The Necessity of Speaking About Hell, Part One
It has occurred to me that many evangelicals today, even the conservative, the-Bible-is-inerrant kind, don't speak much about hell. Have you noticed this? I'm not talking about people who have difficulty believing in hell. I'm talking about people who affirm with certainty that the Bible and its teachings are true. Many of us struggle even to utter the word "hell" in conversations with non-Christians. This is a troubling phenomenon.
I suspect that it is what D.A. Carson would call "hard postmodernism" that has led us to this point. That is to say, we evangelicals have been so battered by those calling us intolerant for our belief in absolute truths such as hell that we have begun to believe them, if only a little bit. We start to tell ourselves that maybe there is a shred of intolerance in our doctrine of hell. Hell is, after all, the most forcefully troubling aspect of life in this world. There is nothing bright about it, nothing to commend it, nothing to ease its way into a softened conscience. By its nature, hell is prickly and horrid. And yet it is also unquestionably real. Hell is real. People have gone, are going, and will go, there. And we evangelicals are sadly too often bundled up in questioning whether we ought to talk about hell to actually talk about it. All those caricatures of fire-and-brimstone preachers have worked. We evangelicals have in many ways lost our nerve when it comes to talking about hell.
Let me make a suggestion: don't joke in any way about hell. Don't laugh about fire-and-brimstone. That may sound silly, and overly wooden, but I would suggest that there is nothing about hell that should be dulled. There is no aspect of it that should become familiar or friendly. It is a horrid place. It is the resting home of countless people around us, including our family members, our friends, and our coworkers. We do God a mighty disservice by trivializing it. There is no biblical record of any joke or trifling remark when it comes to hell. The biblical word is sober, saddened, and piercingly clear. So should our speech be.