Note: The source New Testament study on which this series is based is now available here
I’ve already posted about my aversion to statements of faith in general, and to specific points in the commonly-accepted evangelical doctrinal statements. In the next several posts I want to take on one specific point in Evangelical doctrine that I believe is seriously misguided–the subject of eternal condemnation/hell. As the reader will soon see, I don’t come out entirely in the camp of any of the major positions I have seen, in that I maintain the whole question of one’s eternal destiny (particularly as a future-only proposition) is, in fact, asking the wrong question. But so much Evangelical thought is focused either on salvation as a means of hell-avoidance, sin as a thing that dooms us to hell (without salvation), and the fate of the “lost” (i.e., going to hell) as the reason for evangelism, that I don’t think the point can safely be ignored.
The doctrinal statement goes something like this (this version taken from the new SOF of the Evangelical Free Church of America):
We believe that God will raise the dead bodily and judge the world, assigning the unbeliever to condemnation and eternal conscious punishment and the believer to eternal blessedness and joy with the Lord in the new heaven and the new earth, to the praise of His glorious grace.
The following posts are taken from a short paper I did on this subject in January, 2007 while I was in the process of pursuing a possible job in an international missions organization. Although the work I would have been doing was in the realm of health and development, the organization (not surprisingly) wanted to be sure my beliefs were in alignment with their doctrines, which as it turned out, they were not (I didn’t get the job). Specifically, in the view of a statement that contained the above text, I was asked my position regarding the eventual state, both of the unbeliever who rejects Jesus consciously, and of those who never hear the gospel and therefore die “unsaved.”
Not having fully studied the issue before (I have for a long time felt, as I said, that it was the wrong question to be asking), I committed to do a study of the Biblical texts for myself before answering. I did a complete survey of the New Testament, specifically looking for any text that seemed, to me, to be relevant to the subject. I’ll post my annotated list of texts when I figure out how to do so, but I’ll get the content up first.
As I said, my methodology here was simply a complete survey of the New Testament. In one or two cases I also referred to the Greek roots of a couple words. When I did this I used the Nestle Greek text, and Young’s Analytical Concordance as my principal references. I deliberately did not consult with any theological references or commentaries for this paper. I chose to do this, not because I do not respect others’ study, but because I believe it is important to approach a Scriptural question first and foremost by allowing the Scripture to speak for itself. I operate under the assumption that key Scriptural concepts (and consequently doctrines) must be derivable from Scripture itself. I do not presume to be superior to church fathers or traditions—but on the other hand I feel it is crucial to remember that nothing but Scripture itself carries Scripture’s authority. In the next three posts, I’ll lay out what I found.