Degrees of hell?

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Do some people get burned worse than others in hell? Some people think so.

This is the second blog entry in a row on the way that some evangelicals (fewer all the time, thankfully) insist on saying that the Bible – and the New Testament in particular – teaches that some people are going to suffer eternal torment in hell. I won’t make too much of a habit of it, but this entry was prompted by one of the comments on the previous one.

Some have said that the New Testament teaches that there will be degrees of suffering in hell throughout eternity. In the traditional vision of hell as a torture chamber of fire and sulphur, you could think of some people being roasted at 500 degrees Celsius, while others are merely blistering at 100. In more recent, milder descriptions perhaps people might think of deeper levels of remorse or mental anguish, and perhaps a century from now it will be expressed in terms of some people feeling more angsty or bummed out than others. The point is, although hell is posited as the worst possible state that a person can find themselves in, there will still be some people in hell who can correctly say “things could be worse I suppose.”

This doctrinal claim is made as a reason to reject annihilationism. After all, if the punishment for sin is ultimately death in a straight forward literal sense after the judgement, as annihilationists say, then everyone gets the same punishment. But if there are degrees of punishment in hell then not everyone gets the same punishment, so annihilationism has got to be false.

Continue reading “Degrees of hell?”

Tom Wright: Wrong about Soul Sleep

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He’s right about a lot of things, but soul sleep isn’t one of them.

Tom Wright’s scholarly writing on the biblical teaching on the resurrection of the dead is praiseworthy for a number of reasons. He has alerted the evangelical community to the unfortunate way in which popular theologies of “going to heaven” are eclipsing the biblical hope of the resurrection to eternal life. But he does have one major weak spot, in my view, and that is the rather poor treatment of the doctrine of “soul sleep.” Soul sleep is the view that people do not experience any conscious intermediate state of waiting between death and resurrection. They are wholly dead until God steps in and raises them back to life. Continue reading “Tom Wright: Wrong about Soul Sleep”

2 Corinthians 12 – an “out of body” experience?

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Although I’m familiar with the view that the Apostle Paul is relating an “out of body experience” at the outset of 2 Corinthians 12, I’m pretty sure that he is not. That’s partly because I’m a physicalist and I don’t think that such things are even possible, but it’s also because the evidence for this claim about the meaning of this passage is pretty weak. I’ll explain why I say this. Continue reading “2 Corinthians 12 – an “out of body” experience?”

Luke 23:43 and Soul Sleep

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If soul sleep is true, then why did Jesus tell the criminal on the cross that he would be with him that day in Paradise?

As I’ve indicated numerous times, I’m a materialist about human beings. I don’t think that I’m an immortal ghost/soul living inside a body. I think that I’m a physical creature. Long before I encountered philosophy of mind or neuroscience, I became convinced that this is what the Bible teaches, making its teaching on human nature stand out like a sore thumb against the pagan Hellenistic theology of the first century.

I also become convinced that since I am not an immortal ghost living inside a body, when my body dies I will not escape death and live on in heaven, or the underworld, or the astral plane or anything of that sort. I think the Bible teaches that death is very real and it puts an end to our life. There is no conscious state of any sort immediately following death. There is noting at all. Of course, I am a Christian and I do believe in the resurrection of the dead, but that obviously doesn’t happen when a person dies, or I think somebody would have noticed by now. The view I hold has sometimes been called “soul sleep” because it views death as a state of “sleep” or unconsciousness. It’s not an ideal term because it can be taken to imply dualism and maybe “person sleep” would be a better alternative, but it’s too late for that. The term has been coined.

Holding and expressing these views rubs some of my fellow conservative evangelicals the wrong way, but for the most part there’s really no disputing that the Bible presents human nature and death this way literally dozens of times in fairly clear language. Affirming dualism and the view that we live on as immaterial spirits after death and go somewhere is a point of view held in the teeth of the biblical evidence. This fact too, I suspect, rubs some of my fellow conservative evangelicals the wrong way.

