This is a four-part series on the various Christian doctrines of the afterlife.
I grew up from about age 5 in an evangelical church environment, and I don’t think it’s possible for any good evangelical to not know all about heaven versus hell, and streets of gold versus fire and brimstone, and to vigorously defend those concepts and then use them to convince people to repent and believe to avoid eternal punishment. But those views are not universal to Christianity, and I just began to realize this in the last couple years. So I’m writing these posts to provide some awareness of the alternatives, and to discuss the doctrinal positions which I believe are probably more correct.
In part 1, I discuss how the Bible contains four dramatically different Greek and Hebrew concepts of the afterlife, Tartarus, Sheol, Hades, and Gehenna. Taken together and assumed by many Christians to refer to the same thing, together with a misreading of the Greek word “aionion” as “forever and ever and eternally without end,” the doctrine of hell tries to fuse them into a single concept of a place of eternal punishment. Based on the preferred interpretation of these four words and the understanding of aionion, there are three different, and mutually-exclusive, main doctrines about what happens when we die: Eternal conscious torment, annihilationism, and universal reconciliation.
In part 2, I discuss how the Bible is often interpreted by evangelicals to mean that once we die, any chance of redemption disappears, but how there are plenty of places in the Bible that this idea is challenged. Also, I share how I concluded that Eternal Conscious Torment has a lot of bad fruit, and Universal Reconciliation has a lot of good fruit.
In part 3, I share how the Bible contains many references to the post-death experience of humans, and in particular fire and brimstone, the finality of death, the duration of punishment, the concept of eternal death versus eternal life, who is targeted by the judgement of fire, and whether God is vengeful.
In part 4, I discuss how confirmation bias affects our scripture reading, and the need to let the text shape our doctrine, and not let our doctrine shape our reading. I also discuss several common challenges to universal reconciliation.