Over the past few days, Bobby Conway of the One Minute Apologist hosted Frank Turek of CrossExamined.org to talk about the traditional view of hell contra Chris Date of Rethinking Hell.

This article was written day-by-day as the videos came out. If some of the language is anticipatory, that is the reason why.

Full disclosure: I am a conditionalist, and I’m a contributor at Rethinking Hell. Here’s my review of the series of videos featuring Turek on the nature of hell.


1. What Is Hell?

In the first video, Turek defines hell ultimately as “separation from God”. He cites 2 Thessalonians as his proof text. For those not familiar with this debate, the specific text is 2 Thessalonians 1:9, which reads (NET):

They will undergo the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength

Rethinking Hell founder Peter Grice has done extensive work on this particular passage (linked below), so I will simply give a brief summary below. In short, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, properly understood teaches that the destruction mentioned is coming from the presence of God, rather than being located away from the presence of God.

A few points regarding what this text means:

  • Translation concerns exist, especially with the NIV, which reads “…and shut out from the presence of the Lord…”. The KJV actually renders the text most appropriately by stating, “…from the presence of the Lord…”.
  • The controversy over this passage is centered around a single Greek word: ἀπὸ(apo), which in this case is not used as a prefix to a word, but rather a preposition. It also does not have a link to a specific noun or verb in this sentence.
  • There is a natural ambiguity that exists with the text which allows for either a separation reading (“away” from, denoting a location of the destruction) or a source reading (“from”, denoting the source of the destruction).
  • The biblical data, upon closer examination (provided above in Part 2 of the series from Rethinking Hell), lends itself well to a source reading rather than a location reading.
  • As such, 2 Thessalonians 1:9 — which is essentially the only text which one could read hell as being a place without the presence of God — is actually understood better as showing God’s presence at His second coming will be a destructive force from which the wicked will be destroyed (as Isaiah feared in Isaiah 6:5).
  • This reading also fits better theologically. The concept of hell being separation from God, yet also a place where the risen lost will never die is extremely problematic. This implies that (a) existence apart from God is possible, and (b) God is not omnipresent. A separation reading, accompanied by eternal conscience torment, affirms a place where individuals will live forever, albeit in torture, where there is no God. If God is not present in hell, it is not God’s wrath fueling the fires of hell, nor maintaining the life of the risen lost so that they can live in torment forever. The theological implications of the necessity of God for our life and subsistence is directly challenged by such a belief.

2. Should We Take The Descriptions Of Hell Literally?

Apart from his reiteration that hell is separation, as discussed above, I have no disagreement with Turek here. He’s absolutely correct: hell is a place of destruction. If he took off the glasses, grew a beard, and ditched the New Jersey accent, you’d think it was still Chris Date talking with Bobby!

A few of my favorite highlights:

  • [the images of hell as fire] are metaphors to communicate destruction.
  • Hell…is described as a place of destruction.
  • It’s meant to communicate destruction.

Spot on, Dr. Turek. Spot on.


3. How Do We Understand Metaphors In The Bible?

In this video we move from examining whether or not to take the descriptions of hell literally to specifically addressing the metaphorical language. So basically it’s the same thing… but Dr. Turek does have a few extra things to say — and he sounds like a traditionalist here — so it’s worth taking a look.

Once again, we are told that the language of hell is frequently used a metaphor, and the primary example is that “outer darkness” and “literal fire” cannot co-exist and that immaterial beings (Satan and the fallen angels) couldn’t be affected by fire. There’s not much to disagree with here — at least not yet — so since no implication has been made as to why such imagery supports the traditional view, I’ll leave it alone; there’s not really an argument against conditionalism here so much as there’s a description of what traditionalism teaches.

I must admit. I really like Frank Turek. He doesn’t often beat around the bush, and he gives you straight-up what he believes. I’ve watched him in a few debates, and I’ve listened to his podcast. To be honest, he’s the perfect apologist to be featured on the One Minute Apologist because of these facts. With this video, he does not disappoint. Regarding metaphors, he states:

Is this person trying to communicate something literal, or this person trying to communicate something literal through a metaphor? Because the metaphor is always trying to communicate some literal truth, just not in a literal way.

Amen, brother! While this is not an argument either for or against traditionalism, we now know Dr. Turek’s interpretive framework from which he will establish a more thorough theology of hell in the proceeding videos.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I want readers to read that quote again. Here’s what it is saying in logical form:

  1. Descriptions in the Bible can be literal, or they can be metaphorical (but not both).
    (A ⊻ B)
  2. If a description is metaphorical, then it will communicate a literal truth. 
    (B ⊃ C)

While we could interject an implied premise of A ⊃ C, it may not be relevant.

I bring this up, admittedly, because I have a strong suspicion that once we get to the proof texts from which Dr. Turek will justify the traditional view of hell, we will come to Revelation 20:10. Much work has already been done by fellow contributors at Rethinking Hell regarding this passage (see HERE and HERE), so I don’t feel the need to lay additional ground work at this time. However, I do want the reader to remember this interpretive lesson for later, should a response be necessary: metaphorical language presupposes a literal truth.

Again, Dr. Turek does not disappoint, as he gives us a classic example proving his point:

When I read… “Jesus is the door”, we know it means “the way”. We don’t think he has hinges or a door knob.

Exactly. Jesus doesn’t have hinges, and the Devil, Beast, and False Prophet will — dang it! I’m already jumping the gun.

Moving on, he gives us another example of a metaphorical description leading to a literal truth. Regarding fire affecting immaterial beings he states:

We’re looking at fire on one hand and outer darkness on the other, they would seem to be contradictory because how are you going to have outer darkness and fire at the same time — fire gives light.

