Emotions, Christian Community and Evangelical Conditionalism, a personal reflection

There has been some discussion on this site about what label we use to describe ourselves. See Defining Conditionalism and in the comments of My Escape From Hell

Most of you will be probably reading and listening to Rethinking Hell 🙂 And a recent article raises this issue as well

The End of Hell: Introducing Greg Stump

More often than not I would refer to myself as an annihilationist, as that succinctly describes my view of the nature of hell itself, but since this term has some baggage and unhelpful associations attached to it I am comfortable referring to myself as an evangelical conditionalist.

I like that label “evangelical conditionalist” 🙂

I was very encouraged to read:

But as I became more convinced about this view I began to realize that it put me on the margins, if not outside, of some communities that were very dear to me. I had been working at Biola University for some years, but I realized that those in this institution would have no room for my convictions, a fact reflected in a Bible professor who told me that I was out of my depths in this study (because I couldn’t read the original languages and had not studied theology at the level he had) and that it was simply a matter of whether or not I trusted the wisdom of traditionalist thinkers.

Conditionalists are often accused of coming to this position because of emotions: that we feel bad about the idea that God has an eternal conscious hell reserved for the wicked and this is the reason we hold this position. For me, it was not easy to embrace a doctrine that I knew many considered heresy. I knew it would exclude me from some para-church ministry and there would be many churches I could never join because I could not sign their statements of faith. But I was persuaded that it was what scripture taught.

We are whole creatures and we are influenced by our emotions. We must take them into account when we consider truth. I ask those holding to the traditional view to also consider your own emotions when looking at conditionalism.

It is an issue for many: we know we will be marginalised by the wider Christian community. It was recently an issue for me which I was not expecting to have to deal with. When David died, I became a widow with 8 children, it certainly crossed my mind that my views further marginalised me in many Christian communities. As if being a youngish widow with 8 children was not enough to make me feel different in Christian community which in general is orientated around couples ( at least in my age bracket -early 40’s). I am an evangelical Christian. I held a high view of scripture and of the covenant of marriage. Thinking is an important part of how I love God and how God drew me to Himself. I was quite sure, that I would need a near miracle if I was to remarry.

I wanted to remarry though, at some stage. David had encouraged me to consider it , but wait a year before dating or making any big decisions he said. Do consider the children in your choice of husband. Dave was a very good pastor and husband. Giving me wise advice in the last months of his life, thinking of me and the children even in the midst of his own  grief as he faced a terminal illness that would mean he would not see any of his children grow up or have children of their own. Many men would not have been willing to discuss this issue never mind give advice about how to find a good husband. (I joked with him that I had had excellent taste the first time around so he could be confident in my ability to choose a good man!). He wondered at the wisdom of having had so many children. But God knows was all I could say.  I did not want to raise 8 children alone, especially my 6 sons.  But I knew it would be better to be single than compromise my faith or compromise my choice of person. I got my near miracle but I was not wrong, conditionalism was an issue that came up when I was courting/dating the man who has  become my second husband, one we worked though.

In contrast I think evangelical conditionalism  affected the way I grieved in a positive way. It affected what I told my children about where their much loved Dad is.  It affects our  longing for the resurrection and the second coming.

1 Thess 4:13f

 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God,and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage one another with these words. {emphasis mine}

How has your evangelical conditionalist views affected your participation in Christian community?



About Tarnya Burge

Tarnya Burge is the webmaster for www.afterlife.co.nz. She is  on the editorial team for From Death to Life. Her late husband David Burge and Tarnya have 8 children. She is a self-confessed geek who feels that knowing some theology helps her know God better.

They all say `the ordinary reader does not want Theology; give him plain practical religion’. I have rejected their advice. I do not think the ordinary reader is such a fool. Theology means ‘the science of God,’ and I think any man who wants to think about God at all would like to have the clearest and most accurate ideas about Him which are available. From “Mere Christianity” C S Lewis


  1. You are so right, Tarnya. It affects every aspect of life. Traditionalist thinking is part of the very air most Christians breathe. In the US, since the only contact I had with NZ was Dave, and your organisation, I must have been thinking the place in general was way ahead of us, in rethinking the issues of life (and the lack of it).

