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Why Don’t We Hear Sermons About Hell?

by Bob Russell

Occasionally people ask my opinion on various personal or church issues. I recently received the following question, which I have reprinted below, followed by my response.

QUESTION: Why don’t we hear much preaching on Hell these days?

MY ANSWER

     I’ve been asked that question twice in the past month, and, to be transparent, I’m convicted by it.  While it’s been 14 years since I preached every weekend in a local church, I now realize I didn’t speak enough about Hell.  I believe in Hell, and I preached about it on occasion.  However, I’m concerned I didn’t offer strong enough warnings against the eternal damnation that awaits the unbeliever.

     I can think of three reasons why modern preachers don’t say much about Hell.  First, we want people to be uplifted when they come to church, and sermons about Hell are depressing.  We fear we’ll drive people away.  Secondly, we don’t want to be identified with old fashioned “hellfire and brimstone” preachers.  We envision ourselves as more sophisticated and educated than they are.  Thirdly, it’s not easy to explain how a loving, merciful God could ever approve of torturing people in Hell, regardless of how heinous their sins.

     That’s why the evangelical world was shocked a decade ago when trendy preacher Rob Bell suggested there was no such thing as Hell in his book, Love Wins.  Eternal Hell seems incompatible with many Christians’ perception of God’s grace.  The late theologian R. C. Sproul was asked which doctrine he struggles with most.  He replied: “Hell.”  In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis admitted that if he had his druthers, Hell would be a doctrine he would “willingly remove from Christianity.” However, I can think of two big reasons why we should preach about Hell  First, we are called to preach the whole counsel of God and not just say what “itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3).

     The feisty Baptist preacher Vance Havner told about a church member who didn’t like his sermons about Hell. “Preach about the meek and lowly Jesus,” the member told him.  Havner’s reply: “That’s where I got my information about Hell.”

     That’s true.  Jesus revealed God’s love and mercy to us, but He spoke more about Hell than He did about Heaven.  “‘Do not fear those who kill the body…,’ Jesus said, ‘Rather, be afraid of the One who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell’” (Matthew 10:28).  He described it as a place of eternal torment (Luke 16:23) of unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43), where the worm does not die (Mark 9:48), outer darkness (Matthew 25:30), where people will gnash their teeth in anguish and regret (Matthew 13:42) and from which there is no return, even to warn loved ones (Luke 16:19-31).

     Jesus alerted His listeners to the absolute reality of Hell and warned it was the eternal destination of the majority (Matthew 7:13-14).  He came to save the world from the horror of “the second death,” not just from the insecurity of low self-esteem.  If we don’t understand the awfulness of Hell, we don’t fully appreciate the glory of the gospel and the wonder of our salvation.

     I’m not suggesting we must continually preach entire sermons on the subject.  Yet, when preaching through the Bible, we should regularly sound a clear warning against the danger of eternal torment for those who reject Christ.  We may not fully understand God’s justice and wrath, but God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts.  Our task is to preach the entirety of the Scriptures,“which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).

     A second reason we need to preach about Hell is that fear is a necessary and legitimate motive for encouraging people to obedience.

I’ve noticed a lot more speeding on the expressways recently.  Have you?  If you’re not going at least 70 in a 55-mph zone, you’re liable to get run over.  Even if you’re going 70, cars are zooming past you.  The reason?  People know there are fewer police on the roadways, and not many speeders are being stopped these days.  With little fear of a fine, there’s flagrant disregard for the law.

     The Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).  Hell was not prepared to torture man but to punish “the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).  However, if we choose to align with Satan’s kingdom, God will respect our stubborn choice and allow us to spend eternity with the one who seeks “to kill, steal, and destroy.”

     It is entirely appropriate to motivate people to accept Christ and receive a pardon for their sins because they are terrified of Hell. The third chapter of Romans warns about a culture that spirals downward into decadence and chaos.  The primary problem?  “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).  As we grow in Christ, “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18), but in this rebellious era, the place to introduce the gospel is not always, “God loves us” but in a warning that we are “dead in trespasses and sins” and doomed to destruction.

     Years ago, a friend I’ve come to greatly appreciate embezzled money from the bank where he was employed to cover his gambling debts.  He intended on paying it all back with his next winnings.  But that payday never came, and when the officials arrived for the annual audit, he knew he was in deep trouble.  Trapped and in total despair, he grabbed his pistol and drove in the middle of the night to a remote area, intending to commit suicide.

He put the pistol to his head but couldn’t muster the courage to pull the trigger.  He took a practice shot but still couldn’t do it.  Dejected, he returned home, surrendered to the authorities, and served time in prison.  Today he is preaching the whole counsel of God’s Word.  In his testimony, he openly confesses that the one thing that prevented him from suicide was the fear of going to Hell.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5). 

“Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. (Jude 22-23).

 

                 Bob Russell is retired Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.

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One Response to “Why Don’t We Hear Sermons About Hell?”

  1. Jonathan Smith says:

    According to most studies, almost all human’s number one fear is non-existence. Also the Bible very clearly teaches that the wages of sin is death, not some mid evil torture fantasy.



Leave a Reply to Jonathan Smith

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10