Maxey - Thrasher Debate

Eternal Destiny of the Wicked
Perpetual Torment or Ultimate Extinction
(An In-Depth Biblical Discussion)

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Concluding Thoughts by
Al Maxey

Daniel Patte, in his book Discipleship According to the Sermon on the Mount, made the following insightful observation, "Truly critical biblical study requires us to take the risk of personally assuming responsibility for our interpretations, and of exposing ourselves to others as we reveal the reasons for our interpretive choices." This is exactly what I have attempted to do over the years with regard to my various beliefs and practices, and I thank Thomas Thrasher for providing a critical sounding board where my position on the nature of man and the final destiny of the wicked could be examined in some depth. Together we have penned over 114,000 words in this debate (mine outnumbering his about 2 to 1), and have likely delved deeper into the matter than many would have believed possible. Even then, however, there is much more that could be discussed. We truly have not yet fully plumbed the depths of this matter.

However, as with most dialogues, a point is inevitably reached when it becomes obvious that both sides have presented their major points, and neither side is swayed from their beliefs by the other, and thus it is time to bring the exchange of ideas to a close. We have reached that point in our discussion of this vital biblical topic.

Not surprisingly, Thomas and I differ dramatically on what we believe the Bible teaches with regard to the nature of man, just as we also do with respect to the ultimate destiny of the unredeemed. Thomas is a proponent of what is commonly referred to these days as the Traditionalist position, whereas my views are more in line with the Conditionalist perspective. The former promotes the idea that men inherently possess immortality, in the form of an immortal soul, which will immediately enter a Hadean realm at the moment of physical death. These conscious souls will then either experience happiness in Paradise or horror in a place of fiery torment. At the Parousia these souls will be placed back into their resurrected bodies and a judgment will occur. The redeemed will be with the Lord forever, and the unredeemed will be tortured in Hell without end.

The Conditionalist position, on the other hand, maintains that the biblical view of the nature of man is holistic in nature. Man does not possess a soul, man is a living soul (Genesis 2:7). Man, by nature, is mortal, but unto the redeemed a promise of immortality has been extended. Thus, immortality is conditional, not the inherent right of all men. This eternal life is in the Lord Jesus Christ. At physical death both the wicked and the saved sleep in the dust of the ground awaiting the day of resurrection. On that day they shall be called forth from their graves. The righteous dead shall be lifted up to meet the Lord in the air, and removed to a place of safety while God's fiery judgment rains down upon this earth and its wicked inhabitants (2 Peter 3:7). The wicked will not be given immortality, but will be consumed by the outpouring of God's fiery wrath. They will be utterly destroyed; annihilated. The redeemed, however, will "put on immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:52f) and will then dwell in the new heavens and earth with their God.

Thus, eternal life is a GIFT from God which will be bestowed only upon those who "seek for ... immortality" (Romans 2:7), and not upon all men indiscriminately. We are informed that Jesus Christ "brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10). I find no place in Scripture where eternal LIFE is promised to those who have spurned God Almighty; rather, their fate is consistently declared to be DEATH. "The wages of sin is DEATH, but the free GIFT of God is eternal LIFE in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).

Had Christ not been raised victoriously over sin and death on the third day, then ALL men (even those who have died "in Him") would "have perished" (1 Corinthians 15:18). However, HIS victory at His resurrection assures us of OUR victory at our resurrection on the last day. This is clearly why the early disciples are characterized as going about "preaching Jesus and the resurrection" (Acts 17:18). They proclaimed not just His resurrection, but also ours. The ultimate hope of the Christian for eternal life is NOT in some ghost-like entity which is trapped inside our mortal bodies and which flies off to greater life at the moment of our physical demise (this is the teaching of paganism), rather the hope of the Christian is in the resurrection from the dead. The Traditionalist teaching embraced by Thomas actually undermines the very foundation of the Christian faith, and makes the resurrection an unnecessary absurdity.

When God breathed the "breath of life" into our mortal, dust-of-the-earth bodies we BECAME "living beings/souls" (Genesis 2:7). This in no way teaches that God put some "immortal spirit being" inside this physical body. After all, the same exact words are used of all the other life-forms on the planet ... bug, bird, bull and beast. God breathed the breath of life into animals also, according to Scripture, and they too became "living beings/souls." Indeed, the phrase "living soul" is used many times more often in Scripture of the other creatures than of man. Again, the biblical view of the nature of man is what is called holistic. The view of Thomas, however, is pagan dualism. This latter view comes more from Plato than from God, a fact to which Thomas seems woefully oblivious.

With regard to the two great eternal destinies, notice just a couple of key passages. "God has GIVEN us eternal life, and this life is IN HIS SON. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:11-12). Our everlasting life ... our immortality ... is fully conditional. It hinges upon being IN CHRIST JESUS. The apostle John says that IF we have the Son, THEN we have the life. IF we do NOT have the Son, then we do NOT have the life! Thomas, however, declares the lie of Satan, rather than the Truth of God: Thomas says you DO have the life! God can't take life from you. You are just as immortal as HE is, even though Paul declares that He "ALONE possesses immortality" (1 Timothy 6:16). Thus, Thomas teaches the wicked will have eternal life just as the righteous will have eternal life. BOTH will live forever!! ... or so says Thomas.

The Traditionalists, to prove their false doctrine, must literally reinterpret and redefine clear biblical terms. They will declare of the wicked, "Of course they still have life! It's just life away from God's presence; it's life in misery; it's life in torment ... but it is LIFE nevertheless!" Thomas, therefore, declares that death is really an illusion, and that the person is actually more alive when dead. The traditionalists redefine "death" to mean "life." It is characterized as a "life of loss" (rather than loss of life), but it is LIFE just the same (a fact they can't seem to comprehend). Thomas declares that man is INCAPABLE of ever truly experiencing loss of life. We CAN'T fully die. Why? Because we are just as immortal as God. Life is our inherent right, and we WILL live ... either with or without Him. What arrogance!

