You are hereAn Interview with Dr. Edward Fudge
An Interview with Dr. Edward Fudge
A few years ago someone (I do not remember who) sent me a recommendation for a book which now makes the list of "epiphanies" for me, something that dramatically changed my thinking regarding the traditional doctrine of hell and eternal punishment. The author was Dr. Edward Fudge and the book was The Fire That Consumes. Dr. Fudge, while not a "preterist," kindly agreed to visit with us and share with the readers of Planet Preterist some of his thoughts on hell, universalism, and other issues which are often discussed by the readers of this website. Throughout the interview process Dr. Fudge manifested an amazing spirit of kindness and love, so I am asking those willing to comment and respond to the interview to do the same.Dr. Fudge is a Christian scholar, author and Bible teacher living in Houston, Texas, who has been a pulpit preacher, pastor/elder, editor, publisher and, since 1988, a practicing attorney. He earned bachelor's (1967) and master's degrees (1968) in biblical languages from Abilene Christian University, and has a doctorate in jurisprudence (1988) from the University of Houston. He also studied theology and related topics at Covenant Theological Seminary and Eden Theological Seminary, both in St. Louis, Missouri.
Virgil Vaduva: Dr. Fudge, thank you so much for your willingness to share with the Planet Preterist readers. Would you please tell us a bit about yourself, your background and how you came to be where you are today in your life and ministry?
Dr. Edward Fudge: My life is a prime example of God's gracious, surprising sovereignty. I grew up in North Alabama in the 1940's and 1950's, and actually picked cotton to buy winter clothes. My father was a bi-vocational Christian publisher and "regular preacher." My mother, the daughter of missionaries, was born and raised in southern Africa. I attended a private Bible school from elementary through high school, and started preaching in 1960 when I was 16 years old.
In 1967, a month after graduating from university, I married Sara Faye Locke, whom I had met as an undergraduate. I earned an M.A. in biblical languages at Abilene Christian University in Texas, and we moved to St. Louis, Mo., where Sara Faye taught high school English and I preached, while taking courses at Covenant Seminary and Eden Seminary. These were prerequisites to a Ph.D. program in biblical languages at St. Louis University, my plan being to pursue an academic career.
That plan was interrupted abruptly in 1972 by my father's sudden death at age 57, at which point we moved back to Alabama to assist my mother in the family publishing business, which she afterward sold to a group of Christian businessmen. I was then 28 years old. Three years later, a cabal of sectarian adversaries secretly took over the business and fired me. I was unemployed for a year, but then found a job as typesetter in a print shop while serving as volunteer pastor of a small nondenominational church that met in a renovated barn.
In 1982, at age 38, I was hired as founding editor of an interdenominational Christian newspaper in Houston, Texas, where we moved with our two small children, Melanie and Jeremy. Three years later the paper died as the result of a bad economy and (to my great surprise) I ended up going to law school. I received a J.D. degree in 1988, joined a large Houston law firm and for the past 20 years have practiced law in three firms while continuing a teaching and pastoral ministry in writing, in person and by internet (my website is www.EdwardFudge.com).
We still live in Houston, where I have served a total of 19 years as an elder and taught Bible classes in a local church, while doing ministry elsewhere as God provided opportunity. Our two children are now both in their 30s and have two children each of their own, giving us a total of four grandchildren.
Virgil: Why was the subject of hell, immortality and post-mortem punishment something you became interested in and passionate about, and why did you decide to write a 500-page book on the subject (The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment)?
Dr. Fudge: Writing The Fire that Consumes was something I neither planned nor anticipated -- it was clearly the arranging of our sovereign God. From childhood I had been taught and accepted without question the traditional majority view of hell as a place of unending conscious torment. I was not particularly troubled by that view. Like most Christians holding it, I simply gave it little thought.
In 1976, while I was working in the print shop and preaching in the barn, I had an article on final punishment published in Christianity Today. That article simply noted contrasting language which New Testament writers use to portray the final destinies of the saved and the lost. As it happens, they most often describe the end of the lost with the words "die," "perish" or "destroy." Among those who read my article was an Australian theologian/publisher named Robert Brinsmead, who also happened to be a former Seventh-day Adventist. Brinsmead had re-studied most of the SDA's distinctive doctrines and rejected them. Now he wanted to re-study the doctrine of hell to decide whether to reject the SDA view that it is a place of total and everlasting destruction.
Brinsmead planned to hire a theological researcher to spend a year compiling everything on the end of the wicked, as found in the Old Testament, intertestamental literature (Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls), New Testament, Apostolic Fathers, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Post-Nicene Fathers, medieval theologians, Reformers and a few modern theologians. When he saw my CT article, he decided to invite me to take on the project, which, after prayerful discussion and consideration, I did.
By the time I finished that year-long project, the evidence I found had compelled me to change my own mind, rejecting the notion of unending conscious torment and accepting Scripture’s overwhelming picture of hell as a place of total and irreversible destruction. I asked Brinsmead if I could use the material from the research project he had sponsored to write a book setting forth my findings. He not only gave permission; he offered to publish the book. The Fire That Consumes was published in 1982 -- 500 pages in length with 1600 footnotes and two fascinating appendices examining the treatment given hell by Augustine and by John Calvin. Evangelical Book Club made it an Alternate Selection, scholars who are far better known than I am gave it their endorsements and the rest is history. More accurately, the rest is providence.
Virgil: Often annihilationism or, as you call it, "conditional immortality" is described as a compromise between the traditional eternal conscious punishment position created by Tertullian and Origen's universalism. Is that a fair description in your opinion?
