Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Preaching of Hell is the Best Kindness

It has been suggested that to get animated about the denial of hell while people are suffering in Libya/Sudan/Iran (or insert the headline of the week) is to have priorities way out of whack. To quote Professor Kirke, "Logic! Why don't they teach logic at these schools?"

If hell exists -- and I know that's a big "if" by the estimation of some -- it is entirely reasonable to speak and act as if it is the gravest danger facing anyone. It would certainly be more dangerous than bodily death, if Jesus' logic is to have any influence.

The principle at work here is similar to that at work in atheist Penn Jillette's well-spread word on Christian proselytization. Jillette does not believe hell exists; he doesn't even believe God exists. But he says if you believe it does, it is not hateful to warn him about it: it's hateful not to. This is called being logical. Jillette uses the illustration of a speeding bus. If he's standing in its way and doesn't see it coming, the loving thing to do is to push him out of its way. He then asks, "How much do you have to hate someone not to proselytize?"

So it may make one uncomfortable when others get upset when other Christians deny the existence of hell. But doesn't it make sense? Logically speaking, if hell does exist, it makes perfect sense to get angry when other self-professing Christians say it doesn't. Or that it's not as bad as we've made it out to be. Many critical of those who reacted quite vocally to the most recent questioning of hell, I dare say, would not be critical of those angry about the denial of cigarette smoker's risk of lung cancer. If I posted a blog angry about somebody's denial of racism, I would get Amen's.

But we're talking about hell here. It's not hateful to get angry about the downplaying of hell. Certainly we should talk about hell in gracious ways -- which is to say, we should not be "bad news" people but "good news" people, so we should not preach hell the way some of our fundamentalist forebears did, as if hell was the only reality. We ought to say it is real and it is a danger to those apart from Christ, and then we ought to hold out Christ as the glorious, wonderful, hell-proof hope.

Preaching hell in the context of the gospel is not hate. And getting angry about the denial of hell is not bloodthirst: it is what logical people do when someone says that giant waterfall your canoe is heading for isn't really there. It is an anger born not of hate, but love.
"If there be really a hell of such dreadful, and neverending torments, as is generally supposed, that multitudes are in great danger of, and that the bigger part of men in Christian countries do actually from generation to generation fall into, for want of a sense of the terribleness of it, and their danger of it, and so for want of taking due care to avoid it; then why is it not proper for those that have the care of souls, to take great pains to make men sensible of it? Why should they not be told as much of the truth as can be?

"If I am in danger of going to hell, I should be glad to know as much as possibly I can of the dreadfulness of it: if I am very prone to neglect due care to avoid it, he does me the best kindness, that does most to represent to me the truth of the case, that sets forth my misery and danger in the liveliest manner."

--Jonathan Edwards, Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God

6 comments:

Brandon said...

I understand what you are saying. And I agree fully that if hell is real then the only loving thing to do is to warn people.

But I think there are two different issues here. One of warning people of the dangers of rejecting Christ, and one of discussing the nature of hell (duration, intensity, existence, etc.).

When preaching the gospel, obviously warning people about hell isn't hateful, but loving.

However, when a question on the nature of hell comes up, the typical response is often so entrenched in tradition, emotion, and urgency that proper exegetical consideration is squelched out.

I believe that the argument you are responding to is typically ad hominem. In other words, instead of defending why they believe in a non-traditional hell, they simply call the person who believes in a traditional hell "hateful."

However, I also think that some of those people who ask these questions simply want to get answers as opposed to simply being called heretical.

I think it can come off as hateful to write off those who have a differing view or are questioning a traditional theological position without some sort of discussion with exegetical substance.

Hannah said...

Jim Rohn, a motivational speaker who has taught me much, has spoken of this in a different context. To paraphrase, he basically said that he does not mind a preacher preaching hellfire and condemning him to hell, as long as that preacher preaches with tears in his eyes.

Many people who get worked up in defense of hell seem to me to be a bit too joyful, a bit too enthusiastic about deciding who is going there (you) and who isn't (me). Hell is seen as the place where people go who aren't good enough for the Jesus Club. "Stop doing this, and start doing that or you will go to Hell where you belong you spawn of the devil."

There's no grace in that. Nor an understanding of who it is the keeps us from Hell. Dead men can't avoid hell. Only Jesus resurrects us and keeps us from Hell. Doing or not doing can't prevail against those gates.

I think it might be a good thing for everyone if a few more people wept over hell, rather than spitting and getting red faced with anger.

Dubbahdee said...

Jared,

The last comment from sparky.denis was from me. That was the google login of another family member. Gotta get them their own computer. ;-)

Dave. D.

Jared said...

Hannah, thank you for your comments.

I address your concerns, I think, in my words on "preaching hell in the context of the gospel."

I agree that we ought not preach hell as if we're happy about it, but I don't know many these days who do that. Ditto the spitting and red-facedness. I'm sure those people exist, but I think they are not many these days. I think this is often a caricature used to dissuade preaching on hell altogether. Nobody wants to be taken as a "meanie," after all.

Dubbahdee said...

Yes you did. My comments were not intended to point out something you had not addressed, but to further illustrate a point you had made.
I always felt the picture of someone preaching Hell through their weeping to be a powerful and affecting image. One might say it makes the preaching of Hell palatable.
It is a basic principle of communication that people tend to respond to the one who identifies with them over someone who stands outside to accuse them. In this sense, the image of the weeping preacher builds on the Penn Gillette quote. If you consider the meaning of Hell, weeping is a logical conclusion.

Anonymous said...

Hi my name is dean
and i truly belive that hell preaching is a part of the gospel message not to say we should speak to much about it but i mean jesus did and he did'nt say that were not too anyone that does'nt preach it isn't letting the holy spirit lead the message and doing it in there own strength is not worth a carrot jesus did whom is a part of the trinity 3 are as 1 so is he wrong? no he is not i'm not trying to play the i'm right your wrong game just that god is right and were all wrong so we need to put our hole trust in him because the less of our selves that go in to good works in genral the better our own ideas only get in the way of his wisdom may we all de-crease that he may increase in all of our live's GODBLESS