This is the symbol (B, from above). Let’s see what the literal meaning of the symbol is.

It would seem to communicate destruction.
Me when a traditionalist says hell is a place of destruction

Spot on, Dr. Turek. Spot on.

This is the literal truth (C, from above) that the passage is indicating.

Fire, as the previous video indicated, is a symbol of destruction. 
Fire (B) ⊃ Destruction (C)

Outer darkness, as he states in this video, is a symbol of destruction. 
Outer Darkness (B) ⊃ Destruction (C)

However, this is conditionalism, not traditionalism, so he says these symbols “seem to” indicate destruction, and then goes back to the motif from the first video, concluding:

Also we’re talking about beings…that are immaterial. How would fire affect an immaterial being? It wouldn’t. But it would affect an immaterial being if it meant to be separated from… God, that’s literally what hell is.

Two problems:

  1. Separation is not what hell is (see response and links above).
  2. The Bible never speaks of “Fire and darkness” as a conjunction. Outer darkness is linked with “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. To lump fire and darkness together as somehow contradictory imagery is to mix metaphors rather than examining each of them in their own context.

As Rethinking Hell founder Peter Grice points out:

“Outer darkness” is referenced in Matthew 22:13 and 25:30 by characters in a parable, the first being a king who instructs his legitimate guests to tie up an impostor at a wedding feast and throw them into the outer darkness, the second a master of an estate who instructs his good servants to cast a worthless servant into the outer darkness. In both cases, the instruction is followed by the character’s ominous statement “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Throughout church history, imaginations have run wild turning this into a picture of writhing around in exquisite torments. But weeping signifies the regret of being cast out of the desired place, and teeth-gnashing is an established biblical idiom which means something akin to scowling in anger. All the darkness signifies is what is “outer” or outside a building at night when those who aren’t welcome are thrown out. It’s not unlike the modern experience of being thrown out of a night club or exclusive party. The only other time the phrase is used is in Matthew 8:12, where Jesus paints a picture of the coming kingdom where the saved will come from all over to recline at table with the patriarchs, while others will be thrown into outer darkness. It is the same kind of picture, and there is no indication whatsoever from these texts that they will remain there alive forever. All it indicates is the bitter disappointment of realizing one has just been excluded from the kingdom. It is over-interpreting to have this signify a living eternity.
What it more likely signifies is the stage before going into the fire; the being-cast-OUT of the kingdom, where weeping and gnashing of teeth occur in response, before being-cast-IN to Gehenna.

So it is perfectly reasonable to assume that fire and darkness can both be literal elements of hell, coexisting in some way. It is also reasonable to assume that being cast into outer darkness is preparation for being cast into Gehenna. While some of this is certainly theological conjecture on both sides, it is certainly not the case that both fire and darkness being used as metaphors for hell necessitate that they are incompatible or that separation is the only way to reconcile them to one another.


4. Why Would Temporal Beings Deserve Eternal Punishment In Hell?

“Some would say that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. How do you get eternal punishment for that?”

Frank’s answer has three points:

  1. The duration of time it takes to commit a crime (or sin) is not equal to the duration of the punishment.
  2. A punishment for sin against an eternal being may require an eternal punishment.
  3. Sin will continue in hell by continuing to reject God.

To each in turn:

Most conditionalists would have no problem agreeing with the statement that Dr. Turek first makes regarding the relationship between the duration of committing a crime versus the duration of the punishment. This also does absolutely nothing to prove his point, or make the case for tradtionalism. It’s a completely ad hoc statement, and as such, we don’t need to address it all that much. In fact, most conditionalists would probably propose that the punishment the risen lost will receive is not of the same duration as the committing of their crimes meriting death.

With regards to sinning against an eternal being, this has been addressed before in a few different ways by conditionalists, but again, it’s not something that we necessarily need to refute. Varying degrees of punishment are perfectly compatible with the ultimate destruction that is characteristic of conditional immortality. Also, we conditionalists do not deny that the punishment awaiting the lost in hell is anything but eternal! We simply understand what the text means when it says eternal punishment (I will hold off extensive commentary on this fact, given that it will be vital when — not if — Dr. Turek brings up Matthew 25:46 in a future video). Affirming that sinning against a greater authority requires a greater punishment does nothing to promote traditionalism over conditionalism.

Finally, we come to Dr. Turek’s last point. This is one against which I’d like to offer some push back.

The argument often goes that since the risen lost will live forever in torment, they will forever continue sinning, thus incurring more punishment. I have a few concerns with this reasoning:

  1. It’s spurious, especially when used in conjunction with Dr. Turek’s second point from above. If the punishment for one sin against an eternal God is eternal punishment, it doesn’t matter what they do while they’re in hell, the punishment is eternal.
  2. To say that sinning in hell is punished (thereby justifying extension into eternity) implies another judgment. Theological implications abound with this, but suffice it to say that God has revealed one judgment by which He will condemn the wicked.
  3. The argument that the risen lost will never repent is only an argument against universalism. Conditionalists affirm that the risen lost will remain in rebellion until they’re destroyed.

Simply put, Dr. Turek’s arguments here are nothing unique, and not even uniquely tradionalist. I am beginning to wonder if he is an undercover CI Agent sent to the One Minute Apologist to prove our points for us. So far, he’s provided an exquisitely bad definition for what hell is, followed by saying that the punishment for sin is destruction, followed by the claim that the symbols of hell imply destruction only to punt on the issue back to his claim that hell is separation. Now we find him offering a number of claims that conditionalists can affirm, aside from one that is fraught with implications that — if affirmed — lead to major inconsistencies with what God has revealed about His judgment of sin. Could it be? Is he secretly one of us? Only time will tell.


