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It can get messy when you seek to have a faithful presence in your community and love your neighbors while holding to your theological convictions. Greg Stump, pastor at Redeemer Church in La Mirada, CA, is back on the podcast to talk through how he navigated having faithful presence when presented with a great ministry opportunity in his neighborhood. Greg, Tim and Rick then shift gears and have a theological disagreement on hell. Yes, you read that right - Tim and Rick have a disagreement with Greg on this episode and model how to disagree in a respectful and civil manner on a major Christian doctrine. They outline some of the differing views on hell and then highlight the importance of both the content and the relational aspects of disagreement.


Rick Langer: Welcome to the Winsome Conviction Podcast, my name's Rick Langer and I'm one of your co-hosts here. And I'm co-director of the Winsome Conviction Project with a good friend of mine, Tim Muehlhoff.

Tim Muehlhoff: I'm the other co-host and the co-director of the Winsome Conviction Project. We're just interested in promoting dialogue, and doing it in a civil way, an engaging way. So we do one of our favorite segments that we've been doing on the podcast, is reports from the front. These are literally people that we hear about, often locally, that honestly are exhibiting what we're trying to do in this podcast and the whole Winsome Conviction effort that we've been trying to do last couple of years.

Rick Langer: And part of why you never hear about folks who are doing things like this, is it makes for bad news because that doesn't make for clicks. Something good happen, who cares? But the other thing that we really appreciate about this is by and large for I assume 99% of those listening, and even for Tim and I, the things that we do, we don't spend a lot of time at the national headlight level, where people would know about us by watching the six o'clock news. So you have to cultivate a taste, so to speak, for tending your own neighborhood, your own front door. And that's what's so fun about these things, is we talk to people who've been doing those types.

Tim Muehlhoff: And that's what gives us hope. If you've been a listener to the podcast you know that Rick and I got a chance to go to Washington DC. So there you're flying at a pretty high altitude, and we had some good interactions, but we kind of came away feeling like, wow, this is a difficult not to untie. But when we talk about local community, we actually get excited because we hear these stories all the time of average people doing amazing things that we're just like, "You got to be on our podcast."

So a while ago, our friend Greg was on Biola's campus, and I just ran into him. We've known each other for years, Greg, and we were just talking. And you happen to mention this thing that your church does about reaching out to people in the neighborhood of different faith traditions. We thought that was great, we did a whole podcast on that, so please go check that out. So would you reintroduce yourself to our listeners very quickly, and then we want to talk about a little bit of the messiness of what you've been trying to do. So Greg, introduce yourself to our listeners.

Greg Stump: Yeah. So my name is Greg Stump and I'm a pastor at Redeemer Church just up the road from Biola, and I actually worked at Biola for seven years before starting there at Redeemer. And so we love trying to initiate conversations with people about all kinds of different topics. And we had the rabbi from the local temple come over, the imam from the La Mirada Masjid or mosque, and then the bishop from the Mormon ward, which is just literally a hundred yards from our church. So we had them all come over, and each one shared about what it is to practice their faith, and what their community is like in the 21st century.

Tim Muehlhoff: And we just love that. And as we were doing that podcast, you brought up a story of what seems like a unique opportunity, but then there were some qualifiers that were put on this opportunity. Why don't you explain that to us, and what the qualifier was for you to do what you were being asked to do?

Greg Stump: So the tension is, is one, you want to have this hospitality and curiosity to people of other faiths and learning about what they believe. But then the tension sometimes is people just kind of want to say, "We all believe the same thing." And so there is that tension of wanting to differentiate. So because I had had that connection with the rabbi, he was in charge of the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast for La Mirada, and so he wrote to me and said, "Hey, I'd love to have you come and lead one of the sections of prayer, but we would ask that you don't use the particular name of any deity." And so I thought about it, and I felt like on the one hand he was graciously inviting me to be part of this moment that's happening in our city. But I just felt like that I kind of wouldn't be representing the authentic faith that I held where we pray in the name of Jesus because of the efficacy we believe that it has.

And I just wrote back and said, "I really appreciate this invitation. I'm going to turn it down because of this reason, that I feel like I would be inauthentic doing this, that I don't believe in kind of a civil religion where we all just kind of believe the same things. I think it is distinctive, and I would love for you to be able to pray to Adonai, and for the Muslim imam to be able to pray to Allah in that time. If that's not what you want to do, that's fine. I mean, you guys are the ones running this thing. But for me, I'd rather just kind of distinctively be able to pray as a Christian in the name of Jesus. But I'll come to the prayer breakfast, and I'd love to see what's going on and be part of it." And so he graciously responded and said, "I totally understand." There was other pastors who I know from La Mirada that did go there, and they just blew off the instruction, they just prayed in Jesus' name anyways.

Tim Muehlhoff: Did they really?

