Musings about Universalism, Part 4: Why I Rejected Annihilationism

I hope these posts about universalism don't tire too many of you or rub you the wrong way. I'll try to post stuff in between these posts to give you a break. But I have bunch of stuff to say and, thus, quite a few posts planned. However, I'll try to give you a break from time to time.

Further, while I have pretty strong opinions about all of this I'm an inclusive fellow. So let's all feel free to disagree. Christians haven't agreed on much for over 2,000 years so I don't expect that to change today on this blog. Christians just have different views about heaven and hell. There will never be a consensus within the Christian communion on this topic. But I expect for many people the great diversity of the Christian faith--from Catholic to Protestant, Mormon to Greek Orthodox, Reformed to Universalist, Jehovah's Witness to Pentecostal, Lutheran to Anglican, Evangelical to Anabaptist, Presbyterian to Non-denominational--is a data point they can't wrap their heads around. So it's okay if you conclude that I'm a heretic. That, it appears to me, has been the status quo within Christianity for quite some time.

In light of this diversity, and on the subject of hell in particular, I'd like to tell you why I once believed in annihilationism and why, ultimately, I rejected it.

When I was in college I started struggling a lot with what I learned in Sunday School. As a child I was told that when you die there would be a Judgment Day. And on that Day you would find out your fate for all eternity. Some of us, those who were Church of Christ, would get to go to heaven. All others would go to hell. And there the lost would undergo never-ending torment.

This Sunday School vision of heaven and hell worked pretty well. The simplistic reward-punishment vision of morality fit my young mind. Plus, I'm sure the threat of hellfire kept me out of a lot of trouble as a teenager.

But as I grew up, and as my cognitive abilities matured, this Sunday School vision of heaven and hell started to worry me. A host of questions kept me up at night. Johnny's a Baptist and a better person than I am--a better Christian--but Baptists are going to hell. And how about Catholics? Good Lord will they burn!

In light of these questions I grew a bit more ecumenical. Well, maybe all Christians I concluded, even Catholics, will get to heaven. But how about someone like Gandhi? He's going to burn for eternity, right? And how about all those Jews who died in the gas chambers? Their Christian neighbors shipped them off to Auschwitz where they inhaled Zyklon B and woke up in hell, right? One torture chamber to the next? Only the second one is forever. And run by the Almighty.

So I had a faith crisis. How could I believe in and worship a God I viewed to be monster?

Desperate, I went to my bible professor and spilled the beans. I said, through tears, if I have to believe in the hell I was taught in Sunday School then I'm out, I can't obey or worship that God. This is the end of the line. And here's the kicker: I believed in God. I looked at my bible prof and said: I'd rather go to hell than worship that God. Let me be damned, but I can't go further. I want to be with those Jews from Auschwitz. And if God isn't with them then what hope is there for my faith?

My professor smiled. He understood where I was coming from. And for the rest of the semester he pointed me to a variety of resources about the doctrine of hell. He basically introduced me to the diversity of the Christian faith. Apparently, I discovered, Christians disagreed a great deal about hell. I thought hell was a one-size-fits-all doctrine. But I discovered there were all sorts of visions on offer. That semester we read C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce. And I read Edward Fudge's The Fire that Consumes. And for a time, I became an annihilationist.

The basic idea of annihilationism is that hellfire doesn't torture people for eternity. Rather, hellfire, per Fudge's title, consumes the damned. The lost cease to exist, they are annihilated. This, in the word's of Jesus, is the second death:

Matthew 10.28
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
According to annihilationism there are two deaths. The first death ends your physical existence. The second death ends your spiritual existence.

Critical to this view is how it pushes against the latent Platonism in how many Christians view immortality and the soul. Many Christians think the soul is intrinsically immortal. That immortality is a property of the soul. And if you believe this, the notion seems nonsensical that the soul could be "killed" (as Jesus states in Matthew 10). Souls are immortal, they can't be killed.

But that view isn't biblical. It's a belief we've inherited from Greek philosophy, Plato in particular. The bible is very clear that only God is immortal (1 Tim. 6.16) and that the saved, who are mortal, must "put on immortality" (1 Cor. 15.53-55). Immortality, in short, is a gift. And only the saved get it. If you are not saved you do not get to share in God's immortality. Thus, your life will end. Body and soul.

