In today’s chipper church growth culture, hell has been forgotten. It’s common to hear preaching about things that make us happy, subjects that bring delight, and sermons that result in joy. Hell doesn’t do any of that—and for that reason, hell is often neglected, overlooked, and forgotten by many pastors. Why is this such a tragedy?
People Forget Hell In Pursuit of Success
In many ways, today’s sophisticated evangelical church culture is in constant pursuit of success, and hell doesn’t appear sophisticated nor does it deliver success. If the modern church today is running on the fuel of pragmatism, the subject of hellfire must be avoided like the black plague.
Joel Osteen, in an interview on a special Easter edition of CBS Sunday Morning said, “They already feel guilty enough. They’re not doing what they should, raising their kids—we can all find reasons. So I want them to come to Lakewood or our meetings and be lifted up, to say, ‘You know what? I may not be perfect, but I’m moving forward. I’m doing better.’ And I think that motivates you to do better.”
In a tragic move toward being “happy,” people like Joel Osteen avoid the reality of hell and end up with a temporal joy that will fade away in due season rather than the eternal joy that is rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ. If you embrace Jesus, you must embrace Jesus’ teaching on hell as well.
Forgetting the Message of Hell Diminishes the Glory of Heaven
In the final days of his life as he was preparing to leave this world, Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s preaching became stronger. In his final days, he preached with greater zeal about the reality of hell. The glory of heaven was before him, but he never could escape the horrific reality of hell for the unconverted. In his final nine months, M’Cheyne preached at least four sermons on hell to his own congregation. His final sermon from the pulpit of Andrew Bonar was described as “a sermon so solemn that one said it was like a blast of the trumpet that would awaken the dead.'”
One of the reasons that M’Cheyne preached about the awful reality of hell was based on the glorious reality of heaven. The love of Christ and the fear of God compelled him to preach on the subject repeatedly as he prepared to enter glory. If everyone who dies goes to heaven, as our secular culture seems to believe, there isn’t much reason at all to think or preach on the subject of hell.
Shame for Hell Results in Shame for the True Gospel
To our culture, hell is a shameful subject. Consider the terms used in Scripture to describe the place of damnation:
- Matthew 5:22 – “hell fire”
- Matthew 8:12 – “outer darkness” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
- Matthew 22:13 – “outer darkness” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
- Luke 13:28 – “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
- Mark 9:44-48 – Three times the Bible mentions “worm dies not” and “fire is not quenched.”
- Mark 9:47 – “hell fire”
- Revelation 20:14 – “lake of fire”
Beyond specific references to hell, the Bible likewise uses other references in a more indirect manner to describe the judgment of God upon sinners. Such references include:
- Pit (2 Pet. 2:4).
- Falling into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31).
- Second death (Rev. 20:14).
- Blackness and darkness forever (Jude 13).
When hell is minimized, it’s necessary to minimize the cross as well. To preach on the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus on the cross without a healthy proclamation of the doctrine of hell simply doesn’t make sense. Some time back, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) contacted Stuart Townend and Keith Getty with a request to print an altered version of the hymn, “In Christ Alone.” They were seeking permission to change the text from, “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied” to “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.”
The request was denied and as a result, the hymn was banned from their hymnal. The representative, Mary Louise Bringle, from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) explained:
The song has been removed from our contents list, with deep regret over losing its otherwise poignant and powerful witness. The “view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger” would have a negative effect on the hymnal’s ability to form the faith of coming generations, and it would do a disservice to this educational mission.
We’re living in strange days in the modern evangelical church where people are trying to clean up the bloody cross and silence the message of hell. The fact that God judged His Son and continues to judge sinners is unacceptable.
Before you try forgetting hell, you should remember that in Jesus’ day, He preached far more about the judgment of God than He did about the glory of heaven. As we draw closer to heaven it should break our hearts that more people are not coming with us. They must hear the truth about the coming judgment of God. Our culture would rather read books titled, Heaven Is For Real, while completely forgetting that hell is too.