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    August 10th, 2012 @ 10:43 am by Kevin

    Thanks to a prod from Graham Ware, I’m currently reading Clark. H. Pinnock’s excellent essay The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent. Published in 1990, Pinnock’s essay critiques the “traditional” doctrine of hell as eternal torment for the wicked and argues for the (then) radical notion of Annihilationism–the belief that the “impenitent wicked suffer extinction and annihilation” rather than unending torment in hell.

    Early on in the essay, Pinnock recognizes that he is embracing a minority view. Even though other prominent evangelicals, such as John Stott, were coming to similar conclusions at the time, Pinnock expresses some concerns about going public with his beliefs:

    In defending the annihilation of the wicked, I realize that this is the view of a minority among evangelical theologians and church leaders and that I place myself at risk when I oppose the traditional view of hell as endless agony and torment. After all, it is a well-established tradition, and one does not oppose such a tradition without paying a price in terms of one’s reputation. Even worse, I recognize that this puts me in some odd company, a fact which is regularly used against the position I am defending, for it is usually argued that only heretics or near-heretics deny the doctrine of everlasting punishment and defend extinction. The idea is that if the Adventists or the liberals hold such a view, the view must be wrong. In this way the position can be discredited by association and not need to be taken seriously or worried about. Of course it is not much of an argument, but it proves effective with ignorant people who are taken in by rhetoric of this kind.

    Fast-forward to the present, and the landscape has changed considerably. Annihilationism is still a minority position, but just over two decades after Pinnock wrote his essay, it is no longer considered an emblem of heresy or near-heresy. Even a brass-knuckled, fire and brimstone preacher like Mark Driscoll accepts Annihilationists into the fold. He still thinks they’re wrong, just not dangerously wrong. That’s a far cry from the uproar John Stott created when he “came out” as an Annihilationist in the late 1980s.

    As I reflect back on all of the fuss Rob Bell caused last year with his book Love Wins, I can’t help but wonder if we are witnessing a similar seismic shift within evangelicalism. The parallels are striking. For example, the first few pages of Pinnock’s essay–in which he critiques eternal torment–could easily have been written by Bell. Even though he doesn’t come out nearly as strong in favor of Universalism (or Ultimate Reconciliation) as Pinnock does for Annihilationism, Bell could have still expressed the same concerns as Pinnock about the consequences of challenging the traditional view. And with good reason, as the ongoing reaction to Love Wins demonstrates.

    Like Pinnock, Bell is not alone in his views. Thomas Talbott, Brian McLaren, Sharon Baker, Robin Parry (a.k.a. Gregory McDonald), Michael Hardin, Brad Jersak and many others have been making similar arguments for years. However, also like Pinnock, these people had a whiff of heresy or near-heresy about them long before they expressed their skepticism about eternal torment. So it’s easy for so-called traditionalists to write them off.

    The way I see it, the only thing missing right now is a theologian on the level of Stott–a bastion of evangelical orthodoxy–who publicly expresses a change of heart. I’m not even sure I can name a candidate right now. But I can say that if and when that occurs, mark my words, within a couple of decades we will look back at Love Wins and wonder what all the fuss was about.

    The Universalists may still be sitting off in a corner getting strange looks from passers-by, but at least they’ll be inside the fold. And I can only wonder who the next object of theological derision will be…

leave a comment on this post (10 Comments)

  1. I think that Edward Fudge, to a certain extent, would agree. I interviewed him for the Rethinking Hell podcast, and toward the end of part 2 (http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/08/episode-2-a-final-word-with-edward-fudge-part-2/) I asked him what he saw as the landscape of this debate in the next 10 or 20 years. He thinks our view (the view of Rethinking Hell, that is, conditionalism/annihilationism) will be the majority view, and the raging debate will be between conditionalists and universalists, much like today it’s between traditionalists and conditionalists.

