November 18, 2018

Andrew Perriman: A Podcast about Hell — Why both sides in the debate miss the point

Fire! Photo by D4E

One of my favorite blogs on our links list is Andrew Perriman’s P.OST site. It is always thought-provoking and relentlessly focused on trying to understand the Bible in the context of its narrative history.

Now Andrew has begun a podcast, and here is the first episode, entitled “The debate about ‘hell’: why both sides are missing the point.”

Here is his description of the talk:

The popular debate about “hell” has been misconceived. Our narrow theologies of personal salvation have blinded us to the large-scale narratives that give meaning to the language of wrath and judgment in the teaching of Jesus and of those sent out to proclaim his name among the nations.

I’m not sure I’m on board with everything Andrew Perriman teaches, but he makes some very good points in this podcase. I present it to you today for your study and consideration.

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Photo by D4E at Flickr. Creative Commons License.

Comments

  1. Iain Lovejoy says:

    It seems to me that Andrew Perriman’s analysis is right about an awful lot of the “fire and brimstone” passages in the Bible, particularly Revelation, being references to historical destruction of nations, but he is stretching it to claim the Bible doesn’t also talk of individual judgement. “Gehenna” in Jewish thought is explicitly a place of torment in the afterlife (albeit a temporary one for the purging of sins more akin to purgatory than hell) and the references to it in the new testament all relate to individual not collective sin. Luke 12:5 expressly refers to being cast into Gehenna after death. The parable of Lazarus, even though rightly a parable not a factual account, does assume some kind of afterlife punishment. The parable of the sheep and goats refers to the “sheep” being given eternal life, which really can’t be a reference to the historical fate of nations. His analysis also misses out the resurrection of the dead, which absolutely requires an afterlife (or after resurrection) fate of individuals to be addressed.
    I think he also has a good point about the descriptions of evildoers and evil being taken away and burned being not about the punishment of sinners but the elimination of sin, again particularly in relation to passages dealing with the final perfection of things under God. We should read these as saying that the evildoers who oppress their fellow men will be as a group dealt with, finally defeated and be no more, but be cautious in taking this too literally as in indication as to the personal fate of those evildoers: we ourselves are all also to a greater or lesser extent evildoers that need dealing with, yet even the most fire and brimstone Calvinist doesn’t insist that everyone burns.
    (On a personal note, I was a bit disappointed that he seems to assume a choice between eternal conscious torment and annihilation, without any apparent awareness of my own particular hobbyhorse, universalism.)

    • It seems to me that nations, like racial groupings, are a social construct, and therefore largely based on an abstraction, however existentially powerful that abstraction becomes when clothed in active social dynamics. I really don’t know what it means to judge a nation; for the individual, that can only be mean guilt, or innocence, by association. Even our highly imperfect judicial philosophy and system have enough wisdom to know that guilt by association is indefensible and inadmissible; guilt by association is a basic constituent of racism and genocide. I think God is wiser than our judicial system, so I don’t believe he determines guilt of individuals on the basis of mere association with a larger group; unless the individual knowingly and intentionally participates in the wrongdoing of the group, she cannot be guilty of any crime against God or anyone else.

      • Hello Robert F

        in your thinking, where do you fit in what is called ‘sins of omission’, or those times when we should have stood up and spoken up against evil doing, especially in defense of those who could not defend themselves from harm?

        In our day and age, I suspect many ‘good’ people are beginning to experience a sense of discomfort for their silence in the midst of something they would never condone with their willing assent or their active participation, unless, of course, they are silent out of a real fear as people are in countries where speaking out can cost you your freedom or your life.

        Is ‘silence’ the same as willing assent? In a land where people are free to speak and to kneel and to march in protest peacefully for right to be done?

      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        A nation isn’t simply an abstract social construct but a political system with a government, officials, rulers, courts, civil enforcers and an army, which acts as an organisation in real concrete ways, to assist or oppress its people, encourage good behaviour or bad, and, until the invention of the separation of church and state, to enforce and perpetuate religious behaviour too.
        As I understand Perriman (and the Bible) the judgment of nations is enforced on nations: Israel the nation is destroyed as a nation because of its behaviour as a nation, to stop the evils that it (as a nation) is doing. Of course, this means the individuals living in the nation suffer as casualties of the nation’s destruction as a catastrophe, but you are then back to the whole inadequately answered “Why do bad things happen to good people?” thing.

    • My own particular hobby-horse is I-don’t-know-ism: I don’t know what the eternal fate of individuals, including myself, will be, but God as he has shown himself in Jesus Christ is merciful and good, and there is good reason to believe that all divine judgment was wrapped up, sealed up, and thrown into oblivion on the cross when Jesus exclaimed, “It is finished!”

      • Clay Crouch says:

        That’s about succinctly as one could put it. Now, let’s get to the business of living today.

      • +1.

        I agree with Clay, that’s about a clear and succinct as one could get. I’ve drifted toward universalism myself, which was initially quite the struggle (it’s a concept so counter to evangelical thinking that I thought I was drifting toward heresy). But I’m coming to believe that when he said, “It is finished,” he meant that for everyone. Truth is, there are more questions than answers when it comes to the idea of individual salvation being just for some.

