In their 2004 book, Hell Under Fire, general editors, Christopher Moran and Robert Peterson write,
A business was opening a new store, and a friend of the owner sent flowers for the occasion. The flowers arrived at the new business site, and the owner read the card, inscribed “Rest in Peace.” The angry owner called the florist to complain. After he told the florist of the obvious mistake and how angry he was, the florist said, “Sir, I’m really sorry for the mistake, but rather than getting angry, you should imagine this: Somewhere there is a funeral taking place today, and they have flowers with a note that reads, “Congratulations on your new location.”
They then add,
Hell is under fire. In one sense that is nothing new. It has been the case ever since the Enlightenment, but the past fifty years have seen a noteworthy turn of affairs. Attacks on the historic doctrine of hell that used to come from without the church are now coming from within.
If we believe the message sent by the contemporary media, the “new location” of everyone who dies is heaven. At first glance, popular polls seem to disagree with that conclusion, for they reveal that a large majority of Americans believe in the existence of hell. However, the same polls show that almost no one thinks that he or she is going there. Everyone hopes for heaven.
Most remember how celebrity preacher, Joel Osteen, side-stepped Larry King’s straight-forward question: “What if you’re Jew or Muslim and you don’t accept Christ at all?” (Begin watching at 1:16)
Like Osteen, I do not enjoy talking about what the Bible calls hell. I wish it wasn’t in there.
But it is.
Further, it’s not my call to address a clear teaching of the Bible based on how I feel about it. To quote Luther – “I am bound by the Scriptures…and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”
Finally, and most importantly, there’s the testimony and example of Jesus, himself, who not only talked about hell, he talked about it a lot. (cf. Matthew 23:33; 25:41; Mark 9:48; Luke 12:5) Search the gospels and you’ll discover Christ talked about hell more often than heaven – no doubt as a dire warning to those who would reject him.
If Jesus fails to get our attention in the gospels, the last book of the Bible, Revelation, clearly describes the final destination of those who choose to reject Christ as the lake of fire.
Based on the clear testimony of scripture itself, even a cursory reading of the New Testament presents the existence of hell as fact in crystal clear fashion.
There is simply no getting around it.
Certainly, one may try to explain it away or ignore it. But choosing to twist a clear, biblical doctrine into something that better suits our mere human logic, reason and intellect doesn’t remove or lessen what Jesus says about it.
Recently, I ran across an article written as a warning to church leaders titled, Question the doctrine of hell at your peril. It could tear your church apart.
The author, Sam Hailes, cites the demise of celebrity pastors, Carlton Pearson, Steve Chalke and Rob Bell, as well as alleged recent statements by the Pope. He rightly asserts,
For many Christians, questioning the existence (or nature) of hell is tantamount to denying the gospel. “If everyone goes to heaven, then what was the point of Jesus dying on the cross?”
I will confess to you: there are things in the Bible I do not understand and, as such, I wish were not in there. But, I’m not God. My logic is fallen and corrupt while he is perfect, holy and righteous.
Hailes also does a wonderful job of helping the reader to have compassion on, and pray for, those who would attempt to rewrite scripture – including church leaders. No one in their right mind loves the biblical doctrine of hell. Nonetheless, as Hailes bluntly writes,
Some things are true whether we like them or not.
Soli Deo Gloria, Nick