Thursday, April 26, 2018

Al Mohler Reveals One of the Reasons Correcting the Error of Eternal Conscious Torment is Important


Before discussing the main topic of this post, I want to point out that there is a difference between why we believe something is true and why we think it is an important topic to discuss.

For instance, I believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ is important to discuss because of the many wonderful ways believing in His resurrection should change how we live (I discuss seven of these in a post here ). But these benefits from believing in the resurrection are different from the reasons I believe the resurrection is true (I share some of those reasons in a different post, here).

The top seven reasons I believe in Conditional Immortality (also called annihilationism) instead of eternal conscious torment may be summed up like this:

Each of the “reasons” above links to a blog post or series of blog posts where I argue for Conditional Immortality using Scripture. I’m intentionally trying to emphasize that I do not believe in Conditional Immortality merely because of some emotional distaste for eternal torment. Of course, eternal torment is extremely distasteful, but that would never be a valid basis for rejecting it if it were taught in God’s Word. I also do not reject eternal conscious torment because it causes problems and causes people to stumble. Yet, it has caused many to stumble. And that is one reason I feel it’s worth my time to continue to address the long held, deeply entrenched error of eternal torment.

In other words, the rest of this post is about why it is important to teach Conditional Immortality, not why Conditional Immorality is true.

The Doctrine of Eternal Conscious Torment has Led Many to Stumble into Theological Liberalism

At a recent T4G Conference, Al Mohler briefly discussed the topic of Hell. His comments were partly prompted by recent reports in the news that the Pope does not believe that Hell consists of eternal conscious torment. But Mohler also specifically mentions a recent Rethinking Hell conference. I was not able to attend that conference, but I am part of the Rethinking Hell movement.

Mohler’s comments regarding Rethinking Hell and the conference were unfair and inaccurate. But I’m not writing to address that. Chris Date already published an excellent short article addressing that issue, which you may read here:  “Hath God Said?”

I’m writing to address something specific Mohler said which in a way I agree with, even though Mohler is overall arguing against annihilationism. Mohler points out that the doctrine of Hell played a major role in the start of theological liberalism. Theological liberalism has been and continues to be one of the most damaging distortions of the gospel found among those who claim to be Christian. Mohler explains that a rejection of the doctrine of Hell was one of the factors which led to the false teachings of theological liberalism. Here’s the one minute portion of Mohler’s talk where he discusses this:

It’s important to note that the liberals were not reacting against just any vague concept of Hell. They were rebelling against the specific horrors of eternal conscious torment. Tragically, many of those who rejected eternal conscious torment did not find the biblical truth of Conditional Immortality. Instead, they stumbled into full blown theological liberalism. Mohler correctly points out that theological liberalism often leads to a rejection of many core and vital Christian beliefs such as substitutionary atonement.

The doctrine of eternal torment continues to cause many to stumble in our generation. For instance, in Rob Bell’s (in)famous book Love Wins, he rages against the doctrine of eternal torment. Bell writes:

Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God?
Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life? (Love Wins, Rob Bell, pg. 2)

Tragically, Bell does not point to the biblical teaching of Conditional Immortality as the alternative to eternal conscious torment. His alternative is not very clear (a lack of clarity is a hallmark of postmodern theology), but he seems to point people towards a type of theological postmodernism which in many of its specifics as well as its overall effect is very similar to theological liberalism. For example, like the liberals before him, Bell also questions the doctrine of substitutionary atonenment.

In addition to leading many Christians to stumble into theological liberalism, the false doctrine of eternal torment has also caused many people to stumble into atheism. For example, in his book Why I am not a Christian, Bertand Russel wrote:

There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.

And one of the most damaging atheists in modern history wrote these words:

I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all of my friends, will be everlastingly punished. (Charles Darwin)

Darwin was wrong to think that the plain text of the Bible teaches eternal torment. But, I wonder if history might have been far different if in Darwin’s day most churches taught the truth about Conditional Immortality instead of teaching eternal torment.

Do I think that if a large portion of the true Church begins to teach Conditional Immortality instead of eternal torment that this will prevent everyone from becoming theologically liberal or falling into atheism? No, of course not. But I believe it will help. In this dark world, removing even one major stumbling block seems like a worthwhile task.


The Bible teaches Conditional Immortality, not eternal torment. The Word of God teaches that the unrighteous will suffer the destruction of their bodies and souls (Matthew 10:28), that they will perish (John 3:16), that the wages of their sins is death (Romans 6:23), that their destiny is destruction (Philippians 3:19), and that they will be burned to ashes (2 Peter 2:6).

Tragically, many in the church have distorted the biblical teaching of hell to mean eternal torment. This in turn has caused many to stumble into serious errors such as theological liberalism, theological postmodernism, and even atheism.

This is one of the reasons (not the only one) why I pray that God will work to correct the error of eternal torment. I thank God for the efforts of those in Rethinking Hell. I also thank God that it seems like more and more Christians are studying what the Bible truly says about the final fate of the unrighteous and as a result are embracing the doctrine of Conditional Immortality.

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

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