Greg Stump: Yeah. But I felt like, gosh, it feels like he's kind of set this expectation up to not do it, it feels a little awkward to me. But they kind of felt this similar conviction, but they just laid it out. And then other people kind of didn't do it, and they just said, "In your holy name." Or something. And so there's that tension of, gosh, I want to be part of this moment of interfaith discussion, or even kind of caring for our city, praying for our city. But I felt like, I feel a little inauthentic.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. But here's what I love, Greg. You still went, you could see a lot of people getting offended and saying, "Okay, I'm not going anymore." But this is what Tim Keller talks about as faithful presence, showing up. And you did, you did go, and I just think that that's brilliant.

Rick Langer: Did you talk to any of the other pastors about how they navigated? Because this seems to be a classic example of a conviction based issue, a thing that demands of you to either honor or not honor a particular conviction. But it seems like all the convictions weren't necessarily the same, and I'm kind of intrigued by which conviction became the guiding light, so to speak. So thou shalt not lie, or what do you say to a person? "Oh sure, I'll come." But then they violate the request. But on the other hand, they're saying, "Well, because I want to honor Jesus more." I mean, I don't know what they thought.

Greg Stump: You know what it might have been happened? Was actually this was the year that Chief John Ojeisekhoba was the speaker at the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast. And so his mom...

Rick Langer: So Chief John is the director of Biola's campus safety program, for those of you who don't know. Great guy, he's been here for... Gosh, I don't know how many years.

Tim Muehlhoff: Has won a ton of national awards.

Greg Stump: So his mom got up to speak, she was there, had flown over across the sea to be there for this special moment. And so she got up, and she just started saying Jesus all over the place. So that may have just broke ground to these other pastors who said, "Forget it, we're just going for it."

Rick Langer: That's really interesting.

Greg Stump: But I did talk to them, and one of them was feeling a little bit tense like, "Should I do it, should I not?" And I told them, "I couldn't do this myself." So yeah, whenever I see the rabbi he kind of knows where I land. And yet we just have that mutual respect that it's not for me to participate, but I still want to be there and I'm celebrating with them kind of all this gathering that's going on for our city.

Rick Langer: And let me give a little shameless Winsome Conviction plug, not of the book, but of the concept that we use a lot.

Tim Muehlhoff: And the book, Rick, what are we doing?

Rick Langer: Thank you, Tim.

Tim Muehlhoff: Christmas is coming.

Rick Langer: I think Greg is a perfect model of a thing that has become I think lost in people's minds somehow, of saying," "Look, I have a conviction, and because of this, I am not going to do this. I am opting out and communicating that." And my question about that is, this to me is a perfect example of Winsome Conviction, because my question whether or not you have convictions, I hope you do, and I hope they do guide your action to say no, but how do you communicate it?

Do you do it in a way that preserves respect of others, the dignity of other people? Does it preserve the relationships? At least as best he can. And it certainly is possible that the rabbi could have taken offense and said, "Well, I'm never going to call you back." And those are things we have to say, "Well, okay." But as much as possible, you're living at peace with all men, to borrow Paul's language from Romans 14. And I think that's when we are thinking about Winsome Conviction, this is the perfect model, where you are absolutely cultivating convictions that make you say no sometimes, yes sometimes, it will distance you relationally. Well, distance your behavior from what other people want you to do. And then you're going to have to let the chips kind of fall where they may based on how you communicate.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. So this is this principle done well, let me give you an example of it not being done well. So Rick and I both have roots with Campus Crusade for Christ. Noreen and I, my wife... Noreen was on staff almost 30 years, so we were there for the name change. We were there when Cru decided to not be called Campus Crusade for Christ. Still maintaining Dr. Bright's vision, still committed to the Great Commission. Some pockets crucified Campus Crusade on national television, and they lost donors, they took a hit. And I remember one person, a public figure said, "So here's an organization that shares Jesus Christ with college students. So what do they do? They get rid of college, and they get rid of Christ. That makes a lot of sense. Hey, if you're embarrassed by it, you're probably in the wrong business." Now, what was the reason we went to Cru? Because of the very thing he just said publicly.

They would do surveys with people, non-Christians, and say, "Hey, when we say the name of this organization, just tell us what you think it's about, Campus Crusade for Christ." And they said, "Oh, it's for college students, and the crusade part is kind of weird because I thought we were done with those crusades." And Cru just realized, man, we are turning people off at the beginning of the conversation. We're not just campus ministry, we've got a military ministry, a family ministry, you know what I mean? And Dr. Bright never thought of the ancient crusades, he more thought like a Billy Graham crusade against [inaudible] or whatever. But we got hammered, because a person said, "I'm going to demonize your decision to go to Cru." I mean, don't like it, like it, but don't demonize it. And what I love what you did, Greg, is that you didn't demonize people who maybe would make a decision that you just didn't feel comfortable making. That's the Winsome Conviction Project.

