Arminian Today

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Short Thoughts on Conditionalism

But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;  the future of the wicked shall be cut off.
– Psalm 37:38 

Conditionalism is the teaching that eternal life is a gift from God given only to those who believe the gospel (Romans 6:23).  The rest of humanity that rejects the gospel will be destroyed or annihilated.  It is somewhat different from annihilation in that it teaches that the wicked (unbelievers) will go to hell but will be destroyed by God (Matthew 10:28).  Several evangelicals hold to this view including Edward Fudge, Douglas Jacoby, Chris Date, Michael Green, and I. Howard Marshall.  The late scholars F.F. Bruce and John Stott both claimed agnosticism about hell but they both favored conditionalism.  Conditionalism is neither an Arminian nor a Calvinist position.

I have wavered at times on this issue.  At times I have favored the traditional teaching on hell (that unbelievers will suffer for eternity) while also being appalled at the thought of hell.  I find Christians who gloat over hell without tears to be unloving nor biblical (Romans 9:3).  Hell (either way you see it) should make us fear, shutter, and long to see souls saved by grace to avoid that place of misery.  I have read books on both sides.  I was taught the traditional view of hell and have preached the traditional view myself.  I have wavered at times on the issue of hell because of my view of God’s love for people (not that He will not destroy sinners but only that I find it difficult to connect the love and goodness of God with the thought that He will inflict wrath upon people forever and ever without end).  At times I have had to acknowledge that it is easy to be moved by compassion and not by biblical theology when it comes to hell.  We can reject hell because it makes us feel better but this would not be right.  We must embrace what Scripture says even if we don’t find it appealing to our natural desires.  As I study the holiness of God, I see how sin robs Him of His glory and must be punished.  This has led me to study hell and I am convinced of the reality of hell though I do wonder about the duration of hell.

At this point, I am not coming down on any side though I admit that you can find me leaning one way or another at different times.  What I find appealing about the conditionalism view is that immortality belongs only to God (1 Timothy 6:16) and that the gift of eternal life is given only to those in Christ Jesus (Romans 2:7-8).  Those who are not saved will rise at the resurrection but unto judgment (John 5:28-29; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).  Unbelievers will be cast into hell where they will be destroyed by eternal fire (Matthew 25:46; Revelation 20:14).

There are a few false assumptions I have made in the past about conditionalism that I want to point out here.  First, conditionalism does not deny hell.  Edward Fudge, for example, teaches on hell and I believe he would warn sinners about hell though he would not describe hell in the language of say Jonathan Edwards or John Wesley.  Secondly, not all conditionalists hold to the teaching known as “soul sleep.”  I was under the impression that all who rejected the traditional teaching on hell would hold to soul sleep.  Third, those who hold to conditionalism are not necessarily holding to their views because of the exaltation of humanity.  Chris Date, for example, is a Reformed Calvinist who would gladly agree with John Piper over the nature of depravity but he would disagree with Piper over the duration of suffering in hell.  Edward Fudge’s book are filled with Scripture so I assure you that his approach is not first one of compassion or even love for humans but a love for the Word.  I appreciate this.  I have personally known Douglas Jacoby for some time and his approach likewise would be to exalt the Word above traditions.  Lastly, conditionalism is not heretical.  Again, you could warn sinners of hell and warn them of the wrath of God to come upon them if they continue in sin without trying to scare them with “you will suffer forever and ever and ever” tactics.  The gospel, and not hell, is what saves sinners from the wrath to come (Romans 1:16-17).  I find not once in Acts that the Apostles used hell to try to get people saved.  They preached Christ and His resurrection and God used their message to save souls (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).  Christ is the One we are to preach and exalt and He saves the lost for His glory!

You can find out more by checking out the site, Rethinking Hell or reading this book.


Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/03/2013 at 11:43 AM

3 Responses

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  1. I find myself in a similar predicament. Have you read the Francis Chan book, “Erasing Hell”? He battles the Rob Bell universalism, but really wrestles with the duration aspect. Another well-known theologian has tackled this from the pulpit, but I’m not sure about any writings: I saw a good Greg Boyd sermon on this topic.


    10/03/2013 at 8:15 PM

  2. I really appreciate the fair-minded approach you evidenced in your post.
    Blessings on your continued pursuit of truth…


    10/10/2013 at 11:19 AM

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