Question on Hell being eternal
Hell's fires growing cold for many believers By RICHARD N. OSTLING AP Religion Writer Hell hath less fury than it used to, or so we're told. The long-running crusade by liberal Christians and Universal-ists against the eternal punishment idea seems to be getting somewhere. Religious observers say preachers increasingly avoid mentioning hell. And polls indicate increasing numbers of people no longer believe in the place, and that those who do are confident they're not going there. The 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church still teaches the belief, maintaining that "the chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs." For conservative Evangelical Protestants, hell remains a "burning" issue, and an important debate has developed over the concept known as "annihila-tionism." The discussion was examined in the Oct. 5 issue of Christianity Today magazine by Stanley Grenz, who teaches theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Illinois. As with most matters in Christianity, interpretation of the Bible is crucial. The traditional view holds that punishment in hell will be conscious and everlasting. But during the Reformation, one strand of Baptists proposed a new annihilation theory. Yes, they said, the unsaved will be lost eternally, but instead of suffering they will simply cease to exist. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, founded in 1863, is best-known for worshiping on Saturday, but annihilationism is another of its distinctive tenets. To proponents, annihilation sounds humane. To Fundamentalists, it sounds heretical. But Grenz says the annihilationists are not liberals or Universalists. They embrace the orthodox tenet that some people will be saved and some will be lost; they just have a different concept of what "lost" means. The annihilationists assert that their view is perfectly in line with the Bible. They read Scripture as depicting the permanent destruction of the unfaithful and the unbelieving, not everlasting torment. That's the interpretation they put, for instance, on Psalm 37: "yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more." Or Malachi 4:1, which speaks of the future time "when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up." In the New Testament, too, annihilationists see their view supported when Jesus says that "the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12) and in his warning to "fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). They also cite St. Paul's teaching that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). The annihilationists grant that numerous Bible verses speak about eternal punishment, but in their view eternity describes only the permanency of the results, not the duration or the manner of the punishment. Annihilation is punishment enough, they reason, because it ends existence and cuts the person off from God.