We all have presuppositions when we come to God, when we come to scripture, and when we come to living out our walk. One presupposition that I work from is that God is at all times in all places drawing creation to God. In my tradition, this is called prevenient grace. Before we come to know who God is, God is already there wooing, compelling or persuading us to come to know God. I also believe that God is love. God would not do anything outside the character of who God is. This informs my interpretation of scripture as I also use scripture to interpret scripture, and for myself; tradition, reason, and experience. Most of how I view scripture is done through the view of the incarnation and the work of Christ on the Cross. God in the flesh. Victory over Sin and Death. These are what inform my understanding of scripture as I read through it and assess and re-assess my understanding. But these interpretations are not done in isolation; they are done within community. Current voices and also voices of old hold a place in the conversation of how to understand God and the Bible. With that said, here we go.
Dr. Crofford, a Nazarene Theologian, takes a very hot button topic and does a wonderful job of taking us on a journey through the hopes and promises of conditional immortality. In the Dark-side of Destiny: Hell Re-Examined, Dr. Crofford works from a basis of three qualifiers for how we should understand judgment at the end of days. Lex Talionis is the 1st testament or Old Testament understanding of proportionate judgment. Someone who killed a person and someone who merely stole a piece of fruit would not be punished the same. The punishment has to fit the crime. Dr. Crofford argues that eternal punishment for a finite life of sin is outside the character of a fair God. I would agree with Him. Next, Dr. Crofford uses a term from Kenneth Collins as describing God as Holy and Loving. These two characteristics are the different sides of a coin. If we find ourselves on one side we are Universalist only accepting the loving side, if we find ourselves focusing solely on the holy we will find a God who ultimate goal is to find out our sin and punish us. There has to be a fine line we walk between the two and work not to focus on one without the other. For Dr. Crofford, conditional immortality answers this dilemma. The righteous gain eternal life and the unrighteous cease to be. Our three qualifiers are a God who is fair, a God who is loving, and a God who is Holy.
After reading this book I was left mainly with one concern. The conditional immortality view lacks historical ground. It is not the traditional view of how the church for over 1500 years has understood judgment. But also in the culture we find ourselves in, we have been freed from the fear of questioning and we are allowed to give all things a new look, with fresh scrutiny. Dr. Crofford does just that. He is one of many who have taken a hard look at Hell and has come to see it as outside the character of who God is.
This book was a great read and is laid out for anyone to come to and critically think about. Each chapter has study questions at the end so it would be good for a small group who is looking to go deeper into the word of God. There are other sections that help hit home his points and his arguments but I don’t want to spoil the whole book. I would definitely recommend this book if you want a fresh perspective or a new perspective on what hell and judgment could be.