Episode 052: Hell as an Apologetics Concern

apologetics Heaven and Hell podcast Theology / Biblical Studies

The traditional doctrine of hell is surely a major liability in the task of Christian apologetics. Isn’t it? At the very least, the significant tension between proclaiming the goodness and love of God should give you a reason to ask afresh whether or not he will cause the eternal suffering of human beings.

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{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Andres July 22, 2014, 5:52 am

    Great podcast, Glenn. Congrats.

  • Andres July 22, 2014, 9:17 am

    Despite the fact i agree with you on the topic of conditionalism, i don’t think that it doesn’t represent an apologetic issue, because some people want to live forever but believes in another god or religion and didn’t have good information about Christianity. When it comes to an atheist it is just to imagine God saying: “well, you didn’t accept my offer so i have to honor your deal”.

  • Mike Ranieri August 13, 2014, 4:29 am

    Glenn,

    Thank you. This was an excellent talk. I found it very enlightening, provocative and helpful. In fact I listened to it a number of times in order to pick up on all the issues you were conveying and the many nuances.

    Another reason for the repeated listening was to really understand the nuances to the arguments. I really appreciate your fair and balanced thinking, so I didn’t want to miss anything. But afterward I came away with some nagging questions.

    Many people use the assumed love and goodness of God to support particular theological systems and ideas. Universalism, libertarian free will, pacifism, gay marriage, are all defended with “God is Love.” Some have used God’s love, in connection to biblical genocide, to prove that the Bible is errant and a product of man.

    Given your argument that we can’t divorce the general collective meaning of love and goodness when it come to God what is the best way to argue against such views?

    I know you covered some of this in your talk but perhaps you could reiterate how to challenge this overarching argument that because God is Love, and we all know what love is, than such and such, “insert your particular system here,” is true?

    Also, I really appreciate your comments on the fact that annihilationism or conditionalism is not proven by emotionalism. I especially appreciated the John Stott anecdote.

    But there are many Christians, prominent ones, that reject the traditional view based primarily on aversion. I find Fudges’ arguments, as you pointed out, biblical and scholarly but it seems that one of his main motivators for rejection was the idea that a boyhood friend who was ignorant of God would be suffering eternally.

    To keep the agreement honest I think we need to stress, as Stott does, that rejection of eternal torment is at least somewhat “preferable?”.

    I agree with your assessment behind the meaning of “I wish that were true.” But intuitive goodness is not the only reason one may say this. I could say “I wish that were true” to universalism simply because I have a heightened view of compassion and a low view of justice. Or I could say that I hope the traditional view of hell is correct because I feel that mass murders, child molesters and Hitler, deserve more that just annihilation (perhaps modelling the imprecatory psalms).

    It is true that the colour red has no meaning if it is purely subjective but what others call simply red is really amaranth or burgundy or cardinal or crimson or maroon or vermilion.

    Anyway, those were my thoughts. I probably misunderstood some things. I hope you don’t mind. Once again, I really appreciate your ministry.

    Mike Ranieri,
    Toronto, Canada

  • Glenn August 23, 2014, 11:28 pm

    Thanks for your excellent questions Mike, and I’m sorry it took me so long to get to them.

    Given that we can’t divorce the idea of divine love from our everyday conception of love, you ask, how can we address those who appeal to God’s love to support things that, as best we can tell, really aren’t supported by the biblical revelation (e.g. changing the definition of marriage to allow for same-sex marriage, universalism etc)? The first thing to say, and I may have mentioned it in this talk, I forget, is that we do need a degree of humility. While God’s love is still recognisable to us as love, we’re affected in all kinds of ways that can muddy our conception of love so that it’s by no means perfect. We do need to allow Scripture to inform our expressions of love, so that, for example, not just anything that feels nice for us personally counts as love. I used the biblical example of a criminal being punished, where God commanded the people not to treat him in a way that was demeaning.

    But secondly, I think that on a case by case basis we have to ask whether or not love really does require what our interlocutor claims. Take universalism. I think that even people who cherish the value of love can still make sense of a God who lets people have – or not have / reject – what they want. It need not strike us as incompatible with love for God to allow people to cut themselves off from him. So it’s not an impossible ask to present people with a God who is loving and who allows them to say no. As I indicated in this talk, most listeners can reconcile that with natural justice.

    As for same-sex marriage, I think that anyone who calls us to accept it on the grounds of love has gotten things terribly confused. Changing the concept of marriage so that their relationship counts as a marriage is not an instance of loving them at all. The question is simply: What is marriage? What’s it for? What type of relationship is it? Why is it something that the law has an interest in officiating? And I think we can answer those questions in a way that excludes same-sex unions from being marriages even if we love those people more than we love anyone else in the world. The appeal to our love for the people in these relationships in an effort to make us reconsider the status of their relationship just assumes, incorrectly, that we do not recognise their relationship as marriage because of some sort of hatred that we have for the individuals involved, which is just not true – or at least it should not be.

    So I don’t know that there’s a blanket answer to all possible challenges. We have to look at them on a case-by-case basis, and who knows? We may find that some of the challengers are right.

    As far as whether or not annihilation is preferable, I don’t know. To be honest, the more I think about it the more fearful it becomes. The thought of one’s own non-existence can be petrifying. I’m not certain whether it’s a softer option than endless misery. Better than endless crackling in flames, yeah sure. But if Edward Fudge had actually embraced the truth of annihilationism because of the loss of his boyhood friend, I’d think he made a wrong turn. But we know that’s not what happened – into his adult life he still believed the traditional doctrine, and changed his mind over the course of his biblical research. But should examples like the loss of our friends motivate us to revisit the issue? Yes, absolutely – and if in the end we find Scripture teaches the traditional view after all, then so be it.

    And lastly, yes you’re right that intuitive goodness isn’t the only reason why someone might wish that something is true. I was just telling my traditionalist friends that in this case, I think that it’s probably the culprit. :)

  • Mike Ranieri August 27, 2014, 3:12 am

    Thanks for the great response, Glenn. And just to reiterate, I think that as long as Conditionalists are up front about their motives and fears than their strong biblical arguments will be heard. I particularly appreciate the example you gave of the misquoting of John Stott.

    One last thought, I have never heard anyone bring up the description of Hell in the early “Gnostic?” Gospel/Apocalypse of Peter as a possible source for some of the Traditional view (it seems an obvious inspiration for Dante).

    Thanks for a great podcast (and blog) — I’m a loyal listener!

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