5. How Could A Good God Send Nice People To Hell?

Okay… This one’s just bad. Sorry, there’s no other way around it. I don’t have any introductory words. Let’s just get it over with…

“God is too loving to force [people] into heaven against [their] will”

He also says later:

He’s not going to force himself on us. That would be unloving.

Since this isn’t a biblical argument, but a philosophical one, I’ll offer a similar one in kind. If God is too loving to “force” someone into eternal bliss, but not too loving to “let them” go into a torture chamber for eternity, it logically follows that allowing torture is more loving than forcing heaven. There’s two difference between these binary options: the will and the destination. Turek’s claim here elevates free will above eternal destiny. I reject libertarian free will as a Calvinist, but I know a lot of Arminians who would cringe at such a suggestion.

If Dr. Turek thinks that respecting some amorphous sense of free will is objectively more important than one’s eternal destiny, then I would challenge him to provide a biblical basis for that.

The…assumption behind the objection is that everybody wants to go to heaven. That’s not true. Who’s in heaven? Jesus is in heaven!

One may object that an eternity in the presence of a God that unbelievers reject would be something worse than hell. I actually think that it is the very presence of God that destroys unbelievers (2 Thessalonians 1:9, from above), but for those — like Turek — who view hell as separation, such a claim would need to be biblically substantiated. Unfortunately, when dealing with this kind of reasoning, the Bible is seldom referenced (as proved in this video — there were none).

So if one is to reject that God’s presence is the destroying agent in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, then I’m forced to ask: is being in the presence of someone you reject — even hate — for eternity so terrible next to the prospect of eternal torment that one would prefer the latter?

This leaves us with two propositions about Man’s will:

  1. Man’s will is such that he would rather be eternally tormented than be in the presence of his enemy for eternity (total depravity).
  2. Man’s will is such that he can choose his own eternal destiny by accepting or rejecting Christ (libertarian free will).

Of course, this is all built upon the assumption that Dr. Turek is right, and that hell is merely separation from God, and that the ultimate factor between people going to heaven or hell is our own decisions. If one rejects either of these presuppositions — or both, as I the case may be — then there’s not much need to go any farther along the path being paved.

This is one of the difficulties in doing cumulative case apologetics (or theology), as Turek does. His bestseller I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist makes an apologetic case for Christian theism by paving such a path. However, if someone rejects the very first argument, there’s nothing on which to build.

While I respect his contributions to apologetics, I cannot do the same for Dr. Turek’s contributions to a theology of hell. There are both philosophical and theological reasons why his view is simply not tenable, as I’ve sought to demonstrate here and above.

Well, there have been people running from Jesus their entire lives! What’s he going to do after death, go “hold on, you’re with me now”? How would that be loving? People don’t want to be with Jesus. They don’t want God.

Let’s follow this logic:

  1. Sinners reject Christ
  2. Sinners run from Christ
  3. Sinners choose hell over Jesus
  4. God separates Himself from sinners
  5. Apart from God’s presence, sinner are tormented for eternity as an ultimate respect of their free will.

Given the separation motif (from 4) has been dealt with already, I’d like to look at number 5.

There is a major problem with the traditionalist view — insofar as it maintains that hell is separation from God — because it argues that life (regardless of quality, the “immortal soul” of traditionalism lives forever, according to traditionalists themselves) is possible apart from God.

On the traditionalist view, God is not necessary for existence, life, and consciousness.

However, this is not biblical in the slightest. For instance, Paul, when speaking in Athens notes their idol to the unknown god, and proclaims to them that Jesus is in fact the God which they know not. He goes on to say that “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Jesus Himself also says, “ I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). It is in Christ that all things are created and maintained (Colossians 1:16–17). The Bible never once speaks of life existing, let alone for eternity, apart from God. Yet there are many references to the fate of the lost being death rather than separation (Proverbs 12:28, Matthew 10:28, John 3:16, Romans 6:23, 1 Corinthians 15:48).

*side note: Imagine what this would do to apologists like Dr. Turek to so tacitly admit that things can exist without God. What would debating atheists look like when you admit their founding assumption?

What hell demonstrates is… that man is free and God is love… we have the free ability to either choose God or reject God, and that God is loving enough that if we don’t any God in the afterlife, he’ll grant that to us, he’ll separate Himself from us.” It’s separation from God. You’re either going to want God or you’re not.

Again, this is assuming that hell is separation. It’s not. Moving on…

As C.S. Lewis famously said, “there’s only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘thy will be done’ and those to whom God says, ‘thy will be done’.”

Even if God were to declare “thy will be done” to the lost, it is in no way contrary to any of the three major views of hell. A conditionalist could agree, saying that the consequence of their choice is death. A universalist could also agree, citing that torment (for now) is their choice, to be changed later. It does nothing for the traditionalist case. Regardless of the validity of this illustration (definitely not Lewis’ finer musings), it is safe to say that while this may work in a general discussion on hell, it doesn’t well argue for any particular view. I understand that Dr. Turek isn’t necessarily doing that here, but I know he’s aware that these videos are being released as a compliment to the videos that Chris Date did just previously on the One Minute Apologist.


6. Why Are There Only Two Destinations In The Afterlife?

This is becoming somewhat predictable. This video contains precisely 0 biblical references, and the claims being made here are overly shallow, even for a “one minute” video.

There’s only, logically, two possible destinations: you’re either going to be with God in the afterlife — that’s heaven — or you’re going to be separated from God in the afterlife — that’s hell. There’s really no other option.