We got to figure out a way of getting out of that demonization stage that fires people up. But we just got to say, "We got to do better than that." In my estimation. Speaking of firing people up, so we've known each other for a long time, we were part of Biola's Center for Christian Thought, is where we first met. And you had been working on a project of taking a theological issue and thinking about it in a different kind of way. So why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about a book that you've helped edit, and then we'd like to just hear your journey as you think about this issue.

Greg Stump: Right. So yeah, I have come to hold the position that's called either annihilationism or conditionalism, short for conditional immortality. And so the idea being that not everyone is naturally immortal, not everyone will continue forever unless they're given immortality, like Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 15. And so then what happens to those who are not saved, those who are not given immortality? So our understanding is, is that hell is the process of being destroyed, it's moving into non-being. And so when I first heard about this in the... And I think it was mid to late nineties. There was a L'Abri conference that my church held in Long Beach, and I heard John Stott had kind of publicly affirmed this view. And so one of the L'Abri speakers was just lamenting this and saying, "This is so terrible. This is just absolutely wrong." And I mean, I was sitting there going, "Amen. I can't believe that this great man would kind of reject such a clear biblical teaching as the view of eternal torment."

And so it wasn't actually until years later, I picked up those Four Views books that come out. I got one, Four Views on Hell. And so I thought, well, I probably hold... There was the metaphorical view or the literal view. I'm like, "I'm probably somewhere in between one of those." But then there was a section on conditionalism, and I had only heard it called annihilationism. So I was like, "Conditionalism, what is that?" I opened up to that chapter and started reading, and it was written by a theologian named Clark Pinnock. And as I was reading it, it was kind of incredible to me that I started seeing all these passages that seemed to say that kind of the judgment on the wicked was actually death, perishing, destruction. And I hadn't really thought of that. It seemed like just the biblical language like John 3:16, that none should perish but have eternal life.

Paul says, "The wages of sin is death." And you just feel like, you could have made it more clear Paul by saying, "The wages of sin is eternal torment in hell." But why use this language of death? And so the more that I read about it, I became really curious like, "Boy, this seems at odds with what I've always heard and been taught." So I actually ended up creating a 16-page spreadsheet of every passage that I could find that seemed to refer to what happened to those who were not saved after the judgment by God in the end. And I had three columns, the traditional view, eternal conscious torment, and then this new view, conditionalism annihilationism. And then I even had a column for universalism, because I knew some people had held that as well. By the time I finished reading through this, just kind of reading it on the face value. If you're reading this for the first time and didn't have a view already, what would you think happens?

And I mean, it was 95% looked like that language of death, destruction. Every time Revelation talks about the lake of fire where the wicked are thrown into, it says, "Which is the second death." I'm just like, "Why did I never catch that before?" Jesus himself says in Matthew 10:28, "Don't fear the one who can kill the body but can't kill the soul, but rather fear the one who can destroy body and soul in hell." So I just was like, "What does all this mean?" And spent years, and I even invited some friends who were in seminary and other pastors at our church, and said, "I'd love for you to read it. I won't even tell you what I thought it was, here's this document." But nobody took me up on that offer.

Tim Muehlhoff: Why do you think they did not take you up on that offer?

Greg Stump: Well, one, I think that a lot of people kind of feel like this is just a settled thing. It'd be like, "Hey, here's all these passages possibly about the Trinity." They're like, "It's just settled, I'm not going to rethink the Trinity." So they kind of felt probably like it was an exercise in futility. But I was trying to say, "It's weird." I mean, I'm astonished too that I'm becoming convinced of this because of this biblical language. And I never actually had a problem with the idea of God sending people to hell, because I just knew, okay, so God is the source of fairness and justice, so we can't actually do anything unfair or unjust. So I thought it may seem kind of weird to me that a little five-year-old Hindu kid might suffer eternal torment in hell, it might feel a little weird, but it's kind of one of those things, my ways are not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts.

I just said, "God, you're different from me. You are the just judge, and I'm not." So I never actually had an emotional problem with it, but it was just this kind of exegetical journey that I went on. And then I started reading and collecting all these articles, and that's what actually made it into this book Rethinking Hell, that me and a few friends put together, just kind of some of the best articles from exegetical, theological, philosophical, historical considerations. And so we have maybe four or five chapters in each one of those sections.

So it was hard because some of this journey I was working here at Biola. And again, I felt like I signed their statement of faith, in good faith, saying, "This is the position that I hold, and now here I am changing my view." So there was definitely some tension, and I kind of made it a point not to talk to any students because I was a resident director. So I said, "I'm not going to talk to my students that I'm overseeing about this." Because I don't want to violate Biola's expectations. But the moment I left Biola, I talked to the pastor at the church that I was going to, and I said, "Hey, I just want to let you know, here's the position that I hold. Can I fit here at this church?" And it was neat because years later they ended up actually changing the statement of faith to accommodate people like me, that I could sign the statement of faith that just says, "Condemnation in hell." We both believe that same thing.

