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we come to a good understanding of what the “FINISHED WORK OF CHRIST ON THE CROSS” actually accomplished.

    If anyone would like a copy of my article that deals with this most important subject which is by far the most important doctrine in the Bible, please feel free to e-mail me, and I will be more than happy to e-mail you a copy of this article.

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