A Kinder, Gentler Theology Of Hell? -- By: Larry D. Pettegrew
MSJ 9:2 (Fall 98) p. 203
A Kinder, Gentler Theology Of Hell?
Professor of Theology
Annihilationism has, as the Niagara Creed of 1878 foresaw, become a doctrine that plagues the evangelical church of the late twentieth century. It comprises a multifaceted compromise of biblical systematic theology, affecting most major doctrines of the Christian faith, not just the area of eschatology. Its compromise stems from the influence of postmodernism as proponents of annihilationism bring to the text unwarranted theological preunderstandings. Their emphasis on God’s nature to love disregards His many other attributes such as holiness, justice, truth, grace, and omnipotence and thereby sentimentalize God’s love. Further, their preunderstandings distort biblical teaching about man’s immortality of the soul that is derived from God. A third affected area is the doctrine of sin when they assert that God would be vindictive to mete out eternal punishment for finite sin. In addition, the system of annihilationism undervalues Christ’s atonement for sin by claiming that His death only paid the price for man’s temporary rather than our eternal punishment.
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In midsummer of 1878, several hundred enthusiastic Christian ministers and lay people gathered at a hospital in Clifton Springs, New York, for a week of Bible conference. The founder of the hospital, a Methodist layman named Dr. Henry Foster, had erected a 50x80 foot tabernacle that seated about 650 people. Dr. Foster invited missionaries, teachers, pastors, and evangelists to stay in the hospital facilities free of charge for the purpose of rest and relaxation, and to use the tabernacle for Christian services.
The Christians who conducted the Bible conference in the summer of 1878 were known as the Believers’ Meeting for Bible Study.1 They continued to meet at Clifton Springs for two more years, but eventually held their annual meetings at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, and became better known as the Niagara Bible Conference. Some historians consider the Niagara Bible Conference, and the First and Second American Bible and Prophecy Conferences which it spawned, to be the primary sources from which the American fundamentalist and premillennial
MSJ 9:2 (Fall 98) p. 204
evangelical movements came.2
Unfortunately, the Bible conference at Clifton Springs in 1878 was somewhat of a disappointment to the leaders. Among other reasons, “there were those hanging upon the outskirts who had no sympathy with the objects of the meeting, and there was danger of controversy, which always grieve...
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