Confronting the Traditionalist’s Doctrine of Eternal Conscious Torment

Eternal conscious torment is considered an orthodox Christian doctrine. Denominations, congregations, assemblies across the globe codify this doctrine in their creeds and mission statements. It is a doctrine that should be challenged and scrutinized.

“Yahweh Is Good to All: Confronting the Traditionalist’s Doctrine of Eternal Conscious Torment” is a book challenging the veracity of this critically flawed doctrine. God’s Holy Word declares He “is good to all men.” His goodness is impartial and it is evident in His creation. His goodness is immutable like His love is immutable. His mercies are fresh every day. His patience is beyond our reckoning.

Read the book online or download the ebook (pdf).

How I Came to the Truth that Is “Impartial Grace”

I am one among many advocating “impartial grace.” As an advocate for “impartial grace” I first give glory to our Father, His Son and for the Spirit. I am particularly grateful for the theologians and scholars of previous eras. He gave them a means to light my way to understand and advocate “impartial grace.” I am grateful for the opponents of the doctrine, too. They point out where I should look in Scripture to find the truth. It’s good to review their teaching and study what they say. It’s equally important to measure their teaching against Scripture.

Uncovering the doctrine of eternal conscious torment as error, in my view, takes no less than the Holy Spirit to “loose the chains that bind.” His Spirit first caused me to question the doctrine’s validity. Over the course of years His hand has led me to reject eternal conscious torment as doctrine. He leads me through His Word to now advocate “impartial grace.”

He gave me resources to explore and to examine both doctrines. For the foreseeable future the words of the advocates of both are saved in cyberspace. It is easy to contrast and compare the doctrines. The volumes of words used to describe each is unknowable, however, there is enough testimony to form a conclusion to the veracity of either. The arguments for and against each doctrine are readily available to any person curious enough to seek the truth. I leave it gratefully to the Holy Spirit to change the minds of men.

The purpose of this post is to describe a method the Lord led me to while studying “impartial grace.” I stumbled into the method, but am convinced I was pushed. He led me to understand the simple, plain truth that “God is Love.”

Dr. Thomas Sawyer published a book in 1879 entitled, “Eternal Punishment: In the Very Words of Its Advocates.” I “found” the article transcribed at Gary Amirault’s Tentmaker.org website under “Scholars’ Corner.” The title of Dr. Sawyer’s book intrigued me. The subject of his book is enlightening. What did the theologians of his era and prior teach regarding eternal conscious torment?

My conversion from eternal conscious torment to “impartial grace” had already transpired when I happened upon Dr. Sawyer’s book. As I read I wanted to record my thoughts on very nearly every point he was making. My first effort was to print the article and add notes in the margins. Soon I had no margins. My second effort was to copy and paste the text of the book into an electronic document. The formatting did not transfer well. I spent several days reading and formatting the text into a readable format. (see reformatted: Eternal Punishment: In the Very Words of Its Adocates)

Theologians of the past said remarkable things regarding God’s goodness and wrath. It caused me to ask, “What are the theologians of this era teaching regarding eternal conscious torment?” The Internet records what they teach. I have studied them. I began adding their words to my notes. Before I was aware the Lord had given me the basis for a book.

Greater than the gift of the book is the gift of His Light; His revelation, if only to me, but I am convinced His Truth is already revealed to all.

The Lord has led me to another study and I am using the method He showed me. Dr. Otis Skinner was a preacher of some renown in Boston in the early to mid-1800’s. He was an advocate of “impartial grace” in a city where eternal conscious torment was preached vehemntly. The advocates of eternal conscious torment were attacking “impartial grace” and Dr. Skinner determined it necessary to write sermons in defense of it.

Using Dr. Skinner’s published sermons as a model I am surveying his defense of “impartial grace” in the same way I surveyed Dr. Sawyer’s book. I add notes and commentary as I go though the sermons. The Lord led me to write essays on Dr. Skinner’s scholarship. I have completed essays on two sermons and posted them here and here. This is a study in progress. The Lord willing I’ll be able to post many more.

Book Published

Welcome to the revamped “Impartial Grace” website (formerly Orchard Ministry). The book I’ve been working on is finished and published. “God’s Gift to Humanity: Hell or Reconciliation?” is now available. Please read the sample chapters provided here.

Writing and publishing the book was a difficult journey, but always filled with Spirit led purpose. Errors in the finished product have been found and I beg your understanding. The book is self-published, self-proofed and self-edited. To be fair my “self” is prone to error. Critics, who each have their own “self” to police, might focus on cumulative errors as evidence of poor scholarship. It’s a good thing to be self-aware and confess my lack of traditional theological training.

