If Hell Isn’t Eternal, Why Preach The Gospel?

If Hell Isn’t Eternal, Why Preach The Gospel? December 14, 2017

For most of us, the idea of an eternal hell is almost universally accepted as being what the Bible teaches. We almost cannot imagine any other view being taken seriously.

However, that was not always the case. In fact, for MOST of early Church history, there were 3 different views of Hell, and the eternal suffering viewpoint was in the minority.

Image: Pixabay
Image: Pixabay

Note this reference in the New Schaff-Herzog Christian Encyclopedia which says:

“The earliest system of Universalistic theology was by Clement of Alexandria who was the head of the theological school in that city until 202 A.D. His successor in the school was the great Origen, the most distinguished advocate of this doctrine in all time.” (From the New Schaff-Herzog, page 96, paragraph 2)

“In the first five or six centuries of Christianity there were six known theological schools, of which four (Alexandria, Antioch, Caesarea, and Edessa, or Nisibis) were Universalist; one (Ephesus) accepted conditional immortality; one (Carthage or Rome) taught endless punishment of the wicked.” (From the New Schaff-Herzog, page 96, paragraph 3)

So, what are the other two views?

One view is “Universalism”. This view teaches that those who die without Christ will suffer for a season of time but that this suffering has a purpose: To bring correction and to purify their souls to “burn away the wood, hay and stubble and reveal the gold, silver and precious stones,” because “the Lord disciplines those He loves” and this correction is intended to lead us to repentance.  In this view, everyone will eventually accept Christ as Lord.

The other view is the “Annihilationist” view which teaches that those who die without Christ will suffer for a limited time in Hell and then be destroyed forever and cease to exist.

There are plenty of verses in the Bible to support both of these views of Hell.

Many Christians are also unaware that when Augustine attempted to refute the Universalist view of hell – which was the majority view in his day – he freely admitted that his doctrine (Eternal Suffering) was against the grain and in the minority.

What are we to make of this?

Well, it seems that the Old Testament scriptures hardly mention the topic, and when Jesus speaks of the “death” (perishing, destruction, etc.) of the unrepentant sinner, it’s more likely that he was referring to the fate of those who would die in the horrific events of AD 70 when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, and the Temple, not an eternal conscious torture that would happen after the end of time.

We also know that the early Church had no widely-accepted concept of eternal suffering.

Plus, Paul never used the word “Hell” in any of his writings. When he did speak of fire it was a cleansing fire, not a punitive one.

The Gospel of John never uses the word “Hell” and none of the Apostles ever mentioned Hell in their sermons about the Gospel in the book of Acts.

All of this makes it more likely that the views of Annihilationism and Universalism are much more in line with what Scripture teaches.

Even if you don’t agree with that statement, I have to admit that my own studies have led me to move away from the commonly held doctrine of Eternal Suffering as it seems very weak in comparison to the other two views.

So, this has led me into some fascinating conversations with some of my Christian friends. Many ask me, “If the doctrine of Eternal Conscious Torment isn’t true, why preach the Gospel at all?”

This question really disturbs me, honestly. It reduces the Gospel to little more than a “Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free” card.

If knowing Christ doesn’t make your heart sing, and if your daily walk with Jesus isn’t a reward enough, then I’m not sure I can explain it to you.

Without Jesus there is no life. Without Jesus there is no love, or peace, or joy.

Why evangelize others if God doesn’t plan to torture people forever in the lake of fire? Because Jesus is the best thing about being alive and there’s nothing in the world more amazing than knowing Him.

Asking this question betrays the reality that many Christians really haven’t fully experienced the beauty of being in communion with the Creator of the Universe.

Why evangelize if hell isn’t forever?

Because His love is better than life.

Because in His presence are joys everlasting.

Because He has the words of life.

Because we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.

Because He loved us so much that He gave up His life for us.

Because we love Him and we want to bring Him joy when another one of His children learns to love Him as we do.

How many more reasons do we really need?


WANT TO LEARN MORE? Watch my YouTube Series on Hell


Keith Giles is the author of several books, including the Amazon best-seller “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb.” He is also the co-host of “The Heretic Happy Hour” and lives in Orange, California with his wife and two sons.


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Chuck Johnson

    “Without Jesus there is no life. Without Jesus there is no love, or peace, or joy.”
    Keith, you ignorance and your contempt for your fellow human beings is astonishing.