Dr. Fudge: The word "compromise" suggests the intentional choice of a position because it is located between two other extreme opposing views. Perhaps there has been someone who came to the view I hold through such intentional calculation, but I have never met or even heard of such a person. On the other hand, if we created a graph to visually illustrate the three views of hell which you mention, we would probably place "the fire that consumes" near the middle of the graph and situate "the fire that torments" (Tertullian) and "the fire that purifies" (Origen) at opposite ends. I teach "conditional immortality" or "annihilationism" because it is what I find in Scripture, not because of its position relative to the other views.
Virgil: You have suggested before that God's nature of love does not seem to have a place in the traditional doctrine of hell. A Universalist would argue that love does not have a place in the doctrine of conditional immortality either. How would you respond?
Dr. Fudge: Because we are finite and sinful creatures, we are incapable of deciding what God's love can or cannot do. However, God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, who died so that sinners can have eternal life. The revelation of God in Jesus Christ seems totally consistent with the idea that those who reject God throughout life will finally be cut off from him entirely and eventually cease to exist. I don't see how anyone can say that about the traditional doctrine of unending conscious torment.
Virgil: In one of your regular mailings you mentioned Neal Punt's "biblical universalism" perspective. What is "biblical universalism" and how is it scripturally viable? Is it true that this view has been held for the first several centuries by the Church?
Dr. Fudge: "Biblical universalism," or "evangelical inclusivism," as Punt now calls it, means that Christ's atonement is so effective and far-reaching that it saves all who do not consciously reject God's revelation known to them. This is another way of stating the oft-repeated biblical truth that God will judge each person according to the light each was given. “Evangelical inclusivism” offers a way to account for the salvation of faithful people who lived and died before Jesus, as well as that of infants and little children who die, whether before or after Jesus. It also provides one biblical rationale for dealing with the troublesome question of how God will judge people who never heard of Jesus Christ. Punt documents the popularity of his view in the early church.
Virgil: You may not be aware, but some Preterists associate the "consuming fire" described in the Gospels with the fire of Gehenna, the trash dump located outside of Jerusalem where in A.D. 70 the bodies of tens of thousands of Jerusalem inhabitants (those who rejected Christ) were literally consumed and burned. What are your thoughts on this historical-exegetical approach and the destruction by fire of Jerusalem in A.D. 70?
Dr. Fudge: The figure of the smoldering waste-dump of Gehenna, originally known as the Valley of the sons of Hinnom, lies behind the biblical picture of hell (Greek: gehenna). What you describe happening there in A.D. 70 also likely happened to Sennecherib's invading army in the days of Isaiah. That event seems to be reflected in the famous picture of "hell" found in Isaiah 66:24, with its undying worms and unquenchable fire. If unbelievers' corpses were burned in Gehenna in A.D. 70, that event, like the one in Isaiah's day 800 years before, provided an historical example of the eternal destruction of soul and body in hell that still awaits the wicked.
Virgil: How about the pragmatics of the traditional doctrine of hell? Is the "fear" of eternal conscious torment effective in bringing people to Christ or is it doing a disservice to our faith?
Dr. Fudge: Judging by the popularity of the traditional doctrine within the church and by the ungodliness remaining in the world, such "fear" seems to have accomplished very little. The gospel, not hell, is our primary message, and love for God is a far more effective motivator than fear of hell. Most adults who believe that hell involves unending torment do not think they might go there, so its deterrent value is practically non-existent.
The traditional doctrine of unending torment has turned many people away from God, including famous atheists from Bertrand Russell to Anthony Flew -- the latter having now become a deist, who confesses that the traditional doctrine of hell prevents his becoming a Christian.
Virgil: How about a pragmatic fear of annihilation? Is that something you considered before?
Dr. Fudge: Only somewhat. Some people fear non-existence above all else. Others do not. That is really not important either way. What finally matters is what the Bible teaches. That and that alone is my authority, the basis of my own understanding and the point from which I always want to begin and at which I want to end.
Virgil: In an interview with The New Reformation Magazine, you made the (I believe correct) observation that "Adam was not created immortal." Why is this such an important observation for you?
Dr. Fudge: This truth is foundational in many respects. Keeping in mind that we are mortal creatures, wholly dependent on God for existence itself, instills proper humility, helps us remember that our salvation is wholly by grace and motivates us to serve God joyfully and to give him thanks and praise.
Virgil: Most Christians who know who you are, know about you primarily from your work on conditional immortality. This is unfortunate because there is a lot more to Edward Fudge. What other things have you worked on and what else excites you in the theological world?
Dr. Fudge: We are doing this interview in January 2009 and I will be 65 years old in July. For the past 13 years, I have published an international internet column called gracEmail three times each week, which goes to about 4,000 (free) subscribers across Christendom and around the world. Two of my other books are about ways that God guides his children (The Sound of His Voice) and the story of God's grace from Genesis to Revelation (The Great Rescue). My latest book is a commentary on Hebrews, to be titled Hebrews: Ancient Encouragement for Believers Today, scheduled for publication in May 2009 from Leafwood Publishers. These publications and more are described on my website mentioned above.
I have taught frequently on the Holy Spirit and grace-gifts, partly because those subjects were ignored or even minimized within the church fellowship in which I grew up. I also have a passion for promoting Christian unity, again in part as a corrective to a background that often did the opposite.
Virgil: Thank you again for your time and kindness. Do you have any last words for our readers?
Dr. Fudge: Thank you for visiting with me. May we all remember that the heart of our message and the basis of our unity is Jesus Christ himself. We might hold a variety of views on any number of secondary or tertiary topics, but we must never allow any of those opinions to overshadow or distract from what is truly central.