On October 28, an article appeared on Time’s website that was entitled “What Christianity Without Hell Looks Like” (www.time.com/3544500/christianity-without-hell/?xid=time_readnext). It was a brief piece, but significant. I would like to respond to the article itself and then add a brief response.
The author opens the piece with this statement: “The idea that the Bible declares hell a real and literal place is no more valid than the toxic lie that the Bible condemns homosexuality.” I don’t have the space or time currently to build the case that the Bible does indeed condemn homosexuality (as it does all sexual actions outside of marriage between a man and a woman), but I must respond to the main claim of this article. The Bible refers to “hell” fourteen times and to the “lake of fire” four times. A reading of the Bible in context (therefore letting it speak for itself) makes it clear that the authors of scripture believed that they were writing about a very literal place. In order to do away with hell, one has to do away with the authority of scripture.
A few paragraphs later, Shore claims that the doctrine of hell is “about the accrual of money and power.” This is a logical fallacy in which Shore assumes that his main point is right (namely that the Bible does not actually teach a literal hell). Once he does away with the biblical explanation for hell, he is free to choose a purpose for the doctrine from his own worldview- namely money and power based on fear of divine judgment.
In another paragraph, Shore begins to reveal his real motivation. He makes the following statement: “a Christianity without hell would free Christians to fully embrace this life…” My question here simply is, “what do you mean by fully embrace life?” He does go on to talk about being able to truly love one’s neighbor in this life, but that has absolutely nothing to do with the doctrine of hell. Without putting words into his mouth, but being very familiar with the nature of the human condition expressed in Romans chapter 1, I think Shore is driving at something that has plagued the heart of man since the very beginning. I want to live life to the fullest in the way that I define it. I don’t want to have to factor in any kind of thought about a future judgment before a Holy God or really even have to think about being accountable to anyone greater than myself. Throwing off the shackles of hell, and thus the fear of any judgment, frees us up to live as we see fit. If I want to sleep with someone I’m not married to, get drunk every now and then, and lie when it is convenient, then I am free to do so without fear of reprisal.
Romans chapter one tells us that man by nature suppresses the truth (verse 18) and actually exchanges the truth that God has revealed about himself (both in nature and in His word) for a lie, worshipping the creature rather than the Creator (verses 19-32). John Shore is a prime example of this. The fact that people are still writing articles in a liberal media outlet like Time about Christianity and hell is only a confirmation of the truth of this text. Something within every person knows that there is a God. And if there is a God, there is Someone who Whom we will answer for our lives. And if there is accountability, there is a standard by which we will be judged. That standard is the only reliable source of divine truth we possess, namely the Word of God. And that Word tells us that there is a judgment and a very real place known as hell.
If we remove the authority of the Bible to speak for itself, we have made ourselves the authorities. And if we are the authorities, than no one is an authority because all opinions are equally valid. Without the authority of scripture we have no true basis for morality, and without the doctrine of hell and judgment we have no basis for life itself, because our lives are rooted in the story of redemption. They are rooted in the fact that we are all rebels-sinners against the perfect righteousness of a Holy God. The consequence of our rebellion is eternal condemnation apart from God in a place called hell. The love of God is displayed in that while we were in rebellion, God made a way to be forgiven. This is called salvation. The hindrance to believing this for people like John Shore is that they refuse to believe that they are a “sinner” and that they need anything outside of their own goodness to make them right with God. And it is this lie that has deceived so many throughout history.
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