Early on this view helped me a great deal. Annihilationism helped me deal with the most pressing problem I had, that God would torture people for eternity. Now, according to annihilationism they just ceased to exist. Which is an improvement.

Unfortunately, this situation didn't last and I grew increasingly disillusioned with annihilationism. I ultimately rejected it as wrong. Well intentioned, but wrong. Let me give a few reasons why I reached this conclusion.

To start, let's get the cards out on the table: Is annihilationism murder? It is, after all, called annihilationism. And if I annihilate a group of people we know that I've murdered them. So while annihilationism might seem more humane than the vision of God roasting people for eternity we have to wrestle with this notion that God is terminating a human life. Humans call that murder. So, is the God of annihilationism guilty on this score?

Well, maybe not. Despite the title of Fudge's book, we don't have to think of God as actively killing (consuming, annihilating) people. Perhaps God simply removes his life-giving presence from these people. In certain medical situations we allow life-support to be stopped and we don't consider that to be murder. Maybe that's what happens in annihilationism?

The trouble with this view is that we only allow the plug to be pulled when people are brain dead, when they are not conscious and they have no way, biologically speaking, to carry their biography forward. But that's not what is going on in annihilationism. The damned are, presumably, conscious and want their lives to continue. They may even be begging for mercy. And yet, God pulls the plug over their protests, petitions, and screams for mercy. And that, it seems to me, is murder. Annihilationism and Fudge's book, I concluded, were well named.

But the fact that annihilationism is murder isn't what ultimately changed my mind.

The deeper problem I had with annihilationism is that it didn't, ultimately, answer the questions I was really struggling with. The same questions that bothered me about the Sunday School hell were also bothering me with annihilationism.

Here's the deal. Annihilationism is a doctrine about hell. It's not a doctrine about God. Annihilationism answers a very specific question: Will hell last forever? It answers, no, it won't. Hell is just the cessation of existence. God won't torture people forever.

Again, this is an improvement. But this theological patch on the doctrine of hell doesn't get at the deeper issue about who God is. Is God loving? Is God just?

Think of those Jews looking up at the shower heads in Auschwitz. Maybe they don't get tortured for eternity in the next life. Maybe, Fudge suggested, they just die, right there or maybe later. Regardless, the last act in the drama of their life is breathing in the gas as they scream and cling to their friends, family and children. Too bad they didn't accept Jesus in this life! Too bad they didn't attend that nice, welcoming German bible study down the street!

In short, while annihilationism allowed me to believe that God isn't a sadistic torturer it didn't allow me to answer the questions I really needed to answer: Is God just? Is God loving?

And so, I eventually left annihilationism behind. The view just tweaks the doctrine of hell. And that was, for a season, helpful. And I still believe most of what Fudge writes in The Fire that Consumes. His analysis of immortality is awesome and his word study of the word "eternal" is wonderful. But I needed more. I didn't start this search looking for a better doctrine of hell.

I was looking for God.

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53 thoughts on “Musings about Universalism, Part 4: Why I Rejected Annihilationism”

  1. Perhaps I can use the honour of being first to comment this time to say that you have at least one reader, Richard, who is neither fed up nor disagreeing. I thank God for directing me to your blog at just the right time in my life - and at the right time for my family and friends, too. I am grateful to have discovered that my wrestling might just be faith rather than rebellion. I am grateful for the knowledge and wisdom you share so generously. Most of all, I am grateful for your story.

  2. I would like to add, per George MacDonald, that I do believe God is a Consuming Fire.

    I just believe God is consuming sin, not souls.

  3. don't stop. you're describing the journey many of us have been on and continue to be on.

  4. Amen, and amen. I wish I didn't live so far apart so we could have this conversation in person, but I very much agree with you. Thank you for your ministry with your blog.

  5. THANK YOU for this post. I have been struggling with the concept of annihilation after being introduced to the term last week after the Rob Bell blogging frenzy. I have found little comfort in annihilation versus eternal conscious torment, but am finding most of the rhetoric focused on clearing Rob Bell of heresy by claiming he is advocating annihilation, while clearing clear boundaries that excludes universalism from orthodoxy.

