Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Annihilationism Gains Ground With Christians

Just as universalism is gaining ground in liberal circles, annihilationism is gaining ground in Christian conservative circles. J. I. Packer once said that Western evangelicals live in a post-Christian, human-centered, self-absorbed, feel-good, secular culture which reduces all religion to a private hobby. The modern passion to find dignity and worth in all religions presses upon them. Their imaginations have been contaminated with the world's disgust with people like Jonathan Edwards and his attempt to make vivid the thought that without Jesus Christ we are but sinners in the hands of an angry God.

Clark Pinnock, who is a professor at McMaster's Divinity School said this:

I consider the concept of hell an outrageous doctrine. It's a bad doctrine which needs to be changed. How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon His creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary moral standards and by the Gospel itself. Surely the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is no fiend. Torturing people without end is not what our God does. Everlasting torment is intolerable from a moral point of view because it makes God into a blood-thirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for victims whom He does not even allow the dignity to die.
In response, theologian Millard Eareckson said "If one is going to describe sending persons to endless punishment as cruelty and vindictiveness and a God who would do so as more nearly like Satan than God and a blood-thirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz, he had better be very certain he is correct, for if he is wrong he is guilty of blasphemy. A wiser course of action would be restraint in one's statements just in case they might be wrong."

Annihilationism is gaining ground as we embrace a kinder, gentler theology perfectly suited to a feel-good generation. Hell's imagery is more common today in comic pages than in church pulpits. Preachers prefer to dwell on more uplifting themes. Hell has all but disappeared and no one seems to have noticed.

10 comments:

TheChristianAlert.org said...

Hi Hank,

I'm glad you are blogging now. As C. S. Lewis said,

"In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell is itself a question: "What are you asking God to do?" To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does (The Problem of Pain, 130)”.

Edgar.

David Mackey said...

Hank,
Your post is interesting, especially in light of your interviewing John Stott regularly and promoting his materials, as he is probably the best known annilationist of our day and age.
Also interesting to note Edgar's comment on C.S. Lewis, who reflects a somewhat different thought line towards the end of The Great Divorce, which is written with George MacDonald, a famous author, preacher, and universalist as Lewis' guide.
Just food for thought.
David.

stephen said...

Pinnock's remarks are hardly surprising - Stephen Patterson, Professor of New Testament at Eden Theological Seminary stated on Public Radio that not much of the New Testament is accurate. It's mostly just stories.
Thanks for allowing me to comment.

Joseph said...

Hi Hank,

Looking forward to following your blog regularly. Thanks for all you do... many blessings!

Anonymous said...

Or, Edgar, you could pose some other questions: How can you explain the rationality of a worldview that starts off with the premise that all are born into Sin because of the actions of a relative? Further, if that relative didn't have the knowledge of good or evil when he made his choice, how could he have known the gravity of his choice? And why would God hold him - and all his genpool in perpetuity - to be bound by his mistake?

John K said...

Anonymous:
"How can you explain the rationality of a worldview that starts off with the premise that all are born into Sin because of the actions of a relative?"

It’s not a matter of explaining the rationality of a particular worldview. It’s that that particular worldview explains reality. The story of the fall of man explains why the world is as it is today and has been ever since the events took place in the garden. Mankind is not inherently good. He is innately selfish and sinful. Even though he has an inner sense of what is right, his natural instinctive desire is to do the opposite. As proof of this, I offer history and rest my case.

"Further, if that relative didn't have the knowledge of good or evil when he made his choice, how could he have known the gravity of his choice?"

Whatever the significance of the “knowledge of good or evil,” Adam was told specifically of the consequences of eating the fruit. Whether he knew the complete gravity of his choice is beside the point. He was told the consequences. He knew he would die and he disobeyed anyway

"And why would God hold him - and all his genpool (sic) in perpetuity - to be bound by his mistake."

We are no longer bound by his mistake. In fact we have been rescued from it, by God Himself, through Jesus Christ. This rescue has been made available to all, including you. No one who has been made aware of it can any longer complain of God’s unfairness. Their future depends solely on their acceptance or continued rejection of it.

Take Care

Anonymous said...

Hi John, thanks for your response.

