I have noticed a curious trend among professing evangelicals to adopt the doctrine of annihilationism. That doctrine holds that the wicked who are sent to Hell are burned into nothingness. That is, contrary to the traditional belief, there is no such thing as the eternal, conscious consignment of the wicked to a state of punishment. They are annihilated, hence the name.
Historically, this doctrine has been associated with the sects, primarily the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Seventh-Day Adventists. But in our recent times, it has become mainstream. Even the otherwise orthodox teacher, the late John Stott, adopted it. The spread is because of a growing embarrassment among many over the supposed harshness of the doctrine of an eternal, conscious punishment in Hell. I have been told that annihilationism serves to remove one stumblingblock that keeps unbelievers from accepting the Gospel.
My response is this: Removing every distinctive doctrine of Christianity would make it more palatable to unbelievers. But, what then do you have left? You have unbelief. You would certainly have no Christianity, and no Jesus. Not in any meaningful sense. The unbeliever hasn’t moved to a position of faith. Rather, faith has become unbelief. I cannot accept that as a means of evangelism.
Furthermore, how does truth change in order to make it palatable to those who deny it? If someone believes that two plus two equals 749, do we stop saying that it really equals four in order to make math palatable to him? I would hope not!
The proper question is not what the unbeliever thinks, but rather what does God say?
In answer to that, we have God’s word on the subject in Revelation 20:10: “[Then] the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” There is no equivocation here! The torment of the wicked is eternal. They never escape. God’s justice never finds satisfaction in mere ashes.
The problem with the annihilationist assumptions about unbelievers is the acceptance that the stated reason for unbelief is the true reason. The Bible tells us that unbelief is a cover, not an issue in itself. Every person knows that there is a God, and that we are answerable to Him. The issue is that, apart from the intervention of the Holy Spirit, every person hates that knowledge, because he loves his sin. Since those two things are incompatible, he must either give up his sin or give up his knowledge of God. His choice? He chooses to suppress his knowledge of God (Romans 1:18-19). Appeasing him by doing away with the doctrine of eternal Hell does nothing to address that deliberate choice. It is like taking an antibiotic in an effort to cure a virus.