Dr. Al Mohler and Chris Date Debate the Annihilationist View of Hell

As I drove to an out-of-town meeting a few days ago, I listened to an interview on the “Unbelievable?” radio show (through its podcast), which is hosted by Justin Brierley. In one of the recent interviews, Dr. Al Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary debated annihilationism with Chris Date. Dr. Mohler argued that the Bible teaches the traditional view of hell, namely, that hell is eternal conscious torment. Chris Date defended Annihilationism, arguing that it was believed among the early church and that the Bible teaches that position. (Annihilationism is the view that the people in hell won’t be eternally tormented, but instead they will be destroyed by God. They will cease to exist.)

You can listen to the debate here: “Should Christians Rethink Hell? Rd. Al Mohler and Chris Date Debate the Traditional and Conditionalist View”.

(In general, I recommend subscribing to The Unbelievable Radio Broadcast with Just Brierley. It is a great show that has respected scholars discuss controversial issues within Christianity.)

(Copyright 2015 Premier Christian Radio)

My Thoughts on the Discussion

You’ll have to listen to the discussion to get the details of their arguments. Before I listened, though I was somewhat sympathetic to Annihilationist position, I thought that Dr. Mohler would destroy the arguments of Chris Date. I’d never heard of Chris Date, but I’ve heard from people I respect that Dr. Mohler is one of the smartest persons they have ever met. I expected to come away from the discussion as being firmly entrenched in the traditionalist position.

I was wrong.

Chris Date’s arguments were simply better than Dr. Mohler’s arguments. I was underwhelmed with Dr. Mohler’s arguments, which really boiled down to one argument for every text that Chris Date offered: “That’s not how the church for centuries has interpreted that text; if Chris is right, then the church has been wrong all these years.”

Of course, that is a paraphrase, but if you listen to the podcast, you’ll see that he repeated some version of this over and over again.

If all Dr. Mohler could say is this, then maybe the annihilationist position is much stronger than he wants to admit. There was little engagement of the text other than to claim that (1) this is what the church has always taught about hell and (2) that his reading is the plain meaning of the crucial passages. He didn’t argue for either position, nor did he give many arguments against what Chris Date said.

Judging from this one discussion, annihilationism is a much stronger position than I’d previously thought.

Maybe I am wrong, but you can listen to it yourselves to see.

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  1. The question of annihilationismcan be answered with a preceding question. Is man by nature immortal, or is immortality a gift we receive by faith in Christ?

    1. Materialism that reduces all things to matter is just reductionistic as spiritualism that reduces all things to spirit. The worldview of Materialism has no room for pat of man being non-material. Yet, when Jesus said you may kill the body bu not kill the soul and when Paul talked about the outer seen body decaying while the inner invisible man is greater stronger, this breaks the back of a materialistic view. see my book, Death and the AfterLife, Dr Robert Morey

      1. Dr. Morey,

        Please do not conflate the view of conditional immortality with that of a materialist/physicalist anthropology (much less a Materialist worldview!)

        Regarding conditionalism/annihilationism among evangelicals, the following is taken from the Statement on Evangelical Conditionalism (http://www.rethinkinghell.com/statement)

        “Evangelical conditionalists also differ in terms of what we believe the Bible says about the
        constitution of human beings, and also about whether people are conscious in the intermediate
        state between death and resurrection. Some are anthropological physicalists or materialists
        who believe human beings are physical creatures, the functioning of whose minds is dependent
        upon their living bodies. Others are substance dualists who believe human beings have
        immaterial souls, but that they lack consciousness between death and resurrection. Still others
        embrace a traditional body/soul dualism and contend that the immaterial souls of human
        beings live on consciously after death (although not immortal in any sense), until a resurrection
        of the body. The same diversity of perspectives exists within evangelicalism more broadly, and
        therefore is not a logical requirement or consequence of CI.”

  2. Yes. As Edward Fudge often points out, that is an important question. It is possible, of course, for God to grant immortality to the damned so that he could punish them for eternity. So the traditionalist position can still be retained even if the admit that immortality isn’t an essential part of human nature but a gift from God.

      1. Dr. Morey, I have personally met Mr. Fudge, and I’m surprised to hear he threatened to sue you. Being a lawyer himself, did he say what he would sue you about? Or is there anyplace online I could verify that claim? I couldn’t find any such record with a simple Google search.

