Some years ago the British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, produced an essay titled, “Why I Am Not A Christian.” One of the reasons he cited was the fact that Jesus, the founder of Christianity, believed in hell.
When I first read that observation, my inclination was this: “Well, at least Russell understood what Jesus believed about that matter”—which is considerably more than can be said for many religionists today who profess an acquaintance with Christian doctrine.
The issue of hell is pretty “hot” these days. This topic was the cover feature of the January 31, 2000, edition of U. S. New & World Report. Among other things, the article says that “the 20th Century was nearly the death of hell.” The article then focuses mostly upon the nature of the punishment, i.e., literalism versus symbolism.
In recent years a number of prominent religious journalists have repudiated the biblical concept of eternal punishment. Clark Pinnock, theology professor at McMaster Divinity College in Ontario, Canada, once a highly respected conservative, has renounced the scriptural affirmation of eternal, conscious suffering for the wicked. He contends that a being who would cause one to suffer endlessly partakes more of the nature of the devil than deity!
Another scholar advocating annihilation is John R. W. Stott, a popular theologian in London. Philip E. Hughes, an Anglican clergyman, has similarly argued that the rebellious will simply go out of existence ultimately.
Among churches of Christ, several have also contended for this “conditionalist” notion, which has more in common with cultism (Watchtower dogma, Seventh-day Adventism, etc.) than it does biblical revelation.
Edward Fudge of Houston, Texas authored a book with the revealing title, The Fire That Consumes. F. LaGard Smith, former law professor at Pepperdine University—now affiliated with David Lipscomb University (Nashville, Tennessee)—has argued similarly.
Stephen Clark Goad (Blythe, California), whose articles occasionally appear in Christian journals, has produced an essay titled, “Believer In Heaven & Hell: A Non-Traditional View,” in which he has contended at length that “Jesus spoke of eternal punishment but he never hinted of continual torture of souls that live on and on in some state of anguish and torment.” Goad credits Fudge and others for his conversion to the annihilationist position.
While the advocates of these views claim that within the church today there are numerous “closet” conditionalists that agree with them, their boasts likely are more wistful than substantive.
There is scarcely a subject clearer than the scriptural teaching on eternal punishment. And Jesus had more to say about this theme than anyone else. (For a more thorough consideration of this subject, we refer the reader to The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment.)
The Bible teaches that hell was originally prepared for “the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). Satan knows what his ultimate fate will be. He will be “tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10); and the wicked will be subject to the same fate (Matthew 25:41).
Perhaps some modern revisionist can explain to the tempter that these passages do not mean what they so clearly say—and that finally he will just evaporate!
Satan is the consummate “deceiver” (Revelation 12:9; 20:10). There is nothing that pleases him more than to see deluded men repudiating the idea of eternal punishment—which the Lord explicitly affirmed (Matthew 25:46). How tragic that some, who profess a relationship with the Son of God, would join with the enemy in this compromising denial of truth.