Friday, April 19, 2013

Hell and the Nature of Being Built to Last: A Rebuttal to J.I. Packer

"Second, belief in the outright annihilation of nonbelievers after final judgment (as opposed to an eternal punishment) seems to me biblically illegitimate. I suspect some Christians whose loved ones die without accepting Christ are tempted to embrace the annihilationist view. Scripture, however, seems to show that one aspect of human dignity is that we are built to last. Whether for joy or for sorrow, our souls are eternal."
J.I. Packer, known as a capable theologian, has gravely misunderstood and mischaracterized the annihilationist position. There are multiple issues within this section, but I do not have the time (or patience) to sift through each one. Since this is a popular retread on twitter and the Internet, allow me to offer a brief rebuttal. I had thought about responding to the entire article, but time limits me.

One, Packer gives us no reason to see annihilationism as biblically illegitimate. By tying it with the "annihilationists are emotional" argument, he ceases to give any respectable response as a straw man is easier to beat up than the annihilationist argument is to genuinely refute. He doesn't offer the consideration that those who hold to the view do so because of exegesis and a high view of Scripture.

Two, I have no moral qualms with eternal conscious torment (though I do -- now --  because I think it is false). Frankly, this is insulting. Several of my friends and relatives have passed on, and this had no prompt in my abandoning of the traditional view of hell. God's justice would be satisfied in eternal conscious torment, if such a view were true. In fact, the idea that I would never see them again is tragic and one that I wish I wouldn't have to experience.

Three, a central aspect of human dignity is that we are created, not that we are built to last. Packer seems to place a high view of humanity in his comment, whereas the annihilationist (Reformed or otherwise) would simply shrug and say that YWHW is the only Creator and thus has the final say over the created. If I were a Calvinist, and had such a view of YHWH, very little would change since I am utterly dependent on YHWH as my very source and existence.

As someone who leans towards Weslyanism, I find this coordinate as well.

Four, Packer offers a detached assertion that our souls are eternal. This is nowhere stated in Scripture and it simply assumed on his part. He doesn't address that Paul spoke of those who seek "immortality" (Romans 2), that Jesus offers "eternal life" (Synoptics especially Matthew and John) and that only YHWH is immortal (Romans 1:23, 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16; see also Wisdom Literature and Sriach 17:30 which states that human beings are not immortal).

I think much more could be said, but I'm out of time and need to rush off. Thanks for reading.

For the source, enjoy it here.

For a comprehensive examination of the biblical data (one that I find compelling and moderately persuasive, see Edward Fudge "The Fire that Consumes" and Andrew Perriman "The Coming of the Son of Man."



  1. Hey, your GF refered me to your blog. So is annihilationism your belief?

    1. Greetings!

      I am currently researching the topic (have been for two years) and currently find annihilationism to be the view best supported by Scripture. However I haven't ruled out universalism as I think the positive case is far stronger than many realize and I try to keep valid options on the table.

      Thank you for your comment. ;)


  2. I wrote a whole comment and then it wouldn't let me post it. So if it does come up please excuse me...

    It bugs the crap outta me that they accuse annihilationists of being "too emotional". I have no problem with God bring justice to the wicked, like with the Flood and the invasion of Canaan. So using that argument on me is pointless.

    Also, what they don't seem to realise is that if they are wrong about hell, they will be guilty of committing a horrible blasphemy against God and will be on the recieving end of His judgement. This is why we need to do deep research and be willing to abandon traditions we've been comfortable with our whole lives.

    Hi by the way. I follow you on Twitter :)

    1. Jason,

      Thanks for your post. :)

      Agreed. Its a difficult reality to picture if one is wrong. I think the idea of missing out on eternal life is far more fearsome than a conscious existence just out of reach of eternal bliss.


    2. For me the idea of non-existance for eternity is almost as terrofying as an eternity hell.

      It's been said before but the fact is that the majority of Christians have allowed the church to take responsibility for their beliefs. There is rarely any independent research and it's led to the acceptance of a lot of what I would consider false doctrine.

      Blind acceptance of church tradition will lead to our downfall. And what many seem to forget is that religious tradition caused many to reject Christ, as many people had false ideas about the role of the Messiah.