MR:For those unfamiliar with your teaching on hell or eternal punishment, would you please summarize it briefly? Is it fair to call your view "conditional"?
EF: First, let me say, I appreciate the desire of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals to call us back to Scripture, and to distinguish authentic scriptural teaching from the pollutions of later human creeds and culture. Those are also my own goals in ministry. I share most of the conclusions expressed in the Cambridge Declaration.
There is one point, however, on which we still disagree. That point concerns the precise nature of eternal punishment. Or, to say it another way, it concerns the effect of hell's fire on those who are sentenced to it. The Cambridge Declaration upholds the majority traditional view, that "eternal punishment" means that the lost will be kept alive forever in hell, where they will endure conscious torments forever and ever without end.
I do not believe that the Bible teaches that the lost will be made immortal, or that they will suffer torments without end. Instead, I believe Scripture teaches that God will "destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28), and that "eternal punishment" means being "punished" with "eternal destruction" (2 Thess. 1:9). Our God is a "consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29). Because hell's fire cannot be extinguished ("unquenchable"), it will eventually "burn up" those sentenced to it (Matt. 3:12). In the end, the wages of sin really is "death"-to which the contrast is "eternal life" (Rom. 6:23; Rev. 21:8).
This view is neither eccentric nor cultish, having being advocated, held, or allowed by such faithful luminaries as F. F. Bruce, Michael Green, W. Graham Scroggie, Dale Moody, Clark Pinnock, John Wenham, E. Earle Ellis, Philip E. Hughes, Homer Hailey, and John Stott. That it is a minority view, which contradicts several ecclesiastical creeds, should not matter, since we all agree that truth is learned from Scripture and not from polls or human creeds. (It is entirely consistent, by the way, with the truly universal Apostles' Creed and Nicene Creed.)
This understanding of Scripture is sometimes called "conditional immortality" and those who hold it are sometimes called "conditionalists." These labels point to the truths that God alone is inherently immortal (1 Tim. 6:16) and that any human who finally enjoys immortality will do so as God's gift, conditional on receiving his grace in Jesus Christ.
This position rests on hundreds of scriptures from throughout the entire Bible. I have summarized that scriptural teaching in Two Views Of Hell, which I coauthored with Robert A. Peterson (IVP, 2000), and set it out in detail in the much larger book, The Fire That Consumes.
This scriptural base includes messianic texts from the Old Testament, which picture the wicked's final destiny as perishing and being shattered like earthenware (Ps. 2:9, 12), as corpses (Ps. 110:5-6), as slain (Isa. 11:4), as corpses devoured by maggots and by fire (Isa. 66:24), and as chaff that burns until nothing is left-ashes under the feet of the righteous (Mal. 4:1, 3). It includes the entire recorded teaching of Jesus in the Gospels, who warns that God can destroy soul as well as body, and who compares the wicked's end to that of a house destroyed by a hurricane or typhoon (Matt. 7:27). It includes all that Jesus said about "hell" or Gehenna (an eschatological name borrowed from the Jerusalem garbage dump, a disgusting place of perpetually smoldering fire and stomach-turning putrefaction).
Such a scenario completely satisfies Jesus' statement that some will go away into "eternal punishment." The word punishment says that there will be penal consequences for wrongdoing, which are imposed by judicial authority. It does not say anything about the nature of that punishment itself, however. Paul explains what Jesus left vague, when he says that Jesus will "punish" the wicked with "eternal destruction" (2 Thess. 1:9). This punishment of eternal destruction is eternal punishment in two senses. Qualitatively, it is eternal because it pertains to the age to come. Quantitatively, it is eternal because it lasts forever. The wicked, once destroyed, are gone forever. This destruction is fully as long-lasting as the eternal life and blessing of the saved.
No bio information available for this author.
Issue: "Hell: Putting the Fire Out?" May/June 2002 Vol. 11 No. 3 Page number(s): 42-45
You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. We do not allow reposting an article in its entirety on the Internet. We request that you link to this article from your website. Any exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by Modern Reformation (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: This article originally appeared in the [insert current issue date] edition of Modern Reformation and is reprinted with permission. For more information about Modern Reformation, visit www.modernreformation.org or call (800) 890-7556. All rights reserved.