I do not have a marketing plan, but I am confident God does. This website and my small social networking footprint are the only tools God has provided. His grace is sufficient for me. He caused me to write the book, to proof, to edit, and to publish it. I have good reason to think He will put the book into the hands of those He wants to read it.

I explain my personal conversion to the doctrine of universal reconciliation in Chapter 1; “A Theological Fork in the Road.” Chapters 15 and 16 are scriptural commentaries regarding “Universal Reconciliation” found in the Old and New Testaments, respectively. Chapter 17; “Heresy?,” is my effort to answer the question, “Is unversal reconciliation false doctrine and heretical?” Many, if not most, advocates of eternal conscious torment declare it is. Chapters 1 and 17 are posted in their entirety. Chapters 15 and 16 are excerpted.

It is unfortunate the doctrine of universal reconciliation is the subject of derision. I once scorned it and called it heresy. My only excuse is that I chose to believe what my teachers taught. I am to blame for following blindly and for that I repent.

May God’s Word be evident to all who read this book. Comments are welcome. I ask only that we set aside our respective “self” and allow Him and Him only to judge. Let us recall His admonition “Let not many of you be teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive heavier judgment” (James 3:1). Let us remember the admonition to teach the truth in loving kindness and gentleness. Let us remember it is the Holy Spirit that leads all to understanding (1 Timothy 2:24-26, loose paraphrase). Let us not forget Christ’s instruction “Don’t judge.” Whatever judgment we declare will also be declared against us. “The measure we use to judge others is the measure used to judge us” (Matthew 7:2, paraphrased). Let us embrace one another as brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus for “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless he is moved to do so by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).

Maranatha. Amen.

Thoughts On Drowning

We Are Drowning

There are few who read this blog. I am confident, though, that the right person will read it when the time is right. “Every good and perfect thing is a gift from God.”

I really appreciate the Lord’s work in my life. For years I was a crude man; a poor example of what a Christian looks like. In fact, my life would be the picture of a life without Christ. For years I could not get all the pain sorted away from the joy. Even today sorrow will sometimes take center stage in the play called “My Life.”

The Lord gives me reason to walk every morning or at least as many mornings as I am able or the weather permits. He has provided technologies…you know those inventions of men…that provide me with things to listen to as I walk. The walks are really long meditative experiences and words of preachers fill my head. Their words are the words of the Word.

This morning I was listening to Peter Hiett preach to his church, Lookout Mountain Community Church. The sermon is entitled “Lost Sheep and Church Discipline.” That congregation had suffered the loss of one of Christ’s sheep to suicide. That body of believers were in shock at the loss and Mr. Hiett preached to address their collective sorrow. Mr. Hiett could not have possibly known that a sermon he prepared and preached in October 2004 would impact a man such as me. Over a decade later and separated by over a thousand miles that sermon would cause a need to preach it again, again and over again.

Mr. Hiett provided an illustration in his sermon that morning. He told of how he was at a gathering in the backyard of friends. They had a pool. Mr. Hiett’s daughter was three years old as I recall the story. She was admonished to stay away from the pool.

His daughter apparently has a mind of her own and a propensity to push boundaries. Mr. Hiett looked out of the corner of his eyes and noticed something at the bottom of the pool. That something was someone. It was his daughter. She was flailing her arms trying to find a way to escape the pool.

Mr. Hiett tells us that he dove into the pool and rescued his daughter. As they came to the surface she gasped a breath of life and he did too. She was saved by her father and they were saved by their Father.

That story should be illustration enough, but there is more. In 1995 my daughter was three. We lived at an apartment and there was a pool in our backyard. The pool was encased by a fence. The fence made the pool even more enticing than the pool itself. My little girl hungered to be at the water’s edge.

She could not open the gate and neither could she scale the fence. Like Mr. Hiett’s daughter mine had a mind of her own. She did not press boundaries often, but on occasion she would show her independence and do a thing she was instructed not to do.

On a special day my daughter begged and cajoled me to take her to the pool. It is hot and humid where I live. In August it is particularly difficult to be outside for long periods of time. I didn’t want to go to the pool. I didn’t want to swim. All I wanted was to read my newspaper, but I could not take any more badgering from my little girl. I relented and we went to the pool.

I took my newspaper with me and my little girl held my hand. The gate opened and together we stood at the edge of the pool. I told her she could play at the shallow end and that I would sit near her. Needless to say I sat in a pool chair that was not near the place where my daughter wanted to play.

My little girl found a way to quietly and with great stealth move away from me and toward the deeper parts of that pool. I would look up from my newspaper occasionally and watch over her. I ushered her back to the area of the pool where I sat. I told her that our time at the pool would end if she chose to sneak over to the deep parts again.

