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.)
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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