Let’s make one thing abundantly clear: evangelism is about spreading the “good news” of Jesus. Our witness, both in terms of our behaviour and speech should then reflect this good news.
In late twentieth-century, much of our evangelism was pretty straight forward: tell people about Jesus by warning them about Hell. “Give your heart to Jesus because you might get hit by a bus tomorrow and go straight to Hell,” I remember a camp evangelist preaching. Who can forget Heavens Gates Hell’s Flames? The drama showcased the horrors of Hell so vividly it was sure to send waves of sinners to the altar. Now it seems that Hell is taken completely out of our spiritual conversations with those we’re witnessing to. In fact, I wonder if Hell is a belief we’d rather not mention altogether. Sort of like that strange and awkward uncle you ignore at family gatherings.
I would never advocate ignorance towards Hell. And Christians should certainly come to terms with the implications of Hell, both conversationally and spiritually. Whether you believe in eternal conscious torment or annihilationism/conditionalism, the issue demands discussion and careful thought.
I can tell you however, that Hell is a powerful motivator for repentance, but it’s an a lousy excellerent for genuine discipleship. If our goal as Christians is to make disciples (Matt. 28), then using Hell as way to create genuine Jesus followers may not be the best approach.
What is the focus in our evangelism efforts? Do we want souls saved from Hell? Sure, but placing our priority on saving souls diverts us from our mission to make Jesus followers. Salvation is much more than being saved, it is life transformation. Saving souls is only one aspect of our mission, the other is showing people how Jesus can radically alter their perspective on God, life, and the world around them.
I often marvel at how we can tell people they should commit to Jesus so they can avoid eternal separation from God in Hell. This is logically backwards. Why would someone with no relationship with God, or someone who might be angry with God, mind being separated from God for eternity? This is why our selling point shouldn’t be escape from Hell. It means nothing to those who don’t believe in it or God.
Our selling point is and should always be Jesus. In Jesus we need no other reason to follow. I don’t need Hell, or judgement, or escape, to convince someone to follow Jesus. Jesus is the reason to follow Jesus. Jesus offers life where there is death, he offers freedom where there is bondage, he offers truth where there is lies. Healing, forgiveness, and meaning all come from following Jesus. So I guess the question is: if your conversational focus is Jesus, do you really need to talk to your non-Christian neighbour about Hell?
What do you think?
Disclaimer: Least anyone accuse me of “softening” the Gospel. I completely believe in teaching on the issue of Hell. Christians ought to be aware of the consequences of waning from Jesus. I’m simply not convinced that it needs to be part of our initial evangelistic conversations, at least when we’re introducing people to Jesus, unless those we’re witnessing to our curious about the issue. We don’t want to cloud people’s visions of Jesus. We want them to follow him because it leads them to a radically transformed life where they’re embracing their call as a child of God, not because they’re afraid of punishment. If my two-year old son has taught me anything, fear of punishment quickly fades, and rarely leads him to change his ways.
Don’t forget to listen to latest Theologist Podcast on the issue of Hell.
Comment or question? Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org.