Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Burned Up: Annihilationism versus Eternal Conscious Punishment



I used to believe that God would torture the unrighteous in Hell forever.  I grew up in churches and I attended a Bible Seminary which taught that view.  I myself believed it and taught it to others.  But as a result of much in depth Bible study, supplemented by reading multiple books by Christian authors with various views on Hell, I have changed my view.  I now am convinced that the Bible teaches that the unrighteous will be resurrected, stand before the judgment seat of Christ, be judged according to what they have done, be cast into Hell, will experience some finite amount of conscious suffering in the process, and will eventually be burned “to ashes” (2 Peter 2:6), “destroyed” (Matthew 10:28), “perish” (John 3:16), and experience “second death” (Revelation 21:8) in such a way that they will forever cease to be conscious, thinking people.

The view described above is often called “annihilationism”.  I just preached a two part sermon on this topic. Here are the links on YouTube:

Part 1:


Part 2:



Even if Annihilationism is True, Why is it Important?

The simplest answer is that annihilationism is in the Bible.  The timing for my two messages was based on the fact that this topic came up in the book of Luke, which I am preaching through verse by verse.

But there is nothing wrong with trying to further understand why this particular Biblical truth is important in the lives of people.

The fundamental problem with believing that God tortures unsaved people forever in Hell is that this view is inconsistent with the truth that God is entirely good, loving, holy, and just.

I understand that this inconsistency does not bother many Christians.  Some Christians deal with the inconsistency by avoiding thinking about it.  Some have come up with various rationalizations and (failed) attempts to explain how it is actually just and right for God to torture the unsaved forever.  But for other people, this inconsistency has created real and severe problems.

Here are some ways this inconsistency affects people in real life:

1.  Some people have rejected Christianity and the Bible in part because they say that any God who would torture forever those who reject Him must be unjust and cruel.  I have heard atheists say this with great passion.  (To hear an example of an atheist who is greatly bothered by the inconsistency of eternal conscious torment, you may listen to minutes 32-42 of an onlinedebate here. There are many other examples.)

2.  Some Christians have embraced theological liberalism/postmodernism and the many errors associated with that outlook in part as a reaction against the idea that God would torture people forever.  A good example is Rob Bell in his book “Love Wins”.  There are many other examples. Far from being a step towards universalism or theological compromise of some kind, the Biblical truth of annihilationism is a strong defense against these errors.

3.  While some orthodox Christians are not bothered by the inconsistency of a good God who would torture people for more than a hundred trillion years for sins committed in one short lifetime, others are understandably deeply disturbed by this thought.  The famous theologian John Stott, whom God used mightily to promote missions and evangelism, wrote this concerning the wrong belief that God will torture people forever:

Well, emotionally, I find the concept intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterising their feelings or cracking under the strain. But our emotions are a fluctuating, unreliable guide to truth and must not be exalted to the place of supreme authority in determining it. As a committed Evangelical, my question must be—and is—not what does my heart tell me, but what does God's word say? And in order to answer this question, we need to survey the biblical material afresh and to open our minds (not just our hearts) to the possibility that Scripture points in the direction of annihilation, and that 'eternal conscious torment' is a tradition which has to yield to the supreme authority of Scripture.

You can read the rest of Stott’s short essay on annihilationism online here.

I really believe that taking ninety minutes to listen to my two sermons on this topic will be time well spent.  In fact, my sermon is just a brief introduction to the Biblical evidence for annihilationism.  If you want more . . .

Resources for Further Study

The best resource for studying this topic is of course your own Bible combined with prayerfully seeking God’s truth.  God also uses other Christians to help us understand the Bible, so I also recommend these resources.

1.  By far the most in depth resource on this topic is “TheFire that Consumes” by Edward Fudge.



2.  There is a website with a massive amount of discussion and resources related to annihilationism.  It is RethinkingHell.com .

  

May God bless us all as we seek His truth.



 

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

1 comment:

  1. Great courageous message! God bless you Brother

    ReplyDelete