I have been studying the doctrine of hell recently, and by coincidence, ran across the following video.
The quality is pretty bad, but you don’t really need the images to get the… horror of it… Not the horror of hell, but the horror that Christians would use such tactics to try to scare people into heaven.
What makes it worse is that this video is obviously geared toward High School Students. The video is called “A Letter from Hell.”
I recently heard of a church that at a Youth Rally had 100% conversion. The speaker passed out little pieces of paper and had everyone write their name on their paper. Then he brought up two garbage cans, and in one, put some paper and lighter fluid and lit the thing on fire. Then he told the kids that the flaming trashcan represented hell, and the other represented heaven. He had the kids line up, and pass by the cans putting their piece of paper in the can where they wanted to go when they died…
Amazingly, not a single kid put his name in the flaming can! Instead, everyone wanted to go to heaven. The church reported that 100% of the kids at the rally were converted.
Now that’s evangelism success.
…Or is it?
Last week, Mark Driscoll tweeted that all unbelievers are going to hell.
If you are not a Christian, you are going to hell. It's not unloving to say that. It's unloving to not say that.
— Pastor Mark Driscoll (@PastorMark) January 10, 2014
Thanks for clearing that up, Mark. We wondered where you stood on this issue and am glad you gave the watching world yet another reason to realize how kind and loving we Christians are…
But seriously, Mark’s point was that it is loving to tell people they are going to hell.
I know, I have heard the arguments:
If a man was about to drive his car off a cliff, the loving thing to do is to warn him. So also with hell. If a person is headed for hell, the loving thing to do is warn them.
If that’s true, then why did Jesus talk about hell so little? Why is it rarely (if ever) mentioned by Paul or Peter? The New Testament authors do not try to scare people into heaven with threats of hell.
OK, some of you Bible scholars are thinking to yourself, “Jeremy doesn’t read his Bible. Doesn’t he know that Jesus talks about hell more than He talks about heaven?”
Yes, I know that this is what some people claim. But it simply isn’t true. The passages where Jesus mentions “weeping and gnashing of teeth” are not talking about hell, but about profound regret for a life poorly lived that some Christians will experience at the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. Matt 8:12; 22:11-13). Most of the references to “fire” in Jesus’ teaching are not about hell, but about some sort of temporal divine discipline; not eternal conscious torment.
I think maybe the only place Jesus talks about hell is with the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (which is likely a parable), and when Jesus says that hell was made for the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41), and sadly, some people end up there as well.
…Speaking of which…. if hell was made for the devil and his angels, why are they on the earth now? Hmmm…. simmer on that one for a while.
Look, when Jesus, Paul, Peter, John and everyone else in the New Testament sought to invite people into the family of God, they did it winsomely. They didn’t threaten or coerce. God does not force people to love Him. God does not rape.
Even in the early church, people became Christians because they saw how loving and generous the Christians were (see Acts 2-3).
Look, people are never going to truly respond to the Gospel if you tell them that unless they accept Jesus they will be going to hell. Many people are already living in hell, and they think God has done this to them, and another such threat from God only reinforces there idea of this angry God up in the clouds who is out to kill and hurt them. Do we seriously want people to “come to Jesus” with this sort of picture of God in their minds?
Not only because it doesn’t “work” but more importantly, because it isn’t true!
God looks like Jesus, and Jesus always loves people into the Kingdom.
You know what is really loving? Not warning people that if they don’t believe in Jesus they will go to hell. That’s not loving, nor does it draw anyone to God or into His Kingdom.
What is really loving is living in such a way that people notice a difference in your life. They see your joy, your grace, your generosity, and your patience in trials. They never sense judgment coming from you, but only acceptance and love. If given the opportunity, you can use words to invite people to follow Jesus with you, and experience the true contentment, peace, and joy that comes from living in such a way.
That is loving, and best of all, it’s true.