Are you ready for a challenge to your thinking? If so, read on. (If not, perhaps you will want to read no further.) For 1500 years, most Christians have assumed as true a doctrine which . . .
1. Is nowhere found in the Word of God;
2. Sprang from explicitly pagan presuppositions;
3. Slanders the character of God and the Lord Jesus Christ;
4. Prevailed in Protestantism for political, not biblical, reasons; and
5. Has been rejected by an increasing number of such faithful scholars as W. Graham Scroggie, John R. W. Stott, Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, F. F. Bruce, John W. Wenham, Clark Pinnock, Dale Moody and Michael Green.
That unbiblical tradition is the notion that God will keep the wicked alive forever in hell for the purpose of suffering unending conscious torment.
FIVE ASSUMPTIONS OF THE TRADITIONAL VIEW
The tradition of everlasting torment, as expressed by its most able advocates, depends on five undergirding assumptions:
1. That the Old Testament is silent about the wicked’s final end;
2. That the doctrine of unending conscious torment was the uniform Jewish view of Jesus’ day;
3. That Jesus’ references to Gehenna all presuppose this supposed “uniform” view;
4. That New Testament language on this subject demands unending conscious torment; and
5. That historic Christian orthodoxy requires unending conscious torment.
These were also my assumptions in the late 1970’s, as I began a year-long professional research project on the subject. That investigation led me through the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament, the apostolic fathers, the Greek and Latin fathers, the ancient creedal statements of the undivided Church, medieval and Reformation theologians, and pertinent works from then until now. It also revealed, to my total surprise and consternation, that all five of my traditional assumptions were wrong!
The product of that work was my book entitled THE FIRE THAT CONSUMES: A BIBLICAL AND HISTORICAL STUDY OF THE DOCTRINE OF FINAL PUNISHMENT (The condensed British edition is subtitled “The Biblical Case for Conditional Immortality.”) This book examines 1,000 passages of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation and interacts with approximately 200 other works on the subject.