Summary of Stackhouse’s Response to Burk’s ECT

I spent 11 posts carefully engaging all of Denny Burk’s case for Eternal Conscious Torment in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. To give myself something to look forward to, I didn’t read the responses from the co-contributors beforehand. Anyway, it was great reading them last night so I’ll now summarise them for you, starting with John Stackhouse, who holds the Terminal Punishment (aka Conditionalism/Annihilationism) view.

Stackhouse and Burk
Stackhouse and Burk

I like that Stackhouse started by highlighting the significant common ground with Burk, before critiquing his case.

In particular, we agree that our view of God is at stake in our view of hell. So I grasp the nettle to suggest that Burk’s view of God is rather more focused on God’s greatness than upon God’s goodness and particularly, it seems, at the expense of celebrating God’s love for his creatures.

John Stackhouse, page 44

I think Stackhouse explains the role of emotions really well:

Burk starts by taking swipes at his theological counterparts for being “emotional”—as if emotions are not conveyors of information that theologians, like any careful thinkers, ought to pay attention to. Why does this formulation of doctrine repel me? Why does this view of God horrify me? Perhaps it is because I have unsanctified feelings that need to be corrected by God’s Word. But perhaps instead, those are sanctified feelings, or even just good, basic human feelings remaining of the imago dei, that are warning me that I am on the wrong theological path. To be “emotional” is simply to be humanly alert to what’s going on, and we are wise to take the feelings into account, although not, of course, to be dominated by them.

[Burk also begins his main argument with] a story not from the Bible [, which appeals] immediately to our emotions… (I myself don’t think there’s anything wrong with such a move; it simply seems incongruous from someone who has just taken pains to warn us about the emotionalism of his opponents.)

John Stackhouse, page 44

Stackhouse now examines Burk’s central argument.

Despite Burk’s claim to be rigorously biblical, I submit that his argument is essentially deductive:

Since God is infinitely great, any sin against such a God deserves infinite punishment …

The immediate problem here, and one that shows up in all the exegetical work that follows, is that Burk shows precisely nowhere in the Bible a single passage in which this argument is actually made. … I suggest that it is Burk who is guided by his emotions and intuitions expressed deductively and that the actual data of Scripture are entirely against him when freed from the interpretative presupposition he brings to it from reasoning such as this.

John Stackhouse, page 44-45

Stackhouse’s next point is similar to Love or Glory? What Motivates God?:

Burk’s view of God has God pursuing primarily his own glory:

God has created the world for the purpose of exalting the glory of his own name (Isa. 42:8; 43:7).

Denny Burk, page 42

Let’s notice first that the former of the two proof texts offered here does not in fact make the point in question, and that the latter one actually speaks of God’s love for Israel, not that Israel is some means God uses merely to glorify himself.

Indeed, this view of God as preoccupied with his own glory, so popular among some evangelicals today, is a dangerously narrow view of God’s purposes in the world. It is narrow because it leaves out lots of scriptural teaching:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16)

not so that God would get more glory but so

“that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Likewise, Jesus suffered and died for us “for the joy set before him” (Heb. 12:2)—the joy of a lover who gets to save the beloved. God is deeply invested in the whole cosmos and in making shalom (peace”) everywhere, and so he undertook

“to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:20).

John Stackhouse, page 45

Stackhouse spends another three paragraphs going even further in his criticism of this, particularly in relation to Calvinism, but I’ll move on for the sake of space.

His next point is that the Bible discusses Judgment, and its consequences, which he believes is extinction for those opposing God, in more than just the ten passages Burk looked at. Furthermore:

In passage after passage of Burk’s analysis, moreover, he adds meanings that are not in the text—especially the idea that the suffering depicted therein is eternal, which is, after all, begging the question.

John Stackhouse, page 46

Stackhouse gives a few examples of where he thinks Burk has done this, including his discussion of Isaiah 66:

[The worms and fire] do not die, but they are consuming corpses, not zombies or some other form of perpetually living “undead.” The deathlessness of the symbols of judgment, worms and fire, speak of the perpetuity of God’s holy antipathy toward sin, but the corpses themselves are dead. They’re finished. And Burk has the integrity in this case to admit that he is, indeed, adding information to the text:

“Though not mentioned specifically in this text, this scene seems to assume that God’s enemies have been given a body fit for an unending punishment.”

I suggest that it is not “the text” that is doing the assuming here.

John Stackhouse, page 46

Stackhouse’s final point is that:

God’s wrath is fierce, but it does not last forever, as we are told in Scripture again and again (Ps. 30:5; 103:9). … And since universalism is not correct …, terminal punishment remains as the view consistent with scriptural teaching.

In Burk’s view, alas, God’s wrath does last forever, he punishes forever, and he does so because it makes him look good to do so (equal to increasing his glory). I respectfully suggest that the view of God as keeping human beings conscious in torment forever does nothing to achieve God’s other purposes of saving the creatures he loves and enhancing shalom.

