Hell: its for real!

My colleague Alvin Lim preached an impactful sermon on Hell. He spoke on a topic which pastors seldom, if ever preached. I remember having preached about it only once. Mentioning it in passing whenever it was a part of a story, parable or text: yes, quite a few times. But as a main topic exploring different aspects of it, once in 38 years of ministry. Not a very good record. Now why did I not preach more about Hell? Well, it is not good news, not positive and probably offensive too. It’s not a topic members will get excited about. I think it has to do with warfare too. If there is one topic Satan hates it is mention about his final and eternal abode.

Alvin did a great job. First he described hell – what it looks like, what it feels like, who will be there. Then he went on to describe the fruit of the teaching about Hell. For those who are lost, it can spur them to repent and seek God. For those already saved, it could deepen their appreciation of grace, spur them to the fear of God and holy living, and motivate them to share Christ with the lost. He also went on to explain how to share about Hell to the lost. For older traditionalist, the existence of Hell is more or less accepted and to talk about it is not problematic. But to reach the younger ones with this message, it has to be argued. Young people value tolerance and believe if you are good you will avoid Hell. They find the Christian idea of hell too exclusive. We have to show them that Christianity is more tolerant and inclusive. The Heaven they prefer is exclusively for those who are good. That leaves a lot of people out. But the Christian Heaven is for those who believe in Jesus even though their past had been terrible. This means it is more inclusive, because all kinds of exes will qualify: ex-prostitutes, ex-robbers, ex-deceivers, ex-convicts, ex-self righteous religious, ex-adulterers, ex- cheaters and the list goes on and on, regardless of race, language, or previous religion, or age, or gender – as long as you trust in Christ for forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

Jesus is the prophet who preached more than anyone about Hell. He did so because He knew Hell was a horrible realm for He created it for Satan and the demons. Never meant for people. But those who follow the prince of darkness will also end there. We preachers, followers of Christ, should follow suit and preach more about Hell.

US preachers don’t preach on hell

Just when it seemed to have cooled off, the topic of hell is back on the front burner—at least for pastors learning to preach about a topic most Americans would rather not talk about. At the recent annual Beeson Pastors School, Selles led two workshops to discuss “Whatever happened to hell?” He asked how many of the pastors had ever preached a sermon on hell. Nobody had, he said. “I think it’s something people want to avoid,” he said. “I understand why. It’s a difficult topic.” Only 59% of Americans believe in hell, compared with 74% who believe in heaven, according to the recent surveys from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. “I think it’s such a difficult and important biblical topic,” said Kurt Selles, director of the Global Center at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School. “There’s a big change that’s taken place as far as evangelicals not wanting to be as exclusive.” The Rev. Fred Johns, pastor of Brookview Wesleyan Church in Irondale, Ala., said after a workshop discussion of hell that pastors do shy away from the topic of everlasting damnation. “It’s out of fear we’ll not appear relevant,” he said. “It’s pressure from the culture to not speak anything negative. I think we’ve begun to deny hell. There’s an assumption that everybody’s going to make it to heaven somehow.” The soft sell on hell reflects an increasingly market-conscious approach, Selles said. “When you’re trying to market Jesus, sometimes there’s a tendency to mute traditional Christian symbols,” he said. “Difficult doctrines are left by the wayside. Hell is a morally repugnant doctrine. People wonder why God would send people to eternal punishment.” Speakers said the seriousness of Jesus dying for man’s sins relates to the gravity of salvation vs. damnation, according to Johns. “If you don’t mention God’s judgment, you are missing a big part of the Christian gospel,” Selles said. “Without wrath, there’s no grace.” Jesus never soft-pedaled the concept of hell, Selles said. “It’s not metaphorical in Jesus’ mind; it’s a real place,” he said. Either way, Selles said, pretending that hell doesn’t exist, or trying to preach around it, short-circuits the Bible. “This is a doctrine, a teaching, that’s being neglected in churches,” Selles said. “It needs to be preached. It’s part of the Gospel.” (USA Today 16/6/09)

Should we do a survey of Singaporean preachers?