      2. Dr. Morey, if you think that, given the reputation of Fudge’s work, you must think that the work of Froom remains the substantial defense of the view. But that was a long time ago. There are many contemporary arguments for the view, which take a different course to Froom’s arguments (some not necessarily even agreeing with the course he took). I haven’t yet read your own book on this, but can it escape a similar charge of being merely a refutation (condensed or otherwise) of Froom?

        Incidentally, unlike Froom, Fudge explicitly says anthropology is a “secondary issue” in terms of his purposes. He writes, “One can hold that the believer is either awake of asleep between temporal death and the resurrection, while insisting on the final extinction of the perpetually unrepentant as the Biblical view.”

        1. I am curious if Fudge admits the letter he sent me and read by office staff. Ask him first if he threatened Dr. Morey with legal action? If he says, “No” then I will produce his letter and witnesses to prove to the public he is a liar as well as a heretic. Let me know if gives you a clear answer or tries to avoid giving a Yes or No.

          1. Dr Morey, Mr Fudge has already given an answer above, that the idea he threatened you with legal action is “total nonsense.” He did not attempt to avoid giving such an answer. Can you produce the letter?

          2. Dr. Morey, I figure that your interest extends beyond calling people liars and heretics, to the actual topic we wrestle over, and the importance of an orthodox doctrine of the atonement.

            So I am hoping you might find the time to help me understand your statement (see quote elsewhere here), which seems to reduce the atonement to the conscious experience of suffering, instead of an actual death as the Bible has it—Jesus *died* for our sins. Perhaps I have just misunderstood you.

            I don’t want to preempt your response, but it seems likely that you wouldn’t affirm the heretical view that the death of Christ was not atoning. I suspect you do affirm that death has primacy. But if so, I would still like to know how that fits with what you wrote, and how, in general, you reckon death—as the penalty or wages of sin (Rom 6:23)—in terms of being a) that which was forewarned to Adam and Eve (Rom 5 being relevant), b) that which Christ suffered on the Cross, and c) that which impenitent sinners will take upon themselves after the final judgment. How do you understand these three as being instances of the same penalty? How is Adam’s death like Christ’s death and like Hitler’s eternal torment? Or was not Christ’s suffering, and not his death, the penalty for sin after all?

          3. I do not see where has committed his character and reputation on whether he threatened to sue me. Once he does I will go public with the truth.

          4. “on whether he threatened to sue me”

            Well let’s be clear: “I so thoroughly refuted the faulty research and arguments of Fudge that he threatened to sue me in court!”

            Dr Morey, it is of course possible that you did something worthy of being sued, which would be nothing to crow about. But your allegation is that Edward threatened to sue you because you so thoroughly refuted his faulty research and arguments. It seems you now have a burden to immediately substantiate this claim.

            As for poor research, there is a saying about glass houses and stones. The Foreword to your book says that “if a man die, will he live again?” comes from Ecclesiastes. Of course it is from Job. Although you did not write the foreword, the reliability of your arguments, including your reliance on well out of date scholarship about first century Judaism, only got worse after the foreword. Sorry to put it so honestly, but I can see you don’t mind “talking smack.” You seem not to be aware of the regard in which your book is held, and it is simply because of the unsoundness of your arguments.

            Edward Fudge has demonstrated where your work goes wrong and has provided a link where interested readers can go to find out.

          5. Dr. Morey, with all due respect, you are the one who has made a public accusation against another person’s character, and asserted that you have specific written evidence to back it up. Your character has already been committed to you being able to back up your claims, whether or not you think Edward Fudge’s denial leaves too much wiggle room for your liking.

            If you aren’t willing to show us these letters that you yourself asserted that you have, to back up an accusation that you publically made without provocation, then why should we believe you? Right now, we have no reason to believe that Edward Fudge ever threatened to sue you at all, let alone for a stupid reason like your arguments being too good. You started this by making the accusation and saying you had the proof. It is really easy to curb our skepticism and vindicate your honor – just show us the proof that you assert that you have.

    1. Since I was raised in an agnostic/atheist home, I was forced by grammatical exegesis to the view of eternal conscious torment. Being Jewish, I found this was the view of per-Christian Jews in the intertestamental literature, Both the Jewish and Christian Apocalyptic books support that view. See Death and the AfterLife for documentation.

      1. Dr. Morey, thank you for your engagement with this topic over the years.

        In your book, Death and the Afterlife, you argue for the

        “sufficiency of His once-for-all suffering (Heb 9:25-28) as the basis for the perfection of the atonement. There is no way to escape the fact that Christ did not experience total annihilation in body and soul on the cross. What He did experience was suffering as a result of moral alienation from God. This is the ultimate fate awaiting rebel sinners.”

