Evangelical Annihilationism in Review -- By: J. I. Packer

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 06:2 (Spring 1997)
Article: Evangelical Annihilationism in Review
Author: J. I. Packer


Evangelical Annihilationism in Review

James I. Packer

Evangelicalism is variously defined by various people. I define it as the religion of Trinitarian Bible-believers who glory in Christ’s Cross as the only source of peace with God and seek to share their faith with others; and I note that in the West (to look no further) evangelicalism, like Protestant liberalism, Roman Catholicism of all stripes, and Eastern Orthodoxy, has a communal mindset of its own. Factors shaping that mindset during the past half-century include the dogmatic, devotional, apologetic and activist nurture given in evangelical churches and parachurch movements; the reading matter (books, journals, magazines) that evangelicals produce for each other; the feeling of superior faithfulness to the Bible, its God and its Christ, which evangelical institutions cultivate; a sense of being threatened by the big battalions of the liberal Protestant, Roman Catholic, and American secular establishments, leading to bluster when these ideological power bases are discussed; a passion for effective evangelism; and an idealizing of scholars and leaders as gurus, whence a sense of betrayal and outrage surfaces if any of these are felt to be stepping out of line. Within the distinctive corporate identity of evangelicalism an awareness of privilege and vocation, a siege mentality, a low flashpoint in debate, a certain verbal violence, and a tendency to shoot our own wounded—all obtrude.

Whether the movement’s recent recovery of confidence and burgeoning intellectual life 1 are mellowing this raw mindset is not yet clear; certainly, however, the rigidities hinted at above have been apparent as evangelicals have intramurally debated annihilationism during the past ten years.

Annihilationist ideas have been canvassed among evangelicals for more than a century, 2 but they never became part of the mainstream of evangelical faith, 3 nor have they

been widely discussed in the evangelical camp until recently. In 1987 Clark Pinnock authored a punchy two-page article titled “Fire, Then Nothing,” 4 but this, though widely read, did not spark debate, any more than the 500-page exposition of the same view, The Fire That Consumes (1982) by the gifted Churches of Christ layman Edward William Fudge, had done. 5 In 1988, however, two brief pieces of advocacy came from Anglican evangelical veterans: eight pages by John Stott in Essentials,

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