  6. Hello Dr. Beck,

    Thank you for your COURAGE/TRANSPARENCY while you continue to broach such crucial matters of faith. Even here (locally on this very blog), you continue to take repeated blows. It's clear you've counted that cost and have embraced the risk of being labeled a heretic. But I read this site almost daily and continue to receive profound encouragement while traveling what seems to be very lonely road (personally/socially speaking). I might never meet you nor many of the awesome participants here, but just knowing I'm not alone in Spirit makes all the difference in the world.
    Thank you Dr. Beck!

    Gary Y.

  7. Please do not stop posting your thoughts on the subject. Your articles, Parry's "The Evangelical Universalist", and are all proving very helpful and encouraging. I look forward to more on the subject.

  8. I'm interested to see where you're going with this.

    I, personally, just completely skipped the annihilationism step, for all the reasons you've described. I went straight from believing, "say the magic words or you fry when you die" to thinking, "Wow, that doesn't make a lick of sense. I choose, therefore, to ignore the entire thing and convince myself that I'm entirely okay with mystery and with believing that all theologians are pretentious idiots playing with their own turds."

    I guess I've long known that I couldn't hold that idea in perpetuity, but universalism was just too SCARY, and had too many nasty implications for my sense of superiority and membership in the community of the not-damned.

    I wanted my mommy to keep loving me. I wanted to keep my job as a teacher at a Christian school. I wanted everything to have at least some semblance of categorizability.

    I'm starting to think that living honestly (and lovingly) might be more important than all of that. It's nice to think that I might not be entirely alone...

  9. Muse all you want as far as I'm concerned too. Discovering Christian Universalism in college was a re-birth of sorts for my faith. The Gospel with the traditional doctrine of hell is like getting $10 reward card that says, "some exclusions apply." You just start throwing them away after a while.

  10. "If I have to believe in the hell I was taught in Sunday School then I'm out, I can't obey or worship that God."

    That's how I feel, too. The disputes about Rob Bell (who now seems destined to join a long line of worthy followers of Jesus who were excommunicated, and without a fair trial) are disheartening. And I am beginning to wonder if such disputes are just a gigantic evil distraction from more important tasks Jesus has given us, like feeding hungry people, and listening to despairing people. (Galatians 2:10) In the end, if we are only Christians in order to avoid hell, then we're really just in it for ourselves after all.

  11. Hello Dr. Beck,
    I always appreciate and enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for the time investment.
    I'm an annihilationist and wanted to ask you what you thought of two related points on annihilationism that I find compelling.

    1) Since God's "love" seems to be the controlling theme throughout the discussion (and that's a good thing) have you looked at the description of God's love in Malachi 1:1-5? In a nutshell, God's love is expressed as destroying Israel's enemies (Edom). This sort of love is a redeeming and protective love from an enemy that was hoping for Israel's destruction (Psalms says they were basically cheering on the Babylonians to utterly destroy Israel). Perhaps we can identify with this description by picturing a father protecting his children from a sadistic serial murderer by killing him. I always thought this was a profound description of how God's love was simultaneously expressed as redemption and destruction.

    2) In relationship to point #1, the final picture of hell fire in Revelation 20 is not that of people pleading/wanting to be saved/have mercy. They have surrounded the holy city for battle with the assumed intention of killing all the redeemed inside and tearing God off of his throne. This is the context in which "fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them," (Rev 20:9) This scene parallels the love-motivated-redemption-destruction motif in Malachi 1 (as a side point, the parallels are even closer since much of NT "hell fire" descriptions are based on prophecies against Edom in the OT).

    So, what do you think? Is there something to this protective-destructive picture of God's love? Would you kill to protect?

  12. Dr. Beck, please keep it going! You have really opened my eyes to Christian Universalism as a biblical point of view that cannot be ignored or shoved aside. Although I am not all of the way there yet, you have convinced me that much of what gets taught of hell as absolute doctrine is not the necessary or even most likely conclusion that the biblical text calls for.

