Debate: Annihilationism, with Chris Date

Chris Date is the host of the Theopologetics podcast, and says that he has been convinced over the past year of the truth of annihilationism, sought out the best arguments he could find, and found them lacking[1]. He will be defending the following:

Resolution: “The final punishment of the risen wicked will be annihilation, the permanent end to the conscious existence of the entire person.”

The debate is tentatively scheduled for June, with a fairly standard debate format, to include Q&A from questions submitted beforehand.

Format:

  • 20-minute opening affirmative
  • 20-minute opening negative
  • 10-minute rebuttal affirmative
  • 10-minute rebuttal negative
  • 15-minute cross-examination of affirmative by negative
  • 15-minute cross-examination of negative by affirmative
  • 10-minute rebuttal 2 negative
  • 10-minute rebuttal 2 affirmative
  • 15-minute cross-examination of negative by affirmative
  • 15-minute cross-examination of affirmative by negative
  • 8-minute closing negative
  • 8-minute closing affirmative
  • 30 minutes Q&A
  • Our moderator will be Dee Dee Warren.

    As a confessionally Reformed believer, I’ll obviously be defending the historic orthodox view, which Mr. Date tends to call the “traditionalist” view, interestingly[2]. Clearly, I would affirm that the eternal conscious punishment of the unbeliever is the Biblical, exegetically necessary position, not merely “traditional”. In fact, I intend to argue that the contrary position is impossible to hold intelligibly. Mr. Date also considers himself “Reformed”, which I believe is an odd identification to make, given the crystal clear confessional/systematic position on eternal punishment. If anything is clear to me after having studied the history of the Church, it is that we cannot isolate one doctrine from others in the system of Christian doctrine without consequence. Christianity stands or falls as a unit.

    In any case, this should be an interesting debate, on an interesting topic. Annihilationism has become somewhat of a bugaboo in recent times – as Packer notes[3], it has been a topic of conversation over the past century, but only very recently has it made inroads into evangelical circles. It should be instructive to us that among the primary advocates of this view, we are left with a picture almost devoid of evangelical acceptance, save perhaps to some extent in Anglicanism, and in that broad realm, only a whisper of Reformed sympathies; and of that, primarily in the case of Stott. The most vocal champions of this viewpoint, of course, are the theological descendents of the Millerites – who are not evangelical in any sense. This is not to say that it’s lack of popularity is an argument against it – but when there are no evangelical denominations that ratify it, you might have a problem, when it comes to speaking of any claim to orthodoxy it might have.

    I’ll be honest with our readers, and with my opponent – I have no sympathy for the position at all. I find it to be a serious breach of orthodoxy, and an overthrow of Biblical doctrine which has serious consequences on a variety of levels. I do pray that this debate will be valuable to the body of Christ, and will shed some light on a doctrine that is often relegated to secondary importance in the modern evangelical churches. This conviction of mine is not due to mere tradition, but due to exegetical conviction, and I would hope that the same would hold true for any confessionally Reformed believer, with their fundamental dedication to the principle of Sola Scriptura. We cannot afford to undermine the doctrine of Hell any more than we can afford to allow the doctrine of Heaven to be undermined – as both have their organic relationship to the doctrine of God, and its analogous Doctrine of man. The doctrine of Hell must be presented in it’s full-orbed state, as it is indeed a doctrine of first importance, and is found in that full-orbed state in major creeds and confessions throughout the history of the Church, which faithfully systematize the Scriptural witness. My desire is not to demonize my opponent – so please don’t mistake me on this point. I believe he is mistaken in his adoption of this position, and wish to prove that his position is Biblically unwarranted. I have had no contact with Chris Date prior to our email exchange, and I can’t recall ever interacting with him previously in any other medium. I’m not after him personally. I have grave concerns with his position, not with him. My concern is with the claims found in this doctrine of annihilationism, and the continual need for a faithful response to it. I am not the first to respond to this position, and by no means believe I will be the last. My aim will be the utilization of the covenantal apologetic in response to what can only be seen as a sub-Biblical doctrine.

    Additional info for our readers:
    TurretinFan (also an AOMin contributor) vs. Ronnie from Conditionalism.netPart 1 Part 2
    James White vs. Roger and Faith ForsterConditional Immortality on Unbelievable
    Hiram Diaz vs. Chris Date – “The punishment of the damned will actually be torment forever and ever.” – Part 1 Part 2

    1. [1]http://www.theopologetics.com/2012/04/04/propitiation-and-final-punishment/
    2. [2]http://www.theopologetics.com/?s=traditionalist
    3. [3]http://thirdmill.org/newfiles/ji_packer/Packer.Annihilationisminreview.html#2

    30 Comments

    Chris Date

    “My desire is not to demonize my opponent – so please don’t mistake me on this point. I believe he is mistaken in his adoption of this position, and wish to prove that his position is Biblically unwarranted. I have had no contact with Chris Date prior to our email exchange, and I can’t recall ever interacting with him previously in any other medium. I’m not after him personally. I have grave concerns with his position, not with him”

    Thank you for expressing this sentiment, Joshua. I feel likewise about you and your position, and am looking forward to a respectful, albeit serious, debate.