In spite of the fairly clear overall teaching of the Bible, there is a very small handful of biblical passages (no more than four, in my view) that might be used (and have been used) to suggest that actually the general impression given by most of what the Bible teaches is false, and that really we do survive our bodily deaths and travel to heaven, or hell, or some other place and live consciously there. This should not be surprising. Whether you’re doing surveying, earth science or biblical interpretation, when formulating a theory you’re always going to be confronted with recalcitrant evidence, that is, evidence that at first glance seems to go against the flow of the well-established facts and is in need of an explanation. The existence of such evidence in science or in Scripture does not falsify a theory.

One of those texts is Luke 23:43. Continue reading “Luke 23:43 and Soul Sleep”

Did Jesus preach hell more than heaven?

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If you have any serious interest in the subject of hell, you will probably have either read or heard someone tell you that Jesus taught more about hell than anyone else in the Bible. In fact, you may also have read/heard people telling you that Jesus preached on the fearful idea of hell as a place of endless suffering far more than he talked about heaven. But if anyone says that this is true, then their problem isn’t theology. It’s maths.

Continue reading “Did Jesus preach hell more than heaven?”

Episode 023: Imagine There’s No Heaven

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Is Christian hope all about going to heaven, rather than you-know-where?

Here it is, the first podcast episode for 2009, complete with my summer hay fever voice! Kicking things off for the year is a discussion of what lies beyond the grave. The resurrection of the dead is the hope of the New Testament for our eternal life, yet popular Christian theology has come to place a lot of weight on the hope of going to heaven when you die. Short story: It has to stop and we need to adjust our focus.

Glenn Peoples

 

Episode 018: Athanasius, Atonement and Annihilation

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Here it is, Episode 18. Here I draw on the work of the fourth century bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius. His work called The Incarnation of the Word is my all-time favourite work from the Church Fathers, and I think it gives us excellent theological reasons for adopting annihilationism. Along the way, it invites a theological storm over what it meant for Christ to become subject to death as one of us.

As always, comments are more than welcome.

 

Episode 007: The Hell series crashes and burns, finally

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hell2And here it is, episode 7, the final part in the three part series on hell. This is the longest episode that I have ever done, and it is the longest I ever plan on doing. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to become a pattern, but I wasn’t about to do a fourth part, so I had to fit everything into this one.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome. Drop me a line – You can even send your comment or question as an audio clip, and I’ll play it on the show.

Episode 006: Hell, part 2 – Tradition Strikes Back!

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hellHere’s part 2 on my series on hell. In this episode, I look at some key arguments against annihilationism and for the doctrine of eternal torment, and why those arguments fail.

As this episode ended up being longer than expected (there are plenty of bad arguments to cover!), I’ve decided to present a third episode in this series, where I will cover the remainder of the main arguments for the traditional view. But at least this time I managed to squeeze in my regular “This Week in History” segment.

The next episode will be a little shorter.

Episode 005: It’s one Hell of an episode!

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hell2We’ve made it to five episodes! This one is part one of a biblical and theological (mostly biblical) discussion about hell, the doctrine of eternal punishment in Christian theology. It’s a two part presentation. In this part, I present my position on the subject, a view called annihilationism. In the next show I’ll be looking at argument against my view and in favour of a more traditional view of hell as a place of the eternal torment of the damned.

As I promised in the Episode, here’s a list of some prominent Christian thinkers who hold (or held – some of them are dead) to an annihilationist point of view:

  • John Stott
  • Michael Green
  • Clark Pinnock
  • Philip Edgecumbe Hughes
  • John Wenham
  • Dale Moody
  • Edward Fudge
  • Graham Scroggie
  • Edward White
  • Basil Atkinson
  • E. Earle Ellis
  • Homer Hailey

That’s what I came up with in 2 minutes. Now, come on in, the water’s lovely!

EDIT: Here are parts two and three.