A Traditionalist Response To John Stott’s Arguments For Annihilationism -- By: Robert A. Peterson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 37:4 (Dec 1994)
Article: A Traditionalist Response To John Stott’s Arguments For Annihilationism
Author: Robert A. Peterson

A Traditionalist Response
To John Stott’s Arguments For Annihilationism

Robert A. Peterson*

Let me say at the outset that I consider the concept of hell as endless torment in body and mind an outrageous doctrine, a theological and moral enormity, a bad doctrine of the tradition which needs to be changed. How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary moral standards, and by the gospel itself… Surely the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is no fiend; torturing people without end is not what our God does.1

Strong words, indeed. Not all annihilationists, however, engage in such heated polemic. And ultimately it is not the temperature of the writing but the cogency of the arguments that matters. My goal in this paper is to weigh on the scales of Scripture the best arguments set forth by annihilationists.

Of the books that espouse annihilationism, the four best have been written during this century. Anglican missionary-translator Harold E. Guillebaud completed The Righteous Judge: A Study of the Biblical Doctrine of Everlasting Punishment shortly before his death in 1941. In the late 1960s Basil Atkinson, under-librarian in the Cambridge University library, penned Life and Immortality: An Examination of the Nature and Meaning of Life and Death as They Are Revealed in the Scriptures. Seventh-Day Adventist historical theologian LeRoy Edwin Froom’s massive two-volume work, The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, was published in 1965–66. Edward Fudge, an attorney and Churches of Christ layman, produced The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of Final Punishment in 1982.2

* Robert Peterson is professor of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary, 12330 Conway Road, St. Louis, MO 63141–8697.

The four books mentioned above combine to exceed 3,000 pages. None of them, however, offers a succinct summary of the best case for annihilationism. Instead, that is found in John Stott’s tentative defense of the doctrine in his nine-page response to liberal theologian David L. Edwards.3 I will, therefore, use Stott’s summary as an outline and in footnotes cite the four books and quote from them throughout this paper to fill out Stott’s arguments. I will add one argument that Stott mentions in passing and th...

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