Monday, May 27, 2013

Problems with “Annihilationism”


A while ago I was tagged in a note on Facebook about why we should give annihilationism (the teaching that hell is ending) a chance. The essay used was written by well-known Open-Theist Greg Boyd (Here 'tis), who tries to support his position biblically for an ending hell.

However there are several things (there's accutally more than 'several' but for the sake of time and a blog post this only has 6), which must be dealt with when considering the ending of hell. These problems are listed below:

1) Misunderstanding of the word "immortal"
  • Immortal means having no beginning AND no end. As created souls we distinctly have a beginning and therefore it is right to assume only God is immortal (1 Tim 6:16). We are just eternal beings, i.e. souls.
2) Time-centric view of eternity
  • God being outside of space and time as its Creator is therefore not subject to time and by placing a capstone of time on the eternality of God and/or his creation outside of time is to limit the understanding and depth of eternity into base numbers. In other words you attempt to confound the wisdom of God by using his creation.
3) To say, "The wicked are “destroyed forever” (Ps 92:7), but they are not forever being destroyed." Is to miss the point of language and words entirely. 
  • In the punishment of unbelievers in 2 Thessalonians 1, “They,” means those, “… who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (2 Thess 1:8)” Inside this punishment is the constant continual action of, “eternal destruction” (2 Thess 1:9). Which means it goes on for eternity (true story). This is not unclear; this is not guesswork on the meaning of words. ‘Eternal’ means eternal (with a beginning but without an end) and ‘destruction’ means frick-this-is-hell. In modern vernacular, it’ll freaking suck. So arguing the semantics of the ‘end of hell’ is about as illogical as wondering if McDonalds is healthy for every meal. 
4) If hell is ending then so to must heaven be ending.
  •             If hell is ending so to must heaven be ending. If the destruction of the wicked is ending then so to must the redemption of the saved. However we talk and read of salvation being a constant thing, “We were redeemed (Ephesians 2:1-10), we are being redeemed (1 Cor 15:1-2), and we are not yet fully redeemed (Matt 24:13).” If redemption were to have an end then in the midst of eternity would come a time when our salvation is no longer effective and the casting out of heaven would come for Christians and then to be annihilated, but this is simply not taught in Scripture.
5) If hell is ending then why was Jesus' death necessary?
  •             If hell is ending then what is Jesus saving us from, annihilation? No. Jesus isn’t saving us from annihilation; he is saving us from the just wrath of God stored up for our personal sins. Therefore when God saves us he is saving individual people. Annihilationism takes the personal love of God and makes it an abstract teaching. God loves – in annihilationism – humanity, not individual people, but the whole humanity, and therefore when Jesus dies on the cross in the annihilationist’s view he is dying, not for you specifically or for me specifically, but he is dying for all in the abstract sense. But God’s love is personal and as such must move our hearts away from annihilationism
  •             Still more on this point is the simple fact that annihilationism takes the gospel and tries to bury it in the dirt. What is the point of Jesus attempting at saving souls when the unsaved will just cease to be? Why not let them go away and be full in the Trinity as God once was before creation?
  •             Annihilationism attempts at making God dependent on man, on his creation. Rather than God loving man so much that he gave his Son to give us Himself and show us his unfiltered glory, annihilationism would say that God’s love hinges on man, not God.
6) If hell was ending then why do we worry about evangelization?
  •             Lastly, if annihilationism is true then why worry about telling people about Jesus? What’s the hurry in telling others about Jesus’ redemptive work if they’ll just cease to be and not endure eternal suffering?

Hell is eternal and will be endured forever and therefore Jesus’ redemption is of eternal significance and damnation is of eternal potency. Thus evangelization is of eternal weightiness and who we worship is of eternal importance. Either we worship God to our joy or we worship self (especially in annihilationism) to our destruction – God is the centerpiece of all eternity (because he defines eternity) and as such we must have eternal worship and eternal damnation.

6 comments:

Webb Mealy said...

Dear Aspiring Spurgeon,

I'd like to point out a few problems with your problems. Let me say before I begin that you are right in the mainstream with most of this stuff, so my criticisms aren't personal to you. It may seem that I'm being combative, but there is no easy way to say just how problematic your points are without sounding mean.
"Immortal means having no beginning AND no end. As created souls we distinctly have a beginning and therefore it is right to assume only God is immortal (1 Tim 6:16). We are just eternal beings, i.e. souls."

Point 1 is neither biblically supportable nor accurate in terms of dictionary definitions. There's nothing in scripture to back up your claim that "we're...eternal beings.” Scripturally speaking, human beings apart from the enlivening power of the Spirit are not everlasting. In order for us to live forever, "this corruptible must put on incorruptibility" (1 Cor. 15:50-53). Those who refuse God and live in the flesh will not receive this gift (Rom. 8:11-17; 1 Cor. 15:50). Jesus says of such people, "Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna" (Mt. 10:28).

The word typically translated as "immortality" in 1 Tim. 6:16 is athanatos (Strongs=G110), transparently meaning you aren't subject to death (Gr. a-privative plus thanatos, Strongs=G2288).

Similarly, Paul calls God afthartos in Rom. 1:23 and 1 Tim. 1:17 (Strongs=G862). Human beings have not been created so that they by self-existent nature live forever. They are corruptible and subject to death. If God doesn't rescue us from corruption, we will cease to be.

Your point 2 says, "God being outside of space and time as its Creator is therefore not subject to time …."

This is an entirely non-biblical (Platonic) piece of reasoning. The issue here has nothing to do with God's relationship to time, but rather concerns whether God intends to cause all human beings to exist without end--even those that insist on living destructively in the creation. It seems to me that God has made it clear that his plan is to destroy those whom he judges as living destructively (Rev. 11:18). God's enemies are going to be completely removed from the creation (Ps.37:10; Isa. 66:22-24).

