Thesis Done

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mattrose
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Thesis Done

Post by mattrose » Fri Jul 06, 2012 3:14 pm

I have finished my thesis which evaluates the 3 views of hell using the wesleyan quadrilateral. I will be defending my thesis at the end of July.

I thought I'd share chapter 8 (conclusion)
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Conclusion

We have attempted to provide a fresh evaluation of the nature of Hell in light of Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. One author, attempting a similar evaluation as we have been pursuing, chimed, “in an ideal world, the four sources would beautifully dovetail and lead to clear conclusions.” But in reality, as another points out, “it’s not easy to hold all four together.” Each view encounters strengths and weaknesses in each of the four areas.

We explored some of the leading exegetical arguments for the everlasting misery position on Hell. While the Old Testament did not offer much support, it left us with two interesting passages that serve as a bridge to the New Testament teaching on Hell. Jesus himself was most adamant about the reality and nature of Hell, especially by expressing “eternal punishment” and “eternal life” with such symmetry. Finally, the Book of Revelation provides seemingly clear statements about the unending nature of torment to be experienced by all those opposed to God.

We examined some of the key passages (and listed others) referred to by advocates for the eventual extinction perspective of Hell. Proponents claim a general affirmation of their view from the Old Testament. The New Testament is even clearer in affirming that the wicked will eventually be extinguished. Pinnock summarizes for us, “Throughout its pages, following the Old Testament lead, the New Testament employs images of death, perishing, destruction, and corruption to describe the end of the wicked.”

Proponents of eventual restoration suggest that the Old Testament begins and ends with a vision of God’s love and care for all people. His goal to restore all people to right relationship with him through Jesus Christ is made most clear by Paul who aggressively states that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross brings justification to all people. Ultimately, every individual will bow before God as their Lord. Christ’s victory will be complete and all encompassing. God is love. Love wins.

We also examined some of the leading biblical critiques of each view. Indeed, the strength of these views is seen not so much in their supporting texts (most will grant that some texts seem to support each view), but in how Scriptural counter-evidence is dealt with. Of course, determining the outcome of this point/counter-point dialogue is, to a degree, a matter of personal evaluation.

All three views of Hell are pressed to make adjustments in light of reason. The everlasting misery perspective seemingly must adjust to allow for continued freedom in Hell and, possibly, for the possibility of mobility. The eventual extinction position must attempt to argue its case that human immortality is wholly conditional upon ones relationship to Jesus Christ. The eventual restoration position may need to become more hopeful than certain about the future in light of human freedom. It is fairly safe to suggest, however, that in the rubric of reason, the everlasting misery position faces the most difficulty. Most advocates of the view will admit this is the case, and appeal to the supposed clarity of Scripture in support of their view. The eventual restoration position seems to be helped by the rubric of reason. Whether or not the eventual extinction position receives positive support here largely depends on what side of the immortality debate one comes down on.

When it comes to tradition, once again, we have seen some ambiguity amidst the evidence. In the early church, everlasting misery and eventual restoration seem to have been prominent, but all three views were present and accounted for. In the medieval church, the everlasting misery position certainly dominated the Western church and was passed down to the Reformers. The Post-Reformation church, at least evangelically speaking, has largely received this inheritance. The past few decades, however, have witnessed the return of, first, the eventual extinction position and more recently the eventual restoration view. One’s evaluation of where the evidence of tradition points will depend largely on how one weighs the different segments of church history. If the three periods discussed above are given equal weight, then certainly the everlasting misery position has been the dominant view. If one favors the earliest church, as Wesley did, then one may choose to be less dogmatic about the nature of Hell and recognize the validity of each of the three views. Likewise, if one has a continually progressive view of revelation, the contemporary setting seems to match, in many ways, the reality in the early church. All three views are being advocated, written about, and considered.

