I backed away from this series for some time. Reading up on this doctrine can actually have a considerable impact on one’s psyche. So a brief hiatus was needed. I hope you will show me some grace for not “producing”.
Now, I was quite intrigued when Scot McKnight posted an invite to discuss the doctrine of hell. Having recently finished reading The King Jesus Gospel, and having listened to some of his speaking on youtube, and reading over his blog, I consider him someone whose opinion should certainly be taken very seriously. The comments on the post are significant in number and varied in opinions. McKnight himself does not take a firm stance in the post, which is largely a reflection on reading Edward Fudge’s Hell: A Final Word (which I have not read myself, but have peeked at some of Fudge’s other comments on the subject). Fudge is of course one of the prominent theologians advocating annihilationism or conditional immortality- the belief that those who remain unrepentant will be judged, and cast into punishment in which the judged person is destroyed (or annihilated) and thus cease to exist.
McKnight neither affirms nor denies this position, but he does state:
Ed Fudge has put all of what we say to a test and to the text of the Bible; he has constructed a biblically-constructed view of hell; Ed Fudge believes in what is traditionally called “annhiliationism”: hell is eternal, but eternal here means ceasing to exist.
He concedes, as some refuse to do, that annihilationism does indeed have a biblical basis. Many other resources do concede this much (e.g. Grenz’s Theology for the Community of God, or Chan & Sprinkle’s Erasing Hell). In my last post on the subject of hell (a review of 4 Views on Hell), I noted the literalist insistence that any hint of a non-literal view of hell must be a rejection of biblical authority. I am glad to see that many are at least welcoming the annihilationists to the table.
As a teacher, McKnight is more facilitating a discussion, not giving his own, but keeping the discussion on what is being taught in our churches and does it line up with Scripture. So my hope would be for McKnight to just make it plain (anyone know if he has elsewhere?), but at the same time, would that create confrontation and exclusion of him from serious discussions? Pinnock lamented the fact that he would be dismissed simply for arguing in favour of annihilation, without having his argument heard. We often have this tendency to take the approach of oh so-and-so takes position X, but so-and-so over here takes position Y and so I’m camp X or Y and I decide to throw in my hat with X against Y or vice versa. This creates antagonism of course. Not helpful.
So will McKnight (or has McKnight?) pitched his tent in a camp? Many have taken the brave stand on annihilationism and received considerable flack for it (John Stott, Clark Pinnock, Edward Fudge, Stephen Travis, John Wenham, John Stackhouse and even Preston Sprinkle who co-authored Erasing Hell [which ultimately sides with the traditional view] has since publishing that book stated he is leaning towards annihilation but is not firm in that). Stay tuned.