All across the church, the move away from the doctrine of hell as “Eternal Conscious Torment” (“ECT”) is pretty consistent: many thinking believers are abandoning that doctrine as inconsistent with the character of Christ (who, after all, is the judge of the living and the dead).
This is the idea that God commands you to love him, and if you don’t he’ll throw you in a place of eternal torment, where you’ll be perpetually tortured for eternity. It’s what many Christians have been taught their whole life.
Frankly, most of the teaching I’ve heard on the ECT front has its foundation more in the writings of a Catholic monk from the dark ages than from the Bible (Dante’s Inferno,from The Divine Comedy). It’s really quite inconsistent with the glimpses that Scripture reveals of the afterlife, and it’s completely inconsistent with a God who loves us enough to die in our place.
But it preaches well in “evangelistic” sermons, which is why I suspect it has held on for so long.
But regardless of why
people are abandoning the ECT doctrine, what they’re moving to
is far less consistent.
Some whom I respect are landing on the idea of “Conditional Immortality.” Those that don’t enter Heaven are just un-made; this view is also referred to as Annihilationism. There’s good evidence to support this, though that’s beyond this post.
Others, whom I also respect, are seeing an extended time frame, and calling it “Ultimate Reconciliation”: that the omnipotent God who loved them in life enough to be murdered on their behalf won’t actually stop
loving his haters just because they die, and He won’t stop wooing them throughout eternity. There is good evidence to support this idea as well.
There are other landing spots, but those are the two primary ones.
I’m not aware of anybody landing on basic Universalism: a free pass for everyone, regardless of what they did in life! Frankly, most of those who speak up about those who are rejecting Eternal Conscious Torment are accused of Universalism, sooner or later, by some of those who are NOT leaving ECT behind.
Don’t let people tell you that if you reject the idea that the lover of your soul is in league with your torturers then you therefore must be a Universalist. That’s just silly! Remind them that God is love, and that Jesus is perfect theology.
Many others, among whom I am numbered, haven’t landed any
where yet. We don’t actually know what the reality is on this topic, and we’re aware that there’s less instruction in Scripture to inform us than we wish there was.
We’re saying, “Yeah, Eternal Conscious Torment clearly can’t be the long-term plan of a loving God, but I’m not sure what hell actually is.” I suppose you could say that we’re focusing more on heaven than on answering this (important) question. I’m not going to hell, and the people I’m leading aren’t going there. Let’s focus more on where we ARE going?
Yeah, it’s unbalanced, but that’s where a lot of folks are right now: questioning the things we were taught without trying to pretend we have all the answers.
It’s actually OK to not have all the answers yet.
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