Dear Dr. Mohler,
It’s no secret that you adamantly defend traditional, conservative evangelical views. It’s also no secret that you are a person with considerable influence within a large group of people. Those affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, The Gospel Coalition, or are similarly leaning theologically look to you as a scholar and theologian worth trusting, and someone who will lay out a biblical case for the position(s) of conservative American evangelicalism. Among those positions you have fiercely defended is the “traditional” view of Hell as eternal conscious torment (ECT). You have in the past commented with strong words regarding any alternative positions.
This week you once again commented on the topic of conditionalism, sparked by a New York Times article depicting the growth of conditionalism, in particular through the work of Edward Fudge and the good folks at Rethinking Hell. In your podcast you made comments which frankly are unbecoming of someone with a reputation for being committed to scholarship and biblical faithfulness. Your comments are problematic on multiple fronts. The most obvious being the complete misunderstanding of the history of conditionalism. You continue to maintain that conditionalism is rooted in liberal theology, and is mainly a 20th century thing. This is very much inaccurate. In fact, not only is conditionalism very old, and not rooted in liberalism, it even predates the New Testament, being apparent in several Old Testament passages, as well as very much present in the Apocrypha and Jewish Pseudopigrapha. It is also very much present in the Early Church, even having more numerous and earlier advocates in the Church Fathers (Iranaeus, Athanasius, Hermas, the Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, Arnobius, Ignatius of Antioch to name a few). ECT has a few sympathizers in the early church (eg. Athenagoras, Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine). However, to dismiss conditionalism as as “a fairly recent theological movement” is frankly a sign that you haven’t done your homework. Yes, conditionalism was not the dominant view for many centuries of Western Christianity. But this is hardly a reason to dismiss it. Afterall, as a Baptist, you advocate for believer’s baptism by immersion, which from the 5th to the 16th centuries was not the view of the Western Church. It seems foolish to dismiss conditionalism on the grounds that until recently it was a “fringe” opinion (although I get the impression you believe it to still be a fringe opinion).
I am not going to unpack the biblical and theological arguments for conditionalism here, as they can be found in many places, including my very brief statement here. But what I do want to reiterate here is that conditionalism is absolutely not rooted in a liberal rejection of biblical authority. It’s resurgence recently (having been advocated for by several brilliant evangelical scholars like R.T. France, John Stott, John Stackhouse, Clark Pinnock, Anthony Thiselton, Richard Bauckham, I. Howard Marshall and others) is the result of an evangelical examination of the Scriptures. Conditionalism is actually the result of evangelicals doing what they claim to do- going to the Scriptures as the authority and basis for their doctrines. It flows from the study of Scripture, and those that hold to conditionalism do so because the are convicted that this is the testimony of Scripture and the early Church. You argue that “the problem with the argument of the conditionalist is that they’re picking and choosing Scriptures and their running in the face of the traditional Christian understanding based upon the Bible.” But if you’ve read Fudge’s work, or the work of other prominent conditionalists, you will notice that it is based a broad sweep of the entirety of Scripture, and ECT is actually rooted on a tenuous case based on “cherry-picking” and proof-texting in dangerous ways. You may still disagree with conditionalism, but you should at least give credit where credit is due. These are not sloppy or manipulative scholars.
there is a dual destiny presented in Scripture; on the one hand those who in Christ are in heaven and those who have rejected Christ, and are found under the punishment and wrath of God, who are in hell as a place not of temporary but of eternal everlasting torment.
My challenge to you is this: where is this stated? This is wrong on both fronts. The Bible does not say the redeemed in Christ go to heaven, not does it depict hell as a place of everlasting torment. The depiction of Scripture is resurrection of the redeemed to dwell in the new creation forever with God and the Lamb (eg. Rev. 21 & 22, 1 Cor. 15). Jesus explicitly states:
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
And famously, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16; the obvious flipside being that those who do not believe do indeed perish). The dualism of the Scripture is not heaven or hell, but resurrection life or death/destruction. Paul argues the same (Rom. 6) and categorizes people as hoi sozomenoi and hoi apolluminoi (1 Cor. 1). James says God is judge who can save or destroy (James 4:12) and 2 Peter & Jude both declare the unredeemed will be like Sodom and Gomorrah; reduced to smoldering ruin.
The heaven-hell dualism is not Biblical, Dr. Mohler. In fact, it is rooted in Hellenistic paganism, in which the virtuous enjoy tranquillity in Ellysium and the unvirtuous will spend forever in the sulphuric, fiery, cavernous underworld of Tartarus. This view seeped in the backdoor of the Church through Hellenistic/Roman philosophers converted to Christianity, but still carrying a pagan worldview (eg. Athenagoras, Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine).
As a scholar, it would be fitting to at least ensure that things like this are on the radar. If you disagree and continue to hold to ECT, that is one thing, but to fail to actually engage the actual argument and evidence and simply label it as liberal theoligical revisionism is poor form. Your statement “the great theological divide is between those who believe in hell and those who don’t; those who believe in the gospel and those who are Universalist” is unbecoming and sad really (not to mention offensive to those of us who love and proclaim the Gospel but see no place in the Gospel for your views on Hell).
Dr. Mohler, I am saddened by your continual refusal to really engage in this conversation, and your strawman tactics. The folks at Rethinking Hell are not liberals. They are in fact conservative evangelicals (more conservative than myself on most fronts), who affirm the authority of Scripture, believe in the Gospel, proclaim it, and seek to live it out in love. To dismiss them as liberal is not only unfair to them, it is also rather unbecoming of someone of your status and position. You’re better than that.
Rev. Graham Ware