  2. Samuel Conner says:

    This is the most succinct “biblical theology of wrath” that I have yet encountered. I find it quite persuasive as a critique of the present-day consensus in favor of “infernalism/ECT.”

    It seems that in the progress of revelation, the texts that are most useful to support a theology of post-mortem punishments (Jesus’ “gehenna” warnings and Revelation 20) were not added into what would become the Church’s textual Canon until the very end. Given the vital importance of the question to individuals, on the premise that “post-mortem punishments” are real and people need to know about them, that seems to me exceedingly odd. Perhaps as AP says, “the wages of sin” is simply “mortality.” That’s quite bad enough; perhaps as the “old-time religion” becomes less and less credible (at least in the main stream of American culture), the churches can take some pages out of the apostolic “play-book” and, like them, preach in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.

    Brad Jersak, in his “Her Gates Will Never Be Shut,” suggests that infernalism entered the theological lexicon of the Early Church by way of I Enoch, a text that seems to have been popular among 2nd Temple period Jews and that was respected by quite a few of the early church Fathers (Tertullian thought it belonged in the Canon, for example).
    If I live another 30 years (not likely), I may have opportunity to read the 3rd volume of Ilaria Ramelli’s life-project on “apokatastasis”, which (as I understand the project) intends to trace out how “apokatastasis,” a live option in the early centuries (especially among the Greek Fathers) came to be deprecated and eclipsed by “infernalism” as the dogma of the Western churches.

    • Do you speak of ‘salvation’ by means of Incarnation as opposed to the victory of the Infernal Serpent? 🙂

      • Samuel Conner says:

        I have grown increasingly agnostic about some aspects of “the Evangelical Consensus” as it has existed in my lifetime. I find NT Wright’s historical work intriguing and generally persuasive; on the question of “hell”, there is a lot of similarity in his writing to Perriman, who is new to me. “Christus Victor” looks very appealing to me; that it is of very ancient provenance adds to its lustre. Can one separate “incarnation” from “Christus Victor”? If Jesus triumphed over death and hades by submitting to an unjust execution and being vindicated by the Father through resurrection, that seems to require incarnation.

        I privately wonder (so many questions that must not be asked) whether the “2nd Adam” language in Paul suggests the possibility that maybe Adam’s task in the Garden was not to “kill the serpent” before it led his wife astray, but to manifest the Father’s glory by dying in his wife’s place after she had fallen. I’m not the first to wonder about that. NTW hasn’t gone there AFAIK, but he has written that “God was looking for one righteous man.”

        I don’t think as much about the “means’ of salvation as I do about the “goal” — transformation in the true image of God, which I take to be “the likeness of the Messiah.”

  3. Prof Bart Ehrman ( the scholarly devil in the pantheon of some) is currently writing a book on the development of the Christian idea of the afterlife. Of course he approaches the subject from a historical/critical perspective and not one of faith. Ehrman has made some of his material available on his blog which is behind a pay wall (he uses the blog to raise money for homeless and hunger causes). I don’t think I’m spilling the beans by saying he makes a very convincing scholarly case that the earliest Christians believed in what is currently called “annihilationism”.

    The reward for the righteous was eternal life in the kingdom and the punishment for the unrighteous was death, not eternal torture. Ehrman demonstrates that even some of the passages of the NT traditionally interpreted as threatening eternal torture can be read otherwise. When his book is published next year it will provide comfort to those repulsed by the doctrine of eternal torture and consternation to the hellfire & brimstone crowd.

    • “When his book is published next year it will provide… consternation to the hellfire & brimstone crowd.”

      Which, I suspect, is a major point of Ehrman’s exercise.

    • Clay Crouch says:

      “When his book is published next year it will provide comfort to those repulsed by the doctrine of eternal torture and consternation to the hellfire & brimstone crowd.”

      I certainly hope so, but that crowd is famous for doubling down.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I certainly hope so, but that crowd is famous for doubling down.

        True Believers (of any stripe) usually are.

      • where would they be without their threat of ‘fire and brimstone’ to hold over people’s heads ???

        the whole ‘God of Wrath’ thing versus the News of The Good Shepherd
        smacks of early heretical dualism in my opinion.

        • another way of looking at this:
          the duality of ‘The God of Wrath’ versus the Good Shepherd

          is vastly different from the PARADOX of a God Who loved us while we were still sinners . . . .

          there came a time when people confused ‘duality’ and ‘paradox’ and I’m wondering if the reasons people gravitate towards one more than the other have to do with their own personality traits

    • The earliest Christians, like most of the Jews of Jesus’ day, believed in the resurrection of the body – the reuniting of the material aspect of our being with the immaterial aspect of our being. This is very clear in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus – all before AD 200. If you look at all the sermons in the book of Acts (except for Stephen’s long discourse), they all end up at the point of the Resurrection, where people either say “Let’s hear more about that…” or a riot breaks out.

      Ehrman is a good scholar, very humorous (I’ve heard him live) – and he has his bias. In all his work, he is reacting and pushing back against the “big” doctrines of the Evangelical tradition in which he was raised. In promoting annihilationism, he’s going to upset people in every Evangelical camp, and most other Christians, too. I feel sorry for the guy; I think he wants very much to believe in Jesus, but Evangelicalism spoiled his faith and the academy gave him tools with which to cut down Evangelicalism, which he seems to do with rather a relish.

      Dana