I recently started listening to a podcast called Theology in the Raw. It is a daily radio show hosted by Preston Sprinkle. He is a professor at Eternity Bible College in Boise, Idaho. Each weekday he does his best to take a fresh look at what the Bible really says. Putting down his own opinions and traditions, Preston tries to address each issue by looking at what scripture truly has to say about each topic.
In talking about his teaching style he says, “rather than telling students what to believe, I point them to study scripture to form their beliefs. I mean, really comb through the text and soak themselves in the biblical narrative to gain the massive view of God that Scripture beautifully sets forth.”
For several weeks the podcast has been doing an in depth study on the doctrine of hell. The majority of the time has been spent looking into the question, is annihilation a biblical view of hell?
Just to give you a bit of background, Eternity Bible College is the educational arm of Cornerstone Community Church in Wildomar, California. Eternity Bible College’s statement of beliefs says, “We believe that after death, the souls of unbelievers remain in conscious misery until the Second Resurrection when they shall appear at the Great White Throne Judgment and shall be cast into the Lake of Fire, not to be annihilated, but to suffer everlasting, conscious punishment.”
After reading the statement of belief I was surprised by the recurring theme of the podcasts on hell: Without a doubt the annihilation view of hell is an evangelical option.
In the podcast Preston asked for dialog via e-mail. I sent him the following e-mail. “I recently started listening to your podcast, Theology in the Raw. I enjoy the way that you really dig into the scriptures. I appreciate your insistence that the weight of evidence; i.e. the number of verses that talk about an end to the wicked vs. those that seem to indicate something eternal. It seems to me that the white elephant in the room when Christians discuss this topic is something that you alluded to but then seemed to pass right over. That is conditional immortality. If man's immortality is conditional then Eternal Torment cannot be what the Bible teaches. If man's soul is immortal then annihilation cannot be correct. I would love to hear you delve into this topic with the thoroughness that I have heard in your podcasts on hell.
One comment you made in the podcast was that our emotions shouldn't come into play when we study the topic of hell. I would like to respectfully disagree. The subject of Eternal Torment is also wrapped up into the character of God. We all have slightly different views on the character of God depending on our background and our experience but my view of His character does affect how I discern scripture. Eternal Torment doesn't fit with my view of God's character and I think that if most Christians really thought about their view of His character they would realize that Eternal Torment isn't compatible with their view of God either.
I appreciate a fresh voice that actually studies the scriptures instead of totally relying in thus says church tradition.”
On the February 29,2016 podcast Preston referred to my e-mail and answered the question, “What role do emotions play in interpreting the Bible?”
He stated, “The reason why I try to stay clear from emotions when interpreting the text is primarily because the annihilation view often gets accused of being built on emotional arguments only. I’ve seen a lot of people say, ‘well it's obviously not in the Bible, people just want that view because they can't stomach eternal conscious torment.’ Let’s try to set our emotions aside and look at what the biblical text says apart from emotions. I don't like the fact that people write off annihilation without even looking at the Bible. So that's my main point in saying that it shouldn’t be based on emotions. I do agree though that whether you like it or not your emotions do play a role in interpreting scripture. That’s just a fact. Human emotions and background and baggage and culture and gender; all these things go into interpretation. They shouldn't dictate your interpretation but they do contribute to it and shape it. I don't want to say that no, we just read the Bible with no emotions. I don't think that’s possible. We're human beings that have emotions. I just don’t think our views should be dictated purely by emotions.
This commenter said something really interesting, and I agree with this, that if our view of hell is incompatible with the character of God, then that should mean something. If my emotions regarding the nature of hell, say the eternal conscious torment view, stem from my view of God. I look in Scripture and see the character of Christ, the character of God and the Holy Spirit and that shapes my emotions and therefore my emotions have sort of an allergic reaction against eternal conscious torment; not because of just my emotions but because that view conflicts with what I know about the character of God, then I do think that that should be considered. That's different. I would call those theological emotions. These aren’t just raw emotions like, I don’t like that I will dismiss it, I like that I will take it. We can’t just pick and choose what we want to believe based on emotions but I do think that as we reflect on the character of God certain doctrines should line up with what we know about God.
I would put the burden of proof on those who would say that the character of God in the Bible, the character of God revealed in Jesus Christ, necessitates that He would keep people alive for billions and billions and billions and billions and billions and billions of years so that He can torment them and then He is just getting started. That doesn't make sense to me when I look at the character of God. But again I need biblical support specifically for why the view is or isn't correct."
For more information from Evangelical Christians who believe the Bible is the final authority for Christian beliefs and strive to understand what it teaches concerning Hell go to Rethinking Hell, www.rethinkinghell.com/welcome
You can purchase the recently released book, Four Views on Hell, edited by Preston Sprinkle on Amazon. The book highlights why the church still needs to wrestle with the doctrine of hell. It uses the familiar counterpoints format, as four leading scholars introduce the current views on eternal judgment.