I’ve decided to do a series on Hell.
I wanted to say a few words about the following topics, one per day:
- Why do people go to Hell?
- Why are some Christians uncomfortable with the doctrine of Hell?
- How can Christians become more comfortable with the doctrine of Hell?
Now, I am no theologian, but I am going to take a crack at answering these questions from a layman’s point of view, and the more experienced people can correct me where I am mistaken. I am answering all these questions from an Wesleyan Protestant point of view. These are just my opinions, so please seek the advice of the Bible and more qualified theologians. And leave your corrections in the comments.
How can Christians become more comfortable with the doctrine of Hell?
In order to be confident in the doctrines that humans are sinful, and that rebellion against God is punishable by eternal separation from God in Hell, Christians need to know that the following propositions are objectively true.
- A non-material intelligence created the universe
- The New Testament is a generally reliable record of the life and teachings of Jesus
- A good case can be made for the resurrection of Jesus
- A standardized objective worldview can be derived from the teachings of Jesus
Last time, we took a look at the beliefs that make Christians less likely to accept and defend the doctrine of Hell.
I’ll summarize the beliefs as follows:
- They don’t know if God exists or not in any objective sense
- They don’t know if the Bible is reliable in any objective sense
But it’s pretty clear that in order for there to even be a Hell, God would have to exist, and the Bible would have to be making reliable statements about the moral law and human rebellion. So before Christians can even be confident in their belief in Hell, confident enough to tell otehr people about sin and Hell, they would have to know that the following propositions are true.
- God exists
- The Bible is reliable
Now, to prove that anything is true, you have to show two things about that thing.
- The proposition is consistent according to the laws of logic
- The proposition is verifiable, and indeed verified, against the external world
In order to test these claims, you would would study philosophy to understand the laws of logic and arguments. Then you would have to study the empirical evidence by learning about physics, chemistry, paleontology, New Testament criticism, history, archaeology, etc..
For example, to know whether it is true that God exists, you might construct a logically valid argument for his existence like the Kalam argument, and then study the Big Bang cosmology to assess whether the progress of science has shown that a supernatural agent created the universe.
There is no cheap way to know whether God exists. There was a time when a simple faith could have survived without all of this learning and lab experimenting. But now that time is over. And the church needs to get into the business of realizing that there are real threats undermining the intuitions that God exists and that the Bible is trustworthy, and take appropriate steps to defend those claims.
Unfortunately, Christians do not really learn much in church that is going to fix any of these core beliefs. In my experience, you could attend church for decades and never here a single examination of whether any propositions required by Christianity are true. There is no logic being taught in the church. There is no linking of Christian doctrine with anything verifiable in the external world.
Children are not stupid. They understand the difference between the way that things are approached in the schools (logically and empirically) and the way that things are approached in the feminized postmodern relativist universalist church (emotions and intuitions). They understand the difference between a physics experiment and a praise hymn. And they know when they are being sold a myth.
The basic problem here is that Christianity has been re-interpreted from being an objective religion based on knowable truth to being a subjective religion based on the felt needs of the subjects in the church pews. The solution to this problem is for the church to treat Christianity as a set of claims about an objective reality. Christianity must be place in the same category as physics and chemistry.
You cannot expect people to be bold in talking about things like sin and Hell when it is no fun to do so. If Christianity is not a knowledge tradition, then it is not worth being any sane person’s time and effort. If Christianity is a personal preference, then it is the same as any other personal preference – it must serve the needs of the person who adopts it.
No one eats spinach, unless they like the taste of spinach. If Christianity is not knowledge, but is just a personal preference, then Christianity is spinach. Some people will like it, and they’ll eat it. But most people won’t like it, and they won’t eat it. You are not going to get people to confidently speak about sin and Hell if those things are just personal preferences. And no one becomes an authentic Christian without understanding sin and Hell, because those are the required foundation for understanding the need for grace and forgiveness.