This book is a classic reprint of a series of letters that were written back and forth discussing the topic of conditional immortality. The introduction sets the stage for the letters, allowing the reader to know that sceptics of Christianity and atheists struggle with the teaching of eternal conscious torment and how someone can reconcile that idea with the goodness of God. The idea of eternal conscious torment has become a stumbling block for many people and deterrent from accepting the gospel. The initial letters state that humans are by nature created and this, in turn, means that we are conditional upon our creator. This is represented in the Genesis account by the Tree of Life. The common theme of scripture is not the eternal suffering of the unrepentant but of their destruction. This, in turn, is contrasted with the gift of eternal life only to the righteous.
The book appeals to a pastoral nature presenting one side of a dialogue which is meant to help a sceptic understand that the belief in the immortality of the soul, while historically held as the dominant view, is not essential to the Christian faith. Each letter is brief in nature and presents responses to questions and arguments for conditional immortality. What can be pieced together from the letters is that the conversation partner is asking questions about the topic and engaging in his current culture, which is evident in the fact that he references to tracks he is engaging in concerning hell. He is also engaging in readings of the early church Fathers as well. The author explains that there was not a consensus of the early church Fathers and that the tracks that are being distributed do not present the gospel as good news. The teaching of the immortality of the soul, says Stokes, is rooted in the teaching of Greek philosophy and Platonic thought, which is found nowhere in the church Creeds.
Stokes explains that an appeal to tradition does not necessarily validate a truth claim. He says, “nobody can question that it (ECT) was the prevalent belief for many centuries together, but that does not suffice it to prove it true.” (pg 30). In one of the letters, Stokes claims that the appeal to immortality is often justified from a metaphysical argument. Instead, our immortality must be seen as relational. Immortality is dependent upon its relation to its creator, the sustainer of life. This is one of the strongest arguments provided in the letters and is critical for conditional immortality. The positive argument for this is that eternal life is a gift. If eternal life is metaphysical, then it is not only a gift for the believer but also for the unbelievers and it becomes not contingent upon God, but upon simply being a created being.
What Stokes is fighting against is the cultural use of scare tactics to use fear to drive people away from eternal torment in Hell and into heaven. In his dialogue, he continues to make an appeal that this should not be our motivation for spreading the good news of the gospel. The gospel should be driven by positive motivation not negative. This does not negate the punishment of a second death but it is not our evangelistic appeal when talking with atheists and sceptics. In closing, Stokes gives his readers a few quotes from church Fathers who affirm conditional immortality. This book is a quick read and easy to digest in one sitting. It has a unique feel to it because it is pastoral in nature and provides an open conversation for atheists and sceptics. It also reminds us that as Christians the doctrine of eternal conscious torment has been and is still a major hindrance to belief in God.
Read More Reviews
Review of Hell a Final word by Edward Fudge
Book Review Conditional Immortality (The case for orthodoxy on the doctrine of Annihilationism) By Tanwin Tanoto