    Regarding annihilation as murder--I have always considered murder to be one human taking another human's life in their own hands. Since God created us, I guess I just assume that it is his prerogative to extinguish a soul as well, especially if immortality is a gift, not the natural state of the soul to begin with. Greg Boyd has some good teaching on annihilation that has me close to convinced that this indeed could (from God) be a loving act.

    I'm not sure where I'll end up in this debate, except that I am sure that no matter what, God will not act in way that is inconsistent with his character. Sometimes that's the best I can do.

  13. Hi Joseph,
    Those are some big questions. Let me say this to start. The bible is like a big puzzle box full of pieces. And people (think: Christian denominations) put those pieces into all sorts of configurations. You have a few big pieces out there (images from Revelation and Malachi) and when you put them together the way you do, yeah, I see what you're saying.

    So all I can do is tell you how I put those same pieces together and end up in a different place.

    To start, can killing be a manifestation of love? Yes. If someone tries to harm my family my love for my family might (and likely would) drive me to kill the attacker. But here's the deal. Yes, such actions show that I love my family but what about my loving the attacker, my enemy? See, that's where I'd wave the caution flag in what you are saying. If God's protective love turns him into a tribal war god (protecting my "tribe" against outsiders) then I think we have some problems.

    So for me any tribal, martial, or protective imagery has to be filtered through the self-sacrificing love of Jesus who died for his friends and his enemies. That's how I configure the puzzle. And Jesus' love was protective. In the garden on the night of his arrest Jesus steps forward and tells the guards to leave the disciples alone, fulling the prophecy that he would, in the end, protect his sheep. Lay down his life for the sheep. And when Peter tries to protect Jesus with violence Jesus stops Peter and heals the man Peter wounded. So, yes, Jesus protects. But he loves those arresting him as much as those who follow him.

    So when you get to a text like Revelation, where violent imagery abounds, we need to have a regulating image. I think that image is found in Revelation 5 where the Lion of Judah is revealed to the the Lamb that was Slain. In short, any warrior-like imagery in Revelation has to be regulated by that image. Jesus defeats evildoers by giving his life for them. That's how Jesus "fights" and "protects."

  14. Hi Nathan,
    I do think the murder charge can be addressed. I mention it only because I don't think a lot of annihilationists wrestle with the moral implications of God consuming souls, terminating biographies, and ending lives. So I'm mainly trying to provoke some reflection.

    And yes, God is the Creator and can do what he wants. But if Dr. Frankenstein killed the monster would that have been murder? How about in the future if we create sentient life forms? Can we murder them if we are their creators? Lots of good sci fi wrestles with that question.

  15. For Christians, the problems and contradictions always boil down to how the bible is understood.
    Is it a straightforward road-map, to be taken at face value, so that any apparent inconsistencies are only a manifestation of our own unworthiness? Following this tradition, our notions of love and the relationship between children and their father, are strained to the point that we have to deny much of what we understand to be "good" and assume apparent cruelty and capriciousness are somehow different, when God does it.
    Or is it a collection of very different reflections on a chosen people's dialogue with God and the unique events of His incarnation and sacrifice? A work inspired by the fear and love of the Lord, but written by man and inevitably influenced by contemporary language, culture and beliefs. If we follow this path, we are left with fewer certainties and the loneliness of doubt.

  16. Having just finished "At the back of the north wind", I am reminded of the way the character of north wind would appear differently as the need arose, but without ever changing her essential nature.

  17. As usual, fascinating perusals on important issues that provide a wonderful respite from the often shallow intellectual drudgery of the day - long may it continue...

    One point that struck me, however, was the quote:

    "If I have to believe in the hell I was taught in Sunday School then I'm out, I can't obey or worship that God."

    Whilst at one level I can totally understand where you're coming from, I nonetheless feel that it ought to be accepted that comments of this kind (valid though they are) are far more representative in describing the one SAYING them, rather than being helpful in describing the God they are referring to.

    Simply put, the primary question (to be asked with all honest, openness and humility) is: WHO is God/what is He like? Once we've established this I guess we then have the perogative to say, "I don't want to engage with a God of this kind..." Whilst we're still in the process of discovery, however, I think, with respect, that it would be premature to reject a being we still know little/nothing about.

