A number of evangelical scholars, including John Stott, Phillip Edgecumbe Hughes, and Stephen Travis, have favoured a doctrine of ‘conditional immortality’ over that of ‘eternal punishment’.
According to Travis, the doctrine of eternal punishment depends on a belief in the immortaility of the soul, as well as the ‘apparently explicit’ teaching of texts such as Mt 25:34,41,46; Mk 9:42f; 2 Thess 1:9; and Rev 14:11; 19:3; 20:10.
The case for conditional immortality, on the other hand, can be summarised as follows:-
1. The doctrine of the immortality of the soul is unbiblical, being derived from Greek philosophy rather than from Scripture. Immortality is a gift from God, whereas those who reject God go out of existence.
2. Biblical images such as ‘fire’ (e.g. Mt 3:12) and ‘destruction’ (e.g. Phil 3:19; 1 Thess 5:3; 2 Thess 1:9–10; 2 Pet 3:7) imply cessation of existence (annihilation) rather than continuous existence.
3. References to ‘eternal’ punishment in texts such as Mt 25:46 may be understood qualitatively, rather than quantitatively, implying that the condemnation is irreversible rather than that is is everlasting.
4. New Testament language about the punishment of the wicked is not to be taken literally, though it is certainly to be taken seriously. The fact that hell is spoken of both in terms of ‘fire’ and ‘darkness’ is sufficient proof of this. We should therefore be cautious about drawing definite conclusions about the precise nature of hell, including its duration.
5. Eternal torment serves no useful purpose, and therefore indicates a vindictiveness that is incompatible with the love of God. Clark Pinnock went so far as to argue that ‘the concept of hell as endless torment in body and mind [is] an outrageous doctrine, a theological and moral enormity, a bad doctrine of the tradition which needs to be changed’. It projects a deity of ‘cruelty and vindictiveness’; such a God ‘is more nearly like Satan than like God’, . . . ‘a blood thirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for victims whom he does not even allow to die’.
6. Eternal punishment is unjust, since it posits an infinite punishment for finite sins.
6. Eternal punishment requires us to think of heaven and hell existing alongside one another. But this seems incompatible with the truth that God will be ‘all in all’, 1 Cor 15:28; cf Col 1:19f. Moroever, it is difficult to conceive that the righteous could be in a state of eternal bliss, knowing that others (including some of their loved ones?) were in a state of eternal torment.
Travis, I believe in the Second Coming of Jesus, 198f. See also Gibson, “Where the Fires Are Not Quenched”: Biblical, Theological & Pastoral Perspectives.