Tim Muehlhoff: So this statement doesn't put in the qualifier everlasting, the church statement?

Greg Stump: Right.

Tim Muehlhoff: And again, probably a good time to say... And Greg, thank you for your integrity of how you treated our students as you're working through different thoughts. So Biola unabashedly lands the plane theologically on this issue, and it's a doctoral statement that... Gosh, Rick, you and I have signed how many years in a row?

Rick Langer: 18, or whatever it is for me now, and you, but yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff: And the statement says that it is conscious torment that...

Rick Langer: Eternal conscious torment.

Tim Muehlhoff: Eternal conscious torment. So that's what this project's about though, Rick. Is it's obvious how much we respect Greg, and the work that you're doing, we just have a theological disagreement. And the question of the project is, what do you do in the midst of that disagreement? Does that discount all the great stuff you just talked about in a previous podcast? We would say, "Not at all." But probably Biola's not going anywhere on [inaudible]. And you just listening to the research that you've done, is now what do we do now? And again, this podcast isn't the time for us to jump in and let's have this massive debate, there are reasons why Biola holds this position, and we'll refer to just a couple of things in a second. But to me, it's the relational level of communication is what we're at, is how are we going to treat each other in the midst of this?

So let me read something real quick. One of the people that we respect is J.P. Moreland, a theologian philosopher here at Biola. He wrote a book with Gary Habermas, Gary Habermas is one of the top defenders of the resurrection today, and they wrote an interesting book called Immortality: The Other Side of Death. And in it they have a chapter on hell. Now, J.P's a Biola professor, he holds to Biola's position that hell is eternal. But I just want you to listen before he gives the argument of why he holds the traditional view, he gives this great preamble and mentions Clark Pinnock, and this is what he says, "While there have been various non-Christian religious groups associated with annihilationism." That you just mentioned. "We must point out that a number of solid evangelical Christians such as John Stott, Clark Pinnock, P.E Hughes, Stephen Travis, have defended the view.

While we are not convinced their view is true, we must say two things. First, these people are committed Christians, and they have appropriately reminded all of us of the importance of not being glib, much less gleeful about the doctrine of hell. However justifiable the traditional justification of hell is, hell's presence in God's universe saddens him and us as well. Second, we who call ourselves evangelical Christians must base our views on the authoritative word of God supplemented by right reason. This means that we should listen and always be open to objective, biblical, theological and philosophical defenses of an idea. Thus, while we, the authors, are not persuaded by the case for annihilationism, we do not disparage our evangelical brothers who wish to be given a chance to make a biblical case for the reviews. The issue itself is what should be the focus, not our personality. So we will push on to do just that, and to look at the issues involved." I say, well said to Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland, and that should be the tone that covers this kind of a debate.

Greg Stump: Yeah. And the team that helped put together Rethinking Hell has had conferences from 2014 to the present every year, and almost every year we always invite advocates of the traditional view as plenary speakers.

Tim Muehlhoff: And do people take you up on that?

Greg Stump: Yeah, all kinds of folks have come. In fact, we did one at Fuller a few years back, and Oliver Crisp was one of the speakers presenting the traditional view. And actually that year we invited an evangelical universalist as well. And so we have so much more in common with the traditional view, that it felt like, well, man, this is a little bit of an outlier here within evangelical communities. But we thought, we want to give them a fair shake. We kind of know what it felt like to be socially ostracized and demonized, and said, "That's too far, that's heresy." And so we thought, let's have him present his argument, and then we can interact with it. So we've always enjoyed that. In fact, one instance though that was really funny, we had a conference in Dallas a few years ago. We had two conditionalists, Preston Sprinkle and Chris Date, and then we invited Greg Allison from Southern Baptist Seminary, traditional view. And then a guy from Houston Baptist. Now, his name is Craig Evans, he's a New Testament background [inaudible]. So we invited them to come and present.

So Craig Evans is giving his plenary presentation, and he starts out by saying, "I hadn't studied this issue in depth. And so as I went back and looked at Isaiah and then kind of the rabbinical writings, and intertestamental literature, and then got into the New Testament, I'm actually convinced that you guys are right." He goes, "I came in thinking I was going to deliver a traditionalist presentation." And then he spent the rest of the time defending the conditionalist view. We were just stunned, and Greg Allison was like, "What's happening here?"

Rick Langer: "What happened to my compadre here?"