Remember this is entirely based upon the assumption that hell is separation. It’s not. However, rather than skip the argument entirely because it is (still) flawed, we can examine it even on Dr. Turek’s own assumptions.

While this is technically true, it’s not a full argument for what Dr. Turek believes hell is.

Yes, logically speaking it is either the case that you will be in God’s presence or it is not the case that you will be in God’s presence (A ⊻ ~A).

While this is true, it fails to make a number of important distinctions, and Dr. Turek relies on a lot of implied premises as supporting his argument that he has (still) not substantiated.

Dr. Turek has two implied premises within his argument that need to be addressed, as they add a layer of nuance that hasn’t been addressed:

  1. The destination at which one arrives in the afterlife is their permanent destination. While Dr. Turek has established that heaven or hell are two destinations, he makes a different distinction with regards to presence (with or without God). His implication is that there’s a 1:1 correlation between heaven & hell and presence & separation, respectively. While subtle, there are theological implications which would draw criticism from someone — like myself — who holds to a New Creation theology regarding the final state.
  2. The afterlife is necessarily conscious. Not one time has he mentioned in this series of videos one shred of supporting evidence for this claim, yet it is implied in nearly everything he says about the afterlife (particularly hell).

Additionally, Dr. Turek has missed a key distinction within his argument, which actually exposes his proposition as a false dilemma, namely, transitioning between destinations. In this instance, he has only stated that there are two destinations in the afterlife, but has not made the case that transitioning from one state to the other (universalism) is unbiblical, or that transitioning from one state to a null state (conditionalism) is unbiblical. I’ll leave it to the universalist to render a critique based on the former, but the latter might be more difficult to understand.

In the event an either/or proposition, as Dr. Turek has offered, there may be instances where a null position must be considered. By way of analogy, remember the last time you were at the doctor’s office. When you filled out the medical history form, there was probably a bunch of questions with check boxes labeled “Yes”, “No”, and “N/A”. This is because certain medical conditions are either present, not present, or not applicable to a particular patient. Much in the same way, a person can either be in God’s presence, not be in God’s presence (separated from), or the question may not be applicable to said person. The only reason that Dr. Turek does not offer any null option is because he falsely believes that man is inherently immortal. As such, the cliché “everyone lives forever, it’s just up to them where they do so” once more muddies the water in this debate.

In the case of conditional immortality, the risen lost go from a state of life (resurrection) to death (punishment). This is the punishment for sin. Eventually, a dead body will be subject to decay, wither away, and cease to be.

Note: conditionalists are often falsely accused of believing that the punishment for sin is a cessation of existence. This is incorrect. We believe the punishment for sin is death (Romans 6:23), and that the result of that death is the eventual ceasing to be. There is a major distinction between a result of the punishment for sin and the actual punishment itself. We have no problem affirming that the risen lost will be annihilated, but we reject that such annihilation is the punishment for sin. This is something our critics have often failed to recognize, or willfully ignored in their arguing against us.

So from an conditionalist view, one moves from either A or ~A (depending on their theology of the new creation) into a null position with regards to being in God’s presence. So technically speaking, there is a third option in Dr. Turek’s dilemma.

There are graduations of reward in heaven, and graduations of punishment in hell because God is fair and God is just.

I agree. Moving on…


7. What Are Your Thoughts On Hell And Annihilation?

This has been a rip-roaring good time (I’m serious). While Frank has been laying a positive case for the traditional view for the past videos, he has done so with the background of the One Minute Apologist just interviewing Chris Date for the conditionalist viewpoint. Now, we finally get to hear Dr. Turek’s response directly. He said a number of things in this one on which I’d like to comment:

Scripturally, I have trouble with [conditionalism] although, I think Chris made some decent possible interpretations of the scriptures…

Surprisingly, this is more than most traditionalists will give us. Generally, the response to conditionalism is to cry “heretic” and screech in inaudible tones until we disengage from the conversation, only to declare absolute victory as we flee from the battlefield. I’m only half-joking. I must commend Dr. Turek for at least being level-headed in his counterpoint. He’s given Chris a charitable concession, and it’s right that I do the same. Obviously, Dr. Turek is going to find issue with conditionalism since he’s not one, so it shouldn’t surprise us when next he says:

The one [interpretation] that I think is really hard to square with scripture from a conditional point of view… is when Jesus says that the unrighteous will go to eternal punishment. Now, he didn’t say death… they will go to eternal punishment.

For those following along, this is Matthew 25:46. Anyone who has engaged in discussion on the topic of final punishment — at least between traditionalism and conditionalism — will be familiar with this passage. It’s the go-to, and generally the central passage of the debate.

The traditionalist argument generally has the following points:

  • Eternal life and eternal punishment are direct contrasts here.
  • Since they are both described in the same way (eternal), then it’s logical to assume that the punishment for the lost will be eternal in the same sense as life is eternal.
  • Given eternal life is that of conscious bliss, it would make sense to view eternal punishment as conscious torment.

I’d like to take a minute to point out that contrary to what traditionalists usually teach, their view isn’t one of eternal punishment, but rather one of eternal punishing. This is an important distinction because punishment as a noun is an action that takes place and has eternal consequences. For instance, the gift of Jesus Christ is eternal salvation, not eternal saving. This is clear with Hebrews 5:9, where it is said that Christ “became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him”. Jesus’ saving work on our behalf was completed during His atoning sacrifice. It is not the case that the gift of eternal salvation is an ongoing process of eternal saving, but rather a completed act with eternal consequences.

So just as Jesus’ salvation is eternal because of the result of His atoning sacrifice, so too is the punishment for the risen lost eternal because of the result of their sin wages: death (Romans 6:23).

