Is Preston Sprinkle, coauthor of Erasing Hell… Erasing Hell?
I think there’s much work to be done on the language that the Dead Sea Scrolls use of, I don’t want to use the term “hell,” because they don’t, but of “afterlife punishment” because the language is very close to the New Testament, if fact it uses phrases like “eternal destruction,” and in the context very clearly it is, they are, annihilationist through and through the Dead Sea scrolls. There’s no real evidence that they believed in eternal torment. And as some of you may know, the parallels in thinking and theological concepts between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament are very, very close. […]
There’s a problem with the word “everlasting,” which, the more I studied the Greek word “aonios,” that’s just a very complicated word. I don’t think it clearly means, I mean, this is going to sound weird, but I don’t think it clearly means anything. Like, I don’t think you can say it clearly means “everlasting” or clearly means, you know, “of the age,” some people would say. You have to take it almost in each individual context, because the word is very flexible and was used very widely. That’s just a major problem there. […]
When you grow up with the view cemented in your mind that the word “hell” means “everlasting punishment,” which is what a lot of us grew up with, then those images aren’t even explored… It is interesting how firmly embedded that view is, without people, I mean, it’s in almost every doctrinal statement I read, specifying the duration of hell is there, with no one asking, “Have you really looked into that?” […]
In Matthew 25 [verse 46], I would say, yeah, I think that at first glance, it seems like a slam dunk, if you’re a traditionalist, but again, once you get into the endings of Greek nouns… at the very least I hope that every listener can appreciate, wow, there’s layers of discussions here that, you know, you can’t, you know, just assume one way or the other. You’ve got to do a little work here.
Preston Sprinkle… Erasing Hell
Although Sprinkle hasn’t utterly rejected the idea of eternal torment, he certainly seems to be leaning further away from it than he was during the Erasing Hell writing process. The way I see it, if one comes to terms with the idea that there is no such thing as eternal torment (annihilationism), then this is a huge step in the right direction.
How Annihilationism and Universalism Similarly Reject Traditionalist Views
Neither annihilationists nor universalists believe in eternal torment, punishment, unbelief, or hell. Please note the emphasis on the word “eternal.” Some annihilationists and universalists believe in an afterlife experience of torment, punishment, unbelief, and hell, but of those who do, they do not believe these things are eternal.
But here’s the kicker.
Let’s suppose that Sprinkle does his homework, rejects eternal torment, and feels called by God to get vocal about his change in views. I doubt that John Piper would Tweet, “Farewell, Preston Sprinkle.” Why? Because annihilationists aren’t really considered heretical the way universalists are.
There are just too many people with annihilationist views or, regarding annihilationism, too many people who claim agnosticism (that the truth about annihilationism is unknowable). To slap that old heresy label on anyone who doesn’t embrace traditionalism would cause some huge problems in the institutional church. So, traditionalists put up with the soft-hearted annihilationists, viewing them as decent believers who have made a theological error. Oops. Silly annihilationists. We can overlook that, they say. After all, John Stott, Greg Boyd, F.F. Bruce, C.S. Lewis and the like aren’t (or weren’t) traditionalists.
But universalists? There’s no toleration for their views. Traditionalists condemn universalist views as heresy. Damned heresy from hell. Shut-up-about-it-or-get-out-of-our-church type of error. Dangerous doctrine, they say. Even though people like William Barclay, Karl Barth, Hannah Whitall Smith, Bishop Desmond TuTu, and the like also aren’t (or weren’t) traditionalists.
Of traditionalist, annihilationists, and universalists, only universalists claim, in the plainest and most literal sense, that Jesus successfully accomplishes His mission to seek and save the lost. And for this, we are heretics. Go figure.