  • Chuck Johnson

    “Asking this question betrays the reality
    that many Christians really haven’t fully experienced the beauty of
    being in communion with the Creator of the Universe.”
    Keith, your ignorance of science is unfortunate.

  • Edward Hara

    1. Because there is a period of cleansing from our sinfulness after death. Those who are steeped in sin will find this to be extremely painful, the more sin you have, the more pain you will suffer.

    2. The Gospel should be the Good News of our theosis, or deification, that is, God has restored the original purpose that we are to be “gods” in the eternal kingdom. Now that is some really good news.

    3. The Good New is also that you do not have to be a turd this side of the grave, that through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, you can stop being a jerk and become a man or woman of love.

    4. The message is also that adherence to evil destroys a nation, a people, and individuals. The Good News is that evil only has the power we give to it. When people follow Christ, repent of their selfish sinfulness, they can have internal peace and make their community a place of peace.

    5. Look at what happens without Christ. Even if there is no hell, if we turn from Christ to follow sin, we turn our communities into hell here on earth. Is this really what we want? Is anyone really happy to live in a world filled with greed, hatred, war, and violence?

    In other words, the Gospel bears a peaceable fruit here and now, and as we are changed into the likeness of Christ, we escape the painful correction which awaits the wicked in the next life.

  • YellowBird

    3) & 5) many Xians plainly do NOT follow Christ by walking in Love, while many “nonbelievers” plainly DO … which is evidence that many are indwelled of the Holy Spirit IN SPITE OF of exclusionist teachings of the FEV “Good Christian Club”. i honestly haven’t ever encountered ANY hearts of love, in ANY community, who are good with living in a world filled with greed hatred war and violence… but i have heard many Good Words coming from mouths that are attached to hearts of stone, maybe that’s why Jesus told us that GOD looks on the heart

    2) does the concept of “being made a god” really matter so much? i feel that i would be entirely good with my Life Spark rejoining the Creator’s Eternal Flow…

  • YellowBird

    at first i thought this comment was trolling, but after looking at your comment history i realized you are serious…
    but Chuck i think you misunderstood what the author is trying to convey! i hear him saying that “Jesus”/CREATOR really IS our Source of all Life, Love, Peace & Joy, for ALL people, ALL times, ALL cultures, whether religious or unreligious, everyone, everywhere. i don’t hear him telling us to go join some organized religion, i hear him saying that Walking In Love really IS following Jesus, whether a person knows Creator by that name or some other, or no name at all.
    i also hear him saying that many religious people really havent experienced the beauty of communing with the Creator… well, gosh, a few minutes searching out #MAGA remarks on Twitter is ample evidence of that! there is sadly a great deal of Ugly Hatred masquerading as “Good Christian Love” in modern Xianity

  • Chuck Johnson

    i hear him saying that Walking In Love really IS following Jesus,
    whether a person knows Creator by that name or some other, or no name at
    all. -YellowBird

    That’s a rhetorical trick to promote Christianity.
    If he really wanted to promote walking in love, he could do just that.

    If you, YellowBird want to promote walking in love, you can do just that.
    Tying it to a religious product is hucksterism and a distraction from the idea of love.

  • YellowBird

    i really appreciated reading this essay, it seems you have described the exact journey i have gradually, tearfully and fearfully made away from a hateful doctrine that i now believe is a wretched control tactic carefully maintained by an abusive, power hungry, authoritarian religious hierarchy. it’s not that i think “the Church” -or all the people in it- are All Wrong… but i can NO LONGER BLINDLY BELIEVE THAT ALL IS RIGHT. especially this, the root doctrine of centuries of Xian Exclusionism. and it figures its ROMAN in origin, ugh! i’ve wondered if it might be, since Rome was the epidime Controlling Authoritarian Regime which modern western socio-political-cultural sensibilities seem mainly founded on. its so hard to break away– those of us raised in the church are ingrained from earliest childhood that it is a dire sin to ever question “the Word Of God”… but the word of god seems to really mean whatever the leaders in control have decided is so. i left the church fairly recently, and am still trying to sort out real Truth from mind games & fiction… i feel the TRUTH must be encountered, in the Person of the True One, by whatever Name HE may be known…
    i am “searching diligently” for HIM everywhere, within and without, and your essays are helping me find my footing on a difficult path. Be Blessed.