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. So again, I just want to say this to our listeners, that Greg has really studied this issue. He is well aware of the arguments supporting the traditional view. But can you just for a second give us the argument that's presented for the traditional view, that just kind of is the one that sticks a little bit. That's the one you go to and you think, that's a really good point and that's a hard one to shake. What would that be? What comes to the surface when you think of that?

Greg Stump: Yeah. I mean, I think one, when Jesus talked about eternal punishment. Some people would just say, "Well, gosh, there it is. It's so clear." And I think that it's worth saying, gosh, we can't just immediately bypass that. We kind of say... In Hebrews, it talks about eternal judgment. That doesn't mean that the judgment is going on forever and ever, it just means that the outcome of it is eternal, you can't reverse it or turn it around. So that's how we understand it.

But I do have to say that gives me a little pause when Jesus, it's coming out of his mouth, "They will go away to face eternal punishment." I kind of sit with that. And then in Revelation, there's a part... And this is fascinating to me, because it's really the only time that the idea of unending torment is clearly said. Revelation 20, it says that... I forget if it's, "The false prophet, the beast and the devil are thrown into the lake of fire where they'll be tormented day and night forever." And so there it is. I mean, that's the language that you would expect to hear all throughout the Bible. The kind of modifier of it or qualifier is just that it's talking about these kind of demonic beings. But then it also says, "Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire." Symbolic kind of figures. But it never says every human being who isn't saved will be tormented day and night forever. But because it has that language there, it makes you wonder, is that what is happening to everybody else [inaudible]?

Tim Muehlhoff: So just for our listeners who might not have a Bible handy, what Greg's referring to is Matthew 25:41, and particularly 46, where Jesus announces, "Then he will also say to those on his left, depart from me the cursed ones into the eternal fire, which has been prepared for the devil and his angels, and these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will have eternal life." And that's the interesting parallelism that the traditionalists tend to look at, is when he does compare eternal life, which we would say is eternal, when that parallel... And we can find that in Daniel chapter 12 as well. So that's kind of what the traditionalist view is kind of rooted in these parallels that seem to, if we're going to say one thing about eternal life, we have to say the thing about eternal...

Rick Langer: In fact, eternal life and eternal death are the two sides of the coin. And your viewpoint is more eternal life and final destruction, so to speak, would be the other side of the coin.

Greg Stump: Right. And you could say, "Eternal death." Because if you say "Death that is never reversed." I mean, death has been reversed before in the resurrection, but this is death that is the second death in a sense, it's irreversible. But that is one of the things that kind of, is it life and life? Just one is heavenly and bliss, and the other is terrible torment. Or is it, one goes on forever and another stops? So that's where the wages of sin is death, gift of God is eternal life. Those seem like the contrast of death in life that maybe it looks more like what we think. So that's why we always want... I mean, I say in principle, "I'm open to being wrong." I mean, I know that I'm not a person that has perfect... Intelligent about all things. And I did spend a long time skeptical of this view until I became convinced of it, so kind of held both views and could potentially reverse.

Rick Langer: Check back in.

Greg Stump: Exactly, Rethinking Rethinking Hell could be our sequel.

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah, and having intellectual humility. And the list that J.P. read, when it starts with John Stott. You're in pretty good company when you start to quote people like P.E. Hughes, I read him in seminary. So yeah, so I do appreciate J.P's and Gary Habermas' recognition. Hey, these are solid Christian brothers, and we're about to have a theological debate that we're convinced we're right on. But it is a debate for a reason, and there's enough there to have a robust debate about.

Rick Langer: And a thing that I would... To flip this around, you asked Greg, "What are the arguments for the traditional view to kind of stick with you?" And you go, "Got to think about that." If I were to flip that around and have to answer that regarding the conditionalist view, in the sense of eternal life isn't a thing that everybody gets, but some people end up with a final destruction annihilationist viewpoint. And I had been a huge John Stott fan for decades, and I never knew that about his perspective. I don't know if he always believed it, I don't actually know.

Greg Stump: I think it was later in his life.

Tim Muehlhoff: And that article came out a long time ago, right?

Rick Langer: Yeah, and it was a fair while ago that I read that with Stott. But in that case, I was simply reading his descriptions about fire in that metaphor. Because I do think whatever your viewpoint is, there's a ton of metaphorical language being used there. Metaphors are commonly used to describe reality better than just the mere words would be. So I never think, because it's a metaphor, therefore it doesn't convey truth or anything. But the nature of that metaphor with fire is that it consumes things, that they don't last forever. And if you talk about putting something out in eternal darkness, well that works. That can be there forever, duration wise.

But if you're talking about burning something, I'm like, "Well, we call it combustion because it uses things up, and then it ends up in kind of a terminal condition." And it certainly does seem to be a judgment, it is not a universalist position. The five-year-old Hindu boy, I don't know what the universalist you were talking to, but the general sense I have with people who are in the annihilationist viewpoint, is not that they have any particular difference about what happens to the person who's never heard of Jesus or things like that. They'd go, "Well, they would be in hell, in the sense that we understand hell to be." Which is certainly a judgment, not a desirable thing. But on the other hand, it is not eternal conscious torment, because there's a point at which that winds up, so to speak.

