Initial Thoughts on the Upcoming Debate
I’m finding lots of commentary by folks who want to somehow separate the doctrine of the soul’s immortality from the doctrine of eternal punishment. Since, after all, we believe in Sola Scriptura, that necessarily includes “Tota Scriptura”, and the necessary relation of every doctrine to the others. This is a fundamental point of Reformed theology. No doctrine exists in isolation. The denial, or modification of one doctrine will quite necessarily have an effect on a host of others, due to the nature of Scripture, and the theology we affirm from it. In the introduction to Van Til’s Christian Theistic Evidences (which a kind reader purchased for me – thank you!) he points out the following, in speaking of the Christian response to attacks from the secular scientists:
“We may for convenience take the six divisions of systematic theology and note in turn the attacks that are made upon our doctrine of God, of man, of Christ, of salvation, of the church, and of the last things. Every attack upon one of these is an attack upon the whole system of truth as we hold it. For that reason the answer to each attack must be fundamentally the same. We shall, in each case, have to point out that the explanations offered by non-Christian views are no explanations all insamuch as they cannot relate the facts discussed to all other facts that must be taken into account. Worse than that, these “explanations” spring from ethical opposition to the truth as it is in Jesus, the self-attesting Christ. Yet, in order to work according to orderly procedure, we shall first notice the attack made upon the doctrine of God, then those upon the doctrine of man, and so on till we come to the doctrine of the last things. Thus we have a broad outline picture of the road ahead.”
Longtime readers of this site know that I’m not saying anything that I haven’t said before, on this point. It’s also nothing that hasn’t been said before by Van Til, or by historic Reformed theology. In essence, it’s just not possible to make one denial or modification without consequences elsewhere. Further, there tend to be a host of unintended consequences which follow, as well. I don’t think that there is ever the intent to change large swathes of theology. But as Van Til points out, an attack on the doctrine of last things is an attack on the whole system just as much as an attack on the doctrine or man or doctrine of God would be. Let’s give an example or three.
An attack on the doctrine of everlasting punishment is an attack on the doctrine of God, as the one who justly punishes the wicked for His own glory. An attack on the doctrine of created immortality is an attack on the doctrine of man. An attack on the doctrine of man is an attack on the doctrine of God, as man is created in God’s image. We could come up with more examples, should we wish to do so, but these will suffice in the meantime. It is clear that there is no possible isolation to be had in matters of doctrine. Each has a relationship with and bearing on the rest, and they are all bound together in a cohesive, coherent unit. It is, quite simply, consistent with Reformed theology to address attempted modifications, or denials of confessional doctrine as attacks on the entire system of doctrine. We cannot do otherwise, and be consistent to Sola Scriptura. So, when approaching this subject of debate, as we would any subject of debate, we must do so with an eye toward Christianity as a unit, and not merely in terms of the specific denial. This is the essence of the covenantal apologetic. We are not defending tradition qua tradition; but orthodoxy qua Scripture, and presupposing Scripture’s statements on each and every subject, as a unit.
“Systematic Theology is more closely related to apologetics than are any of the other disciplines. In it we have the system of truth that we are to defend.”
Amen! This has to be one of the bigger annoyances I’ve experienced in dealing with annihilationism. Scripture is a system, a unified revelation from our Lord. While we can and must study to see how doctrines relate to one another and just how closely they so do, we do not have the authority to tear asunder what God has put together. There are no two doctrines in Scripture that are unrelated to one another.
I am unaware of any annihilationist whose claim is that the nature of final punishment is completely unrelated to any other doctrine in Scripture. If the Bible teaches eternal conscious torment, I agree that denying it will likely have downstream consequences.
I never said that any annihilationist held to such a view, so as to prevent any misunderstandings 😉 In any case, the post was more in response to some “helpful advice” I’ve been receiving than addressing annihilationists, per se. It was about methodology, basically.
I know. My words were more for someone else 🙂
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