Sorry for the break in blogging. I was at the General Council for the Christian and Missionary Alliance, this year in Orlando, FL. Wasn’t able to blog while I was away, but I’m back on track now. Thanks for your patience.
Read this paragraph from one of the most famous sermons in English-speaking history:
“O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.”
Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” stirred America’s first great revival in the 1700’s. It was a sermon that blasted people without Jesus to hell. Seminaries and pastoral training programs used to consider this sermon required reading.
Compare that quote with this one, in an interview with Spencer Burke. Spencer Burke operates the most popular website for the emerging church–with over 100,000 hits a month, I’ve been told. He is talking about his book, A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity.
Spencer: I think people ask, “How could a loving God send someone to Hell?” “Or does Hell exist?” For me, I think that Grace says we are in. We are all beloved children of God, all bought by the blood of Christ, all connected in relation together. There’s nothing you can do to earn it, buy it, get it or grab it, it’s yours, you are here, you are in. Just as with one man’s sin, sin entered into the world, in the story of the creation, Adam and Eve screwed up, so sin entered in. Then death entered in. You have no choice in that. You have death. That’s the way the story goes.
But Jesus was the second Adam. He comes and brings life, and everyone gets life. You don’t have a choice in that either. That’s up to God. God gives you Grace. Not because of what you have done, but because of what Jesus has done. So if we are all in, then that’s what Grace is. But then I started to think about God’s love and the question, “Can a loving God send someone to hell.” I thought about it as a parent. I don’t think it’s love that sends people to Hell. I think it’s God’s love that gives us the choice to choose, to opt-out.
His position is that all people are redeemed unless they deliberately “opt out” even if they do not believe in Jesus.
Jonathan Edwards or Spencer Burke: which one has 2,000 years of church history on his side? Which one most accurately reflects the clear teaching of Scripture?
“And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” 1 John 5:11, 12, NKJV.
This is how I responded to that objection in a message I preached at my church last summer:
“It’s a cop out to say that we can’t judge who’s going to heaven and who isn’t. Of course that’s true: it’s not our place to judge. But if God has said in his Word that a certain group goes to heaven, and a certain group goes to hell, shouldn’t we echo what he has so clearly said without apology? No we don’t judge; it’s not for us to judge. But God does, and he has revealed to us the basis of his judgment: Jesus Christ. If you are identified with Jesus, you have eternal life. If you aren’t, you have eternal condemnation. It bugs me when I read theology books that won’t echo the clear teachings of the Bible and claim to be taking the moral high ground.”
If the church today moves away from the classic biblical historic teaching on the topic of hell, what will happen? Will we gain any friends? Perhaps. But at what cost? At the cost of gutting the core purpose of Jesus and his shed blood on the cross. Nobody that I know delights in the idea of hell. We stand in awe of it. And we are motivated by it to reach LOST PEOPLE at all costs.
I feel my stomach acids churn whenever I read leaders like Spencer Burke or Brian McLaren who dance around the doctrine of hell. I fear for the next generation of Christians who are uncritically swallowing their teachings.
But there are bright lights on the horizon. A great movement of young church leaders who are planting themselves solidly in the biblical, orthodox teaching of the Word of God, without apology and without shame! Thanks God!