Getting Up to Speed on Hell, Conditionalism, Universalism, Etc…

Posted: March 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

Recently the Christian blogosphere and twitterverse has been animated by the issue of hell and universalism. It was all launched by criticism of Rob Bell’s newest book “Love Wins.”

Thank Goodness!!

Nothing is more central to the meaning of life, the nature of God and the purpose of existence than Heaven & Hell. And it’s about high time the church got serious about what the Bible says and doesn’t say; what  is mindless traditionalism; what is neo-interpretive nonsense and what we can and cannot say with confidence. There are thousands of issues and troubles around understanding hell rightly. And the issues aren’t new. Neither Bell nor his detractors are saying anything that hasn’t been said for hundreds of years.

Is there eternal conscious torment? Are souls tormented for a while then destroyed? Is there no hell at all? These are tough questions. And my guess is that if  you strongly support one of those positions already, you’ve already thought of four or five proof-texts to defend what you think. Here’s the problem: The people that support a different view thought of four or five texts too.

The Bible is massive, massively complicated, and terribly important. We owe it to ourselves, and those we love and minister to, to understand as much as we can about eternity and God’s salvific ends. That means listening to different voices and taking their position seriously. Here’s the thing: The traditional view of hell (eternal conscious punishment) is the most popular. Therefore, when we read scriptures about hell, we interpret it in view of that perspective. Yet, by no means is it the ONLY interpretation that has been at play in the history of the church. Plus, we can never forget: When someone says, “The Bible says…” what they mean is “My interpretation of the Bible says….” It’s the only intellectually honest way to mean that, and we have 2,000 years worth of church history to prove it. All this means is that many of us – both inside and outside the church – need to stretch our legs and dig more deeply into the other views. Some interpretations are better than other, no doubt, but the fact that they all exist is a call to community and humility, not grandiosity.

Anyway, if you’re interested in going deeper into hell (wink:wink), let me help you get started:

  1. K. Rex Butts says:

    I really need to study the doctrine of hell some more because I realize that what we claim about hell (especially as it relates to salvation, or lack of) is a claim about God. I always avoided the topic, reasoning that whether I burned in endless torment or what annihilated, either way I lost out on my goal of gaining Christ (cf. Phil 3.10-12). Any ways, good post. I linked to it in a post that will be published tomorrow.

    Grace and Peace,


  2. […] Second, because I believe in that the scriptures are a truthful witness I believe in hell as Jesus and the writers of scripture believed in it.  But it’s that last part of the second clause that serves as a qualifier.  I have never really studied for myself the doctrine of hell.  I know enough to know that there are several possibilities for understanding what hell is and that all solid interpretation must take into consideration the historical context for interpretation.  So I refuse to be dogmatic about the doctrine and continue to be open to other possible understandings than my current confused understanding…and so should you.  For a brief discussion of some alternative interpretations of salvation and hell, see the recent blog post by minister/preacher Sean Palmer here. […]

  3. clayharryman says:

    Great post, Sean. Ya know – my perspective on Hell is, quite simply, the same as my view on most prophecy in the Bible. The prophet sez, “Repent! Or else…” If one repents, there’s no need to worry what “Or else…” may be. All arguments are rendered null and void.

    Scaring someone by words of eternal torment has never worked. And I’ve tried. But Jesus didn’t approach it that way, and I don’t want to either.

    I’m good friends with Edward, but I don’t know if what he says is 100% correct. Nor do I know if Rob Bell is correct. But I do know this: It doesn’t really matter. The crux of the text is “Repent.”

    Not “Or else…”

  4. clayharryman says:

    Oh – and I can’t believe you didn’t say we were “all atwitter”… 🙂

  5. jeff_r says:

    Sean – On Universalism, in addition to Beck’s wonderful blog series, I’d recommend Gregory Macdonald’s THe Evangelical Universalist.

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