Thursday, 24 April 2008

Teaching Hell

I've had a big conversation about it here.

UPDATE: The link no longer works, but the original article is in the Briefing #267 (February 2001), entitled Shooting Fish in a Barrel.

Here's an extract:

This [the teenage years] is a time of acute sensitivity to emotional pressures. It is a cliché to say so. It would be too easy in preaching from the Bible to tap those despairing feelings, to confirm that self-hatred that is always just below the surface. The teenager’s imagination needs no help in picturing a hell-fire of savage physical torments. Nor does he need much convincing
that that must be his destiny.

As someone who works daily in ministry to teenagers, I am always extremely careful not to overstate the consequences and impact of God’s judgement of sin. I try to speak of it in the context of the goodness of God’s creation and his passionate love for human beings displayed in Christ. I do not dwell on the future pain and suffering of the lost—neither do the scriptures.

Of course, I do not conceal the truth, or hold out some powder-puff gospel; rather I try to appeal to what teenagers already know: that the world around them is a long way short of what it could be, and that the world inside them is very similar.

They don’t need convincing that God is mad with them. Aren’t all adults? That he loves them is a lot harder to believe. That there is no hope is obvious. Their music tells them that. That there is hope in Christ is not all easy to see.

In our anxiety not to water down the gospel, we may over-correct and offer a bleak message. For the young, the bleakness may outweigh any positive news we have. The self-loathing youngster may find no respite in our words if we are too glib. The girl with eating disorder already thinks she is unlovely. Why reinforce it? The boy regularly smoking marijuana is already prone to a low self-worth. Why confirm his negativity? When we focus on the loathsomeness of the individual like this we badly misrepresent the good news of Christ. Don’t we?

It seems to me that this is not a helpful approach. It is biblically unsubstantiated, and based on selective observations of what some human beings are like, some of the time. It is dangerous, because it leads us to fashion our teaching on the basis of something other than Scripture. (One of) my responses to the article is here.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Speaking of 'Hell', have you read Tim Keller's book yet? The chapter on Hell is fantastic.