Hell or just not so nice?

Have you heard the word Hell or some equivalent in church recently (or even not so recently)? No? Well you don’t appear to be alone. So the question is – What’s up with that?

Similarly, have you heard the word Heaven much, and if so, in what context? You likely have heard it now and then, but not with any great emphasis in the presentation of the Gospel. So again, the question is – What’s up with that?

This doesn’t mean that you haven’t heard some form of the Gospel message, and it doesn’t mean that Salvation is not passionately recommended and preached (though it may not be). But it does say something about the completeness of the message being delivered. And, contrary to what some might propose, completeness here does matter.

The Gospel message is, of course, overwhelmingly one of redemption. But, and it is a big but, the alternative is eternal separation from God and eternity in Hell after death. That is complete message.

When the message is presented, as it often may be today, with just the present needs as motivation to turn to the Lord (that is, you are a sinner and need the Lord in your life now), possibly including any indirect appeal about the benefits of Heaven, but without a clear statement of the eternal consequences of not being saved being layed out, then the entire message is watered down. If the entire picture is not painted, then the wonder of and priority of what is being offered is partially lost.

Is this therefor advocating the weekly preaching of classic fire and brimstone, ad nauseum? Not at all. That would be accentuating the downside of the message, which would be similarly inappropriate. The positive side, to me, should almost always have precedence. However, there must be some balance, and the consequential side must be clearly layed out. If it was not to be included, then the Lord would not have stated it so clearly and repeatedly. And He did emphasize it in Scripture.

The usual justification today for not including anything negative in a presentation of the Gospel is that potential converts or itinerant listeners might be offended. They might be confronted by something that they would find either too negative or disturbing.

In this age of correctness, presenting something negative that might offend some people is unacceptable, especially if you are trying to sell them on or even attract them to something. The key here is that we are not trying to convince anyone of anything. We are not trying to covnince them and we are not trying to convert them. That is not within our mandate from the Lord. That is the sole mandate of the Spirit. Our mandate is to present, completely and honestly.

The other side of the Gospel message should be disturbing. When it is not, then there is something amiss. Part of the message is the reality of the eterenal consequences. Arguably that may not be the most important part, but it is significant.

Let us look at the eventuality of a negative effect on the listener who is faced with the complete message. The reality is that some people will likely be turned off or alienated by a balanced presentation of the clear, complete message. Since there are those who will not be among those who will come to the Lord, that is to be expected. Scripture states that their hearts are hardened to the message. But it is not the presentation of the complete message that hardens their hearts! It is the Spirit that does it, at the bidding of our Father.

As to those who are predestined to be His (Ephesians 1:5), the effectual calling of the Spirit is sovereign and can not be resisted (Romans 8:29-30). The presentation of the complete message in this case is exactly what is needed. Not to say that an over the top or ham-handed delivery might not shock them back momentarily, but that is not what we are considering here. Even then, however, the Spirit can not be resisted since He is acting out God’s sovereign will.

So, let us present the Gospel message in totality. In this, with its presentation of both salvation and the consequences of judgement, is the glory of the Lord’s creative plan displayed as intended. Without Hell, the message of Heaven does not present the glaring difference in destiny that is the reality, and which must be grasped by the listener.

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3 Responses to “Hell or just not so nice?”

  1. cnaphan says:

    In an age where even parents spanking their children is frowned upon, it might be very difficult to preach on Hell, while maintaining that God is loving. Also, “fear as motivation” was considered as perfectly valid until the last few decades, but people are very suspicious of it nowadays. I don’t really agree with either of those suppositions, but I think they are prevalent.

    Dwelling too much on Hell can really become a perverse, twisted and un-Christian thing. I’m thinking of some medieval writers and certain passages from the Malleum malifacarum, which speak extensively of the horrors that await people in Hell. I would say that if your fear of Hell exceeds your love of God, your spirituality will become perverse. This is so because the primary torture of Hell is being denied communion with God, and this denial can only be feared, in a healthy way, in proportion to one’s love of God.

    However, I think you’re speaking mainly of preachers denying that Hell exists or that it is bad, as opposed to neutral. Or that many go to Heaven, not few. Or that Hell is reserved for those who commit great evil acts, like Hitler, etc… Against those things, I wholeheartedly agree with you, sir, that they are vile heresies that strike at the root of the Gospel, and contradict the plain words of our Lord.

    Perhaps our pastors today do not personally believe that they would immediately fall to Hell, if the grace of God were withdrawn from them for a single moment? If they went to the pulpit with that in mind, they’d speak the simple truth, which would suffice.

  2. kwilson says:

    As opposed to denying that it exists and such, which I don’t see except in the very liberal denominations, I just see it being ignored. As such it drops from sight and becomes something of a non-issue. Since it is most certainly not a non-issue, it should have a place in what is communicated.

    I agree that any mention of unpleasantness is politically incorrect and strongly frowned upon today. More significantly, it is often looked upon as endangering the ability to attract folks to the church and Gospel message. This, of course, is ridiculous. It is the other side of counting the cost of salvation. This approach diminishes both the reality and the message.

    Now, not to scare people by fire and brimstone (though they certainly should have some trepedation about it), but to at least present that side of the equation.

    [quote post=”138″]Perhaps our pastors today do not personally believe that they would immediately fall to Hell, if the grace of God were withdrawn from them for a single moment? If they went to the pulpit with that in mind, they’d speak the simple truth, which would suffice.[/quote]

    They may believe it, but by and large it is not obvious. I would venture that the average congregant does not comprehend either that nor the reality awaiting those who are not saved.

  3. cnaphan says:

    They may not deny its existence outright, but its existence is qualified in some way that alters its meaning. I think Hell is often equated with being denied God, or being cut off from God. Hell certainly is at least that, but it’s more than that. We’re cut off from God on Earth, after all. That’s what the Fall did.

    You hear a similar thing with the devil, that he does exist, but he’s just the evil side of us or something like that. Not 100% wrong, but certainly not correct. Metaphors and analogies have their uses but they should be subservient to the plain words of the Bible.

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