Since I posted my throughts on the ‘evangelical universalist’, I have been thinking about hell. I don’t have a lot of scholarly research on hell and its uses in the Bible. Perhaps I need to do some over the next few weeks, especially if I am posting on it. But, I have come to some conclusions about hell in evangelism.
Even if I am wrong about hell (i.e., it is an actual place of eternal torment in which people are sent there as their punishment for not believing in Jesus), I still have to wonder about its effectiveness in evangelism. Here they are:
1. If ever it was a good idea to preach hell as a means to bring people to conversion, there seems to have been some sort of understanding among even the non-believers that there was such a place. For instance, I am teaching my daughter to look both ways before she crosses the street. For this to have any impact, she has to have some sort of understanding that there are cars that drive at highspeeds that could seriously harm her.
2. Therefore, Hell is only a deterent if one actually believes that such a place exist. If someone doesn’t believe in God, then why would she or he believe in hell? Certainly, if evangelising an atheist (or an adherent of some religion that has no equivalent), the person can say, ‘I don’t believe in hell.’
3. Then, the conversation must move from God to hell. Evangelism then becomes convincing the person about hell and then the conversation can turn to God.
So, in an attempt to get someone to believe in a good, loving God, one would have to get the person to believe in a place of eternal torture first. And then get him or her to belive this good, loving God would send him or her if that person doesn’t believe in God.
Perhaps those that would want to emphasise God’s holiness (God’s inability to have sin in God’s presence) think I am being flippant. But, I believe evangelism is more about the good news of God’s reign in love. The story, over and over, in the Bible is the story of God’s grace toward those who have time and again turned away from God. We stand up to [BNP Leader] Nick Griffen and his hatred because we believe in the love God has for all people. As much as we wish Nick would go away, we are at the same time calling for his conversion and not simply his silence (admittedly, this is harder to do!). This is why we preach God’s love and grace rather than a place of eternal torment – because that is what God emphasises in God’s story. God, through the continual sending of love, converts us and makes us holy.