Thursday, June 16, 2011

Does It Really Matter What You Believe About Hell?

For the sake of argument, there are three general positions that Christians take towards the belief in hell:
1) Hell is a real place of eternal, conscious torment (ECT)
2) Hell is a real place of temporary, restorative judgment (TRJ)
3) Hell is an imaginary place

There have been different reports out indicating that many Christians don't live as if they believed in option 1. Though many denominations are on record as holding to a belief in hell as ECT, their members act otherwise. Evangelicals are known for their emphasis on evangelism, and they still struggle with getting their congregations motivated to save their neighbors from a hell of brimstone and burning sulfur.

So despite what doctrinal statements are declared or pronounced, the overall American Christian behavior belies a belief in hell that is either temporary or non-existent or at least not all that bad. Maybe it'd be fair to say that based on people's behavior, they either don't ever really think about hell, or else kind of view it from a Gary Larson point of view.

An interesting dilemma arises: should their be more teaching and preaching on hell in order to get more people to live according to a real fear of ECT? This would seem to lead to an over-emphasis on hell, out of line with how Jesus himself preached in light of hell. It seems to lead to a "fire-insurance" kind of Christianity.

Should hell even be any kind of motivator for evangelism? It would seem that the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus teaches that even if a dead man came back from hell to warn people about the agony of the next life, it would not be effective. If this is the case, what should our attitudes be towards the hell that Jesus describes? It seems it is proper to teach about hell as a reality, but to not be inclined to use it as a motivator for people to get saved. 

So what's the use in believing in hell? How should a belief in hell affect how I live my daily life? If I believe in ECT, then shouldn't I be using every waking moment to try and convince every living person to convert? How could I ever go to the movies for fun or take a vacation or even raise a family if I knew that it distracted me from keeping people out of ECT? If I believe that hell is TRJ, then I'd end up focusing more on the consequences that actions have in this life, letting the bad consequences experienced now be motivation for turning to God for help now.

Do you think it matters what people believe about hell? How do you justify your behavior in light of what you believe about hell? 

Is the doctrine of hell up for debate? Can we learn anything new about what the Scriptures teach about hell, or has it all been figured out already?

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