What the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks?!? Pt. 7 John Stott

Thanks to David Larkin for pointing me to this paragraph written by John Stott (David Edwards & John Stott, Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1988, 315-316, emphasis mine)

The vocabulary of ‘destruction’ is often used in relation to the final state of perdition. The commonest Greek words are the verb apollumi (to destroy) and the noun apoleia (destruction). When the verb is active and transitive, ‘destroy’ means ‘kill’, as when Herod wanted to murder the baby Jesus and the Jewish leaders later plotted to have him executed (Matthew 2:13; 12:14; 27:4). Then Jesus himself told us not to be afraid of those who kill the body and cannot kill the soul. ‘Rather,’ he continued, ‘be afraid of the One [God] who can destroy both soul and body in hell’ (Matthew 10:28; d. James 4:12). If to kill is to deprive the body of life, hell would seem to be the deprivation of both physical and spiritual life, that is, an extinction of being. When the verb is in the middle, and intransitive, it means to be destroyed and so to ‘perish’, whether physically of hunger or snakebite (Luke 15:17; 1 Corinthians 10:9) or eternally in hell (e.g. John 3:16; 10:28; 17:12; Romans 2:12; 1 Corinthians 15:18; 2 Peter 3:9). If believers are hoi sozomenoi (those who are being saved), unbelievers are hoi apollumenoi (those who are perishing). The phrase occurs in 1 Corinthians 1:18, 2 Corinthians 2:15; 4:3, and in 2 Thessalonians 2:10. Jesus is also recorded in the Sermon on the Mount as contrasting the ‘narrow … road that leads to life’ with the ‘broad … road that leads to destruction’ (Matthew 7:13; d. also Romans 9:22; Philippians 1:28; 3:19; Hebrews 10:39; 2 Peter 3:7; Revelation 17:8,11; the word used in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 and 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is olethros, which also means ‘ruin’ or ‘destruction’). It would seem strange, therefore, if people who are said to suffer destruction are in fact not destroyed; and, as you put it, it is ‘difficult to imagine a perpetually inconclusive process of perishing’. It cannot, I think, be replied that it is impossible to destroy human beings because they are immortal, for the immortality-and therefore indestructibility -of the soul is a Greek not a biblical concept. According to Scripture only God possesses immortality in himself (1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16); he reveals and gives it to us through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10). And by the way, ‘annihilation’ is not quite the same as ‘conditional immortality’. According to the latter, nobody survives death except those to whom God gives life (they are therefore immortal by grace, not by nature), whereas according to the former, everybody survives death and will even be resurrected, but the impenitent will finally be destroyed.

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4 Responses to What the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks?!? Pt. 7 John Stott

  1. Peter Grice says:

    Stott seems to have his definitions wrong at the end. Annihilationism and Conditionalism may be used fairly interchangeably, but when they’re not, Conditional Immortality shouldn’t be taken to imply that the impenitent aren’t resurrected, just because they don’t have immortality in themselves. On one reckoning, they don’t have immortality in themselves, neither are they granted it (the condition of being saved by Christ), so when they are resurrected to be judged, they are subsequently annihilated: death rather than life. It is active annihilation, which the Conditionalist position incorporates. Basically, both terms can accommodate a resurrection for the wicked, or otherwise.

    Edward Fudge puts it this way: “Strictly speaking, “annihilationism” is the broader term that includes all theories in which the unredeemed truly die, perish, and are destroyed as those terms are commonly used. One form of annihilationism is “conditional immortality,” which reasons that (1) God alone is inherently immortal; (2) human immortality is God’s gift reserved for the redeemed in the resurrection; and (3) unbelievers, lacking immortality – whether cut off entirely from God in hell, or standing unforgiven in the holy fire of his presence – will experience the second death and cease to exist.”

    The group of Evangelical Conditionalists over at http://www.rethinkinghell.com/ certainly hold to a general resurrection.

  2. Pinnock suggests that the two should not be used interchangeably. Annihilationism, he states, is based on conditional immortality, but (here’s the quote from “The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent”:
    Nevertheless, I do not call my position conditional immortality. It is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition of my view. Conditional immortality has to be true for a negative reason to make the destruction of the wicked conceivable, but it does not positively establish annihilation simply because it would still be possible that God might give the wicked everlasting life and condemn them to spend it in everlasting torment. Conditional immortality then, while necessary to belief in annihilation, does not prove that annihilation is true.

  3. Peter Grice says:

    Interesting! I guess he’s free to chart his own course, but he seems to be putting too fine a point on it. I’ve heard a number of Conditionalists say that Pinnock didn’t represent the position terribly well.

    Conditionalism is more of a historical theological stance derived from certain Scriptures, not an abstract proposition, and not only (or even necessarily) a view of conferred-intrinsic human constitution. It’s always been understood to positively establish annihilation, because it appeals implicitly to final judgment. If you are not “in Christ” (the condition) at that point, if you are indeed “finally impenitent,” you simply will not be “give[n] everlasting life.” Or if one wanted to use this kind of language about Hell, “being kept alive forever,” could equally relate that to the crown of eternal life. Pinnock is noticing that “kept alive” is not, strictly speaking, identical to “give immortality,” however the effect (with respect to permanent consciousness) is exactly the same. Semantic issues are lurking here, and it’s part of the critique of traditionalism that those descriptions of eternal consciousness do not account for the “life vs. death” portrayal of the fate of the righteous vs. wicked in the Bible.

    What matters theologically is not that it is technically and conceptually possible that God *can* do something (make the wicked everlasting, after all), but how we understand and break down what God has said He *will* do.

    So in some ways the choice of terms is more about whether one wishes to emphasize what happens to the wicked in Hell, or the broader view of what happens to all, and why. One could make the case that the latter is the more appropriate frame, since if one simply focuses on what happens to the wicked, it is easier to overlook continuity and discontinuity issues with the fate of the righteous.

  4. I see your point. But Pinnock, in that instance, was arguing specifically regarding the future state (annihilation), which depends on the current state (conditional immortality). So the two are linked terms, but not identical. In “Four Views on Hell”, Pinnock’s argument is called the “Conditional View” by the editor (I haven’t read it yet). Pinnock (and Stott) would likely (perhaps I’m being too presumptuous here?) suggest the two terms are like two sides of the same coin. I know of no one who affirm one position and not the other (i.e. affirm annihilation but deny conditional immortality or vice versa). Pinnock does suggest in the quote I gave above that conditional immortality does not establish (as you yourself said ” it appeals implicitly to final judgment” -implicitly, but not explicitly) annihilation, but is a necessary condition for it. Semantics are fun, but not always helpful. Personally, I find Pinnock to be a brilliant and passionate, godly man. Having studied at MacDiv after his retirement, and being there at the time of his death, I was amazed at the legacy he stamped on that school. He was heavily criticized from a number of angles. But he sure inspired his collegues and students.

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