Decades ago, many preachers were famous for their hellfire
and damnation sermons. They terrified their congregations. During
these "fire and brimstone" speeches, they warned their parishioners about the horrors of Hell.
of the past literally interpreted the Bible's descriptions of bindings, whippings, intolerable heat, thirst and darkness.
They view Hell as a dreadful place - a place of eternal punishment and torture
without hope for mercy or cessation.
Some conservative theologians still believe in the reality of Hell's
punishment. Timothy George, dean of the Beeson Divinity School
Birmingham, AL commented: "Historically, hell has been portrayed in
evangelical sermons as fire and brimstone. The most we should say is that hell
is a place of unexplainable mystery. The reality is probably far worse than our
most vivid imaginations can conjure up. The reality of both heaven and hell are
both greater than we can express.... While it's very important to teach and
preach about the reality of hell, it should be done only with evangelical tears.
There is sometimes a kind of gloating that people are broiling in hell. I don't
think that honors God or reflects the love of Jesus. We should shed tears over
those who are perishing. Sometimes that's been missing."
Current status: Pastors rarely mention Hell in recent
sermons. "E.V. Hill of Mount Zion Missionary
Baptist Church in Los Angeles says that only a tiny minority of
clergy in his community ever preach on the subject. 'The popular
conception is that God is too good to allow a hell,' he says."
Systematic theologian and Evangelical author C.H. Pinnock commented frankly:
"Their reticence is not so much due to a lack of integrity in
proclaiming the truth [about Hell] as to not having the stomach for preaching a
doctrine that amounts to sadism raised to new levels of finesse." 1,
British Evangelicals: The Alliance Commission on Unity and Truth amongst Evangelicals (Acute),
is a study group of five British evangelical theologians. It was
created in 1996 by the UK Evangelical Alliance. 9Acute has previously published two reports: "What is an Evangelical" and
"Faith, Hope, and Homosexuality." On 2000-APR-2, they issued:
"The Nature of Hell" -- a 150 page report
about Hell. 10,11It conflicts with a statement previously released by the
Church of England in 1996. That
report had described Hell in terms of the annihilation of the human soul and
permanent separation from God -- not a place of eternal torture. Some of the
conclusions reached by the Evangelical group were:
"...Hell is a conscious experience of rejection and torment."
Those who reject Christ will suffer both physical and psychological torment.
Hell's punishment "awaits all who die without faith in Jesus
Christ, with the possible exception of children who die in infancy, the
mentally disabled and those who never hear the gospel." This
presumably will include the four billion individuals (two thirds
of the human race) who are non-Christians.
Hell is for "...those whom the Bible calls 'impenitent',
'unrighteous', or 'wicked'."
Hell is the "domain of the devil and his hordes - a sphere of
damnation, punishment, anguish and destruction."
Not all will be treated equally in Hell. Those who have committed severe
sins will experience higher levels of suffering.
Biblical passages about Hell (referring to unbearable heat, thirst, fire,
pain, whipping, weeping, gnashing of teeth, being eaten by worms, etc.) may be more
metaphorical or symbolic than literal. However, they do depict real
A significant minority of Evangelical Christians now believe in the
eventual annihilation of the inmates of Hell, rather than eternal
Pastors should discuss more about Hell in their sermons. However, "fire
and brimstone" sermons should be discouraged.
British Seventh Day Adventists: Cecil Perry, president of the
Seventh-day Adventists in Britain responded to the Acute report. He
suggested that the traditional view of Hell should not be promoted by
pastors in their sermons. He said that: "The message of hell
is in stark contrast to the message of hope and love and tends to
engender fear." 12
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC): The Baptist Faith
and Message Study Committee reviewed past Baptist Faith and
Message Statements. They issued a report on 2000-MAY-26,
recommending major changes to be voted upon at the denomination's
general meeting in mid June. Perhaps the most radical is the
prohibition of ordination of new female
pastors. Concerning Hell:
The SBC 1925 statement referred to Hell only indirectly: "Those
who continue in impenitence and unbelief are in his sight wicked
and are under condemnation. This...will be made manifest at the
judgment when final and everlasting awards are made to all men."
Their 1963 statement referred to Hell directly: "...Jesus
Christ will return...to the earth; ...Christ will judge all men in
righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the
place of everlasting punishment."
The committee's year 2000 recommendations propose that the 1963
wording be retained. Hell will remain a place of eternal torture
without any relief.
