“God of the Living” – William Tyndale and the Resurrection

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Jesus used God’s relationship to Abraham to argue for the resurrection, not a conscious intermediate state.

In the New Testament in Mark chapter twelve (paralleled in Matthew chapter twenty-two), we read about an encounter between Jesus and some Sadducees. Sadducees, as you may know, were a group of Jews who denied the resurrection of the dead, as well as the existence of spirits (in the sense of departed spirits), angels and demons. This life is all there is, they believed, and when you die, that is the end of you forever.

In this passage the Sadducees were trying to reduce the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead to absurdity by showing that it led to bizarre consequences. What if a woman’s husband died, so she remarried a number of times, with each subsequent husband dying (!!!). At the resurrection of the dead, who would she be married to? Their implied answer was: “Surely not all of them. So the resurrection leads to unacceptable consequences, and you should really just give it up.” Continue reading ““God of the Living” – William Tyndale and the Resurrection”

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”

Name that Fallacy! Robert Peterson on Annihilationism

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In the “name that fallacy” series I showcase some examples of how not to argue; cases of either formal or informal logical fallacies. The latter of these two categories covers a significant range of possibilities, and it’s sometimes a matter of some controversy whether someone’s comments really fit into any of them – especially when they’re your comments! The intent of the series is to help people (and help people to help each other) recognise fallacious reasoning when it occurs, whether it’s used in defence of a position they share or not.

For this “name that fallacy” post, let’s step into into the territory of theology. This time the topic is hell, and our subject is one Robert Peterson. Dr Peterson is a well-known evangelical opponent of annihilationism. Annihilationism is the view that those people who are not saved, or redeemed, or counted among God’s people – or call that state what you will – will not have eternal life, and will finally die and one day be no more. The following is an excerpt from Peterson’s closing comments in an article called “Does the Bible Teach Annihilationism?” It’s important that you bear the title in mind, as it sets out what the argument is about: Whether or not the Bible teaches annihilationism. Without further ado, I give you the words of Dr Robert Peterson:

Annihilationists insist that the obliteration of the wicked is a terrible destiny when measured against the bliss of the righteous. However, it is simply not that bad to cease to exist, especially in comparison to suffering in hell forever… This leads to the final implication. If annihilationism is widely accepted by Christians, the missionary enterprise may well be hindered. True, some evangelicals such as John Stott and Michael Green have consistently shown a zeal for evangelism while holding to annihilationism. Nevertheless what would be the effect on churches and denominations that once held to eternal conscious torment, if they were to shift to annihilationism? Their missionary zeal might well wane.

NOTE: This series is called “name THAT fallacy,” but bear in mind that in some cases there may be more than one.

Have fun – name that fallacy!

Glenn Peoples

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?”

Hanegraaf on Annihilationism

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Hank Hanegraaf is, among other things (such as a dead ringer for David Letterman, in the right lighting), one of the writers over at the Christian Research Institute. In his very brief article “Why Should I believe in Hell” there appears a section called “Is annihilationism biblical?” Hank presents three reasons to reject annihilationism. Unfortunately, his comments turn out to be a tour de force of fallacious reasoning.

For those readers not already familiar with the terminology, “annihilationism” is the name for the view that God will not eternally torment those who are not “saved,” but will instead end their life permanently. They will be gone. OK, on to Hanegraaf’s comments:

Continue reading “Hanegraaf on Annihilationism”

Norman Geisler on Annihilationism

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Does Norman Geisler’s view on hell make God into an abusive father?

Geisler wrote The Baker Encyclopedia of Apologetics. It’s basically an encyclopedia of Norman Geisler’s beliefs, in the sense that it offers Geisler’s perspective on the A-Z of Christian theology and philosophy (if you think that’s not a fair summary, have a look at the encyclopedia’s rather hostile and unfair treatment of Alvin Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology. That is not a fair summary).

In the encyclopedia there’s an entry for “Annihilationism.” It’s a very short entry, just long enough for the author to tell us in several different ways that he doesn’t think annihilationism is true or biblical, but the exegetical issues aren’t unpacked in any detail. This, however, caught my eye under what Geisler calls the “philosophical arguments” against annihilationism (remember, Norman Geisler believes the traditional doctrine of the everlasting torment of the damned in hell): Continue reading “Norman Geisler on Annihilationism”

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