Who was John Stott and how did he influence the concept of annihilationism?
John Stott was a world-renowned British evangelical theologian and a prolific author. He was one of the 20th Century’s most respected religious leaders. TIME magazine had once named him as one of the world’s “100 Most Influential People” and he had also been called the most influential clergyman in the Church of England during the twentieth century. Stott was the author of such well-known works as Why I am a Christian, Understanding the Bible, and Basic Christianity.
John Stott also believed in the concept of annihilationism, i.e., that the souls of the lost are eventually allowed to perish instead of burning throughout eternity in the lake of fire of a literal hell. Stott’s belief in annihilationism ran contrary to the beliefs of the Anglican Church and many other mainstream Christian denominations.
Although the theory of annihilationism had been around since at least the Middle Ages, Stott brought it to the forefront again in the late 20th Century. The fact that such a widely known and respected figure as John Stott would raise questions about this issue was bound to give it an audience, followed by considerable debate and controversy on the subject. Stott may not have been completely convinced of the idea himself, but offered it as a possible alternative to the commonly accepted concept of a literal, eternal hell for the damned. He struggled with the idea of eternal punishment of the lost, saying, “Emotionally, I find the concept [of eternal conscious torment] intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the strain.” Stott urged that that “the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal conscious torment.”
John Stott and Annihilationism – The Problem
The problem with John Stott’s argument is that what we deem to be fair or unfair is seen through our imperfect—and sinful—human eyes as reasoned through our imperfect—and sinful—thoughts. It is impossible for us to rationalize this issue with our limited means the same way that a Holy and Righteous God views it. This is why so many times people believe they can go to heaven because they think they are “good enough” or as “good as the next person. The truth is that a perfect God will not allow imperfection into His heaven. In fact, He cannot allow imperfection into his heaven. That is why we must be made righteous through the blood of Jesus Christ before we, as believers, can stand in the presence of the Almighty God.
Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 that God “…will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” Finally, Jesus himself said, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).
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