    For me, I have for various reasons too numerout to detail here, decided to follow/worship/enjoy the God revealed in the Judaeo-Christian canon of Scripture and to love and serve him REGARDLESS of what I later find out about His character, purposes and personality.

    I am NOT advocating this for others, or indeed thinking that my route is a better/best one. Rather, it is the one I have chosen and it gives me stability, a sense of loyalty and a very exciting and sometimes shocking lifetime of discovery as I further explore the being and function of this eternal, enigmatic, confusing, confounding, wonderful, beautiful and loving God...

    Just some thoughts - thanks for providing the place/forum for us to do so...

  18. Hi Martyn

    Thanks for your thoughts. I think this is quite a profound question & I would have agreed with you in the past. I think I now see the relationships as more dialogic (mutually referential) than I used to appreciate. For example, I see Richard's proclamation of

    "Let me be damned but...I want to be with the Jews from Oswiecim"

    as both a description of the God who inspired this response and a description of Richard's relationship to Him at that point in time - and a wonderful, powerful and moving statement it is, too, if I may say so.

    I discover something about God's character in listening to Richard's narrative of struggle.



  19. "The damned are, presumably, conscious and want their lives to continue. They may even be begging for mercy. And yet, God pulls the plug over their protests, petitions, and screams for mercy. And that, it seems to me, is murder. Annihilationism and Fudge's book, I concluded, were well named."

    I don't think it was your intention to misrepresent anyone, but to be clear, (as someone who knows Edward Fudge) I can tell you that he does not believe that someone who begs God for mercy will be destroyed by God. He would be appaled at the thought - he has a very big view of God's grace.

  20. That probably went too far. Still, if that is true and in the end "every knee will bow and tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord" I can't see how anyone gets annihilated. Everyone sees Jesus worships and confesses, and then, I assume, begs for mercy. So what happens then in the annihilationist view?

  21. First, I'd like to say that these posts are not tiring at all. Actually, quite the opposite. I have greatly enjoyed reading them.

    In my journey from rejecting the fundamentalist faith I was born into and discovering universalism, I never "stopped" at annihilationism. This is probably because, until I started researching ideas about hell several years ago, I had never even heard of it. However, I dismissed for the same reason you did: it seems like murder.

    Human parents have no right to murder their children, no matter how "bad" they might be. Murder is legally and morally wrong. How, then, can it be right for God to murder His children? I don't believe it is.

    Whether the soul is intrinsically immortal or whether immortality is given to us by God, I honestly do not know, although I lean slightly towards the former. But, I refuse to worship a God who would either torture people eternally or just get rid of them if they don't get it "right" during their lifetime. It's just wrong.

    Bart Campolo once said "I have standards for my God". So do I. I'm sure to some that sounds incredibly arrogant. But, I have a choice whether or not to worship God, and I refuse to worship a God who commits torture or murder.

  22. Thanks for the response. I thought you'd go there (loving the attackers). But I don't see how that needs to alter the picture of a love that both protects and destroys. For example, what if the serial killer happens to be one of your sons and the soon to be victim, your other son. Would you not kill one son to protect the other. *This would in no way entail that you love the attacking son less* (this is especially apropos because Israel and Edom are brothers, i.e., Jacob and Esau...and both are God's children whom he loves). So I don't see how God loving his enemies makes a bit difference (other than more painful for Him, as it would be for us in dealing with those two sons) on the picture of a love that must protect...and therefore must destroy.

    I guess this gets at the crux of why I (so far) can't quite go with universalism. You wrote a marvelous bit on a previous post how God's wrath is an expression of his love. I guess I take that concept to its final conclusion and in no way think that God's love is diminished by his wrath...even a wrath that destroys.

    Thanks again for the stimulating post.

  23. I just wish that sin existed in some way outside of souls so that God could consume one, without consuming the other.

  24. These posts on universalism aren't tiring at all. I hope you keep them coming!

  25. Not sure if you've read the chapter on hell in Tim Keller's Reason for God, but he says something along the lines of 'the Bible teaches we all have souls that will go on forever into eternity; it's up to us where we go', which seems to be Platonism.