Next, Dr. Turek gives a supporting argument for his claim against a conditionalist reading of Matthew 25:46. His argument is different from the standard, but is not without rebuttal.

Now, if you’re dead, and you have no consciousness, you’re not really being punished.

Firstly, there is no logical necessity that dictates that a punishment must include an element of consciousness. This premise is being assumed here. Perhaps Dr. Turek has argued for this elsewhere, but I haven’t seen anything from him on the topic.

Certainly, you’re not being punished for eternity because you don’t have any consciousness.

This is essentially saying the same thing as above, but driving the logical deduction that if consciousness is necessary for punishment, then it certainly follows that an eternity of punishment is not possible without consciousness.

In order to be punished for eternity you’d have to be in some way conscious of it.

So here we can see that the thrust of his argument is simply question-begging. Let’s put it in logical form:

  1. If one is dead, and they’re not conscious, then they’re not being punished. 
    ([D & ~C] ⊃ ~P)
  2. Therefore, if one is punished, then they must be conscious. 
    (P ⊃ C)

While I understand that the One Minute Apologist isn’t exactly the place for an extended treatise of symbolic logic, one should be able to make an argument that doesn’t have a conclusion of simply restating their premise. Dr. Turek’s argument here that consciousness is required simply isn’t an argument, it’s an assertion. In order to logically drive his conclusion from his premise, there must be a middle premise to which he can distribute his assertions.

SO even the death penalty is a punishment, but it’s not an eternal punishment because you have no consciousness afterwards.

I get the illustration, but if following the logic of Matthew 25, we can see that the act of punishing one to death actually does cause eternal punishment in the sense that taking their life is done in such a way where their life will never be returned to them, so too is the second death a death in which sinners will be executed never to return to a resurrected state.

I’m open to the view

Outstanding. This is what we hope for. This is why Chris Date travels all over the country — even the world — to discuss this topic. For that openness, I think it is safe for me to speak on behalf of the entire Rethinking Hell team and commend you, Dr. Turek.

Some people say “I hope its true.” When you say that, what you’re implying is that if the traditional view… is true, then somehow God is not just. I think we need to dispense with that idea because whatever the state of the afterlife is, by definition it has to be just because God by definition is the standard of justice.

Yes and Amen!


8. Why Do You Defend The Traditionalist Position On Hell?

In this video, Bobby asks Dr. Turek why he defends the traditional view of hell: that of eternal conscious torment. His answer surprised me a little bit. He didn’t directly address the issue at first, instead, he spoke on the importance of apologetics and its role in the proclamation of the Gospel. I agree with his opening remarks wholeheartedly; I have a passion for apologetics as well, and have myself said the very same thing. When he does come to Bobby’s question, Dr. Turek offers the following:

…by trusting in [Jesus] you can be saved from what? Saved from punishment. The punishment that you’re justly due because you have committed moral crimes.

This struck me as interesting. In the previous video, Dr. Turek explained that if one is dead, they cannot rightly be punished. He strongly implied that punishment requires consciousness, and followed that by stating that if one is dead, they are not conscious. What struck me was where he states that hell is the punishment one is justly due for committing moral crimes. I’d agree with this sentiment, but I do wonder what Dr. Turek would say about the plethora of biblical data that suggests that the fate of those in hell is death.

The primary example is Romans 6:23, “for the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

When Dr. Turek says “the punishment that [one is] justly due”, he is speaking of wages. When he says “moral crimes”, he is speaking of sin. When one sins, they merit death. This is in stark contrast to “eternal life in Christ Jesus” presented in the second half of the verse. This is talking about the eternal state. So if we square Dr. Turek’s logic thus far with scripture, we see some trouble:

  1. If it is the case that one is punished, then the punishment for that sin is death (Romans 6:23). 
    (P ⊃ D)
  2. If it is the case that one is dead, then it is not the case that they have consciousness (per Dr. Turek’s argument in the previous video). 
    (D ⊃ ~C)
  3. If it is not the case that one is conscious, then it is not the case that one is punished (per Dr. Turek’s argument in the previous video).
    (~C ⊃ ~P)
  4. Therefore, if it is the case that one is punished (from #1), then it is not the case that one is punished (from #3).

This is a textbook hypothetical syllogism. Each step in this argument logically leads to the next one. However, when we put Dr. Turek’s arguments together with the revealed truth in Scripture, the argument becomes self-contradictory. There is an error here. Is it with Dr. Turek, or with Scripture (let the reader understand)?

This is actually where Dr. Turek departs from the usual traditionalist argument. While he has stated that if one is dead, there is no consciousness and thus no punishment, his fellow traditionalists usually imply that eternal conscious torment is a kind of death. This is the usual rejoinder to the argument I present above, however, given what he has said about death, I don’t think Dr. Turek would make that case. I certainly would be curious as to how he’d respond or clarify his position in light of this, though.

Some people do freely choose to be separated from God and God grants them their wish.

Back to the separation motif. Been there, done that. This does set up his next point, which has one glaring problem that I’d like to address.

When someone says that hell is separation from God.
What would you think if some young person came to his parent and said… “Dad I never want to see you again.” And so the father said, “fine!” BANG! Annihilated him — shot him.

Quick point: shooting someone doesn’t annihilate them, it kills them. This may seem like a small point, but it goes back to what I’ve stated before: conditionalists do not believe that the punishment for sin is annihilation of one’s being, but rather that death is the punishment, and annihilation is a secondary consequence.

That wouldn’t be loving, would it?

