Quite Possibly the Shortest Defense of John Stott Ever

The title of this article says it all. I have heard many times, and perhaps you have too,  that annihilationists fall to the side of annihilationism as an emotional response. In other words, they can’t imagine that a loving God would cause anyone to suffer torment for an eternity and so they read the Scriptures with that presupposition. The implication here is that annihilationism isn’t biblical. In fact they even quote John Stott to make this point. And this is how they quote him:

“I find the concept [of eternal conscious punishment in hell] intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterising their feelings or cracking under the strain.”

Wrong. Well, sort of. Yes, John Stott said this. But this is only part of the quote. Here’s the rest:

“I find the concept [of eternal conscious punishment in hell] intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterising their feelings or cracking under the strain. But our emotions are a fluctuating, unreliable guide to truth and must not be exalted to the place of supreme authority in determining it. As a committed Evangelical, my question must be — and is — not what does my heart tell me, but what does God’s word say?” And in order to answer this question, we need to survey the Biblical material afresh and to open our minds (not just our hearts) to the possibility that Scripture points in the direction of annihilationism, and that ‘eternal conscious torment’ is a tradition which has to yield to the supreme authority of Scripture.(John Stott, Essentials, 314-15)

And there it is. Quite possibly the shortest defense ever of John Stott. Hopefully, you will keep this in mind next time you hear someone, like Dr. Matt Waymeyer at the 2012 Shepherd’s Conference, say this to the public.

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7 thoughts on “Quite Possibly the Shortest Defense of John Stott Ever”

  1. Of course, anyone who listens to my seminar carefully will find that I didn’t quote Stott to make the point that people adopt annihilationism as an emotional response—I quoted him early in the seminar as an example of someone who was influential in helping annihilationism become so popular (in the context of providing a brief history of the growing pervasiveness of the view). In fact, in the very next sentence in my seminar, I quoted Stott as saying, “We need to survey the biblical material afresh and to open our minds…to the possibility that Scripture points in the direction of annihilationism.” I was very respectful to Stott throughout the seminar, describing him as far less dogmatic and bombastic than others who have written against the traditional view.

    Annihiliationist Clark Pinnock is the one I quoted (much later in the seminar) to make the point that some people adopt annihilationism out of an emotional response to the thought of eternal punishment. Pinnock, who characterized the God of everlasting punishment as a bloodthirsty monster who is morally worse than Hitler and more nearly like Satan than God—even asking the question “How can [someone] love a God like that?”—explained his reasons for adopting annihilationism with these words: “I am rejecting the traditional view of hell in part out of a sense of moral and theological revulsion to it. The idea [of everlasting punishment] is profoundly disturbing, and the thought that this is inflicted upon them by divine decree offends my conviction about God’s love. This is probably the primary reason why people question the tradition so vehemently in the first place. They are not first of all impressed by its lack of a good scriptural basis (that comes later) but are appalled by its awful moral implications.” Pinnock was the one in my crosshairs, not Stott.

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    1. Hi Matt,

      As I mentioned in a comment below, I think the issue is not with an explicit mischaracterization of Stott, but an implicit one.

      That aside, I’d love to dialogue with you about some of the critiques we at Rethinking Hell offered, of your lecture at the Shepherd’s Conference. If you’re interested in a friendly discussion, whether in private or on our podcast, email me at chrisdate@rethinkinghell.com.

      Thanks!

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  2. Matt, this is what you said in the lecture:

    “In 1988, John Stott wrote, ‘Emotionally, I find the concept of everlasting punishment in hell intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterising their feelings or cracking under the strain… we need to survey the Biblical material afresh and to open our minds to the possibility that Scripture points in the direction of annihilationism.'”

    I appreciate the clarification, and I agree with you about Pinnock. But you still didn’t fully quote Stott. I think you gave people the impression that he was heavily relying on his emotions.

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    1. Yeah, we addressed this in part two of our review of Matt Waymeyer’s lecture here: http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2013/02/episode-21-response-to-matt-waymeyer-part-2. The issue is not an explicit mischaracterization of Stott, but an implicit one. There seems to be no legitimate reason to leave out the important part of Stott’s words; and even if it’s done only for brevity, the damage it does outweighs the five seconds more it would take to read

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  3. The doctrine of eternal torment in hell is biblical and there is no way to explain away the plain logic of the verses in context. Secondly, Gordon H. Clark proved that Scripture makes no distinction between heart and mind since the “heart” thinks. (Proverbs 23:7).

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    1. Charlie –

      I totally agree with what Clark said on the topic. I’ve listened to his lectures on this issue. As far as the topic of annihilation being unbiblical, I encourage you to take a look at the stuff I’ve written on the topic in the “Articles” section.

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