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Dr. David Michael Ward Threatens Me with Annihilation

john piper annihilationism

Dr. David Michael Ward, an Evangelical Christian, messaged me on Facebook recently. I have no idea what Ward was responding to. While Ward appeals to authority, I could not verify any of the personal claims he made in his messages. The best I can tell is, outside of Facebook, he has no Internet presence; which is odd, considering his claims of advanced educational attainment and superior IQ.

What follows is our “conversation.” I will make a few concluding comments afterward. All spelling and grammar are in the original. My brief, pithy, somewhat snarky responses are indented and italicized.

There is no word in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek that can be translated as Hell. Hell was not created until th 700’s and that is about 300 years after the Bible books had been collected by the Catholic Church. Sheol is the Hebrew word for Grave and can be used in most verses that have Hell in them. Hades was the Greek word that meant the Grave. The word Lucifer is from the Latin Vulgate that had Lux Ferro meaning mover of light in Isaiah 14:12 .Jesus called him Satan and that is the devils name. I have a Doctorate in Theology and have been a preacher for 42 years. I lived in Ohio for a few years and had to teach several preachers the truth of Hell since they used the KJV and did not know the meaning of the word Hell or the root language. With my Doctorate in Theology and an IQ of 189 I have translated the Bible from the original language so that young people in the USAF could understand the scriptures more easily.

And your point is?

Well a person who teaches languages at a college who studies old languages might be able to understand the KJV an how it was mistranslated from the Latin Vulgate instead being translated from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek to achieve a correct translation without the word Hell and Lucifer so that people would have a clearer understanding of the Word of God. The Jewish nation knows nothing of the word Hell or Lucifer since those words are not in their section of the Bible. A Greek scholar helped to verify my translation and found only 3 verses that he felt needed a small clearing up of the verbage. I took his help and applied the correction and the rest as is told is history.

I’m an atheist, so it really doesn’t matter to me.

Well Jesus will state that He does not know you and the Angels will put you into the Gehenna Fire and you will be consumed body and soul. You will no longer have any meaning in the Universe.

Again, I’m an atheist. I don’t believe the central claims of Christianity are true.

Do you think it is okay to contact strangers on the Internet and threaten them with Hell-lite—annihilation?

Ward is not the first person to contact me, suggesting they have — much like a hog rooting in the forest and finding an acorn — “discovered” the Biblical “truth” about Hell. To the man, they paint themselves as smarter than other Christians, people called on to spread the “good news” that non-Christians will NOT be tortured for eternity in a lake brimming with fire and brimstone by the God of the Bible. Instead, they will be tortured for a few minutes, a few hours, a few days, a few weeks, a few months, or a few years and then be annihilated (turned into ash). Regardless, non-Christians in both schemes suffer.

While Ward paints himself as someone who has stumbled upon an acorn, annihilationism — a minority view — has been taught throughout Christian church history. Both the Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in annihilationism. My first exposure to the doctrine came in the 1980s from reading Evangelical scholar John Stott. In 1988, Stott co-authored a book titled Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue. (Stott was viciously eviscerated for his view on eternal punishment. Some apologists even said that Stott wasn’t a “real” Christian. These Christians believed worshipping a violent deity was essential to true faith.)

Stott stated:

“Emotionally, I find the concept [of eternal torment] intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the strain. But our emotions are a fluctuating, unreliable guide to truth and must not be exalted to the place of supreme authority in determining it. As a committed Evangelical, my question must be-and is-not what my heart tells me, but what does God’s word say? And in order to answer this question, we need to survey the Biblical material afresh and to open our minds (not just our hearts) to the possibility that Scripture points in the direction of annihilationism, and that ‘eternal conscious torment’ is a tradition which has to yield to the supreme authority of Scripture.” [pp. 314-15]