I suggest further that such a view doesn’t even achieve its desired result: to enhance God’s glory. Quite the contrary: It poses an unbiblical and therefore unnecessary stumbling block to genuine faith. Such a view is, to speak more bluntly, sadistic, and the God of the Bible, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the exact opposite of one who gets joy from the suffering of others: he gets joy from suffering for others (Heb. 12:2 again).

John Stackhouse, page 47

I like that Stackhouse finishes by praising God:

For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Psalm 30:5, NRSV

Love or Glory? What Motivates God?―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―10

Denny Burk wrote the biblical and theological case for Eternal Conscious Torment in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. In this post I’ll start engaging with his conclusion.

The Bible teaches that God has created the world for the purpose of exalting the glory of his own name (Isa. 42:8; 43:7).

Denny Burk, page 42

everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory 1, whom I formed and made.”

Isaiah 43:7, ESV

I think the Bible’s teaching is more nuanced. I think that the Father created everything through and out of love for Jesus:

For by him [Jesus] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

Colossians 1:16, ESV (cf John 1:3, Romans 11:36)
The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.
John 3:35, ESV (cf Hebrews 1:2)

And that out of love for the Father, Jesus brings back everything to Him:

but I [Jesus] do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.

John 14:31a, ESV

Then comes the end, when he [Jesus] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.

1Corinthians 15:24, ESV (cf Philippians 2:6-7)

I think Jesus loves the gift (creation) that the Father has given Him and that the Father loves the gift (creation) that Jesus gives Him. So much so that God gives Himself to ransom/restore/reconcile/save creation:

and through Him [Jesus] to reconcile everything to Himself by making peace through the blood of His cross—whether things on earth or things in heaven.

Colossians 1:20, HCSB

Heaven must receive him [Jesus] until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.

Acts 3:21, NIV

This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all. This was the testimony at the proper time.

1Timothy 2:3-6, NABRE

So I think it makes sense that this other focused love is also the telos of creation―our purpose given by God.

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us [which includes loving]. They will reign over [care for] the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

Genesis 1:26, NLT

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

Matthew 22:37, NIV

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.

1John 3:11, NIV

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children [a reflection] of your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:44-45a, NIV

Anyway, I agree with Burk that God deserves all glory and will receive it. Although I think it will be freely given. The Father freely gives Jesus glory, Jesus freely gives the Father glory, and one day all humanity will freely give God glory. To me, this makes more sense of how Jesus spoke about glory:

Jesus answered, “… But I do not seek my glory; there is the one seeking and judging. … If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my father glorifying me, whom you say that ‘He is your God.'”

John 8:49a-50,54b, Apostolic Bible Polyglot

I realise that’s a lot of commentary about one sentence by Burk but our beliefs about our purpose―what God intended―significantly affects the rest of our theology 2. However, moving on to Burk’s next sentence:

He means to manifest both his justice and his mercy in his disposition of sinful humanity (Ex. 34:7).

Denny Burk, page 42

He continues to show his love to thousands of generations, forgiving wrongdoing, disobedience, and sin. He never lets the guilty go unpunished, punishing children and grandchildren for their parents’ sins to the third and fourth generation.”

Exodus 34:7, GWT

I agree, although encouragingly the punishment in Exodus 34:7 is significantly less than the love and forgiveness―thousands of generations vs four generations, which is actually reduced to one in Ezekiel 18:20!

The person who sins will die. A son will not be punished for his father’s sins, and a father will not be punished for his son’s sins. The righteousness of the righteous person will be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked person will be his own.

Ezekiel 18:20, GWT

Back to Burk:

Those who follow Christ are “vessels of mercy” who show forth “the riches of His glory” (Rom. 9:23). Those who do not follow Christ and go to judgment are like Pharaoh, whom God raised up “to demonstrate My power in you and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth” (Rom. 9:17). In short, God is glorified in both mercy and justice, and the existence of hell serves to demonstrate eternally the glory of God’s justice in his judgment on sin.

Denny Burk, page 42

I agree that God is glorified in mercy and justice, although I don’t see those two in opposition. God’s mercy isn’t unjust, nor is His justice unmerciful. Both work together towards his purpose of realizing love between everyone.

I agree God is just in His judgment on sin. However, sin is an impediment to the harmonious relationships that God made us for. Therefore, now that Jesus, on the cross, has overthrown the power of sin, I think God is working towards eradicating all sin, through conversion and sanctification. Once all sin is gone, I can see no need for any ongoing judgment.

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God, after being put to death in the fleshly realm but made alive in the spiritual realm.

1 Peter 3:18, HCSB

I cannot imagine anything more glorious that seeing God justly bringing everything that has ever been created, to freely, wholeheartedly, and eternally love and worship Him as He deserves and intended.

Creation


1. Most English translations seem to skip the Greek word ‘en‘ (usually translated ‘in’), which seems to change the meaning. e.g. Apostolic Bible Polyglot translation is ‘For in my glory I carefully prepared’
2. See also Why Did God Create Man?