Why am I uneasy about the Traditionalist View of Hell?
I was recently interviewed about my book, Eternity: Heaven or Hell?, by Rethinking Hell contributor Chris Date. We discussed what has become a very controversial topic among many Christians, and that is the duration of time those in Hell will spend. Eternal or limited? I share from the Bible why I am convinced that Conditionalism is the biblical view of final punishment. Tempers can flare over this topic, so I ask you to read this interview in blog format as a good Berean, testing the Scriptures to see what God will teach us.
Uneasy About the Traditionalist View of Hell
Chris Date: I am your host today, Chris Date. Dr. David Reagan joins me today to discuss primarily one specific area of prophecy and eschatology, and that is the nature of Hell. Let’s begin by getting to know little bit about you and the message and mission of Lamb & Lion Ministries.
Dr. Reagan: I appreciate you asking that. For the first 20 years of my career life I was a professor of international law and politics at the university level. Then, in 1980, the Lord placed a call on my life to give up my academic career and step out in faith and start preaching the soon return of Jesus. The ministry I founded was a ministry whose purpose it is to teach the fundamentals of Bible prophecy. I decided to call it Lamb & Lion because those are the two great prophetic images of the Messiah in the Old Testament. The prophet said He would come first as a suffering lamb and He would return as a conquering lion. Since 1980 we have been teaching Bible prophecy and proclaiming that we are living in the season of the Lord’s return.
Chris Date: One of the things that I find really fascinating about you is that it seems to me that most Dispensationalist would seem very opposed to any alternative to the Traditional View of Hell. I hope you don’t mind me using the word dispensationalist to refer to you. They would say that Conditionalists are sort of spiritualizing away text that they think ought to be taken literally. In fact, that is a question you address in your book, which we are going to come back to that in a little bit.
But first, can you summarize where it is that you stand right now when it comes to the nature of Hell.
Dr. Reagan: Sure. First of all, I don’t consider myself to be a Dispensationalist. I have a dispensational viewpoint concerning Bible prophecy, but I disagree with Dispensationalist on a lot of other points that they make. So, I never really considered myself to be one, even though I do have that viewpoint of end time Bible prophecy.
With regard to my view of Hell that I have developed through the study of Scripture, my view is that Hell is a very real place. It was created for Satan and his angels, and that it is the ultimate destiny of the unsaved. They are temporarily in Hades right now waiting to be put into Hell, so nobody is in Hell right now. At the end of the Millennium, the unsaved will be resurrected, they will be judged, they will be consigned to Hell, they will suffer for a time in proportion to their sins, and then they will suffer destruction.
I don’t think that any of that is a spiritualization of Scripture. In fact, I think that those who have the Traditional View are the ones who would really have to spiritualize. They would have to spiritualize a lot of passages to come up with the Traditional View. The only thing that those who share my viewpoint, which is called the Conditionalist View, is that we spiritualize what the Bible already puts in a symbolic way, such as for example the smoke of Eden goes up forever. Well, you could go to the area of Eden today and you wouldn’t see any smoke going up, so that is obviously a symbolic term that has to be interpreted symbolically.
Chris Date: Yes, I agree. So then, you would characterize your view as either Conditional Immortality or Annhilationism, is that fair?
Dr. Reagan: Yes.
Chris Date: Many of us Conditionalists, perhaps even most who were once committed Traditionalists though some were unsettled by the Traditional View of Hell, their commitment to the authority of Scripture really forced them to accept the change, and that is to be commended. Of course, it would turn out that same commitment is what would lead them to embrace Conditional Immortality.
I bring this up because the other thing that I find very interesting about you is if I read your book correctly, this conversion from Traditionalism to Conditionalism isn’t something that you necessarily experienced, because in your book you write, “I have never been able to embrace the Traditional Viewpoint of conscious eternal punishment.” Can you elaborate on that statement a little bit? As a life-long Bible student, teacher and preacher, what is it that you did believe and taught about Hell before you embraced the Conditionalist View you now hold?
Dr. Reagan: I was born and raised in a very conservative church, and they taught the Traditional View of Hell whenever they mentioned Hell, which was very rarely that it was ever mentioned. But, when it was, they taught the Traditional View, so that was the only view that I knew. For many, many years, probably until I was 30 years old, I didn’t even know there was any other viewpoint. So, I held the Traditional View really until the 1970’s, but I was never easy with it, Chris.
