Here’s an email just in. I thought I’d throw it up here real quick (with permission, of course) and answer it.
I just read your article about Francis Chan’s belief and teachings about hell. I feel that I must reply to your article. You are missing one important fact about Christians. They believe in God’s Word, and in the Word, God tells us about hell. God commanded his followers—Christians—to tell others about Him and His Word. His command for us to share the message of His gift of salvation is called The Great Commission. We have a DUTY—not a choice—to tell others about how to become saved for eternity and that includes telling them about the consequences of not being saved. If that is scary, it should be.
My God is a loving God, and He does not want anyone to go to hell. Through His grace, he offers an eternity with Him. He does not send anyone to hell. They choose to go there.
The best way that I can explain it is this way: If you are in a building that is on fire, and a fireman tells you to get out and shows you the way—and tells you what will happen to you if you do not do what he says—you must suffer the consequences if you do not follow his words. It is that simple to me; the fireman has warned you AND shown you the way. If you do not listen to him, the consequences are scary. The fireman had a duty to warn you; however, what you decide is your choice.
I will pray for you so that your heart may be changed and you can see that God does not have to say and do what WE want of HIM. It is the other way around. Accept that fact or not, it does not change anything. Remember, we are the clay; God is the potter. HE made us. Because of sin, some men are so arrogant that they believe that HE must be what we want Him to be. Christians accept the relationship that God intends for us to have [with him]. And we accept His Word as Truth.
Thank you for letting me contact you and try to explain to you why I believe in what God says in His Word about hell.
I’ll put in italics what I think are the four key quotes from the above, and then respond to each. Won’t that be fun?
Oh. Well, let’s do it anyway.
His command for us to share the message of His gift of salvation is called The Great Commission. The problem with The Great Commission is that in practice (and how else matters?), it’s almost impossible for it not to work in immediate and direct opposition to what Jesus himself called The Great Commandment. (People decided to call the passage at Matthew 28:16-20 the Great Commission; Jesus himself called what he says at Mark 12:28-31 the Great Commandment. I think that’s a clue as to which we should pay more attention.) Trying to convert a non-Christian into a Christian is almost guaranteed to result in that non-Christian walking away from you. That severs your relationship with that person. That means you just violated Jesus’ Great Commandment, because you can’t have a loving relationship with someone who, because of you, has removed themselves from your life. I wrote a book, I’m OK–You’re Not: The Message We’re Sending Nonbelievers and Why We Should Stop all about the relationship between Christians and non-Christians. It specifically deals with the inherently troublesome relationship between the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.
My God is a loving God, and He does not want anyone to go to hell. … He does not send anyone to hell. They choose to go there. If God is capable of stopping people from going to hell (and being all-powerful, he undoubtedly is), but chooses not to, then the only rational conclusion is that God is an insanely petty psychopath. I don’t think he is. So there must be something wrong with that formulation. If you would, consider reading my “God Can Love Me; God Can Send Me To Hell. But He Can’t Do Both.” Also, if you would, consider reading Is God’s Justice Different Than Ours? Hell, No!
If you are in a building that is on fire, and a fireman tells you to get out and shows you the way—and tells you what will happen to you if you do not do what he says—you must suffer the consequences if you do not follow his words. This metaphor is so obviously and profoundly flawed it’s astounding how often it’s utilized by Christians. A burning fire of the sort of fireman warns you about is real. It is an objective fact of physical reality: it exists in actual space and time. That is absolutely not true of things like God, heaven, and hell: such abstract concepts are a matter of subjective perception and experience. Objective and subjective are entirely different categories of knowledge. Think of how differently you would experience someone screaming at you about a speeding car heading at you than you would someone screaming at you that Allah is the one true God. The former leaves you no choice whatsoever; the latter you’re totally free to ignore. Ditch the fireman-as-God metaphor. You’re mixing apples and manna.
Thank you for letting me contact you and try to explain to you why I believe in what God says in His Word about hell. I appreciate your writing me.