At first glance you’d probably think I’m resistant to change. I don’t drink Starbucks coffee. I’m not a big Abercrombie & Fitch fan. I’m still not used to women having tattoos. I’m not getting an earring any time soon. The Palm Pilot craze has passed me by. I can’t take pictures with my cell phone and I still can’t program my VCR. My wife even says I still have the same haircut I had when I was in fifth grade. I assume she thinks that’s a bad thing.
By all appearances you’d think I’m someone that wants to keep things just the way they are. But I’m not.
I love change. I love the thrill of staying current, or even staying one step ahead. I love futurists. I love anticipating trends. I’m usually not too concerned with running with the pack. I love reading about, talking about, anticipating and implementing change in the church I serve. Around here we joke, “If the music’s too loud, you’re too old!”
But there is one change that troubles me.
It’s this talk about hell. Or the lack thereof.
I’m not troubled by who is going to hell. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh Steelers fans, this is one thing we all agree upon.
I’m troubled by the lack of talk about, writing about, teaching about and deeply held conviction regarding the reality of hell.
Why is this happening?
I’ve put my finger on a few reasons that seem to keep this issue flying under the radar screen.
One reason we avoid talking about hell is we want to appear compassionate and inclusive.
My daughter’s school puts on an annual holiday musical program. Every year as I stand there with our camcorder I joke with my wife that it should be renamed, “The Upper Providence Elementary School Christmas-Hanukah-Kwanza-Buddhist-Skeptic-Hindu-Catholic-Keep everyone from being offended holiday special.” As a public school, the lengths to which they are willing to include everyone’s traditions and beliefs appear comical, but should be applauded. However, when that same spirit infiltrates our spiritual journey, it must be addressed. I believe that if you really love people, at some point you’ll compassionately tell them the truth, even if you risk upsetting them.
Another reason we avoid talking about hell is we’ve strayed from the solid teaching of the Bible.
Two years after leaving graduate school I came to the conclusion I really didn’t believe in hell anymore. I was too smart to believe in hell. Like so many Christians I’ve met over the years, I had bought into the belief that I could serve the God of the Bible but not believe in the Bible. During a long retreat at a local monastery I performed a study of the phrase “false doctrine” in the New Testament. When I was finished God did a number on me. I felt convicted, as I should have. I felt awful, as I should have. I came to the conclusion that I was misguided, as I should have. I immediately asked for God’s forgiveness. It was a turning point in my spiritual journey.
Still, honestly, if it were up to me, there would be no hell.
I’d cut that part right out of the Bible.
Just the mention of the word makes people think of Christians as narrow-minded, prejudice and relationally inept.
I want to come across as smart, hip and happening.
So there’s this tension. Maybe you feel it-at work, in your marriage, or among your neighbors at a barbeque.
Just remember this: If you love people, at some point you need to risk telling them the truth.
That’s what followers of Jesus do.
At least they used to.
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