I love being Reformed. Our emphasis on participating in union with Christ, a missional sense of God’s election and virtually everything Karl Barth says about revelation (the act of God communicating… not the book in the New Testament) is pretty compelling stuff. John Calvin is pretty touch and go at times, but the Reformed tradition(s) is(/are) pretty cool stuff.
I also have become a conditionalist, a term meaning that I believe the biblical language of hell is not eternal conscious torment but non-existence. For some reasons why, check out these links. I will not belabor points which are better articulated by these scholars.
Here’s the rub. Apparently, I can’t be both. Belgic Article 37 reads, in part, “The evil ones will be convicted by the witness of their own consciences, and shall be made immortal—but only to be tormented in the eternal fire prepared for the devil and the fallen angels.” Conditionalism holds that the human soul is not immortal all on its own, and so there is no need for the soul to consciously “go anywhere” for all eternity. The Belgic Confession resists the Platonism of the immortal soul as well, but makes up for it in believing that God resurrects the soul and the body and holds the resurrected person in eternal and fiery torment. It’s actually worse than I would have thought.
By this definition, hell is not actually the eternal absence of God. Life cannot exist without God’s presence. Hell is the eternal presence of God just enough to torment you for all eternity. I cannot go there. If I believe that the wages of sin is death, than I cannot buy into Belgic 37. I have to edit my copy of Romans to read: “death*, *by death, I mean having enough life to still be tortured for all eternity.” My Reformed understanding of the atonement, of communion with God and the soul cannot compute with the line in Belgic 37.
The question is… may I still be Reformed? Is the Reformed tradition of which I am a part (RCA) big enough for my doubts? Is it big enough to hold differences in tension while affirming the deep and rich places of agreement? Some days, particularly around General Synod, I am not sure. Most days, I can graciously affirm that Reformed is a big tent and there is plenty of room for conditionalists and traditionalists to live, sing, pray and serve together.