Scot McKnight over at Jesus Creed draws attention to how theologians/bible scholars can grapple with hell–and conclude that eternal, conscious torment is not what the Bible teaches on the subject.
Pinnock contends the Bible, when read properly in context, does not teach the traditional view; he also contends that the predominant images of hell in the Bible are about death, perishing, destruction, and corruption — not conscious torment. One of his major beefs is that the traditional view assumes the immortality of the soul, which is a Greek idea and not a biblical
Very interesting! The doctrine of hell is my least favorite part of Christianity–the only way I deal with it is to let it alone, and to say that God — who is good — can be trusted with this. But it would be great to discover that the biblical teaching is more palatable than people have traditionally learned.
The real choice is between universalism and annihilationism, and of these two, annihilationism is surely the more biblical, because it retains the realism of some people finally saying No to God without turning the notion of hell into a mostrosity.
But to that, I like to add Robert Capon’s argument that is shaped by his reading of the story of the Prodigal Son (and much else besides). The father welcomes home the prodigal son and throws him a party. The elder brother, stony in disapproval, stands aloof, refusing to go in. Now the father has lost that son, but pursues him out onto the porch, reasoning with him and inviting him to come in, “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
And that’s the end of the parable. Does the brother relent and go in? Or does he remain bitter and stay away? The father has the last word, and it is a word of acceptance. I personally think that’s because the older brother stands for God’s chosen people, the Hebrews, but that’s not to say the parable can’t be read on several levels.
The parable ends with a freeze frame. It ends like that with just the father, and the sound goes dead—the servants may be moving around with the wine and veal—but the sound goes dead and Jesus shows you only the freeze frame of the father and the elder brother…
When the father goes out into the courtyard, he is an image of Christ descending into hell; and, therefore, the great message in this is the same as Psalm 139, “If I go down to hell, You are there also.” God is there with us. There is no point at which the Shepherd who followed the lost sheep will ever stop following all of the damned. He will always seek the lost. He will always raise the dead. Even if the elder brother refused forever to go in and kiss his other brother, the Father would still be there pleading with him.