No. But this is also not a parallel of what a sinner speaking to God is saying. This is a common description I see of a sinner’s relationship with God, but it’s completely without biblical warrant. A rebellious sinner is not a son who has a relationship with their loving father in any way that makes sense to use such an analogy. Sinners are at enmity with God (Romans 8:7) continuously suppressing the truth about God though it is plainly known (Romans 1:18–19). Also, the description of being “children of God” is only ascribed to those in Christ who are the adopted sons of the Father. As such, the rebellious sinner is more analogous to a criminal who has broken into the King’s castle, set fire to it after raping and murdering his wife and daughters. With the utmost respect for Dr. Turek, there is precisely zero merit to starting off the analogy this way. It makes this question loaded with more philosophical and emotional baggage in favor of his decided outcome than it loads it with biblical precedence.

If we have a biblical understanding of how grievous, and how terrible sin is, we can see that death is a reasonable and just punishment for sin. If the sinner is a robber who has ruined everything the King holds dear, the King would be right to strike him down. While it may not be loving, per se, it would be just. That’s the more appropriate question, and even Dr. Turek’s comments earlier in this same video illustrate that the question of hell is one of justice, not love.

Finally, we can flip the question around on the traditionalist: 
What would you think if some young person came to his parent and said… “Dad I never want to see you again.” And so the father said, “fine!” and sent him away to be tortured for all eternity. Would that be loving?

Of course it wouldn’t — because that’s not the question. This is also the kind of bait-and-switch that happens when hell is defined as a place of separation based on autonomous free will instead of a punishment based on rebellious action.

It would be more loving to say, “fine, son, if you don’t want to be in my presence anymore, you don’t have to be…”

Yes, that would be more loving in this analogy, bu again, the question of hell is not one of love, but of justice. If the son simply requested to leave his father’s presence, it would be more loving and just to let him leave than to murder him. However, making this point equates a lifetime of rebellion against God, profaning His name, and living according to the flesh to simply asking to leave one’s presence. There’s no other word for this but nonsense.

“…but keep in mind that if you’re outside of my presence, life’s going to be hard for you,” and the son goes anyway. Nothing you can do.

Another bad analogy. Sorry, Dr. Turek. I love you and cherish the work you do for the Lord, but you really dropped the ball with this one. “Life’s going to be hard for you” does not in any way equate to eternal conscious torment, even on a separation motif. Also, we could analyze what “life” means in this analogy. Given what Dr. Turek has said about death in the previous video, I would not imagine him to claim that hell is a place of death. He seems here to imply that the risen lost will have eternal life, albeit in a state of torment. If this is indeed the case, it goes back to my critique above about life existing in a state of separation from God who is the source of all life.


9. What If There Was No Hell?

I think there’s a safe distinction to make between justice in the earthly sense, and justice in the cosmic sense. To be fair, though, Dr. Turek is specifically talking about cosmic justice here, so I can’t disagree with what he’s said in this case.

The logician in me wants to point out that — logically speaking — there are more possibilities for justice in the cosmic sense than hell or nothing, but hell is the punishment God has ordained. Honestly, this was a good video, so I won’t split hairs on a few technicalities when Dr. Turek is making general statements.

Well, said, brother.


10. Couldn’t God Have Made A World Where No One Goes To Hell?

This video goes a bit beyond the theology of hell, and to delve into all the implications of what’s being said goes well beyond the scope of this video. So I’ll cover just a few things.

It’s logically possible God could create a world where nobody sinned, but it might not be actually achievable with free creatures.

To this I give a hearty “Ugh…”

The language here is pretty specific. We’re dealing in possible worlds, actuality, achievablity. These are all molinist buzz words. While I don’t believe Dr. Turek is a molinist, he is in the camp of apologists deeply influenced by William Lane Craig, who is one of the more outspoken proponents of the view.

While I don’t want to go too far off topic here, this is a vitally important theological conversation, particularly as it relates to apologetics. Also, one’s concept of free will also comes into play when discussing a theology of hell, as Dr. Turek has already shown, and indeed repeats later in this video. For those interested in some of the serious concerns about this kind of theology and its implications, have a listen to the relevant segment in the broadcast below.

It might be that after the second person he creates the third person is going to sin.

This is my major beef with the elevation of the autonomous will of man. If free will is so important that God’s sovereignty and omnipotence takes a back seat to it, then it really exposes where the focus of one’s theology is.

There are good things that even come from people who don’t follow God.

My turn to use an apologetics buzz phrase: why what standard?

When we are challenged by atheists, we can say that such a thing is “good”, but to use such goodness as an example as to why God has to create a world wherein people go to hell is woefully lacking. Hebrews 11:6 is clear that nothing is pleasing to God apart from that which is done by faith in Him.

The implied premise in Dr. Turek’s argument here is that God allows sin in the world because those who sin can do good things in this world. He likens this to a parent who willingly becomes a parent knowing their child would rebel, he says:

Why did they choose to create [children]? …because they know that to love is more important than to never have loved at all. Even to have loved and lost is better than to have never loved at all.

To this I can agree, in part, but Dr. Turek again fails in his parent-child analogies. In the previous example, he failed to see that his objection to God annihilating the wicked could be used against his own position (how is it loving to torture your own child endlessly, etc.), but in this example, he fails to complete the analogy. He focuses on only one aspect of the relationship between children and parents: love. If we applied his parent-child analogy to the God-human relationship, we’d get an interesting notion:

  • Why did God choose to create mankind? …because he knew that to love is more important than to never have loved at all.

This doesn’t make much sense. In the first place, God never needed us to love or be loved. This is one of the most objectively beautiful elements of the Christian faith: that God is triune. From eternity past, three distinct persons lived in perfect loving relationship with one another. There was no element of interpersonal relationship that God needed mankind to fulfill. I find it hard to biblically justify that God required the potential for rebellion to experience genuine love in the fullest.

