I would like to reveal and exegete more Scriptures that conditionalists use to affirm their position of annihilationism, but let’s cut to the chase. There’s an even bigger topic at hand. And it is in the area of atonement. Because whenever you change the nature/definition of eternal punishment or eternal life, you inevitably change your view of the atonement. And even though conditionalist claim to say that their view of hell doesn’t change their outlook on the atonement (in a heretical way at least), it seems that when the contributors write or speak on their podcasts, they betray themselves. And this issue is hard to tackle in writing seeing that those within the conditionalist camp are not only varied in their opinion concerning what happens in the intermediate state (between death and the resurrection), and the nature of Hell (whether it is retributive and/or restorative), but because of their hermeneutics and also some of their different applications of penal substitutionary atonement (PSA). But I contest that this position is indeed not only a gateway doctrine to heresy, but it seems to accommodate heretical company. And hopefully, the concerns below will make this more clear.
Despite the above, there is one unifying doctrine within conditionalism – Death IS the punishment for sin. In other words, the act of Jesus Christ dying on the cross (when life left His body) is when sin was paid/atoned for and the punishment was satisfied. They say this in response to those of us who say that the wrath of God poured out on Christ was satisfied while He was still alive. But I don’t holistically disagree with death being a necessary component of the punishment, and neither should you reader. But their main challenge is that if the wrath of God that Jesus bore Himself was payment for sin, then why did He die? Great question! But this is, once again, making a distinction without making a difference. The challenge can easily be reversed in that if death IS the punishment, then why would Jesus endure such a brutal and tortuous beating from His creation, and bear God’s wrath while on the cross? Since death is the punishment, then Jesus could have just endured a slit throat like the lambs of old, and died for our sin (see this article I wrote that helps us to understand how what Jesus endured was more than what we are going to endure in hell because of who He was). Of course, in reading this, conditionalists may make up a ready response. They always do. But their leaders don’t want their responses challenged in a public dialogue (i.e. conversation) with me where their views can be scrutinized and critiqued for consistency. They would rather have the safety of timed debates, and social media platforms to defend their views. Where they can say their peace without being probed in dialogue by someone who has found extreme reason to doubt the veracity of their position, who also has taken the time to digest their position from the inside and can detect and call out the subtle linguistic shifts in their argument. Yes, I am saying that most of their published information does not address their specific challenges head on as I am doing. But I digress. I still offer my open invitation for public dialogue here even though they continually reject my appeal on emotional grounds.
Before I deal with the atonement, let me explain why I have concerns and why I believe that this theology is a gateway doctrine to heresy. If we were simply discussing the nature of hell, then a secondary conversation could possibly be had without any consequence to salvific implications (maybe), IF the person is simply inconsistent by believing this position, or if they are not a popular teacher saying our view is closer to heresy, like Chris Date says (you’ll see below). This is the type of conversation conditionalist strive for. They want to treat this as merely a secondary issue. This is the proverbial “seat at the table” Chris Date and the Rethinking Hell contributors beg for. And this would be all fine and dandy if it were not for the fact that having alternate views of the afterlife affects your view of the atonement.* And, if it weren’t for the issues below. Continue reading