Dear Dr. Mohler,
As president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, you have exercised significant influence over the direction of the modern evangelical Christian landscape. Your leadership is also recognized outside the church, as attested in a 2003 Time magazine article which called you the “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S.”
Back in October, you responded to a New York Times article entitled “Tormented in the Afterlife but Not Forever: Conditionalism Gains Ground.” The article focuses on the life and work of Edward Fudge, the comparison of his views and the traditional of endless conscious torment in Hell for the finally impenitent, and the efforts of the Rethinking Hell ministry on behalf of conditional immortality. In your podcast, you dismissed conditional immortality as a modern invention of liberal theologians.
Dr. Mohler, your response to the doctrine of conditional immortality is beneath your position, scholarship, and reputation. Brilliant scholars with the highest view of the Bible have demonstrated that conditional immortality was held by some of the earliest church fathers. Fudge’s book painstakingly reviews every relevant Hebrew and Greek word, placing each in proper Biblical context, and provides a convincing case that the end of the finally impenitent is most likely annihilation. Before you speak on subjects like this, you really should read the literature thoroughly.
Your response seems to show that you think the doctrine of hell is a settled matter, one that is as Biblically certain as the resurrection of Christ. What is your foundation for that certainty? Is it really the Bible itself, or centuries of tradition built upon Greek influences over some early church leaders? Conditionalist scholars make their case wholly upon the Bible, with a coherent case that deserves more than a passing dismissal. As Pastor Graham Ware writes in his response to you, scholars like those at Rethinking Hell are “conservative evangelicals (more conservative than myself on most fronts), who affirm the authority of Scripture, believe in the Gospel, proclaim it, and seek to live it out in love.”
It is very difficult to publicly change one’s mind. To admit that for centuries, we have missed the mark on a major teaching is an overwhelming challenge. In a highly prestigious position like yours, it is even more difficult. Sometimes, this can prevent those in high leadership from rethinking anything.
Do you believe that evangelical leaders like yourself have perfect knowledge on every major doctrine? Is there really no room for reformation? If God is not going to torture people for an endless eternity, are you prepared to stand for tradition, but against Scripture? Are you so sure of the traditional view that you are willing to risk turning many people away from the gospel because they can’t reconcile a God of love with an eternity of torture?
By refusing to consider the Biblical case for annihilationism, you are sitting in the seat of those who led the Wittenberg church and fought against Martin Luther’s sola scriptura foundation for justification by faith. Those tradition-bound church leaders had centuries of tradition on their side, but ultimately, we know they were standing against the plain reading of scripture on many matters.
Conditional immortality is not a compromise, nor a culturally expedient middle ground between the extremes of eternal torment and universalism. It is not founded on sentimentality, liberalism, or a disregard for God’s holiness. No, this is the view of the scriptures, the one that those with highest regard for the Bible should embrace and teach.
Dr. Mohler, you have the opportunity to demonstrate a surprising level of humility, modeling what a Christian should do when presented with solid Biblical evidence that contradicts deeply held beliefs. You can lead by your example, accepting correction without pride or fear. What a catalyst for revival—powerful church leaders who show a humble, prayerful repentance towards God and a willingness to follow truth wherever it leads, whatever the cost!
I pray that you and other church leaders will open your hearts to consider the very strong Biblical case for conditional immortality. There is a long-awaited reformation and revival needed today, and I believe that men of your position can be part of it as you humbly consider truth over tradition.