By Peter McKenzie
In the early part of 2009 I was experiencing a slow time in my work and I found myself blogging with a fellow who has a website touting universalism. After long (and frustrating) emails, I asked myself how it was, that the whole concept of universalism seemed to be gaining so much ground amongst Christians. It was at that point that I wondered if it wasn’t because of the offensive, repugnant nature of the eternal torment belief that is so prevalent in the Church – both today and historically. I had always adhered to that message, surmising that if it was the biblical teaching, then one best line up behind it and support it. In any case, with this new found curiosity, I challenged myself to see how many scriptures I could find that absolutely, unequivocally prove eternal conscious suffering as biblical truth. To my amazement, I could find very few.
To be sure, there were a few that one could perhaps point to – such as the worm one and the rising smoke one. But if you had to find 5 verses that would settle the issue once and for all, you would come up lacking for evidence. And, really, are the worm ones and the rising smoke ones enough to build an entire doctrine around? I quickly dumped the eternal BBQ message and became an annihilationist. I felt an incredible sense of relief and freedom, as I realized that I had stumbled upon new truth and was a more scriptural Christian as a result. I was more complete. I no longer had to hang onto a part of me that believed something that was repulsive. My conclusion was that, if there was something that was that repulsive and yet was supported by biblical evidence – that was one thing, but if it was shown to be false – that was another matter and it should quickly be discarded. I was only too happy to do so.
I quickly began to do some research and found out that I had best refer to myself as someone who believed in conditional immortality – as opposed to an annihilationist. That was somewhat of a relief, as I was well aware that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are annihilationists. I have become quite a proselytiser for my newly adopted doctrine – and very happy to convert anyone who would listen. In my quest to equip myself with knowledge, I am thankful for resources such as this site and others – such as Edward Fudge and his books and, lately Rethinking Hell.com. It is a thrill to shift the minds of open people and correct a mindset that impugns the very character of God. My best moment came when I talked to one friend who, after listening for ten minutes, said to me, “OK that’s what I believe”. I have found that people are thrilled to be able to dump such a repugnant doctrine as, what I call, eternal BBQ.
And yet, I have also, at the same time, found myself amazed and consternated at the number of people who will fight me tooth and nail on the issue of the fate of the wicked as they defend the traditionalist position – all while being unable to support their position using scripture. I think it is Glenn Peoples who said that it is an exegetical problem that requires an exegetical solution. And yet, people are determined to go to their death arguing this issue on an emotional level and from a platform of “it is what Christians have always believed”. To me, therein lies an even bigger issue in the church today.
I have always decreed that the Bible is my resource and I will develop my world-view from the Bible, and it will be the only foundation from which my doctrine stems. Of course, everyone will say as much, but the litmus test shows up when foundational issues are questioned. I can empathize and understand how someone can be in such a place. If someone were to come to me and challenge my belief in the trinity, for example, I might be somewhat reluctant to enter into debate at that time. But the difference is, that if I did decide to take them up on their quest for a fight, I would begin my rebuttal by going to the Scriptures. As believers, that must be our tact de jour – all jour long! In this hour of church history that is marked so much by the presence of apostasy, it is imperative that we are comfortable with defending the truth with our knowledge of Scripture. It is almost fashionable in large chunks of the Body of Christ to distain the Word of God. Along with this comes a distaste of theology, sound doctrine and orthodoxy. In some circles these are akin to curse words. I spoke in a church not long ago and my topic was pointed at this very thing, and I titled it “Orthodoxy begets orthopraxy”. Right believing leads to right living.
I have made it one of my goals in life to pull as many people as I can out of the wrong doctrine of eternal BBQ. It is not always a fun exercise, but it is a fulfilling one – as it brings people into right understanding of the character of God and His glory. There are many theological types who, of course will argue the side of eternal conscious suffering – all whilst using scripture to defend their views. I have had frustrating dialogue with those people as well. One was on a blog site and you can take a look at that here: https://leoninlittlerock.com/2011/07/13/conditional-immortality-2/
In conclusion, I have made it my aim to believe what I believe based on my best attempt to follow scripture, and if someone shows me something different and backed up with better insight, I want to be open enough to consider making a shift. That propensity toward being teachable will save us as well as our hearers.