Having looked into three areas where the doctrine of Hell meets our experiences (emotion, evangelism, exhortation), we must again conclude that the evidence is somewhat ambiguous. At an emotional level, we revolt against the idea of Hell in general, but especially the concept of everlasting misery. While we cannot make conclusions based on these emotions, we should consider why so many people with Christian character have a hard time accepting this interpretation of Hell. In regards to evangelism, we must take seriously the effect that different views of Hell may have on the church’s mission. The everlasting misery view has indeed provoked missionary zeal and warnings of torment have prompted many conversions. If eventual extinction and/or eventual restoration are to be considered, the reality of Hell must still be emphasized even in its limited duration. That many preachers have avoided the subject of Hell may alert us to the fact that there’s some level of discomfort with the received doctrine. That discomfort may be based on the content of the doctrine or the lack of courage in the preacher. In any case, we best figure it out because Hell is a Scriptural reality and needs to be presented from the pulpit.

In light of the evidence, it is to be concluded that real ambiguities remain about the nature of Hell in regards to Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. The case for everlasting misery depends on a few key New Testament texts, an emphasis on the gravity of sin and the need for justice, the fact that it has dominated church tradition since Augustine, and the fruit it has yielded in evangelism. The case for eventual extinction depends on the key words used to talk about the fate of the wicked throughout the canon of Scripture, the natural mortality of humanity, evidence of its support at both ends of church history, and our sense that everlasting misery does not fit with the character of God. The case for eventual restoration comes mainly from some important Pauline texts, an emphasis on the love of God, reference to its early advocates, and the fact that Christ-like persons hope it to be true.

Our findings do not lead to clear-cut conclusions. We cannot declare a winner of the Scripture (or any other category). Much of the material is subject to the interpretation of each individual. Nor do our findings call for the outright elimination of any of these three views. It is a growing trend amongst Evangelicals to accept the eventual extinction view as a possibility, but maintain that the eventual restoration view is out of bounds. Our conclusion is that a Christian could hold all three positions because all three views remain possibilities after critique through the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

Our research has shown that not only are all three views worthy of consideration, but mergers between the views are quite possible. Everlasting misery and eventual extinction may be merged if one insists that the destruction of one thing always leads to the emergence of something else. Perhaps the wicked cease to exist as human beings, but do not become wholly extinct. N. T. Wright takes just such a merged view when he says, “it is possible for human beings to continue down this road [of rejecting God], that after death they become at last, by their own effective choice, beings that once were human but now are not, creatures that have ceased to bear the divine image at all.”

Everlasting misery may be combined with eventual restoration if one simply posits that repentance forever remains a possibility. “One of the more intriguing trends in current evangelical theology is the growing number of evangelical theologians since the 1960s who have either endorsed or seriously entertained the concept of ‘second chance’ or ‘post-mortem’ evangelism.” This group now includes, at least, George Beasley Murray, Charles Cranfield, Donald Bloesch, Clark Pinnock, Gabriel Fackre and Nigel Wright. In such a scenario, Hell will remain a place of everlasting misery so long as one being remains unrepentant.

Likewise, eventual extinction could potentially be combined with the eventual restoration view. Jan Bonda, arguing from the eventual restoration perspective, speculates at the end of his book: “One question remains: Will there be people who persist in their refusal to make that choice [to repent]? We have also left this aside. God has given each human being the free choice to say No to him… Could this No result in nothingness—annihilation? Surely, that is possible… Scripture does not allow us to affirm that this will not happen. We do not know everything!”

Indeed, all three views could potentially be combined. Charles Seymour, attempting to reasonably defend the possibility of everlasting misery, reforms Hell to the degree that it includes both the possibilities of eventual extinction and eventual restoration. He attempts to save the everlasting misery view from critique by emphasizing freedom, but admits “by introducing freedom into the afterlife, I make Heaven and Hell unstable. There is nothing to prevent someone in Hell from repenting and entering Heaven” Indeed, he suggests that it is “possible that none will ever repent, but not plausible.” Though he was critical of eventual extinction throughout his work, in the end he confesses that “it is possible that some damned choose to continue sinning and that others choose annihilation.” It seems some of the strongest contemporary defenses of Hell include a merger the views we have been discussing.

The above conclusions may come as a surprise to many Evangelicals. After all, the everlasting misery perspective has enjoyed a long reign as the commonly accepted position on the fate of the wicked. Must it now face its rivals afresh? Lesslie Newbigin, in his book The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, discusses how revelation, reason, tradition and experience help us pursue the truth.

