Is it okay for Christians to have different biblical interpretations of Hell?
I was recently interviewed about my book, Eternity: Heaven or Hell?, by Rethinking Hell contributor Chris Date. We discussed what has become a very controversial topic among many Christians, and that is the duration of time those in Hell will spend. Eternal or limited? I share from the Bible why I am convinced that Conditionalism is the biblical view of final punishment. Tempers can flare over this topic, so I ask you to read this interview in blog format as a good Berean, testing the Scriptures to see what God will teach us.
A Call for Civil Discourse
Chris Date: It's at this point that you begin to discuss the duration of Hell as believed by Traditionalists on one hand and Conditionalists on the other hand. You introduce it by addressing the question of the centrality of this debate to the Christian faith. What do you think the people on both side of this debate really have to remember as we engage in dialogue with those Christians who disagree with us on this topic?
Dr. Reagan: First of all, we need to realize that there is room for differences of opinion. We don't have to write off the other side as being apostate. So often, Christians need to learn how to disagree. I get letters all the time, even about trivial points of doctrine, where somebody will write in and proclaim, "You are going to Hell because you believe that!" Or, they'll write in and accuse, "The only reason you take that position is because you want to make money." That's a popular accusation. Why must people attribute improper motives to those they disagree with? It's just not a Christian thing to do. You have to realize that there is plenty of room on most issues for differences of opinion and you must be respectful of those differences. Instead of condemning the person, deal with the issue alone and try to convince the person of your position on that issue.
Another point I like to make to people is that all truth is important, but not all truth is equally important. I grew up in church that was very legalistic. We were taught that if you didn't take communion every Sunday in a certain way then you were going to go to Hell. Well, let me tell you something, the truth about Communion is important, but it's nothing compared to the truth that Jesus is Lord. Not all truth is equally important. We should rejoice over those who have embraced Jesus as their Lord and Savior and not condemn them to Hell because they happen to disagree with us on some secondary point of doctrine. My advice to all Christians — be respectful of other's opinions.
Chris Date: At least when they are on the non-essentials, right?
Dr. Reagan: Right. If you are talking about the Virgin Birth, or you are talking about the Atonement of Jesus, or you are talking about the Second Coming, and you are denying those things, then yes, that's something to get concerned about.
Chris Date: Absolutely! That answer you just gave sort of touches on the next question I want to ask. Before moving on to articulate some reasons for holding the Conditionalist View in this chapter, please summarize the Traditional View of Hell and a few of the arguments commonly advanced in favor of it. I was really impressed in your book, because you commended Traditionalists despite being unhappy with the eternal torment they believe awaits the wicked, needless that they have accepted thier position because they believe it is biblical. I absolutely agree they should be commended for doing that, but what I find that is unfortunate is it seems that commendation is often not reciprocated by many Traditionalists. I am sure you have experienced this.
Many Traditionalists think that what Conditionalists are doing is abandoning the authority of Scripture. They would say that in our belief we are subjecting Scripture to our emotions or our philosophy. What would you say to critics of the Conditionalists View who won't commend us for our commitment to believing what we think the Bible teaches?
Dr. Reagan: I would simply urge them to study the issue. That's what Ed Fudge challenged me to do, and it worked. What I do with Catholics when I talk with them, I just say the same thing, "Read the Scriptures and see if what you believes and your Church teaches, see if it lines up with Scripture. That's the important thing to do." I also ask them to study the issue of death. Study the issue of Hell, and you will then see that there's a biblical basis for the Conditionalist View.
I have found that much of the negative responses I get is based on either a lack of knowledge about what the Scripture says or a misunderstanding of what we believe. That's probably the most important point of misunderstanding. The most common response I get is, "Oh, you are just like the cultists. You are like those who believe in Annihilationism, that when you are die you are automatically dead." No, I do not believe in Annihilationism. Annihilationists are teaching that when you die you are immediately and totally dead and that's that. The Atheists teach that, that there is no afterlife. I don't believe in that at all. I believe in Hell. I believe that people are going to be judged. I believe they are going to be consigned to Hell. I believe they are going to be terminated for a period of time proportion to their sins and then cease to exist. But, no, they usually just write us off as Annihilationists and therefore some sort of cult.
Chris Date: One thing that I really appreciated, while this isn't the case of all Traditionalists that I have spoken to on a personal level, but many of them have even though they're not convinced by the case that we present, have told me, "What I can see now is that there is a biblical basis for what you believe, even if we don't agree." I really highly respect that. My goal is not to convince them so much as to just get them to realize we are presenting what we think is a biblical view.
In the fifth segment of Rethinking Hell's interview of me concerning the Conditionalist View of Hell, Chris and I will discuss what the Bible teaches concerning the Second Death.