That certainly does sound a lot like the original lie of Satan to Eve, doesn't it? "You surely shall NOT die!" (Genesis 3:4). Then the crafty serpent said to her, "You will be like God!" In actuality, Thomas is preaching the same false doctrine today (the "gospel of the serpent") when he upholds his traditionalist dogma.

Remember the passage which some have called "the gospel in a nutshell" -- John 3:16? "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should NOT PERISH, but have eternal LIFE." Notice the statement which immediately precedes this -- "...whosoever believes may IN HIM have eternal life" (vs. 15). Eternal life (immortality) is ONLY "in Him." That is conditional immortality. Those who do NOT accept the Lord Jesus Christ must receive the "wages" of their decision -- DEATH. "For the wages of sin is DEATH, but the free gift of God is eternal LIFE in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).

What is the ultimate destiny of those who die "in Christ" and sleep in the dust of the ground? They will be called forth from the grave and will "put on immortality." They will then dwell forever in the new heavens and earth. What is the ultimate destiny of those who die outside of Christ? They too will be called forth from the dust of the ground to experience judgment. Their fate will be the "second death." They will be executed. It will be an everlasting death; one from which there is no coming back; no future resurrection to life. Once they are dead, they are dead forever!

Thomas ended his concluding remarks by quoting Matthew 25:46: "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." What IS that punishment? DEATH. And, yes, it will be just as enduring as the reward for the righteous. Both will be forever! For just as long as the redeemed are ALIVE, so will the unredeemed be DEAD. God does not sentence the wicked to a never-ending process of dying (as Thomas would have you assume from this passage). If that was so, then the eternal punishment would be an eternal punishing; it would be DYING, not DEATH. The latter is a result, the former a process. The punishment specified in Scripture is DEATH. That result WILL be achieved. In Thomas' view, however, it never will be. Thus, Thomas has had to basically rewrite God's Word in order to teach his pagan doctrine of everlasting LIFE for the wicked.

Before closing with a quote from Edward Fudge, which I think is a fitting concluding remark for this exchange, let me say just a few words about the tactics of my debate partner. Thomas has, regrettably, displayed during the course of this debate a complete disregard for common Christian courtesy. He has repeatedly stalled and dragged this exchange out unnecessarily, and he has obviously done so with what can only be called a spirit of premeditated pettiness. Does anyone actually believe it took him six weeks to write his ten paragraphs in his concluding post? Of course not! I knew to the very day when he would send this post, and so did the readers. Readers, do you dare trust matters of eternal import to one who has repeatedly evidenced such a spirit? I certainly don't. Frankly, the behavior of my opponent has been such that he has no credibility at all in my estimation. By his repeated and persistent pettiness he has only harmed his own position. I have received numerous emails from people who have stated that they formerly embraced the traditional position, but when they witnessed Thomas' behavior in this debate they began to realize that these were the tactics of desperation, thus they determined to carefully scrutinize their former views, and a good number of these respondents have declared they have abandoned that traditionalist dogma, and frankly we have Thomas' attitude to thank for that.

Thomas is a member of the ultra-conservative and ultra-legalistic wing of the Church of Christ church; a faction known as the Non-Institutional group (often called the "anti" church because they are anti/against just about everything). Anyone who does not bow to their perceptions and self-made laws derived from personal assumptions is perceived as lower than a heathen. Thus, Thomas speaks of devoted disciples like Edward Fudge and Leroy Garrett as being men who "have left the truth and ceased contending for 'the faith once delivered to the saints.'" This, of course, is absolute nonsense. He also castigates good, honest disciples of Christ as being men who "are not even willing to accept what the Bible teaches on the conditions of salvation, New Testament worship, the nature and work of the New Testament church, and a host of other matters." For those readers unfamiliar with the ultra-legalistic mindset, this inflammatory rhetoric just means these men (whom they have labeled and libeled) have simply arrived at differing convictions than those held by Thomas and his fellow factionists, and thus these men who dare to differ with them are all regarded as apostates bound straight for Hell. A zillion years of torture is not punishment enough, in Thomas' view, for sins such as eating a sandwich in the church building, helping an orphan out of the church "treasury," observing the Lord's Supper on any day other than Sunday, or using an instrument as accompaniment when singing praises to the Father. In my view, such godless teaching as that embraced by Thomas only reflects an impoverished heart; one devoid of any true perception of the nature of Jesus or Truth. Should we ever seriously look to such sick souls for insight into the Word? God forbid!!

I will conclude this debate with the concluding remarks of a dear brother in Christ: Edward Fudge. He brought his lengthy study of this issue to a close, in his book The Fire That Consumes, with these thoughts, which I fully share:

Thomas Thrasher has not even begun to demonstrate from Scripture that my position is wrong. Indeed, the more he sought to defend the tedious tenets of his traditional dogma the more convicted the hearts of discerning disciples became that his teaching was fatally flawed and terribly twisted. Thus, I thank Thomas for shining a spotlight on the false nature of his doctrine. In so doing he only made the glorious Truth appear all the more appealing to our readers.

May God richly bless each of you who have read this debate, and may your eyes be opened to the marvelous grace of our Father and of His Son, in whom we have LIFE EVERLASTING. If any of you have any questions about any point I have made in my presentations, I would be happy to dialogue with you through private emails.

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