“The fire itself is termed ‘eternal’ and ‘unquenchable,’ but it would be very odd if what is thrown into it proves indestructible. Our expectation would be the opposite: it would be consumed for ever, not tormented for ever. Hence it is the smoke (evidence that the fire has done its work) which ‘rises for ever and ever’ (Rev 14:11; cf. 19:3).” [p. 316]

John Stott disputes whether Matthew 25:46, “They will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life,” must be interpreted as meaning that the lost will suffer for all eternity. In his opinion, “that is to read into the text what is not necessarily there. What Jesus said is that both the life and the punishment would be eternal, but he did not in that passage define the nature of either. Because he elsewhere spoke of eternal life as a conscious enjoyment of God (John 17:3), it does not follow that eternal punishment must be a conscious experience of pain at the hand of God. On the contrary, although declaring both to be eternal, Jesus is contrasting the two destinies: the more unlike they are, the better.” [p. 317]

“It would be easier to hold together the awful reality of hell and the universal reign of God if hell means destruction and the impenitent are no more. I am hesitant to have written these things, partly because I have a great respect for longstanding tradition which claims to be a true interpretation of Scripture [eternal punishment in hell], and do not lightly set it aside, and partly because the unity of the worldwide Evangelical constituency has always meant much to me. . . . I do plead for frank dialogue among Evangelicals on the basis of Scripture. I also believe that the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal conscious torment.” [pp. 319-20]

While I found Stott’s position emotionally appealing, at the end of the day, I couldn’t reconcile it with the overall tenor of the Bible. I remain a firm believer to this day that the God of the Christian Bible will one day torture billions of unbelieving humans in a burning lake where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.

This is, of course, an intellectual exercise for me: what does the Bible really say? As an atheist, I don’t believe in the existence of the Christian God, Heaven, Hell, or an afterlife. I have no idea why Ward thought these things would interest me. Before we could even discuss what the Bible says about Hell, Ward would have to provide convincing evidence for the existence of his peculiar God and why anyone should accept that the Bible is in any way authoritative, let alone inspired, inerrant, and infallible. While I just have the IQ of a mere mortal, I did attend an Evangelical Bible college. I did spend fifty years in the Evangelical church. I also spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I am now sixty-five years old. I have spent years on both sides of the atheist-Christian divide. I am confident that I have heard EVERY argument an apologist might make for the existence of the triune God and the supernatural natural authority of the Protestant Christian Bible. I have weighed these arguments in the balance and found them wanting. I am confident that Ward will not provide any evidence that would cause me to repent of my heathen ways and return to Christianity. The sex, booze, drugs, and rock and roll are too much fun for me to ever return to Biblical Christianity. 🙂

I have no idea if Ward invested any time in reading my story. If he had, he would certainly know that my objection to the doctrine of eternal punishment is just one of many objections I have to the central claims of Christianity. Even if Ward’s claims could be rationally sustained, they wouldn’t make a difference for me. God is still, as Richard Dawkins says,

. . . arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

In 2016, I wrote a post titled Annihilationism: A Feel-Good Doctrine for Nice Christians. I said at the time:

As atheists, should we be appreciative of the fact that some Evangelicals think God will annihilate us some day, and not endlessly torture us? Ponder for a moment the fact that many annihilationists think God will — for a time — torture unbelievers before turning them into ash heaps. How is this really any better than eternal hellfire and damnation? The fact remains that the Christian God will reward or punish people based on their beliefs. Believe the right things and a home in Heaven awaits. Believe the wrong things and God will erase your name from the book of the living. I get it . . . many Evangelicals are tired of being viewed as mean and hateful, and liberal and progressive Christians are weary of being lumped together with Fundamentalists. However, the fact remains that annihilation is a form of punishment reserved for those who are members of the wrong religious club. This means that good people will be burnt to a crisp for no other reason than that their God was some other deity but Jesus. Forgive me if I don’t find such beliefs “comforting.”