Implications for evangelism:
A literal/metaphorical view of Hell makes evangelism more difficult. It is a
major impediment to fulfilling the Great Commission: the salvation of all
people and their conversion to conservative Christianity. These concepts of Hell will make
teaching of the Gospel increasingly difficult as society becomes increasingly
secular. Potential converts may well reject the Gospel because of the teachings
about Hell that are imbedded in it. They might view their own system of
morality as superior to that implied by the Gospel. Some of the objections they raise are:
We are all outraged whenever we hear of prisoners being maltreated in the
torture cells of other countries. To secularists, a literal or metaphorical view of Hell
implies that God is a sadist who is far worse than any human prison warden.
God's punishment of inmates in Hell has no end; it goes on forever without relief.
They view it as an infinite punishment for a finite error.
There are international organizations devoted to the release of
"prisoners of conscience." These are non-violent individuals whose
beliefs differ from those of their government, and who have been thrown in
jail because of their ideas. Modern religious and secular concepts of justice punishes only
those who have performed illegal acts, not those who simply have unorthodox
Why would God offer grace to some people while they live on earth, and yet
refuse grace to those in Hell who genuinely repent of their sins and ask for
forgiveness? If the soul is immortal, life is eternal, and death is only a
simple transition between two
stages of living. Then why are there two sets of rules for people at different
times in their life?
Modern justice determines the duration of imprisonment according to the
seriousness of the crime. But Hell is an infinitely long punishment for a finite sin - perhaps
eternal pain for only single life decision. For example, conservative
Christianity teaches that:
If a person brought up in a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish,
liberal Christian, or similar non-conservative Christian home, and
If that person accepts the religion of their parents instead of
accepting the conservative Christian belief system, then
They will trust Jesus as their Lord and Savior; they will not be "saved,"
and they will spend eternity in Hell for that decision.
The United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, the constitutions of many countries, and other government
documents require people to be treated with dignity. There is no dignity for
the inmates of Hell.
Hans Küng, referring to God having created Hell, wrote: "What would
we think of a human being who satisfied his thirst for revenge so implacably and
insatiably?" 7 The gap between secular concepts of
justice and the literal or metaphorical interpretation of biblical verses about
Hell can only widen with time, and make evangelism increasingly more difficult.
Who will go to Hell?
to conservative Protestant beliefs, the world's population can logically be divided into three groups.
A minority of humans who have been saved;
They they have repented of their past sins and have trusted Jesus Christ as Lord
Most of these will go to Heaven after death.
have engaged in forbidden practices will end up in Hell. Although Paul's
writings contain lists of practices that will cause a person to lose eternal life in
Heaven, only homosexual behavior is mentioned
with any frequency today.
The Southern Baptist Convention Home Mission Board conducted a study in
1993 which estimated how many Americans have had a born-again
experience. They concluded that 30% of adult Americans have been
"saved" and thus are going to Heaven; the 70% remainder are destined
for Hell.The percentage of Canadians who are going
to Heaven are presumably much lower, because of the relatively small
numbers of Fundamentalist and Evangelical Protestants in that country --
probably about 8%.
A much larger group of individuals -- those who have been exposed to the Gospel but have
not been saved. They will spend eternity in Hell, unless, perhaps, they died
children below the age of accountability or were mentally disadvantaged.
Billions of people have never received significant exposure to the
Gospel: They have not had a chance to learn about Jesus Christ and be saved. This group probably
represents the majority of the human race, since about 66% of humans follow either no
religion or a non-Christian religion:
Some conservative Christians believe that since these individuals have
not been saved, they will spend eternity in Hell. This conclusion is
based on many passages in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) which
state that all who are not saved will go to Hell.
Recently, there has been a softening of this position, as many
conservative Christians have gradually moved away from the necessity of
being saved while alive.
They believe that those who die without having heard the Gospel will
be given some form of other opportunity to be saved -- by some unknown
form of post-mortem salvation that is not mentioned in the Bible. This belief is
largely based on the perceived immorality of a God of love and justice
punishing people for their lack of knowledge -- a factor beyond their
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Billy Graham, "There is a real Hell," Decision 25, # 7-8,
(1984-JUL/AUG) Cited in Reference 1.
Hans Küng, "Eternal life, life after death as a medical,
philosophical and theological problem," Doubleday, (1984), Page