  26. "Again, this is an improvement."

    An improvement compared to what? Along what standard of measurement was it determined that annihilationism constituted progress over against an eternal hell?


  27. Maybe I'm missing something, but wouldn't the standard of measurement/improvement be.....pain and its duration. Would you prefer the guillotine or to be rolled in honey and tossed in the middle of a billion red fire ants (an actual method of captial punishment in some societies)?

  28. Do you believe in a Satan/Lucifer/Evil incarnate personal being? And if so, do you think they will also ultimately be reconciled to God in loving relationship?

  29. Yes, missing something. What standard is being invoked by the author as the measuring stick which tells him which eschatological theory is better or worse than another?

  30. Better in the following way:

    Someone is being tortured beyond bearing and screams out for it to end, so you put them "out of their misery." Like shooting a horse with a broken leg. Or a spy facing torture taking a poisoned pill.

    My hunch is that most people, if given the choice, would rather die than suffer torture for eternity. Better in that way.

  31. I also am looking for God, and perhaps frustrated too. Raised in a tradition where hell is an embedded theology, I've come to see that that faith was/is actually a matter of faith in its own system and interpretation (justification theory), rather than in God. Likewise, I've become deeply turned off by the god of that theology, and the churchianity that manifests it.

    Like so many others here, I'm deeply appreciative for this forum, and the discussions here. I'm not tired of these explorations.

  32. Churchianity--great term. Have you read the Late Michael Spencer's book "Mere Churchianity?"

  33. say rich
    what is the difference between love expressed through the trinity for righteousness Sake, as IS SPOKEN by the authorized representatives :) (apostles of the CHRIST)and theory of the justification that you are speaking of, that denies the loss of eternal life found in the Spirit through faithfulness.
    is this not ontological BS at it's highest point so far.
    what i always heard as a social gospel?

    Blaming god when we are the ones on the "little bus"as far as good is concerned....

  34. and a BIG
    BOY OH BOY!!!!!!!!!!!!

  35. I just want to clarify one thing. I disagree that God annihilating someone would be "murder". God's executions would have legal standing alongside a judge ordering the execution of someone who has committed a capital offense. Just because God is Father, does not make him any less a fact, the only Righteous Judge. The Bible is clear, "there is none righteous, no, not one." Therefore, he alone is just in his final judgments.

    Judgment yes, murder?...sorry, that strains credulity.

  36. First, let me say that I appreciate these posts. They have been quite thought-provoking. However, I do have a couple questions/observations regarding this latest post.

    1) If one rejects the notion that God murders (or annihilates) souls after judgment because this action is considered unjust or unloving, would you also then reject those passages which directly attribute the end of human life to God? Did God not cause the flood or destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? Do we throw out 2 Samuel 12 where God takes the life of David's and Bathsheba's baby? Are we to attribute the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira to someone/something other than God in Acts 5? Is there a difference between murdering a body and a soul? Which one is worse? Scripture seems to have no qualms about God's active participation in the murder of humans. And Jesus, in the passage you quote (Matthew 10:28) seems to believe God is capable and willing (perhaps reluctantly) to murder/kill/annihilate both body and soul, does he not?

    2) I find the balance of love and justice overwhelming. The tension between to the two, at times, threatens to break me, and I believe others have this experience as well. When I want to focus primarily on God's love, I use examples like Ghandi and the Jews at Auschwitz to object to the notion of hell and eternal judgment. And when the notion of justice rears its ugly head, something inside me shouts that those who are unrepentant and intent on doing evil cannot possibly enter the kingdom of Heaven; it would be unjust. I have strongly felt the same as you when you state: "If I have to believe in the hell I was taught in Sunday School then I'm out, I can't obey or worship that God," but I also think to myself: "If I have to believe in the heaven that's being offered here then I'm out, I can't obey or worship that God." Passages like Exodus 34:6-7 and Micah 6:8 are kicking my tail!

    Thank you for the opportunity to stretch, grow, and dialogue here.