  • YellowBird

    you’ve surely heard the old story of the 3 blind men encountering an elephant… each one had a different idea of what the elephant was “really like” after touching a different part of its body… its important to realize that not only were none of them entirely right- none of them were entirely wrong either. unfortunately, being human and temperamental, they all fell into harsh arguing and no communion was realized. meanwhile, the Elephant just stood there, unperturbed.

    the Elephant is not Christianity. but Christianity includes an effort by blind men to describe One Who cannot be fully seen. so do other Religions. so does Science. but we all hurt each other when we stop listening and start arguing… instead of getting together and adding up all the parts we do know and then realizing there is still much much more we do not and cannot know. at least we can try to understand one another, and failing to understand, we can still accept one another…
    Peace and Love, CREATORs Blessings to you

  • Chuck Johnson

    . . . but Christianity includes an effort by blind men to describe One
    Who cannot be fully seen. so do other Religions. so does Science.-YellowBird

    YellowBird, you seem ignorant of what science has discovered on this subject.

    The scientific view is that there is no One Who.
    There is no giant infinite mind, knowledge or wisdom.
    These are ancient superstitions.

    What science has discovered is that the mind, knowledge and wisdom that you wonder about is caused entirely by the physical attributes of our universe.

    Chemical reactions billions of years ago are our ancestors.
    Given time, those chemical reactions turned into us.

    We are the authors of God-belief and Bible stories.
    We are the authors of the Jesus stories.
    Jesus was one of us.

    All of your hopes and expectations for God and for Jesus are better placed in you, me and billions of other of our fellow humans.

    It has always been just us.

  • Chuck Johnson

    Thank you.

  • Spirit Plumber

    Maybe because you want to preserve Hell? If Hell is as described, modern humans would just terraform it, given enough time (which they have an infinite amount of).

  • Spirit Plumber

    Science is agnostic, not atheistic.

  • Edward Hara

    What do you mean that many non-believers plainly do? What you are talking about is a subjective view of what it means to love, rather than what love actually is.

    Jesus taught that the first and greatest commandment is to love God. How do you say a person who doesn’t wish to believe in and obey God is a person who loves God? I get the feeling that you yourself are an atheist, since you won’t even spell the word “Christian” but use an abbreviation which is common to those who are atheists. Do you love God as He has revealed Himself in Jesus the Christ, or do you make up a “god” in the space between your ears and worship that? A great many people do that, you know.

    Being made a god is the original plan of God. It is to share in His divine nature so that we may enjoy His love forever. Those who do not want God as he has revealed Himself will find that His presence is highly uncomfortable.

    God is not an “eternal flow.” This language shows me that like so many others in the world, you have invented a god with which you are comfortable. A god who makes no demands upon your behavior or what you do in the world. The greedy rich man thinks of god as approving of his riches because the greedy rich man thinks that his hard work deserves a reward, rather than sharing it with the poor.

    The fornicator thinks that god doesn’t really mind his immorality because we are supposed to be happy in this life, and fornication makes the fornicator happy.

    People do what they want to do because they do not want to believe in a God who makes moral demands upon us. The fact that they may do some good in the world does not necessarily make them loving. To be loving is a total package, beginning with loving God so that you obey what He has commanded.

  • Chuck Johnson

    There are no clear definitions of “agnostic” and “atheistic” to resolve this question.

    There is a great deal of science which is considered to be “established science”. This doesn’t mean established with 100% confidence. In science, confidence approaches 100% without reaching it.

    Within various contexts, either word would be appropriate.

  • Chuck Johnson

    The definition of God is nebulous.
    The God of Noah’s flood has been
    scientifically disproved. In response, many Christians have reinvented
    God such that the flood is “metaphorical”.

    When such reinvention proceeds in order to continuously make God
    undisprovable, the chicanery becomes obvious.

  • Spirit Plumber

    I am a Deist. There is nothing in what little Deist doctrine exists that goes against either the established findings of science, or the scientific method.

  • David Wilson

    Keith, I appreciated the article and agree. But is it true that the early church’s primary view of hell wasn’t eternal fire and damnation. In reading quotes of many, if not most, of the early church fathers believed that hell was eternal suffering in the fires of hell?