Whatever the significance of the “knowledge of good or evil,” Adam was told specifically of the consequences of eating the fruit. Whether he knew the complete gravity of his choice is beside the point. He was told the consequences. He knew he would die and he disobeyed anyway

'Whether he knew the complete gravity of his choice is beside the point' is exactly the point. If you told your child 'take candy from that jar, and you're grounded', fair game, the child would have a clear understanding of the consequences and would make their choice. If, however, you left out the fact that all other children the world over would be grounded, the full consequence of their action is nowhere near clear.

Which comes to point the point of knowledge of good or evil. Let's say that your child has no knowledge of good or evil. How would they know the value of the choice they are making? Even if they fully understood the consequences of their action, it would just be a morally flavourless choice they made. They might fully understand that all kids the world over would be grounded, but it would have as much weight on them as saying 'You took the candy, so the birds will fly over your head at 2:00 pm today'.

John K said...

Anonymous,
You make this sound all so theoretical, as if you are critiquing some work of fiction. But we are not. What we are talking about here is the truth. It is the way things are and reality is not always as perfect or as comfortable as an ideal theory someone would make up from nothing. Whether it is reasonable or not, as I pointed out earlier, the human race is not intrinsically good, as common sense and an impartial view of reality show us. Even though we have an innate sense of what is good, our behaviour in reality does not measure up to even our own standards. The Christian doctrine of original sin merely tells us the story of why this is so. You may not think it fair, but neither is gravity to the skydiver whose parachute has just malfunctioned.

As for Adam realizing the consequences of his disobedience, there is much regarding which we may only speculate. He was told that if he ate of the forbidden tree, he would die. Did he realize this would also apply to his children? Who knows. He obviously knew it would apply to his wife because Eve knew it in her conversation with the serpent in Genesis chapter 3, and we may assume it was Adam who told her. At the time Adam was warned by God (2:17), he did not yet have children, although he knew that he would, because God had told him to be fruitful and multiply (1:28). Whether he was, or should he have been, aware that this curse would apply to his descendents we really don’t know. In fact, though, we might argue that he was doubly culpable for his disobedience because for all he knew at the time, if he died childless he would not have been able to fulfil God’s command to populate the earth.

Again, regarding your point about the knowledge of good and evil, what does that mean, exactly? I believe they certainly realized that death was a serious consequence. I think this is one of those things we have to admit that we just don't and may never know every nuance or implication.

Glenn said...

I see little point in attempting to poison the well by associating annihilationism with good feelings.

If you have good feelings about personal annihilation then I suggest seeking help. But as far as annihilationism goes, it may be evaluated on the merits of exegesis. Whatever I might think of Pinnock, he is surely right to respond to J. I. Packer by asking rhetorically - If I am motivated by emotivism, then what motivates Packer? Bloodlust? Enough of this.

As far as the fact that annihilationism is gaining ground is concerned, I couldn't be happier with that fact. Experience tells me time after time that when the issue is publicly debated and the scriptural arguments are set forth, many people go from one camp to another - but it's all one-way traffic. There's a reason for that.

Anonymous said...

[quote]
It’s not a matter of explaining the rationality of a particular worldview. It’s that that particular worldview explains reality. The story of the fall of man explains why the world is as it is today and has been ever since the events took place in the garden. Mankind is not inherently good
[/quote]

As politely as I can say this... this comment is BS.

Many different worldviews "explain" reality. Only one of them can be true.

Deism "explains reality" just as well as Christianity does.

[quote]
Even though he has an inner sense of what is right, his natural instinctive desire is to do the opposite. As proof of this, I offer history and rest my case.
[/quote]

So I suppose all of the ancient non-Hebrew non-Roman cultures were just completely depraved? After all, they had yet to hear the gospel, they had their own religions, so under the evangelical Christianity of today they were not yet "redeemed". So they must have all done horrible, horrible things, without doing anything good... right?

[quote]
Whatever the significance of the “knowledge of good or evil,” Adam was told specifically of the consequences of eating the fruit.
[/quote]

Actually, he was not. The specific consequences are a lot broader than "you will surely die".

Ever notice that the serpent there wasn't exactly lying?

[quote]
What we are talking about here is the truth.
[/quote]

Such remains to be determined. Claiming it is, does not make it so.

[quote]
Whether it is reasonable or not, as I pointed out earlier, the human race is not intrinsically good, as common sense and an impartial view of reality show us.[/quote]

Nor are we intrisically depraved. As common sense and an impartial view of reality show us.