That admonishment didn’t matter to her. She was laying on her stomach and chasing waves she was making with her hand. The waves would lead her to reach out and she would scoot closer and closer and eventually over the edge.

God intervened. He caused me to look over the top of my paper just as my little girl fell into the deep end of the pool. I jumped up from the chair and it what seems like a long, long time I raced to where she fell in. I reached my hand into the water and grabbed her ankle as she sank deeper into the pool.

The Lord helped me grab her ankle. He gave me extraordinary strength to pull her from the clutches of the pool.

She was upside down hanging from my grasp. I righted her and pulled her close. Her face was that of an astonished child. Her eyes were huge. She coughed a little water from her throat and sputtered, “I fell into the water.”

The fear in me was overwhelming. The love in me was greater still. I could only hold her and cry. I could only look to heaven and give thanks. Forgive me for not being attentive Lord.

Mr. Hiett continues his illustration. There is a man in the congregation whose name is Ron. Ron was at another spring time party. A young girl came to him and tugged on his pant leg. He looked down at her and asked what she wanted.

“Hey mister. Will you hold me?” she said.

Ron told the little girl that he would later. Moments passed and that little girl was back tugging on his pant leg.

“Hey mister. Will you hold me?” she asked him.

He told the little girl he would in a little while. He watched her as she walked away.

Moments later there was a commotion at the pool. That little girl had fallen in. There was no one to jump in after her. She died at the bottom of that pool that day.

Ron was upset and could not sleep that night. He got out of his bed and determined to find out who that little girl was. Who were her parents? Where were they? Maybe he could say something to console them.

Ron walked the neighborhood and he learned where that little girl lived. He learned her story.

The little girl’s mother was single. She had recently come to know a man. That man would be with her, but only if there were no children attached.

The little girl’s mother walked from neighbor to neighbor. She walked to other family members. The little girl’s Mom asked if any of those would take her daughter and raise her. None would.

Ron learned that the little girl was only a few days ago in another backyard where there was a pool. The little girl fell in. She was rescued and she was hugged by her rescuer. She was cared for by that family. She was loved.

The stories are true. The outcomes are true. Two little girls saved and one lost after having been saved.

Is there a moral to this story? The pools are sin and each of us will drown if we fall in. We will die unless our Father steps in to rescue us. We are all little children.

Thoughts On… “Golden Toilets”

It is my habit to walk every morning. I walk in my neighborhood which is rural. From my front door through the little town of Orchard, Texas I’ll walk about three miles. The walk takes an hour or a little more. My pace is sometimes quick, but more often leisurely. I don’t really like to walk, but I do like the benefits walking gives me. I’ve lost over forty pounds because I walk daily. The walk is good. The benefits are good. But, the real reason I walk is because I listen to preachers preach.

While I walk I listen to my former pastor, David Hodges, preach the Word. His lessons in First and Second Samuel, both Chronicles, First Peter and miscellaneous sermons teach me. I listen to John MacArthur. He has thousands of sermons that can be downloaded from the Grace To You website. I’ve listened to hundreds of his sermons. A quick search reveals greater than 100 sermons in which The Revelation of Christ Jesus is featured. I’ve listened to more than half of those.

On my walk I’ve listened to sermons delivered by Ray Steadman, who is now deceased. Chuck Smith from Calvary Chapel at Costa Mesa, California and Tom Luitwieler, Pastor at Calvary Chapel at Reno/Sparks, Nevada. I’ve listened to sermons delivered by J. Vernon Magee and Jack MacArthur. I cannot recount the numbers of single sermons by numerous teachers I’ve listened to on my walks.

I do not walk alone in the mornings. My Lord walks with me. He causes me to hear His Word from many men. He leads me to experience wondrous joy and He allows me to experience woeful sorrow on these walks. For certain He reminds me in these walks and by these sermons that He is Lord of all and He will be “all in all.”

Recently I’ve been experiencing a change in major points in my theological underpinnings. The Lord has led me to hear the sermons of a steward of His Word. His name is Peter Hiett. Mr. Hiett’s testimony is both joyous and heartbreaking. Mr. Hiett is not finished giving his testimony. He is still preaching, but even he will tell that he is not preaching as the man he was, but now as the man he is.

I am not Mr. Hiett’s biographer and he certainly has not licensed me to speak for him or about him. I do find his testimony to be relevant to my own. God changed me first, then He led me to hear sermons delivered by Mr. Hiett and others to help seal the change for His Name’s sake. I will not pretend to know God’s course for me aside from a straight and narrow path. He could call me home today, tomorrow or even decades from now. One thing of which I am spiritually certain, I am changed today.