Tim Muehlhoff: But that's a good point to make. We better learn how to talk about these differences, because it's not just the eternality of hell. So let's bring up the five-year-old Hindu Boy. We're now talking about the age of accountability, which is a concept that's hotly debated in my book with J.P. Moreland, The God Conversation. We actually subscribe to the age of accountability. We mentioned some theologians who actually try to put an age on it.

Rick Langer: A number of years.

Tim Muehlhoff: A number of years. But listen, we just went into another category. So now if we're starting to divide, I'm only hanging out with people who think like me, now the Christian community is completely fractured, and we stop doing all the good work that your church has done, reaching out to people, Cru's emphasis on the Great Commission, because we're just not going to be able to all land the plane in the exact same way on a bunch of theological issues. Mentioned the four... I don't know if it's four views about hell, or is it just three? But let's kind of end it right here theologically, because I want to ask you about the communication part of holding this view. But Zondervan did a great job of pulling together and saying, "Let's tackle these differences." There's 35 volumes, by the way. They tackle a ton of issues, and they do tackle hell. And other publishers have their own versions, business is good.

Rick Langer: It's the whole genre. Yeah, no doubt about it.

Tim Muehlhoff: So that book is called what?

Greg Stump: So the Four Views of Hell?

Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.

Greg Stump: There's a new edition actually, that Preston Sprinkle edited. So he updated the different contributors.

Rick Langer: Have we got five views now?

Greg Stump: No, it's still four. The first one actually included kind of a purgatorial view, and I think it was most evangelicals don't subscribe to that. And purgatory in the Catholic view is actually for saved people, it's not for the unsaved, they're working off their post baptismal sin. But so the four views now that were represented was conditionalism, John Stackhouse, I don't know if you know... He was a philosopher at Regent.

Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, of course, yeah. A Christian apologist that we all read.

Greg Stump: So he wrote the foreword to the Rethinking Hell book, which we were really grateful for. But then there's kind of... I mean, obviously the traditional eternal torment view, and the difference between the kind metaphorical, and is it literal fire that's burning people or it's a metaphor? And then I think it was Jerry Walls who kind of has this view, I don't know if it's called divine perseverance, or it's kind of postmortem repentance. But he says, "Say that there was a child that was brought up in a family where the parents were beating him saying, in the name of Jesus, I have to beat this sin out of you, and Jesus wants me to do this, and God is calling us to punish you because you're so evil. Can that kid grow up and kind of reasonably respond to the gospel?" It just feels like his brain has been totally tweaked by these parents who were doing this terrible stuff.

So Jerry Wall says, "Yes, that person may not be saved. They may not have turned to Jesus and asked for forgiveness and wanted his righteousness to cover their sin. And so they're sent to hell." But in that place, he kind of calls it... Oh, gosh, I can't remember the term now. It was a maximal opportunity or something, that they're given opportunities to kind of experience in. And so he bases it a lot on different readings of theologians over the year. There's not a lot of scripture that supports that view other than some kind of obscure passages speaking to the spirits in prison. [inaudible].

Tim Muehlhoff: But here's the cool thing about that series, for those of you not familiar with it. Not only do they present their position, they then interact with each other's positions. So as you're reading this view, you're going, "Well, I would ask this question." Well, guess what? They probably thought about it, and just give it time, they're going to ask that position. So if you just did Four Views Hell, you're going to get Zondervan's version, you're probably going to get other versions as well, so check that out. But I want to ask you this question, Greg, because this is a topic people feel very deeply. So describe to me good conversations you've had with people, and then what are not so good... What makes it for a good conversation? And then what makes this a bad conversation where a person might come in really hot to this issue? So describe both for us.

Greg Stump: Right. Yeah, I think that the good conversation is when people are willing to almost bracket their view for a moment. Say, "Okay, I know what I believe. I'm just going to bracket it over here, and now I'm going to kind of really entertain this idea that you're sharing with me, and I'm willing to consider all the evidence that you've marshaled." So they're not just coming in on the defensive immediately, but they know what they believe, "Here's my view over here, but I'm willing to kind of consider this, and be open-minded and say, yeah, in the intellectual humility, I could be wrong." And I think it's funny because a lot of people that I've talked to... And when I first came to hold this view, I mean, believe me, I talked to everybody, "Have you ever heard of this?" It's coming up in every conversation.