The one act of love that did require sin, however, was God’s sending of the Son to act as a substitute for His people. Yet while this was an act of love, it was not done for the express purpose of love, but rather to glorify and honor the triune God. In so doing, Jesus — to the glory of God — bought His people for a price, ensuring their eternal destiny wherein they will also glorify God. For those not in Christ, then, they will pay the penalty for their sins in an act of justice that will also glorify God.

Perhaps that is my biggest difference with Dr. Turek on this subject. I view God’s glory as the primary reason for all that is, was, and will be. Dr. Turek seems to emphasize free will, and views hell as an unfortunate consequence of the choice to reject God:

Not everybody accepts what [God] has done because not everybody wants to be with him forever. Some people want no God, and if they want no God, that’s what he’ll give them: separation.

I think the underlying issue here is that people like Dr. Turek don’t seem to think that God is glorified by hell. It’s something they need to soften because it gruesome, which it most certainly is, regardless of your view of hell. But when you start talking about how hell is necessary not because in punishing the wicked God is glorified, but rather that it’s necessary because you have to account for free will, you lose the capacity to really preach the Gospel from the texts of Scripture that speak about the destruction of the wicked.


11. How Can One Be Separated From An Omnipresent God?

Alas! We get to the big question. The central aspect of Dr. Turek’s argument thus far has been this: that hell is a place of separation. So naturally, we ask how one can be separated from an omnipresent being. Dr. Turek’s answer is interesting:

Well you’re not separated from His power because when we say that God is omnipresent, we don’t mean that God is here in this microphone, but we mean His power is in such a way that it holds together all things including me, you, and this microphone. He’s not a spacial being, so He’s not present in things… but He’s present to things in the sense that He holds all things together. And He holds hell together as well.

Now, I actually take issue with Dr. Turek’s definition of omnipresence here, but for the sake of argument, let’s go with it. In order for this answer to be anything but an ad hoc evasion of the question is for one to assume that Dr. Turek means that God’s presence just is His power insofar as it holds something together. Thus, since He holds hell together, He is present in Hell.

Unfortunately, this does not fit well with his primary proof text: 2 Thessalonians 1:9. As a refresher, here’s what it says:

They will undergo the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength (NET).

Translation issues aside — as discussed back with the first video — there is a conjunction between the presence of the Lord and His power. If we assume that this verse is teaching separation, it means that eternal destruction occurs both away from God’s presence and away from His power. To say that the risen lost will be separated from God’s presence, according to Dr. Turek, would necessitate that they be separated from His power as well. But this is the exact opposite of what he is saying. Dr. Turek goes on to explain what the separation means:

They in hell have rejected Him, so he shields His love from them because that’s what a loving being does if a person continually rejects the overtures of the lover. Finally the lover will say, “I’m going to leave you alone.” That’s what God does.

So it may not be that the risen lost are separated from God and His power (per 2 Thessalonians 1:9 on his reading), but rather that they are separated from God’s love. However, this doesn’t fit well with what Dr. Turek said in the very first video of the series:

[Hell] is to be separated from the only source of goodness. The ultimate source of goodness. So hell literally is to be separated from God by your own choice because you don’t want Him.

It seems that Dr. Turek has softened his view between these two videos (which was all a single day in real time). Initially, hell is to be separated from the source of goodness — God Himself — but now he claims that hell is to be separated from the love which comes from the source of goodness. So which is it? Either way, it seems that Dr. Turek’s initial response about God’s power is moot. Unfortunately, this all becomes quite convoluted once proper conclusions are drawn. Here’s what we’ve been able to gather so far:

  1. If God exercises His power, He is present.
    (A ⊃ B)
  2. God’s power is exercised in Hell.
    (A)
  3. Therefore God is present in Hell. 
    (B)

This is a simple modus ponens argument. 1 & 2 are drawn from Dr. Turek’s own statements here in this video; the conclusion follows logically. The problem that arises now is what Dr. Turek means by “present”. Clearly he is not defining “separate” as the opposite of “present” or his statements regarding hell as separation from God, while simultaneously being a place where God’s power demonstrates His presence. So…

  1. God is present in Hell (from #3 above)
  2. Hell is separation from God (Dr. Turek’s definition)
  3. Therefore, presence is not the opposite of separation.

So, through simple logical deduction, we can see that Dr. Turek’s definition is insufficient. Even if we are charitable, as I have tried to be, then it is clear from his own definitions that Dr. Turek does not believe that separation entails any particular relationship to presence. Given the vagueness of how he must define presence (to avoid logical contradiction, that is), it is unhelpful for him to comment on omnipresence at all, as this attribute of God requires a definition of presence to begin with. Since Dr. Turek has not explicitly given such a definition, and since the definition one can reasonably draw from his arguments here is so different from the general use of the term, it’s difficult to make any further critique.

God is equally infinite in all of His attributes, so He’s infinitely loving, but He’s also infinitely just. This is one of the problems we have with some views of God: we tend to weigh God more in one way or the other — He’s more loving, He’s more just — no He’s infinite in both.

God is equally infinite in all of His attributes? I don’t think this is the case at all. There are certain attributes of God which are demonstrated in eternity past as well as eternity future, but some which are not demonstrated in eternity past and into the future. God’s love and holiness fit the former description, while His wrath and arguably His justice fit in the latter.

