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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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Why are some Christians uncomfortable 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.

Why are some Christians uncomfortable with the doctrine of Hell?

Last time I explained that our number one job is to love God, and this means we have to know God first. But I also said that all of us fall short of this goal at least partly, because we all pursue selfish pleasure at least partly. Unfortunately, God requires us to be perfect in this, and the penalty for failure is death. Although God was very forgiving about this before sending Jesus to die in our place, he’s now very strict about it.

Anyone who accepts Jesus’ death as payment for not wanting to know God and to love him (sin) will avoid the punishment. Anyone who refuses Jesus’ sacrifice cannot spend eternity in the presence of God. The duration of Heaven or Hell is the same for all, but the degree of punishment depends on the specific sins you commit, with the worst sins being sins against God.

For anyone who accepts Jesus’ sacrifice, it becomes possible to have a relationship with God, which involves knowing him and following him. This is actually quite exciting although it is also very dangerous and painful. God wants people to know his character through the historical record of his Son stepping into history as the man Jesus. And then he wants people to follow Jesus’ teachings and example in their daily lives.

This is known as the gospel. But the problem is that many Christians don’t believe that refusing to know and love God is a sin worthy of death. They don’t really believe that the standard is perfect love for God. They don’t really believe that we sin by not loving God perfectly. They don’t believe that Jesus had to die in our place. They don’t believe that rejecting Christ’s sacrificial death is worthy of Hell.

In fact, they’ve decided that there is a new way to get to Heaven. The new way to go to Heaven is by pursuing happy feelings and being nice to people. You can just believe anything you want about God, and make all your decisions without knowing anything about God, and maximize your own happiness in this life. And since almost everybody does this, then almost everybody goes to Heaven, (except people who believe in sin and Hell).

Here are some of the reasons why some “Christians” invented this new way to avoid Hell:

  • They don’t believe that God exists objectively
  • They don’t believe that God has an objective personality or will for his creatures
  • They think that the purpose of religious belief and practice is to make themselves feel happy
  • They think that logic and evidence can’t be used to know about God’s existence or character
  • They don’t want to be rejected by other people for talking about sin or Hell
  • They think that God wants them to be silent about sin and Hell, so other people will be happy
  • They believe that the Bible doesn’t provide accurate information about what God is like
  • They think that purpose of reading the Bible is to affirm their own feelings and intuitions
  • They don’t want to do what the Bible plainly says because that makes them less happy
  • They think that God’s will for his creatures is that they be happy and nice to one another
  • They think that if other religions make people happy and nice, then they are paths to Heaven

Many of these people enjoy going to church and especially singing in the church.

But there is one they fear more than Superman fears Kryptonite. What could that be?

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Why do people go to 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.

Why do people go to Hell?

Everyone has a moral obligation to use their free will in the time during which they are alive to investigate whether God exists and what his character is like. Once they discover the answers to those questions, they are morally obligated to use their free will to love God – as he really is – using all their capabilities. Loving God also means obeying the moral law, but I think there is a lot more to loving God than just obeying rules.

Each person is also obligated to engage in and support enterprises that help others to know God as he really is. If a person fails to use their free will to love God, then that person is sinning. Notice that on my view, being nice to your neighbor is relatively unimportant compared to being nice to God. Jesus’ first commandment is to love God, and that vertical dimension is much more important than horizontal dimension.

The pre-condition to loving God is knowing what he is really like. Most people are born into a certain religion or learn it from their parents or their culture and they either adopt it without thinking or they reject it without thinking. But on the Christian view, the best thing you can possibly do with your time is to investigate whether God is real, and what he is like. It’s wrong to say that investigating doesn’t matter or that all religions are the same.

I think that the result of any honest investigation is going to be that the Christian religion is going to be found to be more true in its major claims than any other religion. I.e. – people who conduct an honest investigation are going to find that the Christian claims about the universe coming into being out of nothing, and of Jesus rising from the dead, etc. will be validated by the progress of science and historical inquiry.

But since people have a natural tendency to focus on making themselves happy, not many investigations occur. They know that if Christianity is true, they would have to engage in radical self-denial and self-sacrificial love. They know they would have to sober, be chaste, be different, and not be liked because of their exclusive view. And people don’t want to do that, so an honest investigation never even gets started.

Instead, what you find atheists doing is hoping in speculations to justify their flight from the demands of the God who is there. They’ll talk about the multiverse, unobservable aliens seeding the planet with life, not yet found precursor fossils, etc. Atheism is about one thing and one thing only – using freedom to seek pleasure instead of truth and goodness.

One of the problems that Christians have today is that they do not really understand what sin is. They think that sin is about hurting other people or making other people feel bad. But actually, the sinfulness of a person has little to do with that, and much more to do with how we respond to God. We have a moral obligation to know God and to include God in all of our decision making. Hell is the penalty for failure to meet this obligation.

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