I was always very, very uneasy with the Traditional View of Hell. The reason was because the Bible teaches over and over and over that the God of this universe is a God of justice. I found it hard to believe that a God of justice would torment a person eternally for a temporal sin. Let me just give you an illustration that occurred to me many, many years ago. Let’s take a 16 year old boy who gets his driver’s license. Now, according to the Jewish tradition, a person becomes responsible for his sins at about the age of 13. Of course, the age of accountability can vary, but that was the traditional age. So, let’s say he became accountable at age 13, and at age 16 just three years later, he gets his driver’s license, goes out and drives recklessly, and is killed. He had never become a Christian. He’d been responsible for his sins for three years. Do we really believe that the God of justice is going to take that boy responsible for his sins for three years and torment him for all of eternity? This turns God into a monster. It turns God into a director of an Auschwitz concentration camp. I just could not believe that this God of justice would do that.
So, I’ve always had this uneasiness in my soul about the Traditional View. When I really started studying the Scriptures about Hell, I found out why I should be so uneasy about it.
Chris Date: Tell us about that. What was the turning point for you in regard to your change of view about the duration of Hell?
Dr. Reagan: The turning point for me was in the 1970’s when I went to a Bible conference in Nashville, Tennessee. One of the persons at that conference was a man I had heard of, but never met. His name was Edward Fudge. He wasn’t even a speaker. He was just there with the rest of us at the conference. I had lunch with him one day and he just asked me point blank, “What do you believe about Hell?” I told him and he asked, “Have you really examined the Scriptures about that?” I replied, “Well, no, not really. I just thought that was the view that all Christians have.” He said, “It is, but you need to examine the Scriptures. Go home and search the Scriptures.” He didn’t try to convert me to another viewpoint or anything of that nature. He just planted the seed and said, “Go test it by the Scripture.” Well, I’m a person who believes that everything should be tested by the Scripture, so that was the beginning of my turning point. For some of those who don’t know who Edward Fudge was, he later became the major proponent of the Conditionalist viewpoint.
The other thing that happened to one of the people I respected most was to C.S. Lewis. I had read just about everything that he had ever written, and I think it was in his book on pain and suffering called The Problem of Pain that he suddenly said in the middle of the book to the effect, “I’ve always been bothered by the fact that Jesus said that those who do not accept Him will perish.” He said, “Now how can you be perishing for eternity? You either perish or you don’t perish.” That was another seed that was planted. I got to thinking, “You know, that’s really true. You either perish or you don’t perish.” Incidentally, later on in life when I was studying C.S. Lewis in detail, I found out that his father-in-law who was a Presbyterian preacher was a very, very strong Conditionalist. So, I supposed that C.S. Lewis was exposed to that viewpoint through his father-in-law.
Chris Date: That’s very interesting. It’s funny you mentioned Edward Fudge. He has been instrumental in many of our thinking here at Rethinking Hell. In fact, we interviewed him on our very first episode, so I think our folks probably do know who he is.
Response to the Conditionalist View of Hell
Chris Date: In a Christian culture, at least in America and probably abroad as well, Conditionalism is seen by many as a very dangerous doctrine, even possibly heretical. Conditionalists are ostracized and prohibited from ministering sometimes. How then has teaching Conditionalism impacted you and your ministry, if at all? What sort of responses have you received?
Dr. Reagan: Of course I have received some very negative responses from people who thought that I was some sort of heretic, and the next thing I knew they were out telling people that I did not believe in Hell. No, I believe very strongly in Hell. That is one of the reasons I wrote my book, Eternity: Heaven or Hell. I believe very strongly in the existence of Hell. There is this tendency by some to say, “Well, this guy just doesn’t believe in Hell.” So, there has been that kind of distortion of the viewpoint.
While there have been negative responses, overwhelmingly I have found the responses to be very positive. I’ve found people who say, “You know, I’ve always been troubled by this, and now for the first time I really understand what the Bible says.” So, there’ve been very, very positive responses. I’ve addressed the Conditionalist View mainly in writings, and the people who have read the writings have been very positive in their responses.
It is interesting though that I’ve only been asked just one time in my life to speak on the topic, and that was at a conference where there was going to be as number of speakers, and it was going to be held at a church. About a week before I got ready to go to the conference, the fellow who had organized it called me and said, “You are going to have to change your topic.” And I asked, “Why?” He said, “The pastor said that he doesn’t want anybody in his church discussing the Conditionalist point because it is too controversial.” So, I have never really given a public talk about it. I have done audio recordings and video recordings and written, but people seem to be scared of even touching this topic.
Chris Date: That is unfortunate.
In the second segment of Rethinking Hell’s interview of me concerning the Conditionalist View of Hell, Chris and I will discuss what drove me on to write my book Eternity: Heaven or Hell.