    Fifth Monarchy Man

    You said,

    You say,

    We cannot afford to undermine the doctrine of Hell

    I say,

    Please be sure it is the doctrine of hell you intend to defend and not the doctrine of the imortal soul.

    Often I find that debaters on both sides confuse the two. Eternal Hell is a Bibical concept an “imortal soul” not so much.

    If souls are tormented forever it is only because God wills for his glory it not because the human soul can’t be annihlated.

    peace

    RazorsKiss

    Apparently, our commenter is unaware of the confessional affirmation of the immortality of the soul, and it’s fundamental importance to the debate. He also seems to be unaware of the organic necessity of viewing CT as a unit. I’m also wondering about the nickname, due to the interesting connotations it brings out, but that’s another story 😉

    Ronnie

    RazorKiss:

    . . . the immortality of the soul, and it’s fundamental importance to the debate.

    You’d be surprised at how eager many contemporary traditionalists are to deny this very thing 🙂 Robert Peterson and Christopher Morgan are two names that immediately come to mind.

    FMM:

    If souls are tormented forever it is only because God wills for his glory it not because the human soul can’t be annihlated.

    The doctrine of the immortality of the soul takes various forms. It’s only a very strong form that affirms that even God could not destroy the soul. As far as I can tell that’s an idiosyncratic view historically, even though you do sometimes hear people say stuff like that on a popular level.

    RazorsKiss

    Well, obviously, I’m confessional, so I’m going to affirm what accords with Scripture and my confession, and no more. Incidentally, this is why there is practically no annihilationistic tendencies in Reformed circles. The Reformed confessions explicitly deny it, and affirm otherwise – and adherence to the confessions are what determine membership in a Reformed church.

    As for Peterson, if he denies the immortality of the soul, he’s explicitly denying the WCF, and he teaches at a WCF-affirming seminary (Covenant). I’d have to see what he has to say, specifically, but if this is the case, it’s most definitely not confessional. As for Morgan, he’s apparently SBC, which does not have an explicit affirmation in the BF&M or even in the Abstract of Principles.

    Fifth Monarchy Man

    I’m fully aware of confessional affirmation that you speak of.

    However you might want to look into what the 1644 London Baptist confession says about these issues . Most folks I know would think of it is Reformed document and it does not put a lot of emphasis on immortal human souls instead it seem to seems to emphasize a God who .

    Quote:

    who as his being is of himself, so he gives being, moving, and preservation to all other things, being in himself eternal,

    End quote:

    I was not aware that you intended to base your defense on the organic necessity of viewing CT as a unit. That is the tact that pedoBaptists sadly use to prove that Baptists can’t be truly reformed.

    I was hoping that you’d instead focus on what the Bible has to say about Hell I think it would be a better approach. But it’s your debate you can do as you please.

    I’m not sure why you seem to assume that I’m the enemy here. I was just giving some advice as someone who has at times struggled with this issue. I Just feel it’s better to base our doctrine on scripture if possible that is all.

    As far as the nickname goes my use of it comes from a Spurgeon sermon entitled The Kingly Priesthood of the Saints about the benefits of New Covenant. It’s pretty cool you might want to check it out.

    Peace

    RazorsKiss

    I don’t consider that confession to be as complete, or on the same order/level as the 1689 or the other major confessions. It was an initial confession, and not complete. I put it along the BF&M, or the AoP. In any case, I belong to a church, and we subscribe to the 1689, so there’s no optional subscription 😉

    I don’t think you can separate out the doctrine of immortality from the doctrine of hell – or from the Scriptural witness to them both. They are organic to each other, and to CT as a whole. Further, saying that “x uses that approach” doesn’t make an argument against the approach. CT doesn’t cease to be a unit because someone is inconsistent. I don’t mean to start a paedo/credo war about this (we have paedobaptist contributors as well), since we’d both consider the other inconsistent in this area – but inconsistency in application of that principle doesn’t mean that theology is not supposed to be considered “as a unit”. That is fundamental to Reformed theology, and even more specifically, to the presuppositional apologetic method, which is the primary focus of this site.

    I asked about your nickname due to the seeming reference to the “Fifth Monarchy” movement in 17th century England.

    Ronnie

    That’s right; the reformed confessions absolutely rule out conditionalism.

    I don’t claim that Peterson or Morgan deny the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. They do deny its importance to the debate, however.

