J.I. Packer's Evangelical Annihilationism in Review.
In this article, Packer makes four points against annihilationism. They all seem easily debunked by an annihilationist.
I appreciated his last paragraph. I think it sums up my thoughts well.
It is distasteful to argue in print against honored fellow-evangelicals, some of whom are good friends and others of whom (I mention Atkinson, Wenham, and Hughes particularly) are now with Christ, so I stop right here. My purpose was only to review the debate and assess the strength of the arguments used, and that I have done. I am not sure that I agree with Peter Toon that “discussion as to whether hell means everlasting punishment or annihilation after judgment . . . is both a waste of time and an attempt to know what we cannot know,”36 but I am sure he is right to say that hell “is part of the whole gospel” and that “to warn people to avoid hell means that hell is a reality.”37 All who settle for warning people to avoid hell can walk in fellowship in their ministry, and legitimately claim to be evangelicals. When John Stott urges that “the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal conscious torment,”38 he asks too much, for the biblical foundations of this view prove on inspection, as we have seen, to be inadequate. But it would be wrong for differences of opinion on this matter to lead to breaches of fellowship, though it would be a very happy thing for the Christian world if the differences could be resolved.
Alan Gomes' Evangelicals and the Annihilation of Hell .
Gomes describes annihilationism negatively as a "kinder, gentler theology." That argument is weak. First, I don't know if it is kinder or gentler. Second, whether it is kinder or gentler is irrelevant to whether it is true. Stott and the other evangelical annihilationists are not annihilationists because they want a kinder, gentler God. They are annihilationists because they think that is what Scripture teaches, along with an eternal torment seems irrational to them.
Gomes rightly notes, "While it is true that the doctrine of endless punishment for the wicked is the position traditionally held by the church throughout the centuries, this in itself does not make it correct." This truth should be applied to all areas of teaching and not just to to the question of hell. All too often, church tradition gets exalted above Scripture and squelches real, genuine, and honest Bible study. Although we think it is arrogant and prideful that someone in the 21st century (althoughy Gomes was writing in the 20th century) could properly understand Scripture better than some of the heavyweights of the past, we must realize that this is a possibility. Many theologians vociferously propagate their teachers views rather than wrestle with the subject on their own. Due to this, the traditions of the past might just be the regurgitation of a prominent Christian's view throughout history rather than fresh examinations of Scripture. However, in swerving from the powerful stream of church tradition, one must be assured that the Scripture teaches the fresh stream they are sailing down. Gomes concluded his thought with, "Of course, the fact that the church historically has interpreted the Scriptures to teach the doctrine of endless punishment ought to make us think long and hard before setting the doctrine aside. But when all is said and done, it is the teaching of Scripture that is determinative."
Gomes uses Matthew 25:46, just like Packer in the article above, to argue against annihilationism. [v. 41] "Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire [to pur to aionion] which has been prepared for the devil and his angels....' [v. 46] And these will go away into eternal punishment [kolasin aionion], but the righteous into life eternal [zoen aionion]." After a brief, cursory phone call with an annihilationist friend, I received an answer that would suffice. The punishment, destruction of one's soul, is an eternal punishment, meaning that one's soul is destroyed for all eternity. That explanation seems to suffice. The fire is always ready - it is eternal - to incinerate another fallen soul. Gomes wrongly juxtaposes punishment against cessation of one's soul. An annihilationist would just say that the cessation of one's soul is a punishment that has eternal consequences. Gomes noted, "One could argue that annihilation might be the result of punishment. But the Scriptures say that it is the punishment itself which is eternal, not merely its result." Well, I think he missed my annihilationist friend's point.
Then he does deal with Revelation 14:9-11 and 20:10. 20:10 is a really disingenuous verse to use. It is clearly stating that eternal torture is for two entities, the beast and the false prophet.
And now we are left with one passage of Scripture - just one - that promotes a torment without end. And that passage is in the context of the prohphetic language of Revelation. It is not a place that I would want to get my theology from and read the rest of Scripture through the lenses I develop from this section. The obscure sections of Scripture should be read in light of the clear teachings of Scripture.