A Response to ‘Rethinking Hell’: On Athanasius’ Logic of Dissolving

I have come to abhor, really, Christian online debate culture. It attempts to present itself as scholarly, objective, critical, and thus, noteworthy. Back probably five years ago I had a really heated engagement with the Rethinking Hell group. This group is attempting to revivify the annihilationist position vis-à-vis a doctrine of hell. I had an exchange with one or two of the founders of this group, which got ugly. I had one of them (not the founders, but an admin for their online forums) contact me and essentially pick a fight with me. I lost my cool with him, I’m sorry to say. I wrote some blog posts in response to them. I had intended on writing a paper refuting their position, but never got around to it. Anyway, a friend of mine just sent me a screenshot taken in Rethinking Hell’s private Facebook group. I want to respond, briefly, to that here.

Apparently one of the admins (not the same person who confronted me in the past) was lurking my Twitter timeline. He then shared it in their private group with no way for me to respond. Let me simply say this: my tweet was reiterating the Athanasian logic on a doctrine of hell. Athanasius maintained that sin plunged humanity into a state of dissolution. That is, God in Christ in His vicarious humanity, for Athanasius (and me), is the ground of humanity’s being simpliciter. If this is the case then it follows that contra annihilationism: 1) human being can never be “annihilated,” since Christ’s archetypal human being is of the indestructible sort (see Heb. 7:16). 2) If all of humanity is ‘in’ (objectively, not subjectively, per se) Christ’s humanity, then the notion of it being extinguished is theologically impossible. 3) If all of human being is in Christ’s indestructible human being, and yet not all human beings enter into His life by the grace of adoption and faith by and in Him, then upon their death, and final judgment, they will live in the forever awareness of this reality which I take to be hell. CS Lewis picks up on this logic as well when we read his book The Great Divorce. For Athanasius, once the fall occurred humanity started to dissolve; insofar that the fund of humanity’s life was cut off from its ground and source in God’s image for humanity in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ (see Col. 1:15). And so hell is an entering into this status of dissolution; that is inhabiting a status of ‘nothingness,’ vis-à-vis humanity’s ground in the life of Christ, and being fully aware of it. This reminds me of the passage in Jude: “wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.” Utter darkness is being disunioned from the immortal light of God’s life in Christ, and being conscious of it. This is what I mean, in my above tweet, in regard to ‘living in nothingness, and being conscious of it.’

Let me end this post with the passage I have in my sidebar from TF Torrance:

God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.[1]

[1] T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

5 thoughts on “A Response to ‘Rethinking Hell’: On Athanasius’ Logic of Dissolving

  1. Bobby this post is very much in line with something I’ve been eager to share:
    If someone came at me about the ostensible barbarism of eternal conscious punishment, I would not go there. It has often been argued that some biblical passages reflect the writer’s impression of events. So is it plausible the punishment aspect is interpretation? Regardless, my presentation is:
    Well, ALL good is from God and in God our Creator. All light, life, love, fellowship, companionship, comfort, peace… and every other good is in God and in Christ his Son. When one finally rejects Him, there is no access to that which is part of Him, which has no existence apart from Him. When one finally rejects Good, that person goes to an existence void of light and life and love and companionship and fellowship, knowing only guilt and loss, eternal darkness and utter aloneness. Would hellfire applied make it more tormenting?


  2. Indeed… “life cut off from from its ground and source in God’s image for humanity in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ”… THAT is the horror of “hell”… and may perhaps be represented by that we find in Scripture regarding the condition that characterizes the Satanic-demonic spirit realm.


  3. Duane, indeed. As far as hellfire I would say that that is imagery for the depth of utter loss and dissolve present in hell. It is hard to think about.


  4. Richard, indeed. The absolute horror of hell is really beyond imagination. Praise the Lord that He in Christ endured that for us. What Good News! Worthy of proclaiming from the rooftops!


Comments are closed.