  37. That's true. I'm mainly using the murder tag to provoke thought where I think thought has been lacking. Again, I think this argument of mine can be parried.

    That said, in human terms, anyone who acts as judge, jury and executioner fits the label of murder. Of course, none of this might apply to God because he is God. My point is only to draw a parallel with the category of murder and note the strong correlation.

  38. Hi Matt,
    On #1: I think one could argue that, for a variety of purposes, God has killed people in this life. If so, that creates a variety of theodicy issues. And the only why I know how to resolve those theodicy issues is an appeal to universalism. That while a physical life may have ended the biography with God continues.

    On #2: I have a post on justice coming up. I don't know if it will satisfy, but I'll share my thoughts on the issue.

  39. Richard, we are on this learning journey together. And as a fellow-pilgrim, I think you are attributing something to annihilationism that does not necessarily follow -- i.e., the eternal fate of those Jewish children in the concentration camps . . . or their parents for that matter. The WHAT question about hell is entirely separate from the WHO question. One can hold to conditional immortality and be either inclusive or exclusive in thinking about who goes to hell. All I am saying is that "the God question" is no reason to jump ship. "-)


  40. Thanks Edward, for your kind reply, particularly given the sharpness of my post. Any edginess here is by no means personal.

    BTW, I was excited to see a 3rd Edition of The Fire that Consumes coming out. Given my interest in these issues I'll be one of the first to buy one. You'll convince me yet!

  41. I am a Bulgarian cleric and lecturer. I have studied and published on Gnosticism for more than 154 years and I can assure you that universal salvation or apokatastasis is Gnostic and not Christian. Personal sentiments do not matter here.

  42. I disagree. You are equating "legal" with "morally right". I think most people would agree that laws exist which are immoral, (although we might disagree on what laws those are). Personally, I believe that God annihilating someone is murder, even if the Bible says it is legal, because God is destroying their consciousness, killing their existence. What else would you call it?

    I guess it comes back to the age old debate: Is what God does good because God does it? Or does God do things because they are themselves good? I believe the latter.

    I also think people focus too much on God as a Judge. Yes, God is a judge. But God is not Judgment. God is Love. God is an unconditionally loving father to every single human being. That makes Him very different from a human judge. He desires for His children to be rehabilitated, not just punished for punishment's sake. Besides, how does God defeat death if He must destroy His own children? The death of a child is beyond devastating for humans. I don't see why it would be any different for God. By annihilating even a single soul, God is defeated by death, for death takes the soul permanently.

    No decent human parent would destroy their offspring, even if the law permitted it. Why do we assume God does? What kind of father does that make Him? How can we admire and worship an entity who destroys His own children?

  43. "God is an unconditionally loving father to every single human being."

    How do you square that idea with statements such as 1 John 3:10 "By this the children of God and the children of the devil are revealed: Everyone who does not practice righteousness - the one who does not love his fellow Christian - is not of God."?

  44. an excerp from dr. john mark hicks blog.

    on defineing ontology
    systemic bible doctrine
    SBD 2
    It sounds like we are going to put the Bible into its “proper” order–an order that we impose through a preconcevived “system” (an order perhaps borrowed from some philosophical construct, cultural model or a previous scholasticism). This prioritizes “system” over text; it postulates an “order” to which the text must conform. This is onto-theology so that theology is shaped by a prior commitment to an ontology. Theology then becomes a form of philosophical anthropology, which means it is not theology at all but “anthropology in a loud voice” (so Barth’s critique of classic liberalism). It will override the text.

  45. ED
    this is an excerp fro JOHN MARK HICKS BLOG ON WORDPRESS...

    which "I" think is applickable within your comment ...

    SBD 2
    It sounds like we are going to put the Bible into its “proper” order–an order that we impose through a preconcevived “system” (an order perhaps borrowed from some philosophical construct, cultural model or a previous scholasticism). This prioritizes “system” over text; it postulates an “order” to which the text must conform. This is onto-theology so that theology is shaped by a prior commitment to an ontology. Theology then becomes a form of philosophical anthropology, which means it is not theology at all but “anthropology in a loud voice” (so Barth’s critique of classic liberalism). It will override the text.

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