A thought by Jason Duncan | 5-8 minute read
The long-standing interpretations of an eternal hell are being turned on their head. What seemed to start out as a smoke-ridden, emotional, flesh-logic, Rob-Bell-love-winning argument against an eternal suffering lake of fire, outer darkness, weeping, and teeth gnashing hell prepared for the devil, his cohorts, and unbelievers, appears now to have some actual fire behind it… A new hot take if you will. No longer are Christians confronting their pastors with only tear-filled eyes and shouts of “it can’t be true,” they are rallying hard with substantial biblical, early church, and historical contextual evidence.
I’m not writing this article to articulate and detail the arguments. I can’t, as much as I’ve studied I don’t think I could do them justice. In complete transparency, I still subscribe to what may soon be considered the heretical view of an eternal hell. But for many God respecting and Jesus loving Christians out there, that just isn’t the case anymore. I’m writing this article to encourage Christians to keep sharing the good news of Jesus Christ no matter what side of the fence ultimately is proven true. Why? Because a few important questions arise out of this hell debate.
How can you “save” someone if there is nothing to “save” them from?
If everybody is saved in the end anyway, why bother?
These are questions I have even asked myself and wrestled with and ultimately discovered in asking them, that they are the wrong questions to ask! I’ll get to that in a moment.
Why bring this topic up? It started a few weeks ago when the three headed, “crap”-stirring podcast, Bad Christian (Great Savior) brought up an amazing question for eternal-hell-believing Christians. Co-host Matt Carter asked “Do we really even believe in hell?” It’s a good question, and to paraphrase his argument, we don’t act like it. If we truly believed in eternal suffering of our loved ones we would respond with an unbelievable urgency to rescue those destined for that fate.
It’s an inspiring thought. If our pastors truly thought the end was near or could happen at any moment with the biblical description of hell as a true destiny, wouldn’t they ask believers to quit their jobs, run to their neighbors, warn as many as possible, and never stop? I mean isn’t that goal? Instead we have (no offence) Upward Football and Cheer meetings to attend, and meetings to discern if we should keep playing Chris Tomlin or secular songs. That hardly seems urgent. If we could picture hell for 30 seconds how could we come to any other conclusion, but to desperately rescue, always, and to the end? The idea that we don’t truly believe is valid.
Which poses another question… Maybe God didn’t wire us to “save” in reckless abandoned because Jesus already did that for us on the cross. Brandon Andress, a dear friend to us at Not Your Pastor’s Podcast, appeared on the Inglorious Pasterds and made some convincing biblical arguments that in many ways echoed some sentiments of Universalism (go ahead and shutter, the article will be over soon). He reasoned, (paraphrasing) wouldn’t the ultimate picture of God’s grace in restoring all things to himself come to the conclusion of everyone in His presence?
Chris Date of the Rethinking Hell Podcast, would seem to have yet another view of hell leaning toward that of annihilation. As a conservative christian he has gone to great lengths to show that the bible never says hell is eternal, and that the weight of scripture proves contrary to traditional belief. He makes a strong case that hell may indeed be temporary.
So back to the questions, Why share the gospel then?
First, another great friend of our podcast, Keith Giles, author of Jesus Untangled, penned an amazing article titled “A Conversation About Hell” which answers the “If everyone is saved in the end, why bother” question. Read it, it’s a solid argument about sparing unnecessary suffering. But I’d like to add to it.
John, in his first epistle lays out the foundation for sharing the gospel, it goes a little something like this,
“From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in—we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us. We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!” – 1st John 1-4, (the Message)
Joy, not hell, is why John and his camp shared the gospel. As each new person receives the good news of Jesus and his resurrection, the physical embodiment of Jesus grows. The witness grows, the doubt fades, and the joy doubles!
Paul called this message, the witnessing of Jesus, the message of reconciliation of which we’ve been entrusted (2 Cor. 5:9). God doesn’t need us to “save” people, God can do that with or without our help, instead God allows us or entrusts in our human weakness to experience the joy of renewal here on earth! Like a musician giving life to an old song by making a flat a sharp, or a painter giving depth and perspective by inserting a new image into the foreground of her work, or an elder finding a piece of furniture at a thrift store to spend an afternoon with a gin and tonic sanding and applying a new finish, or a child traveling through space and time in the confines of an old refrigerator box in the middle a living room. The message of reconciliation and renewal is written on our DNA, it’s in our life blood. To take care of each other, the earth, and the fullness there of until the day God makes all things new, isn’t our job, its our life purpose!
God will renew the earth and his people. I’ll wager with fire at some point, whatever be the case, in the midst of his disciples doubting, Christ commissioned them to Go, so that their doubt may be erased in the continual renewal of Christ and that their joy may be made complete!
So while eternal hell may be a great motivator for some to approach unbelievers in “repent or perish” fashion, the motivation to share Christ does not rest solely on the length of hell. On the contrary, the early followers, under heavy persecution, erased doubt and experienced joy by joining in present communion with God, Christ, and the new believer. Amen!
<bio> Jason is not a pastor </bio>
contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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