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Tag: Annihilationism

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.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Annihilationism: A Feel-Good Doctrine for Nice Christians 

john lennon imagine

Many Christians — especially those of a liberal/progressive bent — now believe that non-Christians will be annihilated after death. Queasy over the notion of their “Loving” God eternally torturing unbelievers in Hell, these Christians say that God will instead obliterate non-Christians, wiping them from the pages of human existence. Some Protestant Christians think unbelievers will be tortured for a certain amount of time, and then, having satisfied God’s torture-lust, will be burned up and remembered no more.

While it is certainly possible to selectively read and interpret the Bible and conclude that God will annihilate non-Christians, the historic Christian position remains this: God torturing conscious people for eternity. In recent years, thanks to authors such as Greg Boyd, Clark Pinnock, and John Stott, Evangelicals have become more sympathetic towards annihilationism. The question I want to raise in this post is WHY they have become more sympathetic to this view.

What causes staunch, Bible-believing Evangelicals to abandon the doctrine of endless punishment? Have they changed their view as a result of diligently studying the Bible? While I am sure that some Evangelicals have abandoned this doctrine for intellectual reasons, the real reason is more emotional in nature. By carefully examining increasing Evangelical support for same-sex marriage, I think we can understand why many Evangelicals no longer think non-believers will be eternally tortured in Hell (actually the Lake of Fire). Younger Evangelicals — having watched their parents and grandparents turn Evangelicalism into one of the most hated American religions — want to put a kinder, gentler face on Christianity. Many of them — deeply affected by postmodern thinking — have moved leftward, away from the culture war and the endless battles over doctrine. No longer wanting to be viewed in a negative light, younger Evangelicals strive to be accepted by the world. More accepting of evolution and science, tolerant, temperate Evangelicals genuinely want to be liked by others — bristling when lumped in with culture warriors and Fundamentalists.

john piper annihilationism

These worldly Evangelicals know and associate with people older Evangelicals have, in times past, consigned to the flames of Hell. It is hard for them to look at Lesbian Angela, Gay Harper, and Atheist Laura and think these friends of theirs will be endlessly tortured by God. As in the case of LGBTQ people and same-sex marriage, once people actually meet and know people who are happy unbelievers, their viewpoint often changes as well. Their parents and grandparents — fearing contamination by the “world” — walled themselves off from the influences of non-Christians. Younger Evangelicals — often educated at secular colleges — are more comfortable among non-Christians. Once exposed to the “world,” it is unlikely they will return to the Fundamentalism of their Evangelical forefathers.

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.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Alternative Viewpoints on Hell: Evangelicals Attempt to Give the Vengeful God a Makeover

hell in a handbasket

An increasing number of Evangelicals find themselves uneasy and troubled by the belief that non-Christians will suffer untold pain and agony in the flames of Hell after they die; that this eternal torture requires God giving unbelievers a fireproof body; that most of the human race will live a never-ending life in Hell. Instead of going the way of Universalists, these Evangelicals attempt to reinterpret the Bible in ways that allow them to sleep easy at night when pondering the fate of their unsaved family, friends, and neighbors.

Should atheists feel good about these new and improved interpretations of the Bible? After all, if anyone is going to Hell, atheists are. We are, according to countless Evangelicals who have commented on this blog over the years, tools of Satan, child molesters, perverts, and haters of God and Christianity. When it comes to assigning rooms in Hell, atheists will surely have the hottest rooms in Satan’s Mara-a-Lago. Shouldn’t atheists be glad that Evangelicals are thinking about them and concerned for their eternal well-being?

The short answer is no. Evangelicals who take a revisionist approach to Christianity’s historic teachings on hell are more concerned with how the idea of people burning in hell makes them feel than they are concerned with those actually doing the burning. Evangelicals may be pained by the idea of atheists, along with Muslims, Buddhists, Shintoists, Agnostics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Pagans slow-roasted alive in God’s custom-built torture chamber, but I suspect that they are more concerned with how this makes them feel rather than they are the actual effect on unbelievers. As far as atheists are concerned, not only do we not believe in the existence of the Christian God, neither do we believe in the existence of Satan, demons, hell, and the afterlife There is no rational reason for Evangelicals to worry about atheist souls. If atheists are unconcerned about their eternal destiny, why should Evangelicals be concerned for them?

