Hell Out of Fashion

Christianity is supposed to be a faith based upon revelation – truth revealed by God to mankind. In theory we should accept what is true whatever the prevailing moods or preferences of the age. But is that how it really works?

I was a guest on a chat show on TV a few months ago. I was there to speak about the traditional Christian belief about hell. Perhaps that is why I have since been noticing the views on hell held by Christians I know.

I am discovering how uncomfortable many Christian leaders feel about the traditional teaching about hell. And I have wondered why this is. I am wondering if the beliefs I have been encountering are convictions based upon interpretations of the revelations or whether they are shaped too much by culture, by the time we are in, or by our feelings.

When a society is mainly Christian there is concern about those who are not Christian and therefore destined for a lost eternity in everlasting torment. This concern leads to great mission endeavour both locally and globally. However, when the unbelieving are in the majority there is an instinctive reluctance on the part of the believer to accept that so many could be lost. Or if they are lost, just what that lostness entails. Could this be then, not a theological rejection of the traditional doctrine or even a philosophical one, but a rejection because of emotion.

The problem for any who want to reject the traditional doctrine and look for a new understanding about hell is the limited material to build with. Justification for a changed view of hell may be looked for but in the absence of biblical backing, support must be looked for in philosophy or ‘reason’.

To illustrate my point, I was reading Tom Wright’s book Surprised by Hope. A section entitled ‘Beyond Hope, Beyond Pity’ begins on page 187 and is a fascinating read. At the end of the section, on page 195, he proposes a view but even he admits “I am well aware that I have now wandered into territory that no one can claim to have mapped.”

In other words there is no support for his view from the revelation!

I know what I believe about hell and I find I am uncomfortable about it. Knowing the truth does not mean I like it but I want to accept the truth. I want to believe that which is in the revelation. Of all the revelation, I can not ignore the words of Jesus about hell.

2 thoughts on “Hell Out of Fashion

  1. But even Jesus adapted the idea of hell to his time – as exemplified by his use of the greek word Hades. Hades is the underworld of pagan greek mythology, surely not something itself which Jesus subscribed to. This is not to say that hell genuinely changes in reality with the cultural climate. But we need to understand hell in a way which makes sense to us now.

    So Graham, can I just ask a friendly question: what exactly do you mean by the ‘traditional doctrine’ of hell? And how does ‘revelation’ fit in with it?

  2. Hi M

    By revelation I mean firstly the great revelation of Jesus and his words, as well as the scriptures. I think that when culture confronts Jesus it should be culture that bows and not Jesus or his teaching.

    Regarding the traditional belief about hell i think I would sum it up in the words of Jesus. i do mean Hades, I mean what he meant by the use of the word Gehenna. and his use of such challenging words like ‘torment’ and ‘everlasting’.

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