One dear saint at our church said this too me right before our Sunday Morning Bible Study hour. My response was, “Wow, that’s morbid.”
No laughter. She was serious.
At my church (Boone’s Creek Baptist Church), many of our senior adults grew up with a minister who preached and taught on this in some manner every Sunday. They called it “hellfire and brimstone” preaching. Some believe this is one of the major contributing causes of the problems in our society—preachers don’t preach on hell as much, so there is no fear of the Lord anymore.
I believe she was on to something!
Now, I want to be clear, I do not preach on the subject of an eternal hell every Sunday. It comes up every Sunday, but I seldom preach on it as the exclusive subject. Why? As an expositor, I go through books of the Bible and I preach what comes up as the Holy Spirit has outlined in His Word. This allows me to preach on the subject the Bible addresses, not simply my pet subjects. And when it comes to the doctrine and reality of hell, many preachers believe in it and preach on it, and rightly so.
Nuclear weapons are back in the news. Last week, negotiations were underway between our country and Russia about the amount of nuclear weapons we have and, for the sake of peace (as the argument goes), we need to reduce or lay down our nuclear weapons to show we are committed to peace and not war on a grand scale.
Two sides of this argument come out. One says that having nuclear weapons shows that we are aggressive, combatant, and are willing to use force first to get our way. What is needed is diplomacy, they say.
The other side says that having nuclear weapons serves as a deterrent that makes our enemies think twice about attacking us. Whether we use those weapons or not, the fact that they exist and are at our disposal serves as a warning and keeps us safe.
Take your pick on that issue. Yet, when it comes to the issue of the doctrine and the reality of hell, we see a lot of these issues. One side says, “You need to be uplifting, encouraging, and show God being a God of love and mercy. Preaching on hell doesn’t fit this spirit of this age.
The other side says, “Hell is real. Jesus preached on it. And we have to preach hell as a deterrent because what we do in this life will be reflected in the next. To think that we will not be judged for how His creation acts in His world to others who bear His image is sheer lunacy.”
Truth be told, hell is real. Jesus preached on hell and judgment of the unbeliever more than any other subject. Yet, in our day as in every age, some question how a loving God could send anyone to an eternal hell for a passing (or not so passing) sin? To them, sending someone to hell for all eternity is disproportionate to the crime committed.
But the truth is, it is not disproportionate. Those who desire to live apart from Christ in this life will get that in abundance in the next.
Miroslav Volf, a Croatian who has experienced significant violence in the Balkans, has a very different view than most Americans on the doctrine of hell and judgment. While many American believe that a God of judgment leads to a harsh religion filled with harsh people, this is not always the case. That’s more American than it is biblical.
If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end to violence—that God would not be worthy of worship. . . . The only means of prohibiting all resource to violence comes from God. . . . My thesis that the practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many. . . in the West. . . . [But] it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human non-violence [results from the belief in] God’s refusal to judge. In a sun-scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die . . . [with] other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.
I am thankful that Tim Keller included this in his book, The Reason for God. We need a God who is just and who will not let injustice go unpunished.
Christians want to hear sermons on hell as a warning to those who aim to be separated from God in this life, and yet feel there will be no consequences (a very American idea, to be sure). Christians need to hear sermons on hell to reassure them that there is the hope of heaven!
Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Abingdon, 1996), 303-04. Quoted in Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Dutton, 2008), 74.