I'm talking to my grandma like, "Grandma, have you ever heard about annihilationism?" But a lot of them immediately go on the defensive. And then when I kind of lay out and talk about different passages, and even kind of the theological support that in a sense Jesus died for us. He didn't suffer eternal torment for us, so his death for our death kind of fits well with our view. They would say something like, "Well, I've never studied or thought about this a lot." And it was like, "You were pretty defensive coming out of the gate there." It's interesting now, it's kind of you back up and say, "I've never thought about it." So the people were saying, "I'm willing to entertain this and engage this." And actually Preston Sprinkle is a great example of this, because he was writing a book with Francis Chan, after Rob Bell's Love Wins came out.

Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle were writing this book that came out, and it was called Erasing Hell. So Preston was kind of doing the theological heavy lifting. And so he studied conditionalism, found especially this pretty great article by a scholar named E. Earle Ellis on the New Testament evidence for conditionalism. And he said after he finished reading that, he was just like, "Wow, man, I need to read the thing that refutes this, because this is convincing." And he said, "I couldn't find it. I could not find the refutation of this article." And so in their book, they ended up kind of saying, "Annihilation isn't this minority view, and there have been some Christian thinkers who've thought of it. But really the safe option is the traditional view, because all of the greatest Christian thinkers almost have held this view. So it's kind of the safer bet in a sense."

But Preston came onto the Rethinking Hell Podcast later, and he's interviewing with Chris Date, who is the guy who helped edit this. And you could see the cogs in his mind turning as he's asking Chris some of his final questions like, "But I just still can't get over this." And Chris would just patiently kind of explain it to him. He's like, "Huh, okay." And it was like by the end of the second episode of this podcast, he had become convinced, and then he went on and did his own study, continued more. So now he is out as a conditionalist, and he ended up editing that Four Views book. So that's kind of a great conversation to see him have.

Tim Muehlhoff: And let me make a great point about Preston, because Preston's been on our podcast, I've been on Preston's podcast. We have huge respect for Preston, particularly when it comes to today's gender issue, having a compassionate, traditional biblical response. He is really out there with the transgender community holding the line, but compassionately trying to reach out. But that's another great example of, well, then Preston can't teach at Biola, because we have this doctrinal statement. But that doesn't mean we don't respect what Preston's doing on the front lines.

And we would have him back on our podcast to talk more about gender issues as it takes more of the headlines today. And that's kind of what we want to communicate, is I think we can have this disagreement and still focus on things that we can agree, neighbor love, the Great commission and things like that. That's a delicate dance, and it's all going to come down to how we describe each other. If we demonize each other, we're not doing love fullerton together, because we've demonized each other. And so that's the tension we're trying... Rick, and I don't apologize for Biola's doctrinal statement, and I have enough of a dog in the fight, debate team wise, "Let's have the debate." But even when it's done, let's go off and reach out to our neighbors and do things like that.

Rick Langer: So I'm sitting here thinking of, I don't know what percentage of our listeners who hear what you just described with Preston Sprinkle, and who's the other guy who came around the condition?

Greg Stump: Craig Evans.

Rick Langer: Craig Evans, yeah. And I'm like, "Are they thinking that was a good story or a bad story?" In other words, because we're being civil, because we're being curious, because we're open to nuance, we suddenly change our view. So are we being wolf in sheep's clothing, sheep in wolf's... Anyhow, are we deceiving people with this thing? Or is it dangerous to our holding of convictions to be open, because that means we might actually change? And what would you say to a person who's expressing that concern?

Greg Stump: Well, that's interesting. I actually had a friend who's a professor here at Biola, when the book came out we're talking about this, and he goes, "I do have a pastoral concern. And that is that if your average congregant suddenly says, wait, we've been wrong about this the whole time, all the greatest Christian thinkers have thought this. That suddenly something starts turning where they're open to rethinking other things as well. Maybe we've been wrong about other things." And so part of me feels like...

Rick Langer: Down goes the Trinity, down goes the deity of Christ, down goes the exclusivity of Christ.

Greg Stump: Well, the reality of it is this happened in America. So kind of conditionalism started really blowing up in the UK, came over to America, and there was thinkers here who were willing to be open-minded and engage it, and said, "I think this is true." But people in their congregation kind of shunned them and said, "No, we reject that. That is unorthodox teaching." So then these people say, "Well, we'll just go start our own community." And they start things like the Jehovah's Witnesses who hold to annihilationism, although they don't hold to the resurrection of the wicked. They say, "Once you die, that's the end." Whereas the Evangelical conditionalism will say, "No. Jesus said, everyone is raised." So they're raised and then they face somehow... However long it takes, they are killed. So that is the danger. And so Chris, he wrote a whole paper on this that was published.