Some Evangelicals believe that all who reject Jesus and refuse to put their faith and trust in him will be annihilated after death, forfeiting their right to heavenly real estate in eternity. Annihilationism is the Evangelical version of capital punishment for the soul. While Evangelicals believing this doctrine could argue that Evangelicals-turned-atheists didn’t believe in the Christian God and accept his gracious offer of salvation — being zapped into nothingness their just dessert for faithlessness— this still leaves billions of people eternally punished for no other reasons than being born in the wrong country or having the wrong religion. Billions of good people will never see their families again, all because they had the wrong beliefs or lived in the wrong zip code. Yes, annihilationism rescues Evangelicals from the burden of the Bible’s teachings on hell, but billions of people will suffer the eternal loss of those they love most. As with all life-after-death scenarios, Evangelicals are rewarded while the everyone else suffers for not being on God’s guest list.

Recently, an Evangelical man by the name of Terry Lee Miller has been hawking his book, The Death of Endless Damnation, in the comment section and in several emails he sent to me. Miller believes in what he calls “universal Christian redemption for all.” As you will see in a moment, universal Christian redemption is just a Baptist version of Catholic beliefs on death, judgment, purgatory, and the lake of fire, with the exception that in Miller’s scheme of things, everyone, in the end, after being sufficiently tortured, makes it to Heaven.

Here’s how Miller describes his beliefs:

No Bruce you will not ‘burn in the Lake of Fire for eternity, but will be saved one day, even though you are an atheist at present. Oh yes, of course you will go to hell/sheol when you die, but that will merely be a temporary place of punishment until one day you are stood before the white throne and are judged according to your works, and will receive severe punishment for your wickedness and disbelief. After being punished severely by a loving Savior, you of course will have come to your senses, and on bent knees, will embrace the Lord Jesus Christ who yes, does love you despite your present condition. Yes, all will ultimately be saved, Muslims, Jews, Jehovah Witnesses, Atheists, Agnostics, everyone will be saved, but that salvation of course will only come from the Lord Jesus Christ, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, the one who, yes, still does love you. Every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God!

rock n roll heaven and hell

Michael Mock, a friend of mine and regular commenter on this blog, summed up Miller’s beliefs this way:

Demon: “Well, yes, it is a lake of fire, but I’m happy to say it’s only temporary…”

Human: “Only temporary? You want me to step into a lake of fire because it’s only temporary?”

Demon: “Not at all. We have many options. You could parachute in. There’s a diving board, so you could do a flip, or a cannonball!”

Human: “Are there options that don’t involve burning forever?”

Demon: “But I just told you, it’s not forever!”

Human: “Okay, fine, it’s not forever. How long is it?”

Demon: “Well, at the rate you humans are going, I can’t imagine that we won’t get to Armageddon and the Final Judgement within the next thousand years.”

Human: “Strangely, this is not making me feel any better about the prospect of perpetual torment.”

Demon: “Nevertheless…”

Human: “Could I spend that time in, maybe, a tub of lukewarm whiskey?”

Demon: (looks vaguely guilty)

Human: (raises eyebrows) “You actually have a tub of lukewarm whiskey?”

Demon: “Well, it’s more of an olympic-sized pool, but it’s usually reserved for demons…”

Human: “But there’s lukewarm whiskey, and I could just sit in that until the final judgement?”

Demon: “It… it is lukewarm whiskey. But the demons really would prefer to–”

Human: “Sign me up for the lukewarm whiskey pool, please.”

Demon: “You’ll have to do laps until the final judgement.”

Human: “Deal.”

Demon: {sighing deeply} “Very well.”

What a great deal, right? I wish Evangelicals would stop trying to reinterpret the Bible so they can “feel” better about their God’s vindictive, hateful, God-awful nature. If the Bible is what Evangelicals say it is — inspired, inerrant, infallible, unalterable — then they must own that their wonderful, awesome, loving, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious God is anything but. The only way forward for Evangelicals is to invent a new God and write a new Bible that better reflects their twenty-first-century moral sensibilities. As long as the Bible is considered a closed canon, Evangelicals are going to have to live with the fact that God’s Precious Moments® Bible explicitly teaches that Jehovah is a God of judgment and wrath, and those who reject Jesus and his atoning work on the cross will be everlastingly tortured in the Lake of Fire. If, as the Bible says, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then the deity who drowned the entire human race save eight people in Noah’s flood is the same God today. What’s changed is how Evangelicals want to be viewed by unbelievers. Smarting from being painted in the press and on the internet as judgmental, hateful, narrow-minded bigots, many Evangelicals want to be viewed in a kinder light. Unfortunately, as long as Evangelicals carry their leather-bound inerrant Bibles to church on Sundays and bow in obeisance to its anti-human teachings and authority — expecting everyone to do the same — they shouldn’t anticipate that atheists and other unbelievers will think well of them.

Bruce Gerencser