        The atonement is a doctrine of central importance, of course. Setting aside the fact of your misunderstanding about what we claim about the penalty for sin and its relation to Christ’s death, whatever happened to death in your discussion? Why do you avoid even mentioning the atoning death of Christ, which has primacy in the atonement (sufferings being an experiential component of being put to death)?

        The point of the passage you cited is about the purification rites (v23), following the old model for the “unintentional sins of the people” (v7). Since our greater interest is about the atoning sacrifice of Christ for our sin (all of it!), verses 15 should probably have been quoted:

        “Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”

        The sacrifical *death* is the primary thing which atones in Scripture. I won’t reproduce them here, but Chris Date has written thoughtfully on this important issue: http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/08/cross-purposes-atonement-death-and-the-fate-of-the-wicked/

        I would be grateful for any insight you may have regarding our (admittedly bold) challenge to traditionalists generally, that they have a tendency to render the atoning death of Christ an afterthought.

        1. Absent any reply for clarification, I am left to assume that Dr. Morey, like many traditionalists, allows his doctrine of final punishment to skew his doctrine of the atonement, making statements to the effect that Jesus’ conscious suffering in our place—which is no death penalty—is that which atones for sin. Points for consistency, but neglecting the atoning death of Christ is not orthodox. Next, we’ll be hearing that the point of being stoned to death under the Mosaic law is that it’s just the most convenient way to inflict a few minutes of pain, despite the unwanted and tragic side-effect of loss of life…

  3. Hi Micah,

    Thanks for sharing your reaction to the debate. I have the utmost of respect for Dr. Mohler, and in fairness to him I think his argument was just a tad bit more nuanced. His point was that the fact that such a majority of Christians have understood the texts as teaching eternal conscious punishment, therefore that must be the plainest, most obvious meaning of the texts. That’s not a fantastic argument, and I offered some of what I think explains that, but it is a bit better than what most people thought he was saying.

    Anyway, thanks again so very much! If you ever have any questions about annihilationism and want to run them by someone, I’d be happy to share my thoughts with you, what little they’re worth 🙂 My email address is chrisdate@rethinkinghell.com.


    1. Thanks for reading and responding, Chris. I, too, respect Mohler, and I haven’t lost any respect for him. I’m not sure that connecting the two statements (one, that the church has always taught the traditionalist position, and, two, that the reading is the plain reading) actually makes the argument any stronger. But I don’t think that it’s anything we need to dispute.

      Congratulations on going such a great job. I hope your discussion with Dr. Mohler will raise the awareness of the annihilationist position.

    1. I would love to come out of retirement to defend the gospel once again. The person I debate must be equal in knowledge of the Hebrew and Greek and have equal academic degrees in theology and philosophy. I will not debate cab drivers or pizza delivery guys. It must be public, in a neutral setting, timed and structured, with each having his own moderator. No ad hominems allowed. Each side will present his position in 10 mins. Five minute rebuttals will be given. Then the closing statements given for five minutes. 30 minutes for questions from the audience with all questions written down and handed to debaters. They choose which questions they will answer. They will take turns with answers limited to five minutes. Moderators will not allow any personal attacks or going over allowed time. Any one ready, willing, and able to debate me?

      1. “I would love to come out of retirement to defend the gospel once again.”

        The fact that this is what you think you would be doing is reason enough to leave you out of the public discussion, just as people did after you wrote your book. That is a hopelessly ignorant view of where you stand on this issue.

      2. No cross examinations? It’s not clear why you think you’re in a position to dictate the terms of a debate; you haven’t been relevant player in this controversy for many years. I’d be willing to engage in a formal, structured, written debate with you. Are you ready, willing, and able to debate me?

          1. BA in Philosophy and completing my coursework for my MA in Philosophy this semester, both from accredited schools in the US.

            I will only debate someone who has at least my level of philosophy education from accredited American institutions. Do you meet my standards?

          2. BA philosophy Covenant College. Studied under Clark, Sanderson, DeMoss, Schaeffer in l’Abri. Under Van Til at WTS. Classical Greek in college and Koine Greek and Hebrew in seminary. Chosen to Translate the Psalms for ISV. Published my own translation last year. Started Hebrew under Rabbi Gold at 16 yrs. old.

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