As most of you who know me know, I am what most would consider an “evangelical” Christian. You might also be aware that I hold to two views of eschatology (that is, the study of the end of the world) that are less common than some other views (especially the former). I was going to talk about them both, but it ended up getting so long I decided to split it up into two posts. My goal here isn’t to convince anyone (though I admit I go into the second a bit more than I thought I would). Truly, my goal is just to explain what I believe, you who follow this blog will know what I’m saying.
The first of these views I hold is annihilationism (sometimes called “conditionalism” or “conditional immortality”). The second view (discussed in the second post) is partial preterism.
Now, for both, definitions can be a bit fluid. Technically, annihilationism and conditionalism are slightly different (although the result is the same for both). Many (including myself) use them interchangeably, however (as most who hold to one hold to both). Also, a view held largely by Jehovah’s Witnesses which differs from mine is also called “annihilationism,” which just muddies the water. More on that below.
I. Annihilationism/Conditional Immortality
I hold to the belief that at the final judgment, all unsaved people will be destroyed, not condemned to eternal torment in Hell (be it literal fire or a metaphor for misery). In other words, I believe Hell is a place of permanent, everlasting destruction, not an alternate location where the lost spend eternity in pain. The lost will not spend eternity anywhere (meaning they won’t end up saved either). They will be snuffed out of existence.
This is the more controversial of the two views I am discussing here (partial preterism isn’t too common but it meets less resistance). If you’ve ever had the misfortune of reading such books as Robert Morey’s Death and the Afterlife or Hell Under Fire (written by 9 scholars and published by Zondervan), you’ll see what I mean. Did you know the whole reason evangelicals believe in annihilationism is because they want to appeal to the modern mind (Morgan et al. 38)? Or better yet, did you know that people become annihilationists because they want to “justify their wicked lives” and “defend their evil ways” (Morey 157)? I might dare say that my view brings out the worst in some Christians. But that said, I believe firmly that this is what the bible teaches, as did some of the earliest church fathers. I have written quite extensively defending the doctrine, and a free copy can be found at my website: http://3-ringbinder.weebly.com/ (you can guess which one it is when you get there…).
B. Some definitions
Annihilationism: The doctrine that God will annihilate unbelievers, destroying them completely, rendering them like chaff burned in fire.
Annihilationism (Jehovah’s Witness Definition): I will point out that there are subtleties to Jehovah’s Witness theology beyond this. However, just know that they believe some unbelievers who die simply cease to exist at death, and the term “annihilationism” is used to describe this doctrine. There is no resurrection or subsequent judgment or anything of the sort. That is NOT what I believe (I acknowledge the resurrection of saved and damned – the damned are destroyed after).
Conditionalism: The doctrine that immortality is not inherent to men, nor is it a universal expectation. Immortality is something God bestows upon men, conditional upon salvation (thus “conditional immortality”).
The result of both is the same; there will be no lost people in the eternal age. They are distinguishable in the sense that an annihilationist can believe that all men are naturally immortal (denying conditionalism), but that God will make them mortal and destroy them. Likewise, one can believe that if immortality is conditional, God need not destroy the damned since they are mortal and will die off.
C. Yes, It’s Controversial
As with preterism, I don’t just believe this because it is convenient or makes me feel better. I believe that the Bible does actually teach that the damned will be destroyed, and that the traditional view of eternal torment, as well as universalism (which likewise affirms universal human immortality), are incorrect. For more on that, see my website.
That said though, I certainly don’t view those who disagree as being any less my own. People can, in good faith be wrong about things and still be the children of God. It’s not like I’ve never been wrong, and I certainly am not betting my salvation on being right about everything. I bet it all on Jesus. We are one body, with the head being Jesus Christ the Lord.
Oh, and for my lengthy commentary on the issue, check out my website: http://3-ringbinder.weebly.com/
(Originally published 09/13/2010: http://3-ringbinder.blogspot.com/2010/09/explanation-of-my-controversial-though.html. Immaterial changes have been made).