How can Christians become more comfortable with the doctrine of Hell?

I’ve decided to do a series on Hell.

I wanted to say a few words about the following topics, one per day:

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.

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2 thoughts on “How can Christians become more comfortable with the doctrine of Hell?”

  1. Well said. The degree of anti-intellectualism in the Church is staggering. As such, not only do most well-churched folk view Christianity as a personalized and brain-dead faith, but, perhaps even worse, our culture has come to accept this stereotype as well. As such, many non-believers now think that they have to blow their brains out to become a Christian, so to speak. Unfortunately, this is a stereotype I think we’ve earned. And it is this sort of view that ultimately threatens the future of the Church, as it undermines the credibility of Christianity in the eyes of our increasingly secular culture from a most foundational level.

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  2. I just want to tease out a few things that I think are implicit in your argument, and might be helpful for someone struggling with this:

    The bible gives both specific and clear definitions of sin, and also broad brush strokes about who sins. So when you ask the bible, what is sin? It tells you that sin is whatever goes against the character of God, in action or inaction, and then just in case you want to quibble on the matter, lays it out numerously and specifically. When you ask the bible who has sinned and who hasn’t, the answer is simple clear and unavoidable, “All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

    More than that, the bible tells us very clearly that there is a terrible and final result of sin, “For the wages of sin is death,” (first half of Romans 6:23). In this passage, it is talking of not just mortal death, but a final and eternal death, i.e. Hell.

    But God doesn’t like the idea of Hell. God dislikes it so much, that he has done something about it. Not only has he done something about it, he has taken personal responsibility for the solution. He has offered us a gift, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (the second half of Romans 6:23) Jesus lived a life without sin, and died a death he didn’t deserve, to pay a price that we couldn’t pay.

    So who does God offer this salvation to? Everyone. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:16-17) God not only takes personal responsibility, he generously offers salvation to all.

    Because the bible is reliable, we can know that A) we are all sinners in need of a savior and B) that God has Himself provided that salvation and offered it to us all. Will you accept it?

    Because people answer “no” to that, there is a hell. God is not a cosmic rapist. He is loving, and he woo’s us all. CS Lewis bears repeating here (paraphrased): There are only two types of people in this world, those that say to God, “thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “thy will be done.”

    God exists. The bible is reliable. Jesus was raised from the dead. This proves who He was and that His ministry of reconciliation was succesful (1 Corinthians 15 plays this out). All have sinned and have earned Hell. God has given us a way to be forgiven of that.

    I hope that for someone, Christian or non, that is helpful.

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