    But now that you mention it, I wonder what Peterson would make of the WCF’s statement that the human soul possesses “an immortal subsistence.”

    RazorsKiss

    I probably should have been more specific – they seem to be denying the natural immortality of the soul, which the WCF/LBCF specifically affirm in that “he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls”.

    As a friend put it earlier today, “Covenant has not been careful in their hiring.” I agree 😉

    Ronnie

    Peterson, for instance, says that he believes in universal, unconditional immortality simply because it follows from what Scripture teaches about eternal punishment. In Two Views of Hell he argues:

    Finally, Fudge also errs when he asserts that belief in the immortality of the soul drives the traditional view of hell. Actually, he has it backward. I do not accept traditionalism because I believe in the immortality of the soul. Rather, I believe in the immortality of human beings (united in body and soul after the resurrection of the dead) because the Bible teaches that there will be “eternal punishment” for the lost and “eternal life” for the saved (Mt 25:46).

    Morgan, In Hell Under Fire argues in similar fashion to FMM above:

    It seems clear from Revelation 20:10 . . . that Satan, the beast and the false prophet are punished forever. Do they somehow have inherent immortality? Of course not. God will keep them in existence endlessly in order to punish them. Similarly, the wicked will be punished consciously forever in hell, not because they exist as immortal souls but because God will sustain them.

    Fifth Monarchy Man

    quote:

    he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
    (1Ti 6:15B-16)

    end quote

    If we Look at our confessions through lens of scripture It would seem that this passage necessitates that we think about “immortal subsistence” in a particular (dependant) way and not as an inherent property of the human soul.

    As far as consistency argument goes I would argue that to claim that humans are inherently immortal is not consistent with a high view of the sovereignty of God.

    I suppose you would disagree and that would put this discussion on the same level as the baptism debate. We all know how that discussion has played itself out.

    I’m just saying that it’s probably not the best way to win a debate.

    just my two cents.

    Peace

    RazorsKiss

    No one is saying that men are immortal of themselves, any more than we would say that men live of themselves. It is analogical, not equal. All too often the two are confused, and the distinction between creature and creator is muddied. It is a *created* immortality, as the confessions affirm, not an immortality independent of God. It is, by its very nature, dependent on God, as all things are. God is the only immortal one essentially – ie: in aseity, and of eternity. No one is affirming otherwise.

    Fifth Monarchy Man

    Cool

    So you agree with me that

    “If souls are tormented forever it is only because God wills it for his glory it not because the human soul can’t be annihlated.”

    This means that God is not a helpless jailer unable to completely remove evil from his creation but instead a Sovereign God that punishes the reprobate only as long and as severely as their sins deserve and not a second longer.

    This is a much better position to argue from in my opinion. Instead of being an argument about the Goodness of God it is an argument about his holiness and the blackness of sin.

    I’m not sure if I can positively affirm that scripture affirms with out a doubt that all souls will be conscious forever but I can affirm that God is good holy and infinitely just and his will will be done.

    If he decides to keep rebels in torment for eternity I know that it will be for his glory and therefore by definition it will be the best thing for all his creatures. Who could possibly argue with that?

    Peace

    RazorsKiss

    I can pretty much tell you that the scope of my argumentation is going to be primarily exegetical, almost entirely theological in nature. I appreciate the tips, but I promise, you’ll see pretty much everything I’m going to say prior to the debate. I consciously model my debate prep after Dr. White, so if my opponent doesn’t know everything I’m going to argue ahead of time, I wasn’t being a good opponent 🙂

    Chris Date

    Joshua, that’s VERY helpful! Thank you! As you know, this is reciprocated,since I have tons of stuff available at my website. Also, don’t hesitate to email me with any clarifying questions.

    RazorsKiss

    Sure, no problem.

    David Smart

    I am certainly looking forward to this formal debate, including the material that inevitably will be produced leading up to it.

    As a preliminary observation, the fact that Chris Date’s position does not have “any claim to orthodoxy” (par. 2) is something that may turn out to work in his favor, insofar as it forces him of necessity to argue for the resolution strictly from an exegesis of God’s word; and whether or not the resolution enjoys biblical warrant is indeed the fundamental concern here—at least for those who champion sola scriptura.

    Joshua Whipps is at a little bit of a disadvantage precisely because the view he is defending really is historically attested by Reformed confessions and enjoys broad evangelical acceptance. In other words, he will have to resist the temptation of appealing to confessional documents and church history at the expense of an exegetical case, lest his view characterize itself as traditionalism (thus confirming the label that Date applies to it).

    It is nevertheless unlikely that Date would argue that annihilationism has any claim to orthodoxy. Given his theological development and past discussions on this issue, we have good reason to think he would argue that it has claim to biblical attestation through sound exegesis of the relevant texts.

