One of the purposes of the Christianity Today Institute is to explore significant ideas that appear to challenge orthodox views of Scripture. One such view is annihilationism—the belief that the souls of the lost cease to exist at death rather than suffer eternal torment. Annihilationism appeals to believers who reject universalism but at the same time have difficulty reconciling God’s goodness with his judgment. It is not a new idea, but it appears to be gaining support from some evangelicals, especially those in Europe and Great Britain. To help us understand annihilationism, we asked eminent theologian Clark Pinnock of McMaster University in Toronto, Ontario, to share his current thinking on this topic. And to help us see the weaknesses of annihilationism, David Wells of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary responds to Dr. Pinnock’s article.

I agree with Roger Nicole that universal salvation is a false hope. Although I wish universalism were true, the Bible’s repeated warnings of final loss at the Great Judgment negates it. If the doctrine of hell is taken to mean (as it so often is) that God raises up the wicked to everlasting existence for the express purpose of inflicting upon them endless pain and torment, universalism will become practically irresistible in its appeal to sensitive Christians.

Let me explain. Although the tradition in this matter is not uniform, the semiofficial position of the church since approximately the sixth century has been that hell lasts forever and that human beings thrown into it are tormented endlessly. To some, this has conveyed the picture of unceasing physical burning, while to others in recent times the torment has been re-imaged in terms of mental and psychological ...

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