What happens when orthodox Christians neglect the doctrine of hell? We begin to tinker with orthodoxy in some unhealthy ways.
Hell doesn’t get much press.
Blame it on the Enlightenment and its fear of all things supernatural.
To be fair, Enlightenment writers were reacting to a gross abundance of commentary on hell.
In fact, this environment forced Erasmus to remark that some Paris theologians wrote so well about hell that they evidently had been there themselves!
However, contemporary Christians have lost their backbone on this important biblical doctrine. That’s troubling for many reasons. Let me show you what I mean.
Hell: A Ghastly Nightmare
The doctrine of hell is a repulsive doctrine. In fact, it’s hard to believe someone just made it up. But the Bible says a lot about hell. Mostly in the words of Jesus himself.
First off, what is hell? The orthodox meaning is eternal punishment for those who reject God and His grace.
Fire, no doubt, is symbolic. But this shouldn’t comfort the lost because fire is symbolic of something much worse.
How much worse? We just don’t know.
We do know that hell will last forever and in addition to physical agony, occupants will experience unrelenting guilt and regret due to their decision to reject God’s offer of mercy in Christ.
Objections to Hell
As noted above, some people simply dismiss hell as superstition. These are your skeptics and atheists.
Then there are your evangelicals…
Some evangelicals–Unitarians, for example–believe in universalism–the idea that everyone will eventually be saved. But Jesus’ words are unmistakable: “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:46
Others believe in postmortem evangelism. These evangelicals insist the dead will be given another opportunity to repent after death. Again, the Bible doesn’t support this notion. Just the opposite: “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”Hebrews 9:27
Finally, you have your annihilationists who believe that the wicked are exterminated at death. But annihilationists must hold this belief in the face of ample biblical reference to hell being eternal.
Now let me ask you: Why are so-called evangelicals busy reducing, revising and removing the biblical doctrine of hell when those who were evangelicals in the past would’ve ferociously resisted such ideas?
Here’s your answer: Hell is marked by so much awkwardness and embarrassment evangelicals are looking for anyway out of this doctrine.
The Logical Reason Behind Hell
Yes, hell is terrible. But NOT the least bit unfair. It is simply a gesture by God to honor those who reject him, his love and his offer of grace through Christ.
In essence, he gives them what they want: separation from God.
However, because of sin everyone deserves hell… including both those who accept God’s offer of rescue through Christ and those who reject it.
Yet hell is not a fate God wants people to experience:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
The Benefits of the Doctrine of Hell
Yes, even though hell is a horrifying doctrine, it does provide certain benefits.
One benefit is a sense of relief and gratitude for God’s mercy and forgiveness and promise of heaven. Mercy and forgiveness and heaven are meaningless if there is no depth…
We would certainly respond one way to a friend who kept us from stepping into a puddle. Quite another way to a friend who kept us from stepping off the edge of a cliff.
Another benefit involves our future and reminds us how important life decisions are here and now. The doctrine of hell motivates us to share the gospel when we know the outcome for those who reject Christ or remain in their sins is eternal physical agony.
Why We’ve Lost Our Backbone Over Hell
Yet, in spite of these benefits, contemporary Christians have lost their convictions about hell. There is at least one good reasons for this: Our view of the nature of God has changed.
In an attempt to shed any repulsive concepts attached to God, we redefine him to suit our preferences. Here are four ways we’ve done that.
1. We redefine God’s love so that it resembles sentimentalism and indulgence minus God’s hatred for sin. In turn, we love the sinner and ignore his sin.
2. Hell seems so excessive, so we limit God’s holiness. However, the traditional doctrine of hell argues that eternal punishment is a just penalty for an insult against the infinite holiness of God.
3. We limit God’s knowledge to suggest that he doesn’t stop decades of megadeath simply because he didn’t see it coming. This is the heresy of open theism.
4. We minimize God’s justice by arguing that it would be easier to persuade a skeptic to embrace a God without wrath and righteousness.
But what’s more important: That we properly market God to our culture? Or that we stand up for orthodoxy–no matter the cost?
What’s at Stake if We Neglect the Doctrine of Hell?
Here’s the deal: The Bible presents hell as a concrete reality. It’s existence is not up for Debate. Revision. Or vote. To do otherwise is to pervert the truth, reduce the sting of sin and minimize the threat of hell.
So WHAT if hell is scandalous or too out of step with the contemporary mind?
That won’t make it go away.
We must deal with it. As Christians, that means defending it’s classic treatment. If we don’t, what’s at stake? Our very concept of God and the gospel are diluted.
And where does this end? Our culture gets to define our model of God? To do so would be to feed on lies. And I don’t want that to happen. Do you?