Hell is a topic that produces a lot of heated debate. Whether or not Hell is a place of eternal torment has recently been a hot topic at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri. One burning issue is about the truth or falsity of annihilationism.
June and I met as freshmen at Southwest Baptist College in 1955, when it was still a junior college. It was a conservative school then, but not really a fundamentalist one. Later it became a four-year university and through the years has maintained a rather moderately conservative stance.
During my family’s first missionary “furlough” in 1971-72, we lived in Bolivar and I taught a couple of courses at SBU. In 2016 our beloved granddaughter Katrina graduated from SBU—and married her college sweetheart soon after graduating as June and I did in 1957.
During our first year of retirement from 38 years as missionaries to Japan, we lived in Bolivar again for a year, and I had some contact with the faculty at SBU—especially Dr. Rodney Reeves, Dean of the Courts Redford College of Theology and Ministry. Dr. Reeves was/is an impressive scholar, a powerful preacher, and a fine human being.
Toward the end of 2018, however, Dr. Reeves and others in Redford College became the target of criticism from conservative/fundamentalist Christians, especially by Clint Bass, an associate professor at Redford College.
Primary among the charges of erroneous theological beliefs held by Dr. Reeves was that of annihilationism, the theological position that affirms the destruction of non-believers rather than their eternal punishment.
This position is also referred to as “conditional immortality.” The human soul, it asserts, is not inherently immortal; the latter is a Greek idea, not a biblical one. As the Bible says, “It is [God] alone who has immortality” (1 Tim. 6:16).
While in seminary I began to shift to this position under the teaching of Dr. Dale Moody, who eludicates the teaching in his book The Hope of Glory (1966, pp. 105~110).That was long before the thoroughgoing affirmation of annihilationism by Edward Fudge, a pastor/scholar in the Churches of Christ tradition.
Fudge (1944~2017) was one of the most vocal evangelicals to affirm annihilationism. His 420-page book, The Fire that Consumes, was first published in 1982 and the third, definitive edition was issued in 2013.
In addition to Fudge’s book, I also recommend the 2012 movie “Hell and Mr. Fudge,” which engagingly depicts Fudge’s personal and scholarly quest that led to his vigorous advocacy of annhiliationism.
Here are just two of the many questions that might be raised about this hot issue:
** Why did Dr. Reeves post a Dec. 21 article on his blog under the title “Why I’m not an annihilationist”? Since he is employed by a Baptist-supported school, he likely felt considerable pressure to show his agreement with Baptist Faith and Message.
According to that document, with which all who are financially supported by Southern Baptists are required to agree, clearly states: “The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment.”
** Here is the biggest question of all: Why do conservative Christians get so upset with the idea that most of the people of the world—that is, all who do not trust in Jesus as their Savior— might not be punished in Hell for all eternity?
There are many good people in this country who are not Christian believers—but I think especially of all my fine non-Christian Japanese friends. Why do Christian conservatives insist that the annihilation of such people is insufficient and that they must be consigned to eternal torture in Hell?