I do find it interesting that throughout all these videos on hell, Dr. Turek has been making the case that the traditional view is loving in the sense that God does not force heaven upon those who don’t want it, so in their autonomous free choice, he instead “allows” them to be tormented forever. There is a kind of doublespeak happening here. While Dr. Turek criticizes others for weighing one attribute of God over another, he has shown through a number of his responses an apparent belief that somehow demonstrating that hell is a loving response to free will is more important than describing it as a place of divine wrath and justice. Ironically, he supports this criticism by claiming that both divine justice and divine love are equally infinite, which doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Justice is derivative of God’s holiness, and a vehicle for His wrath. God’s love is of itself eternal.

Perhaps I’m muddying the waters by conflating “eternal” and “infinite” here — I admit that very well may be the case. However, if I’m not, then we’d have to have a different discussion about what the difference is between “infinite” and “eternal” are with regards to the attributes of God. Until such a time, I’ll leave it at that.


12. How Do Annihilationists Interpret John 3:16?

I admit, this one is a bit disappointing. Dr. Turek immediately goes into straw man mode with his answer. When asked about the merits of a particular verse with regards to the case for conditional immortality, he states:

There are no verses in the Bible… What we tend to do is…take a verse and just pull it out of context and say, “this verse can tell me everything I need to know.” Well, that normally is not what you do with the Bible…

I’ve never heard of any serious theologian say this, especially with regards to the issue of conditionalism. This is the tell-tale sign of a straw man being created. While I’m sure there are some people out there that will create entire doctrines based on a single interpretation of a single text, that’s not the norm, unless you believe that hell is separation from God and you cite only 2 Thessalonians 1:9 as your proof text. I’ll let that simmer. Moving on.

You’ve got to read around the passage to see really what it means, and you’ve got to go to other passages to see how they all come together.

Okay, let’s look at John 3:16 (ESV) in context:

12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

Jesus draws a comparison between his coming crucifixion and Moses’ raising of the serpent in the wilderness. This is a reference to Numbers 21, which states, “Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” This was in response to God sending snakes upon Israel (21:6a). Those who were bit were infected and would surely die (21:6b). Thus, God provided a way for them to live: look upon the serpent. So too — as Jesus says — in the New Testament, man is infected with sin and would surely die (3:18), but God provided a way for us to live: look upon the Christ (3:16). So Jesus draws from an example where live is given upon a condition. He illustrates this, then points to the future regarding Himself and His relationship with the world saying the famous words, “whoever believes in [the Son] should not perish but have eternal life.” Again, the direct contrast to perishing is eternal life.

So, far from reading a verse out of context, we can draw a sharp distinction from John 3:16 and the surrounding context which strongly implies that the punishment for sin is death — or “perishing” — and that the gift of God, provisional upon one’s status in Christ, is eternal life.

When you go to other passages, like… Matthew 25:46, you look at that whole section of Scripture, the sheep and the goats, and the final judgment…it talks about eternal punishment and it talks about eternal life. It doesn’t talk about eternal perishing, it talks about both.

I’ve addressed this above, but it bears repeating: Matthew 25:46 addresses eternal punishment, not eternal punishing. “Punishment” is a noun of action, and with the adjective “eternal” it in no way implies that the act of punishing itself extends into eternity, but rather than the act of punishment has effects which last into eternity. For additional examples, see Mark 3:29, Hebrews 5:9, 6:2; 9:12,15. The most obvious of these examples being Hebrews 5:9 which says that Jesus, “became the source of eternal salvation” for us. We do not believe that Jesus will forever be in the process of saving us, but rather that in saving us, we have the effects of that salvation for all eternity.

So you’d have to take that passage and the one in 2 Thessalonians and some others, compare them to John 3:16 to get a more robust view about what the Bible is really teaching about the afterlife.

Yes, and we conditionalists have done this. Literally every proof text that the traditionalist can offer in the end better support conditional immortality. We have exegeted these passages a number of times, and from a number of varying theological perspectives, and have provided credible answers for every major objection that traditionalism has to offer, as well as some fringe ones. The problem is not with us taking a few verses here and there; that problem has consistently been the struggle we face when dealing with traditionalists, not in our responses to them. For specific responses, see the link below.

I don’t think you can just take one verse — you’ve got to look at them all.

Agreed.

And I think when you look at them all, the traditional view makes the most sense.

And we eagerly await any demonstration of that position.

Might the annihilationist view be correct? I’m not ruling it out…but I think you’ve got to look at it all, you can’t take just one verse.

I must hand it to Dr. Turek, at least he’s open and honest. That’s very refreshing. Seriously. I know I’ve been critical of him over these videos, but when the typical response is “No! Annihilationism is heresy!” it’s nice to have someone who is charitable enough to admit that maybe, just maybe, he has been wrong. As far as taking a single verse, though, I agree, we can’t do that. This is also why I reject that hell is a place of separation from God per 2 Thessalonians 1:9, but I digress.


13. Should We Divide Over Our View Of Hell?

Well, well said, Dr. Turek.

I completely agree that we need to be rigid on the essentials, but free to disagree on the secondary issues. This is the last video with Dr. Turek about the subject of hell (for now), and I think he has finished it well. This is a good message that is encouraging to hear from someone in the traditionalist camp — a camp which is usually much more vitriolic and uncharitable when discussing this topic.

The only correction I would offer — and only for the sake of clarity — is from when Dr. Turek says:

[The conditionalist] believes in hell, he just thinks its of a shorter duration than eternity.

Not quite. We recognize that hell is eternal. We just reject that a conscious experience of torment is the punishment which sinners bear in hell. We understand that the wages of sin is death, and that the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:23). That death is indeed eternal: it goes on forever, it will never be reversed.

Other than that, I want to thank Dr. Turek for engaging in this discussion. It has been a joy to review these videos as they come out, and I hope that more traditionalists can keep the tone of this debate on the level that Dr. Turek has.

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