  • Chuck Johnson

    If your deity has a mind and thinks, then science shows that this is unlikely to be true.

    Science shows us that neurons, brains and minds were invented by genetic adaptive evolution for the purpose of enhancing the survival of living organisms here on Earth.

    A deity who could create a universe has no such need for survival adaptations.

    Scientific examination also shows us that the idea of deities was invented by human beings. Such supernatural ideas are part of cultural adaptive evolution. These ideas help human individuals and human societies to survive.

  • Yes, it is true. Early Church Fathers – for the first 500 years of church history – were predominantly Universalists. I will post a follow-up article with quotes, but Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa and many, many others were Universalists.

  • David Wilson

    Thanks Keith! Yes that would be great if you could post a follow-up article. I was looking at quotes in a “Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs” and I just now was able to read some quotes by Origen that seem to support what you’ve said. Thanks! Oh, I’m also guessing you meant for the first “500” years of church history?

  • Yes, 500. Thanks for correcting me. I’ve edited the comment. 🙂

  • Spirit Plumber

    But then, whence meaning?

  • Chuck Johnson

    But then, whence meaning?-Spirit Plumber

    Your question is vague.
    What do you mean by that ?

  • David Wilson

    Hi again Keith. Have you other articles with Biblical references? I posted this article on facebook and received at far more positive response than negative. But here are some quotes from the negative side: “I can only see an eternal fire where the worm dieth not”,
    “Accepting what he says without further study is as bad as accepting what a Church father says without further study. He is thought provoking but very bias in his thinking.”,
    “Other than vague references, there’s not a single scripture quoted to support any of these arguments. It’s all opinions and feelings. As arguments for universalism and annihilationism go, this is pretty weak.”
    “It does seem odd to take a controversial stand and then barely back it up except with vague anecdotal evidence. An argument from consensus is flimsy even when have one let alone when you’re in the overwhelming minority”,
    “It’s interesting what a low view of God’s holiness does. An offence to an eternally holy God has eternal consequences. The only way to stop that is by accepting forgiveness of God himself through Jesus.”
    Any thoughts? I posted Greg Boyd’s video clip with ample scriptural proof for the annihilationist view but I await your posting of the histoical proof from the early church fathers. I also reiterated that there is no way to do justice to the depth of the subject in a short article online.

  • K Simon

    Eternal damnation equates to eternal hatred and indifference. Simply put, this is not in God’s nature.

  • Linnea912

    I definitely do not believe in hell. My thinking on the afterlife is still evolving, but I tend to think that when we die, we will all come face to face with God, who is love itself. God’s pure love will be so strong that it will refine us into perfection and we will be welcomed into eternal life. That refining will be painful (mostly because we will be forced to face our own shortcomings) but only for a moment.

    And I also believe that God’s unconditional love and justice will have the final word in *this* world.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    lose some weight.

  • Kevin

    Hell isn’t eternal, but it is everlasting. To be ‘eternal’ means it existed from eternity-past to eternity-future. This is an attribute ascribed only to God. To be ‘everlasting’ means it had a beginning, but it will go on forever. Hell was created after the earth was created, likely during the fall of Lucifer (Isaiah 14:9).

  • Joel Hathaway

    Matthew 25:46

  • That’s a Bible verse.

  • If hell was created, that means hell is sustained by God. And if hell is sustained by God, then that means God is present while those in hell suffer forever. Which means God is a bit of a prick. But, if God is not present in hell, then how is hell sustained? Is hell a type of demiurge, holding itself together, or is hell held together by some other demiurge? Satan perhaps?

  • Kevin

    If you ever played table top games, you know that every kingdom has a dungeon. Just because the king has built a dungeon doesn’t mean the king goes down there and socialize with the prisoners. He hands this duty over to the prison wardens where they administer the punishment decreed by the king. (Mt 18:34-35) This allows the king to attend to other duties such as being with his family. Also, are our judges ‘pricks’ for sitting in court while they sentence the guilty to prison?

  • This is a pretty poor analogy. Just because “every kingdom has a dungeon” doesn’t mean every kingdom is acting in accordance with the kingdom of God. And are our judges pricks for sentencing criminals? They would be if they sentenced them to eternal suffering. That would be a fucked-up sentence.