  2. Thanks for the plug. BTW, Pinnock does state his opposition to universalism in the aforementioned article.

    • I like your take on hell, Rodney. I like that you defend aangist the dualism of body and soul that is so pervasive in our culture. I also like that you connect hell to the Resurrection and consummation of all things in God.However, I think you misunderstand annihilationism as a violent belief. You say God would not destroy the bodies of his enemies. But I can think of at least two reasons why he might.1) God gives over humans to their sinful desires as judgment (Rom. 1.18-32). Sin, being rejection of God for lies and idols, is voluntary separation from God. God’s judgment then is to give sinful humans what they want. Hell is the final giving over to human rejection of God. Since God holds all things together (in him we have our being), it seems reasonable that the giving over of humans to their desire for separation from God would result in non-existence. Utter and total separation from God = non-existence.2) Annihilation seems far more merciful than eternal torment/torture. If God’s anger is brief but his favor enduring (Ps. 30.5), how then are we to understand eternal torment/torture as accurately reflective of God’s character? Not to mention the obvious dilemma it creates for the saints who no longer cry yet have loved ones in eternal torment.While, I enjoyed this post, I don’t think annihilationism deserves to be called heresy.I’m going to keep my suspicion of eternal, conscious torment/torture which doesn’t rule out annihilationism as a merciful interpretation.

  3. There is a “12” in the paragraph where Pinnock wrote, I don’t think it is meant to be there.

    By the way, I have met Stott, Fudge, McLaren and Pinnock.

  4. I have much more affinity with Pinnock or Stott than I do with Rob. There is a mountain of difference between Conditional Immortality and Universalism. What possible motive would there be to send out missionaries if we reject Jesus mission which was to seek and save that which was lost. If no one is lost then what’s the point? Both the Traditional view and the CI view maintain the urgency of evangelism.

    • I think you misunderstand Universalism then. Either that or you’ve reduced Christianity to a hell-avoidance plan. I would argue that Christ didn’t come to save us from God. He came to save us from the cycle of self-destructive violence in which humankind has been embroiled since Cain killed Abel. That being the case, and considering our ability to literally wipe out the entire human race and ever other species through nuclear weaponry, I would say there is tremendous apocalyptic urgency. Christianity isn’t about spreading a word that will save people from God’s wrath after they die. It’s about spreading a word that will save people from the hell in which they are currently living.

  5. God declares in His word that he will ultimately reconcile all the lost Colossians 1:20, restore His fallen creation–“in the dispensation of the fullness of times recapitulate His fallen creation to the footstool of Christ’s Throne” Ephesians 1:10, “deliver His fallen creation from the bondage of corruption unto the glorious liberty of the children of God” Romans 8:21–With these and other Scriptures, how can anyone come to a belief in conditionalism/annihilationism?

    I’ve enjoyed reading “Hope Beyond Hell” by Gerry Beauchemin and other books of research that I have studied such as “Christ Triumphant”, by Thomas Allin (19th century Church of England minister and scholar), that reveal the truth of U/R-THE ULTIMATE AND UNIVERSAL RECONCILIATION OF ALL. The Literal Translation of the Bible confirms this, and the overwhelming majority of the Church Fathers in the primative, Apostolic Church (Catholic means Universal in Latin) taught and believed U/R for the first 5 centuries of church history (although some of the Church Fathers believed in keeping the final universal reconciliation in “reserve” for the “esoteric scholarly saints”, for fear that this truth might lead to more evil and crimes amoung the heathen–using a scripture, “don’t cast your pearls before swine”, as a reason).

    I first came to this Truth in 1971, after finding and studying: “Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible and “Young’s Analytical Concordance of the Bible”. The Holy Spirit led me to this “Apostolic Truth”, and has given me perfect assurance–”but when comes that One, The Spirit of Truth, He will guide you into all truth…”John 16:13. Years of intense research have only confirmed what the Primative Apostolic Church taught and believed.

    I only hope that this movie (whatever it depicts Hell as) will not mislead people into thinking that there is no Hell at all–that Hell is only unconsciouness in the grave. The Bible does not teach this, neither did the Primative Church; but that Hell is a real place to purge away sinfulness, evils, and wickedness–not punish souls forever!ns 8:21 . How can anyone get annihialation out of God’s Holy Word?

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