Arguing with annihilationism
: a doctrinal assessment with special reference to recent evangelical debate

  • Andrew Saville

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis offers a doctrinal assessment of Annihilationism (also known as Conditionalism), which is that view of hell which holds that there is a hell, but that it has an end in the extinction of the damned. In my first chapter I make a survey of the importance, history and terminology of the debate. Until recently most Evangelicals held that the damned were tormented in hell without end. I have termed this position Traditionalism, since it is the mainstream position of the Western theological tradition. However, over the last 25 years Annihilationism has been advanced by a number of evangelical theologians.

In my second and third chapters I examine the two principal doctrinal objections Annihilationism raises about the traditional doctrine of hell as unending torment: the issue of justice (how can an unending punishment be just? And the related issue of how can God be loving if he inflicts unending torment?), and the issue of dualism (how can the unending existence of the evil in hell be reconciled with future perfection? And the related issue of how can the existence of hell not spoil heaven?). I begin with an exposition of each objection in the recent literature of the last 25 years, but I also draw on the debate from the previous period when it was widely debated, in the second half of the nineteenth century. I argue that annihilationists' doctrinal arguments are not conclusive, and at certain points are to be rejected. However, I also argue that annihilationists may be correct to argue that the punishment posited by a traditionalist hell is excessively severe. I present the notion of the fixity of the damned as a possible mitigation. I also argue that annihilationists are correct to argue that Traditionalism is excessively dualistic. I present a modified Traditionalism to respond to this point, which I call Reconciliationism, in which the damned cease to sin, are lucid, and are reconciled to God, while remaining in hell. My exposition of Reconciliationism draws particularly on the work of Henri Blocher, with additional exposition of the position's advocates, such as T.R. Birks and James Langton Clarke, from the latter half of the nineteenth which was the only period in history when this position was widely discussed. A fourth chapter explores the relationship between the experience of Christ on the cross and the damned in hell. As well as expounding the arguments in the debate about hell, I also examine the link between the cross and hell in Luther, Calvin, Owen, Edwards and Packer. I argue that, on the basis of this link established by the doctrine of penal substitution, annihilationists are forced to draw unorthodox conclusions about the incarnation and the resurrection.
Date of Award2000
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University

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