Here’s the good news. Many Christians, having tried on annihilationism for a time, eventually realize that it is just endless-punishment-lite. Once annihilationism is abandoned, universalism awaits. All paths now lead to eternal bliss, so there is no need to evangelize or argue doctrine. Imagine a world without theocratic demands of fealty, arguments over theology, or threats of God’s judgment. Why, such a world would be Heaven on earth — a Heaven where even atheists are welcome.

Perhaps Ward is on a slippery slope that will eventually lead him to Universalism, or better yet atheism. We can only hope that this is the case.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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16 Comments

  1. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Ward: “I am contacting you, unsolicited, to give you my opinion. Here are my credentials.” (unzips pants, pulls out said credentials) “Acknowledge my superiority.”

    Bruce: ((sigh)) “Here we go again……”

  2. Avatar
    Kel

    ‘Some apologists even said that Stott wasn’t a “real” Christian. These Christians believed worshipping a violent deity was essential to true faith.’

    Indeed.
    And these same apologists would argue that the reason a lot of modern people, including Christians, find this teaching repulsive is because they lack a godly perspective.

    The apologists believe that truly redeemed Christians, once they enter the presence of God, will be changed in such a way that they would rejoice at the eternal suffering of the wicked (which unfortunately includes decent people with different beliefs). What else would you expect from the very same people who treat every single disagreement as a “Gospel issue”?

    By the way, Piper once said that he would rather be lumped together with fundamentalists – those who take things just a little a bit too far, according to him – than with the liberals – those who err by watering down the gospel message. If in doubt, err on the side of God’s “severity” (or cruelty). Piper would no doubt include annihilationism among his list of “liberal heresies”.

    I believe Bruce once wrote a post comparing Evangelical and Fundamentalist beliefs and showed how they can be very similar; the only difference being the fundamentalists are saying the quiet part out loud.

  3. Avatar
    BJW

    I remember taking comfort in the idea of annihilation of nonbelievers, not perpetual torment. But it still does punish nonbelievers. Personally, I waver between (1) a deity of love, (2) a deity who doesn’t care, and (3) nothing. I hope for universalism, but in the end, there is no evidence.

  4. Avatar
    Charles S. Oaxpatu

    John Piper. As a Christian, I have trouble taking him seriously—–simply because it is coming from the person of John Piper. His followers seem to think he knows and sees all things with perfect comprehensiveness, accuracy, and depth. The Apostle Paul’s words about seeing through a glass darkly sound better to me as a description of present reality. I know most folks here do not believe in God the Father, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. However, just to throw my two cents in the ring, I would bet that none of us (not even John Piper) knows what really lies on the other side of our current dimension of reality. The way I look at it, God is both loving and full of surprises—–so many surprises about some many things——that our earthly speculations about them (both theologically and otherwise) will almost surely be wrong to a great degree and be things that the human mind is far too small to wrap its head around.

    • Avatar
      BJW

      Plus, IQ is only a small part of people’s intelligence. It measures certain knowledge gained, usually middle-class. I know years ago IQ tests were demonstrated to be flawed, by assuming that what a White middle class person knew was the standard for high intelligence. I remember then a test based on the knowledge a Black person needed to live in a ghetto, and every higher class White person would flunk. I’m assuming that IQ tests have been updated…but I don’t actually know.

      • Avatar
        Charles S. Oaxpatu

        Hi BJW. Most public schools no longer give IQ tests to K-12 students for the reasons you cited. Mine was 127 at about the same time Bruce took his IQ test. By the time I finished my college degrees, mine had gone up slightly to 132. Now that I am an old guy having trouble with memory, my IQ has probably dropped down to 100.

        • Avatar
          BJW

          Hey Charles! I used to think my IQ was pretty good. Of course, I was young and healthy and all those good things that were associated with my youth. Now? My brain works much more slowly due to fibro fog, let alone being over 60. I try to learn new things every day but in the end, it’s no longer effortless. So I would be afraid to take an IQ test now. 😉

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Bruce Gerencser