This week I watched the video of a young man giving his testimony. He had been saved as a young child, but now, as a teen, he knew that conversion wasn’t real. He had this reverberating thought: “I’m going to hell, I’m going to hell, I’m going to hell.” So one night at a youth crusade he went forward and recommitted his life to God. His weight of fear was lifted and he felt free and happier than he had been in years.
I was happy to see a young man freed, saved. But part of me was left wondering where is Jesus in this story? Where is heaven? What is the promise he is basing his life on? It could have been the way the video was edited. It could have been just the emotional point of emphasis – “I’m going to hell” – but it just seemed like what transformed the young man was pure, unadulterated fear.
Hell needs to be taught, needs to be preached. We don’t get to ignore it. We don’t get to pretend it doesn’t exist because it’s unpleasant or confusing. We don’t get to turn it into a metaphor. But what is the best way to present it?
In my context, conservative evangelicalism particularly in the Bible belt, it has too often been hellfire and brimstone and turn-or-burn. Hell is the great threat, “get saved or else . . .” but this is the wrong emphasis. It leads people to turn from damnation, yes. But to what? There is no desire to be with Jesus. In fact, Jesus’ role in this kind of salvation is that of the ticket broker – He provided the means to be transported far from the lake of fire.
The biggest issue with using hell as a threat is that it doesn’t lead people to a new life.
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