Archive for May, 2014

Rethinking Hell in Houston: 12 May

May 12, 2014

Flying home from Israel on January 3rd, no other foreign journeys enhanced my diary ahead. Most years I have reason to travel outside the UK, but not this year. On January 4th I received an email inviting me to submit a paper for the Rethinking Hell Conference in Houston, Texas, July 11 & 12. ( My paper has since been accepted and scheduled. Houston, prepare for landing!

Rethinking Hell is a project set up just over a year ago by a group of seriously-minded Christians in Australia and the US to champion the view that hell is The Fire That Consumes – the title of the key book by Edward Fudge. ( The wicked who end up in hell are not tormented for ever and ever, they are utterly annihilated for ever and ever. Jesus told us to ‘fear him who has power to destroy body and soul in Gehenna.’ (Mth. 10:28) Gehenna is one of Jesus’ two words which have both been translated by the one word ‘hell.’ The wicked who refuse to repent will cease to exist, like chaff thrown into a furnace. This view is called conditionalism or annihilationism.

Annihilationism is a long- well-established Christian view which is not widely known. This alternative understanding of hell has been largely ignored by teachers of doctrine despite it being more Biblical and more palatable. Most people think that either there is a hell of everlasting torment or there is no hell at all.

How do you make people aware of a Bible truth which has been widely ignored, sometimes, it seems, deliberately?

You might write a detailed and scholarly book expounding relevant texts from the whole Bible, demonstrating the flawed thinking of those who claim that either eternal torment or no ultimate ‘or else’ for the wicked is what the Bible teaches. The Fire That Consumes is such a book – hardly ever answered, often ignored.

You might write a detailed and scholarly book detailing and quoting every Christian teacher who has argued for annihilationism, in every century from the first to the twentieth. The Conditionalist Faith of our Fathers, 1966, by L. E. Froom is such a book. But Froom was a Seventh Day Adventist and therefore ignored. No matter that his work, with extensive persuasive quotations, covers the Old and New Testaments and Christian teachers from every Church tradition. No matter that his argument changes for the better the way Christians see God and minister to others. Froom has not been rebutted, simply ignored. Neither Cambridge University Library nor the British Library even hold copies.

You might take note that previous books have had scary titles and been aimed at scholars. You might think The Lie of Hell a less scary, even reassuring, title and that ordinary Christian readers would want to find out more. ( My experience so far is that even The Lie of Hell is too scary a title and a subject for most people. More reassurance is needed that this book, and the Biblical truth it conveys, is indeed both ‘fresh’ and ‘comforting.’

Today you might set up an annihilationist website and then hold a conference to bring together people to consider the future, mostly how to promote the Biblical truth of the fate of the wicked. Good for Rethinking Hell for doing just this!

My contribution will be to point out a flaw within most annihilationism. Jesus used two words, both usually translated as ‘hell’ – Gehenna and Hades. Edward Fudge demonstrates conclusively that Gehenna is The Fire That Consumes. What is Hades? Another word for the same place, the same fire? A different place? If the two are different what is their relationship? Is ‘hell’ actually not one place but two? Has combining Gehenna and Hades into ‘hell’ been a huge, longstanding, mistake? I argue that it has.

Traditionalists, who see hell as eternal torment, universalists, who see hell as ultimately irrelevant, and annihilationists all hardly ever consider Jesus’s words ‘`Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.’ (Rev. 1:17,18) At the Rethinking Hell Conference I will be highlighting this verse, together with other ‘Hades’ verses from Revelation, and drawing out significant truths. If you are unable to be in Houston, you can read the same, more detailed, ‘fresh and provocative insights on the debate about hell…’ (David Hilborn) in The Lie of Hell

Roger Harper