    I presumed this in a letter at least once, and he (Dave) probably wondered what I was thinking… I don’t think there is yet an evangelical conditionalist pastor or church in this community of about 150,000. If there were, I would have found it, even though switching would still be a challenge because of family and friends. They all have the internet, and most of them have Bibles. It is a “research-based” community, at least on paper. Well-stated opinions can be heard at the average lunch counter on all kinds of difficult topics, including religion. Just not “that” one.

  2. Tim Wiesner says:

    Hello Tarnya,
    Thank you for your testimony. I’m curious though, how you and your husband worked out your differences regarding this issue.
    My wife and I butt heads every time this issue comes up. I would like to discuss it calmly, but she shes it as a heresy and wants nothing to do with it. We have one son who we are trying to bring up as a Godly man, and what we tell him about this issue has become another point of disagreement. My wife has asked me to never bring this up again and say nothing about it to our son. I said “Well then, you can’t either.” But I don’t think this is healthy.

    The official position of our church is eternal conscious torment, and I’ve been upfront with our pastor about my belief in conditional immortality. But he remains unconvinced and would like me to change my beliefs back again, but is willing to be patient and urges me to be patient with my wife as well. His words were actually “Ask her to be patient with you,” as if believing the biblical truth were a phase that I would work through and I would actually come to believe in eternal conscious torment again. But I am willing to be patient, and I have been. This trial has been real fertilizer for my spiritual growth. I pray for my family and my church, but honestly, is there anything else I can do? My prayers seem to hit the ceiling and bounce back.


  3. Hi Tim,
    It is a difficult one, because it seems to me that you both feel so very strongly about this issue. Your wife feels that conditional immortality is heresy. And you feel that she is the one that believes the heresy. The book I have found most helpful for understanding conflict and our personal style with dealing with conflict in marriage is Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last by John Gottman http://www.amazon.com/Why-Marriages-Succeed-Fail-Yours/dp/0684802414
    Once I understood my husband’s style and my style, we were/are better able to work through all our conflicts and differences without doing so much damage to the relationship.
    On the issue of doctrinal differences I try and remember 1 Cor 13:2 “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” ie even if I knew all truth, if I do not deal with my spouse in a loving way in regard to our different understanding then I am nothing. Love bears all things.
    You wrote “I’m curious though, how you and your husband worked out your differences regarding this issue.”.
    My situation is easier than yours. He understood from the outset that this was issue that I felt strongly about, so much so, that I promote the doctrine. It was not something he had really considered and it was not something he felt strongly about. He has other aspects of his faith that he is passionate about. He loves the Lord as much as I do. He has read some of Edward Fudge’s Hell:A Final Word and could see it was a valid understanding of the scriptures. He is happy for me to be very passionate about the issue and will even help me with an technical issues on this site (he is a software developer). Regarding teaching the children, he is happy for me to present conditional immortality to them. I also present the other side in a respectful way because I think it is important that they understand what other believers think and why. I guess that I think the case for conditional immortality is so good that I am not afraid of them opting for eternal conscious torment. I worry more about whether they love the Lord and whether they will continue in the faith and how good my relationship is with them. If my husband and I argue about conditional immortality and get angry with each other, they may turn them away from the Lord altogether seeing it is something that just causes conflict. My first husband David (http://www.afterlife.co.nz/2010/contributors/david-burge/), a strong believer and promoter of CI did not separate from other believers on this issue. We both worked in a Christian parachurch organisation that held to eternal conscious torment on its statement of faith, we let leadership know which clauses we could not sign in good conscience and we allowed to join and he even went into a leadership position. The parachurch organistion worked with people with disabilities so the doctrine of hell was not central to its purposes. It is possible to hold this belief very strongly and promote it and still love those who are not willing or interested in changing their minds. You may have to come to a place where you accept that your wife may never change her mind until the resurrection.
    God give you grace and love to work through this painful issue.
    Others may have some better advice.

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