If you want to stop talking about hell, join a mainline Protestant church

January 29, 2015

A theologically-inclined evangelical friend of mine (who’s not United Methodist) linked to this post, “Giving up Hell for a Year: How it could revolutionize our relationships,” which struck me as a solution in search of a problem—or at least one that creates far more problems than it solves. Read it and tell me what you think.

Here’s how I responded to my friend:

The United Methodist Church tried this around 1950, and every year since then. It’s been wildly successful as everyone knows. I’m sorry… The grass is always greener, I guess, but if one dislikes evangelicalism so much, there’s always mainline Protestantism.

How about we resolve, instead, to tell the truth for one year, and see how that goes? This includes the truth about hell. People don’t go to hell because they fail to accept Christ; they go to hell because their sins have separated them from a holy God. This is humanity’s main problem. We are failing to tell the whole truth about the gospel if we omit that.

So, no, I think the blogger’s idea is terrible.

My friend responded:

Brent, how do you think our view of hell impacts our ability to develop healthy, service-based relationships with others? If we love them with the agenda of “winning” them out of hell, what happens when it becomes clear they’re not going to budge? Do we sever the relationship? That seems to happen all too often. I think that’s a valid point the blogger makes.

To which I said:

Jerry Walls, a United Methodist scholar now at Notre Dame Houston Baptist University (he was at Asbury), warns that we cannot write hell out of Christianity (again, as too many mainline Protestants have done) without fundamentally changing Christianity. He argues that it does, in fact, change our mission and mute the urgency with which we do evangelism. If we’re promoting a caricature of the gospel, then let’s correct that caricature. But hell, as a doctrine, is by far the consensual teaching of two millennia of Christian thinking on the subject—whether hell is an everlasting state or annihilation.

Walls is writing to an audience, including me, who have already been where this blogger wants us to go. Walls is telling us it doesn’t work. He gives us permission to take hell into consideration when we’re sharing the gospel. We ought to be concerned about people’s eternal destinies.

Besides, where are all these Christians in America going around talking obsessively about hell? Where are all these Christians obsessed with winning non-Christians because they fear they’ll go to hell. I mean, I know they’re out there somewhere, but it hardly seems like the widespread problem this blogger makes it out to be.

11 Responses to “If you want to stop talking about hell, join a mainline Protestant church”

  1. Hi, Brent. Good post! I believe Jerry Walls is now at Houston Baptist University.

  2. Josh Says:

    Amen, great post Brent. I get aggravated as you know what with United Methodism . . . but then I remember my time on the other side of the fence with the angry folk like this blogger. And I really empathize; I’ve been there. I’ve lived among the Bible-thumpers, the heresy hunters, and the conservative cherry-pickers of scripture (both sides do it). I remember how I reacted. I’m just thankful that the grace of God and my devotional practices of Bible reading, prayer, and Christian fellowship kept me from going too far the other way.
    And you’re right. If this blogger wants a cure for what ails him, then go spend some time in the UMC. Few want to admit it (except the loud and proud), but a large chunk of the NA UMC believe in universalism – or at least, practice it. The solution to the problem – as you right to say – is not to do away hell but to think more deeply about basic Christian orthodoxy and allow to shape the way we live. Many evangelicals got in trouble in this regards by being spiritually lazy (“sloth”) and the “evangelical rejects” (as the blogger identifies himself) are the result. They know something is wrong but they are heading for the wrong place (away from orthodoxy). They’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

  3. Grant Essex Says:

    The comment on universalism got me. I thought I was the only one who saw this in our church. “Seeing Gray in a Black and White World” is a catchy book title, but it treads in dangerous waters.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Lots of us see it, Grant, as these comments attest. I think there’s literally a response to that “Seeing Gray” book called “Seeing Black and White in a Gray World.” I need to read it!

      • Jamie Westlake Says:

        Bill Arnold’s book is a very well done, thoughtful, and respectful response to Adam Hamilton.

  4. Clay Knick Says:

    Nicely done, Brent. I’m reading Jerry’s new book with Brazos now. Very nicely done.

    Yeah, we (UM) don’t talk about hell much any longer. If we do it is to distinguish ourselves from those awful people who do or did like, say, that awfu, ignorant (!), stupid, unbiblical (!) Jonathan Edwards or….Mr. Wesley.

    I think the UMC is a soft universalist denomination today. Just a guess.

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