As the marketing and advertising guy for a small Christian bookstore, it is my job to send out e-blasts promoting our material. Recently I promoted Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins, and as part of the write up I wrote this: “Whether one agrees with the conclusions drawn from this book or not, you will walk away with a deeper passion to know exactly what the scriptures do teach on this subject.”
I think that is something we can all agree on. Bell’s book has caused a resurgence of interest in the afterlife among the evangelical community.
This is fabulous. I cannot speak too much for others, but I have become slack by taking for granted the assumptions of my tradition, especially in this area. Ironically, I think one of Bell’s main points was to convince people that we don’t really know much of the afterlife, and so we should concentrate our energy on this life. But the opposite in fact happened, at least for me.
Now I want to know, have I been mistaken all these years? Has my tradition unintentionally, unwittingly led me wrong, as it has before? Does my commitment to scripture above all traditions require me to reexamine what I’ve always believed the bible to teach about Hell?
Coming Up Empty With Proof-Texts
It’s frustrating for someone such as myself to find good material in favor of the traditional view (for research purposes). Much of the work written apologetically in favor of the traditional view are so poorly argued it’s simply embarrassing.
Take the Four Views on Hell for example. John Walvoord enters into a ready defense of the traditional view of Hell, and he has no shortage of bible passages to support his case. But he interacts with none of them. He merely proof-texts. I can relate with Clark Pinnock (the annihilationist) when he responds to Walvoord with this:
“How should I respond to a study that does not engage many basic issues or face up to serious difficulties in the view it is defending? There is little documentation even in support of his position and none interacting with alternative interpretations of it.”[i]
Proof-texting works only if you write to an audience who already agrees with your position. It does not work well in times such as these. Since the ‘80’s the annihilationist position has been building momentum[ii], and the only way such a position could hope to survive within evangelicalism, challenging such a long standing and nearly universal tradition,[iii] is if it seriously engaged the biblical text and could make a case against the traditional view. It’s been done before, why not again?
There are some pretty venerable names associated with the annihilation perspective. John Stott is probably the most respected annihilationist. But the works of Clark Pinnock, Edward Fudge and more recently Greg Boyd have all contributed to its rise in recent years.
So I think the annihilation perspective needs to be taken seriously. I think it presents a real challenge to the traditional view and in fact, if it can be shown to present a stronger biblical case, it may replace the traditional view, at least in my mind.
This is because I am open to the biblical testimony.
Re-Engaging The Traditional View
But I am not ready to give up the traditional view without a fight. Not that I want to fight against “truth”, but I want to fight against the tendency of being blown to and fro by every wave of doctrine,[iv] just because of who supports it or because it seems – at least at first glance – to present a stronger case.
Since I stand behind my previous post that asserted “tormented day and night forever and ever” (in Revelation 20:10) cannot possibly mean “annihilate” (here), I will begin there, in Revelation. And I will enlist the critical scholarship of Biblical scholar G.K. Beale to answer the annihilationist critique of the traditional view of Hell in Revelation[v]. In so doing, Beale not only attempts to dismantle the annihilationist interpretation (with Edward Fudge being his main conversation partner), but his primary aim is to bolster the traditional view of Hell as everlasting punishment.
[ii] I’m speaking specifically about within evangelicalism.
[iii] I’m not saying no one has advocated for Universalism, Postmortem Reconciliation or Annihilationism in Church History, but they have all been minor views.
[iv] Ephesians 4:14