"All traditions of rational discourse are continually changing in the effort to make sense of experience. Old formations and concepts are called in question as not being adequate to the realities which the community is facing. Sometimes the tradition is strong and flexible enough to respond to the new situation without much radical break from the past. Sometimes this does not happen. The tradition faces a crisis. There are internal self-contradictions: there are experiences which cannot be understood in terms of the existing ways of thought. At this point another, rival tradition of rationality appears on the scene—perhaps one that was always present but muted by the success of the reigning tradition, perhaps a new arrival. It confronts the reigning tradition with a radical challenge. It offers another way of seeing things, another vision of the shape of things and of the human story, a paradigm shift. Some, perhaps many, adherents of the old tradition find the new one more adequate to the realities they face, and are converted to the new view. The fact that this happens demonstrates that while all exercise of rationality is within a social tradition, the tradition is not ultimate; it is subject to the test of adequacy to the realities which it seeks to grasp. Truth is grasped, can only be grasped, within a tradition, but traditions can be and are judged adequate or inadequate in respect of their perceived capacity to lead their adherents into the truth. "

In our case, the tradition is the belief that Hell is a place of everlasting misery. This tradition is, more and more, being critiqued as inadequate on various grounds. The tradition has flexed to respond to these critiques, but it is far from certain if and how it will survive. Meanwhile, rival traditions from the past have re-emerged. The presence of three competing perspectives of Hell need not be seen as a sign of confusion, but as a path to greater clarity. The tradition may well regain its privileged position, but with greater nuance and strength. If, however, a new tradition develops, we can only hope it will emerge because of its closeness to the truth.

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Homer
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Re: Thesis Done

Post by Homer » Fri Jul 06, 2012 8:49 pm

Matt,

You wrote:
Our conclusion is that a Christian could hold all three positions because all three views remain possibilities after critique through the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.
This seems to say a Christian could simultaneously hold all three views to be true. Is that what you meant?

Do you give all four parts of the quadrilateral equal weight?

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mattrose
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Re: Thesis Done

Post by mattrose » Fri Jul 06, 2012 9:43 pm

1. No. By that statement I only meant that all 3 views are viable options. I would agree it is poorly worded.

2. No, earlier in the paper I talk about how Scripture is the primary authority. Scripture is given the most weight. The other three are simply ways to help us understand Scripture.

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john6809
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Re: Thesis Done

Post by john6809 » Fri Jul 06, 2012 11:18 pm

Hey Matt,

Excellent work! Competing views of hell is a subject that I had no exposure to, as little as six months ago. My quest to learn the bible, balanced by gainful employment, raising a family, and generally surviving, limit the areas of theology that I can study. I have been hoping for a short, concise teaching of the basics that would allow me to continue with my study of the bible with these views clearly before me so that I could make up my own mind.

I look forward to reading your thesis in it's entirety.

John
"My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior." - John Newton

Singalphile
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Re: Thesis Done

Post by Singalphile » Sun Jul 08, 2012 7:26 am

Congratulations! I suppose it's a pleasure to be done. But there's still that defending part, which sounds forbidding.

The conclusion has some ideas that I had not considered. I also would like to read it all, if possible.
... that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. John 5:23

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Candlepower
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Re: Thesis Done

Post by Candlepower » Mon Jul 09, 2012 3:54 am

That was a very good read, Matt. Thank you for posting it.

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christopher
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Re: Thesis Done

Post by christopher » Sat Jul 21, 2012 10:57 am

Matt,

Very well written!

Any serious seeker of truth will, at the very least, soften any dogmatic postures upon reading such papers as you have written here. And that can't be a bad thing.

I expect that your thesis will be well received when it comes time to defend it.

Good luck!

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steve
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Re: Thesis Done

Post by steve » Sat Jul 21, 2012 2:40 pm

Congratulations on its completion, Matt!

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Candlepower
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Re: Thesis Done

Post by Candlepower » Sat Jul 21, 2012 2:52 pm

Matt,

Will your entire thesis be available for us to read, either on the forum or in published form for purchase? I would love to read it.

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mattrose
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Re: Thesis Done

Post by mattrose » Sat Jul 21, 2012 3:47 pm

Thanks for the encouragement everyone

I certainly have no problem sharing it with anyone interested. After I defend it (July 31st), I'll probably make a few changes (and I'll have time to notice more typing errors). Then I'll email it to whoever wants it.

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