Tim Keller on Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age

Found this over at the Christianity Today site.   Tim Keller, whose recent book The Reason for God took flack from some for what was viewed as a light treatment of the evangelical doctrine of hell, wrote “Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age” in 1997.  Leadership Journal just reprinted it, and I’m thankful that they did.

The piece could stoke some conversation as it visits an idea mentioned a while back on this blog that Keller also articulates, namely, that one preaches doctrines differently to certain groups of people.  Keller lays out in the article how he preaches hell to traditionalists and how he preaches it to postmoderns.  Readers of this blog will know the concerns I have with this approach, though I should also say that I’m certainly open to learning from Keller, who has had great success in reaching a very tough New York City crowd of primarily young people.

Here’s a great excerpt from the article, which I would encourage you to read and mull over:

“Following a recent sermon on the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the post-service question-and-answer session was packed with more than the usual number of attenders. The questions and comments focused on the subject of eternal judgment.

My heart sank when a young college student said, “I’ve gone to church all my life, but I don’t think I can believe in a God like this.” Her tone was more sad than defiant, but her willingness to stay and talk showed that her mind was open.

Usually all the questions are pitched to me, and I respond as best I can. But on this occasion people began answering one another.

An older businesswoman said, “Well, I’m not much of a churchgoer, and I’m in some shock now. I always disliked the very idea of hell, but I never thought about it as a measure of what God was willing to endure in order to love me.”

Then a mature Christian made a connection with a sermon a month ago on Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb in John 11. “The text tells us that Jesus wept,” he said, “yet he was also extremely angry at evil. That’s helped me. He is not just an angry God or a weeping, loving God—he’s both. He doesn’t only judge evil, but he also takes the hell and judgment himself for us on the cross.”

The second woman nodded, “Yes. I always thought hell told me about how angry God was with us, but I didn’t know it also told me about how much he was willing to suffer and weep for us. I never knew how much hell told me about Jesus’ love. It’s very moving.”

It is only because of the doctrine of judgment and hell that Jesus’ proclamation of grace and love are so brilliant and astounding.”

In a provocative and perhaps even controversial essay, that is an idea that surely all Christians can affirm.

  • Pingback: Interesting post on hell « Hetoimazo

  • Al

    This is well stated. I would not have agreed some time ago, at least not at the first reading. However, I have come to see this whole system, in part anyway, (I mean that there might be more than just this point) a grand demonstration – to borrow a title from Jay Adams.

    Al

  • http://koopstacochran.blogspot.com Bradley Cochran

    Owen, I’m curious …. what are your concerns about Keller’s approach of preaching hell differently to different people?

  • Anonymous

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