In point 3 you say, " ‘Eternal’ means eternal (with a beginning but without an end)" and something to the effect that destruction means the traditionalist idea of hell. I should just point you to Edward Beecher's careful study of the Greek word aiwnios (Strongs=G166). See http://archive.org/details/historyopinions00beecgoog . Making sweeping statements about English words is not going to get you anywhere.

I will just skip point 4, except to say that if God wants to grant everlasting life and being to some, and to deny everlasting life and being to others, he's perfectly entitled as Creator to do so.

Point 5 is also confused: "What is the point of Jesus attempting at saving souls when the unsaved will just cease to be?" Let me paraphrase what you are saying. "If the predicament from which God is saving people through Jesus is not the predicament of him torturing them forever, how can he be said to be saving them?" 'Nuf said.

Point 6 is pretty much a repetition of point 5: "If annihilationism is true then why worry about telling people about Jesus? What’s the hurry in telling others about Jesus’ redemptive work if they’ll just cease to be and not endure eternal suffering?" Once again, I'll paraphrase you. "What good news is there to tell people, if not the good news that if you believe the right things, God won't torture you forever?"

Aspiring Spurgeon, I think you've received some pretty bad teaching about the nature of God. I think you would benefit from a look at my website www.simplegospel.net if you're not furious at me for pounding you with all of this criticism.

Sincerely in Christ,

Webb Mealy

Unknown said...

In addition to Webb's fine comments and his website, you may find http://www.rethinkinghell.com useful. We are conservative evangelicals, varied in the non-essentials and in background, who believe the Bible clearly teaches conditional immortality or annihilationism. You may find our blog and podcast useful as a resource for your continued study.

Sam Morris said...

While we're all posting links, here's one for you:
http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/the-echo-and-insufficiency-of-hell-part-1

Unknown said...

Sam, are you interested in a dialogue on the points you made, and those made in the piece you linked to? (My name is Chris Date and I'll try to update my Google profile so I don't appear anonymous.)

David Smart said...

PART 1:

1. If mortal means subject to death, then immortal means not subject to death. It is for this reason that when this mortal puts on immortality the saying will come to pass, "Death has been swallowed up in victory" (1 Corinthians 15:4; cf. Revelation 20:6). It means deathless—having nothing to say about beginningless.

2. Speaking of confounding, I have no idea what you're even saying here (i.e., point #2).

3. You said that the eternal destruction found in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is "constant" and "continual," that it clearly means a destruction which "goes on for eternity." While you assert this confidently enough, nowhere did you actually demonstrate that from the text. If this is "not unclear," if it is "not guesswork on the meaning of words," then please make your case from the text.

4. The redemption of the saved does end—when their reconciliation with God is consummated in final glorification (Romans 8:29-30; 1 John 3:2; Philippians 3:18-21). We are redeemed from the penalty of sin (we are saved), the power of sin (we are being saved), and eventually the presence of sin (we will be saved) when this perishable puts on the imperishable and this mortal puts on immortality.

5a. You said that Jesus does not save anyone from annihilation but rather from God's wrath. What's the difference? Or were you begging the question here?

5b. You said that annihilationism "takes the personal love of God and makes it an abstract teaching," that on this view God loves "not individual people, but the whole humanity." Nowhere have I ever seen this idea taught in the literature. Please cite your sources.

5c. You also said, in the same light as above, that according to annihilationists Christ's death on the cross is not for anyone specifically but "for all in the abstract sense." This leads me to wonder how it is that you have come to think that annihilationism is about the nature and scope of Christ's atoning sacrifice. Again, where is this in the literature? Cite your sources, please.

5d. Indeed God's love is personal, but why must he move our hearts away from annihilationism if it's his truth revealed in scripture? Or was this another question-begging statement?

5e. You then said that "annihilationism takes the gospel and tries to bury it in the dirt," but then utterly failed to demonstrate how it does anything of the sort.

5f. "What is the point of Jesus attempting at saving souls," you asked, "when the unsaved will just cease to be?" How about this for a point: eternal life. And that did seem to be his point (e.g., John 17:2).

5g. You asked, "Why not let them go away and be full in the Trinity as God once was before creation?" I don't even know what you are asking here.

5h. Then you said that annihilationism is an attempt "at making God dependent on man, on his creation." Again, zero citation of any literature on the subject, as if your reader should just take your word for it that this is what the logical conclusion of annihilationism is. Please show from the relevant literature that "annihilationism would say that God’s love hinges on man, not God."

David Smart said...

PART 2:

6. We "worry" about evangelizism because we have experienced in Christ the abundant richness of God's love and grace, the astonishing power and beauty of our Lord and Savior whom we love, the healing and renewal found in a gospel-centered life of repentance and forgiveness, and we overflow with joy and enthusiasm to have others share in that blessed experience of union with Christ and reconciliation with God. Anyone who truly knows Christ cannot keep quiet about Christ.

You wondered why there should be any urgency in telling others about Christ's redemptive work "if they’ll just cease to be and not endure eternal suffering?" You went on to say, "Hell is eternal and will be endured forever and therefore Jesus’ redemption is of eternal significance and damnation is of eternal potency."

I am going to let Arthur W. Pink respond to this for me: "The nature of Christ's salvation is woefully misrepresented by the present-day evangelist [who] announces a Savior from hell rather than a Savior from sin. And that is why so many are fatally deceived, for there are multitudes who wish to escape the Lake of Fire who have no desire to be delivered from their carnality and worldliness."

Treating the gospel like only so much fire insurance, as it were, simply demeans and insults the profound work and glory of Christ, who he is and what he did. It is always disheartening to hear Christians suggesting that if hell is not a place of eternal conscious torment then somehow that robs Christ of his glory.