Heaven and Hell: The Only Options?

With the possible exception of money, there is no other subject on which Jesus taught more than heaven and hell. Yet preachers today often shrink back from touching these delicate subjects, perhaps in part out of fear that they might offend their audience. For a broadcast with Janet Parshall, I was asked to comment on a view that is known as “conditional immortality,” an effort to carve out a middle ground between heaven and hell.

Conditional Immortality is the view that life or existence is the Creator’s provisional gift to all, which will ultimately either be granted forever on the basis of righteousness or revoked forever on the basis of unrighteousness. Believers will be raised to inherit eternal life while unbelievers will be raised to be judged by God and then be destroyed.

Conditional Immortality also holds that at death, believers and unbelievers alike cease to exist. Immortality is not granted to believers until they are raised to new life. Some proponents of Conditional Immortality even argue that Jesus’ humanity was annihilated at his death.

What’s wrong with Conditional Immortality? Here are 6 flaws among others that could be cited:

1. Conditional Immortality diminishes God’s glory and the gospel. In an effort to find a better solution to a perceived problem, Conditional Immortality lessens the glory that comes from the display of God’s righteousness and justice in punishing those who rejected his free offer of salvation; Conditional Immortality also diminishes the gospel because if unbelievers simply cease to exist, there is less of a need to preach the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.

2. Conditional Immortality sets out to solve a perceived problem: the notion that eternal punishment is unacceptable; but just because some have a problem doesn’t mean the clear teaching of Scripture should be overturned.

3. Conditional Immortality is an argument from silence; it says God will grant believers eternal life after the judgment while unbelievers will cease to exist, but this is nowhere mentioned in Scripture.

4. Conditional Immortality tends to overplay certain biblical metaphors such as fire (but destruction does not necessarily equal non-existence; e.g. Gen 9:11: “never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth”).

5. Conditional Immortality violates the pervasive parallelism between the eternal destiny of believers and unbelievers which is attested in Scripture in passages such as Matthew 25, 2 Thessalonians 1, and Revelation 14 and 20.

6. Conditional Immortality misunderstands and/or misrepresents the nature of God: his love, justice, righteousness, and holiness.

The Bible says God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). We must trust in Christ’s finished work on the cross on our behalf. God has made a way for us to be saved; that’s exceedingly gracious of God, and this salvation is open to all. There is no problem. The problem comes in when human standards of fairness are the starting point rather than the character and nature of God and his self-revelation in Scripture.