Reflections on Rethinking Hell 2015

So the 2015 Rethinking Hell conference, held at Fuller Theological Seminary, is over and I am back at home in the UK.

Here are a few brief reflections on the conference.

1. The most immediately striking thing about the conference is that it was a genuine discussion between conditionalists (the conference organizers), traditionalists (or perhaps modified traditionalists), and universalists. There was a real spirit of genuine respect for one another as fellow siblings in Christ. There was real listening. There was therefore real openness to modify or change views in light of the conversation. That is unusual on such a hot topic.

2. The quality of the papers was really very good—at least the ones that I heard. There was some solid, biblical, theological, and philsophical reflections from some "top dogs." Very thought-provoking and enjoyable. The respect and love certainly did not stop people offering clear critiques of one another. (There were certainly a few worthwhile critiques of my own work.) This was not a conference of wooly thinking!

3. I really enjoyed meeting folk—pastors, professors, students, and plain thoughtful Christian folk. There was a great lunchtime discussion with some students about atonement—fascinating! There was banter with Jerry Walls—that guy is a hoot and full of fascinating ideas. There was the sheer joy of hanging out with Oliver Crisp—words cannot express how much I enjoy Oliver's company. There was Brad Jersak—such a lovely guy! And wondeful time chatting with Eric Reitan, Greg Stump, Jim Spiegel, Chris Date, Peter Hiett, David Instone-Brewer, Jordan Wessling, and a whole bunch of other folk (who will no doubt be upset that I did not mention them. Sorry—but my list is already too long).

4. It became clear to me that a more adequate exegetical response to annihilationism is still required and needs to be written. Annihilationism is a serious position that deserves a proper exegetical critique. (I think that there are very good theological and philosophical critiques, but the exegetical case needs more attention.) Alas, I don't have any time to do this in the next few years, but if God keeps me around long enough I may do it one day. However, in the meantime it would be a good project for a young scholar.

5. I also think that the universalist exegetical discussion of hell texts is an ongoing project and that we need a few more biblical scholars to do the work needed. Also, further reflection on theological heremeneutcis and how it relates to the issue of hell is needed. Quite a bit has been said here, but I feel in my gut that there is something really important that needs clarifying that is as yet murky.(Which is why I have not said what it is—I see men like trees walking.)

So—exciting times! Glad for the conversation and the provocation.


TamtheTyper said…
Thanks for that, Robin.
Was there any word of the papers being published (or the DVD being "burned"!) ?
Did you wear that phylactery? :)
Robin Parry said…
There will be a DVD (the website ought to have details)
The book may appear—not yet finalized
Steve said…
Hi Robin,

I was searching for Allison Quient's paper online 'Justification and Life for All? A Response to Universalist Exegesis of Rom 5:12-21' (it's a direct response paper to Robin's writings), and Google returned this...

...which is also a direct response to your writings, but hits closer to my home as a member of Grace Communion International. Apparently evangelical churches experiencing the South African "Grace movement" have been bumping into my denomination's Trinitarian influences down there. I'm 1/3 into it and am finding it helpful at least in defining the playing field of the Hell controversy. The paper quotes your book frequently, so I wanted to be sure you're aware of it (likely by now, published 2013).

Steve Sween
Robin Parry said…
Hi Steve

Thanks. I was not aware of that dissertation.

I read an earlier version of Allison's paper. I have not seen the version that she modified in light of my comments. I have asked her to let us know where it can be found.

Kind Regards

Steve said…
The entire video of her presentation of the modified version (essentially just reading it) is here....

...There is a great moment of her acknowledging your helpful comments with an ironic smile. An appreciation of help from the opposition. Enjoyed that. Speaks to the loving, genuine and open-minded atmosphere that seems to have been prevalent at the conference.

Love wins!
Tom Nicholson said…
I'm intrigued by your words:
"traditionalists (or perhaps modified traditionalists)"
and would be interested to hear you unpack that a little more!
James Goetz said…
Hi Robin, I first saw this post at RUNNING HEADS. Since you cross posted there and here, I'll do the same with my comment:

I could not make the conference despite my wishes to attend. I look forward to reading the papers some day. I agree with you that "universalist exegetical discussion of hell texts is an ongoing project and that we need a few more biblical scholars to do the work needed." However, I doubt that exegetical arguments will ever settle the differences between conditionalists, traditionalists, and universalists. For example, I see biblical imageries of (1) annihilation, (2) everlasting torment, and (3) postmorterm conversions while none of the Bible writers tried to address how these contrasting biblical imageries work together. More exegesis and hermeneutics is needed, but that will not settle the issue. Philosophy is needed. For instance, in the case of Trinitarian doctrine, exegesis supports main points of the doctrine while philosophy helps to bring them together.

Peace, Jim
James Goetz said…
I'll clarify the following: My best educated guess is that a complete critique of the exegesis supporting Conditional Immortality will indicate that irrevocable annihilation of some humans is an unnecessary conclusion. Also, I suppose that a complete critique of the exegesis supporting Christian universalism will indicate that universalism is an unnecessary conclusion. Given these assumptions, options include agnosticism between Conditional Immortality and universalism or looking to philosophy for the tie breaker. Peace, Jim
Robin Parry said…

I almost completely agree—though I see theology, rather than simply philosophy, as the key. But we are on the same page.

Robin Parry said…

Well, Oliver and Jerry do not see hell as torment—as in traditional hell theology. They see it as an objective loss and a failure to be what God made us to be—and they see it as eternal—but they don't think folk will be in agony, etc. Hence, modified traditionalists: not so much eternal conscious torment as eternal conscious disappointment? Hmmmm. Perhaps that's not quite how they see it, but you get the idea.

James Goetz said…
Cool, Robin. I think our only difference here is with semantics. For example, I see no clear distinction between *theology* and *philosophical theology*. Given that assumption, I suppose that theology is philosophy that focuses on God. Peace, Jim
James Goetz said…
Also, Robin, Do you know if the modified traditional view is eternal unfulfillment with no chance of liberation or does everybody always have at least the possibility of eternal fulfillment? For example, I read some of Walls's view elsewhere while he said among other points that human free will is incompatible with universalism. Given that, I wonder if he places a deadline for the possibility of salvation. Peace, Jim
Robin Parry said…
Steve Sween

Can you email me at my work email address:
Tom Nicholson said…
Thanks Robin.
Interesting that while some traditionalists are moving towards a softer understanding of eschatological punishment, an old Liberal / Evangelical Universalist like myself has moved towards an acceptance of real eschatological punishment -- all be it, as part of God's plan to make all things new, eventually.
Anonymous said…
I often wonder Robby Bob JOb....In the book of Revelation Hades is thrown in to the lake of fire and those whose names are not contained in the 'the book of life' does this mean destruction (annihilation)and a cessation of being or does this mean eternal torment. Interesting question and one which I couldn't give some year 9 student a straight answer. I opted for the Theologians apologetic which was to give all answers that are possibilities based on the text. Any thoughts Robin?
Andy H

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