Friday, April 5, 2013

The Conditionalist View of Hell: Civil Discourse

Dr. David R. ReaganMP3 PDFBy

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.

Rethinking Hell

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.


LookingUp said...

God is not a God of confusion, so why did He give us a Bible that can be interepreted so differently by different people?

The first reason is that He wants us to keep digging, studying, asking, seeking His mind. It is a life time of commitment to loving the truth of the written Word as well as loving The Truth, Christ our Lord. We must be willing to give up our "traditions of men" if we discover that they do not line up with word of God.

Another reason is to test our love for each other. How do we disagree? How does iron sharpen iron in a way that edifies us and glorifies the Father?

Peter Grice said...

Indeed, why did God give us the ability to interpret things so differently—including the Bible, and not just on the doctrine of Hell?

Interpretation is obviously something God values. Just not falsehood and contentiousness.

On the topic of Hell, God did give us a very clear word. Many of us who have moved from the traditional view to Conditionalism, no longer think the Bible is ambiguous about Hell. It's plain, and in most parts couldn't be any plainer. We account for the confusion of traditionalism a number of ways, but especially the

a) deviation of an interpretive culture over time, so that we become ignorant of the background knowledge (such as idioms) people once enjoyed

b) importation of unbiblical assumptions, such as the Greek notion of the natural immortality of the soul

c) spiritualization of key terms by injecting meanings into them derived from systematic theology (it is supposed to be the other way around)

d) other faulty hermeneutical practices

LookingUp said...

All good points, Peter. In my research on this subject, I was surprised to discover that Dante was instrumental in promoting an eternity in hell. That idea also has strong roots in paganism.

I am less concerned about believers who believe in eternal torment than I am those who think hell is not real. Regardless of the duration of the stay, I still don't want to go there, and thanks to Jesus, I won't. Maranatha!

Justin said...

I don't think God considers the level of our sin. As we are told by Jesus, if you're guilty of one part, you are guilty of the whole of the law. So, essentially, there is no "amount" of sin, no measuring. You're either clean or your guilty. When we are judged, we won't be found partially guilty, we'll be found guilty. The only way to lessen your sentence is with a steadfast faith in Christ and His atonement for our sins. Hell is a place of eternal separation from God, not temporary separation and then you cease to exist.

charis said...

Where within the text concerning 'hell' has God commited to the grammatical stance of the condition 'if'.

'Hell is a place of eternal separation from God, not temporary separation and then you cease to exist' - Justin

Absolutely. God means what He says and says what He means. Christ is the object of our faith and without having faith in Christ by the grace of God, a person subjects themselves to a Christless eternity - always, forever, where time no longer marks the passing, it just is, never ceasing with or without our Eternal God.

charis said...

Peter Grice
It appears my title is ‘traditionalist’ concerning this particular discussion.

Ambiguity is only seen by the non-literalists who follows the unbiblical mode of interpretation of Covenant Theology aka Augustine and the RC church.

There is no ambiguity whatsoever when following the mode of interpretation set forth in Scripture by the Prophets, Jesus and the Disciples. The Literal or normal reading of every word within the grammatical historical framework CONSISTENTLY is the God presented method of hermeneutic.

Ambiguity is created by personal opinion as no Scripture is open to personal opinion. This is the eisegesis of Rome.

This questioning of the eternal suffering in hell reminds me of the pot asking the potter ‘why have you made me thus’. God is love and supremely merciful not willing that any be lost – and it is for that reason, in His compassion, and by His RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT He sent His only son to die for mankind. It isn’t complicated, ALL who put their faith in Christ to save are soundly saved with blessed assurance it will be forever kept secure by the power of our triune God.

No one goes into the lake of fire for sins, large or small! Jesus died for the sin of the whole world, the original sin of Adam spiritual separation from God; which is why we sin. Sin is not the issue at all, the failure to TRUST in Christ’s offer of the free gift of salvation by the GRACE of God – not by works, period!