I heard a sermon given by Mr. Hiett during this morning’s walk. This was one of those leisurely paced walks. It’s a good thing, too. This was a sermon message Mr. Hiett presented to his flock in 2002. He could not possibly know this sermon would be for my benefit over a decade later.

Mr. Hiett provided an illustration. I’ll paraphrase it for the sake of brevity here.

Mr. Hiett, early in his career, served as a Youth Pastor. He found an old toilet and determined the old toilet could be put to good use. He did not say that he cleaned the old commode, but we should assume he did. That old toilet was painted gold and put on a platform. An old plumber’s plunger was discovered and it, too, was painted gold. The “golden throne and scepter” were brought to the youth and it became a symbolic reward for them. Do something well, do something scriptural, learn a lesson or just be a good kid and that child would be rewarded with time on the throne.

The “Golden Toilet” was used for a time until a child went home to his mother, Rita, and asked, “Why do those kids worship a toilet?” Rita was perturbed and sent the Youth Pastor a letter spelling out all the reasons he should not allow such celebrations in their church.

Needless to say Mr. Hiett was hurt by Rita’s accusations and he reluctantly agreed to put the “Golden Toilet” in storage. The “Golden Toilet” was put in a closet, at the back of that closet, in the darkest regions of that closet. It was covered by a tarp and left to be forgotten.

Mr. Hiett believed the matter to be over until he received another letter from another mother, Paula. Paula and Rita were in the same Women’s Bible Study. Paula reported that she was in the closet, the back of that closet, in the darkest regions of that closet and discovered under a tarp that old “Golden Toilet.” Paula complained that “Golden Toilets” should never be allowed in their church.

Mr. Hiett instructed one of his young assistants to go into that closet, the back of that closet, in the darkest regions of that closet and take the “Golden Toilet” from under the tarp. The assistant was instructed to destroy the “Golden Toilet” and place it in the dumpster with the other trash. The assistant did as he was instructed.

Mr. Hiett on the other hand remained miffed and upset that his “Golden Toilet” was the cause of such division. Rita and Paula did not have the same understanding of the “Golden Toilet” Pastor Hiett had. He grew angry and thought to leave the church for the sake of his “Golden Toilet.”

Mr. Hiett suffered a crisis of faith. He raced out of the church heading nowhere in particular. He was running from nothing in particular but from everything in general. His flock was challenging his “Golden Toilet” and he was reluctant to give it up. He became resentful because others did not see the “Golden Toilet” as valuable as he perceived it to be.

I may have missed a broader meaning to Mr. Hiett’s “Golden Toilet” testimony or I may have narrowed it too much. I see the “Golden Toilet” as my theology. What do I hold to be so valuable that I will grow resentments toward others because they do not agree or do not see my “Golden Toilet?”

There was much more to Mr. Hiett’s sermon, but it was the “Golden Toilet” illustration that impacted me most. I suppose I have my own “Golden Toilet.” I am confident the preachers I’ve mentioned above have theirs, too.

My theology has changed and for the better. Mercy will not be shown to those who are not merciful (James 2:13). It is not possible to be merciful when resentments are harbored. It is not possible to be merciful when hatred is stronger than love. It is not possible to be merciful when you are looking down your nose at another.

Mercy is the answer. After all it was His mercy bestowed on us all when Christ was obedient to the point of death on the Cross. It was His mercy given to us all when He looked out to heaven and said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” It was His mercy shown to us when a blade was pushed into His side and His blood covered the sins of the world.

Mr. Hiett finished his illustration by telling of his dash into darkness at breakneck speed. He went to the other side of Diablo Mountain and pondered his future. Mr. Hiett met Jesus there.

I’ve rushed headlong into the darkness too many times to count. I’ve met Jesus there. Many times I didn’t know it, but looking back Jesus always met me there.

My theologies have changed. The “Golden Toilet” has been destroyed and placed in a dumpster. From this day forward I pray the Lord will lead me to build no more “Golden Toilets.” I pray He will help me recognize the “Golden Toilets” of others and to give them latitude by way of mercy to display their “Golden Toilet” in ways that bring glory to God.

You can hear Mr. Hiett’s sermon. It was given on July 7, 2002. There is a great irony in this sermon. Mr. Hiett did not know when he gave this sermon that a “Golden Toilet” would eventually lead to a change in his theology and where he preached it. Read Mr. Hiett’s testimony here.

We can make our theology an idol. We can grow so proud of our opinions and of our Biblical interpretations that we lose sight of greater Truth for the sake of our “Golden Toilet.” Pray with me that our beliefs do not keep us from knowing the Truth. Pray that our minds remain open to hear Him even when we think we hold the last word on this or that. No one person knows it all and it seems to me fool hearty to defend vigorously what might not be scriptural or true.