But say, "Don't leave your communities. Try to stay there. If you change your mind on hell, stay in an Orthodox community because you might be tempted to kind of go on this path of, I'm just questioning everything." And this we kind of see, it has happened in the church before with infant baptism. For the majority of church history, they practiced infant baptism. Then in the Reformation, the Anabaptists challenged this, and now a lot of Christians hold to adult believers baptism. So we did change our mind before on something, and it didn't lead to everybody rejecting traditional views. But it is something to be very careful. And I showed this book to my younger brother, and he was like, "I'm in." I'm like, "Dude, this took me 15 years to come to this conviction. Don't just look at it, glance at it one time and say, I'm in." So research it, this is something you have to answer for. And so I'm willing to say, Lord, really, to the best of my knowledge, this is what seemed true to me.

Rick Langer: And would you argue there's a further step represented in universalism, the idea that everyone's ultimately saved, that actually breaks a further wall that's kind of incompatible with Christian Orthodoxy?

Greg Stump: Yeah, our church statement of faith does not allow for that. And so we've had people come into our church and I'm like, "This is great. We can be in dialogue, I'd love to hear more about how you came to hold your view." And we'd even let them, where we're dialoguing about this view, would let them share their view. But we reject that, from the pulpit, from our statement of faith we say, "This is not compatible with biblical teaching." But there have been people that have made some very thoughtful, serious arguments, and we want to respectfully disagree. And again, I wouldn't say they're not a Christian, because I just think they hold a very dangerous doctrine. Because almost kind of in a Pascalian wager sort of way, if you tell somebody, "Tim, God would never do that, he would never send you to hell."

And so you're like, "Okay. Well, maybe I'll be saved someday. I don't need to really worry about it." And that person was wrong, and he does go to eternal hell or he is destroyed, that's so terrible. That's on you for saying that to them. Whereas you say, "Some people kind of call it hopeful universalism like, Hey, I would love for as many people to be saved, and God's grace is so expansive that he could hold that." But I just can't say... I mean, when Jesus says, "Depart from me." Who is he talking to? If that doesn't ever happen, you're making Jesus out to be a liar in a sense.

Tim Muehlhoff: And this is where Biola again, has... And this is what I appreciate about Biola, is they're not afraid to say, "We're going to land the plane on certain theological issues." So I kind of feel for the listeners who's sitting there thinking, on one hand we got Gary Habermas, J.P. Moreland, and we've got Talbot School of Theology on one side. Then we've got notable scholars in your book, Rethinking Hell. What am I supposed to do? Now I don't know anything.

And that's what we want to say, is that this whole podcast, Greg, could have been of things that we affirmed together. We could have taken the entire time to say, "Jesus is Lord, he's God incarnate. He died for everybody, a bodily resurrection, salvation in Christ alone." We could have run the gamut. But then we come to... And judgment, we all agree on judgment. But the nature of the judgment is where we start to have these disagreements. So I would just say to the listeners where it's like, "Well, what can I believe?" Hey, just remember, the church has affirmed certain beliefs, and you have affirmed these beliefs as well. We're just having a in-house disagreement about one aspect of judgment, we're not throwing judgment out the window.

Greg Stump: And I mean, there's so many writers over the centuries, and people are just like, "I just can't believe in a God who would do that." And I think that we shouldn't say as conditionalists, "Right, God doesn't do that." We'd say, "To our understanding, he doesn't actually send and torment people forever." I mean, Jonathan Edwards talks about the fire consuming people, and then God reconstitutes them so that they could be burned again. The worm is eating them until they're destroyed, and then he's reconstituting them so they can do it again. And it sounds really weird, God is putting a lot of effort into this project of tormenting them.

Rick Langer: And those are the examples that I was talking about before. Fire consuming and worms eating, all those have a terminus built in that becomes weird in just that sense. And that's part of what hit me when I was reading [inaudible], and said, "Oh, that's a good point."

Greg Stump: Yeah, chaff is thrown into the fire, and then it just kind of disappears. And a lot of the Old Testament talks language like, "The wicked will be like a dream that when you wake up, it just vanishes, you can't even remember it anymore."

Tim Muehlhoff: So if you're a listener and your head's hurting right now, you're like, "What?" Just know that communication is on two levels. There's the content level, we've been doing a lot of content level right now representing the views of past and former theologians, current theologians. But don't miss the relational, that this is a conversation where we have mutual respect. We absolutely agree on the Great Commission, we're just having a disagreement. We want this podcast to be a place where people can come on, we can have honest conversations, we're not backing off of our convictions. But let's also speak in charity, kindness, compassion, empathy. I love what you said, set aside your view just long enough to think and entertain. So Greg, thank you so much for coming on this podcast. We're a huge fan of what your church does, and thank you for forcing us to think deeply about theological concepts. So thank you.

Greg Stump: You're welcome, thank you guys for having me.

Rick Langer: And thank you all for joining us on the Winsome Conviction Podcast. Again, we encourage you to subscribe. Join us at Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, wherever it is you get your podcasts. And check us out at website as well. Thanks for joining us.