    Whether or not “the eternal conscious punishment of the unbeliever” is the orthodox position amongst historic Reformed confessions is simply not the point. Date certainly seems prepared to concede that such a view has a long tradition. The point, as Whipps seems to agree, is whether or not that view is the “biblical” and “exegetically necessary position,” such that “the contrary position is impossible to hold intelligibly.” If a view is confessionally orthodox but biblically untenable, then it is only so much traditionalism, as Date holds.

    Incidentally, the fact that “the theological descendents of the Millerites” are “the most vocal champions” of annihilationism is completely irrelevant (beyond its historical interest). Consider the genetic fallacy and the poisoning-the-well rhetorical device.

    RazorsKiss

    Likewise, then, David’s comments about a supposed link between modern YEC and SDAs in the summer of last year should also be considered a genetic fallacy and a “poisoning-the-well rhetorical device.”

    Not that I agree with his assessment of this supposed link between the two, or consider it to be remotely accurate, but I just thought I’d point it out 🙂

    In passing, I’d also like to note the oddity of a position which considers orthodoxy to be disadvantageous. For something to be orthodox, it necessarily must be “true” – as that is the meaning of the term. The use of traditional is unwarranted, because it is not the case that it is true because it is traditionally held to be such, but because it is “true doctrine” – ie: exegetically grounded. “Traditional” is a non-sequitur.

    Fifth Monarchy Man

    Since I did so well with my advice to Razor’s Kiss I’d like to offer a little unsolicited advice to Chris.

    I wonder at what point a Christian should submit his conscious to the longstanding consensus of the Church?

    The Bible is clear that we should not compromise on the Gospel ( Galatians 1 etc) however it also makes itself clear that issues like you are debating are not part of the “elementary doctrine of Christ” (Hebrews 6:1)

    Might not a good practice be to simply withhold public dispute in what seems to be a disputable matter. (Romans 14:22).

    Your opponent has already granted that God is not bound to keep the reprobate in torment forever if he chooses to annihilate him and that what ever happens will be for the glory of God and therefore what is best for all his creatures.

    Why not just leave it at that?

    Peace

    RazorsKiss

    Seemingly contrary to popular belief, this is an apologetics site. Rodney King ecumenism is certainly not our style. If that’s what you’re here to convey, you really should find somewhere else to do it. Annihilationism is heresy, full stop. That makes it intolerable, and the fit subject of apologetic discourse. Please refer to the site rules.

    Chris Date

    Hi, FMM.

    The author of Hebrews includes “eternal judgment” in that “foundation.” So I’m hesitant to see that passage as evidence that this is a topic to be ignored.

    But Razor’s response to you is precisely why I do debates like these, because according to him and many others, “annihilationism is heresy, full stop,” and “intolerable.” My earnest desire is not primarily to see all Christians agree with the Bible when it says, as it does, that the final punishment of the risen wicked will be annihilation, the permanent end to the conscious existence of the entire person. That would be nice, but rather, my earnest desire is primarily to see the tenor of the discourse between Christians on this topic improved, by demonstrating the exegetical weakness of the position whose adherents are often so quick to call others heretics.

    RazorsKiss

    We’ll see 🙂

    Fifth Monarchy Man

    Man did you get up on the wrong side of the blog this month or what?

    Trust me I’m not into “can’t we all just get along” mere Christianity.

    I’m am into doing what the Bible says that’s all.

    My comment was to Chris and I’m fairly certain that he does not believe your position is heresy that is why I gave the advice I did.

    If you think it denies the gospel to say that God will in the end annihilate his enemies then by all means knock yourself out. I’d like to see you make that case.

    On the other hand a church in my area recently split over a discussion of whether the Bible clearly says that all dying infants are saved.

    I have an opinion I’d be more than happy to share it if asked. I think that what we believe about the salvation of infants can if we are not careful influence what we believe about other things but I don’t think I’d participate in a formal debate on the subject.

    That is all I was saying

    Peace

    RazorsKiss

    No, I didn’t get up on the wrong side of the blog. I’m just tired of seeing this sort of commentary about a non-negotiable issue. This isn’t a “writing about clipping your toenails” blog. It’s an apologetics blog. If you don’t like apologetics, fine – but let’s leave the anti-apologetics commentary somewhere else. If it continues, you will be finding somewhere else to comment. Annihilation is confessionally non-negotiable, and exegetically untenable. If you disagree, write your own blog about it, or do the pietist schtick somewhere else who tolerates it. As for myself, it gives me a rash.

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    Dee Dee Warren

    I very much look forward to moderating this debate. I had to comment when I read this:

    ………. or do the pietist schtick somewhere else who tolerates it. As for myself, it gives me a rash.

    LOL~! The pietist schtick gives me a rash and hives. I wish I had come up with that turn of phrase.

    RazorsKiss

    I’m just a big meanie sometimes 😉

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